A Pride So Great

“The third reason [for Christ’s advent] is for our advantage, so that [Christ] would make satisfaction for the first lie. Moreover, that lie was a pride so great that the man (homo) might lift up himself in the mind even to equality with God. Indeed, while opposites are cured by opposite things, it is necessary that in order to make satisfaction for this pride some important man had to be brought down from the height of divinity even to the humility of a man.  No one could do this unless he was God and man.  For that reason, God became a man.” Ralph Ardent, Homilia X: In natali Domini, PL 155:1700. [my translation]

Ralph Ardent was a scholastic theologian and regular canon of the second half of the twelfth century and the early thirteenth century.  He left a large collection of sermons that reflect his theological education.  In this sermon on the birth of Christ, he explains four reasons for why Jesus came down from heaven and became a human being.  In this quote, Ralph describes the third of four reasons: the advantage or use for sinful humanity.  The first lie is the serpent’s lie to Eve: ” You shall not die you shall be as gods.”  Pride falsely convinced humans that they could ascend to be like God.  The only cure for human pride is its opposite: divine humility.

Following the Augustinian tradition  medieval theologians focused on the contest between devilish pride and divine humility. Pride led to the devil’s fall from heaven and humanity’s fall into sin.  Medieval artists also depicted the triumph of humility over pride as in this stained glass window found in a museum in Freiburg im Breisgau (Germany).  Check out another example here: Humility Overcomes Pride

Most likely, Ralph used earlier scholastic writings for his sources, like Peter Lombard’s Sentences.  Lombard’s work became the standard theological text in the Western Catholic Church.  Peter Lombard wrote the following on Christ’s humility as the means to overcome the devil’s pride and thereby redeem humanity:

“But did he, through his death, redeem us from the devil and sin, and open to the entrance to glory? God decreed ‘in a mystery,’ as Ambrose says, that man, because of the first sin, should not be allowed into paradise, that is, should not be admitted to the contemplation of God, unless so much humility should be found in one man which might suffice for all who follow him, just as in the first man was found such pride as to harm all who followed him.  Among men, none was found through whom this might be fulfilled, except the lion of the tribe of Juda, who opened the book and broke the seals, fulfilling all justice in himself, that is, the most complete humility, than which there can be no greater.  Other men were debtors, and each one’s virtue and humility was scarcely sufficient for himself.  And so none of them could offer a sacrificial victim sufficient for our reconciliation.  But the man Christ was sufficient and perfect victim; he was much more humbled in tasting the bitterness of death than Adam had become proud in his guilty pleasure through eating of the forbidden tree.  And so,  the latter’s pride was ruin to all, expelling him from paradise and closing its doors to others, much more able was Christ’s humility, by which he tasted death, to open the entrance of the heavenly kingdom to all who follow him, by the fulfillment of God’s decree, for it cancelled the chirograph of the decree.“** Peter Lombard, The Sentences, Book 3,  Distinction xviii, chap. 5. 2 (54)., translated by Giulio Silano (Toronto, 2008), pp. 76-77

*Bold print is added

**Colossians 2:14 (Italics in the original)

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