Monday, June 1, 2015


Fourteenth in a Series on Catholic Morality

 Fr. John H. Stapleton

Invidia (Envy)
Hieronymus Bosch
When envy catches a victim, she places an evil eye in his mind, gives him a cud to chew, and then sends him gadding.

If the mind's eye feeds upon one's own excellence for one's own satisfaction, that is pride; if it feeds upon the neighbor's good for one's own displeasure and unhappiness, that is envy. It is not alone this displeasure that makes envy, but the reason of this displeasure, that is, what the evil eye discerns in the neighbor's excellence, namely, a detriment, an obstacle to one's own success. It is not necessary that another's prosperity really work injury to our own; it is sufficient that the evil eye, through its discolored vision, perceive a prejudice therein. "Ah!" says envy, "he is happy, prosperous, esteemed! My chances are spoiled. I am overshadowed. I am nothing, he is everything. I am nothing because he is everything."

Remember that competition, emulation, rivalry are not necessarily envy. I dread to see my rival succeed. I am pained if he does succeed. But the cause of this annoyance and vexation is less his superiority than my inferiority. I regret my failure more than his success. Here is no evil eye; 'tis the sting of defeat that causes me pain. If I regret this or that man's elevation because I fear he will abuse his power, if I become indignant at the success of an unworthy person, I am not envious, because this superiority of another does not appear to me to be a prejudice to my standing. Whatever sin there is, there is no sin of envy.

We may safely assume that a person who would be saddened by the success of another, would not fail to rejoice at that other's misfortune. This is a grievous offense against charity, but it is not, properly speaking, envy, for envy is always sad; it is rather an effect of envy, a natural product thereof and a form of hatred.

This unnatural view of things which we qualify as the evil eye, is not a sin until it reaches the dignity of a sober judgment, for only then does it become a human act. Envy, like pride, anger, and the other vicious inclinations, may and often does crop out in our nature, momentarily, without our incurring guilt, if it is checked before it receives the acquiescence of the will, it is void of wrong, and only serves to remind us that we have a rich fund of malice in our nature capable of an abundant yield of iniquity.

After being born in the mind, envy passes to the feelings where it matures and furnishes that supply of misery which characterizes the vice. Another is happy at our expense; the sensation is a painful one, yet it has a diabolical fascination, and we fondle and caress it. We brood over our affliction to the embittering and souring of our souls. We swallow and regurgitate over and over again our dissatisfaction, and are aptly said to chew the cud of bitterness.

Out of such soil as this naturally springs a rank growth of uncharity and injustice in thought and desire. The mind and heart of envy are untrammeled by all bonds of moral law. It may think all evil of a rival and wish him all evil. He becomes an enemy, and finally he is hated. Envy points directly to hatred.

Lastly, envy is "a gadding passion, it walketh the street and does not keep home." It were better to say that it "talketh." There is nothing like language to relieve one's feelings; it is quieting and soothing, and envy has strong feelings. Hence, evil insinuations, detraction, slander, etc. Justice becomes an empty word and the seamless robe of charity is torn to shreds. As an agent of destruction, envy easily holds the palm of victory, for it commands the two strong passions of pride and anger, and they do its bidding.

People scarcely ever acknowledge themselves envious. It is such a base, unreasonable and unnatural vice. If we cannot rejoice with the neighbor, why be pained at his felicity? And what an insanity it is to imagine that in this wide world one cannot be happy without prejudicing the happiness of another! What a severe shock it would be to the discontented, the morosely sour, the cynic, and other human owls, to be told that they are victims of this green-eyed monster. They would confess to calumny, and hatred; but to envy, never!

Envy can only exist where there is abundant pride. It is a form of pride, a shape which it frequently assumes, because under this disguise it can penetrate everywhere without being as much as noticed. And it is so seldom detected that, wherever it gains entrance, it can hope to remain indefinitely.

Jealousy and envy are often confounded; yet they differ in that the latter looks on what is another's, while the former concerns itself with what is in one's own possession. I envy what is not mine; I am jealous of what is my own. Jealousy has a saddening influence upon us, by reason of a fear, more or less well grounded, that what we have will be taken from us. We foresee an injustice and resent it.

Kept within the limits of sane reason, jealousy is not wrong, for it is founded on the right we have to what is ours. It is in our nature to cling to what belongs to us, to regret being deprived of it, and to guard ourselves against injustice.

But when this fear is without cause, visionary, unreasonable, jealousy partakes of the nature and malice of envy. It is even more malignant a passion, and leads to greater disorders and crimes, for while envy is based on nothing at all, there is here a true foundation in the right of possession, and a motive in right to repel injustice.

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