Generosity, Its Etymological Roots and Meanings

We have been meditating on the signs of holiness in our time and have named two in previous meditations: Joy and Courage.  Now we are considering Generosity, beginning with the very rich etymology of the word.

Former President Jimmy Carter works on one of more than 4,300 Habitat for Humanity houses he and Rosalind Carter helped to build over nearly 40 years. Photo by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation on Flickr.

The word “generous” comes from two Latin words: genere, which means to beget, produce, create, cause to exist, bring to life or generate. And genus, which means birth, descent, origin (especially of high birth), father, family, nation, stock, offspring, race, kind, class, sort.

The words “generate” or “generative” also derive from the word genus, or kind. To be part of a kind, part of a genus, is to have brought being into existence, to have procreated and given birth. There is such an affirmation of our powers of creativity in this term “generosity” and its related terms!

The lesson seems to me that it takes generosity to be generative.  The Via Creativa triggers generosity.

A brief meditation on how we can embody magnanimity in our lives. The Heart of Magnanimity

According to Webster’s dictionary, the English word “generous” means to be magnanimous, kindly, liberal in giving, openhanded, marked by abundance or ample proportions, copious.

Thomas Aquinas teaches that magnanimity is a great virtue—indeed it comes from two Latin words for a large soul (magna anima). It implies excellence and derives from gratitude. We give away when we are grateful.

He warns us that “it is difficult to be magnanimous; no evil person is magnanimous.”  Trust is essential for magnanimity and courage—trust in oneself as well as trust in the Spirit. Indeed “magnanimity strengthens a person to take on good tasks” and brave tasks.

Here is Aquinas discussing Magnanimity which he defines as

“I am grateful for my life. I wouldn’t change a thing.” Part 1 of an interview with Holocaust survivor and author Richard Wiener. Continue with Parts 2 and 3. Web Talk Radio

the expansion of the soul to great things…. Magnanimous people do not expose themselves to danger for trifles, nor are they lovers of danger, as it were, exposing themselves to dangers hastily or lightly. However, magnanimous people brave great dangers for great things because they put themselves in all kinds of danger for great things, for instance, the common welfare, justice, divine worship, and so forth.

A magnanimous person is not a bitter person but has learned to let go and to forgive. Such people “deliberately determine to forget injuries they have suffered.”  They are people who are “more solicitous about the truth than about the opinions of others” and do not leave their path of virtue “because of what people think.”  

Magnanimity is part of fortitude or courage.  

To be continued.


Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, pp. 381f.

And Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times, pp. 153-158.

And Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality, pp. 350f. 

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner image: “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.'” Nelson Mandela shakes hands with F.W. de Klerk, two years after Mandela’s 1990 release from his 26-year imprisonment. The two men made history by ending apartheid with a commitment to truth and reconciliation. Wikimedia Commons.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you agree with Aquinas that “no evil person can be magnanimous”?  Who are some magnanimous people whom you admire?  How do they inspire you to be both generous and magnanimous?

Recommended Reading

Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society

Visionary theologian and best-selling author Matthew Fox offers a new theology of evil that fundamentally changes the traditional perception of good and evil and points the way to a more enlightened treatment of ourselves, one another, and all of nature. In comparing the Eastern tradition of the 7 chakras to the Western tradition of the 7 capital sins, Fox allows us to think creatively about our capacity for personal and institutional evil and what we can do about them. 
“A scholarly masterpiece embodying a better vision and depth of perception far beyond the grasp of any one single science.  A breath-taking analysis.” — Diarmuid O’Murchu, author of Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics

The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times

A stunning spiritual handbook drawn from the substantive teachings of Aquinas’ mystical/prophetic genius, offering a sublime roadmap for spirituality and action.
Foreword by Ilia Delio.
“What a wonderful book!  Only Matt Fox could bring to life the wisdom and brilliance of Aquinas with so much creativity. The Tao of Thomas Aquinas is a masterpiece.”
–Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality

Matthew Fox renders Thomas Aquinas accessible by interviewing him and thus descholasticizing him.  He also translated many of his works such as Biblical commentaries never before in English (or Italian or German of French).  He  gives Aquinas a forum so that he can be heard in our own time. He presents Thomas Aquinas entirely in his own words, but in a form designed to allow late 20th-century minds and hearts to hear him in a fresh way. 
“The teaching of Aquinas comes through will a fullness and an insight that has never been present in English before and [with] a vital message for the world today.” ~ Fr. Bede Griffiths (Afterword).
Foreword by Rupert Sheldrake


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6 thoughts on “Generosity, Its Etymological Roots and Meanings”

  1. Avatar

    What we give freely and generously comes from what we believe our true abundance to be. It is in Truth, Wisdom and a Loving nature that we find our abundance. If what we believe we have is scarce, our offering becomes scarce. If our Faith is scarce, so too is our offering. If our Faith is deep and rich, so too is our offering. — BB.

  2. Avatar
    Cheryl M Burton

    I’m curious as to whether St Thomas Aquinas offered any way of counteracting the abuses of his teachings, of which are endless now! Many people consider war acts against others to be great things/purposes and they will use words such as “magnanimity” also, and many today will twist the teachings of Aquinas and use his name, every college does, and they all make it appear as if they are correct and without guilt. In Holy Scripture St Peter mentions this being done with the teachings/writings of St Paul, but somehow Paul had incorporated an invisible check and balance system that can, overtime if necessary, expose the evil trying to corrupt it. I don’t know enough about Aquinas to know whether he was that inspired to have been able to do as Paul did, but I do know that there is much evil using his teachings against others, but they would not dream of trying to use even a few words of St Paul, such as the seven sons of the Jewish high priest named sceva in Acts 19:11-20 –

  3. Avatar

    All the saints, mystics, prophets, truth and justice seekers in our human history and contemporary lives have been inspirational to us. Their lives, faith, and universal message to us is that our co-Creator~Source’s Spirit of Divine Love~Wisdom~Creativity… is Present within and among All of Us each in our uniqueness as part of God’s Divine Nature and Loving Oneness, and especially in our compassionate conscious relations with one another, sacred and beautiful Mother Nature, and our sacred multidimensional-multiverse Evolving Cosmos… This Divine Loving Nature within all human beings has been given different names in our genuine spiritual traditions, but they include – “True Heart Self~Eternal Sacred Soul~Cosmic Consciousness… “

  4. Avatar

    No, people who choose to do evil cannot be magnanimous, even though there may be a great outer show of supposed generosity—witness the “gifts” given to politicians and the Supreme Court justices or the oppressive bills passed allegedly to “protect” citizens. Just look at the state of Florida and other states where this is happening. The motive behind this kind of “generosity” is the increase of power by any means. As you point out, real magnanimity involves risk and a concern for others and is holy and humble.

  5. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    Magnanimity, could also be defined as imagination that invites revelation and unites with it. All that one can imagine, can come to be and what can come to be, is more than one can imagine.

    It appears, that all Great Souls, had this gift of imagination. They invited and were open and responsive to new revelations and they did indeed unite the two. Often, they trusted in what they imagined and the insightful, intuitive revelations they had received through contemplative ponderance and observation; believing either in what could come to be or discovering that which had already come into being, yet was not known. In this sacred convergence, what they did imagine came to be, what was intuitively revealed, from within the unknown became known, and what emerged from this union was often so much more magnanimous than originally envisioned!

    Great souls, truly assist humanity in evolving in this unfolding creative process, of continously giving birth to the new. Unfortunately, they often suffer personally the laborious birthing pains the most; often only being honored for their generous giveaway, after they have departed from this world.

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