Greed, or Avarice, is a disordered love of riches, an obsession with material wealth to the detriment of the virtues we are called to acquire and the commandments we are called to keep.
Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologiae, said this about the sin of Greed:
"[Greed] is a sin directly against one’s neighbor, since one man cannot over-abound in external riches without another man lacking them… It is a sin against God, just as all Mortal Sins, inasmuch as man contemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things."
Like the other Deadly Sins, Greed would have us trading off some eternal goodness for the sake of some temporal, unsatisfying reward. In our time, Greed is most exemplified by consumerism and workaholism. With both, we reduce the human person to a category of consumer or producer whose purpose is either to live out his life as a well-defined demographic and seek purpose and meaning from the material goods he can acquire, or else to seek purpose acquiring that material wealth through production. That is, man becomes defined by how much he can buy or how much he can sell.
About these pursuits, Christ spoke:
"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." (MATT 6:24, RSVCE)
Our purpose is to ultimately serve God, to pursue the virtues, which are attributes of God. Our purpose is to eventually live up to the divine ideal, to be the kind of men God intended us to be when He created us.
Mammon is greed personified as a demon, thought by St. Gregory of Nyssa to be another name for Beelzebub. It is an evil idol that distracts us from our real purpose.
But, of course, not all concern for money is an idol. Money is not an evil in and of itself, as we see in 1 Timothy 6:10 when Paul writes, "For the love of money is the root of all evil…" Not that money is the root of all evil, but the love of it, which is the Sin of Greed.
St. John Chrysostom in one of his homilies on Matthew wrote: "What he spoke was not condemning riches in themselves, but those who were enslaved by them."
Aquinas divides wealth into two primary categories: Natural Wealth and Artificial Wealth.
Natural Wealth is our basic necessities. Food, clothing, shelter. Artificial Wealth is a means by which we acquire Natural Wealth–that is, cash, coins, credit cards, etc. Natural Wealth is therefore limited. We only need so much shelter, so much food, so much clothing. Not just that we only need so much, but we can only handle so much.
Therein lies the real danger with Greed. The lustful man can reach satiation for a time, the glutton can become full, the drunk can pass out, the lazy man can only do so little. But the greedy man can never get his fill because Artificial Wealth has no limit. He’s always thinking of how much better off he’d be if he could acquire just 10% more than he already has.
The worship of material wealth may lead to dishonesty, cheating, or theft. But even if it doesn’t, it still leads to misery because it causes the acquisition of money and goods to take precedent over our two greatest commandments: to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We cannot love God or one another if we first and foremost love our material wealth.
So, how can we overcome Greed?
1. Love Thy Neighbor
Love your neighbor as much as yourself and you will acquire Greed’s corresponding virtue–Liberality. Liberality may also be thought of as open-handedness or charity. If your concern is with the well-being and success of your neighbor, then you will use your material wealth in pursuit of, not only your own well-being, but his also. You will be detached from material and temporal goods and, instead, oriented toward the eternal.
2. Love of God
Love of God leads to humility and value for the eternal things. It shines light on our real mission in this life, which is to acquire virtue and to help those around us also acquire it. God stores for us eternal treasure, which is more valuable than anything we can acquire now and which is more important to acquire altogether.
3. Corporeal and Spiritual Works of Mercy
This means knowing your purpose. This means knowing who you are. This means doing the work that absolutely inspires and drives you. By doing such meaningful activity, you begin to understand your allotted place in the cosmos and the divine intention for your life. If you accept your mission wholeheartedly, then you cannot serve another mission, which is, in this case, the acquisition of wealth.
4. Practice Real Freedom
The popular definition of freedom is having the ability to do whatever you want, and it’s false. Because "do whatever you want" typically means surrendering to your basest nature, to become overtaken with uncontrollable bodily passions.
That is slavery.
Real freedom is the ability to choose what is good over what is evil. Because our natural tendency is chaos and evil. It’s the easy thing to do because it leads to some temporal pleasure, but ultimately it leads to misery and death. Choosing the good is difficult. Choosing the good is sacrifice. Choosing the good hurts. The only freedom we have is in our ability to choose it.
Choose good over evil in every decision you have to make. Practice self-discipline. Sort yourself out and build yourself up.
5. Limit Consumption
Do not allow yourself to be defined as a demographic who is expected to buy this or that thing. That’s what I was getting at in the article, "Trucks & Manliness". The qualities we most wish to have cannot be bought, even if advertisers tell us their product will help us acquire them. They won’t. What we want is a depth of character, resilience, courage, honesty, masculinity. There is no material object that makes us acquire any of those. In fact, relying on some product to do so has precisely the opposite effect. It’s a weakness. It holds us back. If we think we can buy a good character, it just illustrates how far we are from achieving it.
Greed is ignoring the eternal for the temporal, as with all the Deadly Sins.
Focus on what is important.
Acquire first and foremost what matters in the end.
More from "The Seven Deadly Sins" series:
- Fighting Sloth: How to Acquire Diligence
- Fighting Envy: How to Acquire Contentedness
- Fighting Wrath: How to Acquire Patience
- Fighting Lust: How to Acquire Chastity
- Fighting Gluttony: How to Acquire Temperance
- Fighting Pride: How to Acquire Humility
- An Introduction to the Seven Heavenly Virtues
- Demarcating the Battlefield: An Introduction to the Seven Deadly Sins