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The seven capital sins are seven principal ways in which we sin. They are all not necessarily mortal sins but they are fountainheads of many other sins. The first and most important of them is the sin of pride. Every now and then you hear pride talked about in a sermon, but pride is like weeds in a garden: you can go out one day and take out all the weeds, but because they are so resilient, you go out a few days later and it looks as if you haven’t done any weed pulling. That’s why it’s so important for us to be reminded about this capital sin — pride.
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, pride is a spiritual sin and is therefore less shameful and defacing than sins of lust or gluttony. However, it’s more grievous considering itself. Usually sins of pride are venial sins and usually sins of lust are mortal sins. But again, when we consider pride in itself, pride is worse because it turns us away from God, more than do sins of lust.
Pride is the root of all sin. The first sin of man was a sin of pride. He desired to have the knowledge of good and evil. He desired to be his own guide and not to have to obey anyone. St. Thomas tells us that pride is the inordinate love of our own excellence, and St. Augustine defines it as a perverse love of greatness — in that it leads us to imitate God in the wrong way.
St. Gregory describes four different types of pride. The first one is when we think that we have, through our own efforts, what we have received from God: when we think that what we have is somehow something that we did, when it really is a gift from God. The second kind, St. Gregory says, is when we have earned it when in fact what we have received from God is a free gift — when we think that we deserve something, and we realize we don’t deserve anything, that it’s all a gift that God gives us freely. Another type that St. Gregory points out is when the pride takes us to attribute to ourselves a good that we lack. We say that we have something, say honesty or virtue, when we don’t have it. The last one that St. Gregory points out is when we wish to be preferred to others and we run down others by destructive criticism.
Now, the most common kind of pride is to love ourselves excessively by seeing our qualities as something which comes from us and not from God. This is why the man that is full with pride is blind to his defects and actually the person who suffers from pride will turn their defects into virtues. For example, lets pretend that there is a man, who through laziness, is careless about details. His pride will have him convince himself that he has good judgment. And his good judgment is able to discern what is important from what is unimportant — so he justifies his lack of attention to detail.
Sins of pride, again, are often venial but they can become mortal. They can lead us into acts which are seriously reprehensible. For example, children. Children commit venial sins of disrespect to their parents when they are very young. But as the child grows these sins can can become mortal sins when, as an adolescent or young adult, they show serious disrespect and disregard for their parents. There are just so many other kinds of pride. Intellectual pride, for example, is a disease we could call of the mind, by which someone takes delight of his intelligence or his learning, and then disparages the Church’s dogmas — because he pridefully believes and understands them according to his own thinking.
Pride often grabs hold of people who are just beginning the spiritual life. Because they see themselves praying and fulfilling their obligations and they think they have achieved a great holiness.
We should also distinguish the different kinds of pride. For example, there is pride of superiority and the pride of timidity. The pride of superiority is probably the one we notice the most because it expresses itself by highness or aloofness; it expresses itself by criticism of others and anger, and it’s prone to arguments and it’s also the person that we would call annoying.
The pride of timidity is manifested by the other extreme, by shyness and by cowardice. This pride seeks to hide our weakness from ridicule. This kind of pride is characterized by a slavish fear of what other people will think of us. It gets into everything that we do. Our daily activities, when we are infected with this kind of pride, are based upon fear of what other people will say and this is why some people, for example, will go through great pains just to choose what they’ll wear in the morning to go to work, because they are concerned of what other people will say about them. This is a fear of being humiliated and it’s pride.
Then there is the pride of sensitiveness. When we have the pride of sensitiveness, then we have a self love that constantly fears being hurt or being wounded. Whenever a person who has this kind of pride is hurt or offended, they typically exaggerate the effects. These kinds of people will misjudge and misinterpret what people say or do. They carry grudges and they are cold to those who have offended them and many times this coldness lasts for a long time. They are convinced that people don’t like them. They perceive their superior as unjust, their teachers as unjust, companions as uncharitable, they are typically moody and they brood and they plot revenge. People who are sensitive are easily offended. They are always suspicious and distrustful and they carries grudges and they imagine themselves as unwelcome. This is pride of sensitiveness.
What is the remedy for pride? How can we root out pride from our souls? The way we can do this, is to recognize in practice, the majesty of God. It’s easy to recognize God’s majesty in theory, because we can say that God is great and we can pray, for example “in the name”, and talk about God’s greatness and in theory it’s easy to do, but in practice we have difficulty recognizing the majesty of God, because we consider many times ourselves as the ones that are truly majestic.
St. Thomas tells us since God’s love is the cause of goodness in things, no one would be better than another if God did not will a greater good for one than for another. So we know that God is the source of goodness, therefore if one thing is better than another thing — it is because God has made it that way. So if we can say to ourselves objectively, “I have certain qualities”…”I have certain virtues”….”I can do certain things and the person next to me can’t” this is no reason for us to glorify ourselves, even if it is true, because the only conclusion that we can draw from this, according to St. Thomas, is that God (not because I deserve it, but through His goodness and mercy) has given me more than the person sitting next to me.
So we have to recognize the majesty of God in order to root out pride. We have to be humble. We have to remind ourselves that we are sinners and that as sinners we deserve scorn and humiliation.
Next Sin: Gluttony