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

of Lucifer.

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

us shudder.