Pride: Virtue or Vice

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 since the fall, all human beings have been born with disordered affections. To Augustine, it was no accident that the Bible records the pride of Adam and Eve as the cause of their fall from God’s grace. Augustine calls this disordered love amor sui, which is Latin for self-love. This love of self that he describes is willing to put the world at the center and source of everything. According to Augustine this primal form of sin is rightfully named pride, as it is a perverse and speci? kind of self-love that leads us to claim a place that rightly belongs to God alone. As we turn away from God, self-love becomes the guiding principle of our lives. He suggests that two cities are formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self and the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. In his book, The City of God, Augustine explores the opposition of these two loves. He writes that the members of the city of God are marked by the love of God, amor dei while the members of the earthly city are marked by self-love, amor sui.
It is no surprise, then, that those absorbed in amor sui act according to what they love and the disorder of their loves is reflected in the disorder of their lives. We do what we love and disordered love disorders what we do. This is the primary theme that runs through Augustine’s confession. In his Confessions, Augustine reveals that his own life was absorbed by this self-love or pride. He shows how prior to his conversion, his life was directed by his own will and his own misguided judgments.
When reading his confessions, we are made privy to Augustine’s struggles with self-love and his description of how it undermines his love of God. He is compelled to confess his excessively erotic relationships with women, his misdemeanors, and his lust for experiences that does not consider other people. Augustine was a slave to the objects of his own desires. He gives great detail about his erotic desires, suggesting that it was his desire to love and be love that dominated him. Once again, we recognize his notion of misdirected desires and love without restraints.
Even as we read the confession of the theft of the pears in Book 2, it allows us to see how Augustine explains the idea of pride as the bottom-line of all sin. Augustine is quite concerned with this incident in which he and some friends stole pears from a neighborhood orchard. Augustine deeply regrets his sin, and offers a few brief insights as to how and why he committed them but what bothers him most is that he stole the pears out of sheer desire to do wrong. This story takes Augustine’s explanation of the nature of the sin of pride to a deeper level.
It suggests that his actions simply represent a human perversion of his God-given goodness. In fact, what he sought to gain from stealing the pears and everything we desire when we sin turns out to be a twisted version of one of God’s attributes. In a very skillful way Augustine matches each sinful desire with a desire to be like God – demonstrating how pride seeks power that we do not and cannot possess because it belongs to God alone. The creature can never attain the same level as the creator even though pride allows us to think the contrary.
Augustine also argues that each sin consists of a love for the lesser good rather than a preference for God. Such delight in the created over the creator reflects a turning from God and a turning to love of self. Augustine’s own disordered desires give us an awareness of not only the individual but also the social nature of pride or sin. For Augustine, pride is a disorder that affects us not only personally but also communally. This is why our existence becomes consumed by the need for power. We seek after this power through a series of desires that are incomplete and therefore will never satisfy.
How then is pride the root of all sin? Augustine would say our lives were made for God and to want more than God is pride. God is enough and pride causes us to forsake God and to seek after disordered desires to fulfill our self-love. According to Augustine, “The soul fornicates when it turns away from you and seeks outside of you the pure and clear intentions which are not to be found except returning to you. ” We sin, then, by loving the inferior aspects of ourselves, or by loving ourselves to such excess that we claim God’s place, and in the process we pervert what love truly is.
True love, as Augustine sees it, does not seek out personal advantages. For Augustine, the solution is for human beings to seek humility for it is humility that transforms our lives. Where pride takes pleasure in replacing God’s power with our own desire for power, humility allows us to be satisfied with our God-given place in the universe. After Augustine spends his first 30 years searching, he comes to the conclusion that only a person with humility can follow Christ. As he says to God in his Confessions, “You sent him (Christ) so that from his example they should learn humility. Where pride was the mark of the Augustine’s years prior to his conversion experience in Milan, humility became a goal of the rest of his life. Bibliography Augustine, Confessions, translated by Henry Chadwick (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992) Augustine, The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love (Washington, D. C. : Regnery Publishing, 1966) Cardinal sin. Dictionary. com. © Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.. http://dictionary. reference. om/browse/cardinal sin (accessed: February 21, 2013). Taylor, Richard. Ethics, Faith, and Reason (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1985) Wogaman, J. Philip, Introduction to Christian Ethics: A Historical Introduction, (Louisville, Westminster John Knox, 1993) ——————————————– [ 1 ]. Richard Taylor, Ethics, Faith, and Reason. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall 1985), 98 [ 2 ]. Dictionary. com. © Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.. http://dictionary. reference. om/browse/cardinal sin (accessed: February 21, 2013). [ 3 ]. Augustine, The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love (Washington, D. C. : Regnery Publishing, 1966), [ 4 ]. Augustine, Confessions, translated by Henry Chadwick (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 40 [ 5 ]. Ibid. , 40 [ 6 ]. Philip J. Wogaman, Introduction to Christian Ethics: A Historical Introduction, (Louisville, Westminster John Knox, 1993), 57. [ 7 ]. Augustine, Confessions, translated by Henry Chadwick (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 32. [ 8 ]. Ibid. , 219

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