The Ladder of Divine Ascent: Vainglory and Pride

From John Climacus: The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus:

Like the sun which shines on all alike, vainglory beams on every occupation. What I mean is this. I fast, and turn vainglorious. I stop fasting so that I will draw no attention to myself, and I become vainglorious over my prudence. I dress well or badly, and I am vainglorious in either case. I talk or hold my peace, and each time I am defeated. No matter how I shed this prickly thing, a spike remains to stand up against me.

The flatter is a servant of the devils, a teacher of pride, the destroyer of contrition, a vandal of excellence, a perverse guide. The prophet says this: “Those who honor you deceive you” (Isa. 3:12).

When you hear that your neighbor or your friend has denounced you behind your back or indeed in your presence, show him love and try to compliment him.

It is not the self-critical who reveals his humility (for does not everyone have somehow to put up with himself?). Rather it is the man who continues to love the person who has criticized him.

Vainglory induces pride in the favored and resentment in those who are slighted. Often it causes dishonor instead of honor, because it brings great shame to its angry disciples. It makes the quick-tempered look mild before men. It thrives amid talent and frequently brings catastrophe on those enslaved to it.

A man who takes pride in natural abilities – I mean cleverness, the ability to learn, skill in reading, good diction, quick grasp, and such skills as we possess without having to work for them – this man, I say, will never receive the blessings of heaven, since the man who is unfaithful in little is unfaithful in much. And there are men who wear out their bodies to no purpose in the pursuit of total dispassion, heavenly treasures, miracle working, and prophetic ability, and the poor fools do not realize that humility, not hard work, is the mother of such things. The man who seeks quid pro quo from God builds on uncertainty, whereas the man who considers himself a debtor will receive sudden and unexpected riches.

When the winnower [i.e., the devil] tells you to show off your virtues for the benefit of an audience, do not yield to him. “What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and destroy himself?” (Matt. 16:26).

But there is a glory that comes from the Lord. “I will glorify those who glorify Me,” He says (1 Sam. 2:30). And there is a glory that follows it which is contrived by the demons, for it is said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you” (Luke 6:26). You can recognize the first kind of glory when you look on it as dangerous and run from it in every possible way, hiding your life-style wherever you are. And you may be certain of the other sort when you find yourself doing something, however small, with the hope that men may notice you.

Dread vainglory urges us to pretend that we have some virtue which does not belong to us. It encourages us with the text: “Let your light shine before men that they will see your good deeds” (Matt. 5:16).

Pride is a denial of God, an invention of the devil, contempt for men. It is the mother of condemnation, the offspring of praise, a sign of barrenness. It is a flight from God’s help, the harbinger of madness, the author of downfall. It is the cause of diabolical possession, the source of anger, the gateway of hypocrisy. It is the fortress of demons, the custodian of sins, the source of hardheartedness. It is the denial of compassion, a bitter pharisee, a cruel judge. It is the foe of God. It is the root of blasphemy.

Pride begins where vainglory leaves off. Its midpoint comes with the humiliation of our neighbor, the shameless parading of our achievements, complacency, and unwillingness to be found out. It ends with the spurning of God’s help, the exalting of one’s own efforts and a devilish disposition.

The man ensnared by pride will need God’s help, since man is of no use to him

I captured this senseless deceiver once. It was rising up in my heart and on its shoulders was vainglory, its mother. I roped them with the noose of obedience and flailed them with the whip of humility. Then I lashed them and asked how they had managed to gain access to me. “We have no beginning and no birth,” they said, “for we are the source and begetters of all the passions. The strongest opposition to us comes from the contrition of heart that grows out of obedience. We can endure no authority over us, which is why we fell from heaven where we surely had authority. In short, we are the authors and the progenitors of everything opposed to humility, for everything that favors humility brings us low. We prevail everywhere except in heaven. So, then, where will you run to escape us? You will find us often where there is patient endurance of dishonor, where there is obedience and freedom from anger, where there is willingness to bear no grudge, where one’s neighbor is served. And our children are the falls of those who lead the life of the spirit. Their names: Anger, Calumny, Spite, Irascibility, Yelling, Blasphemy, Hypocrisy, Hatred, Envy, Argumentativeness, Self-will, Disobedience.

“There is only one thing with which we cannot interfere, and the violence you do us will make us admit what this is. If you can honestly condemn yourself before the Lord, then indeed you will find us as flimsy as a cobweb. For, you see, Vainglory is pride’s saddle-horse on which I am mounted. But holy Humility and Self-deprecation will laugh at the horse and its rider and will joyfully sing the song of triumph: ‘Let us sing to the Lord, for He has been truly glorified. Horse and rider He has thrown into the sea’ (Exod. 15:1), into the depths of humility.”

Comments 1

  1. Mark Olson wrote:

    I’ve seen “vainglory” also translated as “self-esteem”. Put in the context of self-esteem training for its own sake by our state education thinking puts an interesting twist, no?

    Posted 10 May 2007 at 7:07 pm

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  1. From Book Reviews and More on 17 May 2007 at 6:07 pm

    […] for missing his submission so it gets bumped here to the top.)Eric at Ales Rarus Writes to us about Ladder of Divine Ascent: Vainglory and Pride he provides for us some edification and meditation on some quotes from “The Ladder of Divine […]

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