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companions from the manger to the cross, from the cradle to the sepulchre. To-day, therefore, we shall treat of humility, deferring the consideration of the other two virtues until to-morrow.
In endeavouring to acquire a higher esteem, a more tender love, and a more eager desire of humility, (for these are the three degrees which we ought to aspire to with all our powers during this present week) we will derive very great assistance from the consideration of the excellence, the utility, and the natural fitness of this sublime virtue.
I. As regards its excellence, the Fathers of the Church consider no praise extravagant. Let Saint Augustine speak for all: "If you ask me," says that holy father, "what virtue holds the first place in the religion and school of Christ ? I answer that the first is humility. If you ask me what virtue ranks next? —Humility. What virtue holds the third place ?— Humility" (a). Is it possible to say anything more sublime upon the subject 1 or can anything be advanced which is better calculated to instil into us an esteem for this virtue 1 And this was precisely the object which the Saint had in view, and his words are admirably calculated to produce the desired effect. For, 1. Humility is the foundation of Faith; subduing our proud reason, it subjects it to the yoke of Faith, "bringing into captivity every understanding" (b). Where humility does not exist there is no Faith. But since Faith is the corner-stone of all religion, the basis of spiritual discipline, and the starting-point in our march towards heaven, it is evident that humility, as being the foundation on
(a) S. Augustine, Ep. 56. (6) 2 Cor. i. 5.
which. Faith itself rests, is of very great value, and appreciable in a very high degree.
2. S. Bernard says that it is the firm and solid foundation of all the other virtues, "for as pride is the beginning of all sin (a), so is humility the root of all virtue" (b). It embraces within itself, and preserves all the other virtues. "It is," says S. Chrysostom, "the mother and the nurse, the pillar and anchor, the prop and bond of all these" (c). While on the other hand it may be said of the man who has not humility, that "all his works are fruitless" (d).
3. Nay more, without humility even the brightest virtues degenerate into vices. For without this virtue mortification becomes hypocrisy, contemplation an illusion, the contempt of riches, vanity. Without it the deserts of the anchorites, the penitential exercises of the confessors, the tortures endured by the martyrs, and the zeal of the apostles, are but the laughing-stock of men and demons. But, where humility exists, there even defects become virtues, "since God is better pleased with humility in imperfect actions than with pride in good ones."
4. Moreover, without humility, even God's very graces are a hurt to us; for, to use the simile of S. Nilus, as favourable winds wreck a vessel if they drive her upon hidden sand-banks, so the abundance of heavenly graces lead a soul to perdition, if she nurtures a secret pride. The lights of the Holy Ghost, far from enlightening, but cause the greater darkness in that soul; the knowledge of heavenly things, far from improving her, serve but to make
(a) Eccles. x. 15. (b) Bernard, de Consideratione. (c) Chrys. hom. xxx. in Acta, (d) S. Greg, in Ps. vii. her worse by puffing her up with pride; the gift of prayer, of prophecy, and of tongues, is for her but a poisonous drug. All these considerations, then, ought to teach us to estimate at its due value the excellence of humility.
II. The extreme utility of this virtue will teach us, moreover, to love it, since whatever is useful easily wins our love. The first advantage, then, which humility presents to us is its close resemblance to Jesus Christ. For, since lowliness was the distinctive condition of Jesus Christ upon earth, the soul that is humble becomes a true picture of Him, by conforming its sentiments and affections to the sentiments and affections of Jesus. With Him it ever loves scorn and insults; for Jesus, during His life, had a great esteem and a tender love for rebuffs and slights: He bears the reproach of Christ (a).
And who can ever paint in fitting colours what an inestimable blessing it is to copy in one's self to the life the image of Jesus Christ: to adorn one's self, as it were, with His garments; to feel and to wish, to value and to despise, to love and to hate, in perfect conformity with Him; to be guided by the same spirit, and, as it were, animated by the same soul; and, by this unity of habit and affection, to be the delight, the joy, and the crown of Jesus Christ? Who is it, then, that will not love humility, which makes the soul so like to that of the Son of God 1
The second advantage which humility brings with it is peace of mind, which finds its natural restingplace in humble hearts, where it reigns supreme. Because for the very reason that the humble man is
(a) Heb. xiii. 13.
not ambitious of being honoured or esteemed, but, on the contrary, eagerly desires to be despised and trampled under foot, the fountain of all disquietude is dried up within him. For, who can disturb the peace of one whose greatest delight is to be scoffed at and insulted?—who receives a blow with a smiling countenance, and forthwith presents the other cheek to the person who strikes him? Who will not say that such a one is already, to some extent, a denizen of heaven, and participates in the tranquil happiness of the blessed? Saint Climacus says, "Whenever you see a soul enjoying most perfect tranquillity, you may conclude that that soul is profoundly humble ".
The third advantage which we derive from humility is the rapidity with which it carries us to the most sublime degree of sanctity. The humble man is shunned by the proud, because they despise him; the consequence is, that finding himself shunned by the world, he, in his turn, shrinks from contact with it; and keeping himself to himself, and entirely absorbed in his union with God, he lives altogether in Him, holding aloof from all things else, and preserving himself pure and unblemished. By this purity of heart he disposes himself to receive the gift of Divine love, which is the culminating point of all perfection. Wherefore, S. John the Evangelist once said to S. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, while she was in an ecstasy: "You will never find a heart full of humility which is not at the same time filled with love, by which the soul is perfectly united to God, and as it were, becomes one with Him" (a).
(a) In vita, p. 4. cap. x.
This brings us to the fourth advantage to be derived from humility, which is an intimate union, with God. For, since the heart of the humble man is free from all thirst of honours, God becomes its absolute master, there being no fear that his rival, pride, will dispute possession with Him. From this there results that friendly communication of heavenly treasures, which the Holy Ghost confers on this happy soul, quickly infusing into it a knowledge of the most hidden mysteries, far surpassing that possessed by the most exalted intelligences. We have examples of this in S. Teresa and countless others, who found in humility the key to open the most profound knowledge of heavenly things; for those things which God hides from the wise and prudent, He reveals them to little ones " (Matt. xi. 25).
And since the humble refer to the Author of every good that glory which results from their distinguished works, so God usually grants to them alone the privilege of manifesting the prodigies of His mercy, by bringing back sinners to repentance, and performing other glorious services. In a word, to sum up all briefly: "the humble man God protects and delivers; the humble man \He loves and comforts; to the humble He inclines himself; to the humble He gives grace, and after he has been depressed, raises him to glory. To the humble He reveals His secrets, and sweetly draws and invites him to Himself" (" Imitation of Christ," book ii., chap. 2).
Who, then, will not love so useful a virtue as that which leads to a close resemblance to Jesus Christ, to an indescribable peace of soul, to a sublime degree of sanctity, to an intimate union with God, to a