After giving a definition of fortitude and showing in what discipline consists, I shall touch on the role of education, according to Archbishop Lefebvre, in the acquisition of these virtues; I shall then consider the defects that go against and the virtues connected to fortitude and discipline. This will give us some practical directives, after the model of an exemplary man.
Definitions of Fortitude
Discipline is self-control, the interior order of the soul and of the body, which is the source of the exterior order of things and men. It is the fruit both of the gift of wisdom (ordering is proper to the wise) and of the gift of fortitude (“I am master of myself as of the universe,” are the words which dramatist Corneille puts in the mouth of the Emperor Augustus). Fortitude, or courage, is one of the four cardinal virtues; it is assisted by the gift of fortitude, one of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost; their object is to dominate fear in order to accomplish the difficult good, be it in the temporal order, like a major work, a military victory, or in the spiritual order, like sanctity and eternal salvation.
Role of education and school in the acquisition of these virtues
These virtues and gifts of the Holy Ghost must be put into practice from early childhood, at home or at school, if they are to be acquired in a stable way.
The Maréchal Foch, supreme commander of the Allied Forces during World War I, sees in a young man’s relentless work the source of his self-control and self-assurance, especially in the military art that is his and that he himself acquired in middle school in Metz.
“Do not believe in natural gifts!—Believe in hard work!” he exclaimed to his student-officers. It is hard work that procures knowledge, the knowledge that constitutes the dignity of the professional and his ability. It is his knowledge, acquired through relentless practice, that gives him the self-assurance that enables him to make decisions without constantly having to ask for advice!” And this self-assurance establishes the exercise of his ability to decide against all odds. It is what makes us trust him.
The pious Fr. Cappello, a famous Italian canon lawyer, whose confessional in San Ignacio was besieged by penitents, was also remarkable for the sureness of his knowledge and the broadness of his practical advice.
The knowledge acquired by Foch was what gave him his ability to react immediately in the dark days of the violent enemy attacks in the spring of 1918: he knew not to panic or lose his head but rather to move entire army corps rapidly to fill in the gaps and successfully counterattack.
Archbishop Lefebvre sees the source of self-discipline in the spirit of sacrifice instilled at school. In March 31, 1982, he spoke at a school:
“A Catholic school,” he said, “ is a school in which you learn to discipline yourself, in which you learn sacrifice, for one cannot be Catholic without sacrifice. Why sacrifice oneself? In order to be filled with charity and love.
“We were created to love God, to love our neighbor: that is the whole law of God. There is no other law. In the Gospel, the entire law is resumed by charity. But in order to become charitable, we must make sacrifices. If we do not sacrifice ourselves, we cannot devote ourselves, we cannot give ourselves.
“The egoist, who thinks only of himself, is not charitable. And so in a Catholic school, one learns to sacrifice oneself, to discipline oneself: the discipline of the intelligence, the discipline of the will, the discipline of the heart.
“You learn to discipline your intelligence by receiving the truth, by submitting to the truth that is taught to you. The truth is taught to us from our earliest childhood until we finish school. Here you learn to form your intelligence according to the truth taught to us by Our Lord Jesus Christ.
“You also learn to form your will, to discipline your will. We all have defects, we are born with original sin, and the effects of original sin stay with us until our death.
“So we have to fight against these evil tendencies, these evil desires that are in us, and to discipline our will, with the help of God, with the help of grace. That is why, at school, you have the chapel, which is the heart, the main building. Everything is oriented towards the chapel, toward Our Lord Jesus Christ: He is our Truth, He is our strength, He is our love.”
Defects that go against fortitude and discipline
For lack of education, for lack of practice, for lack of exercise, fortitude and discipline give way to cowardice and sloppiness.
Instead of courage, we find the weakness of the irascible appetite. The irascible appetite is a passion of the soul, a passion of the sensible part of the human soul. The irascible passion desires and pursues the difficult good, whereas the concupiscible appetite desires the sensible and delectable good.
The lack of irascible appetite causes the cowardice of the will, inconsistency in one’s positions; it also causes indecision in the intelligence, which, instead of heroically applying the principles, seeks solutions, compromises in the face of an adversary or of adversity.
Instead of discipline, or self-control, we find anger (often a reaction of weakness), disorder (in the person and in things), and laziness. This last, laziness, does not consist in doing nothing but rather in preferring the less useful work to the more useful and necessary work.
We also find sloppy dress or dress that goes against corporal modesty. Compare the attitude and dress of young men in 1916 to that of those in 2016 and you will see the loss of virility, in one short century, in the entire country’s masculine population, thanks to the slow progress of an effeminate attitude and dress for young men.
Repercussions of physical strength on the strength of the soul.
It is the role of the Catholic family and of the Catholic school to exercise children and teens in physical endurance: endurance of fatigue, fasting, vigils, walks, etc.
A night of prayer or an hour of nocturnal adoration are excellent exercises in physical endurance and in piety. The school maintains weekly hours of physical education (gymnastics) to teach young men suppleness and build their muscles. Everyone knows that physical strength and tonus are a help for moral tonus.
The young Eugenio Pacelli, tall and thin, trained himself with physical exercises from his childhood and teen years in order to hold himself straight. He practiced horseback riding and became an experienced and tireless rider in his races through the Roman countryside. His whole life long, whether standing, sitting, or in the saddle, he worked to hold himself impeccably straight with a relentless muscular corporal discipline. As Pope Pius XII, he inspired immediate respect in his visitors: “One only approached Pius XII with great respect,” recognized Archbishop Lefebvre.
Practice of self-control and order
The good Fr. Barrielle, spiritual director of the Seminary of St. Pius X in Econe, taught the seminarians principles of order that would be very useful to them at the head of their priories, schools and districts.
He transmitted the five rules of Fayolism (of the engineer Fayol, not of General Fayolle who was defeated in 1917). Here they are as indicated by Fr. Barrielle:
Plan ahead: the goal and the means: place, time, things, people’s competencies. Organize: steps, persons in charge, preparatory meetings planned. Command: make a decision, organize people precisely. Control: things, people, remind them of their tasks. Office work: write, telephone, file.
Here are some examples given by Archbishop Lefebvre. He has just returned from a trip. He puts his suitcase and his travel bag down in his room, and goes directly to the chapel to recite the rosary with the community, even though he has already said fifteen decades with his driver. “The community office takes precedence.” After the meal, he will put his things away, and bring his dirty laundry down to the laundry room. The next day he will go through his abundant mail and, with his fine and regular hand, answer each letter with a cordial word, even if it is a letter full of insults.
In the evening, he will go give his spiritual conference to the seminarians; he waits for the exact time at the foot of the platform. After the Veni Sancte Spiritus, he sits down with his feet together and without ever leaning his back against the back of the chair. He places his two wrists at the edge of the table and speaks (sometimes smiling, sometimes serious if there are reproaches to be made) with his small, modest but distinct voice.
His cassock is simple, without visible buttons, and tied at the waist with the modest Spiritan cord. His shoes are carefully polished.
It is the exterior and the attitude of a modest priest, of a respected and beloved leader who, without ostentation, is an example of order and self-control for his sons, members of his Priestly Society of St. Pius X.
Where did he get this discipline, this interior strength? Certainly from his family, his father who was the head of an industry; but also from Rev. Fr. Henri Le Floch, his seminary rector in Rome; and finally from his religious Spiritan noviciate. He was well taught, and remained the strong man, vir fortis, whose meekness conquered his soul and the souls of others. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth.” Said otherwise, in the words of Dom Delatte: “Terram quam terunt, terram quam gerunt, terram quam sunt—the land they tread, the land they rule (their subjects), the land they are (their souls).”