"WHAT is a miser?" asked the teacher of her pupils, and the bright boy
spoke up and answered: one who has a greed for gold. But he and all the
class were embarrassed as to how this greed for gold should be
qualified. The boy at the foot of the class came to the rescue, and
shouted out: misery.
Less wise answers are made every day in our schools. Misery is indeed
the lot, if not the vice, of the miser. 'Tis true that this is one of
the few vices that arrive at permanent advantages, the others offering
satisfaction that lasts but for a moment, and leaves nothing but
bitterness behind. Yet, the more the miser possesses the more
insatiable his greed becomes, and the less his enjoyment, by reason of
the redoubled efforts he makes to have and to hold.
But the miser is not the only one infected with the sin of avarice. His
is not an ordinary, but an extreme case. He is the incarnation of the
evil. He believes in, hopes in, and loves gold above all things; he
prays and sacrifices to it. Gold is his god, and gold will be his
reward, a miserable one.
This degree of the vice is rare; or, at least, is rarely suffered to
manifest itself to this extent; and although scarcely a man can be
found to confess to this failing, because it is universally regarded as
most loathsome and repulsive, still few there are who are not more or
less slaves to cupidity. Pride is the sin of the angels; lust is the
sin of the brute, and avarice is the sin of man. Scripture calls it the
universal evil. We are more prone to inveigh against it, and accuse
others of the vice than to admit it in ourselves.
Sometimes, it is "the pot calling the kettle black;" more often it is a
clear case of "sour grapes." Disdain for the dollars "that speak," "the
mighty dollars," in abundance and in superabundance, is rarely genuine.
There are, concerning the passion of covetousness, two notions as
common as they are false. It is thought that this vice is peculiar to
the rich, and is not to be met with among the poor. Now, avarice does
not necessarily suppose the possession of wealth, and does not consist
in the possession, but in the inordinate desire, or greed for, or the
lust of, riches. It may be, and is, difficult for one to possess much
wealth without setting one's heart on it. But it is also true that this
greed may possess one who has little or nothing. It may be found in
unrestrained excess under the rags of the pauper and beggar. They who
aspire to, or desire, riches with avidity are covetous whether they
have much, little, or nothing. Christ promised His kingdom to the poor
in spirit, not to the poor in fact. Spiritual poverty can associate
with abundant wealth, just as the most depraved cupidity may exist in
Another prejudice, favorable to ourselves, is that only misers are
covetous, because they love money for itself and deprive themselves of
the necessaries of life to pile it up. But it is not necessary that the
diagnosis reveal these alarming symptoms to be sure of having a real
case of cupidity. They are covetous who strive after wealth with
passion. Various motives may arouse this passion, and although they may
increase the malice, they do not alter the nature, of the vice. Some
covet wealth for the sake of possessing it; others, to procure
pleasures or to satisfy different passions. Avarice it continues to be,
whatever the motive. Not even prodigality, the lavish spending of
riches, is a token of the absence of cupidity. Rapacity may stand
behind extravagance to keep the supply inexhausted.
It is covetousness to place one's greatest happiness in the possession
of wealth, or to consider its loss or privation the greatest of
misfortunes; in other words, to over-rejoice in having and to
over-grieve in not having.
It is covetousness to be so disposed as to acquire riches unjustly
rather than suffer poverty.
It is covetousness to hold, or give begrudgingly, when charity presses
There is, in these cases, a degree of malice that is ordinarily mortal,
because the law of God and of nature is not respected.
It is the nature of this vice to cause unhappiness which increases
until it becomes positive wretchedness in the miser. Anxiety of mind is
followed by hardening of the heart; then injustice in desire and in
fact; blinding of the conscience, ending in a general stultification of
man before the god Mammon.
All desires of riches and comfort are not, therefore, avarice. One may
aspire to, and seek wealth without avidity. This ambition is a laudable
one, for it does not exaggerate the value of the world's goods, would
not resort to injustice, and has not the characteristic tenacity of
covetousness. There is order in this desire for plenty. It is the great
mover of activity in life; it is good because it is natural, and
honorable because of its motives.
PRIDE resides principally in the mind, and thence sways over the entire
man; avarice proceeds from the heart and affections; lust has its seat
in the flesh. By pride man prevaricating imitates the angel of whose
nature he partakes; avarice is proper to man as being a composite of
angelic and animal natures; lust is characteristic of the brute pure
and simple. This trinity of concupiscence is in direct opposition to
the Trinity of God--to the Father, whose authority pride would destroy;
to the Son, whose voluntary stripping of the divinity and the poverty
of whose life avarice scorns and contemns to the Holy Ghost, to whom
lust is opposed as the flesh is opposed to the spirit. This is the
mighty trio that takes possession of the whole being of man, controls
his superior and inferior appetites, and wars on the whole being on
God. And lust is the most ignoble of the three.
Strictly speaking, it is not here question of the commandments. They
prescribe or forbid acts of sin--thoughts, words or deeds; lust is a
passion, a vice or inclination, a concupiscence. It is not an act. It
does not become a sin while it remains in this state of pure
inclination. It is inbred in our nature as children of Adam. Lust is an
appetite like any other appetite, conformable to our human nature, and
can be satisfied lawfully within the order established by God and
nature. But it is vitiated by the corruption of fallen flesh. This
vitiated appetite craves for unlawful and forbidden satisfactions and
pleasures, such as are not in keeping with the plans of the Creator.
Thus the vitiated appetite becomes inordinate. At one and the same
time, it becomes inordinate and sinful, the passion being gratified
unduly by a positive act of sin.
This depraved inclination, as everyone knows, may be in us, without
being of us, that is, without any guilt being imputed to us. This
occurs in the event of a violent assault of passion, in which our will
has no part, and which consequently does not materialize, exteriorly or
interiorly, in a human act forbidden by the laws of morality. Nor is
there a transgression, even when gratified, if reason and faith control
the inclination and direct it along the lines laid down by the divine
and natural laws. Outside of this, all manners, shapes and forms of
lust are grievous sins, for the law admits no levity of matter. No
further investigation, at the present time, into the essence of this
vice is necessary.
There is an abominable theory familiar to, and held by the dissolute,
who, not content with spreading the contagion of their souls, aim at
poisoning the very wells of morality. They reason somewhat after this
fashion: Human nature is everywhere the same. He knows others who best
knows himself. A mere glance at themselves reveals the fact that they
are chained fast to earth by their vile appetites, and that to break
these chains is a task too heavy for them to undertake. The fact is
overlooked that these bonds are of their own creation, and that every
end is beyond reach of him who refuses to take the means to that end.
Incapable, too, of conceiving a sphere of morality superior to that in
which they move, and without further investigation of facts to make
their induction good, they conclude that all men are like themselves;
that open profession of morality is unadulterated hypocrisy, that a
pure man is a living lie. A more wholesale impeachment of human
veracity and a more brutal indignity offered to human nature could
scarcely be imagined. Reason never argued thus; the heart has reasons
which the reason cannot comprehend. Truth to be loved needs only to be
seen. Adversely, it is the case with falsehood.
It is habitual with this passion to hide its hideousness under the
disguise of love, and thus this most sacred and hallowed name is
prostituted to signify that which is most vile and loathsome.
Depravity? No. Goodness of heart, generosity of affections, the very
quintessence of good nature! But God is love, and love that does not
see the image of the Creator in its object is not love, but the brutal
There are some who do not go so far as to identify vice with virtue,
but content themselves with esteeming that, since passion is so strong,
virtue so difficult and God so merciful to His frail creatures, to
yield a trifle is less a sin than a confession of native weakness. This
"weakness" runs a whole gamut of euphemisms; imperfections, foibles,
frailties, mistakes, miseries, accidents, indiscretions--anything to
gloss it over, anything but what it is. At this rate, you could efface
the whole Decalogue and at one fell stroke destroy all laws, human and
divine. What is yielding to any passion but weakness? Very few sins are
sins of pure malice. If one is weak through one's own fault, and
chooses to remain so rather than take the necessary means of acquiring
strength, that one is responsible in full for the weakness. The weak
and naughty in this matter are plain, ordinary sinners of a very sable
Theirs is not the view that God took of things when He purged the earth
with water and destroyed the five cities with fire. From Genesis to the
Apocalypse you will not find a weakness against which He inveighs so
strongly, and chastises so severely. He forbids and condemns every
deliberate yielding, every voluntary step taken over the threshold of
moral cleanness in thought, word, desire or action.
The gravity and malice of sin is not to be measured by the fancies,
opinions, theories or attitude of men. The first and only rule is the
will of God which is sufficiently clear to anyone who scans the sacred
pages whereon it is manifested. And the reason of His uncompromising
hostility to voluptuousness can be found in the intrinsic malice of the
evil. In man, as God created him, the soul is superior to the body, and
of its nature should rule and govern. Lust inverts this order, and the
flesh lords it over the spirit. The image of God is defiled, dragged in
the mire of filth and corruption, and robbed of its spiritual nature,
as far as the thing is possible. It becomes corporal, carnal, animal.
And thus the superior soul with its sublime faculties of intelligence
and will is made to obey under the tyranny of emancipated flesh, and
like the brute seeks only for things carnal.
It is impossible to say to what this vice will not lead, or to
enumerate the crimes that follow in its wake. The first and most
natural consequence is to create a distaste and aversion for prayer,
piety, devotion, religion and God; and this is God's most terrible
curse on the vice, for it puts beyond reach of the unfortunate sinner
the only remedy that could save him.
But if God's justice is so rigorous toward the wanton, His mercy is
never so great as toward those who need it most, who desire it and ask
it. The most touching episodes in the Gospels are those in which Christ
opened wide the arms of His charity to sinful but repentant creatures,
and lifted them out of their iniquity. That same charity and power to
shrive, uplift and strengthen resides to-day, in all its plenitude, in
the Church which is the continuation of Christ. Where there is a will
there is a way. The will is the sinner's; the way is in prayer and the