Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Fr. Antonio Royo Marin on Patience

[469] Patience

Patience enables one to bear physical and moral sufferings without sadness of spirit or dejection of heart. It is one of the most necessary virtues in the Christian life, because the trials and sufferings which all men must [470] inevitably suffer in this life require the assistance of some virtue to keep them strong and firm lest they yield to discouragement and sorrow. Many souls lose the merit of their trials and sufferings because they fail to exercise the virtue of patience. Indeed, they suffer even more than they would have suffered because of their lack of conformity to the will of God.

Motives for patience

The principal motives for the practice of Christian patience are the following:

1) Conformity with the loving will of God, who knows better than we the things that are good for us and therefore sometimes sends us suffering and tribulation.

2) The recollection of the suffering of Jesus and Mary, incomparable models of patience, and the sincere desire to imitate them.

3) The necessity of making reparation for our sins by the voluntary and virtuous acceptance of suffering in atonement for the unlawful satisfactions and pleasures which we have enjoyed in our sins.

4) The necessity of co-operating with Christ in the application of the fruits of redemption, bearing our sufferings in union with his in order to make up what is wanting to his passion (cf. Col. 1:24).

5) The prospect of an eternity of happiness which awaits us if we know how to suffer in patience. The suffering passes, but the fruit of having sanctified our suffering will never pass.

Degrees of perfection

As with the virtue of humility, so also with patience we distinguish various grades or degrees which give some indication of the perfection of the virtue in individual Christians. The following constitute five fundamental degrees of patience:

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 accompany 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 delights in external or internal suffering by which one is configured with Christ. As St. Teresa used to say: "To suffer or to die." [1]

[471] Vices opposed to patience

Two vices are opposed to the virtue of patience. By way of defect, impatience manifests itself externally by anger, complaints and murmuring, and internally by a feeling of antipathy to any trial or suffering, and an excessive inclination to defend oneself or to protect oneself against all discomfort. By way of excess, insensibility or hardness of heart is manifested in those who remain stoically unmoved and insensible in the face of suffering, whether it be their own or that of another. Some individuals, because of their temperament, have a strong natural predisposition to impatience; others become impatient as the result of the lack of some other virtue, such as fraternal charity, obedience, prudence, temperance, humility, etc.

As regards the vice of insensibility, it should be noted that a purely stoical attitude toward suffering is not of itself a virtue, and that it is no defect of patience if a person is sensitive to pain. The ability to suffer is not of itself virtuous; what makes suffering a virtue is the manner in which one accepts the suffering and the motive for which he suffers.


According to St. Thomas, longanimity is a virtue which animates a man to strive for some good which is a long way off (cf. Summa, II-II, q. 136, a. 5). It has to do with the attainment of some goal which involves a great deal of time....


The virtue of perseverance inclines one to persist in the practice of the good in spite of the difficulties involved in this continued practice. To remain unmoved and resolute in the practice of virtue from day to day requires a fortitude of spirit which is provided by this virtue. All the virtues need the help of perseverance, because without it no virtue could be preserved and practiced over a long period of time, nor would any virtue ultimately attain its perfection. Although every virtue is by definition a habit of operation which is difficult to remove and is, therefore, of itself a persistent and stable quality, the special difficulty which arises from a lifelong fidelity in the practice of any given virtue requires the special virtue of perseverance. Thus we see how one virtue comes to the aid of another.

[472] [...]


Constancy is closely related to the virtue of perseverance, but is distinguished from the latter by reason of a special difficulty to be overcome. The essential note of perseverance is that it gives firmness and strength of soul in the face of the difficulty which is connected with the prolongation of a virtuous life; constancy strengthens the soul against the difficulties that proceed from any other external obstacle, such as the influence of a bad example or special temptations from without. "Perseverance," says St. Thomas, "takes precedence over constancy as a part of fortitude, because the difficulty involved in the continuation of an action is more intrinsic to the act of virtue than that which arises from external obstacles" (cf. Summa, II-II, q. 137, a. 3).

Vices opposed to constancy

The vices opposed to perseverance and constancy are inconstancy (which St. Thomas calls effeminacy or softness) and pertinacity. Inconstancy causes a man to give up the practice of virtue as soon as difficulties and obstacles are encountered. There is, therefore, a certain softness and instability or fickleness to be found in inconstant persons. The tendency to desist from the pursuit of a good which is difficult to attain, as is the faithful practice of a virtue, is especially manifested in effeminate persons, because they are [473] especially attracted to pleasures, and as soon as pleasures are lacking in any given activity, their first impulse is to abandon that activity. [2]

The vice of pertinacity is opposed by excess to the virtue of perseverance, and is defined as an obstinacy in the refusal to yield or to cease some effort when right reason requires it. As a vice, it is often found in those persons who are self-opinionated and headstrong, but its origin is usually vainglory (cf. Summa, II-II, q. 138, a. 2). Quite frequently the reason why an individual persists in his own opinion, or refuses to abandon some effort or work when reason demands, is because he wishes to make a show of his talents and abilities. In this sense the pertinacious man takes a certain pleasure in persisting unreasonably against difficulties and opposition.

Means of Growth

The principal means of growth in the virtue of fortitude and in those virtues related to it are the following:

1) Constantly to beg it of God, for although it is true that this is a general means which applies to all the virtues, since every supernatural gift comes from God (Jas. 1:17), when it is a question of the virtue of fortitude we need the special assistance of God, due to the laxity and weakness of our human nature, wounded by sin. Without the help of God, we can do nothing (John 15:5), but with his help we can do all things (Phil. 4:13). For that reason Scripture repeatedly insists on the necessity of asking help from God, who is our strength: "You are my rock and my fortress" (Ps. 30:4). "The God of power and strength to his people" (Ps. 67:36).

2) To foresee the difficulties which we shall encounter on the path of virtue. St. Thomas recommends this practice to all Christians, and especially to those who have not yet acquired the habit of working with fortitude (cf. Summa, II-II, q. 123, a. 9). In this way one gradually overcomes his fear, and when [474] difficulties actually arise, he will overcome them much more easily because he has anticipated them.

3) To accept with a generous spirit the little annoyances of daily life. Every vocation in life is accompanied with its own particular crosses and difficulties, even if it be merely a matter of the monotony of one's daily activities. If we do not learn to accept the inevitable inconveniences and small trials of daily life, such as cold and heat, pain and discomfort, small illnesses and aches, contradictions and ingratitude, we shall never make any progress in cultivating the Christian virtue of fortitude.

4) To meditate frequently on the passion and death of Christ. There is nothing which so animates and comforts delicate souls as the contemplation of the heroism of Christ. He was a man of sorrows and was acquainted with infirmities (Is. 53:3), and he left us an example of suffering so that we would follow in his footsteps (cf. I Pt. 2:21). We shall never have to suffer in our sinful bodies any pains comparable to those which he voluntarily suffered out of love for us.  However great our sufferings of soul or body, we can raise our eyes to the crucifix, and Christ will give us the fortitude to bear them without bitterness and without complaining. It is likewise helpful to remember the ineffable sorrows of Mary, of whom it is said: "Come, all you who pass by the way, look and see whether there is any suffering like my suffering" (Lam. 1:12).

5) To intensify our love of God. Love is as strong as death (Cant. 8:6), and it does not yield to any obstacle in the pursuit of pleasing the beloved. This is what gave St. Paul the superhuman fortitude by which he overcame tribulation, anguish, persecution, hunger, danger and the sword. "But in all these things we overcome because of him who has loved us" (Rom. 8:37). When one truly loves God, there are no longer any difficulties in serving him, and one's very weakness becomes the basis for hoping in him. "Gladly therefore I will glory in my infirmities, that the strength of Christ may dwell in me.... For when I am weak, then I am strong" (II Cor. 12:9-10).



1. Two distinct miraculous experiences in the lives of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. John of the Cross serve to illustrate the different approaches of each saint to the spiritual life. Each of them had heard a question from the lips of the crucified Christ: "What reward do you ask?" St. Thomas answered: "Nothing but thyself, O Lord." St. John replied: "To suffer and to be despised for thee."

2. [... St. Thomas] states: "Effeminacy is caused in two ways. In one way, by custom, for when a man is accustomed to enjoy pleasures, it is more difficult for him to endure the lack of them. In another way, by natural disposition, because his mind is less persevering because of the frailty of his temperament. [...] (Summa, II-II, q. 138, a. 1 ad 1). However, in his commentary on this particular article, Cajetan remarks that one should always take into account the question of temperament and habit, because that which would be a vice of inconstancy or effeminacy for one person would not necessarily be so for another, just as that which would be excessive drink for one person could be moderate drink for another.


Source: Fr. Antonio Royo Marín, The Theology of Christian Perfection, trans. by Jordan Aumann (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011), 469–474.

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