"Excessive pride in or admiration of one's own appearance or achievements."
It is interesting to note that it may also mean emptiness according to the etymology of the term "vanity" coming from the Latin "vanus" (= emptiness / a void).
"Thou shalt not appear empty in the sight of the Lord." (Jesus Sirach 35:6)
Why the emptiness? It is because we have nothing to justify vanity with since all that matters is a gift from God, it is not our sole achievement:
"CANON I.-If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema. " ~Council of TrientWhat is so interesting about vanity? The Old Testament states:
For the bewitching of vanity obscureth good things, and the wandering of concupiscence overturneth the innocent mind. (Wisdom 4:12)
Vanity obscures good things. How does this relate to us today?
I believe that vanity is a big problem nowadays, especially amongst those who profess to be Christians. Many indeed "profess that they know God: but in their works they deny him" (Titus 1:16).
Let us look at the great number of self-proclaimed ministers and evangelists and the great discord between the different Christian denominations. If all were speaking truth and being truthful to the Gospel and to Sacred Tradition, then there should be unity: but there is not.
How can this be?
It seems quite plausible to me that to many "Christians" the message is only about God on the surface, but deep down it is about themselves, about self-glorification. Since if it were truly about God who is Truth, then most certainly there should be unity amongst those calling themselves Christians. And I do not mean a superficial unity, i.e. a pluralistic and relativistic "Church" (a "Hyper-Ecclesia" as a good friend of mine calls it). After all, truth does not oppose truth.
So what am I saying? I am saying that - in many cases - vanity is a major issue which prevents Christians from coming back to the doctrinal unity we all ought to have. We only have to check Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition and we would easily find out that all protestant denominations (including new-age "non-denominational" and revisionist groups) fall short and thereby cannot be the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has founded to which He promised indefectibility (Matthew 16:18) and perpetual existence without the lapse of a single day (Matthew 28:20).
This examination leaves us with the Catholic Church and the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches to choose from.
But before I continue, I will analyze the protestants first since I believe that the aforementioned statement - which basically accuses them of vanity - may not be well accepted.
First I would like to clarify that not all protestants are guilty of departing from the doctrines we have to follow for our salvation due to vanity. There is a large amount of Christians - of all types - that are ignorant of their own faith for the most part.
Now, I did say that doctrinal unity is necessary and that we have to follow certain doctrines, i.e. Sacred Tradition, for the sake of our salvation. This would be an idea that many protestants would oppose because of their understaning of the heretical man-made doctrine of "sola fide".
The Holy Bible teaches: "Take heed to thyself and to doctrine: be earnest in them. For in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee." (1 Timothy 4:16)
Yet for some odd reason, there will be those who will say the following:
"I follow noone, but Christ!"
"Doctrines are man-made, we do not need to obey them."
"Following doctrines is adding up to the sacrifice of Calvary and is thus evil."
"We should not be arguing about doctrines, but focusing on what unites us: faith in Jesus."
Now, I can say that the above statements are not simply made-up strawman arguments that I have malevolently created in my mind to speak against protestants: on the contrary, these statements are such that I have heard from protestants again and again when confronted with doctrinal issues that we are commanded to obey.
So we have an issue of disobedience here. How does this connect to vanity?
First let us remember that we are commanded to obey our prelates:
"Obey your prelates, and be subject to them. For they watch as being to render an account of your souls; that they may do this with joy, and not with grief. For this is not expedient for you." (Hebrews 13:17)
And then the New Testament gives us Christians a warning against disobedience and against those who wish to usurp ministerial authority not given to them by God - basically that sin which self-made ministers and evangelists are guilty of:
"Woe unto them, for they have gone in the way of Cain: and after the error of Balaam they have for reward poured out themselves, and have perished in the contradiction of Core." (Jude 1:7)
The important part in this quote is the "contradiction of Core". Notice it says that they "have perished"! Therefore, this is not an issue that Christians should simply set aside - as many protestants sadly do.
What did Core do? The Old Testament gives the answer:
"His sons, were Namuel and Dathan and Abiron. These are Dathan and Abiron the princes of the people, that rose against Moses and Aaron in the sedition of Core, when they rebelled against the Lord" (Numbers 26:9)
The original story is found in Numbers 16 though - a story I find extremely remarkable in its importance for Christianity's current situation:
1 And behold Core the son of Isaar, the son of Caath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiron the sons of Eliab, and Hon the son of Pheleth of the children of Ruben, 2 Rose up against Moses, and with them two hundred and fifty others of the children of Israel, leading men of the synagogue, and who in the time of assembly were called by name. 3 And when they had stood up against Moses and Aaron, they said: Let it be enough for you, that all the multitude consisteth of holy ones, and the Lord is among them: Why lift you up yourselves above the people of the Lord?
There are three things we have to note here:
1) The sin of these people who were so greatly punished by the Lord (Numbers 26:10) was that of disobedience. They rose up against the leadership of Moses and Aaron as instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ.
2) This disobedience against the earthly hierarchy set up by the Lord is understood as a rebellion against God Himself (Numbers 26:9).
3) The question "why lift you up yourselves above the people of the Lord" denoting a hatred for hierarchy and a false understanding of equality is the exact same attitude we get from protestants nowadays who criticize and oppose the Catholic Church!
Now we have to realize the nature of God's Church in terms of hierarchy:
"In the Old Testament, there was the high priest (Aaron, cf. Exo 28:3), the ministerial priests (Aaron’s sons, cf. Exo 28:40-41), and the universal priests (Israel, cf. Exo 19:6). The New Testament priesthood also has three offices: High Priest (Jesus Christ, cf. Heb 2:17; 3:1), ministerial priests (the ordained bishops and priests, cf. Rom 15:16; 1 Tim 3:1,8; 5:17; Titus 1:7), and the universal priests (all the faithful, cf. 1 Pet. 2:5,9; Rev. 1:6). The whole of salvation history evidences this hierarchy within the People of God."
Likewise we have the issue of the disobedience of the schismatic Eastern and Oriental Churches. They refuse to submit themselves to the supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff, the Pope who is the visible head of all Christians, the Vicar of the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ (John 21:15-17).
How does vanity relate to disobedience though?
I believe it is something in our sinful nature that seeks the glorification of onesself which leads to such rebellious and prideful attitude. We are to be like children, children are humble and obey their parents. However, when we seek to do things on our own so we can glorify ourselves with our own achievements, then this will certainly lead to a conflict with the virtue of humilty and obedience.
Many of "Christians" are guilty of using Christianity as a tool for their own fame. To them it is not really about the Truth anymore, but about their own popularity. Now, of course many start with good intentions. However, a wise proverb says "the road to hell is paved with good intentions".
Furthermore, we also have to see that vanity brings with itself bad fruits:
"A sinner is caught in his own vanity, and the proud and the evil speakers shall fall thereby."
(Jesus Sirach 23:8)
Just think about all the drama and false witness you will get from certain "Christians" that are not really about Sacred Tradition, but rather about the ideas they themselves have created and want to see imposed upon others. Instead of obedience to God and His Church, they want people to agree with or even obey them.
How can we know if someone is operating out of vanity and not out of truth?
There are a couple of things:
1) Does the person speaking of the Lord actually point to Christ or merely to His own interpretation of the Gospel and thereby ultimately to himself?
2) Does he teach obedience and the doctrines that we find in Sacred Tradition or does he rather say "read the Bible for yourselves and decide yourselves what is right and what is wrong"?
3) Does he appeal to the Church hierarchy or does he appeal to himself as his final authority?
4) Does the following seem true in regards to that person: "And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me." (Galatians 2:20)
5) Does his message lead to true doctrinal unity or a fake, superficial "unity"?
a lot of the aforementioned questions can be summarized in a single question:
Is the person Catholic or not?
That does not mean that Catholics cannot be guilty of vanity. In fact, I believe that some popular apologists have a harder time to grow in the virtue of humility and this certainly proves itself to be a problem.
However, it also means that - for the most part - I believe that non-Catholic "preachers" out there are guilty of disobedience due to vanity.
In the end, let us contemplate on the very words of our Lord Jesus Christ from the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 18:
3 And said: Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the kingdom of heaven.