For the better part of eight hundred years, Catholic Spain fought to liberate herself from Islamic occupation. The Reconquista, or Reconquest, as this war of liberation was called, began to make great strides in the second half of the eleventh century. In the first part of the thirteenth, it was led by an extraordinary figure: Ferdinand, King of Castile and Leon. Among his conquests was Cordova, the city the Moslems had made their capital. After this victory, the king turned the city’s splendid mosque into a cathedral. A later conquest, that of Seville, was particularly hard won. For sixteen months, the Catholic King led an outnumbered army in a siege against a double-walled city with 166 towers, a superior fighting force, and a significant tactical advantage. But at the end of it all, in the words of Abbot Gueranger, “the Cross eclipsed the Crescent.” Weeping as he fled, the conquered Moorish general told his officers something memorable while taking a last look at Seville: “None but a saint could, with such a small force, have made himself master of so strong and well-manned a place.”

The general’s words correctly anticipated the Church’s judgment: In 1671, Pope Clement X canonized Ferdinand, the warrior-king, who is now known to us as Saint Ferdinand III.

Besides his holiness and military prowess, what interests us here about Saint Ferdinand is a quantitatively small but morally significant detail of his battle armor: He never rode into a fight without a statuette of Our Lady of Battles lashed to his saddle.

This tableau of saintly fortitude united to Marian piety sets the pace for our theme, ” La Reconquistadora : The Virgin Mary and the Virtue of Fortitude.” The subject is the virtue of fortitude considered in and through the Blessed Virgin Mary. We will unite the thought of Saint Louis Marie de Montfort on Marian virtue to the doctrine of Saint Thomas Aquinas on fortitude.

Marian Virtue according to Saint Louis Marie

La Reconquistadora statue

La Reconquistadora statue

One central idea in the spiritual doctrine of Saint Louis Marie de Montfort is the communication of Mary’s virtues to the individual who practices true devotion. Commenting on Saint Gabriel’s words at the Annunciation, Saint Louis Marie says that by the power of her prayers and the perfection of her virtues, the Blessed Virgin alone merited and found grace before God. He says further that God the Son imparted to Our Lady “all that he gained by his life and death,” including “his infinite merits and eminent virtues.” The Blessed Virgin is the “treasurer” and “aqueduct” 1 of all that Christ received from His Father. According to de Montfort, the Holy Ghost wishes to fashion his chosen ones in and through Mary, saying to her: “My well-beloved, my spouse, let all your virtues take root in my chosen ones that they may grow from strength to strength and from grace to grace.” 2 He explains that the holiness of true devotion consists in avoiding sin and imitating the virtues of Mary. Finally, he goes so far as to say, “When she sees someone giving himself entirely to her in order to honor and serve her . . . She shares her virtues with him. . . .” 3

So, for her part, Our Lady found grace before God by her treasury of virtues, which the Holy Trinity further augments by communicating the virtues of Jesus to her. She, in turn, is the aqueduct and treasurer, imparting them to her faithful slaves. On our part, we are obliged to honor and serve her, to see in her the model of every virtue, and to meditate on those virtues.

That, in a very small nutshell, is Saint Louis’ teaching on Our Lady’s virtues in general. Regarding the virtue of fortitude, he does not comment at great length, at least not in True Devotion to Mary , but he does make several references to true devotion strengthening us and giving us courage 4 — and courage, along with bravery, is a synonym of fortitude. Saint Louis also enumerates the ten principal virtues of Our Lady: “deep humility, lively faith, blind obedience, unceasing prayer, constant self-denial, surpassing purity, ardent love, heroic patience, angelic kindness, and heavenly wisdom.” 5 None of these is fortitude itself; however, he mentions “heroic patience”: We will soon see that patience is one of the “parts” of the virtue of fortitude, as categorized by Saint Thomas.

The Virtue of Fortitude

This brings me to the virtue itself. In his Summa Theologica , Saint Thomas borrows Cicero’s 6 short definition of fortitude: “the deliberate facing of dangers and bearing of toils” (IIa IIae, Q. 123, A. 2). Saint Thomas says that fortitude is “about fear and daring, as curbing fear and moderating daring” (IIa IIae, Q. 123, A. 3). While it is “chiefly about death in battle” (IIa IIae, Q. 123, A. 5), its principal act is endurance: “to stand immovable in the midst of dangers rather than to attack them” (IIa IIae, Q. 123, A. 6). Given this, it should not surprise us that martyrdom is treated in this same section of the Summa as one of the chief acts of fortitude and a deed of greatest perfection. Saint Thomas’ view, and the Christian view in general, is in contrast with Aristotle’s concept of fortitude, though there is much in common. For Aristotle, “Fortitude is the virtue of the man who, being confronted with a noble occasion of encountering the danger of death, meets it fearlessly” (Eth. Nic. , III, 6). The Philosopher goes on to make it a military virtue chiefly exercised in combat, where one has the ability to defend himself. While such fortitude is not incompatible with Christian virtue – witness Saint Ferdinand III – this limit does not allow martyrdom to be an act of fortitude, which Catholic commentators insist is the case.

Among the vices opposed to fortitude are fear , which, if inordinate, is sinful, even mortally sinful, if it leads a man to do what is forbidden or to omit what is commanded by the Divine Law (IIa IIae, Q. 125, A. 1-3). Also opposed to fortitude is fearlessness , by which a man lacks the reasonable fear he ought to have. A similar excess on the side of daring Saint Thomas calls foolhardiness .

As he does with all the cardinal virtues, the Angelic Doctor discusses certain secondary moral virtues that are related to the principal one. He calls these secondary virtues “parts.” There are four parts of fortitude, and they are easy to remember; there are two m ‘s and two p ‘s: magnanimity , magnificence , patience , and perseverance . Magnanimity , or “large-mindedness,” is the good habit that makes us tend to do great or noble things. It’s a virtue which doesn’t tolerate mediocrity or half-measures. It’s also rare because it presupposes a high degree of the other virtues. To illustrate this virtue, we could point to someone who undertakes great accomplishments without being daunted. Great reforming popes like Saint Gregory VII or Innocent III come to mind, as do saints whose enterprises were widespread and large-scaled, especially great bishops like Saint Ambrose or religious founders like Saint Dominic, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, or our own Mother Cabrini.

Four vices oppose magnanimity: three by excess and one by deficiency. By presumption , ambition , and vainglory , we overshoot the virtue by being overconfident in our own abilities or seeking positions of honor and excellence in an inordinate, self-seeking way. The vice of pusillanimity opposes magnanimity by deficiency. It’s an unreasonable lack of confidence or a false humility that prevents one from rightly seeking honor when doing something deserving of honor is called for.

After magnanimity is magnificence , which comes from the words magna facere , “to make great things.” It resembles magnanimity, but differs in that magnanimity focuses on doing great things, while magnificence majors in making great things. It is a virtue proper to the wealthy, who should undertake the support and erection of charitable organizations, churches, universities, hospitals, and the like. You might say it’s a purified, supernaturalized philanthropy. One thinks of great royal saints who endowed such institutions: someone like Saint Elizabeth of Portugal, Saint Louis IX of France (the cousin of Saint Ferdinand III, by the way), or our own Saint Katharine Drexel, the “millionaire nun,” whose personal fortune amassed before her entrance into religion endowed numerous charitable institutions.

The vices opposed to magnificence are two: meanness and wastefulness . Meanness is not here used in the sense of cruelty, as we often use it in common parlance, but in the sense of littleness or stinginess, being a pinchpenny or cheapskate. While meanness opposes magnificence by deficiency, wastefulness opposes it by excess. It fails to respect the due proportion that should exist between the work and the expenditure. So, someone who donates a golden bathtub to Franciscan friars would sin against magnificence by being wasteful.

Before leaving the m ‘s to discuss the p ‘s, we should answer two possible objections: (1) Why does Saint Thomas classify magnificence and magnanimity with fortitude? And (2) how are they virtues we can all practice if they are principally for the noble and the rich? Saint Thomas answers the first question by saying that these virtues tend toward “what is arduous and difficult” (IIa IIae, Q. 134, A. 4), and therefore they “[agree] with fortitude.” Simply put, undertaking great projects and dispensing large sums of money are assigned to fortitude because of the difficulty involved. The second question, how we can all practice them even if we are not noble or rich, is answered separately for each virtue: one can have the habit of magnanimity by being disposed to it without actually performing the acts that only a noble man can perform. So, if, having the resources to do so, the lowly craftsman would undertake heroic and noble enterprises, his present inability to do so doesn’t deprive him of the virtue. As for the poor man, he can practice magnificence by donating a proportionately great amount. Therefore, the widow who gave two mites out of her substance was more magnanimous than the rich who gave more out of their superfluity.

Now we come to the two p ‘s: patience and perseverance. Concerning the virtue of patience , Saint Thomas quotes Saint Augustine: “A man’s patience it is whereby he bears evil with an equal mind,” i.e., without being disturbed by sorrow, “lest he abandon with an unequal mind the goods whereby he may advance to better things” (IIa IIae, Q. 136, A. 1). The “sorrow” that is spoken of here is the passion of sorrow, which could also be called sadness, pain, or grief. It’s not the sorrow of common parlance, but something a bit broader. “Distress” might be a better word. As the scholastics use it, it’s the passion we suffer while undergoing a present evil. Thus, it opposes joy or delight, which is the passion aroused by a present good. Patience, then, allows us to bear sorrow serenely, so as not to fail in the pursuit of good.

Elsewhere (IIa IIae, Q. 136, A. 5), Saint Thomas defines it as “the voluntary and prolonged endurance of arduous and difficult things for the sake of virtue or profit.” This gives the virtue a larger scope than it is most often given. For instance, illustrating the virtue by its opposing vice, we normally think of impatience as a sort of loss of calmness or serenity in the face of inconvenient circumstances. Thus, the father yells at his son who is playing the clarinet raucously while Dad is trying to concentrate on a trade journal. This is truly an illustration of impatience, but to narrow patience and impatience to such displays is to limit them too much. In fact, Saint Thomas has it that true patience is a supernatural virtue and concludes, “it is clearly impossible to have patience without the help of grace” (IIa IIae, Q. 136, A. 3).

As with every virtue, patience is one that has different degrees, depending on the perfection of the individual, the degree of his union with God. The Dominican theologian, Father Antonio Royo Marín, lists five degrees of the virtue:

1. Resignation without complaint or impatience to the crosses which God sends us or permits to come to us.

2. Peace and serenity in the face of affliction, without any of the sadness or melancholy which sometimes accompanies mere resignation.

3. Sweet acceptance of one’s cross for the love of God.

4. Complete and total joy, which leads one to give thanks to God for being associated with Him in the mystery of the Cross.

5. The folly of the Cross, which prefers suffering to pleasure and places all one’s delight in external or internal suffering by which one is configured with Christ. As Saint Teresa used to say, “To suffer or to die” (Theology of Christian Perfection , pg. 409).

We see, then, that patience is far more than not yelling at people in anger. The “heroic patience” that Saint Louis Marie includes in Our Lady’s ten principal virtues is the perfect exercise of patience in these higher degrees.

The vices which oppose patience are impatience , which opposes it by defect, and insensibility , which opposes it by excess. We have already discussed impatience, so we pass to insensibility , which is a type of hardness of heart which makes us disregard suffering, either our own or others. It is a counterfeit of patience, such as what a stoic would practice.

Closely related to the virtue of patience is that of longanimity , which animates us to strive for a good that is a long way off. Enduring the academic rigor of a good collegiate program for the purposes of getting a diploma would be an example of longanimity.

Now we have arrived at the last part of fortitude: perseverance . Perseverance is a virtue which majors in assisting the other virtues because it inclines us to the continual practice of good in spite of difficulties. There is an imperfect sort of perseverance we can practice from day to day but then give up by not completing the act. Perfect perseverance lasts to the very end. Saint Thomas notes that: “Properly speaking it belongs to perseverance to persevere to the end of the virtuous work, for instance that a soldier persevere to the end of the fight, and the magnificent man until his work be accomplished” (IIa IIae, Q. 137, A. 1).

We must distinguish the virtue of perseverance that we practice daily from the gift of final perseverance, which is an actual grace granted by God at the moment of death. The Church infallibly teaches that the grace of final perseverance, which we cannot strictly merit, is absolutely necessary for salvation. We mention this here because Saint Thomas makes the distinction in the part of the Summa we are summarizing (IIa IIae, Q. 137, A. 4).

Closely allied with perseverance is constancy . Whereas perseverance strengthens us to overcome the difficulties inherent in the continuance of acts of virtue, constancy strengthens us against external hindrances which meet us in the present, but aren’t of a sustained nature. So one is constant in the face of strong temptation or bad example.

Opposed to perseverance are the vices of effeminacy and pertinacity . “Effeminacy” here means “softness” or “inconstancy.” It is a deficiency of perseverance that makes one withdraw from the good because of the lack of sensible pleasure which accompanies virtue. For instance, someone striving to be temperate at the table is effeminate when he gives up, overcome by the sorrow he feels at missing his accustomed second helping of cake. On the side of excess, we have the vice of pertinacity, which we might call “hard-headedness.” By it, we refuse to give up even when right reason dictates we must give up. So a general who is losing the battle and has no reason to believe he can possibly reverse this situation, is not persevering, but pertinacious, if he does not retreat.

In his treatise on fortitude, Saint Thomas also treats of fortitude as a gift of the Holy Ghost. According to Father Marín, “The gift of fortitude is a supernatural habit which strengthens the soul for the practice, under the movement of the Holy Ghost, of every type of virtue, with invincible confidence of overcoming any dangers or difficulties which may arise.” As with all the gifts, it differs from the virtue as rowing a boat differs from lifting up the sails and being propelled by a powerful wind. The gift of fortitude makes us act “by a kind of instinctive interior impulse which proceeds directly from the Holy Ghost.” We can recognize the operation of the gift by the “confidence [we experience] in being able to overcome great dangers and difficulty. . . . The gift of fortitude is absolutely necessary for the perfection of the infused virtues, especially the virtue of fortitude, and sometimes it is required for perseverance in the state of grace.” Because some temptations cannot be overcome by our own virtue, even the infused ones, the gift must be there to strengthen us when we are violently assaulted. This is why Saint Thomas teaches that the gifts of the Holy Ghost are necessary for salvation.

Meditating on Marian Fortitude

Having summarized the virtue, we now present some considerations on Marian fortitude, this by a series of quick glances at some of the principal mysteries of Our Lady’s life, as they are presented to us in the Gospels. These “quick glances” will, we hope, provide the reader with subjects for his own meditations.

First is the Annunciation . Now this is a joyful mystery, so it may seem contradictory that fortitude, this irascible virtue which arms us for combat, would be illustrated by a joyful mystery. Rather than being a contradiction, it is an irony which is also a fundamental truth of life: In this vale of tears, wherever there is joy, sorrow is not far off. The shadow of the Cross somehow touched everything in the earthly life of Our Lady. And we should expect the same for ourselves. At the Annunciation, we see Our Lady’s humility, her purity, her love of God, her faith, and other virtues, but how do we see her fortitude? To answer that, we have to consider what she was being asked and what she knew about it. She was being asked to consent to be the mother of the Messias. This is obvious to us at even a superficial glance at the text. But what did this mean to her? Far be it from Our Lady to have been confused by the false messianic hopes of the majority of her Jewish contemporaries. She was raised in the Temple and meditated on the Holy Scriptures. As a result of her Immaculate Conception, she had an intellect undimmed by sin, a most significant factor to consider in Our Lady’s approach to reality. In short, while she knew the glories that were to accompany the Messias’ Kingdom, she also knew what Isaias had so pathetically envisioned some seven hundred years earlier, as recorded in Chapter 53 of his Prophecy. Our Lord was to be a “man of sorrows” with “no beauty in him, nor comeliness.” He would be “despised and the most abject of men” and “acquainted with infirmity,” “as it were a leper.” “Led as a sheep to the slaughter, he was to be “reputed with the wicked.” King David also saw the sorrows of the Messias, in the person of whom he uttered Psalm 21: “I am a worm and no man, the reproach of men and the outcast of the people.” “I am poured out like water and all my bones are scattered.” And, “Thou hast brought me down into the dust of death.” This same Psalm 21 begins with that plaintive utterance of Our Lord from the Cross: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

Having a vivid understanding of the Holy Scriptures, and therefore a deep sense of the sorrows that the Messias would undergo, Our Lady surely realized what sufferings would face her. But, knowing this to be the will of God, she steeled her will and uttered that sublime and efficacious fiat : “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word.” This was an act of constancy. It was also an act of magnificence, as she had given to God a gift unsurpassed: her own body and soul. And we recall that constancy and magnificence are two of the parts of fortitude.

In the great mystery of the Visitation , Our Blessed Lady manifests fortitude as well. Having just conceived the Lord of the universe, she charitably recalls the need of her older cousin expecting her first child in old age. “With haste,” as Saint Luke says, she makes her way from Nazareth to Ain Karem, a journey of some four days. According to Father Marín, one of the effects of fortitude is that it “completely overcomes all lukewarmness in the service of God.” Our Lady manifested this effect when she promptly rose up to meet the difficulties and discomforts of travel to perform this charitable service for her elder cousin.

The Nativity presents us with more to consider. Again, Our Lady must travel, this time on very substandard roads which would have been flooded with caravans of camels and donkeys carrying people to the same destination and for the same reason, the census. When they arrived, the city of Bethlehem was truly a “bedlam,” because of the arrival of all those who had to register. The roads were crowded, and so was the inn, which was hardly a very private place as inns of today are. The opinion of some commentators is there was indeed room in the inn, but Saint Luke says that there was no room “for them” by way of subtly relating that such a public place was not appropriate for a modest woman to give birth. 7 They therefore took the extra trouble to find a private place, the finding and preparation of which would have compounded their difficulties.

The mystery of the Presentation in the Temple confronts us with another example of joy mingled with sorrow. This same episode which gives us the fourth joyful mystery also gives us the first of Our Lady’s seven sorrows: the prophecy of Simeon. But what humiliations she had to undergo before she could meet that old prophet! For forty days, Our Lady was to keep herself hidden as one considered “unclean” under the Mosaic Law. Of course, the Immaculate One was far from unclean, but she underwent this humiliation with great constancy. Then, before she could enter the Temple in order to present Our Lord, she and Saint Joseph had to present their gifts, one of which was a “sin offering.” Our Lady, who was in the most literal sense a bodily and spiritual dwelling place of the Divinity, was forbidden to enter into the Temple before she implicitly accused herself of being a sinner! What a humiliation for one who never knew the stain of sin! Then, once in the Temple, and having paid five shekels to redeem the Redeemer of the world, the Holy Family met the aged and saintly Simeon. This “just and devout” man took Our Lord into his hands, recited the Nunc Dimittis and said to Our Lady: “Behold this child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel and for a sign which shall be contradicted. And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35). About this prophecy Abbot Ricciotti asks this thoughtful question: “Is it perhaps that in the salvation wrought by that child, the mother is to be so united with her son that it will be impossible to strike at him without wounding her at the same time?” 8

Saint Luke doesn’t tell us exactly how she endured the affliction of this first sorrow, but we can make some inferences from his concluding words: “And after they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their city Nazareth. (Luke 2:39)” This laconic account shows us the Holy Family simply, humbly, and patiently obeying the law of God amid difficulties. It recalls those attributes of patience that Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas mention, that it “safeguard[s] the good of reason against sorrow” and allows us to “[bear] evil with an equal mind.”

We see Mary’s fortitude again in the second sorrow, the Flight into Egypt . During this mystery the holy family had to undertake still another journey, and this the most dangerous of all. It would have taken them about a week to make the trip, which was over some truly “bad road.” The Greek biographer, Plutarch, tells us that, in 55 B.C., the same crossing was made by the Roman officers of Gabinus, who feared the trip more than the war that awaited them in Egypt. 9 This was a real desert, complete with shifting sands and brutal heat. The only food and water they would have had was what they could carry. Once in Egypt, they were out of danger from Herod, but had to endure several months in the pagan land that was the very symbol of evil in the Old Testament.

Next we come to the third sorrow, the Losing in the Temple . The journey that Joseph and Mary took Our Lord on when he was twelve years old was a trip of about seventy-five miles. After their stay in the city from the Pasch until its octave, something in the laissez-faire nature of oriental caravan travel was, in God’s Providence, the occasion for this loss of Our Lord.

For three days Our Lady and Saint Joseph had sought Our Lord sorrowing, when they finally found Him with the rabbis in the Temple. Who knows what went through their minds during those days? Perhaps Our Lord had told them of the Sacrifice that he would offer for the salvation of the world and that it would be in the Holy City. Perhaps they were agonizing over the possibility of His dying for the world’s salvation as they were on the road back to Jerusalem. After the joy of finding him, they hear Our Lord’s mysterious words about being in His Father’s house, 10 something Saint Luke notes they did not understand. For the Blessed Virgin not to understand what Our Lord meant must itself have been a cross for the one woman who listened perfectly to all of God’s words. But instead of being overcome by her sorrows, Our Lady patiently “kept all these words in her heart” (Lk 2:51).

Now it stands to reason that, if Our Lady would have such occasions of fortitude in the midst of the joyful mysteries, the sorrowful mysteries would provide them with greater intensity. Rather than discuss these occasions of fortitude in terms of each of the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary and sorrows of Our Lady that we haven’t already mentioned, 11 we will summarize them all in the fifth sorrowful mystery, which is also the fifth of Our Lady’s sorrows. This is to take the approach of the Church in her liturgy, which takes as the Gospel for the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows a short excerpt from Saint John’s account of the Crucifixion. We will focus on one verse of that passage, John 19:25: “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen.”

Popes, saints, and spiritual writers speak of Our Lady’s Co-Redemption happening at this moment. They speak of the Virgin’s agony at the foot of the Cross as the fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy, some saying that the Sword of Simeon pierced the Immaculate Heart when the lance of Longinus opened the Sacred Heart. Mary’s oblation on Calvary was the consummation of her active partnership with Christ which was begun at the Annunciation. Further, this was when she became our mother. And this is no accidental feature of her sorrow at the Cross. On Golgotha, she suffered the birth pangs she was spared in the mystery of Christmas. 12 Giving birth to Christ was painless, but bearing us sinners — her “problem children” — was painful.

But what we want to focus on here is Our Lady’s fortitude.

In the Middle Ages there developed a curious devotion to the so-called Spasmus Virginis or the “swoon” of the Virgin. It is a theme in some medieval crucifixion iconography in which Our Lady is shown, grief stricken, fainting into the arms of Saint John or the holy women. In 1503, the great Dominican theologian, Cardinal Cajetan, wrote a treatise against the “swoon of the Virgin.” Among other things, he pointed out that it is not biblical; Saint John clearly says that Jesus’ Mother “stood” near His Cross. They labeled the “swoon” devotion “scandalous and dangerous,” because it was not consonant with her courageous behavior that day . Due to the work of Cajetan and the others, Pope Julius II refused to attach any indulgences to the devotion. Soon the Church forbade artists to depict Our Lady fainting below the Cross, and the Spasmus Virginis devotion gradually disappeared.

Now we know that the Blessed Virgin was no stoic. The stoics held that the passions were evil and must be repressed. In holy souls, such as Our Lady and Christ Himself in His humanity, the passions are not only truly present, but they are also sources of merit. If Our Lord did not have the eleven passions that the philosophers speak of as integral to our human nature, then such things as the weeping over Lazarus, the “desire” with which Our Lord ate the Last Supper with His Apostles, the Agony in the Garden, and many other details of the Gospel are meaningless. It is because He truly had these human passions that Our Lord could undergo His Passion to redeem us. Well, Our Lady endured her “Com-Passion” to co-redeem us. She, too, had these passions, but because she lacked concupiscence, the passions in Mary were entirely subject to reason, as they were in her Son. This means that she perfectly practiced the virtues that regulate the passions. Therefore, in her profound and incomprehensible suffering, the Blessed Virgin practiced an equally profound and incomprehensible fortitude.

This fortitude is described by the saints:

Saint Ambrose ( Serm. de Institut. Virginum, cap. 7 ): “The mother stood before the cross, and, when men fled, she remained intrepid. See whether the mother of Jesus could put off her modesty, who put not aside her courage. She looked with loving eyes on the wounds of her Son, through whom she knew that the Redemption of all men would come. She stood, no ignoble spectacle, since she feared not the murderer. The Son was hanging on the Cross, the mother offered herself to the persecutors; she was not ignorant of the mystery, that she had borne one who would rise again.”

Saint Anselm says: “She did not disfigure herself in the great and bitter sorrow. She reviled not, she murmured not, she asked not from God for vengeance on her enemies. But she stood as a well-disciplined, modest Virgin, most patiently, full of tears, immersed in grief.”

Saint Ambrose says that, upon beholding the blessed wounds of Christ, Our Lady was so strengthened as to be ready to die herself for the salvation of the world.

Saint Bonaventure applies to Mary the words that begin Chapter 31 of the book of Proverbs. Mulierem fortem quis inveniet? “Who will find a strong woman ?” The Church has incorporated this application of the “strong woman” of Proverbs into her liturgy by way of a hymn in the Little Office of the Immaculate Conception.

And let’s not forget Saint Louis de Montfort’s including “heroic patience” as one of Our Lady’s ten principal virtues.

After enumerating the authorities who opposed the “swooning” of Our Lady, Cornelius á Lapide gives their reasoning: “They prove this, both by reason of her entire conformity to the divine will, whereby she wanted her Son to die for the redemption of the human race; and also by reason of the constancy and fortitude with which she was endowed; also by reason of a certain decorum which it was fitting for the Virgin to maintain” (emphasis ours). Á Lapide concludes with his own estimation of their view: “This opinion seems more plausible and more worthy of the Blessed Virgin.”

We said earlier that Saint Thomas discusses martyrdom in his treatise on fortitude. We can see why. The martyrs are the exemplars, par excellence , of this virtue. In the article dealing with whether or not death is necessary for martyrdom to be real (IIa IIae, Q. 124, A. 4), Saint Thomas makes reference to the fact that Saint Jerome referred to Our Lady’s “martyrdom.” He presents this as an objection to his own contention that death is necessary for martyrdom. After advancing proofs for his own position, Aquinas answers the objection by saying that Saint Jerome uses the word “by way of similitude.” But agreeing with Saint Thomas’ position would not prevent us from speaking of a “spiritual martyrdom” that Our Lady underwent. Many saints speak of her martyrdom, and many say that she was “more than a martyr”:

Saint Jerome, citing Saint Sophronius says, “She suffered in her mind, she was more than a martyr. Indeed, her love was stronger than death, because she made the death of Christ her own.”

The great Spaniard, Saint Ildephonsus, says “The Blessed Mother of God is rightly more than a martyr, for, wounded with overpowering love, she witnessed the Saviour’s death, and in her inward grief she bore the torture of the Passion.”

Saint Anselm (lib. de Excellentia Virg. cap. 5 ) says, addressing Our Lady, “Whatever cruelty was inflicted on the bodies of the martyrs, was light or rather nothing in comparison with thy suffering, which in its very immensity pierced through all thy inmost parts and the depths of thy most tender heart.”

Most authoritative of all is the Church’s liturgy. In the Communion verse of the Feast of the Seven Sorrows, she proclaims: “Happy the senses of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which without death earned the palm of martyrdom beneath the cross of Our Lord.”

Since martyrdom is the ultimate expression of fortitude, the Virgin Mary, being “more than a martyr” is, after her Divine Son, the highest exemplar of this virtue.

Means of Acquiring Marian Fortitude

Having held up Mary as our great exemplar, we feel pressed to enumerate the means for growth in fortitude, the moral virtue perhaps most necessary in our time . Father Marín lists five ways of growing in the virtue:

  1. Constantly to beg it of God.
  2. To foresee the difficulties which we shall encounter on the path of virtue.
  3. To accept with a generous spirit the little annoyances of daily life.
  4. To meditate frequently on the passion and death of Christ.
  5. To intensify our love of God. 13

Father Marín develops these means very briefly in The Theology of Christian Perfection . All five of these can be strengthened by the practice of daily mental prayer, using the Mulier Fortis as the subject of our meditations. One does not have to imitate Saint Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin, whose exclusive subject in his mental prayer was always the Sorrowful Mother, but occasional meditation on this theme is recommended, especially to people most in need of the virtue. 14

If we cannot do exactly as Saint Ferdinand III did on his horse during the Reconquista , the loving and prayerful consideration of Our Lady’s fortitude, with a sincere view to imitating and growing in it, is a way of spiritually lashing a statuette of her to our white charger and storming into the thick of the Christian combat. And we want her with us because she is the Reconquistadora , the “Reconqueress,” and her Immaculate Heart will triumph.


1 God Alone, the Collected Writings of Saint Louis Marie de Montfort , Montfort Publications, Bay Shore, NY, 1987, pg. 296.

2 Ibid, pg. 299.

3 Ibid., pg. 334. Here are some additional points on this subject: Describing the interior life of true devotion, he tells us that one of its chief practices is “meditating on her virtues, her privileges and her actions” (Ibid., pg. 324). He further says that, “in all our actions we must look upon Mary, although a simple human being, as the perfect model of every virtue and perfection, fashioned by the Holy Spirit for us to imitate, as far as our limited capacity allows” (Ibid., pg. 372).

4 The most detailed reference is this one: “[True devotion] strengthens us in our desire to do good and prevents us from giving up our devotional practices too easily. It gives us the courage to oppose the fashions and maxims of the world, the vexations and unruly inclinations of the flesh and the temptations of the devil” (Ibid., 322-323).

5 Ibid., 322.

6 Saint Thomas calls Cicero “Tully” (Tullius in Latin). The full name of the Roman orator and Stoic philosopher was Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 B.C. – 43 B.C.).

7 Those who would like a vivid description of these inns are invited to consult Guiseppe Ricciotti’s The Life of Christ , pg. 239.

8 Ricciotti, Guiseppe, The Life of Christ , Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee, 1947, pg. 248.

9 Ibid., pg. 258.

10 Or “about my Father’s business” as Saint Jerome and, following him, the Rheims version have. The reliable Greek manuscripts have “my Father’s house.”

11 Namely, the Meeting on the Sorrowful Way, the Death of Our Lord, the Pietá, and the Burial of Our Lord.

12 Saint Bernard points out that she suffered “with interest” what she was spared in the birth of Our Lord. Also, Saint John Damascene says, “The pangs of child birth, which she escaped, she suffered at the time of His Passion, by her motherly compassion, bearing Him afresh in beholding His wounds.” (All patristic quotes are taken from an unpublished translation of Cornelius á Lapide’s Great Commentary.)

13 Ibid., pgs. 411-412.

14 Those interested in taking up the practice of mental prayer are invited to listen to a talk the author delivered entitled “The Practice of Mental Prayer” (available from the Saint Augustine Institute ). Three good books on the subject are (in ascending order of size and depth) The Catechism of Mental Prayer , by Very Rev. Joseph Simler, In Conversation with Christ by Peter Thomas Rohrbach, and The Ways of Mental Prayer by Dom Vitalis Lehodey.

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