St. Valluvar and St. Ignatius

Anand Amaladass S. J.

Image: Abhinav Srivasta @ Unsplash

The great poet-philosopher Valluvar in his classical Tamil work Tirukkural devotes a whole chapter (62) to human efforts. He makes a general statement at the outset: “Human effort has a divine quality (the source of all wealth), while indolence can only bring about poverty and disgrace.” (616) The effort could be mental or physical, as we all know.

Then at the end he makes a revolutionary statement. “Even if the divine providence does not seem to be beneficial, one’s personal efforts will bear proportionate results.” (619) This is revolutionary in the sense that it is said amidst people who believed that ‘nothing can move without His favour’. In other words, after so much prayer, fasting, pilgrimage etc. when people feel discouraged that they did not get what they wanted, Valluvar tells them: “do not get disheartened. Your efforts will beat fruit.” Valluvar goes one step further and adds that “people, who work hard with ceaseless industry, will overcome even the relentless fate.” (620)

St. Ignatius in the 16th century seems to think in a similar way. He goes against the traditional belief of the Christian world. Great theologians like Thomas Aquinas and mystics like Meister Eckhart preached then that every thing happens according to His will. Our duty is only to accept it in faith and act accordingly. On our own we can achieve nothing.

But Ignatius said that we can increase God’s glory by our greater effort, by loving more, serving more with greater initiatives. The word magis is his trade-mark — all that we do is for the greater glory of God. There is a whole history behind this dispute. Many opposed this and called Ignatius anti-Christ, a heretic etc.

But the Jesuits went all over the world and undertook many activities and even risked their life. Historians call them “Men of Thousand Masks.” The Jesuit efforts took many shapes. They entered the court of the great Mughal Emperor Akbar with an illustrated Bible; they took part in the “Tea Ceremony” in Japan; Matteo Ricci was honoured as Dr. Li; the Italian Jesuit Castiglione became the court painter in Chinese Emperor’s palace.

Robert de Nobili became an Indian Sannyasi. Joseph Beschi became the much acclaimed Tamil poet; In Paraguay the Jesuits built up a state with musical conservatory; in Europe they became the conscience-keepers of the kings; in South America they became the friends of the black people; In Jaipur laboratory they were specially invited as scientists, astronomers; the Austrian Jesuit Joseph Tieffenthaler started mapping India as cartographer; Venance Bouchet drew the first South Indian map. The list is very long. All this was done to enhance the glory of God, to manifest his glory in every possible way. But none of these initiatives was against the will of God.

One needs here to reflect a bit more. Nature sends two kinds of apparently contradictory messages. In life we need to respect the laws of nature and act in accordance with it. On the one hand, nature orders us: ‘you must obey my laws. Bend down and come inside. Join hands with the rest of nature.’ This invitation comes from above. It was there from the beginning and it will continue after we are gone. It will go on without us. No one is indispensable. At this level it appears nature as an outsider, inimical, even dangerous. This is one side.

On the other hand, nature invites us all and says: Look at the world. Plough the land and cultivate it and give a new shape to it. Bring it under your control. You are the master of the world. (Genesis 1, 28) God gave us intelligence and freedom. They are his gifts. The laws of nature alone do not determine our life. They are only the foundation. They are like the blueprint of a building. But the building itself we have to construct.

Cultivating does not mean only the land. It includes also the human mind. The mind can go in the wrong direction. They need to be guided in the right direction. Searching and risk-taking, wonder and trust, are part of mature human mind. Thinkers and artists unravel the mysteries hidden in the universe. The ruling powers may prevent them and threaten the writers and control the media. But it is our task to cultivate the land and the mind with all possible efforts.

Valluvar says: the industrious people will conquer even the enigmatic power that controls us — Ūḻaiyum uppakkam kāṉpar. Ignatius seems to echo this message with his Magis in all that we do.

About the Author:

Anand Amaladass S. J, was professor of philosophy and religion in Satya Nilayam Faculty of Philosophy, Chennai, for over 30 years. His research now focuses on inter-cultural dialogue, art and religion, aesthetic spirituality and option for the least, Jesuit history in India and Tamilology.



Bulletin of the Chennai Jesuit Province

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