Avoiding False Humility, with Examples

August 19, 2021 • 3 min

From Introduction to the Devout Life, page 107
By St. Francis de Sales

We often acknowledge ourselves to be nothing, nay, misery itself, and the refuse of the world; but we would be very sorry that anyone should take us at our word, or tell others that we are really such miserable wretches.

On the contrary, we pretend to run away and hide ourselves, to the end that the world should run after us and seek us out. We pretend to consider ourselves the last in the company, and sit down at the lowest end of the table, but it is with a view that we may be told to pass to the upper end.

True humility never makes a show of itself, nor does it use many humble words; for it desires not only to conceal all other virtues, but principally itself; and were it lawful to dissemble or scandalise its neighbour it would perform actions of arrogance and haughtiness, that it might conceal itself beneath them, and remain altogether unknown.

My advice, therefore, Philothea, is, that we should either not accustom ourselves to words of humility, or else use them with a sincere interior sentiment conformable to what we pronounce outwardly.

Let us never cast down our eyes except when we humble our hearts; let us not seem to desire to be the lowest unless we sincerely desire it.

Now I think this rule so general as to admit of no exception; I only add, that civility requires that we should sometimes offer precedence to those who will doubtless refuse it; and yet this is neither double-dealing nor false humility; for in this case, as the offer of precedence is only the beginning of honour, and since we cannot give it to them entirely, we do well to give them the beginning.

I say, though some expressions of honour or respect may not seem strictly conformable to the truth, yet they are sufficiently so, provided the heart of him who pronounces them has a sincere intention to honour and respect him to whom they are addressed; for, although the words signify, with some excess, that which we would say, yet it is not wrong to make use of them, when common custom requires it; however, I wish our words were always as near as possible suited to our affections, that so we might follow in all, and through all, a cordial sincerity and candour.

A man that is truly humble would rather another should say of him that he is miserable, that he is nothing, and that he is good for nothing, than that he should say it himself: at least, if he knows that any man says so, he does not contradict it, but heartily agrees to it; for, believing it himself firmly, he is glad to have others of the same opinion.

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