Pride: Virtue or Vice

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According to Richard Taylor, “Pride is not a matter of manners or demeanor. One does not become proud simply by affecting certain behavior or projecting an impression that has been formed in the mind. It is a personal excellence much deeper than this. In fact, it is the summation of most of the other virtues, since it presupposes them.” Philosophers and social psychologists have noted that pride is a complex emotion. However, while some philosophers such as Aristotle consider pride to be a profound virtue, others consider it a sin. The view of pride as a sin has permeated Christian theology dating back to Christian monasticism. However, it wasn’t until the late 6th century that pride was elevated in its ranks among the seven deadly or cardinal sins. The Bible, especially the Old Testament, has plenty to say about pride. In the book of Proverbs for example we read, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (16:18). Again in Proverbs 21:4, Scripture says, “Haughty eyes and a proud heart—the lamp of the wicked—are sin. Augustine makes the argument that pride is not just a sin but it is the root of all sin. He often used the following passage to support his claim: “The beginning of pride is when one departs from God, and his heart is turned away from his Maker. For pride is the beginning of sin, and he that has it shall pour out abomination (Sirach 10:12-13).” This paper seeks to examine Augustine’s ethics on pride and how he supports it in his Confessions. Augustine considered pride to be the fundamental sin, the sin from which all other sins are born.  Augustine believed the devil’s sin was rooted in pride. In his Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love, he states that, “Some of the angels…in their pride and impiety rebelled against God, and were cast down from their heavenly abode,” and that the devil “was with his associates in crime exalted in pride, and by that exaltation was with them cast down.” Pride has a certain fascination, attraction and influence over everything, and it corrupts everything, even what is in itself good. No one can escape the pressure of its temptations, including Augustine himself. In his Confessions, Augustine identifies pride in his own life. For example, during his adolescent years when he was searching for wisdom, Augustine refused to approach Scripture because the Latin version that was available to him seemed too basic and unpolished. It certainly did not compare to the scholarly works of Cicero that he was reading. It wasn’t until years later that he could admit that it was his pride that kept him from turning to Scripture. He wrote, “I was not in any state to be able to enter into that (its mysteries), or to bow my head to climb its steps.” He goes on to say, “Puffed up with pride, I considered myself a mature adult.” The same pride that kept him from accepting the Bible, led him to Manichaeism. Augustine refers to the Manichees as earthly-minded men who are proud of their slick talk. So, looking back on his life, he could acknowledge that the Manichees could never have satisfied him because of their own pride. Augustine's argument on pride rests on the premise that human beings are defined by what we love and what we love determines not only what we do but who we become – speaking to our very identity. The human predicament, as Augustine sees it, is that our loves and our desires are disordered. In order to explain this further, Augustine often referenced the Genesis story of Adam and Eve. Although Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, they were not satisfied. They wanted to be like God, knowing good and evil. It was pride that motivated their rebellion against God and it was a disordered love that allowed them to put themselves before God despite the consequences. Their disobedience led to destruction - not only of themselves but also of everyone else. Accordingly, Adam and Eve’s disordered love disordered the loves of all their offspring and...
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