Fortitude: A Virtue to Defend the Soul

Fortitude is the ability to rule and govern one’s own soul. This virtue, not to be confused with strength, can be likened to a fortress of the soul, defending her against all vice and temptation. In these excerpts, taken from The Paradise of the Soul: Forty-Two Virtues to Reach Heaven, St. Albert the Great discusses the virtue of fortitude and its importance for our salvation as well as a prayer to attain this most necessary virtue in our own spiritual lives.

What is Fortitude?

Perfect fortitude is to be able to rule and govern well one’s own soul. This means being able to restrain the soul from all pride, envy, wrath, lust, avarice, vainglory, self-satisfaction, and carnal desire so that the rational intelligence refuses ever to consent to or cooperate with such tendencies. Hence it is written, “The one who rules his own soul is better than the one who conquers cities!”

Strength versus Fortitude 

It was this spiritual fortitude which Samson, who was otherwise so strong, did not possess. For though he killed a lion with his bare hands and slaughtered many people with the jawbone of an ass, in the end he was deprived of all his power through being overcome by the desire for a woman. Even holy David did not always possess this spiritual fortitude perfectly. For, even though he killed lions and bears and defeated the giant Goliath, he was not able to restrain his own eyes from temptation. Oh, how great was his strength in undertaking fasting and works of penance! Yet despite this, he could not always keep himself from vices and temptations. In particular, he was not always able to restrain his tongue from speaking words of deceit and evil.

Unrestrained Speech

The apostle James writes about the perils of unrestrained speech when he says, “All beasts, birds, serpents and other creatures are able to be tamed, but no person can govern the tongue! For the tongue is restless, and carries with it a lethal venom.” Nevertheless, unless one learns to control the tongue, there is no true piety possible. Accordingly, James elsewhere declares, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, but cannot control what he says and deceives himself, then his religion is in vain!”

Spiritual Delight Encourages Fortitude

The positive experience of spiritual delight is something which encourages true fortitude. This spiritual delight [which is sometimes experienced in prayer and contemplation] strengthens the mind to do good works, endure hardships, resist temptation, and conquer the vices. The strengthening effect of this spiritual delight is prefigured in the person of Jonathan, who, after tasting some honey, became energized and invigorated in order to defeat his enemies. And it is similarly prefigured in Moses, who, after experiencing the delights of conversation with God, was capable of maintaining a continuous fast for forty days.


The purpose of the virtue of fortitude is to strengthen the mind in its knowledge of God, to impart vigor and constancy to one’s love of God and neighbor, to give courage and endurance in the midst of adversities so that the will does not succumb to fear, and to confirm the heart in stability and humility so that it does not become foolishly or vainly elated in prosperity or success. It serves also to animate and encourage a person in doing good works, and to prevent him from becoming discouraged when things go badly.

False Fortitude

A form of false or perverse fortitude is for a person to use his strength and courage for deeds contrary to the will of God. Saint Anselm observes that sinning is not true freedom, and generally does not arise from strength, ability or liberty, but rather from a deficiency in these things.

How perverse and deplorable it is, therefore, for people who actually have these good 

gifts—strength, ability, and liberty of soul—to use them to do what is contrary to the will of God! 

In fact, the misuse of this natural strength shall render them all the more culpable before the 

Lord. It is this type of misdirected strength or perverse and false fortitude which animates those kings and princes who persecute the Church. And the Antichrist and his associates shall abound with a similar type of perverse strength!

A Prayer to God for Fortitude

O Lord, how weak and feeble is every mortal being who relies upon himself alone. But how strong are those who rely upon You! How strong is the soul that has once tasted the sweetness of Your spirit, both in performing good works and in enduring tribulation, in resisting the temptations of the flesh and withstanding the hard blows of adversity.

Lord, strengthen my soul with Your own fortitude so that it may be able to combat the sinful influences of the old Adam within me. Never let me consent to the insidious persuasions of temptation. Lord, bring my senses and my members (especially my tongue) under firm control, for without Your grace, I cannot succeed in taming them. And I know that if left ungoverned, they will surely flare up like a fire and become a font of a multitude of evils and ills. 

Let neither adversity or prosperity sway me from what is right, Lord. Govern my inner heart, and let it not become fatigued in undertaking those things which are pleasing to You. Let me never shun difficulties and trials, for such things serve to nourish true and lasting fortitude and virtue—by means of which I shall be able to serve You ever more faithfully, my God. Amen.

This article is taken from a chapter in The Paradise of the Soul: Forty-Two Virtues to Reach Heaven by Saint Albert the Great which is available from TAN Books



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