Humility of Heart
Fr. Cajetan Mary da Bergamo
Translation by Herbert Cardinal Vaughn,
Archbishop of Westminister, England1903
TAN BOOKS AND PUBLISHERS
On the Vice of Pride, and the Best Use to be Made of the Practical Examen
And, therefore, St. Bernard reproves him, saying: "O proud soul, what work hast thou done that thou shouldst take thy rest?" What hast thou done, O bold one, to deserve such an honour? And it is thus that those reprobates sinned through pride to whom allusion is made in Luke xvii, 9, who, like the Pharisee, gave thanks to God for the good they did and the evil they left undone: "O God, I give Thee thanks," etc.; but yet, at the same time, they had the presumption to consider themselves of singular merit, "trusting in themselves."
Thus all those who sin by presuming that they have deserved any good whatsoever of God are convicted of pride, because by attesting to their own merit they make God a debtor of this grace, which would no longer be grace if we had deserved it. We may well be permitted, with Job, to say that by our sins we have deserved God's anger and every kind of evil: "Oh, that my sins, whereby I have deserved wrath, were weighed in a balance" [Job vi, 2] but we cannot say that we deserve grace or any good, as St. Paul says: "If by grace it is not now by works, otherwise grace is no more grace."
And each one of us should say with the same humble St. Paul, "By the grace of God I am what I am." [1 Cor. xv, 10] If I am rich, noble, sane, or possess any other gifts, it all comes from God who has made me thus, not because of my own merits, but solely through His Own mercy and goodness. Whether I abstain from evil or whether I do good, I owe it all not to my own merit, but to the grace of God Who assists me with His mercy; "By the grace of God I am what I am." And anyone who ascribes what he is or what he has to his own merits, is guilty of pride, and appropriates to himself what he ought to give to the mercy and grace of God. Therefore holy Church wisely ends her prayers with these words: "Through Jesus Christ our Lord," etc. And by this we protest to the Divine Majesty that we ask the gifts mentioned in those prayers through the merits of Jesus Christ, and that, if our prayers are heard, it will only be through the merits of Jesus Christ.
This is a point which is worthy of all attention so that we may not fall through inadvertence into most terrible pride. And St. Augustine urges us to remember that not only all the good we have comes from God, but also that we have it only through His mercy and not through our own merits. "When a man sees that whatever good he has is from the mercy of God and not from his own merits, he ceases to be proud." [In Ps. lxxxiv]
143. The third way in which we can sin through pride is when we attribute to ourselves some good-----of any kind whatsoever-----which we do not really possess, but whether it be that we esteem ourselves for that imaginary good which exists only in our thoughts, and desire others to esteem us for it also, or whether we really possess it, or whether again we only desire to have this good which we have not in order to be able to boast of it and glory in it, all this is detestable pride.
It was in this way that the Bishop of Laodicea sinned by esteeming himself rich in merit when he was merely contemptible; and therefore God told him that he would vomit him out of His mouth. "I will begin to vomit thee out of My mouth, because thou sayest, I am rich and have need of nothing, and knowest not that thou art miserable and poor." [Apoc. iii, 16, 17] And it is with this kind of pride that all sin who either esteem themselves or who seek to be esteemed by others in word or deed for more riches, knowledge, rank or virtue than they really have.
It may be an act of virtue to desire these things for some honourable end, for instance to desire more knowledge in order to be able to serve holy Church, to desire riches in order to be able to give more alms; but to desire these things in order not to seem inferior to others or to acquire more esteem, is only pride, and oh, how few there are who are not infected with this pride! One for one thing, and one for another, almost all men seek to be esteemed above what they really are-----and this without the slightest scruple.
Sometimes it may be that the sin is not so grave, either because this is not a deliberate wish, or else because the nature of the offense is very slight; but on the other hand it is in itself always a very grave sin, because through this pride man no longer remains subject to that rule which has been given him by God-----to be contented in his own state. St. Thomas says: "This is evidently of the nature of mortal sin," [2a 2æ, qu. clxii, art. 5 et 6] and his doctrine on this point is that the greater the gift may be in which we glory, although we do not possess it, the greater is our pride. Therefore it is worse to affect to be holy than to affect to be noble or rich, because sanctity is a greater gift than rank or wealth. And the habit of excusing the sins we have committed also belongs to this kind of pride, because when we excuse ourselves and say that we are not guilty, we assert our innocence and accredit ourselves with an innocence which we do not possess. And how often do we sin thus through pride without even knowing it!
And St. Thomas also attributes to pride the endeavour to conceal our sins and so excuse and palliate the wickedness thereof in our confessions. [Ibid. art. 4]
144. The fourth way in which we sin through pride is when we use any gift we may possess in order to appear distinguished or to think ourselves better than others, and to be more esteemed and honoured than they. Whatever good we have, whether of body or soul, of nature, fortune or grace, is a gift of God, and to use these gifts in order to try and be more conspicuous than others is pride.
It is with this pride that the Pharisee in the Temple regarded his own goodness, and placed himself above others, especially the publican. "I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican." [Luke xviii, 11] He esteemed himself above all, and was in reality the proudest of all. It was with this pride, too, that the disciples sinned when they glorified in their singular gift of being able to cast out devils: "And they returned with joy, saying: 'Lord, the devils also are subject to us,' " [Luke x, 17] and our blessed Lord answered them most justly: "I saw Satan like lightning falling from Heaven," as if He almost meant to say "Take care that you do not exalt yourself like the proud Lucifer, lest you fall as he did."
St. Gregory in fact makes this reflection that there is no pride which resembles the diabolical pride so much as this: This comes. very near to a diabolical likeness." [Lib. 23. Mor. cap. iv] Whoever wishes to exalt himself above others imitates Lucifer who desired to be first among the Angels and nearest to the throne of God. This was the sin of Lucifer when he dwelt upon his desire to be exalted: "And thou saidest in thy heart, I will ascend." [Isai. xiv, 13] And those who are always scheming for their own advancement, and are discontented with their own state sin even as Lucifer sinned: "I will ascend"; and we ought to guard against this diabolical sin, as St. Paul says: "Lest being puffed up with pride we fall into the judgment of the devil." [1 Tim. iii, 6]
And, moreover, we ought also to observe what the same holy pontiff tells us, that we often fall into this the worst kind of pride: "Into this fourth kind of pride the human mind falls very frequently"; and there is no doubt that it is really a grievous sin, for we thereby offend both God and our neighbour. And how many men and women there are, both religious and secular, of every state and condition, who commit this sin of pride so frequently that it becomes a predominant habit with them.
Practically we notice that all men desire to be distinguished in their own particular art, however inferior it may be, and all seek first to be esteemed as much as others, and then to be distinguished more than others-----" I will ascend," each one in his own sphere and also outside his own sphere. The rich man regards himself as greater than the learned man on account of his riches; the learned man as greater than the rich man on account of his learning; the chaste man esteems himself better than the one who gives alms, and the one who gives alms esteems himself more highly than the man who is chaste. Oh, what pride!-----and yet few people are willing to recognize that they are
145. The holy pope St. Gregory discerns pride in all kinds of people and describes its characteristics. Some, he says, are proud of their possessions, others of their eloquence, some are proud of mundane things and some of things of the Church and the gifts of God, although blinded by vanity we are unable to discern it; and whether we exalt ourselves above others on account of worldly glory, or of spiritual gifts, pride has never left our heart because it is domiciled there, and, to disguise itself: assumes a false appearance.
It is also well to know that pride does not tempt superiors and inferiors in the same way.
It tempts the great, by giving them to understand that they have attained to their position by their own merit, and that none of their inferiors could be compared with them; it tempts their subordinates, by diverting their attention from their own faults and making them observe and judge the doings of their superiors; they speak nevertheless of and to their superiors with a certain liberty, and as this pride is called a rightful independence in them, so in the superior it is called zeal and decorum.
Sometimes our pride constrains us to talk loud, at other times to preserve a bitter silence. Pride is dissolute in its joys, sombre and raving in its melancholy; it seems honourable in appearance, yet is without honour; it is full of valour in giving offense, but cowardly in taking it; it is slow to obey, importunate in its demands to ascertain its duty, but negligent in performing it; while it is prompt to meddle and interfere in all that does not concern it, there is no possibility of bending it in any direction unless it is inclined thereto by its own taste; and it is astute, and pretends to be indifferent about having any office or dignity which it covets, so that it may be forced into accepting them, loving to have those things which it most desires thrust violently upon it for fear it should be regarded with contempt if its desire for them were made known. This is all St. Gregory's teaching.
146. After considering pride in itself, it remains for us to observe its effects, and especially eight of the more common and familiar vices which it produces, which are presumption, ambition, envy, vainglory, boastfulness, hypocrisy, disobedience and discord. Let us examine them with St. Thomas.
Presumption is a vice by which we esteem ourselves able to achieve things beyond our strength, forgetful of the necessity of Divine help. The sinner is guilty of presumption when he believes that he can be converted to God whenever he likes and chooses, as if conversion were the work of his own free-will alone, and living ill yet trusts to make a good death; when he sins and goes on sinning, relying upon obtaining ultimate forgiveness; when he believes that he can of himself, and without the help of grace, both withstand temptation, avoid sin and observe the commandments of God, or else that he can make some supernatural act of faith, hope, charity or contrition, or perform some meritorious act towards his eternal welfare and save himself by persevering in well-doing.
All this is beyond our own strength, and to think that we can do these things without the special help of God, and without being willing to ask this help of God, is a sin of presumption-----a grave sin of that pride by which we believe that we possess a virtue when we have it not: "O wicked presumption," says Holy Writ, "whence camest thou?" [Ecclus. xxxvii, 3] And Saint Gregory, explaining what that sin was which Job called "great iniquity," [Job cxxxi, 28] affirmed that it was presumption, which is an insult to the author of all grace, "by which a man takes all the credit of a good work to himself." [Lib. xxii, Mor., cap. x]