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A Book Review… Without Humility, No One Can Love God

June 12, 2018 Featured Today No Comments

By MITCHELL KALPAKGIAN

Humility: Wellspring of Virtue, by Dietrich von Hildebrand (Sophia Institute Press, Manchester, NH, 1997), 109 pp. Paperback; $5.95. Available from www.sophiainstitute
.com or call 1-800-888-9344.

The Christian virtue absent in the ancient world of Greece and Rome until taught and embodied by Christ in the example of washing the feet of the disciples (“For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also”), humility, like love, protects all the moral virtues from losing their intrinsic goodness and attraction.
Without humility, good works acquire various symptoms of pride that taint every virtue with aspects of self-righteousness, spiritual pride, complacency, and legalism. This book plumbs the depths of humility’s spiritual richness.
An excerpt from von Hildebrand’s classic The Transformation of Man, this chapter on humility explains the many subtle aspects of pride that deprive virtue of its natural appeal and winning influence. Examining satanic pride, von Hildebrand identifies the glorification of the self as “the dull insensibility to values which marks the slave of concupiscence.”
This apathy to the good, the true, the holy, and the beautiful originates not in “value-blindness” or “dull indifference” but from hostility, the perverse hatred of the good that seeks to “dethrone” the splendor and majesty of noble ideals because they diminish the prideful man of self-importance and “self-supremacy.” This value-blindness breeds a hardheartedness that refuses the normal response of appreciation and gratitude for the beauty and wonder of goodness. Satanic pride fails to respond with receptiveness and deference to the sacred and the holy.
On the other hand, the humble man responds to beauty with awe, to heroism or saintliness with admiration, and to God’s grandeur with submission and surrender: “He is concerned with the glory, not of his own ego, but of the objectively important, of that which pleases God.” Always aware of his lowliness and indebtedness to God, the humble man defers to God’s authority and sovereignty with “a clear consciousness of having received everything we have from God.”
In his understanding of the relationship between man and God, the humble man has no fantasies but acknowledges the simple truth that man has received “all that we have and are” from God. Man receives the entirety of his existence from God the Creator: “that we receive all our being from God; that He is That Which Is, whereas we are ‘as though we were not’.”
In his awareness of the reality of God’s love and goodness, the humble man, according to von Hildebrand, responds “We thank thee for thy great glory” and “For better is one day in Thy courts above thousands elsewhere.”
This response to the value of the goodness of creation also evokes praise for the existence of truth, for the splendor of beauty, and for the goodness of beloved people. These heartfelt responses express themselves in holy joy, loving adoration, and praise to God for the munificence of his love. To the humble person “God shall be everything and he nothing.” In St. Francis of Assisi’s words, “My God and my all.”
Unlike the illusions of sovereignty that blind the prideful, the resignation of humility to God’s will trusts in God’s Providence, never presuming mastery over his destiny or absolute autonomy.
While the humble man admits his dependence on God and acknowledges the infinite distance between God’s divine nature and man’s earthly existence, he responds with appreciation for all of God’s gifts. Though man is finite and lowly and owes everything to God, he sees with utmost clarity that “we have received a great deal from God.”
Made in the image of God, endowed with a spiritual nature, and created a little less than the angels, man is not some negligible particle or drop in the ocean lacking personhood, dignity, and importance as pantheism proposes. In awe of God’s transcendence and greatness, humility never loses sight of each person’s special uniqueness, the worth of every soul, the individualized person, and “man’s peculiar dignity in contrast to the rest of nature.”
Humility is not the false humility of abasement or self-degradation that exaggerates man’s unworthiness to the point of ignoring God’s conversation with man or disregarding God’s voice or call that speaks to every person.
While false humility resists God’s call by pleading inadequacy (“man presumes to decide for himself where he stands, instead of leaving that decision to God”), true humility says yes with the spirit of the Holy Mother’s alacrity: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” Von Hildebrand explains this distinction with precision: “I give up my wish to enlighten God as to the degree of my unworthiness, knowing that by myself I am worth nothing; but if He wills to draw me to Him, if He calls me by name, my duty is to say one word: Adsum (Here I am).”
The humble easily surrender to God’s will with no reservations and demonstrate “an element of holy audacity.”
In addition to conquering satanic self-worship and tyrannical self-glory, the humble person combats the prideful complacency that fixates on the “consciousness of counting for much” — seeking accolades as if collecting badges for vainglorious decoration and advertising moral superiority in the manner of the Pharisee.
This “ambitious” self-complacency harbors professional envy and withholds admiration from others that diminishes the image and reputation in which the prideful bask. Also this vice delights in knowing the faults of others, “contemplating the defects of others, against which their own superiority stands out more glowingly.”
While social respectability and public recognition mark the self-complacent aspect of pride, the humble person does not seek to enhance his reputation by an accumulation of distinctions and awards but acts from a pure, disinterested love of goodness for its own sake. He beholds the glory of God not only in the splendor of creation but also in the lovability of others.
Never exaggerating his superiority to others or luxuriating in his high position, the humble person “neither boasts of his virtues nor takes pleasure in their contemplation.” He escapes the temptation of narcissism.
For von Hildebrand humility at its highest resists the loving gaze at one’s virtues, always keenly aware of the weakness of fallen human nature most prone to the many subtle symptoms of pride. Honest about his God-given gifts and grateful for all blessings, the humble person regards his virtues and talents as special responsibilities lent to him for the service of others.
Realistic about the role of God’s grace in his own life, he never stoops to self-congratulation but knows that Christian life demands growth in love, perfection, and imitation of Christ: “The determination never to cease advancing — a process that has no end in this life — is one of the basic conditions of holiness.” Praise and recognition should always depend on the compliments of others, never “an appreciative contemplation of ‘our’ values.”

The Form Of A Servant

Humility also provides the antidote to the aspect of pride that expresses haughtiness in its many forms of willful refusal: the unwillingness to obey authority, to be dependent on charity, to serve others, to apologize for faults or admit wrongdoing, to express gratitude for an unrepayable favor, or to assume a lower position. All these gracious gestures assault the haughty man’s lofty image of social superiority and self-sufficiency: “This type of man, then, is loath to ask for anything and convinced he is above the need for redemption.”
On the other hand, the humble man never allows willfulness or obstinacy to rule his actions, submitting with meekness to others, respecting authority, bearing insults with equanimity, and choosing to be last.
The humble, then, who even descend below the level of their natural dignity, grow in the love of God as they imitate the Lord who “emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant” and lowered Himself before the humiliation of the cross:
“In its deepest roots, humility is a fruit of charity; it is our love of Christ that makes us will to ‘die’ so that He may live in us and inspires our readiness to serve all men, because He has said: ‘What you do to the least of the least of my brethren, you have done it to me’.”
Without humility no one can love God, imitate Christ, love his neighbor, or perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Without humility all virtue loses its attraction and beauty and grows more rigid, inflexible, self-righteous, and insensitive — an attitude von Hildebrand calls “hard, cramped, and morally close-fisted.” He captures the beautiful aspect of the good in this penetrating and luminous exposition of humility, the pillar that exalts and ennobles every Christian virtue.

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