This week we continue our pilgrimage home to the self and to God through the eyes of 4th century mystic Evagrius Ponticus. The past two weeks, we have discussed demons that attack through the body and the passions. Now we arrive at the reasonable demons: vainglory and vanity, later known together as pride. I say reasonable demons because, according to Evagrius’ understanding of the human soul, these demons attack the best part of the person, the reason.
Evagrius understood his eight evil thoughts hierarchically, progressing from the body to the mind, animal passions to divine reason. The term “reason” may be confusing because he did not mean it exactly as we would today, as intellect, knowledge, or logic. Instead, reason meant participation in a divine reality, the union of a person and God. But as we draw closer to God, the demons simultaneously become more intense and clever.
Here, the demons turn our virtue, for which we have striven so long, against us. Vainglory tempts us with praise. The goal has always been to become compassionate and serve our neighbors. This need and the validation we receive from filling it become ends in themselves. We lie to others about our virtue and lie to ourselves about our own needs. We not only harm ourselves for the good of others, but we forget what it means to be loved for ourselves rather than what we do for people. Only our virtue matters because love must be earned.
Vanity is a different sort of deception. We think that all our good is ours alone. We have good things – money, success, relationships, beauty – because we are good. In fact, we are better than everyone else. We confuse ourselves with the image of success we present to the world. Our energy goes toward propping up that ego image rather than discovering the self that God made us to be.
Vanity and vainglory later get collapsed into “pride” in the Seven Deadly Sins and I would like to add an evil thought as pride’s opposite: shame. The opposite of pride was supposed to be humility. It is not guilt and it is not shame, but a realistic understanding of ourselves as parts of a much larger whole – a community, a church, an ecosystem, even God. Instead, we push virtue out of the picture entirely, forcing a choice between pride and shame. This is particularly dangerous when it is superimposed on systems of power that divide us: race, gender, sexuality, class, ability. “Humility” is demanded of the powerless by the powerful and becomes shame. Shame is a means of oppression, which makes all moral reasoning useless. That is, shame pulls us away from participation in the divine reality because we do not believe we can be loved. But God says otherwise.
Join us this Sunday at 11am at the Kessler. We’ll talk about pride, shame, and humility and how we can have clear sight of who we are in relation to God and the world.
Grace and Peace,
February 26: Our Demons, Our God, Ourselves
What does Jacob wrestle with?
March 4: Demons of Desire: Gluttony, Lust, and Avarice
How do we draw the world in and push God out?
March 11: Demons of Resistance: Sadness, Anger, and Acedia
How do we push the world away and God with it?
March 18: Demons of Reason: Pride (and Shame)
How do we lie to ourselves?
March 25: Fear
What is the source of the demons’ power?
April 1: Palm Sunday
What happens when we find the voice that God gave us?