A Treatise Of Obedience
5. How a soul advances from general to particular obedience; and of the excellence of the religious orders.
"The soul who with love has submitted to the yoke of obedience, to the Commandments, following the doctrine of My truth virtuously exercising herself, as has been said, in this general kind of obedience will advance to the second kind by means of the same light which brought her to the first, for by the light of the most holy faith she would have learnt, in the blood of the humble Lamb, My truth -- the ineffable love which I have for her, and her own fragility, which cannot respond to Me with due perfection. So she wanders, seeking by that light in what place and in what way she can pay her debt, trampling on her own fragility, and restraining her own will. Enlightened in her search by faith, she finds the place -- namely, holy religion -- which has been founded by the Holy Spirit, appointed as the ship to receive souls who wish to hasten to perfection, and to bring them to the port of salvation. The Captain of this ship is the Holy Spirit, who never fails in Himself through the defects of any of His religious subjects who may transgress the rule of the order. The ship itself cannot be damaged, but only the offender. It is true that the mistake of the steersman may send her down into the billows, and these are wicked pastors and prelates appointed by the Master of the ship. The ship herself is so delightful that your tongue could not narrate it. I say, then, that the soul, on fire with desire and a holy self-hatred, having found her place by the light of faith, enters there as one dead, if she is truly obedient; that is to say, if she have perfectly observed general obedience. And even if she should be imperfect when she enters, it does not follow that she cannot attain perfection. On the contrary, she attains it by exercising herself in the virtue of obedience; indeed, most of those who enter are imperfect. There are some who enter already in perfection, others in the childhood of virtue, others through fear, others through penance, others through allurements, everything depends on whether after they have entered they exercise themselves in virtue, and persevere till death, for no true judgment can be made on a person's entrance into religion, but only on their perseverance, for many have appeared to be perfect who have afterwards turned back, or remained in the order with much imperfection, so that, as I have said, the act of entrance into this ship ordained by Me, who call men in different ways, does not supply material for a real judgment, but only the love of those who persevere therein with true obedience. This ship is rich, so that there is no need for the subject to think about his necessities either temporal or spiritual, for if he is truly obedient, and observes his order, he will be provided for by his Master, who is the Holy Spirit, as I told you when I spoke to you of My providence, saying that though your servants might be poor, they were never beggars. No more are these, for they find everything they need, and those who observe this order find this to be indeed true. Wherefore, see that in the days when the religious orders lived virtuously, blossoming with true poverty and fraternal charity, their temporal substance never failed them, but they had more than their needs demanded. But because the stench of self-love has entered and caused each to keep his private possessions and to fail in obedience, their temporal substance has failed, and the more they possess to the greater destitution do they come. It is just that even in the smallest matters they should experience the fruit of disobedience, for had they been obedient and observed the vow of poverty, each would not have taken his own, and lived privately. See the riches of these holy rules, so thoughtfully and luminously appointed by those who were temples of the Holy Spirit. See with what judgment Benedict ordered his ship; see with what perfection and order of poverty Francis ordered his ship, decked with the pearls of virtue, steering it in the way of lofty perfection, being the first to give his order for spouse, true and holy poverty, whom he had chosen for himself, embracing self-contempt and self-hatred, not desiring to please any creature but only your will; desiring rather to be thought vile by the world, macerating his body and slaying his will, clothing himself in insults, sufferings, and jibes, for love of the humble Lamb, with whom he was fastened and nailed to the cross by love, so that by a singular grace there appeared in his body the very wounds of your Truth, showing in the vessel of his body that which was in the love of his soul, so he prepared the way.
"But you will say, 'Are not all the other religious orders equally founded on this point?' Yes, but though they are all founded on it, in no other is this the principal foundation; as with the virtues, though all the virtues draw their life from charily, nevertheless, as I explained to you in another place, one virtue belongs especially to one man, and another to another, and yet they all remain in charity, so with the principal foundation of the religious orders. Poverty belonged especially to My poor man Francis, who placed the principal foundation of his order in love for this poverty, and made it very strict for those who were perfect, for the few and the good, not for the majority. I say few because they are not many who choose this perfection, though now through their sins they are multiplied in numbers and deficient in virtue, not through defect of the ship, but through disobedient subjects and wicked rulers. Now look at the ship of your father Dominic, My beloved son: he ordered it most perfectly, wishing that his sons should apply themselves only to My honor and the salvation of souls, with the light of science, which light he laid as his principal foundation, not, however, on that account, being deprived of true and voluntary poverty, but having it also. And as a sign that he had it truly, and that the contrary displeased him, he left as an heirloom to his sons his curse and Mine, if they should hold any possessions, either privately or in community, as a sign that he had chosen for his spouse Queen Poverty. But for his more immediate and personal object he took the light of science in order to extirpate the errors which had arisen in his time, thus taking on him the office of My only-begotten Son, the Word. Rightly he appeared as an apostle in the world, and sowed the seed of My Word with much truth and light, dissipating darkness and giving light. He was a light which I gave the world by means of Mary, placed in the mystical body of the Holy Church as an extirpator of heresies. Why do I say by means of Mary? Because Mary gave him his habit -- this office was committed to her by My goodness. At what table does he feed his sons with the light of science? At the table of the cross, which is the table of holy desire, when souls are eaten for My honor. Dominic does not wish his sons to apply themselves to anything, but remaining at this table, there to seek with the light of science, the glory and praise of My name alone, and the salvation of souls. And in order that they might do nothing else, he chose poverty for them, so that they might not have the care of temporal things. It is true that some failed in faith, fearing that they would not be provided for, but he never. Being clothed in faith, and hoping with firm confidence in My providence, He wishes his sons to observe obedience and do their duty, and since impure living obscures the eye of the intellect, and not only the eye of the intellect, but also of the body, he does not wish them to obscure their physical light with which they may more perfectly obtain the light of science; wherefore he imposed on them the third vow of continence, and wishes that all should observe it, with true and perfect obedience, although today it is badly observed. They also prevent the light of science with the darkness of pride, not that this light can be darkened in itself, but only in their souls, for there, where pride is, can be no obedience. I have already told you that a man's humility is in proportion to his obedience, and his obedience to his humility, and similarly, when he transgresses the vow of obedience, it rarely happens that he does not also transgress the vow of continence, either in thought or deed; so that he has rigged his ship with the three ropes of obedience, continence, and true poverty; he made it a royal ship, not obliging his subjects under pain of mortal sin, and illuminated by Me the true light, he provided for those who should be less perfect, for though all who observe the order are perfect in kind, yet one possesses a higher degree of perfection than another, yet all perfect or imperfect live well in this ship. He allied himself with My truth, showing that he did not desire the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live. Wherefore his religion is a delightful garden, broad and joyous and flagrant, but the wretches who do not observe the order, but transgress its vows, have turned it into a desert and defiled it with their scanty virtue and light of science, though they are nourished at its breast. I do not say that the order itself is in this condition, for it still possesses every delight, but in the beginning its subjects were not as they are now, but blooming flowers, and men of great perfection. Each scented to be another St. Paul, their eyes so illuminated that the darkness of error was dissipated by their glance. Look at My glorious Thomas, who gazed with the gentle eye of his intellect at My Truth, whereby he acquired supernatural light and science infused by grace, for he obtained it rather by means of prayer than by human study. He was a brilliant light, illuminating his order and the mystical body of the Holy Church, dissipating the clouds of heresy. Look at My Peter, virgin and martyr, who by his blood gave light among the darkness of many heresies, and the heretics hated him so that at last they took his life; yet while he lived he applied himself to nothing but prayer, preaching, and disputation with heretics, hearing confessions, announcing the truth, and spreading the faith without any fear, to such an extent that he not only confessed it in his life but even at the moment of his death, for when he was at the last extremity, having neither voice nor ink left, having received his death-blow, he dipped his finger in his blood, and this glorious martyr, having not paper on which to write, leaned over, confessing the faith, and wrote the Credo on the ground. His heart burnt in the furnace of My charity, so that he never slackened his pace nor turned his head back, though he knew that he was to die, for I had revealed to him his death, but like a true knight he fearlessly came forth on to the battlefield; and I could tell you the same of many others, who though they did not actually experience martyrdom, were martyrs in will like Dominic; great laborers were these sent by My Father to labor in His vineyard to extirpate the thorns of vice, planting the virtues in their stead. Of a truth Dominic and Francis were two columns of the holy Church. Francis with the poverty which was specially his own, as has been said, and Dominic with his learning."