"Men of high spirit endure offense nobly and willingly. But only the holy and the saintly can pass unscathed through praise."
St. John Climacus
Vainglory. I’ve been thinking of this a lot lately; it’s a word our culture doesn’t employ too much. Maybe we should. Maybe it would help to draw a more distinct line between self-esteem, confidence and dignity - which is good, and arrogance, vanity , vainglory and narcissism, which is bad. By definition, vainglory means “inordinate pride in oneself or one’s accomplishments; excessive vanity.” The opposite of vainglory is humility.
Maybe this is on my mind because I’m currently witnessing the negative effects of vainglory which is packaged up neatly in New Age philosophy through Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra and their ilk. The “enlightenment” of knowing thyself and listening to that voice within is not new. The terms are tweaked, Holy Scripture revised to tickle the ears of modern man and voilà, you have their bottom line: man is god. The idea is unoriginal and it’s disheartening to see how many still fall for this old lie. What was created as dignity morphs into vainglory:
“Vainglory cannot be killed; it strikes unseen by the victim, but is obvious to those around them who are often powerless to lend any assistance.” -Brian Price
The message of the Gospel is denying self in order to follow Christ; this is the only real freedom because ‘in Him we live and move and have our being’ (paraphrased from Acts 17). New Age philosophies appeal to that bedrock of our passions- desiring personal happiness & having what we want, now. This, of course, disregards anything or anyone who may get in our way. Oh,.. yeah, there’s also that little inconvenience of fact; when absolute truth is subjective, that child molester you read about in the news is justified. He’s just living out “his truth” after all. Drawing boundaries around morality includes various shades of gray.
As you can discern from my previous posts relating to chivalry, I view the ideals of the knight as closely related to life in Christ. As the knight denies self for the “higher good”, so I see the christian life. We lay down our passions - our gluttony, pride, lust, etc - in order to sink roots and blossom in this life. The fruits of which are love, peace, kindness, self-control, gentleness, patience, faithfulness and joy. One of the best articles I’ve ever read on the virtue of humility and the bane of vainglory comes not from a christian source, per se, but by Brian Price of the SCA: An Open Letter to Siobhan Medhbh O’ Roarke: On Humility.
Depicted in the artwork above is St. George.
For the purpose of this article, I think it's a great illustration of nobility suppressing vainglory.