Tag Archive: Fortitude


Beauty Unseen

They said of Abbess Sarah of blessed memory, that for sixty years she lived on the bank of a river, and never looked down to see the water.

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 7.19

I have read this saying several times over the years, and it has always bothered me. Perhaps it is simply because I am a Celt (in addition to being German) and I have a strong, natural affinity for the beauty of nature, but such inner strength, such fortitude, that Abbess Sarah must have had is difficult for me to even imagine, let alone realize in my own life.

Until recently, I do not think I can even say that I understood the point of this saying. Many of the desert sayings are still a mystery to me, in fact; I only reflect on the ones about which I actually have a little understanding and a little something to say myself.

The problem that I have with this story is that, despite acknowledging that it must take great inner strength to live “for sixty years … on the bank of a river,” and yet “never [look] down to see the water,” I’ve always thought that such natural beauty was a good thing. After all, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1 [18:1 LXX]). But Great Lent has recently given me a little insight into what might be going on in this story. Continue reading

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Slaying Dragons and Weathering Storms

[Abba Piamun said:] Our Lord and Saviour taught a parable about two houses, one founded on a rock and the other on sand. On both houses fell the rain and the floods and the storms. But the one built on the rock sustained the violence unharmed: the one built on the shifting sand straightway collapsed. It is obvious that it did not collapse because the rains and the floods beat upon it, but because it had been built foolishly on sand. The saint does not differ from the sinner in not being tempted so strongly. The saint is not conquered by a great onslaught, the sinner falls to a trivial temptation. As I said, we should not praise the courage of a man who had won a fight without opposition. No conflict with an enemy—no victory.

~ Conferences of Cassian 18.13

Of the four classic cardinal virtues, perhaps one of the most peculiar is courage or fortitude, as it is variously translated. Furthermore, it is strange, in general, that those four (prudence, temperance, courage, and justice) should be the four cardinal virtues and not others. What about, for example, compassion or honesty or humility? Nevertheless, the more I have contemplated them (which is not as often as I should), the more I have come to see that these four really do tend to play a fundamental role. Compassion takes courage. Honesty is ultimately an expression of justice. One cannot be humble without temperance. I am not so sure that one cannot start elsewhere, but it does not hurt to begin with these four. This story from the Conferences of St. John Cassian is ultimately about courage, or fortitude. Continue reading