What is the Catholic Church’s definition of Cowardice?


The first reference listed for the Catechism might be what you seek.


Thanks I had a look at that but I am still not clear what the exact definition of cowardice is.


The Church doesn’t have precise definitions on everything. Church Militant’s link gives the only two places in the Catechims that the word “cowardice” is used. The words “coward” or “cowardly” does not appear at all.

I would probably just say that it’s the opposite of fortitude:

CCC 1808: Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause. “The Lord is my strength and my song.” “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

You might try St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica:

Whether cowardice is a greater vice than intemperance?

That’s probably as close as you’ll find to a “Church definition” of the word.


In what context are you looking for this Pete? I’m not sure what you are getting at.


I understand cowardice is grave matter, am I correct?


CHARITY- is the supernatural infused virtue infused by God into the will, by which we love God for Himself above all things, and our self and neighbor for His sake. It is the “queen of all virtues,” the one that unites all the other virtues and makes their actions meritorious. It is the key virtue, therefore, responsible for growth in grace which is the measure of glory in the life to come. Charity (love of God) makes easier every effort, and sweetens every sacrifice. It can find expression in countless ways as St. Paul testifies. (1 Cor. 13:4-7) It is the heart and soul of prayer, as well as the motivating force of the spirit of mortification [self-sacrifice].

PRUDENCE - is an infused virtue rooted in the practical intellect enabling the individual to make correct moral decisions and carry out those decisions in particular circumstances. It is the most important of all the moral virtues, for it is the guide of our entire moral life. In the light and strength it receives from the theological virtues, prudence directs and guides all the other virtues as to the proper means for attaining eternal life.

**FORTITUDE - **While justice has to do with our duties toward others, fortitude helps to control our inner life, our emotions, our desires and fears. It helps us to steer a middle course between fear and daring, for lacking control, these two emotions can degenerate into cowardice on the one hand, and foolhardiness on the other. It 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 for every virtue. The ultimate act of fortitude is martyrdom, like that of Sr. Maria Goretti, who had the courage to accept death rather than sacrifice her virtue.

The virtue of courage is tied to the virtues of charity, prudence and fortitude. Prudence tells us what we should do under a given situation.

Suppose you are a soldier in a battle and a fellow soldier is wounded out in the open while you are safe in a foxhole. Charity tells you that, if you can, you should try to rescue him. If there is a way for you to crawl out on a battlefield to save your wounded colleague without almost certainly getting killed yourself, you should do it.

**If you can. **This is where **prudence **comes in. Say you have decided that, no I can’t do it; if I go out there, that machine gunner will have a clear shot at me no matter how I go about it. If you went anyway, you have not been prudent *or *courageous, but foolish. Same as if you just ran out there in this situation. You (as well as your friend) would die in a hopeless effort.

Say you have decided that, yes, there’s enough cover that if I lay on the ground and inch by inch work my way out the ten yards or so to drag him back. Yes, I could do it. This is where **courage and fortitude **come in. Once the prudent decision is made, you must have the **courage **to carry it out. This resolve to carry out a courageous act is enabled by having the virtue of fortitude.

Suffice to say, one does not just “have” the virtue of fortitude (or charity, or prudence, or any of the other natural virtues), but they must be developed over years of practicing them aided by God’s grace.

For more information on these and other virtues, I highly recommend these articles:

Christian Prudence
Christian Fortitude**

Other articles:

I’d also recommend the following book:

Boys To Men: The Transforming Power of Virtue, by Tim Gray:

Hope that helps! :slight_smile:


Could someone clarify; is cowardice grave matter? If so undr what circumstances.

Thanks for the help so far


That would probably depend what it is in relation to.

As Aquinas said, it is often less serious as it flows from the desire for self-preservation rather than from intent to do evil.


In relation to a specific sin–it depends. The gravity of a matter depends upon the harm it does to another, the knowledge and level of cooperation in the sin, and other factors.

Why don’t you give us some examples?


the gravity of cowardice would depend on the gravity of the situation in which one is called on to display fortitude. for instance it takes one degree of courage to resist a temptation to steal a candy bar from an untended store counter, and a much greater degree of courage to stand up to a bully


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