Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
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Ambrose of Milan
David, who had experienced those very glances which are dangerous for a man, aptly says that the person is blessed whose every hope is in the name of God. For such a one does not have regard to vanities and follies who always strives toward Christ and always looks upon Christ with his inner eyes. For this reason David turned to God again and said, “Turn away my eyes, that they may not see vanity.” The circus is vanity, because it is totally without profit; horse racing is vanity, because it is counterfeit as regards salvation; the theater is vanity, every game is vanity. “All things are vanity!” as Ecclesiastes said, all things that are in this world. Accordingly, let the person who wishes to be saved ascend above the world, let him seek the Word who is with God, let him flee from this world and depart from the earth. For a man cannot comprehend that which exists and exists always, unless he has first fled from here.
By this perversity of the soul, due to sin and punishment, the whole corporeal creation becomes, as Solomon says: “Vanity of them that are vain, all is vanity. What advantage has man in all his labor which he does under the sun?” Not for nothing does he say, “of them that are vain,” for if you take away vain persons who pursue that which is last as if it were first, matter will not be vanity but will show its own beauty in its own way, a low type of beauty, of course, but not deceptive. When man fell away from the unity of God the multitude of temporal forms was distributed among his carnal senses, and his sensibilities were multiplied by the changeful variety. So abundance became laborious, and his needs, if one may say so, became abundant, for he pursues one thing after another, and nothing remains permanently with him. So what with his corn and wine and oil, his needs are so multiplied that he cannot find the one thing needful, a single and unchangeable nature, seeking which he woul...
There is a difference between vanities; there are those that are especially so, and others that are not.… Question: [Does Ecclesiastes speak] about one and the same [kind of vanity]? Answer: About both, about the things that are just vanity as well as about those that are a vanity of vanities. Both the things that most clearly belong to the sphere of vanity and the less obvious vanities are altogether vain in comparison with actual truth. The newborn, the little child and the boy are imperfect. Of course, they are imperfect in comparison with an adolescent, and they are all imperfect in comparison with a man.… Question: Does he not mean by “vanity of vanities” the visible and the perceivable? Answer: Yes, but the layperson and the astronomer do not perceive the sun in the same way. The perception of the sun by an astronomer and by a scientist is far inferior to the seeing of the invisible God and it is inferior to the knowledge that comes from God.
To those who have entered into the church of the mind and marvel in contemplation of what has come into being, the text says, Do not think that this is the ultimate end or that these are the promises that have been stored up for you. For all these things are [only] vanity of vanities before the knowledge of one’s God. For, just as it is futile for medicine [to seek] a final cure, so is it useless [to seek] after knowledge of the Holy Trinity in the ideas of the [present] ages and worlds. .
Vanities. Most vain and despicable, (Calmet) and frustrating the expectations of men. (Menochius)
St. Augustine reads vanitantium, and infers that this vanity of sublunary things is an effect of man's sin. Yet he afterwards discovered that he had read incorrectly. (Retractions i. 7.)
The insubstantial is deemed “futile,” that which has existence only in the utterance of the word. No substantial object is simultaneously indicated when the term is used, but it is a kind of idle and empty sound, expressed by syllables in the form of a word, striking the ear at random without meaning, the sort of word people make up for a joke but which means nothing. This then is one sort of futility. Another sense of “futility” is the pointlessness of things done earnestly to no purpose, like the sandcastles children build, and shooting arrows at stars, and chasing the winds, and racing against one’s own shadow and trying to step on its head, and anything else of the same kind which we find done pointlessly. All these activities are included in the meaning of “futility.” … [And] so also “futility of futilities” indicates the absolute extreme of what is futile.
If everything that God made is very good, then how can everything be vanity—and not only vanity, but even vanity of vanities? As one song in the Song of Songs is shown to excel above all songs, so also is the magnitude of vanity demonstrated by the expression “vanity of vanities.”
What is vanity of mind? It is the being busied about vain things. And what are those vain things, but all things in the present life? Of them the Preacher says, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” But a person will say, If they be vain and vanity, for what purpose were they made? If they are God’s works, how are they vain? And great is the dispute concerning these things. But listen, beloved: it is not the works of God that he calls vain; God forbid! The heaven is not vain, the earth is not vain—God forbid!—nor the sun, nor the moon and stars, nor our own body. No, all these are “very good.” But what is vain? Let us hear the Preacher himself, what he says: “I planted vineyards, I got men singers and women singers, I made pools of water, I had great possessions of herds and flocks, I gathered me also silver and gold, and I saw that these are vanity.”