September 1, 2011

On Taking A Low View of Oneself - Thomas à Kempis

Book I: Chapter 2

1. As for knowledge, it comes natural to all of us to want it; but what can knowledge do for us, without the fear of God? Give me a plain, unpretentious farm-hand, content to serve God; there is more to be made of him than of some conceited University professor who forgets that he has a soul to save, because he is so busy watching the worthlessness, losing all taste for human praise. If my knowledge embraces the whole of creation, what good would it do to me in God's sight? It is by my actions that he will judge me.

2. Why not take a rest from this exaggerated craving for mere knowledge which only has the effect of distracting and deluding us? People are so fond of passing for learned men, and being congratulated on their wisdom -- yes, but what a lot of knowledge there is that contributes nothing to our souls' welfare! And there can be no wisdom in spending yourself on pursuits which are not going to promote your chances of salvation. All the talk in the world won't satisfy the soul's needs; nothing but holiness of life will set your mind at rest, nothing but a good conscience will help you to face God unashamed.

3. The wider, the more exact your learning, the more severe will be your judgement, if it has not taught you to live holily. Not art, no science should make a man proud of possessing it; such gifts are a terrifying responsibility. Meanwhile, however well satisfied you are with your own skill or intelligence, never forget how much there is that remains unknown to you. Let us have no airs of learning; own up to your ignorance, what is the use of crowing over some rival, when you can point to any number of Doctors and Masters who can beat you at your own game? If you want to learn an art worth knowing, you must set out to be unknown, and to count for nothing.

4. There is no lesson so profound or so useful as this lesson of self-knowledge and of self-contempt. Claim nothing for yourself, think of others kindly and with admiration; that is the height of wisdom, and its masterpiece. Never think yourself better than the next man, however glaring his faults, however grievous has his offences; you are in good dispositions now, but how long will they last? Tell yourself, "We are frail, all of us, but none so frail as I".

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