Bernard's On the Steps of Humility and Pride

This was probly my favourite work the whole year. I used it as part of my examination preparing for the general confession in the Spiritual Exercises.

This treatise addresses the problem of your own "big fat ego". (One of Dr. Lilles' favourite phrases.) Learning to die to self is the most important thing we learn in seminary. We create the myth that "I'm a pretty good guy", because it is too hard to deal with the truth about ourself. When we start to see ourselves as we are, that's the beginning of humility. Humility helps us see that the world revolves around God (not us). This humility regulates self-esteem, which is very important in our day and age. People get hooked on drugs, sex, porn, etc because they don't esteem themselves correctly. To have no self-esteem is not enough of it, and to esteem yourself more than God is too much of it. So you can esteem yourself wrongly, to excess or deficiency. If you do esteem yourself wrongly, you won't do what you need to do for your good. If you have too little self-esteem, you won't think it's worth it to do good things for yourself, because you aren't worthy (or capable) of doing good anyway.

Before describing the steps in detail, Bernard has a beautiful discussion on Christ's condescension. (III.6 ff) "He learned mercy...what he knew by nature from eternity he learned from experience in time." Christ had a perfect, infused knowledge of our human condition by virtue of being God, but out of love for us he wanted to experience all our miseries. This helped me develop a peri-communion prayer to him thanking him for his condescension in becoming man out of love for me, becoming passable, and suffering the Passion, though he is by nature infinite and impassable. He chose to suffer with us, that we might more readily entrust ourselves to him, since he experienced our weakness and limitations. Most encouragingly, he learned obedience, the hardest lesson we have. Bernard refers to Hebrews in saying that "we can be sure he will have compassion on us because he has suffered himself."

He treats of the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (V.17) "The Pharisee waved mercy away when he denied his [own] wretchedness." We must acknowledge our sinful state before we can receive mercy from our Lord.

Bernard's steps of humility and pride can be seen here.

The first choice is to be (unduly) curious or not. Studiousness is the virtue that regulates curiousity. This is a big one for seminarians, who usually need to regulate their curiousity so it doesn't get out of hand. We have curiousity, and need to exercise it on studies, or else it will be exercised on other things, either trivial or bad. The positive choice here is self-possession: being content with yourself, with what God has done in your life. The example of bad curiousity Bernard gives is Eve looking too intently at the fruit she was not allowed to eat--her curiousity about that fruit led to the Fall.

The second step is light-mindedness; looking at others, comparing yourself to them.

The third step of pride is foolish merriment; this isn't speaking against joy and mirth, but against sarcasm and cynicism, or using humour to avoid or relieve stress.

The fourth step is boasting.

The fifth is trying to be different; claiming special rights. The person at this stage is concerned with appearing good, rather than actually being good.

The sixth step is thinking that you're holier than everyone else.

The seventh step is presuming to put yourself where you don't really belong, or talking back when you're reprimanded.

The eight step is justifying your sinful actions

The ninth is public confession of sin/fault so that people will admire your "humility".

The tenth is rebellion against superiors.

The eleventh step of pride is feeling a freedom to sin.

The twelfth is habitual sin, lacking the fear of God, and instead having contempt for him.

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