The Virtue of Simplicity

True and perfect simplicity consists in not bearing any negative thoughts or ill-will towards any person what­soever, and not causing harm to anyone. It is for this splen­did virtue that Job was first commended, when we read, “There was a man in the land of Uz, Job by name, who was simple and just.” The placement of this commendation of Job’s simplicity at the beginning indicates that it exceeds all other virtues.

Our Lord exhorted His apostles to the cultivation of simplicity as He sent them forth into the world, counsel­ing them to “be as prudent as serpents, yet as simple as doves.” Here, the virtues of prudence and simplicity are conjoined. And these two virtues must always be paired together, lest they lose their character as virtues and turn into vices instead. For prudence, if not founded on sim­plicity, becomes cunning, and simplicity, if not enriched with prudence, becomes mere stupidity or naivety. A dove, a bird which exemplifies the virtue of simplicity, hurts no one, with either its beak or its claws. In the same way, the person of true holy simplicity will harm none, either by his words or by his deeds.

If a person really loves simplicity, he will not permit him­self to be occupied by a multitude of earthly concerns. An example of the error of being occupied with many things is given to us in Martha. For wherever there is a multiplic­ity of concerns, there is complexity of character [which is antithetical to simplicity]. Simplicity arises from seeking one thing alone—the “one thing necessary” of which our Lord speaks. He praises Mary for her attention to this one thing necessary and declares that she has chosen “the better part, which shall not be taken away from her.” This “one thing” to be sought is the Supreme Good, in which all oth­er good things are contained. It is indeed the eternal and limitless Good, which is God Himself.

We should be encouraged in the pursuit of simplicity by the great usefulness and benefits which it confers on those who possess it. Scripture tells us that “the word of the Lord is addressed to the simple.” For the Lord is indeed on intimate terms with those whose hearts are simple, and it is to the simple that He deigns to reveal the secrets and mys­teries of His divinity and glory. Thus Christ reproved the apostles when they were preventing young children from approaching Him, saying to them, “Let the little children come unto Me. For it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

Simplicity is a virtue without which salvation is not pos­sible. For the Lord Jesus warns us that “unless you become like these little ones, you shall never enter the kingdom of heaven.” He does not say “become little ones” but rather “become like these little ones.” By this, He means, “strive to become simple and innocent, like little children.”

There is another particular benefit conferred by simplici­ty. Of this we read in the book of Proverbs, “The one who walks simply, also walks confidently.” For the most se­cure and safe way to approach the kingdom of heaven is the way of simplicity. For it is written elsewhere: “[God] protects those who walk in simplicity.”

An indication of genuine and unfeigned simplicity is when a person does not hastily mistrust the words or deeds of others but always assumes the good of his brothers and sisters, and extends to their actions and words a presump­tion of innocence. A person who possesses the virtue of sim­plicity will not disparage or detract from the good of others, and will sincerely desire the well-being and salvation of all. He will not wish harm or evil to anyone, and will perform for others whatever good works he can. A simple person will be conscious of the supreme goodness of God, and shall see Him in his innocence of heart. Filled with confidence and trusting in God’s goodness, he will submit his will entirely to His, and carefully observe all His commandments.

[But all forms of duplicity are contrary to the virtue of simplicity.] A sign of such duplicity is when a person has one thing in his mouth and another in his heart, and yet another in his actions. An example of this duplicity may be found in the character of Joab, who killed his cousin Amasa. For he held him affectionately by the beard, and said to him, “Greetings, my brother!” But meanwhile, he secretly removed his sword from its sheath and stabbed him to death! Contrary to such duplicity, the Lord Jesus said, “Let your word be ‘yes’ if you mean ‘yes’; and ‘no’ if you mean ‘no.’” In other words, whatever you have in your heart, express honestly by your words, and fulfill it with your actions.

This article is taken from a chapter of The Paradise of the Soul by St. Albert the Great, which is available from TAN Books.



Related Posts