What is Courage?

courageAs I was thumbing my way through a book, I found a comment about courage that said:  “Courage is not defined by those who fought and did not fall, but by those who fought, fell, and rose again.”

While I like the statement above, what really caught my attention was the word “courage” itself.  It’s a word I’ve read hundreds of times in my life, but for some reason the“rage” in “courage” stood out this time.

I asked myself:  “What part does rage play in courage?”  After researching the word, I discovered that my eyes had misconstrued the syllables.  I had mistakenly seen cou-rage and should have seen cour-age.

Let me share the history of courage:

  • The root of the word, cor, is Latin and means heart.
  • Corage is an old French form of the word
  • The English (12-15th century) use of the word was with the thought of the heart as being the seat of feelings and courage.
  • When “age” is added to the “cor” you get the state, condition, or relationship of the heart

G.K. Chesterton attempted to define the idea of courage when he wrote:

Take the case of courage. No quality has ever so much addled the brains and tangled the definitions of merely rational sages. Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. ‘He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,’ is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book. This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if we will risk it on the precipice.


He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine. No philosopher, I fancy, has ever expressed this romantic riddle with adequate lucidity, and I certainly have not done so. But Christianity has done more: it has marked the limits of it in the awful graves of the suicide and the hero, showing the distance between him who dies for the sake of living and him who dies for the sake of dying.

Courage may well be the need of the hour, and we may need to see it as a positive form of rage to right the wrongs of the world.  Paul had this in mind when he said:  “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil (Ephesians 4:26–27).”

This is not a road-rage, rage-aholic form of anger.  It is not an anger that is the result of self-perceived minor slights or wrongs, but it is an anger like the righteous indignation of Moses against Israel for worshiping the golden calf (Ex 32:19-29).

It took courage for Moses to stand alone and to stand for God before the thousands who had turned to idolatry.  David may have been thinking of the courage of Moses when he wrote Psalm 101:  “I will sing of mercy and justice; to You, O Lord, I will sing praises. I will behave wisely in a perfect way . . . I will set nothing wicked before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; It shall not cling to me. A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will not know wickedness.”

I’ll end where I began:  “Courage is not defined by those who fought and did not fall, but by those who fought, fell, and rose again.”


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