Christian Life

THE KNOWLEDGE OF OURSELVES

Domine, noverim Te, noverim me. Lord, may
I know Thee; may I know myself. The know
ledge of God first, the knowledge of ourselves
second. They both make together the great
foundations of all true spiritual life; quite indis
pensable to the work of our perfection. So that
we must lay them, and lay them well, and build
all the rest upon them.
It is perfectly evident that the whole work of
a spiritual and perfect life—as of a religious and
Christian life, and a priestly life, and, if it comes
to that, the whole work of the Church—is between
God and man. Deus est agens principale. God
is the principal worker, and man works with Him;
therefore we must know God, therefore we must
know ourselves. Certainly, partners must know
one another.
Having brought ourselves before the greatness
of God—seeing His immensity and infinity, how
He is the beginning and the end of all, seeing
Him in all His wondrous works, knowing Him
to be the only good, as our Lord says in the
Gospel, “None is good but God alone,” and
creatures being, not good, but recipients of
God’s goodness—we are easily brought to admit
the truth of our own nothingness. For if God
is the beginning and the end of all good, and
everything creatures have is of Him, and belongs
to Him, it is clear that all within us, as well as
without, belongs, redounds, and returns to God.
The knowledge and conviction of this truth it
is that paves the way to humility—that neces
sary and indispensable quality of soul, on which
the whole edifice of spiritual life has for ever
to rest.
I. I have much good in me. It is in me,
but not of me.
Look at yourself; you are a wonderful being.
But remember, clearly, it is all of God. “None
is good but God alone,” our Blessed Lord’s
own words. Therefore, you are not good, but
you have the goods of God in you. It is the
conviction of this truth that plants within you
humility of the mind ; and you must first sink
down to the clear knowledge of your nothingness
if you are to rise upwards to God.” God builds
His greatness on our nothingness, and displays
His omnipotence on our weakness; therefore, if
He is to establish His kingdom within you,
during this retreat—if He is to work within
you, giving you of His light, love, and opera
tions, in His domain within your soul—He wants
to find you reduced to your nothingness, and on
that He will build, and build safely, because He
will see that whatever He does for you, you
take not for your own, but you keep for Him.
His gifts are in you, but not of you. “If a
man think himself to be something, whereas he
is nothing, he deceiveth himself.” We must
not be deceived. The knowledge of our nothing
ness is truth, and humility is truth. Pride is
a robbery and a lie. Hence S. Augustine says
that those who wish to be truly great must begin
with the knowledge of their own littleness.”
Get down to your nothingness. Make your in
trenchment there, and remember that outside
that all belongs to God. Let it be your lifelong
delight to give everything good to God, whether
you consider yourself or others, nature or grace.
II. Everything good within each one of us,
in the natural order, the spiritual order, the
physical order, is the production and the pro
perty of God. “He hath made us, and not we
ourselves.” What is it to have a Creator ?
What is it to be a creature ? To be a creature
is to be nothing, independently of God. And to
be the Creator is to be the Fountain of all good,
and to give of His goodness, of His beauty, of
His power, of His perfection to the works of
His hands. All comes from Him, belongs to
Him, returns to Him. God allows His creatures
the use of His gifts, the benefit of them, the
merit of them—not the glory of them. “Not
unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Thy name
give the glory.” Thus, we are conscious of
our powers. It is no part of humility to deny
that we have them. It is humility’s part to
see them as God’s production and property;
and thus to admire and love God in the creature,
God in His gifts. How wondrous is our power
of memory, of intellect, of love. Each one of
our senses is a marvel. Our powers of thinking,
of originating ideas, of expressing them by
words, of reasoning things out, of transmitting
our inmost thoughts to thousands of others,
of working by head and hand in a thousand
different ways; all this is marvel and mystery.
Who does not admire it all ? But all are the
works of God. “He worketh in you to will and
accomplish.”* You work with Him, indeed; you
use the powers you have ; but the powers, and
the use of them are not from yourself, but from
God. “What hast thou that thou hast not
received ?”
In like manner, when you see things good,
attractive, beautiful in others—beauty of form,
clear intellect, high culture, rare abilities, sweet
loving dispositions, and many and varied talents,
in things of nature and art—all these are the
gifts of God to His creatures; we ought to
train ourselves to see the presence of God in
the use of His gifts, the benefit of them, the
merit of them—not the glory of them. “Not
unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Thy name
give the glory.” Thus, we are conscious of
our powers. It is no part of humility to deny
that we have them. It is humility’s part to
see them as God’s production and property;
and thus to admire and love God in the creature,
God in His gifts. How wondrous is our power
of memory, of intellect, of love. Each one of
our senses is a marvel. Our powers of thinking,
of originating ideas, of expressing them by
words, of reasoning things out, of transmitting
our inmost thoughts to thousands of others,
of working by head and hand in a thousand
different ways; all this is marvel and mystery.
Who does not admire it all? But all are the
works of God. “He worketh in you to will and
accomplish.”* You work with Him, indeed; you
use the powers you have ; but the powers, and
the use of them are not from yourself, but from
God. “What hast thou that thou hast not
received?”
In like manner, when you see things good,
attractive, beautiful in others—beauty of form,
clear intellect, high culture, rare abilities, sweet
loving dispositions, and many and varied talents,
in things of nature and art—all these are the
gifts of God to His creatures; we ought to
train ourselves to see the presence of God in
the works of His hands; we ought to admire
and love Him in His creatures. We ought not
to cut the good from its source. We should
praise and thank God for all the beauty of His
works, and if others admire and love any good
whatever that we have, that need not disturb
us; the admiration and love may pass through
us, and go onwards to God, and if a thought of
pride come, you have but to fly to the “intrench
ment” of self-knowledge, and you have nothing
in which to glory there. All this is truth, it is
not fiction; humility is truth, pride is a lie.
How well did the saints understand this.
S. Francis of Assisi “rejoiced in all the works
of God’s hands, and by the glory and beauty of
that mirror he rose to the principle and cause
of them all. In all things fair he beheld Him
who is most fair; finding the way to the
Beloved by His footsteps in created things.
With unspeakable devotion he enjoyed that
Fountain of Goodness, flowing forth through
all creatures, as in so many streams.” And
as in the things of nature, so in those of grace.
The soul of man is the kingdom of God. “The
kingdom of God is within you.”.” The soul of
man is our Lord’s “homeliest home ’’ on earth.
“We will come to him, and make our abode
with him.” 8 Therefore Our Lord wills to enrich
the soul. The light of Faith, and the trust of

hope, and the love of charity are ever glowing
there. Then, many extra gifts—lights, graces,
drawings, movements—come day by day from
God to the soul, and to every duty well done
is attached a grace, so that light gathers more
light, love more love, grace more grace; thus a
Soul grows, strengthens, develops, progresses.
But all belongs to God—as in nature, so in
grace. The soul works with God, but its power
of work is of God. “In Him we live, and move,
and have our being.”” Let others admire and
love God’s workings in us. Let us admire and
love God’s workings in others. It is all the
same. God is the beginning and the end, and
we are the recipients of His goodness. There
fore, let praise, admiration, and love pass us,
or pass through us. But on to God they ever
go. For He alone is First and Last.
III. The knowledge of God’s greatness, and
my own nothingness, brings me to humility of
mind, and this leads to humility of heart, by
which I love to humble and renounce myself
before God, and if needs be, before men also.
When everything good in nature and grace is
seen to be God’s, whether in ourselves or others,
whether in men or angels, whether in heaven
or earth, we rejoice in God’s beauty, loveliness,
and glory; we delight to think of Him, around,
within, above us; we love to recognise Him,
and to enjoy Him in all things. All this brings
us to our nothingness, and the nothingness of
all creatures, and we are bound to be humble;
and this is the foundation of all true spirituality.
As our Blessed Lady said, He regarded her
humility, and then did great things for her.
Let us be established in self-knowledge and
humility, and God’s gifts and workings will be
safe within us. However great His gifts to us
may be, they are His—in us, not of us. This
brings the habitual disposition of a humble
mind. When to the knowledge of our nothing
ness we add the knowledge of our miseries and
sins, we are brought to what S. Catherine of
Siena calls the “holy hatred” of ourselves, and
this breeds humility of heart. Then we per
ceive the twofold principle within us—nature
and grace, the old man and the new man, the
miseries of our nature and the riches of Divine
grace, self-love and Divine love. And our acts
make our habits, one way or the other. So the
only plan is to humble and renounce the merely
natural life, as leading us astray, and then to
bring it under the governance of the Spirit of
God, and to love all this humiliation and re
nunciation, which brings us to what Hilton
calls a “rich nought ’’; seeing that on our
nothingness God builds His greatness, and by
renouncing our little “all” we get to God’s
great “all.” But all the working of this
humility and renunciation is the outcome of the
twofold knowledge of God and of ourselves.

If we are well convinced that God is all good,
and we all nothing and sin, our foundations are
laid. It plainly follows from this that we must
have confidence in God and diffidence in our
selves; that we must love God and renounce
ourselves; and then set ourselves with all our
hearts to know and do His holy Will. This is
a compendium of all spiritual life. Let it ever
be remembered that its foundations are the
knowledge of God and of ourselves.

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