C S Lewis and Humility

As a “Dickens illiterate” who has only read [seen] many different versions of Christmas Carol I guess I’m missing out on access to a good spectrum of characters here; since Christmas Carol pretty much has only one villain in the pre-converted Scrooge. Maybe some of the peripheral characters who take pleasure in poking at Scrooge and others might edge toward “smarmy”? If Tolkien’s Wormtongue was an example, that certainly is graphic - and should leave us feeling like we safely fall short of smarmy ourselves.

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@Christy or Uriah Heep, who always referred to himself as “'umble.” from Dickens’ “Nicholas Nickleby.”

I enjoyed the quote from Lewis in Screwtape where the Screwtape warns Wormtongue that while it is fun to get the “patient” to squirm about how to be humble, there is always the danger that he will suddenly realize the futility of doing it consciously, and “laugh at you.” I couldn’t find the exact quote, but this is on the same lines from the link:

“And will you believe it, one out of every three is a thought of self-admiration: when everything else fails, having had its neck broken, up comes the thought “What an admirable fellow I am to have broken their necks!” I catch myself posturing before the mirror, so to speak, all day long. I pretend I am carefully thinking out loud what to say to the next pupil (for his good, of course) and then suddenly realize I am thinking how frightfully clever I’m going to be and how he will admire me . . . And then when you force yourselves to stop it, you admire yourself for doing that. It’s like fighting the hydra . . . There seems to be no end to it. Depth under depth of self-love and self-admiration.”


“It is not chastening but liberating to know that one has always been almost wholly superfluous; whenever one has done well some other has done all the real work . . . you will do the same for him, perhaps, another day, but you will not know it.”–Lewis :slight_smile:

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What comes to my mind is the following. Though it might be more about the proper fear of God than about humility… I don’t know. It is by C. S. Lewis in “The Silver Chair.”

“Are you not thirsty?" said the Lion.
“I am dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the Lion.
“May I — could I — would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to — do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.
“I make no promise,” said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
“Do you eat girls?” she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.”


That is a powerful illustration. Thank you

"Lewis goes on to say that if you want a test by which to know how proud you are, “ask yourself, ‘How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronize me, or show off.’”

"It is comparison that makes you proud. It is not necessarily pride to think that you are rich, clever, or good-looking. But it is pride to boast in being richer, cleverer, or better looking than others. Pride might make a man try to take another man’s girlfriend not because he wants her but to show himself better than the other man. Pride is never satisfied, but always demands more.

"Pride is a major obstacle to knowing God. Lewis says:

“As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”

This really resonates with me. Some people have a real “talent” for humility. I’m sure most of us, after reflecting upon Lewis’s quote, are reminded of several figures in our lives. The thing is, most of us don’t even recognize such people when they are “doing their work.” They are ninjas. They sort of “fade into the background.” And yet they give so much. I suppose that’s what the “humility” thing is all about to begin with. I’d say we should do more to recognize such folk… but something tells me these guys aren’t in it for the recognition :wink:


Oh, that’s a good observation. :). I like that term, too–humble ninjas!

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Coming into the New Year, it seems that humility is one of those refreshing things that bear consideration for a good outlook. I like Lewis’ writings; I wonder if anyone else has quotable quotes from him or others they can contribute?

“Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, swarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seems a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”



Is that from the Screwtape Letters? I really appreciated that book’s section on humility. Here’s another quote I liked:

The Enemy [God] wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbour’s talents…

Based on the quote you shared, humility is not something that can simply be “put on” the way you can with other virtues that involve simply avoiding bad things. It’s a way of life and therefore more difficult to pursue because so much is tied up in it. But I guess it’s one of those things you can only reach for by not trying too hard to. As another quote goes:

“Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility.”

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This made me laugh, but I think it fails in part to acknowledge the varieties of human experience (where wording or explaining it differently might help). I also strongly warn against thinking this amounts to simply admitting that of course as a sinner you are conceited in some abstract sense. I think this is really about experiencing a confrontation with yourself by seeing an aspect of you which usually only other people see. For me this happened on internet forums where over and over again the responses from other other people showed me this face of myself which was largely invisible to me – a supercillious tone of some kind in my posts.

I hope I am not fooling myself to suppose that this is slowly improving since I have been hearing this comment less and less over the years.


I think the more I learn about myself, the more I realize how much pride I do have!

Indeed! One of the things made obvious by experiences with displays of false/empty humility which often seeks to tear down the self-esteem of others, is that not all pride is bad but plays an important role in doing good things. So we talk about whether a person has pride in their work to refer to how hard they try to do a good job. In some sense that is real humility, where we see the value of what we do correctly so that we do not over estimate the quality of a job poorly done.

Perhaps we can say that this whole arrogance/humility dichotomy is really about the sort of empathy which allows us to see ourselves and our accomplishments from the eyes of others to some degree. Though I have to admit that one of the things that makes this difficult is that different people see very different things. Compare for example, what an artist sees he looks at his work from the eyes of the ignorant with effusive praise and what he sees looking at his work from eyes of a critical instructor. How can we get an accurate view of ourselves and what we do when the standards of people vary so greatly?

And then there is the flaw in judging what we do on an absolute scale, when we are really on a journey of learning to do better. Perhaps that is the real measure of arrogance/humility right there - are we continuing to improve or not? We have gone over into excessive pride when we stop seeing or looking for the ways in which we can improve. Likewise our humility has also gone over to low self-esteem when stop trying to do better because we think it is hopeless.

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That’s a good point. I’ve had times where I’ve made a mistake that was small in the grand scheme of things, but I felt like I’d ruined things for everyone – which was often a sign of me thinking too highly of my own contributions to group activities.

Good question – here is where finding a variety of sources can be a good idea, as well as assessing how trustworthy a person is before we let their opinions keep us up at night.

A couple of my favorites …

Thomas a Kempis

The more you know and the better you understand, the more severely will you be judged, unless your life is also the more holy. Do not be proud, therefore, because of your learning or skill. Rather, fear because of the talent given you. If you think you know many things and understand them well enough, realize at the same time that there is much you do not know. Hence, do not affect wisdom, but admit your ignorance. Why prefer yourself to anyone else when many are more learned, more cultured than you?

It is often good for us to have others know our faults and rebuke them, for it gives us greater humility.

Thomas Merton

Humility is the greatest freedom. As long as you have to defend the imaginary self that you think is important, you lose your peace of heart. As soon as you compare that shadow with the shadows of other people, you lose all joy, because you have begun to trade in unrealities and there is no joy in things that do not exist.

On Pride: This sickness is most dangerous when it succeeds in looking like humility. When a proud man thinks he is humble his case is hopeless.
Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.

Humble people can do great things with uncommon perfection because they are no longer concerned about their own interests and their own reputation, and therefore they no longer need to waste their efforts in defending them.

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I sure hope not. That is a very bleak idea for those of us with an intellectual bent obsessed with understanding things. One of the things we soon understand is that understanding doesn’t actually help all that much. This is a typical error of the liberals who think that education is the answer to all of our problems. It just isn’t true. We do things even when we know they are going to hurt us. That is the nature of sin. It robs us of a portion of our free will.

From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be expected. Luke 12:48

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. James 3:1

I actually shied away from teaching in any capacity – church or secular – for many years because James scared me. The last thing I need is a stricter judgment! haha

You’re right, it’s not the answer to every problem, especially not the “sin” problem. But our democratic system depends on an educated populace. Do we still have one?


Would that be likely when we believe that ignorance is preferable? … the price of salvation?

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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