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Sunday, November 13, 2005

Humility: The Judeo-Christian Tradition

The importance each religion attaches to humility has a direct relation to its notions about the innate dignity of mankind. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, for example, the unique position of man in the cosmos derives from the Biblical account of God’s creating him (and her, of course) in His image: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen.2:7). We are therefore body and soul in one in this life, indivisibly, and to disrespect the body is tantamount to blasphemy. Monotheism in general derives from an appreciation of mankind’s position in the cosmos, which is also the source of its notions concerning humility. (This is not to be confused with the deference a social inferior usually shows towards a superior.) Its basis is truth, as when John the Baptist says (Matt. 3:11) that “he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear.” This is not an expression of personal abasement (as humility is commonly understood), but an appreciation of Christ’s special relationship to the Lord God. Indeed, afterwards St. John baptized Christ and witnessed the opening of the heavens and God’s blessings upon his Son. In addition, though St. John is beyond question the anchorite par excellence of the New Testament, his depiction and words point to ideas about humility that have nothing to do with those of Eastern religions, particularly Hinduism.

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