The Power of Humility


The English philosopher David Hume declared that humility, among other monkish virtues, serves ‘to no manner or purpose.’[i] The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche believed that humility was among the feigned virtues that the weak use to manipulate the strong,[ii] and that it leads to a mediocrity that must be superseded by power and independence. [iii]

Influenced by these and other thinkers, our society often sees humility as an obstacle to striving for excellence: ‘I cannot do it… I’m no good.’ Therefore, we must cast off humility as the shackle that restrains us from achieving greatness.

Disdained in our current culture, humility has had to practice… well… humility.

However, there is power in humility.

First, we must distinguish between true and false humility. A false humility does not recognize one’s own qualities or achievements. False humility ignores what is good in us due to our insecurity [‘I have no talent.’], our laziness [‘Pick someone else better than me.’], or our vanity – trying to solicit the contrary compliment [‘No, the dinner you prepared truly was delicious.’]. False humility is untrue.

It is pride that weakens us. It makes us look to ourselves to solve all our problems with no reference to God. It also makes us small and petty with others. We take offense at the most innocuous comments or actions. We miss the simple joys of everyday life. We close in on ourselves and take ourselves too seriously.

Authentic humility is rooted in truth. It recognizes that we have real talents and that we have accomplished good things. However, it is also true that we have received those talents and the opportunities to exercise them thanks to God.

There is perhaps no better example of humility, besides Our Lord, than the Blessed Mother. Her Magnificat is a poem of gratitude for the innumerable gifts that God has bestowed upon her.

"My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever." [Lk 1:47-56].[iv]

Mary acknowledges that she is highly favored, ‘henceforth all generations will call me blessed,’ but she immediately gives glory to God, who ‘has done great things for me.’ This reliance upon God and his goodness reminds Mary that she is not God, and that God is in charge. Additionally, Mary’s awareness of God’s goodness to her allows her to delight – exuberantly – ‘my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.’

Humility not only recognizes the goodness and generosity of God but of those around us. In ‘Mere Christianity’ C. S. Lewis stated that if we meet a truly humble man, we would not so much think of him as ‘humble,’ but rather as a ‘cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.’[v] That is because the humble person can forget himself long enough to think of others. There can be no true charity without humility.

Humility frees us from becoming too self-obsessed. Chesterton wrote that the angels and the saints can levitate precisely because they take themselves ‘lightly.’[vi]

Humility is powerful because it is freeing. We know we are not God. We do not overly focus on self – either our strengths or our weaknesses. Humility opens us up to seeing the good around us – in God, in nature, and in our neighbor. It helps us see our neighbor’s need.

We should practice humility more often, especially through the exercise of confident prayer to God and in concrete acts of service to others.

Let us ask for the Blessed Mother’s intercession that we grow in the virtue of humility so that like her our lives may be a song of praise to God.

Fr. John Bullock, LC



[i] Neel Burton, MD. ‘Should We Be Humble? Distinguishing humility from mere modesty’ in Psychology Today, September 3, 2014. [ii] cf. ‘Humility and Magnanimity in Nietzsche and Christianity’ by Robert Elliot in Ethika Politika. May 29, 2014. [iii] cf. cf. ‘Humility and Magnanimity in Nietzsche and Christianity’ by Robert Elliot in Ethika Politika. May 29, 2014… [iv] Hahn, Scott; Mitch, Curtis. The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament . Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition. [v] Lewis, C. S.. Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics). HarperOne. Kindle Edition, 128. [vi] cf. G. K. Chesterton… somewhere [Sorry, not sure where].

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