As seminarians training for ministry in Christ’s Church, one of the greatest temptations we need to heed is that of pride. Or, more specifically, what the Church Fathers called “vainglory.” One dictionary defines vainglory as “inordinate pride in oneself or one’s achievements.” There will often be times when God uses his ministers in powerful ways — healing prayer ministry, celebrating the sacraments, church growth, sermons that help lead people to repentance and restoration. For this very reason, we must guard against the spirit of vainglory that would creep in and make us think we possess something that others do not have, or that heightens our dignity above others, or simply makes us feel special, or self-satisfied.
The Tractarians of the Oxford Movement took the moral life very, very seriously. As a young man, Edward Pusey – an Oxford Movement leader – was made canon of Christ Church and Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford in the same year. Such advancement in the ecclesial and academic world might lead one to think highly of oneself. But Pusey remained vigilant against the temptation of such vainglory, and lived an ascetic life. Today, I’d like to share some of his words with you. Striking words, but pertinent and powerful, especially for future clergy:
Know thyself. Pray God to show thee thyself. Bear in God’s light to see thyself, bared of all outward advantages, what thou thyself hast made thyself, what thou hast been, what thou art. By God’s grace, the sight will never again let thee be proud.
Keep ever present with thee the knowledge of thine own infirmity. Never seek praise, nor speak of any good in thee, except for some good end, nor say what may draw out praise. Yea, rather if it be useful to speak of thine own experience, it is best mostly to hide, in some true way, that it is thine own.
Do not even blame thyself, if it makes others think thee humble. Mistrust thyself in everything, and in the very least things, seek, whenever thou canst remember it, the help of God.
Be afraid of the praise of others. If there be good in thee, own it, at least, in thy heart, to be God’s, and think of thy evil and thy sins.
Take patiently any humiliation from others. It is a precious gift of God. ‘Humiliation is the way to humility, as patience to peace, reading to knowledge.’ If thou endurest not to be humbled, thou canst not be humble.
In all things, humble thyself under the Hand of God. Take all things, through whomsoever they come, from Him.
Do not excuse thyself, if blamed, unless respect or love, or the cause of truth and of God require it. It is more value to thee to detect one grain of fault in thyself, than to show to another that thou deservest not, as it were, a hundredweight of blame.
Be not careful to conceal any ignorance or fault in thee, unless it would hurt another to know that thou hast it.
Do willingly humble offices, humbly.
Give way to all, in all things in which thou mayest.