Fortitude, Virtue of
FORTITUDE, VIRTUE OF
Courage of soul that enables a person to adopt and adhere to a reasonable course of action when faced with the danger of death or other grave peril. In a wide sense fortitude can be understood as a general virtue, i.e., as a characteristic of all virtue, because of its very nature any true virtue must be firm and not readily subject to change. However, it is also considered as a specific virtue with the specific function of giving the soul firmness by controlling impulses, on the one hand of fear and on the other of foolhardiness, that might otherwise cause it to deviate from the path of virtue. Fortitude has as its subject the "irascible" appetite. The virtue strengthens this appetite against the passion of fear and curbs it in its immoderate stirrings of daring or audacity. Opposed to it by way of defect is the vice of cowardice; and by excess, the vice of foolhardiness.
Different conceptions of fortitude, or courage, and the virtues associated with it are to be found in the philosophers of classical antiquity, in the Bible, and in the writings of the Fathers. It is not possible to coordinate these different usages with precision (Gauthier, 487–532). However, it is clear that Christianity has assigned greater value to the passive aspect of courage, its willingness to endure suffering—or if need be, death—in the cause of God's justice, than to the active aspect that is manifest in acts of valor in war and in the performance of other great and noble deeds. In Christian theology the supreme act of the Christian virtue of fortitude is martyrdom (see martyrdom, theology of). This, together with the
Christian insistence upon gentleness, meekness, clemency, the forgiveness of injury, etc., has served as an excuse for some writers, such as Nietzsche, Marx, Renan, to denounce Christianity because it has made men unmanly and too ready to suffer evil rather than to fight against it. Without doubt there are circumstances in which virtue calls for vigorous and aggressive action, but it is a mistake to think that Christian morality does not take this into account. The virtue of fortitude has two acts: to attack (aggredi ) is no less characteristic than to endure (sustinere ).
Of these two acts, however, endurance is the more difficult and requires greater depth of manly courage, other things being equal. When an evil threatens, its objective existence generally helps moderate an excessive impulse to attack; but fear and the difficulties involved in endurance must be coped with by sheer virtue. In attacking evil, man has at least some hope that he will over-come it, some hope that he will prove stronger than the threat; but in endurance he submits to an evil that seems stronger than himself. Again, attack is made in the face of a danger that is still in some measure a future thing; but endurance already oppresses the victim. Furthermore, attack is usually of relatively brief duration; but endurance is long and continuous. However, endurance in this context is not to be regarded as mere passive submission to danger and suffering; it involves, more importantly, a strong action of the soul holding steadfastly to the good and refusing to yield to fear or pain.
The cardinal virtue of fortitude is conceived as strengthening the soul against the fear of death or comparable affliction. The virtues that are its potential parts—magnanimity, magnificence, patience, and perseverance—make the soul steadfast when confronted by lesser evil.
Bibliography: thomas aquinas, Summa theologiae 2a2ae, 123–125. f. l. b. cunningham, ed., The Christian Life (Dubuque 1959) 655–668. r. a. gauthier, "Fortitude," The Virtues and States of Life, ed. a. m. henry, tr. r. j. olsen and g. t. lennon (Theology Library 4; Chicago 1957) 487–531; Magnanimité: L'Idéal de la grandeur dans la philosophie païenne et la théologie chrétienne (Paris 1951). j. peiper, Fortitude and Temperance, tr. d.f. coogan (New York 1954).
[t. c. kane]