This week I’m reading Josef Pieper’s A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart because Ickie is leading a book group on it. Pieper’s language is lovely, even for a translation. I liked what he had to say about the virtue of fortitude:
“To be brave is not the same as to have no fear…Whoever in such a situation of unqualified seriousness, in the face of which an miles gloriosus (glorious soldier) falls mute and every heroic gesture becomes crippled, 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.
What is essential to the virtue of fortitude is not aggression or self-confidence or wrath but rather steadfastness and patience…This, however—and this point cannot be repeated too frequently—is not because patience and steadfastness are simply better and more perfect than aggressiveness and self-confidence but rather because the real world is so structured that it is in the most extreme emergency, where the only resistance possible is steadfastness, that the final and most profound spiritual strength of the person can become manifest.”
It makes me think of Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings. They are anti-heros in every way and they know their quest is hopeless, but they press on all the same because they know the gravity of it. I love this passage from The Return of the King:
“Frodi sighed and was asleep almost before the words were spoken. Sam struggled with his own weariness, and he took Frodo's hand; and there he sat silent till deep night fell. Then at least, to keep himself awake, he crawled from the hiding-place and looked out. The land seemed full of creaking and cracking and sly noises, but there was no sound of voice or of foot. Far above the Ephel Duath in the West the night-sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping among the wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. His song in the Tower had been defiance rather than hope; for then he was thinking of himself. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master's, ceased to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo's side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.”
I think a lot of folks who don't read stories in the fantasy or sci fi genre think I enjoy them because I like dragons and fairies and whatnot. Well, those things are indeed very appealing, but I primarily enjoy good fantasy stories if they are good books. In addition, I enjoy the freedom the author has to create very specific ethical situations without bowing to the reality to which we're accustomed. We can discuss these situations, characters, their choices, etc., and apply them to our lives even more effectively because we've had a chance to step out of ordinary circumstances. In this case, it's a beautiful depiction of selfless fortitude.