“Lust… that affection of the mind which aims at enjoying one’s self and one’s neighbor, and other corporeal things, without reference to God. Again, what lust, when unsubdued, does towards corrupting, one’s own soul and body, is called vice;(1) but what it does to injure another is called crime.(2) And these are the two classes into which all sins may be divided. But the vices come first; for when these have exhausted the soul, and reduced it to a kind of poverty, it easily slides into crimes, in order to remove hindrances to, or to find assistance in, its vices.”
- St. Augustine
What is sin, not the elementary concept of sin as an act of disobedience to a set of moral boundaries, but sin as in “a missing of the mark”, sin that is separation from God? As Vine’s Dictionary states, sin is:
(a) A principle or source of action, or an inward element producing acts…
(b) A governing principle or power…
I’m oversimplifying here, but as I understand it now, sin is discernable as any motion of the soul that is ultimately a violation of Jesus commandment to “Love your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” Mathew 22:36-40. Oversimplifying in that understanding and more importantly awareness of motions of the soul are not always self evident and generally come from extensive meditative practice.
Pride & Vainglory
I recently caught a show on the History Channel “Seven Deadly Sins”, which stirred my interest in the topic of sin. After realizing what they were describing was something I had discovered, not too long ago, as a peculiar nemesis that would drag my mind off seemingly at will. They called this, my nemesis, “vainglory”…
“In vainglory, what a person is doing is using other people as a way of puffing up one’s own ego “I need you only because you tell me what a wonderful person I am.” Evagrius believed vainglory interfered with holiness writing, the prayer of one who loves popularity will not rise up to God. Where the sin of vainglory is concerned with others opinions the sin of pride focuses only on one’s self. Pride is the sin of self sufficiency where there’s no need for God. Anything that calls into question the place of God and assumes that somehow we have a higher kind of place than we are entitled to would be pride.”
For those of you, like me, who do not have a rich Catholic heritage to fall back on, vainglory, by definition, is an offshoot of pride. Not virtuous pride, AKA “Authentic Pride” that is associated with feelings of productivity, confidence, accomplishments, but rather sinful pride, AKA “Hubristic Pride” that is associated with feelings of arrogance, egotism, conceitedness. Throughout history many sects such as the Anabaptist and others have tried to eliminate the sin of pride by defying culture and shaping the world around them with a pride free facade. The downfall to any outward approach is that it can often lead to a sense of spiritual pride.
“They are proud in humility; proud in that they are not proud.”
Guided by Wisdom
My particular experience with vainglory would be something paramount in weighing ideas, future plans, or other personal decisions to the opinion of others. Not in person, but in thought, or as Teresa of Avila would put it “in a ghostly manner”. The most peculiar part of this whole distractive process is that the person(s) that I was so intensely considering the opinion of, are currently, and have long since been far removed from my day-to-day life. This process of balancing my next move based on long gone acquaintances or irrelevant influence is a type of bondage, vainglory surely takes the Kingdom by force and strives to challenge or shape life changing decisions that would be better guided by Wisdom alone. This is nothing less than vainglory at its root, sin in motion!
“And the Devil did grin, for his darling sin
Is pride that apes humility”
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Death The Cure For Sin? (Romans 6)
What does a soul do when sin is found entrenched within? I am reminded of Romans 6, that sin is bondage and “For one who has died has been set free from sin.” Not sinless perfection, the apostle Paul goes on to clarify “thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”
As for my own nemesis, seeking the opinions of ghost that wreak vainglory, there now stands a new standard that answers their call… “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Romans 13:8 (ESV)