Fortes in Fide (Again)

The true religion is not reducible to a bumper sticker or “meme,” but there is a venerable tradition, rooted in the Old Testament wisdom literature, of packaging hefty drafts of divine truth in small shots. These proverbs or aphorisms have provided sober inebriation to the saints for millennia. Some of the choicest concoctions can be found in the mottos of religious orders.

All religious should meditate from time to time on the motto of their order or congregation. Thus one would expect all Benedictines to have internalized ora et labora, all Dominicans, contemplata aliis tradere, and all Jesuits ad majorem Dei gloriam. Such expressions of an institute’s charism provide its members both a target to aim for and a framework in which to operate. They are especially helpful in guiding the interior life of the members.

Some religious mottos come directly from Holy Scripture, as does the one given by Saint Vincent Pallotti to the institute he founded, the Society of the Catholic Apostolate: caritas Christi urget nos (“the charity of Christ presseth us”; II Cor. 5:14). This is also the case with the motto of my own community, whose principal motto is fortes in fide (“strong in faith”). These words come from Christ’s first vicar (I Pet. 5:8) and are important enough to Mother Church that she puts them on our lips every night near the beginning of the office of Compline.

For us, the two key words in this motto, one an adjective and the other a noun, stand as a shorthand for all the virtues: fortes invokes fortitude along with all the other cardinal virtues; fide(s) (faith) being the first of the theological virtues, it also calls to mind the other two.

In the context of Saint Peter’s inspired use of these words, they are related to our spiritual combat. Against the “roaring lion” (leo rugiens) that is our Adversary, we are to resist “strong in faith”:

Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour. Whom resist ye, strong in faith [fortes in fide]: knowing that the same affliction befalls your brethren who are in the world. — I Pet. 5:8-9 (click here for Latin-English)

In an earlier posting on this site, I focused more on the theological virtue of faith than I will here. There is also this passage from Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., that instructs us on the purification of the virtue of faith as a part of growing in the spiritual life. Here, I will focus more on fortitude.

For all of their sublimity and nobility, and with the countless examples of the martyrs, confessors, and virgins exercising them heroically, there is an ordinariness to the practice of the Christian virtues that we must not forget. Because they are fundamental operative habits in the life of a Catholic, they should enter into everything we do — everything, that is, that constitutes what philosophers call a “human act,” i.e., an act which involves intellect and will.

Dom Marmion’s thoughts on “living by faith” in his masterful Christ, the Ideal of the Monk come to mind here. In summary, faith plays an important role in our daily interactions. We must “live by faith” (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38), and it takes faith to see the small trials and tribulations of daily life as integral parts of the Cross, not mere sources of frustration. We work to be “strong in faith” so that we can see Jesus Christ in our neighbor — even when he is annoying! — to see each opportunity to mortify ourselves and not to miss out on practicing the little virtues through spiritual blindness. To neglect these opportunities manifests a lack of that living faith which enables us to see things, to the degree possible, as God sees them. Being possessed of such a supernatural outlook, it will then take fortitude for us to live in accordance with this vision because it is often difficult to act contrary to the “old man” and according to the “New Man.”

The little sacrifices and acts of self denial that result from dealing with other people’s tastes, temperament, and idiosyncrasies, are occasions for practicing a kind of “daily fortitude” — not a fortitude that demands combating other people principally, but the kind of fortitude that calls a Christian to combat his very self — in the last analysis, the only enemy who can defeat him. By the courageous exercise of all the little virtues that go into properly engaging our fellow man — at home, at work, or wherever — we can fight the supernatural combat humbly and meekly, without giving needless offense to our neighbor. Doing so, we might possibly bring unbelievers into the fold, which we are enjoined to do: “Having your conversation good among the Gentiles: that whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by the good works, which they shall behold in you, glorify God in the day of visitation” (I Pet. 2:12).

This is not easy; it requires self-mastery.

At this point, I am going to shift gears and make a recommendation that may surprise some readers. I am currently reading a book whose observations can, I believe, be incorporated into a life of Christian holiness, notably one that includes the virtues and other habits requisite for evangelism. The book is Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It. Please bear with me.

The author, Chris Voss, is the FBI’s former lead international hostage negotiator. He currently teaches college business students and Fortune 500 company employees the art of negotiating as he honed it to perfection in very tense situations where failure meant death for hostages. He employs a method he calls “tactical empathy,” which involves such techniques as “mirroring,” “labeling,” “accusation audits,” asking questions that should be answered “No” (as opposed to “going for Yes,” which he insists is not as effective), and other tactics.

A good friend who is a business man recommended I read the book. This gentleman, a pious Catholic layman who attends daily Mass, has incorporated Voss’ methods into his approach to Catholic apologetics and evangelism.

Voss’ contributions are valid in the realm of prudence — recta ratio agibilium (“right reason applied to practice”) — and in its most “practical” sense. His bag of tricks helps with the nuts and bolts of human communication in the context of the way most men are in fact — that is, messed up, wounded by sin such that emotions predominate over reason. Voss tells us how to deal with emotional people by working with their overwrought emotions so that empathy, trust, rapport, and calm can be established.

Even though Voss does not speak scholastic language at all, I believe his approach can be defended by scholasticism on at least two points:

  • Saint Thomas teaches us “Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur” — whatever is received is received in the mode of the recipient. In other words, whatever is communicated to another will only be received by that other insofar as he is open or disposed to it. Thus, we don’t teach second graders using the vocabulary we would use with High School seniors.
  • Secondly, logic itself is a normative science and art. As such, it concerns how reasoning is to be done correctly, not how people so often think incorrectly. True, logic does label for us certain fallacies, but only to show how they do not conform to the norm of correct reasoning. It is not the subject matter of logic to coach the student in how to neutralize and work with people’s emotions so that they can be open to reason. Using logical syllogisms to convince people who are emoting more than they are thinking is an exercise in futility.

Closer than logic to the mark is rhetoric, which does deal with pathos as one of its three appeals — the others being logos and ethos. But rhetoric tends to deal in more formal settings and generally with audiences; it is not so concerned with guiding conversations and negotiations. The skills that Chris Voss teaches are more like salesmanship techniques that aid the practitioner in neutralizing and even leveraging the other person’s heightened emotions. Because your interlocutor’s emotions are realities that most certainly impact the situation, they must be dealt with prudently. As far as I can see it, Voss has accomplished just that.

Now, aside from becoming a better salesman, why would a Catholic qua Catholic be interested in this material? What does it have to do with pleasing God and extending the reign of Jesus Christ on Earth?

Though I have not yet finished his book, it seems to me that Voss’ approach can be “baptized” and used for apologetic purposes and in other settings when the objective is to convince someone of something good — and that is a very Catholic thing to do. At a deeper level, because these techniques infuse calm, trust, and empathy into the discourse, Voss’ approach is compatible with Christian charity, humility, and meekness. And because his techniques take a lot of effort and patience, they are compatible with Christian fortitude, which is to the point here.

While Christian fortitude should lead us to resist what is false and evil, we who oppose the zeitgeist sometimes mistake fortitude for harshness and so run the risk of becoming — in the vernacular — jerks. Let us not be confused on this point. It is not virtuous to be offensive (though, per accidens, offense is too often taken at real virtue). On the other hand, the interior discipline required by this kind of methodical approach to serious conversations can truly be arduous and difficult, which is exactly what fortitude is concerned with, according to Saint Thomas.

As a regular part of your balanced Catholic lifestyle, I suggest you keep a bottle of Fortes in Fide in your liquor cabinet and take a little nip from time to time. It’ll cure what ails you.