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 Oneself
RICHARD of St. Victor [lib. 2, cap. xxiii, De Epul. inter Hom.] defines humility as the interior contempt of oneself. Examine a little whether you have this feeling towards yourself. When you have dreams of dignity and honour, and you imagine yourself in the midst of grandeur and chimerical honours, how do you behave in these proud and vain imaginings? Do you rejoice and delight in them, desiring to dwell in them more and more? If we love humility we must treat these dreams of worldly ambition and pride with disdain and hatred, just as those who love chastity treat impure thoughts. We ought to pray thus with King David: "Let not the foot of pride come unto me," because pride first enters into the soul through the thoughts of the mind, and he who accustoms himself to delight in these thoughts has already formed the bad habit of pride in his heart.
129. Do you forget your own nothingness? Have you any self-esteem? If such be the case you are a seducer, a deceiver of your own self, because, as St. Paul says: Whoever believes himself to be something "deceiveth himself." [Gal. vi, 3] Do you delight and glory in your knowledge, your power, your riches, or in some other gift natural or moral? Remember the word God spoke by the Prophet Jeremiah: "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, and let not the strong man glory in his strength, and let not the rich man glory in his riches." [Jer. i, 23] And again by St. Paul: "We ought not to please ourselves." [Rom. xv, 1]
This delight and glory insinuates itself insensibly, but he who is humble notices it quickly and repels it as being nothing but vanity and only puffing up and filling the heart with pride.
In the same way with the spiritual life. Do you think yourself virtuous because you sometimes do a little good? You would do well then not to regard yourself as good, but to imagine yourself in Jerusalem repudiated by God, because, as the prophet said, thou art "trusting thy beauty." [Ezec. xvi, 15] And St. Gregory says of such as you: "The soul hath confidence in its beauty when it takes some good action upon itself." [Epist. cxxvi]
The proud man dwells more willingly on the little good he does, on the little devotion he feels, than on the thought of the evil he has committed and which he does daily. He puts behind him the multitude of his sins, so that he need not be ashamed and humble himself; and he reflects often upon certain of his minute exercises of Christian piety, so as to indulge his self-complacency, as St. Gregory says: "It is easier for them to see within themselves that which is
pleasing to them, than that which is displeasing." [lib. 22, Mor. c. i] Perhaps you also have this tendency.
130. Humility teaches us also to hold ourselves unworthy of any good that we may possess, even to the very air that we breathe, and to hold ourselves worthy of all the evils and vituperations of the world. Such are the thoughts of the humble man. He always keeps before his eyes the sins he has committed, and his malicious tendency to commit them again. Therefore he esteems himself worse than the Turks, who have not the light of grace, while he has also that of faith; worse than all sinners, that do not realize the gravity of sin, and who have not received so
much help of grace as he has; worse than the Jews, "For if they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory " [1 Cor. ii, 8]; worse even than the demons, who sinned only once in thought, whilst he has sinned so often even in action. But do you ever stop to consider these things seriously?
131. Do you place yourself in dangerous occasions, saying: "I will not fall into sin," thus presuming too much on your own strength? St. Gregory says that there is nothing further from humility than such a presumption. "Nothing in man is further removed from humility than reliance upon his own virtue." [lib. 22, Mor. c. iii] Are you disturbed and agitated at the thought of the faults you commit, and of your slow progress in acquiring virtue? This is pride, and comes from your presumption in thinking you can do great things of your own strength. But it is necessary to humble ourselves and yet not be discouraged, but to learn of St. Augustine, who says of himself: "The more I lack, the more humble I shall be." [in Ps. xxxviii] I shall be more humble, if I reflect upon those virtues which I ought to have, and have not.
Are you prudent, not trusting in your own ingenuity nor in your own opinions, without caring to ask advice, especially in matters of great importance? This is a great sin against humility, and the Holy Ghost thus admonishes you: "Lean not on thy own prudence: be not wise in thy own conceit." [Prov. iii, 5, 7] And St. Jerome calls that pride intolerable by which we give others to understand that we are so wise we do not need their advice: "Pride is unbearable, but to account oneself nothing needs counsel." [cap. i Isa.]
132. It is necessary to be humble not only in one's thoughts but in one's words, because the humble man says little, following the counsel of the Holy Ghost: "Speak not anything rashly: let thy words be few." [Eccles v, 1] To talk much proceeds from pride, because we are persuaded that we know a great deal and we wish to impress our thoughts and opinions on the minds of others.
Are you careful in speaking not to say anything in your own praise, or anything that might cause you to be praised by others, not to appear learned, wise or spiritual, ostentatiously displaying your personal advantages or those that belong to your family? It is easy in these things for you to be dominated by pride, and holy Tobias warns us, saying: "Never suffer pride to reign in thy mind or in thy words." [Tob. iv,14]
Do you sometimes set yourself up as an example, saying it would be well to do so and so as you have done it yourself? If you have some gift of God, do you talk about it as if to say: "Thanks be to God, I have not such and such a vice; thanks be to God, I have such and such a virtue"? Call to remembrance the advice given by the Angel to Tobias, that it is good to keep hidden the secret gifts of God: "For it is good to hide the secret of a king."
[Tob. xii, 7]
It may be that sometimes you speak ill of yourself, in order that others may contradict it.
This is the way of him of whom it is said, "There is one who humbleth himself wickedly," [Ecclus xix, 23] who pretends indeed to flee from praise, yet seeks it, to flee from honours and courts them. You must accustom yourself not to speak either ill or well of yourself, because it is easy for pride to inspire your words in either case.
133. When you hear yourself praised, what precautions do you take? Self-love is quick to mingle some grain of its own incense with that which it receives from others. I mean by this that through the corruption of our nature we are very ready to approve these praises as if they were truly and justly due to us, and to flatter ourselves with vainglory; but all this comes from want of humility. St. Augustine, speaking of this pleasure which we derive from being praised, addresses this prayer to God: "Lord, put this folly far from me," [Lib. 10, Confess., cap. xxxvii] for he held it as a real madness to take pleasure in vanity and deceits.; and when he heard others praise him, he pondered upon the knowledge he had of himself and upon the justice of God, saying in his own heart: "I know myself better than they know me, but God knows me better than I know myself." [Enarr. in Ps. xxv]
A heart that is truly humble, says Saint Gregory, always fears to hear its own praises, because it fears that this praise may either be false or may rob it of the merit and reward promised to true virtue. "If the heart is truly humble, the good that it hears of itself it either fails to recognize or fears lest the hope of future title to reward be changed for some passing favour." [lib. 22, Mor. c. iii]
The humble man, says St. Thomas, is amazed when anyone speaks well of him, and there is nothing that astonishes him more than to hear himself praised. Thus the Blessed Virgin, when she heard from the Archangel Gabriel that she was to become the Mother of God, had such a lowly opinion of herself that she marvelled greatly
that she should be exalted to such an eminent dignity. "To a humble soul nothing is more wonderful than to hear its own excellence; thus, to Mary's saying, 'How shall this be?' the Angel brings forward a proof, not to take away her belief but rather to dispel her wonder." [3 part., qu. xxx, art. 4]
But pride may even insinuate itself into this very contempt of praise, as St. Augustine says: "A man is often foolishly proud of his own foolish contempt of himself." [Lib.10]
But if it be necessary for us to praise those who are present, it is not less necessary to exercise discretion and prudence in so doing, as St. Augustine also teachs: "Lest the most dangerous temptation be found in the love of giving praise."
Adulation is always pernicious, whether we adulate ourselves or others.
134. One can also sin against humility by the pomp and vanity of one's attire. This is what Queen Esther calls "the sign of my pride and glory," [Esther xiv, 16] and we must keep our hearts detached from such love because such attire is only right when it is suited to our state and condition, and when we wear it with the right intention: "Glory not in apparel at any time," [Ecclus. xi, 4] says the Holy Ghost.
However beautiful the apparel you wear may be, do not allow vainglory to enter your heart; and if you have to appear in public in state, guard yourself against vanity, "and be not exalted in the day of thy honour." [Ibid.]
Excess, self-complacency, the desire to please, to attract attention to oneself, to be above one's equals, or to equal one's superiors by the gorgeousness of one's attire, are things to be moderated and subdued by humility. St. Thomas gives an excellent rule for this: "Extravagance in sumptuous apparel is to be restrained by humility." [2a 2æ, qu. clxi, art.
These necessities which we deem essential for the decorum of our state must have their limits prescribed by Christian modesty and simplicity, and not by pride or the luxurious tendency of the times. And the vanity with which our grace of bearing or beauty of face inspires us must also be restrained by humility; because "favour is deceitful and beauty is vain." [Prov. xxxi, 30]
135. As to certain exterior actions, indifferent in themselves, but which if done with a good intention can tend to make us virtuous, the one necessary thing is to have a care that they be performed with humility, as Christ teaches us: "I will be little in my own eyes." [2 Kings vi, 22] This is what each of us should say to himself, with holy King David, and it helps us greatly to form this good habit of humility towards ourselves, in order that we may also be humble to others.
This is why I wish you to apply yourself with all diligence to this examen. What conception and esteem have you of the virtue of humility? Do you really believe that humility of heart is necessary for your eternal salvation? You know that it is necessary to believe firmly in the mystery of the Holy Trinity, and that whoever doubts it is a heretic; but you must know that it is also necessary to believe with equal firmness the doctrine of humility taught by Jesus Christ in His gospel, because we cannot affirm that in the gospel one doctrine is more true than another, nor that one must believe one more than another, because they all proceed equally from the mouth of Jesus Christ, Who is the very Truth.
If therefore you believe in this dogma of humility, how do you apply it to yourself, and what measures do you take in order to be humble? Do you ask it of God? Do you have recourse to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and of the Saints? Do you make yourself familiar with those thoughts which are most efficacious to teach you this humility-----the thoughts of death, judgement, Hell, Paradise and eternity, the grievousness of sin and, above all, the Passion of Jesus Christ?
I am, perfectly certain that you will never attain to this humility if you neglect these means which are the most appropriate by which to acquire it; and if you have not been humble of heart, how can you ever justify yourself before the tribunal of God?
Impress upon your mind this beautiful passage which St. Augustine left to his friend Dioscurus: "Do not depart, O Dioscurus, from the royal way of humility which was taught by Christ; although many other virtues are commanded by the Christian religion, study to give humility the highest place, because all virtues are acquired and maintained by humility, and without humility they vanish away." [Epist. cxiii]