Mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty and adversity.

— Fortitude, 34

mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously: Never once did her fortitude waver during that long illness.

Fortitude is firmness of spirit, especially in difficulty. It provides for constancy in the pursuit of virtue. Fortitude is a willingness to freely go beyond the call of duty, to make sacrifices, to act on your convictions. Fortitude includes the courage to confront our personal weaknesses and attraction to vice.

A true competitor gets the most joy out of the most difficult circumstances. The real competitors love a tough situation….that is when they focus better and function better.John Wooden
A smooth sea never made a skillful mariner, neither do uninterrupted prosperity and success qualify for usefulness and happiness. The storms of adversity, like those of the ocean, rouse the faculties, and excite the invention, prudence, skill and fortitude or the voyager. The martyrs of ancient times, in bracing their minds to outward calamities, acquired a loftiness of purpose and a moral heroism worth a lifetime of softness and security.Author Unknown
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenges and controversy.Martin Luther King Jr.
Trials, temptations, disappointments all these are helps instead of hindrances, if one uses them rightly. They not only test the fibre of character but strengthen it. Every conquering temptation represents a new fund of moral energy. Every trial endured and weathered in the right spirit makes a soul nobler and stronger than it was before.James Buckham

The Virtue of Fortitude

In order to live a virtuous life, we need fortitude.

The emotions have an innate need to be guided by reason. An emotionally healthy life is one in which the emotions are moderated by right reason. It follows that emotional stability and well-being are the result of a certain structuring in which the emotions of vicious appetites are subject to a will that in turn is subject to reason.

An emotionally unhealthy life is one in which the emotions govern the will and reason. In this case, the emotions are not guided at all, or they are governed by a mind not rectified by reason via the intellectual virtues, such as wisdom and prudence.

There are a host of emotions that are left out in the treatment of temperance and its various parts, namely the emotions of the vicious appetite, which include fear, daring, hope, and despair. Life brings with it all sorts of difficulties, and it is through these emotions that we relate to them. To relate to these difficulties well requires that these emotions be moderated by the appropriate virtues, namely fortitude and its parts.

Now the greatest achievement of love is to learn to love the other as another self. Man’s perfection consists in the possession of virtue. A perfect love of another is thus one that wills that the happiness of knowing and loving virtue befall him or her. Human life is a quest for the Supreme Good, and a good human life is about willing the good, which is precisely what love is. In other words, human life is about learning to love.

The virtue of temperance is thus not enough for emotional well-being, since temperance deals with the greatest pleasures, not the greatest difficulties. Rather, it belongs to fortitude to remove the obstacles that withdraw the will from following reason on account of difficulties that give rise to fear and sorrow.

But love is difficult to achieve. It is difficult in general, only because love is channeled through virtue, and virtue is difficult. And it is difficult more specifically because special difficulties arise that become obstacles in the quest for the Supreme Good. Hence, we need a host of virtues that will enable us to overcome these obstacles. Emotional health, in other words, demands that we aspire to something higher than ourselves and our own personal comfort. It demands that our life become a quest for the Supreme Good. It is this quest that brings movement and meaning to human life. It is true that any goal endows our life with movement, and thus a certain meaning. But a truly good life is one that aspires after what is truly good. Thus it is not possible to achieve an emotionally healthy life unless one aspires after what is truly good and truly larger than ourselves.

The typical hedonist today does not aspire to anything larger and higher, but settles for “feeling good”. Such a life does not require fortitude. But a truly meaningful life, one whose meaning (direction) is determined in regards to man’s true end — which is the knowledge and love of the greatest good — does indeed require a host of virtues belonging to fortitude. The virtue of temperance is thus not enough for emotional well-being, since temperance deals with the greatest pleasures, not the greatest difficulties. Rather, it belongs to fortitude to remove the obstacles that withdraw the will from following reason on account of difficulties that give rise to fear and sorrow.

I pray for strength and fortitude to climb the rock strewn road.Unknown
The boxer who wins might have been counted out several times, but he just didn’t hear the ref.HE Hanson
As a camel beareth labour, and heat, and hunger, and thirst, through deserts of sand, and fainteth not; so the fortitude of a man shall sustain him through all perils.Akhenaton

What is the virtue of fortitude?

Fortitude is the acquired habit of showing strength or courage. Fortitude can be described by words as persistence, staying power, determination, hanging in there over the long haul, and a firmness of mind or spirit in the daily challenges of life.

  • A virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do good. We develop virtues or good habits through education, good acts frequently done, and perseverance in struggle.
  • The natural virtue of fortitude makes people willing to be persistent over a period of time in facing setbacks, failures, and misunderstandings, in order to accomplish a goal that they have set for themselves. The ultimate goal of a natural virtue is a good, decent life in this world.
  • The virtue of fortitude has two components – endurance and enterprise. Endurance helps us to keep going when we are fatigued, suffering, weak, exhausted, or facing discouragement. Enterprise helps us to undertake great deeds while withstanding hardship. Enterprise requires initiative to see a need and take on the responsibility to carry out a plan for the good of others.

Why do we need the virtue of fortitude?

  • Fortitude allows us to push ourselves to do any difficult or distasteful undertaking especially when it is inconvenient.
  • Fortitude helps us to resist fear, foolhardiness, indifference and the single focus on selfish interests solely for pleasure or other’s admiration.
  • We need fortitude to overcome fear of bodily pain, temporal loss, ridicule, what people will think or say, and the displeasure of friends. It is not easy to go against what is popular. In some situations, in reaction to fear, we can yield to what we know to be sinful.
  • It takes courage to stand up for what is right. Hope in the face of difficulty is what makes courage. The most courageous actions are based upon virtue.
  • The self-confidence we gain through the development of talents helps us to live out the virtue of fortitude.
Perfect wisdom has four parts, viz., wisdom, the principle of doing things aright; justice, the principle of doing things equally in public and private; fortitude, the principle of not flying from danger, but meeting it; and temperance, the principle of subduing desires and living moderately.Plato

A Man With Fortitude

The value of courage, persistence, and perseverance has rarely been illustrated more convincingly than in the life story of this man (his age appears on the right):

Failed in business 22

Ran for Legislature–defeated 23

Again failed in business 24

Elected to Legislature 25

Sweetheart died 26

Had a nervous breakdown 27

Defeated for Speaker 29

Defeated for Elector 31

Defeated for Congress 34

Elected to Congress 37

Defeated for Congress 39

Defeated for Senate 46

Defeated for Vice President 47

Defeated for Senate 49

Elected President of the United States 51

That’s the record of Abraham Lincoln.

The necessity of the times, more than ever, calls for our utmost circumspection, deliberation, fortitude, and perseverance.Samuel Butler


In our lives many situations arise in which it becomes difficult to do the right thing, even when we know what it is. There may be all sorts of reasons for why it is disagreeable to act according to what we know is best. In order to stay strong, to do what is good, we need the third cardinal virtue, known alternately as fortitude, courage, or bravery. This is the virtue by which we do the right thing, even in the midst of hardship.

Fortitude helps us to overcome any dangers, obstacles, and fears; it enables a person to withstand whatever difficulties may block him from attaining his true goal. Classically, fortitude was that virtue which made a man willing to fight and even potentially die in battle. It was seen as the virtue of the soldier, who was determined to offer his life for the sake of a greater good. Now, those of us who struggle to live virtuous lives believe that we too are soldiers, that we too are engaged in battle, although the battle is not a physical one, but rather spiritual. We too, must be willing to offer our lives for the greatest good, namely, virtue. In earlier historical times, and even in parts of the world today, this possibility of being killed for the sake of virtue was and is very present, and so we have been provided with the most shining examples of fortitude, namely, the martyrs.

This is the call of the virtuous: to possess fortitude to the extent that we willingly offer up our lives for our fellow man. Although we probably won’t be literally killed for our cause, still we must be prepared to make all kinds of great sacrifices in living out our virtuous identity.

Fortitude lies between Extremes

All the virtues exist as forms of balance, and so must be carefully distinguished from the various excesses which threaten to substitute for virtue. This is especially true in the case of fortitude, with can easily degenerate into one of the following extremes:

  • Firstly, Brashness. Brashness is the vice of lacking a proper awareness of or concern for real danger. A brash man, an excessively bold man, foolishly charges into dangers and difficulties that could have been avoided. He is the one who goes looking for trouble, who enjoys risk for its own sake. But there is nothing virtuous about needlessly courting danger; such an attitude is foolhardy, not brave.
  • Secondly, Cowardice. Cowardice is the vice of refusing to take a prudent risk or making a prudent sacrifice because of fear. It is the abandonment of the greater good due to the terror of sustaining loss and hurt. The coward is so concerned with total self-preservation that he becomes crippled in relation to the world; the world presents itself not as an opportunity for attaining goods, but rather as a collection of personal threats.

Such a person is incapable of take advantage of the joy and happiness of life. The virtue of fortitude helps steer a middle course, as it helps overcome fear and yet restrains excessive boldness. It is interesting to note that someone who is brash or cowardly will be unable to comprehend courage. The too-fearful person tells the courageous man, “You’re crazy! Always taking risks! What a daredevil!” Whereas the too-bold person tells the courageous man, “You’re a wimp! Always playing it careful, like a frightened chicken.” One can always tell a balanced, virtuous person, because all those around him will be accusing him of opposite extremes. As G.K. Chesterton pointed out, if half the people declare a certain man to be too tall, and the other half declare him to be too short, one can reasonably assume that man is just the right height. This is the balanced life that every virtuous person must strive for, an integral dimension of which is fortitude.

Fortitude, Fear, and Love

An illuminating principle for understanding the virtue of courage is the following: In order to have courage you must have fear, and in order to have fear you must have love. Let’s drill down into this idea a little bit:

Courage means being able to overcome fear in order to pursue the greater good. This is not the same as being fearless; quite the contrary, the fearless person can never be truly brave. This is because fear is based on love for something, and a desire not to lose it. But if a person does not love the thing he risks, does not value it, then where is the merit in risking it? A suicidal maniac, for example, is not brave because he risks his life for anything; he is stupid for not recognizing the value of his life, and for so casually placing his life in danger.

A brave man experiences fear because he loves the thing he is risking, and so he is afraid to lose it. No one fears the loss of something he does not love and value. Yet what makes a person able to be brave is that he values the thing he is pursuing more than the thing he is risking. Courage means the willingness to sacrifice something lesser for something greater.

The first step in gaining fortitude is to ask yourself, “What do I value the most?” Another way to ask the same question is, “What do I fear losing the most?” We must deliberately construct a hierarchy in our mind, with the most valuable thing at the top, and then be willing to pursue that one thing at the expense of everything else. So what do you see as your number one goal in life? Is it high academic grades? Is it human society? Is it excitement, or deep emotional experience? Is it success at work, or maybe someone of the opposite sex? Or is it your relationship with your Creator? Which of these things do you love/value the most? Which of these is the last thing in your life you’d be willing to sacrifice?

To have courage, it is absolutely essential to first have your priorities straight. A man who pursues a lesser good at the expense of a greater good is not brave, but stupid. It is stupid to exchange a dollar for a penny, and it is of no profit to a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul. Courage is about ordering your loves and fears so that you fear most the loss of what is truly most valuable. Only then will you be able to overcome lesser fears in carrying out what is right.

The Two Forms of Courage: Attack and Endurance

Fortitude is lived out in different ways, according to different conditions of the concrete situation. The first of these involves a direct attack on whatever evil is attempting to hinder the promotion of goodness. This kind of courage is sometimes called wrath. Wrath is frequently neglected in the life of the virtuous person, since many make the mistake of identifying anger as an un-virtuous feeling. They forget that there can be virtuous anger, an outrage which rises up against some atrocity. They forget that it is sometimes proper for us to get “fed up” about evil, and that if we just stay even keel, we will never do anything to change it. We must sometimes respond to evil in the world, by taking the offensive against it.

A second form of courage is needed for those times when the only viable option is to suffer patiently and endure the trials that beset us. In these situations, directly attacking the vice is ineffective; what is required is a persistent pursuit of the good in virtuous patience. In fact, patience is the supreme test of fortitude, for when a person has run out of other options, patience still enables him to hold his ground and persevere through any oppressing hardship. The measure of courage is endurance.

So, ask yourself, what hardship is present in your life, and just won’t go away? Is it some addiction you can’t break? Some disappointment you can’t get over? Do you have some kind of chronic problem? Are your family relationships or your friendships always strained? Is there something you’ve never been good at? Are you depressed? Can you not figure out your vocation? What is that difficulty that you just can’t fix, no matter how hard you try?

Because in that difficulty is the opportunity to prove yourself brave: will you persevere in doing the good, in spite of whatever problems continue to weigh on you? For example, let’s say you can’t manage to stop a certain vice: will you keep trying to do better? If so, that’s fortitude. Or maybe you’re in a marriage that is terribly unhappy, that is deeply unsatisfying to both you and your spouse.

Will you stick it out, continue trying to love your spouse and children, and praying for peace in your family? If so, then you are proving your bravery, and you will be greatly rewarded for your courage. It’s also important to keep in mind that endurance, or patience, is not a virtue for downcast, pessimistic, broken people. Patient, persevering people are not the ones who say, “Yeah, you know what, I don’t even care anymore, so whatever.” As opposed to the state of dejection, “to be patient means to preserve cheerfulness and serenity of mind in spite of injuries that result from the realization of the good.” Patience is not something that belongs to sad, weak people, but rather to the strong and joyful. In the words of St. Hildegard, “Patience is the pillar which nothing can soften.” The reason is that what motivates patience, like what motivates all the virtues, is the desire for the good that we want to obtain. Patience comes from that wise realization that “What’s worth having is worth waiting for.”

But how will you know whether you should be courageous through attack or through endurance? The answer to this question is simply said, but hard to carry out: in order to discern how to be brave, one needs the virtue of prudence. (Recall that prudence is the virtue which allows us to see what decision is needed in any given situation).

A good daily prayer that asks for the twin virtues of prudence and fortitude is the following: “Grant me the patience to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Fortitude and Hope

Before a person can pursue the greater good courageously, he has to actually believe that the greater good exists and is capable of being obtained. This is Hope: to acknowledge the highest good and one’s capacity to acquire it. The opposite of this is a form of despair: not to believe in supreme happiness, but to think that the best a person can achieve is passing pleasure or thrills.

The tragedy is the great number of those who really think that’s it. They think, “Yeah, you can have a good time here or there, a few kicks, but perfect happiness is just an illusion.” These people live in despair, and no one in despair can ever be courageous. They are incapable of ever being thoroughly brave, of laying down their lives for some higher good, because they don’t even believe in a higher good.

The only source of fortitude is a constant reminding of the good that awaits us through the virtues, that is, complete enjoyment of all the basic human goods. Only perfect happiness is worth dying for, and really, only perfect happiness is worth living for.

Our Top Fear: Fortitude and Public Witness

Since courage is about overcoming fear for the sake of a greater good, it’s probably a good idea to try and figure out what our top fear is. Time and time again, studies show what Americans are most afraid of: it isn’t heights, it isn’t mice, it isn’t even death – it’s public speaking. Americans especially dislike speaking publicly about important and controversial matters, because such conversation usually feels awkward, and Americans hate to say awkward things in public. And nothing is quite so important, controversial, and awkward as talking with conviction about virtue.

We must speak up about virtue. Many people like to quote a dictum attributed to St. Francis, “Preach always, and when necessary use words.” This is indeed a beautiful saying, but no one who is serious about promoting virtue, least of all St. Francis, would ever interpret him to mean that we can avoid using words as a tool for evangelizing virtue to those around us.

We have got to start making a conscious effort to verbally witness virtue, even in difficult situations. We need to have the courage to try and invite people to live more virtuous lives. Of course it’s intimidating, and many will not listen; our obligation is simply to plant the seeds. If we don’t even make the gesture, what does that say about our own dedication to virtue?


Kyle Maynard was born with deformed arms and legs but that never stopped him from becoming a Division I Collegiate wrestler at the University of Georgia. He has no arms beyond two rounded stumps and no legs apart from a pair of short appendages with deformed feet . Growing up, Kyle would watch other kids grip crayons between thumb and fingers, so he quickly taught himself to clutch objects between his two shortened but highly sensitive biceps – the same technique he uses today to wrangle French fries, pop open acne medicine packages and manipulate an itty-bitty cell phone. Want more? He also can type 50 words a minute. Nothing has ever come easy for Kyle but he is a man of determination. He lost his first 35 wrestling matches but he never stopped improving. When he was a senior in high school he had a record of 35 wins and 16 losses. He won ESPN’s ESPY Award for best athlete with a disability and a Courage Award from the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame. He topped that off with a 3.7 grade point average while finishing 12th at the 103-pound weight class at the National High School Wrestling Championships. The next time you want to feel sorry for yourself or give in and give up when the going gets tough – think of Kyle. Kyle was and is intent on being the absolute best he can be. He does not listen when other people tell him that he cannot accomplish something. He sets his mind to it and he gives it his all.

No excuses, no complaints – just sheer determination. Kyle is a man with an iron will who does not listen to his feelings when they come whining. He listens to his will and has the heart to follow through.

Alexander received more bravery of mind by the pattern of Achilles, than by hearing the definition of fortitude.Sir Philip Sidney
Patience and fortitude conquer all thingsRalph Waldo Emerson
Still, I know of no higher fortitude than stubbornness in the face of overwhelming oddsLouis Nizer

Fortitude in the Midst of Battle

Fortitude binds the will firmly to the good of reason in the face of the greatest evils, and the most fearful of all bodily evils is death. And so the very idea of fortitude presupposes that there are certain things we should love more than our own lives, certain things we ought to be willing to die for. We hold that the human person ought to love what is larger than himself, namely truth, justice, and the common good of the social whole. He ought to love the good of the entire civil community so much as to be willing to expose himself to the danger of death for its sake, and we would argue that he ought to love virtue and truth more than himself, and be willing to expose himself — not others — to the dangers of death for virtue’s sake.

Fortitude is the virtue that moderates the emotions of fear and daring in accordance with right reason. It is not extraordinary daring. Sitting in a bathtub full of deadly snakes, or jumping from one speedboat to another, are acts of daring, not acts of fortitude. Had the person been attempting to rescue a little girl trapped in a pit of snakes, or a man unable to steer the speedboat as a result of a heart attack or stroke, we could speak of fortitude, but not without a pursuit of the good. St. Thomas writes:

Fortitude strengthens a man’s mind against the greatest danger, which is that of death. Now fortitude is a virtue; and it is essential to virtue to tend to good; wherefore it is in order to pursue some good that man does not fly from the danger of death. But the dangers of death arising out of sickness, storms at sea, attacks from robbers, and the like, do not seem to come on a man through his pursuing some good. On the other hand, the dangers of death which occur in battle come to man directly on account of some good, because, to wit, he is defending the common good by a just fight.

The willingness to fall in battle is not by any means limited to the context of an actual war between nations. There are “private battles”, as in the case of a court judge who refuses to yield to death threats and delivers a just judgment nonetheless. John the Baptist is a perfect example of a man of fortitude with respect to a “private combat”, for he did not refrain from speaking out against Herod for repudiating his first wife and marrying his brother’s wife while Philip was still alive. This eventually led to his death. Similarly, St. Thomas More refused to take the oath enacted by Parliament. To do so would contravene the judgment of his conscience. As a result, he too lost his head and won the crown of martyrdom.

More current examples of fortitude might include a bishop or priest’s refusal to provide a funeral mass for an unrepentant mafia boss, despite death threats from family members. Certainly the threat to court judges is still a very real possibility. Politicians who choose to take a firm stand on certain issues, in favor of justice, might very well risk assassination, especially in parts of the developing world. A fireman rushing into a burning building in order to save lives, knowing that there is a very good chance he will not come out alive, is indeed an instance of fortitude.

Fortitude is not fearlessness. Some people perform acts of apparent fortitude, that is, without the virtue. This occurs when they tend to what is difficult as though it were not, a behavior due either to ignorance, that is, they are simply unaware of the extent of the dangers involved. Sometimes a person has so often escaped dangers in the past that on the basis of that experience he is rather confident of overcoming current dangers. Or, a person might possess a certain skill which leads him to think little of the dangers of battle, thinking himself more than capable of defending himself against them. Sometimes a person will act through the impulse of a passion, such as excessive anger, or sorrow, of which he wishes to rid himself. These are not acts of fortitude precisely because no moderation of fear is involved.

The truly brave man does not suppress his fear. He really experiences it, but holds fast to the good, moderating the fear of which he is fully cognizant. The principal act of fortitude is to endure, whereas aggression or attack is its secondary act. For enduring fear is more difficult than attacking evil through daring.

Cowardice and Self-Loathing

We are what we love, and it is really only by loving that which is larger than ourselves that we actually become enlarged and enriched. It is the direction towards the sovereign good — which is unlimited — that brings meaning to human life, and it is the pursuit of this great good that makes one’s life great.

Goodness is a property of being, just as growth is a property of living things, or as malleability is a property of iron. Just as whatever is living grows, so too whatever has being is good. Goodness means fullness of being. Accordingly, evil is a privation of being, a lack of something that ought to be. A physical evil, for example, is a deformity of some kind. Think of a bird with only one wing. It is lacking what it ought to have, namely another wing. From a physical point of view, the bird does not enjoy fullness of being. It suffers from a physical evil.

Now the human person is both physical and moral. As a moral agent, the human person is capable of bringing about moral evil. He does this by choosing a certain way. And since evil is a privation of being, a lack of something that ought to be there, an evil choice is one that involves a deficient will, one that lacks an order that it ought to have. For example, if I owe a person one hundred dollars, and I only pay back ten, my will that he be given his due is deficient and lacking. Thus, my will is bad or evil, which is to say, lacking what it ought to have.

Now a moral agent (a human person) is what he chooses. We become what we choose. Our character is established by the choices that we make. In making an unjust choice, I become an unjust man. In choosing to lie, I become a liar, a person who is untrustworthy. In choosing to kill, I become (am) a killer. In short, in choosing deficiently, I become deficient, that is, my character is deficient.

The evils of the soul are more to be feared than the evils of the body; for the body is destructible, while the soul is not. For example, it is better to have good character and missing fingers than to have all ten fingers and a morally bad character. Moreover, the evils of the body are more to be feared than the evils of external things. Hence, it is better to lose all four tires than all five fingers. And so it follows that it is unreasonable to incur evils of the soul in order to avoid bodily evils, such as a physical beating or even death, or worse, evils of external things, such as the loss of money or popularity. So too it is unreasonable to endure bodily evils in order to avoid the loss of money or honors from those of questionable character.

The one lacking fortitude loves “external goods” and the goods of the body (temporal goods) more than his character, more than the common good, and more than the sovereign good, namely God. His love is thus disordered.

But the one lacking fortitude loves “external goods” and the goods of the body (temporal goods) more than his character, more than the common good, and more than the sovereign. His love is thus disordered.

Now, the object of the will is the good. The will is drawn to something only because it sees it as a good. You and I are basically good, insofar as we have being. That is why we have a natural love for ourselves. But if we begin to make choices that are morally evil (deficient), we establish ourselves as deficient. But we do not love what is deficient. If we have any love for something, it is only insofar as it is good. I might love my new car as far as it drives well and has good gas mileage, but the brake lights are smashed and there is a large dent in the passenger door, and it is missing a back seat. Consequently, I am not entirely happy with it. Similarly, as morally deficient, we are not entirely happy with ourselves, and the more we plunge into moral depravity, the more unhappy with ourselves do we become, that is, the more our self-loathing increases. Thus, the one who lacks fortitude cannot but loath himself from the very depths of his conscience. What he loathes is his small moral stature. That is why he can never enjoy the peace that he seeks to maintain by refusing to endure the difficult and the fearful. He has allowed his fear to veer him off the course that reason has laid out for him. He is dominated more or less to some degree, by fear. And as his fear is not moderated by reason, it does not receive the perfection it requires, leaving him emotionally out of kilter. It is in this way that those who lack fortitude and do nothing about it set themselves up for a low grade depression, a profound dissatisfaction with themselves, that they will have to endure later if not sooner.

Certainly temporal evils are to be feared to some degree. Love of temporal goods can be reasonable, that is, when they are loved not so much for their own sake, but for the sake of higher goods. It is reasonable to fear the loss of one’s house, because a house can be instrumental in attaining higher goods, such as the goods of virtue. It is true that I love my body for its own sake, but from another angle I also love my arms and legs insofar as they are instrumental in attaining higher goods, namely virtue.

But our love for bodily and external goods should not be so great as to hinder us from serving higher goods, and they are not to be despised in so far as they are instrumental towards attaining goods of the soul.

And so we ought to learn to moderate the emotion of daring, which moves us to attack difficult evils that loom on the horizon. What is needed when faced with a threatening situation is a carefully thought out battle plan, one whose ultimate aim is, again, to serve higher goods. Inordinate daring (foolhardiness) can needlessly expose us and others to the loss of external goods that are instrumental to these higher goods. True fortitude attacks evil at that point when not doing so would endanger greater goods. Consider politicians who choose not to uphold what they know to be true and just for fear of losing office. It is often the case that people allow their moral and political views to be shaped by public opinion, that is, by what is current and popular, in order to minimize friction and the chances of finding oneself friendless or unemployed. Much less are such people willing to die for what is true and just. But one must be willing to attack evil, despite temporal losses, in order to preserve virtue in others.

Magnanimity and Fortitude

Anyone who has worked with teenagers knows that the happiest and most emotionally healthy of them are those who aspire after great and honorable ends. And certainly not all of them do. It is not uncommon to see hordes of teenagers loitering every night at the local deli or mall, doing very little with their lives if anything at all. This is pusillanimity, or smallness of soul. This rather pusillanimous existence is by no means limited to teenagers. Many adults have settled for a very small existence, which usually includes but does not seem to go far beyond a house with a well manicured lawn, a colorful garden, a cottage perhaps, and sometimes a life that deliberately excludes children, but not pets. These things are not evil in themselves. Rather, it is the lack of aspiration towards what is worthy of great honor that is small and deficient. The emotion that suffers in this case is the emotion of hope; for the virtue of magnanimity perfects hope and involves a stretching forth of the mind to great honors. There is no emotional wholeness without such a stretching forth to the great.

Many people are under the false impression that striving after great honors is about the pursuit of financial success or great wealth. The reason is that financial success is what our culture tends to honor most. In a hedonistic culture in which pleasure is regarded as the principal good, a life in pursuit of wealth is the only life that makes any sense; for wealth buys pleasures.

We honor great athletes, but athletic achievement is not great, at least not absolutely. A great athlete is not necessarily a great man. Neither is an intelligent and well educated man necessarily great and worthy of honor. But magnanimity is about the pursuit of great honors, because honor is the greatest of external things. But persons are honored principally on account of their virtue. Moral excellence is greater and more worthy of honor than is athletic and even academic excellence. Magnanimity is thus not so much the pursuit of Olympic gold, or musical stardom, or financial success, much less fame and international repute, as it is the pursuit of great moral achievement.

Magnanimity aspires after moral excellence, and since generosity, gratitude, and beneficence savor of excellence, the magnanimous man is ready to perform acts of great generosity, gratitude, and extraordinary beneficence. The magnanimous do not have such a high regard for external goods or a fear of evils such that they are inclined to give up the pursuit of justice or any other virtue. Thus, they do not conceal truth on account of fear, nor are they given over to complaining. Bellyaching betrays a defect of magnanimity in that the mind gives way too readily to external evils. Such vices are contrary to moral excellence.

But neither do the magnanimous despise wealth or great repute. They regard them as useful for accomplishing deeds of virtue. That is why they do not love them so much that they are willing to forgo virtue for their sake. Hence, an emotionally healthy and truly magnanimous person is neither very joyful at obtaining such goods, nor terribly grieved at their loss.

Now every virtue brings a certain beauty to human character, but magnanimity adds a certain luster over and above the others, giving them an added greatness, thus raising the stature of human character. That is why the magnanimous have beautiful character that, by virtue of the unity between matter and spirit, manifests in the countenance.

Guts are a combination of confidence, courage, conviction, strength of character, stick-to-itiveness, pugnaciousness, backbone, and intestinal fortitude. They are mandatory for anyone who wants to get to and stay at the top.D. A. Benton
To be fond of learning is near to wisdom; to practice with vigor is near to benevolence; and to be conscious of shame is near to fortitude. He who knows these three thingsConfucius

Patience and Fortitude

Life brings with it all sorts of hardships, many of which are inflicted by others. Things rarely go our way, and human beings are continually developing psychologically and emotionally. We can be very difficult to put up with at different times throughout our lives. We are often the cause of great sorrow to others, and others to us. Hardships lead to sorrow, and sorrow in turn can beget anger. Anger can beget hatred, which in turn can lead to unjust injury, either verbal or physical. That is why the emotion of sorrow needs to be moderated according to reason. In this way, we allow sorrow to move us towards a more complete realization of the good, just as moderated anger helps in the execution of reason’s response to injustice. A patient teacher, for example, will allow her sorrow to move her to find new and improved ways of teaching a lesson so as to be more easily understood by those students that are not learning.

The virtue of patience is that habit by which we endure hardship so that we maintain the course of action set out by reason. The patient man is not inordinately saddened by the things which cause him hurt. The defect of patience is, of course, impatience, which is an inability to bear hardship, and which involves a loss of self-possession. This results in the forsaking of the good on account of the sorrow caused thereby. Many people regard Robert Latimer as a courageous man because he had “the nerve” to murder his handicapped daughter and face the justice system in order to have the law against euthanasia changed. He was a daring man, but not a man of fortitude. Latimer’s actions could never have been a matter of fortitude, because murdering a handicapped child is intrinsically unjust, and his decision to murder her bespeaks a lack of patience, an inability to deal with the sorrow caused by the hardships of raising a handicapped child.

It is not inconsistent with patience to rise up against one who inflicts injustice. Patience is not spinelessness, the excess of meekness. The excess of patience is impassivity. The impassive do not allow themselves to be moved by sorrow. They endure it when they should not, thereby allowing the situation that is causing the hardship to perpetuate — a situation that isn’t necessarily unjust, but one that requires effective remedy. Moreover, there is nothing praiseworthy about “patiently” enduring harm against others, against the common good, or against the divine honor. Such “patience” is merely a front that disguises a cowardly and unjust spirit.

Fortitude is the guard and support of the other virtues.John Locke
Fortitude is the marshal of thought, the armor of the will, and the fort of reason.Francis Bacon, Sr.
Out of suffering comes the serious mind; out of salvation, the grateful heart; out of endurance, fortitude; out of deliverance faith.John Ruskin
I am learning to understand rather than immediately judge or to be judged. I cannot blindly follow the crowd and accept their approach. I will not allow myself to indulge in the usual manipulating game of role creation. Fortunately for me, my self-knowledge has transcended that and I have come to understand that life is best to be lived and not to be conceptualized. I am happy because I am growing daily and I am honestly not knowing where the limit lies. To be certain, every day there can be a revelation or a new discovery. I treasure the memory of the past misfortunes. It has added more to my bank of fortitude.Bruce Lee


Aristotle does not say that fortitude is the highest virtue; but he selects it first for treatment when he describes the moral virtues; whereas St. Thomas is at pains to say explicitly that fortitude ranks third after prudence and justice among the cardinal virtues. The braves in a warrior tribe and the glamour of bravery in knight-errantry, the display of pomp by modern armies on parade, were not objects to disturb the sense of proportion in the mind of the Friar Preacher. Still less could etymology deceive his judgment into thinking that the prime virtue was the soldier’s valor commended on the Victoria Cross. Neither would he despise the tribute “For Valor” in its own degree.

To define fortitude. If we consult Plato and Aristotle we find the former comparing man to the god Glaucus who from dwelling in the sea had his divine limbs encrusted beyond recognition with weeds and shells: and that represents the human spirit disguised by the alien body which it drags about as a penalty. The soul in its own rational nature (for our present purpose we fuse together the two terms psyche and nous, distinguished by Aristotle, into one — the soul) is simple: man is compound, and, being conflictingly compounded, he has to drive a pair of steeds in his body, one ignoble — the concupiscences — the other relatively noble — the spiritual element, in which is “go”, “dash”, “onslaught”, “pluck”, “endurance”. Upon the latter element is based fortitude, but the animal spirit needs to be taken up and guided by the rational soul in order to become the virtue. It is in the breast that courage and passion dwells, midway between reason in the head and concupiscence in the abdomen. Plato’s high spirituality kept him from speaking too exaltedly of fortitude which rested on bodily excellence: consequently he would have wise legislators educate their citizens rather in temperance than in courage, which is separable from wisdom and may be found in children or in mere animals.

Although Aristotle makes animal courage only the basis of fortitude — the will is courageous, but the animal spirit co-operates — he has not a similar contempt for the body, and speaks more honorably of courage when it has for its prime object the conquest of bodily fear before the face of death in battle. Aristotle likes to narrow the scope of his virtues as Plato likes to enlarge his scope. He will not with his predecessor extend fortitude to cover all the firmness or stability which is needful for every virtue, consequently Kant was able to say: “Virtue is the moral strength of the will in obeying the dictates of duty”. The Platonic Socrates took another limited view when he said that courage was the episteme ton deinon kai me; hence he inferred that it could be taught. Given that in themselves a man prefers virtue to vice, then we may say that for him every act of vice is a failure of fortitude. Aristotle would have admitted this too; nevertheless he chose his definition:

“Fortitude is the virtue of the man who, being confronted with a noble occasion of encountering the danger of death, meets it fearlessly”.

Such a spirit has to be formed as a habit upon data more or less favorable; and therein it resembles other virtues of the moral kind. Aristotle would have controverted Kant’s description of moral stability in all virtue as not being a quality cultivatable into a habit: “Virtue is the moral strength of the will in obeying the dictates of duty, never developing into a custom but always springing freshly and directly from the mind”. Not every sort of danger to life satisfies Aristotle’s condition for true fortitude: there must be present some noble display of prowess.

As a commentator on Aristotle, Professor J.A. Stewart challenges the friends of the martyrs to make a stand for their cause when he says: “Men show courage when they can take up arms and defend themselves, where death is glorious.

Aristotle gives the cases of soldiers whose skill enables them to meet without much apprehension what others would dread, and who are ready to flee as soon as grave danger is seen: of animally courageous men whose action is hardly moral: of courage where hope is largely in excess over dread: of ignorance which does not apprehend the risk: and of civic virtue which is moved by the sanction of reward and penalty.

Aristotle says that mercenaries, who have not a high appreciation of the value of their own lives, may very well expose their lives with more readiness than could be found in the virtuous man who understands the worth of his own life, and who regards death as the end of his own individual existence.

St. Thomas keeps as close to Aristotle as he may, departing from him as to the dignity, perhaps, which is to be found in the passive martyr’s death, as to the hope of future life, and as to the character of virtue as a matter mainly of fine conduct aesthetically. He calls the specific virtue of fortitude that which braves the greatest dangers and therefore that which meets the risk of life in battle.

People need trouble — a little frustration to sharpen the spirit on, toughen it. Artists do; I don’t mean you need to live in a rat hole or gutter, but you have to learn fortitude, endurance. Only vegetables are happy. William Faulkner

The Battle Is Won By The Man With Fortitude                                                                              

 John Killinger retells this story from Atlantic Monthly about the days of the great western cattle rancher: “A little burro sometimes would be harnessed to a wild steed. Bucking and raging, convulsing like drunken sailors, the two would be turned loose like Laurel and Hardy to proceed out onto the desert range. They could be seen disappearing over the horizon, the great steed dragging that little burro along and throwing him about like a bag of cream puffs. They might be gone for days, but eventually they would come back. The little burro would be seen first, trotting back across the horizon, leading the submissive steed in tow. Somewhere out there on the rim of the world, that steed would become exhausted from trying to get rid of the burro, and in that moment, the burro would take mastery and become the leader. And that is the way it is with the world, isn’t it? The battle is won by those with fortitude, not to the outraged; to the committed, not to those who are merely dramatic.

Splendor, forgiveness, fortitude, cleanliness, absence of malice, and absence of pride; these are the qualities of those endowed with divine virtues, O Arjuna.Bhagavad Gita
Want of money and the distress of a thief can never be alleged as the cause of his thieving, for many honest people endure greater hardships with fortitude. We must therefore seek the cause elsewhere than in want of money, for that is the miser’s passion, not the thief s.William Blake
After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Norther Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources. I need not tell the brave survivors of some many hard fought battles who have remained steadfast to the last that I have consented to this result from no distrust of them. But feeling that valor and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest, I determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen. By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from a consciousness of duty faithfully performed; and I earnestly pray that a Merciful God will extend to you His blessings and protection. With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your Country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration for myself, I bid you all an affectionate farewell.General Robert E. Lee's farewell address, April 9th, 1865
Agriculture is for living; mind culture is for life. Skills are for shaping material things so that they cater more for the comfort of man; studies are for shaping attitudes, feelings, desires, emotions and impulses of man, so that they may confer more peace, more joy and more fortitude on man.Sri Sathya Sai Baba


Fortitude is a virtue of heroic and even supernatural dimensions. It is the fourth of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and corresponds to the Fourth Beatitude, “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice.” Fortitude deals with lofty goods and formidable dangers.

St. Thomas Aquinas refers to fortitude as “a certain firmness of mind” which “is required both in doing good and in enduring evil, especially with regard to goods or evils that are difficult” He goes on to say that “man’s mind is moved by the spirit in order that he may attain the end of each work begun, and avoid whatever perils may threaten.” Fortitude is courage that transcends itself through spiritual assistance.

Aron Ralston: Fortitude Personified

On April 26, 2003, Ralston was hiking through Blue John Canyon, in eastern Wayne County, Utah, just south of the Horseshoe Canyon unit of Canyonlands National Park. While descending a slot canyon, a suspended boulder from which he was climbing down became dislodged, crushing his right hand and forearm and pinning it against the canyon wall. Ralston had not told anybody of his hiking plans, thus no one would be searching for him.

Assuming that he would die, he spent five days slowly sipping his small amount of remaining water, approximately 350 ml (12 imp fl oz) and slowly digesting his small amount of food, two burritos, while trying to extricate his arm. His efforts were futile as he could not free his arm from the 800 lb (360 kg) chockstone. After three days of trying to lift and break the boulder, the dehydrated and delirious Ralston prepared to amputate his trapped right arm at a point on the mid-forearm, in order to escape. He experimented with tourniquets and made some exploratory superficial cuts to his forearm in the first few days. On the fourth day he realized that in order to free his arm he would have to cut through the bones in it, but the tools he had available were insufficient to do so.

When he ran out of food and water on the fifth day, he was forced to drink his own urine, he carved his name, date of birth and presumed date of death into the sandstone canyon wall, and videotaped his last goodbyes to his family. He did not expect to survive the night. After waking at dawn the following day (Thursday, May 1) he had an epiphany that he could break his radius and ulna bones using torque against his trapped arm. He did so, and then performed the amputation, which took about one hour with his multi-tool, which included a dull two-inch knife. Although he never named the manufacturer of the tool he used, other than to say it was not a Leatherman, he did describe it as “what you’d get if you bought a $15 flashlight and got a free multi-use tool.”

After freeing himself, Ralston still had to get back to his car. He climbed out of the slot canyon in which he had been trapped, rappelled down a 65-foot (20 m) sheer wall one-handed, then hiked out of the canyon in the hot midday sun. He was 8 miles (13 km) from his vehicle, and had no phone. However, while hiking out, he encountered a family on vacation from the Netherlands, Eric and Monique Meijer with their son Andy, who gave him food and water and then hurried to alert the authorities. Ralston feared he would bleed to death before that happened (by this point, he had lost 40 pounds, including 25% of his blood volume), but by coincidence, rescuers searching for Ralston (they had been alerted that he was missing by his family and had recently narrowed the search down to Canyonlands) flew by in their helicopter and he was rescued, six hours after amputating his arm.

Ralston has said that if he had amputated his arm earlier, he would have bled to death before being found, while if he had not done it he would have been found dead in the slot canyon days later. He believed he was looking forward to the amputation and the freedom it would give rise to.

Later, his severed hand and forearm was retrieved from under the boulder by park authorities. It took 13 men, a winch and a hydraulic jack to move the boulder so that Ralston’s arm could be removed. It was then cremated and given to Ralston. He returned to the accident scene with Brokaw and a camera crew six months later, on his 28th birthday, for two reasons: to film a Dateline NBC special about the accident, and to scatter the ashes of his arm where he says they belong.

Many men owe the grandeur of their lives to their tremendous difficulties.Charles H. Spurgeon
I thank God for my handicaps, for, through them, I have found myself, my work, and my God.Helen Keller

Surviving Abuse Takes Fortitude

By Diane Cameron

We love the Olympics because we admire the hard work and endurance of elite athletes from around the world. We hear their stories of intense commitment, working through pain, triumph over adversity and the ability to return again and again after injury and through hardship.

There is another group of people who are so much like Olympic athletes, who have all of those qualities, but who are mostly invisible. I’ve been thinking about them this week because of the other big sports story in the news — the crimes at Penn State. That other extraordinary group is the adults who survive childhood abuse.

I know something about this, because I am one of them. I am a survivor of childhood physical and sexual abuse. I know the emotional, physical, psychic and economic cost of surviving to adulthood with a decent and competent life.

When I was 10 years old, our family doctor gave my mother a prescription for Dexedrine, and she was quickly hooked. My mother’s addiction left her with violent mood swings and tragically blind to family members and neighbors who were dangerous. It was an eight-year nightmare.

Some of the abuse I tried to tell family members about and some I told to no one. The personal cost was very high. I spent years drowning in self-doubt, shame and anxiety, becoming dangerously anorexic and, of course, succumbing to my own addictions. Finally at age 28, in excruciating physical and emotional pain, I got help.

My recovery from abuse was its own terrifying roller-coaster ride. The only thing harder than living through abuse in childhood is the endurance of re-experiencing it as an adult in therapy. Years of therapy. Expensive therapy. For some 30 years.

I’ve helped to buy some beautiful homes and at least one sailboat in treatment fees paid out of pocket. I don’t regret a dime of it. But I do think about the others, like the boys and men at Penn State. Who will help them?

We’ve heard that the penalty for Penn State will include funds for prevention of child abuse, but where are the millions for the decades-long treatment needed by Penn State’s victims?

If they can overcome the shame that accrues to abuse victims in order to seek help, it will be very expensive. And no, health insurance doesn’t cover it. Abuse recovery doesn’t happen in 24 visits or even 124. If I had depended only on health insurance, I’d be dead.

Over the years, I’ve met people who did not survive, who were defeated by depression, addiction or suicide. But I know others — truly fierce people — who are recovering. And that’s something else that I know, heresy, in some circles. I got some gifts from my painful childhood.

The skills I use in my work today — my talents, you could say — came out of that horrible part of my life. I have a powerful intuition; the ability to anticipate what people need and feel. So many bosses have told me that I’m “calm in a crisis” that it’s funny — except when I think about how I acquired that skill.

I’ve seen colleagues reduced to tears over workplace “problems” like losing an important file or a late proposal. For me, a woman racing through the house at 3 a.m. in a manic rage waving a knife is a problem. Anything else is just a situation.

In a strange way, I’m proud of my survival. It’s a lifetime achievement.

But does that mean that what happened to me was OK?

Not at all. For all the strengths I have today, I still live with too much fear and insecurity to balance this scale to the plus side.

Abused children who survive to adulthood have a determination and fierceness that rivals any elite athlete. And my heart breaks when I think that Penn State’s victims were little boys who wanted to be athletes.

I hope that if they watch the Olympics tonight they will know that they have the same internal fortitude as our country’s best competitors. While there are no medals and no flag ceremony for sexual abuse survivors, some of us will always be cheering for them.

Fortitude doesn’t always roar, sometimes fortitude is the small quiet voice at the end of the day that whispers, I will try again tomorrow.


A man found a cocoon of a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared. He sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through that little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could, and it could go no further.

So the man decided to help the butterfly. He took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily. But it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings.

The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time. Neither happened! In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly.

What the man, in his kindness and haste, did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were God’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.

Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our lives. If we were allowed to go through life without any obstacles, it would cripple us. We would not be as strong as what we could have been. We could never fly!

How to Face Adversity with Fortitude

People sometimes react with a feeling of hopelessness when adversity comes to their lives, and they feel that they are so unfortunate in life. Little do they realize that despite their adversity, they are still fortunate compared to a lot of other people who faced worse adversities and surmounted them, such as: Helen Keller, who grew up blind, deaf and mute, but became a world-famous author. Glenn Cunningham, who grew up crippled, but through perseverance, became a legendary Olympic athlete and world-record breaker. Stephen Hawkins, the physicist who is stricken with a disease that makes him unable to walk and talk, but despite this continued to contribute as one of the greatest living physicist in the world today.

Do your best to handle the adversity, and accept the consequences.

Approach adversity the same way we deal with major worries. Do our best under the circumstances, and after doing our best, accept whatever may be the outcome. We must make sure however that we have really done our best, and not just rationalize that we have. We must accept the result of past mistakes.

Keep a cheerful and positive disposition.

A cheerful or positive disposition is one of the best qualities that can protect us from the psychological burdens of adversity. It enables us to spring back after we have fallen down. It gives us hope in the face of apparent hopelessness. All adversities will pass away (”This too shall pass away”). We must avoid being bitter but learn to take life as it is. Rebellion against your handicaps gets you nowhere. Self-pity gets you nowhere. One must have the adventurous daring to accept oneself as a bundle of possibilities and undertake the most interesting game in the world — making the most of one’s best.Harry Emerson Fosdick

Adversity makes us strong.

Adversity produces strength of character, which results in greater capacity for doing more important things. Therefore, the beneficial side of adversity should be appreciated.

“A kite flies against the wind.” A person rises higher as the opposing wind becomes stronger.

“A sailboat can go forward even when against the wind.” It makes use of conflicting forces, including adverse forces, to move forward.

Muscles are developed by putting resistance to them.

Fire is the test of gold; adversity, of strong men.Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Adversity is an opportunity for growth.

Behind every adversity is a chance for the soul to grow and mature.

The capacity for maturely facing adversity is an important stepping stone to spirituality.

A problem is an opportunity in work clothes.Henry Kaiser Jr.
Troubles are often the tools by which God fashions us for better things.Henry Ward Beecher
Prosperity doth best discover vice; but adversity doth best discover virtue.Sir Francis Bacon
Who hath not known ill fortune, never knew himself, or his own virtue.Mallet
Prosperity is a great teacher; adversity is a greater. Possession pampers the mind; privation trains and strengthens it.Hazlitt
Prosperity has this property: It puffs up narrow souls, makes them imagine themselves high and mighty, and leads them to look down upon the world with contempt; but a truly noble spirit appears greatest in distress; and then becomes more bright and conspicuous.Plutarch
It is good for man to suffer the adversity of this earthly life: for it brings him back to the sacred retirement of the heart, where only he finds he is an exile from his native home, and ought not to place his trust in any worldly enjoyment.Thomas A Kempis
It is not the so-called blessings of life, its sunshine and calm and pleasant experiences that make men, but its rugged experiences, its storms and tempests and trials. Early adversity is often a blessing in disguise.W. Mathews


While on a missionary trip in remote Africa, Dr. David Livingston had an organization in England that wanted to send him some assistance. The leader of the organization wrote him and asked, “Have you found a good road to where you are? If so, we want to send some men to join you on this mission.” Dr. Livingston wrote back, “If you only have men who will come only if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them. I want men who will come even if there is no road at all.”