Monday, 23 July 2012


Catholic texts view humility as annexed to the cardinal virtue of temperance. It is viewed as a potential part of temperance because temperance includes all those virtues that restrain or express the inordinate movements of our desires or appetites.

Humility is defined as, "A quality by which a person considering his own defects has a humble opinion of himself and willingly submits himself to God and to others for God's sake." St. Bernard defines it as, "A virtue by which a man knowing himself as he truly is, abases himself. Jesus Christ is the ultimate definition of Humility."

Humility was a virtue extolled by Saint Francis of Assisi, and this form of Franciscan piety led to the artistic development of the Madonna of humility first used by them for contemplation.The Virgin of humility sits on the ground, or upon a low cushion, unlike the Enthroned Madonna representations. This style of painting spread quickly through Italy and by 1375 examples began to appear in Spain, France and Germany and it became the most popular among the styles of the early Trecento artistic period.

St. Thomas Aquinas, a 13th century philosopher and theologian in the Scholastic tradition, defines humility similarly as "the virtue of humility" that "consists in keeping oneself within one's own bounds, not reaching out to things above one, but submitting to one's superior" (Summa Contra Gent., bk. IV, ch. lv, tr. Joseph Rickaby).

Humility is said to be a fit recipient of grace; according to the words of St. James, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (Proverbs 3:34, 1Peter 5:5, James 4:6).

"True humility" is distinctly different from "false humility" which consists of deprecating one's own sanctity, gifts, talents, and accomplishments for the sake of receiving praise or adulation from others, as personified by the fictional character Uriah Heep created by Charles Dickens. In this context legitimate humility comprises the following behaviors and attitudes:

Submitting to God and legitimate authority

Recognizing virtues and talents that others possess, particularly those that surpass one's own, and giving due honor and, when required, obedience

Recognizing the limits of one's talents, ability, or authority; and, not reaching for what is beyond one's grasp
As illustrated in the person of Moses, who leads the nation of Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt and to the “Promised Land”, humility is a sign of Godly strength and purpose, not weakness. Of this great leader, the Bible states, “(For Moses was a man exceeding meek above all men that dwelt upon earth)" (Numbers 12:3).
The vices opposed to humility are: (A) pride (by reason or defect). (B) a too great obsequiousness or abjection of oneself; this would be considered an excess of humility,and could easily be derogatory to one's office or holy character; or it might serve only to pamper pride in others, by unworthy flattery, which would occasion their sins of tyranny, arbitrariness, and arrogance. The virtue of humility may not be practiced in any external way that would occasion vices in others.

Amongst the benefits of humility described in the Bible are honor, wisdom, eternal life, unity, rewards in heaven and others. In the Bible, an exhortation to humility is found in Philippians 2:1-17.

Also in 1Peter 2:23, concerning Jesus Christ's behavior in general and submission to unjust torture and execution in particular: "Who, when he was reviled, did not revile: when he suffered, he threatened not: but delivered himself to him that judged him justly."

In Amish thought and practice, the concept of Gelassenheit is a manifestation of humility of spirit.

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