Greatness and Holiness #1004
From the writings of St. Maximilian Kolbe, Volume II
(Rycerz Niepokalanej, April 1922)
Each saint is a great man, but not every great man is at the same time a saint, even though, on many occasions, he may pay great service to humanity. Some similarity exists between them, though. Let us leave aside people who became famous on account of the goods they were able to amass, those made famous for their physical strength, or those ranked as “great” in the memory of mankind, although they compete with each other at times in unilateral schemes to attain celebrity. I want to draw attention only to the geniuses of human thought.
The genius and the saint share many a feature. They rise above the environment around them and unwittingly call the attention to themselves because they are people out of the ordinary. Both have set themselves unusually large goals and, trusting in abundant gifts of nature or grace, seek to achieve such goals by passing through thorns and all kinds of obstacles and troubles. Their journey is made harsh not only by envious people but at times even by friends, perhaps acting in very good faith. And if they manage to reach the desired summit, or effectively get closer to it, they both find emulators, who, with gazes fixed upon them and various degrees of success, strive to follow them along their new way. And the memory of a saint, as well as that of a genius, is handed down from one generation to another. History even presents us with people who were both saints and geniuses, such as St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Thomas, St. Gregory the Great, and many others.
However, there is a marked difference between a saint and a genius who does not aspire to holiness. The dream of the latter is glory. To achieve glory, and approval of men, he sharpens his wits, sacrifices his time, exploits his own skills, and sometimes endures very harsh sacrifices.
As he strives to achieve single-minded perfection, he often ends up with neglecting crucial issues: he destroys balance and harmony in himself, and on account of his disorder he is at times harmful to others as well. The saint, in contrast, has before his eyes solely the glory of God. He is not concerned with human judgments and stands above them. He duly subjugates the faculties of the soul and body itself, to reason, which in turn subjugates itself to the rule of God. Because of this, he tastes the peace that comes with victory.
When a storm is unleashed and the lightening of mockery, evil, and the hate-filled envy strike, when slander and scorn rage and friends move away or add their offenses to those of the enemies; then the genius buckles under the weight: he agonizes, grieves and feels miserable. The saint is above all that. He sometimes feels pain as well, but instantly finds calm in prayer and, confident in God, resumes his path in peace.
More serious illness befalls, old age looms. The genius often ceases to be a genius, his intellectual faculties grow weak; the saint, however, always advances, heedless of health or age. In fact, diseases and afflictions become for him a stairway toward greater perfection; in their fire, he purges himself, like gold.
The legacy of a genius brings mankind benefit, but very often causes damage as well. Napoleon was a genius as a leader, but how many tears were shed because of him! How much blood he caused to be shed! And in the end, he left behind a weakened homeland. Railroads, telegraphs, printers, telephones, and so on, have in our time become disseminators not of culture but of falsehoods and moral decay. How many literary talents, who deserve to be mourned, have taken part in subverting order, in taking their readers away from the Creator! How many young souls were poisoned by books and bad magazines! …A saint always passes through life “doing well” (Mk7:37) after the example of Jesus. Wherever he goes, he brings truth and happiness. By his own example, he draws people toward uncreated Goodness.
Not every person can become a genius, but the way of holiness is open to all.
So here are the desired features and the differences between a genius and a saint. If we erase such differences in our talented fellow countrymen, we pave the way to the height of greatness in man: a genius saint.
By M.K. (Fr. Maximilian Kolbe)
Questions to Ponder
- What path did Maximilian Kolbe choose in his lifetime? That of a saint, a genius or both?
Both saints and geniuses have an effect on world history? One leaves a legacy of extraordinary human accomplishments in history, but the other tends to leave a transcendental footprint or path leading to the ultimate perfection and destiny of mankind. Which one far surpasses all human accomplishments and endeavors?