Part 8 of a 16 part series regarding morals and conduct.
Fortitude has the attitude and wears the Helmet of a soldier; she is clear-eyed and calm, her right arm swings free and she looks and marches steadily forward.
– V. W. Bro. W. H. Taine
Fortitude is “that noble and steadfast purpose of mind whereby we are enabled to undergo any pain, peril, or danger, when prudently deemed expedient”. In other words, fortitude means courage. As Freemasons, this applies to us as more of a moral courage for us to overcome difficulties and act upright when we face opposition or discouragement. This is taught in many different degrees. Fortitude isn’t a standalone virtue. It goes along with the other virtues and is always on the right side. When we show courage and do what is right, we’ll always be able to take on any trial or opposition and see it through to the end.
Take for example, the founding of America. Those involved, many of them Freemasons, performed great feats of both moral and physical fortitude and showed incredible courage in gaining independence and freedom. Throughout history there are many examples of fortitude that we should follow.
As Freemasons, we are taught that fortitude allows us to be strong and remain loyal to each other:
This virtue is equally distant from rashness or cowardice; and should be deeply impressed upon the mind of every Mason, as a safeguard or security against any illegal attack that may be made, by force or otherwise, to extort from him any of those valuable secrets with which he has been so solemnly intrusted, and which were emblematically represented upon his first admission into the Lodge.
In the absence of this virtue, no person can perform his duty, either to GOD, his neighbor, or himself, in an acceptable manner. He will be too much overwhelmed with the cares and troubles of the world to find leisure or resolution to protect himself from the enticing machinations with which he will be continually beset during his progress through life; and may be led unintentionally to rend asunder the sacred ties of brotherhood which unite men of all parties, religions, or politics, by forfeiting the confidence trustingly reposed in him, and thereby becoming the victim of his own weakness. (Sickels, 1868)
It is because of this virtue that Freemasonry has survived for so long. We have high principles and stand by our convictions to do what is right no matter what the cost may be. It is considered unmasonic to quit when times are tough. Fortitude and courage are what make history.
There are times when even society might look unfavorably upon moral principles, and that is when a Freemason should have the fortitude to stand by those principles to the very end. To back down in cowardice towards popular opinion shows no integrity, and also makes one appear to be unreliable. People will respect and follow one who has clear conviction rather than someone who frequently changes their minds:
It implies a steady purpose of mind to maintain a right course, in the midst of all difficulties, dangers, and trials ; with a resolution of heart to endure to the utmost all that may be appointed in the providence of God, without swerving from that course, on the one hand or the other, to seek shelter or relief by any unlawful means. (Paton, 1873)
Will there be unforeseen problems? Will the outcome not be the anticipated one? It’s not easy to always be consciously moral. It requires a great deal of mental strength and resolution that one is doing the right thing. The moral courage that a Freemason demonstrates is a beacon for others to follow. To be able to stand up to opposition when things are not right; albeit there is a line of foolhardiness that we should not cross, ever bearing in mind the virtue previously mentioned that teaches moderation:
Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.
– Bro. Winston Churchill, date uncertain.
In the Masonic sense, fortitude also teaches us to keep sensitive information in confidence no matter how tempted we are or how painful the cost may be – we have been trusted with this information and those who would betray that trust are considered worse than scum. The ceremony of the 3rd degree is pivotal in teaching this lesson. To be able to stay true to one’s convictions without faltering is a quality every Freemason strives for:
Fortitude, therefore, is that quality of character which gives a person strength to withstand temptation and to bear all suffering in silence. Fortitude is a virtue, for it permits one to do his duty undisturbed by evil distractions. It is in great measure a frame of mind to regulate one’s words and deeds with courage and with determination. It is both a positive and a negative quality in that it creates courage to do what is right and also creates strength or character to withstand intemperance. Above all else, it also creates the mental attitude to bear one’s burden bravely when all other remedies fail. (Cerza, 1977)
There are times when we are faced with the choice of either doing what is appropriate or doing something immoral in order to accomplish a greater cause, where “the end justifies the means”. However, fortitude does not allow for this and gives us an opportunity to identify ourselves as Freemasons by always doing what we know to be right.
Take for example, the skirret. It marks the ground for the foundation of a structure and also “points out that straight and undeviating line of conduct” by which we should act. To always do the right thing is to keep on the straight and narrow, and avoid deviating on a path that would lead us astray:
The Skirret is an implement which acts on a centre pin, whence a line is drawn to mark out the ground for the foundation of the intended structure. Symbolically, the Skirret points out that straight and undeviating line of conduct laid down for our pursuit in the Volume of the Sacred Law; and so to “square”, “level” and “upright” we must add “straight”. “Straight” is defined as the shortest distance between two points; and in our dealings with God, our neighbour and ourselves, we find that the shortest path is that which is straight. We can easily be tempted to take an easier path and so forsake the straight, perhaps at first just a little, but that “little” can become a habit. To keep on the straight requires restraint, which is rarely easy.
Life does not consist of one moment of impact by one solitary force, it consists of very many moments with the influence of a great number of forces, each one pulling away from the straight and narrow path, but, if our direction is rightly set, our path will be safe. With the Skirret to guide him, the Mason works with a spiritual balance; accidental influences, however powerful, will be overcome and the goal will be reached. (Henderson, 1996)
To have fortitude is to be powerful and strong, like a fort or stronghold. If we can fortify our minds from external attacks then it will build our character into a great force that can withstand any suffering. It also goes back to where strength is derived from our spiritual faith to support us in all our undertakings, like the hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God”. And like a fortress we are able to withstand any ills, dangers or pains:
It not only instructs the worthy Freemason to bear the ills of life with becoming resignation, “taking up arms against a sea of trouble,” but, by its intimate connection with a portion of our ceremonies, it teaches him to let no dangers shake, no pains dissolve the inviolable fidelity he owes to the trusts reposed in him. Or, in the words of the old Prestonian lecture, it is “a fence or security against any attack that might be made upon him by force or otherwise, to extort from him any of our Royal Secrets.” (Mackey, 1873)
Real fortitude cannot be deterred by anything, and allows us to resist temptations and face opposition with resolution and spirit. A man with fortitude is neither rash nor a coward, but is undisturbed and cannot be conquered by negative forces. There are times when having a clear, cool head will help you to succeed in difficult times and is a quality people look for in communities. It’s also important to note that in times of difficulty a man who has fortitude will never complain about the situation he faces, nor does he worry about what others think – true resolution will ensure that the right thing will always be done, no matter what:
True courage is an attribute mustered by individuals during moments of crisis. A courageous act is made without weighing its popularity or unpopularity. Instead, it relies solely on the belief that the act must be done because it is the right thing to do. In all cases, courage is being brave enough to take a stand, regardless of the outcome, regardless of potential praise or criticism.
– Bro. Edmund G. Ross, date uncertain.
At times having fortitude means to stand up and be counted, but at other times it also means having the courage to simply sit down and carry forward. We should know our limits and have the courage to be open about those limits.
Fortitude helps us to remain honest in signs of distress, when we may be tempted to stray from the righteous path. We cannot use the convenience of struggle as an excuse for taking shortcuts or acting inappropriately:
Want of money and the distress of a thief can never be alleged as the cause of his thieving, for many honest people endure greater hardships with fortitude. We must therefore seek the cause elsewhere than in want of money, for that is the miser’s passion, not the thiefs.
– William Blake, date uncertain.
Great leaders always embody fortitude. Take Washington for example, at Valley Forge he persisted in times of trouble and showed courage when it was most needed. He remained true to his ideals and is a model for courage in action. Obviously this virtue is an important quality for leaders, as it’s pretty hard to succeed without it. Even life in general can be difficult at times and it might be easier to throw in the towel, but as Freemasons we need to stick it out and overcome any obstacles in order to accomplish our goals.
There are even times when we are scared. Whether we want to admit it or not, everyone gets scared at one point or another. Having courage doesn’t mean not being afraid, but rather keeping it under control:
Courage is resistance to fear; mastery of fear – not absence of fear.
– Bro. Mark Twain, date uncertain.
Fortitude has more purpose when it is reasonable and genuine. Great things can be accomplished without being reckless while at the same time not being hesitant either. Someone might have clear conviction but not the courage to match it. Having the courage to stand up to do what you believe in is inspirational and invites others to search within themselves to discover that they are also capable and together progress can be made.
Whether it’s something big or small, fortitude is fortitude. It may be as simple as whispering counsel in a sensitive brother’s ear or as difficult as making a speech in a lodge where your opinion may not be so popular. The important thing is to always stand for truth, no matter what personal opinion you or anyone else might have. Even if you don’t agree with something that you know is right and true in your heart, you need to have the fortitude and courage to support it.
That is what makes us better men, and leaders among men who embody fortitude every day and in every way. As Freemasons, let us be beacons of courage whose actions match their convictions – because there are many times in life when we need the courage to face the world of the profane:
The winter comes because the ruffian forces of the world strike down and slay the gentle spirit of summer; and this dark tragedy is reflected in the life of man – making a mystery no mortal can solve, save as he sees it with courage and hope. (Unknown, 1929)
Black Hawk Masonic Lodge. (2001). Cardinal Virtues of Freemasonry. Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Cerza, Alphonse. (1977). Temperance, Fortitude and Prudence. Short Talk Bulletin. Masonic Service Association.
Denny, M.M. (2007). Freemasons and the Four Cardinal Virtues: Temperance, Prudence, Fortitude and Justice. Yahoo! Contributor Network.
Grand Lodge of Texas. (2001). The Four Cardinal Virtues. The Masonic Trowel.
Grima, Michael. (2011). Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice. Muskoka Lodge #360, Parry Sound, Ontario.
Henderson, Kent. (1996). The Working Tools. Excerpted from “Masonic Education Course.” Victoria, Australia.
Kaufman, R. (2012). Fortitude. Waterloo, Ontario.
Mackey, Albert G. (1873). Fortitude. Excerpted from “Encyclopedia of Freemasonry Vol. I.” Philadelphia: Moss & Company.
Marcus, Richard D. (2001). What Fortitude Achieves. Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, USA.
Marples, James A. (1998). Edmund G. Ross, a Masonic Profile in Courage. Rose Hill, Kansas.
McEvoy, Norman. (2007). Four Cardinal Virtues. Victoria, British Columbia.
Paton, Chalmers I. (1873). Freemasonry: Its Symbolism, Religious Nature and Law of Perfection. London: Reeves and Turner.
Phoenixmasonry Masonic Museum and Library. (2001). Fortitude. Florida, USA.
Phoenixmasonry Masonic Museum and Library. (2001). Four Cardinal Virtues. Florida, USA.
Record, Allen W. (2008). Our Cardinal Virtues. St. George Utah Visitation.
Ronayne, Edmond. (1917). The Cardinal Virtues. Excerpted from “Handbook Freemasonry.” Chicago: Ezra A. Cook.
Sickels, Daniel. (1868). Great Tenets of a Freemason. Excerpted from “The General Ahiman Rezon and Freemason’s Guide.” New York: Masonic Publishing and Manufacturing Co.
Taine, W.H. (2005). The Seven Virtues. The Masonic Trowel.
Unknown. (1929). Acacia Leaves and Easter Lilies. Short Talk Bulletin, Masonic Service Association.