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From Justice to Fortitude

February 24, 2015 by  
Filed under Book Club, Cardinal Virtues, Fortitude, Sarah Reinhard

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The Four Cardinal Virtues (Week 8 of 12)
From Justice to Fortitude

This week, we straddle two virtues: the end of our discussion of justice and the beginning of our discussion of fortitude.

And while they went together somehow, I can't seem to bring them together cohesively into this writing assignment. So, given that, I'm going to focus on fortitude, a virtue I've admittedly never really thought much about.

Fortitude presupposes vulnerability; without vulnerability there is no possibility of fortitude. An angel cannot be brave, because he is not vulnerable. To be brave actually means to be able to suffer injury. Because man is by nature vulnerable, he can be brave. (Fortitude, Chapter 1, Paragraph 1)

With this, we dive into our chapters on fortitude. According to my computer's thesaurus, fortitude is synonymous with bravery and courage, endurance and resilience, moral fiber and strength of mind.

And according to what I read in these chapters, that's right. But…it's not the full story.

“Fortitude that does not reach down into the depths of the willingness to die is spoiled at its root and devoid of effective power,” we read in paragraph 5 of Fortitude, Chapter 1. It's the kind of sentence I had to underline and then reread a few times.

Dying isn't something that comes easily to me, no matter how much I reflect on a crucifix. Wanting death isn't naturally appealing. And yet: “Thomas Aquinas seems to consider it to be almost the nature of fortitude that it fights against the superior power of evil, which the brave man can defeat only by his death or injury.” (Paragraph 15)

And then this: “For the Christian no less than for the ‘natural' man, ‘suffering for its own sake' is nonsense. The Christian does not despise the things that are destroyed by injury. The martyr does not simply consider life of little worth, though he does value it cheaper than that for which he sacrifices it.” (Paragraph 16)

By the time I got to the second chapter on fortitude, I was feeling my oats, getting the sense that yes, this is a Virtue with a capital V and one that maybe I wanted (though I still don't want death). But I don't think I have to want death, do I? That's not the point.

The point is that death isn't going to stop fortitude.

However, fortitude must be accompanied: it does not stand alone. “Prudence and justice precede fortitude. And that means, categorically, without prudence, without justice, there is no fortitude; only he who is just and prudent can also be brave; to be really brave is quite impossible without at the same time being prudent and just also.” (Fortitude, Chapter 2, Paragraph 6)

These chapters (this writing, really) makes me reflect on those I know who are examples of fortitude. I can't help but think of a mom friend of mine who has been a witness to me of what the vocation of motherhood is all about. I picture my parish priest and the sacrifices I've seen him make (I worked for him for ten years). I see family members who selflessly share their time and efforts with each other in support.

And I can't help but wonder: could this death that's referenced also be a dying to self? Or is that too theoretical?

I didn't know what to expect with this book (as I seem to say with every installment I write), but it seems that I'm gaining an appreciation for just what a gift the virtues are and how important it can be to understand them and, better yet, tap into them and grow into them.

Reading Assignment:

Fortitude, Chapters 3-4; Temperance, Chapters 1-2

Discussion Questions:

1. Who's an example of fortitude in your life? Maybe it's a saint or a personal hero. Maybe it's someone you barely know. Consider how they live fortitude and how it impacts your life.

2. What steps can you take to grow in fortitude? Are there actions that inspire you after reading this week's chapters?

Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!

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About Sarah Reinhard

Sarah Reinhard continues to delight ”and be challenged by” her vocations of Catholic wife and mother. She's online at and is the author of a number of books for families.

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