The Horse of Self-Esteem

“Of the unclean demons, some tempt man in so far as he is a man, while others disturb him in so far as he is a non-rational animal. The first…suggest to us notions of self-esteem, pride, envy or censoriousness…whereas the second…arouse incensive power and desire in a manner contrary to nature.”
-Evagrios the Solitary, “On Discrimination”, Chap. 19

Evagrios makes an interesting distinction between the two paths of attack demons use, the “rational” and the “animal”. Much of his advice in preceding chapters focuses on mastery of our animal-like appetite for excess—whether that is for food, beer, money, or possessions.

While the devil often tempts us through these things, I wonder if the hierarchy Evagrios uses here of first and second is intentional. After all, it was the sin of pride that caused God to hurl Lucifer from heaven and pride (“you can be like God”) the led to The Fall.

C.S. Lewis has a great passage on pride:

“There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. I have heard people admit that they are bad-tempered, or that they cannot keep their heads about girls or drink, or even that they are cowards. I do not think I have ever heard anyone who was not a Christian accuse himself of this vice. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves.”
-CS Lewis – Mere Christianity

As rational human beings we tend to be alarmed when we briefly loose control, yet have a huge blind spot to pride in our life with others and with God. In my own life, I can easily look back over a day and remember times when I sinned through my “animal” nature. Perhaps my anger rose up quickly and I snapped at my wife or cut someone off in traffic. It is much more difficult to think about where pride or envy motivated my actions through the day.

It’s even likely that this process of looking for sin in my day fills me with pride in how “good” I am becoming. As I learn to repel the demons of lust or anger, the devil can all the while be stroking my pride and destroying my relationship with our Savior even more efficiently.

Because of the nature of pride, the warning of Evagrios against the demons of intellect seems particularly aimed at those pursuing a life of stillness with God. As we move forward in our walk with Christ and (Lord willing) see behaviors that have crippled our walk with Him fall away, how will we react? Do I walk a little higher, proud that I’ve managed to “get my life together”, or do I humbly acknowledge that it’s only through the power of Christ that I am able to get up each day?

As we at the House of St. Michael pursue stillness and knowledge of God, let us closely interrogate our response to the victories Christ wins in our lives. The “horse of self-esteem” stands waiting for us to mount—let us instead choose to kneel in thanks at the foot of the cross.

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