In Milton's Paradise Lost Satan proudly declares: "Non serviam" - "I will not serve." "...it is better to reign in hell than to serve in Heaven." How many times have we heard this refrain in today's Godless society?
From the radical "pro-choice" (read, "pro-death") abortion movement to the militant "gay pride" (read "sodomite") homosexual lobby, the sin of pride seems unavoidably everywhere. We see it in the widespread rejection of authority, in the increase in violence, in the growth of corruption, in the vulgar and often anti-religious music videos, movies, TV shows and video games, in the rampant lack of manners and respect, in the rise of rudeness and sarcasm, in the hollowing-out of human dignity through genetic manipulation, in the inequal distribution of goods and in the depletion of the earth's resources.
It also manifests itself in the increase in poverty, famine, and illness. Truly, "Pride goeth before destruction: and the spirit is lifted up before a fall." (Proverbs 16: 18).
Pride is a deviation of that legitimate sentiment which prompts us to prize what is good in us, and to seek the esteem of others in the measure in which this is useful. We can and must prize the good which God had given us, acknowledging that He is its first principle and last end. This is a sentiment that honors God and makes for self-respect. We may also desire that others see and appreciate the good that is in us and that they give glory to God for it, just as we ourselves must in turn recognize and appreciate their good qualities. This mutual regard fosters good relations among men.
However these two tendencies may go astray. At times we forget that God is the source of these gifts, and we attribute them to ourselves. This constitutes a disorder, for it denies that God is our first principle.
Ultimately we can define pride as an inordinate love of self, which causes us to consider ourselves, explicitly or implicitly, as our first beginning and last end. It is a species of idolatry, for we essentially make gods of ourselves.
There are, perhaps, few who go so far as to consider themselves explicitly as their own first principle and last end. This is the sin of Lucifer; the sin of atheists; the sin of Adam and Eve, who wishing to be like God wanted to know of themselves what is good and what is evil; the sin of heretics, who refuse to acknowledge the authority of the Church established by God; the sin of rationalists who refuse to submit their reason to faith; and the sin of certain intellectuals who, too proud to accept the traditional interpretation of dogmas, attenuate and deform them to make them conform to their own views.
A greater number of people fall into this fault implicitly by acting as if the gifts which God has given them were in every sense their own. They recognize in theory that God is their first principle and last end, but in practice they esteem themselves beyond measure as if they were the source of the qualities they possess. They want, for example, to be praised by others for their good works as if they themselves were the authors. They are often prompted by egotism, making themselves the center of attention while giving but little to God and even less to their neighbors. They may even seek themselves in piety complaining of God when He does not flood them with consolations - as if the end of piety was the personal enjoyment of consolations.
Pride, the arch-enemy of perfection, thus robs God of His due glory and deprives us of His graces: "God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble." (St. James 4:6).
The Defects of Pride
The major defects born of pride are presumption, ambition and vain-glory.
Presumption is the inordinate desire to do things beyond our ability. It proceeds from having too high an opinion of ourselves. We may, for example, persuade ourselves that we have sufficient knowledge and wisdom to settle with finality the most controverted issues. Alternatively, we may convince ourselves that we possess the power and light to withstand all temptations and be our own moral guides.
Ambition is the inordinate love of honors, of dignities, of authority over others. This disorder often shows itself in the seeking of undeserved honors.
Vanity is the inordinate love for the esteem from others. This disorder consists in wanting to be held in esteem for one's own sake or for the sake of vain things. It may also consist in wanting the esteem of those worldly people whose judgements are worthless.
Three outward manifestations of vanity are boasting, ostentation and hypocrisy. Boasting is the habit of speaking about oneself or about things advantageous to obtaining the esteem of others. A person may, for example, brag about their family or turn a conversation to a subject wherein they can display their knowledge. Other may speak of their defects hoping that they will be excused and their good qualities thereby made more apparent. This is often called false humility. Ostentation consist in drawing pompous attention to oneself. Today Lady Gaga is an extreme example of this. Hypocrisy takes on the outward appearance of virtue in order to cover very real vices.
The Malice of Pride
Pride which consciously and wilfully usurps the rights of God is a grievous sin. This may include refusing obedience to God or attributing to oneself what evidently comes from God. This is especially true of professionals who like to claim that they "made themselves what they are".
Mitigated pride, which acknowledges God as the first principle and last end but does not give to Him all that is due Him, is a venial sin. This is the case when one falls to presumption, ambition or vanity without doing anything against a divine law or a human law that is a serious matter.
Unrestrained pride can have disastrous effects. It can lead to family arguments, to personal hatred and even to war. It is not without reason that the Church Fathers have called pride the root of all other vices.
Pride is, in fact, the archenemy of perfection since it creates in the soul a barren waste and is the source of numerous sins. It also deprives us of many graces and much merit. One of the essential conditions for gaining merit is purity of intention. The proud man, however, acts for himself in order to please men rather than God and thus he rightly deserves the reproach of the Pharisees who paraded their good works so that they would be noticed (cg. St. Matthew 6: 1-2). How often do the laity do this today preferring visible tasks on the altar, once reserved to the priest, to the more mundane, behind the scenes, jobs such as housekeeping or watching over Our Lord for a time during adoration of the blessed Sacrament?
Pride is likewise the source of many personal faults and faults against our neighbor. How often do we refuse to yield to others even when we are wrong? How often do we strive to make sure that we have to have the last word.? How many times do we succumb to sarcasm, indulge in harsh and heated discussions or refuse to respect legitimate authority?
Pride is a source of great unhappiness - especially to those habitually given to it. Those who want to excel in all things and lord it over others are never peaceful or content because they can never fully achieve that which they seek.
Remedy of Pride
The greatest remedy against pride is acknowledging the fact that God is the Author of all good, and that to Him alone belongs all honor and glory. The triumph of Our Blessed Mother was a consequence of her firm decision to be "the handmaid of the Lord," and to place herself entirely in God's hands. Indeed, it is losing ourselves in this way that we truly find ourselves by submitting fully to the divine Will.
Of ourselves we are nothingness and sin, "Behold Thou hast made my days measurable: and my substance is as nothing before Thee. And indeed all things are vanity: every man living" Psalm 38: 6, and hence merit nothing but forgetfulness and contempt. While being grateful that it pleased God to choose and create us out of millions of possible beings, we need to form the conviction that we all came from nothing and that we all tend towards nothingness, whereto we would surely return were it not for the abiding action of God Who sustains us. Essentially, we are all dependent upon God and have no other reason for our existence than that of giving glory to our Creator.
Of ourselves, we are worth nothing and can do nothing. To forget this dependence and act as if God's gifts of nature and grace were absolutely our own is an error that attests to sheer madness: "For who distinguisheth thee? Or what hast thou that thou hast not received? And if thou hast received, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?" (1 Corinthians 4: 7).
To conquer pride we must strive to attain the humble dispositions of the soul of Christ. This is what St Paul urges us to do: "For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied Himself," (Philippians 2: 5-6).
Humility implies an express act of self-humiliation, a voluntary descent beneath our legitimate natural dignity, an act of reducing ourselves to naught before God. It implies the gesture of a permanent inner dying of the self, in order that Christ may live in us - a gesture that has found its unique expression in the figure of St. John the Baptist and in his words in St. John 3: 30: "He must increase, but I must decrease."
St. Augustine also tells us: "If you should ask me what are the ways of God, I would tell you that the first is humility, the second is humility, and the third is humility. Not that there are no other precepts to give, but if humility does not precede all that we do, our efforts our meaningless."
In conclusion I would like to leave readers with the following short examination of conscience that may be beneficial in overcoming pride.
- Do I do things only for myself or for the glory of God?
- Do I desire people to see my good deeds so as to draw them towards God or do I seek my own esteem?
- Do I close my eyes to my defects and focus only on my good qualities?
- Do I attribute to myself virtues I do not possess or qualities that only have the appearance of being virtues. (for example, do I give alms for show)?
- Do I make little of small practices wishing only to do big things?
- Do I have an unjust preference of myself over others, looking at others faults so as to feel superior to them?
- Do I have trouble submitting to authority?
- In feeling superior do I abuse others by making them organize their lives to please me?
- Do I complain when things do not go my way?