The Holy Spiritís Gift of Fortitude

Prof. Michael F. Hull, New York

The gifts of the Holy Spirit complete and perfect the natural virtues, especially the four cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. Insofar as grace builds on nature and perfects it, the gift of fortitude strengthens the virtue of fortitude and thus enables within us the strength to do the will of God in all things. Fortitude, virtue and gift, receives little attention in the documents of Vatican II per se, because both as virtue and gift it is seen to be constitutive for the other virtues and gifts, for example, in Gaudium et spes, nn. 62 and 75; Perfectae caritatis, n. 5; and Apostolicam actuositatem, n. 17. The Holy Spiritís gift of fortitude is unmistakable in Saint Paulís words: "I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:14).

Saint Thomas Aquinas treats fortitude extensively in the Summa theologiae: first as a natural moral virtue (II-II, q. 123) and second as a gift of the Holy Spirit (II-II, q. 139). As a virtue, Thomas follows Aristotleís Nicomachean Ethics closely. But specifically as a cardinal virtue, Thomas goes beyond Aristotle in considering fortitude as that which ensures the general stability of all the virtues. If virtues are to be virtues and if they are to be operable in a moral life, each virtue must act with the steadfastness that can be assured only by the virtue of fortitude. Therefore, fortitude is the principal virtue to the secondary virtues of magnanimity, magnificence, patience, and perseverance.

As a gift of the Holy Spirit, Thomas considers fortitude to be a supernatural virtue, along the lines of Isa 11:2. In view of the fact that the reward of eternal life is the end of all our good deeds and the release from all our fears, the gift of fortitude infuses within us a confidence to withstand anything to the contrary. This clearly builds upon, even as it surpasses, the virtue of fortitude, for it is not within our power alone to attain the end of our works or to avoid the pitfalls consequent of its acquisition. Thomas, following Saint Augustine (De Serm. Dom. in Monte, 1), notes the correspondence between the gift of fortitude and the fourth beatitude: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matt 5:6).

Taken in tandem with the Holy Spiritís gift of counsel, the gift of fortitude is the grace to remain resolute in the pursuit of holiness and heaven. In his Regina Coeli address of May 14, 1989, Pope John Paul II remarks: "Perhaps today as never before the moral virtue of fortitude needs the support of the corresponding gift of the Holy Spirit. The gift of fortitude is a supernatural impulse which gives strength to the soul, not only in exceptional occasions such as that of martyrdom, but also in normal difficulties: in the struggle to remain consistent with oneís principles; in putting up with insults and unjust attacks; in courageous perseverance on the path of truth and uprightness, in spite of lack of understanding and hostility." The Holy Spiritís gift of fortitude neither annihilates the vicissitudes of life nor eradicates the efforts of the devil. Instead, the gift of fortitude allows us to share in and holdfast to the insight of Saint Paul: "For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor 12:10).