Humility is the Foundation of All Virtues

by admin on March 18, 2012

Better to see how true is this pronouncement of the saints, that humility is the foundation of all virtues, and how necessary this foundation is for them all, we will run briefly through the more principal virtues. To begin with the theological, humility is necessary for faith. I leave out of count children, in whom faith is infused with­out act of theirs in baptism; I speak of grown-up people, who have the use of reason. Faith requires a humble and submissive understanding: Taking our understanding cap­tive to the obedience of faith, says the Apostle St. Paul (II Cor. x. 5). A proud understanding is an impediment and obstacle to the reception of faith. So said Christ our Redeemer: How can ye believe in me, since ye seek to be honored of one another, and seek not the honor that is of God alone? (John v. 44). And not only for the reception of faith is humility necessary, but also for the preservation of it. It is the common doctrine of doctors and saints that pride is the beginning of all heresies. A man gets such a conceit of his own opinion and judgment that he prefers it to the common sentiment of saints and of the Church, and thence he -comes to plunge into heresy. So says the Apostle : Ye must know that in the latter days there will be dangerous times: men will be lovers of themselves, envious, haughty, proud (II Tim. iii. 1). To elation and pride he ascribes errors and heresies, as does St. Augustine enlarg­ing well on this point. Hope is sustained by humility, since the humble feels his own need and understands that he can do nothing of himself, and so the more heartily does he fall back upon God and puts all his hope in Him.

Charity and love of God is roused and kindled by humil­ity, since the humble man recognizes that all that he has comes from the hand of God and that he is far from deserv­ing it, and by that consideration he is greatly kindled and inflamed to the love of God. Holy Job said: What is man, O Lord, that thou art mindful of him, and settest thy heart upon him, and dost him so many favors and benefits? (vii. 13). I am so evil in dealing with Thee, and Thou art so good in dealing with me! I persist in offending Thee every day, and Thou dost me favors every hour! This is one of the principal motives whereby saints have aided themselves to kindle in their hearts a great love of God. The more they considered their unworthiness and misery, the more they found themselves bound to love God, Who deigned to look upon such a lowly estate as theirs. The most holy Queen of Angels said: My soul doth magnify the Lord, because he hath cast his eyes on the lowliness of his hand­maid (Luke i. 46, 48).

As for charity towards our neighbor, it is easy to see how necessary humility is for that, since one of the things that usually cool and diminish our love for our brethren is passing judgment upon their faults and holding them for imperfect and defective people. Now the humble man is far from that, since he keeps his eyes on his own faults, and in others sees nothing but their virtues. So he takes them all for good, and himself alone for evil and imperfect and unworthy of being in the company of his brethren; whence there springs in him an esteem and respect and great love for all. Further, the humble man is not aggrieved at all others’ being preferred to him; at others’ being made much of and himself forgotten; at others’ having great charges entrusted to them and himself being entrusted only with mean and petty things. There is no envy among the hum­ble, because envy springs from pride; thus where humility is, there will be no envies, no conflicts, nor anything to cool the love that should be among brethren.

Of humility also springs patience, so necessary in this life, since the humble man knows his faults and sins and sees himself deserving of any and every punishment, and no affliction comes upon him that he does not judge to be less than it ought to be, in accordance with his faults. Thus he is silent and knows not how to complain, but rather says with the Prophet Micheas: Willingly will I bear the chastise­ment that God sendeth me, since I have sinned against him (Mich. vii. 9). As the proud man complains of everything and thinks that they are wronging him, although they are doing no such thing, and that they never treat him as he deserves; so the humble man, though they do treat him unfairly, will not see it, nor takes it for unfairness. He never makes a grievance of anything that they do to him, but rather thinks that he is amply well set up; and what­ever way they treat him, he thinks they are treating him better than he deserves. Humility is a great means to patience. So when the Wise Man is admonishing him who wishes to serve God to prepare for temptations and repug­nances and to arm himself with patience, the means that he gives him thereto is humility: Keep thy heart lowly and endure: all that happeneth to thee, though it be very con­trary to thy liking and to sensuality, take it in good part, and though it hurt thee, suffer it (Ecclus. ii. 2, 4). But how shall that be ? In what armor dost thou clothe me that I may not feel it or that, whatever I already feel, I may bear well ? Have patience in thy humility. Hold to humil­ity, and thou shalt have patience.

Of humility is born peace, so desired of all and so neces­sary to the religious. So says Christ our Redeemer: Learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart, and ye shall find rest to your souls (Matt. xi. 29). Be humble, and you shall have great peace within yourself, and also with your brethren. As among the proud there are always bickerings, contentions, and quarrels, as the Wise Man says: Among the proud there are always quarrels (Prov. xiii. 10) so among the humble there cannot be any bickering or dispute, except that holy dispute and quarrel who shall take the lower place and how each may yield the preference to his neighbor. Such was the kindly contention between St. Paul and St. Anthony, who was to divide the loaf, each importuning the other, the one on the score of the other’s being the guest, the other on that of his being the senior; each sought a plea to give the preference and yield the superiority to the other. These are good little tiffs and contentions, springing from true humility: such are not contrary to peace and fraternal charity, but rather con­firm and preserve it the more.

Let us come to those three virtues which are proper and essential to the religious, the virtues to which we bind our­selves by the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedi­ence. Poverty has such a close connection and relationship with humility that they seem sisters of one bed. Thus by poverty of spirit, which Christ our Lord put for the first of the beatitudes, some saints understand humility, others vol­untary poverty, such as religious profess. Poverty must always go accompanied by humility, for the one without the other is a dangerous thing. It is easy to engender a spirit of vainglory and pride of poor and mean clothes, and thence arises contempt of others. For this reason St. Augustine avoided very poor clothes, and wished his reli­gious to go about dressed becomingly and decently, to escape this bad consequence. On the other hand, humility is equally necessary, that we may not seek to go well pro­vided with everything and want nothing, but rather be con­tent with what is given us, though it be of the worst, because we are poor men and profess poverty. How neces­sary humility is for the preservation of chastity, we have many examples in the histories of the Fathers of the Des­ert of foul and shameful falls in men who had done many years of penance and solitary life, all which came from want of humility and from presumption and confidence in self, a sin which God is wont to punish by permitting the like falls. Humility is such a great ornament of chastity and virginal purity that St. Bernard says: “I venture to say that, without humility, even the virginity of our Lady would not have pleased God.” Let us come to the virtue of obedience, in which our Father wished that we of the Soci­ety should signalize ourselves. It is clear that he cannot be very obedient who is not humble, nor he cease to be obe­dient who is humble. The humble man holds no judgment to the contrary, but conforms himself in all to that of the superior; thus in action as in will and judgment there is no contradiction or resistance.

To come now to prayer, which is the mainstay of the life of the religious and of the spiritual man, if it be not accom­panied by humility, it is of no value, whereas prayer with humility pierces the heavens: The prayer of him that humbleth himself, says the Wise Man, shall pierce the heavens, and shall not stop short till it reach the throne of the Most High, and not depart thence till it obtaineth of God all that it asketh (Ecclus. xxxv. 21). That holy and humble Judith, shut up in her oratory, clad in sackcloth, covered with ashes, prostrate on the ground, spoke aloud and cried out: The prayer of the humble and meek of heart hath ever been pleasing to thee, 0 Lord (Judith ix. 16). God hath regarded the prayer of the humble, and hath not despised their petitions (Psalm ci. 18). Have no fear of the humble being rejected or departing in confusion (Psalm Ixxiii. 21), he shall gain his request, and God will hear his prayer. See how pleased God was with that humble prayer of the publican in the Gospel, who dared not raise his eyes to heaven nor approach the altar, but in a far corner of the Temple smote his breast in humble acknowledgment and said: Lord, be merciful to me, who am a great sinner (Luke xviii. 13). Of a truth I tell you, says Christ our Redeemer, that this man went home from the Temple justified, while the proud Pharisee, who took himself for a good man, went out condemned. In this way we might run through the rest of the virtues; so if you wish for a short cut to attain them all and a brief and compendious lesson how to come quickly to perfection, here it is—Be humble.

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