Fortitude

The painting “Fortitude” was done by Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli in 1470.

 

And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”

Matthew 26:39

Fortitude can be understood as choosing to do the good in the face of a situation where doing so could result in suffering or even death. The good is here defined primarily in relationship to God. Fortitude is uniquely coupled with our humanness, our mortality, as Josef Pieper notes: “Fortitude presumes vulnerability; without vulnerability there is no possibility of fortitude. An angel cannot be courageous because it is not vulnerable.” Additionally, fortitude requires an accurate perception of reality; one is not courageous if they are indifferent to death, if they are rashly optimistic, if they throw themselves in harms way, or if they are solely confident in their own strength. One is courageous insofar as they remain obedient to God in the face of serious danger. In the helpful words of Pieper:

The possibility of being courageous in the true sense comes only when all those apparent or genuine elements of security fail…Whoever in such a state of unqualified seriousness…nonetheless advances toward the horror and does not allow himself to be prevented from doing the good, specifically for the sake of the good and thus finally for the sake of God, not out of ambition or out of fear of being taken for a coward: that person is truly courageous.

The goal of the courageous person is ultimately to protect life and to “gain a deeper, more substantial freedom from harm.” Therefore, in spite of the potential for wounding and death, courage is “life‐oriented.” The Christian understanding of fortitude is modeled after the life of Christ who faced suffering and death in obedience to God. Christ’s obedience to the point of death accomplished the greatest good known to man: our salvation and eternal life.

 

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