Stretching Your Mind to Greatness; The Virtue of Magnanimity
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Humility, Magnanimity and Magnificence

The acts of the Good Samaritan go beyond generosity.


The parable of the Good Samaritan shows us how we are to live our lives. As a Christian people, Jesus calls us to live our lives for others. Charity is the the most essential virtue of Christianity. The parable of the Good Samaritan and the parable of the Prodigal Son are among Jesus' greatest teachings. This Sunday's parable teaches us how we are to love. The parable leaves no room for doubt.  Anyone who is in need must be taken care of with profound magnanimity. 

The parable of the Good Samaritan shows us how we are to live our lives.
My grandmother spent her last years in a nursing home because she was unable to care for herself.  Alzheimer's completely sapped her joyful vitality and totally changed her personality.

Every time I went home to visit my parents, we would always spend time with my grandmother.  The visits were always very sad.  After my mother briefly reminded her as to whom we were, my grandmother would be delighted by our visits.  The sadness was caused by what the illness had done to my grandmother.

The nurses at the nursing home were extraordinary women.  In their own simple way, they would take care of every tiny detail of the patients.  There were many other patients that were in worse shape than my grandmother.  I often wondered how the nurses could be so cheerful and so loving in such a difficult environment.

One day, during one of our family visits, the nurse that always took care of my grandmother, told me that she could not wait to retire so that she could come back every day to the nursing home and spend her entire day with the patients at no charge to the home.  She was so excited about the possibility of generously giving of herself without any restrictions.

This Sunday's liturgy provides us with another wonderful opportunity to deepen our love for God and our neighbor. 

In my opinion, the parable of the Good Samaritan and the parable of the Prodigal Son are Jesus' greatest teachings and clearly they are among the most beautiful passages of Sacred Scripture.  
During the past few weeks, the Catholic liturgy has been presenting to us teachings on the essence of Christianity.  Without a doubt, the parable of the Good Samaritan is a vital gospel narrative for our reflection.  This Sunday's parable teaches us how we are to love.  The parable leaves no room for doubt.  Anyone who is in need must be taken care of with profound magnanimity. 

The magnanimous care that the Samaritan gives to the misfortunate man provides a model of how we are to care for all those who are in need.   Christianity and egotism are diametrically opposed to each other.   

Every one of the Samaritan's actions is an act of profound magnanimity.  The Samaritan is moved with compassion as he comes upon the man who has fallen into the hands of robbers.  This movement of the heart is characteristic of the love that Jesus has for all humanity (see Luke 7: 11 - 17; 15: 20).  It is precisely this movement of the heart that causes the Good Samaritan to do such loving acts of service and kindness.  This movement of the heart causes him to come out of himself and give himself entirely to the needs of the man that he finds on the side of the road. 

"But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the inn-keeper, saying, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back'" (Luke 10: 33-35).

The acts of the Good Samaritan go beyond generosity.  His magnanimity shows that there are no limits to his kindness and service. 

The parable of the Good Samaritan demands that we live our lives in the same way.  We cannot ignore the needs of anyone.  Only those who are magnanimous servants of their neighbor are truly happy people. 

There are two major obstacles to living out true gospel charity: our ego and our moods.  We need to be learn to be selfless and we need to get our moods under control.  Too many people in our contemporary society only live for themselves and too many people live from one mood swing to another. 

A healthy family life is the best way to develop the virtue of charity.   Interaction among family members takes place most frequently at the dining room table.  Families need to have dinner together every night.  Excessive involvement in sports and after school activities robs a family of the intimate social life that helps to keep families alive. 

Aside from excessive activities, too much television viewing causes family members to isolate themselves into their own little shells.  This is particularly true when parents allow children to have their own television set in their bedrooms. 

Another aspect of strong family life is a healthy social life.  Too many people live isolated lives.  Too many people are incapable of true friendship.  Christian charity is impossible if we do not even understand what it means to be a friend to someone.  Maybe we can begin to change the social atmosphere of our many of our cities and towns by being of good cheer wherever we may be and respectfully greeting one another with proper social manners. The regular use of words such as "hello", "good morning", and "thank you", need to be made a normal part of our public behavior. 

The parable of the Good Samaritan shows us how we are to live our lives.  As a Christian people, Jesus calls us to live our lives for others.  Charity is the most essential virtue of Christianity.  Without this virtue, we cannot call ourselves authentic Christians

True Humility Is Not Contrary to Legitimate Splendor and Honors

The virtue of humility, at least in its external aspects, arouses much sympathy even among those who are not particularly religious or otherwise oppose religion.In a world dominated by pride and sensuality, it seems very timely to study this virtue, however briefly.

Humility, Magnanimity and Magnificence
An Interior Act of Submission to God

 As with any virtue, we must first consider humility in its interior aspect, its essence.

 There is no better teacher to lead us in this task than the Common Doctor, Saint Thomas Aquinas.

 According to him, “humility properly regards the subjection of man to God.”[1] Therefore, it predisposes man to practice all the virtues, which consist in submitting our intellect and will to God.

St. Thomas Aquinas - Angelic Doctor, Italian Count

Saint Thomas Aquinas (Angelicus Doctor), lays down the principle that one virtue cannot contradict another. Humility is perfected and guided by the virtue of prudence, thereby avoiding errors that may cause scandal and confusion.

Being Detached Without Despising the Gifts Received

 Humility leads to detachment from self. It moderates our desire for excellence, keeping it in due proportion[2] and leads to a healthy self-abasement. But when this is done to seek one’s own glory, it is false humility, a fruit of pride.[3]

 True humility does not prevent us from recognizing the gifts received from God. “It is a sign of humility if a man does not think too much of himself, observing his own faults; but if a man contemns the good things he has received from God, this, far from being a proof of humility, shows him to be ungrateful.”[4]

There Is No Contradiction Among Virtues

 Saint Thomas lays down the principle that there can be no contradiction between one virtue and another.[5] Therefore there is no contradiction, for example, between the virtue of humility, on the one hand, and the virtues of magnanimity and magnificence on the other.

 Thus, humility and magnanimity complete one another because “a twofold virtue is necessary with regard to the difficult good: one, to temper and restrain the mind, lest it tend to high things immoderately; and this belongs to the virtue of humility: and another to strengthen the mind against despair, and urge it on to the pursuit of great things according to right reason; and this is magnanimity.”[6]

“[M]agnanimity urges the mind to great things in accord with right reason. Hence it is clear that magnanimity is not opposed to humility: indeed they concur in this, that each is according to right reason.”[7]

A Seeming Contradiction

 The reason why humility seems to contradict magnanimity is because these virtues consider two different aspects: “magnanimity makes a man deem himself worthy of great things in consideration of the gifts he holds from God: thus if his soul is endowed with great virtue, magnanimity makes him tend to perfect works of virtue; and the same is to be said of the use of any other good, such as science or external fortune. On the other hand, humility makes a man think little of himself in consideration of his own deficiency.”[8]

True humility does not prevent us from recognizing the gifts received from God. “But if a man contemns the good things he has received from God, this...shows him to be ungrateful.”

To Despise Honors Is to Despise the Ornament of Virtues

“Those are worthy of praise who despise riches in such a way as to do nothing unbecoming in order to obtain them, nor have too great a desire for them. If, however, one were to despise honors so as not to care to do what is worthy of honor, this would be deserving of blame.”[9]

“Magnanimity,” Saint Thomas concludes, “is the ornament of all the virtues.”[10]

Humility and Splendor

 Humility does not clash with the virtue of magnificence, through which we seek splendor, especially in God’s worship. This is because the magnificent does not seek greatness as such but rather for God’s glory.

“The intention of magnificence is the production of a great work. Now works done by men are directed to an end: and no end of human works is so great as the honor of God: wherefore magnificence does a great work especially in reference to the Divine honor. Wherefore the Philosopher [Aristotle] says (Ethic. iv, 2) that ‘the most commendable expenditure is that which is directed to Divine sacrifices’: and this is the chief object of magnificence. For this reason magnificence is connected with holiness, since its chief effect is directed to religion or holiness.”[11]

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, with statue of Charlemagne in forground
The magnificent does not seek greatness for itself but rather for God’s glory. The virtues of magnanimity and magnificence drive us to great achievements and incline us to pursue excellence and splendor – for the greater glory of God.

Humility Is Guided by Prudence

 For Saint Thomas, humility, like all moral virtues, is perfected and guided by the virtue of prudence, the first of the virtues when it comes to practical action.

 Prudence, he says, is “the principal virtue in practical matters.”[12] “Prudence [is] the complement of all the moral virtues…. [T]he knowledge of prudence pertains to all the virtues.”[13] “Prudence is the conductor of the virtues.”[14]

 Thus, the practice of humility should be guided by prudence by applying general principles to concrete situations[15] and thus avoiding an erroneous assessment of occasions, circumstances and posts in which a person should practice humility. Prudence therefore avoids, in the practice of humility, errors which may cause scandal and confusion by disparaging one’s own office, especially ecclesiastical, and by showing contempt for the virtues of magnanimity and magnificence, whose practice is required by the office.

Accepting Honors in Submission to God

 Honors due to superiors may be owed because of their personal virtue or because of the excellence of their office; for this latter reason, even bad superiors must be honored: “A wicked superior is honored for the excellence, not of his virtue but of his dignity, as being God’s minister, and because the honor paid to him is paid to the whole community over which he presides.”[16]

 Since the essence of humility is the inner act of submission to God, the external manifestations of this virtue should be aligned with this submission to the divine will, which has called someone to high office — whether civil or ecclesiastical — by accepting the splendor and honors linked thereto.


Humility is the virtue by which we fully submit ourselves to God and moderate our disproportionate desires of grandeur. Through the virtue of humility we abase ourselves in consideration of our faults and smallness before God.

 The virtues of magnanimity and magnificence drive us to great achievements and incline us to pursue excellence and splendor.

 Just as we honor those who are superior to us either because of their virtue or their office, so also we should receive the honors destined to us on account of the gifts we have received from the Creator or the office we occupy. We credit these honors to God and to the dignity of the office, rather than to our personal merits.

 Since the moral virtues are guided by prudence, we should not perform public acts of abasement inconsistent with our office, as in doing so we would commit an act of imprudence and give occasion for scandal and confusion, shaking the faith of others.

 Due to the harmonious unity existing between all the virtues, regardless of the circumstances, we cannot emphasize one virtue against another — at least in people’s eyes.

“Humility Is to Walk in Truth” (Saint Teresa)
 It is worth recalling here the words of Saint Teresa of Avila:

“Once I was wondering why Our Lord was so fond of this virtue of humility and the answer immediately occurred to me: It is because God is the supreme Truth, and humility is to walk in truth; so it is well for us to see that all we have is misery and nothingness; and he who does not understand that, walks in a lie.”[17]

 Humility expresses the truth about ourselves and about others and counters false humility, which is based on a lie.

Dignified Pride Is the Harmonious Complement of Humility
Humility Is Compatible with the Rich Dress of One’s Office
Are Public Awards and Punishments Good?


O Lord, give me a generous heart, capable of undertaking great things for You.


1. Whoever aspires to sanctity should have a generous, magnanimous heart, which is not satisfied with doing little things for God, and tiny acts of virtue, but is eager to do great things and give great proofs of love. Just as there is no sanctity without heroic virtue, so it is impossible to attain to heroism without performing great acts of virtue.

Some think there is pride and delusion of the devil in fostering great desires, or in wanting to do great things for God. There would be, certainly, if in this we sought honour for ourselves, or praise from others, of if, in trying to do great things, we were to neglect the small details of our daily duties. The virtue of magnanimity, on the contrary, inclines the soul to do great things for God, but never to the detriment of obedience, humility or the fulfilment of duty. Generous souls, precisely in this domain, will often meet with arduous, difficult things which call for much virtue, but which usually remain hidden from the eyes of others. In circumstances such as these we are often tempted to give up, under the pretext that it is not necessary to push virtue to such extremes; we excuse ourselves, saying that we are neither angels nor saints. St Teresa of Jesus says, "We may not be; but what a good thing it is for us to reflect that we can be if we will only try, and if God gives us His hand!" (Way of Perfection, 16).

The Saint strongly insists that those who have dedicated themselves to the spiritual life should not nourish petty desires, but generous ones, nor should they fear to emulate the saints; she affirms with authority, "I have never seen any courageous person hanging back on this road, nor any soul that, under the guise of humility, acted like a coward, go as far in many years as the courageous soul can in a few" (Life, 13).

2. The contrary of magnanimity is pusillanimity, or faintheartedness, a defect which prevents souls from accomplishing great things through excessive fear of failure. Certainly, of our own volition, we should not rashly attempt to do what is beyond our strength. This too, is a defect, evincing imprudence and presumption which displease God. But when, in particular circumstances, and after sufficient examination, we see clearly that Our Lord wishes of us certain acts of virtue or some special work, we should not refuse, however difficult it may seem to be. Can God not give us the strength to do what He asks? Why do we doubt Him? A pusillanimous person who withdraws on such occasions, under the pretext that he does not feel capable of doing so much, may believe that he is humble; but in reality he is a coward, proud, and lacking trust in God. He is a coward because, overly preoccupied with himself, he fears failure, he is afraid to expose himself to the criticism of others, he dreads fatigue and sacrifice.

He is proud because he relies more on his own erroneous judgment than on God and His grace. The humble soul, on the contrary, although conscious of his nothingness, trusts in God; convinced of his weakness, he is still more convinced that God can make use of him to accomplish great things. The truly humble person is never pusillanimous, but always magnanimous: he is not afraid to encourage himself to attempt great things for God, and this very attitude helps him greatly to make progress. "The soul may not have the strength to achieve these things at once," says St Teresa of Jesus, "but if it takes its flight it can make good progress, though like a little unfledged bird, it is apt to grow tired and stop" (Life, 13). It is natural to our weakness to stop, but if we have great confidence and great love, we shall soon know well how to spread our wings. The more confidence we have in God, the stronger we shall become with His divine strength. The more intense our love, the greater will become our capability of doing arduous things for God. "Perfect love," says St Thomas, "undertakes even the most difficult things" (III Sent. D. 29, q1, a8). Sustained by confidence and love, we shall be able to soar very high without fear of dangers or falls.


"O strong love of God! I really think that nothing seems impossible to one who loves! O happy soul that has obtained Your peace, O my God! It has become mistress over all the trials and perils of the world, and it fears none of them when there is question of serving You.

"It is a characteristic of the true servant of God, to whom His Majesty has given light to follow the true path, that when beset by these fears, his desire not to stop only increases. Teach me, then, O my God, always to go straight ahead, to fight with courage, and to parry the blows of the devil who is trying to frighten me.

"For what can a man accomplish, my Lord, who does not wholly abase himself for Your sake? How far, O, how far, how very far — I could repeat it a thousand times — am I from doing this! How many imperfections do I find in myself! How feebly do I serve You! Sometimes I could really wish I were devoid of sense, for then I should not understand how much evil is in me. May He who is able to do so, grant me succour! We must have great confidence for it is most important that we should not cramp our good desires but should believe that, with God's help, if we make continual efforts to do so, we shall attain, though perhaps not at once, to that which many saints have reached through His favour.

"How true it is, O Lord, that everything is possible in You; I realize too, that of myself I can do nothing. Therefore, I beseech You with St Augustine: 'Give me, Lord, what You command me and then command what You will'." (St Teresa of Jesus, Conceptions of the Love of God, 3 — The Way, 21 — Life, 39 - 13)

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