Humility of Heart
Fr. Cajetan Mary da Bergamo
Translation by Herbert Cardinal Vaughn,
Archbishop of Westminister, England 1903
TAN BOOKS AND PUBLISHERS
Thoughts and Sentiments on Humility Part 4
30. At times we are over-scrupulous about works of supererogation, such for instance as having omitted on such a day to say a certain prayer or to perform some self-imposed mortification; these are scruples of omissions which in regard to our eternal salvation are of little or no importance; but we take but little heed of that humility which is to us most essential and necessary and without which no one can be saved. St. Paul warns us: "Do not become children in sense." [1 Cor. xiv, 20] Do not be like children who cry and despair if an apple is taken away from them, but care little for losing a gem of great value. Let us place humility above all things. It is the hidden treasure buried in the field, to acquire which we ought to sell all we possess. [Matt. xiii, 44] It is the pearl of great price, to obtain which we should sell all we have. [Matt. xiii. 45]
Do not let us call these sins against humility scruples, but let us regard them as real sins, worthy of confession and of amendment. May God guard us from too easy a conscience in respect to that true humility which is commanded us in the Gospel. We should indeed be taking the broad way mentioned by the Holy Ghost, which though it seems the right and straight road nevertheless leads direct to perdition: "There is a way that seemeth to a man right, and the ends thereof lead to death." [Prov. xvi, 25]
There are people who think like the Pharisees that virtue and sanctity consist in prayers of great length, in the visiting of churches, and in some special abstinence, in retreats, in modesty of attire, in spiritual conferences or in some exercise of exterior piety; but in all this who thinks of humility? Who esteems it and studies to acquire it? What is all this then but a vain delusion?
31. We read of various ancient philosophers who bore calumny, insults and contempt with perfect equanimity and without anger or perturbation, but they did not even know the name of humility. Their courageous fortitude was only an effect of refined pride, for as they considered themselves far above kings and emperors they cared little about insults, and maintained their equanimity by the contempt with which they looked down on those who insulted them. They overcame their feeling of resentment by a passion that was more dominating still, and that they were modest, peaceable and gentle was an effect of that pride which despotically ruled the feelings of their hearts.
There is an immense difference between the morality of human philosophy and that evangelical morality taught by Jesus Christ. Read the works of Seneca attentively-----he who was held to exceed all other philosophers in morality,-----and you will see how in those very maxims with which he teaches magnanimity and fortitude he also instills pride. Read the works of the most famous of the Stoics, and you will say with St. Jerome that "When they are studied with the greatest care and attention, there is to be found no satisfactory fullness of truth, no correspondence with the true principles of justice." [Epist. 146, ad Damas.]
All is vanity that only inspires vanity.
It is only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ that are to be found the rules of that humility of heart which is true virtue, consisting in the knowledge of God's greatness and of our own nothingness; and it is by attending to the study of this wise humility that we fulfill the Apostolic precept: "Not to be more wise than it behoveth to be wise, but to be wise unto sobriety." [Rom. xii, 3]
Jesus Christ before teaching anything of His new law wished to teach humility, as St. John Chrysostom observes: "When He began to lay down His Divine laws, He started with humility." [Hom. 39 in Matt.] For without humility it is impossible to comprehend this Heavenly doctrine, but with humility we are enabled to understand everything that is necessary or useful to our salvation.
32. To confess our unworthiness and nothingness and to proclaim that all that is good in us comes from God is often the sterile exercise of a very contemptible humility, and may even be great pride, "magna superbia," as St. Augustine observes, and St. Thomas teaches: "Humility, which is a virtue, is always fruitful in good works." [22, qu. clxi, art. .5, ad 4]
Do you wish to have an idea of what that humility is which is a true virtue? The soul is truly humble when it recognizes that its true position in the order of nature or of grace is entirely dependent on the power, providence and mercy of God; so that finding in itself nothing but what is of God, it appropriates to itself only its own nothingness, and abiding in its nothingness it places itself on the level of all other creatures without raising itself in any way above them. It annihilates itself before God, not so as to remain in an otiose inactivity, but seeking rather to glorify Him continually, conforming with exact obedience to His laws and with perfect submission to His will.
Humility has two eyes: with one we recognize our own misery so as not to attribute to ourselves anything but our nothingness; with the other we recognize our duty to work and to attribute everything to God, referring all things to Him: "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Thy name give glory." [Ps. cxiii, 1]
The truly humble man considers that whatever is good to his material or spiritual nature is like unto the streams that have come originally from the sea and must eventually return to the sea; and therefore he is always careful to render to God all that he has received from God, and neither prays nor loves nor desires anything except that in all things the name of God be sanctified: "Hallowed be Thy name." [Matt. vi, 9]
33. Humility is not a sickly virtue, timid and feeble as some imagine; on the contrary, it is strong, magnanimous, generous and constant, because it is founded on truth and justice. The truth consists in knowing What God is and what we are. Justice consists in our recognizing that God as our Creator has a right to command us, and that we as His creatures are bound to obey Him.
All the Martyrs were perfectly humble because they preferred to die suffering the most terrible torments rather than abandon truth and justice. How great their endurance and courage in resisting those who tried to force them to deny Jesus Christ!
To contradict others is an effect of pride whenever we contradict them in order to follow our own unjust and mistaken will; but when our opposition to the creature proceeds from a determination to fulfill the will of the Creator it is dictated by humility; for by this we confess our indispensable obligation to be subject and obedient to the Divine will.
It is for this reason that the proud man is always timid because his pride is only sustained by the weakness of human nature. And he who is humble is always brave in the exercise of his submission to the Divine Majesty because he receives his strength through grace.
The humble obey men, when in so doing they also obey God; but they refuse obedience to men, when by obeying them they would disobey their God. Reflect upon that answer, as modest as it was magnanimous, given before the elders of Jerusalem by St. Peter and St. John: "If it be just in the sight of God to hear you rather than God, judge ye." [Acts iv, 19]
The humble man is above all human respect, and there is no danger that he will become a slave to the opinions, fashions or customs of the world; he knows his failings and that he is capable of every evil even though he does not commit it. If he sees others doing wrong he compassionates them, but is never scandalized or induced to follow the bad examples of others; because all his intentions are directed towards God, and he has no other desire than that of pleasing God and of being directed by God alone. "He clings to God alone;" hence, as the angelic St. Thomas says so well: "No matter how much he sees others acting inordinately in word or deed, he himself will not depart from his uprightness of conduct." [22, qu. xxxiii, art. 5]
34. The heart of the proud man is like a stormy sea, never at rest: "Like the raging sea which cannot rest;" [Isa. lvii, 20] and the heart of the humble is fully content in its humility-----"Rich in his being low" [James i, 10]-----and is always calm and tranquil and without fear that anything in this world should disturb him, and shall "rest with confidence." [Isa. xiv, 30] And from whence proceeds this difference? The humble man enjoys peace and quiet because he lives according to the rules of truth and justice, submitting his own will in all things to the Divine will. The proud man is always agitated and perturbed because of the opposition he is continually offering to the Divine will in order to fulfill his own.
The more the heart is filled with self-love, so much the greater will be its anxiety and agitation. This maxim is indeed true; for whenever I feel myself inwardly irritated, disturbed and angered by some adversity which has befallen me, I need not look elsewhere for the cause of such feelings than within myself, and I should always do well to say: If I were truly humble I should not be disquieted. My great agitation is an evident proof which ought to convince me that my self-love is great and dominant and powerful within me, and is the tyrant which torments and gives me no peace.
If I feel aggrieved by some sharp word that has been said to me, or by some discourtesy shown me, from whence does this feeling of pain proceed? From my pride alone. Oh, if I were truly humble, what calm, what peace and happiness would my soul not enjoy! And this promise of Jesus Christ is infallible: "Learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart, and you shall find rest to your souls." [Matt. xi, 29]
When we are distressed by some adversity, it is unnecessary to seek consolation of those who flatter us or have pity on us, and to whom we can pour out our troubles. It is sufficient to ask our soul: "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why dost thou disquiet me?" [Ps. xli, 12] My soul, what hast thou? and what seekest thou? Dost thou perchance desire that rest which thou hast lost? Listen then to the remedy offered to thee by thy Savior, exhorting thee to learn of Him to be humble, "Learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart," and further listen to what He adds when He assures thee that with thy lost humility thou shalt also recover thy peace: "And you shall find rest to your souls."
35. There are two kinds of humiliations: those which we seek of our own free-will, and those which proceed from the natural and temporal vicissitudes of this life. Against the first we must be on our guard, notwithstanding the ardor with which we embrace them, for the ever-lurking vanity of our self-love is so subtle that it seeks even to enhance its own vain-glory while it appears to seek the contempt of man. But if we accept the other humiliations which come to us, irrespective of our will, mortifying our feelings, thoughts and passions with prompt resignation to the will of God, it is a sign of a true and sincere humility; because such humiliations tend to mortify our self-love and to perfect the submission which we owe to God.
Voluntary and self-sought humiliations may cause the soul to become hypocritical. But involuntary humiliations sent to us by the Divine Will, and borne by us with patience, sanctify the soul; and for this reason the Holy Ghost has given us this most important mandate: "In thy humiliation keep patience. For gold and silver are tried in the fire, but acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation." [Ecclus ii, 4, 5] It is impossible except in rare cases not to discover the hypocrisy of affected humility: "Touch the mountains, and they shall smoke." [Ps. cxliii, 5] And, again, it is impossible not to know the virtue of true humility, because its spirit is "gentle, kind, steadfast, assured, secure, having all power." [Wisd. vii, 23]
36. There are also two kinds of temptations: those that come to us through the wickedness of the evil one and those which we go in search of ourselves in our own weakness and malice, but there is no better safeguard against either than humility. Humility causes the evil one to flee because he cannot face the humble on account of his great pride, and it causes every temptation to vanish suddenly because there can be no temptation without a touch of pride.
Temptations arise against purity or against faith or any other virtue, but we can easily overcome them if we humble ourselves in our hearts and say: "Lord, I deserve these terrible temptations as a punishment for my pride, and if Thou comest not to my help, I shall surely fall. I feel my weakness, and that I can do no good of myself. Help me!" "Come unto my help, O God, O Lord, make haste to help me." [Ps. lxix, 2]
The more a soul humbles itself before God the more God comforts that soul with His grace, and inasmuch as God is with us, who shall prevail against us? "The Lord is the protector of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?" [Ps. xxvi, 1] said King David; and St. Paul said: "If God be for us, who is against us?" [Rom. viii, 31]
The strongest subterfuge which the devil can employ in order to make us fall into temptation is to flatter our humility, thus preventing us from being humble, for if the evil one succeeds in persuading us that we have sufficient strength of ourselves to overcome temptation, we have already succumbed, as those succumbed of whom it was written that the Lord humbleth "them that presume of themselves and glory in their own strength." [Jude vi, 15]
Charity never grows cold nor fervor tepid except from lack of humility. Let us stand on our guard clad in the armor of humility, and that will be sufficient. God will help us in the measure in which we are humble, and with His help we shall be able to say: "I can do all things in Him Who strengtheneth me." [Phil. iv, 13]
37. As for those other temptations there must certainly be presumption on our part when we seek them of our own accord and place ourselves in dangerous occasions of sin. He who is humble knows his own weakness; and, knowing it, fears to place himself in danger; and because he fears it he flees from it. He who is humble trusts implicitly in the help of Divine grace, on those involuntary occasions he may encounter, but he never presumes upon the help of Divine grace on those occasions which he has sought himself.
Let us be humble and humility will teach us to fear and avoid all dangerous occasions. In the lives of the Saints we read how careful they were to avoid familiar intercourse with women; and also in the lives of Saintly women how equally cautious they were to avoid familiarity with men. Why did they fear so much, since they already had so many penances and prayers with which to defend themselves against temptation? The reason is that they were humble and distrusted the weakness of human nature without presuming on grace; and thus their humility was the means by which they kept their purity unsullied.
say: I can put myself in the way of temptation, but I am not afraid,
I will not sin. This is a temerity proceeding from pride, as St. Thomas
says: "This is a real temerity and is caused by pride, [22 qu. liii,
3, ad 2] and you would find yourself shamed by an unexpected fall. "And
he that loveth danger shall perish in it." [Ecclus iii, 27] All
presume thus will undoubtedly fall, and their fall is the just
of their pride, as the prophet predicted: "This shall befall them for
38. God resists the proud, because the proud oppose Him; but He dispenses His graces liberally to the humble, because they live in subjection to His will. Oh, if we humbly made place for the Divine gifts, how great would be the affluence of that grace in our souls! One of the worst consequences of our lack of humility will be that it will render the Day of Judgment so terrible to us; because on that day we shall not only have to give account of the graces which we have received and of which we have made a bad use, but also of those graces which God would have given us if we had been humble, and which He withheld from us on account of our pride.
It will be useless then to excuse ourselves by saying that we fell into such and such a sin from want of grace. "Grace was there," the Lord will answer; "but you ought to have asked for it with humility and not forfeited it by your pride." Pride is an obstacle harder than steel which hinders the beneficent infusion of grace into the soul. And it is the doctrine of St. Thomas that it is precisely by pride that our soul is placed in such a state ''as to be deprived of all inner spiritual good." [22, qu. cxxxii, art. 3] Do you desire grace in this world and glory in the next? Humble yourself, says St. James: "Be humbled in the sight of the Lord, and He will exalt you." [Jas. iv, 10] God created out of nothing all that we can see in our world when "the earth was void and empty," [Gen. i, 2] and He filled with oil all the empty vases with which the widow presented Eliseus: "Empty vessels not a few." [4 Kings, iv, 3] And He also fills with His grace those hearts which are emptied of self-----that is to say, which have neither self-esteem nor self-confidence and do not rely upon their own strength.<> It is most humiliating to reflect upon this, that even though we be exempt from grave sins, yet, through some secret disorder within us we may be as guilty as if we had committed them. For if pride arises in our hearts and leads us to consider ourselves better than those who have committed these sins we are at once rendered guilty and worse than they in the eyes of God, because, as the Holy Ghost says, "Pride is hateful before God." [Ecclus. x, 7] St. Luke, in his Gospel, [Luke xviii, 11] records two different kinds of vanity shown by the Pharisee, one when he praised himself for the sins he did not commit, the other when he praised himself for the virtues that he practiced: and he was equally condemned for each of these vain utterances. He apparently referred all the glory to God when he said: "O God, I give Thee thanks." But this was only ostentatious self-esteem. It is only too easy for these thoughts of vain-glory to insinuate themselves into our hearts: and who can assure me that I am not guilty of many of them? "What I have done openly I see," I can say with more truth than St. Gregory, " but what I have inwardly felt I do not see." [Lib. 9, Mor., c. 17] O my God, my God, "let no iniquity have dominion over me." [Ps. cxviii, 133] Do not let me be dominated by pride, which is the sum of all wickedness; from my secret sins cleanse me. Purify me from those sins of pride of which I am ignorant; "then shall I be without spot." [Ps. xviii, 14] This thought, says St. Thomas, causes every just man to consider himself worse than a great sinner: "The just man who is truly humble thinks himself worse because he fears lest in that which he seems to do well he should grievously sin by pride." [in suppl. 3 part. qu. 6, art. 4]