Humility vs. self-deprecation


#1

I know that humility is not the same thing as self-deprecation. What I’m confused about, is that some of the saints would do this. St. Gemma Galgani reportedly referred to herself as a “cesspit.” There are a couple of stories about St. Francis telling one of his brothers to insult him (and he himself provides the insults!). St. Teresa reports that one time she asked Jesus why he wanted to dwell in a place as vile as her soul, and he said, “It is not vile, my child, it is made in My image.”

I am wondering, is this sort of thing unhealthy even in the saints? I mean, I understand that as one learns more about God, one sees one’s own lowliness and unworthiness. But where does calling oneself names come in? Does that please God? :confused:


#2

True Humility is accepting the truth about yourself, no more, no less.

I've never heard about those anecdotes you've mentioned. So I can only guess.

It's possible the saints thought of themselves as lower than the lowest thing when they mediated on their sins. Remorse and the grief they felt on having offended God may have caused them to be harder on their selves than they ought to be but then which would be better? To make light of the sin or it's reverse? To a saint, perhaps the latter would be safer but I'm not saying that's right either.

As for the one on St. Francis, perhaps he's applying the principle of "turning the other cheek" but with insults? I can't be sure never having read of that anecdote in its entirety.

In any case, even saints sin and make mistakes. However, I think it would be better to err on the side of humility than to err with pride.


#3

Well, we might never know what those saints were referring to when they made those remarks. After all, a soul and his sins is only known to God and to that soul. It may be possible that the saints were conscious of grave sins (albeit unknown to us). It’s not their lack of sin that made them saints, but their attitude towards sin in general and their own in particular.

What do you think St. Paul thought about himself, when he contemplated the multitude of Christians he helped persecute and kill ?

The above is just a hypothesis, though. Perhaps, the more one gets to know and understand God, the more clear the abyss between us and Him becomes.

And to think of the unthinkable sacrifice God has done for us - you have to imagine that your fault are grievous indeed to call for such a sacrifice…


#4

Maybe I should clarify why this is a concern for me. Of course I don’t think we should “make light of sin,” I hate my sins and often I feel like the worst sinner on the planet. But if I were a saint, I guess I would be able to just accept it or something. Instead I have a habit of beating myself up verbally, telling myself that I am “worthless” and “stupid.” I know from experience that it’s destructive. When I read about a saint doing something similar, it’s confusing.

Or do you all think I should just keep saying those things to myself and God would like that?


#5

[quote="Reynardus, post:2, topic:182555"]
True Humility is accepting the truth about yourself, no more, no less.

I've never heard about those anecdotes you've mentioned. So I can only guess.

It's possible the saints thought of themselves as lower than the lowest thing when they mediated on their sins. Remorse and the grief they felt on having offended God may have caused them to be harder on their selves than they ought to be but then which would be better? To make light of the sin or it's reverse? To a saint, perhaps the latter would be safer but I'm not saying that's right either.

As for the one on St. Francis, perhaps he's applying the principle of "turning the other cheek" but with insults? I can't be sure never having read of that anecdote in its entirety.

In any case, even saints sin and make mistakes. However, I think it would be better to err on the side of humility than to err with pride.

[/quote]

Exactly. Maybe, in this sense, we ask others what they see in us. I know that humility is accepting our faults and that appears to be what saints would seem to do.


#6

[quote="Student09, post:4, topic:182555"]
Maybe I should clarify why this is a concern for me. Of course I don't think we should "make light of sin," I hate my sins and often I feel like the worst sinner on the planet. But if I were a saint, I guess I would be able to just accept it or something. Instead I have a habit of beating myself up verbally, telling myself that I am "worthless" and "stupid." I know from experience that it's destructive. When I read about a saint doing something similar, it's confusing.

Or do you all think I should just keep saying those things to myself and God would like that?

[/quote]

I get what you mean. Actually, I tend to do that to myself sometimes when I realize that I have hurt a neighbor with insults, etc., etc. Go figure.:rolleyes:

So, here's what I want to say to you: humility is knowing that you're a sinner and that only God can help you -- in the ultimate sense -- towards Heaven. For you may be the harshest insulter in the world, you may be the most jealous person in the world. But if you are humble, you don't get all haughty and say that "oh, I'm perfect" just because you're at a higher part of the path towards God than others who may be way behind.

Also, when you are in a state of humility, you tend to say that, "Okay, I can't redo this insult. However, I will leave it up to God so that I may have the strength to ask forgiveness of my neighbor." That is, you are aware of the truth, and you don't try to change it so that everybody feels better. Instead, you just make do with what you have and leave the rest up to Him.

Self-deprecation, on the other hand, is false humility. Actually, I learned this from a John Ciardi commentary on Dante's "Divine Comedy". Now I forgot where it said it, but the thing was that self-deprecation is kinda like lying to yourself on how bad you really are. That is, maybe you have sinned a lot, sure. But you are not so sinful as to be rendered irredeemable by Christ, if you know what I mean.

And if self-deprecation is like lying to yourself, then God wouldn't like that. Because even though we know our souls better than any other human, God knows our souls even better than us. So, just think of what God said to St. Teresa in order to combat this: "It is not vile, my child, it is made in My image." Because that's what he thinks of us (and besides, that statement is a clear example of God not liking self-deprecation :))!

Now, about these saints, I don't know where in the spiritual path they said these things. However, if this was said early in their path, I think it just goes to show you on how human they really were -- and are. They themselves had insecurities about their souls, but in the end, they overcame them. And that's the goal of a saint: to overcome.

I hope this helps. I'll be praying for you and all who have this similar problem. God bless! :thumbsup:


#7

Hi Student09,

Here’s my little hypothesis.

The act of self-depreciation may be the same for all humans but the intention and effect of self-depreciation is intensely different.

Think about it this way, when he Prophet Isaiah saw the brilliance of God, he exclaimed “Woe is Me”. When St Peter saw the brilliance of God, he exclaimed, “Get away from me God, I am a sinful man.”

The closer one is to God, the closer one is to perfection. But the closer one is to perfection, the more our imperfection is shown up. Also, as Virgil said in Dante’s Inferno, “the purer one thing is, the more it feels pain and pleasure.” The closer one is to God, the more dirty the person seems to be.

However since God is the fullness of Love, this imperfection is not depressive but filled with proper regard for ones self - amour-propre (I don’t really know how to phrase this sentence, hope you get what I mean).

When I mentally beat myself up, it is depressive self-depreciation, meaning I really feel that I am worthless. I talk myself into self-pity, self-hatred - I beat myself up. God is not central to the self-depreciation but an auxiliary to myself. Self-depreciation can be a pride filled affair. There are many comedians who are self-depreciating but that doesn’t mean they are really humble.

When a saint, closer to God is than ourselves, accuses him/herself of something it is uplifting self-depreciation since the standard that he compares him/herself to is God. His/her recognition is that God perfection is such that even their little blemish is so destructive to the picture. Since God insists that we “be perfect as your God is perfect”, the self-depreciation is humbling since it acknowledges the distance form God. But it uplifts a person because that Love propels him/her towards God.

Just a hypothesis, I’m just guessing that that is what goes on, then again saints are sinners who better resisted temptation than ourselves - a beacon of faith is not synonymous with immaculate sinlessness, maybe I writing myself into a knot that doesn’t exist.

Zach Isaiah


#8

This contrast is extremely helpful! I understand what you are saying and it makes sense. Thank you.


#9

I think that the closer people get to God, the more remorse they feel for their sins.. of course, their love for God and trust in Him also increases, so it's a remorse that brings humility and not despair.


#10

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