The Greatness of Humility: St Augustine on Moral Excellence

By Joseph J. McInerney

An exploration of Augustine’s defence of humility as a key virtue in human greatness, showing how his case stands up to criticisms both ancient and modern.

ISBN: 9780227176009


The virtue of humility is a much debated subject. To many, humility is an attractive character trait in others, the opposite of pride and arrogance. Yet many philosophers, be they ancient or modern, find little value in humility as a virtue. For the Aristotelian moral tradition, humility is an impediment to greatness. Modern philosophers take this sentiment further, asserting that humility only leads to unhappiness and human debasement. The Christian intellectual tradition, however, provides a contrast to these negative appraisals of humility. St Augustine of Hippo is an eloquent and robust proponent of the value of humility. Unlike the thinkers of the classical and modern philosophical traditions, Augustine asserts that humility is not only a significant virtue; it is the indispensable foundation of human greatness. In The Greatness of Humility, Joseph J. McInerney traces how Augustine makes his argument regarding the importance of humility and shows how his position measures up to those of his philosophical rivals

Additional information

Dimensions229 × 153 mm


Trade InformationJPOD

About the Author

Joseph J. McInerney is Associate Director for Planning and Assessment, Division of Leadership Education at the United States Naval Academy. A Commander with more than twenty years of active service in the United States Navy, he received a doctorate in systematic theology from the Catholic University of America in 2012.


Foreword by C.C. Pecknold


1. Classical Views of Humility and Greatness
2. Foundations for Augustine’s View of Humility and Greatness: Scripture, the Image of God, and Sin
3. Humility in Augustine’s Moral Thought
4. Augustine on Humility and Human Greatness
5. David Hume and Friedrich Nietzsche on Greatness without Humility
6. The Greatness of Humility



Endorsements and Reviews

Too often, humility is understood only as a diminished opinion of oneself. Less explored is the biblical truth that humility is a prerequisite for both piety and compassion, both love of God and love of neighbour. Despite millennia of Christian praise for it, humility remains as radical today as in St Augustine’s time. Bound to challenge and enrich, this book is fascinating and timely. A must-read for the serious Christian.
Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight, Knights of Columbus

While philosophers may debate the value of humility, those engaged in leader development understand the absolute necessity of this virtue … McInerney’s contribution to this understanding is critical. The Greatness of Humility provides practicing leaders a road map for navigating this critical matter. His clear explanations of the work of Augustine, Hume, and Nietzsche will become part of my undergraduate, graduate, and executive classrooms.
Joseph J. Thomas, Chair and Distinguished Professor of Leadership Education, United States Naval Academy

… a well-argued and clear account of an undertheorized virtue in Augustine’s corpus. McInerney’s book stands as a fine exegetical and historical study as well as a normative proposal for humility’s place in moral perfection. Because of this, the book is accessible to readers with a variety of interests, from Augustine and virtue ethics to Hume and Nietzsche. … In short, this volume is a helpful study of an underappreciated aspect of Augustine’s moral thought that is able to reach a wider audience than most books of its kind.
Luke Zerra, in Reviews in Religion and Theology, Vol 25, Issue 1

This book presents a remarkable synthesis of Saint Augustine’s thought on humility and greatness for anyone approaching it for the first time.
Kolawole Chabi, in Augustinianum, Vol 58, Issue 1