C.S. Lewis on Humility: What He Wrote is More Powerful Than What He Didn’t

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less,” wrote C.S. Lewis on humility in Mere Christianity. Except he didn’t. It’s been misattributed to him for years. But here’s the good news: he wrote something even better.

Who wrote the misattributed quote?

But first, let’s address the question of authorship. If Lewis didn’t write this about humility, who did? That honor goes to Rick Warren, who wrote it as part of The Purpose-Driven Life (and did not claim it was a quote from Lewis, by the way). You’ll find it as part of Day 19, “Cultivating Community:”

Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less. Humility is thinking more of others. Humble people are so focused on serving others, they don’t think of themselves.1

This is a good quote, a positive reminder of having a service-oriented disposition as we are called to in Philippians 2:1-4. But it is Warren’s, not Lewis’s. Why did the misattribution occur? It was most likely a simple mistake that spread too quickly to stop, but in truth, only God and the person who first attributed it to Lewis know for certain.

What C.S. Lewis really wrote on humility

What C.S. Lewis wrote on humility was not so much in the context of service as character. (Though let’s be wise and not draw too hard a line there.) And what he wrote is actually more powerful because of it:

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.2

Words to knock us off our high horses

Here, then, is the unbridled C.S. Lewis on humility, whose words carry with them the power to knock us off our high horses. For Lewis, the truly humble man “will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.” The only way to begin to grasp this is by admitting first that you think of yourself more highly than you ought, for “if you think you are not conceited, you are very conceited indeed.”

Friends, let Warren’s quote be Warren’s and enjoy it for what it is. But do not miss out on what Lewis actually wrote, for what he wrote is far more powerful than what he didn’t.

First published December 11, 2015. Text updated March 12, 2024.

  1. Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 149 ↩︎
  2. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York: HarperCollins Publishers) 128 ↩︎

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