Saturday, July 19, 2014

On presumption, ambition, and vainglory.

Madonna by St. Catherine of Bologna

Looking at roots of the problem of spiritual pride and egotism.

How good people online can become angry, though it may not always be righteous anger ...
Among these spiritual persons there are also those who fall into another kind of spiritual anger.  Through a certain indiscreet zeal they become angry over the sins of others, they reprove these others, and sometimes even feel the impulse to do so angrily, which in fact they occasionally do, setting themselves up as lords of virtue.  All such conduct is contrary to spiritual meekness. - Dark Night, Bk. I, 5:2
On presumption, ambition, and vainglory. 

The principal defects springing from pride are presumption, ambition, and vainglory.
Presumption is the desire and inordinate hope of doing what is above one's power. The presumptuous man believes himself capable of studying and solving the most difficult questions; he settles the most abstruse problems with rash haste. He fancies that he has sufficient light to guide himself without consulting a director. Instead of building his interior life on humility, renunciation, fidelity to the duty of the present moment even in little things, he speaks particularly of magnanimity, of apostolic zeal, or indeed aspires to the immediate attainment of the high degrees of prayer without passing through the various stages, forgetting that he is still only a beginner, whose will is still weak and full of egoism. He is still full of self; a great void must be created in him in order that his soul may some day be filled with God and able to give Him to others.
 The ambition of self-appointed online evangelists and apologists.
From presumption springs ambition, under one form or another. Because a man presumes too greatly on his powers and judges himself superior to others, he wishes to dominate them, to impose on them his ideas in matters of doctrine, or to govern them. St. Thomas says that a man manifests ambition when he seeks offices carrying with them honor which he does not merit; when he seeks honors for himself and not for the glory of God or the profit of others. How many schemes, secret solicitations, and intrigues ambition inspires in all walks of life! 
The quest for affirmation and esteem ... and profit.
Pride leads also to vainglory, that is, the wish to be esteemed for oneself, without referring this honor to God, the source of all good, and often a wish to be esteemed for vain things. This is the case of the pedant who loves to display his knowledge, binding himself and wishing to bind others to trifles. 
Many defects spring from vainglory: boasting, which easily makes a person ridiculous; hypocrisy, which under the appearances of virtue, hides vices; stubbornness, contention or asperity in defending one's opinion, which engenders discord; and also disobedience, sharp criticisms of superiors. 
There were scribes and Pharisees ...

We always point out the Pharisees to condemn online, but we forget Jesus also condemned the hypocrisy of the scribes.
Thus we see that pride which is not repressed sometimes produces disastrous effects. How many discords, hatreds, and wars are born of pride! It has been justly said that pride is the great enemy of perfection because it is the source of numerous sins and deprives us of many graces and merits. Scripture says: "God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble."  And Christ says of the Pharisees, who pray and give alms in order to be seen by men: "They have received their reward";  they cannot expect that of our heavenly Father, since they have acted for themselves and not for Him. Lastly, a life dominated by pride is grievously sterile and presages perdition unless a remedy is promptly applied. - Three Ages of the Interior Life

I have to go to confession now.

Drawing by St. Alphonsus Ligouri


  1. Pride made angels fall...

  2. There's another kind of pride--more hidden and subtle--that can also sabotage evangelization. The kind of pride you've written about lately doesn't produce boring evangelization because its effect is to produce "outrage porn", but the other pride smothers evangelization by being safe and easily consumable. This thought came to me while watching EWTN at the in-laws house. They aired a faith conference with some of the more familiar names on the Catholic circuit, and it was boring, predictable and even de-spiritualized.

    For starters, in tone, dress, and delivery it could have been a corporate team-work conference for Costco employees. In that sense, it seemed more protestant mega-church than deeply Catholic. Then the message was so careful and bland that neither an atheist or an episcopalian would have been offended. There was none of Pope Francis' "Oh dear, what's he going to say next" or even Mark Shea's wild earnestness. It was as boring as a suburban homily. Too self-conscious, too-polished, too I'm-really-just-like-the-person-next-door. I don't want the person next door and I don't want the trying-too-hard-to-be-manly bit that comes with some men's conferences--I want a fool for Christ who isn't concerned with images.

    The most damning thing is how they are de-spiritualized: no one ever talks matter-of-factly about the spiritual life, seeking refuge in Christ's sacred heart, about the daily help from angels or the traps of demons (except in the most generic way). You know, what used to be the normal Catholic life. The only people who talk about those things now are the Spirit Daily crowd of charismatics and Medj. supporters.

    For my money, the ideal evangelist is Peter Kreeft. He's urbane but he doesn't pull punches, and so he says hard spiritual truths like "divorce is spiritual murder because the one flesh that came from two is now ruptured". Though he's a perfect gentleman, you also get the sense that he could care less what people think of him--as long as Christ is pleased.

  3. Most people I know who refer to EWTN as boring fit into at least three camps.

    The first camp are those who can't find any contentment with Catholic content that doesn't involve kvetching about everyone else's faults and imperfections. Among these are those whom I've heard say, "EWTN is part of the problem." In reality the problem is within them because their focus is in the wrong place.

    The second camp are those who find EWTN boring because they already know what EWTN is teaching. They are looking for something deeper. But, the network has a focus on every day people who might wander in and need nuts and bolts, not to satisfy an itch to hear someone kvetch about the scandal of the day. They have an itch that can't be scratched. I think EWTN could use to have deeper programs, even if late night.

    The third camp are those who don't feel EWTN is traditional enough; or not progressive enough; or doesn't fit their political expectations.

    There are other camps; these are just a few that come to mind.

    What I can't figure out is why certain people feel the need to kvetch about them. Then again, maybe they belong to the first camp - those folks who just aren't happy unless they have someone else to be unhappy about.

    The way I see it, the greatest field of battle each of us has is the one within our own soul. That's where we need to complain the most.

    "”It is better to err by excess of mercy than by excess of severity. . .Wilt thou become a Saint? Be severe to thyself but kind to others.”
    --Saint John Chrysostom

    1. Hi Diane,

      You spend an awful lot of time correcting people online. Trads, Medj, folks etc. When other people offer their own "corrections" that differ from your own point of view you then take them to task--often uncharitably. You couldn't even describe your three camps without twisting a knife in somewhere. As I read your three camps I thought, "Fair enough, I fall into camp #2." Until I read you also included in camp #2 the problem with camp #1.

      My post wasn't on EWTN btw, but the network does play it much safer than they used to, and it has also become increasingly a news/politics network which is interesting given your camp #3 mention of politics.

    2. Scott - you offer some fair criticism in how I posted on camp 2. I re-read it and should not have lumped in camp 1 with it.

      I also agree that I think EWTN is, in some programs, giving politicians air time when they could, instead, have theologians and philosophers discussing the issue at hand in general rather than getting into policy. I've mentioned this elsewhere and should have acknowledged that. But I was thinking more along the lines of someone who may not like EWTN because they may advocate for something that is clearly in harmony with Church teaching, but in conflict with a political party. Though admittedly, I think they stepped in it big time when some politician was on the World Over justifying interrogation techniques involving water boarding. There was a perfect opportunity lost to have a theologian and philosopher deep dive the issue rather than a Catholic pol. I've lost interest in that program over things like that.

      With regards to my "corrections" of "trads" and "Medj folks" - I look at it more as defending others who are being treated with contempt, such as the Pope, a bishop, and in the case of Medjugorje, it is usually distortions of truth which often take unfair aim at the local bishop. So, yes, out of the many headlines that dominate Medjugorje, I'm one of very few voices to offer alternative considerations to some of the scathing reports that put the local bishop, who is a good man, in a bad light. All traditionalists are being stereotyped based on the abrasive, merciless, rash judments of a vocal minority. I am a traditionalist in a traditional parish where the majority of people simple want a place to go for Mass that offers the majesty, beauty, and solemnity that is found in the EF. We are all being branded in the worst ways by non-trads because of the way a minority of trads are reacting to things. Yes, I do sometimes give non-trads an alternative view of traditionalists when I offer alternative considerations not found in some of the more highly trafficked sites. Unfortunately, I do so imperfectly at times.

      One difference is that I don't make it a daily routine.

      Terry - I too use what you provided as an examen and critique of how I look at and discuss things. Even when I do come to someone else's defense, I often find ways I could have done better, and times I wish I had simply not bothered. It's good to post this now and then so we can all take stock.

  4. I see myself in these defects I have listed.


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