July 26, 2009

Magnanimity. Humility. Fortitude.

Sherry Weddell:
....Magnanimity is the aspiration of the spirit to great things. St. Thomas Aquinas called it the "jewel of all the virtues" because the magnanimous person has the courage to seek out what is great and become worthy of it. Magnanimity is rooted in assurance of the highest possibilities of our God-given human nature.

When I first encountered the idea that "aspiring to greatness" was a Christian virtue, I had difficulty taking it in. Aren't Christians supposed to be humble and to avoid trying to be something special, to minimize and even belittle our abilities and achievements, to avoid ambition, and to prefer anonymity? Even the idea of having charisms distresses some Catholics. Believing that God might do something really important and supernatural through them somehow seems to lack humility. One 84-year-old Scot told me in his lilting brogue, "I couldn't have charisms; it wouldn't be humble!"

To allay such fears, we can recognize that humility is magnanimity's necessary partner, the attitude before God that recognizes and fully accepts our creaturehood and the immeasurable distance between the Creator and his creation. But neither does humility stand alone: without magnanimity, we don't see the whole of our dignity as human beings. Magnanimity and humility together enable us to keep our balance, to arrive at our proper worth before God, to persist in living our secular mission, and to persevere in seeking our eternal destiny despite apparent frustration and failure.

Magnanimity empowers us to aspire to whatever remarkable vocation God calls us to but the virtue of fortitude ensures that we finish the journey well. As Fr. John Hardon, SJ put it:

Fortitude is "the important commodity of enabling us to carry to successful conclusion the most difficult tasks that are undertaken in the service of God. There are two forms of courage implied in this gift of fortitude: the gift to undertake arduous tasks and the gift to endure long and trying difficulties for the divine glory....


Harbaville Triptych Deesis
The picture is a detail of the Harbaville Triptych, a 10th Century Byzantine ivory carving in the Louvre. It is the scene called a "Deesis," a traditional iconic representation of Christ in Majesty carrying a book, flanked by the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist.
Posted by John Weidner at July 26, 2009 3:50 AM
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