Augustine on the Humility of God

Of the early fathers, Augustine was the premier theologian of humility. Deborah Ruddy wrote a great article on Saint Augustine’s understanding of The Humble God.

She says this about Augustine and humility: “While many of the early Church Fathers spoke of humility as the Christian virtue, no one was more insistent about its primacy in the Christian life than St. Augustine, whose views bear directly on the needs of the American Church at this time. By relating humility to almost every aspect of his theology, Augustine deeply influenced the understanding of Christian humility in the Western Church.”

The following are some helpful excerpts from this article that capture some of the key components of humility in the theology of Augustine. All of the quotations are directly from Augustine.

What is so singular about Augustine’s teaching on humility is that he so clearly views Christ’s humility as more than a moral example to be imitated; it is the central way that our reconciliation with God occurs. Christ’s humility is both salvific and exemplary. It is the way and the truth. Augustine’s distinctive contribution to the topic of humility, then, is his direct linking of humility to soteriology…

On every side the humility of the good master is being assiduously impressed upon us, seeing that our very salvation in Christ consists in the humility of Christ. There would have been no salvation for us, after all, if Christ had not been prepared to humble himself for our sakes…Christ’s humility is a “saving humility.”

Without losing what God is, God becomes what God is not. In Jesus Christ, a new kind of sublimity is introduced, a new way of seeing is discovered—lowliness is inseparable from grandeur; humility is inextricably tied to exaltation…

The humbling of the Word simultaneously reveals the desperate state of humanity and the immense worth of humanity. God’s extravagant self-emptying love revealed in the Incarnation highlights, by contrast, the possessiveness of human love…

In describing Christ’s redemptive work as more curative than juridical, Augustine draws on medical images of “cleansing,” “purifying,” and “healing.” As the medicus humilis, Christ heals our particular infirmity and makes possible our return to God. If human beings had suffered from a different ailment, a different medicine would have been prescribed to counteract the symptoms; humility is the remedy because pride is the sickness…

At the heart of Augustine’s understanding of Christ’s mediation is the joining of humanity to the divinity in Christ’s person: “He has appeared as Mediator between God and men, in such ways as to join both natures in the unity of one Person, and has both raised the commonplace to the heights of the uncommon and brought down the uncommon to the commonplace…”

Augustine describes the wood of the cross as the culmination of the humble pathway to God. The humility of the cross is that which actually moves one to God. In joining their suffering to his, the humble find a direct route to communion with God: “But what good does it do a man who is so proud that he is ashamed to climb aboard the wood, what good does it do him to gaze from afar on the home country across the sea? And what harm does it do a humble man if he cannot see it from such a distance, but is coming to it nonetheless on the wood the other disdains to be carried by.

“To cling to the wood of the cross is to surrender to the movement of God, to travel willingly the road of humiliation prefigured for us in the violent rejection of Christ.” Drawing from St. Paul, Augustine preaches, “Let your faith board the wood of the cross. You won’t be drowned, but borne up by the wood instead. That, yes, that is the way in which the multitudinous seas of this world were navigated by the one who said, But far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

Through his likeness to humanity, Christ joins his humanity to ours, and in this similarity and solidarity “the dissimilarity of our iniquity” is overcome: “The sinner did not match the just, but man did match man. So he applied to us the similarity of his humanity to take away the dissimilarity of our iniquity, and becoming a partaker of our mortality he made us partakers of his divinity.” In this description of an exchange Christology, the humility of Christ carries the promise of our redemption, for through it, the eternal God descends to our mortality in order to invite our ascent to immortality…

The cross, then, is not merely an instrument to salvation; it is the precise way God chose to reveal himself and establish our own return to God…

The foundation of this salvific pattern is humility: “For from death comes resurrection, from resurrection ascension, from ascension the sitting at the Father’s right hand; therefore the whole process began in death, and the glorious splendor had its source in humility…”

I encourage you to click the article link at the top and read the entire thing. I found it helpful and challenging. I believe that a robust view of humility as it relates to the character of God is much needed in our theology. What are your thoughts? Where does humility fit into your view of God?

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3 comments

  1. Wow. Such great quotes. I loved ‘humility is the remedy because pride is the sickness’. If we could only accept these truths as reality and conform to them. I wish you could give me these cliff notes versions of all the great works by Augustine, Luther, Aquinas and Edwards. Is that too much to ask? Thanks for blogging bro!

    1. Rob, I loved Augustine’s thoughts as well. You know…I may just take on that task. The cliff notes version of the theological emphases of these various giants. That would be rich. This study on God’s humility was very challenging and helpful to me.

      1. God has used your posts on humility in my life as well. I have definitely ‘heard’ God impressing this concept on me. I find myself repeating the phrase ‘practice humility’ often because it is such a foreign concept to me naturally. Of course, the trials in my life are teaching me this as well. Your input here was right in harmony with what I see God doing. Thanks so much for being a part of that.

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