Humility of Heart
Fr. Cajetan Mary da Bergamo
Translation by Herbert Cardinal Vaughn,
Archbishop of Westminister, England1903
TAN BOOKS AND PUBLISHERS
Examen on Humility Towards our Neighbour
ACCORDING to the doctrine of Saint Thomas [2a 2æ, qu. clxi, art. 3] the first act of humility consists in subjecting ourselves to God, and the next is to subject-----that is to say to humble-----ourselves to our neighbour for the love of God; as the Holy Ghost says through St. Peter: "Be ye subject therefore to every human creature for God's sake"; [1 Peter ii, 13] and the same Holy Spirit exhorts us through St. Paul to excel each other in humility. "In humility let each esteem others better than themselves." [Phil. ii, 3]
120. Now as your neighbour can be either your superior, your equal or your inferior, it is certain that you must practice humility first of all towards your superior which is of precept, for, as St. Peter says, such is the will of God: "For so is the will of God." [1 Peter ii, 15]
Do you show to your superiors and betters that obedience and reverence which your state exacts? How do you receive their reprimands? Do you feel that humility of heart towards them "with a good will serving" [Eph. vi, 7] which St. Paul enjoins? There is a humility necessary for the imitation of Christ, "Who humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death." [Phil. ii, 8] There may sometimes be an excuse of impotence or inadvertence in not obeying those whom God has set over you, but to refuse to obey is always an act of inexcusable pride. As St. Bernard [citing St. Thomas] says: "To be unwilling to obey is the proud effort of the will." [2a 2æ, qu. clxi, art. 2]
121. How do you behave to your equals? Do you wish to be above them, to be preferred before them, not contented with your own state? Every time that you feel this desire in your heart, say to yourself that this was the sin of Lucifer, who said in his heart: "I will ascend." [Isai. xiv, 14] And St. Thomas teaches that the virtue of humility consists essentially in moderating this desire to exalt ourselves above others.
Do you esteem yourself above others for any gift of nature, education or grace? That is true pride, and you must subdue this by humility, calling yourself inferior to others, as in fact you may be before God.
122. How do you behave to your inferiors? It is towards these that you must exercise humility most of all. "The greater thou art," says the inspired word, "the more humble thyself in all things." [Ecclus iii, 20] And although they are inferior as regards their condition of life, remember always that before God they are your equals. "Knowing that the Lord both of them and you is in Heaven, and there is no respect of persons with Him." [Eph. vi, 9]
In this way you will become kind and considerate, as St. Paul advises when He says: "Consenting to be humble." [Rom. xii, 16] Do you command them haughtily and imperiously, against the express wish of God Who does not desire you to behave to your inferiors ''as lording it"? [1 Peter v, 3] And when you are obliged to correct them, do you do it in the proper spirit: "In the spirit of meekness," as the Apostle teaches us, "considering thyself lest thou also be tempted"? [Gal. vi, 1]
There is also another kind of humility which is false, and against which we are warned by the Holy Ghost when He says: "Be not lowly in thy wisdom, lest being humbled thou be deceived into folly." [Ecclus xiii, 11] If you possess the talent of teaching, counselling, helping and doing good to the souls of others, and you then retire, saying, as if from humility: "I am not good enough"; or if you are in a position when it is your duty to correct, punish or exercise authority, and you abandon it from motives of humility, this is not true humility but weakness and cowardice, and as far as externals are concerned we must observe the rule of the holy father St. Augustine: "Lest whilst humility is unduly observed the authority of the ruler be undermined amongst those who ought to be submissive." [In Reg.]
Much as I should praise you for regarding yourself as inferior in merit to all those below you, "in the knowledge of your heart," as St. Gregory says so well; yet it must not be to the detriment of your office, lessening its superiority. For being in a superior position does not prevent you from being humble of heart; but this humility must not be an impediment to the exercise of your authority.
The quotation from St. Augustine is referred to by St. Thomas: "In secret look upon others as your superiors to whom in public you are superior." [2a 2æ, qu. clxi, art. 6 ad 1]
123. We have to practice two kinds of humility to all our neighbours-----one is of knowledge, the other of affection. The humility of knowledge consists in recognizing and holding ourselves in our inmost soul to be inferior to all, and that is why Jesus Christ advises us in His gospel to take the lowest place: "Sit down in the lowest place." [Luke xiv, 10] He does not tell us to sit down in a place in the middle, nor in one of the last, but in the last; that is we ought to have such an opinion of ourselves that we must esteem ourselves inferior to all, as St. Bernard exclaims: "That thou shouldst take thy seat alone and least of all, not only not putting thyself before others, but not even daring to compare thyself with others." [Serm. 37 in Cant.]
The reason is that you do not know but that those whom you deem inferior to yourself, and above whom you exalt yourself, may not be far more dear to God, and be placed hereafter at the right hand of the Highest.
The truly humble man believes that everyone is better than himself, and that he is the worst of all. But are you really humble like this in your own opinion? You easily compare yourself with this one and that one, but to how many do you not prefer yourself with the pride of the Pharisee: "I am not as the rest of men." [Luke xviii, 11] When you prefer yourself to others it often seems as if you speak with a certain humility and modesty, saying: By the grace of God I have not the vices of such an one: By the grace of God I have not committed so many grievous sins as such an one. But is it really true that you recognize that you owe all this to the grace of God, and that you give Him the glory rather than to yourself? If you esteem yourself more highly than such an one, and if he in his turn esteems himself inferior to you, he is therefore humbler than you, and for that reason better. If by the grace of God you are chaste, charitable and just, you must endeavour by that same grace to be humble as well. And how can you be humble if you have such an abundance of self-esteem, preferring yourself to others?
When St. Paul teaches us that in holy humility we must believe all others to be better than ourselves, he also teaches us the way to accomplish this, namely, not by considering the good we have in ourselves, but that which others have or may have, "each one not considering the things that are his own, but those that are other men's." [Phil. ii, 4] Upon this St. Thomas founds this doctrine that all the evil that is in man, and is done by man, comes from man, and all the good that is in man and is done by man comes from God; and he says that for four reasons we may unhesitatingly affirm that everyone is better than we are.
The first reason is to consider in our hearts what really belongs to us, namely, malice and wickedness, and to consider what our neighbour possesses that is of God, namely, his innumerable benefits. The second is to consider some particular good quality which that person may have and which we have not. The third is to recognize some fault in ourselves which that other person has not. The fourth is to possess a wise fear that there may be some secret pride within us which corrupts our holiest actions, and that we may be mistaken in the opinion we have of ourselves, imagining ourselves to be virtuous when we are not. [2a 2æ, qu. clxi, art. 3 in 4; dist. 25, qu. ii, art. 3 ad 2]
124. The humility of affection consists in the recognition that we are more miserable than any one else, and to love to be regarded as such by others. To be vile and abject in our own eyes through the knowledge that we have of ourselves is the humility of necessity, to which we are compelled by the obvious truth of it; but to have a sincere desire to be looked upon as vile and abject by others, this is true and virtuous humility of the heart. "This is of necessity, that is of the will," says St. Bernard, and he adds: "I fear lest in some respects that he whom truth humbles, the will should extol." [Serm. 42 in Cant.] Take heed lest, while you do not esteem yourself, you should still wish to be esteemed by others. This would be to love something that does not exist, to love a lie.
How far you are from that humility of affection! How you fear lest any of your faults should be revealed, and how many excuses and justifications you make, in order that this imputation of a fault which you have really committed may not diminish the esteem in which others hold you. In order to be more esteemed, you try to show your ability and talent, and if you have but little ability and little talent, how often you pretend you have more in the hope of being esteemed still more!
And since, far from loving self-abasement, you have such a desire to gain the esteem of others, you belong truly to those proud sons of Adam, of whom the Prophet cried: "Why do you love vanity and seek after lying?" [Ps. iv, 3] Confess the truth to your own conscience, that you have more pride than humility, and that you love vanity better than truth.
125. It is this humility of affection, this humility of the heart taught us by Jesus Christ, which makes us as little children, and enables us to enter into the kingdom of Heaven. But what shame for you if, when you examine yourself, you find you have not even the shadow of such humility! If you happen to hear that others have spoken uncharitably of you, and maligned you, are you not perturbed, disquieted, grieved, displeased, distressed? How you resent it when you think some one has wronged you or not treated you with proper respect! Are you suspicious, easily offended, and punctilious about all things that concern your honour and dignity? I am not speaking now of that honour which is founded on virtue, but of that despicable honour which depends on the opinion of the world. What value do you set upon this honour? Do you take offence easily, considering yourself injured by every little adverse word, every slight that you receive from others, becoming angry and irritated, nourishing aversion and rancour, demanding humble apologies and satisfaction, and showing yourself unforgiving, irreconcilable towards them: fearing to lose your dignity, if you consented to make peace like a good Christian? If such be the case, where is your humility, either of knowledge or affection, which is necessary for your salvation?
126. In order to know to what extent you are lacking in humility, examine yourself from this point of view. The humble man not only is not angry with those who offend him, but loves them and gives them back good for evil. Yes, it is indeed so, because he looks upon them as instruments of the mercy and justice of God, and he is also persuaded that his sins and ingratitude towards the Divine Goodness deserve far worse punishment. And you?
The humble man, when he hears that people are speaking ill of him, is not disturbed, but quietly learns to amend his ways, even though he may not have committed the faults of which he has been accused. He does not lament, as if he were persecuted: he does not say that those who speak thus of him are malignant and jealous rivals; but he believes that they know him better than he knows himself. Do you do this?
The humble man, when he is reproved, receives the correction in good part, and thanks him who has had the kindness and goodness to give it. He does not judge or speak evil of anyone, because he believes that everyone is better than he is, and because he knows he is capable of doing worse things still. He lives in peace witb all and respects all and, without expecting to be honoured himself, he is the first to honour others, as the holy Apostles Peter and Paul have commanded: "Having peace with all men." [Rom. xii, 18] "With honour preventing one another."[Ibid. ii, 10] "Honour all men." [1 Pet. ii, 17] And you-----what can you say of yourself?
Perhaps you may imagine that these things are points of perfection; but they are points of humility, which, as far as you are concerned, may be of precept. When it is a question of humility, I should not like you to imagine that you need only reach that point which is absolutely necessary for you, without going a single hair's breadth beyond it.
When you say to yourself, "I am not obliged to do this or that act of humility," it may be that you are making a great mistake. However much your exterior humility must be directed by prudence, you certainly cannot dispense with the interior humility of the heart.
127. If the humble man becomes aware that he has offended or injured his neighbour, he immediately humbles himself, apologizes and asks to be forgiven, manifesting sorrow for the offense he has given. The humble man always fears to be dictatorial when carried away by his zeal, and therefore proceeds with much circumspection, exercising his zeal more on himself than on others. He gives his opinion modestly, and submits it to that of others without obstinacy. But you?
The humble man respects and reverences those above him, and he is kind and courteous to the poorest of the poor; and in this he only follows the teaching of the Preacher: "Make thyself affable to the congregation of the poor, and humble thy soul to the ancient." [Ecclus. iv, 7] Is this the way in which you generally behave?
The humble man does not seek to appear humble by affectation of manner; on the contrary, if he knows that others believe him to be humble, he feels a painful confusion. His nature is to be sincere, simple and straightforward. He is of lowly bearing, and lowly too has he kept his human caprices and his pride. He is not hard and haughty, but gentle, reverent and obedient. And you?
Ah, try and realize how backward you are in the school of Jesus Christ! He came to teach you one single lesson, that of humility: "Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart." And how have you profited by this lesson hitherto? You will reply that many of these practices seem very difficult to you; but say to yourself: "The impure find it difficult to live in chastity, the avaricious find it difficult to give alms, and in the same way the proud man finds it difficult to practice humility." It is not that humility be difficult of itself, but it is your pride that makes it difficult, and we may say with Eusebius: "You make the yoke of the Lord heavy for yourselves." [Hom. de Machab.]