On Having a Humble Opinion of Oneself

An interpretation of works by Thomas Kempis

EVERY man naturally desires knowledge; but what good is knowledge without putting that knowledge to work by living virtuously? A humble ignorant man who lives a virtuous life is better than a proud intellectual who neglects his soul to study about all manners of worldly knowledge. A man who is really in touch with his soul and knows his own nature sets no value on himself, and takes no pleasure in being praised by other men. This definitely flies in the face of what is valued in today’s society.

When the end comes, we will not be judged by what we read, but by what we have done, not by what worldly trophies adorn our offices and homes, but by whether we have lived a virtuous life and how much we have loved.

Give up on this passionate desire for knowledge, because it will distract you and lead you down the wrong path. People who fancy themselves as intellectuals like to be admired and praised for their knowledge, yet most of what they hold in their heads does little or no good for the soul to know, and a man is a fool to fill his days with intellectual facts that contribute nothing to his eternal soul. A mans soul is not satisfied by words and facts in their thousands, whereas living a virtuous life sets a man’s mind at ease and benefits his soul.

Unless your life shows a corresponding growth in living virtuously, increased knowledge and better understanding only means that you should be held to a higher standard. Rather than being overly proud of your high knowledge and skills, you should be apprehensive about what you have been allowed to learn. You will now be held accountable to put that knowledge to work to live virtuously loving others.

If you are going around thinking that you have a great knowledge and understanding of a number of subjects, please be reminded that there are many more bodies of knowledge on this planet that you know nothing about. You have no reason for being proud, but reason enough to be humble.

Many people go wrong because they are more eager to acquire knowledge than to lead virtuous lives, and so they end up bearing little or no fruit. What do you think happens to all of today’s distinguished scholars and teachers? They will soon be replaced by the next scholars and teachers and no one will even give the former a thought. It’s amazing at how quickly the glory of this world fades away.

Therefore, when you see another living a non-virtuous life, do not consider yourself better, for you do not know how long you can remain virtuous.

All men are frail, and you must admit that none are more frail than yourself.