The Saints on Humility

Protestant detractors of Catholicism often claim that The Church’s teaching on the intrinsic necessity of works in one’s salvation causes men to be prideful and boast in themselves.   The supposed “works based salvation” that Protestants accuse Catholics of believing will tend to focus on the mind on one’s accomplishments and not the saving work of Jesus Christ.

One way to determine whether or not this is really the case is to read the writings of the Saints and examine what they have said about humility.  Catholic Saints, of course, are held up by the Church as those who have practiced Catholicism with what is called “heroic virtue”.  They are, to put it rather Crudely, “Catholic All Stars”.

So what the Saints have to say on this topic should be able to give the interested reader a snapshot into how a Catholic ought to view him or herself in light of the perfection of God.

With that being said, I have compiled a short collection of quotations which I think represents how the Saints have suggested the Catholic view him or herself.

St. Augustine

It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.

“Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility”

“How deeply this self-exaltation in the abundance of graces is to be feared, that no man may pride himself in the gift of God, but may rather preserve humility, and may do what is written: The greater you are, the more humble yourself, and you shall find favor before the Lord: how deeply pride in God’s gift should be feared, we must again and again impress upon you….”

Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance.”

Thomas A Kempis

“The Disciple. I will presume to speak to my Lord, though I am but dust and ashes.(Gen.18:27) If I esteem myself to be anything more, You confront me, and my sins bear a true witness against me, that I cannot contradict. But if I humble myself and acknowledge my nothingness; if I cast away all my self-esteem and reduce myself to the dust that I really am, then Your grace will come to me, and Your light will enter my heart; thus will the last trace of self-esteem be engulfed in the depth of my own nothingness, and perish for ever. Thus You show me my true self, what I am, what I have been, and what I have become; for I am nothing, and did not know it. By myself I am nothing, and am all weakness. But if for a moment You look on me, I become strong once again, and am filled with new joy. It amazes me how speedily You raise and enfold me with Your grace, who of myself ever fall into the depths.” 

St. Francis De Sales

The highest point of humility consists in not merely acknowledging one’s abjection, but in taking pleasure therein, not from any want of breadth or courage, but to give the more glory to God’s Divine Majesty, and to esteem one’s neighbor more highly than one’s self.

“But, my daughter, I am going a step further, and I bid you everywhere and in everything rejoice in your own abjection. Perhaps you will ask in reply what I mean by that. In Latin abjection means humility, and humility means abjection, so that when Our Lady says in the Magnificat that all generations shall call her blessed, because God hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden, she means that He has accepted her abjection and lowliness in order to fill her with graces and favors. Nevertheless, there is a difference between humility and abjection; for abjection is the poverty, vileness and littleness which exist in us, without our taking heed to them; but humility implies a real knowledge and voluntary recognition of that abjection. And the highest point of humility consists in not merely acknowledging one’s abjection, but in taking pleasure therein, not from any want of breadth or courage, but to give the more glory to God’s Divine Majesty, and to esteem one’s neighbor more highly than one’s self. This is what I would have you do” 

St. Don Bosco

“We must consider ourselves as nothing before the Lord and be convinced that without His help we can do nothing but commit sin.”

“Think of God in terms of faith, of your neighbor in terms of charity, and of yourself in terms of humility. Rate yourself low. Speak of God with veneration, speak of your neighbor as you would wish him to speak of you, and speak of yourself humbly, or not at all.”

“He who believes himself to be a Saint is a fool. Genuine saints always look upon themselves as the worst sinners. And when Our Lord grants a favor through their prayers, they credit such favors to this or that Saints, whereas their own faith was largely responsible for them.”

“I am indifferent to either praise or blame. If people praise me, they only tell me what I should be; if they blame me, I am told what I really am.”

St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori

“The truly humble reject all praise for themselves, and refer it all to God.” 

St. Pio of Pietrelcino

“Our Lord loves you and loves you tenderly; and if He does not let you feel the sweetness of His love, it is to make you more humble and abject in your own eyes.

St. Jose Escriva

Don’t forget that you are just a trash can. So if by any chance the divine gardener should lay his hands on you, and scrub and clean you, and fill you with magnificent flowers, neither the scent nor the colors should make you proud. Humble yourself: don’t you know that you are a trash can?”

“For all your learning, for all your fame, your eloquence and power, if you are not humble, you are worth nothing. Cut out, root out that self-complacency which dominates you so completely. — God will help you — and then you will be able to begin working for Christ, in the lowest place in his army of apostles.”

St. Teresa of Avila

“We shall never learn to know ourselves except by endeavoring to know God; for, beholding His greatness, we realize our own littleness; His purity shows us our foulness; and by meditating upon His humility we find how very far we are from being humble.“-St Teresa of Avila

“Praised be the Lord, who has redeemed me from myself.” -St. Teresa of Avila

It is clear that the great Saints of the Church have and continue to teach that it is only by God’s Grace and his benevolence, that we are saved from this body of death.  May we continue to seek God’s grace as he transforms us from sinner to saint, and be given an ever more clear vision of God’s perfection in light of our sinfulness.


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