The general nature and history of Envy

November 14, 2021 • 3 min

From The Sinner’s Guide, page 353



Envy consists in grieving at another’s good or repining at another’s happiness.

The envious man looks with hatred upon his superiors who excel him, upon his equals who compete with him, upon his inferiors who strive to equal him.

Saul’s envy of David and the Pharisees’ envy of Christ could only be satisfied by death; for it is the character of this cruel vice to stop at nothing until it has compassed its end.

Of its nature it is a mortal sin, because, like hatred, it is directly opposed to charity. However, in this, as in other sins, there are degrees which do not constitute a mortal sin, as, for example, when hatred or envy is not grave, or when the will does not fully consent.

Envy is a most powerful, a most injurious vice. It is spread all over the world, but predominates particularly in the courts of kings and in the society of the rich and powerful.

Who, then, can be free from its attacks? Who is so fortunate as to be neither the slave nor the object of envy? From the beginning of the world history abounds with examples of this fatal vice.

It was the cause of the first fratricide which stained the earth, when Cain killed Abel. [Gen. iv.]

It existed between the brothers Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, and the latter fell a victim to the envy of the former.

Behold its effects in the brothers of Joseph, who sold him as a slave; [Gen. xxxvii.] in Aaron and Mary, the brother and sister of Moses. [Numbers xii.]

Even the disciples of our Lord, before the coming of the Holy Ghost, were not wholly free from it.

Ah! when we see such examples, what must we expect to find among worldlings, who are far from possessing such sanctity, and who are seldom bound to one another by any ties?

Nothing can give us an idea of the power of this vice or the ravages it effects. Good men are its natural prey, for it attacks with its poisoned dart all virtue and all talent.

Hence Solomon says that all the labors and industries of men are exposed to the envy of their neighbors. [Eccles. iv. 4.]

Therefore, you must diligently arm yourself against the attacks of such an enemy, and unceasingly ask God to deliver you from it. Let your efforts against it be firm and constant.

If it persevere in its attacks, continue to oppose an obstinate resistance, and make little account of the unworthy sentiments it suggests.

If your neighbor enjoy a prosperity which is denied you, thank God for it, persuaded that you have not merited it or that it would not be salutary for you.

Remember, moreover, that envying the prosperity of others does not alleviate your own misery, but rather increases it.

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