“The courage of men is to command, so that no fear cause them to fail to order what should be done…”
Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle’s Politics

To order what should be done. This is a rich and challenging notion. Aristotle and Aquinas are talking specifically about men—male human persons.

To command here means to give direction to and thus to shape human actions—either one’s own, or others’. Implied is a whole understanding of human actions as calling for the direction of reason in view of basic principles about the good life.

In all voluntary action there will be some ‘order.’ The big question is whether it is the right order. Are we doing ‘what should be done?’ What a simple and in a sense terrifying question! ‘What should be done’ is so rich, so beautiful, and sometimes so very difficult to grasp and to execute.

In Aristotle and Aquinas’s view, men have a special calling—and this shows up particularly in the household, though not there alone—to take responsibility for discerning and instilling right order: first in their own actions, and then in various ways in the life-context for which they are responsible. Such instilling of order is a way of serving, and it is essential to the exercise of all fatherhood.

If the traditional admonition to ‘be a man’ is rightly understood, it surely invites a man to overcome the obstacles to his fulfilling his great calling. Fear will often stand in his way.

We are unsure of ourselves. We fear our own weakness, and our own ignorance, especially since we are not sure how to go about this. We fear how others will interpret our actions and that we will be misunderstood. People might think we are overstepping our bounds or that we are claiming a role that is not ours. And of course, we fear what we will have to give up, which indeed can be much.

But courage, as all virtues, is ultimately a way of being most alive, of becoming our true selves. Manly courage is at the core of being a man. We can rediscover this. The happiness of many might depend upon it.

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) is considered one of the greatest of medieval theologians. He called Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) ‘the Philosopher’ and wrote commentaries on all his major works.

Image: Leon Lhermitte (1844-1925), detail of Paying the Harvesters.

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