brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit." (Isaiah 14:15)
St. John of the Ladder tells us that "Pride is denial of God, an invention of the devil, the despising of man, the mother of condemnation, the offspring of praise, a sign of sterility, flight from divine assistance, the precursor of madness, the herald of falls, a foothold for satanic possession, source of anger, door of hypocrisy, the support of demons, the guardian of sins, the patron of unsympathy, the rejection of compassion, a bitter inquisitor, an inhuman judge, an opponent of God, a root of blasphemy."1
Truly, pride is the denial of God because it makes man wish to be god himself; it is an invention of the devil for it was the devil who gave birth to it and committed it (cf. Isaiah 14:12-15); it is the despising of man, for the proud man holds himself above all others; it is the mother of condemnation because the proud man condemns all others; it is the offspring of praise for praise puffs up when not tempered with humility; it is the herald of falls, for "what look like towering heights are precipices."2 (Seneca)
Others offer their observations, describing the sin of pride as "the fault that arises from trust in self and making the self the spring of its own life."3 (St. Augustine) It "darkens the soul completely and leads to its utter downfall,"4 (St. John Cassian) for "without humility there is nothing in a man but darkness alone."5 (Seraphim of Sarov)
Pride can easily turn someone well on the path of holiness to the wayside, puffing them up and adorning them with jewels before hucking it headfirst into the abyss. But it is not an obvious deadly sin like some - though lust is quick to overcome many Christian souls, pride subtly worms its way into the tiniest elements of the Christian life. Suddenly, the good fruits produced turn to rotten apples and sour grapes.
St. Augustine tells us that "Pride is the beginning of all sin, and the beginning of man's revolt from God."6 But in diagnosing the sin, he also gives us the cure: "As the devil had offered himself to man as a pattern of pride to be imitated, so the Lord, who promises us eternal life, offered himself as a pattern of humility for our imitation."7
Humility is maintained, first, by realizing the infinite distance between God and man. Moreover, we must never put stock in the "things" we own, and somehow puff ourselves up with these - as Seneca, that most learned of pagan philosophers, once admonished, we can carry nothing out, we can take none of our possessions with us8. Even our jobs, our status, our friendships and our whole lives - all of this is laid waste by the great leveller, death. Death spares none, and equalizes all.
So it is that the "knowledge of God and of divine things is incomparably more noble than these earthly things."9 (St. Maximus the Confessor) But knowledge alone of the divine can lead to even worse pride than the pride found in material things and states of life10 (cf. St. John of the Cross). As St. Paul writes, "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If
I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge;
and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have
love, I am nothing. And
if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my
body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing." (1 Cor 13:1-3)
Here is the crux of the issue - we must first realize that all that we have has been given to us by God. Not just our material things and the surface elements of our lives, but our very being, every breath we take, every heartbeat - this has all been given to us by the grace of God. Satan's sin of pride was because "he did not want to ascribe this to the grace of God."11 (St. John Cassian) If we take this further, we see that man's sin of pride is not only this wilful disavowal of God's hand in one's life, but also is rooted in his desire to actually be god of his own life. This was the root of my own hatred of God.
Love of God, and the knowledge of His being the sole reason for one's own existence and everything in one's life that one has, is the key to fostering humility. "He who loves himself cannot love God."12 (Seraphim of Sarov)
1 - qtd. in Maloney, Pilgrimage of the Heart, pg. 89
2 - "On the Shortness of Life"
3 - The Spirit and the Letter, II:vii
4 - Institutes, "On the Eight Vices"
5 - Spiritual Instructions, 16
6 - On Free Will, 76
7 - ibid.
8 - cf. Ad Marciam, x
9 - Four Hundred Texts on Love, III:64
10 - cf. Dark Night of the Soul, II:1-8
11 - Institutes, "On the Eight Vices"
12 - Spiritual Instructions, 6