Humility Is the Foundation of All Virtues

by admin on March 6, 2011

ST. CYPRIAN says: “Humility is the foundation of sanctity.” St. Jerome: “The first virtue of Christians is humility.” St. Bernard: “Humility is the foundation and safeguard of all virtues.” St. Gregory in one place calls it “mistress and mother of all virtues,” and in another says that it is the “root and origin of virtues.” This meta­phor and comparison of root is very proper and declares well the properties and conditions of humility. For in the first place, as the flower is supported by the root and with­ers when it is cut off from it, so whatever virtue there be, if it perseveres not on the root of humility, withers and is lost at once. Further, as the root is underground, and is trampled and trodden on, and has in itself no beauty nor scent, and yet from it the tree receives its life, so the hum­ble man is buried, trodden upon, and made small account of, and makes no show of luster and splendor, but is cast into a corner and forgotten, and this it is that preserves him and makes him thrive. Further, as for the tree to grow and last and bear much fruit, the root must strike deep, and the deeper it goes and the further it penetrates the earth, the more the tree will fructify and the longer it will last— it will thrust its roots below, and bear fruit above, as the Wise Man says (IV Kings xix. 30)—so the fertility and preservation of virtues lies in their casting deep roots of humility. The more humble you are, the more you will thrive and grow in virtue and perfection. Finally, as pride is the root and beginning of all sin, as the Wise Man says —The beginning of all sin is pride (Ecclus. x. 15)—so the saints say that humility is the root and foundation of all virtue.

But someone will say: “How can you say that humility is the foundation of all virtues and of the spiritual edifice, when the saints say in common that faith is the foundation, according to that saying of St. Paul: Other foundation can no man lay but that which is laid already, which is Christ Jesus (I Cor. iii. 11) ?” To this St. Thomas very aptly replies: Two things are requisite to lay a foundation well. First it is necessary to open well the trenches and cast out all the loose earth until you arrive at firm ground to build it upon; and after having dug the trench deep and thrown out all the loose earth, they begin to lay the foundation upon stone, which, with the other stones that are laid upon it, makes the main foundation of the building. So, St. Thomas goes on to say, are humility and faith in the spiritual foundation and fabric of virtues. Humility is that which opens the ground; its office is to dig the trench deep, and throw out all the loose stuif, that is, the weakness of human strength. You must not build on your own strength, for that is all sand: all that you must cast out, having no confidence in yourself; you must go on digging until you arrive at the living rock and firm stone, which is Christ (I Cor. x. 4). That is the principal foundation; but to rest upon it the other is necessary, which is the work of humility. Thus humility is also called the foundation. Humility, then, will open the trenches and immerge a man in the knowledge of himself and cast out all the loose earth of self-esteem and self-confidence, until it reaches the true foundation, which is Christ. Such a man will set up a good building; and though the winds buffet it, and the waters rise around it, it will not be upset, because it is founded on a firm rock. But if a man build without humil­ity, his building will speedily fall, as being founded on sand.

They are not true, out apparent and false virtues, that are not founded on humility. Thus St. Augustine says, in those ancient Romans and philosophers there were no true virtues, not only for lack of charity, which is the form and vital principle of all, without which there is no true and per­fect virtue, but also for lack of the foundation of humility. Their aim in their fortitude, their justice, their temperance, was to be esteemed and leave a good name behind them; their virtues were hollow and devoid of substance, a mere shadow of virtues. And being such, not true, but appar­ent, they were rewarded by God in the Romans with the goods of this life, which also are apparent goods. If, then, you wish to build up true virtues in your soul, endeavor first to lay a good foundation of humility.

St. Augustine says: “If you wish to be great and raise a high edifice of virtues, dig the foundations well. And the deeper the foundations must go, the higher one wishes to raise the building, for there is no height without depth. Thus in the measure and proportion in which you go down and cast the foundations of humility, the higher you will be able to raise this tower of evangelical perfection which you have begun. St. Thomas Aquinas, among other grave utterances which are quoted of his, says that whoever is motived by a desire of honor, whoever shuns being made small account of and is grieved when that befalls him, even though he do wonders, is far from perfection, because all his virtue is destitute of foundation.

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