Book Review: Humility of Heart

da Bergamo, Fr. Cajetan Mary. Humility of Heart
translated by Herbert Cardinal Vaughan, 1903

I don’t remember if I was led to this book from another or if I stumbled across it in an internet search. It can be easily found in reprints and online. It was written by an Italian Minor Capuchin who lived from 1672-1753. He was a prolific author with over 100 works to his credit. Humility of Heart and one other are the only two I can find translated into English.

Humility of Heart is translated by a Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church and Archbishop of Westminster in England. Vaughan was responsible for the building of the Westminster Cathedral, the largest Catholic Church in England (not to be confused with Westminster Abbey, where coronations and other royal events happen.) He was also an opponent to ecumenical relations with the Anglican Church which culminated in the papal pronouncement Apostolicae curae, declaring Anglican holy orders invalid.

Cardinal Vaughan’s translation of this work was one of his last works before his death. The preface tells that he studied the work for over 30 years and made it his constant companion for the last 14 years of his life. Upon reading Cajetan’s work, it becomes evident why it was given this degree of attention.

The edition I downloaded and printed has sections numbered 1-153, breaking the work into digestible parts for daily reflection. I have encountered no other work which examines humility so thoroughly and in such a devotional manner. This is not an academic treatment, but meant for personal examine and reflection, and would be a good work for Lectio Divina.

Scarcely could I turn a page without being challenged and confronted. Cajetan uncovers pride lurking in multiple crevices of the heart and admonishes the corrective way to humility of each. The opening paragraphs illustrate the character of the work.

In Paradise there are many Saints who never gave alms on earth: their poverty justified them. There are many Saints who never mortified their bodies by fasting, or wearing hair shirts: their bodily infirmities excused them. There are many Saints too who were not virgins: their vocation was otherwise. But in Paradise there is no Saint who was not humble.

God banished Angels from Heaven for their pride; therefore how can we pretend to enter therein, if we do not keep ourselves in a state of humility?

•••

The book is not without challenges. Scripture quotations are in the Douay-Rheims translation and several passages are significantly different from modern translations. Cajetan also freely quotes from other sources, with most not being referenced to modern standards, which makes following them to the originals challenging or even impossible.

Readers should also keep in mind that this is a Roman Catholic work. There are references to Mary in a few places that reflect veneration beyond Protestant sensibilities. He also refers to various acts of pride as mortal sins, but reading these as emphasizing the gravity of the offense—and avoiding doctrinal debates over degrees of sin—can still profit the reader.

This book certainly commends itself to rereading and is on course to join The Sayings of the Desert Fathers as a part of my daily devotional reading.

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Filed under Book Review, Humility

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