CONTAINING NEEDFUL COUNSELS CONCERNING SOME ORDINARY TEMPTATIONS.
Chapter VI --When Temptation and Delectation are Sin.
THAT princess, whom we have already taken as an illustration, was not to blame in the unlawful pursuit we supposed to be made of her, because it was against her will; but if, on the contrary, she had in any way led to it, or sought to attract him who sought her, she were certainly guilty of the pursuit itself; and even if she withheld her consent, she would still deserve censure and punishment. Thus it sometimes happens that temptation in itself is sin to us, because we have ourselves brought it upon us. For instance, if I know that gaming leads me to passion and blasphemy, and that all play is a temptation to me, I sin each and every time that I play, and I am responsible for all the temptations which may come upon me at the gaming table. So again, if I know that certain society involves me in temptation to evil, and yet I voluntarily seek it, I am unquestionably responsible for all that I may encounter in the way of temptation therein.
When it is possible to avoid the delectation arising out of temptation, it is always a sin to accept it, in proportion to the pleasure we take, and the amount of consent given, whether that be great or small, brief or lasting. The princess of our illustration is to blame if she merely listens to the guilty propositions made to her but still more so if, after listening, she takes pleasure in them, and allows her heart to feed and rest thereupon; for although she has no intention of really doing that which is proposed, her heart gives a spiritual consent when she takes pleasure in it, and it must always be wrong to let either body or mind rest on anything unworthy,--and wrongdoing lies so entirely in the heart's co-operation, that without this no mere bodily action can be sin.
Therefore, when you are tempted to any sin, examine whether you voluntarily exposed yourself to the temptation, and if you find that you have done so by putting yourself into its way, or by not foreseeing the temptation, as you ought to have done, then it is sin; but if you have done nothing to bring about the temptation, it is not in anywise to be imputed to you as sin.
When the delectation which attends temptation might have been avoided, but has not been avoided, there is always a certain amount of sin according to the degree to which we have lingered over it, and the kind of pleasure we have taken in it. If a woman who has not wilfully attracted unlawful admiration, nevertheless takes pleasure in such admiration, she is doing wrong, always supposing that what pleases her is the admiration. But if the person who courts her plays exquisitely on the lute, and she took pleasure, not in the personal attentions paid to herself, but in the sweetness and harmony of the music, there would be no sin in that, although it would be wrong to give way to any extent to her pleasure, for fear of its leading on to pleasure in the pursuit of herself. So again, if some clever stratagem whereby to avenge me of an enemy is suggested, and I take no satisfaction and give no consent to the vengeance, but am only pleased at the cleverness of the invention, I am not sinning; although it were very inexpedient to dwell long upon it, lest little by little I should go on to take pleasure in the thought of revenge.
Sometimes we are taken by surprise by some sense of delectation following so closely upon the temptation, that we are off our guard. This can be but a very slight venial sin, which would become greater if, after once we perceive the danger, we allow ourselves to dally with it, or question as to admitting or rejecting it,--greater still if we carelessly neglect to resist it;--and if we deliberately allow ourselves to rest in any such pleasure, it becomes very great sin, especially if the thing attracting us be unquestionably evil. Thus it is a great sin in a woman to allow herself to dwell upon any unlawful affections, although she may have no intention of ever really yielding to them.