[The question then is whether courage or wisdom is the more comprehensive virtue. The answer is dependent on the outcome of the famous discussion about the priority of intellect or will in the essence of being., and consequently, in the human personality.] Since Thomas decides unambiguously for the intellect, as a necessary consequence he subordinates courage to wisdom. A decision for the priority of the will would point to a greater, though not a total, independence of courage in its relation to wisdom. The difference between the two lines of thought is decisive for the valuation of “venturing courage” (in religious terms, the “risk of faith”). Under the dominance of wisdom courage is essentially the “strength of mind” which makes obedience to the dictates of reason (or revelation) possible, while venturing courage participates in the creation of wisdom. The obvious danger of the first view is uncreative stagnation, as we find in a good deal of Catholic and some rationalistic thought, while the equally obvious danger of the second view is undirected willfulness, as we find in some Protestant and much Existentialist thinking.
However Thomas also defends the more limited meaning of courage (which he always calls fortitude) as a virtue beside others. As usual in these discussions he refers to the soldier’s courage as the outstanding example of courage in the limited sense. This corresponds to the general tendency of Thomas to combine the aristocratic structure of medieval society with the universalist elements of Christianity and humanism. Perfect courage is, according to Thomas, a gift of the Divine Spirit. Through the Spirit natural strength of mind is elevated to its supernatural perfection. This however means that it is united with the specifically Christian virtues, faith, hope, and love. Thus a development is visible in which the ontological side of courage is taken into faith (including hope), while the ethical side of courage is taken into love or the principle of ethics. The reception of courage into faith, especially insofar as it implies hope, appears rather early, e.g. in Ambrose’s doctrine of courage. He follows the ancient tradition, when he calls fortitudo a “loftier virtue than the rest,” although it never appears alone. Courage listens to reason and carries out the intention of the mind. It is the strength of the soul to win victory in ultimate danger, like those martyrs of the Old Testament who are enumerated in Hebrews n. Courage gives consolation, patience, and experience and becomes indistinguishable from faith and hope. In the light of this development we can see that every attempt to define courage is confronted with these alternatives: either to use courage as the name for one virtue among others, blending the larger meaning of the word into faith and hope; or to preserve the larger meaning and interpret faith through an analysis of courage. This book follows the second alternative, partly because I believe that “faith” needs such a reinterpretation more than any other religious term.