Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange on Patience

[99] "In your patience you shall possess your souls." Luke 21:19

In the difficult periods through which we have to pass, we should remember what our Lord has told us about the virtue of fortitude, which is necessary that we may not be frightened by any menace, or arrested in the way of salvation by any obstacle. We shall treat here especially of the virtue of patience, which is the most frequent form under which fortitude of soul is exercised in the vexations of life. In the Christian it should be united to meekness, and in such a way that those who are naturally meek may learn to become strong, and those who are naturally inclined to the virtue of fortitude may become meek with the meaning given to the term by the evangelical beatitude: "Blessed are the meek." Thus both will ascend toward the same summit, although by different paths [....]

Patience and Longanimity, Twin Columns of the Interior Life

Patience, says St. Thomas (cf. Summa Th., IIa IIae, q. 135, a. 1), is a virtue attached to the virtue of fortitude, which hinders a man from departing from right reason illumined by faith by yielding to difficulties and to sadness. It makes [100] him bear the evils of life with equanimity of soul, says St. Augustine (De patientia, chap. 2), without allowing himself to be troubled by vexations. The impatient man, no matter how violent he may be, is a weak man; when he raises his voice and murmurs, he really succumbs from the moral point of view. The patient man, on the contrary, puts up with an inevitable evil in order to remain on the right road, to continue his ascent toward God. Those who bear adversity that they may attain what their pride desires, have not the virtue of patience but only its counterfeit, hardness of heart.

By patience the soul truly possesses itself about the fluctuations of the sensible part depressed by sadness. The martyrs are in the highest degree masters of themselves and free. In patience is met again something of the principal act of the virtue of fortitude: the enduring of painful things without weakening. It is more difficult and meritorious, says St. Thomas, to endure for a long time what keenly vexes nature than to attack an adversary in a moment of enthusiasm [1]. It is more difficult for a soldier to hold out for a long time under a shower of bullets in a cold damp trench than with all the ardor of his temperament to take part in an attack. If the virtue of fortitude bears the blows that may cause death, as we see in the soldier who dies for his country and still more in the martyr who dies for the faith, the virtue of patience endures unflinchingly the contradictions of life (cf. Summa, IIa IIae, q. 136, a 4). Thus we see that this virtue of patience is the guardian of other virtues; it protects them against the disorders that impatience would cause; it is like a buttress of the spiritual edifice. [...]

To have patience as a solid virtue, man must be in the state of [101] grace and have charity, which prefers God to everything else, no matter what the cost. For this reason St. Paul says: "Charity is patient" (1 Cor. 13:4).

If the contradictions of life last for a long time without interruption, as happens in the case of a person forced to live with someone who continually tantalizes him, then there is need of longanimity, a special virtue resembling patience. It is called longanimity because of the length of the trial, the duration of the suffering, the insults, all that must be borne for months and years.

As St. Francis de Sales points out (Introduction to a Devout Life, Pt. III, chap. 3: Of Patience), patience makes us preserve equanimity of mind in the midst of the variableness of the diverse mishaps of this mortal life. "Let us frequently call to mind," he says, "that as our Lord has saved us by patient sufferings, so we also ought to work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring injuries and contradictions, with all possible meekness.... Some are unwilling to suffer any tribulations but those that are honorable: for example, to be wounded in battle.... Now these people do not love the tribulation, but the honor wherewith it is accompanied; whereas he that is truly patient suffers indifferently tribulation, whether accompanied by ignominy or honor. To be despised, reprehended, or accused by wicked men, is pleasant to a man of good heart; but to suffer blame and ill treatment from the virtuous, or from our friends and relations, is the test of true patience.... The evils we suffer from good men are much more insupportable than those we suffer from others" (ibid.). 

To practice this virtue in a manner that is not stoic but Christian, we should often recall the patience of Christ on the cross, which surpasses human thought. For love of us He endured the most severe physical and moral sufferings, which came to Him from the fury of the priests of the Synagogue, from abandonment by His people, from the ingratitude of His own, from the divine malediction due to sin, which He willed to bear in our place as a voluntary victim. May the patience of our Savior preserve our souls according to the words of St. Paul: "And the Lord direct your hearts, in the charity of God and the patience of Christ" (cf. II Thess. 3:5). As a German proverb says, [102] patience yields roses and ends by obtaining all: "Geduld bringt rosen."

When we have to practice this virtue in prolonged trials, we should remember the teaching of the saints, that sufferings well borne are like materials which compose the edifice of our salvation. Sufferings are the portion of the children of God in this life and a sign of predestination: "Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God," we are told in the Acts of the Apostles (14:21). It is essential to know how to suffer calmly without excessive self-pity. Those who share most in the sufferings of Christ will be most glorified with Him. Sometimes an act of great patience before death is sufficient; this is the case of many dying persons who are reconciled to God a few days or hours before their last breath.


Source: Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Three Ages of the Interior Life, vol. 2, trans. by M. Timothea Doyle (Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1989),  99–102.



1. As St. Thomas says, IIa IIae, q. 123, a. 6 ad 1um: "Endurance is more difficult than aggression for three reasons. First, because endurance seemingly implies that one is being attacked by a stronger person.... Secondly, because he that endures already feels the presence of danger, whereas the aggressor looks upon danger as something to come.... Thirdly, because endurance implies length in time, whereas aggression is consistent with sudden movements."

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