Humility is the great ornament and jewel of
Christian religion; that whereby it is distinguished from all the wisdom of the
world; it not having been taught by the wise men of the Gentiles, but first put
into a discipline, and made part of a religion, by our Lord Jesus Christ, who
propounded himself imitable by his disciples so signally in nothing as in the
twin sisters of meekness and humility. `Learn of me, for I am meek and humble;
and ye shall find rest unto your souls.'
For all the world, all that we are, and all that
we have, our bodies and our souls, our actions and our sufferings, our
conditions at home, our accidents abroad, our many sins, and our seldom
virtues, are as so many arguments to make our souls dwell low in the deep
valleys of humility.
1. Our body is weak and impure, sending out
more uncleannesses from its several sinks than could be endured, if they were
not necessary and natural; and we are forced to pass that through our mouths,
which as soon as we see upon the ground, we loathe like rottenness and
2. Our strength is inferior to that of many
beasts, and our infirmities so many that we are forced to dress and tend horses
and asses, that they may help our needs, and relieve our wants.
3. Our beauty is in colour inferior to many
flowers, and in proportion of parts it is no better than nothing; for even a
dog hath parts as well proportioned and fitted to his purposes, and the designs
of his nature, as we have; and when it is most florid and gay, three fits of an
ague can change it into yellowness and leanness, and the hollowness and
wrinkles of deformity.
4. Our learning is then best when it teaches most
humility; but to be proud of learning is the greatest ignorance in the world.
For our learning is so long in getting, and so very imperfect, that the
greatest clerk knows not the thousandth part of what he is ignorant; and knows
so uncertainly what he seems to know, and knows no otherwise than a fool or a
child even what is told him or what he guesses at, that except those things
which concern his duty, and which God hath revealed to him, which also every
woman knows so far as is necessary, the most learned man hath nothing to be
proud of, unless this be a sufficient argument to exalt him, that he
uncertainly guesses at some more unnecessary things than many others, who yet
know all that concerns them, and mind other things more necessary for the needs
of life and commonwealths.
5. He that is proud of riches is a fool. For if
he be exalted above his neighbours, because he hath more gold, how much
inferior is he to a gold mine! How much is he to give place to a chain of
pearl, or a knot of diamonds! For certainly that hath the greatest excellence
from whence he derives all his gallantry and pre-eminence over his
6. If a man be exalted by reason of any
excellence in his soul, he may please to remember that all souls are equal; and
their differing operations are because their instrument is in better tune,
their body is more healthful or better tempered; which is no more praise to him
than it is that he was born in Italy.
7. He that is proud of his birth is proud of the
blessings of others, not of himself; for if his parents were more eminent in
any circumstance than their neighbours, he is to thank God, and rejoice in
them; but still he may be a fool, or unfortunate, or deformed; and when himself
was born, it was indifferent to him whether his father were a king, or a
peasant, for he knew not anything nor chose anything; and most commonly it is
true, that he that boasts of his ancestors, who were the founders and raisers
of a noble family, doth confess that he hath in himself a less virtue and a
less honour, and therefore he is degenerated.
8. Whatsoever other difference there is between
thee and thy neighbour, if it be bad, it is thine own, but thou hast no reason
to boast of thy misery and shame: if it be good thou hast received it from God;
and then thou art more obliged to pay duty and tribute, use and principal to
him, and it were a strange folly for a man to be proud of being more in debt
9. Remember what thou wert before thou wert
begotten. Nothing. What wert thou in the first regions of thy dwelling, before
thy birth? Uncleanness. What wert thou for many years after? A great sinner.
What in all thy excellencies? A mere debtor to God, to thy parents, to the
earth, to all the creatures. But we may, if we please, use the method of the
Platonists, who reduce all the causes
and arguments for humility, which we can take from ourselves to these seven
heads. 1. The spirit of a man is light and troublesome. 2. His body is brutish
and sickly. 3. He is constant in his folly and error, and inconsistent in his
manners and good purposes. 4. His labours are vain, intricate, and endless. 5.
His fortune is changeable, but seldom pleasing, never perfect. 6. His wisdom
comes not till he be ready to die, that is, till he be past using it. 7. His
death is certain, always ready at the door, but never far off. Upon these or
the like meditations if we dwell, or frequently retire to them, we shall see
nothing more reasonable than to be humble, and nothing more foolish than to be
The grace of humility is exercised by these
1. Think not thyself better for anything that
happens to thee from without. For although thou mayest, by gifts bestowed upon
thee, be better than another, as one horse is better than another, that is of
more use to others; yet as thou art a man, thou hast nothing to commend thee to
thyself but that only by which thou art a man, that is, by what thou choosiest
2. Humility consists not in railing against
thyself, or wearing mean clothes, or going softly and submissively; but in
hearty and real evil or mean opinion of thyself. Believe thyself an unworthy
person heartily, as thou believest thyself to be hungry, or poor, or sick, when
thou art so.
3. Whatsoever evil thou sayest of thyself, be
content that others should think to be true: and if thou callest thyself fool,
be not angry if another say so of thee. For if thou thinkest so truly, all men
in the world desire other men to be of their opinion; and he is an hypocrite
that accuses himself before others, with an intent not to be believed. But he
that calls himself intemperate, foolish, lustful, and is angry when his
neighbours call him so, is both a false and a proud person.
4. Love to be concealed, and little esteemed: be content to want praise, never being
troubled when thou art slighted or undervalued; for thou canst not undervalue
thyself, and if thou thinkest so meanly as there is reason, no contempt will
seem unreasonable, and therefore it will be very tolerable.
5. Never be ashamed of thy birth, or thy parents,
or thy trade, or thy present
employment, for the meanness or poverty of any of them; and when there is an
occasion to speak of them, such an occasion as would invite you to speak of
anything that pleases you, omit it not, but speak as readily and indifferently
of thy meanness as of thy greatness. Primislaus, the first king of Bohemia,
kept his country-shoes always by him, to remember from whence he was raised:
and Agathocles, by the furniture of his table, confessed that from a potter he
was raised to be the king of Sicily.
6. Never speak anything directly tending to thy
praise or glory; that is, with the purpose to be commended, and for no other
end. If other ends be mingled with thy honour, as if the glory of God, or
charity, or necessity, or anything of prudence be thy end, you are not tied to
omit your discourse or your design, that you may avoid praise, but pursue your
end, though praise come along in the company. Only let not praise be the
7. When thou hast said or done anything for which
thou receivest praise or estimation, take it indifferently, and return it to
God, reflecting upon his as the giver of the gift, or the blesser of the
action, or the aid of the design; and give God thanks for making thee an
instrument of his glory, for the benefit of others.
8. Secure a good name to thyself by living
virtuously and humbly; but let this good name be nursed abroad, and never be
brought home to look upon it: let others use it for their own advantage; let
them speak of it if they please; but do not thou at all use it, but as an
instrument to do God glory, and thy neighbour more advantage. Let thy face,
like Moses's, shine to others, but make no looking-glasses for thyself.
9. Take no content in praise when it is offered
thee; but let thy rejoicing in God's gift be allayed with fear, lest this good
bring thee to evil. Use the praise as you use your pleasure in eating and
drinking; if it comes, make it do drudgery; let it serve other ends, and
minister to necessities, and to caution, lest by pride you lose your just
praise, which you have deserved, or else, by being praised unjustly, you
receive shame into yourself with God and wise men.
10. Use no stratagems and devices to get praise.
Some use to inquire into the faults of their own actions or discourses, on
purpose to hear that it was well done or spoken, and without fault; others
bring the matter into talk, or thrust themselves into company, and intimate and
give occasion to be thought or spoken of. These men make a bait to persuade
themselves to swallow the hook, till by drinking the waters of vanity they
swell and burst.
11. Make no suppletories to thyself, when thou
art disgraced or slighted, by pleasing thyself with supposing thou didest
deserve praise, though they understood thee not, or enviously detracted from
thee: neither do thou get to thyself a private theatre and flatterers, in whose vain noises and fantastie
praises thou mayest keep up thine own good opinion of thyself.
12. Entertain no fancies of vanity and private
whispers of this devil of pride, such as was that of Nebuchadnezzar: `Is not
this great Babylon, which I have built for the honour of my name, and the might
of my majesty, and the power of my kingdom?' Some fantastic spirits will walk
alone, and dream waking of greatness, of palaces, of excellent orations, full
theatres, loud applauses, sudden advancement, great fortunes, and so will spend
an hour with imaginative pleasure; all their employment being nothing but fumes
of pride, and secret indefinite desires and significations of what their heart
wishes. In this, although there is nothing of its own nature directly vicious,
yet is either an ill mother or an ill daughter an ill sign or an ill effect;
and therefore at no hand consisting with the safety and interests of
13. Suffer others to be praised in thy presence,
and entertain their good and glory with delight; but at no hand disparage them,
or lessen the report, or make an objection; and think not the advancement of
thy brother is a lessening of thy worth. But this act is also to extend
14. Be content that he should be employed, and
thou laid by as unprofitable; his sentence approved, thine rejected; he be
preferred, and thou fixed in a low employment.
15. Never compare thyself with others, unless it
be to advance them and to depress thyself. To which purpose, we must be sure,
in some sense or other, to think ourselves the worst in every company where we
come: one is more learned than I am, another is more prudent, a third more
charitable, or less proud. For the humble man observes their good, and reflects
only upon his own vileness; or considers the many evils of himself certainly
known to himself, and the ill of others but by uncertain report; or he
considers that the evils done by another are out of much infirmity or
ignorance, but his own sins are against a clearer light, and if the other had
so great helps, he would have done more good and less evil; or he remembers,
that his old sins before his conversion were greater in the nature of the
thing, or in certain circumstances, than the sins of other men. So St. Paul
reckoned himself the chiefest of sinners, because formerly he had acted the
chiefest sin of persecuting the church of God. But this rule is to be used with
this caution, that though it be good always to think meanest of ourselves, yet
it is not ever safe to speak it, because those circumstances and considerations
which determine thy thoughts are not known to others as to thyself; and it may
concern others that they hear thee give God thanks for the graces he hath given
thee. But if thou preservest thy thoughts and opinions of thyself truly humble,
you may with more safety give God thanks in public for that good which cannot,
or ought not to be concealed.
16. Be not always ready to excuse every
oversight, or indiscretion, or ill action, but if thou beest guilty of it
confess it plainly; for virtue scorns a lie for its cover, but to hide a sin
with it is like a crust of leprosy drawn upon an ulcer. If thou beest not
guilty (unless it be scandalous,) be not over-earnest to remove it, but rather
use it as an argument to chastise all greatness of fancy and opinion in
thyself; and accustom thyself to bear reproof patiently and contentedly, and
the harsh words of thy enemies, as knowing that the anger of an enemy is a
better monitor, and represents our faults, or admonishes us of our duty, with
more heartiness than the kindness does or precious balms of a friend.
17. Give God thanks for every weakness,
deformity, and imperfection, and accept is as a favour and grace of God, and an
instrument to resist pride, and nurse humility, ever remembering, that when
God, by giving thee a crooked back, hath also made thy spirit stoop or less
vain, thou art more ready to enter the narrow gate of heaven, than by being
straight, and standing upright, and thinking highly. Thus the apostles rejoiced
in their infirmities, not moral, but natural and accidental, in their being
beaten and whipped like slaves, in their nakedness, and poverty.
18. Upbraid no man's weakness to him to
discomfort him, neither report it to disparage him, neither delight to remember
it to lessen him, or to set thyself above him. Be sure never to praise thyself,
or to dispraise any man else, unless God's glory or some holy end do hallow it.
And it was noted to the praise of Cyrus, that, amongst his equals in age, he would never play at any sport, or use
any exercise, in which he knew himself more excellent than they; but in such in
which he was unskillful he would make his challenges, lest he should shame them
by his victory, and that himself might learn something of their skill, and do
19. Besides the foregoing parts and actions,
humility teaches us to submit ourselves and all our faculties to God, `to
believe all things, to do all things, to suffer all things,' which his will
enjoins us; to be content in every state or change, knowing we have deserved
worse than the worst we feel, and, as Anytus said to Alcibiades, he hath taken
but half when he might have taken all, to adore his goodness, to fear his
greatness, to worship his eternal and infinite excellencies, and to submit
ourselves to all our superiors, in all things, according to godliness, and to
be meek and gentle in our conversation towards others.
Now, although, according to the nature of every
grace, this begins as a gift, and is increased like a habit, that is, best by
its own acts; yet, besides the former acts and offices of humility, there are
certain other exercises and considerations, which are good helps and
instruments for the procuring and increasing this grace, and the curing of pride.
1. Make confession of thy sins often to God;
and consider what all that evil amounts to which you then charge upon yourself.
Look not upon them as scattered in the course of a long life; now an
intemperate anger, then too full a meal; now idle talking, and another time
impatience; but unite them into one continued representation, and remember,
that he whose life seems fair, by reason that his faults are scattered at large
distances in the several parts of his life, yet, if all his errors and follies
were articled against him, the man would seem vicious and miserable; and
possibly this exercise, really applied upon thy spirit may be useful.
2. Remember that we usually disparage others upon
slight grounds and little instances, and toward them one fly is enough to spoil
a whole box of ointment; and if a man be highly commended, we think him
sufficiently lessened if we clap one sin or folly or infirmity into his
account. Let us, therefore, be just to ourselves, since we are so severe to
others, and consider that whatsoever good any one can think or say of us, we
can tell him of hundreds of base, and unworthy, and foolish actions, any one of
which were enough (we hope) to destroy another's reputation; therefore, let so
many be sufficient to destroy our over-high thoughts of ourselves.
3. When our neighbour is cried up by public fame
and popular noises, that we may disparage and lessen him, we cry out that the
people is a herd of unlearned and ignorant persons, ill judges, loud trumpets,
but which never give certain sound; let us use the same art to humble
ourselves, and never take delight and pleasure in public reports and
acclamations of assemblies, and please ourselves with their judgment, of whom,
in other the like cases, we affirm that they are mad.
4. We change our opinion of others by their
kindness or unkindness towards us. If he be my patron, and bounteous, he is
wise, he is noble, his faults are but warts, his virtues are mountains; but if
he proves unkind, or rejects our importunate suit, then he is ill-natured,
covetous, and his free meal is called gluttony; that which before we called
civility is now very drunkenness, and all he speaks if flat, and dull, and
ignorant as a swine. This, indeed, is unjust towards others; but a good
instrument if we turn the edge of it upon ourselves. We use ourselves ill,
abusing ourselves with false principles, cheating ourselves with lies and
pretences, stealing the choice and elections from our wills, placing voluntary
ignorance in our understandings, denying the desires of the spirit, setting up
a faction against every noble and just desire, the least of which, because we
should resent up to reviling the injurious person, it is but reason we should
at least not flatter ourselves with fond and too kind opinions.
5. Every day call to mind some one of thy foulest
sins, or the most shameful of thy disgraces, or the indiscreetest of thy
actions, or anything that did then most trouble thee, and apply it to the
present swelling of thy spirit and opinion, and it may help to allay it.
6. Pray often for his grace with all humility of
gesture and passion of desire, and in thy devotion interpose many acts of
humility, by way of confession and address to God, and reflection upon
7. Avoid great offices and employments, and the
noises of worldly honour. For in those
states, many times so many ceremonies and circumstances will seem necessary, as
will destroy the sobriety of thy thoughts. If the number of thy servants be
fewer, and their observances less, and their reverences less solemn, possibly
they will seem less than thy dignity; and if they be so much and so many it is
likely they will be too big for thy spirit. And here be thou very careful, lest
thou be abused by a pretence, that thou wouldest use thy great dignity as an
opportunity of doing great good. For supposing it might be good for others, yet
it is not good for thee; they may have encouragement in noble things from thee,
and, by the same instrument, thou mayest thyself be tempted to pride and
vanity. And certain it is, God is as much glorified by thy example of humility
in a low or temperate condition, as by thy bounty in a great and dangerous.
8. Make no reflex upon thy own humility, nor upon
any other grace with which God hath enriched thy soul. For since God oftentimes
hides from his saints and servants the sight of those excellent things by
which, they shine to others (though the dark side of the lantern be toward
themselves,) that he may secure the grace of humility, it is good that thou do
so thyself; and if thou beholdest a grace of God in thee, remember to give him
thanks for it, that thou mayest not boast in that which is none of they own;
and consider how thou hast sullied it by handling it with dirty fingers, with
thy own imperfections, and with mixture of anhandsome circumstances. Spiritual
pride is very dangerous, not only by reason it spoils so many graces, by which
we draw nigh unto the kingdom of God, but also because it so frequently creeps
upon the spirit of holy persons. For it is no wonder for a beggar to call
himself poor, or a drunkard to confess that he is no sober person; but for a
holy person to be humble, for one whom all men esteem a saint to fear lest
himself become a devil, and to observe his own danger, and to discern his own
infirmities, and make discovery of his bad adherences, is as hard as for a
prince to submit himself to be guided by tutors, and make himself subject to
discipline, like the meanest of his servants.
9. Often meditate upon the effects of pride on
one side, and humility on the other. First, That pride is like a canker, and
destroys the beauty of the fairest flowers, the most excellent gifts and
graces; but humility crowns them all. Secondly, That pride is a great
hinderance to the perceiving the things of God, and humility is an excellent preparative and instrument
of spiritual wisdom. Thirdly, That pride hinders the acceptation of our
prayers, but humility pierceth the clouds, and will not depart till the Most
High shall regard. Fourthly, That humility is but a speaking truth, and all
pride is a lie. Fifthly, That humility is the most certain way to real honour,
and pride is ever affronted or despised. Sixthly, That pride turned Lucifer
into a devil, and humility exalteth the Son of God above every name, and placed
him eternally at the right hand of his Father. Seventhly, That `God resisteth
the proud,' professing open defiance
and hostility against such persons, but giveth grace to the humble; grace and
pardon, remedy and relief, against misery and oppression, content in all
conditions, tranquillity of spirit, patience in afflictions, love abroad, peace
at home, and utter freedom from contention, and the sin of censuring others,
and the trouble of being censured themselves. For the humble man will not judge
his brother for the mote in his eye, being more troubled at the beam in his own
eye; and is patient and glad to be reproved, because himself hath cast the
first stone at himself, and therefore wonders not that others are of his
10. Remember that the blessed Saviour of the
world hath done more to prescribe, and transmit, and secure this grace than any
other; his whole life being a great
continued example of humility; a vast descent from the glorious bosom of his
Father to the womb of a poor maiden, to the form of a servant, to the miseries
of a sinner, to a life of labour, to a state of poverty, to a death of
malefactors, to the grave of death, and the intolerable calamities which we
deserved; and it were a good design, and yet but reasonable, that we should be
as humble, in the midst of our greatest imperfections and basest sins, as
Christ was in the midst of his fulness of the Spirit, great wisdom, perfect
life and most admirable virtue.
11. Drive away all flatterers from thy company,
and at no hand endure them, for he that endures himself so to be abused by
another is not only a fool for entertaining the mockery, but loves to have his
own opinion of himself to be heightened and cherished.
12. Never change thy employment for the sudden
coming of another to thee; but if modesty permits, or discretion, appear to him
that visits thee the same that thou wert to God and thyself in thy privacy. But
if thou wert walking or sleeping, or in any other innocent employment or
retirement, snatch not up a book to seem studious, nor fall on thy knees to
seem devout, nor alter anything to make him believe thee better employed than
13. To the same purpose it is of great use that
he who would preserve his humility should choose some spiritual person to whom
he shall oblige himself to discover his very thoughts and fancies, every act of
his, and all his intercourse with others, in which there may be danger; that by
such an openness of spirit he may expose every blast of vain glory, every idle
thought, to be chastened and lessened by the rod of spiritual discipline: and
he that shall find himself tied to confess every proud thought, every vanity of
his spirit, will also perceive they must not dwell with him, nor find any
kindness from him; and, besides this, the nature of pride is so shameful and
unhandsome, that the very discovery of it is a huge mortification and means of
suppressant it. A man would be ashamed to be told that he inquires after the
faults of his last oration or action on purpose to be commended; and,
therefore, when the man shall tell his spiritual guide the same shameful story
of himself, it is very likely he will be humbled and heartily ashamed of it.
14. Let every man suppose what opinion he should
have of one that should spend his time in playing with drum-sticks and
cockle-shells, and that should wrangle all day long with a little boy for pins,
or should study hard and labour to cozen a child of his gauds; and who would
run into a river, deep and dangerous, with a great burden upon his back, even
then when he were told of the danger, and earnestly importuned not to do it?
and let him but change the instances and the person, and he shall find that he
hath the same reason to think as bad of himself, who pursues trifles with
earnestness, spending mistime in vanity, and his labour for that which profits
not; who, knowing the laws of God, the rewards of virtue, the cursed
consequents of sin, that it is an evil spirit that tempts him to do it, a
devil, one that hates him, that longs extremely to ruin him; that it is his own
destruction that he is then working; that the pleasures of his sin are base and
brutish, unsatisfying in the enjoyment, soon over, shameful in their story,
bitter in the memory, painful in the effect here, and intolerable hereafter,
and for ever; yet in despite of all this, he runs foolishly into his sin and
his ruin, merely because he is a fool, and winks hard, and rushes violently
like a horse into the battle, or, like a madman, to his death. He that can
think great and good things of such a person, the next step may court the pack
for an instrument of pleasure, and admire a swing for wisdom, and go for
counsel to the prodigal and trifling grasshopper.
After the use of these and such like instruments
and considerations, if you would try how your soul is grown, you shall know
that humility, like the root of a goodly tree, is thrust very far into the
ground by these goodly fruits which appear above ground.
1. The humble man trusts not to his own
discretion, but in matters of concernment relies rather upon the judgment of
his friends, counsellors, or spiritual guides. 2. He does not pertinaciously
pursue the choice of his own will, but in all things lets God choose for him,
and his superiors, in those things which concern them. 3. He does not murmur
against commands. 4. He is not
inquisitive into the reasonableness of indifferent and innocent commands, but
believes their command to be reasonable enough in such cases to exact his
obedience. 5. He lives according to a rule, and with compliance to public
customs, without any affectation or singularity. 6. He is meek and indifferent
in all accidents and chances. 7. He patiently bears injuries. 8. He is always unsatisfied in his own conduct,
resolutions, and counsels. 9. He is a great lover of good men, and a praiser of
wise men, and a censurer of no man. 10. He is modest in his speech, and
reserved in his laughter. 11. He fears when he hears himself commended, lest
God make another judgment concerning his actions than men do. 12. He gives no
part of saucy answers when he is reproved, whether justly or unjustly. 13. He
loves to sit down in private, and, if he may, be refuses the temptation of
offices and new honours. 14. He is ingenuous, free, and open in his actions and
discourses. 15. He mends his fault, and gives thanks when he is admonished. 16.
He is ready to do good offices to the murderers of his fame, to his slanderers,
backbiters, and detractors, as Christ washed the feet of Judas. 17. And is
contented to be suspected of indiscretion, so before God he may really be
innocent, and not offensive to his neighbour, nor wanting to his just and
 Apuleius de Dennon. Socratis.
 Ama nesciri et pro nihilo
 I1villan nobilitado non cognosce
 Chi del arte sua se vergogna, semqure
vive con vergogna.
 Alter alteri satis amplum theatrum
sumus; satis unus, satismullus.-Sen.
 Ama l'amico tuo con il difetto suo. In
colloquiis pueri invisi aliis non fient, si non omnino in disputationibus
victoriam sempetr obtinere laborent. Non tantum egregium est scire vincere, sed
etiam posse vinci pulchrum est, ubi victoria est damnosa.-Plut. de Educ.
 Nihil ita dignum est odio, ut eorum
mores, qui compellantibus se difficiles, praebent.-Plut.
 Fabis abstine, dixit Pythagoras. Olim
nam Magistratus per suffragia fabis lata creabantur.-Plut.
 Matt. xi. 25.
 James, iv. 6.
 John, xiii. 15.
 Assai commanda, chi ubbidisce al
 Verum humilem patientia ostendit.-St.