Editor's note:

In her book Glittering Vices, author Rebecca DeYoung writes about envy and its destructive power:

“Why are we envious? Whom do we envy? And why does envy lead to such destructive impulses? While there is something ugly and malicious about envy—Gregory the Great lists anger as a vice that arises from it—there is obviously something self-destructive, self-hating about envy too. A poem by Victor Hugo recounts an opportunity granted to Envy and Avarice to receive whatever they wished, on the condition the other receive a double portion. Envy replied, ‘I wish to be blind in one eye.’ The envious person resents another person’s good gifts because they are superior to his or her own. It’s not just that the other person is better; it is that by their comparison their superiority makes you feel your own lack, your own inferiority, more acutely” (42).

Cyprian of Carthage joins us today to offer some thoughts on this vice and ways to guard against it.

—Renovaré Team

But what a gnawing worm of the soul is it, what a plague-spot of our thoughts, what a rust of the heart, to be jealous of another, either in respect of his virtue or of his happiness; that is, to hate in him either his own deservings or the divine benefits—to turn the advantages of others into one’s own mischief—to be tormented by the prosperity of illustrious men—to make other people’s glory one’s own penalty, and, as it were, to apply a sort of executioner to one’s own breast, to bring the tormentors to one’s own thoughts and feelings, that they may tear us with intestine pangs, and may smite the secret recesses of the heart with the hoof of malevolence. To such, no food is joyous, no drink can be cheerful. They are ever sighing, and groaning, and grieving; and since envy is never put off by the envious, the possessed heart is rent without intermission day and night. 

Other ills have their limit; and whatever wrong is done, is bounded by the completion of the crime. In the adulterer the offense ceases when the violation is perpetrated; in the case of the murderer, the crime is at rest when the homicide is committed; and the possession of the booty puts an end to the rapacity of the thief; and the completed deception places a limit to the wrong of the cheat. Jealousy has no limit; it is an evil continually enduring, and a sin without end. In proportion as he who is envied has the advantage of a greater success, in that proportion the envious man burns with the fires of jealousy to an increased heat. …

And therefore, beloved brethren, the Lord, taking thought for this risk, that none should fall into the snare of death through jealousy of his brother, when His disciples asked Him which among them should be the greatest, said, Who soever shall be least among you all, the same shall be great. He cut off all envy by His reply. He plucked out and tore away every cause and matter of gnawing envy.

A disciple of Christ must not be jealous, must not be envious. With us there can be no contest for exaltation; from humility we grow to the highest attainments; we have learned in what way we may be pleasing. And finally, the Apostle Paul, instructing and warning, that we who, illuminated by the light of Christ, have escaped from the darkness of the conversation of night, should walk in the deeds and works of light, writes and says, The night has passed over, and the day is approaching: let us therefore cast away the works of darkness, and let us put upon us the armor of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in lusts and wantonness, not in strifes and jealousy (Romans 13:12-13).

If the darkness has departed from your breast, if the night is scattered therefrom, if the gloom is chased away, if the brightness of day has illuminated your senses, if you have begun to be a person of light, do those things which are Christ’s, because Christ is the Light and the Day. …

Cast away all that malice wherewith you were before held fast, and be reformed to the way of eternal life in the footsteps of salvation. Tear out from your breast thorns and thistles, that the Lord’s seed may enrich you with a fertile produce, that the divine and spiritual cornfield may abound to the plentifulness of a fruitful harvest. Cast out the poison of gall, cast out the virus of discords. Let the mind which the malice of the serpent had infected be purged; let all bitterness which had settled within be softened by the sweetness of Christ.

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Excerpted from Cyprian’s Treatise 10: On Jealousy and Envy, via New Advent.