What Fortitude Achieves

 

Submitted by Richard D. Marcus

George Washington 1776 Lodge, F&AM #337

Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin

 

I. Heroic Fortitude

Fortitude is a quality of courage that is best understood by contemplating those who have displayed heroic fortitude. President George Washington and the signers of the Declaration of Independence showed their willingness to risk their property and their lives for freedom. Emmanuel Leutze's painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware on the Day Before the Battle of Trenton, 26th December 1776 illustrates a leader with abundant fortitude. On that December night, General Washington's whole demeanor is a study in fortitude.

Throughout the long days at Valley Forge, Washington demonstrated a Masonic virtue that time and patience will accomplish all things. His persistence, single-mindedness, and bravery embodied heroic fortitude. Great leaders are true to their ideals. They persist even in trouble and show their courage when most needed. Our First President is a model for fortitude in action.

II. Seven Moral Principles

The EA degree introduces candidates to seven moral principles, which we group into three tenets and four Cardinal Virtues. The tenets are brotherly love, relief, and truth. These tenets are key to any organization, but especially to our fraternity. Relief is practiced through our Masonic charities as an expression of brotherly love. If we are to become better men, we seek truth and enlightenment. These tenets are supplemented with four Cardinal Virtues of temperance, fortitude, prudence, and justice.

The idea of four Cardinal Virtues comes from Plato. 'Cardinal' is derived from the Latin word cardo, which is a hinge on which a thing turns. All moral virtues hinge on these four virtues. Plato writes in The Laws, (Book I, 631): "Wisdom is the chief and leader: next follows temperance; and from the union of these two with courage springs justice." Our present-day four Cardinal Virtues map directly into Plato's quartet with wisdom (or Sophia) being associated with prudence, courage with fortitude, and the other two being kept intact.

Although all seven moral principles deserve our full consideration, let us concentrate on fortitude. Fortitude is a virtue to which we aspire. Perhaps we should assess where we currently stand in terms of having fortitude. Social scientists use questionnaires to measure beliefs, attributes, and preferences. To measure our response to the statement,"I have fortitude," they would use a seven-point Likert scale. What number from 1 (lowest) to 7 (highest) do you give yourself using the following scale?

1-----------2-----------3-----------4-----------5------------6------------7

Very Strongly Disagree...............Neutral....................Very Strongly Agree

To be a better man, we would want to improve in several dimensions: fortitude is just one dimension. The image of a limited amount of fortitude is inappropriate, as we have untapped fortitude that only becomes necessary in times of great trial. Nevertheless, we may find ourselves saying we are only a "4" or a "5" on the scale of having fortitude. It should be one of our goals to achieve a greater reservoir of fortitude for when we will need it.

III. Why Fortitude and Not Other Virtues?

Fortitude is clearly an important virtue, but we may well ask why this moral principle was included in the four Cardinal Virtues and not others? There are many valuable moral principles in life. Some biblical virtues include compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, patience, righteousness, and long-suffering.

Biblical virtues are often viewed as gifts or fruits given to us. Fortitude is not listed as a gift of the Spirit; indeed fortitude does not appear in the Bible at all. On deeper introspection, it appears that some virtues are learnable and capable of being improved. As we seek to become better men, fortitude is a manly virtue that we should work to inculcate. It is not given as an inherent quality, but one that a lifetime of practice can perfect.

IV. Cardinal Virtues Symbolized

Masonry uses visual symbols to teach moral principles. The square and compasses are the most prominent Masonic visual symbol. But the four Cardinal Virtues are sometimes illustrated in human form.

Temperance ------------ Fortitude -------------- Prudence ------------ Justice

The four figures, at first glance, appear to be goddesses or Muses. But, as with most symbols, careful examination reveals hidden truths. Beginning at the far right figure, we see Justice with two key symbols. Justice holds a scale. The scale assures fairness in all actions. In the marketplace, a businessman gives fair value and a true accounting. But resting by her side is Justice's sword. Injustice should meet swift and sure punishment.

To the left of Justice is Prudence. She displays several complex symbols. Prudence wears a helmet, which crowns her as being wise. Wisdom and prudence are associated: we are also to be wise. Her helmet further is seen as a mask with eye openings. A wise person uses prudence in secrets that have been given us. At her feet is a bush, which Masons would recognize as an Acacia. Acacia reminds us of our own mortality and our being raised as Master Masons. Prudence further wraps her outer garment around her to encourage us to practice prudence with others.

On the extreme left stands Temperance. She pours a measured amount of refreshment into a cup. It may be water or wine, but her careful attention displays temperance, reserve, and moderation. Temperance provides a balance to the more dynamic virtue of fortitude.

The second figure from the right is Fortitude. On quick analysis, she seems to be rather vane as she examines herself in a golden mirror. The mirror, however, is itself a symbol. Vampires allegedly cannot see their reflection in a mirror as they have no souls. But we see ourselves in the mirror. We know who we are. We learn to reflect on ourselves: Will we have sufficient fortitude when calamity strikes? Around her waist is tied a black cinch to hold her garments together. Should Fortitude need to travel, she is prepared for action. She will not be held back to secure other garments. In her arm, Fortitude nestles a staff from which new leaves of an almond tree are budding. This recalls the Book of Numbers, Chapter 17, wherein Aaron's rod miraculously blossomed as evidence that God chose him as High Priest. As the wand of leadership, Fortitude is holding the same symbol that Kings and Queens hold as scepters and a College Marshall holds during Commencement as the college mace. Lodge officers similarly wield rods and wands as symbols of leadership.

We see that fortitude is essential for true leadership. Without fortitude, no one can succeed. Life sometimes gets difficult. There is always the temptation to give in or to give up. When we show fortitude, we learn to "stick it out" and overcome obstacles to accomplish goals.

V. The Strength of Heart and Mind

The organ most associated with fortitude is the heart. We realize, of course, that courage or fortitude must reside in the brain. Nevertheless, the heart is viewed classically as the seat of courage, determination, and fortitude. The heart beats faster when adrenaline races through the blood system. Our faces flush in the danger-flight response. But those with fortitude do not flinch. They persevere in the face of danger.

To a lesser extent, the mind is also associated with fortitude. The mind can be fickle; it wanders, prevaricates, or rationalizes lies and cowardice. A man with fortitude masters his fickle mind. He stands for truth and does not suffer his own cowardice lightly. He enter his future bravely, whatever that future holds.

A door is functional as well as symbolic. We open doors to gain entrance to dwellings or symbolically to our future. We close doors to keep some things safe or private. An EA candidate must decide by his own free will to enter the Lodge through a door. After entering, fortitude is associated with the first point of our entrance. Fortitude teaches Masons to have the strength of heart and mind to persevere in all noble endeavors.

VI. What Fortitude Achieves*

Fortitude is an earnest enthusiasm that is disciplined by reason and ennobled by sincerity. It is a dynamic quality that is essential for all great achievement. Men with fortitude reject temerity and timidity. They have courage to match their convictions. They inspire confidence, invite action, and generate progress. Temperance, prudence and justice lose much of their effectiveness without the driving force of fortitude. The greatest achievements of man are tributes to the blending of these virtues.

When we practice fortitude in little ways we will be better able to call up great fortitude when we most need it. By standing firm for truth and growing in courage, we will also be improving in fortitude. As we achieve greater fortitude, we become better men. Growth in fortitude fosters leadership roles for us in our homes and workplaces. We become leaders who embody heroic fortitude in good times and in bad. Let us demonstrate our courage and fortitude so that our actions match our convictions.

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*The National Scholastic Honorary Society in Business, Beta Gamma Sigma, presents three lectures on honor, wisdom, and ernestness. The lectures are derived from Plato. Some of the language from the speech on ernestness has been adapted for this section on what fortitude achieves.