The Magnanimity and Humility of St. Ignatius Loyola

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Cover Image: Peter Paul Rubens [Public domain]

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When Pope Francis, the first Jesuit to become pope, celebrated Mass for the feast of St. Mark last April, he used his homily to exhort the Church to proclaim the Gospel with magnanimity and humility. He noted that St. Thomas Aquinas taught that magnanimity, or great-souledness, means doing great deeds and seeking great honors. Humility, far from being opposed to magnanimity, serves to temper it, because humility makes us recognize the great gifts that God has given to others.

Speaking of the boldness of the apostles, the Holy Father said “they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord acted with them. The Lord works with all those who preach the Gospel. This is the magnanimity that a Christian should have. A pusillanimous Christian is incomprehensible: this magnanimity is part of the Christian vocation: always more and more, more and more, more and more, onwards!”  Though the Holy Father was speaking of the apostles, but he might have had the example St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) and his early companions in the back of his mind.

St. Ignatius and the temptation to vainglory

By his own account, St. Ignatius struggled with the temptation to vainglory throughout his life. When a young Jesuit confided his difficulties with vainglory to Ignatius, by then old and wise in the ways of the spiritual life, Ignatius tried to encourage him by revealing that he too struggled with the vice. This had the unintended effect of encouraging the young priest so much that he and some other Jesuits implored Ignatius to write down the story of his life so that they could benefit from its lessons. That story shows Ignatius’s proneness to vainglory and, through the grace of God, his triumph over it.

ignatius-loyolaSt. Thomas Aquinas said that the desire for glory is not bad in itself. On the contrary, he said that it is not a sin to know and approve one’s own goodness, or to be willing to approve one’s own good works. In fact, he cited Matthew 5:16 to prove his point: “So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” But the vice of vainglory is opposed to magnanimity because it is the disordered desire for glory.

The desire for glory can be vain in three ways, according to St. Thomas: first, when one seeks glory for that which is unworthy of glory; second, when one seeks glory from another whose judgment is not worthy to confer it; third, when one fails to refer one’s glory to a proper end, such as when one seeks glory solely for oneself rather than for the glory God or the spiritual benefit of one’s neighbor (“Summa Theologiae” II-II, q. 132, a. 1). ….