Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Through the envy of the devil...

Sin entered the world.

Idle Speculations has a provocative essay on the subject of envy and discord.  I recommend it to all bloggers.  God bless us every one!
Envy is one of the seven deadly sins.

Basil Cole OP in The Cambridge Dictionary of Christian Theology defines it thus:

"Envy is a sadness at the success or good achieved by another. Someone’s good fortune or even virtue is seen by someone captivated by this vice as a personal threat.
Its offspring are tale-bearing, detraction, joy at another’s misfortune, and grief at another’s prosperity.
The Catechism adds to this notion that it is a refusal of charity (§2540), which would be a rejoicing in the goodness of someone else as a gift from God to the community"

Envy is an offence of the Second Great Command: "Love Your Neighbour as Yourself". It was set out in the Tenth Commandment which according to the Catechism (§2534) "concerns the intentions of the heart; with the ninth, it summarizes all the precepts of the Law." -   Envy and Jealousy
Envy's twin is discord.

We see this in life - it is the source of much of our conflict and unhappiness:  "You envy and you cannot acquire, so you quarrel and fight." - James 4.  It is a spiritual sin we can often fail to see in ourselves, especially when we are consumed by the acquisition of, or the defense of, our so-called rights; and more grossly, when we are either enslaved by our passions through mortal sin, or while in a spiritual combat to overcome sin - especially the more obvious and dramatic sins of the flesh.
The sinful character of envy comes more clearly to light when we compare it – for example – to zeal:

Whereas the envious man “begrudges” the goods of another and sees them as a threat to his own status, his glory or reputation, the zealous man does not grieve over the goods others possess, but desires to acquire them himself. “The zeal of Thy house hath eaten me up.”

The envious man considers the goods – spiritual or material – of others as his own evil. The zealous man preserves the goodness of things in others – but wishes to enjoy the same goodness proper to these goods. And he is virtuous in doing so if it is a moral good he wishes to acquire. The envious man destroys goodness in others in seeing it as an evil for himself which makes him smaller, less honored, less pious, less intelligent, less esteemed and – less lovable.

We see here why envy belongs to the deadly sins: Its essential character is directed against the love of God, God Himself, Who is the source of all goodness – in us and in all men. And if envy is sorrow for the increase of God’s grace in our neighbor, “it is accounted a sin against the Holy Ghost, because thereby a man envies, as it were, the Holy Ghost Himself, Who is glorified in His works.”

Envy weeps at those who rejoice and rejoices at those who weep. Weeping over our neighbor’s good – which is envy, gives rise to joy in his evil.

Of course: Also envy is committed as a grave and mortal sin only if both – our knowledge and our will – fully embrace this sadness over our neighbor’s goods. St. Thomas says: 
“Nevertheless, in every kind of mortal sin we find certain imperfect movements in the sensuality, which are venial sins: … so in [regard to]… envy we find sometimes even in perfect men certain first movements, which are venial sins.” - Courageous Priests

I'm not sure where I am going with this - but it is something I am meditating and examining my conscience on.

Art: Allegories of the Virtues and Vices -  Giotto, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua. Detail Invidia (envy).


  1. Some real food for thought. I certainly feel threatened by the virtues of others, but I think it's because I am so afraid that God is angry at me unless I am like others. I'm sure envy an dissatisfaction with what I do have play a part though.

    A good question - is it true that the first movements to sin are sins themselves, albeit venial, or are they part of concupiscence, which doesn't carry personal guilt? This seems to equate temptation with sin.

    The logical conclusion, for example, if this were the case, would be for men to avoid the company of women as whenever possible, especially is situations like pools, beaches, gyms, etc. But I always thought that as long as I do not follow through with movements to lust, i.e. I recognize the temptation an the movement but do not accept the proposition, even if I "want" to. If the movement itself were sin, wouldn't it mean that people should never ever date before marriage, but rather meet once or twice, as St. Alphonsus suggested (since normal people who are attracted to each other will be at least tempted, will at least "want" to consummate their love, will at least struggle to wait until marriage - and if they don't desire, that would seem to be a problem)?

  2. I guess what I mean is that I thought venial sin dealt with actual personal guilt, whereas the first movements to sin are the results of the disorder of original sin, but not culpable in themselves.

  3. Over my head again. First movements to sin can't be a sin unless they are consented to or willed - or so I thought. I dunno.

  4. Also, perhaps the first movements develop into venial sins. For instance, I may entertain certain thoughts that were suggested in temptation, but I don't act on them. Consider it in this way from Ps. 36:

    Sin speaks to the sinner
    in the depths of his heart.
    There is no fear of God
    before his eyes.

    He so flatters himself in his mind
    that he knows not his guilt.
    In his mouth are mischief and deceit.
    All wisdom is gone.

    He plots the defeat of goodness
    as he lies on his bed.
    He has set his foot on evil ways,
    he clings to what is evil.

    I'm not sure however.

  5. Acceptance makes life a lot easier... acceptance that we are sinners... acceptance that the Lamb of God takes away our sins when we repent... acceptance of the love of God, even in our sinful state. God our Father loves us, and nothing will ever change that. Why should we ever feel threatened by the virtue of God’s love? It is in our weakness and poverty that God finds a place to become incarnate.

    A simple exercise to focus on is to count the day’s actual blessings against the day’s perceived disappointments. Blessings triumph every time. When we realise this truth, then there will be no place in our hearts for envy.

  6. Terry, I like the painting by Salvador Dali. I was just going to change my blogger photo to his painting Santiago El Grande, one of my favorite paintings by him-- St James being my patron.

  7. Hi Jim - I like a lot of Dali's work too - the one in the header is The Temptation of St. Anthony for those who may not know the title.

  8. Dang, Terry. This is why I read your blog. I mean, I like when you post silly things or unusual things, or when you comment on pop culture. But I like this type of post the best, where you explore ideas and get us all thinking in new directions. I have to fight tooth and nail to make even the littlest spiritual progress, so I greatly appreciate all the help I can get, from whatever source I can find it. It's a good thing Catholics have such a wealth of assistance. It is a great benefit to me personally to have access to the insights you share as you pull the threads of your own life together.

    As regards "movements in the sensuality" being venial sins, I would have to read a lot more of Aquinas to understand exactly what he is saying. But the question of temptation vs. sin honestly didn't even occur to me . . . since he was speaking about mortal sin vs. venial sin in the quote, my mind didn't even go to the idea of what constitutes temptation.

    However, I am thinking that "movements" would involve an act of the will either toward or away from sin in varying degrees, as opposed to urges or fleeting thoughts which engage the imagination and so are instances merely of temptation.

  9. Terry, BTW: Just 'cuz I really like this sort of serious post, don't think I want you to be so-so serious all the time. It would get be too heavy if you didn't tease us sometimes! You've got a great content mix going on here. :D

    Speaking of silly, "inkledjd" is the captcha on this.

  10. I know Hon! I gotta lighten up. Two more serious posts after this and then I'll break out the crazy - I hope.


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