St. Cyprian of Carthage: On Jealousy and Envy (Part 1)

Hieromartyr Cyprian of Carthage (200-258) was the leading Bishop of the Church of Africa during the mid-third century. He lived at a time when to be a Christian would mean persecution and to be a leader often carried a death sentence. He was both imprisoned and executed for refusing to worship the false gods of his day. He is a voice well worth hearing on any subject. He was martyred by being beheaded during the persecution of Emperor Valerian. His Feast Day is August 31st.

St. Cyprian of Carthage

  1. To be jealous of what you see to be good, and to be envious of those who are better than yourself, seems, beloved brethren, in the eyes of some people to be a slight and petty wrong; and, being thought trifling and of small account, it is not feared; not being feared, it is treated with contempt; being treated with contempt, it is not easily shunned: and it thus becomes a dark and hidden mischief, which, as it is not perceived so as to be guarded against by the prudent, secretly distresses incautious minds. But, moreover, the Lord bade us be prudent, and charged us to watch with careful solicitude, lest the adversary, who is always on the watch and always lying in wait, should creep stealthily into our breast, and blow up a flame from the sparks, magnifying small things into the greatest; and so, while soothing the unguarded and careless with a milder air and a softer breeze, should stir up storms and whirlwinds, and bring about the destruction of faith and the shipwreck of salvation and of life. Therefore, beloved brethren, we must be on our guard, and strive with all our powers to repel, with solicitous and full watch-fullness, the enemy, raging and aiming his darts against every part of our body in which we can be stricken and wounded, in accordance with what the Apostle Peter, in his epistle, forewarns and teaches, saying, Be sober, and watch; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goes about seeking anyone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8
  2. He goes about every one of us; and even as an enemy besieging those who are shut up (in a city), he examines the walls, and tries whether there is any part of the walls less firm and less trustworthy, by entrance through which he may penetrate to the inside. He presents to the eyes seductive forms and easy pleasures, that he may destroy chastity by the sight. He tempts the ears with harmonious music, that by the hearing of sweet sounds he may relax and enervate Christian vigor. He provokes the tongue by reproaches; he instigates the hand by exasperating wrongs to the recklessness of murder; to make the cheat, he presents dishonest gains; to take captive the soul by money, he heaps together mischievous hoards; he promises earthly honors, that he may deprive of heavenly ones; he makes a show of false things, that he may steal away the true; and when he cannot secretly deceive, he threatens plainly and openly, holding forth the fear of turbulent persecution to vanquish God’s servants— always restless, and always hostile, crafty in peace, and fierce in persecution.
  1. Wherefore, beloved brethren, against all the devil’s deceiving snares or open threats, the mind ought to stand ready and armed to repel as the foe is ever ready to attack. And since those darts of his which creep on us in concealment are more frequent, and his more hidden and secret hurling of them is the more severely and frequently effectual to our wounding, in proportion as it is the less perceived, let us also be watchful to understand and repel these, among which is the evil of jealousy and envy. And if anyone closely looks into this, he will find that nothing should be more guarded against by the Christian, nothing more carefully watched, than being taken captive by envy and malice, that none, entangled in the blind snares of a deceitful enemy, in that the brother is turned by envy to hatred of his brother, should himself be unwittingly destroyed by his own sword. That we may be able more fully to collect and more plainly to perceive this, let us recur to its fount and origin. Let us consider whence jealousy arises, and when and how it begins. This type of mischievous evil can be shunned by us when both the source and the magnitude of that evil are understood by us.
  2. From this source, even at the very beginnings of the world, the devil was the first who both perished (himself) and destroyed (others). He who was sustained in angelic majesty, he who was accepted and beloved of God, when he beheld man made in the image of God, broke forth into jealousy with malevolent envy— not hurling down another by the instinct of his jealousy before he himself was first hurled down by jealousy, captive before he takes captive, ruined before he ruins others. While, at the instigation of jealousy, he robs man of the grace of immortality conferred, he himself has lost that which he had previously been. How great an evil is that, beloved brethren, whereby an angel fell, whereby that lofty and illustrious grandeur could be defrauded and overthrown, whereby he who deceived was himself deceived! Thenceforth envy rages on the earth, in that he who is about to perish by jealousy obeys the author of his ruin, imitating the devil in his jealousy; as it is written, But through envy of the devil death entered into the world. Therefore they who are on his side imitate him.
  3. Hence, in fine, began the primal hatreds of the new brotherhood, hence the abominable fratricides, in that the unrighteous Cain is jealous of the righteous Abel, in that the wicked persecutes the good with envy and jealousy. The rage of envy prevailed so that that even the love of his brother, the immensity of the crime, the fear of God, or the penalty of the sin, were considered. He was without any righteousness struck down who had been the first to show righteousness; he endured hatred who had not known how to hate; he was impiously slain, who, dying, did not resist. Esau was hostile to his brother Jacob because of jealousy also. Jacob had received his father’s blessing and Esau was inflamed to hatred by the brands of jealousy. Joseph was sold by his brethren and the reason of their selling him proceeded from envy. When in simplicity, and as a brother to brethren, he set forth to them the prosperity which had been shown to him in visions, their malevolent disposition broke forth into envy. Moreover, that Saul the king hated David, so as to seek by often repeated persecutions to kill him— innocent, merciful, gentle, patient in meekness— what else was the provocation save the spur of jealousy? Because, when Goliath was slain, and by the aid and condescension of God so great an enemy was routed, the wondering people burst forth with the suffrage of acclamation into praises of David, Saul through jealousy conceived the rage of enmity and persecution.
  1. Considering which things, beloved brethren, let us fortify our hearts with vigilance and courage dedicated to God against such a destructiveness of evil. Let the death of others avail for our safety; let the punishment of the unwise confer health upon the prudent. Moreover, there is no ground for anyone to suppose that evil of that kind is confined in one form, or restrained within brief limits in a narrow boundary. The mischief of jealousy, manifold and fruitful, extends widely. It is the root of all evils, the fountain of disasters, the nursery of crimes, and the material of transgressions. Thence arises hatred, thence precedes animosity. Jealousy inflames avarice, in that one cannot be content with what is his own, while he sees another wealthier. Jealousy stirs up ambition, when one sees another more exalted in honors. When jealousy darkens our perceptions, and reduces the secret agencies of the mind under its command, the fear of God is despised, the teaching of Christ is neglected, and the Day of Judgment is not anticipated. Pride inflates, cruelty embitters, faithlessness prevaricates, impatience agitates, discord rages, anger heats-up; nor can he who has become the subject of a foreign authority any longer restrain or govern himself. By this the bond of the Lord’s peace is broken; by this is violated brotherly charity; by this truth is adulterated, unity is divided; men plunge into heresies and schisms when priests are disparaged, when bishops are envied, when a man complains that he himself was not rather ordained, or disdains to suffer that another should be put over him. Hence the man who is haughty through jealousy, and perverse through envy, kicks, hence he revolts, in anger and malice the opponent, not of the man, but of the honor.
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