Listers, our Lord said, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”1 Despite the millennia, the Church appears to still lack a guide to the practicality of being both wise (cunning or clever) and innocent. In a world discipled by Machiavelli, who proclaimed that those who remain moral in politics will effect their own ruin, how can a faithful Catholic engage and not lose his or her soul? One of the best answers to this question comes in the form of 300 maxims written by Fr. Baltasar Gracián, SJ. Ordained a priest in 1627 and final vows in 1635, the Jesuit was an orator, an army chaplain, an academic, and a constant source of frustration for his superiors.2 He published, without the permission, a three part novel entitled Criticón. He garnered both fame throughout Europe and reprimands from the Society of Jesus. In 1647, Fr. Gracián published Oráculo Manual y Qrte de Prudencia, literally, Manual Oracle and Art of Discretion, which in English is translated The Art of Worldly Wisdom. The collection of 300 maxims aims to guide the reader in how to be politically clever while remaining virtuous. Written in the Spanish baroque style of Conceptismo, the work was well received throughout Europe and has had resurgences throughout the years.3 It is reported, “Nietzsche wrote of the Oráculo, ‘Europe has never produced anything finer or more complicated in matters of moral subtlety,’ and Schopenhauer, who translated it into German, considered the book ‘Absolutely unique… a book made for constant use…a companion for life’ for ‘those who wish to prosper in the great world.'”4 Moreover, “A translation of the Oraculo manual from the Spanish by Joseph Jacobs (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited), first published in 1892, was a huge commercial success, with many reprintings over the years (most recently by Shambala). Jacobs’ translation is alleged to have been read by Winston Churchill, seven years later, on the ship taking him to the Boer Wars.”5
Do the maxims truly strike the virtue of being both cunning and innocent?
Without question, many of the maxims of Father Gracián are controversial, and, when praised by modernist philosophers such as Nietzsche, raise a healthy suspicion in faithful Catholics. While acknowledging that submitting a practical guide to innocence and cunning is a task largely left untried, there are a few key observations about the writings of Fr. Gracián.
First, the maxims have a notable silence regarding God. In fact, only three of the 300 maxims explicitly mention anything related to God and grace. Taking a positive approach, there are two observations about Father Gracián’s silence on the supernatural. First, humans are naturally political animals, and as such, political activity is rooted by the natural virtues. In this light, it would make sense that a work on politics would largely focus on the natural virtues, i.e., prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude.
Second, the maxims in which Father Gracián does mention the supernatural are axiomatic in character. For example, in maxim c he states, “A Man without Illusions, a wise Christian, a philosophic Courtier. Be all these, not merely seem to be them, still less affect to be them.” In maxim ccli, he states, “Use human Means as if there were no divine ones, and divine as if there were no human ones.” (ccli) In the final maxim of the work, maxim ccc, he states, “In one word, be a Saint. So is all said at once. Virtue is the link of all perfections, the centre of all the felicities.” Though few maxims mention anything supernatural, those that do seem to do so without hesitation and without the customary nuances of the rest.
In contrast, taking a more critical approach to the silence, the absence of prayer and a reliance of God in the maxims leaves the Christian reader with an incomplete guide to Christ’s words. Political gamesmanship is scored by who can best discern the perceptions and intentions of the parties in play. A Catholic who enters into the fray relying on his or her own wit will fail. No matter how perceptive the mind, there will always be side conversations, ulterior motives, unknown relationships, and irrational players that even the most prudent of minds will not be able to know or discern. To believe that one is clever enough to navigate the game without God is a hallmark of pride. In fact, “success” for those living the virtuous life may look very different than what would naturally be called success. Think of the providential challenges faced by Joseph, King David, Moses, and many other holy men and women that ultimately led them to being great leaders. God knows the secrets of all men and how those secrets will unfold. The Catholic who humbles himself before God, who commits to a life of virtue, and lives a life of prayer, enters the political chaos with peace and grace. Catholics dwelling in political climates would do well to remember Cardinal Merry del Val, the Secretary of State for St. Pius X, and his Litany of Humility. In addition, many of the psalms can be a constant source of solace and many of the prayers of St. Thomas Aquinas for protection from his enemies can be pertinent as well.6
Despite the silence on the supernatural, many of the maxims of Fr. Gracián give tremendous insights on how to be clever yet innocent. Catholics would do well to contemplate the wisdom of his words and apply them to their political and social dealings. The following are thirty selected maxims that are representative of the major motifs in the Art of Worldly Wisdom.
1. Keep Matters for a Time in Suspense. (iii) Admiration at their novelty heightens the value of your achievements, It is both useless and insipid to play with the cards on the table. If you do not declare yourself immediately, you arouse expectation, especially when the importance of your position makes you the object of general attention. Mix a little mystery with everything, and the very mystery arouses veneration.
Cautious silence is the holy of holies of worldly wisdom.
And when you explain, be not too explicit, just as you do not expose your inmost thoughts in ordinary intercourse. Cautious silence is the holy of holies of worldly wisdom. A resolution declared is never highly thought of; it only leaves room for criticism. And if it happens to fail, you are doubly unfortunate. Besides you imitate the Divine way when you cause men to wonder and watch.
2. Avoid the Faults of your Nation. (ix) Water shares the good or bad qualities of the strata through which it flows, and man those of the climate in which he is born. Some owe more than others to their native land, because there is a more favourable sky in the zenith. There is not a nation even among the most civilised that has not some fault peculiar to itself which other nations blame by way of boast or as a warning. ’Tis a triumph of cleverness to correct in oneself such national failings, or even to hide them: you get great credit for being unique among your fellows, and as it is less expected of you it is esteemed the more. There are also family failings as well as faults of position, of office or of age. If these all meet in one person and are not carefully guarded against, they make an intolerable monster.7
3. Arouse no Exaggerated Expectations on entering. (xix) It is the usual ill-luck of all celebrities not to fulfil afterwards the expectations beforehand formed of them. The real can never equal the imagined, for it is easy to form ideals but very difficult to realise them. Imagination weds Hope and gives birth to much more than things are in themselves. However great the excellences, they never suffice to fulfil expectations, and as men find themselves disappointed with their exorbitant expectations they are more ready to be disillusionised than to admire. Hope is a great falsifier of truth; let skill guard against this by ensuring that fruition exceeds desire. A few creditable attempts at the beginning are sufficient to arouse curiosity without pledging one to the final object. It is better that reality should surpass the design and is better than was thought. This rule does not apply to the wicked, for the same exaggeration is a great aid to them; they are defeated amid general applause, and what seemed at first extreme ruin comes to be thought quite bearable.8
4. A Man of Rectitude (xxix) clings to the sect of right with such tenacity of purpose that neither the passions of the mob nor the violence of the tyrant can ever cause him to transgress the bounds of right. But who shall be such a Phœnix of equity? What a scanty following has rectitude! Many praise it indeed, but—for others. Others follow it till danger threatens; then the false deny it, the politic conceal it. For it cares not if it fights with friendship, power, or even self-interest: then comes the danger of desertion. Then astute men make plausible distinctions so as not to stand in the way of their superiors or of reasons of state. But the straightforward and constant regard dissimulation as a kind of treason, and set more store on tenacity than on sagacity. Such are always to be found on the side of truth, and if they desert a party, they do not change from fickleness, but because the others have first deserted truth.
5. Born to Command. (xlii) It is a secret force of superiority not to have to get on by artful trickery but by an inborn power of rule. All submit to it without knowing why, recognising the secret vigour of connatural authority. Such magisterial spirits are kings by merit and lions by innate privilege. By the esteem which they inspire, they hold the hearts and minds of the rest. If their other qualities permit, such men are born to be the prime motors of the state. They perform more by a gesture than others by a long harangue.9
6. Know how to show your Teeth. (liv) Even hares can pull the mane of a dead lion. There is no joke about courage. Give way to the first and you must yield to the second, and so on till the last, and to gain your point at last costs as much trouble as would have gained much more at first. Moral courage exceeds physical; it should be like a sword kept ready for use in the scabbard of caution.
Many have had eminent qualities, yet, for want of a stout heart, they passed inanimate lives and found a tomb in their own sloth.
It Is the shield of great place; moral cowardice lowers one more than physical. Many have had eminent qualities, yet, for want of a stout heart, they passed inanimate lives and found a tomb in their own sloth. Wise Nature has thoughtfully combined in the bee the sweetness of its honey with the sharpness of its sting.
7. Adapt Yourself to your Company. (lviii) There is no need to show your ability before every one. Employ no more force than is necessary. Let there be no unnecessary expenditure either of knowledge or of power. The skilful falconer only flies enough birds to serve for the chase. If there is too much display to-day there will be nothing to show to-morrow. Always have some novelty wherewith to dazzle. To show something fresh each day keeps expectation alive and conceals the limits of capacity.((Fr. Gracian’s theme of not exaggerating is similar to his theme of never displaying more excellence than needed. In maxim lxxxv, he states, “be extraordinary in your excellence, if you like, but ordinary in your display of it.” Again, cf. to maxim xciv, “Keep your abilities unknown” and clxx “In all Things keep Something in Reserve.” Reflecting this principle of withholding, it would seem, that a man in a position that demands great excellence, would constantly be having to go to the depths of his excellence to excel in his duties; thus, it would seem that one way to be “ordinary in your display” of excellence would be to continue to always be growing in it – to have the spirit of a student, thus, when someone things they have seen the depths of your excellence, you can later display the greater depth you have learned and kept in reserve until that time.))
8. Take care to get Information. (lxxx) We live by information, not by sight. We exist by faith in others. The ear is the area-gate of truth but the front-door of lies. The truth is generally seen, rarely heard; seldom she comes in elemental purity, especially from afar; there is always some admixture of the moods of those through whom she has passed.
The truth is generally seen, rarely heard; seldom she comes in elemental purity, especially from afar; there is always some admixture of the moods of those through whom she has passed.
The passions tinge her with their colours wherever they touch her, sometimes favourably, sometimes the reverse. She always brings out the disposition, therefore receive her with caution from him that praises, with more caution from him that blames. Pay attention to the intention of the speaker; you should know beforehand on what footing he comes. Let reflection assay falsity and exaggeration.
9. Make use of your Enemies. (lxxxiv) You should learn to seize things not by the blade, which cuts, but by the handle, which saves you from harm: especially is this the rule with the doings of your enemies. A wise man gets more use from his enemies than a fool from his friends. Their ill-will often levels mountains of difficulties which one would otherwise not face.
A wise man gets more use from his enemies than a fool from his friends.
Many have had their greatness made for them by their enemies. Flattery is more dangerous than hatred, because it covers the stains which the other causes to be wiped out. The wise will turn ill-will into a mirror more faithful than that of kindness. and remove or improve the faults referred to. Caution thrives well when rivalry and ill-will are next-door neighbours.
10. Know Yourself (lxxxix)—in talents and capacity, in judgment and inclination. You cannot master yourself unless you know yourself. There are mirrors for the face but none for the mind. Let careful thought about yourself serve as a substitute.
There are mirrors for the face but none for the mind.
When the outer image is forgotten, keep the inner one to improve and perfect. Learn the force of your intellect and capacity for affairs, test the force of your courage in order to apply it, and keep your foundations secure and your head clear for everything.
11. A Man without Illusions, a wise Christian, a philosophic Courtier. (c) Be all these, not merely seem to be them, still less affect to be them. Philosophy is nowadays discredited, but yet it was always the chiefest concern of the wise. The art of thinking has lost all its former repute. Seneca introduced it at Rome: it went to court for some time, but now it is considered out of place there. And yet the discovery of deceit was always thought the true nourishment of a thoughtful mind, the true delight of a virtuous soul.10
12. Do not parade your Position. (cvi) To outshine in dignity is more offensive than in personal attractions. To pose as a personage is to be hated: envy is surely enough. The more you seek esteem the less you obtain it, for it depends on the opinion of others. You cannot take it, but must earn and receive it from others. Great positions require an amount of authority sufficient to make them efficient: without it they cannot be adequately filled. Preserve therefore enough dignity to carry on the duties of the office. Do not enforce respect, but try and create it. Those who insist on the dignity of their office, show they have not deserved it, and that it is too much for them. If you wish to be valued, be valued for your talents, not for anything adventitious. Even kings prefer to be honoured for their personal qualifications rather than for their station.11
13. Never talk of Yourself. (cxvii) You must either praise yourself, which is vain, or blame yourself, which is little-minded: it ill beseems him that speaks, and ill pleases him that hears. And if you should avoid this in ordinary conversation, how much more in official matters, and above all, in public speaking, where every appearance of unwisdom really is unwise. The same want of tact lies in speaking of a man in his presence, owing to the danger of going to one of two extremes: flattery or censure.12
14. Nobility of Feeling. (cxxxi) There is a certain distinction of the soul, a highmindedness prompting to gallant acts, that gives an air of grace to the whole character. It is not found often, for it presupposes great magnanimity. Its chief characteristic is to speak well of an enemy, and to act even better to-wards him. It shines brightest when a chance comes of revenge: not alone does it let the occasion pass, but it improves it by using a complete victory in order to display unexpected generosity. ’Tis a fine stroke of policy, nay, the very acme of statecraft. It makes no pretence to victory, for it pretends to nothing, and while obtaining its deserts it conceals its merits.
15. Find the Good in a Thing at once. (cxl) ’Tis the advantage of good taste. The bee goes to the honey for her comb, the serpent to the gall for its venom. So with taste: some seek the good, others the ill. There is nothing that has no good in it, especially in books, as giving food for thought. But many have such a scent that amid a thousand excellences they fix upon a single defect, and single it out for blame as if they were scavengers of men’s minds and hearts. So they draw up a balance sheet of defects which does more credit to their bad taste than to their intelligence. They lead a sad life, nourishing themselves on bitters and battening on garbage. They have the luckier taste who midst a thousand defects seize upon a single beauty they may have hit upon by chance.
16. Look into the Interior of Things. (cxlvi) Things are generally other than they seem, and ignorance that never looks beneath the rind becomes disabused when you show the kernel. Lies always come first, dragging fools along by their irreparable vulgarity. Truth always lags last, limping along on the arm of Time. The wise therefore reserve for it the other half of that power which the common mother has wisely given in duplicate. Deceit is very superficial, and the superficial therefore easily fall into it. Prudence lives retired within its recesses, visited only by sages and wise men.13
17. Think beforehand. (cli) To-day for to-morrow, and even for many days hence. The greatest foresight consists in determining beforehand the time of trouble. For the provident there are no mischances and for the careful no narrow escapes. We must not put off thought till we are up to the chin in mire. Mature reflection can get over the most formidable difficulty. The pillow is a silent Sibyl, and it is better to sleep on things beforehand than lie awake about them afterwards. Many act first and then think afterwards—that is, they think less of consequences than of excuses: others think neither before nor after. The whole of life should be one course of thought how not to miss the right path. Rumination and foresight enable one to determine the line of life.
18. Wage War Honourably. (clxv) You may be obliged to wage war, but not to use poisoned arrows. Every one must needs act as he is, not as others would make him to be. Gallantry in the battle of life wins all men’s praise: one should fight so as to conquer, not alone by force but by the way it is used. A mean victory brings no glory, but rather disgrace. Honour always has the upper hand. An honourable man never uses forbidden weapons, such as using a friendship that’s ended for the purposes of a hatred just begun: a confidence must never be used for a vengeance. The slightest taint of treason tarnishes the good name. In men of honour the smallest trace of meanness repels: the noble and the ignoble should be miles apart. Be able to boast that if gallantry, generosity, and fidelity were lost in the world men would be able to find them again in your own breast.14
19. Be Moderate. (ccvii) One has to consider the chance of a mischance. The impulses of the passions cause prudence to slip, and there is the risk of ruin. A moment of wrath or of pleasure carries you on farther than many hours of calm, and often a short diversion may put a whole life to shame. The cunning of others uses such moments of temptation to search the recesses of the mind: they use such thumbscrews as are wont to test the best caution.
Moderation serves as a counterplot, especially in sudden emergencies.
Moderation serves as a counterplot, especially in sudden emergencies. Much thought is needed to prevent a passion taking the bit in the teeth, and he is doubly wise who is wise on horseback. He who knows the danger may with care pursue his journey. Light as a word may appear to him who throws it out, it may import much to him that hears it and ponders on it.
20. Know how to play the Card of Truth. (ccx) ’Tis dangerous, yet a good man cannot avoid speaking it. But great skill is needed here: the most expert doctors of the soul pay great attention to the means of sweetening the pill of truth. For when it deals with the destroying of illusion it is the quintessence of bitterness.
But great skill is needed here: the most expert doctors of the soul pay great attention to the means of sweetening the pill of truth.
A pleasant manner has here an opportunity for a display of skill: with the same truth it can flatter one and fell another to the ground. Matters of to-day should be treated as if they were long past. For those who can understand a word is sufficient, and if it does not suffice, it is a case for silence. Princes must not be cured with bitter draughts; it is therefore desirable in their case to gild the pill of disillusion.
21. Do not be the Slave of First Impressions. (ccxxvii) Some marry the very first account they hear: all others must live with them as concubines. But as a lie has swift legs, the truth with them can find no lodging. We should neither satisfy our will with the first object nor our mind with the first proposition: for that were superficial. Many are like new casks who keep the scent of the first liquor they hold, be it good or bad. If this superficiality becomes known, it becomes fatal, for it then gives opportunity for cunning mischief; the ill-minded hasten to colour the mind of the credulous. Always therefore leave room for a second hearing. Alexander always kept one ear for the other side. Wait for the second or even third edition of news. To be the slave of your impressions argues want of capacity, and is not far from being the slave of your passions.15
22. Never share the Secrets of your Superiors. (ccxxxvii) You may think you will share pears, but you will only share parings. Many have been ruined by being confidants: they are like sops of bread used as forks, they run the same risk of being eaten up afterwards. It is no favour in a prince to share a secret: it is only a relief. Many break the mirror that reminds them of their ugliness. We do not like seeing those who have seen us as we are: nor is he seen In a favourable light who has seen us in an unfavourable one.
He that communicates his secret to another makes himself that other’s slave.
None ought to be too much beholden to us, least of all one of the great, unless it be for benefits done him rather than for such favours received from him. Especially dangerous are secrets entrusted to friends. He that communicates his secret to another makes himself that other’s slave. With a prince this is an intolerable position which cannot last. He will desire to recover his lost liberty, and to gain it will overturn everything, including right and reason. Accordingly neither tell secrets nor listen to them.
23. Do not be too much of a Dove. (ccxliii) Alternate the cunning of the serpent with the candour of the dove. Nothing is easier than to deceive an honest man. He believes in much who lies in naught; who does no deceit, has much confidence. To be deceived is not always due to stupidity, it may arise from sheer goodness. There are two sets of men who can guard themselves from injury: those who have experienced it at their own cost, and those who have observed it at the cost of others. Prudence should use as much suspicion as subtlety uses snares, and none need be so good as to enable others to do him ill. Combine in yourself the dove and the serpent, not as a monster but as a prodigy.
24. Use human Means as if there were no divine ones, and divine as if there were no human ones. (ccli) A masterly rule: it needs no comment.16
25. Silken Words, sugared Manners. (cclxvii) Arrows pierce the body, insults the soul. Sweet pastry perfumes the breath. It is a great art in life to know how to sell wind. Most things are paid for in words, and by them you can remove impossibilities. Thus we deal in air, and a royal breath can produce courage and power. Always have your mouth full of sugar to sweeten your words, so that even your ill-wishers enjoy them. To please one must be peaceful.
26. Comprehend their Dispositions with whom you deal, (cclxxiii) so as to know their intentions. Cause known, effect known, beforehand in the disposition and after in the motive. The melancholy man always foresees misfortunes, the backbiter scandals; having no conception of the good, evil offers itself to them. A man moved by passion always speaks of things differently from what they are; it is his passion speaks, not his reason.
A man moved by passion always speaks of things differently from what they are; it is his passion speaks, not his reason.
Thus each speaks as his feeling or his humour prompts him, and all far from the truth. Learn how to decipher faces and spell out the soul in the features. If a man laughs always, set him down as foolish; if never, as false. Beware of the gossip: he is either a babbler or a spy. Expect little good from the misshapen: they generally take revenge on Nature, and do little honour to her, as she has done little to them. Beauty and folly generally go hand in hand.
27. Never act in a Passion. (cclxxxvii) If you do, all is lost. You cannot act for yourself if you are not yourself, and passion always drives out reason. In such cases inter-pose a prudent go-between who can only be prudent if he keeps cool. That is why lookers-on see most of the game, because they keep cool. As soon as you notice that you are losing your temper beat a wise retreat. For no sooner is the blood up than it is spilt, and in a few moments occasion may be given for many days’ repentance for oneself and complaints of the other party.
28. Know how to Test. (ccxci) The care of the wise must guard against the snare of the wicked. Great judgment is needed to test that of another. It is more important to know the characteristics and properties of persons than those of vegetables and minerals. It is indeed one of the shrewdest things in life. You can tell metals by their ring and men by their voice. Words are proof of integrity, deeds still more. Here one requires extraordinary care, deep observation, subtle discernment, and judicious decision.
29. Always act as if your Acts were seen. (ccxcvii) He must see all round who sees that men see him or will see him. He knows that walls have ears and that ill deeds rebound back. Even when alone he acts as if the eyes of the whole world were upon him. For as he knows that sooner or later all will be known, so he considers those to be present as witnesses who must afterwards hear of the deed. He that wished the whole world might always see him did not mind that his neighbours could see him over their walls.
30. In one word, be a Saint. (ccc) So is all said at once. Virtue is the link of all perfections, the centre of all the felicities. She it is that makes a man prudent, discreet, sagacious, cautious, wise, courageous, thoughtful, trustworthy, happy, honoured, truthful, and a universal Hero. Three HHH’s make a man happy—Health, Holiness, and a Headpiece.Virtue is the sun of the microcosm, and has for hemisphere a good conscience.
Virtue alone is serious, all else is but jest.
She is so beautiful that she finds favour with both God and man. Nothing is lovable but virtue, nothing detestable but vice. Virtue alone is serious, all else is but jest. A man’s capacity and greatness are to be measured by his virtue and not by his fortune. She alone is all-sufficient. She makes men lovable in life, memorable after death.17
- Gospel of Matthew 10:16; cf., ccxliii Do not be too much of a Dove. [↩]
- Baltasar Gracian. [↩]
- “Conceptismo is characterized by a rapid rhythm, directness, simple vocabulary, witty metaphors, and wordplay. In this style, multiple meanings are conveyed in a very concise manner, and conceptual intricacies are emphasised over elaborate vocabulary.” [↩]
- Id. [↩]
- Id. [↩]
- Spiritual resources for the political: Psalms 13, 15, 20:7-8, 35, 69, 118, 143: 12; The Aquinas Prayer Book: To the Mother of God, Aquinas prays, “Be to me, most Holy Lady, a comforter, and an ally against the stratagems and the traps of the ancient enemy and of all those who harbor ill intentions against me.” (23) In his prayer after receiving the Blessed Eucharist, he petitions, “may it be a firm defense against the plots of all my enemies, seen and unseen.” (83) Those looking for a way to end their petitions to God may reference 143:12, which reads: “and in thy mercy thou wilt destroy my enemies. And thou wilt cut off all them that afflict my soul: for I am thy servant.” Douay-Rheims Bible. “And in thy steadfast love cut off my enemies, and destroy all my adversaries, for I am thy servant.” RSV-Catholic. [↩]
- To avoid the faults of your nation/age, you must know the faults of your nation/age – 4 Steps to Understand the Crisis of Modernity. [↩]
- Similarly, (xli) Never Exaggerate. It is an important object of attention not to talk in superlatives, so as neither to offend against truth nor to give a mean idea of one’s understanding. Exaggeration is a prodigality of the judgment which shows the narrowness of one’s knowledge or one’s taste. Praise arouses lively curiosity, begets desire, and if afterwards the value does not correspond to the price, as generally happens, expectation revolts against the deception, and revenges itself by under-estimating the thing recommended and the person recommending. A prudent man goes more cautiously to work, and prefers to err by omission than by commission. Extraordinary things are rare, therefore moderate ordinary valuation. Exaggeration is a branch of lying, and you lose by it the credit of good taste, which is much, and of good sense, which is more.” [↩]
- Cf. the virtue of magnanimity, under Aristotle. [↩]
- Often times the maxims of Fr. Gracian have garnered him the title a “Christian Machiavelli.” Maxim one hundred (c) shows one of the most fundamental distinctions between Machiavelli and Fr. Gracian. Machiavelli stated, “because how one lives is so far distant from how one ought to live, that he who neglects what is done for what ought to be done, sooner effects his ruin than his preservation; for a man who wishes to act entirely up to his professions of virtue soon meets with what destroys him among so much that is evil.” Machiavelli is clear – those who act virtuously will bring about their own ruin. For Machiavelli, it was important for a prince to appear moral yet be immoral. Virtue is reinterpreted to the cunning ability to gain and maintain power. We see a similar mindset with Glaucon in Plato’s Republic, where he states that it is best for one to be immoral yet appear moral so as to excel within a social contract theory. Fr. Gracian, though questionable at times on his maxims, does not appear to hold to this theory. He states the contrary, “be all these, not merely seem to be them, still less affect to be them.” In other words, where Machiavelli has discarded the “imagined republic” of the Kingdom of God, it appears Fr. Gracian is still contemplating how to remain an innocent citizen of the City of God yet be cunning as the serpent. See 7 Introductory Catholic Thoughts on Machiavelli and A Catholic Guide to Thomas Hobbes. Furthermore, see maxims ccli and ccc. [↩]
- Cf. Maxim xciv; related to his motifs of exaggeration and not displaying your full excellence, Fr. Gracian continues in this maxim his thoughts on perception and power. [↩]
- cf. Fr. Josemaria Escriva’s signs of a lack of humility. Cf. maxim cvi. [↩]
- Similarly, in maxim civil, he states, “men must be studied as deeply as books.” [↩]
- Another clear distinction between Fr. Gracian and Machiavelli – for Fr. Gracian, the ends do not justify the means. [↩]
- A prudent maxim with an imprudent metaphor, “Some marry the very first account they hear: all others must live with them as concubines.” [↩]
- Fr. Gracian’s comment of use “divine means” is the closest he comes to speaking about prayer or a reliance on God. It is very close to the attributed quote from St. Augustine, “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” Similarly, “Act and God will act, work and He will work.” – St. Joan of Arc. [↩]
- Another clear distinction between Fr. Gracian and Machiavelli, as Machiavelli had to reinterpret virtue in order to achieve his political ends. As such, virtue becomes the cunning ability to gain and maintain power, something unrecognizable to the ancients and to the Church. For Fr. Gracian, he does not appear to reinterpret virtue in order to excel in politics – though how to be both innocent and cunning is difficult at times. [↩]