A Short Introduction to the Cardinal Virtue of Fortitude

Fortitude is the cardinal virtue which aids most in perseverance in daily living. In the Christian life, fortitude is tied to the willingness to be martyred for the Faith. It is not a desire for martyrdom, but rather, a willingness to conform one’s life so closely to goodness and truth that they are willing to die rather than go against truth. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of 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 (CCC 1808).” Once again it is clear how the cardinal virtues build upon one another. Prudence guides the individual to a reasoned conformity to truth, justice gives others their due, and fortitude fosters the habit of confronting and persevering in the face of evil and suffering.

Fortitude plays an important role in the moral life. If a person cannot choose to defend and live truth regardless of consequences, then they will fall into error, sin, and vice. Human beings will suffer in this life and fortitude provides the needed habit in overcoming, confronting, and living through periods of trial. In the latter, it may even mean giving up one’s own life. Pieper states, “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.”[1] Fortitude is to accept this vulnerability, but to summon courage despite pain and suffering. Fortitude provides strength in the face of persecution when others may steal one’s property, livelihood, freedom, and very life. It does not mean searching for martyrdom or persecution, but it means being prepared when those moments arise.

[1] Pieper, 1758.

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