“For God formed us to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made us. But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are allied with him experience it.” – Wisdom 2: 23-24

Envy operates in a heinous and subtle manner. Its wickedness is hidden, and it originates from the devil. In envy, the devil was the first to perish himself, and in envy, he now seeks to destroy Man. This is an unfortunate turn of events, as he was initially in the words of St Cyprian of Carthage, “sustained in angelic majesty, he who was accepted and beloved of God, when he beheld man made in the image of God, broke forth into jealousy with malevolent envy – not hurling down another by the instinct of his jealousy before he himself was first hurled down by jealousy, captive before he takes captive, ruined before he ruins others. While, at the instigation of jealousy, he robs man of the grace of immortality conferred, he himself has lost that which he had previously been.”

The saints were no stranger to the malice and poison of envy. The monks in the monastery that St Benedict headed, became envious at his ability to preach and convert souls, so much so that they took it to their heads to poison St Benedict’s cup of wine. However, as St Benedict said his customary blessing before partaking of his food, the poisoned goblet shattered, spilling the poison it held within, and he was spared. St. Alexander was elected to the See of Alexandria, but his election caused much unhappiness in Arius, a priest who while having an exterior show of virtue, contrived means to tear the reputation of St. Alexander down. This culminated to a point, when Arius managed to gain a following with erroneous teaching and doctrine, in direct opposition to the sound doctrine taught by St. Alexander. Arius’ envy led to the propagation of the Arianism heresy where he denied that Christ was truly God. St Louis Marie de Montfort was doing amazing work with the sick and the poor at La Rochelle. Unfortunately, the Jansenists who were jealous of his success, instigated members of St Louis’ community to poison him. He henceforth suffered weak health from that venomous plot, and until the day he died at an early age, never quite recovered.

According to St. Basil, “Envy is distress caused by your neighbor’s prosperity.  The jealous person is never free from anguish, never free from despair.” Often the person who envies buries his envy deep in his soul, and wishes it to be hidden. The envious man is embarrassed to reveal the envy rotting his soul and to admit to himself, ‘I am resentful and bitter,” “I am depressed by the joy of my brother,” “My neighbour’s good fortune is my affliction.”

The cure he seeks for the misery of his envy is waiting for his neighbour to fall on hard times.  St Basil warns, the envious waits for his more fortunate neighbour to be “deprived of his happiness, to become an object of pity.” St Basil teaches us, “Envy is the form of hatred that is the hardest to tame.  While acts of kindness may soothe those who might otherwise be our enemies, this same kindness shown to the envious and malicious person irritates him even more.  The more he is shown kindness, the more indignant and displeased and disgusted he becomes.”

In Scripture, Cain becomes envious of the favour God shows Abel and kills him (Genesis 4); King Saul was handpicked by God as His anointed king. According to Scripture, Saul was exceedingly handsome, tall, well-built. “There was no other Israelite handsomer than Saul; he stood head and shoulders above the people” (1 Samuel 8:2). However, Saul failed to see his own giftings. His eyes turned constantly to look at David, whom he perceived as being more favoured than him. His jealousy possessed him, turned into envy, and he sought to kill David (1 Samuel 18).

Envy is such a serious sin, that God Himself gave commandment to guard against it in the Tenth Commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour” (Exodus 20:17) St. Augustine saw envy as “the diabolical sin – From envy are born hatred, detraction, calumny, joy caused by the misfortune of a neighbour, and displeasure caused by his prosperity” (CCC. 2539) The tenth commandment requires that envy be banished from the human heart (CCC. 2538)

There are some strategies which may be deployed to help us conquer Envy and its deathly effects. The first recommended by Pope Francis, is to have a heart filled with gratitude, rather than having a heart that is filled with “vinegar” instead “of blood”. It is important and fitting to combat Envy with gratitude and with thanksgiving. As Pope Francis exhorts, “When I am jealous, I must say to the Lord: ‘Thank you, Lord, for you have given this to that person.”

The second is to remember that we are Jesus’ body “which nothing and no one can snatch from Him and He covers with all His passion and love, just like a bridegroom with His bride.”

The third, is to recall what happened in the time of St. Paul in Corinth and to ask the Holy Spirit to help us to appreciate the giftings of others. The community of Corinth experienced “divisions, jealousies, misunderstandings and marginalisation.” Instead of “building and helping the Church to grow as the Body of Christ,” he said, these difficulties “shatter it into many pieces, they dismember it. And this also happens in our day.” These same divisions which exist in in our own neighbourhoods, he said, work to dismember us. “It is the beginning of war. War does not begin on the battlefield: war, wars begin in the heart, with this misunderstanding, division, envy, with this fighting among each other.” (Catholic News Agency, 22 October 2014)

St Cyprian of Carthage makes some salient points in his treatise on envy:

“Whoever you are that are envious and malignant, observe how crafty, mischievous, and hateful you are to those whom you hate. Yet you are the enemy of no one’s well-being more than your own. Whoever he is whom you persecute with jealousy, can evade and escape you. You cannot escape yourself. Wherever you may be, your adversary is with you; your enemy is always in your own breast; your mischief is shut up within; you are tied and bound with the links of chains from which you cannot extricate yourself; you are captive under the tyranny of jealousy; nor will any consolations help you. It is a persistent evil to persecute a man who belongs to the grace of God. It is a calamity without remedy to hate the happy.”

St. Cyprian continues: “And therefore, beloved brethren, the Lord, taking thought for this risk, that none should fall into the snare of death through jealousy of his brother, when His disciples asked Him which among them should be the greatest, said, ‘Whoever shall be least among you all, the same shall be great’. (Luke 9:48) He cut off all envy by His reply. He plucked out and tore away every cause and matter of gnawing envy. A disciple of Christ must not be jealous, must not be envious. With us there can be no contest for exaltation; from humility we grow to the highest attainments; we have learned in what way we may be pleasing.”

A way out and a means to fight against the snare of envy is rooted in humility. When we remember that all that we have are not our own, but are in fact gifted to us by the Lord God, and that we are actually nothing without His grace. St. John the Evangelist, patron saint against Jealousy, pray for us!

By Brian Bartholomew Tan


  1. Catechism of the Catholic Church
  2. John A. Byrne, The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Volume 2
  3. St Pachomius Orthodox Library
  4. Zenit.com
  5. Catholic News Agency
  6. St Basil the Great, “Homily on Envy,” In On Christian Doctrine and Practice, Popular Patristics Series, translated by Mark DelCogliano (New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2012), pp. 132-140.

7. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.)