St. Cyprian of Carthage: On Jealousy and Envy (Part 2)

In part 2 of this marvelous teaching, St. Cyprian continues to enlighten us on what impact jealously and envy can actually have on us:  “Why do you rush into the darkness of jealousy? Why do you enfold yourself in the cloud of malice? Why do you quench all the light of peace and charity in the blindness of envy? Why do you return to the devil, which you had renounced? Why do you stand like Cain? For that he who is jealous of his brother, and has him in hatred, is bound by the guilt of homicide.” 

St. Cyprian of Carthage

  1. 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 deserving 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 offence ceases when the violation is perpetrated; in the case of the robber, 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.
  2. Hence the threatening countenance, the lowering aspect, pallor in the face, trembling on the lips, gnashing of the teeth, mad words, unbridled revilings, a hand prompt for the violence of slaughter; even if for the time deprived of a sword, yet armed with the hatred of an infuriate mind. And accordingly the Holy Spirit says in the Psalms: Be not jealous against him who walks prosperously in his way. And again: The wicked shall observe the righteous, and shall gnash upon him with his teeth. But God shall laugh at him; for He sees that his day is coming. The blessed Apostle Paul designates and points out these when he says, the poison of asps is under their lips, and their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery is in their ways, who have not known the way of peace; neither is the fear of God before their eyes.
  1. The mischief is much more trifling, and the danger less, when the limbs are wounded with a sword. The cure is easy where the wound is manifest; and when the medicament is applied, the sore that is seen is quickly brought to health. The wounds of jealousy are hidden and secret. They do not admit the remedy of a healing cure, since they have shut themselves in blind suffering within the lurking-places of the conscience. Whoever you are that are envious and malignant, observe how crafty, mischievous, and hateful you are to those whom you hate. Yet you are the enemy of no one’s well-being more than your own. Whoever he is whom you persecute with jealousy, can evade and escape you. You cannot escape yourself. Wherever you may be, your adversary is with you; your enemy is always in your own breast; your mischief is shut up within; you are tied and bound with the links of chains from which you cannot extricate yourself; you are captive under the tyranny of jealousy; nor will any consolations help you. It is a persistent evil to persecute a man who belongs to the grace of God. It is a calamity without remedy to hate the happy.
  2. 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, Whosoever 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 strife 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 man of light, do those things which are Christ’s, because Christ is the Light and the Day.
  3. Why do you rush into the darkness of jealousy? Why do you enfold yourself in the cloud of malice? Why do you quench all the light of peace and charity in the blindness of envy? Why do you return to the devil, which you had renounced? Why do you stand like Cain? For that he who is jealous of his brother, and has him in hatred, is bound by the guilt of homicide, the Apostle John declares in his epistle, saying, whosoever hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has life abiding in him. And again: He that says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness even until now, and walks in darkness, and knows not whither he goes, because that darkness has blinded his eyes.1 John 2:9-11 Whosoever hates, says he, his brother, walks in darkness, and knows not whither he goes. For he goes unconsciously to Gehenna, in ignorance and blindness; he is hurrying into punishment, departing, that is, from the light of Christ, who warns and says, I am the light of the world. He that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. John 8:12 But he follows Christ who stands in His precepts, who walks in the way of His teaching, who follows His footsteps and His ways, who imitates that which Christ both did and taught; in accordance with what Peter also exhorts and warns, saying, Christ suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow His steps.1 Peter 2:21

12. We ought to remember by what name Christ calls His people, by what title He names His flock. He calls them sheep that their Christian innocence may be like that of sheep; He calls them lambs, that their simplicity of mind may imitate the simple nature of lambs. Why does the wolf lurk under the garb of sheep? Why does he who falsely asserts himself to be a Christian, dishonor the flock of Christ? To put on the name of Christ, and not to go in the way of Christ, what else is it but a mockery of the divine name, but a desertion of the way of salvation; since He Himself teaches and says that he shall come unto life who keeps His commandments, and that he is wise who hears and does His words; that he, moreover, is called the greatest doctor in the kingdom of heaven who thus does and teaches; that, then, will be of advantage to the preacher what has been well and usefully preached, if what is uttered by his mouth is fulfilled by deeds following? But what did the Lord more frequently instill into His disciples, what did He more charge to be guarded and observed among His saving counsels and heavenly precepts, than that with the same love wherewith He Himself loved the disciples, we also should love one another? And in what manner does he keep either the peace or the love of the Lord, who, when jealousy intrudes, can neither be peaceable nor loving?

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