The need at the present hour is to form men of character who will be the real spiritual leaders of their families. Unfortunately, liberalism has infected our minds to such a degree that even among traditional Catholics true men become rare. It will be our purpose in this article to give you some helpful advice on one of the most serious problems in the modern world—the absence of true fathers—by having recourse to the robust doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas as contained in the Summa Theologica. By providing the substance of the luminous principles of the Angelic Doctor in simple language, we hope that all can profit from his wisdom.
We will find most of the elements we need in St. Thomas’ study of the virtue of fortitude, which is often rendered as “courage” in modern English. One possible Latin word for fortitude is “virtus” (which also means virtue). The root of this word is “vir,” which means “man.” And so you see that manhood is linked with courage. In order to have true fathers we need to have true men; and true men are strong men. But what exactly is strength?
St. Thomas explains that fortitude is a moral virtue concerned with danger. Man comes across many threatening evils during his existence, and so he must face them in a reasonable manner by controlling his fear. Courage enables man to handle difficulties and obstacles There will be two acts flowing from this virtue: attack and defense. Fortitude will therefore be divided into magnanimity, which can be rendered into modern English by the words “greatness of soul” (magna anima) and perseverance. Magnanimity enables us to enlarge our heart and undertake a great work with confidence. Perseverance allows us to stand firm and endure evil for a long time, resisting the temptation to quit.
The problem is that original sin has badly damaged our human nature, leading to a certain loss of our former inclination to good. One of the disorders introduced by original sin is the wound of weakness, which undermines fortitude. Since Adam’s fall, courage is not easy; we tend to fall into sins opposed to fortitude.
For instance, the sin of pusillanimity (or pettiness of soul) leads us to underestimate our own power and consequently to be paralyzed. We see a clear example of this unfortunate disposition in the Gospel story of the servant who buried his lord’s talent in the ground through fear of his master’s harshness rather than arming his mind with the hope of making the talent bear fruit. He had the necessary gifts to achieve his task, but through faintheartedness he did not have the courage to act. He though the job was too big for him.
The great Dominican Fr. Humbert Clerissac said that one of the traits of the liberal mind is that “it did not have enough confidence in the truth.” If we want to be more precise in our analysis, we could say that modern man thinks that the truth is only for the realm of theory, but that in practice it is not applicable. Cardinal Louis Billot well pointed out that since we are dealing with moral truths, i.e., principles which by their very nature are also norms of action, it is absurd to restrict them in concrete life. Regrettably, one of the aspects of modern life is a refusal to believe in the practical efficacy of our Catholic principles. We claim to uphold them but then act contrary to them. This divorce between doctrine and life is, alas, very common today.
Let us take an example. A father has a teenage son who listens to unwholesome music which he knows is not good for the spiritual and moral development of his child. The father’s conscience tells him that he has a duty to watch over his son’s entertainment and remove from it what is not pleasing to God. And yet this father is afraid to put his principles into practice. This is typical of pusillanimity or faintheartedness. Instead of being confident in the strength of his convictions and making a courageous decision to act upon them, however unpleasant the results may be, this father finds himself paralyzed by fear. He will tell himself that it is not possible or desirable to control his son’s listening habits and pretend the Catholic ideal cannot be lived. This man would rather gain (false) peace of mind by being his son’s “friend” and not disturbing the status quo than fulfilling his fatherly duty of caring for his son’s soul.
A stronger father would have prayed to God for courage in taking the necessary steps to direct his son away from perverse music and other harmful influences. Instead of fretting about what his son might think of him if he banned certain types of entertainment from the household, this father would have had confidence in the power of truth and in the strength of his own authority. We know that it is not easy, but life is a battle and we cannot run away from its difficulties. That is part of what being a true father means.
Unfortunately, authority is one of the notions most attacked by modern liberalism for liberalism consists in a false notion of liberty which excludes authority. Liberalism is contrary to a point St. Thomas insists upon: the hierarchy present in God’s creation. There is order everywhere, among angels, men, animals, plants, and minerals. In the family, the father has a God-given authority which he cannot abdicate without introducing disorder into the home. The virtue of fortitude (courage) gives him the strength for fulfilling his mission in the home. Magnanimity gives him the confidence he needs in his own authority.
Of course, the father will always have to deal with the temptation of cowardice. The vulnus infirmitatis is still there, and the ideology of liberalism pushes him to avoid conflict with his children. But the true father will be faithful to his convictions. He will not keep the truth for himself under the pretext of getting along with others, including his wife and children. He will have the courage to enlighten the souls around him with the truth, starting with his own family.
Today, we frequently see that the modern Catholic father is lacking in the heroic courage needed to sustain the long siege by the enemies of the family. His children are subject to all kinds of evil influences and become increasingly difficult to discipline. The modern world is spending billions of dollars in advertising for the purpose of making his children greedy, lustful, and proud. The disproportion between the forces is tremendous: on the one hand, Satan and his powerful cohorts eagerly desiring our eternal damnation and having at their disposal gigantic resources; and on the other hand, a poor Catholic man, wounded and weak.
How can this father avoid being discouraged? By bearing in mind that he is not alone in this fight! Jesus is there, our victorious King, who tells us, “Have confidence, I have conquered the world.” But you can see that the father who lacks fortitude will be ready to work out a compromise because he is simply tired of the struggle which has gone on for so long. This father will be at risk of falling victim to another characteristic of the liberal mentality, namely self-deception. The otherwise good Catholic father will be tempted to surrender and give-in to an illusory peace; he may even trick himself into believing that his compromise with the world is something reasonable and pleasing to God.
Under the blanket of self-deception, the weakened Catholic father will see liberal tolerance of error and sin as an attractive virtue. This is why the great French theologian Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange called liberalism the worst thing because it is a corruption of the best thing: charity toward others. Such tolerance is not an authentic Christian virtue; it is a disgusting parody of true charity, which includes standing firm for the truth and correcting error wherever it may appear. For the Catholic father, this begins in the home and spreads through all aspects of his daily life.
To finish this article we would like to quote the beautiful poem of G.K. Chesterton, The Ballad of the White Horse. King Alfred has been fighting the Danes for a long time. Our Lady appears to him and he asks her if the war will at last come to an end. And our Blessed Mother tells the brave king:
I tell you naught for your comfort,
yea, naught for your desire,
save that the sky grows darker yet
and the sea rises higher.
Night shall be thrice over you,
and Heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause?
Yea, faith without a hope?
Alfred did not lose courage.
The King went gathering Christian
men . . . While a man remains, great war remains,
Now is a war of men.
And Alfred finally won the victory thanks to the intercession of the Mother of God. This is why we need true fathers. The devil is very powerful and the evil around us is overwhelming. But Our Lord Jesus Christ and Our Lady can make true men—true fathers—out of you. And thanks to their heavenly intercessions, you will have the fortitude to win the final battle for your souls and the souls of your families.