Editor's note:

This week at Renovaré, we’ll be looking at the cardinal virtue fortitude. What is fortitude? What can we learn from those who display it? How can we develop this worthy trait in our own characters? Richard Foster starts us out today with a brief but invigorating look at what we mean by fortitude.

He writes of its dual nature as the virtues of courage and tenacity combined. We hope you are encouraged by this week’s study.

—Renovaré Team

A cardinal virtue

This week we will focus on one of the great cardinal virtues—fortitude. But before we get to fortitude I need to say a little about virtue, trying, if I can, to redeem the word for you. Unfortunately this word tends to get associated with many bad feelings and attitudes; like perfectionism or legalism, or like the kind of snobbery where others are constantly looking down their noses at all the rest of us. In fact for many people the very mention of virtue makes them feel like someone is snooping around their lives to see if they are having a good time and trying to stop it.

But virtue has nothing to do with any of these things. Simply put, virtue is good habits that we can rely upon to make our lives work. (Conversely, vice is bad habits we can rely upon to make our lives not work.) When the old writers spoke of “a virtuous life”, they were referring to a life that works, a life that functions well.

Now, the cardinal virtues are called that because they are the “hinge” virtues, that is, those qualities of life that swing open the door onto a good and fully functioning life. (“Cardinal”, in Latin, means hinge.) And fortitude is a key cardinal virtue. Indeed we cannot practice any of the other virtues very long without bringing fortitude into play.

A double meaning 

Fortitude actually has a double meaning, or perhaps two distinct aspects of one meaning. First, it means courage, bravery, valor, heroism. You know, all of those qualities that are rather out of fashion in our day, but which we sure hope the person next to us has when the chips are down. The second meaning is endurance, tenacity, perseverance. It is that ability to stay with a task in the midst of every conceivable discouragement and setback. Courage and endurance—it’s this great combination that is summed up in the virtue of fortitude.

One of the finest ways we have of understanding fortitude is by studying examples of it in various settings and from different angles. And the variety of angles and settings of their stories serve to deepen our understanding. On Wednesday, we will look briefly at some lives of different Christians that can, through the variety angles and settings of their stories, serve to deepen our understanding. On Friday, we will look at some practices that can help us develop this virtue in our own lives. 

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First published in Perspectives, 2001.