§ 2. Of Humility, what it is.
§§ 3, 4. That God is the only object thereof, mediate or immediate.
§§ 5, 6, 7, 8. Of Humility expressed towards creatures with respect to God, which requires that we prefer all others before ourselves, according to the seventh degree in our holy Rule.
§§ 9, 10. This doth not offend against truth.
§§ 11, 12, 13. The which is proved by the grounds of true Christian Humility, and that the most sublime perfect creatures are the most humble.
§ 14. The knowledge and perception or feeling of our own not-being, and God's totality or absolute being, is the principal ground of Humility.
§ 15. Of other means conducing thereto.
§§ 16, 17, 18, 19, 20. By what considerations a perfect soul may truly judge herself inferior to all others.
§§ 21, 22. Of Humility exercised immediately to God, either with reflection on ourselves or without it.
§§ 23, 24. An imperfect soul may know, but not feel, her own nothing, which is done only in perfect prayer.
§§ 25, 26. Deliberate imperfections in ourselves are a hindrance to this feeling.
§§ 27, 28, 29. Of the degrees of this feeling.
§§ 30, 31. Exhortation to aspire thereto.
1. Having thus largely treated of the mortification of the principal passions in sensitive nature, we are consequently to speak of the mortifications of the will or appetites of the superior soul, the general inordination whereof is pride, the root of all other vices, and which of all other is the last cured, as being fixed in the inmost centre of the spirit. Now pride doth generally express itself one of these three ways: 1. in curiosity of knowledge, or seeking to enrich the understanding with sciences not profitable, and sought only out of an ambition of excelling. This is mortified by a nameless virtue which St. Paul describes by this circumlocution, when he exhorts us that we would (sapere ad sobrietatem) be soberly wise; concerning which duty we have treated sufficiently when we spoke of the regulating of our reading and studies; 2. in a love and desire of self-esteem, which is mortified by that most divine fundamental virtue of Humility; 3. in a love of liberty or independency, and a desire of prelature or authority over others, which is mortified by the religious virtue of Obedience. It remains, therefore, that we conclude this treatise of mortification with instructions touching these two eminent virtues of Humility and Obedience.
2. Humility may be defined to be a virtue by which we, acknowledging the infinite greatness and majesty of God, His incomprehensible perfections, and the absolute power that He hath over us and all creatures (which are as nothing before Him), do wholly subject ourselves, both souls and bodies, with all their powers and faculties, and all things that pertain to either, to His holy will in all things, and for His sake to all creatures, according to His will.
3. Properly speaking, humility is only exercised towards God, and not to creatures; because all creatures are in themselves nothing as well as we, and so deserve as well to be despised. And on these grounds the heathens were incapable of this virtue, because they did not, nor could, intend God, who was unknown unto them; yea, it was not without ground that they disgraced and condemned this virtue (by which men compared themselves with others, preferring all before themselves) as a hindrance to other perfections; because the undervaluing one's self compared with others was, in their opinion, a means to deject men's spirits and hinder any heroical attempts of raising one's self above others; and also because if the person comparing had indeed an advantage in perfections, it would be both unreasonable and unjust not to prefer himself. But what an inconsequent way of arguing this is, I shall hereafter show.
4. In this virtue of Humility, God, towards whom it was exercised, may be considered: 1. as absolutely and abstractly in Himself; 2. as compared with creatures; 3. as in His creatures, and in several degrees participated by them.
5. In this latter regard, we for God show Humility towards men, preferring others before ourselves, contenting ourselves with the meanest things in diet, clothes, books, &c., yea with the meanest parts and endowments of nature, flying all honour, authority, or esteem, &c.
6. If humility were thus practised by religious persons, &c., all other duties also would be cheerfully and readily practised; for if we did indeed esteem ourselves to deserve no honour, kind usage, &c., but the contrary, how could we be impatient for injuries received, unresigned in afflictions, infected with propriety, &c.? with what sweetness and peace would we live towards all! with what tenderness and charity would we embrace all, &c.!
7. Now the principal act of this Humility is that which is recommended by our holy Father in these words: The eleventh degree of Humility,' saith he, is when a soul shall not only pronounce with her tongue, but likewise in the most inward affection of the heart believe herself to be inferior to and more vile than all others, humbling herself and saying with the prophet, I am a worm and no man, the shame of men, and an abject among the common people; I was exalted by Thee, but I am humbled and confounded. And again, It was good for me that Thou didst humble me, that I may learn Thy commandments.'
8. Such true Humility is so rare to be found, that there are few that make profession of this act even in the tongue, insomuch that a man should be esteemed a hypocrite that should only pretend thereto; whereas, in truth the very essence of Humility, as regarding men, consists principally in the exercising this act; for we are not to conceive that any one is become truly humble by any one or more of the degrees of it, till he have attained (at least in preparation of mind) to the highest degree, with which our holy Father begins. Certain therefore it is, that true Humility requires this acknowledgment from us, that we believe ourselves to be inferior and more vile than all others.
9. Now though to ordinary human reason it may seem an offence against prudence and truth for one (for example) that knows himself to be skilled in arts, prudent, noble, &c., to prefer before himself those that are ignorant, silly, ignoble, &c.; or for a soul that by the Grace of God perceives herself to be free from mortal sins, and to live unblamably, yea, with edification, and perhaps is favoured by Almighty God with supernatural graces, sublime prayer, &c., to esteem herself inferior to persons that she sees abandoned to all vice and impiety; for doing so she would seem to lie against her own conscience and God, and to be extremely ungrateful to Him, -- notwithstanding Humility is not at all opposed to truth, for if it were so, it could not be a virtue. Yea, it is pure divine truth itself that forces such a confession from the perfectest soul; insomuch as that he that does not know, yea, and endeavours not experimentally to feel himself to be, the most vile and wretched of all creatures, does in vain challenge the title of being humble or true.
10. And this will appear by discovering the grounds upon which, and the means by which, true Christian Humility is built and to be attained, the which are these:
11. In the first place, we are to know that God created all things for Himself, that is, in order and subordination to Himself, so that the perfection of their natures respectively consists in the preserving of this subordination, or in taking a true measure of themselves considered in themselves, and also as compared with God; and so doing we shall in very truth, without flattery or vanity, acknowledge that we ourselves and all creatures with us are in and of ourselves simply and in propriety of speech very nothing: we have nothing, we deserve nothing, we can do nothing, yea, moreover, that by all things that proceed from ourselves, as from ourselves, we tend to nothing, and can reap nothing but what is due to defectuousness; and on the contrary, that God alone of Himself is, and has being, and that illimited, replenished with all the perfections that being can possibly have.
12. This is the main, universal, unalterable ground of Humility, by virtue of which all intellectual creatures in all states and degrees are obliged to refer to God alone, not only themselves and all manner of things (because without Him they have no being at all, and only by Him they continue to enjoy that being), but also all endowments that are in them, all operations that flow from them, as far as they are not defectuous, and the success likewise of all their actions; so that to acknowledge any good to come from any but God only, or to ascribe excellency or praise to any other but God, is a high injustice, a breach of that essential order in and for which creatures were made and are preserved.
13. By virtue of this indispensable subordination, or comparing of God with His creatures, the most perfect, most holy, and most sublime of all God's creatures do most profoundly humble themselves in His presence. The glorified saints do prostrate themselves before Him, casting their crowns at His feet; the Seraphim cover their faces, and our blessed Lord as Man, having a most perfect knowledge, perception, and feeling of the nothingness of creatures, and the absolute totality of God, did more than all saints and angels most profoundly humble Himself before the Divine Majesty of His Father, remaining continually plunged in the abyss of His own nothing. Moreover, in virtue hereof, He submitted Himself to all creatures, yea, forasmuch as concerned suffering, even to the devil himself. As a creature, He saw nothing in Himself but the nothing of a creature, and in all other creatures He saw nothing but God, to whom He humbled Himself in all, accepting as from Him whatsoever persecutions proceeded from others. True indeed it is, that without offending truth He could not believe any other creature to be more holy and perfect than Himself, and so could not in that regard humble Himself to them; but he considered all His own perfections as not His own, but God's, and therefore assumed nothing to Himself for them; yea, He did not at all consider them, but only to humble Himself and renounce all pretensions to them; and the least perfection that was in others He considered as belonging to God, and so humbled Himself to God in them.
14. But in the second place, although this consideration of the not-being of creatures out of God, and the all-being of God, be indeed the true and most proper ground of perfect Humility, yet because a great supernatural light and grace is required to make a soul sensible of this (for by discourse we may come to know it in an imperfect manner, and to believe it; but to taste, perceive, and feel it, this we can never do till we be entered far into God by our prayer), therefore we are in the beginning to make use also of another more sensible, and to the weakest eyes perceivable, ground of humiliation, which is the consciousness of our many imperfections and sins, joining therewith that imperfect discursive knowledge of our own nothing and God's totality, endeavouring by these two to humble and abase ourselves, so by little and little diminishing that natural pride which is in every one of us, by which we are apt not only to think better of ourselves than of any other, to excuse our own faults, and to accuse even the best actions of others, &c., but also to raise up ourselves against and above God Himself, considering ourselves as if we were both the principle and end of all good, challenging to ourselves the praise of all either real or imaginary good in us, and referring all things to our own contentment.
15. By a serious and frequent consideration of these things, way will be made for the introducing of true solid Humility into our souls; but yet these alone will not suffice, except thereto we join: 1. abstraction of life, by which we will come to overlook and forget the imperfections of others, and only look upon our own, thence flying employments, charges, and dealing with others; or when necessity requires a treating with others, doing it with all modesty, charity, and a cordial respectfulness, being confounded at our own praises, &c.; 2. a care to practise according to what Humility obliges us, with quietness of mind accepting humiliations, contempts, &c., from others, endeavouring to welcome them, and even to take joy in them, &c.; 3. but especially internal prayer, by which we not only get a more perfect light to discover a world of formerly unseen imperfections, but also we approach nearer to God, and get a more perfect sight of Him, in whom all creatures, ourselves and all, do vanish and are annihilated.
16. Now when by these means Humility begins to get a little strength in us, it is wonderful to see how inventive and ingenious it is in finding ways to increase in perfection. Then this degree of preferring all others whatsoever before ourselves will appear not only possible, but easily to be practised, as being most conformable to reason and duty.
17. For then a devout soul knowing how valuable and necessary a virtue Humility is, by which alone that most deadly poison of our souls, pride, is destroyed: 1. she will become scarce able to see anything in herself but what is truly her own, that is, her defectuousness and nothing, nor anything in others but what is God's; and thus doing she cannot choose but humble herself under all others, preferring all others before herself, and this without fiction, with all sincerity and simplicity; 2. she will never compare herself with others, but to the intent to abase herself; 3. if there be in her any natural endowments wanting to others, she will consider them as not her own, but God's, committed to her trust to the end to trade with them for God's glory only, of which trust a severe account shall be required; and being conscious of her negligence and ingratitude, she will be so far from glorifying herself for such endowments, that she will rather esteem them happy that want them; 4. if she have any supernatural graces which others want, yea, or if others are guilty of many open sins, she will consider that she may, according to her demerits, be deprived of them, and others enriched with them, who in all likelihood will make better use of them; for she knows by many woful experiments the perverseness of her own heart, but is utterly ignorant of others, and therefore cannot, without breach of charity, suspect that they will be so ungrateful; 5. she will not take notice of lesser imperfections in others, yea, not knowing their secret intentions, she will judge that those things which seem to be imperfections may perhaps be meritorious actions; 6. in a word, considering that God has made her a judge of herself, only to the end to condemn herself, and of others only to excuse them, and knowing that there can be no peril in judging (if it be possible) too hardly of one's self, but much in judging the worst of another in the smallest thing, though others be never so wicked, yet at least she will judge this, that if God had afforded them the light and helps that she enjoyed, they would have been angels in purity compared with her, and however that at least they are not guilty of such ingratitude as she is.
18. By such considerations as these, a devout soul will fix in her understanding a belief of her own vileness and baseness. For to make Humility a virtue it is the will that must even compel the understanding to say, I will believe myself to be inferior to all, according as I find just cause by these considerations,' and the same will will upon occasion force practices suitable to such a belief. It will make the soul afraid to seek things pleasing to her, yea, content with all hard usage, as knowing she deserves far worse, and ought to expect to be trodden under foot by all creatures; so that in love to justice and equality she will even desire and rejoice in all affronts, persecutions, and contempts; or if certain circumstances, as infirmity of body, &c., shall require, and that she be necessitated to choose or desire, any consolations, she will accept them in the spirit of humility and mortification; that is, purely in obedience to the Divine Will, and not at all for the satisfaction of nature, being far from thinking herself worthy of anything but want, pain, and contempt.
19. Now a superior is not to be judged to offend against this degree of Humility when he discovers, objects, reprehends, or punishes the faults of his subjects; for in so doing he sustains the person of God, to whom alone it belongs to exercise the office of a judge, yet withal the superior ought not therefore to esteem himself better than the person reprehended; for though perhaps in that one respect he cannot much condemn himself, yet for many other faults which he sees in himself and cannot see in others, he may and ought to remain humbled, yea, to be more confounded whensoever the duty of his place requires of him to be a reprehender of others, whilst himself doth far more deserve reprehension.
20. When by serious practice of humiliation joined with prayer a soul is come to a high degree of purity in spiritual exercises, then is attained that more admirable kind of Humility which regards God; in which the soul contemplating His totality and illimited universality of being, and thence reflecting on her own nothing (of which now she has a more perfect sight), she most profoundly humbles and annihilates herself before Him.
21. And when prayer is come to perfection, then will the soul also mount to the supreme degree of Humility, which regards God considered absolutely in Himself, and without any express or distinct comparison with creatures; for hereby a soul fixing her sight upon God as all in all, and contemplating Him in the darkness of incomprehensibility, does not by any distinct act or reflection consider the vacuity and nothingness of creatures, but really transcends and forgets them, so that to her they are in very deed as nothing, because they are not the object which with her spirit she only sees, and with her affections only embraces.
22. This most heroical Humility can only be exercised in the act of contemplation, for then only it is that a soul feels her own nothing, without intending to reflect upon it. At all other times she in some degree feels the false supposed being of herself and creatures, because it is only in actual pure prayer that the images of them are expelled, and with the images the affections to them also.
23. Notwithstanding, a great measure and proportion of the virtue of such prayer remains, and is operative also afterwards out of prayer; for if the soul do see creatures, she never sees them as in themselves, but only in relation to God, and so in them humbles herself to God and loves God in them; and if she reflect upon herself, and turn her eyes inward into her spirit, desiring to find God there, there will not be any considerable imperfection, obscurity, or stain that will darken her view of God, but she will discover it and most perfectly hate it.
24. As for sins or imperfections in others, though never so heinous, they are no hindrance to her seeing of God, because either she transcends and marks them not, or is by their means urged to a nearer and more fervent love of Him for His patience -- to a greater zeal for His honour impaired by the sins of men, and to a greater compassion towards sinners.
25. But the least imperfection in herself being really a hindrance to her immediate union with God and perfect sight of Him is, in so great a light as she then enjoys, perfectly seen and perfectly abhorred by her; yea, such faults as to her natural understanding formerly appeared no bigger than motes, do in virtue of this supernatural light seem as mountains; and defects which she before never dreamed or imagined to be in herself, she now sees not only to be, but to abound and bear great sway in her. To this purpose saith St. Gregory (1.22, Moral. c. i.): Sancti viri quo altuis apud Deum proficiunt, eè subtilius indignos se deprehendunt, quia dum proximi luci fiunt, quidquid in illis latebat inveniunt: that is, Holy men the higher that they raise themselves approaching to God, the more clearly do they perceive their own unworthiness, because, being encompassed with a purer light, they discover in themselves those defects which before they could not see.
26. Hence it appears that there is a great difference between the knowledge of our own nothing, and the feeling or perception of it. The former may be got by a little meditation, or by reading school divinity, which teaches and demonstrates how that of ourselves we are nothing, but mere dependences on the only true being of God. Whereas the feeling of our own nothing will never be attained by study or meditation alone, but by the raising and purifying of our souls by prayer. The devil hath the knowledge of the nothingness of creatures in a far greater perfection than any man, and yet he hath nothing at all of the feeling. Now it is only the feeling of our not-being that is true perfect Humility, as, on the contrary, the feeling of our being is pride.
27. Now this feeling of our not-being has two degrees: 1. The first is in regard of the corporal or sensitive faculties, to wit, when the soul is so raised above the body and all desires concerning it that it hath lost all care and solicitude about it, having mortified in a great measure all inferior passions. This is a high degree of Humility, but yet not perfect, as may appear plainly by this, that after a soul hath attained hereto by a passive union, there ordinarily follows the great privation or desolation, in which she finds herself to be yet full of herself and her own being, combated with many risings and repugnances.2. The second degree follows after that the said privation ceases, in which the soul exercises herself after a far more sublime manner, and begins then to have a more perfect feeling of her not-being, consisting in an abstraction from the soul herself and all her faculties and operations, all which are so lost and annihilated in God, that in her exercises of most pure prayer she cannot perceive distinctly any working either in the understanding or will, not being able to understand or give an account of what she does when she prays.
28. The author of Secrets Sentiers saith that souls which are arrived to this state of perfect union are yet ordinarily permitted by God to descend oft from their high abstractions into their inferior nature, even as they were during their state of entrance into a spiritual course. So that (according to his doctrine) during such a descent they must needs be full of the feeling of their own being. But then, saith he, they from this descent do by little and little through their internal exercises ascend higher than they were ever before, and such ascents and descents interchangeably continue all their lives. Thus saith Barbanzon, perhaps out of experience of what passed in his own soul. But whether from thence he had sufficient warrant to apply these observations so generally, I leave to the determination of the perfect, who only can judge of such matters.
29. But alas, these contemplations, and consequently the said blessed fruits of them, are very rare, and not at all in our own power to come at pleasure, inasmuch as a soul does not arrive to the perfection of prayer till after a passive union or contemplation, whereto well may we dispose ourselves according to our power; but it is in the free will and pleasure of God to confer it on whom, when, and in what manner it pleaseth Him.
30. But, however, let not beginners nor proficients in spirituality be discouraged, for that as yet they cannot find in themselves (or at least very imperfectly) a perception of their not-being, not having as yet a supernatural intellectual species evidently and even palpably representing to their minds God's totality and their own nothing, the which species it is not the nature of active exercises to produce. It is a great blessing of God to them that He has given them the courage to aspire thereunto. And persevering in the ways leading thither, they will certainly arrive to the partaking of the substance of this sublime Humility, in virtue of which alone all other virtues will be perfectly exercised by them; inasmuch as by it they will come to know both God and themselves aright, and be in an immediate disposition (as our holy Father says) to that perfect charity which expels all fear, for which reason he only treats particularly and largely of this virtue, and of Obedience, which is a branch of it.
31. We ought therefore never to cease praying that God would reveal unto us our own nothing and His all-being: for prayer is the only effectual means to attain unto it. As for exterior acts and expressions of Humility, if they flow from prayer, they may be profitable and acceptable to God; however, for the peril of pride, which will insinuate and mingle itself even in Humility also, we should not be too forward to exercise voluntary outward affections of Humility out of a pretence of giving edification to others. And when we do such as are commanded in the Rule, and conformable to our state, we ought in them, as well as we can, to purify our intention.