What Is the Deepest Root of Sin? It’s Not in Your Wallet and It’s Much Closer Than You Might Think

“Mirror baby”. Licensed underCC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

In polling friends as to what they think is the deepest root of all sin, I got three main answers. One was a shrug indicating no answer at all (i.e., “I dunno”). Another was to refer to Scripture: For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils (1 Tim 6:10). I’ll discuss below why this is an inadequate answer. The third main response was that original sin (and the concupiscence that followed) is the source of all of our other sins. The only problem with that answer is that it doesn’t explain Adam and Eve’s (original) sin, nor does it explain the fall of the angels, who seem to have fallen in great numbers without original sin or concupiscence and are now demons. Therefore an even deeper root must be sought.

Referencing St. Thomas Aquinas and Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, permit me to answer that the deepest root of all sin is inordinate self-love. From this root springs all sin, including the original sin of Adam and that of the angels. It is true that our fallen condition has intensified the problem of inordinate self-love, but the possible temptation to it was there before.

For to what else did Satan appeal when he said to Eve, and you will be like God (Gen 3:5)? And indeed, by what were Lucifer and all the other fallen angels tempted when they mysteriously rebelled and, in effect, declared their non serviam (I will not serve)? Adam and Eve as well as all the angels (though sinless and not fallen) chose to love themselves more than God. They would not love or trust God more than they loved themselves. For the angels it was a “one and you’re done” decision. For us, the drama continues, but will end with our definitive and lasting decision either to love God or to love our own self more.

The inordinate love of self is the most fundamental root of all sin. We all know its power and its pernicious quality. Even the most wonderful things we do are tainted when we do them more for personal praise and glory than for love of God and neighbor.

Let me summarize a few insights from Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange. He begins from Scripture.

From inordinate self-love, the root of every sin, spring the three concupiscences which St. John speaks of when he says: “For all that is in the world is the concupiscence of the flesh and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but of the world” (1 John 2:16).

The concupiscence of the flesh is the inordinate desire of what is, or seems to be, useful to the preservation of the individual and of the species, [Gluttony and Lust] … Voluptuousness can thus become an idol …

The concupiscence of the eyes is the inordinate desire of all that can please the sight: of luxury, wealth, money … From this is born avarice [greed]. The avaricious man ends by making his treasure his god, adoring it and sacrificing everything to it: his time, his strength, his family, and sometimes, his eternity …

The pride of life is the inordinate love of our own excellence … [from this is born pride, anger, envy, and sloth]. [He who has pride of life] ends by becoming his own god, as Lucifer did.

Inordinate self-love leads us to death, according to the Savior’s words: “He that loveth his life (in an egotistical manner) shall lose it; and he that hateth (or sacrifices) his life in this world, keepeth it unto life eternal” (Jn 12:25). … Only a greater love, the love of God, can conquer self-love. (Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life (Tan Publications) Vol 1: 300-301, 368-370)

St. Thomas says, “All sinful acts spring from inordinate self-love, which hinders us from loving God above all else and tempts us to turn away from him” (Summa Theologica I, IIae, q. 77 a. 4; et 84, a. 4).

[E]very sinful act proceeds from inordinate desire for some temporal good. Now the fact that anyone desires a temporal good inordinately, is due to the fact that he loves himself inordinately; for to wish anyone some good is to love him. Therefore it is evident that inordinate love of self is the cause of every sin (Summa Theologica 77.4 respondeo).

To the objection that Scripture says, “For the love of money [literally covetousness] is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim 6:10),  St. Thomas responds, 

The desire of money is said to be the root of sins, not as though riches were sought for their own sake, as being the last end; but because they are much sought after as useful for any temporal end. And since a universal good is more desirable than a particular good, they move the appetite more than any individual goods, which along with many others can be procured by means of money (Summa Theologica I, IIae, 84, 1 ad 2).

In other words, “money” is desired as a means not an end, not for its own sake but as a means to indulge inordinate self-love. So, inordinate self-love is a deeper root than the love of money. Money is desired to facilitate and actualize the deeper problem.

St. Thomas goes on to show how the Capital Vices (sins) flow from inordinate self-love. What follows are my own reflections, based loosely on his.

  • Pride (sometimes called vainglory) – We love our own apparent excellence more than the certain and greater excellence of God, or the excellence that may exist in others.
  • Greed – We have an excessive and insatiable love of things due to our excessive love of ourselves and the perceived need to have these things for our sake.
  • Lust – Out of excessive love of self and desire to please ourselves, we desire others for the pleasure they can give us, rather than loving them for their own sake.
  • Anger – Our excessive self-love causes us to regard many things and people (including God) fearfully and then angrily, perceiving them as threatening. So we angrily and unrighteously resist them.
  • Gluttony – Our excessive love of self causes us to satisfy our passion for food and drink beyond what is healthy in the long run, what is respectful of God, or what is generous to others.
  • Envy – Our excessive self-love and egotism give us a sadness about the goodness or excellence of others because we perceive it as lessening our own share of praise or glory.
  • Sloth – Our excessive love of self makes God seem to be a usurper of our life, our time, our opinions, or our pleasure. So we are sad about or avoid His plan for our happiness.

This, then, is the deepest root of all of our sin. We cannot simply blame the world or the devil, though they are not to be excluded either. But inordinate self-love is what gives the world and the devil easy access to us. This is the “button” they push for easy results.

This source of sin is a lot closer and far more subtle than we imagine. Only a greater love—the love of God—can conquer self-love. And thus the greatest commandment is this: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matt 22:37-40).

Indeed, and so does our healing hang on these two commandments. Ask for a greater love of God, a proper love of self, and the gift to love your neighbor with that same proper love.

37 Replies to “What Is the Deepest Root of Sin? It’s Not in Your Wallet and It’s Much Closer Than You Might Think”

  1. This kind of self love is so prevalent in our culture, it’s sometimes astounding. In fact, in my experience, I have had my relatives (of all age groups) encourage me to MORE self love activities as I am facing retirement- “go out and have some FUN,” “you should take a long vacation,” “if you decide to move, try to find a nice resort town where the living is easy and inexpensive,” “you need to take time to pamper yourself,” “There’s lots of nice spas where you can spend a week.” and so on.
    When I suggest I might look into getting involved in a volunteer situation, they act like I’m crazy. This is so the opposite of what they seek. It makes me very sad, but I know love of God and love of neighbor is what I want. One time I heard someone say (maybe even on this blog, or in the comment section, so excuse me Msgr. if you are the one who passed this gem on) our catch word should be JOY: Jesus, Others, You. I always try to keep that in mind.

    1. I agree, selfishness IS rampant in our society. Keep in mind, you cannot give what you do not have (J.O.Y.), so we must remember to refill our lamps frequently, so we are not like the foolish bridesmaids.

    2. I like your post Bee bee and thank you Monsignor for this good article. After my conversion/reversion to the Faith five or six years ago, I came to see the importance of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Gradually I have been talking myself into (with the aid of sacramental grace and Church teaching) replacing my old ideas of “recreation” with the satisfaction of our liturgical and prayer life and the works of mercy. In other words, God’s intervention in my life is changing my idea of how to spend my time. Why would I chase a golf ball around the course (there is the virtue of “licit recreation” however) when I could be at Mass or visiting the sick. And yet, I know how strange that would have sounded to me even seven or eight years ago. Remember, Christ spoke of the narrow path that “few” of us find. Lately I’ve just been grateful to be on what I think is His narrow path. I have stopped expecting large numbers of fellow travelers. May we be granted fortitude to persevere on this way, even though we will be poorly understood by many others.

  2. I really look forward to your blog posts…this one is no exception. Thank you!

  3. Father, you never disappoint us; your messages are always relevant, serious and most of all very clear. In all my years of “blaming” original sin it never occurred to me that Adam and Lucifer’s fall preceded it.

  4. Great post! Ever thought of doing a series on the seven deadly sins as seen from a pastor’s perspective? I am sure you have seen almost everything, the destructive power of sin and how it seduces people.

    1. “As the rain ruins my alibi
      I’m down to singin’ you my red-eyed rhyme
      It’s not the sun bright path
      That called me from my home
      It’s just that fine Backslider’s wine”

      from Backslider’s Wine by M. Murphey

  5. I have always termed the inordinate love of self as Pride and as such Pride sits at the heart of every other sin. For what sits in the middle of pride but a great big I?

    I do wonder why the Angels, while higher than us on the spiritual ladder, seem to be unable to receive Divine Mercy. Is it because their sin occurred outside of time? Do you think part of their punishment consists of having to watch us “lesser” creatures recieve Gods Mercy and Blessings while they are unable to themselves?

    1. The doctors of the Church say that the angels’ nature is to totally commit; they are incapable of partially committing due to the nature of their will. Once their will commits it is forever. Not so Adam and Eve. Their wills, though not under concupiscence in Eden, were still capable of sinning without total commitment to sin. When an angel moves in its will it is total and is in one act. Love God or love themselves.

    2. I think it is not so much that they can not receive Divine Mercy as they would not ever ask for it. I think the way they experience time must have something to do with it, but it is more a matter of their very nature. A priest once told us that the angels, by the nature God gave them, unlike human beings, knew fully the Truth of God, not by faith as we do, but because they had all knowledge, so they knew what they were doing when they rejected His love. About man, Jesus said, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” That can not be said of the fallen angels. Knowing fully the power and glory of God, Lucifer said “I will not serve.” They rejected Divine Mercy outright.

      As to the part about them watching us lesser creatures…the same priest told is it is speculated that that is why they revolted. Jesus was born of the Father before all ages…(again the different way the supernatural world experiences time, I guess) the angels knew Jesus, fully God but also fully MAN, was Lord of them and the pride/self-importance of the fallen angels could not bear to bow to Him and that is why they hate mankind so much. Now I think of it, I suppose it is sort of the same reason our Guardian Angels love us so much.

      Anyway, I imagine that is why the demons use self-love as the lure for souls; they know it works from personal experience.

      Thank you for another great lesson, Msgr. Pope.

  6. Thanks, Monsignor. This simply illuminates my walk towards getting to know GOD and myself. GOD Bless you.

  7. The greatest sin is whatever separates, keeps us from the Love of Christ. In the end of days the devil will be revealed, self love is one of his traits. Paul gave note to a few sins that would become worse towards the end, this is because these are the nature of the devil, this is what he looks like. Pride is the absence of humility, Jesus fell on His face before God even though he is God. What wife would put herself before her husband? What husband would not sacrifice himself for his wife? Rebuke your pride and fall on your face before Jesus for the owner of pride come soon and he knows who are his.

  8. Not sure I agree… I agree that inordinate self-love is a root of all kinds of sinful manifestations, but underneath inordinate self love is the lie that leads me to believe I am greater or more worthy. Therefore, I believe a far better understanding of sin’s root is incorrect belief. Sin didn’t enter the world through bad self love, it entered the world through a lie. “And you shall be like God.” God called Satan therefore the Father of Lies and thus the Destroyer.

    This understanding is one that has largely redeemed for me almost all the “disciplines” of the faith in a way that no others could. It’s also spared me more pain (and with that brought great joy) to my most intimate relationships and down the line to my mere acquaintances.

    Further expounding… Why does God spend so much time talking about, exalting, and illuminating HIS WORD if not to place an extreme point of emphasis on it being true, trustworthy, and life giving, and the antithesis of lies, confusion, doubt, sin, and death.

    Lastly, from a pure logic standpoint if we flip the two… if a healthy self love was the antithesis of the root of sin, it would be the root of righteousness, but in the end I believe that falls short as it would mean that existing in all of us is the capacity for righteousness apart from God _ which scripture would seem to discount. Rather, Truth, specifically found in God’s word (Jesus) is extolled and raised to that status as the only way back to righteousness (not sin) and ultimately abundant and eternal life.

    This response is purely intended as input into this conversation Monsignor Pope! If you have thoughts or responses that would help me understand better or want to continue this dialogue – I’d love to hear from you!


    1. I respond by saying, your explanation is inadequate because it speaks to the intellect not to the will. And while at times, we may speak of sins of the intellect, it is somewhat artful because sin regards decision and decison regards the will. Thus, even sins of the intellect presuppose a stubborn will which refuses to be taught or accept certain truths. Secondly, your position cites no scripture, or authority which tends to weaken it as well. You do allude to satans lie, but failed to explain why the lie might seem appealing to eve and Adam. They did not sin because they were lied to, or had bad information, the sin because they chose to trust Satan and disbelieve God

      1. Msgr and Aaron… I am following your conversation and wanted to continue with your thoughts. First – – I wanted to point out that you are both saying the same things… Aaron said sin’s root is from “incorrect belief” and Msgr said (in the last sentence of your reply) that they sinned because they “choose to disbelieve God”. Interesting that the word “lie” is hidden in the words believe, belief, disbelieve, disbelief. Aaron is focusing on the/that lie – – the fact that satan tricked Adam and Eve into sin. Didn’t that first manifest as doubt/weakness in belief of God’s love for them? This then leading to putting their own thoughts/beliefs/ideas/importance higher than God. They chose to rely on themselves rather than God. Which leads us back to Pride. We have heard it said many times that Pride is the root of all sin and of original sin. And that is exactly, I think, what Msgr is saying when he says “self love” is the root of sin. Self love IS pride. It is putting one’s own worth before/higher than God. It is choosing to feed into the lies and doubts (either our own or planted there by satan) and feed into a new faith/believe in ourselves and our own worth/power. Isn’t that correct? In essence, I think you are both saying the same thing, just in different ways. Then – – if humility conquers pride (putting ourselves properly back down below God), does humility also conquer the other vices/sins? I don’t think so. I think pride is in a catagory all by itself, not equal to the other vices/sins. They are interdependent with pride/self love in some way, but also independent of pride, as each vice has something else (a different virtue) other than humility that will conquer that particular vice. All of this facsincates me. I wanted to talk in greater depth about intellect/thoughts vs will vs gut reactions and how they relate to love and this discussion, however, I will just end this here for now. Thanks.

  9. With all those sins that have been posted, it’s virtually impossible to avoid some of them. We are ALL guilty of at least some of them. If these are going to be thrown at us on JUDGEMENT DAY who can escape being condemned? Please God forgive us.

  10. Excellent teaching. And was it not a form of self love that caused many to stop following the Lord in John 6:66 ?

    I know of many situations but one in particular where self love and self preoccupation so poisoned hearts that love could nether be planted or grow.
    And yes, God ministered much grace and mercy but was rejected.

  11. Great post… and, the reflections on the seven deadly serve as a good examen. We have a priest in residence at our parish who shared a prayer he says every day which I have made my own. The gist of the prayer is something like: “Lord break my stubborn will and frustrate any of my plans that are not of You”. Saying this prayer gives me great peace of mind and helps me “give thanks in all circumstances.”

    Before I read your analysis, I probably would have answered that “pride” was the root of all sins, and greater humility the antidote; from the saying that “pride cometh before a fall”. But, it seems that inordinate self-love is a specific type of pride and a more precise tapping of the “root”. Said in the affirmative, I once heard a lay apologetics instructor say that love of God and love of neighbor is manifested by “self-giving love for the benefit of another”. Thanks again…

  12. Very good teaching. It helped me understand what avoids us to get closer to God.

  13. That is why St John of the Cross said – when you are asked to choose- choose what costs you the most. Disobedience ( pride) and self love is the root of it all.

  14. Well said Msgr. Pope. Thank you for making it clear that it is “inordinate” self-love that is the problem. We are God’s special creations, made in his image and likeness, and he loves each of us. So should we not also love ourselves, so long as that self-love is not “inordinate”?

    I have always been troubled by some of the writings of our great Saints to the effect that we must “despise” or “hate” ourselves to be good Christians. Perhaps this is just a language or translation issue, but that particular strain of spirituality has always troubled me.

    1. Though such language can be found in the New Testament. See, Luke 14:26. But I think “hate” there is understood to mean not loving father or mother or brother or sister or self more than God.

  15. So, what is the distinction between inordinate self-love and pride? Are they really the same thing? I have heard it said that pride is the root sin.

  16. Its late and just wanted to feed the soul a bit before resting and so was reading all this. I am not a doctor of the church, but I think the root of sin is poor self esteem not loving oneself as God love us (Not seeing His Image in us As He Is full of grace and Truth). When Cain killed Able it was because he was unable to give his whole self in service thus producing an unholy gift , He thought he was not good enough to do so., all the gang wars,and wars, and killings are from thinking someone is better and wanting to punish them for being better than >>> just a few thoughts on the subject I have just read 🙂 Blessings Good night and now its morning ♥ the conflict of ego and believing (surrendering to) in Gods ego in us not ours leading God but He leading us in that order this is our walk of faith. If we have a belief in a Loving God along with all his endless attributes !

  17. Right on!
    All natural law is unchangeable and eternal–as is God. In fact, the great moral law of the universe, (love for God and man) as codified in the Ten Commandments covers every conceivable relationship between God and man.

  18. Asked previously: So is ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ sarcasm?
    Seems to indicate self-love as a measure for love of neighbor and therefore implicitly advocates self-love unless the ‘as yourself’ portion is sarcasm.
    Can someone explain this reference to self-love?

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