3. Humility.

The present time’s emphasis on the dignity of the human person has made talk on humility as a value somewhat problematic; it has become ambiguous. Aristotle considered it a vice, while Nietzsche’s doctrine of the "Superman" does not allow a place for it, since humility belongs more to slaves rather than to free men. For Christians, however, ‘humility’ is a value since the founder of Christianity describes himself as ‘meek and humble of heart (Mt. 11:29).’

A Christian virtue.

St. Thomas Aquinas classified humility under temperance, thus making it a virtue that tempers the irascible appetite in its tendency to excel and restrains it from presumption. This classification makes humility somewhat like modesty; this is the connotation most associated with humility now. From the perspective of the Bible, however, humility has a wider connotation. In the first place, it designates the proper attitude before God as one’s Lord, Creator and Provider. It is the attitude opposed to Adam and Eve’s desire for independence and autonomy, a desire made concrete in their act of ‘original’ disobedience. Yahweh trained Israel in humility. The journey through the wilderness, Israel’s experiences of defeat -- both before their enemies and the forces of nature -- in the Holy land, the Exile, were all lessons in humility intended to make Israel "the humble servant of Yahweh." In the New Testament, the traits of Yahweh’s humble servant are found in Mary (the handmaid of the Lord) and Jesus, who is the definitive image of humility (Jn. 13:1-17).

In the second place, humility also characterizes an attitude which builds up the Christian community. In the context of Paul’s communities, humility describes the Christian’s manner of behaving patiently and compassionately with fellow Christians (cf. Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:12).

Augustine on Humility8

‘Humility is Truth,’ reads a popular adage. In Augustine, humility is related to the truth and being so, holds an importance that is incomparable to other moral virtues. To Dioscurus, Augustine wrote:

I wish you would submit with sincere piety to Him and not seek any other way to abiding truth but the one shown us by him who, being God, knows our weakness. This way consists, first, of humility, second, of humility, and third, of humility... It is not that there are no other precepts to be mentioned. But, unless humility precedes, accompanies, and follows whatever we do, unless it is a goal on which we keep our eye, a companion at our side, and a yoke upon our neck, we will find that we have done little good to rejoice in; pride will have bereft us of everything.9

For Augustine, it is important since it is the cure for pride, that vice which has introduced all disvalues. Within an Augustinian perspective, humility is seen as a moral value in at least two ways: (a) it is necessary for the Christian life (b) it is a sine qua non for the community life.

Christian life

Christian life is not possible without humility. The obedience of faith requires humble submission. If growth in God’s grace means allowing God to work in my life, then it presupposes the acceptance of one’s status as a beggar before God. Man is indigens Deo. To accept this and live out its consequences is humility. If Christian life means a life lived in imitation of Christ, then one cannot do without humility, for Christ himself taught it as the way of sonship. Humility is the mode by which God came to reach man; it will also be the way by which man reaches God.

Community life

If pride introduced the alienation of man from his fellows, humility makes possible their reconciliation. Phil. 2:6-11 was intended by Paul as the motivation for a life wherein brothers seek the good of others more than their own. "Have the mind of Christ," says Paul to the Philippians. Christ was not arrogant and self-seeking; he was humble and lived as a servant. Quite paradoxically, the exaltation that egoism desires is not achieved by arrogance (that snatches what belongs to God) but by the ego’s self-emptying (= kenosis) to take on the form of a slave. Thus humility is related to servanthood exercised in community. ("See Humble and Generous Service" below.)

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