What does being “simple as a dove” really mean?

“Be simple as doves” It is an expression well known even beyond Vincentian circles. But I for one never thought to look into why the dove is used as a symbol of simplicity.  A recent FamVin post addressed this

St. Vincent often said, “simplicity is my gospel”. 

There is a famous quote of St. Vincent de Paul:

Jesus, the Lord, expects us to have the simplicity of a dove. Common Rules of the Congregation of the Mission, II, 4

I wanted to know more: why a dove? What is simple about a dove?

An early reference is found in the Gospel of Matthew:

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the middle of wolves: be you therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” – Matthew 10:16

A recent FamVin post offers further research

A recent FamVin post reveals that like some other birds, doves (scientific name: Columbidae) have no gall bladders. Some medieval naturalists concluded they had no bile (gall), which in the medieval theory of the four humours explained the allegedly sweet disposition of doves.

Eucharistic Dove, early 13th century.

Used for storing communion wafers, doves such as this were suspended above the altar to signify the presence of the Holy Spirit at the Mass. The wafers were stored in a cavity under a hinged lid on the bird’s back.

There’s more in the post about the symbolism of animals in the Middle Ages:

And, of course, the dove is associated with the Holy Spirit. God sent His spirit in the form of a gentle dove to gather us into His church.

The same FamVin post gives us the benefit of some research by Fr. Robert Maloney, C.M.:

St. Vincent gives a whole series of motives as to why his Vincentian Family should practice simplicity:

  • God communicates with the simple (CR II, 4; II, 377; XII, 140).
  • God himself is simple; so where simplicity is there God is too (XI, 50).
  • The world loves simple people (XII, 142, 152).
  • Missionaries especially ought to love it (XII, 157), since it will help them in dealing with simple people.
  • It is the spirit of Jesus Christ (IV, 393, 481).
  • God wants the Community to have this virtue (XII, 150, 246), especially since it lives in a world that is filled with duplicity.
  • Duplicity is never agreeable to God (IV, 471).It is the simple who keep the true religion (XII, 142).
  • Source: The way of Vincent de Paul: five characteristic virtues


Do I always speak the truth?
Do I say things as they are or as I want them to be?
What causes me to conceal or hide something from another?
(Also from Maloney, Five Missionary Virtues presentation)

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