+JMJ+ Welcome to part 11 of our current Catholic Book of the Month, Introduction to the Spiritual Life, by Brant Pitre. I’m on a Quest to become a saint and I’m using this book as my guide. Come along with me and let’s become saints together! Today we’ll look at the first capital sin, pride, and its remedy.
We talked last time about the seven capital sins, called “capital” sins because they are the origin of other sins. They stand at the head, the caput in Latin, as head waters of a river, as sources of water that feed a river. Pride is the sin that feeds and leads to other sins. They flow from it as from the head waters of a swiftly moving river that can sweep away all before it, leading to the devastation and ruin of a soul.
Dr. Pitre makes it clear that neither he nor the Bible nor Christianity is talking about normal “admiration for accomplishments” or what-have-you. He’s talking about disordered love of self or irrational desire for self-exaltation. He looks here at the words that are translated as pride in ancient Greek and Latin. In ancient Greek hyperēphania is related to a verb meaning to out-shine or over-shine (hyper-phainō). In ancient Latin we have superbia, meaning arrogance or superiority. Basically, this is pointing to a love of self more than love of neighbors, more than love of God.
There is no other vice…which so reduces to naught every virtue and so despoils and impoverishes a human being of all righteousness and holiness as does the evil of pride.John Cassian, The Institutes, Ancient Christian Writers 58. Quoted in Introduction to the Spiritual Life, by Brant Pitre, pg. 325, ebook.
We’ll look briefly at
- what Jewish Scripture says about pride,
- why Jesus warns His disciples about it, and
- what remedies He gives for it.
In the Old Testament Dr. Pitre gives three passages that represent a Biblical understanding of pride.
- The sin of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3,
- The fall of Lucifer in Isaiah 14, and
- Pride as an abomination in Proverbs 16.
Pride as shown in Genesis 3
The key phrase in the Genesis account is “you will be like God…” Not only is it prideful but it is irrationally so because our First Parents were already created in His image and likeness. What else did they want? What did they imagine that the serpent could give them that they didn’t have already and in abundance? Pitre points out that they not only want to be like God (or like gods, depending on how one translates elohim), but they want to be like God without God or “in place of God” or “apart from God” and that is irrational indeed. Adam and Eve don’t know the Ten Commandments yet but they’ve already broken the very first one. Instead of loving God and each other, they have fallen into loving themselves, self-worship.
Pride of Lucifer in Isaiah 14
Originally an oracle against the king of Babylon, this passage has been seen as a reference to the fall of the angel named Day Star (Latin Lucifer). “[E]vil pagan kings are often described as being under the power of wicked ‘gods’ or evil angels.” (See page 331.) Christians see this as the fall of Lucifer, who wanted to exalt hiimself about all other angels and even above God.
Pride in Proverbs 16
Every one who is arrogant is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunishedProverbs 16:5
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.Proverbs 16:18
The word used to describe idolatry is the same word used here, something “morally repugnant to God” because it “puts the creature in the place of the Creator.” (See Intro, 333, and Deuteronomy 7:25.)
What Jesus teaches about pride
Jesus warns His disciples not to perform the spiritual exercises that they may be seen by others. It’s not being seen by others that is the problem here, it’s the wanting to be seen by others. The one we should care about seeing us is God. Otherwise the exercise that is meant to be a remedy for sin ends up being the cause of more sin. Jesus tells us that a list of evil things comes out of the heart of man and defile him, and pride is right there in the list, the disordered love that defiles. “Pride is evil.” (See page 336.) The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18:9-14 is the illustration of the evil of pride par excellence.
Note: Pharisees were highly respected and publicans (tax collectors) were despised “as thieves and extortionists who regularly broke the commandment” against stealing (see Exodus 20:15). And the Greek says he prayed to himself (pros heauton). And what does the Pharisee pat himself on the back for doing as he prays so loudly? For fasting and almsgiving, so he’s doing all three of the things he should be doing in secret. (See Matthew 6:1-18.)
The remedy for pride is humility
How to cultivate humility, the virtue opposed to the sin of pride? By getting down on our knees to pray, that’s one way Dr. Pitre suggests.
(My Grandmother prayed by her bed every morning and evening, on her knees. It’s a humbling act and it was humbling to see her do this. She didn’t know I saw her and she wasn’t doing it for me to see, it was her habit and she did it every day and night of her life until she couldn’t get out of bed anymore. She was probably the most Christlike person I have ever known and the most sincere and spiritually accomplished, for want of a better word, disciple of Christ I have ever met. I can’t canonize her but I wouldn’t be surprised to get to heaven someday (after who knows how long a stopover in purgatory, not to be presumptuous) and discover that she didn’t have to spend more than a nanosecond there, if that long.)
Another way is to avoid breaking the commandments. Dr. Pitre calls this “the first battle in the war against pride.” (See p. 345.) Then we need to show humility toward our neighbor. That one’s a toughie. We also need to pray for humility.
He went up on the mountain…. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”Matthew 5:1–3, quoted in Intro, 348.
See that? The first Jesus said to them was about humility, the humble who are the poor in spirit. I once had someone take umbrage with me for saying something about poverty of spirit. She thought I meant someone who didn’t have much spirit, I guess, but that’s not what I meant at all. Poverty of spirit is a phrase that’s been used by I don’t know how many Christian writers and probably Jewish ones as well for I don’t know how long. It’s what the poor in spirit have: poverty of spirit, spiritual poverty. In the Beatitudes Jesus teaches us that the virtue of humility is the rememdy for the sin of pride, “necessary for entering the kingdom of God and the key to happiness” (blessedness). (Intro, 350.)
It seems to me that by poverty of spirit the Word [Jesus] understands voluntary humility…St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Sermon 1 on the Beatitudes. (See Notes and Links for more).
There’s more in the book than I can cover in these posts. You can get a copy of your own in hardcover or Kindle ebook format using the links at the end of this post. View other parts of this series.
Next up, as many of the vices and remedies as we can cover.
Thanks for visiting the blog and reading. I pray that you and I will stay holy and virtuous this Lent, and may these spiritual helps aid us to become who the Lord intends us to be: SAINTS. God bless you and may His Peace be always with you. +JMJ+
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Notes and Links
- The current Catholic Book of the Month is Introduction to the Spiritual Life: Walking the Path of Prayer with Jesus, by Brant Pitre: Hardcover, Kindle. (Amazon affiliate links, see Full Disclosure below.)
- There are a lot of books on the spiritual life listed in a post I did a few years ago on Dr. Pitre’s audio course on Spiritual Theology. There are links in that post for some of those books in PDF format for free at archive.org.
- See St. Gregory of Nyssa: The Lord’s Prayer, The Beatitudes, Ancient Christian Writers series, Vol 18. I have it in Logos / Verbum format. (Just noticed that this was translated by Hilda Graef, the same one who wrote the books I got a while back as used copies, The Scholar and the Cross and the Writings of Edith Stein.)
Images: in the banner, same one the cover of the book uses: The Road to Emmaus (or The Way to Emmaus), by Robert Zund, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain. The Pharisee and the publican, by James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain. Sermon on the Mount, by Carl Bloch, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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