Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION CLXI.: OF HUMILITY. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2)
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QUESTION CLXI.: OF HUMILITY. - St. Thomas Aquinas, Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2) 
Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas. A Translation of the Principal Portions of the Second part of the Summa Theologica, with Notes by Joseph Rickaby, S.J. (London: Burns and Oates, 1892).
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Article I.—Is humility a virtue?
R. There is this about arduous good, that it has something in it to attract the appetite, namely, the quality itself of goodness; and something to repel, namely, the difficulty of attaining that which is so attractive. On the former ground there arises the motion of hope, on the latter the motion of despair. Again, in the movements of appetite that come as impulses urging us forward, there must be a moral virtue moderating and curbing: but in regard of those movements that are by way of drawing back and shrinking, there must be a moral virtue to strengthen and urge us on. And therefore two virtues are necessarily concerned with the appetite for arduous good: one to check and curb the mind, that it run not to excess after high things, and this is the work of the virtue of humility; another to strengthen the mind against despair, and urge it on to the prosecution of great enterprises according to right reason, and this is magnanimity. Evidently therefore there is such a virtue as humility.
§ 3. Humility checks the appetite, that it tend not to great things beyond right reason: while magnanimity urges the spirit on to great endeavours according to right reason. It appears then that magnanimity is not opposed to humility, but the two agree in this, that they are both according to right reason.
§ 4. The Philosopher1 intended to treat of virtues according as they are referred to the end of civil life, in which life the subjection of one man to another is determined by order of law, and is matter of legal justice. But humility, as it is a special virtue, particularly regards the subjection of man to God, for whose sake also he humbles himself in submission to other men.
Article II.—Is humility concerned with the appetitive faculty?
R. It belongs properly to humility that a man should repress himself, and not reach out to what is above him. To this end it is necessary that he should know the measure in which he falls short of what is above his strength. And therefore the knowledge of one’s own shortcoming belongs to humility, serving as a guiding rule to appetite; but humility essentially resides in the appetite itself. And therefore it is the proper office of humility to direct and control the motion of the appetitive faculty.
§ 3. Humility seems principally to imply subjection of man to God; and therefore Augustine, who by “poverty of spirit”1 understands humility, sets it down to the gift of fear, whereby man reveres God.
Article III.—Ought a man in humility to take all men for his superiors?
R. In man two things may be considered: what there is of God, and what there is of man. Of man there is whatever points to defect; but of God is all that makes for salvation and perfection, according to the text: “Destruction is thy own, O Israel; thy help is only in me.”2 Now humility properly regards the reverence whereby a man is subject to God. And therefore every man ought to count himself, for what there is of his own, inferior to his neighbour for what there is of God in that neighbour. But humility does not require one to count what there is of God in himself inferior to what he can see of God in another. For they who partake of the gifts of God know that they have them, according to the text: “That we may know the things that are given us from God.”3 And therefore, without prejudice to humility, men may prefer the gifts they have themselves received to the gifts of God that they see bestowed on others, as the Apostle says: “In other generations it was not known as now it is revealed to his holy apostles.”1 In like manner humility does not require that any man should deem what is his own in himself inferior to that which is of man in his neighbour: otherwise everybody would have to reckon himself a greater sinner than everybody else; whereas the Apostle says, without prejudice to humility: “We by nature are Jews, and not of the Gentiles sinners.”2 But a man may reckon that there is some good in his neighbour which he has not himself got, or some evil in himself that is not in another man; and on that score he may in humility esteem himself inferior to another.
§ 2. If we prefer what there is of God in our neighbour to what there is of our own in ourselves, we cannot be betrayed into falsehood.
§ 3. Humility, like other virtues, resides principally in the soul. And therefore a man in inward act may hold himself inferior to another; but in the outward acts of humility, as in the acts of other virtues, due moderation is to be observed, that they may not tend to the detriment of our neighbour. But if you do what you ought to do, and others take thence occasion to sin, that is not imputable to your humble behaviour: because you have given no scandal, however much another may be scandalized.
Article IV.—Is humility a part of temperance?
R. In assigning parts to the virtues, the principal thing to consider is the likeness in the mode of virtue. Now the mode of temperance, from which it chiefly has praise, is the curbing or repression of the impetuosity of passion. And therefore all virtues that curb or repress impetuous affections, or put a check upon conduct, are set down as parts of temperance. But as meekness represses the movement of anger, so humility represses the movement of hope, which is a motion of the spirit tending to great things. And therefore, as meekness is set down for a part of temperance, so also is humility.
§ 2. Parts are assigned to the primary virtues, not as they agree in subject or matter, but as they agree in their formal mode of being. And therefore, though the subject in which humility resides be the irascible faculty, yet the virtue is put down as part of temperance on account of its mode.
§ 3. Though magnanimity and humility agree in matter, yet they differ in mode; on which account magnanimity is set down as part of fortitude, and humility as part of temperance.
Article V.—Is humility chiefest of virtues?
R. The good of human virtue lies in the order of reason, which order obtains principally in reference to the end. Hence the theological virtues, that have the ultimate end for their object, stand above all others. The order of reason, in the second place, obtains in regard of means to the end. This reference lies essentially in the reason itself that makes it: by participation it lies in the appetitive faculty that is referred to the end by reason. The reference of the appetitive faculty to the end is in general the work of justice, especially of legal justice.1 Now humility makes a man thoroughly submit to the award of legal justice on all points alike; while every other virtue produces this submission on some particular matter. And therefore, after the theological virtues, and after the intellectual virtues which regard reason itself, and after justice, legal justice especially, humility ranks above the rest of the virtues.2
§ 2. The first step in the acquisition of virtues is in one way the removal of obstacles; and in this way humility is the first step, as expelling pride, and rendering man subject and open to receiving the influx of divine grace, emptying the tumour of pride. Hence it is said: “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.”3 And in this respect humility is called the foundation of the spiritual edifice. But the first positive step in the acquisition of virtues is drawing near to God; and the first drawing near to God is by faith, according to the text: “He that cometh to God must believe.”4 And in this respect faith is laid down for a foundation in a nobler style than humility.
§ 4. The reason why Christ has particularly commended humility to us, is because thereby is removed the chief obstacle to man’s salvation. For man’s salvation consists in tending to things heavenly and spiritual, from which he is hindered by striving to magnify himself in earthly things. And therefore, for the removal of this obstacle, our Lord has shown by examples of humility how external grandeur should be despised. And thus humility is a predisposition to man’s free approach to spiritual and divine goods. As then perfection is better than a predisposition thereto, so charity and other virtues, by which a man positively tends to God, are preferred to humility.
Article VI.—Are the twelve degrees of humility duly marked in the scheme of Blessed Benedict?
R. Humility resides essentially in the appetite, and consists in man’s curbing the impetuosity of his spirit so that it shall not tend inordinately to great things; at the same time it finds its rule in the cognitive faculty, in the knowledge that keeps a man from esteeming himself above his real worth: and the principle and root of both these growths is reverence for God. Now from a disposition of humility within there proceed certain outward signs in words and deeds and gestures, as in the case of other virtues, for “a man is known by his look, and a wise man, when thou meetest him, is known by his countenance.”1 And therefore in the aforesaid degrees of humility there is set down something that belongs to the root of humility, which is the twelfth degree, to the effect that a man should fear God, and be mindful of all His commandments. There is also set down something appertaining to appetite, to avoid inordinate striving after excellence, and that in three particulars. One is that a man should not follow his own will; and that is the eleventh degree. Another is that he should regulate his will according to the will of his superior; and that is the tenth degree. A third is that he should not desist from this for the hardships and severities that he meets with; and this is the ninth degree. There are also set down some points appertaining to the man’s thought and recognition of his own shortcomings; and that in three ways. One is recognition and acknowledgment of his own shortcomings; and that is the eighth degree. The second is, upon consideration of one’s own deficiencies, to esteem oneself insufficient for greater posts, and that is the seventh degree. The third is to prefer others to oneself in this regard; and that is the sixth degree. There are also set down some points appertaining to outward signs: one of which is that a man should not in his works withdraw himself from the common way; and that is the fifth degree. Two others are concerning words: that a man should not be hasty to anticipate the time to speak; and that is the fourth degree; nor exceed measure in his speech: and that is the second degree. Two others are taken up with exterior behaviour: namely, in repressing the raising of the eyes, which is the first degree; and in checking laughter and other signs of foolish mirth, which is the third degree.
[1 ]Aristotle in his Ethics makes no mention of humility: indeed that virtue hardly has a name in classical Greek. The Philosopher tells us (Ethics, IV. c. iii. n. 4), with something of a sneer: “The man who is good for little, and rates himself accordingly, is sensible, but not magnanimous.” Such a one stands in contrast with the magnanimous man, the man who is worth a great deal and knows it, the Alexander or Napoleon of his day, who (in Aristotle’s conception of him) has no notion of abasing himself before any man, and whom to attempt to govern were like “claiming to rule over Jupiter.” Politics, III. c. xiii. n. 25. (Trl.)
[1 ]St. Matt. v. 3.
[2 ]Osee xiii. 9.
[3 ]1 Cor. ii. 12.
[1 ]Ephes. iii. 5.
[2 ]Galat. ii. 15.
[1 ]It should be remembered that the appetitive faculty includes the will, which is called the rational appetite. (Trl.)
[2 ]Religion (q. 81. art. 6.) and obedience (q. 104. art. 3.) are ranked above the other moral virtues, and consequently above humility. But they are both of them potential parts of justice. (Trl.)
[3 ]St. James iv. 6.
[4 ]Hebrews xi. 6.
[1 ]Ecclus. xix. 26.