A description of the soul's journey to full union with God

The Purification of the Soul in Beginners (cont)


Ch 28: The Healing of Pride

To complete what we have said about the active purification of the intellect and will, we must speak particularly of the healing of two fatal spiritual maladies: pride and spiritual sloth.

First of all, we shall see the general nature of pride in contradistinction to the virtues of humility and of magnanimity; then the various forms of pride and the way to heal them.


To know the true nature of pride, we should first note that it is a spiritual sin, in itself less shameful and less debasing, but more grievous, says St. Thomas,(1) than the sins of the flesh, because it turns us more away from God. The sins of the flesh could not be in the demon who was irremediably lost through pride. Scripture on several occasions says that "pride is the beginning of all sin," (2) because it does away with the humble submission and obedience of the creature to God. The first sin of the first man was a sin of pride,(3) the desire of the knowledge of good and evil,(4) that he might be his own guide and not have to obey. In the opinion of St. Thomas,(5) pride is more than a capital sin; it is the source of the capital sins, and particularly of vainglory, which is one of its first effects.

Some are deceived, at least practically, about the true nature of pride, and as a result, without wishing to do so, may commend false humility, which is a form of hidden pride more dangerous than that which displays itself and makes itself ridiculous.

In determining exactly the true nature of pride, the difficulty comes from the fact that it is opposed not only to humility, but also to magnanimity, which is sometimes confounded with it.(6) We should be at pains not to confound practically the magnanimity of others with pride, and not to mistake our pusillanimity or timidity for true humility. Sometimes the inspiration of the gift of counsel is needed to discern these things in a really practical manner, to see how the truly humble soul must be magnanimous, and how false humility is distinguished from the true. The Jansenists saw a lack of humility in the desire for frequent Communion.

St. Thomas, who was exceedingly humble and magnanimous, established very well the exact definition of these two virtues, which should be united, and that of the defects opposed to them. He defined pride as the inordinate love of our own excellence. The proud man wishes, in fact, to appear superior to what he really is: there is falsity in his life. When this inordinate love of our own excellence is concerned with sensible goods, for example, pride in our physical strength, it belongs to that part of the sensibility called the irascible appetite. It is in the will when it is concerned with goods of the spiritual order, such as intellectual pride and spiritual pride. This defect of the will presupposes that our intellect considers our own merits and the insufficiencies of our neighbors more than it ought, and that it exaggerates in order to raise us above them.

Love of our own excellence is said to be inordinate as it is contrary to right reason and divine law. It is directly opposed to the humble submission of the defectible and deficient creature before the majesty of God. It differs exceedingly from the legitimate desire of great things conformable to our vocation: for example, a magnanimous soldier can and ought to desire victory for his country without pride entering into his wish. Whereas the proud man immoderately desires his own excellence, the magnanimous man devotes himself to a great cause, superior to himself, and accepts in advance all humiliations in order to accomplish what is in his estimation a great duty.

Pride is therefore, as St. Augustine says,(7) a perverse love of greatness; it leads us to imitate God in a wrong way, by not bearing with the equality of our fellow men and by wishing to impose our domination on them, instead of living with them in humble submission to the divine law.(8)

Pride is thus more directly opposed to humility than to magnanimity; the inverse holds true for pusillanimity, which is more directly opposed to nobility of soul. In addition, whereas humility and magnanimity are connected virtues which complete and balance each other like the two arches of an ogive, pride and pusillanimity are contradictory vices, like temerity and cowardice.

What we have said shows that pride is a bandage over the eyes of the spirit, which hinders us from seeing the truth, especially that relative to the majesty of God and the excellence of those who surpass us. It prevents us from wishing to be instructed by them, or it prompts us not to accept direction without argument. Pride thus perverts our life as one would bend a spring; it hinders us from asking light from God, who consequently hides His truth from the proud. Pride turns us away, therefore, from the affective knowledge of divine truth, from contemplation, to which humility, on the contrary, disposes us. Therefore Christ says: "I confess to Thee, a Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent and hast revealed them to little ones." (9) Spiritual pride is most powerful in turning us away, from the contemplation of divine things. With this meaning, St. Paul writes: "Knowledge puffeth up; but charity edifieth." (10)


St. Gregory (11) enumerates several degrees of pride: namely, to believe that we have through our own efforts what we have received from God; to believe that we have merited what we have gratuitously received; to attribute to ourselves a good we lack, for example, great learning, when we do not possess it; to wish to be preferred to others and to depreciate them.

Doubtless it is rare that a man lets himself be led so far astray by pride as to reject the existence of God, to declare that he will have "neither God nor master," even to refuse explicitly to submit himself to God as Lucifer did, or to go so far as to reject the authority of the Church as formal heretics do. We clearly recognize in theory that God is our first principle, that He alone is great, and that obedience is due Him; but in practice it happens that we esteem ourselves inordinately, as if we were the author of the qualities we possess. We may take complacency in them, forgetting our dependence on Him who is the Author of all good, whether natural or supernatural. It is not rare to find a sort of Pelagianism in men who are in no way Pelagians in theory.

A man exaggerates his personal qualities by closing his eyes to his own defects; and he even ends by glorying in what is a deviation of the spirit, as if it were a quality. He may believe, for example, that he is broadminded because he pays scant attention to the little duties of daily life; he forgets that to be faithful in great things, he must begin by being so in little things, for the day is composed of hours, the hour of minutes, and the minute of seconds. Thus he is led to prefer himself unjustly to others, to disparage them, to believe himself better than some who are, nevertheless, really his superiors.

These sins of pride, which are often venial, may become mortal if they incite us to gravely reprehensible acts.

St. Bernard (12) enumerates also several progressive manifestations of pride: curiosity, levity of mind, foolish and misplaced joy, boasting, singularity, arrogance, presumption, the refusal to recognize one's errors, the dissimulation of one's sins in confession, rebellion, unbridled liberty, the habit of sin even to the contempt of God.

The different forms of pride may also be considered in relation to the different goods, according as a person takes pride in his birth, wealth, physical qualities, knowledge, his piety or his sham piety.

Intellectual pride leads certain studious men to reject the traditional interpretation of dogmas, to attenuate them, or to deform them in order to harmonize them with what they call the exigencies of the mind. In others, this pride is manifested by a singular attachment to their own judgment, to such a degree that they do not even wish to listen to reasons sometimes stronger in favor of the adverse opinion. Some finally, who are theoretically in the truth, are so satisfied to be right, so filled with their learning which has cost them so much, that their souls are, as it were, saturated with it and no longer humbly open to receive the superior light that would come from God in prayer.

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "You are now full; you are now become rich." 13 On seeing their sufficiency, one would have said that they had reached the full Messianic royalty to which the faithful will be associated in eternal beatitude.

If a man is full of himself, how will he receive the superior gifts which the Lord could and would grant him in order that he might do great good to souls and save them? We can see, consequently, why intellectual pride, even in those who are theoretically right, is a formidable obstacle to the grace of contemplation and to union with God. It is truly a bandage over the eyes of the spirit.(14)

Spiritual pride is not a lesser obstacle. Speaking of beginners, St. John of the Cross remarks:

When beginners become aware of their own fervor and diligence in their spiritual works and devotional exercises, this prosperity of theirs gives rise to secret pride - though holy things tend of their own nature to humility - because of their imperfections; and the issue is that they conceive a certain satisfaction in the contemplation of their works and of themselves. From the same source, too, proceeds that empty eagerness which they display in speaking of the spiritual life before others, and sometimes as teachers rather than learners. They condemn others in their heart when they see that they are not devout in their way. Sometimes also they say it in words, showing themselves herein to be like the Pharisee, who in the act of prayer boasted of his own works and despised the publican (Luke 18: I I f.). . .. They see the mote in the eye of their brother, but not the beam which is in their own.

Sometimes also when their spiritual masters, such as confessors and superiors, do not approve of their spirit and conduct. . . they decide that they are not understood, and that their superiors are not spiritual men because they do not approve and sanction their proceedings. . . . They are occasionally desirous that others should perceive their spirituality and devotion, and for that end they give outward tokens by movements, sighs, and various ceremonies. . . . Many of them seek to be the favorites of their confessors, and the result is endless envy and disquietude. Ashamed to confess their sins plainly lest their confessors should think less of them, they go about palliating them that they may not seem so bad: which is excusing rather than accusing themselves. Sometimes they go to a stranger to confess their sins, that their usual confessor may think they are not sinners, but good people. . . . Some beginners, too, make light of their faults, and at other times indulge in immoderate grief when they commit them. They thought themselves already saints, and so they become angry and impatient with themselves, which is another great imperfection.(15)


The principal defects springing from pride are presumption, ambition, and vainglory.

Presumption is the desire and inordinate hope of doing what is above one's power.(16) The presumptuous man believes himself capable of studying and solving the most difficult questions; he settles the most abstruse problems with rash haste. He fancies that he has sufficient light to guide himself without consulting a director. Instead of building his interior life on humility, renunciation, fidelity to the duty of the present moment even in little things, he speaks particularly of magnanimity, of apostolic zeal, or indeed aspires to the immediate attainment of the high degrees of prayer without passing through the various stages, forgetting that he is still only a beginner, whose will is still weak and full of egoism. He is still full of self; a great void must be created in him in order that his soul may some day be filled with God and able to give Him to others.

From presumption springs ambition, under one form or another. Because a man presumes too greatly on his powers and judges himself superior to others, he wishes to dominate them, to impose on them his ideas in matters of doctrine, or to govern them. St. Thomas (17) says that a man manifests ambition when he seeks offices carrying with them honor which he does not merit; when he seeks honors for himself and not for the glory of God or the profit of others. How many schemes, secret solicitations, and intrigues ambition inspires in all walks of life! (18)

Pride leads also to vainglory, that is, the wish to be esteemed for oneself, without referring this honor to God, the source of all good, and often a wish to be esteemed for vain things. This is the case of the pedant who loves to display his knowledge, binding himself and wishing to bind others to trifles.(19)

Many defects spring from vainglory: (20) boasting, which easily makes a person ridiculous; hypocrisy, which under the appearances of virtue, hides vices; stubbornness, contention or asperity in defending one's opinion, which engenders discord; and also disobedience, sharp criticisms of superiors.

Thus we see that pride which is not repressed sometimes produces disastrous effects. How many discords, hatreds, and wars are born of pride! It has been justly said that pride is the great enemy of perfection because it is the source of numerous sins and deprives us of many graces and merits. Scripture says: "God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble." (21) And Christ says of the Pharisees, who pray and give alms in order to be seen by men: "They have received their reward"; (22) they cannot expect that of our heavenly Father, since they have acted for themselves and not for Him. Lastly, a life dominated by pride is grievously sterile and presages perdition unless a remedy is promptly applied.


The great remedy for pride is to recognize practically the majesty of God. As St. Michael the archangel said: "Who is like to God?" He alone is great; He is the source of all natural and supernatural good. "Without Me," says our Lord, "you can do nothing" in the order of salvation.(23) St. Paul adds: "For who distinguisheth thee? Or what hast thou that thou hast not received? And if thou hast received, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?" (24) "Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God." (25)

St. Thomas states also: "Since God's love is the cause of goodness in things, . . . no one thing would be better than another if God did not will greater good for one than another." (26) And then why should we glory in the natural or supernatural good that is in us, as if we had not received it, as if it were our very own and not ordained to glorify God, the source of all good? "For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to His good will." (27)

The remedy for pride is to tell ourselves that of ourselves we are not, that we have been created out of nothing by the gratuitous love of God, who continues freely to preserve us in existence; otherwise we would return to nothingness. And if grace is in us, it is because Jesus Christ redeemed us by His blood.

The remedy for pride is also to tell ourselves that there is in us something inferior to nothingness itself: the disorder of sin and its effects. As sinners, we deserve scorn and all humiliations; the saints have thought so, and they certainly judged better than we.

How can we glory in our merits, as if they came solely from us? Without habitual grace and actual grace, we would be absolutely incapable of the least meritorious act. As St. Augustine says: "God crowns His gifts, when He crowns our merits."

This conviction, however, must not remain theoretical, but should be practical and inspire our acts. The Imitation says:

Truly, a lowly rustic that serveth God is better than a proud philoso­pher who pondereth the courses of the stars, and neglecteth himself. He that knoweth himself, becometh vile to himself and taketh no delight in the praises of men. . . . Learned men are very willing to seem wise, and to be called so. . . . If thou wouldst acquire knowledge and learn anything to the purpose, love to be unknown, and to be esteemed as nothing. . . . If thou shouldst see another openly do wrong or commit some grievous sins, thou needest not think thyself better; for thou knowest not how long thou mayest be able to persevere in well-doing. We are all frail; but see thou think none more frail than thyself. . . .

Be not ashamed to wait on others for the love of Jesus Christ, and to be looked upon as poor in this world. . . . Trust not in thine own knowledge, . . . but rather in the grace of God, who helpeth the humble and humbleth them that presume upon themselves. . . . Esteem not thyself better than others, lest perhaps thou be accounted worse in the sight of God. . . . What pleaseth men, oftentimes displeaseth Him. . . . Continual peace dwelleth with the humble; but in the heart of the proud is frequent envy and indignation. . . .

The humble man God protecteth and delivereth; the humble He loveth and consoleth; to the humble He inclineth Himself; on the humble He bestoweth bounteous grace, and after he has been brought low, raiseth him up unto glory. To the humble He revealeth His secrets, and sweetly inviteth and draweth him unto Himself. (28)

But to reach this humility of mind and heart, a profound purification is needed. That which we impose on ourselves is not sufficient; there must be a passive purification by the light of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, which causes the bandage of pride to fall away, opens our eyes, shows us the depth of frailty and wretchedness that exists in us, the utility of adversity and. humiliation, and finally makes us say to the Lord: "It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me, that I may learn Thy justifications." (29) "It is good for us sometimes to suffer contradictions, and to allow people to think ill of us. . . . These are often helps to humility, and rid us of vainglory." (30) It is in adversity that we can learn what we really are and what great need we have of God's help: "What doth he know, that hath not been tried?" (31)

After this purification, pride and its effects will gradually be felt less. A person, instead of letting himself fall into jealousy toward those who have more natural or supernatural qualities, tells himself then that, as St. Paul remarks, the hand ought not be jealous of the eye, but, on the contrary, it should be happy because it benefits from what the eye sees. The same is true in the mystical body of Christ; far from becoming jealous, souls ought to enjoy in a holy manner the qualities they find in their neighbor. Though they do not possess them themselves, they benefit by them. They should rejoice over everything that cooperates in the glory of God and the good of souls. When this is the case, the bandage of pride falls away and the soul's gaze recovers its simplicity and penetration, which make it enter little by little into the inner life of God.



1. See Ia IIae, q.73, a.5.

2. Ecclus. 10: 15.

3. Cf.  IIae, q.84. a.2; q.89, a.3 ad 2um; q. 163, a. I.

4. Gen. 3:5 f.

5. Cf. IIa IIae, q. 162, a.8 ad 1um.

6. Ibid., a.1.

7. De civitate Dei, Bk. XIV, chap. 13: "Superbia est perversae celsitudinis appetitus."

8. Ibid., Bk. XIX, chap. 12.

9. Luke 10:21.

10. Cf. I Cor. 8: I.

11. Morales, Bk. XXIII, chap. 5.

12. De gradibus humilitatis, chap. 10.

13. Cf. I Cor. 4:8.

14. In her Dialogue, St. Catherine of Siena says that pride obscures the knowledge of the truth, nourishes self-love, and is the enemy of obedience, and that its pith is impatience. In chapter 128 she writes: "O cursed pride, based on self-love, how hast thou blinded the eye of their intellect, that while they seem to love themselves and be tender to themselves, they are in truth cruel. . . . They are really in the greatest poverty and misery, for they are deprived of the riches of virtue and have fallen from the heights of grace into the depths of mortal sin. They seem to see, but are blind for they know neither themselves nor Me." Pride is truly like a bandage over the eyes of the spirit. It is at least like a darkened glass, which lets things be seen only through its color. Consequently it perverts judgment.

15. The Dark Night of the Soul, Bk. I, chap. 2.

16. Summa, IIa IIae, q. 13°, a. I.

17. Ibid., q.131, a. I.

18. Cf. Bossuet, Sermon sur l'ambition.

19. See IIa IIae, q. 132, a. 1-3.

20. Ibid., a.5.

21. Jas. 4:6.

22. Matt. 6:2.

23. John 15: 5.

24. See I Cor. 4:7.

25. Cf.II Cor.3:5.

26. Cf. Ia, q.20, a. 3. This is the principle of predilection, which contains virtually the whole tract on predestination and that on grace.

27. Phil. 2: 13.

28. The Imitation, Bk. I, chaps. 2, 7; Bk. II, chap. 2.

29. Ps. 118:71.

30. The Imitation, Bk. I, chap. 12.

31. Ecclus. 34:9.