The Virtue of Fortitude and Contrary Vices

This treatise is divided into four chapters : 1. definition of fortitude ; 2. acts of fortitude ; 3. integral and potential parts of fortitude ; 4. vices contrary to fortitude.


473. Definition. Fortitude is that cardinal virtue which strengthens the irascible appetite (and will) enabling it to continue its pursuit of difficult good even in the face of the greatest dangers to bodily life.

Explanation. Fortitude resides in the irascible appetite to the extent that it is subject to the control of the will, since it strengthens this appetite to curb the passions of fear and recklessness easily and promptly at the approach of supreme danger.

The matter of fortitude includes those most severe dangers which ought to be withstood reasonably, viz. the expulsion of excessive fear and the curbing of excessive recklessness.

The gift of fortitude goes further than the corresponding virtue inasmuch as it begets a firm confidence of riding all dangers.


There are two acts of fortitude — the suppression of fear and the curbing of recklessness. These acts reach their peak in martyrdom.

474. Martyrdom is the endurance of death in witness to the truth of Christianity. Therefore three conditions must be verified for martyrdom : a) actual death ; b) the infliction of death by an enemy out of hatred for Christianity. Therefore the following are precluded from genuine martyrdom ‘ those who die by contracting disease in their care of lepers, those who suffer death in defence of natural truths or for heresy, those who commit suicide in order to safeguard their chastity ; c) the voluntary acceptance of death.

The effects of martyrdom are : a) the remission of all sin and punishment, since martyrdom is an act of perfect charity ; b) the martyr’s aureole which is a privileged reward corresponding to this privileged victory.


475. Since fortitude is a most individual virtue it allows of no further species or subjective parts. But its potential and integral parts are four in number : magnanimity, munificence, patience, perseverance ; these virtues are looked upon as integral parts of fortitude inasmuch as they help the latter to bring to perfection the acts mentioned in the preceding chapter ; they are potential parts to the extent that they concern less difficult matters.

476. Magnanimity is a virtue inclining man to perform great works in every virtue — works deserving of high honours.

The object, therefore, of this virtue is the due acquisition of high honours which cannot be obtained except through the exercise of difficult Christian virtues. To seek honours merely in order to obtain wealth or other material possessions is not a sign of magnanimity since such things are not truly great and are not of themselves deserving of honour.

Magnanimity is a distinct virtue in a true sense of the word since it has its own exalted object, in that it impels man to obtain great honours through noble deeds. It is in no way opposed to humility since these two virtues are founded on two different considerations : magnanimity tends towards great works in so far as they can be performed with the help of God’s grace ; humility considers man’s own defects and leads him to despise himself and prefer others to himself.

The characteristics of this virtue are well portrayed by St. Thomas following the teaching of Aristotle : the magnanimous man a) takes a restrained delight in even the greatest honours offered to him, b ) remains unruffled both by prosperity and adversity, c) willingly helps others although he himself asks hardly anyone to help him, d) does not fawn upon important personages neither does he allow his liberty to be restricted by their authority, e) is not ambitious,/) expresses his opinions boldly when necessary for he has no fear of man, g) forgets injuries received, h) moves slowly in the external acts of his body.

477. Munificence is the virtue which moderates the love of money so that man is ready to incur great expense in necessary external works.

Consequently munificence differs from magnanimity as a species from the genus ; magnanimity strives for greatness in every sphere and in all the virtues, munificence inspires a man to greatness in the construction of external things. The matter or object of this latter virtue is the incurring of heavy expenses for external works. Since this is something special and difficult, munificence is a distinct virtue to be practised by rulers and the wealthy who are able to undertake such works. This virtue differs also from liberality inasmuch as the latter concerns itself with moderate sums of money, the former with large amounts.

478. Patience is the virtue which inclines man to endure present evils so that he may not he unreasonably sorrowful.

If patience is exercised to control sorrow at the approach of death, it is an integral part of fortitude ; if the sorrow is caused by minor evils, patience then becomes a potential part of fortitude. Patience is indeed a necessary virtue and Christ Himself states,: It is by endurance that you will secure possession of your souls (Lk. xxi, 19).

The means to be used in the attainment of this virtue are : a) the careful consideration of God’s patience in bearing with sinners, &) Christ’s patience in life and in death, c) the patience of the Saints in enduring all forms of evil, d) the results of patience which are satisfaction for past sins and eternal happiness, e) evils caused by impatience.

479. Perseverance is the virtue which inclines man to continue in the exercise of the virtues in accordance with right reason notwithstanding the irksomeness which results from protracted action.

It is true that every virtue is constant and sees its act through to the end, but perseverance supplies this constancy for a special motive, viz. for the moral goodness to be found in completing a work in spite of its attendant difficulties.


480. There are three vices opposed to fortitude, four opposed to magnanimity, two opposed to munificence, two opposed to patience, and two opposed to perseverance.

1. Opposed to fortitude are : a) cowardice or timidity, b ) fearlessness, and c) recklessness.

a) Timidity is the inordinate fear of temporal ills and especially of death ; it is an excess of fear and a lack of daring. That defect in daring is usually known as cowardice.

b) Fearlessness is a vice which lacks sufficient fear of danger.

c) Recklessness is a vice which leads a man to excess in meeting danger.

481. 2. Opposed to magnanimity are : a) presumption, b) ambition, c) vainglory, d) pusillanimity.

a) Presumption is a vice which urges man to undertake works exceeding his strength. Consequently this vice is not to be confused with another form of presumption opposed to the theological virtue of hope, which trusts in obtaining eternal happiness through means not intended by God.

b) Ambition is a vice which gives man an inordinate longing for honour. Such an inordinate desire for honour very often has just the opposite effect to that desired, since it leads a man into derision and contempt.

c) Vainglory is an inordinate desire for vain glory ; cf. what has been said already on this subject in n. 172.

d) Pusillanimity is a vice which inclines man to refuse to undertake or do something as being too much for him and beyond his strength when in fact it is not.

482. 3. Opposed to munificence are : unreasonable expenditure and niggardliness.

a) Unreasonable expenditure is the vice which inclines man to incur expenses which are entirely unreasonable.

b) Niggardliness is the vice which inclines man to refuse unreasonably to incur great expenses even when necessary.

483. 4. Opposed to patience by defect is insensibility, by excess impatience.

a) Insensibility or lack of feeling is the vice which leaves a man unmoved by his own or other people’s ills. This represents a lack of sorrow and an excess of endurance and has the appearance of coarse brutality.

b) Impatience is the vice which inclines man to excessive sadness and draws him away from good because of his sadness or sorrow. Therefore the man who is impatient suffers from an excess of sadness and lacks endurance.

484. 3. Opposed to perseverance are two vices, one by defect viz, inconstancy, the other by excess, viz. pertinacity.

a) Inconstancy is the vice which makes a man only too ready to cease from some work which he has begun because of the difficulties involved in its continuance. Inconstancy is a form of irresolution which finds itself unable to resist the difficulties that arise.

b) Pertinacity is the vice which inclines man to continue in some act beyond that which is reasonable.