Spontaneity, Piety, and Creeping Pride

Today I’m going to do something impulsive: I’m going to read Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain, which was on the reading list I made some years ago (more on this, perhaps, another time), at long last, even though I’m in the middle of David Copperfield (in the English novel category). I simply can’t interrupt any of the others, nor can I countenance interrupting a work in one language for a work in another.

Well, maybe French can trump German, but that’s not at issue here.

I read the following excerpt from Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain on Jennifer Fulweiler’s blog. I thought it a fitting pair to my inaugural post for this blog.

“The more I failed, the more I was convinced that it was important for me to have my work printed in magazines like The Southern Review or The Partisan Review or The New Yorker. My chief concern was now to see myself in print. It was as if I could not quite be satisfied that I was real until I could feed my ambition with these trivial glories, and my ancient selfishness was now matured and concentrated in this desire to see myself externalized in a public and printed and official self which I could admire at my ease. This was what I really believed in: reputation, success. I wanted to live in the eyes and the mouths and the minds of men.

“I was not so crude that I wanted to be known and admired by the whole world: there was a certain naïve satisfaction in the idea of being only appreciated by a particular minority, which gave a special fascination to this urge within me. But when my mind was absorbed in all that, how could I lead a supernatural life, the life to which I was called?”

This (and similar thoughts) is what I have meant when I have described, in letters and conversation, especially with my friend who is a Cistercian monk (as Merton was), and who has acknowledged privately to me that he too has sensed this danger; this result of long months and years of deliberate norms of piety and discipline, a heap of days of success in self-mastery, the result of achievement of profounder grades of the virtue of humility; this result that I call “creeping pride”.

For as soon as we become aware of our humility, straightaway it vanishes like the beloved of a dream, whose flesh does not softly resist the grasp of our vain fingers.

Thanks, dear reader, for goading me away from the vice of lassitude…to the vice of vanity!


About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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