Fortitude is not a trait that typically or immediately comes to mind when one considers Freemasonry, especially among those with little firsthand knowledge or experience therein.
However, as yet another cardinal virtue, Fortitude is also an important Masonic value.
Why is Fortitude so important for Masons?
Because the obstacles that we face as Masons (whether they be goals or setbacks for our Lodges, disputes between Brethren, threats from anti-Masons, or even just a struggle of memorizing ritual) may require the Fortitude necessary to overcome them.
Origin and Definition
The term fortitude comes to us via the 14th-century Latin fortitudo, meaning “moral strength, courage” and “strength, force, firmness, manliness”; this comes to us from the earlier Latin term fortis, simply meaning “strong, brave.”
How to Apply Fortitude to Daily Life
Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. once said:
“The longer I live the more I think of the quality of fortitude … men who fall, pick themselves up and stumble on, fall again, and are trying to get back up when they die.”
Being strong does not mean that we never stumble or fall down; in fact, it is a given that this will happen to us regularly, given that we are mortal, imperfect human beings. Rather, being strong means picking ourselves up and carrying on until the obstacle is overcome.
Setbacks happen all the time. We lose our jobs. Friends and family pass away. Misunderstandings occur, threatening relationships. We get tired before the job is done and are tempted by the thought of calling it quits.
What do we do? We continue, being the best version of ourselves that we can be.
We find another job, even if it pays less. We keep strong, honoring those who are gone and whom we miss.
We finish our work, and then rest easy knowing that it’s complete.
Fortitude is an inherent trait in all of us and should be developed by everyone.
Were this not the case, then we would not have so many great and impressive works found in our architecture, militaries, literature, and so forth; in fact, our species would likely have been wiped out long ago.
How to Apply Fortitude as Masons
Our Grand Master of my Grand Lodge jurisdiction in 2019 visited us towards the end of the year.
During that visitation, he emphasized that we keep ourselves safe. His reason for doing so was that many threats had been received by the Grand Lodge from anti-Masonic, conspiracy theorist types, stating that Masons and Lodges would be attacked.
To my knowledge, these threats have been empty (aside from the petty vandalism to which our Halls or Temples are sometimes subjected, though this is more than likely the result of juvenile delinquents or drunks).
However, it would not have been an exercise of Fortitude to stop coming to meetings merely because a few random antagonists sent baselessly angry letters. We take measures to keep ourselves safe, and then we continue on in our work.
Sometimes, we are asked to take on a part or role in the Lodge that may seem or be more difficult for some than it is for others, whether it requires a lot of memorization work, requires leading others, etc.
Difficult work requires that mental fortitude to see it through.
Being conscious of our Masonic duties, particularly that duty of being discreet concerning the secrets of our Fraternity especially requires such Fortitude.
In ancient times, it was Fortitude against threats of torture and death for our secrets; today, with society’s ability of instant communication worldwide (the internet), it is merely a matter of Fortitude concerning control over when, where, and in whose presence to talk about them.
Ties to the Other Cardinal Virtues
Fortitude is required for Justice to be carried out. Temperance and Prudence are types of Fortitude in all aspects (Physical, Spiritual, Mental, Emotional, and Social).
It is my humble opinion that Fortitude is a bedrock upon which the rest of the cardinal virtues stand.
You can learn more about the 3 other cardinal virtues here:
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As individuals and communities, life without Fortitude is an impossibility. Without it, we would merely fall and give up. Always strive to get up and to keep going, whether you are a Mason or not. Always have and develop the Fortitude to keep your thoughts, actions, and example for others in check.
As we follow this course of action, we will strengthen ourselves, our communities, and provide a strong foundation for generations to come.
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