“Nature trembles before God’s majesty and kindness, scholars are reduced to fools, and saints and angels go blind”

If you want to develop “perfect” humility, you must understand that God alone is its source. Any other motive taints your humility, making it “imperfect,” even if you are bent on serving God. … Basically, humility is seeing yourself as you really are. It’s that simple. Two truths make this obvious. We are sordid, sad, weak creatures. Everyone lives with these consequences of original sin, because no matter how much you advance in holiness, you can never be wholly free of them to some degree. But being aware of your imperfections is humility of the “imperfect” sort. “Perfect” humility comes when you experience God’s goodness and super-abundant love. Nature trembles before God’s majesty and kindness, scholars are reduced to fools, and saints and angels go blind. Words fail me when I think what would happen to us all if God in his wisdom didn’t measure out the revelation of himself to match our ability and the progress of grace in our lives.

Humility gained from an experiential knowledge of God’s love is the only perfect kind, because you’ll know it forever, even in eternity. On the other hand, an understanding of our human failings is considered imperfect humility because it’s temporary in two ways. When we die, it vanishes. Also, sometimes it will stop working before then, when abundant grace creates a very brief moment of ecstasy for the person steeped in contemplative work. God can suddenly allow that soul in a mortal body to feel completely taken out of itself, where all understanding and awareness of being vanish, and in this state of forgetfulness, the person is no longer concerned with categories of holy and sinful.

For some, this ecstasy happens often; for others, rarely. Either way, it never lasts long, but during that brief moment the person is absolutely humble, knowing and feeling God alone.

The Cloud of Unknowing


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2 Responses to “Nature trembles before God’s majesty and kindness, scholars are reduced to fools, and saints and angels go blind”

  1. Matthew Hryniewicz says:

    I really appreciate this excerpt. It reminds me of when C.S. Lewis wrote that “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” It is only by thinking of ourselves less, and of God more, that we get an accurate understanding of who we really are. Realizing our imperfections is indeed a sort of humility, but it does not require a vision of God to gain that wisdom and it is still, in a sense, self-focused. When we are gifted experiences of God’s goodness and love, we are humbled in a much more intimate and ineffable way. Awe and wonder breed such humility. In those moments we don’t de-value ourselves; in fact, we may actually realize just how precious we are to our Father, but in the light of God himself we glimpse the supreme worth of He who is unbounded Love.

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    • Matthew Hryniewicz says:

      *Correction* That quote was misattributed to Lewis. It’s been a while since I read Mere Christianity and I allowed the internet to lead me astray. That particular quote was apparently written by Rick Warren. What Lewis actually wrote of the humble man was that “he will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.” That goes even further than the Rick Warren version. Lewis continues that “If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.” He clearly has in mind a kind of humility that only God could give.

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