Introduction to Sin and Virtue

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INTRODUCTION TO SIN AND VIRTUE


Getting to the Root of it All

The Venerable Louis of Granada, in his spiritual classic, The Sinner’s Guide, speaks of pride and humility in the following terms:

Self-Love & the Triple Concupiscence
St. Thomas gives us a profound reason for this. All sin, he says, proceeds from self-love, for we never commit sin without coveting some gratification for self. From this self-love spring those three branches of sin mentioned by St. John: "the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1 John 2:16), which are love of pleasure, love of riches, and love of honors. Three of the deadly sins, lust, gluttony, and sloth, spring from love of pleasure, pride springs from love of honors, and covetousness from love of riches. The remaining two, anger and envy, serve all these unlawful loves. Anger is aroused by any obstacle which prevents us from attaining what we desire, and envy is excited when we behold anyone possessing what our self-love claims. These are the three roots of the seven deadly sins, and consequently of all the other sins. Let these chiefs be destroyed and the whole army will soon be routed. Hence we must vigorously attack these mighty giants who dispute our entrance to the Promised Land.

Pride
The first and most formidable of these enemies is pride, that inordinate desire of our own excellence, which spiritual writers universally regard as the father and king of all the other vices. Hence Tobias, among the numerous good counsels which he gave his son, particularly warns him against pride: "Never suffer pride to reign in thy mind or in thy words, for from it all perdition took its beginning." (Job 4:14). Whenever, therefore, you are attacked by this vice, which may justly be called a pestilence, defend yourself with the following considerations:

First reflect on the terrible punishment which the Angels brought upon themselves by one sin of pride. They were instantly cast from Heaven into the lowest depths of Hell. If pure spirits received such punishment, what can you expect, who are but dust and ashes? God is ever the same, and there is no distinction of persons before His justice.

Pride is just as odious to Him in a man as in an angel, while humility is equally pleasing to Him in both. Hence St. Augustine says, "Humility makes men Angels, and pride makes Angels devils." And St. Bernard tells us, "Pride precipitates man from the highest elevation to the lowest abyss, but humility raises him from the lowest abyss to the highest elevation. Through pride the Angels fell from Heaven to Hell, and through humility man is raised from earth to Heaven."

Humility
Humility is the foundation upon which all our other virtues must rest. Without it, pride will contaminate and destroy whatever good things we think, say or do. There can be no sanctity or salvation without humility. Our Lord tells us to learn from Him, because He is meek and humble of heart (Matthew 11:29).

After this, reflect on that astonishing example of humility given us by the Son of God, who for love of us took upon Himself a nature so infinitely beneath His own, and "became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8). Let the example of your God teach you, O man, to be obedient. Learn, O dust, to humble yourself. Learn, O clay, to appreciate your baseness. Learn from your God, O Christian, to be "meek and humble of heart." (Matthew 11:29). If you disdain to walk in the footsteps of men, will you refuse to follow your God, who died not only to redeem us but to teach us humility? Look upon yourself and you will find sufficient motives for humility.

What Are You?
Consider what you were before your birth, what you are since your birth, and what you will be after death. Before your birth you were, for a time, an unformed mass; now a fair but false exterior covers what is doomed to corruption; and in a little while you will be the food of worms. Upon what do you pride yourself, O man, whose birth is ignominy, whose life is misery, whose end is corruption? If you are proud of your riches and worldly position, remember that a few years more and death will make us all equal. We are all equal at birth with regard to our natural condition; and as to the necessity of dying, we shall all be equal at death, with this important exception: that those who possessed most during life will have most to account for in the day of reckoning.

The Burial of Pride
"Examine," says St. John Chrysostom, "the graves of the rich and powerful of this world, and find, if you can, some trace of the luxury in which they lived, of the pleasures they so eagerly sought and so abundantly enjoyed. What remains of their magnificent retinues and costly adornments? What remains of those ingenious devices destined to gratify their senses and banish the weariness of life? What has become of that brilliant society by which they were surrounded? Where are the numerous attendants who awaited their commands? Nothing remains of their sumptuous banquets. The sounds of laughter and mirth are no longer heard; a somber silence reigns in these homes of the dead. But draw nearer and see what remains of their earthly tenements, their bodies which they loved too much. Naught but dust and ashes, worms and corruption."

The Torture of Pride
This is the inevitable fate of the human body, however tenderly and delicately nurtured. Ah! Would to God that the evil ended here! But more terrible still is all that follows death: the dread tribunal of God's justice; the sentence passed upon the guilty; the weeping and gnashing of teeth; the tortures of the worm that never dies; and the fire which will never be extinguished.

Vain Glory
Consider also the danger of vainglory, the daughter of pride, which as St. Bernard says, enters lightly but wounds deeply. Therefore, when men praise you, think whether you really possess the qualities for which they commend you. If you do not, you have no reason to be proud. But if you have justly merited their praise, remember the gifts of God, and say with the Apostle, "By the grace of God I am what I am." (1 Corinthians 15:10).

Be Humble, O Dust and Ashes!
Humble yourself, then, when you hear the song of praise, and refer all to the glory of God. Thus you will render yourself not unworthy of what He bestows upon you. For it is incontestable that the respect men pay you, and the good for which they honor you, are due to God. You rob Him, therefore, of all the merit which you appropriate to yourself. Can any servant be more unfaithful than one who steals his master's glory? Consider, moreover, how unreasonable it is to rate your merit by the inconstant opinion of men who today are for you, and tomorrow against you; who today honor you, and tomorrow revile you. If your merit rests upon so slight a foundation, at one time you will be great, at another base, and again nothing at all, according to the capricious variations of the minds of men.

Remember Your Roots and Your Judgment
Oh, no; do not rely upon the vain commendations of others, but upon what you really know of yourself. Though men extol you to the skies, listen to the warnings of your conscience and accept the testimony of this intimate friend rather than the blind opinion of those who can judge you only from a distance and by what they hear. Make no account of the judgments of men, but commit your glory to the care of God, whose wisdom will preserve it for you and whose fidelity will restore it to you in the sight of Angels and men.

Be mindful also, O ambitious man, of the dangers to which you expose yourself by seeking to command others! How can you command when you have not yet learned to obey? How can you take upon yourself the care of others when you can hardly account for yourself? Consider what a risk you incur by adding to your own sins those of persons subject to your authority. Holy Scripture tells us that they who govern will be severely judged, and that the mighty shall be mightily tormented (Wisdom 6:6). Who can express the cares and troubles of one who is placed over many? We read of a certain king who, on the day of his coronation, took the crown in his hands, and, gazing upon it, exclaimed, "O crown richer in thorns than in happiness, did one truly know thee he would not stoop to pick thee up even if he found thee lying at his feet."

God Abhors Pride
"Every proud man is an abomination to the Lord!" (Proverbs 16:5). Again, O proud man, I would ask you to remember that your pride is displeasing to all—to God, Who resists the proud and gives His grace to the humble (James 4:6); your pride is displeasing to the humble, who hold in horror all that savors of arrogance; and your pride is displeasing to the proud themselves, who naturally hate all who claim to be greater than they. Nor will you be pleasing to yourself. For if it ever be given to you in this world to enter into yourself and recognize the vanity and folly of your life, you will certainly be ashamed of your littleness. And if you do not correct it here, still less satisfaction will it afford you in the next world, where it will bring upon you eternal torments.

Know Thyself!
St. Bernard tells us that if we truly knew our hearts we would be displeasing to ourselves, which alone would make us pleasing to God; but because we do not know ourselves we are inflated with pride and therefore hateful in His sight. The time will come when 'we shall be odious to God and to ourselves—to God because of our crimes, and to ourselves because of the punishment they will bring upon us. Our pride pleases the devil only; for as it was pride which changed him from a pure and beautiful angel into a spirit of malice and deformity, he rejoices to find this evil reducing others to his unhappy state.

Our Good Actions Are Done More For Self Than God
Another consideration which will help you acquire humility is the thought of the little you have done purely for God. How many vices assume the mask of virtue! How frequently vainglory spoils our best works! How many times actions which shine with dazzling splendor before men have no beauty before God! The judgments of God are different from those of men. A humble sinner is less displeasing in His sight than a proud just man, if one who is proud can be called just.

And What About Your Sins...?
Nevertheless, though you have performed good works, do not forget your evil deeds, which probably far exceed your works of virtue, and which may be so full of faults and so negligently performed that you have more reason to ask to be forgiven for them than to hope for reward. Hence St. Gregory says: "Alas for the most virtuous life, if God judge it without mercy, for those things upon which we rely most may be the cause of the greatest confusion to us. Our bad actions are purely evil, but our good actions are seldom entirely good, but are frequently mixed with much that is imperfect. Your works, therefore, ought to be a subject of fear rather than confidence, after the example of holy Job, who says, 'I feared all my works, knowing that thou didst not spare the offender.'" (Job 9:28).

Blindness of Pride
Since humility comes from a knowledge of ourselves, pride necessarily springs from ignorance of ourselves. Whoever, therefore, seriously desires to acquire humility must earnestly labor to know himself. How, in fact, can he be otherwise than humbled who, looking into his heart with the light of truth, finds himself filled with sins; defiled with the stains of sinful pleasures; the sport of a thousand errors, fears, and caprices; the victim of innumerable anxieties and petty cares; oppressed by the weight of a mortal body; so forward in evil and so backward in good? Study yourself, then, with serious attention, and you will find in yourself nothing of which to be proud.

Looking at Others Rather than Self
But there are some who, though humbled at the sight of their failings, are, nevertheless, excited to pride when they examine the lives of others whom they consider less virtuous than themselves. Those who yield to this illusion ought to reflect, though they may excel their neighbors in some virtues, that in others they are inferior to them. Beware, then, lest you esteem yourself and despise your neighbor because you are more abstemious and industrious, when he is probably much more humble, more patient, and more charitable than you. Let your principal labor, therefore, be to discover what you lack, and not what you possess.

Stop Imagining, Get Real!
Study the virtues which adorn the soul of your neighbor rather than those with which you think yourself endowed. You will thus keep yourself in sentiments of humility, and increase in your soul a desire for perfection. But if you keep your eyes fixed on the virtues, real or imaginary, which you possess, and regard in others only their failings, you will naturally prefer yourself to them, and thus you will become satisfied with your condition and cease to make any efforts to advance.

See the True Source
If you find yourself inclined to take pride in a good action, carefully watch the feelings of your heart, bearing in mind that this satisfaction and vainglory will destroy all the merit of your labor. Attribute no good to yourself, but refer everything to God. Repress all suggestions of pride with the beautiful words of the great Apostle: "What hast thou that thou hast not received? And if thou hast received, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?" (1 Corinthians 4:7). When your good works are practices of supererogation or perfection, unless your position requires you to give an example, do not let your right hand know what your left hand does, for vainglory is more easily excited by good works done in public.

When you feel sentiments of vanity or pride rising in your heart, hasten to apply a remedy immediately. One that is most efficacious consists in recalling to mind all your sins, particularly the most shameful.

Keep Your Feet on the Ground
Like a wise physician, you will thus counteract the effect of one poison by another. Imitate the peacock, and when you feel yourself inflated with pride turn your eyes upon your greatest deformity, and your vanity will soon fall to the ground. The greater your position the greater should be your humility, for there is not much merit in being humble in poverty and obscurity. If you know how to preserve humility in the midst of honors and dignities you will acquire real merit and virtue, for humility in the midst of greatness is the grandest accompaniment of honors, the dignity of dignities, without which there is no true excellence. If you sincerely desire to acquire humility you must courageously enter the path of humiliation, for if you will not endure humiliations you will never become humble. Though many are humbled without diminishing their pride, humiliation, as St. Bernard tells us, is nevertheless the path to humility, as patience is the path to peace, and study to learning. Be not satisfied, therefore, with humbly obeying God, but be subject to all creatures for love of Him (1 Peter 2:13).

Have Fear!
In another place St. Bernard speaks of three kinds of fear with which he would have us guard our hearts. "Fear," he says, "when you are in possession of grace, lest you may do something unworthy of it; fear when you have lost grace, because you are deprived of a strong protection; and fear when you have recovered grace, lest you should again lose it." Thus you will never trust to your own strength; the fear of God which will fill your heart will save you from presumption.

Don't Neglect; Don't Exaggerate; Keep a Balance
Be patient in bearing persecution, for the patient endurance of affronts is the touchstone of true humility. Never despise the poor and abject, for their misery should move us to compassion rather than contempt. Be not too eager for rich apparel, for humility is incompatible with a love of display. One who is too solicitous about his dress is a slave to the opinions of men, for he certainly would not expend so much labor upon it if he thought he would not be observed. Beware, however, of going to the other extreme and dressing in a manner unsuited to your position. While claiming to despise the approbation or notice of the world, many secretly strive for it by their singularity and exaggerated simplicity. Finally, do not disdain humble and obscure employments. Only the proud seek to avoid these, for the man of true humility deems nothing in the world beneath him. (The Sinner’s Guide, Venerable Louis of Granada, chapter 30).





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Article 2

DO YOU KNOW YOUR ROOTS?

Who? Who-mility? Humility!

The least known amongst the virtues, and consequently the most misunderstood, is the virtue of humility, and yet it is the very groundwork of the Christian religion. Humility is a grace of the soul that cannot be expressed in words, and is only known by experience. It is an unspeakable treasure of God, and can only be called the gift of God. "Learn," He said—not from angels, not from men, not from books—but learn from My presence, light and action within you, "that I am meek and humble of heart, and you shall find rest to your souls" (St. John Climacus) The more we are subject to God, the nearer we are to Him. He is infinitely above us, but by this very subjection we ascend to Him, and find in Him whatever is truly great.

Humility Requires Honesty
Humility consists in the confession of the grace of God. The first office of the grace of God is to make us sensible of the giver. The grand object for which we came into existence is more than the light and grace of God; it is God Himself, and those gifts are given to guide and lead and help us to Him. We are not our own good, nor are the things around or beneath us our good, however useful in their place and order, but God is our good, and whatever comes from God that is better than ourselves helps us on to Him. We have but the capacity for good, and the power of working with the good we receive. Pride is the practical denial of this truth, a truth that springs from the constitution of our nature. And therefore it is said in Holy Scripture that "pride was not made for man" (Ecclesiasticus 10:22.)

Humility Needs Gratitude
Again, humility is the interior, spiritual, sacrificial action through which, with the profoundest veneration and gratitude, we offer to God the being and life we have received from Him, with the desire and prayer that we may die to ourselves and live to Him; that we may be wholly changed and transformed into His likeness, detached from earth and united with God. But as we come to our God from sin and dark ingratitude, we owe more to Him than our being and our life; we owe Him the contrition, the breaking to pieces of our sinful form, with regret and sorrow that we have defiled and defaced His beautiful work; we owe to Him that we throw away every breath of vanity, falsehood and evil, which, when cast out of us, is nothing.

A Fruit of Charity
Perfect humility is the fruit of perfect charity. The more we love God the less we value ourselves. He who is truly humble, truly empty of himself, is a vessel of election to God, full to overflowing with His Benedictions. He has only to ask to receive still more. He is the child of all the beatitudes, poor in spirit, meek of heart, hungering and thirsting after justice. When humility finds nothing in herself to rest upon, she finds her true center, and that center is God. For the humble soul alone has got the divine as well as the human measure of things.

The Grounds of Humility

1. The first ground of humility is our creation from nothing. We are of a short time; our beginning was feeble, as became our origin, and nothing was the womb of us all. Whence are we? From the creative will of God. What are we? An existence dependent on the will of God. Whither are we going? Onwards, ever onwards, the body to the dust, the soul to the judgment-seat of God. God is the one, absolute, perfect Being; we are but existences, the products of His will, dependent on Him for all we are and have; and all this great scene about us that fills our senses is of less value than the last soul that was created and born into this world; for the soul is for God, but this visible universe for the service and probation of the soul.

2. The second ground of humility is our intellectual light. That light makes us reasonable creatures. In that light we see the first principles of truth, order and justice; it is the foundation of our mind and of our conscience. Man is variable and changeable, and one man differs from another; but the light of truth and justice shines one and the same to all, and the chief difference between one man and another is in the degree of his communion with that light.

3. The third ground of humility is in our dependence on the providence of God. Our life with all its conditions is in the hand of God.

4. The fourth ground of humility is our sins, whereby we have deformed and denaturalized our nature, ungraced ourselves before God, and incurred His reprobation.

5. The fifth ground of humility is in the weakness, ignorance, and concupiscence that we have inherited from original sin, and have increased by our actual sins.

6. The sixth ground of humility is in the open perils and hidden snares with which we are surrounded. Error in all its forms, unbelief in all its modes and varieties, move in their motley shapes through nearly every grade of life, with the apparent unconsciousness that truth is one and comes from God. The widespread evil of modern life is the amazing indifference to the well-being of the soul. An intense activity outside the soul pursues its many ways in the name of progress, although the object or ultimate aim of that progress is neither thought of nor spoken of. But it is chiefly a progress, not to, but from the soul, not to, but from God.

7. The seventh ground of humility is in the special odiousness and deformity of pride, which is in direct opposition, beyond every other vice, to the order, reason, and truth of things. Pride turns all things from God; humility turns all things to God.

8. The eighth ground of humility is in the consideration of what this virtue does for us. It opens the soul to the truth of Christ, and the heart to the grace of Christ.

9. The ninth ground of humility is the knowledge of God and His divine perfections.

10. The tenth ground of humility is the secure rest provided for the soul in the unspeakable benefits of our Divine Redeemer.

11. The eleventh ground of humility is in our distance in this vale of suffering and tears from the Supreme Object of our soul, and the risks we run in the meanwhile from our infirmities.

12. The twelfth foundation of humility is the holy fear of the judgments of God. For unless we shelter ourselves well in the humility of Christ, and do penance, and use the world as though we used it not, we are not safe. Unless, again, a humble dependence on God be the foundation of our life and the love of God be our ruling affection, we know not in what state God will find us in the hour when we shall pass from this world.


THE UPS AND DOWNS OF PRIDE AND HUMILITY



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THE DESERT FATHERS ON HUMILITY

Before we go on to look at the other virtues, it is necessary to lay a firm foundation of humility, upon which all the other virtues rest. It is not the most exciting of virtues, nor the most inspiring, nor the most desired—but it is the most necessary (apart from charity), for without it all will collapse sooner or later.

Pride is the last and deadliest of the eight great faults which beset the feet of the hermits on their way to perfection. Over against it stands the virtue of humility, with its ultimate expression, discretion. Pride may be described as inward self-assertion.

From the world’s point of view, there is a right and proper kind of pride, a pride which saves men from permitting themselves even to contemplate the possibility of certain kinds of baseness. This kind of pride is what we mean by the word “self-respect”. It is the assertion of self to self. Just as the strong man asserts himself against his neighbors, refusing to be led or driven, so the self-respecting man asserts himself against himself, and, because he is determined to maintain and not let go of his “self-esteem” for what he is, he therefore avoids and refuses to be lured or goaded into ways which, for good or evil, would involve his becoming other than he thinks he is.

It is perhaps impossible to draw any hard line between that “self-respect” which is recognized as good, and “pride” which is admittedly evil. Indeed, even the word “pride” itself is sometimes used by itself to mean a quality in man which is regarded as a virtue. This confusion of our moral judgment is the result of trying to combine the moral ideal of the teaching of Christ with the uninspired morality of even very good and noble men.

The hermits of the Faith, for example the Desert Fathers, were perplexed with no such difficulty. To them there were no such virtues as proper pride and self-respect. All assertion of self was evil. Self-assertion against God was rebellion and sin. Self-assertion against men was the outcome of pride―its external expression. Self-assertion within was pride, in however attractive garments it might deck itself. Their judgment in the matter was absolute. They refused to recognize any kind of pride as virtuous.

So it must be that many of their favorite examples of humility will strike the ordinary reader as morbid and exaggerated, and some of their heroes will not seem heroes at all, but weak creatures wanting in self-respect. For instance, the monk who groveled on the ground, beseeching pardon, while his brother beat him for a fault he had not committed, must no doubt seem to most of us to be ludicrous and contemptible.

To the hermits, who told his story, he was a hero just for the same reason that makes him seem to us contemptible. He had no proper pride. He not only refused to assert himself against his brother by insisting on his innocence, but he refused to assert himself to himself; and asked pardon for what he had not done.

To the devil also, who had plotted the separation of the brethren, this man seemed to be a hero, one so near to God as to be unconquerable. It does not really matter whether the story is literally true or not. Our consciences recognize that what the story relates would always really happen. The devil could not but fly defeated from such humility as this man showed.

Most of the stories and sayings, however, make no such strange demands upon our moral sense. We recognize gladly, for example, the lofty teaching of the story of the hermit, to whom the desired revelation came, only after he had humbled himself. We readily admire, even if we are slow to imitate, the humility of the Desert Father, Arsenius, who was not ashamed to accept spiritual teaching from an ignorant peasant. Nor when we remember the dangers which beset the hermit’s path shall we be astonished at the vision of St. Anthony, and the voice which came to him praising humility. There were dangers of which most men know nothing, like that of the monk to whom the devil came disguised as the angel Gabriel, or that which beset St. Ammon when men asked him to judge between them.

The thought of humility and the desire of it was very constantly present to the hermit’s mind. I do not find on any other subject so many brief, and as one may say proverbial, words as on humility. In some of these the thought is so condensed as almost to defy intelligible translation, but I am sure that a careful study will reveal in each of them some spiritual thought which will well repay the labor of pursuing it. The following examples, to the modern-mind, might seem a little simplistic and rustic—yet is not humility simple and unpretentious? The Desert Fathers reached far higher heights of sanctity than today’s ‘Technology State-of-the-Art Sons’! Let us humbly and simply take their examples and words “on-board” and holily profit from them!


(1) Of the great safety of being humble.
St. Anthony tells how once in a vision he beheld all the snares of the evil one spread over the whole earth. When he looked upon them and considered their innumerable multitude, he sighed, and said within himself: “Who is able to pass safely through such a world as this?” Then he heard a voice, which answered him: “The humble man alone can pass safely through, O Anthony. In no way can the proud do so.”

(2) A story of how a certain one escaped one of the snares of the devil through humility.
The devil once appeared to a certain brother transformed into the likeness of an angel of light. He said: “I am the angel Gabriel, and I am sent unto thee.” The brother, though he doubted not at first but that he saw an angel, yet out of his humility made answer: “Surely you are sent to some other one and not to me, for I am altogether unworthy to have an angel visitor.” Then the devil, being astonished and baffled, departed from him.

(3) The humility of the abbot Arsenius who once dwelt in the emperors court.
The abbot Arsenius was one day talking with an ignorant peasant monk about spiritual thought. Another monk saw him doing so, and said to him: “How is it, Arsenius, that you, who know both Latin and Greek, consult this peasant about his thoughts?” Arsenius answered him: “I do, indeed, know Latin and Greek, which contain the wisdom of this world, but I have not yet succeeded in acquiring even the alphabet of what this peasant knows. His wisdom is of another world.”

(4) How a brother once obtained a spiritual benefit as a reward for his humility.
It is related of a certain brother that he once persevered in fasting for seventy weeks. This he did desiring to obtain a divine illumination on the meaning of a certain passage in Holy Scripture. Nevertheless, though he so fasted and desired, God hid the matter from him. Then, at last, he said within himself: “See, I have undergone great toil and am nothing profited. I shall go to one of the brethren, and inquire of him what this word of Scripture may mean.” So saying, he went out and closed the door of his cell after him. Immediately then an angel met him and said: “The seventy weeks of your fasting have not brought you near to God that you should know His mind. Now, however you have humbled yourself in going to inquire of your brother. Therefore I am sent to reveal to you what you desire to know.” Then the angel opened to him the matter about which he was perplexed, and departed from him.

(5) How a divine and eternal reward awaits those whose humility has taught them to regard their own labor as nothing.
A certain father said: “He who labors and considers that by his labor he has accomplished or effected anything, has already, even here, received the reward of all that he has done.”

(6) The way in which a certain brother learnt and practiced humility.
There was a certain brother who belonged to a high family, as this world reckons rank and grandeur. He was the son of a count, and was extremely wealthy; also he had been well educated as a boy. This man fled from his parents and his home, and entered a monastery. In order to prove the humility of his disposition and the ardor of his faith, his superior ordered him to load himself with ten baskets and to carry them for sale through the streets of the city. If anyone should want to buy them all together he was not to permit it, but was to sell them each to a separate purchaser. This condition was attached to his task in order to keep him the longer at work. He performed his task with the utmost zeal. He trampled underfoot all shame and confusion for the love of Christ and for His name’s sake. He was not perturbed at all by the novelty of his mean and unaccustomed work. He thought neither of his present indignity nor of the splendor of his birth; he aimed only at gaining through obedience the humility of Christ, which is the true nobility.

(7) Words of the hermits concerning humility.
Evagrius said: “The beginning of salvation is to despise yourself.”
Pastor said: “A man ought to breathe humility as his nostrils breathe the air.”
Another said: “Humility is that holy place in which God bids us make the sacrifice of ourselves.”
Syncletica said: “As no ships can be built without nails, so no man can be saved without humility.”
Hyperichius said: “The tree of life is on high. Man climbs to it by the ladder of humility.”
Another said: “It is better for a man to be conquered by others on account of his humility, than to be victorious over them by means of pride.”
Another said: “May it ever be my part to be taught, and another’s to teach.”
Cassian said: “It is never said of those who are entangled in other sins that they have God resisting them, but only ‘God resisteth the proud.’”
Motois said: “Humility neither is angry nor suffers others to be angry.”
The abbot John the Short said: “The door of God is humility. Our fathers, through the many insults which they suffered, entered the city of God.”
He also said: “Humility and the fear of God are pre-eminent over all virtues.”

(8) How one yearned for perfection, and God taught him to be humble.
There was a certain old man who dwelt in the desert, and it seemed to him that he had learnt the perfection of all the virtues which he practiced. So he prayed to God, saying: “Show me what is yet lacking for the perfection of my soul and I will accomplish it.” Then God, who wished to teach him humility of mind, said to him: “Go to the leader of a certain congregation of monks, and what he bids you, that do.” At the same time God spoke to that leader of monks and said: “Behold, the solitary of whom you have heard comes to you. Bid him take a whip and go forth to herd your swine.” The hermit arrived, knocked at the door, and entered. When they had saluted each other and had sat down, the hermit said: “Tell me, what shall I do to be saved.” The other, doubting within himself, replied: “Will you do what I bid you?” The hermit said: “Surely, yes.” Then said the other: “Go! Take this whip and go forth and herd my swine.” While the hermit drove the swine out to their pasture there came by some men who knew him, and they said: “Do you see that famous hermit of whom we heard so much? He must have gone mad, or some demon possesses him. Look at him feeding swine.” All this the hermit endured patiently. Then God saw that he had learnt humility, and was able to bear the insults of Therefore He bid him return to his own place.

(9) How a certain elder shrank from being praised, and rejoiced when he was despised.
A certain old man dwelt in the lower part of the desert, at peace, in a cave. A religious man from a neighboring village used to bring him what he wanted. It happened that this man’s son fell sick. With many prayers he besought the old man to come to his house and pray for the child. At length he prevailed with him, and running home, cried out: “Prepare for the coming of the hermit.” When the people of the village knew that he was coming they went out with torches to welcome him as if he had been some prince or governor. The hermit, as soon as he perceived how they meant to greet him, stood upon the river-bank, and taking off his clothes, went naked into the water. When the man who was accustomed to minister to him saw this he was greatly ashamed, and said to the villagers: “Return to your homes, for our hermit has lost his senses.” Then going to the old man, he said: “My father, why have you done this? All those who saw you are saying, ‘That old man is nothing better than a fool.’” The hermit replied to him: “That is the very thing I wished to hear.”

(10) How St. Ammon became a fool for Christ’s sake.
This story is told of the abbot Ammon. Certain men came to him asking him to judge in a contention which they had. He, however, would not, and put them off. Then a woman said to another woman, who stood near her: “The old man is silly!” Ammon heard her words, and calling her to him said: “For very many years I have toiled in various solitary places to attain that silliness at which you scoff! Is it likely now that I shall be content to lose it because you taunt me!”

(11) The abbot Pastor’s description of humility.
The abbot Pastor was once asked by a monk: “How ought I to conduct myself in the place where I dwell?” He answered: “Be cautious as a stranger among strangers. Wherever you are, never seek to have your own opinion prevail or your word influential. So you may have peace.”

(12) How the devil was vanquished by the great humility of one of the brethren.
There were two brethren, relatives according to the flesh, and bound to each other yet more closely by the spiritual purpose of their devotion. Against them the devil laid a plot that he might separate them the one from the other. Once, towards evening, the younger of the two, as he was wont, lit their lamp and put it on its stand. Through the malice of the devil the stand was overturned, and the lamp went out. By this means the devil hoped wickedly to entrap them into a quarrel. The elder of the two, growing suddenly angry, struck the younger fiercely. But the younger fell humbly on the ground and besought, saying: “Sir, be gentle with me, and I will light the lamp again.” Then, because he gave back no angry word, the evil spirit was filled with confusion, and departed from their cell. That same night he told the chief of the devils the story of his failure, saying: “Because of the humility of that brother who fell upon the ground and begged the other’s pardon I was unable to prevail against them. God beheld his humility, and poured His grace upon him. Now, alas! it is I who am tormented, for I have failed to separate these two or make them enemies.”

(13) Another story of a devil vanquished by humility.
There was a certain hermit renowned among the monks. It happened that there once met him a man possessed by an evil spirit, who struck him violently upon the cheek. The old man straightway turned to him the other cheek, that he might smite him upon it also. The devil was not able to endure the flame of his humility, but immediately departed from him who was possessed.

(14) The power of humility shown of St. Anthony the Great
Abba Anthony said: “I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning: ‘What can get through from such snares?’ Then I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Humility.’”

Devotion to Our Lady

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