Pride (superbia) was the foundation of all sin in medieval piety and theology.  A concept well-established on the Bible and the Church Fathers, pride was the devil’s original sin. Augustine of Hippo explained that pride was the original sin of human beings and led to The Fall and its horrible consequences. Citing Ecclesiasticus 10:14-15  to demonstrate this theological teaching, he asserted that pride led the devil to tempt humanity out of envy. He appealed to humanity’s pride through the lie that they would be like gods. [Augustine, On Nature and Grace 33.29. Idem, City of God 12. 6.]

Augustine defined pride as the evil will from which the rebellious action against God’s commandment arose.  Pride, defined as the love of one’s own excellence, began as a voluntary choice to move away from the changeless Good (i.e., God) and to perversely exalt the self.   Augustine identified this self-centered exaltation as the main character trait of the community of sinful human beings.   [Augustine City of God 14. 13. Idem, De Genesi ad litteram 11. 14. 18] Pride Goes Before Destruction

Martin Luther followed this Augustinian (and biblical) theological tradition in his teaching.  This notion played a significant role in Luther’s (re)discovery of the doctrine of justification. In his lectures on Romans (1515-1516) identified pride as the cause of all evils. This vice is particularly dangerous because it allows presumptive individuals to trust in external obedience without humble faith in Christ. [Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans, LW 25:232-33]  Commenting on Romans 3:7, Luther asserted:

That “God is justified in His words” (Ps. 51:4) means that He is made just and true in His words or that His words are made just and true.  And this takes place in believing them, accepting them, and holding them as true and just.  The only thing that can resist this justification is pride of the human heart through unbelief.  For this pride does not justify but condemns and judges.  Therefore it does not believe His words, since it does not regard them as true. [LW 25:210]

In later commentaries, Luther addressed pride, particularly vainglory.  He believed that preachers could easily fall into this sin.  Referring to Augustine, Luther wrote that “pride is the mother of all heresies, indeed as both sacred and profane history testifies, it is the source of all sin and ruin.” [Luther, Lectures on Galatians, LW 27:97; Augustine, Reply to Faustus 22. 22]

When Dr. Luther preached on I Peter 5:5, he explained how pride led to the devil’s damnation and the fall of humanity.  Arrogance infects those in high office in church and state, particularly, those who possess natural abilities.  However, Luther points out how individuals in each station in life exhibit this sinful pride:

Prince and noble think that all the world is nothing compared to them.  Townsman and farmer, who puff their bellies because they have many gold coins, imagine that they have to defy everyone and do good to no one…it has come to the point that everyone wants to surpass others in defying and boasting; no one wants to submit to others; in addition, they think they have full right and authority to do it, as if they were not obliged to yield to anyone. [Martin Luther, Sermon for Epistle for the Third Sunday after Trinity, LW 78:100-101]




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.