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This article investigates whether Aristotelian magnanimity is compatible with Christianity. According to Aristotle, this virtue is displayed in claiming and deserving great honors and accompanied by a disdain for others, all of which looks remarkably like the Christian sin of pride. This article argues that in spite of these apparent difficulties Aristotelian magnanimity is compatible with Christian morality, that the deserving Christian may, without prejudice to the virtue of humility, claim great honors, recognize his own superiority, and look down on others. The article concludes with an account of the contemporary political importance of these issues. Responding to scholarship that argues that Christianity's undermining of magnanimity is responsible for modernity's lack of great statesmanship, it is contended on the contrary that in the modem world Christianity alone can make magnanimous statesmanship possible.
In the Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle presents the virtue of magnanimity or greatness of soul as a kind of summit of the moral life. The exercise of this particular virtue, he contends, presupposes the possession of all the others and at the same time "enhances" the "greatness" of all the others. Thus he characterizes magnanimity as "a crowning ornament of the virtues." 
This article investigates whether there can be a Christian magnanimity More precisely, it inquires whether Aristotelian magnanimity is compatible with Christianity, a question that arises because of the apparent conflict between Christian morality and the specific excellence of the magnanimous man. According to Aristotle, the magnanimous man displays a certain praiseworthy disposition toward great honors: he daims great honors for himself believing, and believing rightly, that he is worthy of them because of his moral excellence. This awareness of his own superiority of character, moreover, necessarily leads the great-souled man to look down upon other men. He does this, Aristotle thinks, with perfect propriety Thus he writes that "the great-souled man is justified in despising other people" and has "good ground" for doing so because "his estimates," both of others and of himself, "are correct." 
This is almost certainly not what most people would call the Christian understanding of the proper disposition toward great honors. Indeed, Aristotle's account of magnanimity appears almost diametrically opposed to the Christian moral teaching. What he calls a great virtue the Christian would likely call a great sin: pride.
This apparent opposition is also suggested by Aristotle's account of vanity and smallness of soul, the vicious dispositions opposed to magnanimity The vain man errs on the side of excess, claiming more than he deserves, while the small-souled man errs on the side of deficiency, claiming less than he deserves. Not only is it on Aristotle's account a moral failing to claim less than one deserves, however. It is in fact a more serious moral failing than claiming more than one deserves. Smallness of soul, he argues, is more opposed to the virtuous mean than is vanity the former "being both more prevalent and worse." 
Smallness of soul, however, would seem strikingly to resemble the Christian virtue of humility. Thus from the standpoint of Christianity Aristotle's moral universe seems topsy-turvy. He appears to condemn as a vice what Christianity holds up as a great virtue and to hold up as a great virtue what Christianity condemns as the greatest vice. It would therefore seem that Aristotelian magnanimity has no place in Christianity.
This article, however, argues that in spite of the seeming difficulties Aristotelian magnanimity is compatible with Christian morality This argument takes the form of a response to Larry Arnhart's article, "Statesmanship as Magnanimity: Classical, Christian, and Modern," which contends that Christianity necessarily undermines magnanimity.  The article concludes with an account of the contemporary political importance of these issues. While Arnhart claims that Christianity's undermining of magnanimity is responsible for the lack of great statesmanship in the modern world, I argue that in the modern world Christianity alone can make magnanimous statesmanship possible. 
At the outset one must concede the considerable prima facie plausibility of Arnhart's contention that Christianity makes magnanimity impossible. The magnanimous man exalts himself, claiming for himself the greatest honors. In contrast, Christian morality appears as one of self-abasement rather than self-exaltation. Even for one who possesses only a passing familiarity with the New Testament, numerous passages come to mind that seem to suggest disapproval of Aristotelian magnanimity. "Learn from me," Christ advises his followers, "for I am gentle and lowly in heart."  "Whoever would be great among you," he teaches, "must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all." 
The Gospel of Luke offers what seems an even more direct repudiation of Aristotelian ethics. There Christ forthrightly tells his listeners to claim less honor than they deserve, thus apparently endorsing what Aristotle calls smallness of soul:
When you are invited by any one to a marriage feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest a more eminent man than you be invited by him; and he who invited you both will come and say to you, "Give place to this man," and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, "Friend, go up higher"; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. 
The meaning of this parable would seem to be that those who claim less honor than they deserve in this life will be all the more honored in the next. And this meaning is made explicit when Christ says elsewhere that whoever "humbles himself" like a "child" will be "greatest in the kingdom of heaven." 
Nevertheless, that some reconciliation of Christian and Aristotelian ethics is possible is suggested by Christ's own actions as they are reported in the New Testament. According to the Gospel of Luke, upon his entry into Jerusalem Christ was greeted by "the whole multitude of the disciples," who were saying, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest." Luke continues, reporting that some Pharisees, hearing this, asked him to rebuke his followers. Christ's response: "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out."  In this episode Christ displays magnanimity in the strict Aristotelian sense: he claims the great honors of which he is truly worthy. But since he claims elsewhere, as we have seen, to be humble, and since he commands his followers to imitate him, we must conclude--assuming that Christ's behavior and teaching are coherent--that for him as well as for them magnanimity and humility are somehow compatible, that humility is not smallness of soul and magnanimity is not sinful pride. 
This possibility of a compatibility between Aristotelian magnanimity and Christian morality is also suggested by Saint Augustine in The City of God. In book 5 of that work Augustine criticizes the Romans for their love of glory Such criticism would seem to imply disapproval of Aristotelian magnanimity as well. After all, the magnanimous man's claiming of great honors for himself stems from a desire to enjoy them: he takes pleasure in the honors he claims and deserves.  If the Christian must renounce earthly glory, then magnanimity is incompatible with Christianity. Although Augustine's critique of Rome might at first glance seem to point to this conclusion, a more careful consideration of the argument of The City of God suggests that for Augustine it is not the love of glory itself that is blameworthy but the excessive love of glory
Virtue, Augustine argues in The City of God, "is the order of love."  That is, virtue is loving each thing in the right proportion. Thus when he warns that physical beauty "is not fitly loved in preference to God" he implies that it is not wrong to love it to some extent.  This teaching would seem equally to apply to the love of glory. Augustine speaks of those Romans …