From Value to Virtue: Simplicity

by | Nov 10, 2016 | Formation, Reflections

To say #IamVincent means to live a life of virtue. Actually, it means to live a life of five essential virtues. The first is Simplicity: the virtue of transparency.

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In listing the virtues that Vincentians have to cultivate in order to follow Vincent de Paul and in order to foment love and respect for the poor, the Rule begins with a reference to the virtue of simplicity as frankness, integrity, genuineness (Rule 2.5.1).

According to the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española, simplicity is that “quality which is not artificial or contrived.” Simplicity is applied to that which lacks ostentation and/or adornment, to that which offers no difficulty … simplicity is also used to refer to those persons who are neither duple nor deceitful, people who say what they mean. Simplicity, then, is authenticity, transparency and truthfulness and simple persons are people of integrity, they are clear, credible, truthful and coherent.

It should not surprise us, then that simplicity was a virtue that characterized Jesus. Jesus was a simple, approachable individual who lived with moderation and was very natural in expressing himself. Jesus loved the truth and abhorred duplicity and hypocrisy (Matthew 23). He was surrounded by other simple people to whom he proclaimed the message of the Kingdom. He gave thanks to God for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, you have revealed them to the childlike (Matthew 11:25). He encouraged people to be as simple as doves (Matthew 10:16) and exhorted the disciples: let your “yes” mean “yes” and your “no” mean “no” (Matthew 5:37). If according to the evangelist, Saint John, Jesus is the Truth, then no deceit or confusion or guile could be found in him. Indeed, if Jesus is the Truth, then simplicity, transparency and truthfulness are proper to him.

From the time of Saint Thomas Aquinas, theologians and spiritual authors have viewed simplicity as a virtue that is closely related to truthfulness. Simplicity is one facet of the truth which impels people to see the truth, to speak the truth and to live their lives in a truthful manner. We could define simplicity as “a passion for the truth” which therefore excludes duplicity and lying … and creates an environment in which honesty, sharing and trust become real possibilities.

Since simplicity is viewed as being very important on both a human and a Christian level, it can be startling to experience the present contradictions that appear in the midst of our world today. On the one hand, we are pleased when we encounter people who are simple and sincere and truthful. At the same time, however, we are immersed in a culture of “image” and “appearance,” a culture which promotes superficiality and infidelity to one’s promises, a culture that uses ambiguous language and practices deceit. In such an environment, it is difficult to live as simple human beings. Certainly, we can all recall the famous song that a few years ago stated, rather to be dead than simple.

Vincent de Paul had a great love for the virtue of simplicity. He frequently said that it was the virtue that he most valued and he referred to simplicity as my gospel. On one occasion he told the Daughters of Charity: I have a special devotion and consolation in saying things as they are (CCD:IX:476). For Vincent, simplicity was viewed as harmony between one’s being and the manner in which one presents oneself to others, between what one says and what one thinks … in other words, simplicity is authenticity and coherence. It consists of transparency in one’s speech, gestures and motivations. Thus, there is a certain harmony between what an individual says and does. It is easy to understand that simplicity is closely related to other virtues such as truthfulness, sincerity, purity of intention, purity of heart, transparency …

From this perspective, it is easy to identify those attitudes that are opposed to simplicity, attitudes that are highlighted by many spiritual authors and that must be avoided: lying, duplicity, hypocrisy, vanity, human respect, conceit, the desire to please others, simulation, using language that implies a double meaning, the desire to look good in the eyes of another, conceit …

Rather than refer to that which is opposed to simplicity, it is more important to recall certain elements that will help Vincentians cultivate this virtue that is so characteristic of Christian and Vincentian spirituality.

First, we must attempt to be sincere and frank men and women, people who speak the truth. To speak and to give witness to the truth are core Christian values. Since Jesus Christ is the Truth, his followers must be like him, that is, witnesses of the truth. Vincentians, therefore, must be people who keep their word, people of integrity who fulfill their promises, people who can be trusted because they are transparent, loyal and faithful.

Second, simplicity implies that we are people who seek the truth. While it is clear that we have discovered the truth in the person of Jesus Christ, nevertheless, as long as we live in the midst of this world, we walk blindly and see as in a mirror…and therefore it is necessary to continue to search for the truth. That on-going search implies accepting others, learning to listen, engaging in a process of on-going formation, openness to pluralism and to an exchange of ideas.

The Rule also refers to integrity as a characteristic of simplicity which in turn involves us in living out lives in an integral, serious and responsible manner. Furthermore, it implies making honesty and respect definitive criterion in our lives while putting aside corruption, vanity, banality, artificiality, contrivance, etc.

In essence, we are speaking about simplicity as a lifestyle. If Vincentians seek to follow Jesus and attempt to love him and serve him in the person of those who are poor, then they must also live as Jesus lived: a live of simplicity and austerity, an ordered and modest life … People’s life and vocation will not be credible unless they adjust their lifestyle to the parameters of simplicity and dignity. Simplicity should not be confused with monotony, with the lack of beauty or with that which is ordinary. Quite the opposite, simplicity is one of the characteristics of the art of authenticity. Simplicity implies beauty and good taste … and therefore, people must strive to achieve a simple life.

Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM

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