Rorate Caeli

What is true Humility?

Felipe Morales Nieto
Nuestro Padre Jesús de la Sentencia
Basilica of La Macarena, Seville
Saint Laurence Justinian says that nobody knows well what humility is, but he who has received the gift thereof from God; that it is of itself very hard to be known, and that there is nothing in which man deceives himself so much as in the knowing what true humility is.

You think, says he, that it consists in saying, you are a sinner, and a miserable creature. If it consisted in that, nothing in the world would be easier; we should all be humble, for we all speak in that manner, and God grant, we believe what we say, and that our words on the occasion are not mere matter of form.

You think that humility consists also in wearing plain clothes, and in employing yourself in mean and despicable offices; by no means—there may still lurk a great deal of pride at bottom. It may very well happen, that by adopting this mode you wish to distinguish yourself from others, and to pass for a better and more humble man than they, and so all may be but a sort of refined pride. Note that these exterior things, as I shall hereafter shew, contribute much to true humility, when they are made use of as they ought, but, after all, it does not consist therein.

"Many," says Saint Jerome, "embrace the shadow and appearance of humility, but few embrace humility itself." It is very easy to look down upon the ground, to speak in a humble tone, to fetch a sigh or two, now and then, and to own one's self a sinner and a miserable creature at every word; but, if you say any thing to these persons which may hurt their feelings in the least, you will see how far they are from true humility. "Let, therefore," adds Saint Jerome, "all feigned and affected language be dropped; it is patience that shows a man to be truly humble"; it is that which is the touch-stone of humility.

Saint Bernard explains more particularly in what this virtue consists, and gives this definition of it. "Humility," says he, "is a virtue whereby a man, from a true knowledge of himself, becomes vile in his own eyes." Humility consists not therefore in words, nor in the exterior; it consists in the sentiments of the heart, in having a low and mean opinion of ourselves founded on the deep sense we have of our own nothingness; and in desiring to be despised by all the world.
Alonso Rodriguez [SJ]
The Exercise of Perfection and Christian Virtues


  1. To teach true humility may be one of the most efficacious things traditional priests can do in the coming years. It is still early, but it appears that the modernists may attempt to use a false humility to turn back the liturgical advancement made under Benedict.

    This is not even to mention my personal fear that a false humility may be used to substantially reduce the papacy and expand collegiality.

    Saint Pius V, pray for us
    Saint Pius X, pray for us

  2. NC, a perfect post both in content and in the visuals used! Thanks!

  3. Fides quaerens1:06 AM

    "Let, therefore," adds Saint Jerome, "all feigned and affected language be dropped; it is patience that shows a man to be truly humble"

    Agreed: a perfect post, and precisely because it cuts every which way. Thanks, NC. A blessed Passiontide to you!

  4. This is not about any specific person, friends... If it is, it most likely is a lesson to myself: I must indeed learn to "desir[e] to be despised by all the world", and do not limit humility to mere externals.
    I ask all who comment in Rorate to please calm down, especially those who do not like the blog but, for some reason, keep coming here.


  5. Donnacha1:08 AM

    I spent time working in Latin America and, on several occasions, had dealings with the Jesuits there. Looking to assit the poor in whatever way I could, and having done so successfully in other villages, the parish priest told me [hand to God, lads]: "You want to come in here wearing those expensive shoes, etc., so as to only insult those simple people!"... I could taste the false - marxist - humility in the air!

  6. Thank you for the correction, MBinSTL, it is wonderful to be corrected. Mistakes one makes in tiny screens...


  7. I agree with the sentiments expressed here overall, but do you think there is a degree of discretion that is appropriate when dealing with missionary encounters with poorer peoples? After all, it is said that the first mission to Ireland, that of Palladius, failed because he was too imperious in his behavior and dress and put off the Irish; it took St. Patrick's simplicity to win back their trust. Similarly, we read that the Church had little result with its missions to the Albigensians at first because it was sending richly attired bishops on horseback; of course, when the Dominicans came in poverty, things changed. There have been many other instances in Church history when the material poverty of the missionary monks established their credibility and contributed to their success (St Augustine of Canterbury, for example).

    So, while I agree in general with the distinction being made here between true and false humility, I think some restraint is appropriate when dealing with the poor. St. Paul says we should not do anything to make our brother stumble, and I would rather take off my nice shoes and win the poor than have them damned to hell because I would not put off my expensive shoes.


  8. Donnacha1:49 AM

    Boniface, you ask for "thoughts". Let me be clear: it was the certain-minded Jesuits who had such comments to make toward me and others looking to help; never any other parish - never.

    Mind you, we were not walking around in Brooks Brothers suits and Prada shoes. We were there to bringing food, clean water, and [what I feel bothered the pastor most] catechisms so as to keep these souls from the grasp of the many Pentecostal groups that have invaded the area.

    When speaking with those living there, I asked what the "padres" taught in their sermons. Not the Faith, but the planting of seeds of political discord. Very upsetting, indeed. The strong determination of "us vs. them" is something that these men wanted to keep in place.

    So, it was not a matter of our parading about well-dressed. No barriers between us. We were on a mission of encouragement and hope [physical, spiritual and, yes, social] that is what we looked to give - and did give! Since all of us were on a break from our Rugby touring, there was little the small Jesuit could do in stopping the large squad of determined missionaries! Catholic Capitalists had struck - and helped!

    1. Lynda2:47 AM

      Yes, most likely it was the Catechisms that affronted the Marxist ideologues. It is exploitative of those of us who are poor to use us for political purposes.


  9. Boniface,

    I think you make an important point. As much as I cringe at banlity and plainness in our worship, I don't have a clue as to how the very poor react to my middle class American material goods. I can see the need to cast off much of what I have. As well as living the spirit of poverty in regard to necessary goods.

    I just hope we don't miss out on how much it pleases God to see our worship adorned with the best we have, whatever that may be.

  10. Donnacha & Mike,

    Agreed. I guess we have to couple the material state of a missionary/evangelist with the spirit of the message he brings. There is a big difference between why St. Augustine shows up at Kent poor and why a Marxist Jesuit in Bolivia insists on plainness...and the differences in this "spirit" of the message can bear tremendously different results. Donnacha, I am sorry for your experience; this is the kind of thing that makes me so mistrustful of Latin American Catholicism. There really does not need to be a schism between beautiful worship and serving the poor; the saints all understood this. Why don't our modern prelates?

  11. A small glimpse of genuine Papal humility. Let it never be said by anyone, especially Cardinal Mahony, that ermine and lace are incompatible with humility and charity. At the same time, there are valuable reminders here for traditionalists, too.

    From Butler's Lives of the Saints, revised by Thurston/Atwater, second edition, 1956:

    "Pius X was ever actively concerned for the weak and oppressed. He strongly denounced the foul ill-treatment of the Indians on the rubber-plantations of Peru, and greatly encouraged the Indian missions in that country. He sent a commission of relief after the earthquake at Messina, and sheltered refugees at his own expense in the hospice of Santa Marta by St. Peter's, while his general charities, in Rome and throughout the world, were so great that people wondered where all the money came from. The quiet simplicity of his personal habits and the impressive holiness of his character were both exemplified in his custom of preaching publicly on the day's gospel in one of the Vatican courtyards every Sunday. Pius was embarrased - perhaps a little shocked - by the ceremoniousness and some of the observances of the papal court. At Venice he had refused to let anyone but his sisters cook for him, and now he declined to observe the custom of conferring titles of nobility on his relatives. 'The Lord has made them sisters of the pope', he said, 'that should suffice'. 'Look how they have dressed me up', he exclaimed to an old friend, and burst into tears. And to another he said, 'It is indeed a penance to be forced to accept all these practices. They lead me about surrounded by soldiers like Jesus when he was seized in Gethsemane.'

    "These are not merely amusing anecdotes. They go right to the heart of Pius's single-minded goodness...."

  12. MBinSTL2:10 AM

    The Practice of Perfection and Christian Virtues of Fr. Alphonsus Rodriguez, S.J. is one of my favorite spiritual works and is surely in our time a neglected classic. Toward the end of his earthly life, Fr. Alphonsus' superiors asked him to spend his remaining years compiling the sermons and various points for reflection which he had developed and refined over 40+ years of preaching to both novices of the Society and to professed members. He completed and published the work in 1609, in three volumes, and it would have a deep impact over the next 350 years, being praised by a pope as recently as the early 20th Century (Pope Pius XI, 1924). The three volumes were translated into a vast number of languages and were used for the training of postulants and novices in a diverse number of religious orders (ones with an active apostolate mainly) and even in diocesan seminaries. For nearly three centuries, every Jesuit novice had to read from it for at least 30 minutes daily and make a written outline of the points covered.

    In 2004, a priest I met on a retreat recommended that I hunt down a copy of Joseph Rickaby's masterful translation from the original Spanish. I had the opportunity to read through the whole work over a period of about a year back in 2007-2008, and I can only say that it leaves a remarkable and lasting impression. The treatises on humility, examination of conscience, and mental prayer (meditation) are particularly potent.

    A digitized, OCR'd "edition" of the two-volume British printing of Fr. Rickaby's translation (i.e. complete in two volumes, instead of being bound in three) may be freely viewed (and downloaded as PDFs) here: Volume I, Volume II.

    As far as I could tell, per the copyright laws of Great Britain, this particular edition has passed into the public domain.

    It's quite sad that by the late 1960s the Society of Jesus, the Redemptorists, Maryknolls, et al. had wholesale abandoned "The Rod" (i.e. the famous work of "Rod"riguez) for use in training novices. I hope to see it make a great comeback in the early 21st Century, and I encourage all readers here to drink deeply of this fine, aged wine and to spread it around. Ad maiorem Dei gloriam!

  13. LizEst2:57 AM

    MBinSTL - Thank you for those two links. God bless you.

  14. Anonymous3:02 AM

    p.s. there's nothing passive or accepting that 'this is the way things have to be' in Job's 'penance and ashes'. They had a purpose - we know what's rotten and what's good - why things are rotten and not good is not so clear.

  15. Cyril3:11 AM

    Ever get the feeling that we've been taken?

  16. Anonymous3:42 AM

    pr.19.19 He that is impatient, shall suffer damage: and when he shall take away he shall add another thing.' (the impatience for change and the takings away by those charged not to do so in the Church have certainly caused 'damage' and added 'another thing.'ps.93.14 For the Lord will not cast off his people: neither will he forsake his own inheritance. Until justice be turned into judgment: and they that are near it are all the upright in heart.   

  17. According to St. Peter of Alcantara, “The trouble is that everyone talks about reforming others and no one thinks about reforming himself.”

  18. M. A.4:18 AM

    Whoa!! Cyril

    I checked out the site.

    How bad will it get?

    Benedict XVI will have much to answer for.

  19. Common sense4:46 AM

    I just wonder,whether the wolves attemt to hijack Popes' virtue of care and compation for the poor for their own agenda, materielizing it into fully blown libo theology right across Europe and culminating into total terorist warfare against the church and the rest of christianity. Knowing a babylonian marxism only to well,Iwouldn't discount such a possibility.

  20. Evelyn Waugh met Jesuits.. (Fr Mather..??) South America. Waugh was impressed by Fr Mather and his work....however I don't think Waugh would have signed up to a preferential option for the poor...!!....nor Fr Mather I'd guess..

  21. Ora et Labora9:14 AM

    I agree with Boniface and Mike.

    The way I see it is that since the election of pope Francis this past Wednesday, the word humility has been unduly used. So, it is the spirit in which the word HUMILITY is being utilized particularly by the media that is the problem.

    Humility and poverty are great virtues, Our Lord seems to have loved those two virtues the most. It is evident in the Gospels... I don't think He ever held or even touched money ever. At least that is my impression.

    Matthew 17:27:
    "Douay-Rheims Bible
    But that we may not scandalize them, go to the sea, and cast in a hook: and that fish which shall first come up, take: and when thou hast opened its mouth, thou shalt find a stater: take that, and give it to them for me and thee."

    Many Catholics and secular media are excessively using the word "humility" to describe everything the new pope does, and I think it's dangerous because it might give the impression that almost anything he does will be done or excuse by many and the secular media in the name of "humility", and common sense should tell us that is not the case.

    Well at least for some of us it is obvious that that is not the case.

    It is well known that the Church is the largest charitable organization in the world and the Popes have always talked extensibly on the need to care for the poor and the sick. So I guess the media focusing on the need for the Church to be closer to the poor is just part of their agenda to attack and vilify her.

    Mary Help of Christians pray for us!!!

  22. Anonymous10:13 AM

    My friends:
    I live in Brazil and have worked all Latin America. Worked for business, not religious. But with poor people. My friends, today poor people have expensive cell smart phones, Nyke shoes, pay TVs and all. They dress better thab rich people because rich people are affraid of thieves.
    There has been too much misinterpretation of what poor people means nowadays.Today poor people are found in all calsses and the poverty is spiritual, not material.

  23. Anonymous10:36 AM

    Only to complete my previous comments: Nowadays in Latin America, at leasst in Brazil and Argentina, "to be poor became a profession". Many middle class people are frustrated to have to work hardly and have no support and have to pay for everything, while the "poor"have all kind of church and socialist government help and can live only on government grants.
    Bottom line is "too much politically and Liberation Theology exploitation of the 'poor', because a political system has been built upon them".

  24. Lee Lovelock10:37 AM

    Thank you NC for this TIMELY piece. Bethinking that it was written in a time of great turmoil and triumph by the fiends of the church, it is still pertinent today when the selfsame forces ongoing seek to forbreak the Church.It also brings to reminder that humility cannot e forced nor wanted but truly must be found through sincerity and brooked in a way mirroring what Our Lord would do. God Bless to all as well.

  25. Thank you, Luiz. That is a very important point. To be poor today (in the Western world, where I certainly find Brazil and Argentina included) is not what it was 100 years ago, 200 years ago, or even just 20 years ago.

  26. Anonymous12:39 PM

    « The quiet simplicity of [the] personal habits and the impressive holiness of [the] character [of Pope Saint Pius X] were both exemplified in his custom of preaching publicly on the day's gospel in one of the Vatican courtyards every Sunday... »
    Dear readers, may I *beg* a favour from you? Does anyone know if these Sunday homilies of the great, holy anti-modernist Pope are available somewhere?

    Fr. Paul McDonald

  27. Kathleen1:51 PM

    Thank you for this N.C.

  28. Anonymous2:26 AM

    Humility by preference will always go clad in scarlet and gold; pride refuses to let scarlet or gold impress it or please it too much.

  29. So... how does one become humble?


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