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ON VAINGLORY, THE MOTHER OF MANY CHILDREN.

1. There are some spiritual writers who treat vainglory apart from pride, and class them as two distinct vices. Hence they enumerate eight capital sins. But St. Gregory, the Theologian, with other holy Fathers, have assigned but seven. With their judgments I agree. For who that has conquered vainglory has ever been overcome by pride? Certainly there is no other difference between these two vices than that which is found between a child and a man, between wheat and bread made from wheat. For vainglory is the beginning of pride, and pride is the end and consummation of vainglory. Since, then, the series of our discourses leads us to speak of this inflation of the heart, which is the root of all vices, and the last degree of their guilt, we will confine ourselves to a few words. For he who wishes to write a long article upon this subject is like a man that, by vain curiosity, and a fruitless investigation of hidden causes, is desirous of knowing the weight of the winds.

2. Vainglory, considered in itself, is a deceitful passion, which represents us otherwise than we really are, in displaying outwardly those virtues which have no abiding place in the soul, and by concealing the vices with which we are most infected. Thus it may be termed an ingenious flight from everything calculated to humble and abase us before the world. But if we consider it according to its properties and effects, it may be proclaimed a dissipation of all the riches we have acquired by our past labour, the total loss of the fruit of our toil and perspiration, and therefore a domestic enemy that robs us of all the treasure of our virtue. Vainglory is the daughter of infidelity, the advanced guard of pride. It is our shipwreck in the very port itself. It is in our hearts a busy ant that never ceases, diminutive insect as it is, from carrying off to its own storehouse some portion of our good works. The ant waits until the corn is ripe and ready to be garnered. Vainglory, likewise, waits until our spiritual treasures are ready to be secured in the granary of heaven. The industrious insect hurries away rejoicing and laden with corn; vanity gloats over the riches which it pilfers from the soul.

3. The demon of despair experiences a peculiar joy when our sins are multiplied. But the demon of vainglory exults when our virtues are increased. For as the multitude of our offences is the gate of despair, so the abundance of our virtuous actions is the gate of vanity.

4. In considering the corrupt nature of this unhappy passion., you will perceive that, until it drops into the grave, it is continually exhibiting itself in gay and scented apparel, in empty pomps, and such like follies.

5. The sun sheds his beams upon all creatures, and vainglory casts its venom upon all our good works. For instance, when I fast I take some sort of vanity in it; when I break my fast to conceal my abstemiousness, I still pride myself upon this pretended holy and praiseworthy address; when I am decked in fine apparel, I am both vain and boastful. When I put off these splendid robes to put on others, poor and mean, I am still the creature of vanity. If I speak, I pride myself upon my discourse. If I am silent, I am even vain of this silence. So that vainglory may be compared to an iron snare with three prongs, and which , on whatever side it may be hurled, always presents one of these prongs, to pierce the feet of those that pass over it.

6. A vain man is one of the faithful that is unfaithful, a Christian that is an idolator, since he apparently honours God, but in reality seeks to please men.

7. Every one that wishes to make a public display of himself is filled with secret vanity. His fasts are without recompense, his prayers without merit in the sight of the Almighty, because in these works of piety he is ambitious of the praise of men, and not of the approbation of God.

8. The solitary who is vain is doubly miserable, since he afflicts and bruises his body by the austerities of penance without gathering any fruit from these penitential exercises.

9. May we not deride a religious who is the slave of vainglory, since, during the Divine Office, he at one time laughs, as if he were transported with celestial joy; yet at another, weeps in the presence of everyone; as if his heart was pierced with lively sentiments of compunction?

10. God often throws a veil over our eyes that He may conceal from us our real virtues. But he who praises us, or rather he who deceives us, removes this veil by the eulogium which he pronounces upon our good deeds before unknown to us. Immediately, as the shade is removed from our eyes, we contemplate our virtues with complacency, and they vanish altogether from the soul.

11. The flatterer is the devil’s servant, who introduces vanity, and shuts out compunction from the heart, and scatters to the winds all our good works. In short, he is a guide that deludes and leads us astray; for “they,” says the prophet, “that call thee blessed, the same deceive thee, and destroy the way of thy steps.”1

12. We must possess virtue in a sublime degree not to be wounded by injuries, and to endure them with a noble forbearance and interior joy. But not to be wounded by the flattering tongue of praise, and to listen to it with humility and regret, demands perfect sanctity.

13. I have seen penitents inflamed with anger against those who praised them, through their dread of being elevated by pride, and who thus fell into one vice that they might escape from another, unhappily exchanging vanity for anger, like men in the daily barter of commerce.

14. If, according to Holy Scripture, no “man knoweth the things of a man, but the spirit of a man that is in him,”2 ought not those who praise us in our presence to be covered with confusion, and to impose upon their lips in this respect a perpetual silence?

15. When any of our neighbours or friends has spoken evil of us, whether in our absence or presence, then only should we applaud him for this testimony of affection.

16. To reject from our hearts the applause of men demands a great grace, but a far greater one is necessary to guard against the praises of demons, that are so much more cunning than men.

17. It is not any test of humility to abase and despise ourselves before others, for we suffer nothing from such ‘self contempt’; but it is a proof of very great humility when we bear towards him who has offended us the same affection as formerly.

18. One day I observed that the demon of vainglory inspired a solitary with certain thoughts which he had also awakened in the mind of another, and that having induced the latter to communicate to the former that which was occupying his attention, he afterwards dragged him on to boast of himself as a great prophet.

19. Do not hearken to this demon, when he tempts you to believe that he will make a bishop of you, or the superior of some monastery, or a doctor of theology, or place you in authority over others. For it is difficult to drive a dog from a table covered with viands, that is, for superiors to drive from their hearts the demon of vanity.

20. When the devil sees solitaries in possession of peace of mind, by the subjugation of their passions, he persuades them to leave their solitude immediately, and return to the world. “Depart,” he says, “from this useless spot, and go and labour in saving souls that are perishing by thousands.”

21. As there is a difference between the countenance of an Ethiopian, and that of his bust or portrait, for the one is living, the other inanimate and deficient in expression; so is there a difference between the vainglory which tempts a religious, and that which assails anchorites.

22. Vainglory induces religious who are not well grounded in virtue, to anticipate the arrival of guests, to leave their monasteries to meet them, and to prostrate themselves before them on the way. Thus, though the interior is full of pride, it is artfully concealed beneath the comely robe of humility. Such a religious under the guidance of vainglory, studies his actions, his features, his voice, and fixing his eyes upon the hands of the persons he goes forth to greet, through his desire to receive a present, he addresses them by the titles of nobility, and calls them his protectors, his salvation, next to God. At table he exhorts his brethren to be sober before these strangers, and he treats his inferiors with great severity, that he may appear a strict observer of discipline. During the Divine Office, he animates the tepid, lifts up the voice of those that are languid, and rouses those that are usually given to sleep. He flatters the one who presides over the choir, solicits from him the office of cantor, and calls him father and master, as long as the guests remain at the monastery.

23. Vainglory fills with pride those who are honoured and raised above others; whilst it provokes to envy and wrath those who are humbled and abased beneath their fellow creatures.

24. This vice often brings confusion upon those who are ambitious of honours. For when they are carried away by anger, it fills them with a secret and interior shame, for allowing themselves to be hurried away by passion.

25. Thus it causes those who are angry with themselves to become meek and gentle towards others.

26. Vainglory prompts its slaves to covet the gifts both of grace and nature, though it is frequently by these very gifts that it ruins the souls of the possessors.

27. I have seen the demon of vainglory fight against, and chase away, the demon of anger. For one monk that was wrangling with another, seeing some secular persons approaching, became calm and peaceable; and thus passed from the servitude of anger to that of vainglory, not being able, according to the testimony of our Divine Redeemer, to serve at one and the same time two masters.

28. A religious under the control of vainglory, leads, at the same time, two different lives; since with reference to his body, he resides in a monastery in the exterior observance of regular discipline; whilst with reference to his soul, he dwells in the world by the indulgence of profane thoughts and earthly attachments.

29. If we desire to render ourselves agreeable to our Immortal king, let us have no relish but for His glory, and for the delights of His table which are everlasting. For he who has once foretasted the pleasures of heaven, will experience nothing but disgust and contempt for the pleasures of earth. I believe, however, that it is very difficult for him, who has had no anticipation of the first, to despise the second.

30. It frequently happens, that when we have been despoiled of our spiritual treasure by the repeated thefts of vainglory, we in turn have our victory by our conversion to God, and stript it, with far greater advantage, of all the spoils which it had carried off from our souls. For I have witnessed those, who, having commenced the spiritual exercises of a religious life, through the prompting of vainglory, have afterwards corrected this evil principle, changed their disposition and their will, and terminated their earthly pilgrimage as holy and praiseworthy, as the commencement of it was defective and censurable.

31. He who prides himself upon his natural endowments, his talent for science, his melodious voice in reading and similar qualifications which are not the fruit of his own labour, will never enjoy the graces and favours which are supernatural. For, “he who is unjust in that which is little, is unjust in that which is greater.”3 So that he who is vain of the small gifts of nature, will be more so of the greater blessings of divine grace and virtue; therefore God does not bestow them upon him, lest he abuse them by vanity.

32. There are many who in vain mortify and afflict their bodies by extraordinary austerities, thinking by such means to obtain perfect tranquility of soul, the treasure of celestial gifts, the power of working miracles, and the knowledge of future events. But these unhappy individuals are deceived in supposing, that these signal favours are attainable by their own labour and perspiration. It is rather by humility than by such toils, that they are to be made worthy of these supernatural gifts.

33. He who upon the plea of these labours, solicits from God His special favours, builds upon a perilous foundation. Whereas he who considers himself always in debt to the Divine Justice, will presently be enriched with the blessings of heaven beyond his most sanguine expectations.

34. Give no credit to the enemy that tempts you, and who, according to the gospel, sifts you like wheat, when he persuades you to display your virtues to the world, under the pretence of promoting the salvation of those before whom your good works are thus permitted to shine. For what will it profit a man to gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul? Nothing can edify those who notice our conduct, or who listen to our conversation, but humility joined to simplicity in our actions, and candour and sincerity in our words. For this is to give good example to our neighbours, without filling ourselves with vanity.

35. A solitary of great discernment, and endowed with the gift of beholding the invisible combats carried on by the demons against mankind, told me one evening, what he himself had witnessed: “When,” he said, “I was seated in an assembly of monks, the demon of vainglory and the demon of pride, came and sat by me, the one on my right hand, the other on my left. The first one touched me with his finger, to induce me to entertain the brethren with some pious meditations which I had composed in the wilderness; or in relating the virtuous actions I had performed during my residence in that solitude. The moment I had discarded this suggestion by the recital of these words of the Royal Prophet: ‘Let them be confounded and ashamed together, that seek after my soul to take it away,’4 the one on my left hand whispered in my hear: ‘Well done, my good monk. Courage, courage, you have performed an excellent action, and you have signalized the greatness of your virtue by the victory which you have obtained over my mother, who displayed great impudence in this daring assault.’ But I replied by the following verse of the Psalmist: ‘Let them immediately bear their confusion, that say to me: ‘Tis well, ‘tis well.’ Having asked this same demon how vainglory was the mother of pride, he answered: ‘Praise inflates the soul, and elevates it in its own estimation; then pride follows and makes it extol itself even to heaven, that it may afterwards fall into the deepest abyss of hell.’”

36. There is a glory which comes from God, according to the testimony of the Holy Scripture, “Whosoever shall glorify me,” saith the Lord, “him will I glorify.”5 There is likewise a glory that proceeds from the malicious wiles of the devil, according to words of the Gospel: “Woe to you when men shall bless you.”6 You may be sure that the glory is from God, when you deem it hurtful to your spiritual welfare; when you employ all your address and caution to shun it; when you use every means at your command to conceal, no matter where you may be, your virtues and praiseworthy actions. You may likewise, with equal certainty, know that the glory which is lavished upon you, is from the devil, when your least actions are done to be seen by men, according to the assurance of the Gospel.7

37. Vainglory is a deceitful, hypocritical vice, which makes us counterfeit the virtues we do not possess, under the pretence of observing the instruction of Jesus Christ: “So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”8

38. God frequently employs the dishonour which befalls vain and boastful persons, to wean them of the love of a false honour, and to stifle in their bosoms the illusion of vainglory.

39. The commencement of our victory over this unhappy vice, is the restraint of our tongue, and our love of humiliation and contempt. The progress we make in this triumph, is our retrenchment of every thing calculated to foster vanity of spirit. The final conquest, if it be possible totally to suppress this hydra-headed monster, is so to conduct ourselves before men, that we may be humble in their sight, without feeling any pain from our humiliation.

40. Let not the fear of giving scandal deter you from making public, that which you cannot mention without shame and confusion. It may not, however, be proper to use this remedy in every case, but only with reference to certain sins, for the cure of which it will be beneficial to ourselves, and not hurtful to our neighbour.

41. When we seek glory from men, or when we do not canvass for it ourselves, but merely receive it from others; or when we endeavour by certain actions esteemed by the world to acquire human glory, let us remember the penitential life we have chosen, that we may weep over our past offences; let us reflect on the fear and trembling which will be experienced by the soul when we shall appear before God, the Supreme Judge of all our actions, that we may offer to Him, in secret, the sighs and moanings of our hearts, and we shall undoubtedly make vanity blush, if it be at all susceptible of shame. But if we cannot dwell upon these reflections, because we have not been sufficiently careful to render our prayers pure and sincere, let us, at least, revolve in our minds the dread moments of death. If, to form a striking and lively image of death be difficult, let us stand in awe of the humiliation and shame, which will succeed the empty glory we covet, since Jesus Christ has said: “Whoever shall exalt himself, shall be humbled,”9 not only in eternity, but even in this life.

42. When any one begins to praise us, or rather to deceive us by his praises, let us review our innumerable sins, and we shall be convinced that we are truly unworthy of that which is said or done in our honour.

43. It sometimes happens, that God, having resolved to grant certain favours to certain vain and boastful persons, He concedes them before they have asked for them by prayer; lest having received them after they had besought Him, they would assume greater glory to themselves, and be filled with greater vanity.

44. They who are simple by nature, are less liable to be infected with this poison of souls. For vainglory is the banishment of all Christian simplicity, and tinctures all our actions with hypocrisy.

45. As the caterpillar becomes a butterfly that flutters through the air, so vainglory, ascending the utmost height it can reach, brings forth pride, which is the chief, the consummation of all vices.


  1. Isaiah iii. 12.

  2. I Corinth. ii. 11.

  3. Luke xvi. 10.

  4. Psalm xxxix. 15.

  5. I Kings ii. 30.

  6. Luke vi. 26.

  7. Matt. vi. 5.

  8. Matt. v. 16

  9. Matt. xxiii. 12.



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