Fortitude: Courage in the Time of Trial

The Cardinal Virtue of Fortitude: Courage in the Time of Trial

Fortitude, or courage under trial, is the third of the Cardinal Virtues. It may well be the most difficult to understand, and the least written upon of the Cardinal Virtues.

Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause.[1] -From the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Fortitude is what drives man to stand up for their faith when tested by the secular world. It is the courage, the power to resist in the name of the faith that caused the martyrs of the Church to perish for their beliefs. Fortitude is what makes heroes of the faith. It leads saints in their battles against the evils of the world around them.

Sadly, in this day and age, fortitude seems a bit more lacking than what we read of it in the early centuries of the faith. One would think that it might even be possible that when the direct confrontation of evil is lacking, then proportionally the degree of fortitude of the Christian appears to be lacking as well. Take the first few centuries of Christendom as an example. At that point in history, Christianity is under heavy persecution by the Roman government. It is illegal to be a Christian, and not only is it illegal, but it is often punishable by death. Yet, time and again we hear of the martyrs of the early Church and how they went to their deaths never forsaking the faith which they held, even jubilantly proclaiming it in the face of danger and death. Conversely, in today’s political climate, and all of our “liberties”, especially with respect to freedom of worship, how many Christians would actually be willing to die for their beliefs? Where it wasn’t a question of if the martyrs of the first century would die for the faith, but more often when; today’s Christian finds themselves asking if they would even be prepared to make that ultimate sacrifice.

Now taking the extreme example of martyrdom out of the equation and turning to the virtue of fortitude as it applies to morality, we come to another question. Are we as Christians in the 21st century able to hold to our faith, the faith of the Church, in such a way that we would stand up for Christian morality and face the ridicule of secular society? Or would we bow to the “rights” of those who do not hold our faith and accept the immoral? This, too, is an example of the virtue of fortitude, for while it is not death, or maybe even immanent danger, it is societal “suicide” so to say. And we are witnessing in our own time the choice of many so-called “Christians” who simply do not have the moral fortitude to risk such things.

Much of this lack of fortitude comes from a lack of education of yet another of the cardinal virtues, Justice. The definition of justice, as described in holy scripture is that of “order”. When the Torah speaks of God distributing justice, it implies that he is putting things in right order under His laws. But today’s western views of justice are much skewed from this biblical definition. In modern society, “justice” is seen more often as not fairness in accordance with the law of God, but instead as the right of each man to have and equally hold whatever he, himself, thinks as good and true without reproach and without injunction from the moral law of another.

Truth, also, has become a variable according to the person and circumstance, and not an absolute; and with this, justice has become the declaration that this now varying “truth” is to be let alone to each man as he wishes to accept it. This is contrary to the idea of “truth” as the Church has taught. The “truth” in the words of John Paul II especially in “natural law involves universality”[2], i.e. it is not something relative, but absolute in all circumstances.

The 21st Century Christian is now faced with these non-absolute “truths”, and this idea that “justice” is the legislation which protects the individual’s so-called right to live in these “truths” as they personally see them. Take for example, the case of homosexual relationships, same-sex unions, and the whole of the LGBT rights arguments which now overwhelm our politics and news. Many 21st Century Christians now look to these activities, which the Church still holds as immoral and contrary to the truth of God’s divine plan, and responds not with a resounding argument against them, in favor of the truth, but instead with a passive/permissive response of “justice for all”.

For the secular Christian, the average nominal believer, this may be shaped by the ideologies of our own society, and you will often hear these nominal Christians respond with the above mentioned definitions of justice and truth. But what of that Christian who actively participates in the faith? In many cases the active Christian, both protestant and Catholic alike, have not taken any stance against these immoral deeds, to the point of even permitting them without any issue because they simply do not want to incur the societal suicide that would be placed upon them for not allowing the modern form of “justice” to prevail. They do not hold within them the fortitude in their own Christian faith to stand up against, vote against, or heaven forbid, speak out against these immoral activities. Many a modern-day Christian has responded that they cannot speak out against them for fear of hurting someone’s feelings or infringing on another’s own rights to do as they wish. But in reality, this shows a lack of conviction, a lack of courage to take a stand. And while the Christian’s action should be to admonish the sinner, not out of spite, but out of love for their eternal soul, the prevailing sentiment among those who do wholeheartedly accept the teaching of the Church is to, at best, remain silent on such matters in public. This lack of fortitude will neither saints nor martyrs make.

This same lack of fortitude applies to so many realms of the social-political spectrum today. Look at how so many Christians are claiming that abortion can be justified (when it has been condemned since at least the Didache in the first Century). Or how we elect to "welcome the stranger" as the Torah commands, while also welcoming the stranger that slipped through the back window and put our people's lives at risk. We advocate for the poor and set up shelters and food banks, then we raise the price of insulin to $500 a month!

We have moved from morality to convenience, from true justice to socialism, from teaching our children as we walk by the way, to letting their morality run amuck.

We need Christian fortitude. We need values and morals back in society. And we need to stop caving to the bait of Satan just because it seems like the easy path.

[1] CCC 1808

[2] Veritatis Splendor, Article 51. John Paul II.