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John of Ruysbroeck

  excerpts from




translated by Evelyn Underhill






 Now consider this: as we have laid down humility as a foundation, so therefore we shall speak of humility first. 


Humility, that is lowliness or self-abasement, is an inward bowing down or prostrating of the heart and of the conscience before God's transcendent worth.  Righteousness demands and orders this, and through charity a loving heart cannot leave it undone.  When a lowly and loving man considers that God has served him so humbly, so lovingly, and so faithfully; and sees God so high, and so mighty, and so noble, and man so poor, and so little, and so low: then there springs up within the humble heart a great awe and a great veneration for God.  For to pay homage to God by every outward and inward act, this is the first and dearest work of humility, the most savoury among those of charity, and most meet among those of righteousness.  The loving and humble heart cannot pay homage enough, either to God or to His noble manhood, nor can it abase itself as much as it would.  And that is why a humble man thinks that his worship of God and his lowly service are always falling short.  And he is meek, reverencing Holy Church and the sacraments.  And he is discreet in food and drink, in speech, in the answers which he makes to everybody; and in his behaviour, dress, and lowly service he is without hypocrisy and without pretence.  And he is humble in his devotions, both outwardly and inwardly, before God and before all men, so that none are offended because of him.  And so he overcomes and casts out Pride, which is the source and origin of all other sins.  By humility the snares of the devil, and of sin, and of the world, are broken, and man is set in order, and established in the very condition of virtue.  And heaven is opened to him, and God stoops to hear his prayers, and he is fulfilled with grace.  And Christ, that strong rock, is his foundation.  Whosoever therefore grounds his virtues in humility, he shall never err. 






FROM this humility there springs obedience, for none can be inwardly obedient save the humble man. 


Obedience means an unassuming, submissive, and pliable humour, and a will in readiness for all that is good.  Obedience makes a man submit to the biddings, the forbiddings, and the will of God; it subjects the senses and the animal powers to the higher reason, so that a man may live decently and reasonably.  And it makes men submissive and obedient to Holy Church, to the sacraments, to the prelates and their teaching, to their commandments and their counsels, and to all the good customs practised by Holy Christendom.  It also makes a man ready and supple in his intercourse with other men, in deed and counsel, in ghostly and bodily business, with prudent discretion, according to the needs of each. 


And it casts out disobedience, that daughter of pride, more to be abhorred than venom or poison.  To be obedient in will and deed adorns and enlarges and reveals the humility of a man.  It makes peace in the cloister.  If it is in the prelate, as it ought to be, it will draw to him all those whom he rules.  It makes for peace and unanimity between equals; and he who has it is loved by his superiors and by those who are set over him; whilst by God he is advanced, and enriched with His gifts, which are eternal. 






FROM this obedience there springs the renunciation of one's own will and one's own opinion, for none can submit his own will in all things to the will of another, save the obedient man: though one may obey in outward things and yet remain self-willed. 


The forsaking of one's own will causes a man to live without preference for either this or that, in doing or leaving undone, in those things which are strange and special in the saints, in their precepts and in their practice; but it makes him to live always according to the glory and the commandments of God, and the will of his prelates, and in peace with all men in his neighbourhood, so far as true prudence permits. 


By renouncing self-will in doing, in leaving undone, and in suffering, the material and occasion of pride are wholly cast out, and humility is made perfect in the highest degree.  And God becomes the Lord of the man's whole will; and the man's will is so united with the will of God that he can neither will nor desire in any other way.  This man has put off the old man, and has put on the new man, who is renewed and made according to the dearest will of God.  Of

all such Christ says: BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT—that is to say, those who have renounced self-will—FOR THEIRS IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (4).