6 Ways to Cultivate the Virtue of Humility

July 18, 2014

Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist, there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance.
—St. Augustine

If you’ve read this blog for any time at all, you’ll know that I speak frequently about the importance of humility. The saints make it perfectly clear that humility is the foundation of all spiritual growth. If we are not humble, we are not holy. It is that simple.

But while it’s simple enough to know that we should be humble, it’s not always so easy in practice. Accordingly, I want to discuss six methods to cultivate the virtue of humility.

1. Pray for it

It is safe to say that no virtue is ever formed in our souls except by frequent prayer. If you truly desire to be humble, pray every day for this grace, asking God to help you overcome your self-love.

“We should daily ask God with our whole hearts for humility,” teaches St. John Vianney, “for the grace to know that we are nothing of ourselves, and that our corporal as well as our spiritual welfare proceeds from him alone.”

To this end, I highly recommend the beautiful prayer known as the Litany of Humility.

2. Accept humiliations

Perhaps the most painful, but also the most effective, way to learn humility is by accepting humiliating and embarrassing circumstances. Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene explains:  

Many souls would like to be humble, but few desire humiliation; many ask God to make them humble and fervently pray for this, but very few want to be humiliated.  Yet it is impossible to gain humility without humiliations; for just as studying is the way to acquire knowledge, so it is by the way of humiliation that we attain to humility.

As long as we only desire this virtue of humility, but are not willing to accept the means thereto, not even are we on the true road to acquiring it.  Even if in certain situations we succeed in acting humbly, this may well be the result of a superficial and apparent humility rather than of a humility that is real and profound. Humility is truth; therefore, let us tell ourselves that since we possess nothing of ourselves but sin, it is but just that we receive only humiliation and scorn.

3. Obey legitimate superiors

One of the clearest manifestations of pride is disobedience (ironically, disobedience and rebellion are hailed as virtues in modern Western society). Satan fell through his proud, Non serviam, “I will not serve.”

On the other hand, humility is always manifested by obedience to legitimate authority, whether it be your boss or the government. As St. Benedict says, “The first degree of humility is prompt obedience.”

4. Distrust yourself

The saints tell us that every sin we commit is due to our pride and self-reliance. If we completely distrusted ourselves and relied only upon God, they say, we would never sin. 

Dom Lorenzo Scpuoli went so far as to say that, “Distrust of self is so absolutely requisite in the spiritual combat that without this virtue we cannot expect to defeat our weakest passions, much less gain a complete victory.”

5. Acknowledge your nothingness

 Another highly effective way of cultivating humility is to meditate on the grandeur and greatness of God, while simultaneously acknowledging your own nothingness in relation to him. St. John Vianney puts it this way:

Who can contemplate the immensity of a God without humbling himself into the dust at the thought that God created heaven out of nothing, and that with one word he could turn heaven and earth into nothing again?  A God who is so great, and whose power is boundless; a God filled with every perfection; a God with his never-ending eternity, his great justice, his providence, who rules everything so wisely, and looks after everything with such care, and we a mere nothing!

6. Think better of others than of yourself

When we are proud, we inevitably think we are better than others. We pray like the Pharisee, “Lord, I thank you that I am not like other men.” This self-righteousness is incredibly harmful to our souls, and it is detestable to God. Scripture and the saints both affirm that the only safe path is considering everyone as better than ourselves.  “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves,” says St. Paul (Phil. 2:3).

Thomas à Kempis summarizes this teaching in Chapter 7 of his classic, The Imitation of Christ.

Do not think yourself better than others lest, perhaps, you be accounted worse before God Who knows what is in man. Do not take pride in your good deeds, for God’s judgments differ from those of men and what pleases them often displeases Him. If there is good in you, see more good in others, so that you may remain humble. It does no harm to esteem yourself less than anyone else, but it is very harmful to think yourself better than even one. The humble live in continuous peace, while in the hearts of the proud are envy and frequent anger.


There is no doubt about it: humility is the foundation of the entire spiritual life. Without this virtue, we will never advance in holiness. Yet, humility is not simply an abstraction to be admired—it is a virtue to be learned and practiced through the often painful circumstances of daily life. Let us always strive to be humble, then, in imitation of Jesus Christ, who “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” 

Sam Guzman


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Reader Interactions


    • jack says

      define ‘taking your place’ Marc

      That sounds an awful like ‘its a sin to better yourself’ which was taught by many priests up until the last century, despite it not being a doctrine of the Church

      • Marc says

        Good evening, Jack. I believe the priest meant that you assume the role you’re given. For instance, I am a husband and father. My “place” is to lead my family…not to have a bunch of false humility and be like “I’ll just do what my wife wants so she is happy.”

        Another example…a priests’ place is to lead his flock and there are trappings that go with that. A humble priest should lead and dress like a priest and not be a regular guy.

  1. Evan says

    “let us tell ourselves that since we possess nothing of ourselves but sin, it is but just that we receive only humiliation and scorn.”

    What a depressing and pointless mindset to have. Catholic gentlemen? More like Catholic masochists.

    • J. Thorp says

      From my perspective, the key here is “we possess nothing *of ourselves*” — so we should be humble and we should expect to be humbled. Only through our God are we exalted.

      • Evan says

        Forgive my bluntness, but that is your selective perception, which is not a full-enough picture of what is stated. The end of the sentence is “…it is but just that we receive only humiliation and scorn.” It is an incredibly degrading statement. If a religion or leader teaches people that they only deserve abuse, then there is simply no reason to follow said religion/leader. The author needs to take a page from Aristotle and reevaluate his thoughts on virtue.

        • J. Thorp says

          It may be my own limited perception; no forgiveness necessary! That said, degradation and abuse seem to me to be far stronger terms than humiliation and scorn — God does not degrade or abuse His creation, but might He not justifiably humiliate (that is, humble) us or justifiably scorn us as unworthy or unfaithful servants? We were made in His divine image, but we are fallen. We all have tremendous potential and purpose, and most of us fall far short of that potential and purpose due to sin — though most of us (myself included) are great at justifying the things we do or don’t do. Justice is giving a person his or her due. What is our due, then, for squandering the tremendous gifts we have been given by God in order merely to benefit or elevate ourselves? We didn’t redeem ourselves; God did — and He didn’t have to do that! Thus to my way of thinking, “we possess nothing of ourselves…and it *is* but just…”

          • J. Thorp says

            I guess I’d add one thing: I’m thinking in terms of what we deserve from God, not from our fellow fallen man. We are certainly made for, and called to, love — not ourselves, but God and each other.

        • Ellen says

          I do not think it degrading. It is the truth. “Remember, o man ,that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.” This is truth. God has given us every talent, grace, and attribute, including our very lives. All we have contributed is sin. It is sobering, not depressing (unless you determine to take it that way). I prefer Jesus’ take on virtue over Aristotle’s. That’s why I’m here and not on a blog which focuses on ancient Greek philosophers. 😉

          • Luke Ortega says

            I understand where Evan is coming from. I have pondered on and struggled with humility for a long time. I guess, we being humans, tend to lean towards the extremes. I agree completely with this post, but feel there is an angle missing. Yes we must never give in to our pride, to think ourselves able to exist or to succeed without God, who has provided for and continue to provide for us completely out of His immeasurable love for us. However, I feel that beating ourselves up and putting ourselves down, does in fact, do us harm. Leaning to extremes, we may lose “self esteem” (for want of a better word), we may see ourselves unworthy to evangalise, and we may fail then, to see the love of God in our lives.

            I believe that humility, as described in this post, needs to also come with the humility to see the goodness of God in ourselves, to acknowledge that while we are fallen, we are also loved by a God who is all powerful, and desires for us to love Him too. Humility should allow us to see the good in ourselves, and acknowledge that all of that is from God. From there, i believe, we can then see the good of God in others. Humility should allow us to accept the mission God has for us in our lives, and accept and thank God for the necessary graces to carry out this mission. How are we going to do this, if we keep beating ourselves up?

            To sum it up, imagine we are all beggars, and God is a master baker. Pride is receiving bread from God, and looking at other beggars and thinking what losers they are, to not have bread. Self pity is beating your chest and saying that you are not worthy of the bread given freely, humility and love is receiving with joy and thanks the bread, and going out to tell all the beggars that there is a baker who longs to feed all who are hungry, and leading them to Him.

            Hope this helps! And I also hope this helps with others who find themselves struggling to balance humility and low self esteem, which I know I struggle with. Peace be with you:)

    • Vince says

      I see your point Evan. And it would be a sorry man who ruminated upon his own shortcomings for too long a time in the day. Rather in the spiritual exercise above it is qualified by the words ‘of ourselves’ …that is….it presumes we are already in a state of Grace. In other words, the exercise is more a lesson in gratitude for God’s Grace rather than a crushing of our self-esteem.

      The spiritual exercise is very subtly worded and it is for this reason a good spiritual director is always indespensible. Indeed I for one would probably have a ‘depressing and pointless mindset’ without good guidance and grace. I certainly see your point though Evan. 🙂

  2. Mary says

    I learned that humility is the “Queen of all virtues” because it encompasses all other virtues. Also, the saints said it is the most difficult virtue to attain. But I have hope and keep trying!

  3. Evan says

    I had a lengthy response typed out, but then chrome crashed. :'( So, here’s the short version: The presentation of your personal ideas seem much more agreeable than the quote I was attacking. However, I think server humiliation and scorn can definitely be considered abuse. It’s possible that I’m less enthusiastic, so when I read stuff like the quoted I immediate think something along the lines of “this is messed up!” There are other points you make I disagree on, but that’s largely because I do not accept many Catholic axioms. I do think the author should give more weight to Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean (AKA the golden mean). This article seems very extreme.

    • J. Thorp says

      “…that’s largely because I do not accept many Catholic axioms.”

      I thought maybe. 🙂 But thanks for the conversation — a polite disagreement is always interesting and almost always worthwhile! Have a good one, Evan.

    • Michael Sparks says

      Methinks you may have forgotten how the one who does not possess virture comes to possess them. Just as, when righting a crooked stick we bend further in the opposite direction to level out to ‘straight’, so too the man lacking virtue must over correct in order to arrive in the middle. The article stands.

      Good evening.

      • jack says

        Mr Sparks

        There is a difference between correction and abuse, assuming that someone WANTS and is TRYING to be humble then treating him with scorn and constantly kicking him whilst he’s down will result in one of two ways a) he’ll veer into despair and believe that he can never be holy so what’s the point or (b) he’ll fight back and probebly end up with an even more inflated opinion of himself.

        • Michael Sparks says

          You are completely correct. I am glad that neither I nor any of the above writers have advocated measures that extreme. On the whole, they begin with the assumption that we humans are much more susceptible to pride than we are to over-humility (I’m not sure what the technical word for it is, though I am sure there is some fancy-sounding Latin-based word from a Church Father to cover it) which is not insensible given our experience, I believe. Even the men who boast about how much they are “nice guys” or try to distance themselves from the ostentatious boastfulness of “macho men” tend, themselves, to take a great deal of pride in the fact that they are so “nice.” Of course, this is a ridiculous paradigm, but it infects a lot of young men around my age- I don’t know what your experience has been.

          • Michael Sparks says

            *I don’t know why I said “insensible”; what I mean is more along the lines of unfounded, or illogical. Whoops!

          • jack says

            Well as a convert to Catholicism who had no training in virtue from his parents I sometimes despair when reading Catholic blogs such as this one as it seems that whatever I do to try and be Holy it can never be enough, there is always a ‘another test’ just around the corner, ANOTHER couple of hours I apparently ought to have spent in prayer; the condemnation of the pharasees for loading men with burdens they are unable to carry comes to mind.

            I wouldn’t say that I make a ‘big thing’ about being a nice guy or not being a ‘macho man’, I will occasionally rant that I’m the only person in my work who cares about art, culture , current affairs etc but can at least take correction when I’m wrong, however I get the impression that even admitting that is ‘pridefull’ in the warped views of some Catholic writers.

      • Evan says

        Bend the crooked stick too far in either direction and it will snap. Analogies are generally silly, and yours is no exception.

        • Michael Sparks says

          I hope that you will refer to your copy of Aristotle’s Ethics, as you are apparently so devoted to his doctrine of the golden mean, and go to Book II chapter IX where he uses the same analogy that I utilized. I will assume that you have forgotten the finer points of his writings in your zeal to uphold the general idea, but I would encourage you to be careful lest you pit yourself against the very position you claim to uphold.

          • Evan says

            I’m very much aware that Aristotle made a lot of silly analogies. I would rather continue my studies of a broader spectrum of material than memorize them all though. If I recall correctly, he also thought rocks had “souls” (but not the ghostly kind) and goals and that’s why they fall to the ground. I am by no means advocating for all of Aristotle’s work. The general repeated idea of the doctrine of the mean is the only thing I’m advocating for: avoiding being too extreme in your regulation of appetites, passions, and desires. Proper regulation of these things is known as virtue. The author uses the word virtue over and over but in a seemingly casual and possibly meaningless way.

  4. Frankter Natera says

    As much as someone with four years studying the Aeropagite would get to love him, one has to come to the conclusion that Christian life (virtues included) is, in the words of St. Paul, “scandal to the jews and foolishness to the gentiles [of whom the great Aristotle was unfortunately one]”. A good distinction was made a few remarks ago and that seems to be implicit in the article: “humility is truth”. St. Thomas Aq. (following Aristotle) teaches us that truth is the “subjection of the mind to reality” and, when we are about to do this, we should take God first; then we see that whatever we are is because of Him and that thought will help us being kind and humble, even when noticing our superiority in relation to others, due to the fact that we will, sooner than later, realize that this superiority is partial and not absolute. An example would be the rock: we are superior to the rock because we have an eternal soul, but the rock does not corrupt as easily as our bodies (let alone our minds), “corruptio optima pessima”… Then we will avoid being masochists, for we will see things the other way around when someone would try to use us as a doormat and we will be able to protect our honor, humbly, when the moment requires it (for the common good, the greater glory of God, etc.)

  5. R.J. Shaw says

    I quite agree with Evan on ONE point; Virtue needs to be understood, and have real meaning for someone who is promoting its usage. However, that is much easier said then done. One needs to only look at St. Thomas Aquinas’ discussion of virtue to see the immensity of it’s importance and complexity. For those who seek to understand virtue today, I find the writings of the Catholic philosopher, Josef Pieper, to be a profound statement of what St. Thomas was (in part) trying to say about virtue. Such understanding of virtue seems to be an ‘untaped vein’ of how to understand Gods plan—at least by the everyday Catholic. And, to try and relate it to the everyday Catholic, the words of St. Augustine should be remembered, when he said “It seems to me that it is a brief but true definition of virtue to say, it is the order of love; and on this account, in the Canticles, the bride of Christ, the city of God, sings, “Order love within me”.”

  6. Karen says

    I think if any man wants to learn humility, then he should either scrub his own toilet or bear in mind someone else is scrubbing it for him. 🙂 Fastest way to stay grounded, guaranteed!

  7. Maryann says

    I love this, thanks. Glad I stumbled upon it, I’m creating a lesson for a kids’ virtue club. I might try to adapt this list a bit for them, I think it’s very good. I would only want to add, ‘meditate on the Passion of Jesus.’ What say you to that? It seems every time I turn around, I’m reading from one saint or another that meditating regularly on Jesus’s Passion – what He suffered, and how He suffered it for US, is the key to deepening our spirituality and increasing virtue (and learning our place, no doubt)! I found a great book for that, by Alphonse de Liguori. God bless you and thanks again for this!

  8. Joseph says

    This brings more to life the saying:……………………..According to St. Augustine, Even our best virtues are but splendid vices.

  9. Denise Cronier says

    Even, I found this @https://goodconfession.com/growing-in-humility/ that might help you clarify this concept. “What is humility?
    Like the beatitude says, humility is “poverty of spirit.” It helps us acknowledge our own defects and have a “lowly” opinion of self, not to be confused with a low opinion of self. With this lowly disposition, we willingly submit ourselves to God and to others for God’s sake. Humility tempers the disorderly desire for personal greatness and leads us to an orderly love of self out of appreciation for our role in life with respect to God and our neighbors.”

  10. sean says

    I have never considered or even understood the true meaning of humility till I read this post.I now have the antidote to my soul poison of arrogance and self love.Prayer will be my foundation.God bless you.

  11. Timoteo says

    Thanks Sam. 4 and 2 are my weak points. #5, once I took God off of the shelf and put him in center, things started to get better. However, it is a daily task. – TJ


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