A description of the soul's journey to full union with God

The Illuminative Way of Proficients


Ch 16 : Simplicity and Uprightness

"If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome."
Matt. 6: 22

Christian prudence or holy discretion, of which we have spoken, should be accompanied by a virtue, simplicity, which is to all appearances quite different. Christ Himself expressed this when He said to His apostles: "Behold I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents and simple as doves." (1)

Sending His apostles as sheep in the midst of wolves, Christ recommends to them prudence especially toward the wicked, that they may not be deceived by them, and simplicity in reference to self and to God. The more simple the soul is in regard to God, the more He Himself, by the gift of counsel, will inspire the prudence to be observed in difficult circumstances, in the midst of the greatest obstacles. Consequently Christ announces immediately afterward to His followers that the Holy Ghost will inspire them with what they must reply to persecutors.

Where this simplicity does not exist, prudence begins to become false and to turn into cunning. The crafty or the shrewd man makes sport, says Holy Scripture, of the simplicity of the just: "The simplicity of the just man is laughed to scorn," says Job.(2) People try to make simplicity pass for naivete and lack of penetration; it may indeed be accompanied in some by artlessness, but it is essentially something superior.

To get a correct idea of the virtue of simplicity and of veracity and uprightness which it makes us preserve, we should note first of all the defects opposed to it. God permits evil only for a greater good, in particular to bring virtue into greater relief. We have a better understanding of its value through the aversion inspired in us by the contrary vices.


According to St. Thomas,(3) simplicity is attached to the virtue of veracity, which puts truth into speech, gestures, manner of being and of living. Simplicity, in fact, is opposed to duplicity, by which we interiorly wish something other than what exteriorly we pretend. A man wishes other people's money and pretends to render them service; in reality, he wishes to make use of them or of what belongs to them; or again, he wishes power and honors, and to obtain them pretends to serve his country; he pretends to be magnanimous, when in reality he is only ambitious. This defect of duplicity, which may become Machiavellianism or perfidy, inclines a man to be two-faced, according to the people he is addressing, like the Roman god Janus that was represented with two faces. A two-faced man pretends to be your friend, tells you that you are right, and he tells your adversaries that they are not wrong.

Duplicity inspires lies, simulation, which leads a man to make himself esteemed for something other than he is, hypocrisy, by which he affects a virtue, a piety which he does not have. It also inspires boasting, because one prefers appearance to reality; one seeks to appear rather than to be what one should. It also inspires raillery, which turns others into ridicule in order to lower them in their neighbor's esteem and to exalt oneself above them.

All these defects, which are frequent in the world, show by contrast the value of uprightness or veracity in life.


Veracity, a virtue attached to justice, leads a man to tell the truth always and to act in conformity with it. This does not mean that every truth should be told to everybody, sermonizing right and left and boasting of a frankness which borders on insolence or lack of respect. But if every truth is not to be told, if there are truths which it is expedient to suppress, we should avoid speaking against the truth and falling into an officious lie, which we are tempted to tell in order to escape from an embarrassing situation. If we have committed this sin, we must accuse ourselves frankly of it, instead of seeking by false principles to justify this manner of acting. Thus to act would gradually bring about the loss of all loyalty and would destroy all confidence in human testimony, which is indispensable to the life of society.

It is indeed difficult at times, when faced with an indiscreet question, to keep a secret which has been entrusted to one and at the same time not to speak contrary to the truth.(4) But if the Christian is habitually docile to the inspirations from above, the Holy Ghost will inspire him in such difficult circumstances as these with the reply to make or the question to ask, as He did the first Christians when they were led before the tribunals. Christ foretold this when He said: "When they shall deliver you up, take no thought how or what to speak: for it shall be given you in that hour what to speak. For it is not you that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you." (5) This prediction was often verified during the French Revolution when priests were hunted down and when, to prevent them from bringing the last sacraments to the dying, they were asked all sorts of insidious questions. The Holy Ghost often inspired their answers, which, though not opposed to the truth, permitted them to continue their ministry.

Every Christian in the state of grace has the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, which render him docile to receive His inspirations, given especially in difficult circumstances where even our infused prudence is insufficient. St. Thomas says even that for this reason the gifts of the Holy Ghost are necessary to salvation as the complement of the infused virtues.(6) The casuists should have remembered this great truth instead of having recourse to theories that occasionally were hazardous, in order to permit certain mental restrictions which were so slightly manifest that they bordered singularly on falsehood. It is better to recognize that one has committed a venial sin of lying than to have recourse to theories which falsify the definition of a lie, in order not to admit it there where it is. It is of great importance to preserve the spirit of uprightness of which our Lord speaks when He says: "Let your speech be yea, yea: no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil" (7) He spoke in this manner to those who, in order to make their testimony believed, swore without reason by heaven or by the temple at Jerusalem. Dis­respectful oaths expose one to perjury; if a man is accustomed always to tell the truth, others will believe his speech.

In treating of veracity, St. Thomas makes a remark which particularly concerns the interior life. This virtue, he says, (8) inclines a man to keep silent about his own qualities, or not to manifest the whole good that is in him; this is done without prejudice to the truth, since not to speak of it, is not to deny its existence. St. Thomas even quotes on the subject the following reflection of Aristotle: "Those who represent themselves as being greater than they are, are a source of annoyance to others, since they seem to wish to surpass others: whereas those who make less account of themselves are a source of pleasure, since they seem to defer to others by their moderation." (9) St. Paul also says: "For though I should have a mind to glory, I shall not be foolish; for I will say the truth. But I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth in me, or anything he heareth from me." (10)

The virtue pf veracity thus practiced, not only in speech but in action, in our whole way of living, brings truth into our lives. And when our life is established in the truth, then God, who is supreme Truth, inclines toward us by His divine inspirations, which gradually become the principle of a higher contemplation. To let ourselves fall into the habit of lying is to turn away from the truth and to deprive ourselves of the higher inspirations of the gift of wisdom. Habitual living in the truth prepares us to receive these inspirations, which make us penetrate and taste divine truth that we shall someday contemplate unveiled.


Another aspect of veracity, the superior simplicity of the saints, prepares the soul even more for contemplation. Simplicity is opposed not only to duplicity, but to every useless complexity, to all that is pretentious or tainted with affectation, like sentimentality which affects a love that one does not have. What falsity to wish to talk in a glowing style as if one were already in the seventh mansion of the interior castle, when one has not yet entered the fourth! How far superior is the simplicity of the Gospel!

We say that a child's gaze is simple because the child goes straight to the point without any mental reservation. With this meaning Christ says to us: "If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome"; that is, if our intention is upright and simple, our whole life will be one, true, and luminous, instead of being divided like that of those who try to serve two masters, God and money, at the same time. In the presence of the complexities, the pretenses, the more or less untruthful complications of the world, we feel instinctively that the moral virtue of simplicity or of perfect loyalty is a reflection of a divine perfection.

The simplicity of God is that of the pure Spirit who is Truth itself and Goodness itself. In Him are no thoughts that succeed one another; there is but one thought, ever the same, which subsists and embraces every truth. The simplicity of His intellect is that of a most pure gaze which, without any admixture of error or ignorance, has unchangeably as its object every knowable truth. The simplicity of His will or of His love is that of a sovereignly pure intention ordering all things admirably and permitting evil only for a greater good.

The most beautiful characteristic of God's simplicity is that it unites in itself perfections which in appearance are most contradictory: absolute immutability and absolute liberty; infinite wisdom and the freest good pleasure, which at times seems arbitrary to us; or again infinite justice, which is inexorable toward unrepented sin, and infinite mercy. All these perfections are fused and identified without destroying each other in the eminent simplicity of God.

We find a reflection of this lofty simplicity in the smile of a child and in the simplicity of the gaze of the saints, which is far superior to all the more or less untruthful intricacies of worldly wisdom and prudence.

What a false notion of simplicity we sometimes form when we imagine that it consists in telling frankly all that passes through our minds or hearts, at the risk of contradicting ourselves from one day to the next, when circumstances will have changed and the persons whom we see will have ceased to please us! This quasi-simplicity is instability itself and contradiction, and consequently complexity and more or less conscious untruth; whereas the superior simplicity of the saints, the image of that of God, is the simplicity of an unchanging wisdom and of a pure and strong love, superior to our impressionability and successive opinions.

St. Francis de Sales often speaks of simplicity.(11) He reduces it to the upright intention of the love of God, which should prevail over all our sentiments, and which does not tarry over the useless search for a quantity of exercises that would make us lose sight of the unity of the end to be attained. He says also that simplicity is the best of artifices because it goes straight toward its goal. He adds that it is not opposed to prudence, and that it does not interfere with what others do.

The perfect soul is thus a simplified soul, which reaches the point of judging everything, not according to the subjective impression of the moment, but in the divine light, and of willing things only for God. And whereas the complex soul, which judges according to its whims, is disturbed for a trifle, the simplified soul is in a constant state of peace because of its wisdom and its love. This superior simplicity, which is quite different from naivete, or ingenuousness, harmonizes perfectly, therefore, with the most cautious Christian prudence that is attentive to the least details of our acts and to their proximate or remote repercussion.

The soul of a St. Joseph, a St. John, a St. Francis, a St. Dominic, or a Cure of Ars gives us an idea of the simplicity of God; still more so does the soul of Mary, Morning Star, Queen of virgins and of all saints, Queen of peace. Higher still the holy soul of Christ reflects most purely the simplicity of God.

In Christ we find harmonized in a simple way the holy rigor of justice toward the hypocritical Pharisees and immense mercy toward all souls of which He is the Good Shepherd. In Him are united in the simplest manner the deepest humility and the loftiest dignity. For thirty years He lived the hidden life of a poor workman; He tells us that He came to serve, not to be served. On Holy Thursday He washed the feet of His disciples; He accepted the utmost humiliations of the Passion; He said simply to His Father: "My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from Me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt." (12) Before Pilate He proclaims simply His universal royalty: "My kingdom is not of this world. . . . Thou sayest that I am a king. For this was I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the truth. Every one that is of the truth, heareth My voice." (13) He dies simply, saying: "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit. . . . It is consummated." (14) In this simplicity is such grandeur that the centurion, seeing Him die, could not refrain from exclaiming: "Indeed this was the Son of God." (15)

The centurion had the gaze of a contemplative; he sensed in the dying Christ, who seemed to be definitively conquered, Him who was winning the greatest victory over sin, the devil, and death. This light of contemplation was given to him by the dying Christ, by the Savior, who inclines more particularly toward the simple who are clean of heart.

This superior simplicity, even in souls without learning, is a
preparation for the profound understanding of divine things. The Old Testament had already declared: "Seek Him [the Lord] in simplicity of heart.' (16) "Better is the poor man that walketh in his simplicity, than a rich man that is perverse in his lips." (17) "Let us all die in our innocency," (18) said the Machabees, under the injustice which afflicted them. "Obey," says St. Paul, . . . "in simplicity of heart." (19) And he exhorts the Corinthians to beware lest they "fall from the simplicity that is in Christ." (20) Simplicity must be observed toward God, superiors, and self. It is the truth of life.

This simplicity, says Bossuet,(21) is what permits limpid souls "to enter the heights of God," the ways of Providence, the unsearchable mysteries at which complex souls take scandal, the mysteries of the infinite justice, the infinite mercy, and the sovereign liberty of the divine good pleasure. All these mysteries, despite their obscurity, are in their loftiness simple for the simple.

Why are these mysteries simple for some and obscure for others? The answer lies in the fact that in divine things the most simple, like the Our Father, are also the loftiest and the most profound. We forget this fact because the inverse is true in the things of the world, in which good and evil are intimately mingled. Hence they are often very complex, and then he who wishes to be simple in this domain lacks penetration; he remains naive, ingenuous, and superficial. In divine things, on the contrary, simplicity is united to depth and elevation, for divine things that are highest in God and deepest in our hearts are simplicity itself.

We have an example in the profound simplicity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and also in that of St. Joseph, who, after our Lord and Mary, was the most eminently simple and contemplative soul the world has ever seen. His simplicity was the effect of his unique predestination as foster father of the Savior together with the habits of life of a humble carpenter. Leo XIII, in his encyclical on the Patronage of St. Joseph, says: "There is no doubt that more than anyone he approached that supereminent dignity by which the Mother of God so highly surpasses all creatures." (22)

St. Thomas Aquinas also had in a very eminent degree the virtue of simplicity, which is an aspect of veracity, of the truth of life.

In recent times God has given us a lofty example of the simplicity of the saints united to the contemplation of the mysteries of faith in the person of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus.(23) She says: "Far from resembling those beautiful souls who, from their childhood, practiced all sorts of macerations, I made mine consist solely in breaking my will, in withholding an answer, in rendering little services without drawing attention to them, and many other things of this kind." (24) "In my little way, there are only ordinary things; little souls must be able to do all that I do." (25) "How easy it is to please Jesus, to ravish His heart," she used to say; "one has only to love Him, without looking at oneself, without too greatly examining one's defects. Consequently, when I happen to fall into some fault, I pick myself up at once. A glance toward Jesus and the knowledge of one's own wretchedness make reparation for everything. He calls Himself the 'Flower of the fields' (Cant. 2: I) in order to show how greatly He cherishes simplicity." (26)

Speaking of her way of training the novices, she remarked on the subject of disputes which may arise between two persons: "Nothing is easier than to cast the blame on the absent. I do just the contrary. My duty is to tell the truth to the souls entrusted to me, and I tell it." (27)

Again she states: "It is an illusion to think that one can do good outside obedience." (28) And we see to what a degree in her own life were realized these words of hers: "The Lord is often pleased to give wisdom to little ones." (29) It is not therefore surprising that His Holiness Pius XI should have declared in his homily for the feast of her canonization: "It has therefore pleased the divine Goodness to endow and to enrich Sister Teresa with an entirely exceptional gift of wisdom. . . . The Spirit of truth showed her and taught her what He ordinarily hides from the wise and prudent and reveals to the humble." (30) Pope Benedict XV had spoken in like terms: "This happy servant of God had herself so much knowledge that she was able to indicate to others the true way of salvation." Her life and doctrine show how greatly the superior simplicity of the saints opens their intellect and renders it docile to the inspirations of the Holy Ghost, that they may penetrate and taste the mysteries of salvation and attain to union with God.(31)

The saints know well what this union demands that it may be preserved in the midst of circumstances often unforeseen and painful. Superior simplicity united to discretion reminds them, no matter what happens, that "to them that love God [and persevere in this love], all things work together unto good."

To some it seems useless in a treatise on ascetical and mystical theology to insist on virtues such as these, and they are in a hurry to deal with questions on infused contemplation that are disputed among theologians and psychologists. We think, on the contrary, that it is extremely necessary to insist, as all the saints have done and as is done in every cause of beatification, on these Christian virtues which have so profound an influence on thought and life. Then the traditional doctrine on infused contemplation appears as a resultant of all that has been said about the progress of the acquired virtues, the infused virtues, and the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost in interior souls truly detached from themselves and almost continually united to God. Under the pretext that the doctrine relative to the Christian virtues and the seven gifts is known by all, some never examine it deeply. Contemplation is, nevertheless, in the sweet and profound intuition of the divine truths known by all Christians, for example, of those expressed in the Our Father. The virtue of simplicity, conceived as a reflection in us of the divine simplicity, reminds us of this fact.



1. 1 Matt. 10: 16.

2. Job 12: 14.

3. Cf. IIa IIae, q. 109, a.2 ad 4um: "Simplicity is so called from its opposition to duplicity, whereby a man shows one thing outwardly while having another in his heart: so that simplicity pertains to this virtue. And it rectifies the intention, not indeed directly (since this belongs to every virtue), but by excluding duplicity, whereby a man pretends one thing and intends another."

Cf. ibid., q. III, a.3 ad 2um: "Wherefore it belongs directly to simplicity to guard oneself from deception, and in this way the virtue of simplicity is the same as the virtue of truth. . . . There is, however, a more logical difference between them, because by truth we mean the concordance between sign and thing signified, while simplicity indicates that one does not tend to different things, by intending one thing inwardly, and pretending another outwardly." It is a virtue annexed to justice. Ibid., q.109, a.3.

4. Let us remember, moreover, that often it is our own fault if we are asked indiscreet questions. If we were more recollected and silent, people would not ask them of us, or at least they would do so only rarely.

5. Matt. 10: 19 f.

6. Cf. Ia IIae, q.68, a.2.

7. Matt. 5: 37.

8. Cf. IIa IIae, q. 109, a.4.

9. Ethica, IV, chap. 7.

10. Cf. II Cor. 12:6.

11. Introduction to a Devout Life, Part III, chap. 30.

12. Matt. 26: 39.

13. John 18:36f.

14. Luke 23:46; John 19:30.

15. Matt. 27:54.

16. Wisd.1:1.

17. Prov. 19: 1.

18. Cf. I Mach. 2:37.

19. Col. 3:22.

20. Cf. II Cor. 11:3.

21. Cf. Elevations sur les mysteres, 18e semaine: les elevations sur les paroles du vieillard Simeon.

22. Encyclical Quanquam pluries, August 15. 1899: "Ad illam praestantissimam dignitatem, qua naturis creatis omnibus longissime Deipara antecellit, non est dubium quin accesserit ipse, ut nemo magis."

23. Cf. L'Esprit de sainte Therese de l'Enfant-Jesus, 1923. pp' 163-86.

24. Ibid., p. 169.

25. Ibid., p. 183.

26. Ibid., pp. 185 f.

27. Quoted by Father H. Petitot, O.P., Sainte Therese de Lisieux (1925), p. 173.

28. Ibid., p. 176.

29. Ibid., p. 178. Cf. Sainte Therese de L'Enfant-]esus, histoire d'une ame par elle-meme, chap. 9, reduced edition, p. 185.

30. Quoted by Father H. Petitot, ibid., p. 178.

31. Cf. The Imitation, Bk. II, chap. 4: "Of a Pure Mind and a Simple Intention. Simplicity aimeth at God. . . . If thou wert inwardly good and pure, then wouldst thou discern all things without impediment, and comprehend them well. A pure heart penetrates heaven and hell."