EXCELLENCE is a quality that raises a man above the common level and
distinguishes him among his fellow-beings. The term is relative. The
quality may exist in any degree or measure. 'Tis only the few that
excel eminently; but anyone may be said to excel who is, ever so
little, superior to others, be they few or many. Three kinds of
advantages go to make up one's excellence. Nature's gifts are talent,
knowledge, health, strength, and beauty; fortune endows us with honor,
wealth, authority; and virtue, piety, honesty are the blessings of
grace. To the possession of one or several of these advantages
excellence is attached.
All good is made to be loved. All gifts directly or indirectly from God
are good, and if excellence is the fruit of these gifts, it is lawful,
reasonable, human to love it and them. But measure is to be observed in
all things. Virtue is righteously equidistant, while vice goes to
extremes. It is not, therefore, attachment and affection for this
excellence, but inordinate, unreasonable love that is damnable, and
constitutes the vice of pride.
God alone is excellent and all greatness is from Him alone. And those
who are born great, who acquire greatness, or who have greatness thrust
upon them, alike owe their superiority to Him. Nor are these advantages
and this preeminence due to our merits and deserts. Everything that
comes to us from God is purely gratuitous on His part, and undeserved
on ours. Since our very existence is the effect of a free act of His
will, why should not, for a greater reason, all that is accidental to
that existence be dependent on His free choice? Finally, nothing of all
this is ours or ever can become ours. Our qualities are a pure loan
confided to our care for a good and useful purpose, and will be
reclaimed with interest.
Since the malice of our pride consists in the measure of affection we
bestow upon our excellence, if we love it to the extent of adjudging it
not a gift of God, but the fruit of our own better selves; or if we
look upon it as the result of our worth, that is, due to our merits, we
are guilty of nothing short of downright heresy, because we hold two
doctrines contrary to faith. "What hast thou, that thou hast not
received?" If a gift is due to us, it is no longer a gift. This extreme
of pride is happily rare. It is directly opposed to God. It is the sin
A lesser degree of pride is, while admitting ourselves beholden to God
for whatever we possess and confessing His bounties to be undeserved,
to consider the latter as becoming ours by right of possession, with
liberty to make the most of them for our own personal ends. This is a
false and sinful appreciation of God's gifts, but it respects His and
all subordinate authority. If it never, in practice, fails in this
submission, there is sin, because the plan of God, by which all things
must be referred to Him, is thwarted; but its malice is not considered
grievous. Pride, however, only too often fails in this, its tendency
being to satisfy itself, which it cannot do within the bounds of
authority. Therefore it is that from being a venial, this species of
pride becomes a mortal offense, because it leads almost infallibly to
disobedience and rebellion. There is a pride, improperly so called,
which is in accordance with all the rules of order, reason and honor.
It is a sense of responsibility and dignity which every man owes to
himself, and which is compatible with the most sincere humility. It is
a regard, an esteem for oneself, too great to allow one to stoop to
anything base or mean. It is submissive to authority, acknowledges
shortcomings, respects others and expects to be respected in return. It
can preside with dignity, and obey with docility. Far from being a
vice, it is a virtue and is only too rare in this world. It is nobility
of soul which betrays itself in self-respect.
Here is the origin, progress and development of the vice. We first
consider the good that is in us, and there is good in all of us, more
or less. This consideration becomes first exaggerated; then one-sided
by reason of our overlooking and ignoring imperfections and
shortcomings. Out of these reflections arises an apprehension of
excellence or superiority greater than we really possess. From the mind
this estimate passes to the heart which embraces it fondly, rejoices
and exults. The conjoint acceptation of this false appreciation by the
mind and heart is the first complete stage of pride--an overwrought
esteem of self. The next move is to become self-sufficient,
presumptuous. A spirit of enterprise asserts itself, wholly out of
keeping with the means at hand. It is sometimes foolish, sometimes
insane, reason being blinded by error.
The vice then seeks to satisfy itself, craves for the esteem of others,
admiration, flattery, applause, and glory. This is vanity, different
from conceit only in this, that the former is based on something that
is, or has been done, while the latter is based on nothing.
Vanity manifested in word is called boasting; in deed that is true,
vain-glory; in deed without foundation of truth, hypocrisy.
But this is not substantial enough for ambition, another form of pride.
It covets exterior marks of appreciation, rank, honor, dignity,
authority. It seeks to rise, by hook or crook, for the sole reason of
showing off and displaying self. Still growing apace, pride becomes
indignant, irritated, angry if this due appreciation is not shown to
its excellence; it despises others either for antipathy or inferiority.
It believes its own judgment infallible and, if in the wrong, will
never acknowledge a mistake or yield. Finally the proud man becomes so
full of self that obedience is beneath him, and he no longer respects
authority of man or of God. Here we have the sin of pride in all the
plenitude of its malice.
Pride is often called an honorable vice, because its aspirations are
lofty, because it supposes strength, and tends directly to elevate man,
rather than to debase and degrade him, like the other vices. Yet pride
is compatible with every meanness. It lodges in the heart of the pauper
as well as in that of the prince. There is nothing contemptible that it
will not do to satisfy itself; and although its prime malice is to
oppose God it has every quality to make it as hideous as Satan himself.
It goeth before a fall, but it does not cease to exist after the fall;
and no matter how deep down in the mire of iniquity you search, you
will find pride nethermost. Other vices excite one's pity; pride makes
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