The Seven Deadly Sins are so insidious because they often take root to such a degree that they manifest as immutable personality traits. We say someone “has a temper,” rather than admit he habitually commits sins of anger. We claim “he is a cheapskate” rather than recognize the sin of avarice.
We know that pride is the chief of the Seven Deadly Sins. As such, it is omnipresent at the root of other sins. Pride is defined as “an excessive love of self” (Fr. James McElhone, C.S.C., Rooting Out Hidden Faults). It is Satan’s downfall in his non serviam, and the first sin of mankind, through disobedience, in the garden. Pride disrupts the supernatural order by placing an individual, fallible person’s judgment and will above that of God. Essentially, it constitutes an idolatry of self.
As ubiquitous as pride is, it can be the most difficult sin to diagnose. Think about your typical examination of conscience: as you go through the 10 Commandments, how often do you define “pride” as a clear, confessable violation of God’s law? Or how often does pride instead lurk in the background of our consciousness, ossifying into a core of stubborn sin that further and further separates us from God?
We typically think of pride as the caricature of the braggadocious snob. But there are many nuanced ways in which we commit sins of pride by making idols out of ourselves. In the most basic sense, every sin is ultimately sin of pride because it represents a turning away from God’s will to serve our own will.
In his masterful take on the particular examen, Rooting Out Hidden Faults, Fr. James McElhone identifies four discernible types of pride. His nuanced analysis shows that these lesser-known prides can often manifest as dispositions of the soul, thereby evading detection in routine examinations of conscience.
Fr. McElhone provides a useful guide to the characteristics of each form of pride, and supplements his explanations with insightful questionnaires to prepare for confession.
1. Pride of Superiority/Authority:
This is the typical narcissistic, angry, entitled type of pride. Fr. McElhone notes thatpride of authority is manifested by an overbearing, critical, argumentative attitude. He says “pride of authority is mean, unkind, disregarding justice and fair play.” The pridefully superior will often seek to control others and gain outward markers of power and status.
To determine whether pride of superiority has any hold in your soul, ask the following:
- -Do I hold myself above others?
- -Do I have a superior attitude?
- -Am I prone to belittle others?
- -Am I inclined to be bossy?
- -Do I speak ill of others?
- -Do I insist on having the last word?
- -Do I have an irritable disposition?
2. Pride of Timidity
Pride of timidity is a type of self-love that ironically manifests as self-hatred. The timidly prideful live in fear of what others may think about them. While it may seem to be the opposite of pride, pride of timidity is actually an inverted form of pride because it is still motivated by a disordered self-love. The key error for those with this kind of pride is an overvaluing of human respect – that is, the opinion of others over the opinion of God.
For those plagued by these feelings, a diagnosis of pride may come as a shock, but truly is freeing because it can be rooted out through restoring a healthy sense of self and relationship to God.
To identify this type of pride:
- -Am I easily embarrassed?
- -Am I self-conscious?
- -Do I compare my talents with those of others?
- -Do I exaggerate my weaknesses? Do I hide my talents?
- -Am I so afraid of mistakes as to not to try at all?
- -Do I stay with the crowd – be it right or wrong?
3. Pride of Sensitivity
This is another type of inverted pride that is quite similar to pride of timidity, and results from self-love being wounded. Fr. McElhone observes: “He makes himself feel bad, he wants to feel bad, he gets a false joy out of it.”
We are reminded of St. Jane Frances de Chantal’s admonition: “Must you continue to be your own cross? No matter which way God leads you, you change everything into bitterness by constantly brooding over everything. For the love of God, replace all this self-scrutiny with a pure and simple glance at God’s goodness.”
To root out this type of pride, ask:
- -Am I distrustful?
- -Am I ready to accuse others of being unjust or unfair to me?
- -Do I misjudge or misinterpret others?
- -Am I unable to laugh at myself?
- -Am I moody? Do I brood about things?
- -Do I carry grudges?
4. Pride of Complacency (Vanity)
Like pride of timidity, vanity is characterized by an excessive desire to gain human respect. But like pride of superiority, it is outward-facing and arrogant. The vain seek to impress others and to be constantly held in high esteem. They are prone to showing off, performing, and are often found in positions of influence where they can maximize attention and self-aggrandizement.
To recognize vanity:
-Am I vain about my talents? My status? My looks?
-Am I anxious to surpass others?
-Do I spend lots of time showing off on social media?
-Do I place high value on social media follows, likes, and attention?
-Do I exclude others for their lack of status, etc.?
-Do I give God due credit for my gifts and abilities?
Humility: the antidote to pride
Just as pride is a lie about oneself, “humility is the truth about oneself.”
It is therefore the universal antidote to all forms of pride.
Humility is simply honesty about our true destiny as beloved children of God. The humble neither overestimate nor underestimate their own talents and faults, but honestly acknowledge and repent of sins and defects, and likewise make use of their talents to give glory to God. By praying for and practicing humility, we can combat sin at its source. Jesus Himself is our ultimate model in humility, and we are given many brilliant examples in the humility of the saints.
While introspection can be painful, we gain edifying graces by pursuing a greater understanding of our own soul.
As we grow in spiritual maturity, we should seek to not only avoid mortal sin, but to root out the tendencies toward sin. By recognizing these sneaky manifestations of pride, we can overcome spiritual barriers and approach a more profound intimacy with God.
Editor’s note: The above quotations from Fr. McElhone, and many of the above examinations, are taken from Rooting Out Hidden Faults: How the Particular Examen Conquers Sin, available now at Sophia Institute Press.
Image: Temple of Hera (Temple E)/ Shutterstock: simona flamigni