Pride is a barren land; a dead land. A hard land that admits of no softness. Those who live in Pride have no life.
The Pity Due to Pride
The root of all evil
Pride is one of the largest obstacles in our ship’s journey to happiness. The word “pride” can be used in two ways. In one case it’s a proper feeling, such as when you are proud that your sons shared their toys. In the other case, it’s a tendency to consider ourselves as higher than we really are. It is this second that is called “the root of all sin.”
At its heart, then pride is a denial of true order. Thomas Aquinas defines Pride as an “inordinate desire of one’s own excellence”. Because it is a drive to be better than we are, pride can be a mask; the proud can easily convince themselves that they are good. All sins trick us, in some degree, into thinking they are good. But when they are aligned with pride, which makes us believe we are working towards our own excellence, they are much harder to avoid.
If we really are the top of everything, pride would not be a sin—to strive to be the greatest would always be proper. To hold ourselves as the standard of everything else would be correct.
If we’re not really the top of everything, if there is something greater than us—we’ve seen some hints of this truth already—then pride is one of the worst types of disintegration, one that uproots who we are. To believe we are what we are not… How can that do anything but limit our abilities to be happy?
The danger of pride
Many have talked about pride already, so I would like to focus on a key result of pride, a symptom that might keep us trapped in its barrenness forever. Pride teaches us to condemn love. Pride’s encouragement of our own self-opinion leads us to believe that we can judge love according to the standard that is us. We accept only the sorts of love that we choose.
In Alfred Hitchcock’s classic I Confess, Anne Baxter plays the well-married Ruth Grandfort, who is hopelessly in love with her old sweetheart, the now-ordained Fr. Michael Logan. She lives in great unhappiness for years, the unhappiness that comes of allowing pride to condemn love.
Pride attacks Madam Grandfort’s love in two ways: she scorns love that seems too great, and she rejects love that seems too small.
Scorning love as too great
It is surprising; why would pride scorn love that is too great? And yet it is the first problem we see in Ruth’s life. Her husband, Pierre Grandfort, confronts her about her love for Fr. Logan:
“I’m not going on like this.”
“You don’t have to,” she answers harshly.
He pauses. “What do you want me to do?”
“Whatever you wish.”
“Very simple, isn’t it? What does one do when one’s wife is in love with a priest?”
“You can leave me.”
He shakes his head. “How easily you can say that.”
She turns to him. “I’m not in love with you. I’ve never been in love with you.”
“But I never wanted to believe it.”
“That’s not my fault. I’ve never pretended anything with you.”
She herself is in a similar place with Fr. Logan, held by a love that has no hope of fulfillment. Some sort of sympathy would be appropriate, but she doesn’t offer any. Instead, she scorns Pierre’s hopeless predicament.
Is this not pride, to react so harshly? Pierre’s unrequited, unconditional love is more than she deserves, and is, therefore, misplaced. Her pride leads her to scorn the one offering it.
After all, pride drives her to believe that, if she works hard enough, she will eventually be worthy of such love. No wonder she doesn’t see it as the gift it is.
Rejecting love as too small
Second, pride teaches her to reject love that is less than she thinks she deserves, or that focuses on a part of herself that she considers less important. Following her argument with Pierre, she arranges to meet Fr. Logan on a ferry so that she can warn him of danger. He tells her she should protect herself and Pierre.
“Think of Pierre? Think of him before I think of you?” She shakes her head. “I haven’t changed, Michael. I’ve been married seven years, and I haven’t changed… You’re in love with me. You’ve always been in love with me. You haven’t changed. “
“Ruth,” Fr. Logan contradicts gently, “I’ve changed. You’ve changed too.” He looks seriously at her. “Ruth, do you understand? I chose to be what I am. I believe in what I am… I want you to see things as they are and not… And not go on hurting yourself.”
Her look hardens. “Don’t pity me. I… I shan’t bother you again.” With that, she leaves.
Her reaction is one of pride. Pride tells her Fr. Logan loves her the way she wants him to love her. It tells her that he’s only become a priest out of despair that he can’t have her. She can’t believe he could have turned to something more.
When she sees his pity, she rejects it, although it is a pity born of true care. Her pride leads her to be offended by it. If she’d been able to accept it, she might have begun healing from the wounds she has inflicted on herself all these years. Instead, she must go through the pain allotted to her by her pride.
The pity due to pride
Fr. Logan is right to pity her. Hers is a life that can’t accept unconditional love. Her pride has blinded her to her true state.
Pride is a place where we demand so much of ourselves that we cannot accept a gift freely offered, especially this greatest gift. We cannot see that we have impregnable faults, faults that we will never overcome. We can’t see that we will never deserve the only thing that could make us happy. And we certainly can’t accept anything less.
Pride eventually leads to the complete condemnation of love. And that’s when we should be pitied.
The good news
The good news is, pride isn’t a good principle to rally around because it doesn’t mesh well with our other principles. It ultimately brings us into conflict within ourselves and with the external world. Pride goeth before a fall.
Madam Grandfort’s fall comes in three parts. First, she has to tell the story of what happened between her and Michael, the story of her selfishness and weakness. But this by itself does not break her pride; she is doing it for Michael, and for him she could do anything.
Second, she discovers that her story did not save Michael. It only gave the police a possible motive. For the first time, she sees how her pride has adversely affected the one she loves. When she gives testimony at the stand, she struggles between her pride and her desire to help Fr. Logan. In the end, her testimony still harms his reputation.
The third part of her fall is relatively gentle. She witnesses Fr. Logan’s humility in the face of unjust treatment and comes to realize that it is based on his devotion to the truth of what he is. She can no longer believe he holds out love for her. It is humility and love of truth that inspire Ruth to finally let go.
She turns from him, even before she knows he will be safe, and says to her husband, “Pierre, take me home.”