Simplicity as a Virtue
by a Member of the Order of Mercy,
"Among those who make Profession of following the Maxims of Christ, Simplicity ought to be held in Great
Esteem; for, among the Wise of this World there is nothing more Contemptible or Despicable than this. Yet it is a Virtue most worthy of
Love, because it leads us straight to the Kingdom of God, and, at the same time, wins for us the affection of men; since one who is
regarded as Upright, Sincere, and an Enemy to Tricks and Fraud, is Loved by all, even by those who only seek from morning till night to
Cheat and Deceive others" - Saint Vincent de Paul.
This Saint himself truly had Great Esteem for Simplicity, and Loved
it much. Therefore, he not only kept himself from any Transgression against it, but could not
suffer those under his Authority to Commit any. If at times they were
Guilty of doing so, he would be sure to Correct them for it, though with Great Mildness.
Saint Francis de Sales, also, was full of Respect and Love
for this Virtue, as he once declared to a confidential friend, in these words:
"I do not know what that poor Virtue of Prudence has done to me, that I find so much difficulty in loving
it. And if I love it, it is only from necessity, inasmuch as it is the Support and Guiding Light of this Life. But the Beauty of Simplicity
completely fascinates me. It is true that the Gospel recommends to us both the Simplicity of the Dove and the Prudence of the Serpent;
but I would give a Hundred Serpents for One Dove. I know that both are useful when they are united, but I think that it should be in the
Proportion observed in Compounding some Medicines, in which a little Poison is mixed with a quantity of Wholesome Drugs. Let the World,
then, be angry, ----- let the Prudence of the World rage, and the Flesh perish; for it is always better to be Good and Simple, than to be
Subtle and Malicious".
Saint Phocas the Martyr was greatly to be admired for his Simplicity,
according to what Surius relates. He cultivated a little garden, less to provide food for himself, than to supply with vegetables
and fruit those Travelers and Pilgrims who had heard of his Liberality, and stopped at his house; for no
one ever knocked at his door, who was not received with great Charity and
Courtesy. This Holy Man was Denounced for aiding and
abetting Christians, to the Governor of the Province, who, resolving upon his Death, sent Soldiers
privately in search of him, with orders to Kill him. They arrived, one evening, at his house, not
knowing that it was his, entered it, and, with the usual Freedom of Soldiery, demanded food. According to his custom, he received them
Willingly and Kindly, and gave them what little he had. He served
them, too, at table, with so much Charity and Courtesy that they
were delighted and captivated, and said between themselves that they had never met such a Good-Hearted
Man. And so, they were led by his great Simplicity and Candor to
ask him with confidence, whether he knew anything of a certain Phocas, who helped and harbored Christians, and upon whose
Death the Imperial Prefect had resolved. The Saint replied that he knew him very well, and that he
would willingly point him out to them, so that they might go to rest quietly, without further inquiry, for on the next day, he would show
them an easy way of capturing him. He then spent the whole night in Fervent Prayer, and, when it was
day, he went to visit the Soldiers, and bid them good morning, with his usual Cordiality. They
answered by reminding him of his promise to deliver up Phocas, whom they were seeking. "Do not
doubt", he returned, "that I will find him for you. Consider that you have him already in
your hands". "Let us go, then, and take him", they answered.
"There is no need of going", replied, "for he is here present. I
am he. Do with me what you please". At these words, the Soldiers were amazed and stupefied, both on account of the great
Charity with which he had welcomed them, and of the ingenious sincerity with which he revealed himself
to his Persecutors, when he could so easily have escaped Death by
fleeing in the night. They gazed at each other in amazement, and neither of them dared to lay hands on one who had been so
Kind to them. They were more inclined to give him his life, and to report to the Prefect that after
long search they had not been able to discover Phocas. "No", said the Saint,
"my death would be a less evil than to concoct such a fiction, and tell such a falsehood. Execute, then,
the order you have received". So saying, he bared his neck, and extended it to the Soldiers, who
Severed it with one stroke, and gave him the Glorious Crown of
Martyrdom. This most candid fidelity was so agreeable to God that
He immediately began, and still continues, to signalize it by Illustrious Miracles,
especially in favor of Pilgrims and Sailors, to whom, in Death as in life, the Saint has been
most liberal of Benefits and Miraculous Helps. In recognition of
this, a custom came into use among travelers by sea, of serving to him every day at meals a part of the first dish, which was called the
Portion of Saint Phocas. This was each day bought by one or other of the Voyagers, and the price deposited in the hands of the
Captain; and when they came into Port, the money was distributed among the Poor, in Thanksgiving to
their Benefactor for their Successful Voyage.
"Simplicity is nothing but an Act of Charity pure and simple, which has but one Sole End, that of gaining
the Love of God. Our Soul is then Truly Simple, when we have no aim at all but this, in all we do" - Saint Francis de Sales.
Saint Mary Magdalen di Pazzi once said: "If I thought that by saying a word, however indifferent,
for any other End than the Love of God, I could become a Seraph, I certainly would not say it".
The Devil, Envying a young Monk who was making Good Progress,
appeared, one night, to his Master of Novices, under the Form of a Good Angel, and informed him that
his disciple was already Reprobated, and that whatever Good he
did was of no use to him. The Master of Novices was much Grieved at this, and could not refrain from
Tears whenever he met the young man, who, one day, asked him the reason of his
Grief. When he told it, the Novice said: "Father, do not grieve for this. If I am to be Damned,
I shall be Damned; if I am to be Saved, I shall be Saved. I serve God not for the Kingdom of Heaven, but for His Goodness and Love towards
me, and for the Passion He has Suffered for me. If, then, He chooses to give me His Paradise, He can do it; and if He wishes to give me
Hell, He can indeed do it: I am content that He should do with me what pleases Him". The following night, a
True Angel appeared to the Master of Novices, and told him the One
he had previously seen was a Devil, and that his disciple had Merited
more by his Act of Resignation, than by all the Good Life he had
"The Office of Simplicity is to make us go straight to God, without regard to Human Respect or our Own
Interests. It leads us to tell things Candidly, and just as they exist in our Hearts. It leads us to Act Simply, without admixture of
Hypocrisy and Artifice, and finally, keeps us at a distance from every kind of Deceit and Double-Dealing" -
Saint Vincent de Paul.
This Saint always held it as of the utmost importance to have God as his only Object
in all he did; neither could he bear that those under his Charge should swerve in the least from this aim. When one of them was publicly
accused of having done something from Human Respect, he Reprimanded him
Severely, saying that it would be better to be thrown into the Fire with feet and hands
tied, than to Work to Please Men. Answering a letter from one of his Priests, he writes thus: "You write
to me that when you speak highly of a certain person in your letters, it would be well for his friends to know it, that he may come to
know it too. What thoughts for you to have! Where is the Simplicity of a Missionary, who ought always look directly to God? If you do
not see Good in certain persons, do not speak of it; but if you find it, speak of it to Honor God in them, since from Him all Good
proceeds. Our Lord reproved one who called Him Good, because he did not call Him so with a Good Intention. With how much greater reason
might you be blamed, if you praise sinful men to please them, and to gain their favor, or for any other Earthly and Imperfect Motive?
Remember that Duplicity does not please God, and that to be Truly Simple, we ought to have no aim but Himself". As to
his own language, it was Candid and Simple, and so far from all Evasion and
Craftiness, that no one could ever Fear being Deceived
by him. He also avoided high-flown compliments, which, as they are usually united with Dissimulation,
are not in conformity with the Rules of Christian Simplicity. Therefore, he conversed with all Simply
and Cordially, omitting useless demonstrations, as he desired also that his Priests should do.
The Venerable Sister Crucifixa possessed most remarkable Candor and Sincerity, by which she showed her
Hatred of all Dissimulation and Duplicity. The
slightest Untruth never escaped from her lips, either in the way of Civility or of Jest,
although at Recreation she would often employ Irony, or other diverting Forms of Expression, to Enliven the Conversation.
Saint Charles Borromeo showed plainly that he was full of this Holy Virtue, on several occasions,
especially in the Election of Pius V as Pope. As his Uncle, Pius IV, had always disliked Saint Charles, there was
every reason to believe that the Nephew would be opposed, or at least not very friendly, to him, so that he might be Taxed with
Want of Prudence in giving Power that would be likely to be used
for his own Ruin. Nevertheless, having before his eyes only the Glory of
God and the Greater Good of the Church, and paying no regard to his Private Interests, he
brought about his Election. But God took care of him, and caused him to be much Favored and Esteemed
by Pius V. In his speech, Saint Charles was extremely Candid, and utterly opposed to all
Artifice and Duplicity, and he wished those of his Household to be the same, as he once
said to one of them, who, in talking of a certain affair, allowed these words to escape him: "I will tell
you Sincerely what I think about it". The Saint interrupted him quickly, saying: "Then you
do not always speak Sincerely! Now, be sure that he cannot be my friend, who does not speak always with Sincerity, and say with his lips
what he means in his Heart".
God loves the Simple, and Converses with them Willingly, and Communicates to them the Understanding of His
Truths, because He disposes of these at His Pleasure. He does not deal thus with Lofty and Subtle Spirits ----- Saint
Francis de Sales.
Saint Vincent de Paul was of the same Opinion, the Truth of which, he said, Experience daily-confirms; for it is but too clear
that the Spirit of Religion is not ordinarily to be found so much among the Wise and Prudent of the
World, as among the Poor and Simple, who are Enriched by God with a Living and Practical
Faith, which makes them Believe and Appreciate the Words of Eternal
Life. So they are usually seen to Suffer their Diseases,
their Poverty, and all their Trials, with more
Patience and Resignation than others.
Saint Ambrose, in the Funeral Oration which he pronounced over his brother, Saint Satirus, greatly exalts among his other
Virtues his Childlike Simplicity,
"which", he says, "shone in him like a mirror, so that he
could not have failed to please God; for He, as a completely Simple Being, Loves what is Simple, and Hates and Punishes all
It is related, in regard to Saint Gertrude, that the Lord once appeared to a
Holy Soul, and said: "Know that there is not a Soul in the World which
is nearer and more closely united to Me by Simplicity, than that of Gertrude, and so there is none to which I feel Myself so much drawn
as to hers".
"True Simplicity is like that of children, who Think, Speak, and Act Candidly and without Craftiness. They
believe whatever is told them; they have no care or thought for themselves, especially when with their Parents; they cling to them,
without going to seek their own Satisfactions and Consolations, which they take in Good Faith, and Enjoy with Simplicity, without any
Curiosity about their Causes and Effects" - Saint Francis de Sales.
Saint Mary Magdalen di Pazzi resembled in her behavior a
Simple Girl, Acting without Craftiness, and with great Candor
and Simplicity of Heart, accompanied, however, with Prudence and
such Gravity as made her Loved and Respected by all.
The Venerable Sister Maria Crucifixa was truly remarkable for this Virtue. Though
Gifted with Heavenly Illumination, she appeared precisely like a
Simple Little Girl, without a Vestige of Artfulness. She told everything Candidly and as it seemed to her, and she thought others
did the same; for she could not believe that a Christian would be capable of telling Lies.
Some Examples will show this more clearly.
On account of the opinion generally entertained of her Sanctity, a great number of letters came to
her from many places. She believed that this was owing to the High Standing of the Convent, and that her companions received as many;
but she was much surprised to notice that they were not kept as busy in writing answers as she was. To satisfy herself about the matter,
she went around asking them if they received many letters; and they, to favor her Simplicity,
answered, with Polite Exaggeration, that they received ever so many. "Why, then, do you not
write"? she replied. "I will bring you the ink-stand so that you can answer them".
She went for the ink-stand and a pen, and gave them to her companions; but seeing that they could not restrain their laughter, she was
unable to understand what the joke was, and remained much puzzled.
Having received from Cardinal Tommasi, her brother, who often wrote to her, a letter in which he signed himself
"a Wretch", according to the frequent Custom of the Time, she would answer neither that one,
nor many others that he afterwards wrote. Being asked the reason, she replied that she did not wish to keep up a correspondence with
Wretches; and it required no little trouble to induce her to write.
But in another Pretty Incident the Lord was pleased to show how acceptable to
Him was her Simplicity. A Linnet was given to her, which she named Fiorisco. She
Loved it very much, not only for its beautiful voice, but for the Virtues
which she said were shown in its Actions. It happened once that she wished to pull out two of its feathers, to make a little pen to draw
a certain design for an approaching Festival. She thought the Linnet was rather unwilling to give them
to her, and she was somewhat Disedified by his Want of Devotion. A short time after, a young Canary,
taking his first flight, rested on the cage of the Linnet, which held him by one of his feet with his beak, and began to pull out his
feathers with his claws. Seeing what was going on, she hurried to the rescue, and exclaimed, "Ah, Fiorisco! We
are growing worse and worse! Is this the way to observe Charity"? Then turning to the Image of the
Virgin, she protested that in this bird she Loved nothing except
God, but that he had very Wrong that day, and she wished that he might be suitably
Punished. At these words, the Linnet, as if he foresaw the coming
Punishment, stopped singing, and spent the rest of the day in a Melancholy Manner in a
corner of the cage, with his feathers ruffled up. When evening came, a noise was heard from the cage, where poor Fiorisco was
Struggling Grievously, with Mournful Cries. The Servant of
God hastened to the scene, and saw the Devil, in the form of an
Ugly Crow, Attacking her bird. Crying aloud
"Sancta Maria", she put him to flight; but she found
that her Linnet had Lost a Wing, which had been torn off at the shoulder, and fell on the ground
before her eyes; and the Injured bird seemed on the point of Drawing his
Last Breath. She was Grieved at the sight, and Prayed
to the Lord, asking, as He did not desire the
Death of a Sinner, but his
Conversion and Life, that He
would grant that her Fiorisco, though he had been Punished, might not
Die. Nor was the Prayer in Vain; for, after she had
taken the bird in her hand, and caressed it a little, it suddenly Recovered its usual strength, and
appeared with a new wing, fully provided with bones and flesh and skin, in nothing different from the first; except that the feathers
"Astuteness is nothing but a mass of Artifices, Inventions, Craft, and Deceit, by which we endeavor to
mislead the Minds of those with whom we are dealing, and make them believe that we have no Knowledge or Sentiment as to the matter in
question, except what we manifest by our words. This is wholly contrary to Simplicity, which requires our exterior to be Perfectly in
Conformity with our interior" - Saint Francis de Sales.
When this good Saint was told, by a friend of his, that he would have been successful in Politics,
"No", he replied, "the mere name of Prudence and Policy
frightens me, and I understand little or nothing about it. I do not know how to Lie, to Invent, or Dissimulate, without embarrassment,
and Political Business is wholly made up of these things. What I have in my Heart, I have upon my Tongue; and I hate Duplicity like Death,
for I know how Abominable it is to God".
Saint Vincent de Paul, too, was utterly opposed to Worldly Policy, and in his dealings with
others, was most careful to avoid all Evasions and Artifices.
The very Shadow of Falsehood Affrighted him, and he had a
Horror of Equivocations, which Deceive an inquirer by answers of
"When a Simple Soul is to Act, it considers only what it is suitable to do or say, and then immediately
begins the Action, without losing time in thinking what others will do or say about it. And after doing what seemed Right, it dismisses
the subject; or if, perhaps, any thought of what others may say or do should arise, it instantly cuts short such Reflections, for it has
no other aim than to please God, and not Creatures, except as the Love of God requires it. Therefore, it cannot bear to be turned aside
from its purpose of keeping close to God, and winning more and more of His Love for itself" -
Saint Francis de Sales.