The sin of Pride is the impulse to hold ourselves higher than we are, to value our actions, achievements, belongings, appearance and words unreasonably highly. If unchecked, it leads us to heartily despise others. Our modern English word once meant “noble, excellent,” and then came to mean “haughty, arrogant,” that is, arrogantly acting as if noble and excellent.
Sinful pride blinds us. It is a selfish darkness. It stands us over and against the world, disrespecting anyone who won’t flatter us. It is a disease breaking out in dozens of places at once: in vanity, lying, back- biting and gossip, greed, envy, jealousy, and lust, to mention but some of its charms. We get high on imagination as we play to the audience in our heads. Pride has a filthy appetite for applause. It always competes: the proud praise themselves, while the wise know that self-praise is no praise.
Pride spoils good qualities in us, by treating them as a reason to adore ourselves (e.g. taking pride in our “humility” – with the result that we are not, in fact, humble). Rather than giving thanks to God who has upheld us with His grace, and given us the opportunity of serving Him, we ascribe all the credit to ourselves. It is easy to see how pride is a sort of theft, stealing all available glory.
A more subtle form of the same sinful attitude appears when we concede that God gives all that is good, but a voice whispers to me that “I deserve it,” and I haughtily take what I have as my right. Thus I effectively treat God as my servant, who delivers to me only what I merited to receive. I become judge both my actions and those of others, whom I see as undeserving because lacking my imagined merits. Pride makes me blind to the fact that I do not fully know the other people I am judging, being ignorant of their history and all their struggles.
A humble person is down to earth (in Latin humus means “earth”), and while he sees and evaluates what other people do, as best he can, he judges the act, not the person. Humility is the virtue of rightly understanding and feeling that we are all completely dependent upon God. A proud person lacks this quality, and feels elated in their own pride, as if drunk on their own self-appreciation. Can a proud man really agree that he is subject to God? Both Ss Peter and James say: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble,” (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5)
There is a pride which is not sinful, for example, we may rightly be proud of those who have worked and suffered for God and His justice. This is not sinful provided that I do not feel that I myself am superior to others. It is sad when we pass in the blink of an eye from the praise of others to the praise of ourselves. We should be indifferent to worldly glory.
In Lebanon there is this good custom: when we have something nice, e.g. a new car or home, we say heda men fadl rabbee, “this is from the grace of my Lord.” Similarly, a wise man once advised a mother that when her talented child draws well, rather than praise her inordinately, remark how wonderful an instrument the hand is, and how good it is to make constructive use of God’s gifts.
Pride and Recalcitrance
Pride can be said to uphold all the other sins, because it makes me refuse correction by God, by man or by conscience. It is as if something very deep inside me says: “It is my action, my attitude, and I will do what I please and the rest of you can go hang.” Through this sin, we “despise the divine law which would warn us against committing further sins” (St Thomas Aquinas, ST II-II, 162, 2).
If I have been committing the same sin for some time, resolving to stop, but always failing, then it is practically certain that this stubborn sin is upheld by pride – a pride so deep that is invisible to me. This is when sin is the most dangerous, for a pattern of behaviour too deep to be easily seen will not easily be dislodged. In fact, my very pride will prevent me from acknowledging that I suffer from it. Something in me will either deny it outright, or else say that I am perfectly right to appreciate my own confidence.
And yet, underneath this self-assertion, pride is often a disguise for insecurity. Something in us fears that I am, in some way, not good enough. There is a fear that I am lacking, that other people are better than us. But it hurts to acknowledge this to ourselves, so we make an article of faith out of the stubborn belief that we are something wonderful – and so we are taken prisoner by a very deep pride.
This is not so easy to grasp at once. We are profoundly programmed by this pride, so firmly in its clutches that we do not see it. We have become accustomed to it, just as we are rarely aware of how we talk and the way we walk, rather, we just start talking or walking, and we say the things which come out of our mouths. We only choose our words or watch where we’re going when there is some reason to be especially careful about our path. But now we have a reason to be careful about our spiritual life: because we may be entranced by pride.
We behave under the influence of deeply conditioned pride without ever having become aware that our pride has been aroused, let alone that we are sinning. We don’t intend to be proud, but just as words appear in our mouth, so too pride enters our actions.
However, grim as the situation is, there is hope, for although we cannot see this deep pride so easily, yet we can deduce that it is probably lurking. There is almost certainly pride at the base of those sins we keep repeating against our will, and the more we deny that we could be subject to sin, the more the good confessor will suspect its presence.
It is a funny thing: pride is perhaps the most prevalent sin of all, yet is probably the most rarely confessed. Experienced priests can tell you, a person who repents the sin of pride invariably makes a good confession. Pride is also often at the root of scruples: we can not only take pride in our supposed virtues, we can also take pride in our supposed vices, and in our supposed seriousness and desire to be virtuous. Scruples demonstrate an unhealthy attachment to self-examination, even a notion that my sins are darker than other people’s because my soul is more tragic, and plunged more deeply into experience.
The ultimate cure for pride is to cooperate with the life of grace, virtue and humility, and to remake our lives as humble lives. We do this by meditating on the life of the Lord and His simplicity and meekness. The lives of the saints also provide many excellent examples. “Meekness,” which is too often mistaken for “weakness,” in fact is a sign of great strength: for the meek man is the one who has a right but does not take it. A meek person may be justified in criticising, but will yet refrain, choosing instead to be merciful.
It seems that we cannot overcome pride as long as we are competing with other people, and as long as we are unable to see how when they go wrong (or we think they do), they, too, have been in the grip of powers too big for them to defeat. If we could see ourselves and others as equally beloved by God, and equally infinitely valuable, we would, with God’s grace, defeat false pride!
This was written by a Maronite priest. Of your mercy, please pray for those souls in Purgatory who have no one else to pray for them, and also pray for that priest.