CHAPTER XVIII — THE FULLNESS OF TRUTH
FOR complete peace, complete conquest is necessary; for if peace is to be had there must be complete mastery. For us of the twentieth century, there is no reason for the question of peace and disorder, conquest and defeat, to remain on the purely speculative level; we live in an age where war is never declared, yet where war never stops. Of all men in history, we have only to look about us to get a complete picture of peace and its opposite; our notion of the nature of conquest does not depend on subjective scrutiny or hypothetical procedure. The thing is presented in such graphic form as to make its impression ineradicable.
Conquest and peace: Incomplete conquest
It is not because of any particularly brilliant analysis on our part that we see clearly that conquest can be incomplete for two reasons. The most casual observer can see that the Japanese conquest of China and, some time ago, the English conquest of Ireland were both frustrated in their completeness by an enduring hostility of the subject people; a condition in startling contrast to the quiet and order of a recently conquered Spain. On the other hand, with little imagination and even less historical knowledge, we easily understand the tragic incompleteness of a conquest that has been limited to the possession of the enemy’s strongholds. In either case, the quiet of night and the very innocence of the smallest village are but aids to a stalking terror and a haunting fear. In place of peace there is the sinister silence of an unsavory district late at night; death is coiled tense in the shadows, ready to strike at any moment.
Complete conquest: To destruction of subjects
Unquestionably, if mastery remains in question, terror rules the land. Yet not every complete conquest gives peace; its gift may be the bitterly final blow of death. With an essentially hostile people facing an invading army, conquest must remain incomplete as long as any of these people remain alive; complete conquest can be had only at the terrible price of a total destruction of a whole people. Certainly such a thing is not to be described as peace. In other words, peace can be had by complete conquest, only when the attack is not upon a people but upon the enemies of a people; then only does completion of a conquest bring the saving tranquillity of peace’s order to a whole nation.
Temperance is essentially a conqueror; it aims at the conquest of the disorderly passions within the kingdom of a man’s soul. No other conquest of that kingdom can ever be complete, short of destruction of the man, because it is only this conquering army with which man’s full nature is in sympathy. To every other he remains stubbornly irreconcilable, for he was made for the orderly proportion of reason. Only the complete conquest of temperance can bring him peace. If some other conqueror, say anger, or lust, or fear, or sorrow, invades the domain of reason, sweeping away all opposition, it has not yet fully conquered; it cannot control this essentially hostile subject. Behind the conqueror’s lines there will be the gnawings of conscience, lonely unhappiness, fear of the quiet moments of solitude, a rending and tearing of the soul of a man that threatens his very sanity.
The conquest of temperance: Incomplete
Quiet can be had by such a conqueror only on condition of the total destruction of reason in man, a conquest that brings not peace but death. Fortunately, this is a conquest that is never quite accomplished; even in hell, man’s nature protests against the tyranny of the conqueror, though there be no hope of ever overthrowing him, even with all eternity for the sedition. The conquest of temperance, then, is man’s one hope of peace within his own kingdom.
But that conquest must also be complete. Temperance fights the enemies of man; it has the whole of man’s nature in sympathy with it. There is no danger of trouble behind its lines; it has no need to station large garrisons to hold down a rebellious populace. It can concentrate on the armed opposition, massing all its forces at the front with an easy mind. But if it operates only against the out. standing citadels of the enemy, leaving marauding bands free to roam the country spreading terror and death, surely it cannot bring peace. Rather, its great conquests are made a mockery by the disorder, confusion and sudden terror that plagues the very subjects it has come to save.
To put all this in plain language, we saw in the last chapter that the principal citadels of intemperance were stormed by the virtues of abstinence, sobriety and chastity. They openly attack the serious threats to the sovereignty of reason, which are inordinate pleasures of food, drink and sex; by the conquest of these things, they break the backbone of the enemy’s resistance. But this is not enough.
They are the main body of temperance. They bear the brunt of the attack and they do it well; but if the conquest is to be complete and bring peace, there are still the mopping-up operations to be gone through. The flanks of the main army must be protected; the lines of communication guaranteed against guerrillas; and the people at home must be allowed to live the quiet, industrious, humble life that is essential for the continuance of the fight. All of this is accomplished by the potential parts of temperance.
Before launching on a lengthy investigation of the mopping-up operations of these virtues, we must look at a constant precaution that is absolutely necessary for the protection of the main army; that is, the strong second line of defense against vicious counter attacks of the enemy. Experience is more than a sufficient witness to the possibility of inordinate passion; and that means that experience vouches for the possibility of temperance being overwhelmed by the rush of passion. Indeed, unless temperance is momentarily overcome, there can be no such thing as passionate desire for unlawful pleasure.
The second line of defense — continence: Its nature and work
The actual presence of such passion does not mean that man has already suffered the defeat of sin. Whatever the character of the passion, it remains merely a movement of sense appetite until it wins deliberate consent; only by deliberate surrender on the part of reason can sin be incurred. The point is extremely important; for ignorance of it has been the swamp land from which hordes of worries have descended upon men, pricking and buzzing, inexhaustibly replaceable by still others of the pests. No matter how long a passion may last, how violent it may be, what effects it may produce, how unclean or guilty it may make a man feel, it is not sinful until it is embraced. Or, to go back to the original metaphor, passion is never sinful until the second line of reason’s defense has crumbled, until the continence of the will has broken down.
Continence here is taken, not in the sense of virginity or chastity as it is frequently taken in English, but in its own special sense: a firmness of will holding to the stronghold of reason, regardless of the violence of the attack of passion. Its material is the material of temperance, i.e., those passions which entice man from the path of reason, particularly the strongest of those passions — the passions for food, drink and sex. But, in another sense, its material is different. It deals only with the passions that have run wild; while temperance deals with these passions in themselves. Thc work of temperance is to keep passion from running wild, whereas continence faces the fact of a violent uproar and confusion that has already trampled temperance underfoot.
Perhaps a clearer notion of the work of continence can be obtained by looking closely at the act of the will which is election. That act is like a village belle with two suitors — the reason and the sense appetite. When the village belle turns up her nose at the threats, bullyings and coaxings of the latter and graciously gives her hand and her heart to the former, we have continence effectively at work. On the contrary, when sense-appetite sweeps her off her feet by its cave-man tactics, incontinence has carried the day.
The continent man is a sick man who has found an excellent doctor to keep him on his feet, while the temperate man is so healthy he has no need of a doctor. His virtuous good health frees him from the crushing setbacks of passion’s counter attach on virtue; he simply does not have inordinate passion. However, we must not consider continence a rather unimportant substitute called on now and then to fill up thc space normally occupied by temperance’s column. If we remember the frequency of passion’s attack in some men by the very season of their physical make-up and call to mind the constancy of the stimulus to passion, we get some little idea of the importance of continence. Obviously not everyone can be barricaded behind the protective walls of a monastery; nor can anyone seriously propose blinders and ear muffs as a kind of monastic substitute for laymen. Continence guarantees man humanity in his life and his actions in spite of the physical temperament that is his, in spite of the tremendous temptations that will batter against his senses. Understand, continence does not do away with passion, or with the effects of passion; but it does hold to reason and to virtue.
Its opposite — incontinence: Its subject
From these same considerations, it is dear that incontinence is a tragic thing. It is a fact of human life that the occasions and temptations to these sins do appear with fair frequency. Moreover, these movements of passion are going to continue, whether we like it or not. To an incontinent man, that means he is going to face the defeat of sin again and again. The forces of reason are going to be conquered in him, the note of humanity plucked from his actions. He has no second line of defense, so that the very appearance of disorderly passion is practically a guarantee of sin.
Its comparative gravity
Incontinence, though it is a deliberate choice of the will, has not the malicious gravity of intemperance. The incontinent man is not a keen-eyed searcher for sin. Rather he blunders into it, and then, when passion has subsided, nothing can hold him back from throwing himself at the feet of Christ, overwhelmed with horror and shame at what he has done. On the other hand, the surrender of incontinence is a more craven thing than the capitulation to anger. The things it embraces are much more base than the offerings of anger. The passions to which the incontinent man succumbs do not operate violently and openly, clubbing a man down; rather they slink to the attack with a certain secrecy and subtlety, on tip-toe as much for flight as for attack. But in their actual operation there is little of regret and much of pleasure; whereas anger is always in mourning.
It is true that incontinence does not represent as much difficulty in its reformation as does intemperance, for intemperance is a matter of habit, while incontinence is a matter of passion. The latter is a momentary lapse rather than a solid fortification built up against reason itself. But it is a difficult and discouraging sin with which to deal. When its victim comes shamefaced and penitent, asking another chance, it is not enough to point out the evil of his act; he has a bitter and complete knowledge of that already. He needs the internal strength of grace against this passion; and he needs the external help of correction and advice to learn where and how he can begin to resist passion. For each setback given to passion weakens it, impressing upon the sense appetite a note of difficulty, even of impossibility, that decreases the hope of gratification which is its constant spur.
It is extremely important that the incontinent man submit his difficulties to someone for correction and advice. There is, after all, a right and a wrong way to fight passion; a rightness and wrongness that must frequently be judged in the individual case. It may, and frequently does, happen that the individual actually increases, fortifies and deepens passion by the very method he has chosen to fight it. A direct, frontal attack on passion is an almost natural response to its impertinence; yet a direct attack is frequently a disastrous mistake. It serves too often to concentrate our attention more profoundly on the objects of passion, feeding it, puffing it up by giving it a totally undeserved importance and emphasis. Moreover, it saps our powers of resistance by the constant haunting worry or panicky fear which it almost necessarily engenders. The incontinent man needs both internal and external help. It is tragic, then, for him to limit his call for assistance to purely internal help until his enemies have attained such proportions as to necessitate a long, discouraging, drawn-out battle.
Completion of the conquest of temperance: By restraint of anger and its act
But let us get back to the mopping-up operations. Here we are promptly brought into contact with two virtues that were close to the heart of Christ, and very far from the heart of a pagan world. You remember the bitter eagerness of the apostles to call down fire from heaven on the cities that did not receive them; and the clemency of the answer of Christ: “And turning, He rebuked them, saying: You know not of what Spirit you are: the Son of Man came not to destroy souls but to save.” You will remember, too, the brutality of the Pharisees in their desire to punish the woman taken in adultery. Christ’s verdict in that case — “Neither do I condemn thee. Go in peace and sin no more” — has echoed in the hearts of sinners ever since.
Again, Christ never tired of asserting His meekness. He was proud of the fact that He was “meek and humble of heart.” To a pagan world, as to our world, this was a confession of weakness. No one takes the meek man seriously, least of all the modern world. Actually, Christ’s description of Himself as a meek man was a simple statement of great strength. The meek man, seen rightly, is a fearless rider of a wild steed which he has so subdued that it swerves to his lightest touch. For the work of meekness is to restrain anger within the bounds of reason; in that note of restraint, meekness finds its common bond with temperance.
Clemency and meekness
The meek man is truly a conqueror; he has subdued the wildest of the passions of man, the passion that strikes most suddenly and most devastatingly. This is not a task for a timid rabbit of a man, but for a man who could withstand the power of the Roman world and the prestige of the princes of his people. The pagan world had no use for meekness, just as our world today has little use for it. Imagine, if you can, a Hitler smiling in gratified vanity at the aide who has just called him meek! You see, the pagan world is so very unsure of itself it simply must make blatant gestures of power, supremacy and fearlessness; otherwise, someone might suspect the truth of its fundamental powerlessness. Christ could be meek because He was so thoroughly a master.
The companion virtue of meekness — clemency — moderating the punishment inflicted by anger, is even more thoroughly misunderstood by the modern world. It has been scornfully confused with sentimentality or sympathetically opposed to severity. Now certainly clemency is not sentimentality. Christ was clement; but He was not shaken with great, gushing sobs over the poor, misunderstood hypocrites. He condemned them. In other word,, Christ did not allow his feelings to take command over reason. And clemency, like all the moral virtues, imposes the order of reason, it does not oppose it. Consequently it is not opposed to severity, for both severity and clemency are according to reason. The severe man is not unreasonable; he is inflexible in the infliction of the punishment that reason declares should be inflicted. Clemency diminishes the punishment when reason declares that such punishment should be diminished. In other words, it is not the reasonable element in punishment that clemency opposes; rather that reasonable element finds unflinching support in clemency as well as in severity.
Clemency is the fruit of a certain refinement of soul in the literal sense of the word; that is, in the sense of a steady elimination of impurities, often enough by the extreme method of fire, until eventually the crystalline purity oi the best in man stands out in undisputed supremacy. It implies a wholesomeness of affection that abhors wanton injury to another. So it is quick to detect when a man has satisfied reason’s demand for punishment, rushing to release the sinner; for all along it has loved the man, even while consenting to his punishment. Of course it is not to be understood by the provincial uncouthness of soul that has no particular interest in others, much less sympathy for their suffering. Perhaps as great a note of triumphant reason as the mildness of clemency is the justice of it, the justice that insists on proper punishment, in spite of its deep feeling for others. It must always be a stranger to a pagan world which has enthroned selfishness.
Their opposites — Anger: Licit and illicit anger
Both clemency and meekness have to do with anger; the latter restraining the passion of anger itself, while the former moderates anger’s act of punishment or revenge. But it must be remembered that anger, like all the passions, is not evil in itself. Some men can be splendidly angry, as Christ was at the pettiness that quibbled at healing a man’s infirmity on the Sabbath day; there are times when our failure to be angry is a weakly vicious thing, when we hold back the punishment because our love is not strong enough to be just, a sickly, diluted love unworthy of a man. Considered objectively, anger’s act of punishment can be seen as a gesture of self-defense, or of defense of a loved one with whom we are one. It is only when it gets out of control, when it is not defense but attack, or when its defect leaves a man supinely defenseless that anger becomes a traitor to man and delivers him up to the mob rule of sense.
Normally we are a little too mild in our judgment of anger. Perhaps it is not so much our fault. It is a human mistake to overestimate the beauty of a plain girl when she has been so lucky as to discover an incredibly ugly companion; naturally, when we see anger in contrast to the hideousness of the other sins that injure our neighbors, we too are fooled.
It is certainly true that anger has none of the vicious desire to hurt that is proper to hate. It is not as childishly petty as is envy with its willingness to sacrifice another to satisfy its desires for glory. As a rule, anger has an air of respectability as astounding as the clean-shaven face of a tramp. At least it always proceeds from an unjust injury and acts in the name of justice, seeking a balance of the justice that has been disturbed. But for the violence, the speed of its attack, anger gives way to no other sin.
The species of anger
To get some idea of its unfortunate personal and social effects, we have only to look around us. There are such victims of anger, for instance, as the sharp, quick-tempered people, violently angry at trifling pretexts, people who give themselves no peace and have the rest of the family on tip-toe with their fingers crossed hoping to avoid a storm. Then there is the bitter man, who hugs to his breast the injury which is behind anger; he croons to it, rocking it back and forth in his mind day after day; a gloomy person with a ready reason for sorrow and self-pity. He exudes ill humor and becomes a nuisance to himself. Finally there are those stern, unforgiving people who hold a grudge forever — proudly. Their thoughts are focused, not so much on the injury they have suffered, as on the revenge they mean to enjoy; they will not rest until they have “got back” at their enemies. It is the kind of anger which splits families as an aerial bomb splits a house. Sometimes it produces the somewhat comic result of people living in the same house, sitting at the same table, like so many plants that have reached a certain resemblance to humanity but not to the extent of sharing in the gift of speech; so they go on vegetating, but saying not a word to each other.
Over and above this personal and social disagreeableness of anger there is its extreme danger. It is a capital sin. When it moves in we can expect the rest of the family anytime. It may not look so bad itself when it signs the lease; but wait until the daughters arriver One glance at them shows us sufficient grounds for constant civil war in the house of any man.
“Daughters” of anger: indignation, swelling of mind, blasphemy, contumely, quarrelling
The eldest daughter, born before anger had reached full maturity, is a burning indignation. By it we put people, especially those who have injured us, in their proper place, as an irritated parent sets an obstreperous child in its high-chair — joltingly. The place we choose is, you may be sure, a very lowly place; and it gets lower at every opportunity. A very satisfying sort of anger, that yet is never satisfied. The second daughter is a crowd in herself; at least when she enters a man’s mind there is room for little else, her baggage is so huge and so stuffed with schemes for revenge. The angry man uses every idle instant to concoct these terrible things for an enemy; indeed, the unholy ambitions invade his very sleep. St. Thomas describes this state accurately as a swelling of the mind; it is just that. Eventually it bursts into wild, disordered confusion of speech — the product of a man who is positively stuttering with anger. It goes farther and breaks out into injurious speech, either against God in the form of blasphemy, or against men in the form of contumely. It reaches its peak when it expresses itself in actions, not mere words; the thing that Thomas packs into the one word “quarreling,” but which reaches out to all the injuries which it is possible for us to inflict upon one with whom we are angry.
Inordinate anger is opposed to meekness as weakness is opposed to strength. When the act of anger, punishment, escapes the control of reason it is the opposite of clemency; and the opposition here is that of justice to injustice. The contrast of cruelty and clemency is a contrast of a rough, primitive rawness and finished smoothness of careful craftsmanship. Where the one is eager to mitigate punishment reasonably, the other is unreasonably eager to sharpen the punishment.
Even cruelty clings to a shred of rationality; that is, it does not punish without some vague reason. When this last bit of reason’s bright garment is torn off, it gives up all claim to decency and stands forth naked as savagery. Then it no longer looks for guilt as the basis of punishment; rather it looks to the perverted pleasure to be got from the torture of other men. It is a bestial thing, this savagery, revolting to the soul of man, as is all bestiality masquerading in human form. Perhaps one of the most terrible of anger’s natural punishments is inflicted upon a man when after anger has died down, he is brought face to face with the damage he has done in his passion.
By moderation of lesser pleasures — modesty: Its nature.
In completing the conquest of temperance, clemency and meekness have the difficult assignment of moderating the wildest of the passions. Modesty has no such difficult work; but that does not mean it is unimportant. In fact, one of the reasons for our underestimation of modesty is precisely because it has an air of mediocrity about it. It really deals in the small change of moderation; its very material is mediocre, for its work is to keep in check the lesser pleasures that enter into a man’s life. These latter are not in a position to overwhelm reason; rather they are constant and vicious irritations, like ragged bands of guerrillas that are not at all particular as to which side they prey on. They can, given latitude enough, lay a man’s life in waste; always, they can prepare for the collapse of the defense against the immediately serious threats inherent in the greater pleasures.
In our last chapter we noticed the different species of modesty: modesty of soul, of mind, of body, and modesty in externals. In this chapter we shall begin our detailed examination of these different kinds of modesty, but shall limit ourselves to the very first — that modesty of soul which is called humility.
Humility’s conquest: Its nature as a virtue
It is another much misunderstood and unappreciated virtue. We sometimes confuse it with a laughing protestation in denial of excellence, a denial that must itself be protested according to the rules of the game. I remember the bitter taste this odd humility left in the mouth of a New York taxi-driver on one of the rare occasions when he ventured out of the safe haven of the city. After working a half-hour under a hot sun on a dusty road, changing a tire for an immaculate, but helpless, young lady, he straightened up in triumph and was effusively thanked. He shrugged, smiling, and said: “It was nothing at all. Glad to do it.” Perhaps figuring he was an expert in such matters, the girl took him at his own evaluation and offered him a dime. One wonders why more heroic rescuer. are not manhandled by the people they both save and insult, shrugging off the rescue as “nothing at all; think nothing of it.” There is no difficulty in seeing that this sort of thing is not humility; for obviously it is not the truth.
Neither is humility a kind of hypocrisy that beats its breast and blunders into things because of its shyly downcast eyes. Yet we find it hard to be sure of this false humility because the really clever hypocrite is not easily discovered; at least, it show. up one of the causes for the disrespect men have for humility, for men rightly condemn hypocrisy as a cowardly device. Then, too, humility has an abject look in modern eyes, for it does imply a recognition of one’s limitations; and the pagan world does not dare admit limitations in its attempt to be wholly self-sufficient.
Its object and effect
Humility, in actual fact, is not a self-condemnation to obscure stagnation unworthy of a man. It is not an enemy of magnanimity’s straining for the stars; rather it is a necessary companion to greatness of soul. Let us look at it this way. In every great work there are two elements: one of great goodness which is mightily attractive; the other of great difficulty which is mightily repulsive. That part of courage which is magnanimity holds the soul of a man firm that it might not recoil before the great difficulty and give up the work. Humility holds the soul back, lest, captivated by the goodness of the work, a man be fooled into attempting the impossible. Both keep man’s efforts within the field of reason; both insist on man’s measuring up to his capacities. The one insists that he must not fall short of those capacities; the other keeps him from overshooting the mark. Certainly there is nothing of defeatism here.
Its place among the virtues
Humility, then, moderates our appetite for excellence, it does not destroy that appetite; its work is to keep our hope reasonable. It has been said again and again for ages, that humility is truth. And that is true; but not so true that it can be left just like that and not be misunderstood. The crime reporter who thinks he is another Shakespeare may not be insane, but he is certainly not humble. There is an element of truth necessary for humility; at least a man must recognize his limitations if he is to keep his hope from aiming too high. But humility is not an intellectual virtue; its place is in the appetite of man, a faculty that searches for the good rather than the true. Truth is rather the rule of humility than humility itself; the two are so intimately connected that there is no danger whatever of humility blushing furiously at the detection oi its lies. It does not tell lies but lives the truth.
This explains much of the puzzling self-contempt in the lives of the saints. Humility is characteristically marked by subjection. Because a man recognizes his own limitations and deficiencies, he is able to see the perfections of other men and of God. You might say that humility recognizes the truth of man’s humanity and so sees the perfection of God’s divinity. Every man is a mixture of the divine and the human in the sense that in every man there are the things that are God’s, namely, perfections; and in every man there are things that are his very own, i.e., defects and deficiencies. Humility has an eagle eye for both divinity and humanity; it is not to be confused and blinded by any blending of the two. So that if we consider what has come from ourselves, each of us not only can but should be subject to what there is of God in every other man; in that sense, and in that sense alone, humility makes a man subject to every other man, even a saint to a sinner.
To reverse the process, and subject what is of God in us to what is of man in another, would be irreverent, perhaps blasphemous. Or even to place side by side the purely human things in ourselves and others, or the purely divine things, and still insist upon a universal subjection would be stupidity, not humility. The fact is that some have greater gifts from God than others, that some have less defects than others. Humility does not counsel stupidity, much less does it allow the living of a lie.
One of the early calumnies against the Christian religion, that it was a religion of slaves and weaklings, was due as much to this emphasis on humility as it was to the historical character of the early converts. Yet Christ did not come to make men slaves, to send them grovelling in the dust; His own summation of His mission was that men “might have life and have it more abundantly”, that their “joy might be full.” Nor did the early Christians misunderstand His aims when they insisted on humility, for one of the explicit lessons He gave was “learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” The question is not so much a matter of attempting reconciliation between irreconcilables — the subjection of humility and the full, joyous abundance of life; it is rather a matter of understanding that one cannot be had without the other. Humility, as a matter of fact, places the very first condition of progress towards a full life, the condition of subjection. Showing a man his limitations, keeping his hope” within the bounds of his abilities, humility keeps a man in his proper place; and this not in a particular respect, but universally. Consequently it cuts out at the roots the great obstacles to happiness, the obstacles that consist in putting ourselves above all others, in seeking our own excellence, caught up as a sleepwalker by his dream to wander blindly out of our proper world. That obstacle goes by the name of pride.
Just as in society it is the law-abiding citizen, that is, the citizen subject to authority, who is in a position to make the most of and to contribute most heavily to the common life, so also in the world of reason it is the man who is subject who gets most out of and puts most into the life of reason. Indeed, humility gives us that invaluable subjection, not only socially but universally. The virtue is absolutely fundamental, for it removes a fundamental obstacle. Granted that it is not a virtue by which we run to God, still without it the other virtues would have to be expert hurdlers to get anywhere. From another point of view, humility is a guarantee of a right sense of values. It is a calm, clear-sighted virtue, not to be seduced by the tempting prospect of earthly greatness at the cost of spiritual greatness; there is about it a great deal of that hard-headed common sense that comes from living close to the soil, close to the world of things as they are. And humility does give us this spiritual common-sense, enabling us to see and to act towards things as they are.
Its opposite — pride: Nature and subject of pride
The humble man has his feet solidly on the ground. He lives in a world of reality, while the proud man lives in a world of fantastic fiction. Yet in our time it is the proud who are called realists, the humble who are called dreamers. On the very face of it, our evaluation is wrong; pride seeks impossible things — hardly the objective of a realist. Situated in the first principle of motion in man, in his will, pride drives him to impossible goals that utterly surpass his powers. Whatever the proud man handles must be draped in the flimsy glory of fiction; even though he has nothing at all, he must boast of things as though they were really his. What he has, he ascribes to his own excellence and his own activity — the perfect author of the success story; or if, grudgingly, he admits God as the author of these perfections, it is to be understood that God could not very well do anything else but give these gifts to him, considering his outstanding character.
The proud man must be outstanding; he is a hopeless victim of a spiritual claustrophobia. He must be conspicuously singular in his excellence; so he must despise the accomplishments of others, so petty in comparison with his own. He is a swaggering little boy playing out his dream, swelling with the importance of his deeds of conquest and, eventually, so lost in his dream world that he cannot bear a return to the world of reality. He cannot be himself, for that self is so very small in so big a world.
As humility makes a man universally subject, so pride makes a man universally rebellious. A superior with a proud subject on his hands can resign himself to sleepless nights; there is no point in thinking up arguments, such a subject does not proceed on reasons; cajoling, threatening, bribing are all useless. For the thing resented is the very relation of subject and superior; the only place the proud man occupies with some peace is the superior’s chair, and that at the cost of peace to the rest of the community. You see, his rebellion is a sweeping thing that makes no exception; indeed, at its worst, it makes no exception even for the sovereignty of God.
Its gravity and relation to other sins
In itself, it is a mortal sin; in fact one of the gravest of sins, for it excels in that aversion from God that is the formal malice of sin. It is, of its very nature, a rebellion and it is rebellion that makes the gravity of sin. In a very real sense it is the first of all sins, the queen and mother of all moral ugliness. Not for nothing does it wear a veil over its face even in the privacy of a man’s own soul. We do it an injustice when we call it a capital sin; it is at the root of absolutely every sin, for pride is the undiluted essence of rebellion, shared in some measure by every sin.
The first sin of pride — original sin: Its nature
Even in the point of time, pride is first. It was the sin that destroyed the original perfection of man. It has not changed a bit since; then, as now, it was that same insistence on supremacy, on outreaching one’s self, on complete self-sufficiency. Of course Adam did not expect to set himself up as a divine equal of God; he was wiser than his sons who made that absurd mistake. But he did mean to be self- sufficient, to be under no one; in a word, to be more than a man. It was a fantastic fiction; but it is still a best seller in every corner of the world.
Looking at the person of Adam and his excellence as head of the race, we might say his sin of pride was more serious than that of Eve; but then there is a great deal to be said for Adam. After all, he did not succumb to the smooth lies of the serpent, but to the sweet cajolings of his wife. He did not coax anyone else into sin (there was no one else, as a matter of fact); perhaps his love for Eve had something to do with his sin, a muddled notion that it would be better to sin with her than to remain virtuous without her — a dilemma that no one had proposed to him. At any rate he reaped the prompt fruits of his rebellion against God in the rebellion of his own flesh against his spirit; and this was the start of that long war between the flesh and the spirit which will continue until the death of the last man. Along with that rebellion of sin came death, liability to injury, cold, hunger, sickness and all the rest of the ills of man; and gone was that magnificent sovereignty over the physical world that had made the first man so truly the lord of the world.
We may sum up this chapter by insisting that man wins peace only by being true to himself: that is, by holding to the regime of reason in all of life, and so also in the field of pleasure and of sorrow. It is not sufficient to hold to the necessary moderation in the greatest of joys; the least must also be kept in check. To maintain that the conquest is over when the greater aims of temperance are roughly attained, though the lesser aims ate neglected, is a lie that is peculiarly dangerous because it appears so innocuous. As a matter of fact, it is a half-truth that distorts the life of a man, swelling some very human inclinations to inhumanly dominant proportions, shrivelling others no less human to a pitiable, even contemptible condition.
The abundant life and truth: Fruits of living a lie; dangers of living a half-truth
There is no abundance to a lie, whether that lie is told in words or in actions. It has sprung up without roots in reality and it lives on stolen air and stolen light: it must be poisonous if it is to assure itself of continued life, for all truth is its enemy. Obviously we can expect no rational fruits from so irrational a thing as a lie. That our expectations have not been too pessimistic can be seen, even though we have no taste for history, no love for labor, no time for reading beyond the morning newspapers. Where else does the contempt for meekness, for clemency, for modesty and humility come but from this half-truth? We have almost forgotten that these are human things, necessary things, even indispensable things. They call up pictures of timidity, sentimentality or prudishness; while anger, cruelty and pride, though perhaps reprehensible, are certainly manly. The half-truth has made us miss the whole truth, that is, all of the truth: for it is the first group — meekness, clemency and all the rest — that are truly manly; it is the second group — anger, cruelty and pride — that are unworthy of a man.
Inhuman world is a world of fiction
These virtues are not popular in a pagan world both because the pagan world is so terribly unsure of itself that it must always broadcast its assurance, and because the pagan is always so unutterably alone. Being alone, the pagan must stand on top or be trampled. He must live in a world of fiction because the truth of his own limitations makes his world too hopeless for the continuance of human life. His world must be an immodest world for it must be a liar’s world; it cannot see the truth, or seeing it, cannot bear its too bright face. For the proportion and moderation of reason always carry with them the inevitable connotation of subjection; they present man with that profound paradox: conquest can come only by subjection.
The world and the “mild” virtues; Christ and the “mild” virtues
It would be true to say that our world has a contempt for these milder virtues because our world has come far from Christ; but it would also be true to say that our world has developed a contempt for these mild virtues because our world has come so far from human life. Human life is a life of reason. If that life and action is to be human, reason must be the master in command; and reason cannot be in command as long as these marauding bands of guerrillas are left free to prey upon the peace and security of the kingdom of man. Reason’s conquest must be complete or a man will be haunted by stalking terror and imminent death; and it is precisely these milder virtues — clemency, meekness, modesty and humility — that make possible the completion of the conquest of temperance. Christ insisted, in word and action, on these milder virtues because He came to bring us peace, a fuller, a more abundant life. He was not condoning, much less urging, softness or sentimentality and timidity, the evasion of all conflict. He knew what temperance demanded for complete conquest, what courage, honesty and sincerity must go into it; for He knew well what was in man. It is perhaps because this perfect Man, Who was also God, knew man so well, that He could insist that man never has reason for pride in that which escapes the control of his reason.