Great Humility: Advent Retreat 4
In the Advent Collect we pray to Almighty God in knowledge that his Son came to us, in this mortal life, with Great Humility. Here we touch the mystery of the first coming of Christ – his Incarnation. The Great Humilityof God is that that the Eternal Word through who all things were made comes to share our mortal life.
Christmas Carols portray this in an attractive, tender way – ‘teach us to resemble thee in thy sweet humility,’ prays one. Christina Rossetti writers about ‘love came down at Christmas love all lovely love Divine.’The reality of course is very different; the stable, the flight to Egypt, the murder of the Innocents. It is all very dirty and bloody – it is after all mortal life. But this is not the end but only the beginning.St Paul quotes another early Christian hymn in his letter to the Phillipians.So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The word emptied in Greek is Kenosis and this has led to the Kenotic understanding of the Incarnation – God being poured into humanity. Paul later writes God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. This emptying of himself has made it possible for Christ to fill all things everywhere. But they vital action by God in this giving of himself is humility. This active outpouring of self is the GREAT HUMILITY of the Divine life and it is exactly contrary to the impulses and instincts of Mortal Life. We are to called to join in this love song whose key note is humility. This virtue has always been seen as the foundation or root of all Christian living. Where do you come in the degrees of humility? St Anthony the Great “I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, “What can get through from such snares?” Then I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Humility.’” St Augustine “In that way the first part is humility; the second, humility; the third, humility (prima humilitas; secunda, humilitas; tertia, humilitas): and this I will continue to repeat as often as you might ask for direction, not because there are no other instructions that could be given, but because, unless humility precede, accompany, and follow every good action that we perform, being at once the object that we keep before our eyes, the support to which we cling, and the bridle by which we are restrained, pride will seize from our hand any good work for which we might feel good about ourselves” (Letter 118.22, PL 32.432).
St Benedict The first degree of humility, then, is that a man always have the fear of God before his eyes shunning all forgetfulness and that he be ever mindful of all that God hath commanded. “The second degree of humility is, when a man loveth not his own will, nor is pleased to fulfill his own desires but by his deeds carrieth out that word of the Lord which saith: ‘I came not to do My own will but the will of Him that sent Me.’ “The third degree of humility is, that for the love of God a man subject himself to a Superior in all obedience, imitating the Lord, of whom the Apostle saith: ‘He became obedient unto death.’ “The fourth degree of humility is, that, if hard and distasteful things are commanded, nay, even though injuries are inflicted, he accept them with patience and even temper, and not grow weary or give up… . “The fifth degree of humility is, when one hideth from his Abbot none of the evil thoughts which rise in his heart or the evils committed by him in secret, but humbly confesseth them. “The sixth degree of humility is, when a monk is content with the meanest and worst of everything, and in all that is enjoined him holdeth himself as a bad and worthless workman, saying with the Prophet: ‘I am brought to nothing and I knew it not; I am become as a beast before Thee, and I am always with Thee.’ “The seventh degree of humility is, when, not only with his tongue he declareth, but also in his inmost soul believeth, that he is the lowest and vilest of men, humbling himself and saying with the Prophet: ‘But I am a worm and no man, the reproach of men and the outcast of the people.’ “The eighth degree of humility is, when a monk doeth nothing but what is sanctioned by the common rule of the monastery and the example of his elders. “The ninth degree of humility is, when a monk withholdeth his tongue from speaking, and keeping silence doth not speak until he is asked; for the Scripture showeth that ‘in a multitude of words there shall not want sin.’ “The tenth degree of humility is, when a monk is not easily moved and quick for laughter, for it is written: ‘The fool excaptioneth his voice in laughter.’ “The eleventh degree of humility is, that, when a monk speaketh, he speak gently and without laughter, humbly and with gravity, with few and sensible words, and that he be not loud of voice, as it is written: ‘The wise man is known by the fewness of his words.’ “The twelfth degree of humility is, when a monk is not only humble of heart, but always letteth it appear also in his whole exterior to all that see him; namely, at the Work of God, in the garden, on a journey, in the field, or wherever he may be, sitting, walking, or standing, let him always have his head bowed down, his eyes fixed on the ground, ever holding himself guilty of his sins, thinking that he is already standing before the dread judgment seat of God, and always saying to himself in his heart what the publican in the Gospel said, with his eyes fixed on the ground: ‘Lord, I am a sinner and not worthy to lift up mine eyes to heaven'; and again with the Prophet: ‘I am bowed down and humbled exceedingly.’