To be “humble of heart”, The 12 degrees of humility according to St. Benedict and St. Thomas Aquinas

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Matthew 11:25-30

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.
Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide cites the words of St. Augustine on this verse: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of Me, not to frame a world, not to create all things, visible and invisible, not to do miracles in the world and to raise the dead; but that I am meek and lowly in heart. Dost thou wish to be great, begin from the least. Thou art thinking of constructing a mighty fabric of loftiness, think first of the foundation of humility. And as great as each one wishes to build up his edifice, the greater the building, so much the more deeply let him dig his foundation.”

In following Christ our Savior, we are to imitate not so much his power and his glory, but rather his meekness and humility. But how to be humble? Indeed, it is much easier to be humble in word than humble of heart. In this regard, we turn to the writings of St. Benedict of Nursia who, in the seventh chapter of his Rule, establishes the twelve degrees of humility. Finally, we will reproduce St. Thomas Aquinas’ defense of the twelve degrees, recalling that the Angelic Doctor himself learned humility through his schooling under the Holy Rule as a boy. [what follows is taken entirely from the Rule of St. Benedict and from the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, respectively]

From the Holy Rule of St. Benedict, chapter VII. On Humility
The first degree of humility, then, is that a person keep the fear of God before his eyes and beware of ever forgetting it. Let him be ever mindful of all that God has commanded; let his thoughts constantly recur to the hell-fire which will burn for their sins those who despise God, and to the life everlasting which is prepared for those who fear him. […] Let a man consider that God is always look at him from heaven, that his actions are everywhere visible to the divine eyes and are constantly being reported to God by the Angels.

The second degree of humility is that a person love not his own will nor take pleasure in satisfying his desires, but model his actions on the saying of the Lord, I have come not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.

The third degree of humility is that a person for love of God submit himself to his Superior in all obedience, imitating the Lord, of whom the Apostle says, He became obedient even unto death.

The fourth degree of humility is that he hold fast to patience with a silent mind when in this obedience he meets with difficulties and contradictions and even any kind of injustice, enduring all without growing weary or running away.

The fifth degree of humility is that he hid from his Abbot none of the evil thoughts that enter his heart or the sins committed in secret, but that he humbly confess them.

The sixth degree of humility is that a monk be content with the poorest and worst of everything, and that in every occupation assigned him, he consider himself a bad and worthless workman.

The seventh degree of humility is that he consider himself lower and of less account than anyone else, and this not only in verbal protestation but also with the most heartfelt inner conviction.

The eighth degree of humility is that a monk do nothing except what is commended by the common Rule of the monastery and the example of the elders.

The ninth degree of humility is that a monk restrain his tongue and keep silence, not speaking until he is questioned.

The tenth degree of humility is that he be not ready and quick to laugh.

The eleventh degree of humility is that when a monk speaks he do so gently and without laughter, humbly and seriously, in few and sensible words, and the he be not noisy in his speech.
The twelfth degree of humility is that a monk not only have humility in his heart but also by his very appearance make it always manifest to those who see him. That is to say that whether he is at the Work of God, in the oratory, in the monastery, in the garden, on the road, in the fields or anywhere else, and whether sitting, walking or standing, he should always have his head bowed and his eyes toward the ground.

Having climbed all these steps of humility, therefore, the monk will presently come to that perfect love of God which casts out fear. And all those precepts which formerly he had not observed without fear, he will now begin to keep by reason of that love, without any effort, as though naturally and by habit. No longer will his motive be the fear of hell, but rather the love of Christ, good habit and delight in the virtues which the Lord will deign to show forth by the Holy Spirit in his servant now cleansed from vice and sin.

Whether twelve degrees of humility are fittingly distinguished in the Rule of Blessed Benedict? (Summa Theologica II-II, q.61, a.6)
As stated above (Article 2) humility has essentially to do with the appetite, in so far as a man restrains the impetuosity of his soul, from tending inordinately to great things: yet its rule is in the cognitive faculty, in that we should not deem ourselves to be above what we are. Also, the principle and origin of both these things is the reverence we bear to God. Now the inward disposition of humility leads to certain outward signs in words, deeds, and gestures, which manifest that which is hidden within, as happens also with the other virtues. For a man is known by his look, and a wise man, when thou meetest him, by his countenance (Sirach 19:26). Wherefore the aforesaid degrees of humility include something regarding the root of humility, namely the twelfth degree, “that a man fear God and bear all His commandments in mind.”

Again, they include certain things with regard to the appetite, lest one aim inordinately at one’s own excellence. This is done in three ways. First, by not following one’s own will, and this pertains to the eleventh degree; secondly, by regulating it according to one’s superior judgment, and this applies to the tenth degree; thirdly, by not being deterred from this on account of the difficulties and hardships that come in our way, and this belongs to the ninth degree.

Certain things also are included referring to the estimate a man forms in acknowledging his own deficiency, and this in three ways. First by acknowledging and avowing his own shortcomings; this belongs to the eighth degree: secondly, by deeming oneself incapable of great things, and this pertains to the seventh degree: thirdly, that in this respect one should put others before oneself, and this belongs to the sixth degree.

Again, some things are included that refer to outward signs. One of these regards deeds, namely that in one’s work one should not depart from the ordinary way; this applies to the fifth degree. Two others have reference to words, namely that one should not be in a hurry to speak, which pertains to the fourth degree, and that one be not immoderate in speech, which refers to the second. The others have to do with outward gestures, for instance in restraining haughty looks, which regards the first, and in outwardly checking laughter and other signs of senseless mirth, and this belongs to the third degree

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24 Responses to To be “humble of heart”, The 12 degrees of humility according to St. Benedict and St. Thomas Aquinas

  1. toadspittle says:

    .
    “Let him be ever mindful of all that God has commanded; let his thoughts constantly recur to the hell-fire which will burn for their sins those who despise God, and to the life everlasting which is prepared for those who fear him. […] Let a man consider that God is always look at him from heaven, that his actions are everywhere visible to the divine eyes and are constantly being reported to God by the Angels.”

    That’s the stuff to give the troops!

    Like

  2. afmm says:

    God bless you, dear Toad. I think the troops, military, can take that but it is the stuff to give our hubristic left wing politicians, Harry Reid et al. My father was a distinguished predecessor of Harry. Vive la difference gone wrong. There has been a sea change, not sure what sea change actually means, but a terrible — yep! TERRIBLE (Dies Irae) — upending of what we hold true and dear. It has been going on for a century or two, and now accelerates. The devil seeks the ruin of souls and we must fight back. And be tested. Even those of us who are cowardly.. There is a book “The Tryanny of Nice” , written by a Canadian woman two or three a years ago. Great title.

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  3. Robert John Bennett says:

    In our poor age of supposed freedom and individualism, it is good to be reminded of the importance of the virtue of humility, and what it really means.

    Like

  4. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Yes AF, thank heaven for some support here. Your “upending of all we hold dear” can be seen in the “infamous strumming in the liturgy” as Manus says, and I agree wholeheartedly. So common (the strumming, not Manus). But who is Harry Reid? I think we should be told.

    And you rightly speak of the “ruin of souls” – just look at Toadstittle – ‘a good, quiet family man’, ‘a role model’ and now ‘his reputation lies in tatters’, and sadly obsessed with “M*l G*b*s*n.

    But I must disagree with Bobby Bennet – I spent years trying to get rid of the humility conditioned in me, it being part of the mechanism intended to suppress ‘the likes of me’. Now I simply ‘don’t know my place’.

    AF and Bobby both imply that we were more free “a century or two ” ago. Totally untrue and without foundation.

    Eyeballed Mr Whoppy.

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  5. piliersdelaterre says:

    This is interesting: if a Martian were to come across these precepts, he would conclude that ‘God’ meant the ‘collective good’, and that the overriding ideal was not the integrity of the private person but the harmony and stasis of the body politic (which is now a foreign mindset, except somewhere like Japan).
    Was it Confucius who desired that knowledge should not pass to the people in case it caused a disruption of order? However we may cry ‘ubi sunt!’, it is not realistic, after the cult of Hitler (et al) -where rational people gave up their wills to a Fuehrer (and so ensued a terrible collective misjudgement)- for our ideal of serving God (or a lesser authority) to be so mindless (or trusting, perhaps?). However, one extreme mustn’t lead to its opposite!
    Where would we be if there were no ingenuity, initiative, enterprise, originality, unorthodoxy, eccentricity, and – most controversially- genius?
    Humility only makes sense if it transparently equates to the truth of a situation.
    A personal will is a kind of burden- and lots of people would be only too glad to lay it down!
    Our society deteriorates as it promotes a slide away from individual judgement, and independent analysis- however difficult this aim can be (e.g. the ongoing crippling of the imagination through a lazy/cynical use of mass media).
    Back to the Mediaeval ideal: Dorothy Sayers argued that a traditional mediaeval education equipped you with a far more incisive, combative and discerning intellect than is the case today…(furthermore calling Theology the “mistress-science without which the whole educational structure” would “lack its final synthesis”).

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  6. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    “Where would we be if there were no ingenuity…..genius, etc?” We’d be exactly where we are, for all of these only exist because of society, of community. The idea that the individual exists in a vacuum is untenable. It’s dangerously close to the “ubermenschen” idea which you condemn, and which strides the planet today, causing murder and mayhem. And that leads to tears.

    The mediaeval education equips you…. etc? I think not – these are the people who believed that the sun went round the earth, that bleeding with leeches was a cure-all, that barnacle geese hatched from barnacles and so on. Based on no evidence and against evidence.

    Na, I don’t think so.

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  7. joyfulpapist says:

    As opposed to these enlightened times, Wally?
    In a poll conducted by Gallup in 1999, 18% of Americans said that they believe the Sun orbits the Earth. In two polls conducted in 1996, 16% of Germans,and 19% of Britons responded that they also believe the Sun orbits the Earth.
    24% of US Americans think Obama is Muslim.
    Large numbers of people in Britain seem to be convinced that the world as we know it will end if the heir to the throne marries a Catholic (36% in a recent poll), or if the throne passes to the first-born child regardless of gender
    Otherwise educated people fall for any conspiracy theory that includes the words ‘Catholic’ or ‘Jesuit’.
    And just watch the panic levels rise towards the end of next year because of New Age reinterpretations of the Mayan long-count calendar starts over!

    Like

  8. toadspittle says:

    .
    Joyful tells us: “Large numbers of people in Britain seem to be convinced that the world as we know it will end if the heir to the throne marries a Catholic (36% in a recent poll),

    Well, it will, won’t it? And then we will be in a shiny new world where the heir to the throne is married to a Catholic.
    …or if the throne passes to the first-born child regardless of gender…” which it already has. Perhaps they don’t know that either. But Joyful is right. It is quite amazing what some people can believe. Six impossible things before breakfast every morning.

    Like

  9. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Yes Toad, and many believe that the “infamous strumming in the liturgy” which Manuel detests is a ‘good thing’. Unlike the perennial mystery of M*l G*bs*n and those elusive vowels which is a ‘bad thing’. I think we should be told.

    (Sigh) Joyful, perhaps you’re right, let’s go back to mediaeval thinking, burning of witches, crusades (oops we’ve got one going at the moment, silly me). This blast to the past would allow people to believe that the Pontiff destroyed the Reds, that Regan had nothing to do with terror and so on. And much, much more as they say. But you may have focused on an important point – for I believe that in the 12th century, there was no strumming during the liturgy. And no Anglicans either, with their ‘cheery’ (is that the word?) bishops.

    But I draw the line at believing that Hoover wore women’s underwear while pillorying dodgy people; those historians are just plain wrong. I’d sooner eat jellied eels and tripe than go down that road..

    Welly’d

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  10. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Toad speaks of the throne passing to the first born child regardless of gender. Is this some kind of lese-majesté? If so it will all end in tears.

    What precisely, I thunder, do you mean by “regardless of gender?”

    Gender nowadays is a fluid thing, and chaps may wear a dress if it pleases them. Girls may sport a crewcut and big boots.

    Macho may be in vogue in Spine, sir, but elsewhere?

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  11. trof4st says:

    What have you got against the Crusades, Wally?

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  12. toadspittle says:

    Wally, when Toad quoted ‘regardless of gender’ he was quoting Joyful, who was, presumably, quoting some survey.
    Serves us all right, really.

    Like

  13. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    You are entirely correct Mr Toad, to point this out.

    It just goes to show that loose talk…..etc. Was Joyful promoting gender exchange or cross dressing in this context? I’m not sure. But it certainly is a worry.

    Walls have Ears

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  14. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Trof, rather I should ask – what have you got in favour of crusades? They seem bereft of good attributes. If I refer to them as Christian jihad, would you take my point?

    Tell me please, about the actions of the Crusaders in Constantinople when they occupied that fair city.

    I am open to persuasion.
    I drum my fingers and ….wait.

    W

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  15. joyfulpapist says:

    I value many things from ‘modern times’ – flush toilets and dental anaesthesia for a start.

    But these have nothing to do with whether the graduate of a medieval university or of (say) today’s University of London is likely to be able to show more of an ‘incisive, combative, and discerning intellect’.

    If we’re going to reject medieval times for the excesses of the Crusades, we need logically to reject modern times for many of the same reasons.

    Or we could talk about what people actually say instead of what we read into what they say. (But that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.)

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  16. trof4st says:

    “If I refer to them as Christian jihad, would you take my point? ”

    No.

    I don’t think you know what the term ‘jihad’ actually means, Wally. A “Christian jihad” is a contradiction in terms.

    The Sack of Constantinople was condemned by Pope Innocent III.

    I don’t have the time, nor the inclination at this point to go into all the details, but the sack of Constantinople was the culmination of a disastrous intervention by the crusader army which had attempted to secure the Byzantine throne for Alexius Angelus.

    Under mediaeval conventions, the sack of a city which refused to surrender was acceptable.
    But I don’t think anyone would attempt to justify the orgy of plunder and rape which took place that day.

    I’m sure I’ll have a little more to say about the Crusades later.

    What have I got in favour of the Crusades? Well, for now, I’ll simply point out that the Crusades, in all probability, saved Europe from Islamic conquest.

    Like

  17. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Thank you tro – you make my point for me several times and I am pleased you’re with me.

    Wall-singham

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  18. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Sorry tro, I forgot to say that you are quite mistaken when you assert that the Crusades, and especially the fourth,(condemned by a raft of Pontiffs) probably saved Europe from Islamic conquest.

    An even greater raft of historians shows that in fact this assault on Constantinople with its rape of nuns and sacking of churches actually prolonged the power of Islam in Europe. When you have the time and inclination to read around a little, discovering why this was so, let us know.

    I am sorry you couldn’t accept my helpful metaphor of jihad in the sense of holy war. But perhaps you are right; this crusade we speak of was not a holy war – it was utterly unholy, as Papal comment shows.

    But you’re right to try to defend your singular view.

    Like

  19. toadspittle says:

    .
    In Toad’s opinion, it is futile to argue one way or the other about the perceived consequences of historic events, like the Crusades.
    Is it possible to say, for example, if there had been no First World War, there would have been no Second? Absolutely. But who can say with any certainty? There might have been even something worse, for all we know.

    Like

  20. toadspittle says:

    “If the Crusades had/hadn’t happened then…”

    To put it in more Toadlike and vulgar terms, my old boss Hugh Cudlipp once remarked on some equally speculative issue, “If my Aunt Fanny had been equipped with a set of male genitalia, she’d have been my Uncle Fred.”

    (Although Cudlipp put it somewhat more crudely and forcefully than that.)

    Like

  21. trof4st says:

    “Sorry tro, I forgot to say that you are quite mistaken when you assert that the Crusades, and especially the fourth,(condemned by a raft of Pontiffs) probably saved Europe from Islamic conquest.” .

    To get straight to the point: you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    Maybe you’ve seen the movie ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ too many times or something.

    Who comprises this “raft of historians”? Steven Runciman? Terry Jones of ‘Monty Python’?

    Do me a favour.

    Like

  22. trof4st says:

    “(Although Cudlipp put it somewhat more crudely and forcefully than that.)”.

    I hear you. But I’m sure you’d agree, toad, that we should at least try to learn from history.

    Like

  23. trof4st says:

    “To get straight to the point: you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

    Incidentally, Wally – no offence! 😉

    Like

  24. Toadspittle says:

    .
    “….we should at least try to learn from history.”

    Suggests Trof. No harm in trying, Toad supposes. But plainly llearning from historyhasn’t worked so far, and there is little or no evidence to suggest that it will in the future. (If, indeed, we even have one.) Meanwhile, put out more flags.

    However, Toad supposes that one thing we can learn is that if we can have two world wars, we can also have three.

    Like

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