Humility stands out as one of the foremost virtues in Christian spirituality. It counters a foundational vice, pride, and a strong psychological tendency, narcissism. It is an essential disposition for the Christian imperative of service and compassion for others. It is considered a foundational virtue since it builds other virtues like patience, obedience, and faith. It helps build mature and healthy interpersonal relationships. Humble individuals are almost always admired and respected.
Despite its fundamental character as a virtue, there is still much to understand about humility especially in the context of today’s world. Many still understand it negatively, confusing it with low self-esteem and self-denigration. Many still wonder how humility is possible amid a world dominated by proud and arrogant behavior. Still, for many, humility is hardly noticed due to its quiet and unobtrusive character.
Christian tradition has much to contribute to this need for greater understanding and appropriation of humility. The centrality of humility in Christian ethics is embedded in the Gospels, the very life of Jesus Christ, and His proclamation of the Kingdom of God. It is also contained in the teachings of Paul, the apostles, and the Fathers of the Church. The lives of the saints witness to humility and their works138 San Juan propagate its practice. In the history of the Church, two such saints and their respective works have emerged as classics in spiritual life—the Rule of St. Benedict of Nursia and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. They were written in two different epochs of Church history, by two leaders espousing two different ways of living the Christian vocation. Yet both the Rule and the Exercises teach humility. The Rule contains the so-called “Twelve Ladders to Humility,” while the Exercises include “The Three Kinds of Humility.”
This article aims to contribute to a deeper understanding of humility by reflecting on the Rule and the Exercises particularly in the context of today’s world. First, it will ask how humility is understood today, and how it could be understood more properly with the help of the social sciences and Christian spirituality. Second, it will look into how humility is understood in the Rule and the Exercises, how their writers envision the formation of this virtue, and how the two works converge given their different perspectives and contextual origins. Lastly, this article will show that these two classics of Christian literature still remain relevant to the challenge of forming humility in today’s world.