Chrysostom on Vain Glory

Now that we are in Great Lent and increasing our labors in the ascetic life of the Church, it seems good to go on to a passion which is like a destructive mold that grows upon our good works. Let us now listen to some words of St. John Chrysostom concerning the passion of vain glory. (The following is compiled from several of his sermons).

Terrible is the passion of vainglory, and many headed; for some set their heart on power for the sake of this, some on wealth, and some on strength. But, proceeding in order, it also goes on to almsgiving, fasting, prayers and teaching and – as I said – many are the heads of this monster. Yet for unbelievers to be vainglorious about worldly things is not surprising; however for us to be so about fasting, prayer and almsgiving is both strange and lamentable. But that we may not only blame, come let us tell the means, by which we shall avoid this. So how do we contend against this many-headed passion? For some are vainglorious of money, others of
dress, others of place of power, others of humanity and almsgiving, others
of wickedness, others of death, and others of life after death. For indeed, as I have said, this passion has many links and even goes beyond our life; for men in order that they may be held in admiration, have charged extravagant monuments to be built in their memory and have desired most elaborate funerals with the greatest number of those who lament. And what is even greater to marvel at is this: that even of opposite things is it made up (one man being poor for vainglory and another seeking to be rich, both for the same reason).

But do you desire to be held in honor among men? What is the gain? The gain is nothing but infinite loss. For these very people whom you call to be witnesses become robbers of your treasures that are in the heavens; or rather not these, but we ourselves spoil our own possessions and scatter what we have laid up above. O new calamity! This strange passion! Where neither moth corrupts nor thief breaks through and steals, vainglory scatters. This is the moth of those treasures above; this is the thief of our wealth in heaven. This steals away the riches that can’t be spoiled, this mars and corrupts all. Since the devil saw that the treasures above are impregnable to thieves, and to the worm, and to the other plots against them, by vainglory he steals away the wealth.

But do you desire glory? Does not that which is promised by the Receiver Himself satisfy you, that which comes from our gracious God? Have you no faith in His word and still set your heart on that which comes from men? Take heed lest you undergo the contrary, lest someone condemns you not as being virtuous but rather as making a display and seeking honor for yourself. Consider that the very person whose praise you seek will condemn you. If he is a friend he will at least inwardly accuse you; but if he is an enemy he will ridicule you before others also, and you will undergo the opposite of what you desire. For you indeed desire that he should call you a good man; but he will not call you this, but vainglorious, a man-pleaser, and other names far more grievous than these. On the other hand, if you hide it he will call you all that is the opposite of these. For God does not allow good to remain hidden; if you conceal it will be made known, in one way or another. Thus you will be held in even greater admiration and the gain will be more abundant.

Thus we see that the very purpose itself of making a display of ourselves in order to be glorified turns against us. For far from obtaining the credit of being virtuous, we receive even the contrary; and therefore the loss we undergo is great. For every motive then, let us abstain from this and set our love on God’s praise alone….

If you love glory and are plotting in every way to obtain it, then you will enjoy it the more abundantly if you turn your efforts from the seeking of glory to the uprooting of the love of glory from your heart. For just as becoming rich is contrary to covetousness, so is the loving of glory to the obtaining of glory. For the Heavenly Physician – seeing you sick with a terrible fever of passion – does not feed the flame by catering to your fatal desire but quenches it instead by giving poverty to the covetous, dishonor to the vainglorious, and in like manner ordering all things for the good of those who love Him. Now let us inquire into each, and since we have no fear of hell, nor much regard for the Kingdom, come, and even from the things present let us lead you on. For who are they that are ridiculous? Tell me isn’t it those who are doing anything for the sake of glory from the multitude? And who are the objects of praise? Isn’t it those who spurn the praise of the multitude? Therefore if the love of vainglory is a matter of reproach, and it cannot be concealed that a vainglorious man loves it, he will surely become an object of reproach, and the love of glory has become to him a cause of dishonor. Not in this respect only does he disgrace himself, but also in that he is compelled to do many shameful things, abounding with the utmost disgrace in the hope of acquiring the praise of the multitude. So then, there is no one more base and dishonored than he that is arrogant and mad about glory and considers himself to be high. The race of man is fond of contention and against nothing else does it set itself so much as against a boaster and a contemptuous man and a slave of glory. He also – in order to maintain the fashion of his pride – exhibits the conduct of a slave to the common people, flattering and courting everyone, serving a servitude more grievous than that of a slave bought for money.

If you are to pursue virtue, not for its own sake, but with an eye to receive praise from the common workman and people of the baser sort, seeking that the bad and those far removed from virtue may admire you – this is to act as one insulting virtue itself. You are calling the enemies of virtue to the display and sight of it; as if one was to choose to live continently, not for the sake of continence, but rather to make a show before prostitutes. Neither would you, it seems, choose virtue except for the sake of virtue’s enemies when in fact you ought to admire her on this very ground, namely that she has even her enemies to praise her.

Yet let us admire virtue as is fitting not for others but for her own sake. Since we too, when we are loved not for our own sake but for another’s, consider the thing an insult. In the same way reckon the case of virtue as well; and do not follow after her for the sake of others – no – do not for men’s sake obey God, but follow instead as men for God’s sake. Since, if you do the contrary – even though you may seem to follow virtue – you have provoked God equally with him who does not follow her. For just as he disobeyed by not doing, you have disobeyed by doing in an unlawful manner.

But let us not be so affected. Rather let us lay down this passion that we may not both pay a penalty here, and hereafter be punished without end. Let us become lovers of virtue so that before reaching the Kingdom we might reap the greatest benefits here, and when we having departed hence, we might partake of the eternal blessings there. Amen

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