Envy and Life

One locus of the devil’s great envy is the human ability to give life

I’m blessed to have the Rev. Paul Scalia as a pastor, in part because he inspires me with lines of theological thought I hadn’t considered. He did that last Sunday, with his reflections on the Gospel of the Vineyard Owner who pays all his workers a day’s wage.

Fr. Scalia developed the idea of envy from two perspectives: (1) that envy drives us to consider the good that God has given us not from its own intrinsic value but only by comparison to what He has given others, and (2) in doing so, measuring God by our standards of how we think He should apportion His graces. What was particularly striking about his thought, however, was its application to Satan.

We speak of Satan’s great sin as pride, which indeed it was, but it was a pride tinged by envy. “Through the devil’s envy death entered the world…” (Wis 2:24). And, as Fr. Scalia notes, one locus of the devil’s great envy is the human ability to give life.

God made us co-creators with Him. Every child who comes into this world is the result of a Trinitarian-like relation: man and woman in their sexual union and God, “the Lord and Giver of Life,” because man cannot create a soul. The soul which enters a human being at the moment of conception is God’s work, not the child’s parents.

And, as Fr. Scalia noted, God did not share such co-creatorship with the angels (and, therefore, by extension, the devils). “Satan can’t make more little Satans.”

Is it any wonder, then, that the devil envies this particular gift and blessing to man? This hybrid creature, man—with one foot in the spiritual world, one foot in the material world—shares with God the work of bringing persons into the world. Surely the devil also envies man’s other mode of fruitfulness: non-sexual love that fosters spiritual paternity. But the devil has no interest in love so, isolated in himself, he neither loves nor can be creative.

Isn’t that what he tempts men and women to be, self-interested and loveless? Aware of the great gift of procreation, is it not the devil’s particular envy to convince people that fertility has no inherent value, indeed, is even evil? That destroying one’s ability to share life is good, noble, even virtuous? That being closed in on oneself and one’s “fur babies” is infinitely preferable to going out of the self in love towards children? That learning to meet the needs of a demanding and squalling child teaches that horrible lesson of learning to serve? Is it not an envious lie to think procreation is only accidentally (and sometimes, unfortunately) connected to marriage, rather than seeing parenthood as God’s fullest crowning of married life and love, as if love is ideally not fulfilled in the sharing of life?

The French atheist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre claimed “l’enfer, c’est l’autre,” – hell is other people. That statement is both true and false. It’s fundamentally false, in that hell is a collection of solitary, self-centered monads, sterilely closed on themselves and incapable of love. Hell is not so much others as aloneness. What is true about Sartre’s claim is that the presence of others in hell is simply the occasion for mutual hate, mutual recrimination, and mutual abhorrence. But that mutual hate points to the fact that hell is first and foremost a state, not a place: hell was already present when Satan looked at God and declared “this cosmos isn’t big enough for You and me.”

That hatred of persons finds its reflection in the modern sexual revolution, with its calling contraception and sterilization virtues. It finds its “sacrament” in abortion because, as John 8:44 notes, the devil was a “murderer from the beginning.” Human existence was repugnant to Satan, and remains so. The paradox is that John also calls that “murderer” a “father.” Our society, in turn, wants to laud as “models” fathers and mothers who “affirm” the destruction of their minor child’s reproductive capacities, “parents” who destroys their own child’s possibility of parenthood.

The ultimate good that should bind human beings together is love. Love is a spiritual good. Spiritual goods do not diminish by division; loving more people doesn’t mean each gets less love. That is why the devil tempts people to measure the value of their blessing of fertility not by the measure of love but by material goods: if I spend money on a baby, I can’t take the kinds of vacations I might like. If we let “those kinds of people” or “those kinds of countries” reproduce, what will it mean for “our standard of living”? So, persons are reduced in value to things, measured and compared against each other. The idea that more people might actually enrich the world and expand the pool of even material goods is dismissed because that takes an act of faith, and some don’t want to risk their little piece of the pie on that.

Are we at all surprised that, as Our Lady said at Fatima, the great struggle between God and Satan will be over marriage and the family? Or that he who was first envious is the greatest promoter of the contemporary culture of death?


John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) was former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are exclusively his.

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