Tag Archives: James 3:16

Sunday Devotional: Narcissism, the first and greatest sin

James 3:16

Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist,
there is disorder and every foul practice….

Mark 9:30, 33-35

Jesus and his disciples…came to Capernaum
and, once inside the house,
he began to ask them,
“What were you arguing about on the way?”
But they remained silent.
They had been discussing among themselves on the way
who was the greatest.
Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them,
“If anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”

The above two Scripture readings are both warnings about Narcissism, the excessive love of self that expresses itself as selfishness, self-preoccupation, entitlement, and pride. The latter is “an excessively high opinion of oneself; conceit; arrogance” and as such, is rooted in an excessive love-of-self, which is narcissism.

Indeed, in a recent interview, Father Juan José Gallego, the exorcist for the archdiocese of Barcelona, Spain, says the Devil’s favorite sin is pride. C.S. Lewis, too, called pride “the great sin” and wrote that “it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”

In Sin of the Angel, Thomistic philosopher Jacques Maritain more fully described what happened.

According to Maritain, the instant after an Angel is created, he must choose either to love God more than himself, or he refuses the grace with which he initially was gifted and elects to love his own self more. In the case of Lucifer, the second choice was made. By “a disordered act of the will—knowing that he does evil and willing evil”—Lucifer falls in love with himself, despite knowing full well God is infinitely greater than all created beings, such that every similarity he may have with God “fades before the dissimilarity.” Furthermore, Lucifer also perfectly understands that he must love God above all, a love that requires him to submit his will at “whatever sacrifice it may impose on a creature’s nature.”

Despite knowing all that, Lucifer still selects to love “without measure” his own grandeur and, in so doing, effectively elevates himself to be “like God.”

The sin of narcissism of Lucifer, therefore, was the very first sin. It was also the sin of our first parents.

After God created the first man and woman, Genesis recounts, they were settled in “a garden eastward in Eden,” an earthly paradise that amply provided for their needs, being lush with “every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food.” Our first parents were told they were free to eat from any of the trees save one, the tree of knowledge of good and bad. But God counseled them in no uncertain terms that if they were to disobey his command, they “shalt surely die.”

But the Devil appeared in the form of a serpent and said to Eve, “You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad.”

The sin of Adam and Eve was thus more one of pride than of simple disobedience. Imagine the overweening conceit that could prompt creatures to breach the explicit command of their Creator—that inconceivably awesome being who made the universe, who is the uncaused cause, the alpha and the omega, omniscient, omnipotent, infinite, with no beginning and no end.
James 3:16 warns that “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice,” as seen in the consequences of Lucifer’s and our first parents’ sins.

We are familiar with the consequences of Adam and Eve’s Fall. In the case of Lucifer, Maritain observed that when the seraphim commits his first sin, “his interior order would have been shattered.” Henceforth, “he has no rule other than himself; and an endless proliferation of all sorts of other sins would have followed thereafter.” Truly, as Ecclesiasticus 10:13 records, “pride is the beginning of sin.”

And so, from his first sin of grandiose narcissism, other sins rapidly followed: pride, deception, envy, contempt, and eventual rebellion. Coveting God’s powers and perquisites, Lucifer is consumed with jealousy because, notwithstanding his own magnificence, he knows how little he is in comparison with his Creator. Towards the remaining angels who freely choose fidelity to their Creator, Lucifer has only disdain, holding himself to be “better than the other Angels, whose obedience he contemns.” And so Lucifer rebels. For as Milton explained in Paradise Lost, “To reign is worth ambition though in Hell: Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.”

Both Maritain and Thomas Aquinas emphasized that in choosing evil “in full light,” Lucifer reveals to us the frightening and infinite power of free will. Having elected evil with complete knowledge, the seraphim has no excuse for his disobedience and accordingly is denied redemption. Nor does he ask for forgiveness: Having made his choice, he harbors no regrets. As Maritain put it, once the angel loses his innocence, “he does nothing but sin” and, in so doing, “freely fixes himself in evil.”

But like all narcissists, Lucifer’s choice to love himself more than God condemns himself to misery. As Milton so perfectly captured it: Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell.”

And what’s the antidote to narcissism?

The antidote is the Greatest Commandment of all:

To love God with our whole heart, our whole mind, our whole soul, and with all our strength.

For this is how much He loves us, wretched little beings that we are:

May the peace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you!

~Éowyn

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