Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Holy envy

I came across this in St. John of the Cross's Dark Night of the Soul (Chapter 7):

If any envy accompanies charity, it is a holy envy by which they become sad at not having the virtues of others, rejoice that others have them, and are happy that all others are ahead of them in the service of God, since they themselves are so wanting in his service.
The context was a discussion of beginners and the spiritual versions of the seven deadly sins.

4 comments:

Tim Lacy said...

This is precisely the great way in which St. John of the Cross is so challenging. But if there is "holy envy," is there also holy gluttony, holy acedia, holy lust, holy sloth, holy wrath, holy avarice, and holy pride? The OT provides abundant evidence of holy wrath, but what of the rest? I don't recall StJC discussing the paradox of holy acedia. :). But is holy gluttony maybe too many feast days, or too much spiritual reading or participation in voluntary mortifications?

James said...

I imagine this fellow's idea of "holy gluttony" would be something like "exercising great self-control" given that his idea of "holy envy" involves the complete opposite of what envy is normally understood to involve (that is, it involves rejoicing in the fact that others are in a better position than oneself rather than envying them).

Alexander R Pruss said...

Holy envy is not exactly an opposite. Envy is a sadness at the goods that others possess. In holy envy, there is also a sadness, and a related one. BUt it is not a sadness at the fact that others possess the goods, but at the fact that one does not oneself possess them.

St John does not talk of a holy gluttony. :-)

Brandon said...

It's an interesting thing to speculate about.

Magnanimity, or something like it, might qualify as holy pride.

The tricky thing about lust and gluttony is that they are basically ways of being immoderate; if you take away the immoderate element that makes it a vice, all you have left is a desire for food and sex that's not disordered. And if you go much farther than that in the other direction, you don't have something holy, you have the opposing extreme of immoderation. (That said, you can get a fairly clear idea of what holy lust would have to be; it would be in the context of marriage, unitive, etc. It's hard to see how there would be any parallel for gluttony. Perhaps holy gluttony would be something like an abundance of hospitality, the eagerness to hold feasts not for oneself but for everyone.)

As for holy acedia -- acedia is sorrow at one's own spiritual good insofar as it is difficult. So perhaps holy acedia would be sorrow at the difficulty others face when it comes to the good, and the concomitant desire to work to ease that difficulty.