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What is Humility? What are Its Limits?

At its heart, humility is reverence for the truth about oneself. We are neither to esteem ourselves too highly nor despise ourselves as bereft of God’s gifts. By humility we acknowledge that we depend on God and the gifts of others but also that we are called to accept our gifts and then use them for others. None of us has all the gifts, but together, and from God, we have all the gifts. In acknowledging our own gifts, humility calls us to remember that they are gifts, received from God and supplied or awakened by others. St. Paul says, What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (1 Cor 4:7)

Fundamentally, humility bids us to recognize our lowliness and remember our need to be submitted to the gifts and lawful authority of others. The word humility is derived from the Latin humilitas or, as St. Thomas says, from humus, the earth beneath our feet.

Humility as a virtue is the good habit by which a person has a modest estimate of his own worth and submits himself to others, according to reason. St. Thomas says, “… humility is a quality by which a person considering his own defects has a lowly opinion of himself and willingly submits himself to God and to others for God’s sake. … The virtue of humility consists in keeping oneself within one’s own bounds, not reaching out to things above one, and submitting to one’s superior” (Summa Contra Gent., bk. IV, Ch. 55).

Humility does not require us to have no esteem for the gifts and graces that God has granted us. No one should fail to esteem the gifts of God, which are to be valued above all things. St. Paul says that one of the works of the Holy Spirit is That we may know the things that are given us from God (1 Corinthians 2:12). Humility also moves us to esteem the goods in others that we do not possess and to acknowledge defects or sins in our own self that we do not perceive in others. In this sense, saints were able to see their own faults and sins in a clearer light than that which is ordinarily given to persons who are not saints.

Humility is a kind of key that removes pride and makes us able and fit to receive grace. St. James writes, God resists the proud, and gives his grace to the humble (James 4:6).

Read more at Archdiocese of Washington. 

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