Humility isn’t Being Delusional

Truthfulness and humility are virtues, pride is a sin, and we’re supposed to practice humility.1

So Olympic athletes should say they’re puny?

Small wonder some folks think faith makes no sense.

Accepting Reality

Humility is a good idea, within reason:

“Humility restrains the appetite from aiming at great things against right reason: while magnanimity urges the mind to great things in accord with right reason.”
(“The Summa Theologica,” St. Thomas Aquinas, translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province (Benziger Bros. edition, 1947))

“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.”
(Augustine of Hippo …, via Wikiquote)

2 My son, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.
“Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.
3 For great is the power of God; by the humble he is glorified.”
(Sirach 3:1719)

A key idea in that Aquinas quote is “right reason.”

Humility isn’t a psychotic delusion: a morose counterpart to megalomania. Then there’s false humility, what Aquinas calls “irony,” that he talked about in Summa, Question 113.2

Humility is accepting reality.

For me, it involves acknowledging that I’ve got creative talents — including freakishly enhanced language skills.

That’s the kit God gave me.

My contribution has been deciding to do something with the package.

On the other hand, I was born with defective hips — swapping them out a few years back was a huge improvement — which aren’t quite so obviously a blessing. Neither was enduring decades of undiagnosed depression and something on the autism spectrum.

Those are part of the kit I was issued, too.3

On the ‘up’ side, my circumstances helped me learn to see beauty in just about everything: and that’s another topic.

‘Umbleness’ and Reality

Uriah Heep’s unctuous “umbleness” is, happily, fictional.

Self-deprecation can, I suppose, be a useful tool for easing tension. I’m not convinced that it’s a good idea, though: particularly when someone starts believing negative self-talk.

Wanting to seem like more than I really am is definitely a bad idea. That’s what the sin we call pride is about. That sort of pride is as unreasonable as trying to believe I’m stupid. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1784, 1866, 1931, 20932094)

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote about boasting, humility and pride, including this:

“…The sin of boasting may be considered in two ways. First, with regard to the species of the act, and thus it is opposed to truth; as stated (in the body of the article and Question [110], Article [2]). Secondly, with regard to its cause, from which more frequently though not always it arises: and thus it proceeds from pride as its inwardly moving and impelling cause….”
(“The Summa Theologica,” Question 112, St. Thomas Aquinas)

“…Humility restrains the appetite from aiming at great things against right reason: while magnanimity urges the mind to great things in accord with right reason. Hence it is clear that magnanimity is not opposed to humility: indeed they concur in this, that each is according to right reason….”
“The Summa Theologica,” Question 161, St. Thomas Aquinas)

“…’A man is said to be proud, because he wishes to appear above (super) what he really is’; for he who wishes to overstep beyond what he is, is proud. Now right reason requires that every man’s will should tend to that which is proportionate to him. Therefore it is evident that pride denotes something opposed to right reason….”
(“The Summa Theologica,” Question 162, St. Thomas Aquinas)
(translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province (Benziger Bros. edition, 1947))

Definitions — Humility, Pride, Sin, and Temperance; Catholic Style

That’s a Pythagorean cup, a thinking person’s dribble glass, sort of; and yuza no ki — gadgets used for teaching moderation.

Since I’m a Catholic, I take balance and moderation very seriously. it’s what we call temperance. I talked about that three weeks ago. (July 10, 2016)

Since I’m a recovering English teacher, I like to include definitions in these posts:

HUMILITY: The virtue by which a Christian acknowledges that God is the author of all good. Humility avoids inordinate ambition or pride, and provides the foundation for turning to God in prayer (2559). Voluntary humility can be described as ‘poverty of spirit’ (2546).”
(Catechism, Glossary, H)

PRIDE: One of the seven capital sins. Pride is undue self–esteem or self–love, which seeks attention and honor and sets oneself in competition with God (1866).”
(Catechism, Glossary, P)

SIN: An offense against God as well as a fault against reason, truth, and right conscience. Sin is a deliberate thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the eternal law of God. In judging the gravity of sin, it is customary to distinguish between mortal and venial sins (1849, 1853, 1854).”
(Catechism, Glossary, S)

TEMPERANCE: The cardinal moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasure and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the mastery of the will over instinct, and keeps natural desires within proper limits (1809).”
(Catechism, Glossary, T)

Hubris, Science, and Getting a Grip

At least as far back as Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, we’ve had tales of scientists driven by hubris — self-confidence above and beyond the call of reason.

Cautionary tales like Marlowe’s Faustus, the legend of Daedalus and Icarus, and ‘mad scientist’ movies, can teach useful ideas: like ‘trying to do the impossible may end badly.’

They also give us this sort of dialog:

Dr. James Xavier: I’m blind to all but a tenth of the universe.

Dr. Sam Brant: My dear friend, only the gods see everything.

Dr. James Xavier: My dear doctor, I’m closing in on the gods.”
(“X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes” (1963), via IMDB.com)

Maybe hubris contributed to hoaxes like Piltdown Man and archaeoraptor; and atrocities like the Auschwitz, Dachau, Tuskegee, and Willowbrook State School experiments.

But I wonder if movies like “Cosmic Monsters,” “The Fly,” and “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die,” teach that curiosity is bad: particularly when it’s scientific curiosity.

As I said Friday, Using the brains God gave us does not offend the Almighty. (July 29, 2016)

Science and technology, studying this universe and developing new tech, is part of being human. Ethics apply, same as everything else we do.4

This isn’t a new idea. One of the Genesis creation stories has Adam, not God, naming critters:

“So the LORD God formed out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each of them would be its name.”
(Genesis 2:19)

A scientist occasionally embraces the notion that smart folks are “beyond good and evil,” or that we don’t need God because we’ve discovered that Ussher was wrong by several orders of magnitude.

Interestingly, Anaxagoras got in trouble with Athenian authorities a little over two dozen centuries back for claiming that our sun isn’t the chariot of Helios.

Science and Humility

Folks knew that the universe is vast and ancient when Hemiunu helped build the Great Pyramid of Giza.

That was around the time folks started replacing timber with stone at Stonehenge. A place we call Mohenjo-daro was a major city then, and I’m wandering off-topic.

Learning that the world is bigger and older than some European scholars thought, a few centuries back, doesn’t bother me a bit.

I see it as an opportunity for “even greater admiration” of God’s greatness. (Catechism, 283)

4 Indeed, before you the whole universe is as a grain from a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.

“But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook the sins of men that they may repent.

“For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.

“And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?”
(Wisdom 11:2225)

We’re created by God, designed with a thirst for truth and for God — made from the stuff of this world — and made “in the image of God,” creatures who are matter and spirit.(Genesis 1:26, 2:7; Catechism, 27, 355361)

Using our senses and reason, we can observe the world’s order and beauty: learning something of God in the process. (Genesis 1:26, 2:7; Catechism, 3135, 282289)

I think the sensible — and humble — approach to reality is studying God’s universe, accepting what we find, and learning more about it. Insisting that God conforms to ideas published in 17th-century Britain: not so much.

We wouldn’t have science, arguably, if the Church hadn’t been insisting that the universe operates under rational, knowable, physical laws. And that’s yet another topic, for another post.


(From NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA); ESA/Hubble Collaboration; used w/o permission.)


1 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1866, 2468, 24822486, 2540.

2 St. Thomas Aquinas discusses truth, boasting, humility, and getting a grip, in Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 112 and 113. He had a lot more to say, including this:

“…Pride is directly opposed to the virtue of humility, which, in a way, is concerned about the same matter as magnanimity, as stated above (Question [161], Article [1], ad 3)….”
(“The Summa Theologica,” St. Thomas Aquinas, translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province (Benziger Bros. edition, 1947))

3 “Autism spectrum disorder” is the current name for a cluster of mental/neurological quirks. I’m not convinced that it’s a single disorder, but for now it’s a useful diagnostic label for part of what happens in my head.

It’s also a condition that’s fairly well-known, and generally spotted in infancy or early childhood: today. Back in the mid-20th century, not so much.

There’s almost certainly a genetic aspect to “autism spectrum disorder,” so my wife and I weren’t surprised when some of our kids were blessed with something very much like my quirks. Depression is another matter. The genetic link isn’t as obvious, although I’m guessing that some of us are more likely than others to get hit with it.

More:

4 (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 159, 22922296)

About Brian H. Gill

I’m a sixty-something married guy with six kids, four surviving, in a small central Minnesota town. I mostly write and make digital art. I’m only interested in three things: that which exists within the universe; that which exists beyond; and that which might exist.

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