Friday, April 17, 2015

Giotto: The Virtues and Vices ~ Fortitudo

The glory of fortitude, therefore, does not rest only on the strength of one's body or of one's arms, but rather on the courage of the mind....And in very truth, rightly is that called fortitude, when a man conquers himself, restrains his anger, yields and gives way to no allurements, is not put out by misfortunes, nor gets elated by good success, and does not get carried away by every varying change as by some chance wind. But what is more noble and splendid than to train the mind, keep down the flesh, and reduce it to subjection, so that it may obey commands, listen to reason, and in undergoing labours readily carry out the intention and wish of the mind?      St. Ambrose On the Duties of the Clergy, Chapter XXXVI
Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause. "The Lord is my strength and my song." "In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1808
But if, on the one hand, we are enduring affliction, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if, on the other hand, we are receiving comfort, it is for your comfort which is produced within you through your patient fortitude under the same sufferings as those which we also are enduring. 2 Corinthians 1:6

This is one of my favorite pictures of the virtues. There is so much to see. Fortitude is shown standing steadfastly in the breech. I've read descriptions of her face that I don't really agree with. What I see is someone who doesn't know for sure if she will be able to survive the onslaught, but who is willing to hold out until her last breath. She stands behind her shield which bears the form of a lion, the symbol of courage--the Lion of Judah? The shield already bears the points of at least three broken spears, one of which is lodged in the neck of the lion. Not only is she shielded by a lion, she wears a lion's pelt with the head as a hood and the paws tied around her neck and waist. She also is wearing a breastplate. In her left hand she holds a weapon that confused me at first. I could not imagine why a weapon would be shaped that way, and I spent some time looking at pictures of 14th century weapons to see if I could find anything like it. A few minutes ago, it dawned on me that it is probably a broken sword.

The Church Fathers talk about the virtue of fortitude both as a physical virtue--fortitude in battle--and as a spiritual virtue--fortitude in fighting temptation. In his fresco, Giotto seems to capture both aspects of the virtue. The figure certainly has real concrete enemies. Then again, her battle garb reminds me forcibly of Ephesians 6.
Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all [the] flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

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