There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. ... There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. ... The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility.The deadly sins are the mortal sins, the ones that will see you separated from God. The greatest of the Seven Deadly Sins is pride. Dante wrote of pride as a "love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one's neighbour". More than a technical foul there, when you think that agape is the commandment to love one's neighbor.
- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
The ancients knew of this sin. The Roman Christians called it as superbia, and considered it a deadly sin as early as the fourth century. The Greeks called it hubris (Ὑπερηφανία) but they too knew it as a deadly sin; a study of Greek literature shows little else.
This seemed a bit odd to me when I was younger. Surely, I thought, there were graver sins. Murder, that sort of thing. And yet pride tops the list.
|Gustave Doré illustration to Paradise Lost, book IX|
Lucifer is said to be a fallen Angel, expelled from Heaven for the sin of Pride. If so, then perhaps Angels and Men are not so very different, at least in their vices. Lucifer is called the "seducer" turning good intentions and words towards the darkness. This is the core of why pride assumes pride of place in the pantheon of mortal sin: the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
Because pride can be uplifting, can inspire you to great achievement, to see through to an unexpected and seemingly unlikely success. That's the bait dangled before us. Hey, if a little is good, then a little more must be good too, right? And this is where we should hear Dante again:
love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one's neighbourThe least of the problem is that it leads easily and effortlessly to other Deadly Sins; contempt can turn to anger when pride is felt to be snubbed.
Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is…the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back – in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.The Devil smiles. It's hard to see how you get there without pride.
-Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking
But that's the least of the problem. The true problem of pride is that it can - and often does - stand in the way of Grace. The proud man might turn his back on that gift, turning from the fertile field to gaze upon the desert. There's a whole school of Country Music about what comes from Foolish Pride.
Because none of us are as strong as we'd like to be. We're surrounded by Grace, not just this Easter Day, but every day - grace offered by family and friends. Offered by those we love. Grace that literally saves us:
But she carries me, when my sins make me heavy,None of us are as strong as our pride would like us to be. That's OK - this Easter day reminds us that we don't carry this burden alone. And if we look with eyes that will see, we'll realize that Grace is not found only in the chappel, but under our very own roof.
And she loves me like Jesus does.
Yeah, she knows the man I ain't,
She forgives me when I can't,
If we can find the strength to turn that pride to an honest humility, we might even realize that we don't just receive that gift of Grace, but we also can give it. It takes a strong man to fight the pride that Lucifer so loves to see in us. A pride sometimes stronger than we think we are.
That devil man, he don't stand a chance,
Cause she loves me like Jesus does.
A man can take some pride in winning that fight.
UPDATE 31 March 2013 15:24: I am a theological dilettante, but a professional is saying much the same thing. Worth your while.