WARFARE WITH THE PASSIONS: VAINGLORY
“THERE IS A GLORY that comes from God, Who says: Those who glorify Me, I will glorify (I Kings 2:30). And then there is the glory that follows us diabolically, as it is written, Woe, when all men shall speak well of you (Luke 6:26)….You will know the second kind of glory when you do something, no matter how small, hoping that others are watching” (St. John Climacus, The Ladder). This is why the Holy Fathers say that “vainglory is the most subtle [passion] of them all” (Abba Evagrios, On Eight Thoughts).
“Oh, how insinuating and imperceptible is the passion of pleasing men: it possesses even the wise! Although the effects of the other passions are easily seen…the effort to please men clothes itself in the words and appearances of piety so that those men beguiled by it find it hard to detect its various aspects.
“What are the aspects of pleasing men/ The first, their mother, is lack of faith, and its offspring are: envy, hatred, flattery, jealousy, quarrelling, hypocrisy, partiality, doing service only for show, calumny, lies, an air of false piety, and other such dark passions which are difficult to detect” (St. Mark the Ascetic, Directions from Discourses).
“Vainglory is powerful enough even to blind men to evident truths….For this reason [our Saviour] spoke this rebuke: How can ye believe, which receive honor of men, and seek not the honor which cometh from God? (John 5:44).
“This passion is a sort of deep intoxication from which it is hard to recover. It detaches the souls of its captives from heaven, nails them to the earth, and does not allow them to look up to the true light. It persuades them ever to wallow in the mire The man who is sick of this disease does all that he thinks will be agreeable to his masters, and he does it of his own accord and without bidding. On their account he clothes himself in rich apparel and beautifies his face, taking these pains not for himself, but for others. …Can any state of mind be more wretched than this?…
“Other passions, even if they are very hurtful, at least bring some fleeting pleasure with them. Those who love money, or wine, or women, have a certain pleasure along with the hurt. But those taken captive by the passion of vainglory live continually embittered and stripped of enjoyment, for they do not obtain what they earnestly desire: glory. They think that they enjoy glory, but they really don’t, because what they are aiming for is not really glory at all….Their state of mind is void of glory, and that is why the ancients called it with good reason vaingloriousness. It is quite empty; it contains nothing within it, nothing that is bright or glorious Thus does the applause of the multitude deck out this passion, this dangerous antagonist, this cruel master.
“He who does things in order to please worthless men rather than for the sake of virtue…how can he be worthy of anything?…Is it not excessively ridiculous to seek the good opinion of those whom you would never wish to be like?” (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 3 on St. John).
Vainglory is of course a form of pride; it has the effect of taking away what little wisdom a man may possess, and it is intimately connected with countless other passions, giving birth to them and encouraging their growth.
For this reason Saint Isaac the Syrian says that those “who puff themselves up in the face of God’s goodness and who offend Him by their pride” are subjected to the following: “constant presence of lustful thought which gives them no peace, but which is allowed in order to curb their self-conceit; a quick temper; the desire to have everything their own way; argumentativeness and judgment of others; a heart that despises everyone; a mind gone completely astray; …and the desire to be in touch with the world and circulate in it, to talk and chatter senselessly, to be always in search of news….This is what happens when a man begins to appear wise in his own eyes” (Directions on Spiritual Training).
“Self-importance, when rooted by habit in the mind, cannot be destroyed by one man…or in a short time A strong and vigorous treatment is necessary to get at the root of the complaint (St. Basil the Great, To Presbyter Evagrios).
“Look straight up to God: He will praise you. But the man whom He approves must not seek honor from mortals. Mortal honor often arises from flattery or hatred of others, and brings no profit… .But God…brings great advantage to the man whom He approves. Therefore, let us seek after His praise” (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 4 on St. John).
“We begin to conquer vainglory when we take custody of the mouth…when we call to mind the multitude of our sins…and when we recollect our death” (St. John Climacus, The Ladder).