The Deadly Virtues 1: Humility

Bishop Ullathorne, a nineteenth-century Roman Catholic Bishop of Birmingham was once asked if he knew of any good books on humility, and he is reported to have said, ‘Only one, and I wrote it’.

If this is true (and it deserves to be), it’s a good illustration of what real humility is about. We so often think of it as self-abasement, and there is a great deal in some Christian traditions which encourages people to concentrate on their unworthiness and sinfulness, and to adopt a cringing, guilt-ridden attitude towards their own gifts.

This is rank ingratitude, in my view. The opposite of pride is not self-negation, but self-forgetfulness, which is fully compatible with proper self-esteem and thankfulness for what God has given us.

John the Baptist was no shrinking violet, and he had a clear sense of the mission he was called to. If he had been presumptuous, he could have claimed equality with Elijah, or said he was the Messiah, but he didn’t. Equally, however, he accepted that he would have to leave the stage when one greater than he came.

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2 responses to “The Deadly Virtues 1: Humility

  1. A very useful clarification, thank you.

    Brings to mind various things: “traditional” 1662 liturgy up here (where one grovels even after having received communion), the Prayer of Humble Access (last encountered in a CoE place a Christmas or two ago, where my reaction had changed from “OK then” to “how offputting”) and any number of evangelical circles over the years.

    I quite like the empowerment that has developed amongst church-goers, to choose where to go, as it keeps this in check, too.

  2. I’m not keen on the Prayer of Humble Access. As Harry Williams said in one of his books, the traditional liturgies make one feel one has to eat the maximum amount of dirt before approaching the table. I would have thought that the Confession and the Collect for Purity were sufficient acknowledgement of our sinfulness.

    I was disappointed when the P of H A was inserted into the 1982 liturgy in our church when we adopted the ‘blue book’.

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