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Meditation on Humility and on Vainglory
St. Basil the Great, Bishop and Doctor
Translated by M.F. Toale, D.D.

(PG 32, Sermones XXIV, compiled by Symeon Logotheta,

from the works of St. Basil M. Sermo. XX, col.1354.)

1. It is not possible for a man to control his anger when abused, or to overcome trials with patience when afflicted, if he is not willing to take the last and the lowest place among other men. But a man who has attained to true humility will not be troubled by offensive or ignominious words, since he is already aware of his own great unworthiness even before he is insulted. And should he be called a beggar, he already knows he is poor, and in want of everything, and that he has need each day of Godís help. If he is spoken of as insignificant and of no importance he is already aware of this in his own heart: that he was made from clay. In a word, let me say that he is great in heaven who humbly submits to his neighbour, and, without any cause for shame, bears patiently accusations made against him, even though they are false, if by this he may be at peace with his brother.

And it is not easy to keep oneís soul humble in the midst of difficulties, just as it is not easy not to be proud in prosperity and honour. And the proud, the more they are flattered, the more disdainflul they become. The manner of one who is humble of heart is modest and somewhat downcast. Such as these also dress simply and for use, not cultivating the hair, or particular about clothing; so that the appearance mourners put on is natural to them. And as to dress, let the outer garment (tunic) be held in place by a girdle, not fastened above the waist, like a womanís, nor yet loosely, so that the garment is slack, which looks foolish. And as to your manner of walking, let it not be sluggish, which shows a dull relaxed soul. Neither should it be too quick, or strutting, lest your movements show a mind that is rash, or lacking in good sense. The purpose of clothing is to provide suitable covering for the body both winter and summer. Avoid what is striking in colour. And as to quality, it should not be too fine, or effeminate. For a man who indulges in bright colours is no different from a woman who paints her face and dyes her hair. Let your clothes be sufficiently thick, so that you have no need of another to keep you warm. Shoes should cost little; yet they should be such as we need. The practice of modesty consists in this; in being content with things that are cheap and simple, and in being watchful against the affectations of vainglory.

A man is vainglorious who will do or say anything for the sake of this worldís miserable applause. As, for instance, a man who gives alms to be honoured by others. He receives his reward (Mt. vi. 2); though he is neither generous nor compassionate. Or a man who is temperate, so as to be praised for his moderation. He is not temperate; since he is not striving for this virtue, but for the credit that will come to him through this virtue. Ananias for example (Acts v.), in the beginning, was not compelled to consecrate his property to God by a vow. But thinking only of human glory, when he had consecrated it to God by his promise, so as to be honoured by others for his generosity, keeping back a part of the price, he so provoked against himself the anger of God, whose minister Peter was, that he was not even given time to repent. For the Lord Who resists the proud, and brings the wicked down even to the earth (Ps. cxlvi. 6), has Himself promised that He will bring down the folly of the proud. And He Who humbles the proud will therefore also free them from that resemblance they have to the devil, the father of all pride, and will Himself guide them so that they may become disciples of the One Who says: Learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart.

And why do you esteem yourself so highly, as though you who had defeated nations, and brought down the might of kingdoms? May not the axe swell with pride for the same reason; for it has brought low many mighty trees? And likewise the saw, that has cut up the firm and solid wood? But the axe does not cut without hands, nor the saw cut up without the one who draws it through the wood.

2. Should you see your neighbour commit a sin, see that you think not only of his sin, but that you also think of what he does, and has done well, and doing this you will oftentimes fmd that he is better than you are; when you consider all he has done, and not a part. God does not judge a man on a part of his life only. He says: I know their works and their thoughts; I come that I may gather them together (Is. lxvi. 18). And when the Lord rebuked Josaphat for the sin he had just committed, He recalled the good he had also done, saying to him: But good works are found in thee (II Par. xix. 3). Humility therefore will often save a man who is guilty of many and grievous sins. Do not then justify yourself above some other man, for fear that though justified by your own sentence, you shall be condemned by the just sentence of God.

If you think you have done something good, then give thanks to God; do not place yourself above your neighbour. For how have you helped your neighbour by confessing the faith, or by suffering exile for the name of Christ, or by bearing hardships in patience? The profit is yours, not anotherís. Take care not to fall as the devil fell who, uplifted above men, was brought low by a Man, and delivered to men as a footstool to be trodden on. In a word, be mindful of that saying: God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble (Jas. iv. 6). Keep close to you the Lordís words: Everyone that exalteth himself shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted (Lk. xiv. 11).

Neither let you be an unjust judge in your own case. Do not try it with favour towards yourself; taking note of whatever good you have done, forgetting the evil. Do not take pride in todayís good actions, whilst giving yourself full pardon for past or recent wicked ones. Rather, should you be pleased and satisfied with some present action, bring before your mind another kind of action from the past, and then your foolish pride will cease. The most difficult of all things seems to be to know oneís self. For not alone does our eye look outwardly, and not use its power to look at itself, but our mind also; so sharp to note the sins of others, it is slow to see its own sins. Neither should you be too severe, or too prompt, in rebuking others. Do not judge in anger; for this is a ruthless thing. Do not condemn for trifles; as though you were yourself faultless in the sight of the law. And those who have been overtaken by some fault, treat them with a spirit of mildness, as the Apostle warns us: Considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted (Gal. vi. 1). For should we offend in something, we are the better for a little rebuke. But where we have done no wrong, why should we be made to suffer?

For myself, Brethren, I have always striven more not to be noticed, than they strive to be seen who look for notice. Let you show as much zeal in seeking not to be praised by men, as others show in seeking praise. But if you have been raised to honour, and men surround you with respect and reverence, then be as those subject to you. For he who wishes to be first, the Lord commands that he shall be the servant of all (Mk. x. The great Moses, who in all things was mild and gentle, when God sent him to rule His people, prayed: I beseech thee, Lord, choose another whom thou wilt send (Ex. iv. 13). Because of this the Lord urged him, as it were with persistence; as though by this confession of his own unsuitability, he showed that he was worthy of being placed over the people. It was in the light of this example that Scripture lays down the counsel: Seek not to be made a judge unless thou have strength enough to extirpate iniquities (Ecclus. vii. 6).

But the words of the prophet Isaias makes plain that the refusal of those who were called to rule rebellious peoples was not a rule for all. For Isaias did not simply say: Make me not a ruler, but make me not a ruler of this people (Is. iii. 7). And he gave the reason. Because their tongue and their devices are against the Lord. And so when Moses was called to this prominence, and to he leader of such a people, he pleads to be spared this honour. Who am I, he says, that I should go to Pharaoh, and should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt? (Ex. iii. 11). And again he says: I beseech thee, Lord, I am not eloquent from yesterday and the day before; and since thou hast spoken to thy servant, I have more impediment and slowness of tongue (iv. 10). And also: I beseech thee, Lord, send another whom thou wilt send. But the Lord said to him: Go thou, and lead this people whither I have told thee. My angel shall go before thee (Ex. xxxii. 34). And what does Moses answer? If thou thyself dost not go before, bring us not out of this place (xxxiii. 15). Isaias however, though he had heard nothing like this, but only of the peopleís need of an apostle among them, offers himself freely, and places himself in the midst of dangers.

What was in the minds of these two men? The thought of Moses was that: this is a sinful people. It has need of One Who can forgive its sins; and this is not possible to angels. Angels are the instruments of Godís punishments on those who sin; their sins they are not able to pardon. Therefore let the True Lawgiver come: He Who has power to save, and Who alone has power to forgive sin. Isaias, however, in the fervour of his love, held as nothing what this people might do to him. Let us imitate the fervour and humility of these two men, that we may also be sharers of their future joy and blessing in Christ Jesus our Lord, to Whom with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be there glory and honour and majesty now and for ever, world without end. Amen.