What then is envy? Envy has been defined as “sorrow over another’s good insofar as it impedes one’s own excellence.” Aquinas says, “Envy is felt when someone is sorry that his neighbor possesses good things which he does not have.” Envy is a sorrow that leads to hatred.
When we feel this sorrow at others’ blessings, we can end up refusing to contribute to our neighbor or even hating them. Envy gives birth to hatred because an envious person does not stop with jealousy toward another, and that jealousy can lead to harming the other or wishing them harm.
Acedia is sadness at the divine goodness or at life itself, while envy’s sadness is more anthropocentric: It is toward one’s neighbor’s goodness. Obviously, they feed each other. An ill-directed or unattended first chakra, one where sadness is not healed by some cosmic joy, will contaminate the seventh chakra as well which is where envy flourishes.
Envy is born of hurt and hatred and injustice. This is all the more reason why societies must pay attention early to injustice, for without justice visible and active the human heart will settle for resentment. Envy breeds resentment and resentment, as we have seen, can lead to war and hatred, scapegoating and projection.
Resentment provokes—it provokes people and tribes and nations and groups to anger, bitterness, rancor, ill will, indignation, ire, rage, animosity, fury, wrath, vengeance, hostility, hatred, antagonism, revenge. We see this in Putin’s war against Ukraine today. Like a cancer, resentment festers and grows, often under wraps, and hides until one day it explodes into the light of day. Many a killer has operated out of resentment, from the recent mass shootings in Buffalo and an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, to perhaps the king of them all, Hitler.
Traditionally, it is said that the devil rides the waves of envy. Hildegard of Bingen represents this tradition when she teaches that “the devil does all his work out of envy and begrudges men obtaining the highest blessedness.”
Envy is in some ways more powerful than hatred for it feeds hatred and gives birth to it and it is more subtle than hatred. Hatred tends to be more out in the open than envy; it is as if people are more ashamed of their envy than of their hatred and so they keep it in where it rankles and rots, decays and putrefies, all the time seeping bile into the imagination, which works it over and over until it gives birth to shadowy beings that incarnate it. Often they come into existence by way of projections. Traditionally these beings have been called demons.
To be continued
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, pp. 362f.
To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.
Banner Image: White supremacists chant “You will not replace us/Jews will not replace us” at the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally, 2017. Photographer unknown, from Twitter via Reddit.
Queries for Contemplation
Do you see Envy playing a large role in today’s crises from climate change to war to patriarchal misogyny and authoritarianism and more?