Pride, Vanity, Sensuality, Death

I read recently that pride, vanity, and sensuality lie at the root of all sin. Not only are they root sins, their very nature is such that the attempt to overcome them can easily backfire. The following is perhaps the scariest thing I’ve read in a long time:

The symptoms of vanity, this initial sin: intolerance of criticism, a thirst for praise, a search for easy paths, constant orientation upon others – what will they say? how will it appear? what will they think? …….

The same orientation upon an audience explains the sin of self-justification, which often creeps unnoticeably even into our confession: “I am no more sinful than the rest…. only insignificant sins…. I have not killed anyone or stolen anything.”

The demon of vanity is overjoyed, says St. John of the Ladder, seeing our virtues increase: the more successes we have, the more food for vanity. “When I keep fast, I am vain; when I hide my spiritual labors – I am vain over my piety. If I dress pleasingly, I am vain, and if I put on old clothes, I become even vainer. If I begin to speak – I am consumed by vanity, if I keep silent – I become still vainer. No matter how you turn this prickly plant – it always has its thorns sticking upward.” As soon as a kind feeling or a sincere movement arises in a man’s heart, immediately there appears a vain backward look at oneself, and thus – these most precious movements of the soul disappear, melt like snow under the sun. They melt, which means they die; which means that because of vanity the best in us dies; thus we kill ourselves with vanity and we replace a real, simple and good life with phantoms.

Increasing vanity gives rise to pride.

This is indeed melancholy. How many “precious movements of the soul” have I killed?

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