Monday, April 27, 2015


Ninth in a Series on Catholic Morals

Fr. John H. Stapleton

Superbia (Pride)
Hieronymus Bosch
Excellence is a quality that raises a man above the common level and distinguishes him among his fellow-beings. The term is relative. The quality may exist in any degree or measure. 'Tis only the few that excel eminently; but anyone may be said to excel who is, be it ever so little, superior to others. Three kinds of advantages go to make up one's excellence. Nature's gifts are talent, knowledge, health, strength, and beauty; fortune endows us with honor, wealth, authority; and virtue, piety, honesty are the blessings of grace. To the possession of one or several of these advantages excellence is attached.

All good is made to be loved. All gifts directly or indirectly from God are good, and if excellence is the fruit of these gifts, it is lawful, reasonable, and human to love it and them. But moderation is to be observed in all things. Virtue is righteously equidistant, while vice goes to extremes. It is not, therefore, attachment and affection for this excellence, but inordinate, unreasonable love that is damnable, and constitutes the vice of pride.

God alone is excellent and all greatness is from Him alone. And those who are born great, who acquire greatness, or who have greatness thrust upon them, equally owe their superiority to Him. Nor are these advantages and this preeminence due to our merits and deserts. Everything that comes to us from God is purely gratuitous on His part, and undeserved on ours. Since our very existence is the effect of a free act of His will, why should not, for a greater reason, all that is accidental to that existence be dependent on His free choice? Finally, nothing of all this is ours or ever can become ours. Our qualities are a pure loan confided to our care for a good and useful purpose, and will be reclaimed with interest.

Since the malice of our pride consists in the measure of affection we bestow upon our excellence, if we love it to the extent of judging it not a gift of God, but the fruit of our own better selves; or if we look upon it as the result of our worth, that is, due to our merits, we are guilty of nothing short of downright heresy, because we hold two doctrines contrary to faith. "What hast thou, that thou hast not received?" If a gift is due to us, it is no longer a gift. This extreme of pride is happily rare. It is directly opposed to God. It is the sin of Lucifer.

A lesser degree of pride is, while admitting ourselves beholden to God for whatever we possess and confessing His bounties to be undeserved, to consider the latter as becoming ours by right of possession, with liberty to make the most of them for our own personal ends. This is a false and sinful appreciation of God's gifts, but it respects His and all subordinate authority. If it never, in practice, fails in this submission, there is sin, because the plan of God, by which all things must be referred to Him, is thwarted; but its malice is not considered grievous. Pride, however, only too often fails in this, its tendency being to satisfy itself, which it cannot do within the bounds of authority. Therefore it is that, from being venial, this species of pride becomes a mortal offense, because it leads almost infallibly to disobedience and rebellion. There is a pride, improperly so called, which is in accordance with all the rules of order, reason and honor. It is a sense of responsibility and dignity which every man owes to himself, and which is compatible with the most sincere humility. It is a regard, an esteem for oneself, too great to allow one to stoop to anything base or mean. It is submissive to authority, acknowledges shortcomings, respects others and expects to be respected in return. It can preside with dignity, and obey with docility. Far from being a vice, it is a virtue and is only too rare in this world. It is nobility of soul which betrays itself in self-respect.

Here, then, is the origin, progress and development of the vice. We first consider the good that is in us, and there is good in all of us, more or less. This consideration becomes first exaggerated; then one-sided by reason of our overlooking and ignoring imperfections and shortcomings. Out of these reflections arises an apprehension of excellence or superiority greater than we really possess. From the mind this estimate passes to the heart, which embraces it fondly, rejoices and exults. The conjoint acceptation of this false appreciation by the mind and heart is the first complete stage of pride - an overwrought esteem of self. The next move is to become self-sufficient, presumptuous. A spirit of enterprise asserts itself, wholly out of keeping with the means at hand. It is sometimes foolish, sometimes insane, reason being blinded by error.

The vice then seeks to satisfy itself, craves for the esteem of others, admiration, flattery, applause, and glory. This is vanity, different from conceit only in this, that the former is based on something that is, or has been done, while the latter is based on nothing.

Vanity manifested in word is called boasting; in deed that is true, vain-glory; in deed without foundation of truth, hypocrisy.

But this is not substantial enough for ambition, another form of pride. It covets exterior marks of appreciation, rank, honor, dignity, authority. It seeks to rise, by hook or crook, for the sole reason of showing off and displaying self. Still growing apace, pride becomes indignant, irritated, angry if this due appreciation is not shown to its excellence; it despises others either for antipathy or inferiority. It believes its own judgment infallible and, if in the wrong, will never acknowledge a mistake or yield. Finally the proud man becomes so full of self that obedience is beneath him, and he no longer respects authority of man or of God. Here we have the sin of pride in all the plenitude of its malice.

Pride is often called an honorable vice, because its aspirations are lofty, because it supposes strength, and tends directly to elevate man, rather than to debase and degrade him, like the other vices. Yet pride is compatible with every meanness. It lodges in the heart of the pauper as well as in that of the prince. There is nothing contemptible that it will not do to satisfy itself; and, although its prime malice is to oppose God, it has every quality to make it as hideous as Satan himself. It goeth before a fall, but it does not cease to exist after the fall; and no matter how deep down in the mire of iniquity you search, you will find pride nethermost. Other vices excite one's pity; pride makes us shudder.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated according to both content and form. If you would like to keep your comments private, please indicate this, and include your email if you would like a personal response. Thank you for commenting.