[E]very sinful act proceeds from inordinate desire for some temporal good. Now the fact that anyone desires a temporal good inordinately, is due to the fact that he loves himself inordinately; for to wish anyone some good is to love him. Therefore it is evident that inordinate love of self is the cause of every sin (Summa Theologica 77.4 respondeo).
To the objection that Scripture says, “For the love of money [literally covetousness] is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim 6:10), St. Thomas responds,
The desire of money is said to be the root of sins, not as though riches were sought for their own sake, as being the last end; but because they are much sought after as useful for any temporal end. And since a universal good is more desirable than a particular good, they move the appetite more than any individual goods, which along with many others can be procured by means of money(Summa Theologica I, IIae, 84, 1 ad 2).
In other words, “money” is desired as a means not an end, not for its own sake but as a means to indulge inordinate self-love. So, inordinate self-love is a deeper root than the love of money. Money is desired to facilitate and actualize the deeper problem.
St. Thomas goes on to show how the Capital Vices (sins) flow from inordinate self-love. What follows are my own reflections, based loosely on his.
• Pride (sometimes called vainglory) – We love our own apparent excellence more than the certain and greater excellence of God, or the excellence that may exist in others.
• Greed — We have an excessive and insatiable love of things due to our excessive love of ourselves and the perceived need to have these things for our sake.
• Lust — Out of excessive love of self and desire to please ourselves, we desire others for the pleasure they can give us, rather than loving them for their own sake.
• Anger — Our excessive self-love causes us to regard many things and people (including God) fearfully and then angrily, perceiving them as threatening. So we angrily and unrighteously resist them.
• Gluttony — Our excessive love of self causes us to satisfy our passion for food and drink beyond what is healthy in the long run, what is respectful of God, or what is generous to others.
• Envy — Our excessive self-love and egotism give us a sadness about the goodness or excellence of others because we perceive it as lessening our own share of praise or glory.
• Sloth — Our excessive love of self makes God seem to be a usurper of our life, our time, our opinions, or our pleasure. So we are sad about or avoid His plan for our happiness.
This, then, is the deepest root of all of our sin. We cannot simply blame the world or the devil, though they are not to be excluded either. But inordinate self-love is what gives the world and the devil easy access to us. This is the “button” they push for easy results.
This source of sin is a lot closer and far more subtle than we imagine. Only a greater love—the love of God—can conquer self-love. And thus the greatest commandment is this: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matt 22:37-40).
Indeed, and so does our healing hang on these two commandments. Ask for a greater love of God, a proper love of self, and the gift to love your neighbor with that same proper love.
Msgr. Charles Popeis the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, DC. He attended Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary and holds Masters degrees in Divinity and in Moral Theology. He was ordained in 1989 and named a Monsignor in 2005. He has conducted a weekly Bible Study in Congress and in the White House, for two and four years, respectively.
Reprinted with the permission of Msgr. Pope. Originally published on his blogon the website of the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.