Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Before the Fall, This Cometh...

I was asked to do another posting on "Pride" - so I began today. Below are some quick references to give us a head start, I'll add some more comments of my own later...

"The Devil, the proud spirit, cannot endure to be mocked." - St. Thomas More, 16th Century
"God is stern in dealing with the arrogant, but to the humble He shows kindness." - Proverbs 3:34
"Hatred of God comes from pride. It is contrary to the love of God ..." - The Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2094
Overweening pride, arrogance, haughtiness: these have been the stuff of tragedy. Vanity, fussiness, delicacy: the stuff of comedy. These are all forms of self-delusion, and paper-thin masks over rotting features. Pride and vanity refuse the truth about who we are and substitute illusions for reality. While vanity is mostly concerned with appearance, pride is based in a real desire to be God, at least in one's own circle.
The first requirement of pride is spiritual blindness. Any glimpse of God reveals our frailty and sinfulness, just as a well-lit bathroom mirror shows the flaws in our complexion. Like Oedipus, we are driven to gouge out our eyes at the sight of our wretchedness and wander away from our heavenly home, with no purpose or direction. Unlike Oedipus, we build up myriad illusions about who we are and what we are about. We can busy ourselves with career, family and even church work, thinking we are being driven by a strong work ethic, moral values or the fire of the Holy Spirit. In reality, we may be running away from God by running away from ourselves. Nearly everyone else can see that we are putting on a show, but not us. Our coworkers may hate us (they are just jealous), our children may self-destruct or leave us (they are ungrateful), and we may never truly pray but merely stand in the presence of a god we have created, but we still refuse to see.
A second requirement of pride, indeed a symptom, is that each challenge to our pride drives us harder to improve our illusion of productivity, sanctity or compassion. It has been said that the definition of a zealot is "one who has lost sight of his goal, and so redoubles his efforts." We might say the zealot works twice as hard to keep up appearances.
When we hear sermons about pride, or read this text, we may be tempted to think of all the people we know who really need to read it. We need to read it. Pride is about us, and we would love to retain our illusions by pointing to others, saying: "But they are very proud. I really don't think I'm that great, but they do."
The best pride detector is this: how much are we bothered by the pride of others? And if we feel attacked, is our response: "other people are worse."
A strong indicator of pride is competitiveness. There is nothing wrong with playing to win, provided the joy is in the playing. If our happiness depends on defeating others or knowing our child is the star of the team, we are building a world of illusion.
At death, all illusions are stripped away. God's judgment will not take into account our bank balance, how much we own, how smart our children are or how much self-esteem we have. All that will matter is whether He recognizes us (Matthew 25:12).
There are three ways to destroy Pride, and they must all be taken together:
1) Be grateful to anyone and everyone. Treat even the things people are expected to do as great gifts. Be grateful for your food, your change at Burger King, rain, life itself. Thank everyone.
2) Beg forgiveness of God for the sin of Pride. Go before Him in prayer every day or every few hours and implore His mercy. The more this offends you, the more Pride you have.
3) Ask God for a spirit of Humility and Gratitude. Read Philippians 2:3-11 and imitate it. Understand that without God's Grace, we will never cast away our illusions. Ask God to break your pride and vanity using whatever it takes: illness, loss of friends, loss of family, public humiliation. This is unbelievably difficult to request, and every fiber of our being fights it. We protest it is not fair, or "God doesn't work that way." My friend, what good is health, friends, family, a good reputation, if you have no real love for God, but only a hollow illusion? In the end, all but true love for God is lost, so count all else but God as loss now.
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Medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas said of Pride "inordinate self-love is the cause of every sin (1,77) ... the root of pride is found to consist in man not being, in some way, subject to God and His rule."

Pride (Latin, superbia)
Main article: Pride
In almost every list pride (or hubris or vanity) is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and indeed the ultimate source from which the others arise. It is identified as a desire to be more important or attractive than others, failing to give compliments to others though they may be deserving of them,[citation needed] and excessive love of self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God). Dante's definition was "love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one's neighbor." In Jacob Bidermann's medieval miracle play, Cenodoxus, pride is the deadliest of all the sins and leads directly to the damnation of the titulary famed Parisian doctor. In perhaps the best-known example, the story of Lucifer, pride (his desire to compete with God) was what caused his fall from Heaven, and his resultant transformation into Satan. Vanity and narcissism are prime examples of this sin. In Dante's Divine Comedy, the penitent were forced to walk with stone slabs bearing down on their backs in order to induce feelings of humility.

1 comment:

  1. Pride is a subject each of us, especially in this online – written only environment – must wrestle with constantly. We must watch ourselves that we don't post things which would put our pride above the truth or charity. It is, afterall, our duty to defend the truth, but to do so with charity (1 Peter 3:15-17). So when it comes to our online apologetics, we must make sure we're constantly following that precedent. There may be times when it would be better for us to “give in” to our opponent(s) rather than fighting over some minute point. When it comes to minute points, whereas we might “win” a debate by sticking to that point – the main truth of the debate is lost because we focused on the little point rather than the larger issue at hand. I believe, or at least I hope, I speak for all Christian apologists when I say that truth and charity must take a higher place in our apologetics than pride and winning on a technicality.

    As an example of this “winning on a technicality” concept, I point to a series of debates I had with James White over the subject of [http://www.americancatholictruthsociety.com/jrw/jwromalocutafinal.htm”] “roma locuta est, causa finita est” - which translated is, “Rome has spoken, the cause is finished (or the case is closed).” In that debate, White opened with the fact that many Catholics refer to this as a quote from St. Augustine, but, White argues, “(St.) Augustine didn't say that!” In fact, “technically” White is correct here, St. Augustine didn't use those words – but in effect, he did “say that!” As I have pointed out to White many times (and he has yet to acknowledge) what the great St. Augustine DID say in Sermon 131.10, was “for in this cause two councils have sent letters to the Apostolic Seat (Rome) and rescripts (responses) have come (back); the case is closed.” [Latin: jam enim de hac causa duo concilia missa sunt ad sedem apostolicam, inde etiam rescripta venerunt; causa finita est]. So, whereas St. Augustine didn't use the words “roma locuta est” - that MEANING can clearly be seen in what he DID say – and St. Augustine DID say “causa finita est” - that is a verbatim quote from Sermon 131.10. I have seen White use this very tactic in a debate with Fr. Stravinskas – after Fr. Stravinskas used the paraphrase “roma locuta est, causa finita est.” White immediately ceased the opportunity to jump on the fact that St. Augustine didn't say “Roma locuta,” which flustered Fr. Stravinskas, and from that point onward in the debate White SEEMED to have the upper hand. The response to White SHOULD have been, “Though St. Augustine never said 'roma locuta est' – that meaning is clearly taken from the context, and he did say 'causa finita est' in that immediate context.” So, even though St. Augustine didn't use “those words” - he did “say that.” White APPEARS to have won on the technicality, but the deeper TRUTH of the matter is, Fr. Stravinskas was right. In Christian charity, White should openly admit to this fact – but, to the best of my knowledge, he never has. Why? Pride.

    Another issue I personally struggle with in the area of pride is the fact that [http://www.americancatholictruthsociety.com ] ACTS has the distinction of being the first and oldest Catholic group on the Internet devoted to Catholic apologetics. There were other Catholic groups around prior to ACTS, but none devoted to apologetics. Most were general discussion forums which, at times, got into apologetics debates; however often those debates would be squashed by the moderator(s) due to the heated nature which often accompanies such discussions. Seeing the need for such a focused group, in 1989 I brought ACTS to the electronic medium. ACTS actually began non-electronically in 1966 under my father-in-law, may he rest in peace, and for more history there check out: http://www.americancatholictruthsociety.com/francis.htm . Why is this an area of pride for me? Well, ACTS is “the first” making it also “the oldest,” yet we are, by far, not the biggest nor even the best known. Sometimes I wrestle with (but I believe this is the first time I've publicly stated) that ACTS should be right up there. Some have left ACTS to form their own groups, and I've always been supportive of them, while deep down asking myself, “Why could they not have just stayed here and helped us grow?” I have to keep telling myself that God has a purpose for me, and for ACTS, even if it isn't for fame and glory at this time – which could be more tempting to enter into the sin of pride, which can escalate into other sins from there. When the time is right – in God's timing – ACTS may blossom into something bigger and better than I ever dreamed of – or if God so desires it, it may remain in its humble little corner of the Internet.

    Please pray for me, and I will for all those who might ask the same of me (leave a comment here).

    In JMJ,


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