The Gift of Fortitude
~ by Amy Morgan ~
Noah was commanded by God to build a boat and declare to his neighbors that a flood was coming to destroy them. For decades of cloudless skies, he persisted in his message and in his carpentry despite the ridicule of his community. Ester found herself the wife of a pagan king who had decreed the destruction of her people. After prayer and fasting, Ester courageously approached her husband, the king, and won back the lives of her people. Magi in the East spotted a unique star. Their faithful journey following that star brought them to the palace of a hot-headed Herod where they told him that the star proclaimed a newborn King of the Jews. Notice the fortitude and divine work in the words of these pre-Christian figures.
In the earliest days of the church, John and Peter encountered a lame man at a temple gate and in the name of Jesus, they healed the man. Many glorified God because of this miracle; many, but not all. Some rulers, elders and priests worried about this miracle being attributed to the crucified Jesus of Nazareth. These rulers arrested the two apostles, but upon seeing “the boldness of Peter and John, and perceiving that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled.” (Acts 4:13) Rather than worship God along with other witnesses of the miracle, these rulers demanded that Peter and John stop speaking of Jesus. Peter and John’s response was clear. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they answered that they would continue speaking of what they had seen, heard and knew of Jesus, His death and resurrection.
Notice the Spirit-filled fortitude of these apostles in response to their arrest and the instructions they were given to keep silent about Jesus. They were more sure of the meaning of Jesus’s resurrection than of any legal consequences. In that certainty, the apostles risked their immediate security and comfort for the eternal good news that was their sure hope. In that certainty, they continued declaring the resurrection and its glorious ramifications. In his book The Four Cardinal Virtues, Joseph Pieper claims that “In the gift of fortitude, the Holy Spirit pours into the soul a confidence that overcomes all fear.” A Christian’s theoretical beliefs rise within to become “evidence so direct and compelling as to resemble the experience of sight, hearing, and touch”. (Pieper 138) This Spirit-filled fortitude has mobilized apostles, saints, and other holy heroes of history toward many tasks and virtues. The Biblical examples above each employed speech in their task of faithfulness, so let’s pause to mark how spiritual fortitude gives force to the tool of rhetoric.
Rhetorical training of ancient Greece was intended to prepare great orators. While introducing beautiful and persuasive linguistic tools for writing, the exercises also trained the hearts of students by exposing them to virtues in fables, narratives and biographies. Students were asked to argue in favor of virtue and against vice. They were encouraged to seek out and recognize goodness and truth and to avoid their opposites. To be a great orator of ancient Greece was first to be a great-souled person. Centuries into this discipline, Aristotle wrote his textbook “Rhetoric” to remind his students that a true orator is one of virtue, who speaks the truth in a beautiful style. Aristotle pointed out that truth always has the advantage in an argument. If truth loses in an argument, it is the fault of its defender. (Aristotle 1355a)
As Christians, we have the Spirit of Truth within us to “guide us into all Truth” (John 16:13). If we fail to speak or defend the truth, what is our excuse? Do we, as Moses (Exodus 3), doubt God’s ability to use us? Do we, like Zachariah (Luke 1), doubt the message’s plausibility? Do we, like Jeremiah or like Timothy, fear that we are the wrong age for people to listen? Thankfully, there is no need for such insecurities. This is where the gift of fortitude is made available. The Holy Spirit equips God’s speaker with “power and love and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). The Spiritual fortitude that mobilized Noah, Ester, John, and Peter reached forward to strengthen the pens of Paul in his Roman cell and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his Birmingham Jail. It remains active today, empowering us to “be prepared to give an answer for the reason of the hope you have” in Christ (1 Peter 3:15-17). The Spirit of Truth continues to give purpose and life to the words of a student who employs the ancient tools of rhetoric for the Kingdom of God. Thanks be to God.
Aristotle and Richard McKeon. The Basic Works of Aristotle. Rhetoric. New York: Random
The Orthodox Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008.
Pieper, Joseph (1966). The Four Cardinal Virtues. Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press