The Moral Virtue of Fortitude – Part 1 of 2

Father Pegues continues his exposition of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Treatise on the Cardinal Moral Virtues (Summa Theologica II-II, 47-170) by discussing the virtue of fortitude.

Fortitude is “that perfection in the moral order of the sensitive appetite whose object is to make man hold firm in the presence of the greatest fear, or to keep within bounds the most daring boldness as regards peril of death that presents itself in the course of just war, in order that man might never fail in his duty.” This virtue was manifested in all its excellence by the martyrs. Martyrdom is “that act of the virtue of fortitude which sustains man in accepting death in testimony of the truth from the hands of those who persecute the name of Christian and all that pertains thereto.”

Sins opposed to the virtue of fortitude are (1) “fear, which lacks courage in the presence of dangers of death”; (2) “insensibility to fear in the presence of peril, which is the lack of shunning peril when one ought to”; and (3) “rashness which rushes towards danger imprudently.” It is possible that “one may, under the impulse of excessive courage which is unrestrained by reason, be so carried away as to perform acts that are not really acts of true courage, but have only the semblance of bravery.”

The gift of fortitude, a gift of the Holy Spirit, corresponds to the virtue of fortitude. Both the gift and the virtue have to do with fear and courage. But, they differ in this: the virtue of fortitude regulates fear and courage regarding dangers that are “in the power of man to overcome,” whereas the gift of fortitude excites fear and courage regarding dangers or evils that are “absolutely impossible for man to overcome.” The gift works in such a way that “a strong and unfailing confidence takes hold of man, making him steadfast in the presence of the greatest fear and even to approach death itself fearlessly. . . . In truth one may describe the proper effect of this gift as the victory over death.”

Quotations from Thomas Pegues, Catechism of the “Summa Theologica” of Saint Thomas Aquinas, trans. Aelred Whitacre (New York: Benziger, 1922).

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