The Virtue of Patience
by Father Paul A. Duffner, O.P.
When we speak of this or that Virtue, we are speaking not merely of this or that
aspect of Goodness, but of a certain Stability in that regard. For example, one can
practice Patience in an Isolated Incident or Situation, but the
Virtue of Patience indicates a Habit of so Acting.
The mature Christian has both the Acquired and the Infused Virtue of Patience.
The Acquired Virtue of Patience assists us to exercise that Virtue
as directed by the 'Natural' Light of Reason; while the Infused Virtue of
Patience Enables and Disposes one to exercise that Virtue as directed by
Reason Enlightened by Faith. This latter involves a whole New Dimension to the Practice of Patience,
a whole New Outlook, a whole New Reason for Practicing Patience as we will presently see.
The Acquired Virtue of Patience
The word Patience is derived from the Latin word Pati,
which means to Suffer, to Endure, to
Bear. Already that tells us much about the Nature, Meaning and Necessity of the
Virtue of Patience.
Patience is one of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit
that comes under the General Virtue of FORTITUDE. We know that
Fortitude is a Virtue that Strengthens the
Soul to Sustain and Overcome the Difficulties and Dangers that beset us in our Moral Lives, and keeps us from Giving Up when the Going
is Hard. It brings a Strength of Soul that is required of every Virtue.
Gifts of the Spirit
Four (4) Main
Supernatural/ Divine Nature
Received at Baptism
along with Sanctifying Grace
Received at Conception and
developed throughout our Life
No Natural Counterpart exists
to the Infused Three (3)
Fear of the Lord
The Four (4) Main Acquired/Human
Virtues are still severely weakened due to Original Sin, and require
Divine Aid from the Infused Virtues and the Gifts of the Holy
Spirit. It is absolutely impossible to attain Heaven by Natural
means, Supernatural help is necessary.
By the Gift of Fortitude the Soul is Strengthened against
Natural Fear, and Supported to the End in the Performance of Duty. Fortitude imparts to
the Will an Impulse and Energy which move it to undertake, without hesitancy, the most
Arduous tasks, to face Dangers, to
Trample under-foot Human Respect, and to Endure without Complaint the slow Martyrdom
of even Lifelong Tribulation (i.e.Patience).
"He that shall Persevere unto the End, he shall be Saved".
Speaking of the Virtue of Patience as akin to
Fortitude, Saint Thomas Aquinas states: "A person is said to be Patient ...
because he Acts in a Praiseworthy Manner by enduring things which hurt him here and now and is not unduly saddened by them".
(II II,136,4, ad 2).
Patience helps one to encounter Frustrations,
Hardships, etc. (all of which cause Pain) without Losing his
Serenity, without becoming Irritated or
Despondent. It helps one not to be Upset by
Trivial Incidents however Unpleasant in our Daily Lives and thus not Lose
Peace of Soul. It is a Virtue that everyone
is called-upon to Exercise frequently.
If we reflect upon the number of times each day that we are confronted with situations, persons and
things that displease us and make us sad, we can see how often Patience is needed .... It is important because it prepares the way for
the Practice of all the other Virtues. Virtuous Action is usually Difficult and likely to cause Sorrow on the Sense Level. Patience, by
Moderating the Emotion of Sorrow, removes one of the serious Obstacles to the Practice of the other Virtues. All Virtues owe something
to Patience, and no one can long follow the Path of Virtue without it.
(The Christian Life, Francis Cunningham, O.P., p.697)
Patience is the ability to Keep-Control over the Impulse that rises suddenly when
something Disagreeable happens. It is not just disregard-of or indifference-to
Life's Daily Irritations or Upsetting Incidents,
but a Real Control of Self, of one's Feelings and Impulses. On the contrary, Impatience is the
Lack of Self-Control, and leads to other and greater Faults. It can easily grow into Anger,
Irritability, Harsh Words, Unpleasantness towards others, etc. Many a Serious Quarrel starts with
Impatience over little Annoyances or
Inconveniences. Father Walter Farrell, O.P. gives the reason for this:
"Patience is one of the Humble, Workaday Virtues; but it is, in a Real Sense, the Root and Guardian of all
Virtues, not causing them, but removing Obstacles to their Operation. Do away with Patience and the Gates are open for a flood of
Discontent and Sin". (Comp. to Summa, III, 394)
Yet, if Patience is an important Virtue,
and much needed in Daily Life, it is not an easy Virtue, for it demands much
Watchfulness over our Emotions and Impulses. It is acquired by slow continual repetition of
Patient Control - in spite of many Failures. It is unfortunate, however,
that many do not grasp the Value of Patience, for its Natural Fruit is
Calm of Mind. The Soul of the
Patient Person is not at the mercy of every chance-happening.
The Supernatural Virtue of Patience
So far we have spoken of Patience on the purely Natural (Acquired/Human) Level, in order to
explain what the Virtue consists in. The Exercise of that
Virtue, however, on the purely Natural Level is a very difficult Virtue to
Cultivate, since it is not easy for one without Faith to see the Advantages of Enduring
with Serenity the Pain and Sorrow that are
inseparable from the Conflicts, Frustrations,
Sickness, etc. of Human Existence. The Second Vatican Council
emphasizes this Truth: "Through Christ and in Christ, Light
is thrown on the Enigma of Pain and Death which overwhelms us without His Gospel to Teach us"
(Gaudium et Spes, n.22)
One with a Strong Faith in Christ and
His Redeeming Mission, on the other hand, not only sees that our
Divine Savior paid the Debt of Mankind by
His Suffering and Death,
but gave to Suffering a Redeeming Value
when borne in union with His. Such a one sees that every
Dark Cloud has a Silver Lining.
The Supernatural Virtue of Patience brings into play the
Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope and
Charity, as well as Infused Moral Virtues and
Gifts of the Holy Spirit. In the rest of these Reflections we will be speaking of the
Virtue of Patience as Perfected and Elevated by those Infused
Virtues and Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
A) Patience and Divine Providence
There is a close connection between Christian Patience, and Awareness of and Trust in
the Providence of God; an Awareness that there is nothing that happens in our life except
that God foresees it, allows it, and can bring
Good out of it, if we Trust in His Loving and All-Wise Concern for each of us.
The practice of Christian Patience requires that everything be seen in the
Light of Faith, that everything that happens in this life is permitted by
God, and for our own Good. Whether life's
Trials and Suffering come from Human Causes
or Natural causes, it is foreseen by God and allowed for our
Spiritual Purification and Growth. But it takes a deep
Faith in God to be aware of His
Hand in all such matters, and a Strong Trust and
Love of God to accept His Will in
Patience, i.e. with an Interior Serenity of Mind and
Heart. Such a one understands the words of Saint James the Apostle:
My brothers, you will always have your Trials but, when they come, try to treat them as a Happy
Privilege; you understand that your Faith is only put to the Test to make you Patient, but Patience too is to have its practical
results so that you will become Fully-Developed, Complete, with Nothing Wanting.
The Bloody Sweat depicted in the painting above by Antonello da Messina, is a well documented medical occurrence called
Hematidrosis. Under great Emotional Stress, tiny Capillaries in the Sweat Glands can break, thus causing
This acceptance of God's Will does not prevent us from Feeling the
Suffering of the occasion, any more than Our
Lord's acceptance of His Father's Will eliminated
His Suffering in the Garden of
Gethsemane. There His Suffering
was so intense that His Sweat became as Drops of Blood.
But that Awareness and Acceptance of God's Will begets Interior
Peace and Serenity, enabling one to maintain Self-Control. That is what it
means to be Patient.
In order to begin the Practice of Patience, one must try to bear Daily
Annoyances and Hardships without Complaint, knowing that
God's Providence does not permit any Trial
that will not be a Source of Good for us if endured
Patiently. Without doubt, in the beginning we will experience a Repugnance to Suffering
of any kind. Nature itself recoils from it. Yet, in time one will become aware of a real Spiritual
Profit that comes from it, a Growing Awareness of Cooperating with our Divine Savior
in Atoning for Sin, our own and that of others. But we must begin with the Humble and
Uncomplaining Acceptance of what God provides in the course of our Daily Life. Even small
Trials of life, borne in Patience,
Merit a Reward, i.e. an increase of
Grace. The Person who is unaware of the Chastening
Discipline of these Trials misses one of the best opportunities of
Patience is not to be confused with Indifference or Stoic Passivity to all that happens.
The Patient person is able to endure much because he sees the Challenge of the
Cross, and Wills to do so. He accepts the
Cross, not because Forced - as did Simon of Cyrene, but freely - as
Jesus did. He knows that the Lord will provide all the
Chastening Discipline he needs for Spiritual Growth in the circumstances
of Daily Life, if only he will accept them.
B) Patience and the Spirit of the World
For those who seek their Happiness mainly in this Life, anything that brings
Adversity, Duress or
Pain is to be eliminated, as if this Earthly Life were the one-and-only chance of
Happiness. As Saint Paul pointed out, the Whole Message of the
Cross does not make sense to the Worldly Mind. Still today, to some it is a Stumbling Block, to others it is
Foolishness (1Corinthians 1:23). So many have Rejected the Christian explanation of the
Sorrows of Life for which we are promised an Imperishable
Heritage (1Peter 1:4) in the Life to come.
Since so many learned men have been scoffing for a hundred years at an Imperishable
Heritage, we need not wonder that so many Psychiatrists tell their patients that Chastity breeds Nervous Disorders, that
Patience is bad for them. Their argument against Patience is that, by Uncomplaining Sufferance of many Annoyances, people pile up
within themselves a huge Psychic Potential, a Thunderhead of Inhibitions, which will work great Psychological Harm, unless they
constantly release it by direct Irascible Action. So if a Man is annoyed at the breakfast table because the toast is burned, let him
pound the table a bit, if he dare.
But the Word of God is not confounded by the False Wisdom of the Learned of this World, nor is the Eternal
Law of Human Conduct made void by Mens Follies, no matter how much these are multiplied. Faith and Reason tell us that
Through many Tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God (Acts 14:21). No Psychologist has better advice to offer than
the succinct Words of Christ: By Patient Endurance you will Save your Lives (Luke 21:19)".
(Thomas Higgen, S.J. - Helps and Hindrances of Perfection, p.97)
Christ, Our Model
We should Reflect often on the Infinite Patience God has with us. Time and again we resolve
to Correct this or that Fault - only to Fall
again; and each time the Lord Patiently awaits our return to
Pardon us again. He is so Patient
and Understanding with our Weaknesses and
Falls that some may imagine that He pays
little attention to them, or is little concerned about them. Nothing could be farther from the Truth.
His Love for us enables Him to
Patiently await our return, like the Father of the Prodigal Son; and
He bids us: Love one another as I have Loved you
(John 15:12) .... that is, be Patient in whatever you
Suffer from the Weaknesses and Falls of others,
as I am Patient with your Weaknesses and
This does not mean that we Condone the Falls of others, any more than the
Justice of God overlooks our Falls.
His Justice demands a turning-back to Him,
and a Payment (Temporal Punishment due to
Sin) that remains to some extent after Pardon.
But it does mean that we be Patient with the Frailty of others, and not expect an
Immediate and Total Conversion, for we ourselves are not Perfect in the
Amendment of our own Lives.
Nor does the Enduring of the Trials of Life with Patience
mean that we should not defend ourselves or others against some Unjust Action, or
remind another of something that is Out of Line. It refers more to those cases where
Emotion takes over and blinds us to the Hand of God
providing an opportunity of Patience and Self-Control,
and our Hurt Pride causes us to respond in an Impatient
and Uncharitable Way.
Passion Scenes of Christ - by DUCCIO di Buoninsegna - from Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena
Nowhere can we find a more Perfect Model of Patience than
Christ during His Passion.
He is the very Lord and
Maker of the Creatures who Abused Him
so Ignominiously. He Who could call upon
more than Twelve Legions of Angels (Matthew 26:54) to Annihilate
His Enemies, allows
Himself to be roughly-bound and brought-before the High Priest, where False Accusations
are made against Him. Without resistance He
accepts the Judgment of Pilate who condemns Him to Death.
He submitted silently to the Terrible Scourging
at the Pillar, and the Painful Humiliation of the Crowning with
Thorns. No complaint escaped His Lips when the Soldiers spat in
His Face, knelt before Him in
Mockery, hailing Him as King, and Struck
His Crowned Head with a reed. Without complaint He
accepted the Cross and bore it to Calvary,
where He endured Three (3) Hours of the most
unspeakable Torture until Death.
He submitted to all these Outrages without
complaint, out of Love for His Father,
Who Willed this Redemptive
Sacrifice for the Salvation of Mankind with all its
Painful and Humiliating details. "Yes,
Father", was the Silent Response of Christ through it all.
Our Lady needs our Patience
It is clear from what we have said that, as a rule, each time we Act Impatiently we have
squandered an opportunity of making a little Oblation to
God that could be a Source of Grace. If one can only become aware of the
opportunity that each little Trial presents, (some little
Delay, Setback, Humiliation,
Disappointment, etc.) and try to accept what God's Infinite
Wisdom and Love has provided, it would contribute much to
Spiritual Growth. If one cannot do so, he will be missing one of the Main Channels that
God uses in Testing us and in bringing about our
Purification. Accepting with Patience these
Upsetting Incidents will not only eliminate Quarrels,
Harsh Words and Ill Feelings, but will enable one to maintain a
Peace of Soul, knowing that our acceptance of what God
allows will only contribute to our Good. It changes what would have been an
Act of Impatience, into one that Merits an increase of
If only one could breath a silent Yes, Father, when things go against-the-grain, and
give that offering to the Mother of God,
she could do much with those little Sacrifices to
help Souls in Need. Our
Lady made known at Fatima that Many Souls are going to Hell because there is
no one to make Sacrifices for them. We dont have to go in search for opportunities for
Sacrifice. They are built-in our Daily Lives. If we could only recognize and accept with
Patience the Hand of the Divine
Physician using the Daily ups-and-downs that we encounter to Heal our
Hidden Attachments and provide opportunities for
Atonement, we would make Rapid Progress in the Spiritual Life. Too, we would
be cooperating with the Mother of God who needs
those little Sacrifices (the Fruit of Patience) to
Save the Souls of
her children who have Lost their way.
Saint Paul, who knew so well the meaning of the Cross and
Suffering in following Christ, also knew how essential
Patience is in bearing that Cross:
We boast of you in the Churches of God for your Patience and Faith in all your Persecutions and
Tribulations you are enduring (2Thessalonians 1:4).
We can boast about our Suffering. These Sufferings bring Patience, as we know, and Patience brings
Perseverance, and Perseverance brings Hope, and this Hope is not deceptive, because the Love of God has been poured into our Hearts by
the Holy Spirit Who has been given us (Romans 5:3-5).
"When . . . Persecution comes our way, we bear it Patiently"
"The Cross of Christ, though it has become to many a Stumbling Block and Foolishness
(1Corinthians 1:23) remains for the Believer the Holy Sign of His Redemption, the Emblem of Moral Strength and Greatness. We live in
its shadow and die in its embrace. It will stand on our grave as a pledge of our Faith and our Hope in the Eternal Light"
(Pope Pius XI)
Links to other Pages on Virtues
Three (3) Theological Virtues
Four (4) Main Moral Virtues
No Species exist for the
Three (3) Theological Virtues