Lesson 6b: Hope, Temperance, and Fortitude

Because we "here have no abiding city" (Heb 13:14) and Jesus' "kingdom" is "not of this world," the Christian virtue of Temperance leads to different decisions than those of reason. We fast and practice asceticism not to improve our health (though this is legitimate) but to avoid enslavement to the world.

"For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement of the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but from the world. Yet the world and its enticements is passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever" (1 Jn 2:16-17)

By "world" here is not meant what God has created since this was "very good," but the sinful distortion of the creation that put it under the power of Satan, who is "The prince of this world." Thus Christians may and should enjoy God's creation since it is good. Yet we must always realize the danger that in the "world" in which we live and in our own nature wounded by sin, there is always the risk that we will become enslaved to "the world" and lose sight of our Christian goal. The virtue of Temperance or Moderation, especially in matters of food (and of course alcohol and drugs) and sexual pleasure, therefore, seeks a mean between extremes. While we are more likely to go the extreme of over-indulgence in pleasure, we can also sin against Temperance by going to the other extreme of not taking proper pleasure and recreation in life. Jesus was attacked by the Pharisees for eating and drinking with sinners whom he was seeking to convert. The Christian life of Temperance, therefore, avoids excess and addiction to any pleasure and prefers the simple joys that refresh and strengthen us for our responsibilities. Temperance directly concerns eating and sex since these are our strongest physical drives, but certain Auxiliary or Helping Virtues extend this moderation to other appetites. Thus Humility moderates our sense of self-worth, Docility our curiosity, Politeness our external behavior, Simplicity our tendency to consumerism, and Meekness our anger. Temperance is strengthened by the Gift of the Holy Spirit of the Fear of the Lord that makes us ever mindful that we are responsible to God for our squandering of his gifts.

From the beginning of the Church St. Paul praised celibacy and virginity (I Cor 7), while at the same condemning those who taught that marriage is evil. He urged those who could choose to imitate the virginity of Jesus and his own celibacy to do so, since it would free them for more entirely spiritual efforts. Throughout its history, the Catholic Church has taught the same and in the West has required its clergy to give an example in this regard. It has also held in highest honor those, especially women, who would dedicate their virginity to Jesus as their bridegroom, a symbol of the heavenly Wedding to which we are all invited. It has not relaxed this to permit the Latin clergy to marry, as in the seventh century the Eastern Church did for priests who were not also bishops, and as the Reformation did for all its clergy. Although other religions than Christianity have also practiced celibacy as an ideal for spiritual growth, in Catholicism it is a symbol that reminds all, including the married, that "here we have no abiding city." To the degree that this symbol is lessened in the Church, the greater our risk of forgetting that our goal is eternal life in which, as Jesus said, "there is no giving in marriage" (Mt 22: 30) because like the angels we will form one family with the Trinity.

The Early Church especially honored Virgins and Martyrs. While the former witnessed to the value of Temperance, the latter witnessed to the Virtue of Fortitude or Courage. Hope requires us to endure our troubles on the Way of Life in the face not only of temptations to immoderate pleasure, but especially of fear. No fear is greater than that of death, yet the Martyrs endured that fear of suffering and death in imitation of Jesus on the Cross, in witness of truth. Besides our physical instincts for pleasure and the avoidance of pain, we have aggressive drives that are necessary for self-preservation and for defense of our families and country. These irascible or emergency drives help us to attack a danger, or to make the effort to flee from it, or, when we cannot escape, to survive as well as we can. Fortitude is the virtue that moderates this drive so that we do not go to either extreme. We know when to fight, when to flee, and how to endure. It is even more important to the Christian life that centers on the Cross than is the virtue of Temperance. The Auxiliary Virtues associated with Fortitude that deal with less terrifying dangers than death are Nobility in seeking to do important things in spite of the risk of failure, Generosity with our possessions, Patience with the lesser trials of life, and Endurance of these trials over long periods of time. Fortitude is strengthened by the Gift of the Holy Spirit named also Fortitude.

Obviously Temperance and Fortitude and their associated virtues are closely related to Hope since there would be no point in struggling or enduring if we had no hope of ultimate victory. Our Faith tells us that Christ has conquered and we will conquer with him, while Hope gives to our will that strength by which we carry on the spiritual struggle, so evident in the life of Jesus and in special way in the life of St. Paul. John of the Cross tells us that the reason most Christians do not attain the higher levels of holiness and mysticism is primarily their lack of courage that causes them to keep back sliding when the Way of Life gets tough. We are like the Hebrews who, when they reached the borders of the Holy Land, feared to meet the enemy, and thus turned back to wander endlessly in the desert.

Without Hope, Faith dies, and without the practice of Temperance and Fortitude we cannot make much progress on the Way of Life because these flow from Hope and strengthen it. Pleasure is good only when it facilitates our doing the right thing. For example, God makes eating pleasurable, but it is good to take this pleasure only when it encourages moderation in eating and drinking. Otherwise it becomes addictive and enslaving and makes us place our hope in the world not in heaven. Courage is good when it facilitates us sticking to the Way of Life in spite of difficulties and crosses, but aggression can turn into destructive violence, or unreasonable fear can hold us back from achieving anything. There is a holy anger, like that Jesus showed when he cleansed the temple and denounced the Pharisees for their contempt for the little ones, but there is a wicked anger like the jealousy of the religious leaders who crucified him.


  1. Ashley, Living the Truth in Love, Chapter 6

  2. St. Paul, Second Epistle to the Corinthians

  3. The Book of Revelation


  1. When is pleasure morally good and when is it morally bad?

  2. Why is marriage good if celibacy is better?

  3. Do you really think that Jesus got angry? How did he deal with anger?

  4. What is your understanding of why Christian virginity is an important value?

  5. How do you think regular meditative prayer increases the virtue of Hope?


    Purchase This Course                               << Previous               Next >>                                   Return to Top