Magnanimity is one of those misunderstood words. When we say someone is magnanimous, we often simply mean that they are generous.
While generosity in some sense is a part of magnanimity, it fails to encompass its full meaning.
It’s always a good idea to check in with St. Thomas Aquinas when we’re attempting to define things. About this virtue, he says:
“Magnanimity by its very name denotes stretching forth of the mind to great things.”
—St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa II-II, Question 129, Article 1
Ah, this gets to the heart of it. From the Latin, magnanimity means greatness of soul, and Thomas’s definition seems to fit the etymology much better.
Magnanimity is the virtue that helps us to aim high. To have noble goals and to diligently pursue them.
But—you might say—isn’t that ambitious and proud?
Not if your goals are truly worthy, your intentions are good, and you view yourself with humility.
Worthy goals include progress in virtue, the discovery and accomplishment of God’s will, the care of our neighbor—all aims, really, big or small, that contribute to our own holiness and the triumph of the good. Note that these goals need not include big tasks or projects. The smallest thing done for a noble purpose is a perfect exercise of magnanimity.
Our intentions should be the sanctification of our souls, the glory of God, and the salvation of our neighbor—not praise or admiration.
Viewing ourselves with humility means recognizing our smallness and our total dependence on God. It means recognizing that our life, our talents, our faith, all the graces we possess, our very existence—all are gifts from God, to be received with gratitude rather than pride. Humility also helps us to maintain a vigilant awareness of our weakness and liability to sin.
So, with all these things in mind, aim high. Dream big. Be noble. It doesn’t matter how humble your circumstances, how small the mite you have to offer, how unnoticeable your actions in the eyes of the world. Be you a king or a stable hand, you’ve got greatness in you.
Mother Teresa is a fine example of noble goals accomplished in a humble spirit. She didn’t set out to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She simply strove to do what God had asked her to do. Her wisdom can keep us on track when it feels like “greatness” is beyond our reach. Engraved with her words—“We have only today, let us begin”—our bestselling mug is sure to give you a boost of inspiration along with your morning joe. Designed and produced right here at The Catholic Company. Pick yours up today!