As a moth gnaws a garment, so doth envy consume a man.
St. John Chrysostom
St. Thomas Aquinas defines the capital sin of envy as "sorrow at another's good". No wonder very few people admit to envy... even the definition sounds terrible. It's hard to believe we actually may become sorrowful when good things happen to others, or if others have special gifts and talents, but most of us have been here at some point. As a child and young adult I remember envying others a lot. I would actually feel sad and wish that they did not have the gifts they had. Envy is one of the first things that God worked out of me and he did this by showing me his love. Once we understand the greatness of God's love for us envy tends to fall by the wayside because we understand the one true need in our life is God himself and that this gift is given to everyone without exception. Many of the seven deadly sins are fear based and envy is one of these. The problem with envy is that it is completely lacking in charity. It not only sorrows because someone else has been blessed in some way, it wishes the person had not received the gift or blessing. It may even wish ill on others. I started this post with the quote from St. John Chrysostom because of the truth it contains... envy consumes a person from within if it is not stopped in its tracks.
Envy is a sin against charity. Love seeks good for others, envy the opposite. One common sign that envy is at play is when you hear someone praise a person and then proceed to rip them apart. For instance:
"Don't you just love Mabel?! She is so talented! Still, it's just terrible that she doesn't know how to keep those children of hers in line. As smart as she is you would think that her mothering skills would be better. And did you see that AWFUL dress she wore to the wedding? It matched that plaid sofa she's got in her living room! Bless her heart! That woman has no taste...(yap, yap, yap)." The conversation goes on and by the end it is clear that Mabel is one slothful/ugly/mean/crazy/ungrateful, but don't forget talented, woman in the eyes of the speaker. Gossip often has its roots in envy.
Spiritual envy goes one step further. It actually sorrows over another's relationship with God. I found this quote by St. John of the Cross at Portiuncula: the Little Portion and it gives an example of just how unloving envy can be:
"Certain beginners feel disappointed when they perceive the goodness of another. They suffer from profound envy and can hardly bear it when they realize that someone else is ahead of them on the spiritual path. They would rather not hear another be praised. When they find that another's virtues are being celebrated, they can't stand it and are compelled to contradict them. Because no one is saying such great things about them, their annoyance grows; they yearn for preference in all things."
St. John of the Cross
Envy is dangerous because it leads to so many other sins - detraction, calumny, lies, uncontrolled anger, and other sins against charity.
Here are some of the signs and symptoms of envy:
~ fault finding
~ low self-esteem
~ depression (a note: depression can have physical causes too so this takes discernment)
~ judgmental attitude toward others
~ contempt for others
~ a lack of peace and joy
Similar to the distortion pride brings, those who struggle with envy have a warped view of God, themselves, and others. All the deadly sins distort truth in some way and envy does it with a vengeance. If sloth makes it seem as if one is constantly trudging through water, envy is like stumbling through the rough waters after a storm and then throwing down stones in hopes of making the way more difficult for others. I say this because sloth has no storms whereas envy is filled with them. One is more apathetic than the other. Those who are envious end up walking alone because envy (like pride) is against unity and God is all about unity. Sloth may not even notice that someone is next to them while envy is perfectly aware that someone is with them and resents it. Sloth is more apt to sin through omission, envy - commission. Both are deadly. You can find out more about the sin of sloth in my post, The Joy Thief.
It probably comes as no surprise that envy's opposing virtue is charity. This in itself shows the deadliness of envy. In my post, Facing off with Envy, you can find some practical ways to tackle envy. Practicing the virtue of charity is helpful but what I found most helpful in this area is meditating on the love of God. Gratitude is another powerful weapon against envy and I speak more about this in Facing off with Envy. I also speak about what envy is not because this deadly sin can be confusing at times.