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SpiritualDirection.com / Catholic Spiritual Direction

Of Having a Humble Opinion of Ourselves

Of Having a Humble Opinion of Ourselves*

 

Editor’s Note: Last Friday, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The featured post that day “Learn from Me – The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus” reflected on Christ’s command to learn from Him and His meek and humble heart. Along that line, this selection from The Imitation of Christ considers the type of humble opinion we should have of ourselves.

PeasantsHansLarwinSlowakischeBauern19131. All men naturally desire knowledge; but what availeth knowledge without the fear of God? [cf Mark 8:36]. Surely a humble peasant, who serves God, is better than a proud philosopher who, to the neglect of Him, studies the course of the heavens. Who so knoweth himself, is lowly in his own eyes, and delighteth not in the praises of men.

If I understood all things in the world and had not charity, what would that avail me in the sight of God [cf 1 Corinthians 13:2], Who will judge me according to my deeds?

2. Cease from an inordinate desire for knowledge, for therein is much distraction and deceit. Learned men are anxious to be esteemed learned by others, and to be called wise. There are many things the knowledge of which doth little or nothing profit the soul. And, he is very unwise who minds such things rather than those that tend to his salvation. Many words do not satisfy the soul; but a good life comforteth the mind, a pure conscience giveth great confidence in God.

3. The more and the better thou knowest and understandest, the more strictly wilt thou be judged, unless thy life be also more holy. Be not, therefore, puffed up because of any art or science, but rather let the knowledge given thee make thee more cautious.

If thou thinkest that thou understandest and knowest much; yet know that there be many more things which though knowest not. Affect not to be overwise, but rather acknowledge thine own ignorance.

Why wilt thou prefer thyself before others, seeing there be many more learned, and more skillful in the Scripture than thyself? If thou wilt know or learn anything profitably, desire to be unknown, and little-esteemed (Click here for the Litany of Humility).

4. The highest and most profitable lesson is the true knowledge of ourselves. To think nothing of ourselves, and to think always well and highly of others, is great wisdom and perfection.

If thou shouldest see another openly sin, or commit some heinous offense, yet oughtest thou not to esteem thyself better; for thou knowest not how long thou mayest be able to stand. We are all frail, but esteem no one more frail than thyself.

Thomas-von-Kempen (Thomas a Kempis)+

* From The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis published by James Finch and Co, Ltd, London, 1901.

 +

Art: Slovakian Farmers, Hans Larwin, 1913, PD-US published before January 1, 1923; Thomas von Kampen (Thomas à Kempis) 1380-1431, artist unknown, PD-US copyright expired; both Wikimedia Commons.

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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio Author Insights Edition, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, and his newest books Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep and Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • Camila Malta

    This sentence “cease from an inordinate desire for knowledge, for therein is much distraction and deceit” reminded me of Adam and Eve in the the garden. What was the name of the tree they were not to eat from?

    A: the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

    • Patricia

      We also have to be careful about knowledge. Research shows that the biggest reason (young adults especially) people leave the faith is because they don’t have knowledge of what it really means. Knowledge of the faith must be taught so that we can learn what we need to do to go to Heaven. Think of the massive work of St. Thomas Aquinas and others who have made such great contributions to our Faith through Knowledge. Pope Francis is working with scientists on issues about what is destroying God’s creation. Knowledge itself Is not evil, but our inordinate desires for using knowledge for power that you mention that are disordered in our soul that is the problem.

      The monuments to Satan than were in the news lately have the motto inscribed on them: “Knowledge is Power”. In the garden, Satan’s temptation was to eat and have knowledge….and then you will be like God.”

      So back to the beginning…..God is the creator and we are His creatures. We have to serve God with The gifts and graces He has given us with gratitude and realize we are under His Mercy

      • Camila Malta

        Hi Patricia,

        Notice the full name of the tree was knowledge of good and evil. It is important that we realize that what Adam and Eve had was an intimate relationship with God Himself, who walked with them in the garden and spoke to them. Their curiosity got them into trouble, their desire to be like God became the source of their sin.

        When St. Thomas Aquinas writes his Summa, for example, he is not attempting to demonstrate his vast theological knowledge. If you notice, the Summa is written in a way to refute error and instruct the beginner in the study of theology.

        The study of theology is hardly called knowledge, because it is the study of revelation. It is true that St. Thomas uses a lot of philosophy, especially at the beginning, to attempt to articulate revealed truths in a way that is appealing to the light of reason, but philosophy will only get us so far.

        Theology, to bear any fruit, must rest securely in the foundation of faith. It is faith that illumines the intellect, not the other way around. Faith elevates reason. Hence, to study theology, under the light of deep faith, is not knowledge. We can never know the truths of our faith in this life. We can only (by the grace of God) believe them.

        The “knowing” or the “knowledge” of the truths revealed by God will only be given to those who see Him face to face in the beatific vision. Hence insofar we are in this earth, we do not walk by knowledge of Divine things, but completely by faith. If we could see the truths, it would cease to be faith and would be knowledge.

        Furthermore, remember that once we are in heaven, we do not need the virtues of faith and hope anymore. Why? Because we have immediate knowledge, immediate apprehension, immediate sight of Him, for whom we were made to live in union. We need no longer believe, for we see. We need no longer hope, for we have obtained.

        So, back to my original point, it is the desire for knowledge that makes us want to be like God, the danger and the source of Satan’s principle. Insofar as man desires to walk by sight (say for example the scientific method, or man’s inability to believe – look at the growth in atheism as proof of this) – that is allowing only his reason to guide his principles, he is completely blind to faith and shuts the door to union with God.

        It is Faith that makes us securely anchored to God, and to have faith is not to have knowledge.

        Does this clarify?

  • Patricia

    Humility is Truth. The truth is that God is our Creator and we are His creatures. He has distributed talents over which we are to be stewards, and gifts of the Holy Spirit for the building up of the Church. We have to serve the purpose that God created us for, using the tools He has built into us.
    St. Therese had memorized the book, The Imitation of Christ, so she was well aware of humility and the pretext of false humility. In her trusting child of the Father wisdom she says:
    “If a little flower could speak, it seems to me that it would tell us quite simply all that God has done for it, without hiding any of its gifts. It would not, under the pretext of humility, say that it was not pretty, or that it had not a sweet scent, that the sun had withered its petals,or the storm bruised its stem, if it knew that such were not the case.” Thérèse de Lisieux, Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux

  • Patricia

    We also have to be careful about knowledge. Research shows that the biggest reason (young adults especially) people leave the faith is because they don’t have knowledge of what it really means. THe knowledge of the faith must be taught so that we can learn what we need to do to go to Heaven. Pope Francis is working with scientists on issues about what is destroying God’s creation.
    Knowledge is necessary to survive and grow…and get to Heaven.

    The monuments to Satan than were in the news lately have the motto inscribed on them: “Knowledge is Power”. In the garden, Satan’s temptation was to eat and have knowledge….and then you will be like God.”

    So back to the beginning…..God is the creator and we are His creatures. We have to serve God with The gifts and graces He has given us with gratitude and realize we are under His Mercy

  • olhg1

    Even the most miserable person/s (humanly perceived), living in the most miserable conditions, are reflections of the Blessed Trinity, the Creator (with mom and dad) of said miserable persons living miserably. I’ve heard, forever, that Jesus, God Almighty, doesn’t see things, or evaluates them the same as most people do. Same goes for those who appear to be “The Greatest.”

  • Camila Malta

    I love that prayer by St. Thomas. Thanks for sharing!

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