ON THE DEGREES OF HUMILITY
Consider first, that true humility does not consist in speaking ill of ourselves, by saying we are great sinners, or the like; nor yet in wearing plain apparel, or employing ourselves in mean offices; nor in looking down upon the ground, &c. – we may do all this, and yet be far from being humble; because all this may be done out of pride, either to acquire the esteem of others by this outward show of humility, or to please and applaud ourselves with the conceit of our being humble. True humility consists not in words, nor in the outside; but in the inward sentiments of the heart. ‘Humility,’ says St. Bernard, ‘is a virtue by which a man, out of a most true knowledge of himself, becomes mean and contemptible in his own eye; so that for a man to be truly humble is to have a low opinion of himself, through the deep sense he has of his own unworthiness and of his sins; and therefore to despise himself and to be willing to be despised by all the world’ See, my soul, if these be thy dispositions: if not thou art not truly humble.
Consider 2ndly, that the first degree of true humility is that which is expressed in the definition given by St. Bernard, viz., that we should have that knowledge of ourselves, and of all our miseries and sins; such a conviction of our having nothing at all to be proud of, and very many things that make us wretchedly mean and contemptible, as sincerely to despise ourselves: seeing there is nothing in us of good that is our own, and that whatsoever is in us of our own proper growth, or of our own stock, is all good for nothing, yea filthy and abominable. What room then can there be in us for any self-conceit, or self-esteem? How many and how pressing inducements have we to oblige us to think meanly of ourselves, and to despise ourselves? And yet how much does this unhappy pride prevail, in spite of all these humiliations which we carry about with us? Oh! let this misery of ours at least be a motive to despise ourselves the more!
Consider 3rdly, that the second degree of true humility advances us still farther, and makes us not only to despise ourselves, but to be willing and even desirous to be despised by all others; and that all others should have the same mean opinion of us as we pretend to have of ourselves. And indeed since in all things we are even willing to have others to be of the same opinion with ourselves, did we sincerely despise ourselves, we should certainly be glad that all others should have the same way of thinking as we have, and should in like manner despise us also. Alas! how far am I from these dispositions! The third and most sublime degree of humility is that of the saints, who in the midst of the greatest favours and highest elevations and all the supernatural gifts of divine grace are so established in God’s truth as to ascribe nothing at all to themselves, but all to God: and by how much the more they are exalted by him, are so much the more mean in their own eyes, by descending so much the deeper into the abyss of their own nothingness. Happy they that in all things know how to distinguish what belongs to God, from that which belongs to themselves, and to reserve to themselves only which is their own, and to give all the rest to God!
Conclude to aim at ascending from step to step, by the help of the knowledge of thyself; and not to rest till thou arrivest at the perfection of humility. She will bring to thee all good things along with her, and conduct thee safe to the kingdom of God.