The Cardinal Virtue of Fortitude

— By Mark Dreisonstok, 33o
Scottish Rite Journal, November/December 2023

In the contemporary world, Fortitude is sometimes thought of as simple endurance. Masons, however, also understand it in its older and fuller meaning, which sees it as a form of courage and contains both physical and spiritual aspects. In his article “Fortitude” in the September 1947 New Age Magazine (as the Scottish Rite Journal was then known), the author (only identified as “H.A.R.”) writes:
“Fortitude is regarded by Symbolic Lodges as one of the cardinal virtues. Fortitude, we learn, is that noble and steady purpose of the mind whereby we are enabled to undergo any pain, peril, or danger, when prudently deemed expedient. This virtue is equally distant from rashness and cowardness [sic] and, like the former, should be deeply unpressed upon the mind of every Mason [...] (p. 553)”
In suggesting that Fortitude occupies a middle ground between rashness and cowardice, these words hearken back to Aristotle, who, in his Nicomachean Ethics, urged Fortitude as a Goldean Mean between foolhardiness on the one hand and cowardice on the other. Similarly, writing only a month later in the October 1947 New Age, C.I. McReynolds, 32o, of Tuscon, Arizona, expands on the definition of Fortitude by referencing the Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero:
“Cicero’s [...] Fortitude includes courage, self-command, and the scorn of fortune, and of all temporary facilities” “ the last term we might translate today as meaning trendy opinions. Fortitude and the other cardinal virtues, writes Albert Pike in the First Degree Lecture to Morals and Dogma, are “as necessary to nations as to individuals,” bringing this discussion of Fortitude into the civic arena.
For some Masons who have put pen to paper on this subject, Fortitude is a virtue beyond the ethics of practical, worldly, or even patriotic action. “Spiritual vision inspires fortitude,” writes Swami Premananda, 33o, one-time Wise Master of Evangelist Chapter Rose Croix, Washington, D.C., in his book One Hundred and One Noble Qualities (1956). “Fortitude is the power of endurance. It is the invincible strength of our inner self,” the writer continues (p. 86).
Whether we view Fortitude in terms of Aristotelian virtue ethics, an everyday code to square our actions, civic duty to and the character of a nation-state, or a path towards spiritual vision, it is clearly one of the most important lessons of Craft Masonry. May each of us nourish and polish the quintessential touchstone of character that is Fortitude!