Humility is, as it were, a disposition to man’s untrammeled access
to spiritual and divine goods.St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica, II-II Q. 161. a. 5)
St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that pride (superbia in the Latin), “is so-called because a man thereby aims higher (supra) than he is” (ST, II-II, Q. 162. a. 1). Further, “inordinate self-love is the cause of every sin” (ST, I-II, Q. 77. a.4). Following Pope St. Gregory the Great, Thomas calls pride the “Queen of the Vices,” reigning over and directing the seven deadly sins of sloth, envy, avarice, vainglory, gluttony, lust, and wrath, as well as the multitude of other sins that spring forth from them. We are so constantly bombarded with temptations toward all sorts of sins that Jesus told us to pray for God’s help in overcoming our temptations. Well, among the simplest and most powerful aids God has given us is the humble, yet mighty virtue of humility.
Theologians from St. Augustine onward have described humility as the foundation upon which all other virtues and spiritual graces rest, and as a powerful spiritual weapon. While pride leads us to think we are more than what we are, humility does not lead us to think we are less than what we are. It leads us to know ourselves as we really, truly are. While pride leads to inappropriate self-love, humility leads to a proper self-love, and indeed, St. Thomas Aquinas notes of such self-love “the love with which a man loves himself is the form and root of friendship” (ST, II-II, 25, 4). Further, regarding the God-given theological virtue of charity (or love) itself: “charity is the friendship of man for God” (ST, II-II, 23, 1).
Note then how humility serves as the foundation of virtue and charity serves as its capstone. Humility recognizes that we are lowly and come from the hummus or soil, while charity recognizes that despite our utter dependence on God Almighty, even for our very existence, he freely offers us his loving friendship. When humility and charity reign in our hearts we are strengthened against pride and all manner of sin. Humility recognizes we can do nothing on our own, but helps us remember that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13).
We should recall as well two of the most important lessons Christ taught us. First, he called us to humility, to learn from him, who is “gentle and lowly in heart,” (Matt. 11:29). Second, he called us to charity, to love God with all that we are, and to love our neighbor as we properly love ourselves (Matt 22:37). When we humbly submit our hearts to God, we become like Jesus Christ, who defeated temptation and sin.
Since we’ve barely the space to scratch the surface of showing how humility can help us overcome all manner of sin and lead us to all manner of virtue, let’s conclude by allowing humility to speak for itself (so to speak) in a simple sample of ways it can render even the seven deadly sins less deadly to our souls.
Seven Sinful Pronouncements And Half a Dozen (Plus One) Humble Rejoinders
Sin Declares: Humility Responds:
|Gluttony: “I deserve the largest quantities of the very best foods, prepared just the way I like them, and I deserve them now!”|
“Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts we are about to receive (however plain and simple they might be) from thy bounty, Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
|Lust: “That person’s body is attractive to me. I must work to get it or, if that’s not possible, I must think about it!”||“That person’s body is indeed beautiful, but it also houses a soul. That person is someone’s child, perhaps someone’s sibling or parent. Someday, too, that body, like mine, will return to the soil from which it came. Thank you, Lord, for making our bodies beautiful in life. Please continue to shower that person with your blessings. Now, help me think about other things!”|
|Avarice: “Greed is good!”|
“Enough is better than a fortune.”
|Wrath: “How dare that person insult or injure ME!”|
“Who am I that I cannot be insulted or injured? Somehow that person’s actions made sense to him or her. I’ll speak up, if possible, but will certainly pray to God that he will soften that person’s heart.”
|Sloth: “God, I don’t care!”|
“O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you…”
|Envy: “How dare another person have some good that I do not!”|
“He or she is a child of God just as I am. As a fellow member of Christ’s body joined in the bonds of charity, I say, Thanks be to God! And please keep the blessings headed their way!”
|Vainglory: “Look at me and be thankful for your chance to gaze upon my awesomeness!”|
“If I’ve achieved anything noteworthy, to God be the glory and honor!”
Discover more about what humility is (and isn’t!)
In Humble Strength: The Eye-Opening Benefits of Humility, Catholic author and clinical psychologist Kevin Vost shows that humility isn’t self-hatred, but rather knowing your truest self through God’s grace.
With Scripture passages and wisdom from the saints, Humble Strength shows Catholics
- What humility is and isn’t.
- Practical steps for growing in this virtue.
- The psychological aspects and benefits of humility.
- How humility can conquer fears.
- Humility’s foundational role in building virtue.
- The way humility can help Catholics avoid sins.