Fortitude: Sister of Prudence, Justice and Temperance 

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"Virtue of the Month Series" by Linda Kracht (CatholicMom.com)

Via Pixabay (2013), CC0 Public Domain. Text added in Picmonkey.

To live well is nothing other than to love God with all one’s heart, with all one’s soul and with all one’s efforts; from this it comes about that love is kept whole and uncorrupted through temperance. No misfortune can disturb it and this is fortitude. It obeys only God and this is justice and is careful in discerning things so as not to be surprised by deceit or trickery and this is prudence.” [St Augustine, De moribund eccl.1, 25, 46: PL 32, 1330-1331 and CCC 1809]

The focus on fasting, almsgiving, self denial, and the penitential practices of Lent has given way to the celebration of the greatest and oldest Christian Feast known as Easter. This Feast of Feasts, Solemnity of Solemnities moves us from mourning to rejoicing because clearly Jesus’ Resurrection proved that he is the Victor Victorious over death itself. And who else but God can claim that victory? If Jesus had not risen, our faith would indeed be in vain. [1 Corinthians 15:14]. But, have you ever asked the name of the inner strength that enabled Jesus to bear all of the injustices — for our sakes — rather than His?

Imagine Jesus having to deal with the most obvious humiliation: the Son of God condemned to death by liars, haters, idiots and weak-kneed leaders alike. Imagine the physical pain Jesus experienced with each swipe of the whip during His scourging. Imagine the pain Jesus experienced while watching Mary watch Him bleed and die. She probably wanted to die right alongside him or at least wished they could have switched places. Imagine Jesus’ temptation to just give up walking toward the Place of the Skulls, lie down on the cobbled stones, and die right there rather than struggling onward after each fall. Imagine the inner strength necessary to throw aside the suggestions from friends and foes alike that He should just go along to get along rather than continuing to make bold claims which drove the Pharisees mad. What equipped Jesus to deal with these catastrophic temptations and afflictions? God – being all Good – will always choose Goodness. That is simply His nature as God and faith allows us to understand that. But Jesus was also fully man, so what was the name of the inner strength that aligned Jesus’ human nature with his Divine nature?

This inner strength is known as Fortitude with a capital F! We are familiar with fortitude with the lower case. But what is the difference between Fortitude and fortitude? Are there any differences? We will explore that after looking at an artistic rendition of Fortitude.

"Fortitude: Sister of Prudence, Justice and Temperance" by Linda Kracht (CatholicMom.com)

Sandro Botticelli [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

How is Fortitude normally depicted in art? The well-known, inspirational painting known as the “Allegory of Fortitude” by Sandro Botticelli [completed in 1470]personifies Fortitude as a young woman, gazing pensively to the right (her left). Though young, this woman projects power and strength; queenship and authority as she sits on the throne holding the scepter in her right hand. Botticelli dresses her in flowing garments dominated by red (colors representing power & prestige), but muted with grays and browns (signifying modesty and religiousness). She also wears a breastplate of armor. Some say Fortitude appears pregnant, while others attribute her full appearance to the layered style of the dress. Fortitude is a true masterpiece created in an era when some of the world’s greatest art was produced. [http://totallyhistory.com/fortitude/] But why is Fortitude a woman?

Artists depicted virtue in the female form in both religious and political art, time and time again. Consider the most famous paintings hanging in museums and governmental buildings all around the world — their virtuous characters are often females. Lady Justice is an allegorical personification of the moral force in judicial systems. [wikipedia]The Statue of Liberty ‘enlightens the world’ while standing in the NY harbor. She represents the Roman goddess called Libertas. We even name baby girls after virtue. Just yesterday, while pushing one of our granddaughters in a stroller, I accidentally bumped into Faith, a three-year-old running along the path at the Minnesota Zoo. Why do we depict virtues in the feminine gender?

Saint John Paul ll and Venerable Fulton J. Sheen provide the best answers to this question. In his book, Three to Get Married, Sheen believes that women are [should be]held in high esteem because they have the unique ability to become a double benefactress for humanity. First, women preserve humanity by giving birth to persons who uniquely contribute both to the family and society as a whole. Without children, a society grows tired as it ages and eventually dies off. Secondly, Sheen comments that women have a rare ability to civilize [domesticate] the men they love. These civilized men turn away from pursuing selfish interests to become faithful providers and protectors of their women and children. The civilizing of men is key to the stability and welfare of all persons and societies for many good reasons. To this day, women and children stand to lose the most when men remain detached and uncivilized.

Saint John Paul ll also provides insight in Mulieris Dignitatem about why women should be held in high esteem by society.

Motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life, as it develops in the woman’s womb. The mother is filled with wonder at this mystery of life, and “understands” with unique intuition what is happening inside her. In the light of the “beginning”, the mother accepts and loves as a person the child she is carrying in her womb. This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude towards human beings – not only towards her own child, but every human being – which profoundly marks the woman’s personality. It is commonly thought that women are more capable than men of paying attention to another person, and that motherhood develops this predisposition even more. The man – even with all his sharing in parenthood – always remains “outside” the process of pregnancy and the baby’s birth; in many ways he has to learn his own “fatherhood” from the mother. One can say that this is part of the normal human dimension of parenthood, including the stages that follow the birth of the baby, especially the initial period. The child’s upbringing, taken as a whole, should include the contribution of both parents: the maternal and paternal contribution. In any event, the mother’s contribution is decisive in laying the foundation for a new human personality.

In fact, woman has a genius all her own, which is vitally essential to both society and the Church. It is certainly not a question of comparing woman to man, since it is obvious that they have fundamental dimensions and values in common. However, in man and in woman these acquire different strengths, interests and emphases and it is this very diversity which becomes a source of enrichment. –Saint John Paul II

The female genius includes a natural receptivity, sensitivity, and generosity; these traits naturally benefit family members and all of society. While the female genius is inexplicable it is certainly genius and helps to explain why women are used as models of virtue from time immemorial.

Stefanie Schafer-Bossert, co-author of several German anthropological/theological works, noted the strong tradition of depicting strength and virtue as powerful, symbolic images of women — even in Christian art — at least up until the 18th and 19th centuries. After that period of time, she claims that the strong female images began to disappear and by the mid–nineteenth century, women had become either invisible or, where their images still existed within the Christian Church, were diminutive, domestic, or angel-like. Bossert makes the claim that the change occurred in part because of a profound shift in gender values. [Stefanie Schäfer-Bossert. The Representation of Women in Religious Art and Imagery Discontinuities in “Female Virtues”] If true, men and women, families, and society will be the big losers in this shift in gender values.

Let’s compare and contrast Fortitude with fortitude. We are more familiar with fortitude — the natural virtue — than with Fortitude the Cardinal Virtue even as we exchange one with the other in ordinary language. Nearly every single word in the English language has an alternate substitute that — when used — does not significantly change the original meaning of a statement or published work. However, it is also true that someone’s original intent may get ‘watered down’ after substituting a synonym for the original word. For example, most of us associate fortitude with endurance, resilience, mettle, courage, boldness, determination, grit, nerve, and tenacity — acceptable synonyms for fortitude. And we see fortitude played out nearly every day by people of faith and people lacking in faith. For example, any one of us exhibits fortitude when running a marathon. It is also exhibited by firemen working to rescue people from burning buildings. College students display endurance when they prepare well for college finals. The unemployed seeking employment show tenacity — day after day — while applying for jobs — without giving up until they find one. You probably require grit to read this entire article. Carrying wounded soldiers to safety in the midst of war certainly takes courage. Parenting requires resilience, boldness, determination and tenacity. Fostering love requires determination. Note the subtle differences in meanings when using synonyms of fortitude. Fortitude (with a lower case f) describes courage and courage is a personal virtue that we can acquire on our own. Fortitude (lower case f) can be activated without Faith.

On the other hand Fortitude (with a capital F) is only activated by Faith. It is infused by the Holy Spirit. This divine inner strength is not acquired on our own. This specific supernatural virtue motivates us to seek God’s will rather than our own and helps us align our will to the Divine. Fortitude allows us to choose to avoid sin and resist temptations to sin. This cardinal virtue fortifies us so that we are able to say no to sin — over and over again — consistently and deliberately. Fortitude facilitates that genuine repentance that we experience after turning away from our sins and our attachment to sin. Fortitude slams the doors of temptation shut. Fortitude allows us to be faithful to God in thousands and thousands of encounters that would normally have tempted us to unfaithfulness. Fortitude gives us the courage to uphold God’s moral laws. Fortitude helps us to maintain clear consciences. Fortitude enables us to link arms with God in order to spurn any and all efforts of Satan. [adapted from a reflection of St. Claude La Colombiere. Magnificat p. 59, April 2017]

Fortitude gives us the courage to defend the faith in word and action as true witnesses of Christ. [CCC 1303] Fortitude allows us to confess Christ boldly and without shame or fear. Fortitude shows us the paths away from sin. Fortitude draws us to God. [CCC 2044] Fortitude ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. [CCC 1808, 1837] Fortitude enables us to conquer fear — even fear of death. It enables us to face trials and persecutions. Fortitude disposes us to renounce and sacrifice our own lives in defense of just causes. [CCC 1808] Fortitude is a virtue bestowed on us by the Wisdom of God. [CCC 1805] Fortitude is the Spirit of Might. [CCC 712] It is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Fortitude works hand in hand with the Spirit of Discernment. [CCC 2846]

Jesus is the authentic modeler of Fortitude; the saints are next in line. Fortitude is the name of the inner strength that allowed Jesus to endure all things. Fortitude is the name of the Cardinal Virtue that enables us to endure all things also. Fortitude (with a lower case f) is a good natural virtue to have; Fortitude is a necessary one to have in order to be able to claim our just reward – Heaven.

What is it that we can do to acquire Fortitude?

  1. Receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.
  2. Pray to the Holy Spirit for a daily infusion of Fortitude and then act on this infusion.
  3. Make a list of your fears. Place that list in front of God so that He can help you overcome them.
  4. Make a list of the gifts you have received from God; place them before Him in Thanksgiving.

Copyright 2017 Linda Kracht

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About Author

Linda Kracht is wife to David, mother to seven very special children and grandmother to 17 little ones [presently]. Linda enjoys speaking and writing and has developed field guides for families in English and Spanish about parenting, marriage, faith, morals, and family life. Kracht founded Fortifying Families of Faith [2008] to help parents honor their role as primary teacher of their children in matters that matter.

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