04 December 2011


The first step of pride is curiosity. You can recognize it by the following signs. You see a monk of whom you had thought well up to now. Wherever he stands, walks, sits, his eyes begin to wander: His head is lifted; is ears are alert. You can tell from his outward movements that the inner man has changed. "The worthless man winks with his eye, nudges with his foot, points with his finger" (Prov 6:12ff).  These unusual bodily movements show that his soul has fallen sick. He has grown careless about his own behavior. He wastes his curiosity on other people. "Because he is ignorant of himself, he must go out to pasture his goats" (Song 1:7).

The goats, of course, which signify sin, are rightly called eyes and ears: for just as death entered the world through sin, in the same way sin enters the mind through these windows. Therefore the curious man occupies himself pasturing these, while he does not care to know in what sort of a state he has left his inner self. And truly, oh man, if you should vigilantly attend to yourself, it is extraordinary if you should ever attend to anything else. Listen, curious man, to the words of Solomon; hear, oh foolish one, what Wisdom says. "With all defenses, it is said, guard your heart" (Prov 4:23): so that all of your senses may keep watch over that from which life proceeds. For to what do you retire, oh curious man? In the meanwhile to what do you commit yourself? Why do you dare to lift your eyes to the heavens — eyes that sin in the heavens? Look to the earth, so that you may think of yourself. It will show you to yourself, because you are earth and will pass into the earth.

Yet you might lift your eyes inculpably for two reasons: either so that you may ask for help, or out of devotion. David lifted his eyes to the mountains, so that he might implore aid (Ps 120:1): and the Lord raised them over the crowds, so that he might help them (John 6:5). The one did so wretchedly, the other mercifully — both inculpably. If, taking the time, the place and the occasion into consideration, you too lift up your eyes because of your brother's need, not only do I not blame you: I praise you greatly. For wretchedness excuses it, and mercy commends it. But if you lifted up your eyes for some other reason, then I would call you not an imitator of a prophet or of the Lord, but of Dinah or Eve, or even more so Satan himself. For when Dinah went out to pasture her goats she was snatched away from her father, and her virginity was taken away from her.  Oh poor Dinah! You wanted to see the foreign women (Gn 34:1)! Was it necessary? Was it profitable? Or did you do it solely out of curiosity? Even if you went out idly to see them, you were not idly seen. You looked curiously, but you were looked on with more than curiosity. Who would believe that your idle curiosity, or curious idleness, would not be idle in the future, but pernicious for you, and for your family, and even for your enemies?

And you, oh Eve! You were placed in paradise to work there and guard it with your husband (Gn 2:15), and if you had done what you were told you were to have passed to a better life in which you would not have to work or be concerned about guarding. Every tree of paradise was given to you to eat, except the one which was called the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gn 2:16). For if the others were good and tasted good (Gn2:9), what need was there to eat of the tree which tasted bad? "Do not know more than is appropriate" (Rom 12:3). For to taste what is evil is not sensible but senseless. Therefore protect what has been entrusted to you, expect what has been promised; avoid what has been prohibited, lest you lose what has been given to you. Why do you look so intently on your death? Why are you always glancing at it? What is the good of looking at what you are forbidden to eat?

"I reach out with my eyes, not my hands," you say. "I was not forbidden to look, only to eat. Can I not look where I like with the eyes God gave me?" To this the Apostle says, "Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is expedient" (1 Cor 6:12). Even if it is not a sin, it is a token of sin. For if the mind had had not been keeping insufficient watch over its own curiosity, curiosity would not have had empty time to fill. Even if it is not a sin, still it is the occasion of sin, and a sign of commission, and the cause of what is about to be committed. For when you are intent upon something, in the meanwhile the serpent slips secretly inside your heart, speaking seductively. He imprisons fear with lies, and reason with flatteries. "By no means will you die," he says (Gen 3:4). He adds to your cares while arousing your appetite; he provokes curiosity, while building up carnal desire. Finally he presents what is prohibited, and obtains submission: he holds out the apple, and snatches away paradise. You drink the venom and will die, and you are about to give birth to those who will also die. Salvation is destroyed, and you have not even finished giving birth. We are born, we die: and for this reason we are born dying: because we who are about to be born have died long ago. Therefore this heavy yoke falls upon all your sons, even up to the present day.

— St. Bernard of Clairvaux, De gradibus humilitatis et superbiae 
(revision of the G.R. Evans translation by me)