Of the Loss That Vainglory Entails

by admin on July 3, 2011

CHRIST OUR LORD clearly warns us in these words of the Gospel: Take care not to do your good works before men, or to be seen and praised by them; otherwise ye shall have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. Be not as those hypocritical Pharisees, who do all their works to be seen by men and honored and esteemed by them. In truth I tell you, these have already received their reward (Matt. vi. 1-2). You had a desire to be regarded and esteemed; that moved you to do what you did, but that also shall be your reward and crown; expect none other in the next life. Unhappy you, you have already received your wages and have nothing further to hope for! The hope of the hypocrite shall perish, says holy Job (viii. 13), the hypocrite being he who does things to be regarded and praised. St. Gregory shows this very well; human esteem and praises were what the man desired, and it shall end with his life. The fool shall find no pleasure in his folly (Job viii. 14). Oh, what a mockery and deceit shall you find when your eyes are opened and you see that with that wherewith you might have gained the kingdom of heaven, you have gained only a vain applause of men, a “Well said,” or a “Well done.” He who seeks the esteem and praises of men in payment of his virtuous acts, offers for sale at a low price a thing of high value; for that whereby he might have merited the kingdom of heaven, he seeks an idle praise. What greater delusion and what greater folly can there be than this, to have worked hard, done many good works, and find yourself afterwards left with nothing! This is what the Propheth Aggeus says: Advert and see what ye are doing in this matter. Ye have sown much, and have reaped little; ye have eaten, and not been filled; ye have drunk and not quenched your thirst; ye have clothed yourselves, and not got warm; all that ye do hath profited you nothing, because ye put it into a sack full of holes, so that ye have scarce put it in on one side than it goes out on the other (Agg. i. 5-6). Another text says: He who gathereth riches is as one who pours wine into a cask or barrel full of chinks and holes, so that to pour it in and pour it out is one and the same thing. This is the doing of vainglory: to gain and to lose is one and the same thing; the loss is conjoined with the gain. Why do ye give your silver for what is not bread, and spend your labor on what cannot satisfy your hunger? (Isaias Iv. 2). Now that you do things, now that you labor and weary yourself, do the things in such a way that you may get some return from them and not lose them entirely.

St. Basil gathers three losses that this vice of vainglory entails upon us. The first is that it makes us weary and afflicts our body with labor and good works. The second, that it robs us of these good works after they are done, making us lose all the reward and recompense of them. It does not keep us from learning, says St. Basil—that were no such great loss, to rob us of a reward we had not worked for; but it takes care to make us weary ourselves in doing good works and then robs and despoils us of them, depriv­ing us of the reward. It is, he says, like a pirate that lurks in ambush, watching for a ship to come out of harbor well-laden with merchandise, and then delivers his attack. It is not the way of pirates to chase a vessel when she comes out of harbor empty to go for a cargo of merchandise. They wait till she returns with her cargo; so this robber, called vainglory, waits till we are laden with good works and then assaults and despoils us of them.

Further, it not only deprives us of the reward, but makes us deserve chastisement and torment instead thereof; it converts good into evil and virtue into vice by the vain and evil end that it sets before us.   And thus of good seed there is reaped an evil crop and pain and chastisement is merited by that whereby we might have merited heaven. And all this vainglory does so sweetly and pleasantly that the man not only does not feel his loss—as he does lose all that he does—but actually enjoys it, so much so that, how­ever much you tell him and he sees himself that he is los­ing all, nevertheless he seems bewitched by this desire of being praised and esteemed, inasmuch as it quite carries him away.   Therefore St. Basil calls vainglory “a gentle despoiler of our spiritual gifts and a pleasant enemy of our  souls”—dulcem  spiritwlium   exspoliatricem,  iucun-dum animarum nostrarum hostem. It is a very endearing enemy; it is a pleasant impoverisher.   Thus it is, says the saint, that this vice infatuates so many by the sweetness and pleasantness that it carries with it.  This human praise, he says, is a thing very sweet and delicious to simpletons, and thereby it infatuates them.   Dulce quid humana impe-ritis gloria est. And St. Bernard says: “Fear this arrow of vainglory; it enters pleasantly and seems a light thing, but I tell you of a truth it inflicts no slight wound on the heart” —Time sagittam; leviter volat leviter penetrat; sed dico tibi non leve infiigit vulnus; cito interficit. Like corrosive sub­limate, it is a small powder, but deadly poison.

Surius relates how, when the great Pacomius was sitting in a certain place of the monastery with other grave Fathers, one of his monks brought out two little mats that he had made that day and put them hard by his cell, in front of where St. Pacomius was, that he might see them, thinking that he must surely praise him for being so indus­trious and careful, inasmuch as, while the rule only ordered him to make one mat a day, he had made two. The saint, understanding that he had done this out of vanity, heaving a great sigh, said to the Fathers who were with him: “See how this brother has worked from morning to night, and all his labor he has offered to the devil, and has loved rather the esteem of men than the glory of God.” He called the monk and gave him a good scolding and enjoined him for penance that, when the monks should assemble for prayer, he should go there with his mats at his sides and say in a loud voice: “Fathers and brothers, for the love of the Lord do you all pray for this wretched sinner, that He may have mercy on him for having set more store by these two little mats than by the kingdom of heaven.” And he further enjoined that, when the monks were at dinner, he should stand in like manner in the middle of the refectory with his mats at his sides all the time that the meal lasted. And his penance did not stop there; after that was done, the abbot ordered that they should shut him up in a cell, and nobody was to visit him, but he was to be there alone for the space of five months, and they were to give him nothing to eat but bread, salt, and water, and every day he was to make two mats, unseen and fasting. Hence we may learn for our instruction what severe penances those ancient Fathers gave for slight faults, and the humility and patience wherewith their subjects took them and profited thereby.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: