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By Reverend Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O.P.

Translated by Sister M. Timothea Doyle

Copyright 1948, St. Louis, B. Herder Book Co., US.

Reverend Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O.P. was professor of Dogma and Mystical Theology in the Angelico, Rome.

This is Volume 2 containing Parts; “The Illuminative Way of Proficients”, “The Unitive Way of the Perfect” and “Extraordinary Graces”.
Volume 1 containing Parts; “The Sources of the Interior Life and its End” and “The Purification of the Soul in Beginners” is also available.

This work is published for the greater Glory of Jesus Christ through His most Holy Mother Mary and for the sanctification of the militant Church and her members.














PART 3—The Illuminative Way of Proficients

Chapter 1: The Object of the Third Part and the language of Spiritual Writers Compared with That of Theologians

In Part One of this work, we discussed the principles or the sources of the interior life, the organism of the virtues and the gifts, the nature of Christian perfection, its elevation, and the general obligation of every Christian and the special obligation of priests and religious to tend to perfection.

In Part Two we treated of the purification of the soul in beginners, of sins to be avoided, of the predominant fault, of the active purification of the senses and the spirit, especially of the active purification of the memory, the understanding, the will, and finally of I the mental prayer of beginners.

We shall now, logically, proceed to the consideration of the illuminative way of proficients, which is the continuation of the purgative way under another name. It is given a new name, just as one and the same road is called, progressively, different names according to the cities through which it passes: the railway from Turin to Rome is called, first of all, the Turin-Genoa Railroad, then the Genoa-Pisa, and lastly the Pisa-Rome Railroad.

Great variety may be found on the same road; one part crosses the plain, another climbs more or less steep slopes; part of the road can be covered in daylight, part at night, and that in fair or stormy weather. The same is true from the spiritual point of view. Further more, on a railroad connecting two cities, speed must not be excessive, or stops eliminated, or the wait at stations too much prolonged. Likewise on God’s highway, progress would be compromised by a desire to travel too fast, whereas too great a delay in one place would put one behind schedule; in this sense, “Not to advance is to retrogress.” The illuminative way is, therefore, the continuation of the purgative way, but in the former, progress should be more marked.

To discuss the illuminative way in a methodical manner, we shall treat of it in the following order:

(1) the entrance to this way; several writers have called it a second conversion and, more precisely, speaking, the passive purification of the senses;

(2) the principal characteristics of the spiritual age of proficients;

(3) the progress of the Christian moral virtues, especially of humility, a fundamental virtue, and of meekness in its relations with charity;

(4) the progress of the theological virtues, of the spirit of faith and confidence in God, of conformity to the signified divine will, of fraternal charity, the great sign of progress in the love of God;

(5) the gifts of the Holy Ghost in proficients, their docility to the Holy Ghost, their more continual recollection in the course of the day;

(6) the progressive illumination of the soul by the Sacrifice of the Mass and Communion; why each Communion should be substantially more fervent than the preceding one; devotion to the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus and to Mary Mediatrix, in this period of the interior life;

(7) the contemplative prayer of proficients and its degrees; the error of the quietists on this subject; the passage from acquired prayer to infused prayer. Is infused prayer in the normal way of sanctity, or is it, on the contrary, an extraordinary grace, like visions, revelations, the stigmata? Is infused prayer ordinarily granted to generous, interior souls, who persevere in prayer and docility to the Holy Ghost, and who daily bear the cross with patience and love?

(8) the defects of proficients; the pride which mingles in their acts; the discernment of spirits; retarded proficients; the necessity of a passive purification of the spirit which, according to St. John of the Cross, marks the entrance into the unitive way.

Why do we propose to follow this order? Because it is fitting to consider the growth of the virtues and of the gifts before the progress of their acts, in order to show more clearly to what already elevated acts this growth of the virtues and of the gifts, which is a trustworthy sign of progress, is ordained. We are, in fact, already certain through faith and theology that the acquired virtues and the infused virtues, as well as the seven gifts, should always grow in us here on earth, particularly in the illuminative way or that of proficients. In this stage there should even be an acceleration in this progress, for the soul ought to advance more rapidly toward God as it approaches Him more closely and is more drawn by Him, just as the stone falls more rapidly as it draws near the earth which attracts it.1 The traveler toward eternity should advance more rapidly as he approaches the end which captivates him more. We have already shown these principles to be certain; there should, consequently, be a very notable increase in the virtues and the gifts in the illuminative way of proficients. Profound consideration of this fact will make us understand better what the elevation of the acts of these virtues and gifts should normally be in this period of the spiritual life.

Moreover, that we may proceed with order, it is fitting that we follow an ascending course, considering first of all the increase of the Christian moral virtues, next that of the theological virtues, then that of the gifts which perfect the virtues, and finally the graces of light, love, and strength which are given us daily by Mass and Communion. If we follow this plan, we shall see more clearly that the prayer of proficients is normally a contemplative prayer. If, on the contrary, we discuss this prayer at the very beginning, we might describe it as it actually is in those who appear to be proficients without perhaps really being so, and not such as it should normally be in this already advanced age of the spiritual life. These are the reasons for the order we shall follow.

Before beginning our study, however, we shall here examine an important preliminary question, that of the essential character of the language of the great spiritual writers who have discussed these matters, language having terms that are somewhat different from those used by theologians. A comparison of these two terminologies or ways of speaking is necessary here.


It has often been remarked that great spiritual writers, especially when they discuss mysticism properly so called, use terms that differ notably from those used by theologians. For a clear grasp of the meaning and import of each set of terms, a comparison of the two is necessary.

The language of the great Catholic mystics has its basis in Scripture, in the Psalms, the Canticle of Canticles, the Gospel of St. John, and the Epistles of St. Paul. It takes shape increasingly with St. Augustine in his commentaries on the Psalms and on St. John; with Dionysius; St. Gregory the Great in his commentary on Job; St. Bernard; Hugh and Richard of St. Victor; St. Bonaventure; the author of The Imitation; Tauler; Blessed Henry Suso; St. Teresa; St. John of the Cross; and St. Francis de Sales.

Their terminology, the expression of their mystical experience, gradually passed into doctrinal, spiritual theology, which should compare it with the scholastic terminology of theologians in order to avoid certain errors or confusions into which Master Eckart occasionally fell.


At first glance, the vocabulary of great spiritual writers seems to a number of exclusively scholastic theologians too metaphorical and also exaggerated, either in what relates to the abnegation necessary for perfection or in regard to the separation from the sensible and from reasoning or discourse in contemplation. For this reason, certain great mystics, such as Tauler and Ruysbroeck, seemed suspect; and, for the same reason, after the death of St. John of the Cross, some theologians felt they should correct his works and cover them over, as it were, with scholastic whitewash in order the better to explain their meaning and remove all exaggeration. Thus talent sometimes wishes to correct genius, as if the eaglet wished to teach the eagle to fly. It was then necessary to defend the mystics against their enemies and their injudicious friends. With this purpose Louis Blosius wrote a defense of Tauler, and Father Nicholas of Jesus Mary composed his book, Elucidatio phrasium mysticorum operum Joannis a Cruce.2

An example of the difference between the language of spiritual writers and that of theologians may be illustrated by the meaning they give to the word “nature.” The speculative meaning of this word is abstract and has nothing unfavorable about it; its ascetical meaning is concrete and recalls original sin. We read in The Imitation in regard to the different movements of nature and grace: “Nature is crafty and draweth away many, . . . and always proposes self as her end. But grace walketh in simplicity, turneth aside from all appearance of evil, offereth no deceits, and doth all things purely for God, in whom also it resteth as its last end. . . . Nature willingly receiveth honor and respect. But grace faithfully attributeth honor and glory to God.”3 These words at first seem contrary to the principles often formulated by St. Thomas: “Grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it”; “Nature inclines us to love God, its Author, more than ourselves; otherwise the natural inclination would be perverse, and it would not be perfected, but destroyed, by charity.”4

Considering the matter with greater attention, we see that no contradiction exists between the author of The Imitation and St. Thomas, but they employ the word nature with two different meanings. St. Thomas takes it in the philosophical and abstract sense, which corresponds to the definition of man (a rational animal), to his nature, the radical principle of his operations, such as it comes from God, abstraction being made of every grace superior to it and also of original sin and its results. Human nature thus conceived corresponds to a divine idea. When spiritual writers, like the author of The Imitation, contrast nature and grace, they take the word nature in its ascetical and concrete meaning. They speak of nature such as it is concretely since the sin of the first man; in other words, turned away from God by original sin, or still wounded although regenerated by baptism. They wish to recall the fact that, even in baptized persons, the wounds, the results of original sin, are not completely healed, but are in the process of healing. These wounds are four in number: weakness, ignorance, malice, and concupiscence. They affect the different faculties,5 and often manifest themselves in a gross egoism, at times only slightly conscious, which personal sins can greatly augment. St. Thomas also insists on this point when he speaks of inordinate self-love, from which spring pride, the concupiscence of the flesh, that of the eyes;6 and then when he speaks of the seven capital sins,7 from which come other sins that are still more serious.

Careful thought on the matter shows that here there is not a contradiction in doctrine between speculative theologians and spiritual writers, but a difference of terminology which the context explains. One is more abstract, the other more concrete, for it aims at the application of principles for the conduct of life in conditions in which man actually finds himself since original sin.

For a clearer understanding of this difference, we shall speak of the theological bases of the terminology of spiritual writers, of the principal terms of their language, and we shall compare the expressive value of their language with the value of that of theologians.


Each science or discipline has its special terms, the meaning of which cannot be clearly understood by those who do not know the subject. If mathematics, physics, and physiology have their particular set of terms, why should mysticism not have its terminology? Terms express ideas, as ideas express the nature of things, and the idea which at first was confused subsequently becomes distinct. Scientific concepts are thus more distinct than the notions of common sense, and sometimes new names are needed to express them; otherwise it would be necessary to have recourse to circumlocutions or excessively lengthy paraphrases.

Theology furnishes the basis of the terminology of spiritual writers when it teaches that, to speak of God and our supernatural life, we have two classes of terms, one set of which has a literal meaning, and the other a metaphorical meaning. Thus we say, using the literal meaning: “God is good and wise; He is goodness itself, wisdom itself.” These are, in fact, perfections which imply no imperfection, and they are found analogically in God and in creatures according to their literal meaning. On the contrary, it is only metaphorically that we speak of the wrath of God; wrath is, in fact, a passion, a movement of the sensible appetite, which cannot, properly speaking, be found in God, who is pure spirit; but the expression “wrath of God” is a metaphor to denominate His justice.

On this subject we must make the following observations: among the analogical terms which denominate God literally, negative terms, like “immaterial” and “immobile,” express Him more exactly than positive terms, inasmuch as we know rather what God is not than what He is.8 We know very well that in Him there is neither matter, movement, progress, nor limit; whereas we cannot know positively the essential mode according to which the divine perfections are in God and are identified in the eminence of the Deity, in which they exist formally and eminently. We know this essential mode of he divine perfections in a negative and relative manner, saying: it is an uncreated, incomprehensible, supreme mode. But in itself it remains hidden, like the Deity, which is manifest only to the blessed who see it immediately.

Consequently, when the mystics speak of God, they use many negative terms, such as “incomprehensible,” “ineffable,” “incommunicable.” They say that negative contemplation, which expresses itself in this manner, is superior to affirmative contemplation. In fact, negative contemplation attains in its way what is most lofty: the eminence of the Deity, or the inner life of God, which cannot be shared by nature, but only by sanctifying grace, which is a participation in the divine nature.

Moreover, among the positive names that are properly applied to God, the least definite and the more absolute and common denominate Him better than the others, says St. Thomas.9 Thus the name, “He who is,” is more properly applied to God than the others, for by its indetermination it better expresses the infinite ocean of the spiritual substance of God. On the contrary, more definite names, such as “intelligent,” “free,” fall short of this infinite mode. Therefore the mystics say that superior contemplation, which proceeds from faith illumined by the gifts, is confused, indistinct, ineffable; they place it above distinct contemplation which would come from a special revelation.

Metaphorical terms are necessary, says St. Thomas,10 where there are no suitable terms, especially to express the particular relations of God with interior souls. Thus the mystics speak metaphorically of spiritual espousals and of spiritual marriage in order to designate as it were a transforming union of the soul with God. Likewise by metaphor they speak of the depth of the soul to designate the depth of the intellect and the will, where these faculties spring from the very substance of the soul. These metaphors are explained by the fact that we know spiritual things only in the mirror of sensible things, and that it is often difficult to find fitting terms to express them.


The ordinary terms of Scripture and those of theology would suffice for mysticism; but to avoid excessively long circumlocutions, spiritual writers have had recourse to special terms, or they have given a more particular meaning to expressions already in use. Thus several terms have become essentially mystical, to such an extent that if one took them in their scholastic meaning, they would no longer be true. All spiritual writers speak, for example, of the nothingness of the creature and say: the creature is nothing. A theologian, to render this proposition acceptable to his point of view, would add this precision: the creature by itself is nothing. Master Eckart’s error consisted in affirming in the scholastic meaning of the word what is true only in a mystical sense. Consequently several of his propositions were condemned, among them the following: “All creatures are pure nothingness; I do not say that they are little, or something, but that they are pure nothingness.”11 If this were true, God would have created nothing outside of Himself, or rather the being of creatures would not be distinct from that of God.

Likewise the mystics have often called infused contemplation simply “contemplation,” when, as a matter of fact, they mean infused contemplation. Thus a special terminology has gradually grown up. Its special character comes from the fact that the secrets of the inner life of God and of the union of the soul with Him are ineffable, or from the fact that the terms of human language have no proportion with the sublimity of divine things. To remedy this lack of proportion, spiritual writers have found three categories of terms which are essentially mystical. They may be classed as hyperbolical, antithetical or contrary, and symbolical terms.

Hyperbolical terms seek to express the infinite elevation of God, as for example, “the superessence or the supergoodness of God,”12 or again the inferiority of the creature in relation to God, as “the nothingness of the creature.”

Antithetical terms express something lofty by a sort of contrary effect which they produce on us. Thus the terms “dark night” and “great darkness” express “the inaccessible light in which God dwells,” a light that dazzles us and affects us like a superior and transluminous obscurity, which is the direct opposite of the inferior obscurity which comes from matter, error, or evil. Likewise, by irony, the word of God is called foolishness, since it produces this effect on senseless people. With this meaning St. Paul writes: “For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world, by wisdom, knew not God, it pleased God, by the foolishness of our preaching, to save them that believe. . . . For the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”13

Symbolical terms are metaphors such as: the Spouse of souls (to designate God), the spiritual marriage, the depth of the soul, the spiritual senses, the sleep of the faculties, the wound of love, liquefaction and spiritual fusion.

It should be pointed out that certain mystics, such as Dionysius, have a preference for hyperbolical terms (for example, superessence, supergoodness); others, like St. John of the Cross, for antithetical terms (the dark night); others, as St. Teresa, for symbolical terms (spiritual espousals and marriage).

In these terms we have the principle that enables us to reconcile the degrees of prayer described by St. Teresa and those described by St. John of the Cross; the difference is to be found more in the terms than in the spiritual states indicated. Thus under the title of the dark night of the senses, St. John of the Cross speaks of the prayer of arid quiet, which precedes consoled quiet of which St. Teresa speaks in the fourth mansion. With regard to the dark night of the spirit St. John discusses graces of which St. Teresa treats in the sixth mansion in connection with the spiritual espousals, which, like the night of the spirit, proximately prepare the soul for the perfect transforming union, also called the spiritual marriage.

The terminology preferred by St. John of the Cross contributes to giving him a more austere tone than that of St. Teresa; but when he speaks of the summit of the interior life in The Living Flame of Love, he does so in terms that show a plenitude of most striking spiritual joy.

The meaning of mystical terms is well comprehended, with respect to what is at one and the same time disproportionate and suitable, only by those who have experience in these matters, and they observe a fitting sobriety in this regard. Others have, at times, ridiculously abused these terms, even to speaking of superseraphic superelevation, of “confricatio deifica,” of the abyss of cordial exinanition, and so on, and using other terms which remind one of vain sentimentality and sometimes of mystical sensualism


In a study of the hyperbolical terms used by the great mystics, it should be pointed out that they did not use these terms with the meaning given them by agnostics. For example, when the mystics say, as Dionysius does, that God in His Deity or His inner life is above being, unity, the true, the good, intelligence, and love, they do not mean that God is unknowable, but that His Deity or His intimate life contains in an eminent manner the divine perfections according to an ineffable, superior mode, which permits these perfections to be mutually identified without destroying each other.

The mystics mean that the Deity, which can be participated in only supernaturally by sanctifying grace, is superior to the absolute perfections that it contains formally and eminently. These perfections, such as being, life, intelligence, can be shared in naturally and are, in fact, participated in by stones, plants, and the human soul. The Deity thus appears as the inaccessible light superior to every name.

Likewise when the mystics speak hyperbolically of the nothingness of the creature, they mean only that the creature of itself is nothing, and that, although it actually exists through the creative act, it is, in comparison with God, lower and poorer than words can express. All these excessively lengthy circumlocutions are summed up in the more expressive term: the nothingness of the creature.

This legitimate hyperbole is already found in Scripture, as St. Thomas points out in reference to the expression of Isaias: “Therefore is the wrath of God kindled against His people, and He hath stretched out His hand upon them and struck them: and the mountains were troubled.”14 In Scripture, says St. Thomas, hyperbole exceeds not the truth, but the judgment of men, in this sense that God is greater than one can believe, and the punishments that He announces to the wicked transcend what one can imagine. In profane writings, hyperbole is a rhetorical figure which augments excessively the measure of things in order to produce a more vivid impression on the mind of the reader: for example, to indicate a very tall man, the word giant is used. Thus human poetry uses hyperbole because of the smallness of human things which it wishes to magnify, whereas the divine poetry of the prophets, of the Psalmist, and that of the great mystics makes use of metaphor and hyperbole because of the infinite elevation of divine things, which it could not otherwise express.15 Hence there is neither error nor formal exaggeration in scriptural hyperbole, nor in that of the great mystics. The exaggeration is only material, for example, when one speaks of the nothingness of the creature, for thereby the author wishes to convey something that is very true, namely, that in comparison with God, the creature is more poor and deficient than can be expressed; and by contrast God is far more perfect than words can tell.

Hyperbole of the same type is found in these words of Christ: “If thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee. . . . If thy right hand scandalize thee, cut it off.”16 It is not a question here of mutilation; Christ uses a vivid expression to point out the gravity of the danger He is speaking of and the urgent necessity of defending oneself against it. Likewise St. Paul, in speaking of the advantages of Judaism, says: “I count all things to be but loss for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ, my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but as dung, that I may gain Christ.”17

Blessed Angela of Foligno is fond of mystical hyperbole and antithesis when she speaks of the great darkness and of the inner life of God, which is above the perfections of intelligence and love, which are identified in it without disappearing. She writes: “I see nothing and I see all; certitude is obtained in the darkness;”18 that is, I see nothing determinate, but I see all the divine perfections united, fused in an ineffable manner in the eminence of the Deity. What she says in this mystical outburst, Cajetan says in abstract form in the loftiest parts of his commentary on St. Thomas’ Treatise on the Trinity.19

St. John of the Cross likes to use mystical hyperbole also in explaining his doctrine, for example, in The Ascent of Mount Carmel: “All things in heaven and earth are nothing in comparison with God. ‘I beheld the earth,’ saith He, ‘and lo, it was void and a thing of nothing, and the heavens, and there was no light in them’ (Jer. 4: 23)’ The earth, ‘void and nothing,’ signifies that the earth and all it contains are nothing, and the heavens without light, that all the lights of heaven, in comparison with God, are perfect darkness. Thus all created things, with the affections bestowed upon them, are nothing, because they are a hindrance, and the privation of our transformation in God.”20

To judge by the engraving which serves as a frontispiece to The Ascent of Mount Carmel, the author seems to demand excessive abnegation. On the narrow path of perfection, he wrote: “Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing”; but if he demands so much, it is because he wishes to lead souls to great heights by the most direct route. Above, he wrote: “Since I wish nothing through self-love, all is given to me, without my going in search of it.” He explains this statement in the following manner in The Ascent: “He has greater joy and comfort in creatures if he detaches himself from them; and he can have no joy in them if he considers them as his own. He acquires also in this detachment from creatures a clear comprehension of them, so as to understand perfectly the truths that relate to them, both naturally and supernaturally. For this reason his joy in them is widely different from his who is attached to them, and far nobler. The former rejoices in their truth, the latter in their deceptiveness; the former in their best, and the latter in their worst, conditions; the former in their substantial worth, and the latter in their seeming and accidental nature, through his senses only. For sense cannot grasp or comprehend more than the accidents, but the mind, purified from the clouds and species of the accidents, penetrates to the interior truth of things, for that is its proper object. . . . The negation and purgation of this joy leaves the judgment clear as the sky when the mists are scattered. The former, therefore, has joy in all things, but his joy is not dependent upon them, neither does it arise from their being his own; and the latter, in so far as he regards them as his own, loses in general all joy whatever.”21 This is indeed what St. Paul says: “Having nothing, and possessing all things.”22 St. Francis of Assisi enjoyed the landscapes of Umbria incomparably more than the proprietors of those lands, who were busy making them materially fructify to the greatest possible extent.

The mystics themselves, it is evident, explain the hyperbole and antithesis to which they have recourse in order to draw us from our somnolence and to try to make us glimpse the elevation of divine things and the value of the one thing necessary.

A comparison of their language with that of theologians will be profitable that we may see how they clarify each other.


Each of these two terminologies has its merits. For the theologian’s study, his more abstract and precise language, which is limited to essential terms, is preferable. But to lead souls effectively to generous abnegation and union with God, the terminology of the mystics is more appropriate because it is more vivid, more alluring, and also more brief, and, in a concrete manner, more comprehensive. These qualities spring from the fact that it expresses not only abstract concepts, but concepts that have been lived, and an ardent love of God; consequently it avoids many circumlocutions and speculative distinctions which would arrest the impulse of the love of God. It leads the soul to seek God Himself beyond the formulas of faith and through them. It reminds us that, if the truth of our judgments is in our mind, the good toward which the will tends is outside our mind, in God Himself.23 It leads also to the thought that what is unknowable and ineffable in God is sovereignly good and can be ardently loved without being really known. It is inspired by the thought which St. Thomas formulates as follows: “(In this life) the love of God is better than the knowledge of God,”24 for by knowledge we in a way draw God to ourselves by imposing on Him, so to speak, the limit of our ideas, whereas love draws us and lifts us toward God.

The distinction between these two terminologies appears, for example, in a comparison of our Savior’s words with a theological commentary on them. In verse twenty-five, chapter twelve of St. John’s Gospel, Christ says briefly, vividly, and concretely: ‘He that loveth his life shall lose It; and he that hateth his life in this world, keepeth it unto life eternal” That is: he who loves his life in an inordinate manner, for example, by refusing to undergo martyrdom rather than to deny his faith, will lose his soul; whereas he who in this world has a holy hatred of his life, for example, by undergoing martyrdom for the Gospel’s sake, will save his soul for eternal life.

But if we attempt a theological explanation of these highly vivid words of Christ, we will construe them in the following abstract manner: he who loves his life with a love contrary to charity will lose it. He will not lose it, however, because he loves his life with a natural love, which is distinct from charity without being contrary to it; and with even greater reason, if he loves it with a love which is included in charity itself. It is St. Thomas25 who thus distinguishes these three very different ways of loving one’s life: the first, contrary to charity; the second, distinct from charity; the third, included in charity, when we wish the life of grace and that of heaven in order to glorify God. These distinctions are indispensable to the theologian; they are those of the speculative intellect which analyzes, whereas Christ’s words lead immediately to love and to the generosity of love.

Likewise, the mystics speak briefly of the nothingness of the creature in order to express what theologians would state in the five following propositions: (1) the creature of itself is nothing, for it was created ex nihilo;(2) compared to God, the already existing creature is nothing, for there is no more perfection after creation, no more being than before, although there are now more beings;(3) by its essential defectibility the creature tends to nothingness and sin;(4) sin is less than nothingness itself, for it is not only the negation, but the privation of a good; it is a disorder and an offense against God;(5) the creature is nothing in our affection if we love it without subordinating it to God, for thus it turns us away from Him.

These five propositions, which are necessary for the abstract study of truth, are summed up in the vivid expression of spiritual writers: the nothingness of the creature. This hyperbolical expression is not false; it would be so only if the word “nothingness” were taken in its literal meaning. Then it would signify that God created nothing outside of Himself and, consequently, one could not speak at all of creatures. All that we have said is clear, and does not greatly need explanation.

We may exemplify the distinction between the two terminologies by comparing the theological treatise on charity with its multiple questions; articles, objections, answers, and distinctions, with what The Imitationsays about the marvelous effects of divine love: “Nothing is sweeter than love, nothing stronger, nothing higher, nothing wider, nothing more pleasant, nothing fuller or better in heaven or in earth: for love is born of God, and cannot rest but in God, above all created things. The lover flieth, runneth, and rejoiceth; he is free and cannot be restrained. . . . Love watcheth, and sleeping slumbereth not. When weary it is not tired; when straightened is not constrained; when frightened is not disturbed; but like a vivid flame and a burning torch, it mounteth upwards and securely passeth through all. . . . He that loveth must willingly embrace all that is hard and bitter for the sake of his Beloved, and never suffer himself to be turned-away from Him by any contrary occurrences whatsoever.”26


Which of these two terminologies is the loftier depends on the principle formulated by Aristotle and often recalled by St. Thomas: “The terms of language are the signs of our ideas, and our ideas are the similitude of realities.”27 The more elevated terminology is, therefore, the one that expresses a loftier thought. Now infused contemplation, in spite of its obscurity and lack of precision, is loftier than theological speculation. Therefore the language of the mystics, which expresses this contemplation, is more elevated than that of theologians. Moreover, that great mystics may acquaint us with their intimate experiences, it is fitting that they should be great poets, like St. John of the Cross or Ruysbroeck; it is not necessary for the theologian to be a poet.

However, if the language of the mystics is in itself more lofty, because it expresses a higher knowledge, it translates this knowledge less exactly than the language of theologians expresses their thought. But we see that this point of view is secondary, if we remember what St. Thomas, following Aristotle, says in the Contra Gentes: “Although we know very little about the loftiest things, the little that we do know about them is more loved and desired than the most exact knowledge that can be had of inferior things.”28 Thus a probable or congruous argument on the mystery of the Trinity is, by reason of the dignity of its object, worth more than all the geometric demonstrations of Euclid.29

What we have just said is confirmed by the fact that Christ’s manner of speaking in Scripture is most lofty; now, the language of spiritual writers more closely resembles it than does scholastic terminology. For example, without feeling that they need to explain them, spiritual writers repeat Christ’s words: “If thou didst know the gift of God, . . . thou perhaps wouldst have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water . . . springing up into life everlasting.”30 “If any man thirst, let him come to Me, and drink. . . . Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”31 Theologians, on the other hand, would offer the following explanation of these words: sanctifying grace, metaphorically expressed by the living water, is an infused habit, received in the essence of the soul, from which spring in our faculties the infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost, all ordered to eternal life. This theological commentary is in relation to the words of our Savior what the polygon inscribed within a circumference is in relation to it. The commentary shows the multiple wealth of the divine utterance, but in its simplicity this saying is superior to the commentary.

Consequently these two terminologies clarify each other, like the doctrine of St. Thomas and that of St. John of the Cross, like acquired wisdom, according to the perfect use of reason enlightened by faith, and infused wisdom or the gift of wisdom.32

The terminology of the Gospel, such as it is kept by spiritual writers, preserves the spirit of faith and love of God, that is, the very spirit of the theological doctrine relative to the majesty of God and the inferiority of the creature. From this point of view, an antimystical scholastic theologian would be a bad theologian.

On the other hand, scholastic terminology is necessary, if not for the individual interior life of the faithful, at least for the doctrinal exposition of revealed truth in opposition to the inexact statements that disfigure it. Without the suitability and precision of theological terms, it is easy to fall into these errors; for example, one exaggerates the congruous reasons for the mysteries of faith and proposes them as if they were demonstrative, or indeed one exaggerates the natural desire to see God to such an extent as to make of it, with Baius, an efficacious natural desire, with the result that grace would not be a gratuitous gift, but a favor due to our nature. For this reason the great mystics, like St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross, highly esteemed great theologians, whereas false mystics, like Molinos, gave them no importance whatever.

Therefore the priest who directs souls should know these two terminologies and be able to explain the one by the other. No one can know the true meaning of the language of spiritual writers if he is unable to explain it theologically; and, on the other hand, no one can know the sublimity of theology if he is ignorant of its relations to mysticism.

Chapter 2: The Entrance into the Illuminative Way

Scripture often recalls, even to those who are in the state of grace, the necessity of a more profound conversion toward God. Our Lord Himself spoke to His apostles, who had been following Him from the beginning of His ministry, about the necessity of becoming converted. St. Mark relates, in fact, that when Christ made His last journey into Galilee with His apostles, on reaching Capharnaum He asked them: “What did you treat of in the way? But they held their peace,” says the Evangelist, “for in the way they had disputed among themselves which of them should be the greatest.”33 And in St. Matthew, where the same occurrence is recounted, we read: “And Jesus, calling unto Him a little child, set him in the midst of them, and said: Amen I say to you, unless you be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”34 Christ was speaking here to the apostles, who had already taken part in His ministry, who would receive Communion at the Last Supper, three of whom had accompanied Him to Thabor; they were in the state of grace, and yet He spoke to them of the necessity of being converted in order to enter profoundly into the kingdom or the divine intimacy. To this end He particularly recommended to them the humility of the child of God, who is conscious of his indigence, his weakness, his dependence on the heavenly Father.

Christ even spoke especially to Peter about his second conversion, just before the Passion, when once again, as St. Luke tells us: “There was also a strife amongst them [the apostles], which of them should seem to be the greater. And He said to them: . . . But he that is the greater among you, let him become as the younger; and he that is the leader, as he that serveth.”35 And to Peter He added: “Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren.”36 On this occasion, Christ is speaking of Peter’s second conversion; the first had taken place when he left his work as a fisherman to follow Jesus.

The liturgy often refers to the second conversion, particularly when it recalls these words of St. Paul: “You have heard Him, and have been taught in Him, as the truth is in Jesus: to put off, according to former conversation, the old man, who is corrupted according to the desire of error, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind: and put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth.”37 This spiritual renewal presupposes a first conversion. The Apostle of the Gentiles speaks of it again in the Epistle to the Colossians: “Lie not one to another: stripping yourselves of the old man with his deeds, and putting on the new, him who is renewed unto knowledge, according to the image of Him that created him. . . . But above all these things have charity, which is the bond of perfection.”38

When the liturgy recalls these words during Advent and at the beginning of Lent, it addresses not only souls in the state of mortal sin that are in need of conversion from evil to good, but also many Christians already in the state of grace who are still very imperfect and have to be converted from a relatively mediocre to a fervent Christian life. On Ash Wednesday it recalls to them Joel’s words: “Now, therefore, saith the Lord: Be converted to Me with all your heart, in fasting and in weeping and in mourning. And rend your hearts, and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God; for He is gracious and merciful, patient and rich in mercy, and ready to repent of the evil.”39 These words are so much the better understood in proportion as the soul that hears them is more advanced and, although in the state of grace for many years, feels the need of a more profound conversion, the necessity of turning the depths of its will more completely toward God. The laborer who has plowed a furrow goes over it a second time to force the plow deeper and turn over the earth which must nourish the wheat.

From this point of view, which is admitted by all, the best spiritual writers have spoken of the necessity of a second conversion to enter truly on the illuminative way of proficients.

Among modern authors, Father Louis Lallemant, S.J. (d. 1680), insists on this point in his beautiful book, La Doctrine Spirituelle. Before him St. Benedict,40 St. Catherine of Siena, Blessed Henry Suso, and Tauler spoke of it at considerable length; but it is principally St. John of the Cross who has treated of this second conversion, which he calls the passive purification of the senses, and which in his opinion marks the entrance into the illuminative way.

We shall set forth the doctrine of these authors, recalling first of all what Father Lallemant says on this subject, since his teaching is easier to understand because it is nearer to our own times. We shall then better grasp what St. Catherine of Siena and Tauler teach, and finally what St. John of the Cross affirms with originality and profundity.

We shall now see what the author of La Doctrine Spirituelle says:

of the fact of this second conversion in the lives of the saints,

of its necessity and fruits.


Father Lallemant states on this subject: “Two conversions ordinarily occur in the majority of the saints and in religious who become perfect: one, by which they devote themselves to the service of God; the other, by which they give themselves entirely to perfection. We see this fact in the lives of the apostles when Christ called them and when he sent the Holy Ghost upon them;41 in St. Teresa, and in her confessor, Father Alvarez, and in several others.42 The second conversion does not occur in all religious, because of their negligence. The time of this conversion in our lives43 is commonly the third year of novitiate. Let us, therefore, take fresh courage now and not spare ourselves in the service of God, because it will never be harder for us than it is at present.44 As time goes on, this way will gradually be rendered less rough, and the difficulties will be smoothed away, because the more pure our hearts become, the more abundantly we shall receive graces.”45 At this juncture a decisive step must be taken.46

What Father Lallemant says here may be completed by examining the lives of many servants of God. There is a painful period, difficult to traverse, which is often set forth, in the lives of the saints and in the processes of beatification, under the title of “Interior Sufferings”; this period marks the entrance into a higher spiritual life. We believe also that notable light would be thrown on the lives of the saints and also on the causes of beatification, if it were more explicitly noted that this period corresponds to what St. John of the Cross calls the passive night of the senses, and that another period, similar to it in certain respects, occurs later. According to this doctor of the Church, the latter corresponds to the passive night of the spirit.

This observation is of a nature to throw light on the most obscure moments in the lives of the servants of God. If, in reality, between the two particularly difficult periods we have just spoken of, the heroic degree of the virtues can already be established, and if it is even more clearly proved after the second of these two periods, it is a sign that the servant of God has indeed successfully passed through both of these periods. It is likewise a sign that he must have had a great spirit of faith, of trust in God in order to surmount the difficulties found therein. Thus these two obscure periods, or to use the expression of St. John of the Cross, these two nights, one of which marks the entrance into the illuminative way of proficients, the other into the unitive way of the perfect, far from being an objection against the sanctity of a soul, serve rather to bring it out more clearly. Great merit is, in fact, necessary to traverse them well, so as not to fall back at this time and to come forth truly fortified by these two trials. The lives of the saints are greatly illumined in the light of these principles.


Not only is this second conversion a fact which is verified in the lives of the servants of God; its necessity is manifest because of the inordinate self-love that still remains in beginners after months and years of labor. Of the necessity of the second conversion, Father Lallemant says: “The reason why some reach perfection only very late or not at all is because they follow only nature and human sense in practically everything. They pay little or no heed to the Holy Ghost, whose appropriate work is to enlighten, to direct, to warm.

“The majority of religious, even of good and virtuous ones, follow in their private conduct and in their direction of others only reason and good sense, in which a number among them excel. This rule is good, but it does not suffice for Christian perfection.47

“Such people ordinarily direct their lives by the common feeling of those with whom they live, and as the latter are imperfect, although their lives are not disorderly, they will never reach the sublime ways of the spirit, because the number of the perfect is very small. They live like the ordinary run of people, and their manner of governing others is imperfect.

“The Holy Ghost waits some time for them to enter into their interior and, seeing there the operations of grace and those of nature, to be disposed to follow His direction; but if they misuse the time and favor which He offers them, He finally abandons them to themselves and leaves them in their interior darkness and ignorance, which they preferred and in which they live thereafter amid great dangers for their salvation.”48

The same author, who writes for religious, says: “The salvation of a religious is inseparably linked to his perfection, so that if he abandons care for his spiritual advancement, he gradually approaches ruin and loss. If he does not come to this pass, it is because God, wishing to save him, mercifully comes to his assistance before his fall. All the masters of the spiritual life agree on this maxim: He who does not advance, falls back. But it sometimes happens, because retrogression takes place imperceptibly, that a few who have already made some progress allow a considerable period to elapse before they realize that they are falling back.”49

The necessity of a second conversion arises from all that remains in us of often unconscious egoism which mingles in the greater number of our acts. In a number of people this necessity comes from their unwillingness to be considered naive and their failure to recognize sufficiently the naivete of a superior simplicity which should grow in them. As a result, they become less simple and true with God, their superiors, and themselves. They lose sight practically of the grandeur of the theological virtues, of the importance of humility; then they no longer understand Christ’s words: “Unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Under the pretext of prudence, they begin to consider the little aspects of great things and to see less and less the great aspect of the daily duties of Christian life and the value of fidelity in little things. They forget that the day is composed of hours and the hour of minutes. They neglect a number of their obligations and gradually, in place of the radical simplicity of a gaze that was already lofty, a simplicity which should become that of contemplation, they find themselves in the quasi-learned complexity of a waning knowledge.

On this subject Father Lallemant says: “In religion (itself) there is a little world, the component parts of which are the esteem of human talents, of important employments, offices, and positions, the love and search for glory and applause, for rest and a calm life. These are the things the demon uses as a puppet show to amuse and deceive us. He sets it all in motion before our eyes in such a way that we dwell on it and let ourselves be seduced, preferring vain appearances to true and solid goods.”50

Human talents are indeed often preferred to the great supernatural virtues. The same author adds: “Only prayer can protect us from this delusion. Prayer it is that teaches us to judge of things in a holy manner, to look at them in the light of truth, which dissipates their false splendor and their spurious charms.”

Elsewhere he says: “We commit more than a hundred acts of pride in a day without, so to speak, being aware of it.”51 The ruin of souls results from the multiplication of venial sins, which causes the diminution of divine lights or inspirations.52 Nor is it sufficient to direct our attention toward God as an afterthought, if our act remains entirely natural and our heart is not truly offered to God. A superficial oblation of self does not suffice; there must be a genuine new conversion, a turning of the heart toward God.53

The fruits of this second conversion are pointed out by the same author in the course of advice to preachers: “People kill themselves dying to produce fine sermons, and yet they reap scarcely any fruit. What is the reason? It is because preaching is just as much a supernatural function as the salvation of souls to which it is directed, and the instrument must be proportioned to the end. . . . The majority of preachers have sufficient learning, but they have not enough devotion or sanctity.

“The true means of acquiring the science of the saints . . . is to have recourse not so much to books as to interior humility, purity of heart, recollection, and prayer. . . . When a soul has attained to entire purity of heart, God Himself instructs it, at times by the unction of spiritual consolations and tastes, at other times by gentle and affectionate lights, which teach it better how to speak to the hearts of its auditors than study and other human means can. . . . But we cannot get rid of our own sufficiency, nor abandon ourselves to God.

“An interior man will make more impression on hearts by a single word that is animated by the spirit of God than another by an entire discourse costing him much work and in which he exhausted all the power of his reasoning.”54 Such are the fruits of the second conversion. The author of The Imitation often speaks of them, especially when he describes the fervor with which we should amend our lives. He says: “A diligent and zealous person will make greater progress, though he have more passions, than another who is well regulated, but less fervent in the pursuit of virtues. . . . Study, likewise, especially to guard against and to get the better of such things as oftenest displease thee in others. . . . As thine eye observeth others, so again thou art also observed by others. . . . But if thou give thyself to fervor, thou shalt find great peace; and thou shalt feel thy labor light, through the grace of God, and for the love of virtue.”55

Thus, intimate conversation with God, which is the basis of the interior life, will gradually take the place of conversation with ourselves.56

Chapter 3: The Second Conversion According to Several Spiritual Writers

We discussed in the preceding chapter the second conversion according to the teaching of Father Louis Lallemant, S.J., one of the best spiritual writers of the seventeenth century. In the fourteenth century, we find the same teaching under another form in the writings of St. Catherine of Siena (d. 1380), Tauler (d. 1361 ), and Blessed Henry Suso (d. 1366), all of whom belong to the family of St. Dominic.


St. Catherine of Siena discusses the second conversion in chapters 60 and 63 of her Dialogue, in reference to imperfect love of God and neighbor, and cites as an example the second conversion of Peter during the Passion. We read in chapter 60: “Some there are who have become faithful servants, serving Me with fidelity without servile fear of punishment, but rather with love. This very love, however, if they serve Me with a view to their own profit, or the delight and pleasure which they find in Me, is imperfect. Dost thou know what proves the imperfection of this love? The withdrawal of the consolations which they found in Me, and the insufficiency and short duration of their love for their neighbor, which grows weak by degrees, and ofttimes disappears. Toward Me their love grows weak when, on occasion, in order to exercise them in virtue and raise them above their imperfection, I withdraw from their minds My consolation and allow them to fall into battles and perplexities. This I do so that, coming to perfect self-knowledge, they may know that of themselves they are nothing and have no grace, and, accordingly in time of battle fly to Me as their benefactor, seeking Me alone, with true humility, for which purpose I treat them thus, withdrawing from them consolation indeed, but not grace. At such a time these weak ones of whom I speak relax their energy, impatiently turning backward, and so sometimes abandon, under color of virtue, many of their exercises, saying to themselves: This labor does not profit me. All this they do, because they feel themselves deprived of mental consolation. Such a soul acts imperfectly, for she has not yet unwound the bandage of spiritual self-love, for had she unwound it, she would see that, in truth, everything proceeds from Me, that no leaf of a tree falls to the ground without My providence, and that what I give and promise to My creatures, I give and promise to them for their sanctification, which is the good and the end for which I created them.”

In imperfect or mercenary love of God and neighbor, the soul, therefore, almost unconsciously seeks itself. It must “tear out the root of spiritual self-love.” As The Dialogue states: “It was with this imperfect love that St. Peter loved the sweet and good Jesus, My only-begotten Son, enjoying most pleasantly His sweet conversation, but, when the time of trouble came, he failed, and so disgraceful was his fall, that not only could he not bear any pain him self, but his terror of the very approach of pain caused him to fall, and deny the Lord, with the words, ‘I have never known Him.’ “

In chapter 63 of The Dialogue, the saint says, in speaking of the passage from mercenary to filial love: “Every perfection and every virtue proceeds from charity, and charity is nourished by humility, which results from the knowledge and holy hatred of self, that is, sensuality. . . . To arrive thereat . . . a man must exercise himself in the extirpation of his perverse self-will, both spiritual and temporal, hiding himself in his own house, as did Peter, who, after the sin of denying My Son, began to weep. Yet his lamentations were imperfect, and remained so until after the forty days, that is, until after the Ascension. But when My Truth returned, to Me in His humanity, Peter and the others concealed themselves in the house awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit, which My Truth had promised them. They remained barred in from fear, because the soul always fears until she arrives at true love. But when they had persevered in fasting and in humble and continual prayer, until they had received the abundance of the Holy Spirit, they lost their fear, and followed and preached Christ crucified.”

St. Catherine of Siena shows in this passage that the imperfect soul which loves the Lord with a love that is still mercenary, ought to follow Peter’s example after his denial of Christ. Not infrequently at this time Providence permits us also to fall into some visible fault to humiliate us and oblige us to enter into ourselves, as Peter did, when immediately after his fall, seeing that Jesus looked at him, he “wept bitterly.”57

In connection with Peter’s second conversion, we should recall that St. Thomas teaches58 that even after a serious sin, if a man has a truly fervent contrition proportionate to the degree of grace lost, he recovers this degree of grace; he may even receive a higher degree if he has a still more fervent contrition. He is, therefore, not obliged to recommence his ascent from the very beginning, but continues it, taking it up again at the point he had reached when he fell. A mountain climber who stumbles halfway up, rises immediately, and continues the ascent. The same is true in the spiritual order. Everything leads us to think that by the fervor of his repentance Peter not only recovered the degree of grace that he had lost, but was raised to a higher degree of the supernatural life. The Lord permitted this fall only to cure him of his presumption so that he might become more humble and thereafter place his confidence, not in himself, but in God. Thus, the humiliated Peter on his knees weeping over his sin is greater than the Peter on Thabor, who did not as yet sufficiently know his frailty.

The second conversion may also take place, though we have no grave sin to expiate, for example, at a time when we are suffering from an injustice, or a calumny, which, under divine grace, awakens in us not sentiments of vengeance, but hunger and thirst for the justice of God. In such a case, the generous forgiving of a grave injury sometimes draws down on the soul of the one who pardons, a great grace, which makes him enter a higher region of the spiritual life. The soul then receives a new insight into divine things and an impulse which it did not know before. David received such a grace when he pardoned Semei who had outraged and cursed him, while throwing stones at him.59

A more profound insight into the life of the soul may originate also on the occasion of the death of a dear one, or of a disaster, or of a great rebuff, when anything occurs which is of a nature to reveal the vanity of earthly things and by contrast the importance of the one thing necessary, union with God, the prelude of the life of heaven.

In her Dialogue St. Catherine also speaks often of the necessity of leaving the imperfect state in which a person serves God more or less through interest and for his own satisfaction, and in which he wishes to go to God the Father without passing through Jesus crucified.60 To leave this imperfect state, the soul which still seeks itself must be converted that it may cease to seek itself and may truly go in search of God by the way of abnegation, which is that of profound peace.


The works of Blessed Henry Suso contain a number of instructions relative to the second conversion. He himself experienced this conversion after a few years of religious life, during which he had slipped into some negligences. Particular attention ought to be given to what he says about the necessity of a more interior and deep Christian life in religious who give themselves most exclusively to study, and in others who are chiefly attentive to exterior observances and austerities. In the divine light he saw “these two classes of persons circling about the Savior’s cross, without being able to reach Him,”61 because both groups sought themselves, either in study or in exterior observances, and because they judged each other without charity. He understood then that he should remain in complete self-abnegation, ready to accept all that God might will, and to accept it with love, at the same time practicing great fraternal charity.62

Tauler, who, as Bossuet says, is “one of the most solid and most correct of the mystics,”63 speaks of the second conversion especially in two of his sermons, that for the second Sunday of Lent, and the one for the Monday before Palm Sunday.64

In the sermon for the second Sunday of Lent, Tauler points out those who need the second conversion; they are those who still more or less resemble the scribes and Pharisees. We may summarize his teaching as follows:

The scribes, he says, were wise men who made much of their learning, whereas the Pharisees, who were strongly attached to their practices and observances, highly esteemed their own piety.65 We recognize in these two classes the two most harmful evil inclinations that can be found among pious people. . . . Nothing good comes from either of these dispositions. Nevertheless, rare are they who are not somewhat retained in one or the other of these evil inclinations or even in both of them at the same time; but some are much more held than others.

By the scribes we must understand intellectual men who value everything according to the standard of their reason or sensibility. They pass on to their reason what their senses have furnished them, and thus they come to understand great things. They glory in this knowledge and speak eloquently, but the depths of their souls, whence the truth should come, remain empty and desolate.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, are pious people who have a good opinion of themselves, think they amount to something, hold firmly to their observances and their practices, believe there is nothing beyond these, and aspire to esteem and consideration because of these practices. They condemn those who do not see things as they do (even if their lives are in no way seriously reprehensible).

(Tauler certainly does not believe that these last are in the illuminative way.)

Let everyone, he adds, guard against these Pharisaical ways in the depths of his soul, and be watchful that no false sanctity hide there.

In this connection we should recall what the Gospel tells us about the prayer of the Pharisee and the publican, a parable which shows the necessity of a more profound conversion.

What occurs at the beginning of the second conversion? God begins to pursue the soul, and it likewise seeks God, not, however, without a struggle against the inclinations of the exterior man and without anxiety. This state is manifested by a keen desire for God and for perfection, and also by what St. Paul calls the struggle of the spirit against the flesh or the inferior part of man.66 From this struggle originates anxiety or even a certain anguish; the soul asks itself if it will reach the end so keenly desired.

Tauler gives a good description of this state, which St. John of the Cross later on calls the passive purification of the senses, in which there is a beginning of infused contemplation. In the sermon for the second Sunday of Lent, the old Dominican master declares: “From this pursuit of God (and of the soul who seek each other) keen anguish results. When a man is plunged into this anxiety and becomes aware of this pursuit of God in his soul, it is then without doubt that Jesus comes and enters into him. But when one does not feel this pursuit or experience this anguish, Jesus does not come.

“Of all those who do not let themselves be caught by this pursuit and this anguish, none ever turns out well; they remain what they are, they do not enter into themselves, and consequently they know nothing of what is taking place in them.”

These last words show that in Tauler’s opinion this passive purification is indeed in the normal way of sanctity and not an essentially extraordinary grace like revelations, visions, and the stigmata. It is a purification that must be undergone on earth while meriting, or in purgatory without meriting, in order to reach perfect purity of soul, without which one cannot enter heaven. If a man must labor to obtain a doctor’s degree in theology or law, he must also toil to reach true perfection.

Though some people stricken with neurasthenia erroneously believe they are in this state, it often happens that interior souls who are truly in this anxiety and who seek light from a confessor, obtain only this answer: “Do not trouble yourself; those are only scruples. Remain in peace; the passive purifications that certain books speak of are very rare and extraordinary.” After this answer, the soul is no more illuminated than before and has the impression of not having been understood.

What Tauler speaks of in the above passage is truly in the normal way of sanctity or of the full perfection of Christian life. God appears here as the Hunter in pursuit of souls for their greatest good.

What should the soul do that is thus pursued by the Savior? Tauler answers: “In truth, it should do what the woman of Canaan did: go to Jesus and cry in a loud voice, that is, with an ardent desire: ‘Lord, Son of David, have pity on me!’

“Ah! my children, this divine pursuit, this hunt provokes (in some souls) an appealing cry of immense force; the supplication of the spirit carries thousands of leagues and more (that is, even to the Most High); it is a sigh which comes from a measureless depth. This desire of the soul reaches far beyond nature; it is the Holy Ghost Himself who must utter this sigh in us, as St. Paul says: ‘The Spirit Himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings.’”67

These words of Tauler show that in his opinion and, as we shall see, later on in that of St. John of the Cross, the soul in this struggle enters on the mystical life through a special inspiration of the Holy Ghost and a beginning of contemplation, in spite of the aridity in which it remains. The Holy Ghost, who dwells in all the just, begins to render His influence manifest.

Tauler points out here that, after this cry of the soul, God treats it at times as Jesus did the woman of Canaan; He acts as if He did not hear or were not willing to grant its prayer. This is the time to insist, as the woman of Canaan did so admirably, under the divine inspiration which pursued her in the midst of obvious rebuffs.

“Ah! my children,” says Tauler, “how greatly then should the desire in the depths of the soul become more keen and more urgent. . . . Even if God refused to give bread, even if He disowned one as His child . . . , one should answer Him as did the Canaanite: ‘Yea Lord; for the whelps also eat of the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters.’

“Ah! my children,” adds Tauler, “if one could succeed in thus penetrating the depths of the truth (of our consciences) not by learned commentaries, words, or indeed with the senses, but into the true depth! Then neither God nor any creature could tread on you, crush you, bury you so deeply that you would not plunge yourselves truly much deeper still. Though you should be subjected to affronts, scorn, and rebuffs, you would remain firm in perseverance, you would plunge still deeper, animated by a complete confidence, and you would ever increase your zeal.68 Ah! yes, my children, everything depends on this; a man who reached this point, would be really successful. These roads, and these alone, lead, in truth, without any intermediary station to God. But to some it seems impossible to reach this degree of limitless annihilation and to remain thus in this depth with perseverance, with entire and veritable assurance, as this poor Canaanite woman did. Consequently Christ answered her: ‘O woman! great is thy faith. Be it done to thee as thou wilt.’ In truth, this is the answer that will be made to all those who will be found in such dispositions and on this road.”

Tauler relates at this point what happened to a young girl who, believing herself far from God, nevertheless abandoned herself entirely to His holy will, no matter what it might bring, and gave herself up wholly for eternity; then, he says, “she was carried very far above every intermediary and completely drawn into the divine abyss.”

To show the fruits of the second conversion, the old master adds: “Take the last place, as the Gospel teaches, and you shall be lifted up. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled. Desire only what God has willed from all eternity; accept the place which in His most amiable will He has decided should be yours.69

“My children, it is by a person’s complete renunciation of self and of all that he possesses that he goes to God. One drop of this renunciation, one rill of it,70 would better prepare a man and lead him nearer to God than if he had stripped himself of all his garments and given them away, than if he had eaten thorns and stones, supposing that nature could bear it. A short moment lived in these dispositions would be more useful for us than forty years following practices of our own choice. . . .

“For long years you go your own little way and you do not advance, . . . a deplorable condition. Let us, therefore, pray our Lord that we may plunge ourselves so profoundly in God that we may be found in Him. Amen.”71

Such is Tauler’s description of the second conversion in which the soul is far more profoundly “turned toward God,” like the soil, for example, which, on second plowing, is more deeply turned up that it may become really fruitful.

Tauler treats the same subject in the sermon for the Monday before Palm Sunday72 while explaining the text: “If any man thirst, let him come to Me, and drink. . . . Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”73 In this sermon he describes74 the soul’s thirst for God which arises under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, at the same time as a sort of disgust for everything created, for everything in it that is inordinate, untrue, and vain. This lively desire for God and this distaste for creatures are accompanied by a struggle against the inordinate inclinations of the sensibility and impatience. This is in reality the state that St. John of the Cross later calls the passive purification of the senses. Tauler describes it with an abundance of metaphors that today seem excessive. He notes that after this trial there is a period of repose and enjoyment.75 Then he describes the second series of trials by which the unitive way of the perfect begins;76 these trials are those which St. John of the Cross calls the passive night of the spirit.

This teaching, which is approximately the same under varied forms in the works of St. Catherine of Siena, Blessed Henry Suso, and Venerable Tauler, shows that to enter the illuminative way of proficients a person needs what Father Lallemant and several others have rightly called a second conversion. Then the soul begins to understand Christ’s words to the apostles, who were arguing to find out who was the first among them: “Amen I say to you, unless you be converted and become as little children [by simplicity and consciousness of your weakness], you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”77 The apostles were already in the state of grace, but they needed a second conversion to enter the intimacy of the kingdom, to penetrate deeply into it, that “the depths of the soul,” which Tauler speaks of so frequently, might no longer contain any egoism or self-love, but belong wholly to God so that God might truly reign in it. Until His reign is established in the generous soul, the Lord pursues it; and, under the divine inspiration, it will also seek Him by an increasingly pure and strong desire, at the same time that it ceases to seek itself. Then its eyes will be opened and it will see that a number of those whom it judged severely are better than it. This work is the divine work par excellence, that of the profound purification of the soul; first of the sensitive part; then of the spiritual part to the end that it may be established in the intimacy of the divine union, the normal prelude of the life of heaven.

Chapter 4: The Passive Purification of the Senses and the Entrance into the Illuminative Way

The entrance into the illuminative way, which is the second conversion described by St. Catherine of Siena, Blessed Henry Suso, Tauler, and Father Lallemant, is called by St. John of the Cross the passive purification of the senses or the night of the senses. At this point in our study we must see what St. John of the Cross says about: (1) the necessity of this purification;(2) the way it is produced;(3) the conduct to be observed at this difficult time;(4) the trials which ordinarily accompany the purifying divine action. These points will be the subject of this chapter and the following one.


In The Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross says: “The night of sense is common, and the lot of many: these are the beginners”;78 and he adds farther on, after discussing this trial: “The soul began to set out on the way of the spirit, the way of proficients, which is also called the illuminative way, or the way of infused contemplation, wherein God Himself teaches and refreshes the soul without meditation or any active efforts that itself may deliberately make.”79 Nevertheless the soul must always struggle to remove the obstacles to this grace and to be faithful to it. These two texts are extremely important, for they mark the age of the spiritual life in which the purifying trial we are considering is ordinarily produced.

The necessity of this purification, as the saint shows in the same book,80 arises from the defects of beginners, which may be reduced to three: spiritual pride, spiritual sensuality, and spiritual sloth. St. John of the Cross teaches that remains of the seven capital sins, like so many deviations of the spiritual life, are found even here. And yet the mystical doctor considers only the disorder that results from them in our relations with God; he does not speak of all that taints our dealings with our neighbor and the apostolate which may be under our care.

Spiritual sensuality, with which we are especially concerned here under the name of spiritual gluttony, consists in being immoderately attached to the sensible consolations that God sometimes grants in prayer. The soul seeks these consolations for themselves, forgetting that they are not an end, but a means; it prefers the savor of spiritual things to their purity, and thus seeks itself in the things of God rather than God Himself, as it should. In others, this self­seeking is in the exterior apostolate, in some form or other of activity.

Spiritual sloth comes as a rule then from the fact that, when spiritual gluttony or some other form of selfishness is not satisfied to the desired extent, one falls into impatience and a certain disgust for the work of sanctification as soon as it is a question of advancing by the “narrow way.” The early writers spoke much of this spiritual sloth and of this disgust, which they called acedia.81 They even declared that acedia, when accentuated, leads to malice, rancor, pusillanimity, discouragement, sluggishness, and dissipation of spirit in regard to forbidden things.82

Spiritual pride manifests itself quite frequently when spiritual gluttony or some other self-seeking is satisfied, when things go as one wishes; then a man boasts of his perfection, judges others severely, sets himself up as a master, while he is still only a poor disciple. This spiritual pride, says St. John of the Cross,83 leads beginners to flee masters who do not approve of their spirit; “they even end by bearing them rancor.” They seek a guide favorable to their inclinations, desire to be on intimate terms with him, confess their sins to him in such a way as not to lower themselves in his esteem. As St. John of the Cross says: “They go about palliating their sins, that they may not seem so bad: which is excusing rather than accusing themselves. Sometimes they go to a stranger to confess their sin, that their usual confessor may think that they are not sinners, but good people. And so they always take pleasure in telling him of their goodness.”84

This spiritual pride leads, as is evident, to a certain pharisaical hypocrisy, which shows that the beginners, whom St. John of the Cross is speaking of, are still very imperfect; they are, therefore, beginners in the sense in which this word is generally understood by spiritual authors.85 And yet it is of them that St. John of the Cross says here that they need to undergo the passive purification of the senses, which therefore marks clearly the entrance into the illuminative way of proficients, according to the traditional meaning of these terms.

To the defects of spiritual gluttony, spiritual sloth, and spiritual pride, are added many others: curiosity, which decreases love of the truth; sufficiency, which leads us to exaggerate our personal worth, to become irritated when it is not recognized; jealousy and envy, which lead to disparagement, intrigues, and unhappy conflicts, which more or less seriously injure the general good. Likewise in the apostolate, the defect rather frequent at this time is natural eagerness in self-seeking, in making oneself a center, in drawing souls to oneself or to the group to which one belongs instead of leading them to our Lord. Finally, let trial, a rebuff, a disgrace come, and one is, in consequence, inclined to discouragement, discontent, sulkiness, pusillanimity, which seeks more or less to assume the external appearances of humility. All these defects show the necessity of a profound purification.

Several of these defects may, without doubt, be corrected by exterior mortification and especially by interior mortification which we should impose on ourselves; but such mortification does not suffice to extirpate their roots, which penetrate to the very center of our faculties.86 “The soul, however,” says St. John of the Cross, “cannot be perfectly purified from these imperfections, any more than from the others, until God shall have led it into the passive purgation of the dark night, which I shall speak of immediately. But it is expedient that the soul, so far as it can, should labor, on its own part, to purify and perfect itself, that it may merit from God to be taken under His divine care, and be healed from those imperfections which of itself it cannot remedy. For, after all the efforts of the soul, it cannot by any exertions of its own actively purify itself so as to be in the slightest degree fit for the divine union of perfection in the love of God, if God Himself does not take it into His own hands and purify it in the fire, dark to the soul.”87

In other words, the cross sent by God to purify us must complete the work of mortification which we impose on ourselves. Consequently, as St. Luke relates: “He [Jesus] said to all: If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself [this is the law of mortification or abnegation], and take up his cross daily, and follow Me”;88 per crucem ad lucem. This road leads to the light of life, to intimate union with God, the normal prelude of the life of heaven.


This state is manifested by three signs which St. John of the Cross describes as follows:

The first is this: when we find no comfort in the things of God, and none also in created things. For when God brings the soul into the dark night in order to wean it from sweetness and to purge the desire of sense, He does not allow it to find sweetness or comfort anywhere. It is then probable, in such a case, that this dryness is not the result of sins or of imperfections recently committed; for if it were, we should feel some inclination or desire for other things than those of God. . . . But still, inasmuch as this absence of pleasure in the things of heaven and of earth may proceed from bodily indisposition or a melancholy temperament, which frequently causes dissatisfaction with all things, the second test and condition become necessary.

The second test and condition of this purgation are that the memory dwells ordinarily upon God with a painful anxiety and carefulness, the soul thinks it is not serving God, but going backwards, because it is no longer conscious of any sweetness in the things of God. . . . The true purgative aridity is accompanied in general by a painful anxiety, because the soul thinks that it is not serving God. Though this be occasionally increased by melancholy or other infirmity—so it sometimes happens yet it is not for that reason without its purgative effects on the desires, because the soul is deprived of all sweetness, and its sole anxieties are referred to God. For when mere bodily indisposition is the cause, all that it does is to produce disgust and the ruin of bodily health, without the desire of serving God which belongs to the purgative aridity. In this aridity, though the sensual part of man be greatly depressed, weak and sluggish in good works, by reason of the little satisfaction they furnish, the spirit is, nevertheless, ready and strong.

The cause of this dryness is that God is transferring to the spirit the goods and energies of the senses, which, having no natural fitness for them, become dry, parched up, and empty; for the sensual nature of man is helpless in those things which belong to the spirit simply. Thus the spirit having been tasted, the flesh becomes weak and remiss; but the spirit, having received its proper nourishment, becomes strong, more vigilant and careful than before, lest there should be any negligence in serving God. At first it is not conscious of any spiritual sweetness and delight, but rather of aridities and distaste, because of the novelty of the change. The palate accustomed to sensible sweetness looks for it still. And the spiritual palate is not prepared and purified for so delicious a taste until it shall have been for some time disposed for it in this arid and dark night. . . .89

But when these aridities arise in the purgative way of the sensual appetite the spirit though at first without any sweetness, for the reasons I have given, is conscious of strength and energy to act because of the substantial nature of its interior food, which is the commencement of contemplation, dim and dry to the senses. This contemplation is in general secret, and unknown to him who is admitted into it, and with the aridity and emptiness which it produces in the senses, it makes the soul long for solitude and quiet, without the power of reflecting on anything distinctly, or even desiring to do so.

Now, if they who are in this state knew how to be quiet, . . . they would have, in this tranquillity, a most delicious sense of this interior food. This food is so delicate that, in general, it eludes our perceptions if we make any special effort to feel it; it is like the air which vanishes when we shut our hands to grasp it. For this is God’s way of bringing the soul into this state; the road by which He leads it is so different from the first, that if it will do anything in its own strength, it will hinder rather than aid His work. Therefore, at this time, all that the soul can do of itself ends, as I have said, in disturbing the peace and the work of God in the spirit amid the dryness of sense.90

The third sign we have for ascertaining whether this dryness be the purgation of sense, is inability to meditate and make reflections, and to excite the imagination, as before, notwithstanding all the efforts we may make; for God begins now to communicate Himself, no longer through the channel of sense, as formerly, in consecutive reflections, by which we arranged and divided our knowledge, but in pure spirit, which admits not of successive reflections, and in the act of pure contemplation (to which the special inspiration of the Holy Ghost gives rise in us).91

In regard to this third sign, St. John of the Cross points out that this inability to meditate in a reasoned or discursive manner “does not arise out of any bodily ailment. When it arises from this, the indisposition, which is always changeable, having ceased, the powers of the soul recover their former energies and find their previous satisfactions at once. It is otherwise in the purgation of the appetite, for as soon as we enter upon this, the inability to make our meditations continually grows. It is true that this purgation at first is not continuous in some persons.”92

Though this state is manifested by two negative characteristics (sensible aridity and great difficulty in meditating according to a reasoned manner), evidently the most important element in it is the positive side, that is, initial infused contemplation and the keen desire for God to which it gives rise in us. It must even be admitted that then sensible aridity and the difficulty in meditating come precisely from the fact that grace takes a new, purely spiritual form, superior to the senses and to the discourse of reason, which makes use of the imagination. Here the Lord seems to take from the soul, for He deprives it of sensible consolation, but in reality He bestows a precious gift, nascent contemplation and a love that is more spirit­ual, pure, and strong. Only, we must keep in mind the saying: “The roots of knowledge are bitter and the fruits sweet”; the same must be said in a higher order of the roots and fruits of contemplation.


The theological explanation of this state is to be found in four causes. We already know its formal and material causes from the fact that St. John of the Cross tells us that it is a passive purification of the sensibility. Several authors insist on its final cause or end, which is easily discovered, and do not give sufficient attention to its efficient cause.

The passage just quoted from St. John of the Cross indicates the efficient cause. It is, in fact, a special and purifying action of God, from which comes, says the saint, a beginning of infused contemplation. In this contemplation we have the explanation of the keen desire for God experienced by the soul, since man ardently desires only that of which he experimentally knows the charm. This keen desire for God and for perfection is itself the explanation of the fear of falling back (filial fear). Finally, sensible aridity is explained by the fact that the special grace then given is purely spiritual and not sensible; it is a higher form of life. St. John’s text explains this state rationally.

On penetrating more deeply into the theological explanation of this state, we observe that in it there is a special inspiration of the Holy Ghost, whose influence then becomes more manifest. Theology teaches that every just soul possesses the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, which enable it to receive His inspirations with docility and promptness.93 Here, therefore, the influence of the gifts is quite manifest, especially those gifts of knowledge, filial fear, and fortitude.

The gift of knowledge, in fact, explains the first sign pointed out by St. John of the Cross: “No comfort in the things of God and none also in created things.” The gift of knowledge, according to St. Augustine94 and St. Thomas,95 makes us know experimentally the emptiness of created things, all that is defectible and deficient in them and in ourselves. Knowledge indeed differs from wisdom inasmuch as it knows things not by their supreme cause, but by their proximate, defectible, and deficient cause. For this reason, according to St. Augustine, the gift of knowledge corresponds to the beatitude of tears. The tears of contrition come actually from the knowledge of the gravity of sin and the nothingness of creatures. The gift of knowledge reminds us of what Ecclesiastes says: “Vanity of vanities, . . . and all things are vanity,” except to love God and to serve Him.96 This thought is repeatedly expressed in The Imitation97 and in the works of great mystics like Ruysbroeck.98 Before St. John of the Cross, Ruysbroeck pointed out the relations of the gift of knowledge to the passive purification of the senses, in which the soul knows by experience the emptiness of created things and is led thereby to a keen desire for God.99

In the passive purification of the senses which we are speaking of, there is also a manifest influence of the gifts of fear and fortitude, as the second sign given by St. John of the Cross indicates: “The true purgative aridity is accompanied in general by a painful anxiety because the soul thinks that it is not serving God. . . . For when mere bodily indisposition is the cause, all that it does is to produce disgust and the ruin of bodily health, without the desire of serving God which belongs to the purgative aridity. In this aridity, though the sensual part of man is greatly depressed, weak and sluggish in good works, by reason of the little satisfaction they furnish, the spirit is, nevertheless, ready and strong.”100

The second sign manifests, therefore, an effect of the gift of fear, of filial fear, not the fear of punishment but that of sin. Filial fear evidently grows with the progress of charity, whereas servile fear, or that of punishment, diminishes.101 By the special inspiration of this gift the soul resists the strong temptations against chastity and patience which often accompany the passive purification of the senses. The Christian, who then experiences his indigence, repeats the words of the Psalmist: “Pierce Thou my flesh with Thy fear: for I am afraid of Thy judgments.”102 According to St. Augustine, the gift of fear corresponds to the beatitude of the poor,103 of those who do not pose as masters, but who begin to love seriously the humility of the hidden life that they may become more like our Lord. In this poverty they find true riches: “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

In the keen desire to serve God which St. John of the Cross speaks of here, a desire that subsists in spite of aridity, temptations, difficulties, there is, at the same time, a manifest effect of the gift of fortitude, corresponding to the fourth beatitude: “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.”104 The ardent desire to serve God at no matter what cost is truly this hunger, which the Lord arouses in us. He gives rise to it and He satisfies it; as was said to Daniel: “I am come to show it to thee, because thou art a man of desires.”105 The gift of fortitude comes here, in the midst of difficulties and contradictions, to the assistance of the virtues of patience and longanimity; without it spiritual enthusiasm would die away like sensible enthusiasm. This is the time when man must give heed to what The Imitation says about the holy way of the cross: “Follow Jesus, and thou shalt go into life everlasting. He is gone before thee, carrying His cross. . . . If thou carry the cross willingly, it will carry thee and bring thee to thy desired end. . . . And sometimes he gaineth such strength through affection to tribulation and adversity, by his love of conformity to the cross of Christ, as not to be willing to be without suffering and affliction. . . . This is not man’s power but the grace of Christ, which doth and can effect such great things in frail flesh, and that what it naturally abhors and flies, even this, through fervor of spirit, it now embraces and loves [i.e., to bear the cross].”106

Finally, the third sign which St. John of the Cross speaks of, “the growing difficulty in meditating discursively,” shows the influence of the gift of understanding, the source of initial infused contemplation, above reasoning.107 In the same chapter of The Dark Night,108 the saint speaks in exact terms of this “beginning of obscure and arid contemplation” by which God nourishes the soul while purifying it and giving it strength to go beyond the figures, to penetrate the meaning of the formulas of faith that it may reach the superior simplicity which characterizes contemplation.109

St. Thomas also speaks clearly on this subject: “The other cleanness of heart is a kind of complement to the sight of God; such is the cleanness of the mind that is purged of phantasms and errors, so as to receive the truths which are proposed to it about God, no longer by way of corporeal phantasms, nor infected with heretical misrepresentations; and this cleanness is the result of the gift of understanding.”110 Thereby this gift preserves us from possible deviations and makes us go beyond the letter of the Gospel to attain its spirit; it begins to make us penetrate, beyond the formulas of faith, the depths of the mysteries that they express. The formula is no longer a term but a point of departure. This purifying influence of the gift of understanding will be exercised especially in the passive purification of the spirit, but even at this stage it is manifest. Under the special inspiration of the Holy Ghost, the soul now makes an act of penetrating faith, which is called an infused act, for it cannot be produced without this special inspiration.111

Thus there begins to be realized what St. Thomas also points out: “But on the part of the soul, before it arrives at this uniformity (of contemplation, symbolized by the uniformity of circular movement, without beginning or end), its twofold lack of uniformity needs to be removed. First, that which arises from the variety of external things . . . and from the discoursing of reason. This is done by directing all the soul’s operations to the simple contemplation of the intelligible truth,”112 a process which begins to be realized in the passive purification of the senses. Here, for example, a theologian will see the entire tract on predestination and that on grace reduced to this simple principle: “Since God’s love is the cause of goodness in things, no one thing would be better than another if God did not will greater good for one than for another.”113

St. Augustine, in treating of the degrees of the life of the soul,114 pointed out that the life of true virtue begins by a purification, which he called “purificationis negotium . . . , opus tam difficile mundationis animae.” Such is, we believe, according to the great masters,115 the explanation of this state or period of transition, which is manifested by the subtraction of sensible graces, but which is in reality the beginning of infused contemplation, the threshold of the mystical life, in which grace is given under a new form, more freed from the senses, that it may spiritualize us, make us attain the vivifying spirit under the letter of the Gospel, and cause us truly to live by it.116


To distinguish neurasthenia from the passive purifications, we should note that the most frequent symptoms in neurasthenics are the following: almost continual fatigue, even when they have not worked, accompanied by a feeling of prostration, of discouragement; habitual headaches (the sensation of wearing a helmet, a leaden cap; dull pains at the nape of the neck or in the spinal column); insomnia, to such an extent that the neurasthenic wakes up more tired than when he went to bed; difficulty in exercising the intellectual faculties and in maintaining attention; impressionability (intense emotions for very slight causes), which leads the sufferer to believe that he has illnesses that he does not really have; excessive self-analysis even to minute details, continual preoccupation not to become ill.117

Neurasthenics are, however, not imaginary invalids; the powerlessness they experience is real, and it would be very imprudent to urge them to disregard their fatigue and work to the limit of their strength. What they lack is not will, but power.

The causes of neurasthenia may be organic like infections, endocrine or liver troubles, pre-paralysis; but often the causes are also psychical: intellectual overloading, moral worries, painful emotions, which constitute too heavy a load for the nervous system. Even in these last cases, where the cause of the disease is mental, the illness itself affects the organism. For this reason neurasthenics must absolutely be made to rest; and they must be progressively led to perform easy tasks proportionate to their strength, and be encouraged.

We should also note that psychoneuroses may be associated with a developed intellectual life and a lofty moral life. Consequently we see, as St. John of the Cross pointed out in speaking of the three signs of the passive night of the senses, that this night may exist simultaneously with melancholia, or neurasthenia as it is called today. But we see also that the passive night is distinguished from this state of nervous fatigue by the second sign (the soul ordinarily keeps the memory of God with solicitude and painful anxiety for fear it may be falling back), and by the third sign (the quasi-impossibility to meditate, but the ability to keep a simple and loving gaze on God, the beginning of infused contemplation). The ardent desire for God and for perfection, which is manifested by these signs, distinguishes notably this passive purification from neurasthenia which may sometimes co-exist with it.

Chapter 5: Conduct to be Observed in the Night of the Senses

In The Dark Night, St. John of the Cross treats of the conduct to be observed in the night of the senses.118 He gives there, first of all, rules for direction, then he speaks of the trials which ordinarily accompany this state. We shall set forth here the essential part of his teaching on this point. This teaching may, moreover, be useful not only for those who are in this period of obscurity and prolonged aridity, but also for those who observe that in their interior life day and night alternate somewhat as they do in nature. The author of The Imitation frequently points out this alternation. As in nature it is good that night succeed day, so also is it suitable in the life of the soul. Furthermore, one must know how to conduct oneself in these two phases that differ so greatly; especially is this knowledge necessary when the obscure phase is prolonged, as it is in the period we are considering.


The mystical doctor points out first of all in regard to those who are in this period of transition: “If they meet with no one who understands the matter, these persons fall away and abandon the right road; or they become weak, or at least put hindrances in the way of their further advancement, because of the great efforts they make to proceed in their former way of meditation, fatiguing their natural powers beyond measure.” At this time, it is advisable for them to seek counsel from an enlightened director because of the difficulties which arise in the interior life by reason of the subtraction of sensible graces, the growing difficulty in meditating, and also by reason of the concomitant temptations against chastity and patience which the devil then awakens rather frequently in order to turn the soul away from prayer.

In the second place, says St. John of the Cross: “It behooves those who find themselves in this condition to take courage and persevere in patience. Let them not afflict themselves but put their confidence in God, who never forsakes those who seek Him with a pure and upright heart. Neither will He withhold from them all that is necessary for them on this road until He brings them to the clear and pure light of love, which He will show them in that other dark night of the spirit, if they shall merit an entrance into it.” Consequently, in this aridity and powerlessness one must not become discouraged or abandon prayer as if it were useless. On the contrary, it becomes much more fruitful if the soul perseveres in humility, abnegation, and trust in God. Prolonged sensible aridity and growing inability to meditate are the sign of a new, higher life. Instead of grieving over this condition, a learned and experienced director rejoices; it is the generous entrance into “the narrow way” which ascends as it broadens, and which will become increasingly wide, immense as God Himself to whom it leads. At this stage the soul is under the happy necessity of not being content with weak acts of faith, hope, and love. Imperfect acts (actus remissi) of these virtues no longer suffice here; more lofty and more meritorious acts are necessary. According to St. Thomas, it is characteristic of these acts to obtain immediately the increase of grace and charity which they merit.119

The spiritual man who has reached this stage is like a man who in climbing a mountain comes to a difficult spot where, to make progress, he must have a keener desire for the goal to be attained. We are here at the aurora of the illuminative life; it richly deserves that we show generosity in our passage through the dark night which precedes it. Here it is a question of being purified from the remains of the seven capital sins that stain the spiritual life; if one is not purified from them on earth while meriting, one must be cleansed in purgatory without meriting.

The passive purification which we are speaking of is in the normal way of sanctity, which may be defined as union with God and sufficient purity to enter heaven immediately. This degree of purity is certainly in the normal way of heaven, whether a person obtains it on earth, or only at the end of his purgatory. Purgatory, which is a penalty, presupposes sins that could have been avoided. Therefore the soul should trust in God while this painful work of purification is being accomplished.

In the third place, as St. John of the Cross points out here,120 when persons can no longer meditate discursively: “All they have to do is to keep their soul free, . . . contenting themselves simply with directing their attention lovingly and calmly toward God.” To wish to return at any cost to discursive meditation, would be to wish to run counter to the current of grace instead of following it, and to give ourselves great trouble without profit. It would be like running toward the spring of living water when we have already reached its brim; continuing to run, we withdraw from it. It would be like continuing to spell when we already know how to read several words at a glance. It would be to fall back instead of allowing ourselves to be drawn, to be lifted up by God. However, if the difficulty in meditating does not increase and makes itself felt only from time to time, it is well to return to simplified, affective meditation whenever possible: for example, to the very slow meditation of the Our Father.

St. John gives a fourth rule of direction for those who, having reached this state of prolonged aridity, wish, not to return to reasoned meditation, but to feel some consolation. St. John of the Cross says on this subject: “All they have to do is to keep their soul free, . . . and all this without anxiety or effort, or immoderate desire to feel and taste His presence. For all such efforts disquiet the soul, and distract it from the peaceful quiet and sweet tranquillity of contemplation to which they are now admitted.121 . . . If they were now to exert their interior faculties, they would simply hinder and ruin the good which, in that repose, God is working in the soul; for if a man while sitting for his portrait cannot be still, but moves about, the painter will never depict his face, and even the work already done will be spoiled. . . . The more it strives to find help in affections and knowledge, the more will it feel the deficiency which cannot now be supplied in that way.”122 In other words, natural activity exercising itself counter to the gifts of the Holy Ghost, through self-seeking opposes an obstacle to their most delicate inspirations. In prayer, we should not seek to feel the gift of God, but should receive it with docility and disinterestedness in the obscurity of faith. Spiritual joy will be added later on to the act of contemplation and love of God; but it is not joy that should be sought, it is God Himself, who is greatly superior to His gifts.

If the soul that has reached this period of transition is faithful to what has been said, then will be realized what St. John of the Cross affirms: “By not hindering the operation of infused contemplation, to which God is now admitting it, the soul is refreshed in peaceful abundance, and set on fire with the spirit of love, which this con­templation, dim and secret, induces and establishes within it.”123

As the mystical doctor says: “The soul should content itself simply with directing its attention lovingly and calmly toward God,” with the general knowledge of His infinite goodness, as when after months of absence, a loving son again meets his good mother who has been expecting him. He does not analyze his sentiments and his mother’s as a psychologist would; he is content with an affectionate, tranquil, and profound gaze which in its simplicity is far more penetrating than all psychological analyses.

This beginning of infused contemplation united to love is already the eminent exercise of the theological virtues and of the gifts of the Holy Ghost which accompany them. In it there is an infused act of penetrating faith;124 therein the soul discovers increasingly the spirit of the Gospel, the spirit which vivifies the letter. Thus are verified Christ’s words: “The Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you.”125 St. John also wrote to the faithful to whom he directed his first epistle: “And as for you, let the unction, which you have received from Him, abide in you.126 And you have no need that any man teach you; . . . His unction teacheth you of all things.”127 In the silence of prayer, the soul receives here the profound meaning of what it has often read and meditated on in the Gospel: for example, the intrinsic meaning of the evangelical beatitudes: blessed are the poor, the meek, those who weep for their sins, those who hunger and thirst for justice, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, those who suffer persecution for justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

In this way, as a rule, begins infused prayer, the spiritual elevation of the soul toward God, above the senses, the imagination, and reasoning; it is adoration “in spirit and in truth,” which goes beyond the formulas of faith to penetrate the mysteries which they express and to live by them. The formulas are no longer a term, but a point of departure.

Nevertheless we should remember here what St. John of the Cross says in The Ascent of Mount Carmel: “The beginning contemplative is not yet so far removed from discursive meditation that he cannot return occasionally to its practice,”128 when he is no longer under the special influence of the Holy Ghost, which facilitates recollection. St. Teresa, in her Life (chap. 14), also speaks of the necessity at the beginning of the prayer of quiet of having recourse to a simplified meditation, symbolized by the hydraulic machine called a noria. This passage from St. Teresa’s life corresponds to what St. John of the Cross has just said about the work of the understanding, which prepares the soul to receive a more profound recollection from God. Thus it is fitting at the beginning of prayer to meditate slowly on the petitions of the Our Father, or to converse in a childlike manner with Mary Mediatrix that she may lead us to close union with her Son. It is well for us to recall how He Himself gave His life for us and how He does not cease to offer Himself for us in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. If we follow this way faithfully, we shall receive, at least from time to time, an interior light that will give us the profound meaning of the Passion, and also of the infinite riches contained in the Holy Eucharist. Thus our interior life will grow more simple while becoming more lofty, which is essential if it is to radiate and to bear fruit.

We may sum up the conduct to be observed in the passive purification of the senses, called also the night of the senses, as follows: docility to the director, trust in God, a simple and loving gaze on Him, abstention from seeking to feel consolation. To complete this chapter, we must also speak of the trials which frequently accompany this period of transition.


To this painful purification in which, under the influence of the gift of knowledge, we experience the emptiness of created things, are customarily added temptations against chastity and patience. These temptations are permitted by God to provoke a strong reaction of these virtues, which have their seat in the sensible appetites. This reaction should strengthen these virtues, root them more deeply, and thereby purify more profoundly the sensibility in which they are located, and subject it increasingly to right reason illumined by faith. For a like reason, there will be in the night of the spirit temptations of the same kind against the virtues which are in the highest part of the soul, especially against the theological virtues.

These concomitant trials have an attenuated form in many souls; in others they are more accentuated and then they announce that God wishes to lead these souls to the full perfection of Christian life if they are faithful.129

The struggle against the temptations of which we are speaking necessitates energetic acts of the virtues of chastity and patience; as a result these virtues then take deeper root in the sensibility that has been tilled and upturned. They become in it like very fertile seeds of a higher life. The acquired moral virtues cause the direction of right reason to descend, in fact, into the sensibility, and the infused moral virtues cause the divine life of grace to penetrate into it. Thus conceived, this struggle against temptation has a great and beautiful character. Without it we would often be content with a lesser effort, with weak, less intense, virtuous acts, actus remissi, as theologians call them, that is, acts inferior to the degree of virtue that we possess. Having three talents, we act as if we had only two. These weak virtuous acts, as St. Thomas points out,130 do not immediately obtain the increase of charity which they merit, whereas intense or perfect acts obtain it immediately.

Temptation places us in the necessity of producing these very meritorious acts, occasionally heroic, which root the acquired virtues and obtain immediately for us a proportionate increase of the infused virtues. For this reason, the angel Raphael said to Tobias: “Because thou wast acceptable to God, it was necessary that temptation should prove thee.”131 St. Paul also says: “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able; but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it.”132 Isaias speaks in like manner: “It is He that giveth strength to the weary, and increaseth force and might to them that are not. . . . But they that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall take wings as eagles.”133

Temptation reveals to us our misery and our need of the grace of God: “What doth he know, that hath not been tried?”134 Tempta­tion obliges us to pray, to beg God to come to our aid, to place our confidence in Him and not in ourselves. Because of this trust in God which the man who is tried should have, St. Paul writes: “For when I am weak, then am I powerfuL”135 The apostle St. James also says: “My brethren, count it all joy when you shall fall into divers temptations; knowing that the trying of your faith worketh patience. And patience hath a perfect work; that you may be perfect.”136

To these temptations against chastity and patience is also added at times in this period of the interior life the loss of certain temporal goods, of fortune, honors, friendships on which we dwelt too much. God comes at this time to ask us to give Him the lively affection which we have not thought of giving to Him. Sometimes He also permits illnesses, that we may learn to suffer, and also that we may be reminded that of ourselves we can do nothing and that we need the divine favors for the life of the body and that of the soul.


If we bear these trials well, they produce precious effects in us. It is said that “patience produces roses.” Among the effects of the passive purification of the senses, must be numbered a profound and experimental knowledge of God and self.

St. John of the Cross points out: “These aridities and the emptiness of the faculties as to their former abounding, and the difficulty which good works present, bring the soul to a knowledge of its own vileness and misery.”137

This knowledge is the effect of nascent infused contemplation, which shows that infused contemplation is in the normal way of sanctity. St. John of the Cross says: “The soul possesses and retains more truly that excellent and necessary virtue of self-knowledge, counting itself for nothing, and having no satisfaction in itself, because it sees that of itself it does and can do nothing. This diminished satisfaction with self, and the affliction it feels because it thinks that it is not serving God, God esteems more highly than all its former delights and all its good works.”138

With this knowledge of its indigence, its poverty, the soul comprehends better the majesty of God, His infinite goodness toward us, the value also of Christ’s merits, of His precious blood, the infinite value of the Mass, and the value of Communion. “God enlightens the soul, making it see not only its own misery and meanness, . . . but also His grandeur and majesty.”139

St. Teresa speaks in like manner: “For instance, they read that we must not be troubled when men speak ill of us, that we are to be then more pleased than when they speak well of us, . . . with many other things of the same kind. The disposition to practice this must be, in my opinion, the gift of God, for it seems to me a supernatural good.”140 “People may desire honors or possessions in monasteries as well as outside them (yet the sin is greater as the temptation is less), but such souls, although they may have spent years in prayer, or rather in speculations (for perfect prayer eventually destroys these vices), will never make great progress nor enjoy the real fruit of prayer.”141

St. Catherine of Siena, too, taught the same doctrine: that the knowledge of God and that of our indigence are like the highest and the lowest points of a circle which could grow forever.142 This infused knowledge of our misery is the source of true humility of heart, of the humility which leads one to desire to be nothing that God may be all,amare nesciri et pro nihilo reputari. Infused knowledge of the infinite goodness of God gives birth in us to a much more lively charity, a more generous and disinterested love of God and of souls in Him, a greater confidence in prayer.

As St. John of the Cross says: “The love of God is practiced, because the soul is no longer attracted by sweetness and consolation, but by God only. . . . In the midst of these aridities and hardships, God communicates to the soul, when it least expects it, spiritual sweetness, most pure love, and spiritual knowledge of the most exalted kind, of greater worth and profit than any of which it had previous experience, though at first the soul may not think so, for the spiritual influence now communicated is most delicate and imperceptible by sense.”143

The soul travels here in a spiritual light and shade; it rises above the inferior obscurity which comes from matter, error, and sin; it enters the higher obscurity which comes from a light that is too great for our weak eyes. It is the obscurity of the divine life, the light of which is inaccessible to the senses and to natural reason. But between these two obscurities, the lower and the higher, there is a ray of illumination from the Holy Ghost; it is the illuminative life which truly begins. Then are realized the Savior’s words: “He that followeth Me walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life,”144 and he already has it.

Under this light, affective charity becomes effective and generous. Through the spirit of sacrifice it more and more takes first place in the soul; it establishes peace in us and gives it to others. Such are the principal effects of the passive purification of the senses, which subjects our sensibility to the spirit and spiritualizes that sensibility. Thus this purification appears in the normal way of sanctity. Later the passive purification of the spirit will have as its purpose to supernaturalize our spirit, to subject it fully to God in view of perfect divine union, which is the normal prelude to that of eternity. These are the superior laws of the life of grace, or of its full development, in its relation to the two parts of the soul. The senses should, in the end, be fully subjected to the spirit, and the spirit to God.

Finally, it should be pointed out that the passive purification of the senses, even for those who enter it, is more or less manifest and also more or less well borne. St. John of the Cross points out this fact when he speaks of those who show less generosity: “The night of aridities is not continuous with them, they are sometimes in it, and sometimes not; they are at one time unable to meditate, and at another able as before. . . . These persons are never wholly weaned from the breasts of meditations and reflections, but only, as I have said, at intervals and at certain seasons.”145 In The Living Flame, the mystical doctor, explaining why this is so, says: “Because these souls flee purifying suffering, God does not continue to purify them; they wish to be perfect without allowing themselves to be led by the way of trial which forms the perfect.”146

Such is the more or less generous transition to a form of higher life. We see the logical and vital succession of phases through which the soul should pass to reach the perfect purity that would permit it to enter heaven immediately. It is not a mechanical juxtaposition of successive states: it is the organic development of life. In his discussion of this point St. John of the Cross caused spiritual theology to advance notably, by showing the necessity and the intimate nature of these purifications, which are an anticipated purgatory in which one merits and advances, whereas in that after death, one no longer merits. May the Lord grant us the grace thus to suffer our purgatory before death rather than after our last sigh. In the evening of life we shall be judged on the purity of our love of God and of souls in God.

Chapter 6: The Spiritual Age of Proficients: Principal Characteristics

Since we have discussed the difficult period called the night of the senses, which, according to St. John of the Cross, marks the entrance into the illuminative way of proficients, we should now point out the principal traits of the spiritual character of proficients, the characteristics of this age of the interior life.147

The mentality of proficients should be described by insisting on their knowledge and love of God, and by noting the differences between this spiritual age and the preceding one, just as one remarks those of adolescence and childhood. The adolescent is not only a grown-up child, but he has also a new mentality; he sees things in a less imaginative, more rational manner; he has different preoccupations, just as the child is not an adolescent in miniature. From the spiritual point of view there is something similar in respect to the different ages of the interior life.


In the preceding period, the beginner scarcely knew God except in the mirror of sensible things, whether in those of nature, or in those mentioned in the parables of the Gospel, or in the exterior acts of worship; and he knew himself only in a very superficial manner.

The proficient obtained a deeper self-knowledge while passing through the period of prolonged aridity which marks the second conversion. With this knowledge of his poverty, of his spiritual indigence, there grows within him by contrast a quasi-experimental knowledge of God, not only in the mirror of the sensible things of nature, of the parables, of exterior worship, but in the spiritual mirror of the mysteries of salvation with which he familiarizes himself. These mysteries, which are those of the incarnation of the Word, of the redemption, of eternal life, the rosary daily places before our eyes by recalling to us the Savior’s childhood, His sorrowful passion, His resurrection and ascension. If the proficient is faithful, he goes beyond the sensible aspect of these mysteries, he attains all that is spiritual in them, the infinite value of the merits of Christ; then the rosary is no longer the mechanical recitation of the Hail Mary, but a living thing, a school of contemplation. The joyful mysteries bring us the good news of the annunciation and the nativity of our Savior, which constitute true, enduring, and deep joys far above the pleasures of the world and the satisfactions of pride. Likewise, in the midst of our sufferings, which are often without reason, at times overwhelming, almost always badly borne, the sorrowful mysteries repeat to us that our sins should be the object of our grief. They make us desire to know them better, to experience a sincere sorrow for them, and thus we begin to comprehend the profound meaning and the infinite value of Christ’s passion and its effects in our lives. Finally, in the midst of the instability and uncertainties of this life, the glorious mysteries recall to us the immutability and the perfect happiness of eternal life, which is the goal of our journey.

The proficient who would thus live a little better each day by the spirit of the rosary, would reach the contemplation of the mystery of Christ, a certain penetrating understanding of the life of the mystical body, or of the Church militant, suffering, and triumphant. Under the continual direction of Jesus and of Mary Mediatrix, he would enter increasingly into the mystery of the communion of saints. If he should listen daily to this secret teaching in the depth of his heart, this prayer would kindle in him the desire of heaven, of the glory of God, and the salvation of souls; it would give him a love of the cross and strength to carry it, and from time to time a foretaste of heaven, a certain savor of eternal life. As a traveler toward eternity (viator), he would occasionally enjoy it in hope and would rest on the heart of Him who is the way, the truth, and the life.

The proficient who has such knowledge of God no longer knows Him only in the sensible mirror of the starry sky or of the parables, but in the spiritual mirror of the great mysteries of the Incarnation, the redemption, and eternal life which is promised to us. He thus grows increasingly familiar with these mysteries of faith, he penetrates them a little, tastes them, sees their application to his daily life. According to the terminology of Dionysius, which is preserved by St. Thomas,148 the soul rises thus by a spiral movement from the mysteries of Christ’s childhood to those of His passion, resurrection, ascension, and glory, and in them it contemplates the radiation of the sovereign goodness of God, who thus communicates Himself admirably to us. Goodness is essentially diffusive, and that of God diffuses itself on us by the redeeming Incarnation and by the revelation of eternal life already begun, in a sense, in the life of grace.149

In this more or less frequent contemplation, the proficients or advanced receive, in the measure of their fidelity and generosity, the light of the gift of understanding, which renders their faith more penetrating and which makes them glimpse the lofty and simple beauty of these mysteries, a beauty accessible to all those who are truly humble and pure of heart.

Consequently this period of the interior life merits the name of illuminative way. In the preceding period, the Lord conquered our sensibility by certain graces, to which the name sensible is given because of the sensible consolation they bring. Then the soul, which had become too attached to these sensible consolations, had to be weaned from them that it might receive a more spiritual and substantial food.

Now God conquers our intellect; He enlightens it as He alone can; He renders this superior faculty increasingly docile to His inspirations that it may grasp divine truth. He subjects our intellect to Himself in this way while vivifying it. He gives it lights that are often scarcely perceived, but that make us understand ever better the spirit of the Gospel. He lifts us up above the excessive preoccupations and the complications of a learning that is too human. He makes us aspire to the superior simplicity of the loving gaze which rests in the truth that makes man free. He makes us understand the meaning of these words: “If you continue in My word, you shall be My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”150 This word will deliver you from the prejudices of the world, from its vain complications, its lies, the short­sightedness of unconscious pride, and from that of covetousness. Divine truth will give itself profoundly to you and will also dispel the false luster of all that can seduce you. It will free you from what Scripture calls “the bewitching of vanity,”151 from the vertigo of passion which blinds you to the true imperishable goods.

In all this there is a knowledge of God and of self notably different from that drawn from books simply by reading. We begin to know in a truly living manner the Gospel, the Eucharist, Jesus Christ, who does not cease to intercede for us and who gives us always new graces to incorporate us in Him, in His mystical body for eternity. The life of the Church appears in its grandeur; we think of the spiritual summits of the Church in our day, which must number very holy souls as it did in the past and as it will in the future. Such is the work of the Holy Ghost in men’s hearts.

Books alone cannot give this experimental knowledge. A treatise on the Eucharist will show at some length, by the analysis of scriptural texts, that this sacrament was instituted by Christ; it will defend speculatively the Real Presence and transubstantiation against ancient and modern errors; it will compare the different explanations which theologians give of the Sacrifice of the Mass, and will enumerate the fruits of Communion. These books, which are indispensable for the training of the priest, end in precise formulas. These formulas, however, should not be an end for us; for the interior soul they should be a point of departure. To live with a holy realism by the mystery itself, the soul should go beyond them.

By faith in the Eucharist, the interior soul already holds the truths that it needs to know; it is useless for such a soul to embarrass itself with discussions on the history of this dogma, on transubstantiation or the Eucharistic accidents; it needs to live by the truths of faith and of the liturgy, as Book IV of The Imitation points out. To live in this way, the soul must receive the inspirations of the Holy Ghost with docility. Not in vain are the seven gifts given to all the just; they are given to perfect the virtues. Thus the gift of understanding should make all the just who are faithful to its inspirations penetrate the meaning and import of the formulas of faith; simple souls who are clean of heart really see this import much better than theologians who are too satisfied with their acquired knowledge. Mirabilis Deus in sanctis suis.

The contemplation of divine things may be greatly hindered by self-sufficiency which leads a man to think he already knows the interior life, when, as a matter of fact, he still has much to learn. The study of books will never replace prayer; for this reason the great doctors of the Church have declared that they learned more in prayer at the foot of the crucifix or near the tabernacle than in the most learned works. Books give the letter and explain it; intimate prayer obtains the spirit which vivifies, the interior light which sometimes illuminates in an instant principles often repeated, but whose universal radiation had not been grasped. Many things in Christian life are illuminated, for example, in the light of St. Paul’s words: “What hast thou that thou hast not received?”152 This principle is the basis of humility, gratitude, and true love of God, that we may respond to God’s love for us. In the same way we then increasingly understand the profound meaning of these words: God is the Author of being, of life, the Author of salvation, of grace, of final perseverance.

Such is, though very imperfectly expressed, the knowledge of God which proficients need and which is found in the illuminative way. This period, in which the soul begins to contemplate God in the spiritual mirror of the mysteries of salvation, already surpasses the ascetical life; it is a beginning of the mystical life. A denial of this fact would be a failure to recognize the grace of God. It would likewise be a failure to recognize it if one should deny the mystical character of The Imitationin which all interior souls may find their nourishment. This mystical character is a sign that the infused contemplation of the mysteries, which is discussed in this book, is in the normal way of sanctity.


What is the normal effect of the interior lights received on the mysteries of the life and death of our Savior, on that of eternal life which is promised us? These lights lead the soul to love God, no longer as in the preceding period, only by fleeing mortal sin and deliberate venial sin, but by imitating the virtues of Christ, His humility, meekness, patience, by observing not only the precepts necessary for all, but the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, obedience, or at least the spirit of these counsels, and by avoiding imperfections.

Then with a greater abundance of interior light, the faithful soul will receive, at least occasionally, keen desires for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Then that hunger and thirst after the justice of God which Christ speaks of in the beatitudes will grow. The soul will see the truth of His words: “If any man thirst, let him come to Me, and drink. . . . Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” The soul will then receive, at least for a time, a greater facility for prayer. Not infrequently there is at this stage the infused prayer of quiet in which the will is captivated for a very short time by the attraction of God.153 Persons dedicated to the apostolate have also in this period a greater facility to act in the service of God, to teach, direct, and organize works.

In such a life the soul loves God, no longer only “with its whole heart” in the midst of sensible consolations, but “with all its soul,” with all its activities, not yet however “with all its strength,” as will happen in the night of the spirit, nor as yet “with all its mind,” for the soul is not yet established in this superior region. That it may be established there, the passive purification of the higher part of the soul will be needed, a purification that brings about the disappearance of all the spiritual or intellectual pride which still mingles in the facility for prayer and action, which we have just mentioned. The soul has still a long road to travel, like Elias who had to walk forty days and forty nights even to Mt. Horeb; but the soul grows, its virtues develop and become solid virtues, the expression of a love of God and souls, which is not only affective, but effective or efficacious.

We shall now discuss these Christian virtues, their relation especially to the love of God, as do the apostle St. John, St. Paul, and all spiritual writers after them. For this reason we shall insist on the moral virtues that have a closer relation to the theological virtues: those of humility, meekness, and patience; those that correspond to the counsels of poverty, chastity, obedience; also those pointed out by Christ when He speaks of the necessity of uniting the prudence of the serpent to the simplicity of the dove, or to perfect sincerity. We shall thus be led to speak of what the progress of the theological virtues and of the gifts of the Holy Ghost should be in the illuminative way under the direction of the interior Master. Thus we follow an ascending way toward union with God.154

Chapter 7: The Spiritual Edifice in Proficients

To describe what the progress of the Christian virtues should be in the illuminative way, we must recall the profound meaning of the traditional symbolism in the figure of the spiritual edifice. In this figure we find many of the teachings of Christ and St. Paul, such as St. Augustine and St. Thomas understood them in their works where they speak of the subordination of the virtues and of their connection with the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost.

Christ is the first to tell us, at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, that we must build our spiritual edifice not on sand, but on a rock, and St. Paul adds that the rock is Christ Himself on whom every­thing must rest.

To build this temple we must, therefore, dig the foundation until we find the rock. According to St. Augustine, the excavation symbolizes humility, which is, says St. Thomas, a fundamental virtue, inasmuch as it removes pride, the source of every sin. If the soul is empty of self, it will be filled with God; if it does not seek itself, it will seek God in everything. To build this temple we must, therefore, not scratch the soil, but dig very deep; and if we allow the Lord to work, He Himself will dig by making us profit by the humiliations He sends us.

As the illustration shows, from humility, the base of this excavation resting on Christ the foundation rock, rises the first column of the edifice, the pillar of faith, as St. Paul calls it. Faith is called a fundamental virtue, not only like humility in that it removes an obstacle, but in that all the other infused virtues rest positively on it.155 Opposite the pillar of faith is that of hope, which makes us desire God, eternal life, relying on the divine help for its attainment.

These two pillars support the cupola of charity, the highest of the virtues. The part of the cupola which rises toward heaven symbolizes charity toward God, whereas that which slopes toward the earth is a figure of fraternal charity, which makes us love our neighbor for God because he is a child of God or called to become one. The cupola is surmounted by the cross to remind us that our love ascends toward God only through Christ and the merits of His passion.

St. Augustine, speaking of the beatitudes in his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, and St. Thomas tell us that to each of the three theological virtues corresponds a gift of the Holy Ghost; these three gifts are symbolized by three lamps. From the pillar of faith is suspended the lamp of the gift of understanding, which renders faith penetrating. By faith we adhere to the word of God; by the special inspiration of the gift of understanding we penetrate it, as for example, when assailed by temptation, we comprehend that God is truly our last end, the one thing necessary, and that we must remain faithful to Him.

From the pillar of hope is suspended the lamp of the gift of knowledge, which, according to St. Augustine and St. Thomas, makes us know things, not by their supreme cause as wisdom does, but by their proximate, defectible, and often deficient cause. For this reason, according to these doctors, the gift of knowledge shows us the emptiness of earthly things and the vanity of human helps in attaining a divine end. In this sense, the gift, which perfects faith, also perfects hope and leads us to aspire more strongly toward eternal life and to rely on the help of God, the formal motive of hope, to attain it.156

From the cupola symbolizing charity is suspended another lamp, the gift of wisdom, which illuminates the whole interior of the spiritual edifice and makes us see all things as coming from God, supreme Cause and last End, from His love or at least by His permission for a greater good which we shall some day see and which from time to time becomes visible here on earth. In this spiritual temple, says St. Paul, dwells the Holy Ghost and with Him the Father and the Son. They are there as in a mansion, where They may be and are from time to time quasi-experientally known and loved.

However, to enter this spiritual edifice there must be a door. According to tradition, in particular the teaching of St. Gregory the Great, often quoted by St. Thomas, the four hinges of this two­leafed door symbolize the four cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. Their name “cardinal” comes from the Latin cardines, meaning hinges. This meaning is preserved in the current expression, “That man is unhinged,” when irritation makes a man fail in these four virtues. Without them man is outside the spiritual temple in the uncultivated region ravaged by the evil weeds of egoism and inordinate inclinations.157 The two upper hinges on the temple door symbolize prudence and justice, which are in the higher part of the soul, and the two lower hinges are figures of fortitude and temperance, which have their seat in the sensible appetites, common alike to man and animal.

To each of these four hinges is fastened a triple piece of ironwork, symbolizing the principal virtues annexed to each of the cardinal virtues. Thus, to prudence is attached foresight (a reflection of divine Providence), circumspection attentive to the circumstances in the midst of which we must act, and steadfastness or constancy, that we may not because of difficulties abandon good decisions and resolutions made after mature reflection in the presence of God. Inconstancy, says St. Thomas, is a form of imprudence.158

To the virtue of justice are also attached several virtues. Those which relate to God as forms of justice toward Him are: religion, which renders to Him the worship due Him; penance, which offers Him reparation for the offenses committed against Him; obedience, which makes man obey the divine commandments or the orders of the spiritual or temporal representatives of God.

The virtue of fortitude makes us keep to the right road in the presence of great dangers instead of yielding to fear; it manifests Itself in the soldier who dies for his country and in the martyr who dies for the faith. To fortitude several virtues are also attached: notably, patience that we may endure daily vexations without weakening; magnanimity which tends to great things to be accomplished without becoming discouraged in the face of difficulties; longanimity which makes us bear over a long period of time incessant contradictions that sometimes are renewed daily for many years.

Lastly, to the virtue of temperance, which moderates the inordinate impulses of our sensible appetites, are attached chastity, virginity, meekness which moderates and represses irritation or anger, and evangelical poverty which makes us use the things of the world as though not using them, without becoming attached to them.

According to St. Augustine and St. Thomas, to each of these cardinal virtues corresponds a gift of the Holy Ghost, symbolized by so many precious stones which ornament the door; portae nitent margaritis, as we read in the hymn for the feast of the dedication of a church.

To prudence corresponds manifestly the gift of counsel, which enlightens us when even infused prudence would remain uncertain, for example, as to how to answer an indiscreet question without telling a lie. To justice, which in regard to God is called the virtue of religion, corresponds the gift of piety, which comes to our help in prolonged aridities by inspiring in us a filial affection for God. To the virtue of fortitude corresponds the gift of fortitude, so manifest in the martyrs. To the virtue of temperance, and especially of chastity, corresponds the gift of filial fear, which enables us to surmount the temptations of the flesh, according to the words of the Psalmist: “Pierce Thou my flesh with Thy fear.”

Thus the picture of the spiritual edifice condenses the teaching of the Gospel, the writings of St. Paul and of the great doctors on the subordination of the virtues and their connection with the gifts of the Holy Ghost.

This structure may appear somewhat complicated when insistence is placed on the virtues attached to the cardinal virtues; but the superior simplicity of the things of God stands out if the following profound statement is considered carefully: When in a soul or a community the foundation of the edifice and its summit are what they ought to be, in other words, when there is profound humility and true fraternal charity, the great sign of the progress of the love of God, then everything goes well. Why is this? Because God then supplies by His gifts for what may be lacking in acquired prudence or natural energy; and He constantly reminds souls of their duties, giving them His grace to accomplish them. “God . . . giveth grace to the humble,” and He never fails those who understand the precept of love: “Love one another as I have loved you; by this shall all men know that you are My disciples.”

Chapter 8: Prudence and the Interior Life

“Be ye therefore wise as serpents and simple as doves.”
Matt. 10: 16

We shall discuss the moral virtues in the service of charity and in their relation to the interior life, showing how they ought to grow in the illuminative way and what their true place is in the spiritual edifice.

Whereas the theological virtues are concerned with the last end and lead us to believe in God, to hope in Him, to love Him above all, the moral virtues have to do with the means to be employed in order to obtain the last end. Among them we distinguish four, called the cardinal virtues, because they are, as we have seen, like the four hinges (cardines) of the door which gives access to the temple of the interior life. The two principal walls of this temple symbolize faith and hope, the dome is the symbol of charity, and the foundation is humility. The four cardinal virtues, to which are attached the other moral virtues, are, as moralists, even those of pagan antiquity, commonly teach: prudence, which directs the others; justice, which renders to each man his due; fortitude or courage, which keeps us from letting ourselves be cast down in an unreasonable manner in the face of danger; temperance, which causes the light of reason to descend into our sensibility especially under the forms of sobriety and of chastity. Other moral virtues, as we have said, such as patience and meekness, are manifestly attached to the cardinal virtues and are called connected virtues.

To understand clearly the teaching of St. Thomas on the most important of these virtues, we should recall that he admits a difference not only of degree, but of nature, in other words, a specific difference between the acquired moral virtues which were described by the pagan philosophers, and the infused moral virtues, which are received in baptism and grow in us with charity. It is of these virtues that the Gospel speaks.159

The difference separating these two orders of moral virtues is most profound; it is that which distinguishes the natural, or rational, order from that of grace. Here we have at the same time a different formal object, motive, and end.

The acquired moral virtues, which were well described by Aristotle, establish the rectitude of right reason in the will and sensibility. Under the direction of acquired prudence, justice gradually reigns in the will; rational fortitude and reasonable moderation prevail in the sensible appetites. The infused moral virtues, received in baptism, belong to a much higher order; they have not only a rational but a supernatural formal motive. Under the direction of infused faith, prudence and the Christian moral virtues cause the light of grace, or the divine rule of the children of God, to descend into the will and the sensible appetites.

Between the acquired prudence described by Aristotle and the infused prudence received in baptism, there is a measureless distance, far greater than that of an octave, which in music separates two notes of the same name at the two extremities of a complete scale. Thus a distinction is commonly made between the philosophical temperance of a Socrates and Christian temperance, or the philosophical poverty of a Crates and evangelical poverty, or again the rational measure to be observed in the passions and Christian mortification. For example, by itself acquired temperance directed by reason alone does not take into consideration the mysteries of faith, our elevation to the supernatural life, original sin, the infinite gravity of mortal sin as an offense against God, the value of charity or the divine friendship. Neither does it consider the elevation of our supernatural end: “To be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect,” with a perfection of the same order as His, although unequal to His.

Infused temperance, on the contrary, which is directed by divine faith and Christian prudence, takes positively into account all these revealed mysteries; it is ordained to make us, not only truly reasonable beings, but to give us the supernaturalized sensible appetites of a child of God.

Thus we see that these two virtues which bear the same name of temperance are of very different metal: one is silver, the other gold. In spite of the measureless distance separating them, the infused virtue and the acquired virtue of the same name are exercised together in the Christian in the state of grace, somewhat like the art of the pianist, which is in his intellect, and the agility of his fingers which gives to his art an extrinsic facility.

Thus the acquired virtue should, in the Christian, be at the service of the infused virtue of the same name, just as the imagination and the memory of a learned man concur in the work of his intellect. Thereby the moral virtues are also at the service of charity, the highest of the infused virtues. We shall discuss the chief among these virtues, and first of all prudence.

Christ spoke of prudence on several different occasions in the Gospel, particularly when He said to the apostles: “I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves: Be ye therefore wise as serpents and simple as doves.”160 Later on He also says: “Who, thinkest thou, is a faithful and wise servant? . . . Blessed is that servant. . . . Amen I say to you, he shall place him over all his goods.”161

Prudence, which is requisite for every man that he may conduct himself well, is especially fitting for those who must counsel and direct others. We must have a correct idea of this virtue if we are not to confound it with defects which sometimes resemble it, and if we are to distinguish clearly between acquired prudence, good as it is in its own order, and infused prudence. For this reason we shall first discuss defects to be avoided, then acquired prudence, and finally infused prudence and the gift of counsel, which often comes to the aid of the virtue in difficult cases.


The value of the virtue is better seen by considering the disadvantages of the contrary defects, which are often quite manifest. Therefore Scripture, the more strongly to recommend prudence to us, shows us the dangers and the results of lack of consideration.

It contrasts for us the prudent and the foolish virgins.162 St. Peter and St. Paul praise the prudence of the aged, especially of those who are charged with watching over the first Christian communities,163 adding: “Be not wise in your own conceits,”164 and declaring that God “will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the prudence of the prudent,”165 who rely chiefly on their suavity. And Christ says: “I confess to Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things [the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven] from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones.”166

Consequently there are two mutually contradictory defects to be avoided: on the one hand, imprudence, lack of consideration, negligence in considering what one should, rash haste in judgment; and on the other hand, false prudence, or “the wisdom of the flesh,”167 often called slyness or even cunning, which pursues only a lower, quite earthly end. It seeks, not the honest good, the object of virtue, but the useful good such as money, and it displays much craft or trickery to procure this good for itself. Cunning is the cleverness of rogues; it will not help them to enter the kingdom of heaven. This false prudence is foolishness and a delusion, as St. Paul often says.168

Imprudence, or lack of consideration, greatly retards spiritual progress, and often it retards it by trying to hasten it. This is the case with those who skim the road, who wish to reach divine union immediately without passing humbly through the indispensable lower degrees, as if a bird were to try to fly before having wings, or an architect to construct the spires of a church before laying its foundations. For example, these imprudent souls read mystical books too soon and too rapidly, with avidity and in a superficial way, without applying themselves to the serious practice of virtue. They examine superficially the most beautiful aspects of the spiritual life and will perhaps never nourish their souls with them. It is as if they gathered from a fruit tree the flowers which should give the fruit, unaware that by so doing they hinder the fruit from forming. Later, when they should read the great spiritual writers with profit, they will perhaps say that it is useless to do so since they have already read them and know them; when as a matter of fact they have only a lamentably superficial knowledge of them. Theirs is the imprudence of the foolish virgins, the lack of discretion in the spiritual life.

To avoid the mutually contradictory defects of imprudence and false prudence, it is important to consider what infused or Christian prudence should be and likewise what should characterize acquired prudence, which is at the service of infused prudence, as the imagination and memory are at the service of the intellect. To follow an ascending course, we shall first discuss acquired prudence, then infused prudence, and finally the gift of counsel.


Acquired prudence, which has for its object honest good, is a true virtue distinct from false prudence, or the wisdom of the flesh, which St. Paul speaks of. Acquired prudence is defined as recta ratio agibilium, right reason which directs our acts. It is called auriga virtutum, the driver of the moral virtues; in reality, it directs the acts of justice, fortitude, temperance, and the annexed virtues.169 It determines the measure to be observed or the rational happy mean, which is also a summit, in the midst of and above every deviation that may be unreasonable through defect or excess. Thus prudence determines the happy mean of fortitude above cowardliness and temerity, which would lead us to expose our life without a reasonable motive. Aristotle spoke of mesotes (the happy mean) and aerates (the summit).170

The virtue of acquired prudence, which was well described by Aristotle, proceeds under the light of natural reason and moral knowledge, making this rational light descend into our sensibility, our will, and all our activity. But to determine the reasonable happy mean in the different moral virtues, prudence presupposes these virtues, as the coachman needs well-broken horses.171 There is a mutual relationship between the directing virtue and the others; they grow together. Let us not forget that no one can have true acquired prudence, distinct from cunning and artifice, if he has not in a proportionate degree justice, fortitude, temperance, loyalty, and true modesty. Why is this? Because, as the ancients used to say: “Such as a man is, such does the end seem to him.”172 The ambitious man judges as good what flatters his pride, whereas the sincerely modest man loves to do good while remaining hidden. He who is dominated by ambition may have great cunning and subtlety; he cannot have true acquired prudence, nor, with even greater reason, infused prudence. Therefore St. Thomas says: “The truth of the practical intellect depends on conformity with a right appetite.”173 Moreover, prudence ought not only to judge well, but to command efficaciously the virtuous acts of justice, fortitude, and temperance, and it cannot command them in this way unless the will is upright and efficacious, rectified by these very virtues.174 Thus there is truly a mutual relationship between prudence and the moral virtues which it directs; true acquired prudence cannot exist without the acquired virtues of justice, fortitude, and temperance. This rectitude of moral conduct is in itself something very beautiful.175

Consequently, in a man in the state of mortal sin, who sins seriously against justice, fortitude, temperance, or any other virtue, the virtue of acquired prudence can be only in the state of a slightly stable disposition (facile mobilis), for the will of this man is turned away from his last end.176 That the acquired virtue of prudence exist in the state of a stable virtue (difficile mobilis) and be in truth firmly connected with the other moral virtues, we must have charity; we must efficaciously love God, our last end, more than ourselves.177

Acquired prudence counsels us about many things which natural reason can know by its own power. It will preserve us from impulsiveness, dominate our temperament, tell us not to follow the fancies of our imagination, the whims of our sensible appetites. It will remind us that we must submit to the judgment of those who are more enlightened and experienced, that we must obey those who have authority to command. It will guide us in our dealings with different people by taking their temperament and character into consideration. But however perfect acquired prudence may be, since it belongs to the natural or rational order, it cannot by itself judge as it should the supernatural conduct to be observed in Christian life. For that judgment, we need infused prudence, which is that recommended by the Gospel.


Infused prudence was given to us by baptism; it grows with charity, through merit, the sacraments, Communion. By itself it gives us an intrinsic facility to judge well and practically of the matters of Christian life, and its exercise is extrinsically facilitated by acquired prudence which is exercised at the same time. Infused prudence brings to the actions of our daily life the light of grace and of infused faith, as acquired prudence brings to them the light of right reason. In certain very sensible Christians, acquired prudence is especially prominent; in others, who are more supernatural, infused prudence is particularly manifest. Consequently, infused prudence is a great virtue, superior to all the moral virtues which it directs; it should evidently be found especially in those whose duty is to advise and direct others.

We are not concerned here, therefore, with that negative prudence which, to avoid difficulties and vexations, almost always advises against acting, against undertaking great things. This prudence, which has as its principle: “Undertake nothing,” is that of cowardly souls. After saying: “The best is sometimes the enemy of the good,” it ends by declaring: “The best is often the enemy of the good.” Such negative prudence confounds the mediocre with the happy mean of the moral virtue, which is also a summit above contrary vices. Mediocrity itself is an unstable mean between good and evil; it is that with which tepidity contents itself, seeking always for pardon by speaking of moderation and stating its first principle: “Nothing must be exaggerated.” Then follows forgetfulness of the fact that in the way of God, not to advance is to retrogress; not to ascend is to descend; for the law of the traveler is to advance, and not to fall asleep on the road. True Christian prudence is not a negative but a positive virtue, which leads a man to act as he should when he should, and which never loses sight of the elevation of our supernatural last end, nor of zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. It definitively rejects certain human maxims.

If acquired prudence presupposes the acquired moral virtues, Christian prudence presupposes the infused moral virtues which accompany charity. And if, in the first training, more insistence is placed on these virtues, especially on humility, chastity, and patience, than on prudence itself, it is because the humble, chaste, and patient man is inclined by these very virtues to judge well and practically (per modum inclinationis) of what relates to moral and spiritual life. But when the Christian, who is already more or less trained, must begin to direct himself, he should in many things, especially if he must counsel others, be particularly attentive to what true supernatural prudence demands, and avoid all lack of consideration and rash haste in judgment. Then he will become increasingly aware of the superiority of true Christian prudence, a virtue which ranks immediately below the theological virtues, that it may cause their radiation and vivifying influence to descend on the moral virtues which it directs.

Therefore Christian prudence should grow with charity, and its supernatural views should increasingly prevail over the too human views of what St. Thomas, following the example of St. Augustine, calls the “lower reason.” The lower reason judges everything from the temporal point of view; the higher reason, from the point of view of eternity.178

This lofty Christian prudence is exceedingly rare. Father Lallemant, S.]., even says: “The majority of religious, even of the good and virtuous, follow in their own conduct and in their direction of others only reason and common sense, in which some of them excel. This rule is good, but it does not suffice to attain Christian perfection. Such persons are ordinarily guided in their conduct by the common opinion of those with whom they live, and as the latter are imperfect, although their lives may not be dissolute, because the number of the perfect is very small, they never reach the sublime ways of the spirit. They live like the common run of people, and their manner of directing others is imperfect.”179 At certain times, for instance during persecutions, the inadequacy of such a way of acting becomes evident.

True prudence never loses sight of the elevation of the end toward which we should journey; it judges all our acts in relation to eternal life, and not only in relation to the customs or conventions of our environment. It repeatedly calls to mind “the one thing necessary.” Aided by the special inspirations of the gift of counsel,180 it becomes holy discretion which weighs all things according to God’s measure.


St. Catherine of Siena offers an admirable treatise on discretion or spiritual discernment in her Dialogue. She tells us that Christian discretion, which indicates the measure between the contrary defects and is the source of a wise discernment, is based on the knowledge of God and of self. She states: “Discretion is the only child of self-knowledge and, wedding with charity, has indeed many other descendants, as a tree with many branches; but that which gives life to the tree, to its branches, and its fruit, is the ground of humility, in which it is planted, which humility is the foster-mother and nurse of charity, by whose means this tree remains in the perpetual calm of discretion.”181 This is a symbolical manner of expressing the connection of these virtues.

Holy discretion presupposes, therefore, a great spirit of faith. It lessens nothing; whereas practical naturalism sees only a limited aspect of great things, holy discretion sees the great aspect even of the little things in Christian life, of our daily duties in their relation to God.182 It directs justice, which renders to God and to one’s neighbor what is due them. As we read in The Dialogue (it is the Lord who speaks):

Discretion . . . renders to each one his due. Chiefly to Me in rendering praise and glory to My name, and in referring to Me the graces and the gifts which she sees and knows she has received from Me;183 and rendering to herself that which she sees herself to have merited, knowing that she does not even exist of herself. . . . And she seems to herself to be ungrateful for so many benefits, and negligent, in that she has not made the most of her time, and the graces she has received, and so seems to herself worthy of suffering; wherefore she becomes odious and displeasing to herself through her guilt.184 And this founds the virtue of discretion on knowledge of self, that is, on true humility, for, were this humility not in the soul, the soul would be indiscreet; indiscretion being founded on pride, as discretion is on humility.

An indiscreet soul robs Me of the honor due to Me, and attributes it to herself through vainglory, and that which is really her own she imputes to Me, grieving and murmuring concerning My mysteries, with which I work in her soul and those of My other creatures; wherefore everything in Me and in her neighbor is cause of scandal to her. Contrariwise those who possess the virtue of discretion. For when they have rendered what is due to Me and to themselves, they proceed to render to their neighbor their principal debt of love and of humble and continuous prayer, which all should pay to each other and further, the debt of doctrine, and example of a holy and honorable life, counseling and helping others according to their needs for salvation.185

Holy discretion is thus the light which rules the virtues; it measures the acts of exterior penance and those of devotion to our neighbor, at the same time reminding us that our love of God should be without measure and should always grow here on earth.186

Far from being a negative virtue, holy discretion is, in the service of charity, the virtue which holds the reins of the moral life, directing justice, fortitude, and temperance, that we may persevere in good, that we may make God known and loved. Christian prudence thus preserves with charity the connection of all the virtues.

When this great Christian prudence is enlightened by the special inspirations of the gift of counsel, which corresponds to it, it is, as our Lord insists it should be, in accordance with “the simplicity of the dove,” with perfect uprightness—not at all naivete—which keeps silence about what must not be said, but never speaks against the truth. A man must be master of his tongue and know how to cultivate his character.

The gift of counsel comes to the assistance of prudence especially in difficult and unforeseen circumstances, sometimes to unite in one and the same word or gesture seemingly contradictory virtues, as firmness and meekness, or again veracity and fidelity in keeping a secret.

According to St. Augustine and St. Thomas,187 the gift of counsel corresponds to the beatitude of the merciful for two reasons: first of all, mercy is necessary for us to know how to give fitting salutary counsel to those who need it, counsel which truly carries, which does not rebuff souls but lifts them up again with strength and sweetness. In the second place, when prudence hesitates in difficult circumstances between the rigor of justice to be observed and mercy, which should not be forgotten, the gift of counsel generally inclines us toward mercy which will encourage the sinner and perhaps make him re-enter the order of justice. He will at times enter it with a sincere and profound contrition, thus repairing the order that he violated, far better than by bearing the punishment with less love. Consequently the loftiness of infused prudence is manifest; but we shall see it even more clearly in our discussion of Christian simplicity, which should always be united to prudence.

Even now we grasp the importance of Christ’s words: “Who, thinkest thou, is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath appointed over his family, to give them meat in season? Blessed is that servant, whom when his lord shall come he shall find so doing. Amen I say to you, he shall place him over all his goods.”188 These words are applied to every faithful and prudent Christian, especially to those who must advise others, to heads of families, to pastors, to bishops, to great popes. They will receive a high reward, to which allusion is made in Ecclesiasticus,189 where we read the praise of the wisdom and prudence of the patriarchs, and in the prophecy of Daniel where it is said: “But they that are learned [in the wisdom of God and faithful to His law] shall shine as the brightness of the firmament: and they that instruct many to justice, as stars for all eternity.”190 Let us remember that false prudence is tin, true acquired prudence is silver, infused prudence is gold, and the inspirations of the gift of counsel are diamonds, of the same order as the divine light. “He that followeth Me walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”191

Chapter 9: The Different Forms of Justice and the Education of the Will

“Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice.”
Matt. 5:6

Among the four cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, there is one, namely justice, which pious people do not consider sufficiently. They are attentive to the different forms of temperance, to prudence to be observed in the general conduct of life; they try to practice charity toward their neighbor, but they sometimes neglect certain duties of justice and consideration for the rights of others. Those, for example, who persecuted St. John of the Cross called themselves men of prayer and austerity, yet they were most unjust toward the reformer of Carmel.

If man practiced the different forms of justice more perfectly, he would make great progress in training his will. Justice, in fact, is in that faculty to make it leave egoism or self-love,192 as prudence is in the intellect to oppose lack of consideration, and as fortitude and temperance are in the sensible appetites to strengthen them against fear and inordinate concupiscences.193 For this reason these four virtues are called cardinal virtues. They are like hinges on which the doors turn that give access to the moral life.194 Some souls, while given to anger, are so cowardly that they seem to have lost all will; indeed this faculty seems to have disappeared, leaving only self-love or egoism. The reason is that the will is considerably weakened when it is deprived of the acquired and infused virtues which should be in it. On the other hand, a will enriched by these virtues is increased more than tenfold.

We should remember that the four forms of justice, which we are going to discuss, should be in the will and, above them, the virtues of religion, hope, and charity. Thus the training or Christian education of the will and character should be made. Character should be the authentic imprint of reason illumined by faith and of moral energy, a mark stamped on the physical temperament, whether nervous, irascible, lymphatic, or sanguine, hyperthyroid or hypothyroid, in order that this temperament may cease to dominate, and that the Christian may truly appear as a rational being and still more as a child of God.

Consequently, for this Christian education of the will, we shall discuss the different forms of justice, to which correspond several precepts of the Decalogue. After our duties toward God, they determine those we should practice toward our parents and toward all persons with whom we have relations: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods. Thou shalt not bear false witness,” and so on. We may transgress these precepts in many different ways when we forget in practice that we should not do to others what we do not wish them to do to us.195

People often think of justice only in the inferior form known as commutative justice, which governs exchanges and forbids theft, fraud, calumny, and so forth. They do not sufficiently consider distributive justice,196 which presides over the distribution by authority of the advantages and duties of social life among the different members of society. In view of the common good, it distributes to each as it should goods, work, duties, obligations, rewards, and penalties; this distribution should be made in proportion to merit, real needs, and the importance of the different members of society. Even more do people forget a higher form of justice, which aims immediately at the common good of society and brings about the establishment and observance of just laws and ordinances; this form of justice is called legal justice.197 Above it there is equity, which considers not only the letter but the spirit of laws, and that not only of civil laws, but of all those that govern Christian conduct.198

The interior life should watch over the exercise of these virtues. Here also the acquired virtue of justice is at the service of the infused virtue of the same name, somewhat as the imagination is at the service of reason.199


The duties of justice appear in a living and concrete fashion when we think of faults against it which should be avoided, for the sorrow that injustice causes us reveals to us the value of justice. The faults and acts contrary to commutative justice are not only homicide, theft, fraud, usury, false accusations and false witness in a lawsuit; they are also insults given in anger, affronts, unjust blame or reproaches against inferiors, equals, and superiors. Also included are defamation, slander, or speaking ill of another without a proportionate motive; also secret insinuation by whispering, mockery which lessens the esteem due to our neighbor,200 forgetfulness of the truth that our neighbor has a right to his reputation and that he needs it to do good, to such an extent, says St. Thomas, that the perfect should, not for their own sakes, but for the good to be done to others, resist their detractors.201

When commutative justice has been violated in one or another of these ways, restitution or reparation becomes a duty. Thus we must repair the wrong that we have done our neighbor by slander or insinuations or mockery which show we do not regard him as he deserves.202 Besides it is cowardly to ridicule someone who cannot defend himself, or the absent who cannot reply.

The defect opposed to distributive justice is undue respect of persons. We may indeed prefer one person to another and gratuitously give more to one than to another. But the sin of undue respect of persons consists in unjustly preferring one person to another, taking from the latter something that is due him. This sin is more grave in the spiritual order than in the temporal order: for example, if we are more attentive to the exterior condition of persons, to their wealth, than to their merits, and if we refuse them the respect which is due them or the spiritual helps which they need.203

Interior souls should be particularly watchful on this point and on guard not to slight the friends of God, the saints whom the Lord has chosen for Himself from the humblest stations in life. Injustice is at times the portion of very patient servants of God because everyone knows that they will not complain and will put up with everything. This was often the lot of St. Benedict Joseph Labre because people failed to see the heart of a great saint under the rags of a beggar. On the contrary, clear-sighted souls should sense or divine sanctity in their neighbor, even though it be under the most humble exterior. Moreover, it is a great reward and a great joy to discover sanctity. It must have been a great consolation to verify the sanctity of Benedict Joseph Labre by seeing how he bore insults and blows, when, for example, he kissed the stone which had been thrown at him and had drawn his blood.


Above commutative justice and distributive justice is legal or social justice, which should have a lofty form in the Christian and in interior souls. This virtue is concerned, not directly with the rights of individuals, but with the common good of society, and not only of civil society but of that spiritual society, the Church, and the different groups in it. Legal justice leads a man to observe perfectly the laws or constitutions of the society to which he belongs. This virtue inclines the Christian to learn about the laws to be observed and the instructions of the Supreme Pastor, about his encyclicals on present-day questions. The reading and study of these encyclicals are often neglected to the detriment of all. Social justice should give us an understanding of the common good; it combats individualism, which is one form of egoism.

Social justice disposes us to devote ourselves in generous self-forgetfulness to the general good, and, if necessary, to sacrifice our time, comfort, or personal satisfaction to it. Were we to act otherwise, we would live on the common good like parasites, instead of contributing to promote and maintain it. We receive much from society and to it we are indebted. If we fail in our obligation, we are like mistletoe, which lives on the oak tree at the tree’s expense, sometimes causing its death. Society in general, indeed every social group, has its parasites. To react against this vice (into which a man might fall by trying to live like a hermit and being indifferent to the common good), we must perform the duties of legal justice and devote ourselves to the general good, mindful of its superiority. From this point of view, love of our rule, of the holy laws established in the Church, is a great virtue which protects the soul against many disorders.204

Lastly, above legal or social justice there is equity.205 This form of justice is attentive not only to the letter of the law, but especially to its spirit, to the intention of the legislator. As it considers chiefly the spirit of laws, it does not interpret them with excessive rigor, in a mechanical and material manner, but with a superior understanding, especially in certain special circumstances in which, according to the intention of the legislator, it would not be advisable to apply the letter of the law, for then the adage would be verified: “Summum jus est summa injuria.” The strict law in all its rigor would then be an injustice and an injury, because the particularly difficult and distressing exceptional circumstances in which the person involved might be placed would not be taken into account.206

Equity, which preserves us from Pharisaism and from the juridical formalism of many jurists, is thus the highest form of justice; it is more conformable to wisdom and to great common sense than to the written law.207 It has in view, over and above the text of the laws, the real exigencies of the general good and inclines one to treat men with the respect due to human dignity. This is a capital point; its importance is grasped only as one grows older. Equity is a great virtue, whence the expression: It is just and equitable to do this, for example, to practice benevolence toward a dying enemy, toward wounded prisoners of war who need help. Equity has thus some resemblance to charity, which is superior to it.

If we were attentive to these four kinds of justice that should be practiced, we would obviate many conflicts between persons, between classes, between the different groups that ought to labor at one work under the direction of God. These virtues, which are subordinated to charity, would also considerably increase the strength of our will; by withdrawing it from egoism and rectifying it, they would increase its energies more than tenfold. This point should be considered in connection with the Christian education of character, which should succeed in dominating our physical temperament and which should stamp it in the image of reason illumined by faith. As a matter of fact, the acquired virtues cause the rectitude of right reason to descend into the very depths of the will, and the infused virtues bring to it the rectitude of faith and the very life of grace, a participation in the inner life of God.


With a better knowledge of the loftiness of justice under its different forms, we see more clearly the relations to charity which should vivify it from above.

These two virtues have in common the fact that they regulate good relations with others. But they differ from each other: justice prescribes that we give to each man his due and allow him to use it according to his right. Charity is the virtue by which we love God above all else, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. Therefore it goes far beyond respect for the right of others, in order to make us treat other human beings like brothers in Christ, whom we love like other selves in the love of God.208

In brief, as St. Thomas well shows, justice considers our neighbor another person, in that he is a distinct person; charity considers him as another self. Justice respects the rights of another, charity gives over and above these rights for the love of God and of the child of God. To pardon means to give over and beyond.

We can thus see why, as St. Thomas says, “Peace (which is the tranquillity of order in the union of wills) is the work of justice indirectly, in so far as justice removes the obstacles to peace (such as wrongs, injuries); but it is the work of charity directly, since charity, according to its very nature, causes peace. For love is a unitive force . . . ; and peace is the union of the appetites’ inclinations.”209


Justice, thus vivified by charity, is accompanied by several other virtues that resemble it. Among them, there is one superior to justice, the virtue of religion, which renders to God the worship due Him, interior and exterior worship, devotion (or promptness of the will in the service of God), prayer, sacrifice of adoration, of reparation, of supplication, of thanksgiving. This virtue is opposed to irreligion, or impiety, and also to superstition. It reminds us at the same time of the worship of dulia due to the saints and that of hyperdulia due to the Mother of God. Thus religion is inferior to the theological virtues. To religion penance should be united to make reparation for offenses against God.

To justice are also attached filial piety toward parents and one’s country, the respect due to merit, to age, to the dignity of persons, obedience to superiors, gratitude for favors received, vigilance in punishing justly when necessary at the same time using clemency, lastly veracity in speech and in one’s manner of living and acting. Veracity, which is a virtue, differs from frankness, a simple inclination of temperament, which sometimes borders on insolence and which forgets that not every truth is to be told.

Justice reminds us that besides strict justice there are the rights and duties of friendship (jus amicabile), in regard to those who are more closely united to us. In respect to people in general, there are also the duties of amiability, which is opposed to adulation and to litigation or useless dispute. Lastly, there are the duties of liberality, which avoids both avarice and prodigality.

All these different forms of justice are of great importance in the conduct of life. At times pious people do not think sufficiently about them; they put on the airs of a hermit more egoistically than virtuously. Under the pretext of charity and the prompting of bitter zeal, they may even fail in charity and justice through rash judgment, slander, insinuation against their neighbor.

If, on the contrary, a man practiced generously the virtues we have just spoken of, his will would be greatly rectified and fortified, better disposed to live by the still higher virtues of hope and charity, which should unite him to God and preserve this union with God in the midst of the varied circumstances of life, even of the most painful and unforeseen. To show oneself a Christian, even in the smallest acts of life, is the true happiness of him who follows Christ.

St. Thomas described the eminent degree of the infused cardinal virtues when he wrote: “Prudence by contemplating the things of God, counts as nothing all things of the world, and directs all the thoughts of the soul toward God alone. Temperance, as far as nature allows, neglects the needs of the body; fortitude prevents the soul from being afraid of neglecting the body and rising to heavenly things; and justice consists in the soul giving a whole-hearted consent to follow the way thus proposed.”210 These are the perfecting virtues; higher still, according to St. Thomas,211 are the virtues of the fully purified soul, “the perfect virtues. . . . Such are the virtues attributed to the blessed, or, in this life, to some who are at the summit of perfection.”

Thereby we see the grandeur of the virtue of justice, which is the second cardinal virtue. It is superior to fortitude, to temperance, and even to virginity. Justice is often no more than an empty word for some souls; then injustice which must at times be borne reminds them of the real value of justice. This great reality appears especially in the evangelical beatitude: “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.” The justice mentioned here is the highest degree of justice, containing eminently all that we have just said.

Chapter 10: Patience and Meekness

“In your patience you shall possess your souls.”
Luke 21:19

In the difficult periods through which we have to pass, we should remember what our Lord has told us about the virtue of fortitude, which is necessary that we may not be frightened by any menace, or arrested in the way of salvation by any obstacle. We shall treat here especially of the virtue of patience, which is the most frequent form under which fortitude of soul is exercised in the vexations of life. In the Christian it should be united to meekness, and in such a way that those who are naturally meek may learn to become strong, and those who are naturally inclined to the virtue of fortitude may become meek with the meaning given to the term by the evangelical beatitude: “Blessed are the meek.” Thus both will ascend toward the same summit, although by different paths. To make this teaching clear, we shall discuss first of all the virtue of patience, then that of meekness, both of which are in the service of charity.


“Charity is patient.”
I Cor. 13:4

Patience, says St. Thomas,212 is a virtue attached to the virtue of fortitude, which hinders a man from departing from right reason illumined by faith by yielding to difficulties and to sadness. It makes him bear the evils of life with equanimity of soul, says St. Augustine,213 without allowing himself to be troubled by vexations. The impatient man, no matter how violent he may be, is a weak man; when he raises his voice and murmurs, he really succumbs from the moral point of view. The patient man, on the contrary, puts up with an inevitable evil in order to remain on the right road, to continue his ascent toward God. Those who bear adversity that they may attain what their pride desires, have not the virtue of patience but only its counterfeit, hardness of heart.

By patience the soul truly possesses itself above the fluctuations of the sensible part depressed by sadness.214 The martyrs are in the highest degree masters of themselves and free. In patience is met again something of the principal act of the virtue of fortitude: the enduring of painful things without weakening. It is more difficult and meritorious, says St. Thomas, to endure for a long time what keenly vexes nature than to attack an adversary in a moment of enthusiasm.215 It is more difficult for a soldier to hold out for a long time under a shower of bullets in a cold damp trench than with all the ardor of his temperament to take part in an attack. If the virtue of fortitude bears the blows that may cause death, as we see in the soldier who dies for his country and still more in the martyr who dies for the faith, the virtue of patience endures unflinchingly the contradictions of life.216 Thus we see that this virtue of patience is the guardian of other virtues; it protects them against the disorders that impatience would cause; it is like a buttress of the spiritual edifice.

Some years ago Americanism spoke rather disdainfully of the so-called passive virtues of patience, humility, and obedience. A good writer replied that they are the twin columns of the moral and spiritual life.

To have patience as a solid virtue, man must be in the state of grace and have charity, which prefers God to everything else, no matter what the cost. For this reason St. Paul says: “Charity is patient.”217

If the contradictions of life last for a long time without interruption, as happens in the case of a person forced to live with someone who continually tantalizes him, then there is need of longanimity, a special virtue resembling patience. It is called longanimity because of the length of the trial, the duration of the suffering, the insults, all that must be borne for months and years.

As St. Francis de Sales points out,218 patience makes us preserve equanimity of mind in the midst of the variableness of the divers mishaps of this mortal life. “Let us frequently call to mind,” he says, “that as our Lord has saved us by patient sufferings, so we also ought to work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring injuries and contradictions, with all possible meekness. . . . Some are unwilling to suffer any tribulations but those that are honorable: for example, to be wounded in battle. . . . Now these people do not love the tribulation, but the honor wherewith it is accompanied; whereas he that is truly patient suffers indifferently tribulation, whether accompanied by ignominy or honor. To be despised, reprehended, or accused by wicked men, is pleasant to a man of good heart; but to suffer blame and ill treatment from the virtuous, or from our friends and relations, is the test of true patience. . . . The evils we suffer from good men are much more insupportable than those we suffer from others.”219

To practice this virtue in a manner that is not stoic but Christian, we should often recall the patience of Christ on the cross, which surpasses human thought. For love of us He endured the most severe physical and moral sufferings, which came to Him from the fury of the priests of the Synagogue, from abandonment by His people, from the ingratitude of His own, from the divine malediction due to sin, which He willed to bear in our place as a voluntary victim. May the patience of our Savior preserve our souls according to the words of St. Paul: “And the Lord direct your hearts, in the charity of God and the patience of Christ.”220 As a German proverb says, patience yields roses and ends by obtaining all: “Geduld bringt rosen.”

When we have to practice this virtue in prolonged trials, we should remember the teaching of the saints, that sufferings well borne are like materials which compose the edifice of our salvation. Sufferings are the portion of the children of God in this life and a sign of predestination: “Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God,” we are told in the Acts of the Apostles.221 It is essential to know how to suffer calmly without excessive self-pity. Those who share most in the sufferings of Christ will be most glorified with Him.222 Sometimes an act of great patience before death is sufficient; this is the case of many dying persons who are reconciled to God a few days or hours before their last breath.


“Charity is kind.”
I Cor 13:14

Meekness, or gentleness, should accompany patience from which it differs in that it has as its special effect, not the endurance of the vexations of life but the curbing of the inordinate movements of anger,223 The virtue of meekness differs from meekness of temperament inasmuch as, in widely diverse circumstances, it imposes the rectitude of reason illumined by faith on the sensibility more or less disturbed by anger. This virtue is superior to meekness of temperament, as the virtue of chastity is to the laudable natural inclination called modesty; similarly, the virtue of mercy is superior to sensible pity. Meekness of temperament is exercised with facility toward those who please us and is rather frequently accompanied by ill-temper toward others. The virtue of meekness does away with this bitterness toward all persons and in the most varied circumstances. Moreover, into a just severity that is necessary at times, the virtue injects a note of calmness, as clemency mitigates merited punishment. Meekness, like temperance to which it is united, is the friend of the moderation or the measure which causes the light of reason and that of grace to descend into the more or less troubled sensible appetites.224 This is so in true martyrs.

Meekness thus conceived should reign not only in our words and conduct, but also in our hearts; otherwise it is only an artifice. As St. Francis de Sales points out, when it is inspired by a supernatural motive and practiced even toward those who are acrimonious, meekness is the flower of charity. “Charity is kind,” says St. Paul. The flower is the most beautiful visible part of a plant, that which most draws our gaze, and in spite of its fragility, it has a very important role: it protects the fruit which is forming in it.

Similarly meekness is that which is most visible and most agreeable in the practice of charity; it is what constitutes its charm. It appears in the gaze, the smile, the bearing, the speech; it doubles the value of a service rendered. And besides, it protects the fruits of charity and zeal; it makes counsels and even reproaches acceptable. In vain will we have zeal for our neighbor, if we are not meek; we appear not to love him and we lose the benefit of our good intentions, for we seem to speak through passion rather than reason and wisdom, and consequently we accomplish nothing.

Meekness is particularly meritorious when practiced toward those who make us suffer; then it can only be supernatural, without any admixture of vain sensibility. It comes from God and sometimes has a profound effect on our neighbor who is irritated against us for no good reason. Let us remember that the prayer of St. Stephen called down grace on the soul of Paul, who was holding the garments of those who stoned the first martyr. Meekness disarms the violent.

St. Francis de Sales, who loves analogies taken from nature, remarks: “Nothing so soon appeases the enraged elephant as the sight of a little lamb, and nothing so easily breaks the force of a cannon shot as wool.”225 Thus at times Christian meekness, which inclines a man to present his right cheek when someone strikes him on the left, disarms the person who is irritated. He indeed is the bruised reed; if he is answered in the same tone, he will be completely broken; if he is answered with meekness, he will gradually revive.

St. Francis de Sales also declares: “It is better to make penitents through meekness than hypocrites through severity.” In his letters he reverts again and again to advice such as this: “Take care to practice well the humble meekness that you owe to everybody, for it is the virtue of virtues which our Lord greatly recommended to us;226 and if you should happen to violate it, do not be troubled, but with all confidence, get back on your feet in order to walk anew in peace and meekness as before.” Everyone knows that the Bishop of Geneva never tired of saying that more flies are caught with honey than with vinegar. Zeal is necessary, but it should be patient and meek.

We ought, consequently, to avoid bitter zeal, which sermonizes indiscriminately and which has brought about the failure of many reforms in religious orders. Opposing this bitter zeal, which is not inspired by charity but by pride, St. John of the Cross used to say: “There where there is not sufficient love, put love in and you will reap love.”227 We should also note that meekness, which is spoken of in the beatitude of the meek, corresponds, as St. Augustine and St. Thomas state, to the gift of piety.228 This gift inspires in us, as a matter of fact, an entirely filial affection toward God; it makes us consider Him more and more as a very loving Father, and consequently it makes us see in men, not strangers, nondescript people or rivals, but brothers, that is, children of our common Father.229 The gift of piety makes us say more profoundly both for ourselves and for others: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come. . . .” We desire that the kingdom of God may take more profound possession of us and of our brethren, and this desire brings to our souls a great supernatural meekness which radiates on our neighbor. Indeed meekness, united to this gift of the Holy Ghost, is like the flower of charity.

To practice this virtue well, we should consider it in our Lord. His meekness is manifestly supernatural, springing from zeal for the salvation of souls; instead of diminishing zeal, meekness protects its fruits.

Isaias had announced the Savior, saying: “Neither shall His voice be heard abroad. The bruised reed He shall not break, and smoking flax He shall not quench.”230 In response to Peter’s query as to how often he should pardon his brother, Christ said: “I say not to thee, till seven times; but till seventy times seven times.”231 He willed to be called “the Lamb of God . . . who taketh away the sin of the world.”232 At His baptism the Holy Ghost descended upon Him in the form of a dove, another symbol of meekness.233 Finally, on the cross He pardoned His executioners while praying for them; it is the smile of meekness in the supreme act of fortitude: the smile of the Crucified is the highest expression of goodness on earth.

Often martyrs, like St. Stephen while he was being stoned, followed the example of Jesus and prayed for their executioners. This very great supernatural meekness is one of the signs by which true martyrs are distinguished from the false. False martyrs die for their own ideas or opinions and through pride rebel against suffering; they may be aided in this by the spirit of evil. The connection or harmony of outwardly contradictory virtues is not manifest in them; their fortitude, which is stubbornness, is not accompanied by meekness. True martyrs, on the contrary, practice meekness even toward their executioners and often pray for them, following the example of Jesus. To forget one’s own sufferings in order thus to think of the salvation of one’s persecutors, of the good of their souls, is a sign of the highest charity and of all the virtues that are harmonized in it.

Let us often, in practice, ask our Lord for the virtue of meekness united to humility of heart. Let us ask Him for it at the moment of Communion, in that intimate contact of our soul with His, of our intellect and heart with His intellect illumined by the light of glory and His heart overflowing with charity. Let us ask Him for it by spiritual communion that is frequently renewed and, whenever the occasion presents itself, let us practice these virtues effectively and generously.

Then we shall see the realization of the words of the Master:

“Take up My yoke upon you and learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart; and you shall find rest to your souls.”234 We shall find rest for our souls; to know to what extent, we must experience it at a time of trouble and vexation. We should then make a more profound act of humility and meekness, pardoning fully those who have offended or wounded us, and we shall see how true are Christ’s words. Our soul will thus take its right place in relation to God and our neighbor; with the help of grace it will be more profoundly restored to order, and it will recover the tranquillity of order, if not joy, at least the interior peace of an upright conscience united to God. We shall thus find peace in love, not the peace which the world can give, but that which comes from God. The peace which the world gives is wholly exterior; it is peace with the spirit of the world, with the enemies of God, with our evil inclinations; consequently it is interior disagreement with good people and with ourselves; it is the death of the soul. If there is any apparent tranquillity in us, it is that of death which hides decomposition and corruption.

The peace which the Lord gives is above all interior, and we cannot have it without incessant war against our inordinate passions, our pride and concupiscences, against the spirit of the world and the devil. For this reason our Lord, who brings us interior peace, says also: “I came not to send peace, but the sword.”235 How, in fact, can we be humble and meek toward all without doing violence to ourselves? Then we have war on the frontiers of our soul, but peace reigns within. In spite of the demands of God’s love, we experience that His yoke is sweet and His burden light. The weight of His burden diminishes with the progress of patience, humility, and meekness, which are, as it were, forms of the love of God and of neighbor in the sense in which St. Paul says: “Charity is patient, is kind; charity envieth not, dealeth not perversely; is not puffed up; . . . is not provoked to anger, thinketh no evil; . . . rejoiceth with the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never falleth away.”236

It is truly eternal life begun like a prelude of unending beatitude.237

Chapter 11: The Value of Chastity and Its Spiritual Fruitfulness

We have discussed prudence, justice, fortitude, and patience, which are all united to meekness. We must now consider what temperance should be in us, especially under the form in which we most need to practice it, namely, that of chastity, which corresponds to that of the beatitude: “Blessed are the clean of heart.” We shall first consider this virtue in the most general manner, as it should be practiced in every condition or type of life, including Christian marriage. To proceed with order, we shall speak of the value of this virtue, of the motive which ought to inspire it. We shall then see its spiritual fruitfulness, especially when it is practiced under its highest form, virginity.238


Chastity, says St. Thomas, is not simply that laudable natural disposition called modesty, a happy inclination, fearful by nature, which, through its very fear of evil, protects the soul against the disorders of concupiscence. Modesty, no matter how laudable, is not a virtue; it is only a natural good disposition. Chastity is a virtue and, as the name virtue indicates, it is a power. The acquired virtue of chastity, as it appeared in the Vestals, causes the light of right reason to descend into the occasionally disturbed and troubled sensibility. Infused chastity, received at baptism, causes the light of grace to descend into the sensible part of the soul; it makes use of acquired chastity somewhat as the intellect makes use of the imagination. They are exercised together; acquired chastity is thus at the service of infused chastity.239 Virginity is a still higher virtue, for it offers to God for a whole lifetime the integrity of body and heart which it consecrates to Him. It resembles simple chastity, says St. Thomas, as munificence resembles liberality, since it offers a splendid gift, absolute integrity.240 According to St. Cyprian and St. Ambrose, it gives the Church a particular splendor241 and contributes in giving it the luster of the mark of sanctity, to distinguish it from the sects which have renounced the evangelical counsels.

The value of chastity, whether that of virgins, widows, or married people, appears first of all by contrast with the disorders which spring from the concupiscence of the flesh, disorders which often bring in their wake divorce, family dishonor, the unhappiness of married couples and their children. We need only recall the divorce of Henry VIII of England, which drew practically the entire country into schism and then into heresy. To preserve us from similar errors, Christ says to all: “If thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out. . . . And if thy right hand scandalize thee, cut it off. . . . For it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than that thy whole body go into hell.”242

Chastity is lost through the exterior senses, the thoughts, the desires of the heart. It does not admit of any kind of forbidden pleasure. It retrenches even pleasures that are useless though permitted, and it leads man to live detached from them.

The motive that should inspire chastity is the love of God. Chastity of heart and body is in reality the renunciation of every illicit affection out of love of God. It prevents the life of the heart from descending, so that it may rise toward God like a living flame ever more pure and ardent. Chastity of the body is like bark around chastity of the heart, which is the more precious.

To preserve this virtue we must keep always spiritually close to Jesus crucified, as St. Francis de Sales says.243 We cannot do this without a twofold mortification: that of the body and senses, especially as soon as danger arises, and that of the heart, by forbidding ourselves every inordinate affection. Such an affection would become not only useless, but harmful, and would start us down a perilous slope. It is only too easy for us to descend, and to slip much more rapidly than we foresee, and it is very difficult to reascend. People sometimes forge chains for themselves which later they lack the courage to break. They end by saying as worldings do: “Human love, if sincere, has undeniable rights.” To this we must answer: “There can be no rights contrary to the love due to God, the sovereign Good and Source of all truly generous love.”

On inordinate affections, The Imitation declares: “Whenever a man desireth anything inordinately, straightway he is disquieted within himself. . . . It is by resisting the passions therefore, and not by serving them, that true peace of heart is to be found. Peace, therefore, is . . . in the fervent and spiritual man.”244 In the same work we read that excessive familiarity with people causes the soul to lose intimacy with our Lord. The author declares: “How foolish and vain, if thou desire anything out of Jesus! Is not this a greater loss to thee than if thou shouldst lose the whole world? . . . Whoever findeth Jesus, findeth a good treasure, a good above every good. . . . For His sake and in Him, let enemies as well as friends be dear to thee; and for all these thou must pray to Him that all may know and love Him.”245 The same sentiments are also expressed in the hymn, Jesu, dulcis memoria:

Jesu, spes poenitentibus
Quam pius es petentibus!
Quam bonus te quaerentibus!
Sed quid invenientibus!

To reach this close union with Christ, we must be humble and pure of heart; we must, as St. Francis de Sales says, always practice humility and chastity and, if possible, never or very rarely mention them.


Chastity practiced in its perfection makes man live in mortal flesh a spiritual life which is like the prelude of eternal life. Since it frees man from matter, it makes him in a manner like the angels. It even has for its effect to make his body increasingly like the soul, and the soul more and more like to God.

When the body lives only for the soul, it tends in fact to resemble it. The soul is a spiritual substance that can be seen immediately only by the spiritual gaze of God and the angels. It is simple because it has no extended parts; it is beautiful, especially when it keeps a continually upright intention, beautiful with the beauty of beautiful doctrines, of beautiful actions; it is calm, in the sense that it is above every corporeal movement; it is incorruptible or immortal because it is simple and immaterial, because it does not depend intrinsically on a perishable body.

By purity the body becomes spiritual, so to speak; from time to time it lets the soul shine through the gaze especially, like the look of a saint in prayer. By this virtue the body becomes simple: in proportion as the attitude of a worldly woman is complex, in the same proportion that of a virgin is simple. As someone has said: “There are two very simple beings: the child, who does not yet know evil; and the saint, who has forgotten it by dint of conquering it.” By purity the body grows beautiful, for all that is pure is beautiful: for example, an unclouded sky, a diamond through which light passes without any hindrance. Thus the bodies of the saints represented in the frescoes of Fra Angelico have a supernatural beauty which is that of a soul given entirely to God. By purity the body becomes calm and, in a certain way, even incorruptible; whereas vice withers, ravages, and kills the body prematurely, virginity preserves it.

Neither the body of our Lord nor that of the Blessed Virgin underwent the corruption of the tomb. Not infrequently the bodies of the saints remain intact, and long after their death sometimes exhale an exquisite odor, a sign of their perfect chastity. Their body, which lived only for the soul, still keeps its imprint. The Eucharist leaves, as it were, seeds of immortality in the body, which is destined to rise again and to receive a reflection of the glory of the soul. Christ tells us: “He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, hath everlasting life; and I will raise him up in the last day.”246

Since perfect chastity renders the body like to the soul, it is even truer to say that it renders the soul like to God. The three attributes of God appropriated respectively to each of the divine Persons are power, wisdom, love. By perfect purity the soul becomes increasingly strong, luminous, and loving. Here especially appears the fruitfulness of this virtue.

By chastity the soul becomes strong. We have only to recall the courage of the virgin martyrs: St. Cecilia, St. Agnes, St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Lucy of Syracuse, and many others. Their executioners tired more quickly of torturing them than they did of suffering. St. Lucy declared to her judges that a chaste and pious soul is the temple of the Holy Ghost. Upon this answer, they determined to profane her body by dragging her to a place of debauchery, but she remained rooted to the ground like a pillar of granite; the Holy Ghost kept her for Himself in spite of the efforts of her persecutors. The Lord gave these virgins an invincible strength which made them surmount every fear in the midst of the most severe torments. Though not miraculous, what strength, what moral authority perfect purity gives to religious in hospitals, in prisons, where they often gain the respect of poor perverted creatures who recognize in this virtue a superior power, that of the strong woman whom nothing weakens! For this reason particularly, the Virgin of virgins, the refuge of sinners and consoler of the afflicted, is terrible to the demons. She also bears the name of Mary Help of Christians or Our Lady of Perpetual Help. We may all hope in her power, which is full of goodness.

Likewise by purity the soul becomes luminous: “Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.” The Eagle of the Evangelists was a virgin, and so was St. Paul. St. Thomas, the greatest of theologians, was delivered at the age of sixteen from every temptation of the flesh that he might devote his entire life to the contemplation of divine things which he was to teach to others. Perfect purity also gives occasionally to Christian virgins, like Catherine of Alexandria and Catherine of Siena, a supernatural perception enabling them to see in a way even in this life the beauty of God, the sublime harmony of the apparently most contradictory divine perfections, such as God’s infinite justice and the tenderness of His mercy. These Christian virgins do not confound the good pleasure of God with arbitrariness; they do not argue about the mysteries of infallible Providence and of predestination, but if they touch upon them, they use exact expressions full of the spirit of faith. This clear vision of pure love has also enabled contemplatives and Christian virgins devoid of theological learning to write unforgettable pages on the spiritual beauty of Christ’s countenance, on the secret that unites in Him the most heroic fortitude and the most tender compassion, superabundant sadness and the loftiest serenity, the supreme demands of justice and the inexhaustible treasures of mercy. Only great wisdom knows what can be said and what remains inexpressible on this subject, a mystery that calls for the silence of adoration.

Finally, perfect purity gives to the soul, together with supernatural light, a spiritual love of God and of our neighbor, which is truly the hundredfold and which compensates far in excess of all the sacrifices we have made or still have to make.

In a truly purified heart, the love of God becomes increasingly tender and strong. Far removed from all sentimentality, it rises above the sensibility; in the higher part of the spiritual will, it becomes that living flame of love spoken of by St. John of the Cross. It is the perfect realization of what the supreme precept demands: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with all thy strength and with all thy mind.”247 Under certain touches of the Holy Ghost, the spiritual heart melts, as it were, into that of the Savior to draw from Him greater strength and ever new youth. In this love there is a savor of eternal life.

When the soul consecrated to God is wholly faithful, it merits the name of spouse of Christ. By the strength and tenderness of its love, it is associated with His sorrows, His immortal joys, His profound work in souls, His anticipated or definitive victories.

At the summit of this ascent, there is on earth between the consecrated soul and its God a spiritual marriage, an indissoluble union which transforms it into Him and enables it to say: “My beloved to me, and I to Him.” This spiritual marriage is a profound intimacy, reaching at times even to the revelation of most secret thoughts. There are a thousand things which the faithful spouse of Christ divines and foresees. Between Christ and the soul there is perfect communion of ideas, sentiment, will, sacrifice, and action for the salvation of souls; and the reception of the Holy Eucharist each day with greater fervor, a fervor of the will, if not of the sensibility, is the daily testimony of this love.

This very pure and strong love of God and of souls in God is the source of a lofty spiritual paternity or maternity. To convince ourselves of this we need only recall the words of St. John the Evangelist to his children. Our Lord said to His apostles: “Little children, yet a little while I am with you.”248 St. John says to his disciples: “My little children, these things I write to you,”that you may not sin.”249 “Your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.”250 “And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He shall appear we may . . . not be confounded by Him at His coming.”251 “Let no man deceive you.”252 “Let us not love in word nor in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”253 “You are of God, little children. . . . Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.”254

St. Paul speaks with the same fatherly tenderness and strength when he writes to the Galatians: “My little children, of whom I am in labor again, until Christ be formed in you. . . . I am ashamed for you.”255 To the Corinthians he writes: [Shall I remind you of] my daily instance, the solicitude for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is scandalized, and I am not on fire?”256

Such is spiritual fatherhood in all its generosity, tenderness, and strength. It compensates far and beyond for the temporal fatherhood which the Apostle renounces. He does not found a definite and limited home where a life that will last sixty or eighty years is transmitted. He labors to form souls for our Lord, to communicate to them a life that will last forever.

Also worthy of admiration is the spiritual maternity of true religious, who, by increasing fidelity, deserve to be called spouses of Jesus Christ. They exercise this maternity toward abandoned children, the poor who have been forsaken by all, the sick who have no resources, suffering souls who are drifting away, and the agonizing. To such religious Christ will say: “I was thirsty, and you gave Me to drink; . . . I was hungry; . . . naked, . . . sick . . . in prison, and you came to Me. . . . Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these My least brethren, you did it to Me.”

Perfect purity renders the soul increasingly like to God, strong, luminous, loving, and makes man share in God’s spiritual paternity, in that of the Savior, who came to found not a restricted family, but the great family of the Church which should extend to all peoples and to all generations. All this shows the grandeur of the evangelical counsel of chastity and of its effective practice.

The spirit of this counsel has on occasion also completely transfigured temporal fatherhood or motherhood. One of the greatest examples is that of St. Monica who, having given birth to Augustine, brought him forth spiritually by her tears and prayers. Monica thus obtained the conversion of her son; she became doubly his mother, of body and soul. All who are indebted to St. Augustine for the doctrine he taught should thank the mother to whom Ambrose said: “The son of so many tears could not perish.”

To sum up, the moral virtue of chastity, when truly understood and practiced in a high degree, prepares the soul to receive the grace of contemplation, which proceeds from living faith illumined by the gifts. Then begins the realization of the promise: “Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.” The truly pure soul begins, as it were, to see God in prayer, while uniting itself more intimately to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to the Consecration, and to Communion. It also begins to see divine Providence in the circumstances of life, for “to them that love God [and who persevere in this love], all things work together unto good.” Finally, following this way, man begins to see God in the souls of those about him; gradually he sometimes discovers, under a thick and opaque envelope, a luminous soul that pleases God far more than he had first thought. Thus to see God in souls is a grace that must be merited. It requires a particular clear perception which is gradually obtained by detachment from self and a more pure and strong love of God, which makes us discover in Him those who love Him and those who are called to love Him, those from whom we can receive and those to whom we can and should give for love of Him.

Chapter 12: The Humility of Proficients

“The Son of man is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give His life a redemption for many.”
Matt. 20:28

Since we are discussing here especially the moral virtues that have a special connection with the theological virtues and the life of union with God, we must consider what humility should be in proficients.

The importance and nature of this Christian virtue show clearly the distance which separates the acquired virtues described by the pagan philosophers from the infused virtues spoken of in the Gospel. In speaking of prudence, we recalled the distance between them, which is based on a distinction of nature. We shall get a clearer idea of this distance in speaking of humility, and even more in considering this virtue in our model, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Humility is considered in all Christian tradition as the foundation of the spiritual life, since it removes pride, which is, says Holy Scripture, the beginning of every sin because it separates us from God. Thus humility has often been compared to the excavation which must be dug for the erection of a building, an excavation which should be so much the deeper in proportion as the building is to be higher. From this point of view, as we have seen,257 the two principal pillars of the temple to be built are faith and hope, and its dome is charity.

Humility ought certainly to repress pride under all its forms, including intellectual and spiritual pride, which we have already discussed.258 But the principal, essential act and the highest act of humility is not, to be exact, the actual repression of movements of pride. It is evident, in fact, that in our Lord and in Mary there never was a first movement of pride to repress, and nevertheless there was in them and there still is the eminent exercise of the virtue of humility. What is, therefore, the essentially characteristic act of humility, first toward God, then toward our neighbor?


The act proper to humility consists in bowing toward the earth, calledhumus in Latin, from which the name of this virtue is derived. To speak without metaphor, its essential act consists in abasing ourselves before God and adore what is of God in every creature. To abase ourselves before the Most High is to recognize, not only in a speculative but in a practical manner, our inferiority, littleness, and indigence, manifest in us even though we are innocent, and, once we have sinned, it consists in recognizing our wretchedness.

Thus humility is united to obedience and religion, but it differs from them. Obedience is concerned with the authority of God and His precepts; religion considers His excellence and the worship due Him. Humility, by inclining us toward the earth, recognizes our littleness, our poverty, and in its way glorifies the majesty of God. It sings His glory as when the archangel Michael said: “Who is like to God?” The interior soul experiences a holy joy in annihilating itself, as it were, before God to recognize practically that He alone is great and that, in comparison with His, all human greatness is empty of truth like a lie.

Humility thus conceived is based on truth, especially on the truth that there is an infinite distance between the Creator and the creature. The more this distance appears to us in a living and concrete manner, the more humble we are. However lofty the creature may be, this abyss is always infinite; and the higher we ascend, the more evident does this infinite abyss become for us. In this sense, the highest soul is the most humble, because the most enlightened: the Blessed Virgin Mary is more humble than all the saints, and our Lord is far more humble than His holy Mother.

We see the connection of humility with the theological virtues by determining its twofold dogmatic basis, which was unknown to the pagan philosophers. At its root are two dogmas. Primarily, it is based on the mystery of creation ex nihilo, which the philosophers of antiquity did not know, at least explicitly, but which reason can know by its natural powers. We have been created from nothing; this is the basis of humility according to the light of right reason.259

Humility is also based260 on the mystery of grace and on the necessity of actual grace for the slightest salutary act. This mystery exceeds the natural powers of reason; it is known by faith, and it is expressed in these words of the Savior: “Without Me you can do nothing”261 in the order of salvation.

From this principle spring four consequences in respect to God the Creator, to His providence and to His goodness, which is at once the source of grace and of the remission of sin.

First of all, in relation to God the Creator, we should recognize not only speculatively, but practically and concretely, that of ourselves we are nothing: “My substance is as nothing before Thee.”262 “What hast thou that thou hast not received?”263 We were created out of nothing by a sovereignly free fiat of God, by His love of benevolence, which preserves us in existence, without which we would be immediately annihilated. Furthermore, after creation, though there are a number of beings, there is no increase in reality, no increase of perfection, wisdom, or love; for before creation the infinite plenitude of divine perfection already existed. Therefore in comparison with God we are not.

If all that comes from God were taken away from even our best free acts, strictly speaking nothing would remain, for in such an act one part does not come from us and the other from God. The act is entirely from God as from its first cause, and it is entirely from us as from its second cause. Thus the fruit of a tree is entirely from God as from its first cause and entirely from the tree as from Its second cause. We should recognize practically that without God, the Creator and Preserver of all things, we are nothing.

Secondly, in regard to Providence, without God the supreme Ordainer, without His providence which directs all things, our life completely lacks direction. We should, therefore, humbly receive from Him the general direction of the precepts that we may reach eternal life, and the particular direction that the Most High has chosen from all eternity for each one of us. This particular direction is manifested to us by our superiors, who are intermediaries between God and us, by counsels to which we should have recourse, by events, by the inspirations of the Holy Ghost. Consequently we should humbly accept the place, it may perhaps be very modest, which God has willed from all eternity for each one of us. Thus in the religious life, according to the divine will, some should be like the branches of the tree, others like flowers, others like roots hidden in the earth. Yet the root is most useful; it draws from the soil the secretions that constitute the sap necessary for the nourishment of the tree. If all its roots were cut, the tree would die; but it would not die were all its branches and flowers cut. Humility, which leads a Christian, a religious, to accept a hidden place very willingly, is extremely fruitful not only for himself but for others. Christ in His sorrowful life humbly wished the last place, that in which Barabbas was preferred to Him, the opprobrium of the cross; by so doing He became the corner stone in the edifice of the kingdom of God: “The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner. By the Lord this has been done; and it is wonderful in our eyes.”264 St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “You are no more strangers . . . , but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and the domestics of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone.”265

Such is the solid, marvelously fruitful humility, which even in the most hidden places sings the glory of God. We ought, therefore, to receive humbly the special direction He has chosen for us, even though it should lead us to profound immolation: “The Lord killeth and maketh alive; He bringeth down to hell and bringeth back again. . . . He humbleth and He exalteth.”266 This is one of the most beautiful recurrent themes in the Scriptures.

Thirdly, in this special direction chosen by God for us, we cannot take the slightest step forward, or perform the least salutary and meritorious act without the help of an actual grace. We need this grace particularly to persevere to the end and should, consequently, humbly ask. for it.

Even if we had a high degree of sanctifying grace and charity, ten talents for example, we should still need an actual grace for the least salutary act. And especially for a happy death we need the great gift of final perseverance, which we must daily ask for in the Hail Mary with humility and confidence. Christian humility says joyfully with St. Paul: “Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is from God.”267 “No man can say the Lord Jesus, but by the Holy Ghost.”268 In short, humility should recognize practically and a little better every day the majesty of God the Creator, the Ordainer of all things, and the Author of grace.

Finally, while humility, which recognizes our indigence, should be found in all the just and should be in the innocent man, it is after we commit sin that we should recognize practically not only our indigence, but our wretchedness: the baseness of our selfish, narrow hearts, of our inconstant wills, of our vacillating, whimsical, ungovernable characters; the wretched weaknesses of our minds, guilty of unpardonable forgetfulness and contradictions that they could and should avoid; the wretchedness of pride, of concupiscence, which leads to indifference to the glory of God and the salvation of souls. This wretchedness is beneath nothingness itself since it is a disorder, and it occasionally plunges our souls into a contemptible state of abjection.

The Divine Office often reminds us in the Miserere of these great truths: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy, and according to the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out my iniquity. Wash me yet more from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. . . . To Thee only have I sinned, and have done evil before Thee. . . . Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed: Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow:. . . . Turn away Thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create a clean heart in me, O God; and renew a right spirit Within my bowels. . . . Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation.”269 “Who can understand sins? From my secret ones, cleanse me, O Lord.”270

How greatly this abasement of genuine humility differs from pusillanimity, which is born of human respect or of spiritual sloth! Contrary to magnanimity, pusillanimity refuses the necessary labor. Humility, far from being opposed to grandeur of soul, is united to it. A Christian should tend toward great things worthy of great honor, but he should tend toward them humbly and, if necessary, by the way of great humiliations.271 He should learn to say often: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us; but to Thy name give glory.”272

The pusillanimous man is one who refuses to do what he can and should do; he may sin mortally when he refuses to accomplish what is gravely obligatory. Humility, on the contrary, abases man before the Most High that he may take his true place. It abases him before God only to allow God to act more freely in him. Far from becoming discouraged, the humble soul entrusts itself to God and, if the Lord does great things through it, it does not glorify itself any more than the ax in the hands of the woodsman, than the harp in the hands of the harpist. With the Blessed Virgin Mary, the humble soul says: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.”


Writing on the subject of humility toward our neighbor, St. Thomas says in a manner as simple as profound: “Wherefore every man, in respect of that which is his own, ought to subject himself to every neighbor, in respect of that which the latter has of God’s.”273

In fact, every man, considering that of himself he is nothing, that what he has of himself is only his indigence, defectibility, and deficiencies, ought not only in a speculative way but also in a practical way to recognize that all he has of himself as coming from himself, is inferior to what every other man has from God in the order of nature and that of grace.

The holy doctor adds in substance: It is possible, without falsehood, to deem and avow ourselves the most despicable of men, as regards the hidden faults which we acknowledge in ourselves and the hidden gifts of God which others have.274 For this reason the Psalmist says: “From my secret ones [sins], cleanse me, O Lord.”275 St. Augustine says also: “Consider that certain people are in a hidden way better than you are, although you may appear morally superior to them.”276

We should also say with St. Augustine: “There is no sin committed by another which I, by reason of my own frailty, may not commit; and if I have not committed it, it is because God in His mercy has not permitted it and has preserved me in goodness.”277 We should give God the glory for our not having fallen and say to Him in the words of Scripture: “Create a clean heart in me, O God: and renew a right spirit within my bowels.”278 “Convert me, and I shall be converted.”279 “Look Thou upon me, and have mercy on me; for I am alone and poor.”280

St. Thomas says: “Since God’s love is the cause of goodness in things, no one thing would be better than another if God did not will greater good for one than for another.”281 “What hast thou that thou hast not received?”282 This truth leads the saints to say to themselves when they see a criminal about to undergo the last punishment: “If this man had received the same graces that I have been receiving for so many years, he would perhaps have been less unfaithful than I. And if God had permitted in my life the sins which He permitted in this man’s, I would be in his place and he in mine.” “What hast thou that thou hast not received?” This is the true basis of Christian humility. All pride should break against these divine words.

The humility of the saints thus becomes ever more profound, for they experience increasingly their own frailty in contrast with the majesty and the goodness of God. We should tend toward this humility of the saints, but should not employ the formulas they use so long as we are not profoundly convinced that they are true. Should we do so, our humility would evidently be false; in comparison with the true virtue, it is like a paste diamond.

Humility toward our neighbor, thus defined by St. Thomas, differs greatly from human respect and pusillanimity. Human respect (timor mundanus) is the fear of the judgment and wrath of the wicked; this fear turns us away from God. Pusillanimity refuses the necessary toil; it flees the great things it should accomplish and inclines toward base things. Humility, on the other hand, makes us abase ourselves nobly before God and before what is of God in our neighbor. The humble man does not abase himself before the power of the wicked; thus he differs, says St. Thomas, from the ambitious man who abases himself far more than he should to obtain what he desires, and makes himself a lackey in order to attain power.

Humility does not flee great things; on the contrary it strengthens magnanimity by making man tend humbly toward lofty things. These two virtues, which support each other like the arches of a vault, are complementary. They are magnificently presented to us in our Lord when He says: “The Son of man is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister [this is humility], and to give His life a redemption for many [this is magnanimity with zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of souls].”283 Our Savior could not tend to greater things and tend more humbly toward them: He willed to give us eternal life by the way of the humiliations of His passion and cross. Thus, all proportion being kept, these two virtues, which in appearance are so contradictory, are united in the saints. The humble John the Baptist did not fear the anger of Herod when he reproved him for his immoral conduct; the apostles in their humility did not fear the opposition of men; they were magnanimous even to martyrdom. There is something similar in all the saints, and the more humble they are, the stronger they are, the less they fear human opinions, however formidable these may be. We have an example of this courage in the humble and intrepid Vincent de Paul facing Jansenist pride, which he recognized and denounced, in order to preserve for souls the grace of frequent Communion.

Practically, what must we do to reach the perfection of humility, without which we cannot have that of charity? Our attitude toward praise and reproach is of great importance. In regard to praise, we must not laud ourselves; by so doing we would soil ourselves, as the Italian proverb says: “Chi si loda, s’imbroda.” Men praise themselves when they think they are not sufficiently praised by others. Furthermore, we must not seek praise; should we do this, we would render ourselves ridiculous and lose the merit of our good acts. Lastly, we should not take pleasure in praise when it comes; to do so would be to lose, if not the merit of our good actions, at least the flower of merit.

We must, however, mount still higher by acting as we should in regard to reproaches. We must patiently accept deserved reproaches, especially when they come from superiors who have the right and the duty to make them. If we pout, we lose the benefit of these just observations. It is also fitting that we accept patiently at times a reproach that is only slightly deserved or undeserved. Thus, while still a novice, St. Thomas was unjustly reproved for a so­called mistake in Latin while reading in the refectory. He corrected himself as he had been told to do; later at recreation his brethren were astonished and said to him: “You were right. Why did you correct yourself?” “It is better in the eyes of God,” answered the saint, “to make a mistake in grammar than to fail in obedience and humility.” Lastly, we would do well to ask for a love of contempt, keeping in mind the examples of the saints. When our Lord asked St: John of the Cross: “What do you wish for a reward?” the saint replied: “To be scorned and to suffer for love of Thee.” His prayer was granted a few days later in the most painful manner; he as treated like an unworthy religious in a scarcely credible fashion. Likewise St. Francis of Assisi said to Brother Leo: “If when we arrive this evening at the door of the convent, the brother porter does not wish to open the door for us, if he takes us for thieves and receives us with blows and leaves us outside all night in the rain and cold, then we must say: Santa letizia, that is, what joy, O Lord, to suffer for Thee and to become a little like Thee.” The saints reached even this height.

St. Anselm admirably described the degrees of humility: “(1) to acknowledge ourselves contemptible;(2) to grieve on account of this;(3) to admit that we are so;(4) to wish our neighbor to believe it;(5) patiently to endure people’s saying it;(6) willingly to be treated as a person worthy of contempt;(7) to love to be treated in this fashion.”284

These higher degrees are stated in all books of piety but, as St. Teresa says: “The disposition to practice this (the higher degrees of humility) must be, in my opinion, the gift of God; for it seems to me a supernatural good.”285 They presuppose a certain infused contemplation of the humility of the Savior crucified for us and the ardent desire to become like to Him.

It is certainly fitting to tend to this lofty perfection. Rare are they who attain it; but before reaching it, the interior soul has many occasions to recall these words of Jesus, which are so simple, profound, and truly imitable, all proportion being kept: “The Son of man is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a redemption for many.”286 This is the deepest humility united to the loftiest grandeur of soul.

In our way we should also follow the Savior and gradually be conformed to Him. For this reason we shall devote the following chapter to a consideration of the humility of Jesus as the eminent exemplar of ours.287

Chapter 13: The Humility of the Word Made Flesh and What Ours Should Be

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who . . . emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant.”
Phil. 2: 5–7

In studying humility, we should consider how it was practiced by our Lord Himself, whose example we should follow, and see how this abasement is united in Him to the highest virtues.


In the second chapter of his epistle to the Philippians, St. Paul, wishing to exhort us to humility, speaks of the infinite majesty of the Savior that we may better see to what an extent He humbled Himself. The union of these two extremes is amazing, and should be found to some extent in Christian perfection.

In this celebrated passage, St. Paul teaches clearly the eternal preexistence of the divine person of Christ. He tells us: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man. He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.”

“Being in the form of God . . .” The word “form” in St. Paul’s text designates intimate, fundamental, essential being; in this case, the nature of God. In other words, although the only Son of the Father is truly God, “the brightness of His glory, and the figure of His substance,” as we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews,288 He did not eagerly retain His equality with God.

Lucifer, on the contrary, though only a creature, wished to be equal to God and not to recognize in practice any master superior to himself. In the error of his pride, he exclaimed: “I will be like he Most High,”289 and in order to tempt us he tells us: “You shall be as gods.”290

Jesus, who is truly God, emptied Himself. St. Paul here affirms the divinity of Christ as clearly as it is expressed in the prologue to St. John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . The only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.”291

“He emptied Himself.” How? He did not lose His divine nature; He remained what He was, but He took or assumed our poor human nature. In coming down from heaven, He did not leave it, but He began to dwell on earth in the humblest condition. In this sense He emptied Himself. Whereas the divine nature is the infinite plenitude of all perfections, human nature is as if empty, although it aspires to plenitude; the human intellect is at the beginning like a blank page on which nothing is written. The only Son of God emptied Himself, taking our human nature, which is infinitely below the divine nature, and even below the purely spiritual nature of the angels, even of the lowest among them.

“He took the form of a servant,” for man, God’s creature, is the servant of the Most High. The only Son of the Father therefore took in His divine person the nature of a servant, the condition of a slave, so that one and the same person might be the Son of God and the Son of man, that the same person might be the only Son begotten from all eternity and the Infant in the crib at Bethlehem and the Man of sorrows nailed to the cross.

“Being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man.” He wished to be rendered like His brethren in all things, sin excepted; even more, He wished to be born among the poor. He was cold and hungry, like a man of humble condition. He was tired and worn out, as we are and more than we are.

St. Paul adds, penetrating far more deeply into this mystery: “He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death.” The God-man humbled Himself. We read in Ecclesiasticus: “The greater thou art, the more humble thyself in all things, and thou shalt find grace before God: for great is the power of God alone, and He is honored by the humble.”292 For this reason Christ Himself tells us: “Learn of Me because I am meek, and humble of heart.”293

The sign of humility is obedience. Pride, on the contrary, inclines us to do our own will and to seek what exalts us, not to wish to be directed by others, but to direct them. Obedience is opposed to this pride. The only Son of the Father came down from heaven to save us, to cure our pride, becoming obedient unto death, and even to the death of the cross.

Obedience renders our acts and sufferings meritorious to such an extent that, useless as they may appear, they may become very fruitful. One of the marvels accomplished by our Savior is to have rendered fruitful what was most useless, that is, suffering. He glorified it by obedience and love. Obedience is great, heroic, when man does not refuse death and does not flee ignominy. Now the death of the Word made flesh was most ignominious. It was announced by the Book of Wisdom, in the words of the impious directed against the wise man par excellence: “Let us condemn him to the most shameful death.”294 Death on the cross was considered precisely by the Romans and Jews as an infamous and horrible torture reserved to slaves. We read in Deuteronomy: “He is accursed of God that hangeth on a tree.”295 And St. Paul says to the Galatians: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law [which is powerless to justify us], being, made a curse for us; for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree.’ “296This abasement was necessary before Christ entered into His glory as Redeemer.

Likewise in the Epistle to the Hebrews, St. Paul speaks of “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasure of the Egyptians.”297 Farther on, he says: “Jesus, the author and finisher of faith . . . endured the cross, despising the shame, and now sitteth on the right hand of the throne of God.”298

We can thus see how the cross of the Savior was “a stumbling block” for the Jews.299 They had to believe that the wood of malediction became the instrument of salvation, that He who was fastened to it, instead of being accursed of God, was to become the source of every grace, the object of love and adoration.300

All that St. Paul says is already contained in the mystery of the nativity of the Lord, who came down from heaven for our salvation, as the Credo states. The infant Jesus foresaw all these painful and glorious events. As we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews: “When He cometh into the world, He saith: ‘Sacrifice and oblation [of the Old Law] Thou wouldst not; but a body Thou hast fitted to Me. . . . Then said I: Behold, I come to do Thy will, O God.’ “301This heroic example of humble obedience should be always before our eyes.

The liturgy of Christmas continually recalls this example by contrasting the humility and the majesty of our Savior:

Memento, salutis auctor,
Quod nostri quondam corporis
Ex illibata Virgine
Nascendo formam sumpseris.

Author of grace, sweet Savior mine,
Remember that Thy flesh divine
From the unsullied Virgin came,
Made like unto our mortal frame.

And in the office for Christmas we read these words of Pope St. Leo: “The two natures, divine and human, without losing their properties, are united in a single person; humility is sustained by majesty, weakness by power, mortality by eternity. If the Savior were not truly God, He would not bring the remedy; and if He were not truly man, He would not be an example for us.”

In the nativity of Jesus everything speaks to us of His humility. We read in St. Luke: “She brought forth her first-born Son, and wrapped Him up in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”302 There was no room for the Word of God made flesh; a fact we must not forget when there is no room for us. The first adorers were poor shepherds “watching, and keeping the night-watches over their flock” But a multitude of angels descended from heaven singing: “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will”303

The two extremes are united: “The Word was made flesh.” It is the joining of supreme riches and perfect poverty to give men redemption and peace. It is impossible to conceive a more intimate union of a more profound humility and a more lofty dignity. The two infinitely distant extremes are intimately united; God alone could do it. It is not only beautiful, it is sublime, an extreme elevation in the order of the spiritually beautiful. It is what makes the grandeur of Christ’s physiognomy. He always tends toward very great things, worthy of the greatest honor, but He tends to them most humbly with full submission to the will of His Father and acceptance in advance of all the humiliations of the Passion and cross, which He foresees from His infancy. He exemplifies the closest union of perfect humility and loftiest magnanimity.


In what regard must we imitate Christ in the union of humility and Christian dignity? How can we harmonize these two extremes in our lives: a humility which should always grow and the keen desire for perfection and union with God? On the one hand, the Lord tells us to abase ourselves, so much so that we cannot humble ourselves too greatly, and on the other hand, we read in Scripture: “Be ye also perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

How can we harmonize “this abasement which is demanded of us, with the ardent desire for our progress? Souls fear to fail in humility by aspiring to a union with God of which they feel unworthy. The Jansenists went so far as to say that out of humility one should only rarely receive Communion. This practical difficulty exists especially, it is true, for souls that have lost the superior simplicity which comes from grace; but it may exist for us when we have to distinguish between true and false humility in ourselves. We experience it particularly when we must defend our way of living against that of others. At the beginning of the discussion we may speak solely for love of truth, but if we are constrained, often we reply with the impatience and pride of wounded self-love.

The simplest souls find the solution of this problem in rereading what Scripture says about the union of these two extremes: “Whosoever, therefore, shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the kingdom of heaven.”304 “Be you humbled therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in the time of visitation: casting all your care upon Him for He hath care of you.”305 “Be humbled in the sight of the Lord, and He will exalt you.”306 “The Lord killeth and maketh alive, He bringeth down to hell and bringeth back again. The Lord maketh poor and maketh rich, He humbleth and He exalteth.”307

The union of deep humility and supernatural magnanimity is particularly mysterious in the saints. In this respect they reproduce the life of the Savior, while remaining far from His perfection. This point must be emphasized, for in it is a great lesson for us. On the one hand, the saints declare that they are the least of men because of their infidelity to grace, and on the other hand they have a superhuman dignity. For example, St. Paul says of himself: “He rose again the third day . . . and was seen by Cephas, and after that by the eleven. Then he was seen by more than five hundred brethren at once . . . and last of all He was seen also by me as by one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God.”308 He even speaks of the infirmities that humiliate him and oblige him to pray God to come to his relief.309

On the other hand, when St. Paul had to defend his ministry against false apostles, he wrote with magnanimity: “They are Hebrews: so am I. . . . They are the ministers of Christ (I speak as one less wise): I am more; in many more labors, in prisons more frequently, in stripes above measure, in deaths often. . . . Thrice was I beaten with rods, once I was stoned.”310 He enumerates his labors, his cares; he even speaks of the visions and revelations he received from God. But finally, reverting to a deeper humility he writes: “And lest the greatness of the revelations should exalt me, there was given me a sting of my flesh, an angel of Satan, to buffet me [that I might not become proud]. For which thing thrice I be sought the Lord that it might depart from me. And He said to me: ‘My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity.’ Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”311

In his commentary on this chapter of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, St. Thomas speaks admirably of the union of humility and magnanimity in St. Paul. He writes as follows: “As charity is the root of the virtues, pride is the beginning of every sin.312 It is the inordinate desire of our own excellence: we desire it then without subordinating it to God. Thus we turn away from Him, which is the beginning of every sin; for this reason God resists the proud.313 As there is in good people the good of which they may become proud, God sometimes permits some infirmity in His elect, some defect, and occasionally a mortal sin, which prevents them from becoming proud, which truly humiliates them, and makes them recognize that they cannot hold out or persevere by their own strength. The apostle St. Paul in particular might have grown proud of many things: he was a vessel of election to carry the faith to the Gentiles;314 he had been ravished to the third heaven and heard secret words, which it is not granted to man to utter;315 he had suffered greatly for Christ, several times he had been cast into prison, and scourged; he was a virgin (having obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful);316 he had labored more than all, as he says;317 and in particular he had a lofty knowledge of divine things which may be the source of pride. For this reason the Lord gave him a remedy for pride. That the excellence of the revelations made to him might not make him proud, he received a sting in the flesh, a humiliating infirmity which crucified his body in order to heal his soul. . . . As he says, an angel of Satan came and buffeted him. How the sinner should tremble if the great Apostle, the instrument of election, is not sure of himself! Three times he ardently begged the Lord to deliver him from this sting; three times, that is, often and urgently. He then heard these words: ‘My grace is sufficient for thee,’ it will preserve thee from sin. Divine power is shown in weakness, which is an occasion for the exercise of the virtues of humility, patience, and abnegation. The man who knows his weakness is more attentive to resisting it and, because he struggles, he grows in strength. ‘Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities,’ says St. Paul, since I am thus more humble, and I must fight that the power of Christ may dwell in me and bear all its fruits of grace.”318

Something similar occurred in the life of St. Peter, who was humiliated because he denied our Lord during the Passion. Peter thus lost all presumption and placed his confidence no longer in himself, but in God alone.

The principle of the harmonizing of humility and Christian magnanimity is expressed in these words of St. Paul: “We have this treasure [of divine truth] in earthen vessels, that the excellency may be of the power of God and not of us.”319 One of the most beautiful formulas of the harmonizing of humility and magnanimity is the following, taken from the works of St. Thomas: “The servant of God should always consider himself a beginner and always tend toward a more perfect and holy life without ever stopping.”320

Thus in the great saints humility and magnanimity are harmonized; they tend toward great things in the midst of trials and humiliations. There is, however, always an immense difference between them and the Savior; Christ who was most humble is sinless, without the slightest fault to deplore, most humble in His absolute impeccability and His sovereign dignity.

In the Blessed Virgin Mary, due proportion being kept, there is something similar. She was preserved from every sin, and in her Magnificat she appears at one and the same time very humble and very great, terrible to the demon: “My soul doth magnify the Lord. . . . He hath regarded the humility of His handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because He that is mighty hath done great things to me. . . . He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble.”321

Something analogous appears also for our consolation in the life of the Church, the spouse of Christ. Throughout its history Christ’s words are verified: “Everyone that exalteth himself, shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”322 Christ made this statement when He spoke of the guests who took the first places, and again in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican.323 In persecutions the Church often seems conquered; yet it is always victorious. In its humility it tends toward the great things which are the glory of God and the salvation of souls.

Lastly, there should be something similar in every Christian, especially in every religious. He must be truly humble like a root hidden under the ground, and he should always tend toward these great things, a more living faith, a more firm hope, a more ardent charity, a union with God that is daily more intimate, pure, and strong. Thus extremes are harmonized, like the deep root of the tree which symbolizes humility and the loftiest branch which is the figure of charity. All the virtues are connected and grow together, just as the root buries itself ever deeper in the soil, while the tallest branch reaches up toward heaven.

Thus in the mystical body of the Savior should be realized what St. Leo said of Christ Himself: “Humility is sustained by majesty, weakness by strength, mortality by eternity.” Gradually in the mystical body of Christ “that which is mortal, may be swallowed up by life.”324 “For this corruptible must put on incorruption,”325 that the mystery of the redemption may be accomplished, that the incarnate Word may apply to us the fruit of His merits and be actually and fully the Author of salvation.

What majesty there is in the title Salutis auctor! And how well united it is with these words: “Learn of Me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls.”326 May the Savior grant us the grace to become like to Him. We have no true humility except that which He gives us; therefore we must sincerely beg it of Him and accept the road which leads to it.


“He humbled Himself . . . even to the death of the cross. For which cause God also hath exalted Him, and hath given Him a name which is above all names.”
Phil. 2:8 f.

(We reproduce here a manuscript that has come into our possession, and have added some explanatory notes. It is a meditation on the glory of Christ in relation to the depth of His humiliations and sufferings.)

“For God so loved the world, as to give His only begotten Son.”327 In the great mystery of the Incarnation, the mystery of ineffable love, there is a core which is impenetrable to human reason, a secret which God alone reveals: the reason for the immense sufferings of the redemptive Passion.

If, in the presence of the crucifix, each Christian can say: “Jesus crucified, pledge of the love of my Father,” not one is capable of telling the reason which motivated the decree of the Passion and death of the Son of God. This decree is the secret of divine love.328

We adore the excesses of humiliation, the indescribable ignominies to which the incarnate Word subjected Himself in obedience to His Father and through love of men, His brethren, but we cannot explain these excesses, this ocean of sufferings, until the Lord Himself lifts the veil covering this “holy of holies.” Then the mystery still remains a mystery, but the soul, enlightened regarding its secret, contemplates in ecstasy the ineffable harmonies of the divine masterpiece: the glory of the redemptive cross.

The words of holy Scripture: “I will not give My glory to another,”329 sum up what is hidden in this secret of the passion and death of Christ Jesus, and contain at the same time the marvelous harmony of all the divine words.

From all eternity God willed the Incarnation of the Word, His Son, as Redeemer of the world and head of redeemed humanity. In our Lord Jesus Christ [habitual] grace has for its principal end the most eminent union that God can grant to a created nature, that is, the hypostatic union, by which the Son of Mary, while enjoying the beatific vision from the moment of His incarnation, could affirm:”The Father and I are one.” This grace was given to Jesus Christ for the end which determined His coming to earth: this end is no other than the satisfaction which, as head of His mystical body, He was to offer to the thrice holy God.

However, by reason of the infinite dignity of the person of the Word, a single drop of the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ would have sufficed to redeem a thousand worlds, did they exist. Therefore, not in the necessity of redeeming sinful humanity should we seek the motive for the excesses of the most holy passion and death of Christ. Let us seek it, rather, in the splendors of the glory of the Incarnation (or of the manifestation of the radiating goodness of the Savior), because it is there that we shall find it. The essential glory of God, the incommunicable and essential glory of the adorable Trinity became in the mystery of the Incarnation the magnificent portion of the sacred humanity of Jesus, as the Eagle of the Evangelists says in the prologue to his Gospel: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we saw His glory, the glory as It were of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.”330

The excesses of the sorrow and humiliation of the passion and death of our Lord were the compensation demanded by divine wisdom, which does all things with weight and measure, in exchange for the ineffable glory which the God-man would enjoy eternally.331 “I will not give My glory to another.” Yahve had spoken through His prophet, and these words were not belied, not even in favor of the incarnate Word, since by His passion and death our Lord Jesus Christ not only snatched the entire world from the domination of Satan and death, but in addition He won for His most sacred humanity the right to be enthroned in the eternal tabernacles at the right hand of the Father. Our Lord alluded to the necessity of conquering this right332 on the evening of His resurrection when He said to the disciples of Emmaus: “O foolish, and slow of heart to believe in all things which the prophets have spoken. Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so to enter into His glory?”333 In fact, the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ is admirable, indescribable, since it is the glory of the only Son of the Father, and as such this glory exceeds the capacity of comprehension of human and angelic intellects; only God Himself can fully appreciate it, since He alone knows Himself perfectly.

Although the glory of the only Son is ineffable, a Gospel text gives us a little light on the subject: “He that believeth in Me, as the Scripture saith, Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”334 Jesus spoke this to all in a loud voice on the feast of tabernacles. And the Evangelist St. John adds: “This He said of the Spirit which they should receive who believed in Him.” To give the Holy Ghost to souls is the glory of the risen Christ, a glory that is unique, ineffable. Sacred Scripture continues: “For as yet the Spirit was not given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”335 The Holy Ghost will be given on Pentecost when, through the humiliations of His passion and death, the Lord Jesus will enter into His glory because “he that humbleth himself, shall be exalted.”336

And who has ever humbled himself like the Pontiff of the New Law, Christ our Lord? Consequently, in justice no one ever was or ever will be as exalted as He: “He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. For which cause God also hath exalted Him and hath given Him a name which is above all names: that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth: and that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father.”337 O gloria crucis.338

The pages just quoted throw special light on the Savior’s humiliations, the dark night of His passion, and also on the night through which the saints must pass. This manuscript enables us to understand better what St. John of the Cross wrote about the night of the soul, and the reparatory sufferings which great servants of God like St. Paul of the Cross have had to bear. It is a well-known fact that having been raised to the transforming union at the age of thirty-one, St. Paul of the Cross spent forty-five years in continual and most profound interior sufferings for the salvation of sinners. He was closely configured to Jesus crucified: the depths, the duration, the continuity of his sufferings were proportioned to the “eternal weight of glory,” to use the expression of St. Paul, which he was to receive in heaven.

Thus we see the elevation of the infused virtues and what the progress of humility should be in proficients and the perfect: “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”339

Chapter 14: The Spirit of Poverty

“Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
Matt. 5: 3

Since we have treated of humility and meekness, it is fitting that we consider the virtues corresponding to the evangelical counsels. As we have already spoken of virginity in connection with chastity, it remains for us to explain how poverty and obedience cooperate in Christian perfection.

To attain perfection, man must practice the three counsels effectively: in other words, in the use of legitimate goods it is expedient that he retrench before reaching the limit of what is permitted, that he may not be led into excess. The effective practice of the three counsels, as we have seen,340 is a road leading more easily, rapidly, and surely to perfection, which is reached in this way more often in the religious life than in the married state. However, Christian perfection does not consist essentially in the practice of the counsels; it is chiefly in charity.341 Moreover, to reach perfection, one must have at least the spirit of the counsels, which is the spirit of detachment, as St. Paul says: “The time is short. It remaineth that they also who have wives be as if they had none; . . . and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as if they used it not. For the fashion of this world passeth away.”342

We shall discuss, first of all, the spirit of poverty, recommended to all by our Lord when He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”


The meaning of this evangelical beatitude is as follows: blessed are they who have not the spirit of wealth, its pomp, pride, insatiable avidity; but who have the spirit of poverty and are humble. Christ says: “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven”; not only will it be theirs later on, but in a sense it is theirs even now.

Voluntary poverty can be practiced either in the midst of the abundance of worldly goods, when the spirit is not attached to them, or in destitution when one bears it generously for love of God. The value of voluntary poverty may even appear to those who have not faith, because they see the disorders which arise from cupidity, the concupiscence of the eyes, the desire of riches, avarice, the excesses of capitalism, and the forgetfulness of the poor who are dying of hunger.

We must begin to detach ourselves from earthly goods in order to grasp clearly the following truth often uttered by St. Augustine and St. Thomas: “Contrary to spiritual goods, material goods divide men, because they cannot belong simultaneously and integrally to a number.”343 A number of persons cannot possess integrally and simultaneously the same house, the same field, the same territory; whence dissensions, quarrels, lawsuits, wars. On the contrary, spiritual goods, like truth, virtue, God Himself, can belong simultaneously and integrally to a number; many may possess simultaneously the same virtue, the same truth, the same God who gives Himself wholly to each of us in Communion.

Therefore, whereas the unbridled search for material goods profoundly divides men, the quest for spiritual goods unites them. It unites us so much the more closely, the more we seek these superior goods. And we even possess God so much the more, the more we give Him to others. When we give away money, we no longer possess it; when, on the contrary, we give God to souls, we do not lose Him; rather we possess Him more. And should we refuse to give Him to a person who asks for Him, we would lose Him.

Consequently to combat cupidity, the concupiscence of the eyes, the desire of riches, avarice, and the forgetfulness of the poor, our Lord counseled voluntary poverty, or detachment in regard to earthly goods which divide men. Christ leads us thus to desire keenly spiritual goods, which unite men.

The spirit of detachment is even necessary for the Christian that he may clearly understand the true meaning of the right of individual ownership instead of infringing on this right, which is often forgotten; interior souls should have a profound knowledge of it. As St. Thomas shows, the right of ownership is the right to acquire and to administer material goods; but in regard to their use, they must be given readily to those who are in need.344

St. Paul says: “Charge the rich of this world not to be high-minded nor to trust in the uncertainty of riches, but in the living God, who giveth us abundantly all things to enjoy: to do good, to be rich in good works, to give easily, to communicate to others, to lay up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on the true life.”345

Such is the spirit of detachment; it should remind all of us of what St. Thomas says elsewhere: namely, that if a poor man in a case of extreme necessity asks for a piece of bread and is refused, he may take it, and not be guilty of theft. He has a right to it in order not to die of hunger. A man’s life is clearly worth more than a piece of bread which we have not the right to retain jealously if one of our brothers is in absolute need of it.

It is a precept that a man should give alms from his superfluity that he may aid him who is in grave necessity.346 What has been said of a piece of bread should be said of clothing and necessary shelter. There must be a return to the spirit of evangelical poverty in order to combat today the abuses of capitalism which exasperate the laborer who is out of work and unable to feed his children. Scripture tells us: “Whilst the wicked man is proud, the poor is set on fire.”347 The rich man, far from being a monopolist, should administer the goods given by God in such a way that the poor profit in regard to what is necessary. Then man no longer lives under the reign of covetousness and jealousy, but under the dominion of God.348

It is fitting today to recall these elementary truths even when speaking of the progress of the interior life, for the grave disturbances and perils of modern society require that we consider these truths from a higher point of view and that we put them into practice with a great spirit of faith and detachment. This is the true remedy for two extreme deviations which are mutually contradictory: the abuses of capitalism and the excesses of communism, two contrary disorders springing from a materialistic conception of human life and from forgetfulness of the Gospel.349 The value of voluntary poverty is brought out by these very disorders, which are disturbingly serious.

The value of detachment appears in a more positive way when we remember the true goods we should ardently desire. Christ tells all of us what they are, and interior souls should have a deeper understanding of His teaching: “Be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than the meat, and the body more than the raiment? Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, . . . and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they? Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore solicitous for tomorrow; for the morrow will be solicitous for itself. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.”350

The spirit of detachment thus leads us to a stronger desire for the goods of heaven and to reliance on the help of God to reach the end of the journey. Voluntary poverty and confidence in God go hand in hand; the more detached man is from earthly goods, the more he desires those of heaven; and the less he relies on human helps, the more he places his confidence in God’s help. Thus confidence in God is the soul of holy poverty. All Christians should have the spirit of this counsel.

Since we are considering the effective practice of voluntary poverty, let us recall the answer our Lord gave to the rich young man who wished to know the surest road to perfection. Christ answered him: “Go, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor; and thou shalt have treasure in heaven. And come, follow Me. Who being struck sad at that saying, went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”351 He preferred to keep them rather than to follow our Lord and win souls, rather than to become a “fisher of men” like the apostles.

The effective practice of voluntary poverty is of counsel; it is not obligatory; but to be perfect one must have at least the spirit of the counsel, the spirit of detachment in the midst even of riches, if one keeps them.

St. Francis de Sales352 develops this teaching, saying that voluntary poverty is a great good, but one which is little known; that it is a principle of happiness; that it must be observed in the midst of wealth and also in real poverty, if we should happen to lose everything.

Now if you love the poor, be often in their company, be glad to see them in your house, and to visit them in theirs. Converse willingly with them, be pleased to have them near you in the church, in the streets, and elsewhere. . . . Make yourself then a servant of the poor: go and serve them in their beds when they are sick . . . at your own expense. . . . This service is more glorious than a kingdom. . . . St. Louis frequently served at table the poor whom he supported, and caused three poor men to dine with him almost every day, and many times ate the remainder of their food with an incomparable love. When he visited the hospitals, . . . he commonly served . . . such as had the most loathsome diseases, kneeling on the ground, respecting in their persons the Savior of the world. . . . St. Elizabeth, daughter of the King of Hungary, often visited the poor. . . . But should you meet with losses which impoverish you . . . as in the case of tempests, fires, inundations, . . . lawsuits, then is the proper season to practice poverty . . . with meekness . . . and patience.353

St. Francis de Sales adds that truly Christian poverty should be gay, and that he who has chosen it should not seek his comfort, but should suffer some discomforts for the love of God; otherwise, how would this virtue be for him a means of union with God? The examples of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Dominic, and St. Benedict Joseph Labre, show us to what close union with God this virtue can lead us when practiced for love of God.


St. Thomas354 tells us that Christ willed to be poor for four reasons: (1) because voluntary poverty is fitting for the preacher, who should be freed from the care of earthly goods;(2) because He wished to show that He desires only the salvation of souls;(3) that He might lead us to desire especially eternal goods;(4) that divine power which saves souls might stand forth more clearly in the absence of human helps. This is also the reason why Christ chose poor fishermen of Galilee as His apostles. Thus is demonstrated the fruitfulness of voluntary poverty; it is the hundredfold promised by Christ.

In the first place, the spirit of poverty frees us from excessive preoccupation about exterior goods, which are then no longer an obstacle in our progress toward God, but a means of doing good. Thus delivered, the Christian may run the way of perfection; he no longer thinks of settling down on earth as if he were to remain there always, for he understands that he is there only temporarily. He is no longer embarrassed, as it were, by useless baggage in his journey toward eternity; aware of being a traveler, a viator, he aspires to reach his last end without delay. His pace is even quickened, becomes ever more rapid, because he is always more drawn by the last end in proportion as he approaches it.

In the second place, voluntary poverty is a sign of disinterestedness, particularly necessary for an apostle; for it should be evident he has no interest but that of winning souls for our Lord, as St. Dominic told the prelates who arrived in Languedoc with a whole suite to preach the Gospel to people seduced by the errors of the Albigenses. These prelates understood then that they should preach first by example, by true detachment; and they sent away their retinue.

In the third place, voluntary poverty is materially fruitful in a degree that sometimes borders on the miraculous. To see this fact, one need only visit certain convents dedicated to the care of the poor, such as the homes of the Little Sisters of the Poor, or the piccola casa of St. Joseph Cottolengo in Turin, “a little house” which shelters ten thousand indigent sick, and which subsists only on the alms received from day to day. It is like a perpetual miracle worked by divine Providence in response to the trust of the holy founder and his sons, who understood the profound meaning of Christ’s words: “Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.”355 These servants of the poor live by the supernatural contemplation of this truth and by its practice.

Fourthly, more admirable still is the spiritual fruitfulness of the spirit of poverty. It teaches us patience, humility, detachment in regard to higher goods, to all that is not God and the love of God, that is, in respect to the goods of the intellect, of the heart, and of certain goods of the soul.

The goods of the intellect are our knowledge, our talents if we have any. In study we must know how to avoid curiosity, vainglory, useless natural eagerness; how to place this study truly at the service of God, detaching ourselves from our own lights, from our excessively personal views. If we do this, the Lord will in this case also give us the hundredfold: a superior simplicity, that of true contemplation, which forgets itself in order to lose itself in its object. St. Albert the Great practiced this spirit of poverty in respect to the immense learning he had acquired. He was told that he would lose the use of his memory; this took place, and during the rather long period of life that was left to him, he remained as if completely absorbed in the contemplation of God. In place of the acquired learning that he had lost, he received a very superior treasure, a lofty degree of infused contemplation that he might live most profoundly by the mysteries of salvation.

The goods of the heart are our affections, and also the affection full of esteem and confidence that others show us. We must live in a certain detachment in regard even to these goods that we may not fall into sentimentalism. We must not cling to being loved, esteemed; we must also consecrate our legitimate affections to God, placing them under the influx of true charity, which will reveal to us what a treasure is a truly supernatural friendship that is wholly generous. It is a great gift of God, which He occasionally grants to those who have renounced all.

Finally, the spirit of poverty also teaches us to practice detachment from certain goods of the soul, that is, spiritual consolations. They must certainly not be sought for themselves; were this done, they would cease to be a means of progress toward God and would become an obstacle. We must consent to be weaned from them when the Lord judges it to be for our good. Following the advice of St. Grignion de Montfort, many interior souls strip themselves of all that is communicable to others in their prayers and good works and entrust it to the Blessed Virgin that she may use it to the best advantage of souls on earth or in purgatory in greatest need of it. By this denudation the Christian prepares himself for a higher spiritual poverty, which is a great gift of God and recalls the destitution of Christ on the cross, abandoned by His people, by many of His own, and to all appearances abandoned by His Father. Interior souls find this higher spiritual poverty in the last purification which St. John of the Cross calls the dark night of the soul. Victim souls experience more profoundly than others this absolute stripping of themselves and this immolation which configures them to Christ that they may obtain the salvation of sinners.

Thus, in different degrees, the spirit of poverty and still more voluntary poverty effectively practiced for love of God, enrich the Christian while stripping him and obtain the hundredfold for him. Such is the lofty meaning of the evangelical beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”


With St. Thomas356 we must add that it is more meritorious to perform a good act with a vow than without, and this for three reasons: (1) because the vow is an act of the virtue of religion, or of the worship of latria. This virtue is the most noble of the moral virtues; hence it renders more meritorious the acts of poverty, chastity, and obedience which it inspires, commands, and offers to God as a holocaust.

Moreover, charity itself inspires the vow; it is made out of love and is a true testimony of love that is at times highly meritorious. If anyone greatly loves another, he places himself at the other’s service out of affection. Thus the soul that wishes to love God greatly places itself forever at His service out of love, binding itself to Him by a vow. It has been objected that he who is already closely united to God through charity, the highest of the virtues, does not find an additional perfection in binding himself to God by a vow. If he is already a friend, he does not have to become a servant; so much so that our Lord said: “I will not now call you servants. . . . But I have called you friends.” The answer to this objection is that he who loves God finds an additional perfection in placing himself through love at God’s service for his entire life.357

St. Thomas adds two other reasons:(2) he who promises God a succession of good works and accomplishes them subjects himself more to God than if he accomplished them without having promised them. Thus he who gives the tree and its fruits offers more than if he offered only the fruits while retaining possession of the tree.(3) Lastly, by the vow the will is immutably fixed in the good, which is an additional perfection.

Consequently it is evident that the vows of religion, especially perpetual and solemn vows, add to the acts of poverty, chastity, and obedience, an additional merit, that of the virtue of religion, which is itself offered to God as worship by charity that inspires all the other virtues. The soul consecrated to the Lord thus belongs more intimately to Him.

Chapter 15: The Grandeur of Obedience

Obedience is the highest of the three evangelical counsels, just as the pride of life is in itself a graver disorder than the concupiscence of the flesh and that of the eyes. Pride, which was the sin of the rebellious angel and of the first man, is the source of all deviations because it turns us away from God to put our trust in ourselves. In this sense it is a more serious sin than other more shameful sins which incline us toward vile things, but which turn us less directly away from God.358 Cold, hard pride, which leads man to refuse to adhere to the word of God or to obey Him, is a more serious sin than inordinate attachment to the pleasures of the senses or to earthly goods. For this reason Christ said to the Pharisees who were led astray by their pride: “Amen I say to you, that the publicans and the harlots shall go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of justice, and you did not believe him. But the publicans and the harlots believed him: but you, seeing it, did not even afterwards repent, that you might believe him.”359

We know these things theoretically, but in practice we forget them. We think more readily of the manifest disorders which arise from the concupiscence of the flesh or from that of the eyes, and we do not adequately recognize that the great sin is the sin of him who said: “Non serviam, I will not serve.” This is the principal sin of the world that calls itself “modern,” while claiming to separate itself from the Church. It still desires indeed to repress gross instincts, to struggle against avarice, to labor for the amelioration of the lot of the working class, but it intends to do all this by itself, without the help of God, of our Lord, and of the Church. Only too often it wishes to obey only its own reason, its own judgment, its own will, and this rationalism leads it to disobey reason rather than to obey God. Its own reason leads it, like the prodigal son, into dishonorable, debasing servitude, occasionally into real tyranny, that of rebellious popular passions and that of criminal, unjust laws, put into effect in spite of the protests of conscience, in the interest of the party in power. Obedience to the commandments of God and of the Church would free society from these servitudes which oppress the best and lead society into disorder, confusion, and ruin. Such an evil can be cured only by a holy reaction in the direction of profound, humble, Christian obedience. Yet the grandeur of obedience, even in relatively good circles, is too often misunderstood.360

The better to see the value of this virtue, we shall consider first of all from what servitude it delivers us and what are its spiritual fruits with regard to union with God.


Obedience delivers us from a twofold slavery: that of self-will and that of our own judgment.

Obedience to God, to His spiritual and temporal representatives, daily assures the conformity of our will with the divine will,361 It thus delivers us from self-will, that is, from a will which is not conformed to that of God, and which through pride goes astray, acting contrary to the current of grace and refusing to act in the true direction.

Self-will thus defined is the source of every sin. For this reason St. Bernard says: “Take away self-will, and there will no longer be any hell.” Self-will is particularly dangerous because it can corrupt everything. Even what is best in man becomes evil when self-will enters in, for it takes itself as its end instead of subordinating itself to God. If the Lord sees that it inspires a fast, a penance, a sacrifice, He rejects them as Pharisaical works accomplished through pride in order to make oneself esteemed. Without going that far, we must admit that we cling greatly to our own will. Occasionally we hold to our way of doing good more than to the good itself; we wish it to be done, but by ourselves and in our way. When this egoism becomes collective, it may be called esprit de corps, a corruption of family spirit; it is the source of a great many unpleasantnesses, partialities, defamations. Sometimes a certain group wishes to promote a good work, or it hinders one from being developed. It is like wishing to smother a child who seems to be one too many, when as a matter of fact it may become the honor of the family. Evidently such a course of action can only displease the Lord.

In religion, the vow of obedience assures the mortification of this dangerous self-will which turns the soul away from salvation. That it may control self-will, the vow must be practiced with a spirit of faith, seeing in the orders of superiors, in spite of their imperfections or defects, orders given by God, from whom all power comes. Religious obedience should be prompt and universal: that is, it should extend alike to little and great things; it should obey all legitimate superiors, whether they be amiable or not, particularly prudent or less enlightened, holy or less perfect, because it is always God who speaks, as long as the order given is not contrary to a higher law and does not exceed the limits of the constitutions which the religious promised to observe. Such obedience is a deliverance, for it assures from day to day the conformity of man’s will with God’s will, and by that very fact it greatly fortifies the will while rectifying it.

Obedience delivers us also from the servitude of our own judgment, that is, from an excessively subjective judgment not sufficiently founded on truth, not conformed to the judgment of God. Our own personal judgment is in this sense the source of singularity in conduct and stubbornness which leads to nothing and impedes the good which others wish to do. It is a hasty judgment springing from our prejudices, our evil dispositions, our self-love, our pride. Occasionally the enemy of our soul is the one who suggests it to us or confirms it when we ourselves have already formed it. Following Aristotle, St. Thomas often says: “According as we are well or ill disposed in our will and sensible faculties, a given end seems good or evil to us.” The proud man judges that what flatters his pride is excellent, whereas the humble man judges that humiliation is good for him.

Our own judgment often leads to rash judgment, contrary to justice and charity. In it there is servitude, slavery; we are the slaves of our egoistic prejudices, and they lead us away from salvation and union with God.

Obedience delivers us from this slavery by assuring the conformity of our practical judgment with that of the representative of God, who has the right to give us an order in His name.362 It may be that this representative of God is mistaken on some point or other; he is not infallible like the pope speaking ex cathedra, but as long as the order given is not manifestly contrary to a higher law and does not exceed the powers of the one who commands, we are obliged to obey, and our practical judgment is not deceived in obeying. Sometimes the messenger of Providence may limp, but he is still God’s messenger; he brings us a letter or an order of divine origin.

The effective practice of the counsel of obedience is found especially in the religious life; it is a much surer road for reaching perfection more rapidly by progressive conformity to the will of God even in the depths of our will and the details of daily life.

But we must at least have the spirit of the counsel actually to reach Christian perfection, that is, the spirit of detachment from self-will to which we cling. As a child should obey his father, his mother, and the teachers who train him, every Christian should obey all who are for him the spiritual or temporal representatives of God. There is the obedience of the wife to her husband, that of the soldier to his leaders, of the servant to his master, of every subordinate to his superiors, of every Christian to the Church and to the constituted authorities in the Church. If this obedience is practiced, not merely in a servile, mechanical, exterior manner, but in the spirit of faith, it greatly forms the will, renders it flexible, and fortifies it while subordinating it daily a little better to the will of God, of the living God who vivifies us. It is well to recall often that “there is no power but from God,”363 that one cannot obey an equal, but only a superior, and that, in short, it is God who is obeyed.

Similarly we must obey events so far as they are signs of the divine will. Theology teaches that the divine will is manifested to us not only by the precepts and the counsels, but also by events willed or at least permitted by God.364 Nothing, in fact, happens unless God has willed it (if it is a good), or permitted it (if it is an evil). To be perfect our obedience should take into consideration these signs of the will of God. For example, legitimate success in an examination gives us a position that makes possible for us the accomplishment of a more extended good; let us not compromise this good by imprudent or cowardly acts. On the contrary, we are humiliated by a failure, or by an illness, which sometimes show us that the way we are engaged in is not what God wishes for us.

There are particularly significant events which, from the temporal point of view, change the situation of a family or the organization of society. We must know how to draw the greatest spiritual profit from them and not wish at any cost to revert to an order of things which was useful in the past and which probably is no longer willed by God in the period in which we are living. One does not go back up the course of life or that of history; the old man does not return to adolescence; and our century cannot return to what existed in the thirteenth, though it should seek to profit by all the good handed down by past ages in order to prepare a future in which God truly reigns.

In all these forms of obedience to all that manifests the will of God, in obedience to the duty of the present moment from minute to minute, the Christian ought always to have before his eyes as his model the Savior, who was “obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.”365 Thus the martyrs and all the saints obeyed, finding their joy in dying to self-will that they might feed on that of God according to the Savior’s words: “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me.”366


To comprehend the grandeur and the fruits of obedience, we should remember that it is more perfect to offer God one’s will and judgment than to offer Him exterior goods through voluntary poverty, or one’s body and heart through chastity.367 It is also more perfect to offer Him one’s will than to sacrifice to Him exteriorly a lamb or a dove, as was done in the sacrifices of the Old Testament. With this meaning, Scripture says: “Obedience is better than sacrifices: and to hearken rather than to offer the fat of rams.”368

The fruits of obedience are chiefly the following: it gives a great rectitude of judgment, great strength of will, the highest liberty of spirit.

The greatest rectitude of judgment comes from the fact that obedience makes us participate in the very wisdom of God; it renders us more wise than the wisest, more prudent than the ancients: Super senes intellexi. In the most difficult and the most complicated situations, it brings us the solution that is practically true for us here and now. Practically, we do not make a mistake in obeying, even if the superior is mistaken. By humble obedience a simple lay brother, Blessed Martin de Porres of Peru, did more for his country than statesmen who do not think of praying to obtain light.

As a reward for fidelity, perfect obedience obtains from the Holy Ghost, even here on earth, the inspirations of the gift of counsel that direct us in the most hidden things of the spirit which a director or a superior could not state precisely and which our prudence could not succeed in settling properly. The gift of counsel is particularly necessary for those whose duty it is to command, that they may do so supernaturally; for this reason if a man does not begin by obeying well, he will never know how to command. God gives His lights to the obedient.

Obedience also gives great strength of will. Naturalism declares at times that obedience weakens the will; on the contrary, it strengthens the will tenfold. When, in fact, there is no reason to doubt that an order comes from God through the intermediary of a legitimate superior, it is also certain that by divine grace the fulfillment of this order is possible. As St. Augustine says: “God, in fact, never commands the impossible; but He tells us to do what we are able and to ask Him for the grace to accomplish what we cannot do of ourselves.”369 Therefore St. Augustine used to pray: “Lord, give me the strength to accomplish what Thou dost command, and command what Thou dost wish.”

Because God never commands the impossible, when in certain circumstances martyrdom is of precept, in the sense that it must be undergone rather than deny the faith, God gives the strength to obey, to be faithful to Him in the midst of torture; and He gives this strength even to children, to young virgins, like St. Agnes, or to old men weakened by age. In such cases especially are realized the words of Scripture: “An obedient man shall speak of victory.”370

Without going as far as marytrdom, obedience works prodigies. We need only cite the example of the first sixteen sons of St. Dominic. Strong in the Pope’s blessing, the holy founder sent them from Toulouse into various parts of Europe to found convents and to carry on the apostolate. Having no money to give them, the saint said to them: “You shall beg your food; I will pray for you three times a day. I promise you that, in spite of the distress of poverty, you will never lack what is necessary.” The sixteen religious, trusting in the words of their Father, obeyed; they left joyfully like the first apostles, and were not slow in multiplying in Italy, Spain, England, even in faraway Poland, and among the infidels of the Orient whom they went to evangelize. This example and many others confirm the grandeur of obedience. When an order is given, and there is no doubt but that it comes from God, the grace which makes its fulfillment possible is most certainly bestowed. If a person prays to be faithful to this grace and not to resist it, he accomplishes the command not without difficulty sometimes, but he accomplishes it.

Finally, obedience, far from being a servitude, bestows the highest liberty, that of the children of God, as voluntary poverty gives true spiritual riches, as perfect charity obtains the intimacy of the love of God. A French author, Alfred de Vigny, wrote a beautiful book on the life of a soldier; it is entitled, Servitude et grandeur militaires; in perfect Christian obedience there are a servitude and a superior grandeur that are truly supernatural. Of this obedience St. Paul speaks when he reminds us that we should desire to be “delivered from the servitude of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God”;371 “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,”372 that is to say, deliverance, for divine truth delivers the soul from error. Injecting truth into life, obedience sets man free from the prejudices of the world, from its maxims, modes, and infatuations. It frees him from excessive preoccupation about the judgment of men, from concern about what people will say, instead of doing good and letting them talk. Obedience delivers him from his doubts, hesitations, and anxieties. It simplifies life while elevating it. With it liberty grows, for in man liberty comes from the intellect, and the more enlightened his intellect is, the more free he is. The more man understands that God is the sovereign Good, the freer he is not to respond to the attraction of earthly goods, and the stronger he is against the threats of the impious. Who was freer than the martyrs? Through love and obedience they freely gave their blood in witness of divine truth, and neither iron nor fire could force an abjuration from them. They obeyed in a spirit of faith and for love of God, like the Savior, who was obedient “unto death, even to the death of the cross.”

The grandeur of obedience is expressed in this frequently quoted, holy expression: “To serve God is to reign,” that is, to reign over one’s passions, over the spirit of the world, over the enemy of souls and his suggestions; it is to reign in the very kingdom of God and, so to speak, to share in His independence toward all created things. It is to place oneself like a docile instrument in His hands for all that He wishes, following out St. Augustine’s words which we have already quoted: “Lord, give me the strength to accomplish what Thou dost command, and command what Thou dost wish.”

Of a certainty obedience thus understood prepares for the contemplation of divine things; it prepares us to see the will of God or His permission in all pleasurable or painful events, and it helps us. to understand “that to them that love God [and persevere in His love], all things work together unto good.”

Chapter 16: Simplicity and Uprightness

“If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome.”
Matt. 6: 22

Christian prudence or holy discretion, of which we have spoken, should be accompanied by a virtue, simplicity, which is to all appearances quite different. Christ Himself expressed this when He said to His apostles: “Behold I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents and simple as doves.”373

Sending His apostles as sheep in the midst of wolves, Christ recommends to them prudence especially toward the wicked, that they may not be deceived by them, and simplicity in reference to self and to God. The more simple the soul is in regard to God, the more He Himself, by the gift of counsel, will inspire the prudence to be observed in difficult circumstances, in the midst of the greatest obstacles. Consequently Christ announces immediately afterward to His followers that the Holy Ghost will inspire them with what they must reply to persecutors.

Where this simplicity does not exist, prudence begins to become false and to turn into cunning. The crafty or the shrewd man makes sport, says Holy Scripture, of the simplicity of the just: “The simplicity of the just man is laughed to scorn,” says Job.374 People try to make simplicity pass for naivete and lack of penetration; it may indeed be accompanied in some by artlessness, but it is essentially something superior.

To get a correct idea of the virtue of simplicity and of veracity and uprightness which it makes us preserve, we should note first of all the defects opposed to it. God permits evil only for a greater good, in particular to bring virtue into greater relief. We have a better understanding of its value through the aversion inspired in us by the contrary vices.


According to St. Thomas,375 simplicity is attached to the virtue of veracity, which puts truth into speech, gestures, manner of being and of living. Simplicity, in fact, is opposed to duplicity, by which we interiorly wish something other than what exteriorly we pretend. A man wishes other people’s money and pretends to render them service; in reality, he wishes to make use of them or of what belongs to them; or again, he wishes power and honors, and to obtain them pretends to serve his country; he pretends to be magnanimous, when in reality he is only ambitious. This defect of duplicity, which may become Machiavellianism or perfidy, inclines a man to be two-faced, according to the people he is addressing, like the Roman god Janus that was represented with two faces. A two-faced man pretends to be your friend, tells you that you are right, and he tells your adversaries that they are not wrong.

Duplicity inspires lies, simulation, which leads a man to make himself esteemed for something other than he is, hypocrisy, by which he affects a virtue, a piety which he does not have. It also inspires boasting, because one prefers appearance to reality; one seeks to appear rather than to be what one should. It also inspires raillery, which turns others into ridicule in order to lower them in their neighbor’s esteem and to exalt oneself above them.

All these defects, which are frequent in the world, show by contrast the value of uprightness or veracity in life.


Veracity, a virtue attached to justice, leads a man to tell the truth always and to act in conformity with it. This does not mean that every truth should be told to everybody, sermonizing right and left and boasting of a frankness which borders on insolence or lack of respect. But if every truth is not to be told, if there are truths which it is expedient to suppress, we should avoid speaking against the truth and falling into an officious lie, which we are tempted to tell in order to escape from an embarrassing situation. If we have committed this sin, we must accuse ourselves frankly of it, instead of seeking by false principles to justify this manner of acting. Thus to act would gradually bring about the loss of all loyalty and would destroy all confidence in human testimony, which is indispensable to the life of society.

It is indeed difficult at times, when faced with an indiscreet question, to keep a secret which has been entrusted to one and at the same time not to speak contrary to the truth.376 But if the Christian is habitually docile to the inspirations from above, the Holy Ghost will inspire him in such difficult circumstances as these with the reply to make or the question to ask, as He did the first Christians when they were led before the tribunals. Christ foretold this when He said: “When they shall deliver you up, take no thought how or what to speak: for it shall be given you in that hour what to speak. For it is not you that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you.”377 This prediction was often verified during the French Revolution when priests were hunted down and when, to prevent them from bringing the last sacraments to the dying, they were asked all sorts of insidious questions. The Holy Ghost often inspired their answers, which, though not opposed to the truth, permitted them to continue their ministry.

Every Christian in the state of grace has the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, which render him docile to receive His inspirations, given especially in difficult circumstances where even our infused prudence is insufficient. St. Thomas says even that for this reason the gifts of the Holy Ghost are necessary to salvation as the complement of the infused virtues.378 The casuists should have remembered this great truth instead of having recourse to theories that occasionally were hazardous, in order to permit certain mental restrictions which were so slightly manifest that they bordered singularly on falsehood. It is better to recognize that one has committed a venial sin of lying than to have recourse to theories which falsify the definition of a lie, in order not to admit it there where it is. It is of great importance to preserve the spirit of uprightness of which our Lord speaks when He says: “Let your speech be yea, yea: no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil”379 He spoke in this manner to those who, in order to make their testimony believed, swore without reason by heaven or by the temple at Jerusalem. Dis­respectful oaths expose one to perjury; if a man is accustomed always to tell the truth, others will believe his speech.

In treating of veracity, St. Thomas makes a remark which particularly concerns the interior life. This virtue, he says,380 inclines a man to keep silent about his own qualities, or not to manifest the whole good that is in him; this is done without prejudice to the truth, since not to speak of it, is not to deny its existence. St. Thomas even quotes on the subject the following reflection of Aristotle: “Those who represent themselves as being greater than they are, are a source of annoyance to others, since they seem to wish to surpass others: whereas those who make less account of themselves are a source of pleasure, since they seem to defer to others by their moderation.”381 St. Paul also says: “For though I should have a mind to glory, I shall not be foolish; for I will say the truth. But I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth in me, or anything he heareth from me.”382

The virtue pf veracity thus practiced, not only in speech but in action, in our whole way of living, brings truth into our lives. And when our life is established in the truth, then God, who is supreme Truth, inclines toward us by His divine inspirations, which gradually become the principle of a higher contemplation. To let ourselves fall into the habit of lying is to turn away from the truth and to deprive ourselves of the higher inspirations of the gift of wisdom. Habitual living in the truth prepares us to receive these inspirations, which make us penetrate and taste divine truth that we shall someday contemplate unveiled.


Another aspect of veracity, the superior simplicity of the saints, prepares the soul even more for contemplation. Simplicity is opposed not only to duplicity, but to every useless complexity, to all that is pretentious or tainted with affectation, like sentimentality which affects a love that one does not have. What falsity to wish to talk in a glowing style as if one were already in the seventh mansion of the interior castle, when one has not yet entered the fourth! How far superior is the simplicity of the Gospel!

We say that a child’s gaze is simple because the child goes straight to the point without any mental reservation. With this meaning Christ says to us: “If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome”; that is, if our intention is upright and simple, our whole life will be one, true, and luminous, instead of being divided like that of those who try to serve two masters, God and money, at the same time. In the presence of the complexities, the pretenses, the more or less untruthful complications of the world, we feel instinctively that the moral virtue of simplicity or of perfect loyalty is a reflection of a divine perfection.

The simplicity of God is that of the pure Spirit who is Truth itself and Goodness itself. In Him are no thoughts that succeed one another; there is but one thought, ever the same, which subsists and embraces every truth. The simplicity of His intellect is that of a most pure gaze which, without any admixture of error or ignorance, has unchangeably as its object every knowable truth. The simplicity of His will or of His love is that of a sovereignly pure intention ordering all things admirably and permitting evil only for a greater good.

The most beautiful characteristic of God’s simplicity is that it unites in itself perfections which in appearance are most contradictory: absolute immutability and absolute liberty; infinite wisdom and the freest good pleasure, which at times seems arbitrary to us; or again infinite justice, which is inexorable toward unrepented sin, and infinite mercy. All these perfections are fused and identified without destroying each other in the eminent simplicity of God.

We find a reflection of this lofty simplicity in the smile of a child and in the simplicity of the gaze of the saints, which is far superior to all the more or less untruthful intricacies of worldly wisdom and prudence.

What a false notion of simplicity we sometimes form when we imagine that it consists in telling frankly all that passes through our minds or hearts, at the risk of contradicting ourselves from one day to the next, when circumstances will have changed and the persons whom we see will have ceased to please us! This quasi-simplicity is instability itself and contradiction, and consequently complexity and more or less conscious untruth; whereas the superior simplicity of the saints, the image of that of God, is the simplicity of an unchanging wisdom and of a pure and strong love, superior to our impressionability and successive opinions.

St. Francis de Sales often speaks of simplicity.383 He reduces it to the upright intention of the love of God, which should prevail over all our sentiments, and which does not tarry over the useless search for a quantity of exercises that would make us lose sight of the unity of the end to be attained. He says also that simplicity is the best of artifices because it goes straight toward its goal. He adds that it is not opposed to prudence, and that it does not interfere with what others do.

The perfect soul is thus a simplified soul, which reaches the point of judging everything, not according to the subjective impression of the moment, but in the divine light, and of willing things only for God. And whereas the complex soul, which judges according to its whims, is disturbed for a trifle, the simplified soul is in a constant state of peace because of its wisdom and its love. This superior simplicity, which is quite different from naivete, or ingenuousness, harmonizes perfectly, therefore, with the most cautious Christian prudence that is attentive to the least details of our acts and to their proximate or remote repercussion.

The soul of a St. Joseph, a St. John, a St. Francis, a St. Dominic, or a Cure of Ars gives us an idea of the simplicity of God; still more so does the soul of Mary, Morning Star, Queen of virgins and of all saints, Queen of peace. Higher still the holy soul of Christ reflects most purely the simplicity of God.

In Christ we find harmonized in a simple way the holy rigor of justice toward the hypocritical Pharisees and immense mercy toward all souls of which He is the Good Shepherd. In Him are united in the simplest manner the deepest humility and the loftiest dignity. For thirty years He lived the hidden life of a poor workman; He tells us that He came to serve, not to be served. On Holy Thursday He washed the feet of His disciples; He accepted the utmost humiliations of the Passion; He said simply to His Father: “My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from Me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”384 Before Pilate He proclaims simply His universal royalty: “My kingdom is not of this world. . . . Thou sayest that I am a king. For this was I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the truth. Every one that is of the truth, heareth My voice.”385 He dies simply, saying: “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit. . . . It is consummated.”386 In this simplicity is such grandeur that the centurion, seeing Him die, could not refrain from exclaiming: “Indeed this was the Son of God.”387

The centurion had the gaze of a contemplative; he sensed in the dying Christ, who seemed to be definitively conquered, Him who was winning the greatest victory over sin, the devil, and death. This light of contemplation was given to him by the dying Christ, by the Savior, who inclines more particularly toward the simple who are clean of heart.

This superior simplicity, even in souls without learning, is a preparation for the profound understanding of divine things. The Old Testament had already declared: “Seek Him [the Lord] in simplicity of heart.’388 “Better is the poor man that walketh in his simplicity, than a rich man that is perverse in his lips.”389 “Let us all die in our innocency,”390 said the Machabees, under the injustice which afflicted them. “Obey,” says St. Paul, . . .”in simplicity of heart.”391 And he exhorts the Corinthians to beware lest they “fall from the simplicity that is in Christ.”392 Simplicity must be observed toward God, superiors, and self. It is the truth of life.

This simplicity, says Bossuet,393 is what permits limpid souls “to enter the heights of God,” the ways of Providence, the unsearchable mysteries at which complex souls take scandal, the mysteries of the infinite justice, the infinite mercy, and the sovereign liberty of the divine good pleasure. All these mysteries, despite their obscurity, are in their loftiness simple for the simple.

Why are these mysteries simple for some and obscure for others? The answer lies in the fact that in divine things the most simple, like the Our Father, are also the loftiest and the most profound. We forget this fact because the inverse is true in the things of the world, in which good and evil are intimately mingled. Hence they are often very complex, and then he who wishes to be simple in this domain lacks penetration; he remains naive, ingenuous, and superficial. In divine things, on the contrary, simplicity is united to depth and elevation, for divine things that are highest in God and deepest in our hearts are simplicity itself.

We have an example in the profound simplicity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and also in that of St. Joseph, who, after our Lord and Mary, was the most eminently simple and contemplative soul the world has ever seen. His simplicity was the effect of his unique predestination as foster father of the Savior together with the habits of life of a humble carpenter. Leo XIII, in his encyclical on the Patronage of St. Joseph, says: “There is no doubt that more than anyone he approached that supereminent dignity by which the Mother of God so highly surpasses all creatures.”394

St. Thomas Aquinas also had in a very eminent degree the virtue of simplicity, which is an aspect of veracity, of the truth of life.

In recent times God has given us a lofty example of the simplicity of the saints united to the contemplation of the mysteries of faith in the person of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus.395 She says: “Far from resembling those beautiful souls who, from their childhood, practiced all sorts of macerations, I made mine consist solely in breaking my will, in withholding an answer, in rendering little services without drawing attention to them, and many other things of this kind.”396 “In my little way, there are only ordinary things; little souls must be able to do all that I do.”397 “How easy it is to please Jesus, to ravish His heart,” she used to say; “one has only to love Him, without looking at oneself, without too greatly examining one’s defects. Consequently, when I happen to fall into some fault, I pick myself up at once. A glance toward Jesus and the knowledge of one’s own wretchedness make reparation for everything. He calls Himself the ‘Flower of the fields’ (Cant. 2: I) in order to show how greatly He cherishes simplicity.”398

Speaking of her way of training the novices, she remarked on the subject of disputes which may arise between two persons: “Nothing is easier than to cast the blame on the absent. I do just the contrary. My duty is to tell the truth to the souls entrusted to me, and I tell it.”399

Again she states: “It is an illusion to think that one can do good outside obedience.”400 And we see to what a degree in her own life were realized these words of hers: “The Lord is often pleased to give wisdom to little ones.”401 It is not therefore surprising that His Holiness Pius XI should have declared in his homily for the feast of her canonization: “It has therefore pleased the divine Goodness to endow and to enrich Sister Teresa with an entirely exceptional gift of wisdom. . . . The Spirit of truth showed her and taught her what He ordinarily hides from the wise and prudent and reveals to the humble.”402 Pope Benedict XV had spoken in like terms: “This happy servant of God had herself so much knowledge that she was able to indicate to others the true way of salvation.” Her life and doctrine show how greatly the superior simplicity of the saints opens their intellect and renders it docile to the inspirations of the Holy Ghost, that they may penetrate and taste the mysteries of salvation and attain to union with God.403

The saints know well what this union demands that it may be preserved in the midst of circumstances often unforeseen and painful. Superior simplicity united to discretion reminds them, no matter what happens, that “to them that love God [and persevere in this love], all things work together unto good.”

To some it seems useless in a treatise on ascetical and mystical theology to insist on virtues such as these, and they are in a hurry to deal with questions on infused contemplation that are disputed among theologians and psychologists. We think, on the contrary, that it is extremely necessary to insist, as all the saints have done and as is done in every cause of beatification, on these Christian virtues which have so profound an influence on thought and life. Then the traditional doctrine on infused contemplation appears as a resultant of all that has been said about the progress of the acquired virtues, the infused virtues, and the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost in interior souls truly detached from themselves and almost continually united to God. Under the pretext that the doctrine relative to the Christian virtues and the seven gifts is known by all, some never examine it deeply. Contemplation is, nevertheless, in the sweet and profound intuition of the divine truths known by all Christians, for example, of those expressed in the Our Father. The virtue of simplicity, conceived as a reflection in us of the divine simplicity, reminds us of this fact.

Chapter 17: The Spirit of Faith and Its Progress

We have spoken of the progress of the Christian moral virtues in the illuminative way; now we shall discuss the progress of the theological virtues, first of all that of faith and its influence on our whole life. By so doing we shall be prepared to see what mental prayer should be in the illuminative way.

We shall see the nature of the spirit of faith, then how it should grow in us, finally what its excellence and power should be that we may continually live by it, according to the words of Scripture: “The just man liveth by faith.”404


In reality man always lives according to one spirit or another; whether it be according to the spirit of nature, when he does not go beyond practical naturalism, or according to the spirit of faith, when he tends seriously toward his last end, toward heaven and sanctity.

The spirit according to which we live is a special manner of considering all things, of seeing, judging, feeling, loving, sympathizing, willing, and acting. It is a particular mentality or disposition that colors almost all our judgments and acts, and communicates to our life its elevation or depression. Consequently the spirit of faith is a special manner of judging all things from the higher point of view of essentially supernatural faith, which is based on the authority of God revealing, on the veracity of God, Author of grace and glory, who by the road of faith wishes to lead us to eternal life.

We may better grasp the nature of the spirit of faith by considering the spirit opposed to it, which is a sort of spiritual blindness that enables man to attain divine things only materially and from without.405 Thus Israel, the chosen people, did not have a sufficiently spiritual understanding of the privilege which it had received and in which, with the coming of the Savior, other peoples, called also to receive the divine revelation, were to share. The Jews thought that the bread reserved to the children of Israel should not be given to pagans. Christ reminds us of this way of thinking in the first words He addresses to the woman of Canaan; then He immediately inspires her with the admirable reply: “Yea, Lord; for the whelps also eat of the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters.” Then Jesus answering, said to her: “O woman, great is thy faith: be it done to thee as thou wilt. And her daughter was cured from that hour.”406

The spirit of faith, which the Jews lacked and this humble woman possessed, is the spirit of divine and universal truth, the very object of faith, above any particularism of peoples or human societies. Thus St. Paul, who was at first strictly attached to the Synagogue and its prejudices, became the Apostle of the Gentiles. Similarly the glory of St. Augustine and St. Thomas does not consist in their being the masters of only a group of disciples, but in their being the common doctors of the Church.

The spirit of faith can have this universality only because of its eminent simplicity, which is a participation in the wisdom of God. The act of faith, as St. Thomas points out, is far above reasoning, a simple act by which we believe at the same time in God revealing and in God revealed.407 By this essentially supernatural act we adhere infallibly to God who reveals and to the mysteries revealed. Thus by this simple act, superior to all reasoning, we tend in obscurity toward the contemplation of divine things above all the certitudes of a natural order. The essentially supernatural certitude of infused faith, as we said before,408 greatly surpasses the rational certitude that man can have of the divine origin of the Gospel through the historical and critical study of the miracles which confirm it.

Faith, which is a gift of God,409 is like a spiritual sense enabling us to hear the harmony of revealed mysteries, or the harmony of the voice of God, before we are admitted to see Him face to face. Infused faith is like a superior musical sense enabling us to hear more or less indistinctly the meaning of a mysterious spiritual harmony of which God is the author. St. Paul states the matter clearly: “We have received not the spirit of this world, but the Spirit that is of God; that we may know the things that are given us from God. Which things also we speak, not in the learned words of human wisdom; but in the doctrine of the Spirit, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the sensual man perceiveth not these things that are of the Spirit of God; for it is foolishness to him, and he cannot understand, because it is spiritually examined. But the spiritual man judgeth all things; and he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.”410

For judging in this manner, faith is aided by the gift of understanding, which makes man penetrate the meaning of the mysteries, and by the gift of wisdom, which makes him taste them. But it is faith itself which makes us adhere infallibly to the word of God.

The theological virtue of infused faith, in spite of the obscurity of the mysteries, is very superior to the intuitive and very luminous knowledge which the angels possess naturally. Infused faith, in reality, belongs to the same order as eternal life, of which it is like the seed; as St. Paul says, it is “the substance of things to be hoped for,”411 the basis of our justification.412 The angels themselves needed to receive this gratuitous gift of God in order to tend to the supernatural end to which they were called.413

As St. Francis de Sales414 says in substance, when God gives us faith, He enters our soul and speaks to our spirit, not by way of discourse but by His inspiration. When faith comes, the soul strips Itself of all discourses and arguments and, subjecting them to faith, it enthrones faith on them, recognizing it as queen. When the light of faith has cast the splendor of its truths on our understanding, our will immediately feels the warmth of celestial love.415


It is important for the sanctification of our souls to remember that faith should daily increase in us. It may be greater in a poorly educated but holy, just man than in a theologian. St. Thomas Aquinas states: “A man’s faith may be described as being greater, in one way, on the part of his intellect, on account of its greater certitude and firmness, and, in another way, on the part of his will, on account of his greater promptitude, devotion, or confidence.”416 The reason is that “faith results from the gift of grace, which is not equally in all.”417 Thus our Lord says of certain of His disciples that they are still men “of little faith,”418 “slow of heart to believe,”419 whereas He said to the woman of Canaan: “O woman, great is thy faith.”420

“But my just man liveth by faith,”421 and increasingly so. There are holy individuals who have never made a conceptual analysis of the dogmas of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Eucharist, and who have never deduced from these dogmas the theological conclusions known to all theologians; but in these souls the infused virtue of faith is far more elevated, more intense than in many theologians. Many recent beatifications and canonizations confirm this fact. When we read the life of St. Bernadette of Lourdes or of St. Gemma Galgani, we can well exclaim: God grant that I may one day have as great faith as these souls!

Theologians say justly that faith may grow either in extension or in depth or in intensity. Our faith is extended when we gradually learn all that has been defined by the Church on the mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Eucharist, and the other points of Christian doctrine. Thus theologians know explicitly all that has been defined by the Church; but it does not follow that they have a faith as intense and profound as it is extended. On the contrary, among the faithful there are saints who are ignorant of several points of doctrine defined by the Church, for example, the redemptive Incarnation and the Eucharist, and who penetrate profoundly these mysteries of salvation as they are simply announced in the Gospel. St. Benedict Joseph Labre, for example, never had occasion to read a theological treatise on the Incarnation, but he lived profoundly by this mystery and that of the Eucharist.

The apostles asked for this faith that is greater in depth and intensity when they said to the Lord: “Increase our faith.”422 And Jesus answered: “All things whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.”423 We shall obtain it especially if we ask perseveringly for ourselves what is necessary or manifestly useful to salvation, like the increase of the virtues.


The value of the spirit of faith is measured in trial by the difficulties which it surmounts. St. Paul says this eloquently in the Epistle to the Hebrews: “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered Isaac: and he that had received the promises, offered up his only begotten son. . . . Accounting that God is able to raise up even from the dead. . . . By faith he [Moses] left Egypt, not fearing the fierceness of the king [Pharao]: for he endured as seeing Him that is invisible. . . . For the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, Barac, Samson, Jephthe, David, Samuel, and the prophets; who by faith conquered kingdoms, wrought justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions [like Daniel], quenched the violence of fire [like the three children in the furnace]. . . . And others had trial of mockeries and stripes, moreover also of bands and prisons. They were stoned [like Zachary], they were cut asunder [like Isaias], they were tempted, they were put to death by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being in want, distressed, afflicted; of whom the world was not worthy.”424 (This same type of thing has been renewed in our own day in Russia and Mexico.) And St. Paul concludes: “And therefore, . . . let us run by patience to the fight proposed to us: looking on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of faith, who having joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and now sitteth on the right hand of the throne of God.”425

In his commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, St. Thomas Aquinas, carried away by the word of God and raised to the contemplation of this mystery, tells us: “Consider Christ who bore such contradiction on the part of sinners . . . , and in no matter what tribulation, you will find the remedy in the cross of Jesus. You will find in it the example of all the virtues. As St. Gregory the Great says, if we recall the passion of our Savior, there is nothing so hard and so painful that we cannot bear it with patience and love.”426

The more the spirit of faith grows in us, the more we grasp the sense of the mystery of Christ, who came into this world for our salvation. That we may have this understanding, the Church, our Mother, places daily before our eyes at the end of Mass the prologue of the Gospel of St. John, which contains the synthesis of what revelation teaches about the mystery of Christ. Let us nourish our souls daily with this sublime page which we shall never sufficiently penetrate. It recalls to us the three births of the Word: His eternal birth, His temporal birth according to the flesh, and His spiritual birth in souls. It is the summary of what is loftiest in the four Gospels.

In this summary of Christian faith we have, first of all, the eternal birth of the Word: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” We have here a clear statement of the consubstantiality of the Word. “No man has seen God at any time: the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.”427 Thus light is thrown on the loftiest words of the Messianic psalms: “The Lord hath said to Me: Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee,”428 today in the unique instant of immobile eternity. “For to which of the angels,” St. Paul asks, “hath He said at any time: Thou art My Son, today have I begotten Thee?”429 The Word, splendor of the Father, is infinitely above all creatures, whom He created and preserves.

We should also nourish our souls with what is said in the same prologue about the temporal birth of the Son of God: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we saw His glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.”430 This temporal birth of Christ is the realization of all the Messianic prophecies and the source of all the graces that men will receive until the end of the world.

Lastly, we should live by what this same prologue tells us of the spiritual birth of the Word in our souls: “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, He gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in His name, who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”431 He gave them to become children of God by adoption, as He is the Son of God by nature. Our sonship is a figure of His, for we read in the same chapter: “And of His fullness we all have received, and grace for grace.”432

To show us how He wishes to live in us, the Son of God says to us: “If anyone love Me, he will keep My word. And My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and will make Our abode with him.”433 It is not only the created gift of grace that will come, it is the divine Persons: the Father, the Son, and also the Holy Ghost promised by the Savior to His disciples.

Instead of daily reciting the Credo and the Gloria in a mechanical manner, instead of almost mechanically saying the prologue of the Fourth Gospel, we should live more profoundly by this very substantial abridgment of divine revelation. The spirit of faith should thus, while growing, normally give us in ever greater measure the meaning of the mystery of Christ, the supernatural meaning that should gradually become penetrating and sweet contemplation, the source of peace and joy, according to St. Paul’s words: “Rejoice in the Lord always. . . . And the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding; keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”434


We should live by the spirit of faith by judging all things under its superior light, thus considering God first of all, then our own soul, next our neighbor, and all the events of life.

Is it necessary to say that we should consider God in the light of faith? Unfortunately, it is only too necessary. Do we not often consider God Himself in the light of our prejudices, our very human sentiments, our petty passions, contrary to the testimony that He Himself gives us in Scripture? Does it not happen even in prayer that we listen to ourselves, that we ascribe to the Lord our own reflections which are more or less inspired by our self-love? In hours of presumption, are we not inclined to think that the divine mercy is for us, and divine justice for those who do not please us? In moments of discouragement, on the contrary, do we not in practice doubt the love of God for us, and His boundless mercy? We often disfigure the spiritual physiognomy of God, considering it from the point of view of our egoism, and not from that of salvation, under the true light of divine revelation.

From the point of view of faith, God appears not through the movements of our self-love, but in the mirror of the mysteries of the life and passion of the Savior and in that of the life of the Church, renewed daily by the Eucharist. Then the eye of faith, which St. Catherine of Siena often speaks of, is increasingly purified by the mortification of the senses, of inordinate passions, of personal judgment and self-will. Only then does this blindfold of pride gradually fall away, this veil which hinders us from glimpsing divine things or allows only their shadows and difficulties to appear. Often we consider the truths of faith in the same way as people who see the stained-glass windows of a cathedral only from without; it is under the interior light that we should learn to contemplate them.

We should consider ourselves in the light of faith. If we see ourselves only under a natural light, we discover in ourselves natural qualities that we often exaggerate. Then contact with reality, with trial, shows us our exaggeration; and we fall into depression or discouragement.

In the light of faith we would recognize the supernatural treasures that God placed in us by baptism and increased by Communion. We would daily realize a little better the value of sanctifying grace, of the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity in us; we would consider what the fruit of a fervent Communion should be; the grandeur of the Christian vocation, in the light of the precept of love, would become increasingly apparent to us.

We would also see more clearly the obstacles that hinder the development of grace in us: the levity that makes us forget we have in us the seed of eternal life, and a foolish pride, completely contrary to the spirit of wisdom. From this higher point of view, we would not delay in discovering in ourselves two things that are exceedingly important for us to know: our predominant fault and our principal attraction of grace, the black and the white, what must be destroyed and what should grow.

But it is our neighbor especially whom we forget to consider in the light of. faith. We see him in the light of reason, which is deformed by our prejudices, egoism, pride, jealousies, and other passions. Consequently we approve in our neighbor what pleases us from a human point of view, what is conformed to our natural tastes or to our whims, what is useful to us, what makes us important, what our neighbor owes us. As a result, we condemn in him what annoys us, often what renders him superior to us, what offends us. How many rash, harsh, pitiless judgments, how many more or less conscious calumnies spring from this gaze that is darkened by self­love and pride!

If we could see our neighbor in the light of faith, with a pure spiritual gaze, what profit for him and for us! Then we would see in our superiors the representatives of God; we would obey them wholeheartedly without criticism, as we would our Lord Himself. In people who are naturally not congenial to us, we would see souls redeemed by the blood of Christ, who are part of His mystical body and perhaps nearer to His Sacred Heart than we are. Our supernatural gaze would pierce the opaque envelope of flesh and blood which prevents us from seeing the souls that surround us. Often we live for long years in the company of beautiful souls without ever suspecting it. We must merit to see souls in order to love them deeply and sincerely. Had we this love, we could then tell them salutary truths and hear such truths from them.

Similarly, if we saw in the light of faith persons who naturally please us, we would occasionally discover in them supernatural virtues that would greatly elevate and purify our affection. With benevolence we would also see the obstacles to the perfect reign of our Lord in them, and we could with true charity give them friendly advice or receive it from them in order to advance seriously in the way of God.

Lastly, we should see all the events of our lives, whether agreeable or painful, in the light of faith in order to live truly by the spirit of faith. We are often content to see the felicitous or unfortunate occurrences, as well as the facts of daily life, under their sensible aspect, which is accessible to the senses of the animal, or from the point of view of our more or less deformed reason. Rarely do we consider them from the supernatural point of view which would show us, as St. Paul says, that “to them that love God all things work together unto good,”435 even contradictions, the most painful and unforeseen vexations, even sin, says St. Augustine, if we humble ourselves for it.

In the injustices of men which we may have to undergo, we would also often discover the justice of God and, when wrongly accused of faults, we would see a well-merited punishment for hidden sins for which no one reproves us. We would also comprehend the meaning of the divine trials and of the purification which God has in view when He sends them to us.

We shall speak farther on of the passive purification of faith by certain of these trials, which free this theological virtue from all alloy and bring into powerful relief its formal motive: the first revealing Truth. Before reaching this stage, let us grow in faith, not judging everything from the sole point of view of reason. We must know how to renounce certain inferior lights or quasi-lights, that we may receive others that are far higher. The sun must set to enable us to see the stars in the depths of the heavens; likewise we must renounce the misuse of reason, which may be called practical rationalism, that we may discover the highly superior splendor of the great mysteries of faith and live profoundly by them.436

Chapter 18: Confidence in God; Its Certitude

Since we have spoken of the spirit of faith, it is fitting that we consider what hope in God, or confidence in Him, should be in proficients, and that we state precisely what must be understood by the certitude of hope, which is based on that of faith and has a character sui generis which it is important to note.

Infused hope, no less than faith, is necessary to salvation and perfection. Moreover, to have a generous interior life, it is not sufficient to hope in God weakly and intermittently, as so many Christians do. His often obscure and occasionally disconcerting good pleasure must be loved, accepted with a spirit of filial submission, and the divine help awaited with a firm, humble, and persevering confidence.


In connection with this virtue, we should avoid two contrary defects: presumption and discouragement. By noting them at the beginning of our discussion, we may see more clearly the true nature of hope, which rises like a summit between these opposing deviations.

There are two kinds of presumption: either man relies excessively on his own powers, like the Pelagians, not asking as much as he should for the help of God, not recalling sufficiently the necessity of grace for every salutary act; or, on the other hand, he expects from the divine mercy what God cannot grant: for example, pardon without true repentance, or eternal life without any effort to merit it. These two forms of presumption are mutually contradictory, since the first presumes on our strength, whereas the second expects from God what He has in no way promised.

Moreover, when trial and contradiction come, the presumptuous fall into the opposite defect, discouragement, as if the difficult good (bonum arduum), which is the object of hope, becomes inaccessible. Discouragement might lead to spiritual sloth, to acedia, which makes a man judge the work of sanctification too difficult and turns him away from every effort in this direction. He might thus even fall into despair. Many souls oscillate thus between presumption and discouragement, and never succeed in arriving, at least practically, at a true notion of Christian hope and in living by it as they should.


Less is said about the virtue of hope than about faith and charity. Yet hope is of great importance. Most certainly Christian hope, as an infused and theological virtue, is essentially supernatural, and consequently immensely surpasses the natural desire to be happy and also a natural knowledge of the divine goodness.

By infused hope we tend toward eternal life, toward supernatural beatitude, which is nothing less than the possession of God: seeing God immediately as He sees Himself, loving Him as He loves Himself. We tend toward Him, relying on the divine help which He has promised us. The formal motive of hope is not our effort, it is God our Helper (Deus auxiliator et auxilians), according to His mercy, His promises, His omnipotence.437

Thus we desire God for ourselves, but first for Himself; for He is the last End of the act of hope, which should, moreover, be vivified by charity:438 in other words, by hope, we desire God, our last End, not by subordinating Him to ourselves, like the food necessary to our subsistence, but by subordinating ourselves to Him. Thus it is evident, in contradistinction to the teaching of the quietists, that hope, although inferior to charity, contains nothing inordinate. It is a lofty virtue, though not the greatest of all.

Since, in fact, among the moral virtues, acquired magnanimity, and especially infused magnanimity, has a high place, so far as it makes us tend to great things (as we see in the founders of religious orders, in their works and struggles); with even greater reason, infused hope is a lofty virtue that makes us tend not only toward great things, but also toward God Himself to be possessed for eternity. This truth is emphasized by the fact that hope does not make us desire only an inferior degree of supernatural beatitude, but eternal life itself without fixing the degree. Indeed it leads us to advance always more generously toward God by giving us a greater desire for Him.


In this tendency of hope toward eternal life, there is at one and the same time a mystery still unknown and a certitude, about the nature of which some are deceived. St. Thomas explains it clearly, as he also explains the different types of certitude: those of knowledge,439 faith,440 prudence,441 and the gift of wisdom.442

He raises first the following objection:443 No man can be certain of his salvation without a special revelation,444 which is rare; it seems, therefore, that hope cannot be certain. Moreover, it is not true that all who hope will be saved; it happens that some among them become discouraged in time and finally are lost. It seems, therefore, that hope is not truly certain.

In this problem, there is the element of the unknown, a mystery; yet hope remains certain. This mystery with its light and shade is one of the most beautiful in Christian teaching. As St. Thomas shows clearly, the certitude of hope differs from that of faith since it is not a certitude of the intellect, but a certitude shared in the will and in its aspect as a tendency. “Certitude,” says the holy doctor, “is essentially in the cognitive faculty; but it is also by participation in all that is moved infallibly to its end by the cognitive power. . . . In this way we say that nature works with certainty, since it is moved by the divine intellect which moves everything with certainty to its end (the bee builds surely its hive and makes honey). . . . Thus too, hope tends with certitude to its end, as though sharing in the certitude of faith, which is in the cognitive faculty.”445 Likewise, in the order of human affairs, when we have taken the train for Rome, without being absolutely sure of arriving, we are certain of going in the right direction, and we hope to reach the end of our journey.

In other words, by certain hope we have not as yet the certitude of our future salvation, which is not revealed to us (for that we would need a special revelation), but we tend certainly toward salvation, under the infallible direction of faith and according to the promises of God, “who never commands the impossible, but who orders us to do what lies in our power and to ask for help for what we cannot do.”446 The certitude of Christian hope is not, therefore, as yet the certitude of salvation, but it is the firmest kind of certitude that we are tending toward salvation. From this statement spring many practical conclusions on the qualities or properties of Christian hope, which should grow in us with hope.


How should we hope in God to avoid the twofold presumption that we have spoken of and the discouragement that often follows it? The Council of Trent tells us: “All should have a very firm confidence in the help of God. For if men do not fail to correspond to divine grace, as God Himself has begun the work of salvation in us, He will finish it, working in us ‘both to will and to accomplish.’447 However, ‘He that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall’448 and ‘with fear and trembling work out his salvation,’449 In labors, vigils, prayer, alms, fasts, purity,!450 according to these words of the Apostle: ‘For if you live according to the flesh, you shall die: but if by the Spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live.’ “451

From this admirable doctrine it follows that Christian hope should have two qualities or properties: it should be laborious to avoid the presumption which expects the divine reward without working for it; and it should be firm, invincible, to avoid discouragement.

Hope should be laborious because it tends toward a possible, difficult good, but a difficult, arduous future good, which is the object of merit. We must work at our salvation, first of all, to preserve in ourselves a living hope and not a vain presumption. We must work in the spirit of humility and abnegation to preserve a keen desire for eternal life, for God, our beatitude, a desire whose ardor would be destroyed by the intensity of contrary desires, like those of earthly joys and of ambition. This keen desire for heaven, this ardent desire for God, is too rare even among good Christians. And yet, if there is one thing we should desire with a holy ardor, is it not the divine union? What will we desire ardently, therefore, if we do not have a keen desire for God?

Furthermore, we must work to merit eternal beatitude: to see God as He sees Himself and to love Him as He loves Himself. Without doubt, we need grace to attain this end; but it is given to us, says St. Augustine, not that we may do nothing, but that we may work with continually increasing generosity until the end: “He that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved.”452 “For he also that striveth for the mastery is not crowned, except he strive lawfully.”453 We must work to remove the obstacles of concupiscence, of sloth, pride, dissension, ambition, and to observe the precepts with always greater perfection according to the spirit of our vocation.

Laborious hope together with the gift of fear, or the fear of sin, saves us from presumption. By this virtue and this gift of fear, is preserved the equilibrium of the spirit in divine things, as a little lower in the order of the virtues, not theological but moral, spiritual balance is safeguarded by humility and magnanimity, which are like the two sides of a scale, that we may escape falling either into pride or into pusillanimity.454

Lastly, in the midst of difficulties that may present themselves until death, and even until our entrance into heaven, hope should be most firm and invincible. It should not be broken by temptations, trials, or the sight of our sins. It should never yield to temptations coming from the world, the flesh, or the devil: “If God be for us, who is against us?”455 God never commands the impossible; more than that, as St. Paul says: “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able; but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it.”456

Hope should not be broken either by the trials which the Lord sends to purify us and to make us work for the salvation of souls. In time of trial we should not forget that the formal motive of hope is God our Helper,Deus auxilians, according to His mercy, promises, and omnipotence. Because Job had the virtue of hope, he declared: “Although He should kill me, I will trust in Him.”457 And in the Epistle to the Romans we read: “Who against hope believed in hope; that he [Abraham] might be made the father of many nations, according to that which was said to him: ‘So shall thy seed be.’ “458Contrary to every human hope, in spite of his great age, he hoped, and even prepared himself for the immolation of his son Isaac, the son of promise, from whom his posterity was to be born.

The aim of the purification of hope is to free the virtue from all alloy of inordinate self-love, but not to lead us to the sacrifice of the desire of our salvation, as the quietists declared. Such a sacrifice would be equivalent to renouncing our love of God above all for all eternity, and, by sacrificing hope under the pretext of pure love, we would also sacrifice charity. We must, on the contrary, hope against all hope.

Finally, confidence should not be broken by the sight and the memory of our sins. Therefore St. Catherine of Siena used to say: “Never consider your past sins except in the light of infinite mercy, so that the memory of them may not discourage you, but may lead you to place your confidence in the infinite value of the Savior’s merits.”

St. Teresa of the Child Jesus stated that her immense confidence in God did not come from the knowledge of her innocence, but from the thought of the infinite mercy and infinite merits of the Savior, and that, even if she were the greatest wretch on earth, her confidence in God would not for that reason be diminished. This is a magnificent way of stating that the formal motive of hope, a theological virtue, is not our effort or our innocence, but God our Helper, Deus auxilians, helpful Mercy.


After various trials, hope, which has been greatly strengthened, surmounts all obstacles. According to St. Paul: “We . . . glory in the hope of the glory of the sons of God. And not only so; but we glory also in tribulation, knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience trial; and trial hope; and hope confoundeth not, because the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Ghost who is given to us.”459

Commenting on St. Paul’s words, St. Thomas says: “St. Paul shows us first of all the grandeur of hope by the grandeur of the thing hoped for (that is, eternal life), then the power, the vehemence of hope. In fact, he who strongly hopes for something, willingly bears for that reason difficulties and bitterness. And therefore the sign that we have a strong hope in Christ is that we glory not only in the thought of future glory, but in our tribulations and the trials which we have to bear. ‘Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God.’460 Moreover, the Apostle St. James says: ‘My brethren, count it all joy, when you shall fall into divers temptations, knowing that the trying of your faith worketh patience.’461 And from the fact that a man bears tribulation patiently, he is rendered excellent, probatus. We read of the just in the Book of Wisdom: ‘Though in the sight of men they suffered torments, their hope is full of immortality. Afflicted in few things, in many they shall be well rewarded: because God hath tried them, and found them worthy of Himself. As gold in the furnace He hath proved them, and as a victim of a holocaust He hath received them.’462 Thus trial causes hope to grow, and hope does not deceive us, for God does not abandon those who trust Him. ‘No one hath hoped in the Lord, and hath been confounded.’463 It is evident that the Lord will not refuse Himself to those who love Him, to those to whom He has already given His Son. . . . He has prepared eternal beatitude for those who love Him above all else.”464

From what has just been said we perceive that, contrary to the opinion held by the quietists, in great trials, instead of sacrificing our desire of salvation, we must “hope against all hope” while loving God for Himself. Thus charity increases greatly; it becomes pure love which, far from destroying confidence, vivifies it.

Certainly these trials serve to purify hope of all self-love, of the desire of our own perfection, so far as it is ours. A servant of God who had desired to become a saint later expressed her desire under a less personal and more objective form: “Lord, may Your kingdom come more and more profoundly in me.” She was happy not to have the reputation of being a saint, happy to be but little esteemed by those about her; she thus aspired truly to be always more closely united to our Lord, to be more loved by Him. Thus hope grew as it was being purified.

So Abraham, the father of believers, hoped, when he was tried and prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac. He did not cease to believe that this child was the son of promise, that his posterity would be greatly blessed, “accounting that God is able to raise up even from the dead.”465

St. Philip Neri used to pray: “I thank Thee with my whole heart, Lord God, that things do not go as I should like them to, but as Thou dost wish. It is better that they should go according to Thy way, which is better than mine.”

St. Nicholas of Flue admirably expressed in a prayer the union of firmest hope and of pure love: “Lord, take from me all that hinders me from drawing near to Thee; give me all that will lead me to Thee. Take me from myself and give me entirely to Thyself.” We can also say, as an expression of hope and pure love: “Give Thyself, Lord, entirely to me, that I may love Thee purely and forever.”

As a practical conclusion, let us remember that in our lives there are two parallel series of daily facts: that of the outward events which succeed one another from morning to night, and that of the actual graces which are offered to us and even bestowed on us from moment to moment that we may draw from these occurrences, whether pleasurable or painful, the greatest spiritual profit. If we thought often of this fact, there would be realized increasingly in our lives St. Paul’s statement: “To them that love God all things work together unto good,”466 even annoyances, rebuffs, and contradictions, which are so many occasions of lifting our hearts toward God in a spirit of faith and confidence in Him.

St. Francis de Sales says in his Second Conference on Hope: “Although we do not feel confidence in God, we must not fail to make acts of hope. Distrust of ourselves and of our own strength should be accompanied by humility and faith, which obtain the grace of confidence in God. The more unfortunate we are, the more we should have confidence in Him who sees our state, and who can come to our assistance. No one trusts in God without reaping the fruits of his hope. The soul should remain tranquil and rely on Him who can give the increase to what as been sown and planted. We must not cease to labor, but in toiling we must trust in God for the success of our works.”

Chapter 19: The love of Conformity to the Divine Will

Having spoken of the spirit of faith and of trust in God, we must consider what the progress of charity should be in the illuminative way, that the soul may pass from the mercenary or interested love of the imperfect to perfect charity. Consequently we shall discuss the signs of imperfect love, then those of the progress of charity, the relations of charity with our natural dispositions, and its progressive conformity to the divine will.


St. Catherine of Siena indicates clearly in her Dialogue467 the signs of mercenary love; we quoted this passage earlier in this work.468 The saint says in substance that love remains imperfect in the just man when, in the service of God, he is still too much attached to his own interests, when he still seeks himself and has an excessive desire of his own satisfaction.

The same imperfection is then found in his love of his neighbor. In loving his neighbor, he seeks self, takes complacency, for example, in his own natural activity, in which there is rash haste, egoistical eagerness, occasionally followed by coldness when his love is not returned, and he believes that he sees in others ingratitude, a failure to appreciate the benefits he bestows on them.

In the same chapter the saint points out that the imperfection of this love of God and souls is clearly shown by the fact that, as soon as we are deprived of the consolations that we had in God, this love no longer suffices us and can no longer subsist; it languishes and often grows colder and colder as God withdraws His spiritual consolations and sends us struggles and contradictions in order to exercise us in virtue. Nevertheless He acts thus only to put our inordinate self-love to death and to cause the charity that we received at baptism to grow. This charity should become a living flame of love and notably elevate all our legitimate affections.


The signs of the progress of charity are deduced from its very nature. Scripture tells us in several places that the just man is the “friend of God.”469 St. Thomas,470 explaining ‘these words of Scripture, shows us that charity is essentially a love of friendship we should have for God because of His infinite goodness which radiates on us, vivifying us and drawing us to Himself.

Every true friendship, St. Thomas tells us, implies three qualities: it is first of all a love of benevolence by which a man wishes good to another, as to himself; in this it differs from the love of concupiscence or of covetousness, by which one desires a good for oneself, as one desires a fruit or the bread necessary to subsistence. We ought to wish our friends the good which is suitable for them, and we should wish that God may reign profoundly over minds and hearts.

Moreover, every true friendship presupposes a love of mutual benevolence; it is not sufficient that it exist on the part of one person only. The two friends should wish each other well. And the more elevated the good which they wish each other, the more noble is this friendship. It is based on virtue when friends wish each other not only what is pleasant or useful like the goods of earth and fortune, but what is virtuous—fidelity to duty, progress in the love of moral and spiritual good.

Lastly, to constitute a true friendship, this mutual love of benevolence does not suffice. We may, in fact, have benevolence for a person at a distance, whom we know only through hearsay, and that person may have the same benevolence for us; we are not, however, friends for that reason. Friendship requires in addition a community of life (convivere). It implies that people know each other, love each other, live together, spiritually at least, by the exchange of most secret thoughts and feelings. Friendship thus conceived tends to a very close union of thought, feeling, willing, prayer, sacrifice, and action.

These three characters of true friendship—the love of benevolence, mutual love, and community of life—are precisely found in the charity which unites us to God and to souls in Him.

The natural inclination which already subsists in the depths of our will, in spite of original sin, inclines us to love God, the Author of our nature, more than ourselves and above all, as in an organism the part loves the whole more than itself, as the hand exposes itself naturally to preserve the body and especially the head.471 But this natural inclination, attenuated by original sin, cannot, without the grace which heals (gratia sanans), lead us to an efficacious love of God above all things.472

Far above this natural inclination, we received in baptism sanctifying grace and charity with faith and hope. And charity is precisely this love of mutual benevolence which makes us wish God, the Author of grace, the good that is suitable to Him, His supreme reign over souls, as He wishes our good for time and eternity. Such a desire is indeed a friendship based on community of life, for God has communicated to us a participation in His intimate life by giving us grace, the seed of eternal life.473 By grace, we are “born of God,” as we read in the prologue of St. John’s Gospel; we resemble God as children resemble their father. And this community of life implies a permanent union, which is at times only habitual, for example, during sleep; at others, when we make an act of love of God, it is actual. Then there is truly community of life, the meeting of the paternal love of God for His child, and of the love of the child for the Father who vivifies it and blesses it. This is especially true when, by a special inspiration, the Lord inclines us to an act of infused love, which we could not make with common, actual grace. There is a spiritual communion, the prelude of the spiritual communion of heaven, which will no longer be measured by time, but by the indivisible instant of changeless eternity.

Such is indeed the friendship with God which begins on earth. Because Abraham had this love, he was called the friend of God. For the same reason the Book of Wisdom tells us that the just man lives in the divine friendship, and Christ says: “I will not now call you servants . . . but I have called you friends.” By his analysis of the distinctive marks of friendship, St. Thomas only explains these divine words; he does not deduce a new truth; he explains revealed truth and enables us to penetrate it deeply.474

Charity, even in its least degree, makes us love God more than ourselves and more than His gifts with an efficacious love of esteem, because God is infinitely better than we and than every created gift. Efficacious love of esteem is not always felt, for example, in aridity; and at the beginning it has not yet the intensity or spontaneity that it has in the perfect, and especially in the blessed. A good Christian mother feels her love for her child, whom she holds in her arms, more than her love for God, whom she does not see; yet, if she is truly Christian, she loves the Lord with an efficacious love of esteem more than her child. For this reason, theologians distinguish commonly between appreciative love (love of esteem) and intensive love, which is generally greater for loved ones whom we see than for those who are at a distance. But, with the progress of charity, the love of esteem for God becomes more intense and is known as zeal; in heaven its impetuosity will exceed that of all our strongest affections.

Such is the nature of the virtue of charity; it is the principle of a love of God that is like the flowing of our hearts toward Him who draws us and vivifies us. Thus we ultimately find a great gratification in Him, desiring that He may reign more and more profoundly in our souls and in the souls of others. For this love of God, knowledge is not necessary; to know our heavenly Father through faith suffices. We cannot cease to love Him without beginning our own destruction, and we can cease to love Him by any mortal sin.

The efficacious love of esteem of God above all else, which may subsist in great aridity of the sensible faculties, is very much opposed to sentimentality, which is the affectation of a love one does not have.

Since such is the nature of charity, what are the indications of its progress? There are, first of all, the signs of the state of grace: (1) not to be conscious of any mortal sin;(2) not to seek earthly things, pleasures, wealth, honors;(3) to take pleasure in the presence of God, to love to think of Him, adore Him, pray to Him, thank Him, ask His pardon, talk to Him, aspire to Him.475 To these signs must be added the following:(4) to wish to please God more than all those whom one loves;(5) to love one’s neighbor effectively, in spite of the defects which are in him, as they are in us, and to love him because he is the child of God and is beloved by Him. Then one loves God in one’s neighbor, and one’s neighbor in God. Christ says: “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another.”476

These signs are summed up in St. Paul’s words: “Charity is patient, is kind; charity envieth not, dealeth not perversely, is not puffed up, is not ambitious, seeketh not her own, is not provoked to anger, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth with the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”477

Happy is the heart that loves God in this manner, without any other pleasure than that which it has in pleasing God! If the soul is faithful, it will one day taste the delights of this love and take an unequaled happiness in Him who is limitless good, the infinite plenitude of good, into which the soul may plunge and lose itself as in a spiritual ocean without ever meeting with any obstacle. Thus the just man begins to love God with a love of esteem (appreciative love) above all things, and he tends to love Him above all intensively with the ardent zeal which perseveres in aridity in the midst of trials and persecutions.


But, it will be objected, there are harsh, rude, bitter characters, little inclined to affection. How, therefore, does what we have just said apply to them? St. Francis de Sales replies to this objection as St. Thomas does, stating that one cannot admit, without falling into the naturalism of the Pelagians, that the distribution of divine love is made to men according to their natural qualities and dispositions.478 St. Francis de Sales adds:

The supernatural love which God by His goodness pours into our hearts . . . is in the supreme point of the spirit . . . , which is independent of every natural character. . . . It is, nevertheless, true that naturally loving souls, once they are well purified of the love of creatures, do marvels in holy love, love finding a great ease in dilating itself in all the faculties of their hearts. Thence proceeds a very agreeable sweetness, which does not appear in those whose souls are harsh, melancholy, and untractable.

Nevertheless, if two persons, one of whom is loving and gentle, the other naturally fretful and bitter, have an equal charity, they will doubtless love God equally, but not similarly. The heart that is naturally gentle will love more easily, amiably, sweetly, but not more solidly, or more perfectly. Thus the love which will arise among the thorns and repugnances of a harsh and cold nature, will be braver and more glorious, as the other will be more delightful and charming.479

It matters little, then, whether one is naturally disposed to love when it is a question of a supernatural love by which one acts only supernaturally. Only, Theotime, I would gladly say to all men: Oh, mortals! If your hearts are inclined to love, why do you not aspire to celestial and divine love? But, if you are harsh and bitter of heart, poor souls, since you are deprived of natural love, why do you not aspire to supernatural love, which will lovingly be given you by Him who calls you in so holy a manner to love Him?480

From this doctrine on the relation of the life of grace and of our natural dispositions spring consequences of great importance in mystical theology.481


The love of conformity consists in wishing all that the divine will signifies to us as being its intention.482 This will is signified to us by the precepts and by the counsels conformable to our vocation, and by events, some of which are painful and unexpected.483 We are speaking of the signified divine will when we say in the Our Father: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Thus we see what progressive conformity to the divine will should be.

To love God in prosperity is good, provided that one does not love prosperity as much or more than God Himself. In any case, this is only an inferior degree of love, easy to all. When facility in the practice of duty ceases, to love the divine will in its commandments, counsels, inspirations, to live by it, constitutes a second degree which is more perfect and which recalls the words of Jesus: “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me.”484

But we must also imitate Christ in loving God in painful and unbearable things, in daily vexations and tribulations, which His providence permits in our lives for a higher good. And, indeed, we cannot truly love God unless we love these tribulations, not in themselves, but for the spiritual good which results from patience in bearing them. Consequently, to love sufferings and afflictions for the love of God is the highest degree of holy charity. Our adversities are then converted into good, for, as St. Paul says: “To them that love God [and who persevere in this love], all things work together unto good.”485

St. Francis de Sales486 remarks on the subject of ardent love that, according to Plato, it is poor, ragged, naked, pale, emaciated, homeless, always indigent; it sleeps out of doors on the hard ground, for it makes a man leave everything for the one he loves; it causes him to lose sleep and to aspire to an ever closer union. Plato spoke thus of natural love; but, adds the holy Bishop of Geneva, all of this is still truer of divine love when it wounds a soul deeply. Therefore, St. Paul wrote: “Even unto this hour we both hunger and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no fixed abode. . . . We are made as the refuse of this world.”487

“Who reduced him to this state,” asks St. Francis de Sales, “except love? It was love which cast St. Francis of Assisi naked before his bishop and made him die naked on the ground. It was love that made him a beggar all his life. It was love that sent the great St. Francis Xavier, poor, indigent, tattered, here and there in the Indies; . . . it was love which reduced the great cardinal, St. Charles, archbishop of Milan, to such poverty . . . that he was (in his episcopal palace) like a dog in the house of his master.”

The love of conformity to the divine will is like a fire, the flames of which are the more beautiful and bright as they are fed with more delicate matter, for example, with drier, purer, and better wood. For this reason, says the same saint, every love that does not have its origin in the Savior’s passion is frivolous and dangerous.488 The death of Jesus, the supreme expression of His love for us, is the strongest incentive to our love of Him. Nothing satisfies our hearts as does the love of Jesus Christ, by the way of perfect spoliation which unites the soul very closely to the divine will.489

The love of conformity to the divine will signified by the precepts and counsels, and by events, enables us to abandon ourselves to the divine will of good pleasure, not yet manifested, on which our future depends.490 In this filial abandonment there is faith, hope, and love of God; it may be expressed as follows: “Lord, I trust in Thee!” From this comes the motto: “Fidelity and abandonment,” which preserves the balance between activity and passivity, above slothful quiet and restless and fruitless agitation. Abandonment is the way to follow; daily and hourly fidelity, the steps to take on this way. By fidelity in the light of the commandments, we enter the obscure mystery of the divine good pleasure, which is that of predestination.

We certainly do not possess all the love we need; therefore, the saints tell us, it is folly to expend our love inordinately upon creatures. The cooling of divine love comes from venial sin or from affection to venial sin. On the contrary, a generous act of charity merits and obtains for us immediately the increase of this infused virtue, which vivifies all the others and renders their acts meritorious. The increase of charity prepares us to see God better eternally and to love Him more intimately forever.

We should, therefore, deem as nothing all that we give to obtain the priceless treasure of the love of God, of ardent love. He alone gives to the human heart the interior charity that it lacks. Without Him our hearts are cold; we experience only the passing warmth of an intermittent fever.

When we give our love to God, He always gives us His. Indeed He forestalls us for, without His grace, we could not rise above our self-love; only grace, for which we should ask incessantly, just as we always need air in order to breathe, gives us true generosity.

During the journey toward eternity, we must never say that we have sufficient love of God. We should make continual progress in love. The traveler (viator) who advances toward God progresses with steps of love, as St. Gregory the Great says, that is, by ever higher acts of love. God desires that we should thus love Him more each day. The song of the journey toward eternity is a hymn of love, that of the holy liturgy, which is the voice of the Church; it is the song of the spouse of Christ.

It is not unfitting to tremble at times in the presence of God, but love must predominate. We must fear God filially through love, and not love Him through fear; therefore filial fear, that of sin, grows with charity, whereas servile fear, that of punishment, diminishes.

Our love of God grows by our carrying the cross. St. Francis de Sales declared: “The most generous and courageous characters are formed in crosses and afflictions, and cowardly souls are pleased only in prosperity. Moreover, the pure love of God is practiced far more easily in adversities than in comforts, for tribulation has nothing amiable about it except the hand of God who sends it . . . whereas prosperity has of itself attractions which charm our senses.”491

As the love of conformity to the divine will grows, it renders sweet the sufferings on which it feeds; the soul then walks with assurance according to the words of the Savior: “He that followeth Me walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”492

The love of God grows each time we mortify self-love. To desire ardently divine love, we must, therefore, retrench all that cannot be quickened by it. Growing thus, the love of God renders the virtues eminently more pleasing to God than they are by their own nature; the meritorious degree of their acts depends upon the degree of love. Thereby the accomplishment of our duties of state can be greatly sanctified and not a minute will be lost for eternity.493

If a person has had a high degree of charity and has never sinned mortally, but his love has grown cool through some attachment to venial sin, he still keeps the treasure of lofty charity494 although he has lost its radiation or fervor like a golden chalice that has become tarnished and covered with dust, or like a flame in a clouded glass shade. Therefore, it is important to remove as quickly as possible this dust, these spots, and restore to charity its fervor and radiation.

As a practical conclusion, let us consider how we can subordinate all our affections to the love of God. St. Francis de Sales tells us: “I can combat the desire of riches and mortal pleasures either by the scorn that they deserve or by the desire of immortal pleasures; and by this second means, sensual and earthly love will be destroyed by heavenly love. . . . Thus divine love supplants and subdues the affections and passions,”495 or places them at its service.

The love of conformity to the divine will leads to the love of complacency by which we rejoice over everything that contributes to the glory of God: we rejoice that He possesses infinite wisdom, limitless beatitude, that the whole universe is a manifestation of His goodness, and that the elect will glorify Him eternally. The love of complacency or of fruition is more particularly felt under a special inspiration of God: in this sense it is infused and passive; whereas the love of conformity of which we have spoken, may exist without this special inspiration, with common actual grace; from this point of view, it is called active.

For this reason certain authors have held that St. John of the Cross proposed in The Ascent of Mount Carmel the union of the love of conformity as the end of the ascetical life, and in The Dark Night andThe Living Flame the union of the passive love of enjoyment as the end of the mystical life.

We, as well as many contemporary writers,496 think, on the contrary, that St. John of the Cross preserves the unity of the spiritual life by speaking, in all his works, of only one end of the normal development of the life of grace on earth, and of only one union and transformation of love, which, it is true, presents itself under two aspects. The first of these aspects is the entire conformity of our will to the will of God; but this active gift of self is normally accompanied by the communication of the divine life passively received, which is the second aspect. Therefore the normal term of the spiritual life is a state at once ascetical and mystical, in which the perfection of active love, manifested by the virtues, is joined to infused or passive love, which leads the soul to the summit of union. The way leading to this union should, consequently, be not only active but also passive; it implies both the active purification described in The Ascent and the passive purification spoken of in The Dark Night. They are two aspects of purification: in other words, what the soul should do, and what it should receive and bear. Thus the unity of the spiritual life is maintained, and perfect union is the normal prelude of the life of heaven.497

Chapter 20: Fraternal Charity, Radiation of the Love of God

“And the glory which Thou hast given Me, I have given to them; that they may be one, as We also are one.”
John 17:22

The love of God, of which we have spoken, corresponds to the supreme precept; but there is a second precept which springs from the first: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,”498 for the love of God. The love of neighbor is presented to us by our Lord as the necessary consequence, the radiation, the sign, of the love of God: “Love one another as I have loved you. . . . By this shall all men know that you are My disciples.”499 St. John even says: “If any man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar.”500

In the illuminative way of proficients, fraternal charity should therefore be one of the greatest signs of the progress of the love of God. Here we must insist on the formal motive for which charity should be practiced, so that it may not be confounded with, for example, simple amiability or natural comradeship, or with liberalism, which assumes the exterior appearances of charity but differs greatly from this infused virtue. Liberalism disregards the value of faith and of divine truth, whereas charity presupposes them as its basis. To see clearly the formal motive of fraternal charity, not only in a theoretical and abstract manner, but in a concrete and experimental manner, we shall examine why our love of God should extend to our neighbor, and how actually to make progress in fraternal charity. That we may look at the matter from a supernatural point of view, we shall consider the love of Jesus for us.


Fraternal charity, which the Lord demands of us, differs immensely from the natural tendency which inclines us to do good in order to please others, which leads us also to love the kind, to hate those who do us evil, and to remain indifferent to others. Natural love makes us love our neighbor for his natural good qualities and for the benefits we receive from him; we find this love in good comradeship. The motive of charity is quite different and very much higher; the proof of it is in Christ’s words: “Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you. . . . For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? Do not even the publicans this? . . . Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.”501

We should love our enemies with the same supernatural, theological love as we have for God; for there are not two virtues of charity, the one toward God, the other toward our neighbor. There is only one virtue of charity, the first act of which has God, loved above all else, as its object; and its secondary acts have ourselves and our neighbor as their object. Hence this virtue is very superior to the great virtue of justice, and not only to commutative and distributive justice, but to legal or social justice and to equity.

But how is it possible for us to have a divine love for men, who, like ourselves, are so often imperfect? Theology replies with St. Thomas502 by a simple example: he who greatly loves his friend, loves the children of this friend with the same love; he loves them because he loves their father, and for his sake he wishes them well. For love of their father, he will, if necessary, come to their aid and pardon them if they have offended him.

Therefore, since all men are children of God by grace, or at least called to become so, we should love all men, even our enemies, with a supernatural love and desire the same eternal beatitude for them as for ourselves. We ought all to travel toward the same end, to make the same journey toward eternity, under the impulsion of the same grace, to live by the same love. Charity is thus a supernatural bond of perfection which unites us, as it should, to God and to our neighbor. It unites hearts at no matter what distance they may be; it leads us to love God in man and man in God.

The supernatural love of charity is rare among men because many seek their own interest primarily, and more readily comprehend the formula: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

The precept of fraternal charity was greatly neglected before the time of Christ; consequently He had to insist on it. He did so from the very beginning of His preaching in the Sermon on the Mount,503 and He continually reverted to it, especially in His last words before He died.504 St. John, in his Epistles, and St. Paul repeatedly remind us of this precept. They show us that when charity enters the heart, it is followed by all the other virtues; it is meek, patient, and humble.505

But to love our neighbor supernaturally so far as he is the child of God or is called to become so, we must look upon him with the eyes of faith and tell ourselves that this person whose temperament and character are opposed to ours is “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but [as we are] of God,” or called to be born of Him, to share in the same divine life, in the same beatitude as we. Especially in a Christian milieu, we can and ought to tell ourselves in regard to persons who are less congenial to us that their souls are, in spite of everything, temples of the Holy Ghost, that they are members of the mystical body of Christ, nearer perhaps to His heart than we are; that they are living stones whom God works that He may give them a place in the heavenly Jerusalem. How can we fail to love our neighbor, if we truly love God, our common Father? If we do not love our neighbor, our love of God is a lie. On the contrary, if we love him, it is a sign that we truly love God, the Author of the grace that vivifies us.

A young Jew whom we knew, the son of a Vienna banker, one day had the opportunity to take vengeance on his family’s greatest enemy; as he was about to do so, he remembered the following words of Scripture, which he was in the habit of reading from time o time: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Then, instead of taking vengeance, he fully pardoned his enemy and immediately received the grace of faith. He believed in the entire Gospel, and a short time afterward entered the Church and became a priest and religious. The precept of fraternal charity had illumined him.

Even about an adversary we must tell ourselves that we can and ought to love him with the same supernatural, theological love as we have for the divine Persons; for we ought to love in him the image of God, the divine life that he possesses or is called to receive, his supernatural being, the realization of the divine idea which presides over his destiny, the glory which he is called to give to God in time and eternity.

The following objection has occasionally been raised against this lofty doctrine: But is this truly loving man; is it not loving God only in man, as one admires a diamond in a jewel-case? Man naturally wishes to be loved for himself, but as man he cannot demand a divine love.

In reality, charity does not love God only in man, but man in God. and man himself for God. It truly loves what man should be, an eternal part of the mystical body of Christ, and it does all in its power to make him attain heaven. It loves even what man already is through grace; and, if he has not grace, it loves his nature in him, not so far as it is fallen, unbalanced, unruly, hostile to grace, but so far as it is the image of God and capable of receiving the divine graft of grace that will increase its resemblance to God. In short, charity loves man himself, but for God, for the glory that he is called to give to God in time and eternity.


Whatever naturalism may say, in loving our neighbor in God and for God we do not love him less, we love him much more and far more perfectly. We do not love his defects; we put up with them; but we love in man all that is noble in him, all in him that is called to grow and to blossom in eternal life.

Far from being a Platonic and inefficacious love of our neighbor, charity, in growing, disposes us to judge him well and to condescend to his wishes in whatever is not contrary to the commandments of God. Condescension thus born of charity makes indifferent things good, and the painful things that we impose on ourselves for our neighbor, fruitful. There is great charity in thus preserving union with all by avoiding clashes which might arise, or by effecting a reconciliation as soon as possible. Charity that grows has thus a radiating goodness; it makes us continually love not only what is good for us, but what is good for our neighbor, even for our enemies, and what is good from the superior point of view of God, by desiring for others the goods which do not pass, and especially the sovereign Good and its inamissible possession. St. Thomas sums up all this briefly: “Now the aspect under which our neighbor is to be loved, is God, since what we ought to love in our neighbor is that he may be in God. Hence it is clear that it is specifically the same act whereby we love God, and whereby we love our neighbor. Consequently the habit of charity extends not only to the love of God, but also to the love of our neighbor.”506

Thus sight perceives light first of all and by it the seven colors of the rainbow. It could not perceive colors if it did not see light. Likewise we could not supernaturally love the children of God if we did not first supernaturally love God Himself, our common Father.507

Whereas justice inclines us to wish good to another inasmuch as he is another or distinct from us, charity makes us love him as “another self,” an alter ego, with a love of truly supernatural friendship, as the saints in heaven love one another.


Therefore our charity should be universal: it should know no limits. It cannot exclude anyone on earth, in purgatory, or in heaven. It stops only before hell. It is only the damned that we cannot love, for they are no longer capable of becoming children of God. They hate Him eternally; they do not ask for pardon or for the grace to repent; hence they can no longer excite pity, for there is no longer in them the faintest desire to rise again. However, says St. Thomas, they are still the object of the divine mercy, in the sense that they are punished less than they deserve,508 a fact that gladdens our charity, which extends even that far.

Beyond the certain fact of damnation (and we are not certain of the damnation of anyone, except that of the fallen angels and of the “son of perdition”), charity is due to all; it knows no limits, it is broad, in a sense, like the heart of God. We had examples of this breadth of charity in the first World War when, on the battle front, a French boy at the point of death finished the Hail Mary begun by a young German who had just died beside him. The Blessed Virgin reunited these two youths, in spite of the harsh opposition of the war, in order to introduce them both into the supernal fatherland.

To be universal, charity does not have to be equal for all, and its progress in the illuminative way shows increasingly better what is called the order of charity, which admirably respects and elevates the order dictated by nature. Thus we should love God efficaciously above all else, at least with a love of esteem, if not with a love that is felt. Next we should love our own soul, then that of our neighbor, and finally our body, which we should sacrifice for the salvation of a soul, especially when we are obliged by our office to provide for it, as happens to those who have charge of souls. The order of charity appears more clearly as this virtue grows in us. We understand better and better that among our neighbors we should have a greater love of esteem for those who are better, nearer to God, although we love with a more sensible love those who are nearest to us through blood, marriage, vocation, or friendship.509 We also distinguish increasingly better the shades of the different friendships based on the bonds of family, country, or profession, or on bonds of an entirely spiritual order.510

The scale of values which appears more and more in this order of charity shows that God wishes to reign in our hearts, without excluding the legitimate affections which can and ought to be subordinated to the love we have for Him; then these affections are vivified, ennobled, purified, rendered more generous. Consequently the progress of charity” does away with that esprit de corps, that collective egoism, that nosism which sometimes recalls painfully the chauvinism of certain narrow patriots who belittle their fatherland in their desire to magnify it. A spiritual daughter of St. Francis de Sales, Mother Louise de Ballon, who reformed the Bernardines and founded seventeen convents, used to say on this subject: “I can belong only to one order by profession and state; but I belong to all orders by inclination and love. . . . I confess ingenuously that I have always been afflicted at seeing monasteries envy each other . . . , at hearing some say that the good of the children of St. Augustine should not be for those of St. Benedict, and others say that the good of St. Benedict should not be given to the disciples of St. Bernard. Is it not the blood of Jesus Christ and not that of St. Augustine, St. Benedict, or St. Bernard, which purchased for their religious all the good that they possess? O my Lord! Establish solidly a good understanding among Your servants. . . . The different orders are composed of different bodies, but they should have only one heart, only one soul, as it was written of the first Christians.”511

Without this broad charity, we would fall into the defect, into the narrowness which St. Paul blamed in the Corinthians, some of whom said: “I indeed am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollo,” to which the saint replied: “What then is Apollo, and what is Paul? The ministers of Him whom you have believed; and to everyone as the Lord hath given. I have planted, Apollo watered, but God gave the increase. Therefore, neither he that planteth is anything, nor he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.”512

In the same epistle the great Apostle writes: “Is Christ divided? Was Paul then crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”513 “Let no man therefore glory in men. For all things are yours, whether it be Paul or Apollo or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; for all are yours; and you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.”514

Such indeed, above all individual or collective narrowness, is the admirable order of charity, as it should appear increasingly in the disinterested proficient, whose heart should enlarge in a sense, like the heart of God, by the very progress of charity, which is truly a participation in the divine life, in eternal love.

This growing charity ought to be not only affective but effective, not only benevolent but beneficent. The lives of the saints show that they understood the Master’s words: “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”515 Christ loved us even to the death of the cross; the saints loved their brethren even to the martyrdom of the heart, and often even to giving the testimony of their blood.

Such is fraternal charity, the extension or radiation of the love we should have for God. Similarly, humility in respect to our neighbor is the extension of the virtue that leads us to humble ourselves before God and before what is of God in all His works.


Occasions of failing in fraternal charity present themselves only too often even in the best surroundings; first of all, because of the defects of all who, though tending to perfection, have not reached it. Each of us is like a truncated pyramid that has not yet its summit. Our neighbor often seems so to us, and we forget that we appear in like manner to him; we see the mote in our neighbor’s eye, and do not see the beam in our own.

Moreover, if, by an impossibility, all our defects were suppressed before our entrance into heaven, occasions of clashes and offenses would still subsist because of the diversity of temperaments—bilious, nervous, lymphatic, or sanguine; by reason of the diversity of characters—some inclined to indulgence, others to severity; because of the diversity of minds—some inclined to view things as a whole, others in the minutest detail; by reason again of the difference in education; because of nervous fatigue; and finally because of the demon, who takes pleasure in causing division that he may destroy our Lord’s work of truth, unity, and peace.

The devil intervenes more directly in certain excellent centers in order to obstruct the great good that might be done there. He seeks much more directly to disturb such groups than he does less good or positively evil centers, where he already rules through the maxims there diffused and the examples found there. As we see in the Gospel and the lives of the saints, the enemy of souls sows cockle among the best, placing in imaginations, as it were, a magnifying glass which transforms a grain of sand into a mountain.

We should also keep in mind that Providence designedly leaves among the good many occasions for humility and for the exercise of fraternal charity. It is in weakness that the grace of God manifests its power and that our virtue is perfected; our weaknesses humiliate us, and those of others exercise us.

Only in heaven will every occasion of conflict completely disappear, because the blessed, illumined by the divine light, see in God all that they should think, will, and do. On earth the saints themselves may enter into conflict, and occasionally no one yields for some time, because each is persuaded in conscience that he must maintain his point of view; that he may indeed yield in regard to his rights, but not in respect to his obligations. The case of St. Charles Borromeo and of St. Philip Neri illustrates this point. They could not come to an agreement on the foundation of one order; and, as a matter of fact, in this case the Lord wished two religious families instead of one.

In the midst of so many difficulties, how should fraternal charity grow? It should grow especially in two ways: by benevolence and beneficence; that is, first by considering our neighbor in the light of faith that we may discover in him the life of grace, at least what is good in his nature; then by loving our neighbor effectively, and that in many ways: by putting up with his defects, rendering him service, returning good for evil, praying for union of minds and hearts.

First of all, we should view our neighbor in the light of faith that we may find in him the life of grace, or at least the image of God a ready graven in the very nature of his spiritual and immortal soul. Since charity, in its aspect as love of God, presupposes faith in God, in its aspect as love of neighbor it assumes that we consider him in the light of faith and not only in that of our eyes of flesh, or in that of a reason more or less deformed by egoism. We need a pure gaze fitted to see the divine life of others under an envelope that at times is thick and opaque. We see the supernatural being of our neighbor if we merit to do so, if we are detached from self.

In this connection we would do well to face the fact that often what irritates us against our neighbor is not serious sins against God, but rather defects of temperament which sometimes subsist despite real virtue. We would perhaps easily put up with sinners who are quite removed from God but naturally amiable, whereas advanced souls are occasionally very “trying” to us. We must, therefore, resolve to look at souls in the light of faith that we may discover in them what is pleasing to God, what He loves in them, and what we should love in them.

This higher light produces benevolence, whereas rash judgment most seriously opposes this benevolent view. For this reason Christ insists so strongly on this point in the Sermon on the Mount: “Judge not, that you may not be judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged; and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why seest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, and seest not the beam that is in thy own eye? . . . Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thy own eye, and then shalt thou see to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”516

It should be clearly noted that rash judgment is not a simple unfavorable impression; it is a judgment. It consists in affirming evil on a slight indication; in reality a person sees two objects, but because of pride affirms that he sees four. If this judgment is fully deliberate and consented to in a serious matter, that is, judging one’s neighbor guilty of a mortal sin, the one who judges, himself commits a mortal sin.517 Consequently, says St. Thomas, if we cannot avoid certain suspicions, we should take care not to make a firm and definitive judgment on slight indications.518

Rash judgment, properly so called, is a sin against justice, especially when it is outwardly expressed by words or acts.519 Our neighbor has, in fact, a right to his reputation; next to the right which he has to do his duty, he has the right to uphold his good name more than to defend the right to property. We should respect this right of others to their reputation if we wish our own to be respected.

Moreover, rash judgment is often false. How can we judge with certainty of the interior intentions of a person whose doubts, errors, difficulties, temptations, good desires, or repentance, we do not know? How can we claim to know better than he what he says to God in prayer? How can we judge justly when we do not have the details of the case? Even if a rash judgment is true, it is a sin against justice because, in judging thus, a man arrogates to himself a jurisdiction which is not his to exercise. God alone is capable of judging with certainty the secret intentions of hearts, or those that are not sufficiently manifested. Hence even the Church does not judge them: “de internis non judicat.”

Rash judgment is likewise a sin against charity. What is most serious in the eyes of God, is not that this hasty judgment is often false and always unjust, but that it proceeds from malevolence, though often expressed with the mask of benevolence, which is only a grimace of charity. Anyone judging rashly is not only a judge who arrogates to himself jurisdiction over the souls of his brothers which he does not possess, but a judge sold by his egoism and his pride, at times a pitiless judge, who knows only how to condemn, and who, though unaware of it, presumes to impose laws on the Holy Ghost, admitting no other way than his own. Instead of seeing in his neighbor a brother, a son of God, called to the same beatitude as he is, he sees in him only a stranger, perhaps a rival to supplant and humiliate. This defect withdraws many from the contemplation of divine things; it is a veil over the eyes of the spirit.

If we do not go so far, we may judge the interior life of a soul rashly in order to enjoy our own clear vision and to show it off. Let us remember that God alone sees this conscience openly. We should be on our guard and remember with what insistence Christ said: “Judge not.” At the moment when we are judging rashly, we do not foresee that shortly afterward we shall perhaps fall into a more grievous sin than the one for which we reproached our neighbor. We see the mote in our neighbor’s eye and do not see the beam in our own.

If the evil is evident, does God demand that we should not see it? No, but He forbids us to murmur with pride. At times, He commands us in the name of charity to practice fraternal correction with benevolence, humility, meekness, and discretion, as indicated in the Gospel of St. Matthew,520 and as St. Thomas521 explains it. We should see whether correction is possible and if there is hope for amendment, or whether it is necessary to have recourse to the superior that he may warn the guilty person.522

Finally, as St. Catherine of Siena says, when the evil is evident, perfection, instead of murmuring, has compassion on the guilty party; we take on ourselves, in part at least, his sin before God, following the example of our Lord who took all our sins upon Himself on the cross. Did He not say to us: “Love one another, as I have loved you”?523

We must, therefore, repress rash judgment that we may become accustomed to see our neighbor in the light of faith and to discover in him the life of grace, or at least his nature so far as it is an image of God that grace should ennoble.

It is not sufficient to look upon our neighbor benevolently; we must love him effectively. We can do this by bearing with his defects, returning him good for evil, avoiding jealousy, and praying for union of hearts.

We bear with another’s defects more easily if we observe that often what arouses our impatience is not a serious sin in the eyes of God, but rather a defect of temperament: nervousness or, on the contrary, apathy, a certain narrowness of judgment, a frequent lack of tact, a certain way of putting himself forward, and other defects of this kind. Even if the defect is grave, we should not allow ourselves to go so far as to become irritated over evil that is permitted by God; and we should not allow our zeal to become bitterness. While complaining of others, let us not go so far as to persuade ourselves that we have realized the ideal. Without suspecting it, we would be uttering the prayer of the Pharisee.

To put up with the defects of another, we must remember that God permits evil only for a higher good. It has been said that God’s business consists in drawing good from evil, whereas we can do good only with good. The scandal of evil, producing a bitter and indiscreet zeal, is responsible for the fruitlessness of many reforms. The truth should be told with measure and goodness and not spoken with contempt. We should also avoid indiscretion that leads to speaking without sufficient reason about the faults of one’s neighbor, which is slander and may lead to calumny.

The Gospel tells us that not only must we bear with the defects of our neighbor, but also return good for evil by prayer, edification, and mutual assistance. It is related that one of the ways of winning the good graces of St. Teresa was to cause her pain. She really practiced the counsel of Christ: “If a man will contend with thee in judgment and take away thy coat, let go thy cloak also unto him.”524 Why should we do this? Because it is much less important to defend our temporal rights than to win the soul of our brother for eternity, than to lead him to the true life which has no end. In particular, prayer for our neighbor, when we have to suffer from him, is especially efficacious, as was that of Jesus for His executioners and that of St. Stephen, the first martyr, when he was being stoned.

We must also avoid jealousy, telling ourselves that we ought to enjoy in a holy manner the natural and supernatural qualities that the Lord has given to others and not to us. As St. Paul says: “If the foot should say: Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say: Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were the eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God hath set the members, everyone of them, in the body as it hath pleased Him. And if they all were one member, where would be the body? But now there are many members indeed, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand: I need not thy help; nor again the head to the feet: I have no need of you. . . . But God hath tempered the body together . . . that there might be no schism in the body; but the members might be mutually careful one for another. And if one member suffer anything, all the members suffer with it; or if one member glory, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members of member.”525 The hand benefits by what the eye sees; similarly we benefit by the merits of others. We should therefore rejoice in the good qualities of another instead of allowing ourselves to become jealous. We must exercise charity particularly toward inferiors who are weaker, and toward superiors who have greater burdens to bear. We must not emphasize their defects; were we in their place, we would perhaps do less well than they. But we must help them as much as possible in a discreet and, so to speak, unperceived manner.

Lastly, we must pray for union of minds and hearts. Praying for His disciples, Christ said: “The glory which Thou hast given Me, I have given to them; that they may be one, as We also are one.”526 In the primitive Church, the Acts tell us: “The multitude of believers had but one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but all things were common unto them.”527 As it spread over the world, the Church could not preserve such great intimacy among its members, but religious communities and Christian fraternities should remember the union of hearts in the early Church. In communities where there is common observance of life and prayers, this interior union must exist, otherwise observances and common prayer would be a lie to God, to men, and to ourselves. Union of hearts contributes to giving the Church the luster of the mark of sanctity, which presupposes unity of faith, worship, hierarchy, hope, and charity.

The radiating charity that unites the different members of the Savior’s mystical body, in spite of diversity of ages, countries, temperaments, and characters, is a sign that the Word became flesh, that He came among us to unite us and to give us life. He Himself declares it in His sacerdotal prayer: “The glory which Thou hast given Me, I have given to them; that they may be one, as We also are one . . . , and the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them, as Thou hast also loved Me.”528

Chapter 21: Zeal for the Glory of God and the Salvation of Souls

“I am come to cast fire on the earth: and what will, 1, but that it be kindled?”
Luke 12:49

To show what charity should normally be in the illuminative way of proficients, we shall discuss the zeal which every Christian, especially the priest and religious, should have for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. If this zeal is lacking, or does not exist in the degree that it should manifestly have, it is an additional and at times striking sign of what our love of God and souls should normally be, of what the living, profound, radiating knowledge of the things of God should also be in us. Those whose duty it is spiritually to feed others, themselves need a substantial daily food, that to be had every day in intimate participation in the Sacrifice of the Mass, in Communion, and in prayer.

We have seen that love of neighbor is the extension or the radiation of the love we should have for God: this love should extend to the children of God. It is one and the same supernatural theological love; it is essentially divine, like grace, a participation in the inner hfe of God. This love should become so ardent in a fervent Christian soul as to merit the name of zeal. Especially for a soul consecrated to God, it is a duty to have zeal for His glory and the salvation of one’s neighbor. Basically it is one and the same zeal, the ardor of one and the same love, which should subsist, though not always sensible, in the midst of aridities and trials of all sorts, just as in the heart of a good soldier ardent love of country subsists in the most trying hours when he can only be patient and endure. Zeal is the ardor of love, but of a spiritual love of the will, which is at times proportionately more generous and meritorious as it is less felt.529

We may with profit consider the motives of zeal, what its qualities should be, and the means to exercise it.


For every Christian the first motive of zeal is that God deserves to be loved above all things. This motive is not the object of a counsel, but of the supreme precept, which has no limits; it makes it our duty to grow continually in charity while on earth, to love the Lord with our whole heart, with our whole soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind.530 Even in the Old Testament the supreme precept was already formulated in the same terms.531 We know what zeal in corresponding to it was shown by the prophets, whose mission it was ceaselessly to remind the people of God of their great duties. The Psalmist says to the Lord: “The zeal of Thy house hath eaten me up: and the reproaches of them that reproach Thee are fallen upon me.”532 “My zeal hath made me pine away: because my enemies forgot Thy words. . . . I am very young and despised; but I forget not Thy justifications.”533 Elias, reaching Mount Horeb and being questioned by God about what he had done, replies: “With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant: they have thrown down Thy altars, they have slain Thy prophets with the sword, and I alone am left, and they seek my life to take it away.”534 It was then that the Lord told Elias that He was going to pass before him, and, after a violent wind and an earthquake accompanied by lightning, there was “the whistling of a gentle air,” the symbol of the divine gentleness; then the Lord gave the prophet His orders, and revealed to him that Eliseus was called to succeed him.

Likewise we read in the first book of the Machabees that the priest Mathathias, exhorting his sons to begin the holy war, said: “Phinees our father, by being fervent in the zeal of God, received the covenant of an everlasting priesthood. . . . Elias, while he was full of zeal for the law, was taken up into heaven. . . . Daniel in his innocency was delivered out of the mouth of the lions. . . . You therefore, my sons, take courage, and behave manfully in the law; for by it you shall be glorious.”535

This zeal led Jesus to cast the buyers and sellers out of the temple and to overthrow their tables, saying to them: “It is written: ‘My house shall be called the house of prayer; but you have made it a den of thieves.’ “536Especially after Pentecost, the apostles had this zeal; it led them all even to martyrdom. It still exists in the Church wherever the testimony of blood is given and in numerous lives consecrated to the service of God even to immolation. The first motive of zeal is, therefore, that God deserves to be loved above all and without measure.

The second motive of zeal is that we should imitate our Lord Jesus Christ. The predominant virtue of the Savior is zeal, the ardor of charity, as He Himself says: “I am come to cast fire [of charity] on the earth: and what will I, but that it be kindled?”537 St. Paul writes: “Wherefore when He cometh into the world, He saith: ‘Sacrifice and oblation [of the Old Law] Thou wouldest not: but a body Thou hast fitted to Me. . . . Then said I: Behold I come . . . that I should do Thy will, O God.’ “538All during His life, our Lord offered Himself; at twelve years of age He announced that He came to be about His Father’s business.539 He offered Himself continually during His hidden life, showing us in what humility and abnegation truly divine works should be prepared. From the beginning of His public life, He saw the indifference of the Jews of Nazareth, who called Him the son of the carpenter, and He experienced the hatred of the Pharisees, which would increase even to the point of demanding His death on the cross. The Word of God came among His own to save them, and many of His own were not willing to receive Him; they did not wish to let themselves be saved. Opposition came from those who should least have opposed Him, from the priests of the Old Law, the prelude of the New.540 The suffering which this attitude caused the Savior was profound like His love of souls: it was the suffering of ardent and overflowing charity, which wishes to give itself and often meets only with indifference, inertia, lack of comprehension, ill will, and spiteful opposition.

This thirst for the glory of God and the salvation of souls was the great cause of the sorrow which the Savior experienced at the sight of the sins of men. It was also the cause of Mary’s suffering at the foot of the cross.

All His life long Christ felt this desire for the salvation of souls and continually carried this cross of desire; He aspired strongly to realize His redemptive mission by dying for us on the cross. For this reason He said at the last supper the night before He died: “With desire I have desired to eat this pasch with you, before I suffer”;541 and then instituting the Eucharist, He said: “This is My body, which is given for you. . . . This is the chalice, the new testament in My blood, which shall be shed for you.”542 Christ desired with a great desire the accomplishment of His mission by the perfect sacrifice of Himself, by the most complete gift of self.

The suffering that accompanied this ardent desire ceased with His death on the cross, but this desire, this thirst for our salvation, still endures; He is “always living to make intercession for us,”543 especially in the Sacrifice of the Mass, which continues sacramentally that of Calvary. In the Eucharist our Lord continues to make His appeals heard and to give Himself to souls, even to repentant prisoners and criminals sentenced to death.”

This hunger and thirst for the salvation of sinners which is still living in the holy soul of Christ led St. Catherine of Siena to write to one of her spiritual sons: “I should like to see you suffer so greatly from hunger for the salvation of souls that you could die of it like Christ Jesus, that at least because of it you would die to the world and to yourself.” Such thoughts are to be found on every page of this great saint’s letters.

A third motive for our zeal is precisely the value of the immortal souls redeemed by the blood of Christ. Each of them is worth more than the entire physical universe, and each is called to receive the benefits of the redemption and eternal life. We should remember the zeal of the apostles who “went from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus,”544 and who could say to the faithful, as St. Paul did: “I most gladly will spend and be spent myself for your souls; although loving you more, I be loved less.”545 Zeal prompted St. Paul to write: “We are buffeted, and have no fixed abode. . . . We are reviled, and we bless; we are persecuted, and we suffer it; we are blasphemed, and we entreat.”546 Zeal led the apostles even to martyrdom, and for three centuries after them the same was true of many bishops, priests, and laymen of every rank and age. The martyrs, whose heroism gave rise to numerous conversions, had such eminent zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of souls that it became an undeniable proof of the sanctity of the Church. If when a man’s country is in danger he loves it to the extent that he will sacrifice himself for it, with what greater reason should we love the Church which leads us to the eternal country, where all the just of all peoples should meet.

Lastly, a fourth motive of our zeal is the contrary zeal with which the enemies of the Church toil at works of disorder, corruption, and death. What should draw us out of our somnolence, is the impious, spiteful, satanic war waged against our Lord and our holy Mother the Church; a war surpassing all others, a war of the spirit, which is carried on in the innermost depths of hearts, even in the souls of little children, whom they desire to snatch from our Lord that they may make them reprobates and atheists. This war is indescribably perverse like the sins of the spirit; it is loaded down with crushing responsibilities. The Church sees the formidable consequences of this struggle on those who are intent upon it; it continues to pray for them, that God may cure their blindness and halt them on the road of damnation, into which they are dragging so many others with them.

The principal motives of zeal are consequently: the glory of God, the imitation of our Lord, the salvation of souls, and the relief of the souls in purgatory.


Zeal, according to its definition, should be ardent since it is the ardor of love; but here is meant enduring spiritual ardor, and not a sudden impetus, sensible enthusiasm of temperament, natural activity eager to take outward form through personal satisfaction and the seeking after self which wearies others. That it may not lose any of its spiritual ardor and may preserve it for a long time, zeal should be free from all excessively human self-seeking; to be so, it must be enlightened, patient, meek, and disinterested.

Zeal should, first of all, be illumined by the light of faith, by that of obedience and Christian prudence, and also by the gifts of wisdom and counsel. The light of natural reason does not suffice, for it is a question of performing not only a human work, but a divine work, of laboring at the salvation and sanctification of souls with the means indicated by our Lord. Zeal animated only by the natural spirit, instead of converting souls to God, gradually allows itself to be converted by the world, to be seduced by high-sounding phrases devoid of meaning. It dreams, for example, of a future city and loses sight of the supernatural end of the true city of God which St. Augustine speaks of. This zeal, which is that of restless, blundering, ambitious people, is impulsive, unseasonable, and inopportune; it forgets the indispensable, supernatural means, prayer and penance, recalled by Mary Immaculate at Lourdes.

Especially in difficult circumstances, zeal should beg the Holy Ghost for the light of the gift of counsel, not that it should propose to do extraordinary things, but to accomplish as perfectly as possible the ordinary duties fixed by the wisdom of the Church and obedience: to say Mass well or to unite oneself intimately to it, to be faithful to prayer under its different forms, and to one’s duties of state. Sometimes heroic obedience may be demanded; should it be lacking, the greatest qualities of mind and heart would not suffice to compensate for its absence. Some servants of God, who were manifestly called to sanctity, seem not to have reached it because they lacked this heroic virtue.

Zeal should be not only enlightened, but also patient and meek. While preserving its ardor, and indeed in order to preserve it, zeal should avoid becoming uselessly irritated against evil, pouring itself out in vain indignation and sermonizing indiscriminately. The Gospel shows us that in the service of the Lord the Boanerges, or sons of thunder,547 as James and John were, become meek. Zeal should know how to tolerate certain evils in order to avoid greater ones and not itself turn to bitterness. What is only less good should not be cast aside as evil; the smoking flax should not be extinguished nor the broken reed crushed. We should always remember that Providence permits evil in view of a superior good, which we often do not yet see, but which will shine forth on the last day under the light of eternity.

To be patient and meek, zeal should be disinterested, and that in two ways: by avoiding appropriating to self what belongs only to God and what pertains to others. Some people are zealous for the works of God, but, motivated by unconscious self-seeking, they consider these works too much as their own. As Tauler says, they resemble hunting dogs that are eager in running down the hare, but that eat it after catching it, instead of bringing it back to their master; thereupon he whips them soundly. Thus these people keep for themselves the souls which they should win for our Lord, and as a result God punishes them severely to teach them to efface themselves, that He may act in them and through them. When they are less sure of themselves, less persuaded of their importance, and somewhat broken or at least more supple, the Lord will use them as docile instruments. They will then completely forget themselves in the hands of the Savior, who alone knows what is necessary to regenerate souls.

Let us not appropriate what belongs to others. Often we wish to do good, but we desire too greatly that we should do it in our way. We should not wish to do everything, or hinder others from working and being more successful than we are. Let us not be jealous of their success. Above all, we ought not to take upon ourselves the direction of souls that have not been entrusted to us; we ought to be on our guard not to take them away from a salutary influence, for the Lord might require a severe accounting from us in this matter. It is for Him we are working and not for ourselves. This is what He wished to make His apostles understand one day when they had been disputing among themselves about which was the greatest. He then asked them: “What did you treat of in the way?” But they did not dare to reply, and it was then that, “calling unto Him a little child, [He] set him in the midst of them, and said: Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”548 He wished to make them understand that their zeal should be humble and disinterested.

He wished to convince particularly the sons of Zebedee, James and John, of this when their mother came to Him and asked for them the first two places in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said to them: “You know not what you ask. Can you drink the chalice that I shall drink? They say to Him: We can. He saith to them: My chalice indeed you shall drink; but to sit on My right or left hand, is not Mine to give to you, but to them for whom it is prepared by My Father. . . . And he that will be first among you, shall be your servant. Even as the Son of man is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a redemption for many.”549 Thus our Lord taught the sons of Zebedee to dominate their natural ardor by humility and meekness, in order to transform it into a pure and fruitful supernatural zeal. Similarly He cures us sometimes by rebuffs and trials administered to our self-love and pride. He corrects us thus until we no longer wish to do our work; then, after permitting the lower part of our nature to be broken by events, and when selfishness has been overcome, He makes use of us for His work, the salvation of souls. Then zeal, though it preserves its spiritual ardor, is calm, humble, and meek, like that of Mary and the saints, and nothing can any longer crush it: “If God be for us, who can be against us?”

This zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of souls should be exercised by the apostolate under various forms: the apostolate by the teaching of Christian doctrine and the spiritual and corporal works of mercy; the apostolate by prayer, which draws down divine grace to render fruitful the labor of those who toil in the Lord’s vineyard. When profound, this hidden apostolate is the soul of the exterior apostolate. Lastly, there should also be the apostolate by reparatory suffering; hidden, too, like that of prayer, it continues, as it were, in the mystical body of Christ the sufferings of Jesus during the Passion and on the cross for the regeneration of souls. When, in the mystical body of Christ, a member voluntarily suffers through love, another infirm member is healed, as in our human body painful remedies relieve infected organs, which then gradually resume their functions. When the servants of God immolate their bodies and hearts, the Lord spares the body of an unfortunate person whose strength is spent, or cures a sick heart which had not the courage to break its chains. When in the mystical body a generous soul sacrifices its own will, in another the Lord revives a dead will and grants it the grace of conversion.

Such are the qualities of zeal, which is the ardor of charity, an enlightened, patient, meek, disinterested, and truly fruitful ardor that glorifies God, imitates our Lord, snatches souls from evil, and saves them.

It is clear that this zeal should exist, that too often it is lacking, and that it is in the normal way of sanctity. But to subsist, it should be kept up by profound prayer, by prayer that is continual and like an almost uninterrupted conversation of the soul with God in perfect docility. We shall now discuss this docility and this prayer of proficients; it is this prayer that gave its name to the illuminative way in which the soul is more and more penetrated by the light of God.


What we have just said about the progress of the moral and theological virtues leads us to speak of the sources of spiritual progress and divine intimacy. We shall do so by treating of what docility to the Holy Ghost, the discerning of spirits, the Sacrifice of the Mass, Holy Communion, devotion to Mary, should be for proficients. We shall finish Part III by examining the questions relative to the passage from acquired prayer to initial infused prayer, to the nature of infused contemplation, and to its progress.

Chapter 22: Docility to the Holy Ghost

Having spoken of the progress of the theological virtues in the illuminative way, we shall now treat of docility to the Holy Ghost who, through His seven gifts, is the Inspirer of our entire life with a view to contemplation and action.

Earlier in this work550 we set forth the nature of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to the teaching of St. Thomas,551 who considers them permanent infused habits, which are in every just soul that it may receive the inspirations of the Holy Ghost with promptness and docility. According to the fathers of the Church, the gifts are in the just soul like the sails on a vessel; the boat may advance by rowing, which is a slow and painful way of making progress; this is the symbol of the work of the virtues. It may also advance because a favorable wind swells its sails, which dispose it to receive, as it should, the impulsion of the wind. This analogy was indicated in a way by Christ Himself when He said: “The Spirit breatheth where He will; and thou hearest His voice, but thou knowest not whence He cometh and whither He goeth. So is everyone that is born of the Spirit.”552

The gifts of the Holy Ghost have also been compared to the different strings of a harp which, under the hand of a musician, give forth harmonious sounds. Lastly, the inspirations of the gifts have been likened to the seven flames of the seven-branch candelabrum used in the synagogue.

These gifts, enumerated by Isaias and called by him “the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of counsel and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and of godliness, and . . . the spirit of the fear of the Lord,”553 are granted to all the just, since the Holy Spirit is given to all according to these words of St. Paul: “The charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, who is given to us.”554 The gifts of the Holy Ghost are consequently connected with charity,555 and therefore they grow with it. They are like the wings of a bird that grow simultaneously, or like the sails of a ship that increasingly unfurl. By repeated venial sins, however, the gifts of the Holy Ghost are, as it were, bound; these habitual venial sins are like folds in the soul, which incline it to judge in an inferior manner with a certain blindness of spirit, which is the direct opposite of infused contemplation.556 We shall discuss first the inspirations of the Holy Ghost, then the ascending gradation of the gifts, and finally the conditions required for docility to the Holy Ghost.


The special inspiration to which the gifts render us docile is, as we have explained,557 quite different from common actual grace which leads us to the exercise of the virtues. Under common actual grace, we deliberate in a discursive or reasoned manner, for example, to go to Mass, or to say the Rosary at the accustomed hour. In this case we move ourselves by a more or less explicit deliberation to this act of the virtue of religion. Under a special inspiration of the Holy Ghost, on the contrary, we are moved, for example, in the course of study, to pray in order to obtain light. Here there is no discursive deliberation, the act of .the gift of piety is not deliberate; but under the special inspiration it remains free, and the spirit of piety disposes us precisely to receive this inspiration with docility and therefore freely and with merit. St. Thomas distinguishes clearly between common actual grace and special inspiration when he shows the difference between cooperating grace, under which we are moved to act in virtue of an anterior act, and operating grace, by which we are moved to act by consenting freely to receive the impulsion of the Holy Ghost.558 In the first case, we are more active than passive; in the second, we are more passive than active, for it is more the Holy Ghost who acts in us.559

It happens, moreover, that under this special inspiration the gifts are exercised at the same time that the work of the virtues is done. Thus while the boat advances by rowing, there may be a slight breeze which facilitates the labor of the rower. Likewise the inspirations of the gifts may recall to our mind many principles from the Gospel at the time when our reason deliberates on a decision to be made. Inversely, our prudence sometimes recognizes its powerlessness to find the solution of a difficult case of conscience, and it then moves us to ask for the light of the Holy Ghost, whose special inspiration makes us see and accomplish what is fitting. We should be increasingly docile to Him.


These inspirations of the Holy Ghost are exceedingly varied, as is shown by the enumeration of the gifts in the eleventh chapter of Isaias, and their subordination starting with that of fear, the least elevated, up to that of wisdom, which directs all the others from above560 This gradation given by Isaias and explained by St. Augustine, St. Thomas, and later St. Francis de Sales, is like an ancient hymn replete with beautiful modulations, one of the leitmotifs of traditional theology. In this gradation we perceive a spiritual scale analogous to that of the seven principal notes of music.

The gift of fear is the first manifestation of the influence of the Holy Ghost in a soul that leaves off sin and is converted to God. It supplies for the imperfection of the virtues of temperance and of chastity; it helps us to struggle against the fascination of forbidden pleasures and against the impulses of the heart.561

This holy fear of God is the inverse of worldly fear, often called human respect. It is superior also to servile fear which; although it has a salutary effect on the sinner, has not the dignity of a gift of the Holy Ghost. Servile fear is that which trembles at the punishments of God; it diminishes with charity, which makes us consider God rather as a loving Father than as a judge to be feared.

Filial fear, or the gift of fear, dreads sin especially, more than the punishments due it. It makes us tremble with a holy respect before the majesty of God. At times the soul experiences this holy fear of offending God; occasionally the experience is so vivid that no meditation, no reading, could produce a like sentiment. It is the Holy Ghost who touches the soul. This holy fear of sin is “the beginning of wisdom,”562 for it leads us to obey the divine law in everything, which is wisdom itself. Filial fear increases with charity, like the horror of sin; in heaven, though the saints no longer have the fear of offending God, they still have the reverential fear which makes the angels themselves tremble before the infinite majesty of God, “tremunt potestates,” in the words of the preface of the Mass. This fear was even in the soul of Christ and still remains there.563

This fear of sin, which inspired the great mortifications of the saints, corresponds to the beatitude of the poor: blessed are they who through fear of the Lord detach their hearts from the pleasures of the world, from honors; in their poverty they are supernaturally rich, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

Fear has a negative element, making us flee from sin; but the soul needs a more filial attitude toward God. The gift of piety inspires us precisely with a wholly filial affection for our Father in heaven, for Christ our Savior, for our Mother, the Blessed Virgin, for our holy protectors.564 This gift supplies for the imperfection of the virtue of religion, which renders to God the worship due Him, in the discursive manner of human reason illumined by faith. There is no spiritual impulse and no lasting fervor without the gift of piety, which hinders us from becoming attached to sensible consolations in prayer and makes us draw profit from dryness, aridities, which are intended to render us more disinterested and spiritual. St. Paul writes to the Romans: “You have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba (Father) . . . ‘. Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit Himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings.”565 By this gift we find a supernatural sweetness even in our interior sufferings; it is particularly manifest in the prayer of quiet, in which the will is captivated by the attraction of God, although the intellect often has to struggle against distractions. By its sweetness this gift makes us resemble Christ, who was meek and humble of heart. Its fruit, according to St. Augustine, is the beatitude of the meek, who shall possess the land of heaven. St. Bernard and St. Francis de Sales excelled in the gift of piety.

But to have a solid piety that avoids illusion and dominates the imagination and sentimentalism, the Holy Ghost must give us the higher gift of knowledge.

The gift of knowledge renders us docile to inspirations superior to human knowledge and even to reasoned theology. We are here concerned with a supernatural feeling that makes us judge rightly of human things, either as symbols of divine things, or in their opposition to the latter.566 It shows us vividly the vanity of all passing things, of honors, titles, the praises of men; it makes us see especially the infinite gravity of mortal sin as an offense against God and a disease of the soul. It throws light particularly on what in the world does not come from God, but from defectible and deficient second causes; in this it differs from the gift of wisdom. By showing the infinite gravity of mortal sin, it produces not only fear but horror of sin and a great sorrow for having offended God.

It gives the true knowledge of good and evil, and not that which the devil promised to Adam and Eve when he said to them: “In what day soever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil.” As a matter of fact, they had the bitter knowledge or experience of evil committed, of proud disobedience, and of its results. The Holy Ghost, on the other hand, promises the true knowledge of good and evil; if we follow Him, we shall be in a sense like God, who knows evil to detest it and good to realize it.

Only too often human knowledge produces presumption; the gift of knowledge, on the contrary, strengthens hope because it shows us that every human help is fragile as a reed; it makes us see the nothingness of earthly goods and leads us to desire heaven, putting all our confidence in God. As St. Augustine says, it corresponds to the beatitude of the tears of contrition. Blessed are they who know the emptiness of human things, especially the gravity of sin; blessed are they who weep for their sins, who have true compunction of heart, of which The Imitation often speaks. By this gift we find the happy mean between a discouraging pessimism and an optimism made up of levity and vanity. Precious knowledge of the saints possessed by all great apostles: St. Dominic, for example, often wept on seeing the state of certain souls to which he brought the word of God.

Above the gift of knowledge, according to the enumeration of Isaias, comes the gift of fortitude. Why does the prophet place fortitude above knowledge? Because to be able to discern good and evil is not sufficient; we need strength to avoid the one and practice the other perseveringly without ever becoming discouraged. We must undertake a war against the flesh, the spirit of the world, and the spirit of evil, which is at times exceedingly afflictive. We have powerful, subtle, perfidious enemies. Shall we let ourselves be intimidated by certain worldly smiles, by a thoughtless speech? If we yield on this point, we shall fall into the snares of him who wishes our damnation and who struggles so much the more desperately against us as our vocation is higher.567

The gift of fortitude strengthens our courage in danger, and comes to the help of our patience in long trials. It is this gift that sustained the martyrs, that gave invincible constancy to children, to Christian virgins, like Agnes and Cecilia, to St. Joan of Arc in her prison and on her pyre. It corresponds, says St. Augustine, to the beatitude of those who hunger and thirst after justice in spite of all contradictions, of those who preserve a holy enthusiasm that is not only sensible, but spiritual and supernatural, even in the midst of persecution. It gave the martyrs of the early Church a holy joy in their torments.568

But in difficult circumstances, in which the lofty acts of the gift of fortitude are exercised, we must avoid the danger of temerity which distinguishes fanatics. To avoid this danger, we need a higher gift, that of counsel.

The gift of counsel supplies for the imperfection of the virtue of prudence, when prudence hesitates and does not know what decision to make in certain difficulties, in the presence of certain adversaries. Must we still preserve patience, show meekness, or, on the contrary, give evidence of firmness? And, in dealing with clever people, how can we harmonize “the simplicity of the dove and the prudence of the serpent”?569

In these difficulties, we must have recourse to the Holy Ghost who dwells in us. He will certainly not turn us away from seeking counsel from our superiors, our confessor, or director; on the contrary, He will move us to do so, and then He will fortify us against rash impulsiveness and pusillanimity. He will make us understand also what a superior and a director would be incapable of telling us, especially the harmonizing of seemingly contradictory virtues: prudence and simplicity, fortitude and meekness, frankness and reserve. The Holy Ghost makes us understand that we should not say something that is more or less contrary to charity; if, in spite of His warning, we do so, not infrequently it produces disorder, irritation, great loss of time, to the detriment of the peace of souls. All of this might easily have been avoided. The enemy of souls, on the contrary, exerts himself to sow cockle, to cause confusion, to transform a grain of sand into a mountain; he makes use of petty, almost imperceptible trifles, but he achieves results with them as a person does who puts a tiny obstacle in the movement of a watch in order to stop it.

Sometimes it is these trifles that arrest progress on the way of perfection; the soul is held captive by inferior things as by a thread which it has not the courage to break: for example, by a certain habit contrary to recollection or humility, to the respect due to other souls, which are also the temples of the Holy Ghost. All these obstacles are removed by the inspirations of the gift of counsel, which corresponds to the beatitude of the merciful. These last are, in fact, good counselors who forget themselves that they may encourage the afflicted and sinners.

As the gift of counsel is given to us to direct our conduct by supplying for the imperfection of prudence, which would often remain hesitant, we need a superior gift to supply for the imperfection of faith. This virtue attains the mysteries of the inner life of God only by the intermediary of abstract and multiple formulas which we should like to be able to sum up in a single one that would express more exactly what the living God is for us.

Here the gift of understanding comes to our assistance by a certain interior light that makes us penetrate the mysteries of salvation and anticipate all their grandeur.570 Without this light, it happens often that we hear sermons, read spiritual books, and yet remain in ignorance of the deep meaning of these mysteries of life. They remain like sacred formulas preserved in the memory, but their truth does not touch our soul; it is pale and lusterless, like a star lost in the depths of the heavens. And because we are not sufficiently nourished with these divine truths, we are more or less seduced by the maxims of the world.

On the contrary, a simple soul prostrate before God, will understand the mysteries of the Incarnation, the redemption, the Eucharist, not to explain them, to discuss them, but to live by them. It is the Holy Ghost who gives this penetrating and experimental knowledge of the truths of faith which enables the soul to glimpse the sublime beauty of Christ’s sermons. It is He also who gives souls the profound understanding of their vocation and preserves them in this regard from every failure in judgment.

The gift of understanding cannot exist in a high degree without great purity of heart, of intention; it corresponds, according to St. Augustine, to the beatitude: “Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.’: Even here on earth they begin to glimpse Him in the words of Scripture, which at times are illumined for them as if underscored by a line of light. St. Catherine of Siena and St. John of the Cross excel in this understanding of the mysteries of salvation that they may make us comprehend the plenitude of life contained in them.

The gift of wisdom is finally, according to the enumeration of Isaias, the highest of all, as charity, to which it corresponds, is the loftiest of the virtues. Wisdom appears eminently in St. John, St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Thomas. It leads them to judge all things by relation to God, the first Cause and last End, and to judge them thus, not as acquired theology does, but by that connaturalness or sympathy with divine things which comes from charity. By His inspiration, the Holy Ghost makes use of this connaturalness to show us the beauty, the sanctity, and the radiating plenitude of the mysteries of salvation, which correspond so well to our deepest and highest aspirations.571 Opposed to wisdom is spiritual folly, stultitia, of which St. Paul often speaks.572

From this higher point of view, it becomes evident that a number of learned men are mad in their vain learning, when, for example, in discussing the origins of Christianity, they wish to deny the supernatural at any cost; they fall into manifest absurdities. In a less inferior degree, believers who are instructed in their religion but whose judgment is faulty take scandal at the mystery of the cross which continues in the life of the Church.573 They do not have a sufficiently clear perception of the value of supernatural means, of prayer, the sacraments, trials borne with love; they are too much preoccupied with human culture and occasionally confound liberalism and charity, as others confound narrowness and firmness in faith. This is a lack of wisdom.574

The gift of wisdom, the principle of a living contemplation that directs action, enables the soul to taste the goodness of God, to see it manifested in all events, even in the most painful, since God permits evil only for a higher good, which we shall see later and which it is sometimes given us to glimpse on earth. The gift of wisdom thus makes us judge everything in relation to God; it shows the subordination of causes and ends or, as they say today, the scale of values. It reminds us that all that glitters is not gold and that, on the contrary, marvels of grace are to be found under the humblest exteriors, as in the person of St. Benedict Joseph Labre or Blessed Anna Maria Taigi. This gift enables the saints to embrace the plan of Providence with a gaze entirely penetrated with love; darkness does not disconcert them for they discover in it the hidden God. As the bee knows how to find honey in flowers, the gift of wisdom draws lessons of divine goodness from everything.

Wisdom reminds us, as Cardinal Newman says, that: “A thousand difficulties do not make a doubt” so long as they do not impair the very basis of certitude. Thus many difficulties which subsist in the interpretation of several books of the Old Testament or of the Apocalypse do not make a doubt as to the divine origin of the religion of Israel or of Christianity.

The gift of wisdom thus gives the supernaturalized soul great peace, that is the tranquillity of the order of things considered from God’s point of view. Thereby this gift, says St. Augustine, corresponds to the beatitude of the peacemakers, that is to say, of those who remain in peace when many are troubled and who are capable of bringing peace to the discouraged. This is one of the signs of the unitive life.

How is it possible that so many persons, after living forty or fifty years in the state of grace, receiving Holy Communion frequently, give almost no indication of the gifts of the Holy Ghost in their conduct and actions, take offense at a trifle, show great eagerness for praise, and live a very natural life? This condition springs from venial sins which they often commit without any concern for them; these sins and the inclinations arising from them lead these souls toward the earth and hold the gifts of the Holy Ghost as it were bound, like wings that cannot spread. These souls lack recollection; they are not attentive to the inspirations of the Holy Ghost, which pass unperceived. Consequently they remain in obscurity, not in the darkness from above, which is that of the inner life of God, but in the lower obscurity which comes from matter, from inordinate passions, sin, and error; this is the explanation of their spiritual inertia. To these souls are addressed the words of the Psalmist, which the Divine Office places before us daily at Matins: “Today if you shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”575


To be docile to the Holy Ghost, we must first hear His voice. To do so, recollection, detachment from the world and from self are necessary, as are the custody of the heart, the mortification of self-will, and personal judgment. If silence does not reign in our soul, if the voice of excessively human affections troubles it, we cannot of a certainty hear the inspirations of the interior Master. For this reason the Lord subjects our sensible appetites to severe trials and in a way crucifies them that they may eventually become silent or fully submissive to our will animated by charity. If we are ordinarily preoccupied with ourselves, we shall certainly hear ourselves or perhaps a more perfidious, more dangerous voice which seeks to lead us astray. Consequently our Lord invites us to die to ourselves like the grain of wheat placed in the ground.

To hear the divine inspirations, we must, therefore, create silence in ourselves; but even then the voice of the Holy Ghost remains mysterious. As Christ says: “The Spirit breatheth where He will; and thou hearest His voice, but thou knowest not whence He cometh and whither He goeth. So is everyone that is born of the Spirit.”576 Mysterious words, which should make us prudent and reserved in our judgments about our neighbor, attentive to the attractions placed in us by the Lord, which are the mixed seed of a future known to divine Providence. They are attractions toward renunciation, toward interior prayer; they are more precious than we think. Some intellectuals from an early age have an attraction to silent mental prayer, which alone perhaps will preserve them from spiritual pride, from dryness of heart, and will make their souls childlike, such as they must be to enter the kingdom of God, and especially the intimacy of the kingdom. A vocation to a definite religious order may often be recognized by these early attractions.

The voice of the Holy Ghost begins, therefore, by an instinct, an obscure illumination, and if one perseveres in humility and conformity to the will of God, this instinct manifests its divine origin clearly to the conscience while remaining mysterious. The first gleams will become so many lights which, like the stars, will illumine the night of our pilgrimage toward eternity; the dark night will thus become luminous and like the aurora of the life of heaven, “and night shall be my light in my pleasures.”577

To succeed in being docile to the Holy Ghost, we need, therefore, interior silence, habitual recollection, attention, and fidelity.


We dispose ourselves to docility to the Holy Ghost by three principal acts: (1) By obeying faithfully the will of God which we already know through the precepts and the counsels proper to our vocation. Let us make good use of the knowledge that we have; God will give us additional knowledge.(2) By frequently renewing our resolution to follow the will of God in everything. This good resolution thus renewed draws down new graces on us. We should often repeat Christ’s words: “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me.”578. (3) By asking unceasingly for the light and strength of the Holy Ghost to accomplish the will of God. We may with profit consecrate ourselves to the Holy Ghost, when we feel the attraction to do so, to place our soul more under His dominion and as it were, in His hand. We may make this consecration in the following terms: “O Holy Ghost, divine Spirit of light and love, I consecrate to Thee my mind, my heart, my will, and my whole being for time and eternity. May my mind be ever docile to Thy celestial inspirations and to the teaching of the holy Catholic Church of which Thou art the infallible Guide. May my heart be always inflamed with love of God and of my neighbor. May my will be ever conformed to the divine will, and may my whole life be a faithful imitation of the life and virtues of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to whom, with the Father and Thee, O Holy Ghost, be honor and glory forever.”579

St. Catherine of Siena used to pray: “O Holy Ghost, come into my heart; by Thy power, O God, draw me to Thyself and grant me charity with filial fear. Keep me, O ineffable Love, from every evil thought; warm and kindle me with Thy sweetest love, and every suffering will seem light to me. My Father, my sweet Lord, help me in all my actions. O Jesus love, O Jesus love!”

This consecration is also admirably expressed in the beautiful sequence:

Veni, Sancte Spiritus,
Et emitte coelitus
Lucis tuae radium.

When such a consecration is made with a great spirit of faith, its effect may be most profound. Since a fully deliberate pact with the devil brings in its wake so many disastrous effects in the order of evil, an act of consecration to the Holy Ghost can produce greater ones in the order of good, for God has more goodness and power than the devil has malice.

Consequently the Christian who has consecrated himself to Mary Mediatrix, for example, according to the formula of St. Grignion de Montfort, and then to the Sacred Heart, will find treasures in the often renewed consecration to the Holy Ghost. All Mary’s influence leads us to the intimacy of Christ, and the humanity of the Savior leads us to the Holy Ghost, who introduces us into the mystery of the adorable Trinity. We may fittingly make this consecration at Pentecost and renew it frequently.

Especially when difficulties arise, when most important actions are being changed, we must ask for the light of the Holy Ghost, sincerely wishing only to do His will. This done, if He does not give us new lights, we shall continue to do what will seem best to us. Therefore, at the opening assemblies of the clergy and of religious chapters, the assistance of the Holy Ghost is invoked by votive Masses in His honor.

Lastly we should note exactly the different movements of our soul in order to discover what comes from God and what does not. Spiritual writers generally say that God’s action in a soul submissive to grace is ordinarily characterized by peace and tranquillity; the devil’s action is violent and accompanied by disturbance and anxiety.


The first Protestants wished to regulate everything by private inspiration, subjecting to it even the Church and its decisions. For the true believer, however, docility to the interior Master admits nothing contrary to the faith proposed by the Church and to its authority; on the contrary, it tends only to perfect faith and the other virtues.

Likewise the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, far from destroying the obedience due to superiors, aids and facilitates its practice. Inspiration should be understood with the implied condition that obedience enjoins nothing contrary to it.

In the words of Father Lallemant, S.J.: “The only thing to be feared is that superiors may sometimes follow human prudence excessively, and that for want of discernment they may condemn the lights and inspirations of the Holy Ghost, treating them as illusions and reveries, and prescribe for those to whom God communicates Himself by such favors as if they were invalids. In this case, a person should still obey, but God will one day correct the error of these rash spirits and teach them to their cost not to condemn His graces without understanding them and without being qualified to pass judgment on them.”580

Neither should it be said that docility to the Holy Ghost renders useless the deliberations of prudence or the counsel of experienced people. The interior Master tells us, on the contrary, to be attentive to what we can see for ourselves; He also invites us to consult enlightened persons, but adds that we should at the same time have recourse to Him. As St. Augustine says: “God orders us to do what we can, and to ask for the grace to accomplish what we cannot do by ourselves.” The Holy Ghost sent even St. Paul to Ananias to learn from him what he was to do. This docility then harmonizes perfectly with obedience, prudence, and humility; it even greatly perfects these virtues.


All our perfection most certainly depends on this fidelity. According to Father Lallemant: “Some have many beautiful practices and perform a number of exterior acts of virtue; they give themselves wholly to the material action of virtue. Such a way of living is good for beginners; but it belongs to a far greater perfection to follow one’s interior attraction and to regulate one’s conduct by its movement.”581 Were we to apply ourselves to purifying our heart, to eliminating what is opposed to grace, we would arrive twice as soon at perfection. We read in the same chapter:

The end to which we should aspire, after we have for a long time exercised ourselves in purity of heart, is to be so possessed and governed by the Holy Ghost that He alone will direct all our powers and senses, regulate all our interior and exterior movements, and that we may surrender ourselves entirely by a spiritual renunciation of our will and our own satisfaction. Thus we will no longer live in ourselves, but in Jesus Christ, by a faithful correspondence with the operations of His divine Spirit and by a perfect subjection of all our rebellious movements to the power of grace.

Few persons attain the graces that God destined for them, or, having once lost them, succeed later in repairing their loss. The majority lack the courage to conquer themselves and the fidelity to use the gift of God with discretion.

When we enter on the path of virtue, we walk at first in darkness, but if we faithfully and constantly followed grace, we would infallibly reach great light both for ourselves and for others. . . .

Sometimes, after receiving a good inspiration from God, we immediately find ourselves attacked by repugnances, doubts, perplexities, and difficulties which spring from our corrupted nature and from our passions, which are opposed to the divine inspiration. If we received it with full submission of heart, it would fill us with the peace and consolation which the Holy Ghost brings with Him. . . .

It is of faith that the least inspiration of God is more precious and more excellent than the whole world, since it belongs to a supernatural order and cost the blood and the life of a God.

What stupidity! We are insensible to the inspirations of God because they are spiritual and infinitely elevated above the senses. We do not pay much attention to them, we prefer natural talents, brilliant positions, the esteem of men, our little comforts and satisfactions. Prodigious illusion from which, nevertheless, a number are undeceived only at the hour of death!

Then in practice we take away from the Holy Ghost the direction of our soul and, though its center is made for God alone, we fill it with creatures to His prejudice; and instead of dilating and enlarging it infinitely by the presence of God, we contract it exceedingly by occupying it with some wretched little nothings. That is what hinders us from attaining perfection.582

On the contrary, says the same author, docility to the Holy Ghost would show us that He is truly the Consoler of our souls in the uncertainty of our salvation, in the midst of the temptations and tribulations of this life, which is an exile.

We need this consolation because of the uncertainty of our salvation in the midst of the snares which surround us, of all that can make us deviate from the right road. Strictly speaking, we cannot merit final perseverance, for it is nothing else than the state of grace at the very moment of death, and grace, being the principle of merit, cannot be merited.583 Therefore we need the direction, protection, and consolation of the Holy Ghost, who “giveth testimony to our spirit that we are the sons of God.”584 He gives us this testimony, by the filial affection for God which He Inspires In us. He is thus the pledge of our inheritance.”585

We also need the Holy Ghost to console us in the temptations of the devil and the afflictions of this life. The unction which He pours into our souls sweetens our sorrows, strengthens our wavering wills, and makes us at times find a true, supernatural savor in crosses.

Lastly, as Father Lallemant says so well: “The Holy Ghost consoles us in our exile on earth, far from God. This exile causes an inconceivable torment in holy souls, for these poor souls experience in themselves a sort of infinite void, which we have in ourselves and all creation cannot fill, which can be filled only by the enjoyment of God. While they are separated from Him, they languish and suffer a long martyrdom that would be unbearable to them without the consolations which the Holy Ghost gives them from time to time. . . . A single drop of the interior sweetness that the Holy Ghost pours into the soul, ravishes it out of itself and causes a holy inebriation.”586 Such is indeed the profound meaning of the name given to the Holy Ghost: Paraclete or Comforter.

On the subject of the ascending gradation of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, which we discussed in this chapter, we should note the following important statement made by St. John of the Cross. It throws great light on the unitive way, which we shall discuss farther on. Treating of the transforming union, the mystical doctor wrote in A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul: “The cellar is the highest degree of love to which the soul may attain in this life, and is therefore said to be the inner. It follows from this that there are other cellars not so interior; that is, the degrees of love by which souls reach this, the last. These cellars are seven in number, and the soul has entered into them all when it has in perfection the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, so far as it is possible for it. . . . The last and inmost cellar is entered by few in this world, because therein is wrought the perfect union with God, the union of the spiritual marriage.”587

These lines of St. John of the Cross express as clearly as possible the doctrine which we set forth in the course of this entire work on the full development of the life of grace.

Chapter 23: The Discerning of Spirits

Docility to the Holy Ghost, which we spoke of in the preceding chapter, requires, as we said, interior silence, habitual recollection, and the spirit of detachment in order to hear His inspirations, which at first are similar to a secret instinct that increasingly manifests its divine origin if we are faithful to it. This docility also requires that the inspirations of the Holy Ghost be discerned from those which might lead us astray, from those of two other spirits or inspirations, which may at first appear good, but which lead to death. The discerning of spirits is, consequently, a subject we should consider.

By the discerning of spirits may be understood one of the gratiae gratis datae, mentioned by St. Paul,588 by which the saints occasionally discern at once whether, for example, a person is speaking or acting through the spirit of true charity or only simulating this virtue. But by the discerning of spirits may also be meant a wise discretion proceeding from infused prudence with the cooperation of acquired prudence and the higher help of the gift of counsel and of the graces of state granted to the spiritual director who is faithful to his duties. It is with this second meaning that we shall discuss the discerning of spirits.

This question was treated by St. Anthony the hermit, patriarch of monks;589 by St. Bernard in his thirty-third Sermon; by Cardinal Bona,590 by St. Ignatius,591 by Scaramelli,592 and many other writers who draw their inspiration from those who preceded them.

By spirit is meant the tendency to judge, will, or act in one way or another; thus we speak of the spirit of contradiction, dispute, and so on. But in spirituality especially, we distinguish three spirits: the spirit of God; the purely natural spirit, proceeding from our fallen nature, which also has its impulses, fortitude, lyricism, its momentary enthusiasms, which may create illusion; lastly, the spirit of the devil to whose interest it is to hide himself and disguise himself as an angel of light. For this reason St. John says in his First Epistle: “Dearly beloved, believe not every spirit; but try the spirits if they be of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”593

Generally one of three spirits is dominant in every soul: in the perverse, the devil; in the tepid, the natural spirit; in those who are beginning to give themselves seriously to the interior life, the Spirit of God habitually dominates, but there are many interferences of the natural spirit and of the spirit of evil. Consequently no one should ever be judged by one or two isolated acts, but by his whole life. Even in the perfect, God permits certain imperfections, at times more apparent than real, to keep them in humility and to give them frequent opportunity to practice the contrary virtues. There are persons advanced in the ways of God, who are, as the result of an illness (for example, a progressive infection of the blood), inclined to exceptional irritability. They are like people badly dressed, because their illness increases, as it were tenfold, the painful impression produced by contradictions, and sometimes the latter are incessant. There may be great merit in this struggle, and great patience in seeming impatience.

It is, therefore, most important to discern clearly what spirit moves us, what is God’s action in us and what is our own, according to the words of St. John in the prologue of his Gospel: “But as many as received Him, He gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in His name, who are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”594 To be “born of God,” is our great title of nobility, and we may say of it more than of any other:Noblesse oblige.

The great principle of the discerning of spirits was given to us by our Lord Himself in the Gospel when He said: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit.”595

Those, in fact, who are animated by an evil intention cannot long hide it. It does not delay, says St. Thomas,596 in manifesting itself in different ways: first of all, in things that must be accomplished instantly without time to deliberate and to conceal its intent; then in tribulations, as we read in Ecclesiasticus: “There is a friend for his own occasion, and he will not abide in the day of thy trouble.”597 Likewise, men show their character when they cannot obtain what they wish or when they have already obtained it; thus when a man attains power, he shows what he is.

The tree is known by its fruit: that is, if our fundamental will is good, it yields good fruit. If we hear the word of God that we may put it into practice, people are not long in seeing it; if, on the contrary, we hear it and content ourselves with saying, “Lord, Lord,” without doing the will of God, how can we expect good fruit? In the light of this principle, “The tree is judged by its fruit,” we can judge what spirit moves us. We must see the results of its influence and compare them with what the Gospel tells us about the principal Christian virtues: humility and mortification or abnegation on the one hand, and, on the other, the three theological virtues of faith, hope, love of God and of souls in God.


In consequence of original sin, nature is the enemy of mortification and humiliations; it seeks self while increasingly disregarding in practice the value of the three theological virtues. In the life of piety as elsewhere, nature pursues pleasure, and it falls into spiritual gluttony, which is the seeking after self and, therefore, the contrary of the spirit of faith and of love of God.

At the first difficulties or aridities, the spirit of nature stands still, quits the interior life. Often, under the pretext of the apostolate; it takes satisfaction in its natural activity, in which the soul becomes increasingly exterior; it confounds charity with philanthropy. Let contradiction, let trial arise, nature complains of the cross, grows irritated, and becomes discouraged. Its first fervor was only a passing enthusiasm; it is indifferent to the glory of God, to His reign, and to the salvation of souls; it is the negation of the zeal or ardor of charity. The spirit of nature is summed up in one word: egoism.

After seeking and failing to find pleasure in the interior life, it declares that one must prudently avoid all exaggeration in austerity, prayer, all mysticism; and from this point of view, a person is already a mystic who daily reads a chapter of The Imitation with recollection. It declares that one must follow the common way, by which it means the common way of tepidity or mediocrity, an unstable mean between good and evil, but closer to evil than to good. It seeks rather frequently to make this mediocrity pass for moderation, for the happy mean of virtue. In reality, the happy medium is also a summit above contrary vices, whereas mediocrity seeks to remain halfway between this summit and the depths, the inconveniences of which it would like to avoid without any true love of virtue.

The spirit of nature is depicted by St. Paul as follows: “The sensual man perceiveth not these things that are of the Spirit of God. For it is foolishness to him, and he cannot understand, because it is spiritually examined.”598 The egoist judges everything from his individual point of view and not from God’s. Gradually the spirit of faith, confidence, love of God and souls disappears in him; he relies on himself, weakness itself. At times, however, the gravity of his own ill enlightens him and reminds him of the Savior’s words: “Without Me you can do nothing.”


The devil first lifts us up by inspiring us with pride, subsequently to cast us down into trouble, discouragement, and even despair. To recognize his influence, we must consider it in relation to mortification, humility, and the three theological virtues.

The devil does not necessarily, as nature does, disincline us to mortification; on the contrary, he urges certain souls toward an exaggerated, very visible, exterior mortification, especially in centers where it is held in honor. Such a course of action keeps pride alive and ruins health. But the devil does not incline a soul to the interior mortification of the imagination, heart, self-will, and personal judgment, although he sometimes simulates it in us by inspiring us with scruples about trifles and great liberality on dangerous or serious matters. He gives us a great opinion of ourselves, leads us to prefer ourselves to others, to boast of ourselves, unwittingly to pray like the Pharisee.

This spiritual pride is often accompanied by a false humility which makes us speak ill of ourselves on certain points in order to hinder others from speaking ill about us on another point, and in order to give the impression that we are humble. Or indeed it makes us confound humility with timidity, which is rather the fear of re­buffs and scorn.

Instead of nourishing faith by the consideration of the teaching of the Gospel, the spirit of evil draws the attention of certain souls to what is most extraordinary and marvelous, of a nature to make us esteemed, or again to what is foreign to our vocation. He inspires a missionary with the thought of becoming a Carthusian, a Carthusian with that of going to evangelize the infidel. Or, on the contrary, he leads others to minimize the supernatural, to modernize faith by the reading, for example, of liberal, Protestant works.

His way of exciting hope is to give rise to presumption, to lead us to wish to be saints immediately without traversing the indispensable stages and the way of abnegation. He even inspires us with a certain impatience with ourselves and with vexation instead of contrition.

Far from causing our charity to grow, he cultivates self-love in us and, according to temperaments and circumstances, makes charity deviate either in the direction of a humanitarian sentimentalism of extreme indulgence, or toward liberalism under the guise of generosity, or, on the contrary, toward a bitter zeal, which chides others indiscriminately instead of correcting itself. He shows us the mote in our neighbor’s eye, when there is a beam in our own.

Instead of giving peace, this spirit engenders dissensions, hatreds. People no longer dare to talk to us; we would not put up with contradiction. An encumbering personalism can thus lead a man to see only himself and unconsciously to place himself on a pedestal.

Should we commit a very evident sin, which we cannot conceal, we fall into confusion, vexation, discouragement; and the devil, who veiled the danger from us before the sin, now exaggerates the difficulties of turning back to God and seeks to lead us to spiritual desolation. He fashions souls to his own image; he rose through pride and he fell in despair.

Great care must therefore be exercised if we have lively sensible devotion and come forth from prayer with increased self-love, preferring ourselves to others, failing in simplicity with our superiors and director. The lack of humility and obedience is a certain indication that it is not God who guides us.


The signs of the spirit of God are contrary to those of the spirit of nature and of the devil. The spirit of God inclines us to exterior mortification, in which it differs from the spirit of nature, but to an exterior mortification regulated by discretion and obedience, which will not attract attention to us or ruin our health. Moreover, it makes us understand that exterior mortification is of little value if not accompanied by that of the heart, of self-will, and of personal judgment; in this respect, the spirit of God differs from the spirit of the devil.

The spirit of God inspires true humility, which forbids us to prefer ourselves to others, does not fear scorn, is silent about divine favors received, does not deny them if they exist, but refers all their glory to God. It leads us to nourish our faith with what is most simple and profound in the Gospel, while remaining faithful to tradition and fleeing novelties. It shows us our Lord in superiors, and hereby develops our spirit of faith. It quickens hope and preserves us from presumption. It makes us ardently desire the living waters of prayer, reminding us that we must reach them by degrees and by the way of humility, renunciation, and the cross. It gives a holy indifference in regard to human success.

The spirit of God augments the fervor of charity, gives zeal for the glory of God, forgetfulness of self. It leads us to think first of God and to leave the care of our interests to Him. It stirs up the love of our neighbor in us, showing therein the great sign of the love of God. It hinders us from judging rashly, from taking scandal without motive; it inspires meek and patient zeal which edifies by prayer and example instead of irritating by untimely admonitions. The spirit of God gives patience in trial, love of the cross, and love of enemies. It gives peace with ourselves and with others, and even quite often interior joy. Then, if we should happen to fall, it speaks to us of mercy. According to St. Paul, “The fruit of the Spirit is charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity,”599 which are united to obedience and humility.

If it is a question of one act in particular, this is a sign that God is visiting our soul when no natural cause has brought the profound consolation with which it suddenly feels itself filled. God alone penetrates thus into the innermost depths of the soul. However, we must distinguish carefully from this first moment of happiness those which follow it, although the soul still feels the grace received, for in the second moment it often happens that of ourselves we form certain thoughts which are no longer inspired by God and into which error may slip.

Rarely does the Holy Ghost make revelations; they are an extraordinary grace that it would be presumptuous to desire, but frequently the interior Guest gives His inspirations to fervent souls make them taste certain words of the Gospel. Then, under the divine inspiration, the faithful soul should go forward like the artist who follows his genius and who, without thinking of the rules of art, observes them in a superior and spontaneous manner. Then are harmonized humility and zeal, fortitude and meekness, the simplicity of the dove and the prudence of the serpent. Thus the Holy Spirit leads faithful souls to the harbor of eternity.600

Chapter 24: The Sacrifice of the Mass and Proficients

When we discussed the purification of the souls of beginners601, we spoke of assistance at Mass as a source of sanctification. We shall now treat of the Sacrifice of the Mass in the illuminative way of proficients.

The excellence of the Sacrifice of the Mass, as we said602, comes from the fact that the Mass is in substance the same sacrifice as that of the cross, because it is the same principal Priest who continues really to offer Himself through His ministers, the same Victim really present on the altar who is really offered, only the manner of offering being different: on the cross there was a bloody immolation, whereas in the Mass there is a sacramental immolation through the separation, not physical but sacramental, of the body and blood of the Savior by virtue of the double consecration. This sacramental immolation is the memorial of the bloody immolation that is past and the sign of the interior oblation perpetually living in the heart of Christ, who, as St. Paul says, “is always living to make intercession for us.”603 This interior oblation of Jesus, which was like the soul of the sacrifice of the cross, remains the soul of the Sacrifice of the Mass, which perpetuates in substance that of Calvary.

Deeper penetration daily into what constitutes the infinite value of the sacrifice of the altar is essential to progress in the interior life. Speaking to the Lutherans, who suppressed the Eucharistic sacrifice, St. John Fisher declared that: “The Mass is like the sun which daily illumines and warms all Christian life.”

The Christian and Catholic doctrine of the Sacrifice of the Mass may be penetrated either in an abstract and speculative manner or in a concrete and experimental manner by uniting oneself personally to the Savior’s oblation.

Proficients should live by the four ends of the sacrifice: adoration, reparation, petition, and thanksgiving. Blessed Peter Eymard insisted greatly on this point. That a proficient may live more profoundly by the Mass, he should, in union with our Lord, offer up everything painful in each day and throughout his life, even until his entrance into heaven. It is fitting that he make in advance the sacrifice of his life to obtain the grace of a holy death. Spiritual progress is, in fact, essentially ordered to the last act of love here on earth. If well prepared for by our whole life and very well made, this act will open the gates of heaven to us immediately.

To enter the depths of the Mass, we must place ourselves in the school of the Mother of God. More than anyone else in the world, Mary was associated with the sacrifice of her Son, sharing in all His sufferings in the measure of her love for Him.

Some saints, in particular the stigmatics, for example, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Catherine of Siena, have been exceptionally united to the sufferings and merits of our Savior. But profound as this union was, in comparison with Mary’s it was insignificant. By a most intimate experimental knowledge and by the greatness of her love, Mary at the foot of the cross entered the depths of the mystery of the redemption more than did St. John, St. Peter, or St. Paul. She entered it in the measure of the plenitude of grace which she had received; in the measure of her faith, of her love, of the gifts of understanding and wisdom which she had in a degree proportionate to her charity.

That we may enter a little into this mystery and draw from it practical lessons which will enable us to prepare ourselves for a good death, we should think of the sacrifice we ought to make of our lives in union with Mary at the foot of the cross.

The dying are often exhorted to make the sacrifice of their lives in order to give a satisfactory, meritorious, and impetrating value to their last sufferings. The sovereign pontiffs, in particular Pius X, have invited the faithful to offer in advance these sufferings of the last moment, which may perhaps be very great, that they may be well disposed to offer them more generously in their last hour.

But that we may even now make this sacrifice of our lives rightly, we should make it in union with the sacrifice of the Savior sacramentally perpetuated on the altar during Mass, in union with the sacrifice of Mary, Mediatrix and Coredemptrix. And to see clearly all that this oblation implies, it is expedient to recall here the four ends of the sacrifice: adoration, reparation, petition, and thanksgiving. We shall consider them successively and draw from them the lessons that they hold for us.


Jesus on the cross made His death a sacrifice of adoration. It was the most perfect accomplishment of the precept of the Decalogue: “Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and shalt serve Him only.”604 Jesus used these divine words when He replied to Satan, who, after showing Him all the kingdoms of the world, said to Him: “All these will I give Thee, if falling down Thou wilt adore me.”605

Adoration is due to God alone because of His sovereign excellence as Creator, because He alone is eternally subsistent Being, Wisdom, and Love. The adoration due Him should be both exterior and interior and should be inspired by love; it should be adoration in spirit and in truth.

Adoration of infinite value was offered to God by Christ in Gethsemane when He prostrated Himself, saying: “My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from Me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”606 Christ’s adoration of the Father recognized in a practical and profound manner the sovereign excellence of God, Master of life and death, of God who, through the love of the Savior, willed to make death, the penalty of sin, serve as reparation for sin and for our salvation. In this eternal decree of God, which contains the entire history of the world, there is a sovereign excellence, recognized by the adoration of Gethsemane.

The Savior’s adoration continued on the cross, and Mary associated herself with it in the measure of the plenitude of grace which she had received and which had not ceased to grow. At the moment of the crucifixion of her Son, she adored the rights of God, the Author of life, who for the eternal good of souls was about to make the death of her innocent Son serve as reparation for sin.

In union with our Lord and His holy Mother, let us adore God and say from our hearts, as Pius X invited us to do: “O Lord, my God, from this moment with a tranquil and submissive heart, I accept from Thy hand the type of death that it shall please Thee to send me, with all its anguish, sufferings, and sorrows.” Whoever recites this act of resignation after confession and Communion once in he course of his life, will gain a plenary indulgence that will be applied to him at the hour of death, according to the purity of his conscience. We would do well, however, to repeat this act of oblation daily, and by so doing prepare ourselves to make our death, in union with the sacrifice of Christ continued in substance on the altar, a sacrifice of adoration. And while we are making this act, we should consider the sovereign dominion of God, the majesty and goodness of Him who “leadest down to hell, and bringest up again.”607 “For it is Thou, O Lord, that hast power of life and death, and leadest down to the gates of death, and bringest back again.”608 This adoration of God, Master of life and death, may be made in quite different ways, according as souls are more or less enlightened. Is there a better way than thus to unite oneself daily to the Savior’s sacrifice of adoration?

Let us from now on be adorers in spirit and in truth. May our adoration be so sincere and so profound that it will be reflected on our life and dispose us for that which we should have in our hearts at the moment of our death.


A second end of the Sacrifice of the Mass is reparation of the offense offered to God by sin and satisfaction for the punishment due to sin. Since adoration should, properly speaking, be reparatory, we ought to make our death a propitiatory sacrifice.

Christ satisfied superabundantly for our sins because, says St. Thomas,609 in offering His life far us, He made an act of love which pleased God more than all the sins of the human race displeased Him. His charity was far greater than the malice of His executioners; His charity had an infinite value which it drew from the personality of the Word.

He satisfied for us, the members of His mystical body. But as the first cause does not render the secondary causes superfluous, the Savior’s sacrifice does not render ours useless, but arouses it and gives it its value. Mary set us the example by uniting herself to the sufferings of her Son; she thus satisfied for us to the point of meriting the title of coredemptrix. She accepted the martyrdom of her Son, whom she not only cherished but legitimately adored, and whom she loved most tenderly from the moment she conceived Him virginally.

Even more heroic than the patriarch Abraham ready to immolate his son Isaac, Mary offered her Son for our salvation, and saw Him die in the most atrocious physical and moral sufferings. An angel did not come and put a stop to the sacrifice and say to Mary, as to the patriarch, in the name of the Lord: “Now I know that thou fearest God, and hast not spared thy only-begotten son for My sake.”610 Mary saw the effective and full realization of Jesus’ sacrifice of reparation, of which that of Isaac was only a figure. She suffered then from sin in the measure of her love for God whom sin offends, for her Son whom sin crucified, for our souls which sin ravages and puts to death. The charity of the Blessed Virgin incomparably surpassed that of the patriarch, and in her more than in him, were realized the words which he heard: “Because thou hast done this thing, and hast not spared thy only-begotten son for My sake, I will bless thee, and I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven.”611

Since the sacrifice of Jesus and Mary was a sacrifice of propitiation or reparation for sin, of satisfaction for the punishment due to sin, let us, in union with them, make the sacrifice of our lives a reparation for all our sins. Let us from now on ask that our last moments may have both a meritorious and an expiatory value, and let us also ask for the grace to make this sacrifice with great love, which will increase its twofold value. We should be happy to pay this debt to divine justice that order may be fully re-established in us. If, in this spirit, we unite ourselves intimately to the Masses that are being celebrated every day, if we unite ourselves to the oblation always living in the heart of Christ, an oblation which is the soul of these Masses, then we shall obtain the grace to unite ourselves to them in the same way at the hour of our death. If this union of love with Christ Jesus is daily more intimate, the satisfaction of purgatory will be notably shortened for us. We may even receive the grace to complete our purgatory on earth while meriting, while growing in love, instead of after death without meriting.


The daily sacrifice, like that of the hour of death, should be not only a sacrifice of adoration and reparation, but also a sacrifice of petition in union with Jesus and Mary.

St. Paul writes to the Hebrews: “[ Christ] offering up prayers and supplications . . . was heard for His reverence. . . . And being consummated, He became, to all that obey Him, the cause of eternal salvation.”612 Let us call to mind Christ’s sacerdotal prayer after the Last Supper and shortly before the sacrifice of the cross: in it Jesus prayed for His apostles and for us. And let us be mindful of the fact that He is “always living to make intercession for us,”613 in particular in the Sacrifice of the Mass, of which He is the principal Priest.

Jesus, who prayed for His executioners, prays for the dying who recommend themselves to Him. With Him the Blessed Virgin Mary intercedes, remembering that we have often said to her: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”

The dying man should unite himself to the Masses being celebrated far and near; he should ask through them, through the great prayer of Christ which continues in them, for the grace of a good death or final perseverance, the grace of graces, that of the elect. He should ask this grace not only for himself, but for all those who are dying at the same time.

To dispose ourselves even now to make this act of petition in our last hour, we should often pray at Mass for those who will die in the course of the day. Following the recommendation of Pope Benedict XV, we should occasionally have a Mass offered to obtain through this infinitely valuable sacrifice of petition the grace of a good death, or the application of our Savior’s merits. We should also have Masses offered for those of our relatives and friends about whose salvation we have reason to be concerned, in order to obtain for them the final grace, and also for those whom we may have scandalized and perhaps led astray from the way of God.


Lastly, everyone should daily prepare himself to make his death, in union with our Lord and Mary, a sacrifice of thanksgiving for all the benefits received since baptism, keeping in mind the many absolutions and Communions that have reinstated or kept him in the way of salvation.

Christ made His death a sacrifice of thanksgiving when He said: “It is consummated”;614 Mary uttered this “Consummatum est” with Him. This form of prayer, which continues in the Mass, will not cease even when the last Mass has been said at the end of the world. When there will no longer be any sacrifice properly so called, there will be its consummation, and in it there will always be the adoration and thanksgiving of the elect who, united to our Savior and to Mary, will sing the Sanctus with the angels and glorify God while thanking Him.

This thanksgiving is admirably expressed by the words of the ritual which the priest says at the bedside of the dying after giving them a last absolution and Holy Viaticum. “Go forth from this world, Christian soul, in the name of God the Father almighty, who created thee, in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, who suffered for thee, in the name of the glorious and holy Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the name of Blessed Joseph, her predestined spouse, in the name of the angels and archangels, in the name of the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, in the name of all the saints of God. May thy dwelling today be in peace and thy rest in the heavenly Jerusalem, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

To conclude, we should often repeat, in order to give it its full value, the act recommended by Pope Pius X, and we should ask Mary for the grace to make our death a sacrifice of adoration, reparation, petition, and thanksgiving. When we assist the dying, we should exhort them to make this sacrifice while uniting themselves to the Masses then being celebrated. We ourselves should even now make it in advance and often renew it each day as if it were to be our last. By so doing we prepare ourselves to make it very well at the last moment. Then we shall understand that if God leads the soul down to the gates of death, He brings it back again.615 Our death will be as if transfigured; we shall call on the Savior and His holy Mother that they may come and get us and grant us the last of graces which will definitively assure our salvation, by a last act of faith, trust, and love.616

What we have just said of the sacrifice of our lives in union with the Sacrifice of the Mass, should be understood by an interior soul in a realistic and practical manner that will make him live the words of St. Paul: “I die daily.”617 It is a question here of accepting in advance with patience and love not only the sufferings of the last moments of life, but all the physical and moral sufferings which God has prepared from all eternity to purify us and make us work for the salvation of souls. These sufferings are of all sorts: want of consideration, contradictions, defamation. They are insignificant in comparison with those which Jesus bore for love of us; nevertheless, because of our weakness, they seem very heavy to us at times. Let us accept them at Mass, before Holy Communion, at the moment of the breaking of the host, which symbolizes the breaking of all the bruises that Jesus bore for us.

May this breaking make us think of what should be in us: fervent contrition. Then, more conscious of our sins and of the necessity of making reparation, for them, we shall more willingly accept in advance the physical and moral sufferings which Providence reserves for us. We shall accept them, asking for a serious beginning of the love of the cross or the love of Jesus crucified. Should we not return Him love for love?

We should reread what Christ says to His faithful servant according toThe Imitation: “Son, let not the labors which thou hast undertaken for My sake crush thee, neither let tribulations, from whatever source, cast thee down; but in every occurrence let My promise strengthen and console thee. I am sufficient to recompense thee beyond all bounds and measure. . . . Mind what thou art about: labor faithfully in My vineyard: I will be thy reward; write, read, sing, lament, keep silence, pray, bear adversities manfully: eternal life is worth all these, and greater combats. Peace shall come one day, which is known to the Lord. . . . Oh! if thou couldst see the everlasting crowns of the saints in heaven, and in how great glory they now triumph, who appeared contemptible heretofore to this world, and as it were even unworthy of life, doubtless thou wouldst immediately cast thyself down to the very earth, and wouldst rather be ambitious to be in subjection to all, than to have precedence over so much as one. Neither wouldst thou covet the pleasant days of this life, but wouldst rather be glad to suffer tribulation for God’s sake, and esteem it the greatest gain to be reputed as nothing amongst men.”618

In assisting at the Sacrifice of the Mass or in celebrating it, we should unite our personal oblation to our Savior’s, offering Him the contradictions and tribulations which await us in life, mindful that they may thus become most fruitful for us. Obstacles may in this way be transformed into means. The cross was the greatest obstacle that men raised against Jesus; He made it the greatest instrument of salvation. If each member in the mystical body performs his duty supernaturally, all the others benefit, just as, when each little cell in our body functions as it should, the entire organism profits. For this reason, however little we may be able to do, its worth is great if it is accomplished in the spirit of the love of God and of neighbor, in union with Jesus the eternal Priest. In the greatest calamities little children are asked to pray; their earnest, humble prayer, united to that of the Savior, cannot fail to be heard by God.

We may better comprehend what the Mass should be for proficients by reflecting that its different parts correspond to the love which purifies (Confiteor, Introit, Kyrie, Gloria), to the love which enlightens and offers itself (Collect, Epistle, Gospel, Credo, Offertory), and to the love which sacrifices itself and unites itself to God (Consecration, Communion, Thanksgiving). Such consideration reminds us of the purgative way of beginners, the illuminative way of proficients, and the unitive way of the perfect. These are the normal phases of the ascent of the soul toward God.

Chapter 25: The Communion of Proficients

Earlier in this work619 we discussed the Communion of those who begin to give themselves seriously to the interior life. We explained how Holy Communion sustains, restores, and increases spiritual life, and why it demands as a condition an upright and pious intention. A fervent Communion, we said, presupposes hunger for the Eucharist or the keen desire to receive it in order to be more closely united to our Lord and to grow in love of God and neighbor. Each of our Communions, we pointed out, should be substantially more fervent than the preceding one, with a fervor of will if not of feeling; each should, in fact, increase charity in us and consequently prepare us to receive our Lord better and more fruitfully the following day. This is the case in the lives of the saints, whose ascent toward God is increasingly rapid; the nearer they approach Him, the more they are drawn by Him, as the stone falls more rap­idly as it approaches the earth which attracts it.620 This acceleration in the journey toward God should, therefore, be realized in the Communion of proficients far more than in that of beginners. For the child, his first Communion is certainly a great grace, but the following Communions should always be more fruitful.

That we may see what the Communion of proficients should be, we should remember that the principal effect of Holy Communion is the increase of charity. Proficients should grow in this virtue particularly, remembering that fraternal charity is one of the great signs of the progress of the love of God.621 This will be more readily understood by reflecting that Communion, through union with our Lord, assures the unity and growth of His mystical body.622


St. Paul writes: “The chalice of benediction which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? And the bread which we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord? For we, being many, are one bread, one body: all that partake of one bread.”623 At this common table of the faithful, every dissension should disappear.

As St. John Chrysostom624 and St. Augustine625 explain, the Communion of the faithful united at the Holy Table to nourish their souls with the body of our Lord and to be increasingly incorporated in Him, is the sign of the unity of the Church and the bond of charity. All the faithful who communicate show, in fact, that they have the same faith in the Eucharist, which supposes all the other mysteries of Christianity; they show that they have the same hope of heaven and the same love of God and of souls in God, the same worship. This it is which makes St. Augustine say: “O sacrament of true piety, sign of unity, bond of charity! . . . The Lord has given us His body and blood under the species of bread and wine, and as the bread is made out of many grains of wheat and the wine from many grapes, so the Church of Christ is made out of the multitude of the faithful united by charity.”626

Moreover, Pope Pius X, when inviting the faithful to frequent and daily Communion, recalled this great principle: “The Holy Table is the symbol, the root, and the principle of Catholic unity.” In the light of this principle, we should, before receiving Communion, think of the obstacles that we ourselves may oppose to the supernatural union of charity with Christ Jesus and His members, and should ask Him for light to see these obstacles more clearly and generosity to remove them. If we are negligent in doing so ourselves, we should ask the Lord Himself to remove them, even though we suffer greatly thereby. The Christian who communicates with these profoundly sincere dispositions certainly receives a notable increase of charity, which unites him more closely to our Lord and to souls in Him.

In this sense the author of The Imitation invites us to say as a preparation for Holy Communion: “I offer to Thee all my good works, though very few and imperfect, that Thou mayest amend and sanctify them; that Thou mayest have a pleasurable regard to them, and make them acceptable to Thee and always make them tend to better. . . . I offer to Thee also all the pious desires of devout persons; the necessities of my parents, friends, brothers, sisters, and all those that are dear to me . . . and who have desired and besought me to offer up prayers and Masses for themselves and all theirs. . . . I offer up also to Thee prayers and this sacrifice of propitiation for them in particular who have in any way injured me, grieved me, or abused me, or have inflicted upon me any hurt or injury. And for all those likewise whom I have at any time grieved, troubled, oppressed, or scandalized by words or deeds, knowingly or unknowingly; that it may please Thee to forgive us all our sins and mutual offenses. Take, O Lord, from our hearts all suspicion, indignation, anger, and contention, and whatever else may wound charity and lessen brotherly love.”627

Communion received with these dispositions effectively assures in a concrete and experiential manner the unity of the mystical body, union with our Savior and with all souls vivified by Him. It is thus a powerful help in the midst of so many causes of dissensions among individuals, classes, and peoples. It should contribute greatly to assure the reign of Christ through the peace of Christ, above all the inconsistent dreams of those who seek a principle of union, not in God but in the passions that divide men.


Holy Communion should contribute to assure not only the unity, but the growth of the mystical body of our Savior. St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians that we are all called by God to attain “unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ; that henceforth we be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine. . . . But doing the truth in charity, we may in all things grow up in Him who is the head, even Christ; from whom the whole body, being compacted and fitly joined together, . . . maketh increase of the body, unto the edifying of itself in charity.”628 This influence of the Savior on His members is exercised particularly by Eucharistic Communion. Christians who are nourished by the bread of life reach the perfection which God destines for them.

St. Thomas even says: “Baptism is the beginning of the spiritual life, and the door of the sacraments; whereas the Eucharist is, as it were, the consummation of the spiritual life, and the end of all the sacraments, . . . for by the hallowings of all the sacraments preparation is made for receiving or consecrating the Eucharist. . . . Therefore, from the act of children being baptized, they are destined by the Church to the Eucharist,”629 somewhat as, in the natural order, childhood is ordered to the full development of adult age. In this sense, at least the implicit desire of the effect of the Eucharist is necessary for salvation.630 Therefore it is impossible to reach the perfection of Christian life without preparing oneself to receive each Communion with increased fervor of will and greater fruit.

In addition, not only each Christian, but each parish, each diocese, the entire Church in each generation, reaches maturity, the fruitfulness of “the perfect age,” that it may propagate the faith which it has received and transmit it to the following generation like a sacred seed. Each epoch has its difficulties, and, with the return of the masses to unbelief, the difficulties of our day might before long resemble those which the early Church encountered during the centuries of persecution. The Christian should find his strength in the Eucharist today as in the days of the catacombs. He should hunger for the Eucharist, that is, have an ardent desire to be united to Christ by a profound union of the will, which, by the persevering practice of the virtues, will resist all temptations and enable him to cope with the difficult circumstances in which he lives.

With the author of The Imitation we should say: “Lord God, when shall I be wholly united to Thee and absorbed in Thee, and altogether unmindful of myself? Thou in me, and I in Thee; and thus grant us both equally to continue in one. Verily, Thou art my Beloved, the choicest among thousands,631 in whom my soul is well pleased to dwell all the days of this life. Verily, Thou art my Peace­maker:, in whom is sovereign peace and true rest; and out of whom is labor and sorrow and infinite misery. Thou art in truth a hidden God,632 and Thy counsel is not with the wicked, but Thy conversation is with the humble and the simple. Oh, how sweet, O Lord, is Thy spirit,633 who, to show Thy sweetness toward Thy children, vouchsafest to refresh them with that most delicious bread which cometh down from heaven!”634

The Psalmist had already exclaimed: “O how great is the multitude of Thy sweetness, O Lord, which Thou hast hidden for them that fear Thee!”635 Since the institution of the Eucharist, how well these words are verified by a fervent Communion! We read in The Imitation: “For they truly know their Lord in the breaking of bread, whose heart burneth so mightily within them, from Jesus walking with them. Alas, far from me too often is such affection and devotion, such vehement love and ardor. Be Thou merciful to me, O good Jesus, sweet and gracious, and grant Thy poor mendicant to feel, sometimes at least, in Holy Communion some little of the cordial affection of Thy love, that my faith may be more strengthened, my hope in Thy goodness increased; and that my charity, once perfectly enkindled, and having tasted the manna of heaven, may never die away. Powerful, indeed, is Thy mercy to grant me the grace I desire, and in Thy great clemency, when the time of Thy good pleasure arrives, to visit me with the spirit of fervor.”636

Hunger for the Eucharist is thus expressed by the same author: “With great devotion and ardent love, with all affection and fervor of heart, I desire to receive Thee, O Lord, as many saints and devout persons, who were most pleasing to Thee in holiness of life and in the most burning devotion, have desired Thee when they communicated. . . . I desire to reserve nothing for myself, but freely and most willingly to immolate to Thee myself and all that is mine. . . . I desire to receive Thee . . . with such faith, hope, and purity, as Thy most holy Mother, the glorious Virgin Mary, received and desired Thee, when the angel announced to her the mystery of the Incarnation . . . ‘. I here offer and present to Thee the joys of all devout hearts, their ardent affections, their ecstasies, supernatural illuminations, and heavenly visions, together with all the virtues and praises that are or shall be celebrated by all creatures in heaven and earth; . . . thus by all Thou mayest be worthily praised and glorified forever.”637

The Christian who receives Communion with these dispositions makes increasingly rapid progress toward God and certainly brings other souls with him. Thus is assured the growth of the mystical body of Christ. But we must go a step farther in generosity.


Our Lord commands us: “Love one another, as I have loved you.”638 He loved us even to dying for us on the cross and giving Himself to us as food in the Eucharist. The Christian should, therefore, in Communion learn the gift of self in order to imitate our Lord. The Eucharistic heart of Jesus, which instituted the Eucharist for us and daily gives it to us, is the eminent exemplar of the perfect gift of self. It reminds us that it is more perfect to give than to receive, to love than to be loved.

Therefore, imitating the example of our Savior, we should, after receiving, give ourselves to others to bring them the light of life and peace. A soul that is increasingly incorporated in our Lord by Holy Communion should in its turn serve somewhat as the bread of the souls which surround it, following the example of our Lord who wished to be our bread. To the less enlightened, to the weak, even to those who wander far from the altar, it should give itself without counting the cost, in spite of misunderstandings, coldnesses, and evil actions. By so doing it will certainly cause souls that have strayed to return to the Eucharistic heart of Jesus, that “forgotten, despised, outraged heart, slighted by men.” It is, nevertheless, the heart which loves us, which is “patient in waiting for us, eager to grant our prayers, desirous that we pray to it, the burning source of new graces, the silent heart wishing to speak to souls, the refuge of the hidden life, master of the secrets of divine union,”639 the heart of Him who seems to sleep, but who watches always and overflows incessantly with charity.

This heart is the eminent model of the perfect gift of oneself. For this reason a friend of the Cure of Ars, Father Chevrier, a holy priest of Lyons, of whom we spoke earlier in this work, used to say to his spiritual sons: “Following the example of our Lord, the priest should die to his body, spirit, will, reputation, family, the world; he should immolate himself by silence, prayer, work, penance, suffering, and death. The more a man is dead to himself, the more life he has and the more he gives it. The priest is a crucified man. He ought also through charity, in imitation of his Master, to give his body, spirit, time, goods, health, and life; he should give life by his faith, teaching, words, prayers, powers, and example. He must become good bread; the priest is a man who is consumed.”640

What is said here of the priest, should be said in a certain sense of every perfect Christian, who ought continually to devote himself in a supernatural manner in order to bring those about him to the end of man’s journey, which he too often forgets. Zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of souls is the answer which all should give to our Savior’s precept: “Love one another, as I have loved you.”641 In fervent Communion we shall find that generosity which causes the gift of God that we have received to radiate on other souls, and which thus shows the value and the fruits of the Eucharist. We have only to receive the love of God and to give it back to Him in the person of our neighbor.

Chapter 26: Devotion to Mary in Proficients

In chapter six of the first part of this work, we spoke of the influence of Mary Mediatrix, explaining how she cooperated in the sacrifice of the cross through merit and satisfaction, how she does not cease to intercede for us, to obtain for us and distribute to us all the graces that we receive. We shall apply these principles here, as St. Grignion de Montfort does,642 to show what devotion to Mary should be in proficients. We shall see what constitutes true devotion to the Blessed Virgin, its degrees, and its fruits.


We are not speaking here of an entirely exterior, presumptuous, inconstant, hypocritical, and interested devotion, but of true devotion which St. Thomas defines as “promptness of the will in the service of God.”643 This promptness of the will, which should subsist despite aridity of the sensible part of the soul, inclines us to render to our Lord and His holy Mother the worship that is due them.644 As Jesus is our Mediator with His Father, in the same way we should go to our Savior through Mary. The mediation of the Son throws light on that of His holy Mother.

They are deluded who claim to reach union with God without having continual recourse to our Lord. They will hardly attain to an abstract knowledge of God, and not to that sweet knowledge called wisdom; a lofty knowledge at once practical, living, and experiential, which makes us discover the ways of Providence in the most insignificant things. The quietists were mistaken in holding that Christ’s sacred humanity was a means useful only at the beginning of the spiritual life; they did not sufficiently recognize the universal mediation of our Savior.

Another error consists in wishing to go to our Lord without passing through Mary. This was one of the errors of the Protestants. And even some Catholics do not see clearly enough how expedient it is to have recourse to the Blessed Virgin in order to enter the intimacy of Christ. As St. Grignion de Montfort says, they know Mary “only in a speculative, dry, fruitless, indifferent manner. . . . They fear that devotion toward her is abused and that injury is done to our Lord by paying excessive honor to His holy Mother. . . . If they speak of devotion to Mary, it is less to recommend it than to destroy the abuses of it.”645 They seem to consider Mary “a hindrance in reaching divine union,”646 whereas all her influence is exercised in order to lead us to it. It would be just as sensible to say that the holy Cure of Ars was a hindrance to his parishioners in their progress toward God.

To neglect the Mediators whom God has given us because of our weakness, shows a lack of humility. Intimacy with our Lord in prayer will be greatly facilitated by frequent recourse to Mary.


Devotion to Mary, which should exist in every Christian, ought to grow with charity. The first degree consists in praying to the Blessed Virgin from time to time, honoring her as the Mother of God, saying, for example, the Angelus with true recollection every time it rings. The second degree consists in having more perfect sentiments of veneration, confidence, and love for Mary. They lead us to the daily recitation of at least one of the three parts of the Rosary while we meditate on the joyful, sorrowful, or glorious mysteries, which are for us the road of eternal life.

The third degree of the true devotion to Mary, that proper to proficients, consists in consecrating oneself entirely to our Lord through her. In a clear explanation of this consecration, St. Grignion de Montfort says: “This devotion consists in giving oneself entirely to the Blessed Virgin in order to belong entirely to Jesus Christ through her. We must give her: (1) our body with all its senses and members (that she may keep them in perfect purity);(2) our soul with all its powers;(3) our exterior goods, present and to come;(4) our interior and spiritual goods, our merits, virtues, and good works, past, present, and future.”647

To have a clear understanding of this oblation, we must distinguish in our good works between what is incommunicable to others and what is communicable to other souls. What is incommunicable in our good works is merit, properly so called (de condigno), which constitutes a right in justice to an increase of charity and to eternal life. These personal merits are incommunicable; in this respect they differ from those of Jesus Christ who, being constituted the head of humanity and our pledge, could merit for us in strict justice.

Consequently, if we offer our merits, properly so called, to the Blessed Virgin, it is not that she may give them to other souls, but that she may preserve them, make them fructify, and, if we should have the misfortune to lose them through mortal sin, that she may obtain for us the grace of so fervent a contrition that it may enable us to recover not only the state of grace, but the degree of grace lost; so that if we have lost five talents, we may recover these five, and not merely two or three.648

What is communicable to others in our good works is congruous merit; it is also their satisfactory or reparatory value and their value as impetration or prayer. By congruous merit, based not on justice, but on the charity or friendship which unites us to God (in jure amicabili), we can obtain graces for our neighbor. Thus a good Christian mother draws graces on her children by her virtuous life because God takes into consideration the intentions and good works of this generous mother. Likewise, we can also pray for our neighbor, for his conversion, his progress, for hardened sinners, the agonizing, the souls in purgatory.

Lastly, we can satisfy for others, we can voluntarily accept the punishment due to their sins, expiate them, as Mary did for us at the foot of the cross, and thus draw the divine mercy down upon them. We can also gain indulgences for the souls in purgatory, open to them the treasure of the merits of Christ and the saints, and hasten their deliverance.

If we offer all our vexations and sufferings to Mary in this way, she will send us crosses proportionate to our strength aided by grace to make us labor for the salvation of souls.

Who should be advised to make this consecration as we have explained it? It should not be advised for those who would make it through sentimentality or spiritual pride without comprehending its meaning; but it is fitting to counsel it for truly pious and fervent souls, at first for a time, from one feast of the Blessed Virgin to another, then for a year. Thus one will become penetrated by this spirit of abandonment and later can make this act with fruit for one’s whole life.

It has been objected that such an act strips us and does not pay our own debt, which will increase our purgatory. This is the objection made by the devil to St. Bridget when she was preparing to make a similar act. Our Lord made the saint understand that this is the objection of self-love, which forgets the goodness of Mary, who does not let herself be outdone in generosity. By thus stripping oneself, one receives the hundredfold. And indeed the love to which this generous act testifies obtains for us even now the remission of part of our purgatory.

Others object, asking how, after having once and for all given all our prayers to Mary, we can pray especially for our parents and friends. The answer to this question is that the Blessed Virgin knows our duties of charity toward our parents and friends, and, should we forget to pray for them as we ought, she would remind us to do so. Moreover, among our parents and friends there are some who have a particular need of prayers, of which we are often ignorant; but Mary knows their needs and will thus, without our being aware of it, make these souls benefit by our prayers. We can always ask her to favor others.


St. Grignion de Montfort says649 that this road to God is easier, and nevertheless more meritorious, and consequently a more perfect, short, and sure road.

First of all, it is an easier way. “One can in truth,” he says, “reach divine union by other roads; but it will be by many more crosses and strange deaths, with many more difficulties, which he shall conquer with greater difficulty. He shall have to pass through dark nights, combats, and strange agonies, steep mountains, very sharp thorns, and frightful deserts. But by way of Mary, the passage is more sweet and tranquil. On this road, in truth, are great combats to be fought and great difficulties to be overcome; but this good Mother takes up her position so near her faithful servants to enlighten them in their darkness, to illumine them in their doubts, to sustain them in their struggles and difficulties that in reality this virginal road to find Jesus Christ is a road of roses and honey compared with other roads.” Evidence of this fact appears in the lives of saints who more particularly followed this way, such as St. Ephrem, St. John Damascene, St. Bernard, St. Bonaventure, St. Bernardine of Siena, St. Francis de Sales.

The vision of St. Francis of Assisi in this connection is well known. One day the saint saw his sons trying to reach our Lord by a ladder that was red and very steep; after climbing a few rungs, they would fall back. Our Lord then showed St. Francis another ladder, white and much less steep, at whose summit appeared the Blessed Virgin, and He said to Francis: “Advise your sons to go by the ladder of My Mother.”

By way of Mary the road is easier because the Blessed Virgin supports us by her gentleness; nevertheless it is a more meritorious road because Mary obtains for us a greater charity, which is the principle of merit. The difficulties to be overcome are certainly an occasion of merit, but the principle of merit is charity, the love of God, by which we triumph over these difficulties. We should remember that Mary merited more by her easiest acts, such as a simple prayer, than did the martyrs in their torments, for she put more love of God into these easy acts than the saints did in heroic acts. Since the road by way of Mary is easier and more meritorious, it is shorter, surer, and more perfect; more easily traveled, progress on it is more rapid. By submission to the Mother of God, a person makes greater progress in a short time than he would make in many years relying excessively on his own personal prudence. Under the direction of her whom the Incarnate Word obeyed, he walks with giant steps.

This road is also more perfect, since through Mary the Word of God came down perfectly to us without losing anything of His divinity; through her, very little souls can ascend even to the Most High without fearing anything. She purifies our good works and increases their value when she presents them to her Son.

Lastly, it is a surer road, on which we are better preserved from the illusions of the devil who seeks to deceive us, imperceptibly at first, that later he may lead us into great sin. On this road we are also preserved from the illusions of day-dreaming and sentimentality. In the subordination of the causes that transmit divine grace, Mary exercises, in fact, a salutary influence on our sensibility; she calms it, rules it, to enable the elevated part of our soul to receive the influence of our Lord more fruitfully. In addition, Mary herself is to our sensible faculties a most pure and holy object, which lifts our soul toward union with God. She gives us great interior liberty, and, on our urgent petition, she sometimes obtains our immediate deliverance from the deviations of our sensible appetites which hinder prayer and intimate union with our Lord. The purpose of the entire influence of Mary Mediatrix is to lead us to the intimacy of Jesus, as He Himself leads us to the Father.

It is advisable to ask for Mary’s particular assistance at the moment of Holy Communion that she may make us share in her profound piety and love, as if she were to lend us her most pure heart to receive our Lord worthily. We may with profit make our thanksgiving in the same way.

We shall conclude by giving the essential parts of the consecration of oneself to Jesus Christ through Mary’s hands:

O Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom! O most amiable and adorable Jesus, true God and true Man, I thank Thee for having annihilated Thyself, taking the form of a slave, to draw me from the slavery of the devil. . . . I have recourse to the intercession of Thy most holy Mother, whom Thou hast given me as a Mediatrix. By this means I hope to obtain from Thee contrition and the pardon of my sins, the acquisition and preservation of wisdom.

Hail, Immaculate Mary, Queen of heaven and earth, to whom everything under God is subject. Hail, safe Refuge of sinners, whose mercy fails no one; hear and grant my desires for divine wisdom, and to that end receive the vows and offerings that my baseness presents to thee.

I, an unfaithful sinner, today renew and ratify in thy hands my baptismal vows. I forever renounce Satan, his works and pomps, and I give myself completely to Jesus Christ, Incarnate Wisdom, to carry my cross after Him all the days of my life. And that I may be more faithful to Him than I have been hitherto, I choose thee, O Mary, for my mother.

I give and consecrate to thee my body and soul, my interior and exterior goods, and the very value of my good works past, present, and future. Present me to thy Son and grant me the grace to obtain true wisdom from God, and for that purpose to place myself in the number of those whom thou dost love, teach, lead, feed, and protect. O faithful Virgin, render me in all things so perfect a disciple and imitator of Incarnate Wisdom, Jesus Christ, thy Son, that by thy intercession and example, I may attain to the plenitude of His age on earth and His glory in heaven. Amen.650

Chapter 27: The Universal Accessibility of the Mysticism of The Imitation

At this point in our study, we shall examine in the light of The Imitation of Jesus Christ the question proposed at the beginning of this work: namely, whether the infused contemplation of the mysteries of faith and the union with God resulting from it are in the normal way of sanctity, and also what are the dispositions ordinarily required to obtain such a grace.

The Imitation is not a didactic treatise; it is the experimental story of a soul in love with perfection, a story written from day to day, following prayer that is now laborious, now full of light and heavenly inebriation. It is certainly not only an ascetical book but also a mystical book; it leads to the practice of the virtues, but in view of contemplation and union with God. It is manifestly addressed to all interior souls, and in reality all read it. This is equivalent to saying that the true mysticism of which it speaks is accessible to all, if they are willing to follow the way of humility, the cross, continual prayer, and docility to the Holy Ghost. This fact is one of the strongest reasons in favor of the affirmative answer to the question proposed.

As Father Dumas, S.M., writes in his beautiful study on The Imitation: “The Imitation has a beauty, a virtue which touches, moves, and captivates infirm, indifferent, even unbelieving hearts. Yet it is not addressed primarily to sinners or to beginners; it assumes that some progress in virtue has already been made. It eagerly seeks nothing less than to raise us to contemplation and the intimate consolations of the life of union.651

“Contemplation, intimate union with God, is the end, the destiny, and consequently the imperious need of our soul, which can find rest and peace only in God. And it is because The Imitation gives a glimpse of this peace and rest, while directing the soul toward union with the supreme Good, that every soul, even though very imperfect, experiences on reading this book—which in reality it only half understands—a comforting sweetness impossible to explain. Our purpose is to show the essentially mystical character of The Imitation, to see whether, according to it, the infused contemplation of the mysteries of faith and the union with God resulting from it are highly desirable for all, and then to point out what ascetical dispositions, according to The Imitation, are ordinarily required to receive such a grace.


Is it true that The Imitation is an essentially mystical and not only an ascetical book?

By the mystical knowledge of God we understand that knowledge obtained, not by rational speculations or only by faith, but by a special inspiration of the Holy Ghost in prayer. It is a quasi­experimental knowledge of God, according to St. Thomas,652 which proceeds from faith vivified by love and enlightened by the gifts of understanding and of wisdom. St. John of the Cross teaches the same doctrine: “Infused contemplation is a certain inflowing of God into the soul whereby God secretly teaches the soul and instructs it in the perfection of love, without efforts on its own part beyond a loving attention to God, listening to His voice and admitting the light He sends, but without understanding how this is infused contemplation.”653 St. Francis de Sales speaks in similar terms.654

The Imitation continually exhorts the interior soul to humility, abnegation, and docility, which will prepare it to receive the grace of contemplation and of union with God. We see this on every page, and more especially in Book I, chapter 3, and in Book II, chapters 31 and 43.

In Book I, chapter 3, we read:

Happy is he whom truth teacheth by itself, not by figures and passing sounds, but as it is In Itself. . . . Wonderful folly! that, neglecting the things that are useful and necessary, we give our attention unbidden to such as are curious and mischievous. . . . He to whom the eternal Word speaketh is delivered from a multitude of opinions. From the One Word are all things, and all things speak this One; and this is the Beginning which also speaketh to us. Without Him no man understandeth, or rightly judgeth.

I am oftentimes wearied with the many things I read and hear; in Thee is all I wish or long for. Let all teachers hold their peace, and all created things keep silence in Thy presence; do Thou alone speak to me. The more a man is recollected within himself and interiorly simple, so much the more and deeper things doth he understand without labor; for he receiveth the light of understanding from on high. . . . The humble knowledge of oneself is a surer way to God than deep researches after science. Knowledge is not to be blamed nor simple acquaintance with things, good in itself and ordained by God; but a good conscience and a virtuous life are always to be preferred. . . . He is truly prudent who esteemeth all earthly things as naught, that he may win Christ. And he is truly most learned, who doth the will of God, and forsaketh his own will.

This is the knowledge, the understanding, and the wisdom, which come from the Holy Ghost, and which, without His divine inspirations, cannot be preserved.

The author of The Imitation also says:

Lord, I stand much in need of a grace yet greater, if I must arrive so far that it may not be in the power of any man or anything created to hinder me. . . .”Who will give me wings like a dove, and I will fly and be at rest?”655 . . . And what can be more free than he who desires nothing upon earth? A man ought, therefore, to soar over above everything created, and perfectly to forsake himself, and in ecstasy of mind to stand and see that Thou, the Creator of all, hast nothing like to Thee among creatures. . . . And this is the reason why there are found so few contemplative persons, because there are few that know how to sequester themselves entirely from perishable creatures. For this a great grace is required, such as may elevate the soul, and lift it up above itself. And unless a man be elevated in spirit, and freed from attachment to all creatures, and wholly united to God, whatever he knows and whatever he has, is of no great importance. . . . There is a great difference between the wisdom of an illuminated and devout man, and the knowledge of a learned and studious cleric. Far more noble is that learning which flows from above from the divine influence [this is clearly infused contemplation], than that which is laboriously acquired by the industry of man. Many are found to desire contemplation, but they are not careful to practice those things which are required for its attainment. It is also a great impediment that we rest so much upon signs and sensible things and have but little of perfect mortification.656

This chapter by itself is most significant and shows that the infused contemplation of the mysteries of salvation is highly desirable, that it is in the normal way of sanctity.

Farther on we find these words put on our Lord’s lips:

I am He that in an instant elevateth the humble mind to comprehend more reasons of the eternal truth than if anyone had studied ten years in the schools. I teach without noise of words, without confusion of opinions, without ambition of honor, without strife of arguments. I am He who teacheth to despise earthly things, to loathe things present, to seek things eternal, to relish them . . . to desire nothing out of Me, and above all things ardently to love Me. For a certain person, by loving Me intimately, learned things divine and spoke wonders. He profited more by forsaking all things than by studying subtleties. But to some I speak things common, to others things more particular; to some I sweetly appear in signs and figures, to others in great light I reveal mysteries. . . . I within am the Teacher of truth, the Searcher of the heart, the Understander of thoughts, the Mover of actions, distributing to everyone as I judge fitting.657

From these excerpts it is evident that the contemplation spoken of by the author of The Imitation proceeds from a special inspiration of the Holy Ghost, which renders faith penetrating and sweet by making us taste how good the Lord is: “O taste, and see that the Lord is sweet.”658 Therefore the contemplation in question here is infused.

It is not a question, however, of extraordinary graces, such as visions, prophetic revelations, and the stigmata, but rather of an increasingly profound and sweet penetration of the mysteries of faith, which are superior to all particular contingent futures, like the end of a war which prophetic light reveals. We see consequently that the infused contemplation of the mysteries of faith, here declared so highly desirable, is undoubtedly an eminent but not an essentially extraordinary grace; it is in the normal way of sanctity. And if at times the term “extraordinary” is applied to it, this is in the sense that it is extrinsically so, because it is rare; but it is not intrinsically so. Far from being essentially extraordinary, it is infused contemplation that establishes us in perfect order. Those only are in this perfect order who penetrate in this way into the inner life of God, who ardently love the One Thing necessary and see all earthly things in their true place. Thus the order of charity is established in all the feelings that are fully subordinated to the love of God and vivified by it.

Therefore, according to The Imitation all interior souls are called to this infused contemplation and the union with God resulting from it, at least by a general and remote call, if not by an individual and proximate call, which may be either simply sufficient, or efficacious and victorious over all resistance.659

In Book IV of The Imitation, which is devoted to the Eucharist, the faithful soul asks insistently for the ineffable union with Jesus Christ. We read: “Who will give me, O Lord, to find Thee alone, to open my whole heart to Thee, and enjoy Thee as my soul desireth . . . that Thou alone mayest speak to me, and I to Thee, as the beloved is wont to speak to his beloved, and a friend to be entertained with a friend. For this I pray, this I desire, that I may be wholly united to Thee, and that . . . I may more and more learn to relish things heavenly and eternal. . . . When shall I be wholly united to, and absorbed in Thee, and altogether unmindful of myself? Thou in me, and I in Thee; and thus grant us both equally to continue in one.”660

We read likewise in chapter 17: “O my God, Eternal Love, my whole good and never-ending happiness, I desire to receive Thee with the most vehement desire and most worthy reverence that any of the saints have ever had or could experience.”

Again he says: “A lover of Jesus and the truth, a true interior person, who is free from inordinate affections, can freely turn himself to God, elevate himself above himself in spirit, and enjoy a delightful repose (ac fruitive quiescere).”661 This is the quiet of fruition, a foretaste of eternal life.


To receive the special grace of infused contemplation and of the union with God resulting from it, the author of The Imitation demands especially the following dispositions: humility, consideration of the immense benefits of God, abnegation, purity of heart, and simplicity of intention.

The humility he requires is that which leads the soul to “love to live unknown and to be counted as nothing.”662 It disposes us to consider the benefactions of God, all the graces that come to us from our Lord, through His passion, His death, the Eucharist. In the light of this consideration, the soul discovers its ingratitude and sincerely begs pardon for it.

In this way the soul is led to the abnegation of all self-will. Consequently in Book III, chapter 13, the Lord is made to say: “Learn to break thy own will and to yield thyself up to all subjections. Kindle wrath against thyself, suffer not the swelling of pride to live in thee; but show thyself so submissive and little that all may trample on thee, and tread thee under their feet as the dirt of the streets. . . . But Mine eye hath spared thee, because thy soul was precious in My sight; that thou mightest know My love, and mightest always live thankful for My favors.” Abnegation thus understood puts self-love to death; it is a disappropriation by which the soul ceases to belong to itself that it may belong to God, ceases to seek tself that it may tend continually toward Him. The same doctrine is expressed in Book III, chapter 21. We read also in chapter 37 of the same book: “Forsake thyself, resign thyself, and thou shalt enjoy a great inward peace.”

Purity of heart and simplicity of intention wholly directed toward God prepare the soul to receive the special grace of infused contemplation.663 This grace makes the soul understand the profound meaning of these words: “ Whoever findeth Jesus findeth a good treasure, a good above every good.”664

From this contemplation are born the trusting abandonment and union, expressed in the following petition: “Thou dost will, O my God, that I receive Thee and unite myself to Thee in love. Wherefore, I beseech Thy clemency, and I beg of Thee to give me a special grace, that I may be wholly dissolved in Thee, and overflow with Thy love, and no more concern myself about seeking any other consolation.”665 With this in mind, one may grasp the depths of the splendid chapter 5 of Book III on the marvelous effects of divine love which “carrieth the burden without being burdened, and maketh all else that is bitter sweet and savory. The noble love of Jesus impelleth us to do great things, and exciteth us always to desire that which is the more perfect. . . . Nothing is sweeter than love, nothing stronger, nothing higher, nothing wider, nothing more pleasant, nothing fuller or better in heaven or in earth: for love is born of God, and it cannot rest but in God.”

In a mortified soul which no longer seeks itself, such is the fruit of the contemplation of the sovereign Good: that union with God which is truly the normal prelude of the union of eternity.

The passages we have quoted clearly demonstrate the truth of the statement made at the beginning of this chapter: namely, that The Imitation is not only an ascetical but also a mystical book; it leads to the practice of the virtues in view of the infused contemplation of the goodness of God and of union with Him. Manifestly addressed to all interior souls, The Imitation is, in fact, read by all of them. In other words, the true mysticism of which it speaks is accessible to all, if they are willing to follow the way of humility, abnegation, persevering prayer, and docility to the Holy Ghost.

This is one of the strongest reasons in favor of the doctrine we set forth in this work on the normal prelude of eternal life.

Chapter 28: Contemplative Prayer


Our treatment of docility to the Holy Ghost, of the infinite value of the Mass, of the Communion of proficients, and of the mysticism of The Imitation, prepares us to consider what should be the contemplative prayer of those who advance in the illuminative way.

We treated in Volume I666 of the mental prayer of beginners, of its progressive simplification, and of perseverance in this interior prayer. In our discussion of the prayer of proficients we shall see, first of all, how St. Francis de Sales sums up the traditional teaching on this point, using the principles of St. Thomas to illuminate his doctrine. Next, we shall see what constitutes the beginning of contemplative prayer in the opinion of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross, which will enable us to get some idea of how it should develop.


The holy Bishop of Geneva sets forth his teaching on this subject in hisTreatise on the Love of God.667 In the Introduction to a Devout Life,668 he had already described meditation, which is an act of the understanding by which it makes one or more considerations in order to excite our affections for God and divine things. The mind meditates on a subject with the aid of the imagination and of discourse or reasoning. Resolutions must be made after the affections, and the meditation should end with thanksgiving, with an offering of self, and a petition to God to grant us His grace that we may put into practice the resolutions He has inspired in us.

But if one perseveres in this way, meditation becomes simplified affective prayer in which the various acts tend to fuse into a single act. Thus the faithful soul is gradually raised to contemplation, which is “a loving, simple, and fixed attention of the mind on divine things.”669 At this moment the life of the soul is entirely simple and concentrated on the object that it loves; the soul looks with a simple gaze at a perfection of God, especially at His goodness, or the radiation of it in some divine work.670

Consequently, says St. Francis de Sales, “prayer is called meditation until it has produced the honey of devotion; after that it changes into contemplation. . . . Thus, as bees draw nectar from the flowers, we meditate to gather the love of God, but, having gathered it, we contemplate God and are attentive to His goodness because of the sweetness that love makes us find in it.”671 In other words, meditation prepares for the act of love of God, whereas contemplation follows it.

From this fact springs a second difference: “Meditation considers in minute detail and, as it were, item by item the objects that are suitable to excite our love; but contemplation gazes with simplicity and concentration on the object that it loves.”672 We no longer linger over one detail or another; we attain to a general view which dwells on God with admiration and love, as the gaze of an artist rests on nature, or that of a child on his mother’s features.

A third difference springs from the two preceding: whereas meditation is not made without effort, “contemplation is made with pleasure, in that it presupposes that one has found God and His holy love.”673 Nevertheless contemplation has its hours of dark night in which the soul, now eager for God, keenly feels His absence by reason of the ardent desire it has to possess Him, a desire in which it unites itself in trial to His good pleasure.674

St. Francis de Sales concludes: “Holy contemplation being the end and the purpose to which all spiritual exercises tend, they are all reduced to it, and those who practice them are called contemplatives.”675 However, on the subject of the loving recollection of the soul in contemplation, the holy doctor adds: “We do not make this recollection by choice, inasmuch as it is not in our power to have it whenever we wish; it does not depend on our care; but God produces it in us when it pleases Him by His most holy grace.”676


The teaching of St. Francis de Sales, which we have just quoted, springs from the very notion of supernatural contemplation such as we find it in the works of St. Thomas.

St. Thomas shows in the Summa677 that contemplation is an act of the intellect superior to reasoning, a simple view of the truth;678 and, when it is a question not of philosophical contemplation, but of that contemplation which the saints speak of, it springs from love, not only from the love of the knowledge habitual to philosophers, but from the love of God, from charity.679 It proceeds consequently from living faith enlightened by the gifts of the Holy Ghost, especially by those of understanding and wisdom, which render faith penetrating and sweet.680 Supernatural contemplation thus conceived supposes the special inspiration of the Holy Ghost, which His gifts dispose us to receive with promptness and docility,681 as the wide-spread sails on a boat receive the impulsion of a favorable wind; then the boat advances more easily than by the labor of the rowers, a symbol of discursive meditation united to the practice of the virtues. From this point of view, contemplation, because of the special inspiration which it supposes, deserves to be called, not acquired but infused, although at the beginning it may quite frequently be prepared for by reading, affective meditation, and the prayer of petition.682 The soul thus actively prepares itself to receive the special inspiration of the Holy Ghost, which will at times be strong enough so that discursive meditation will no longer be necessary, as when a favorable wind is strong enough to make the boat advance, the work of the rowers may cease.

This special inspiration of the Holy Ghost given to make us taste the mysteries of faith, uses the connaturality or sympathy with divine things that is rooted in charity.683 This special inspiration gives rise in us to an act of infused love and of living, penetrating, and sweet faith, which shows us how revealed mysteries, although still obscure, wonderfully correspond to our deepest and loftiest aspirations. These acts of love and of penetrating and sweet faith are said to be infused, not only because they proceed from infused virtues, in this case from the theological virtues, but because they suppose a special inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and because we cannot move ourselves to them with the help of common actual grace. In this case God moves us, not by inclining us to deliberate, but to acts above all discursive deliberation.684 For example, on reading the Gospel of the day at Mass, some expression that we have read many times is illuminated and captivates us, such as the words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman: “If thou didst know the gift of God!”685 In like manner a preacher vividly experiences this illumination we are speaking of when at first he feels deeply his powerlessness to preach the Passion in a fitting manner on Good Friday, and then receives the animating breath which vivifies his thought, his will and his feelings, that he may do good to souls.

At times contemplation rises toward God by a straight movement from a sensible fact, for example, from a parable such as that of the prodigal son, to the wonderful vision of the divine mercy.686 At other times contemplation rises by an oblique movement, for example, from the mysteries of salvation, from those of the childhood of our Savior and of His passion, to the living and profound thought of eternal life.

Lastly, there is occasionally contemplation, called circular, of the infinite goodness of God which radiates on all things, on all the mysteries of salvation. This prayer is a very simple, most loving gaze, which reminds one of the circular flight of the eagle high up in the air, hovering as it gazes at the sun and its radiation over the horizon.687

These principles thus formulated by St. Thomas illumine the traditional teaching on contemplative prayer which we found expressed in the works of St. Francis de Sales. This same teaching appears also in a concrete and experiential form in the writings of St. Teresa.


The passage from acquired to infused prayer is illumined in the light of what St. Teresa wrote about the last of the acquired prayers which she calls “the acquired prayer of recollection,”688 and about initial infused prayer, which she calls “supernatural or passive recollection.”689

The saint describes the last or the highest of the acquired prayers as follows:

It is called (active) “recollection,” because by its means the soul collects together all the faculties and enters within itself690 to be with God. The divine Master thus comes more speedily than He otherwise would to teach it and to grant the prayer of quiet. For, being retired within itself, the spirit can meditate on the Passion and can there picture in its thoughts the Son, and can offer Him to the Father without tiring the mind by journeying to find Him on Mount Calvary, or in the garden, or at the column.

Those who are able thus to enclose themselves within the little heaven of their soul where dwells the Creator of both heaven and earth, and who can accustom themselves not to look at anything nor to remain in any place which would preoccupy their exterior senses, may feel sure that they are traveling by an excellent way, and that they will certainly attain to drink of the water from the fountain, for they will journey far in a short time. They resemble a man who goes by sea, and who, if the weather is favorable, gets in a few days to the end of a voyage which would have taken far longer by land. These souls may be said to have already put out to sea, and though they have not quite lost sight of land, still they do their best to get away from it by recollecting their faculties.

If this recollection is genuine it is easily discerned, for it produces a certain effect that I cannot describe, but which will be recognized by those who know it from personal experience. The soul seems to rise from play—for it sees that earthly things are but toys—and therefore mounts to higher things. Like one who retires into a strong fortress to be out of danger, it withdraws the senses from outward things, so thoroughly despising them that involuntarily the eyes close so as to veil from the sight what is visible, in order that the eyes of the soul may see more clearly. Those who practice this prayer almost always keep their eyes shut during it. This is an excellent custom for many reasons. . . . The soul appears to gather strength and to dominate itself at the expense of the body. . . . By persevering in the habit [of recollecting itself] for several days, and by controlling ourselves, the benefits that result will become clear. We shall find that when we begin to pray the bees (symbol of the different faculties) will return to the hive and enter it to make the honey without any effort on our part, for our Lord is pleased to reward the soul and the will by this empire over the powers in return for the time spent in restraining them. Thus the mind only requires to make them a sign that it wishes to be recollected, and the senses will immediately obey us and retire within themselves. . . . When the will recalls them they return more quickly, until after they have re-entered a number of times, our Lord is pleased that they should settle entirely in perfect contemplation.691

These last words refer to infused prayer, prepared for by active prayer or the acquired prayer of recollection, just described and also called simplified affective prayer.692 The very slow and loving meditation on some of the petitions of the Our Father is a good preparation for it.693 Thus acquired prayer prepares the soul for infused prayer.694

St. Teresa describes initial infused prayer, that of supernatural or passive recollection, which precedes the prayer of quiet, as follows:

This is a kind of recollection which, I believe, issupernatural (like the prayer of quiet). There is no occasion to retire nor to shut the eyes, nor does it depend on anything exterior; involuntarily the eyes suddenly close and solitude is found. Without any labor of one’s own, the temple of which I spoke is reared for the soul in which to pray; the senses and exterior surroundings appear to lose their hold, while the spirit gradually regains its lost sovereignty. . . .

But do not fancy you can gain it [this recollection] by thinking of God dwelling within you, or by imagining Him as present in your soul. . . . By the divine assistance everyone can practice it, but what I mean is quite a different thing. Sometimes, before they have begun to think of God, . . . the soul is keenly conscious of a delicious sense of recollection. . . . Here it is not in our power to retire into ourselves, unless God gives us the grace. In my opinion, His Majesty only bestows this favor on those who have renounced the world. . . . He thus specially calls them to devote themselves to spiritual things; if they allow Him power to act freely, He will bestow still greater graces on those whom He thus begins calling to a higher life.695

The saint adds: “Unless His Majesty has begun to suspend our faculties, I cannot understand how we are to stop thinking, without doing ourselves more harm than good,”696 for then we would remain in idleness or the somnolence of the quietists.

“The supernatural recollection” which St. Teresa describes in the preceding passages is clearly a mystical prayer, the beginning of infused contemplation, for which simplified affective meditation prepares the soul.697

What we have just said about the beginning of infused contemplation according to the teaching of St. Francis de Sales and St. Teresa conforms perfectly to what St. John of the Cross teaches when, in The Dark Night,698 he treats of the night of the senses, or the passive purification of the sensible faculties, which in his opinion marks, as we have seen,699 the transition from the purgative to the illuminative way. In The Dark Night he says expressly: “The night of sense is common, and the lot of many: these are the beginners.”700 And he adds: “The soul began to set out on the way of the spirit, the way of proficients, which is also called the illuminative way, or the way of infused contemplation, wherein God Himself teaches and refreshes the soul without meditation or any active efforts that itself may deliberately make.”701 The work of the virtues should certainly continue at times even to heroic acts, but prayer becomes increasingly simplified, and the soul ought especially to be docile to the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.

St. John of the Cross agrees perfectly with St. Thomas when he writes: “Contemplation is the science of love, which is an infused loving knowledge of God.”702 “This dark contemplation is called secret, because it is, as I have said before, the mystical theology which theologians call secret wisdom, and which according to St. Thomas703 is infused into the soul more especially by love. This happens in a secret hidden way. . . . The faculties of the soul cannot acquire it, it being the Holy Ghost who infuses it into the soul.”704 It is the eminent exercise of the theological virtues and of the gifts which accompany them. If this infused and loving contemplation lasts for a certain time, it is called a state of prayer, a passive state or at least one that is more passive than active, for we cannot produce it, but only prepare ourselves for it. This teaching is identical with that of The Imitation and thus lends additional confirmation to the statement in The Imitationquoted in the preceding chapter: “There are found so few contemplative persons, because there are few that know how to sequester themselves entirely from perishable creatures.”705 In other words, the infused contemplation of revealed mysteries, which proceeds from living faith illumined by the gifts of the Holy Ghost, is in the normal way of sanctity or of heaven, provided we persevere in prayer, carry our cross daily in a supernatural manner, and are docile to the Holy Ghost. Then living faith becomes during prayer penetrating and often sweet, in such a way that we can live profoundly by the revealed mysteries of the redemptive Incarnation, the Mass, the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity in our souls; we can live profoundly by them and taste them; this is the normal prelude of the life of heaven.

Chapter 29: The Errors of the Quietists on Contemplation and Pure love

We find in the condemnation of several errors a confirmation of the traditional doctrine on initial infused prayer which we have just set forth. We shall consider the errors of quietism, then those of semi-quietism.


The propositions of Molinos, which were condemned in 1687,706 show that quietism deviates from the traditional doctrine to the point of becoming a caricature of Catholic mysticism, which it perverts in its most fundamental principles.

According to Molinos, man should annihilate his faculties, for the desire to act offends God, who wishes to be the only one to act in us. Activity is the enemy of grace, vows to accomplish certain acts are an obstacle to perfection. In refraining from acting, the soul annihilates itself and returns to its principle; then God reigns and lives in it. Such is the interior way, in which the soul no longer produces acts of knowledge, or of love of God, and no longer thinks of eternal life, or of the sufferings of hell. It ought not to desire to know whether it is pleasing to God, nor reflect on its acts, nor on its defects to be corrected; it should not desire its own perfection, its salvation, nor ask God for anything definite. It no longer needs to resist temptations, with which it should no longer concern itself.707

In prayer, according to the quietists, man must remain in obscure faith, in a repose in which he forgets every distinct thought relative to the humanity of Christ, or even to the divine perfections, to the Blessed Trinity. He must remain in this repose without producing any act. As for the knowledge of obscure faith, it is not an act produced by the creature, but a knowledge coming from God alone; it is, said Molinos, an acquired contemplation which is acquired by the cessation of our own operations.708

It is evident, therefore, that this acquired contemplation, which Molinos advised for all, was a passivity acquired at will by the cessation of every operation. Consequently he attributed to the contemplation acquired in this manner what is true only of infused contemplation, and with one stroke of the pen he suppressed all asceticism and the practice of the virtues, considered by tradition to be the real preparation for infused contemplation and union with God.709 All spirituality was thus radically perverted.

According to these principles, Molinos maintained that contemplation continues during sleep, that distaste for spiritual things is good; he confounded voluntary spiritual sloth, or acedia, with involuntary aridity, which is found in the passive purifications of the senses and the spirit. He went so far as to say that the use of the sacraments and the practice of good works are indifferent matters, and that acquired contemplation leads to impeccability, in which one need no longer resist temptations, even when they lead to immodest acts.710

One of the initial errors of Spanish quietism was to consider the prayer of quiet as acquired at will (by the suppression of acts), whereas in reality it is infused, as St. Teresa shows in the fourth mansion of The Interior Castle.711

In his Precis de theologie ascetique et mystique (no. 1484), Father A. Tanquerey juxtaposes exactly the errors of Molinos and Catholic doctrine. We have added several clarifying statements to his outline:

The quietism of Molinos thus ended in manifestly immoral consequences. It was taken up again in an attenuated form without these consequences by Madame Guyon, who, having been widowed while still young, rushed ardently into an imaginative and emotional piety which she called the way of pure love, or the short road. She won over to her ideas, first of all, Father Lacombe, a Barnabite, then in a measure, Fenelon.712


The attenuated quietism of Fenelon,” which was condemned in 1699,713 had to do with errors relative to pure love. The principal error consisted in teaching that in the state of perfect contemplation the soul enters a sort of complete annihilation, that it is in the presence of God, entirely resigned to His holy will and indifferent to its salvation or damnation.

This doctrine thus failed to recognize the obligation of Christian hope; it forgot that the saints in their greatest trials “against hope believed in hope,” according to the expression of St. Paul.714 It also forgot that to sacrifice the desire of our salvation would be to sacrifice charity itself, which leads us to wish to glorify God eternally by the knowledge and love which the blessed enjoy in heaven.

The divine precepts relative to hope and charity, far from being mutually contradictory, are mutually strengthening. By hope, we desire to possess God without subordinating Him to ourselves;715 by charity, which vivifies hope instead of destroying it, we love God for Himself, and in order to glorify Him eternally we desire our own salvation and that of other souls. Thus zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of souls is the ardor of one and the same love, whose first object is God and whose second is ourselves and our neighbor.

Among the errors of semi-quietism the following are also important: “There is a state of contemplation so sublime and perfect that it becomes habitual, to such an extent that each time the soul prays, its prayer is contemplative and not discursive. When this state is reached, the soul need never more return to meditation and methodical acts.” “The mystical saints excluded the exercise of the virtues from the state of transformed souls.”716

Fenelon, who submitted humbly to the condemnation, was led into error especially by a falsified edition of the Entretiens spirituels de saint Francois de Sales, published at Lyons in 1628 by a certain Drobet. Bossuet, in the course of his controversy with Fenelon, made a deep study of the questions relative to prayer, and it is a known fact that in his opinion the “prayer in faith and of the simple presence of God,” which in its second phase is initial infused contemplation, is in the normal way of sanctity.717

All the errors contained in the Maximes des saints, which were condemned in 1699 in twenty-three propositions,718 may be reduced, according to Bossuet, to the four following propositions: (1) “There is in this life a habitual state of pure love in which the desire for eternal salvation no longer exists.(2) In the final trials of the interior life, a soul may be persuaded by an invincible and deliberate conviction that it is reprobated by God, and in this belief it may make the absolute sacrificeof its eternal happiness.(3) In the state of pure love, the soul isindifferent in regard to its own perfection and the practices of virtue.(4) Contemplative souls lose, in certain states, the distinct, sensible, and reflective view of Jesus Christ.”719

We italicized in these propositions what is particularly erroneous. What is true is: (1) that in the perfect the desire of beatitude is often inspired by charity and that there are moments in which they do not think explicitly of their salvation.(2) If some saints have had in the lower part of the soul the impression of being reprobate, it was not a reflective persuasion of the higher part, and if they made the sacrifice of their salvation, it was in a conditional and not an absolute manner.(3) Even in the highest states of perfection, the saints recommend concern about progress and the fundamental virtues.(4) Even in the transforming union, many saints, like St. Teresa, have had visions of our Savior’s humanity; what is true is that in certain transitory moments the perfect soul, absorbed in the con­templation of the Deity, does not think explicitly of it.


We treated the question of pure love at length in The Love of God and the Cross of Jesus.720 We shall give here a brief summary of our teaching.

The problems of pure love may be stated as follows: Will our love of God always be tainted by self-love? Is pure love possible, and, if so, what is its relation to love of oneself, which seems to be the basis of our natural tendencies?

The errors to be avoided are mutually contradictory; the truth rises like a summit in the midst of these deviations and above them. Under the pretext of pure love, the quietists went so far as to require the absolute sacrifice of the desire of salvation or of personal happiness,721 and they said that the saints make this sacrifice in the passive purifications of the spirit. On the other hand, it is possible to fall into a practical naturalism which disregards the spirit of sacrifice and believes that without it one can succeed in loving God perfectly and more than oneself. Evidently the truth is above these two opposing deviations.

The saints have often described ardent love of God, insisting on its disinterestedness and its holy follies.722 Thus St. Paul writes: “For I wished myself to be an anathema from Christ, for my brethren.”723 St. Thomas explains this passage as follows: “He wished to be deprived for a time of the divine fruition which pertains to love of oneself, in order that God might be honored in his neighbor, which pertains to the love of God.”724 But the same St. Paul says that in the greatest trials, man must, like Abraham, “against hope believe in hope,”725 and therefore never renounce salvation; to do so, moreover, would be to sacrifice charity itself or the desire to glorify God eternally. The sacrifice of our happiness cannot, therefore, be absolute, but only conditional and temporary; further, in the saints it is not a permanent state, but a transport of love lasting some moments.726

The following difficulty remains to be solved. How is the ardent, disinterested love of the saints reconciled with our natural inclinations, in particular with love of oneself? St. Thomas727 answers this difficulty by pointing out that by nature we are inclined to love God, the Author and Preserver of our nature, more than ourselves, as in an organism the part naturally loves the whole more than itself, the hand sacrificing itself to save the body. Otherwise the natural inclination which comes from God, the Author of nature, would not be good, and grace, charity, not only would not perfect it, but would destroy it.728

The natural inclination to love God, the Author of our nature, was attenuated by original sin729 and by our personal sins, the results of which must be mortified; but it subsists in the depths of our will, and charity elevates this tendency, making us love God, the Author of grace, more than ourselves. Consequently in loving rightly the superior part of ourselves, we love our Creator still more, and to cease to will our own perfection would be to turn away from God.730 This is what the quietists did not understand when they asked, in the midst of the great passive purifications, not hope against all hope,731 but the absolute sacrifice of beatitude.732 This would have constituted at the same time the sacrifice of charity or the desire to glorify God eternally.

They did not understand that by hope we desire God for ourselves, not subordinating Him to ourselves, as a fruit is inferior to us, but subordinating ourselves to Him: “By hope we desire God for ourselves, not because of ourselves,”733 for the ultimate end of the act of hope is God Himself. Further, by charity we love God in a superior manner, formally for Himself, and we then desire to possess Him in order to glorify Him eternally.

Thus perfect charity, far from destroying hope, vivifies it and renders it increasingly meritorious. One thus avoids the two contrary errors of quietism and of naturalism opposed to the spirit of sacrifice; and, during the passive purifications, the love of God and neighbor is increasingly purified of all inordinate self-love or of all self-seeking. Finally, ardent love, under the form of zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, is victorious over all egoism, as we see in the lives of great saints.734


The practice of pure love consists chiefly in abandonment to Providence and to the divine will of good pleasure. This act of abandonment supposes faith and hope, and in it there is a love of God that is daily more pure.

The quietists were, therefore, mistaken in excluding hope from the most perfect state; it should be only subordinated to charity, vivified by it, and finally it should become heroic hope “against hope” as we see in the lives of the saints.

The quietists also erred in excluding from the state of perfection attention to the practice of the virtues and positive resistance to temptations. They failed to consider as they should that abandonment to the divine will of good pleasure should be accompanied by conformity to the divine will signified by the precepts, the counsels (at least the spirit of the counsels), and events.735 It is constant fidelity to the divine will signified from moment to moment that enables man to abandon himself without presumption, with confidence and love, to God’s will of good pleasure, on which the future depends. The signified will is consequently the domain of obedience, and the will of good pleasure that of abandonment. Thus balance is kept above the slothful quiet of the quietists and the fruitless agitation of those who rely on themselves and have no profound prayer.

On this subject St. Francis de Sales,736 Bossuet,737 Father Piny,738 and Father de Caussade739 may be read with profit. We have treated this question at greater length elsewhere;740 here we shall give what is essential.

The act of pure love may be considered in three ways: (1) as an exceptional and very rare act;(2) as a continuous exercise;(3) as an ordinary act accessible to all Christians.

1. The exceptional and very rare act of pure love is a close and lofty union with God, found only in already purified souls which, under a special inspiration of the Holy Ghost and without any return on self, no longer actually and explicitly think of their own beatitude. It was in an act of this kind that St. Paul, in excessu mentis, desired to be deprived for a time of the joy of possessing God that, by this sacrifice, he might obtain the conversion of his brethren.741

2. The continual exercise of the act of pure love was proposed by the quietists as the state of perfection. In reality, this act exists with continuity only in heaven.

3. The ordinary act of pure love accessible to all Christians is the act of charity by which one loves God with appreciative love, above all, because He is infinitely good and better than all His gifts, while tending to love Him with intensive love, more than all, which will be realized in heaven.742 This act corresponds to the supreme precept of love, a precept that makes it the duty of all to tend to perfect charity.743

Chapter 30: The Degrees of Contemplative Prayer in Proficients

We have seen the nature of contemplative prayer and the difference between the last acquired prayer and initial infused prayer. We shall now consider the various degrees of infused prayer in proficients. These degrees are set forth in the works of St. Teresa744 and in those of St. Francis de Sales.745 We shall give the essential part of their teaching and then apply this doctrine to fervent Communion.


The degrees of contemplative prayer are chiefly those of the growing intensity of living faith, of charity, and of the gifts of the Holy Ghost which correspond to them. This growing intensity of union with God manifests itself in a way by the progressive extension of this state to the different faculties of the soul, which are gradually captivated by God, so that little by little the distractions which come from an agitated and intractable imagination cease. Besides, and this point is especially important, the virtues grow as a rule with the progress of prayer.

St. Teresa746 makes this truth clear by comparing the degrees of prayer to four ways of watering a garden. First, water may be drawn from a well by main force;747 this is the figure of discursive meditation, which contributes to the growth of the virtues. The second way of watering consists in drawing up the water with a waterwheel, called anoria; this is the symbol of the prayer of quiet, which is prepared by work that disposes the soul to it. At this time the flowers of the virtues are about to appear.748

A third way of watering consists in irrigating the garden with running water from a river; the virtues draw far more vigor from this prayer than from the preceding one, and their flowers bloom.749

Lastly, the fourth water, which is rain, symbolizes the prayer of union given by God without human labor. “The soul draws from this prayer much more abundant fruits, its humility increases. It is here that are born heroic promises and resolutions, burning desires, horror of the world (of its spirit), the clear view of vanity.”750

Consequently Pius X, in his letter (March 7, 1914) on St. Teresa’s doctrine, says: “The degrees of prayer enumerated by her are so many superior ascents toward the summit of Christian perfection.”751

St. John of the Cross speaks in similar terms. He shows in particular that in the night of the senses, or passive purification of the sensibility, there is in the midst of aridity an initial infused contemplation, accompanied by an ardent desire for God.752 It is an arid quiet, often spoken of by St. Jane de Chantal, which prepares the soul for the consoled quiet described by St. Teresa in the fourth mansion.


In sweet quiet, which corresponds to the second way of watering, that is, with the pump, “the will alone is captivated”753 by the living light that manifests the sweet presence of God in us and His goodness. At this moment the gift of piety, which is in the will itself, disposes it to an entirely filial affection toward God. This state has been compared to that of a little child who relishes the milk given it. Or better, it is like the springing up of the living water which Jesus spoke of to the Samaritan woman. “The other fountain . . . receives the water from the source itself, which signifies God . . . We experience the greatest peace, calm, and sweetness in the inmost depths of our being. . . . The whole physical part of our nature shares in this delight and sweetness. . . . They [the celestial waters] appear to dilate and enlarge us internally, and benefit us in an inexplicable manner, nor does even the soul itself understand what it receives.”754

However, in this state, the intellect, the memory, and the imagination are not yet captivated by the divine action. Sometimes they are the auxiliaries of the will and are occupied in its service; at other times their cooperation serves only to trouble it. Then, says St. Teresa, the will should “take no more notice of the understanding (or imagination) than it would of an idiot.”755

This sweet quiet, called also the prayer of divine tastes or of silence, is, moreover, often interrupted by the aridities and trials of the night of the senses,756 by temptations which oblige the soul to a salutary reaction. The effects of the prayer of quiet are greater virtue, especially greater love of God and ineffable peace, at least in the higher part of the soul.757

The prayer of quiet described by St. Teresa in the fourth mansion has three distinct phases: (1) passive recollection, which is a sweet and loving absorption of the will in God by a special grace;(2) quiet, properly so called, in which the will is captivated by God, whether it remains silent or prays with a sort of spiritual transport;(3) the sleep of the powers, when, the will remaining captive, the understanding ceases to discourse and is itself seized by God, although the imagination and the memory continue to be disturbed.758

The conduct to be observed in the prayer of quiet is that of humble abandonment in the hands of God. No effort should be made to place oneself in this state, which can come only from a special grace of the Holy Ghost, who at times inclines the soul to a loving silence, at others to affections which gush forth as from a spring. If the understanding and imagination wander, the soul must not be disturbed about it, or go in search of them; the will should remain and enjoy the favor it receives, like a wise bee in the depths of its retreat.759


If the soul is faithful not only in attentively accomplishing all its daily duties, but in listening with docility to the inspirations of the Holy Ghost, who becomes more exacting in proportion as He gives more, what happens as a rule? The soul is then raised to a higher degree, called “simple union.” The action of God at this time becomes strong enough to absorb completely the interior faculties of the soul; God is the object of all its activity, which no longer wanders abroad. Not only the will is captivated by God, but also the thoughts and the memory; in addition, the soul has, as it were, the certitude of the divine presence. The imagination is no longer restless, but calmed; at times it is as if asleep, in order to allow the higher faculties of the intellect and will to be united to God. The special grace given by the Holy Ghost is then like running water coming from a river.

It even happens that all the soul’s activity occurs in its higher, part, to such an extent that there is suspension of the exercise of the exterior senses, that is, a beginning of ecstasy, or ecstasy properly so called. If the mathematician who is absorbed in his research no longer hears what is said to him, with even greater reason is this true of him who is thus strongly drawn by God.

The soul then receives the salutary water that refreshes and purifies it like rain falling from heaven. According to St. Teresa, God “will leave us no share in them [His wondrous works] except complete conformity of our wills to His.”760 “How beautiful is the soul after having been immersed in God’s grandeur and united closely to Him for but a short time! Indeed, I do not think it is ever as long as half an hour.”761

St. Teresa points out also that the prayer of union is quite often incomplete, without suspension of the imagination and the memory, which sometimes wage a veritable war on the intellect.762 It is of this incomplete mystical union that St. Teresa is speaking in The Interior Castle when she says: “Is it necessary, in order to attain to his kind of divine union, for the powers of the soul to be suspended? No; God has many ways of enriching the soul and bringing it to these mansions besides what might be called a ‘short cut.’ “763

The effects of the prayer of union are most sanctifying; there is something like a transformation of the soul similar to the metamorphosis of the silkworm into a butterfly. The soul feels great contrition for its sins; it experiences an ardent zeal to make God known and loved and to serve Him, suffers greatly at the sight of the loss of sinners, glimpses what the sufferings of our Lord must have been. Then the heroic practice of the virtues really begins, especially perfect submission to the will of God and great love for one’s neighbor.764 The martyrs have at times had this prayer in the midst of their torments.765

These prayers of sweet quiet and of simple union correspond to those which, in the opinion of St. John of the Cross, are found between the passive purification of the senses and that of the spirit.766 St. Teresa, in the first chapter of the sixth mansion, speaks clearly of the purification of the spirit, as we shall see later on when we treat of arid union and of ecstatic union which precede the transforming union.767


Contemplative prayer, which we have just discussed, enables us to glimpse the depths of the Sacrifice of the Mass and of Communion, in which the Word of God made flesh gives Himself to us to be the food of our souls and to incorporate us more intimately in Himself, while quickening us.

St. Thomas Aquinas must have had a high degree of contemplative prayer when he composed the Office and the Mass for the feast of Corpus Christi. We shall note here some of its principal parts.

In Vespers, the responsory recalls the parable of the guests. Several, preoccupied with their own affairs or pleasures, declined to come; then the Lord invited the poor and at the Holy Table gave Himself to them as food. This is the loftiest interpretation of the parable of the guests.768

In the antiphon of the Magnificat at First Vespers, we read: “How sweet is Thy spirit, O Lord, who, to show Thy tenderness to Thy children, hast given them a most sweet bread from heaven; Thou dost fill the hungry with good things and sendest the rich, who have not this hunger, away empty.”

The Introit of the Mass recalls the words of the Psalmist: “He fed them with the fat of wheat”;769 this wheat is Himself, for the bread has been changed into the substance of His body, which suffered for us on the cross. When we receive it, there is a spiritual and vivifying contact, which should daily become more intimate, between our poor soul and the holy soul of the Word made flesh, for He Himself said: “He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood abideth in Me, and I in him.”770

Contemplation rises with the sequence:

Lauda, Sion, Salvatorem,
lauda ducem et pastorem,
in hymnis et canticis.
Quantum potes, tantum aude,
quia major omni laude,
nec laudare sufficis

Sion, lift thy voice, and sing,
Praise thy Savior and thy King,
Praise with hymns thy Shepherd true;
Strive thy best to praise Him well;
Yet doth He all praise excel;
None can ever reach His due.

The end of the sequence shows us in Communion the prelude of the life of heaven:

Tu, qui cuncta scis et vales,
qui nos pascis bic mortales:
tuos ibi commensales,
Coheredes et sodales,
fac sanctorum civium.
Amen, Alleluia.

Thou, who feedest us below!
Source of all we have or know!
Grant that with Thy saints above,
Sitting at the feast of love,
We may see Thee face to face.
Amen. Alleluia.

In our pilgrimage toward eternity, we are nourished by the Eucharist, like the prophet Elias who, when obliged to walk even to Mount Horeb, was sustained by a loaf of bread brought to him by an angel.771

The hymn for Matins of this feast of the Blessed Sacrament ends in the contemplation of infinite riches inclining toward extreme poverty:

Panis angelicus fit panis hominum;
Dat panis coelicus figuris terminum.
O res mirabilis! manducat Dominum
Pauper, servus et humilis!

The bread of angels becomes the bread of men.
The bread of heaven puts an end to figures.
O wonderful truth! Man, the poor, the slave, the humble,
Eats his Lord.

It is the saving Host which draws infinite Mercy down upon us:

O salutaris Hostia,
Quae coeli pandis ostium:
Bella premunt hostilia,
Da robur, fer auxilium.

O saving Victim,
Opening wide the gates of heaven:
Our foes press on,
Give us strength, bring us help.

We receive this help especially during severe trials or persecutions, when faced with the enemy’s attacks. At such times we more particularly need to live by penetrating and living faith and by the Contemplation of the Eucharistic mystery, and to convince ourselves in fervent Communion of the fact that God alone is great, that He alone is of Himself, that the strongest and most formidable creatures are as nothing in comparison with Him and can do no harm without His permission. Not a hair of our heads will perish unless He has willed or permitted it, says the Gospel.772 We must convince ourselves in the living light of contemplation that when we say, “God permits evil only for a higher good,” we are uttering not simply a sacred formula, but a truth replete with life. We must firmly and deeply believe that the higher good which God is beginning to realize in us in the midst of our struggles is an eternal good that will not pass away. We need to believe that profound Christian life is eternal life begun. We must nourish ourselves with these divine truths and, better still, we must nourish ourselves with Christ Himself who is divine subsistent Truth. We need to be vivified by Him, defended by Him, and to receive from Him that living flame of charity which will make us always aspire higher, even to the end of our journey. Such are in every faithful interior soul the fruits of mental prayer and fervent Communion.

What the great spiritual writers tell us about contemplative prayer is within the reach of the interior soul if it is willing to follow the way of humility and abnegation, and if it daily grasps a little better the following verse of the Magnificat: “He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble.”

What the masters of the life of prayer tell us is not beyond attainment by the faithful soul which believes with lively faith that in baptism it received the seed of eternal life, and which feels the need of being daily more deeply penetrated by the infinite value of the Mass. Then the soul understands how important it is to receive from God all that, in His infinite mercy, He wishes to give souls that He may draw them to Himself and make them share eternally in His inner life, in His eternal beatitude, as the prologue of St. John’s Gospel, read daily at Mass, reminds us: “But as many as received Him, He gave them power to be made the sons of God.” Those who are “born of God,” and not only of the flesh and of the will of man, should live especially by the divine life which, once begun in us, ought not to end. This is why Christ Himself says to us: “If any man thirst, let him come to Me, and drink. . . . Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water,”773 “a fountain of water, springing up into life everlasting.”774

Chapter 31: Questions Relative to Infused Contemplation

Since we have discussed775 docility to the Holy Ghost, the mysticism ofThe Imitation, which is accessible to all, contemplative prayer in its beginnings and its degrees in proficients, we are prepared to examine the principal problem confronting us today about infused contemplation and to see the points on which there is agreement among many theologians who follow at the same time the principles formulated by St. Thomas and the doctrine of St. John of the Cross.


The principal question we are going to examine bears on the intimate nature of infused contemplation. There is agreement in saying that contemplation in general, such as may exist in a philosopher, for example, in Plato and Aristotle, is a simple, intellectual view of the truth, superior to reasoning, as St. Thomas explains.776

An example of this contemplation is the knowledge that at the summit of changing beings there exists being itself, absolutely simple and immutable, principle and end of all things; it is wisdom itself, goodness, and love. All the proofs for the existence of God converge toward this culminating point, and reason by its powers alone, with the natural help of God, can rise to this philosophical contemplation.

But when it is a question of Christian contemplation based on divine revelation received through faith, what do the great spiritual writers understand by the word “contemplation,” especially when they distinguish it from “meditation”? Does Christian meditation also bear on the truths of faith and what flows from them? How does contemplation differ from it?

The great spiritual writers, who are authoritative in the matter agree in saying with St. John of the Cross: “Contemplation is the science of love, which is an infused loving knowledge of God,”777 a knowledge that is not always absorbing, that is sometimes accompanied by distractions, and that may exist with the aridity of the passive purifications, or nights of the senses and spirit.

We have shown elsewhere778 that St. Teresa,779 St. Francis de Sales780, and St. Jane de Chantal781 agree perfectly on this point with St. John of the Cross when they indicate the differences between discursive and affective meditation which becomes increasingly simple and contemplation properly so called. They also agree in stating, in opposition to the quietists, that one must not leave meditation before receiving this infused and loving knowledge of God, for in so doing there would result “more harm than good,” as St. Teresa points out.782

Since such is indeed the meaning of the word “contemplation” in the writings of the great spiritual authors, what must be understood by “acquired contemplation,” spoken of by a number of authors, specially since the seventeenth century? Is acquired contemplation, with the union with God which results from it, the summit of the normal development of the interior life, or is it in reality only a disposition to receive the grace of the infused contemplation of the mysteries of faith, which would consequently be in the normal way of sanctity and clearly distinguished from essentially extraordinary graces like revelations, visions, the stigmata, and so on? In substance this is the chief problem confronting us on this subject. To solve it, we must examine more closely the definitions that are generally admitted.


Contemplation in general, we have said, is a simple, intellectual view of the truth, above reasoning and accompanied by admiration.

Acquired contemplation is generally defined by those who admit its existence at the end of meditation as a simple and loving knowledge of God and of His works, which is the fruit of our personal activity aided by grace. It is commonly agreed that the theologian possesses the contemplation called “acquired” at the end of his research in the synthetic view which he reaches. This is also the case with the preacher who sees his whole sermon in one central thought, and in the faithful who listen attentively to this sermon, admire its unity and, as a result, taste the great truth of faith which they see in its radiation.

In these cases there is a certain contemplation that proceeds from faith united to charity and from a more or less latent influence of the gifts of understanding, wisdom, and knowledge. But this admiring knowledge would not exist if, for lack of a higher inspiration, the human activity of the preacher had not carefully arranged the ideas in such a way as to bring out their harmony. A poorly prepared sermon would, in fact, produce the contrary result.

In the believer who himself meditates on a great truth of faith, does the knowledge, which has often since the seventeenth century been called “acquired contemplation,” differ from simplified affective meditation? In agreement with the testimony of the great spiritual writers quoted at the beginning of this chapter, especially of St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa, and St. Francis de Sales, we do not think so. It seems certain that, if their teaching is accepted, what has often been described under the name of acquired contemplation is only a variety of affective prayer, in which the soul that has not yet received the grace of loving infused knowledge, may, nevertheless, dwell for brief moments with a simple, admiring gaze on the merciful goodness of God, the interventions of Providence, the infinite value of our Savior’s merits. Subsequently the soul returns to considerations and affections.

What has been called “acquired contemplation” thus corresponds to the acquired prayer of recollection, described by St. Teresa in The Way of Perfection,783 a prayer that is entirely different from the “supernatural and passive recollection” of which she speaks in chapter three of the fourth mansion, where infused contemplation begins. St. John of the Cross speaks in like manner in The Ascent of Mount Carmel, where he deals with the passage from meditation to the state where “God now communicates Himself to the soul, thus passive, as the light of the sun to him whose eyes are open.”784

In contradistinction to acquired prayer, infused contemplation is generally defined as a simple and loving knowledge of God and His works, which is the fruit, not of human activity aided by grace, but of a special inspiration of the Holy Ghost. For example, in a poorly organized, lifeless sermon, which produces scarcely anything but weariness in most of the listeners, the preacher may, however, quote a saying of our Lord which profoundly seizes a soul, captivates it, and absorbs it. In this case there is in that soul a manifest act of infused contemplation, because it is not in human power to produce this act at will like an ordinary act of faith. Here it is a question of a particular, penetrating, and often even sweet act of faith in which an experienced director quickly perceives an influence of the gifts of understanding and wisdom.

But, although such an act is not in our power, we can dispose ourselves by humility, prayer, and recollection, to receive the divine inspiration which produces it, and we can also follow this inspiration with docility. According to St. Thomas, a special operating grace leads us to act above discursive deliberation, whereas cooperating grace inclines us to act at the end of this deliberation.785

Thus the act of infused love is free and meritorious because of the docility to the Holy Ghost which it contains, although it is not properly speaking deliberate, in the sense that it is not the fruit of a reasoned deliberation but of a superior inspiration.

This essentially infused contemplation and the infused love that accompanies it begin with what St. Teresa calls the prayer of passive recollection,786 and what St. John of the Cross calls the passive night of the senses; in other words, at the beginning of the mystical life, properly so called. Whence it follows that essentially mystical contemplation is that which, in the eyes of an experienced director and in the sense we have just indicated, is manifestly passive. If this infused contemplation lasts and becomes frequent, one has the mystical state.

We believe, therefore, that we may draw the same conclusion in regard to so-called acquired contemplation as we did in a previous work:787 If by acquired contemplation we mean a prayer distinct from simplified affective prayer, in which the intellect is totally absorbed by its object and in which we place ourselves by the suppression of all rational activity, we thereby not only create a degree of prayer unknown to St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross, but we likewise oppose their explicit teaching. In fact, St. Teresa repeatedly opposes the total suppression of discourse and the movement of thought as long as one has not received infused contemplation.788

Therefore the majority of theologians who, like those of Carmel, while wishing to remain faithful to the teaching of St. John of the Cross and of St. Teresa, have spoken of acquired contemplation, understand by it what St. Teresa calls “the acquired prayer of recollection”789 in which our intellectual activity is simplified, but not suppressed. These theologians call this prayer contemplation because the act of simple intellectual intuition is frequent in it, and discursive meditation, on the other hand, is reduced. Consequently the substance of the difficulty disappears, and the question becomes one of terminology.790

Moreover, the Carmelite theologians who have admitted the existence of acquired contemplation have rightly refused to consider it the normal term of spiritual progress on earth. They hold that in generous souls truly docile to the Holy Ghost, it is a proximate disposition to receive infused contemplation normally.791

Different opinions have arisen about the time when infused contemplation begins. Attentive reading of the third chapter of St. Teresa’s fourth mansion, however, seems to indicate clearly that contemplation begins with the prayer of “supernatural recollection,” which we cannot obtain for ourselves by our own activity, aided by grace. According to the terminology employed by St. John of ‘the Cross, contemplation begins with the passive night of the senses.792

The terminology may thus be fixed by the meaning which the great spiritual writers have given to the unqualified term “contemplation”; when they juxtapose it to meditation, they are speaking of infused contemplation which begins in the aridity of the night of the senses.793 For this reason St. John of the Cross, as we said at the beginning of this chapter, defined contemplation as “an infused loving knowledge of God.”794


According to the masters whom we have just quoted, contemplation properly so called, or infused, is therefore a loving knowledge of God which comes from a special inspiration of the Holy Ghost to make us advance continually in the love of God. Not only does it proceed from the infused virtues, in particular from faith united to charity, but it is an infused act of knowledge accompanied by infused love, which we could not make by ourselves with the help of common actual grace. In certain souls it is love which dominates; in others, light.

This special inspiration of the Holy Ghost is, therefore, the principle of infused contemplation. We receive this inspiration with docility through the gifts of the Holy Ghost, especially through those of understanding and wisdom, which are, as a result, in the just soul like sails which enable a vessel to receive as it should the impulsion of a favorable breeze.795

St. John of the Cross himself links infused contemplation to the gifts of the Holy Ghost when he writes in The Dark Night: “This dark contemplation is called secret, because it is, as I have said before, the mystical theology which theologians call secret wisdom, and which, according to St. Thomas, is infused into the soul more especially by love. This happens in a secret, hidden way in which the natural operations of the understanding and the other faculties have no share. And, therefore, because the faculties of the soul cannot compass it, it being the Holy Ghost who infuses it into the soul, in a way it knoweth not, as the Bride saith in the Canticle, we call it secret.”796 Under this higher inspiration, living faith thus becomes increasingly penetrating and sweet.

Therefore, between infused contemplation and meditation, even when simplified, there is a difference not only of degree, but of nature. Meditation, in fact, is in our power; it proceeds from our personal activity aided by common actual grace and, if there is in it a latent influence of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, this influence is not what constitutes it. Analogically, when the work of the rowers is facilitated by a favorable breeze, it is not the breeze which is the principle of the toil.

Infused contemplation, on the contrary, is not in our power; it proceeds not from our activity aided by grace, but from the more or less manifest special inspiration of the Holy Ghost, which is indispensable here. Therefore, in this case, the difference is not one of degree, but of nature, for the special inspiration is not only a stronger actual grace; it is not only moving but regulating; it contains a superior rule. Similarly, there is a specific difference between even the infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost: the infused virtues are by themselves principles of acts which we can produce at will, whereas the gifts dispose us to receive with docility the impulsion of the Holy Ghost for acts whose superhuman mode, springing from a superior rule, specifically surpasses our activity aided by common grace. As St. Thomas shows,797 there is in this case a specific difference, just as there is more than a difference of degree between the work of the oars that makes a boat advance and the impulsion of a favorable wind that makes rowing unnecessary.798

In the ascetical life, before the passive purification of the senses, in which infused contemplation begins, the gifts of the Holy Ghost still intervene only weakly, and often they are as if bound by some attachment to venial sin,799 like sails which have not yet been spread. Later, in the mystical life, the intellectual gifts of understanding and wisdom, which are both speculative and practical,800 appear in some under a clearly contemplative form and in others, as in St. Vincent de Paul, under a form more directed toward action.

Lastly, it should be noted that the act of infused contemplation proceeds from living faith as from its radical principle, and from the gift of wisdom or that of understanding as from its proximate principle actualized by the divine inspiration. It is an act of penetrating and sweet faith; the superior inspiration received through the gifts adds to this act of faith the precious modalities of penetration and sweetness, which increase with the touch of the Holy Ghost to the point of becoming a taste of eternal life. Here we find, therefore, in a subordinated manner the formal motive of infused faith (the authority of God revealing), that of charity (the divine goodness sovereignly lovable for its own sake), and that of the gifts mentioned (the illumination of the Holy Ghost, which is regulating and inspiring). Consequently this simple act of penetrating and sweet faith deserves to be called infused in order to distinguish it from the act of faith which we commonly make at will, without special inspiration, for example, in order to say the prayers that we recite daily.

What is meant by the direct acts of contemplation? They are acts which are in no way discursive, but which are made by a simple gaze, above reasoning. And indeed they are at times so peaceful that the soul does not, so to speak, perceive them; in that case they are the contrary of reflective or perceived acts. With this meaning, according to Cassian,801 St. Anthony said: “There is no perfect prayer if the solitary perceives that he is praying.” This is the learned ignorance of which the mystics often speak. The direct acts of true contemplation do not indicate a dangerous idleness, but, on the contrary, a most intimate knowledge of divine truth. And if, after such prayer, the soul is humble, peaceful, detached, and zealous for the practice of the virtues, this result is a sign that it has not lost its time in prayer. These direct acts of contemplation are free, although they are not the fruit of discursive deliberation.


We have pointed out that, to show the growing intensity of contemplation and union with God, St. Teresa insists on the progressive extension of the mystical state to the different faculties, which gradually are either suspended or captivated by God. First of all, the will alone is seized and held (in the prayer of quiet), then the intellect (in more or less complete simple union); next the imagination falls asleep, so to speak; lastly, in total or partial ecstasy, the exercise of the exterior senses is suspended because all the activity of the soul is drawn toward God. St. Teresa knows, however, that the suspension of the imagination and of the senses is only a concomitant and accidental phenomenon of infused contemplation,802 since, she says, ecstasy generally ceases in the most perfect mystical state, the transforming union.803 The mystical state, complete in regard to its extension, is not therefore necessarily the most intense or the most elevated. St. Teresa is well aware of this fact; but this extension, which is at first progressive, then restricted, is easy to determine and describe. It constitutes a sign which may be useful, on condition that it be joined to another more profound sign on which St. John of the Cross insists.

This more profound sign refers directly to the progress of contemplation in penetration and to the intimacy of divine union. It is found, first of all, in the passive purification of the senses, then in that of the spirit, both of which denote great progress in the intensity of the knowledge and love of God and of the other virtues. St. Teresa did not indeed neglect this second sign; she speaks of it in connection with the aridities that contemplatives undergo, especially of the great aridity that is found at the beginning of the sixth mansion, and that corresponds to the night of the spirit. She also speaks of it in connection with the different ways of watering a garden:804 water drawn from the well by hand is the figure of meditation; the water-wheel, called a noria, is the symbol of the prayer of quiet; irrigation by canals, which fertilizes the garden, represents the sleep of the powers; finally, rain symbolizes the prayer of union. Thus progressively the flowers of the virtues bloom and form the fruits: “This is the time of resolutions, of heroic determinations, of the living energy of good desires, of the beginning of hatred of the world, and of the most clear perception of its vanity.”805

Infused contemplation begins therefore, as St. John of the Cross says,806 with the passive purification of the senses, which is a second conversion in arid quiet; it progresses then, accompanied by the consolations of the illuminative way. Contemplation becomes much more penetrating in the night of the spirit, in the midst of great spiritual aridity and of strong temptations against the theological virtues. In this period these virtues and humility are purified of all alloy and become truly heroic.807 The soul is thus prepared for the transforming union which St. John of the Cross speaks of in The Living Flame of Love and St. Teresa in the seventh mansion. The transforming union is the culminating point of infused contemplation on earth and, in souls that reach the full perfection of Christian life, it is the normal prelude of eternal life.


Several important observations arise from the facts we have just presented.

1. The degrees of contemplation described by St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa, show that contemplation does not always imply joy, that it begins ordinarily in the aridity of the sensibility, as it may subsist in great aridity of the spirit. Moreover, it is not necessarily accompanied by an absolute impossibility to discourse or to reason. Undoubtedly contemplation is superior to discourse, but precisely for this reason contemplation may inspire it from above, for example, in a preacher whose sermon would spring from the plenitude of the infused contemplation of the mysteries of Christ, like St. Peter’s sermons on Pentecost and the pages which St. Augustine certainly wrote under a superior inspiration.

2. It follows also from what precedes that the mystical state gives at times the feeling of the presence of God (it is the quasi-experimental knowledge springing from the gift of wisdom); at others a great thirst for God, with intense suffering because of inability to enjoy Him and a lively feeling of moral and spiritual separation from Him (this is what happens especially in the night of the spirit, when the penetration of the gift of understanding makes itself felt more than the sweetness of the gift of wisdom).

In this last state there is, besides, an infused knowledge and an infused love, from which comes sharp suffering because God is not loved as He should be. This lively suffering and great thirst for God cannot, moreover, exist without a profound influence of His grace in us. Consequently there is a painful presence of God.

3. In addition, from what we have just said it is clear that infused contemplation does not require infused ideas like those of the angels,808 but only an infused light: the special illumination of the gifts of understanding and wisdom, which is clearly distinguished from gracesgratis datae like prophecy, the gift of the discerning of spirits, or that of tongues, graces bestowed especially for the benefit of one’s neighbor.809

4. Lastly, the description of the degrees of infused contemplation given by St. John of the Cross shows that it is not an immediate perception of God as He is in Himself; such a perception is proper only to the beatific vision.810 When there is a marked influence of the gift of wisdom, God is known without reasoning as present in us in His effects (medium in quo), especially in the filial affection for Himself which He inspires in us, and in the sweetness of love which He sometimes makes a soul that is closely united to Him experience. This is the teaching of St. Thomas in his commentary on verse sixteen of chapter eight of the Epistle to the Romans when he discusses the words, “The Spirit Himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God.”811 It is impossible to admit here an immediate intuition of sanctifying grace itself.812

5. Therefore the mystical life is characterized by the predominance (become both frequent and manifest for an experienced director) of the superhuman mode of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, especially of the gift of wisdom, which illumines the others. However, in the passive night of the senses the gift of knowledge predominates, showing the vanity of created things; in the night of the spirit the soul experiences chiefly the deep penetration of the gift of understanding, but without experiencing the sweetness of the gift of wisdom. This gift appears in its full development and its greatest influence in the transforming union. The mystical state in general must not be confounded with its consoling phases, or with its complete flowering; it often exists under the form of arid quiet, which St. Jane de Chantal experienced for so long a time.813


The call to contemplation may be understood in different ways. When the question is raised whether all interior souls are called to infused contemplation, the call in question is general and remote, distinct from the individual and proximate call. The latter call, moreover, may be only sufficient and followed by resistance or negligence, or it may be efficacious, and that in two ways: to lead souls actually either to the lower degrees or to the higher degrees of contemplation.814 In this problem we are again confronted with the mystery of the efficacy of grace, which is understood in one way by Thomists and Augustinians, and in another by Molinists.

In response to the question whether all interior souls are called to contemplation in a general and remote manner, we believe that the reply must be in the affirmative according to the principles formulated by St. Thomas on the gifts of the Holy Ghost which are received by all the just, and by St. John of the Cross on the passive purifications necessary for full Christian perfection, toward which we should all tend.

Three principal reasons motivate this reply. They relate to the radical principle of the interior life, to its progress, and to its end.

I. The basic principle of the mystical life (characterized by infused contemplation) is the same as that of the common interior life: the grace of the virtues and the gifts. Now docility to the Holy Ghost, according to the superhuman mode of the gifts, should normally prevail with spiritual progress to remedy the always imperfect human mode of the virtues and of our personal activity aided by common grace. The mystical life, which is characterized by this docility and this superhuman mode of knowledge and of infused love, appears, therefore, normally first of all in the illuminative way, but especially in the unitive way. Consequently St. John of the Cross writes: “The soul began to set out on the way of the spirit, the way of proficients, which is also called the illuminative way, or the way of infused contemplation, wherein God Himself teaches and refreshes the soul without meditation or any active efforts that itself may deliberately make.”815 This text, as we have already pointed out, is one of the most important.

2. In the progress of the interior life, the purification of the soul, according to St. John of the Cross, who is the faithful echo of tradition, is not complete except by the passive purifications. These purifications belong to the mystical order, in the sense that infused contemplation begins with the passive purification of the senses, in which the illuminations of the gift of knowledge predominate, and rises with the night of the spirit, in which the gift of understanding assumes the principal role. The Holy Ghost thus purifies humility and the theological virtues from all alloy; He brings into powerful relief their essentially supernatural and uncreated formal motive: the first revealing Truth, Mercy and helpful Omnipotence, divine Goodness, sovereignly lovable for its own sake.816 These passive purifications of a mystical order are thus in the normal way of sanctity and dispense from purgatory those who undergo them generously; they are a purgatory before death in which the soul merits and makes progress, whereas in the other purgatory the soul no longer merits.

3. The end of the interior life is the same as that of the mystical life: eternal life, or the beatific vision and the inamissible love resulting from it. But the mystical life disposes the soul more immediately to this last end and, in the perfect, is its prelude, as shown by the evangelical beatitudes, which are eminent acts of the virtues and the gifts. The mystical life, which is characterized by infused contemplation and infused love of the divine goodness, is thus seen to be in the normal way of sanctity.

The reasons we have adduced—the basic principle of the interior life, its progress by the necessary passive purifications, and the ultimate end to which it is ordained—all contribute to show, in short, that infused contemplation and the union with God resulting from it are, in the perfect, the normal prelude of the life of heaven.

The principles formulated by St. Thomas on the gifts of the Holy Ghost, received by all the just, and the doctrine of St. John of the Cross on the passive purifications thus lead us to admit the general and remote call of all interior souls to infused contemplation.817

The reservations made here and there by St. Teresa, St. John of the Cross, Tauler, and other masters, refer to the individual and proximate call.818 It is certain that all just souls are not called in an individual and proximate manner to infused contemplation.

The proof of this statement lies in the fact that the three principal signs of the proximate call are not in all the just, or even in all interior souls. St. John of the Cross points out these signs in The Dark Night: “(1) When we find no comfort in the things of God (known by way of the senses), and none also in created things. . . .(2) The second test and condition of this purgation are that the memory dwells ordinarily upon God with a painful anxiety and carefulness; the soul thinks it is not serving God, but going backwards. . . .(3) The third sign . . . is inability to meditate and make reflections, and to excite the imagination, as before, notwithstanding all the efforts we may make; for God begins now to communicate Himself no longer through the channel of sense, as formerly . . . but in pure spirit, . . . in the act of pure contemplation.”819

Finally, the individual and proximate call may be sufficient but remain fruitless because of our negligence or, on the contrary, it is efficacious, and that in different ways: to lead us effectively either to the lower degrees of contemplation, or to the highest degrees. Consequently St. Teresa applies to this subject our Lord’s words: “Many are called, but few chosen.”820

Our discussion of the call to contemplation shows that all interior souls may legitimately desire infused contemplation, on condition that they remain humble and leave to the good pleasure of God the time when this grace shall be granted to them. Thus the farmer may legitimately desire and ask for rain that will render fruitful the earth he has sown, but he should also trust in Providence. If every prayer should be at once humble, trusting, and persevering, the same qualities should characterize that prayer by which we ask for the penetrating and sweet faith of which we have just spoken, that is, a more lively and profound knowledge of revealed mysteries, of the majesty of God, of His radiating goodness, His providence, an experiential knowledge of the redemptive Incarnation, of the Passion, of the humiliations of the Word made flesh, of the influence that He still exercises through the Eucharist, of the infinite value of the Mass, of the worth of a fervent Communion, of the value of time which leads us to eternity. Holy Scripture often repeats this prayer: for example, in the Book of Wisdom we read, as the Office for the feast of St. Teresa recalls: “Wherefore I wished, and understanding was given me: and I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came upon me. And I preferred her before kingdoms and thrones, and esteemed riches nothing in comparison of her. . . .

For all gold in comparison of her, is as a little sand, and silver in respect to her shall be counted as clay. I loved her above health and beauty, and chose to have her instead of light: for her light cannot be put out. Now all good things came to me together with her. . . . I knew not that she was the mother of them all. . . . For she is an infinite treasure to men, which they that use, become the friends of God.”821 This passage clearly expresses the desire for the lights of the gift of wisdom. Therefore we understand why the Carmelite theologians, Philip of the Blessed Trinity,822 Anthony of the Holy Ghost, and the Dominican Vallgornera, in the passages where they speak of the desire for infused contemplation, say: “All ought to aspire to supernatural contemplation.” Joseph of the Holy Ghost speaks in like terms: “We may all aspire to it, ardently desire it, and humbly ask it of God.”823


Before any sign of an immediate call to contemplation, it is certainly advisable to point out to souls the grandeur of the spirit of faith, which inclines one to consider all things from God’s point of view: the mysteries of religion, Christian worship, persons, whether pleasing to us or not, pleasurable or painful events. Only with the grace of contemplation is this lofty and supernatural consideration of all things perfect and lasting. Thus contemplation may be spoken of discreetly, without being named.

All souls can certainly be led to desire a sweet and penetrating faith in the great mysteries of salvation, and it is fitting that they ask for it. In the same way, before the signs of predestination appear in a soul, it is made to desire eternal life. Hence it may with propriety desire everything that is in the normal way of eternal life.

We must, however, distinguish clearly here between intention and realization. In the intention, the end that is glimpsed and desired comes first, then the means. In the realization, the inverse is true; the soul must rise from the most modest means to higher ones. Here rash haste should be avoided, for it would lead to neglect of the intermediate steps; to do so would compromise everything. It would be like wishing to construct the roof of a building before laying the foundations, or to fly before having wings.

Souls should also be continually reminded of the ordinary conditions of true union with God: habitual recollection, complete renunciation, purity of heart, true humility, perseverance in prayer despite prolonged aridity, great fraternal charity. If to these conditions is joined love of the liturgy and of sacred doctrine, the soul truly prepares itself for the proximate call to the divine intimacy.

When the proximate call becomes manifest, souls should read the description given by St. John of the Cross824 of the three signs of this call, or some other spiritual work offering the same doctrine. Such reading will keep them from being discouraged by the troubles and aridity of the night of the senses. Once the graces of contemplation have become frequent, the reading of the same works should be continued. This is especially true of those works that put the soul on guard against the desire for essentially extraordinary graces, that is, visions, revelations, and the stigmata.

As soon as these souls are less faithful, they should be told of the defects of proficients, of the love of the cross, of the necessity of a more profound purification of the spirit, which is the indispensable condition for close union with God and for the full perfection of Christian life.

Many contemporary theologians—Benedictines, Carmelites, Dominicans, Jesuits, and others—admit this doctrine in substance, as shown by an inquiry which appeared in La Vie spirituelle.825 We agree with Father Marechal, S.J., when he says: “Contemplative activity should, even in its higher degrees . . . , mark a relatively rare but normal development of the common life of grace. . . . [This doctrine] echoes the most authentic tradition and now meets with scarcely any opposition.”826

We see why Alvarez de Paz, S.J., wrote: “We should blame ourselves if we never taste the ineffable sweetness of contemplation.”827 And it is well known that St. Francis de Sales concludes: “Holy contemplation is the end and the goal toward which all spiritual exercises tend.”828

To avoid the imprudences, the rash haste of those who might use this teaching as an authorization to neglect the intermediate steps, one should often recall, as we have just said, the conditions ordinarily required to receive the grace of the contemplation of the mysteries of faith: purity and humility of heart, simplicity of spirit, habitual recollection, and complete renunciation.

This traditional doctrine is briefly summed up in the lines we have already quoted from The Imitation: “There are found so few contemplative persons, because there are few that know how to withdraw themselves entirely from perishable creatures.”829 Contemplation is “the hidden manna”830 given by God to generous souls as the normal prelude of the beatific vision.831

Chapter 32: The New Elements in Infused Prayer

Some declare that the explanation often given of infused prayer, which attributes it to a special inspiration received with docility through the gifts of the Holy Ghost, is insufficient. According to them, this explanation does not sufficiently account for what is new in infused prayer and shows that it differs only in degree from acquired prayer, in which the gifts of the Holy Ghost have begun to intervene in a latent manner.832

To explain this matter we shall examine two points: first, whether the character of newness always clearly appears in the transition from acquired to infused prayer; next, whether this transition is to be explained by the inspiration and special illumination of the gifts of the Holy Ghost.


The character of newness is incontestably clear if a soul passes suddenly from more or less simplified discursive meditation (occasionally called, in its last phase, acquired contemplation) not to arid but to consoled quiet, which St. Teresa speaks of in the second chapter of the fourth mansion. In this infused prayer “the will is captivated” by the interior illumination that shows it the goodness of God present in it as a source of living water: “This joy is not, like earthly happiness, at once felt by the heart; after gradually filling it to the brim, the delight overflows throughout all the mansions and faculties. . . . They [the celestial waters] appear to dilate and enlarge us internally, and benefit us in an inexplicable manner, nor does even the soul itself understand what it receives.”833

However, the saint says in the same chapter, it happens that in this state the understanding and imagination do not cease to be disturbed and to trouble the will.834 The character of newness of infused prayer would, therefore, be still more sensible if the understanding itself were captivated and if the imagination and memory ceased to be disturbed, as happens in the prayer of union,835 which is compared to rain which falls from heaven, and no longer only to the water wheel (noria) which draws water from a well.836

But more often it happens that the transition from the last acquired prayer to initial infused prayer is not so clearly distinguished. St. John of the Cross shows this in The Dark Night, where he describes the night of the senses, which is recognized by the three signs often cited: “The first is this: when we find no comfort in the things of God (proposed in a sensible way by the intermediary of the senses and the imagination, as in meditation). . . . The second test and condition of this purgation are that the memory dwells ordinarily upon God with a painful anxiety and carefulness; the soul thinks it is not serving God, but going backwards. . . . The third sign . . . is inability to meditate and make reflections, and to excite the imagination as before, notwithstanding all the efforts we may make; for God begins now to communicate Himself, no longer through the channel of sense, as formerly, in consecutive reflections, by which we arranged and divided our knowledge, but in pure spirit, which admits not of successive reflections, and in the act of pure contemplation.”837

This prayer is initial infused contemplation, accompanied by persistent sensible aridity; consequently this state has often been called arid quiet. St. Jane de Chantal838 often spoke of this prayer, which differs appreciably from the consoled quiet, described by St. Teresa in the second chapter of the fourth mansion. In the description given by St. John of the Cross, the character of newness of initial infused contemplation is not very striking. The same is true of the description contained in Bossuet’s well known little work, Maniere facile et courte de faire l’oraison en foi.

The first phase of this prayer is acquired, the second is patently infused.839 Hence we can see why this prayer is spoken of as a mixed prayer, in which the influence of the special inspiration of the Holy Ghost, which is at first latent, begins to make itself felt.840

The great spiritual writers have even pointed out several times that certain very generous interior souls often have infused contemplation without realizing it, since contemplation may exist in the great obscurities of the night of the senses and of that of the spirit.

The passage from acquired to infused prayer is not, therefore always stamped with a marked character of newness; and, even when this new character is quite manifest, it is not the same in arid quiet and in consoled quiet.


When the transition from acquired to infused prayer is slow, progressive, as St. John of the Cross describes it in the night of the senses, the special inspiration passively received through the gifts of the Holy Ghost sufficiently explains the new character that presents itself here.

But to understand it thus, we must see clearly the specific difference between the human mode in which even the infused virtues operate and the superhuman mode of operation of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, the acts of which have precisely as their immediate rule the illumination and special inspiration of the interior Master. This inspiration is an elevated form of actual operating grace, which moves us to act freely above all discursive deliberation. It is thus notably superior to common actual grace, called cooperating grace, which moves us according to discursive deliberation to place a given act of faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, or of some other virtue. St. Thomas stressed this difference profoundly in two articles which we have often explained: “Do the gifts differ [specifically] from the infused virtues by their object and their formal motive?”841 “How does operating grace differ from cooperating grace?”842

The difference is manifest: For example, I see that the customary hour to say my Office has come; I move myself then (aided by common actual grace, which in this case is cooperating) to perform the acts of faith and religion proper to the recitation of this prayer.

On the contrary, in the midst of a difficult, absorbing study, I suddenly receive, without expecting it, a special inspiration to pray, either for a better comprehension of what I am reading or for a friend who must need prayers at that moment. In the first case, Christian prudence inclines me to say the Divine Office and to perform the acts of faith and religion that this liturgical prayer demands; in the second, the special inspiration of the Holy Ghost, which is above prudential deliberation, inclines me to pray.

There is certainly a new element here, although the transition from one mode to the other may at times be slow and progressive, and at others more rapid and even instantaneous.

When the transition is rapid—for example, if a soul passes without intermediary from simplified discursive meditation to the consoled quiet which is described by St. Teresa—why would not the inspiration and special illumination received through the gifts of the Holy Ghost suffice to explain it?

At this point in our study, it is important that we consider the gifts not only in a general, schematic, and bookish manner, but also in particular, in a concrete and living manner, as St. Thomas and the great spiritual writers, such as St. Bonaventure, Ruysbroeck, Tauler, and Father Lallemant, have described them.

The gift of knowledge explains the experimental knowledge of the emptiness of created things in contrast to divine things; in particular, such a knowledge of the gravity of mortal sin as an offense against God, that one has a horror of sin. This knowledge and horror have been remarked in certain converts at the moment of their conversion. The simple, attentive reading of books of piety, joined to the examination of conscience, could never have given them this lively contrition, which manifests a special inspiration of the Holy Ghost. In this case there is certainly a new element.

Likewise the gift of piety, which is in the will, explains why this faculty is captivated in the prayer of quiet by the sweet presence of God, experientially known, as St. Thomas says in his commentary on the Epistle to the Romans: “You have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba (Father). For the Spirit Himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God.”843 St. Thomas remarks in the same passage that the Holy Ghost gives this testimony by the filial affection He inspires in us for Himself, to which we could not have moved ourselves by common actual grace. Thus the disciples of Emmaus said: “Was not our heart burning within us, whilst He spoke in the way, and opened to us the Scriptures?”844 By the gift of piety, too, is explained, according to St. Thomas, what we read in the Epistle to the Romans: “The Spirit Himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings.”845

Lastly, the gift of wisdom is, according to St. Thomas,846 the principle of a quasi-experiential knowledge of the presence of God in us, a knowledge based both on the special inspiration of the Holy Ghost and on the connaturalness with divine things which comes from charity. The special inspiration makes use of this connaturalness which it actualizes (infused act of love) to show us how greatly the mysteries of faith satisfy to the full our loftiest aspirations and give rise to new ones. In this case there is an act of infused love and of infused knowledge, of sweet and penetrating faith. These acts are said to be infused, not only because they proceed from infused virtues (in this case from the theological virtues), but because they would not be produced without the special inspiration to which the gifts render us docile. We could not have moved ourselves to these acts by ourselves, with common actual grace, called cooperating grace; we needed a special operating grace.847


It has been objected that this traditional explanation, although given by the greatest masters, shows only a difference of degree and not one of nature; therefore the really new character of infused prayer is not sufficiently explained.

To this objection we reply that there is clearly a specific difference, and not only a difference of degree, between the gifts of the Holy Ghost and the infused virtues. The rule of our acts differs according as they are performed either through or without the special inspiration of the Holy Ghost.848 This is clear, for example, in regard to the inspiration of the gift of counsel which supplies for the imperfection of prudence when it is absolutely hesitant before an indiscreet question and is faced with the problem of avoiding a lie and keeping another’s secret. Sometimes only the inspiration of the Holy Ghost will furnish the answer promptly. Such an inspiration will be given by the Holy Ghost to generous interior souls that are, on the whole, docile to Him.

This specific difference is manifest when a discursively deliberate act of prudence is followed by an act of the gift of counsel (above discursive deliberation), which proceeds from the special inspiration of the interior Master, in such a way that prudence, remaining hesitant, is no longer exercised at the same time. But sometimes the special inspiration is given only to facilitate prudential deliberation by reminding us, for example, of a certain expression from the Gospel; then the difference is less evident.

Similarly, a man who is steering a boat will find an appreciable difference between advancing by means of oars and advancing under the impulsion of a favorable wind; this difference is apparent when the wind becomes strong enough to dispense with rowing. In this case there is certainly more than a difference of degree. The difference is less obvious if the breeze does not dispense the rower from all effort, but only facilitates his work.

Just so, says St. Teresa, prayer may be symbolized by several different ways of watering a garden: one may draw water by hard labor from a well, or bring it up by a pump, called a noria, or irrigate the garden with water from a river, or lastly rain may water the garden.849 If there is a brusque transition from the first way to the fourth, the change is manifest; but the transition may be made in a progressive manner. Moreover, infused prayer also, symbolized by the rain from heaven, may be explained by the special illumination and inspiration of the Holy Ghost, received through the gifts of understanding, wisdom, and piety, when these gifts, which grow with charity, exist in a higher degree.

We have shown at length elsewhere850 that to explain mystical contemplation, according to St. Thomas and St. John of the Cross, it is not necessary to have recourse to infused species or ideas similar to those of the angels, that it suffices to have the infused light, called the special illumination and inspiration of the Holy Ghost, which grows continually in every generous interior soul that unites love of the cross with docility to the interior Master. Faith thus becomes increasingly penetrating and sweet.

Neither is it necessary to have recourse to prophetic light, since that of the gifts suffices. St. Thomas makes this point clear when he speaks of infused contemplation in Adam in the state of innocence and then in us. He says: “In contemplation God is seen by this means which is the light of wisdom, which lifts the spirit to perceive divine things, although the divine essence is not seen immediately; and thus, since original sin, by grace God is seen by the contemplative, although less perfectly than in the state of innocence.”851 The light of wisdom spoken of here is the gift of wisdom which St. Thomas treats of ex professo, IIa IIae, q. 45. There is no reason to see in it a light specifically distinct from that which this gift disposes us to receive. Thus the new element found in infused prayer is sufficiently explained by the traditional doctrine of the special inspiration of the Holy Ghost, received through the gifts. This point is confirmed by St. Thomas’ emphatically clear teaching that the grace of the virtues and the gifts, which unites us to God, is very superior to graces gratis datae, which only make us know the signs of the divine intervention.852

Close union with God intimately present in us is superior to these signs, which are evidently subordinate to it. The divine reality, the hidden God, is superior to all symbols; excessive attention to these signs would, says St. John of the Cross, turn us away from infused contemplation, which attains God Himself in the obscurity of faith.


In January, 1937, Father Lithard, C.S.Sp., sent the following statement of his exact opinion on the special illumination of the Holy Ghost to the editor of La Vie spirituelle.

Reverend Father:

La Vie spirituelle for November 1 published a short article on the occasion of a note which appeared under my name in the Revue d’ ascetique et de mystique. I should like to add some precise statements to that note, and I trust that you will accept them as readily as did Father Garrigou-Lagrange when I spoke to him about the question in which I referred to him. I shall be brief.

I readily agree with Father Garrigou-Lagrange about the distinction that should be made between the helps which strengthen our personal initiative and those which manifest the divine initiative. In the first, the mode is purely human and we have no experience of it; the others, on the contrary, bear the mark of the gifts through which we receive them; they are “instinctive,” and we are easily aware of them. We have experience of passivity.

But I pointed out that the helps received through the gifts do not all seem to be of the same nature, a point which Father Garrigou-Lagrange does not seem disposed to concede. Why, he says, “would special illumination not suffice” in the second case as well as in the first? My answer is this: because the experience of the mystics seems clearly to demand another kind of illumination in infused contemplation. Whereas hitherto, under the plainly instinctive action of graces, either of prayer or of action, they have been conscious only of their own acts,—acts, more­over, which are within their capacity, abstraction being made of instinctive delight, with the sole helps conceded to their personal initiative—in infused contemplation they have, in addition, the consciousness of being in contact with God, to the extent that they speak with assurance of seeing, feeling, touching God. And, on doing so, they no longer refer only to the passivity of this specific act which is beyond all human power. For this reason we declare that these acts are doubly infused and supernatural. And it is at this point that these fortunate privileged souls speak of a distinctly new, additional experience, introducing them as it were into another world: what they knew by faith, they taste in faith. Evidently it is the gifts which serve to receive these graces, since they are by their nature, as Father Garrigou-Lagrange willingly agrees, habitus receptivi, and not operativi, as the virtues are.

Must we not, moreover, admit, beyond indistinct infused contemplation, helps of another nature for distinct infused contemplation, which requires infused species that render it extraordinary? God is rich, and therefore varied in His gifts.

But I quite willingly admit with Father Garrigou-Lagrange that the transitions are divinely gentle, at first scarcely perceptible insinuations, whose nature is shrouded in distant mystery and reveals itself only progressively. Is this not true in all God’s works? If it is hard to say where one color ends and another begins in the work of nature, must we be astonished at our ignorance in the work of grace?


In the preceding pages we have already answered the questions asked in Father Lithard’s letter. To complete the subject we shall add the following observations.

I. To explain the new element in infused contemplation, we must recall the specific difference between the gifts of the Holy Ghost and the Christian virtues; emphasizing the fact that the gifts dispose us to receive the special inspiration of the Holy Ghost which moves us, above discursive deliberation, to infused acts to which we could not have moved ourselves deliberately by the virtues alone with the help of actual cooperating grace. Thus, we said, there is a notable difference, and more than a difference of degree, in the progress of a boat by dint of rowing or under the impulse of a favorable wind, although at times the breeze favors the work of the rowers without rendering it useless. Similarly, the gifts are exercised in a latent manner in the ascetical life, and at times in a manifest but rare manner; when their influence becomes at once frequent and manifest to an experienced director, then the mystical life begins. This life is quite easily discerned by the three signs which St. John of the Cross gives of the passive purification of the senses, in which, he says, infused contemplation begins.853

We also pointed out that the new character of infused contemplation appears more clearly when one passes from discursive meditation (symbolized, for example, by the noria) to consoled quiet;854 whereas this new character stands out less clearly when one passes, as ordinarily happens, from discursive meditation to the arid quiet of the passive night of the senses.

2. We admit a great variety in the gifts, since each has its distinct specification. For example, among the intellectual gifts, that of counsel, which is of a purely practical order, supplies for the imperfections of even infused prudence; the gift of knowledge, which is often exercised in the aridity of the night of the senses, shows us either the nothingness of creatures and the gravity of sin, or the symbolism of sensible things in relation to divine things. The gift of understanding gives us a special penetration of the truths of faith as happens particularly in the night of the spirit in spite of the great spiritual aridity found therein. Lastly, the gift of wisdom gives us a quasi-experiential knowledge of the presence of God in us by the wholly filial affection, by the infused love, which God inspires in us for Himself.855

3. We have also often pointed out that in certain mystical souls the intellectual gifts, even that of wisdom, do not intervene under the form of a brilliant light, as in the great contemplatives, but under the form of a diffused light which is, nevertheless, very precious, for it illumines all things from above, in particular one’s conduct and the good to be done to souls. This is the case, for example, in the entire apostolic life of St. Vincent de Paul.

4. What we do not admit is that one and the same habitus, like that of the gift of wisdom, is ordained to acts of a different nature in such a way that the ordinary mode of the first would not be ordained to the extraordinary mode of the second. The unity of the habitus would no longer be safeguarded. We explained our thought in this matter in La Vie spirituelle,856 and we need not repeat it here. Suffice it to state here that St. Thomas clearly admits that the same gift, for example, that of wisdom, has acts that differ notably on earth and in heaven, but the earthly mode in the obscurity of faith is essentially ordained to the celestial mode, which will be found in the clarity of vision; thus, the unity of the habitus is safeguarded. It would not be so otherwise.

The gifts dispose us to receive a special inspiration, but in view of a determined operation having a formal object, which specifies one gift rather than another. By the gifts, St. Thomas says, we are more passive than active, but each is a habitus receptivus, ordained to a special action and not to actions of different natures.857 It is thus that contemplation, to which the gift of wisdom is ordained, merits by its very nature the name of “infused,” since we cannot obtain it by our own efforts and it absolutely requires a special inspiration or illumination of the Holy Ghost, which we can only receive, as the earth receives the desired rain.

We are not speaking here of the more or less extraordinary phenomena that accidentally accompany infused contemplation, or of the occasionally simultaneous influence of certain graces gratis datae. But we are speaking of what is essentially required for infused contemplation, which has, moreover, many degrees, from the passive night of the senses up to the transforming union.

To avoid all confusion, all these questions should be distinguished from one another. This being the case, we say that, according to St. Thomas and St. John of the Cross, the full normal actualization of the gift of wisdom deserves the name of infused contemplation, properly so called, and that without this contemplation the full normal actualization of this gift does not yet exist. We do not believe that a Thomist can deny this proposition.

5. We have also established at length858 that, according to St. Thomas and St. John of the Cross, infused contemplation does not demand infused species or infused ideas, but only the infused light of the gifts of understanding and wisdom, or the special illumination which they dispose us to receive. Replying to Father Lithard,859 we showed that the texts from St. Thomas on the mystical knowledge of Adam in the state of innocence do not permit us to affirm anything additional. The light of wisdom, which he speaks of in De veritate,860 is clearly the infused light of the gift of wisdom, which he treats of ex professo in the Summa.861

Moreover, in his letter Father Lithard, in order to characterize he distinctly new experience of mystics “which introduces them into another world,” says: “What they knew by faith, they taste in faith.” This is, strictly speaking, the quasi-experiential knowledge which, according to St. Thomas, proceeds from the gift of wisdom and makes faith sweet. In these spiritual tastes, so different from sensible consolations, there are, besides, many degrees, from the initial infused contemplation of the passive night of the senses up to that of the transforming union.

If essentially mystical contemplation required a special light other than that to which the gift of wisdom normally disposes us, there might be a great non-mystical contemplative who would have a high degree of the gift of wisdom without this special particularity and, inversely, there might be a mystic who would not have the eminent exercise of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, but only a charismatic light suggestive rather of graces gratis datae.

6. In our writings on these subjects over a period of twenty years we have pointed out that, as a rule, the persons who adhere to the doctrine that we consider traditional are especially those who have experience of infused contemplation, and that many of those who do not adhere to this doctrine admit that they have not this experience. But they seek to imagine it according to their reading, and question the meaning of the terms used by the mystics: to see God, to feel Him, to touch Him. It is not indeed a question of the immediate vision of God as He is but, as St. Thomas says, of a quasi-experiential knowledge of God in the infused love which He inspires in us for Himself.862

In that part of his letter where he says, as it were incidentally, “abstraction being made of instinctive delight,” Father Lithard recognizes that this delight is not within our capability or in our power, but that it is infused. Is it then something negligible? And is it not precisely because of this delight that farther on in the same letter he can write: “The fortunate privileged souls speak of a distinctly new, additional experience, introducing them as it were into another world: what they knew by faith, they taste in faith”? This is what St. Thomas always calls the essential effect of the gift of wisdom, when he quotes the well-known text: “Taste, and see that the Lord is sweet.”863

7. Father Lithard thinks that the masters of the spiritual life have given us the general principles, but have left us the task of stating them precisely: a question of progress in this branch of theology, as in dogmatic and moral theology.

We believe that masters like St. Thomas, St. John of the Cross, and St. Francis de Sales, have given us more than general principles, and that we are still far from a full comprehension of what their works contain on these difficult questions. Before setting ourselves the task of completing their work, we must try to understand thoroughly what they have written. In particular the author of The Dark Night and The Living Flame has stated with great care and precision what concerns infused contemplation and its various degrees, and what it is in the passive purifications or outside of them. To state more precisely and to complete what St. John of the Cross says about these lofty questions, one would need great experience in these matters, coupled with a profound knowledge of theology. Progress here is something very elevated and is realized as a rule not by those who propose it to themselves in advance, but by those to whom it is given to accomplish it, as was the case with St. John of the Cross. It still remains for us to penetrate, to grasp more profoundly, what he has taught, avoiding every excessively material interpretation that would constitute a serious diminution of his thought.

We must always revert to the definition of infused contemplation given by St. John of the Cross in The Dark Night, a definition that is so conformable to the teaching of St. Thomas: “Contemplation is the science of love, which is an infused loving knowledge of God.”864 In this definition St. John does not speak of a direct and immediate intuition of the supernatural gifts of grace and of the infused virtues, an intuition which, moreover, would give us a certitude of being in the state of grace before even reaching the transforming union. For all these reasons we maintain here what we stated about the intimate nature of infused contemplation in articles 3–6, chapter 4 of Christian Perfection and Contemplation.

Chapter 33: The Agreement and Differences Between St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross

Even after a single reading of the works of St. Teresa and of St. John of the Cross it is easy to note differences between them, which have often been pointed out. We shall indicate here espe­cially the origin of these differences.


The differences found in the works of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross are due to the diversity of their point of view. St. Teresa speaks a great deal from her personal experiences and describes the seven mansions of the interior castle by mentioning extraordinary graces which she herself had received (suspension of the senses, ecstasies, and visions), without taking particular care to distinguish these phenomena, which are in a way exterior and accidental, from what constitutes the basis of the mystical life, from the essential ele­ment in each of the seven mansions. St. Teresa is thus led to give more importance than other authors do to sensible phenomena, which sometimes accompany infused contemplation and mystical union. She also insists on the consideration of our Savior’s humanity. In short, she is less attentive than others in distinguishing in the seven mansions what pertains to the normal way of sanctity, in par­ticular the passive purifications which this sanctity presupposes.

St. John of the Cross no doubt also speaks from personal experience and from that of the souls he directed, but without mentioning it, for he seeks especially what is essential in the progress of the soul toward close union with God. He made a theological study of these matters, which St. Teresa did not, and his study has unquestionably great importance in distinguishing what is normal from what is accessory or accidental. In relation to the interior life, he examined thoroughly what theology teaches about the three theological virtues and the gifts that accompany them. Consequently he endeavors to explain the states of prayer of contemplative souls by the causes which produce them, linking them to infused faith, vivified by charity and illumined by the gifts of wisdom and understanding, thereby discerning better what the progress of the love of God should ordinarily be in every truly generous contemplative soul. From this point of view, he is particularly attentive to what is in the normal way of sanctity, and he studies more profoundly than any of his predecessors the passive purifications of the senses and of the spirit, necessary for the perfect purity of the love of God. Hence he is led to insist less on the extraordinary graces which sometimes accompany infused contemplation and which, in his works, appear more like concomitant phenomena that are, so to speak, exterior and accidental. He also dwells less on the consideration of our Savior’s humanity, that he may fix his attention on the primary object of infused contemplation, which proceeds from faith under, the special inspiration of the gifts of understanding and wisdom; this object is God Himself, present in us and attained in the obscurity of faith by a quasi-experiential knowledge, which He Himself excites in us.

We, as well as many others, have often pointed out these differences. They show that the author of The Dark Night does much to complete what we read in St. Teresa and they make the understanding of her works easier for the theologian who seeks to explain, by their proximate principle or their cause, the states described by the mystics.


In recent years a number of theologians (Father Arintero, O.P., Father Garate, S.J., Canon Saudrea, and several others) have shown that these differences have a common basis. We expressed the same opinion in Christian Perfection and Contemplation.865 As a matter of fact, although St. Teresa speaks from personal experience, she is sufficiently well acquainted with that of her daughters to be able to set forth in the description of the seven mansions what ordinarily happens to souls passing through them. And, making use of the indications that she gives in various passages, we can discern more clearly what is essential to the mystical life, even in each of the seven mansions, and what is only a concomitant phenomenon, such as ecstasy or a beginning of ecstasy. As we have pointed out866 several times,. St. Teresa says clearly that in the prayer of quiet first of all the will alone is seized, captivated by God, then the intellect and the imagination; finally, in ecstasy, the exercise of the exterior senses is suspended. But St. Teresa knows that the suspension of the imagination and the senses is only a concomitant and accessory phenomenon of infused contemplation. Speaking to her daughters she says: “In reality there are very few who never enter this mansion: some more and some less, but most of them may be said at least to gain admittance into these rooms. I think that certain graces I am about to describe are bestowed on only a few of the nuns, but if the rest only arrive at the portal, they receive a great boon from God, for ‘many are called, but few are chosen.’”867

St. Teresa is well aware of the fact that ecstasy is not a certain sign of a greater intensity of knowledge and love of God, since she says that it generally ceases in the most perfect mystical state, the transforming union.868 Father Lallemant, S.J., rightly insisted on this point.869

St. Teresa also notes that in the prayer of quiet, “where the will alone is captive,” the other faculties are at times the auxiliaries of the will and engage in its service; at other times their contribution serves only to trouble it. “When the will enjoys this quiet,” she says, “it should take no more notice of the understanding (or imagination) than it would of an idiot.”870 The saint also says that the consolation springing from the prayer of quiet is often interrupted by aridities, by temptations against patience and chastity, that is, by the trials which St. John of the Cross speaks of in the passive night of the senses.871 This explains why, even for St. Teresa, over and above consoled quiet, there is arid quiet, which St. Jane de Chantal872 described several times, and which is found in what the author of The Dark Night calls the passive purification of the senses.

St. Teresa also points out that the prayer of union, described in the fifth mansion, is often incomplete, without the suspension of the imagination and memory, which sometimes wage a veritable war on the understanding and the Will.873 Then, as in the prayer of quiet, the soul should pay no more attention to the imagination than to an idiot,874 St. Teresa is speaking of this incomplete mystical union when she says: “Is it necessary, in order to attain to this kind of divine union, for the powers of the soul to be suspended? No; God has many ways of enriching the soul and bringing it to these mansions besides what might be called a ‘short cut.’ “875

Some have believed this “short cut” and the delights found in it to be infused or mystical contemplation, whereas it is only the suspension of the imagination and the memory, or a beginning of ecstasy, which sometimes accompanies mystical union and greatly aids it. Father Arintero, O.P.,876 Father Garate, S.J.,877 and Canon Saudreau878 have shown this to be so.

If St. Teresa were to say that a soul can reach the fifth mansion by a non-mystical way, or without infused contemplation, she would state the contrary of what she often affirms in The Way of Perfection879 and also in the fourth mansion of The Interior Castle. Since, as a matter of fact, in the fourth mansion the prayers of supernatural or passive recollection and quiet are already infused (and this is the essential characteristic of this period of the interior life), with even greater reason those of the fifth mansion are infused.880

The prayer of passive union is, therefore, not extraordinary in its principle or in its very essence, although certain of its accidental, concomitant phenomena may be. St. John of the Cross certainly shows this more clearly, but even in The Interior Castle it is quite manifest.

Lastly, it should be noted that St. Teresa describes in the first chapter of the sixth mansion a very painful period of trial which manifestly corresponds to what St. John of the Cross calls the passive night of the spirit preceding perfect union. St. Teresa speaks of “the interior anguish of the soul at the sight of its own wretchedness. . . . For one of the severe trials of these souls . . . is their belief that God permits them to be deceived in punishment for their sins, . . . When . . . they discover any faults in themselves, these torturing thoughts return. . . . They become almost unbearable. Especially is this the case when such spiritual dryness ensues that the mind feels as if it never had thought of God, nor ever will be able to do so.”

These observations permit us to recognize a common principle under the differences found between St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross. Moreover, how could it be otherwise, since both of them describe the way of perfect union and the different stages in this ascent?


Quite recently, however, in the Traduction nouvelle des oeuvres de saint Jean de la Croix, by Mother Mary of the Blessed Sacrament of the Carmel of Mangalore (Vol. III, appendix 5), the translator, to whom we owe a fluent and generally faithful version of the works of St. Teresa (known as the Edition of the Carmelites of Paris), insists almost solely on the differences between the two great saints of Carmel. This appendix recalls the general introduction of the same work, which seemed to reach the conclusion that there is disagreement between the two saints, especially in regard to the consideration of Christ’s humanity. In the Etudes Carmelitaines (April, 1934), Father Eliseus of the Nativity insisted on rectifying immediately certain conclusions, which he declared to be contrary to the text of The Interior Castle and to the ensemble of the teaching of St. John of the Cross881 He writes as follows: “In vain Reverend Mother eagerly repeats that it is not a question of ‘contradiction’; we are surprised to learn suddenly from her that St. John of the Cross was-Heavens! it must be said—so roughly treated by the Foundress.882

In the fifth appendix, contained in the third volume of this translation, the translator insists on eleven differences relating to the way the two saints conceived of contemplation, its beginnings, infused character, the cooperation that the soul may bring to it, by disposing itself for it or failing to do so, relating also to the passive purifications, to the role of faith in contemplation, to extraordinary favors, to illusions, to the humanity of Christ, to death to the world. After these eleven differences, one would expect to see the points of agreement between these two great saints on the lofty subject of infused contemplation and the union with God resulting from it. However, we are told nothing about this subject. The translator seems even to believe that, to find this agreement, the profound knowledge which theology can give of the theological virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost is not of great use.

As a rule Thomistic theologians, those of Carmel as well as those of the Order of St. Dominic, especially Cajetan, O.P.,883 Joseph of the Holy Ghost, CD.,884 more recent writers,885 Father Gardeil, O.P.,886 and also Father de la Taille, S.J., and many others hold that infused contemplation proceeds from infused faith enlightened by the gifts (a fide infusa donis illustrata), or that it is “an act of the virtue of faith actuated by the Holy Ghost, whose touch causes the gifts to vibrate.”

On this subject the translator tells us: “As for these subtle deductions, we are far from making them ours. It is certain that St. John of the Cross gives faith an extremely preponderant place in his mystical teaching.—Does St. Teresa make contemplation rest on the exercise of the virtue of faith? In no way.”887

If this were really the case, there would be a serious disagreement. But she is obliged to recognize a few lines farther on that “the virtue of faith evidently exists in her contemplation [that of St. Teresa] like a substratum.” Then how can she maintain that St. Teresa “does not make contemplation rest in any way whatsoever on the exercise of the infused virtue of faith”?

And how faintly comprehend “the extremely preponderant place” which she admits that St. John of the Cross gives to faith in his mystical teachings, if one does not go more deeply into what the theology of St. Thomas and his best commentators can tell us on this subject, if one dispenses oneself from examining it, and says: “As for these subtle deductions, we are far from making them ours”? Would St. Teresa, who willingly sought light from theologians, have spoken thus?

In the same appendix, apropos of what we wrote in Perfection chretienne et contemplation888 on the subject of the passage from meditation, which has become impracticable, to initial infused contemplation (with the meaning given to it by St. John of the Cross), the translator reminds us that, “to advise St. Teresa’s prayer of quiet for a soul which God does not gratify with it, would be entirely wasted effort.”889 We did not at all forget when writing that passage that the prayer of quiet is infused and not acquired, even in its essential element, abstraction being made of a given concomitant and consoling phenomenon which facilitates it. We said repeatedly in the same work that no one can acquire it, although one can prepare oneself to receive the special inspiration of the Holy Ghost which is its proximate principle. With this meaning, St. Teresa herself speaks of the noria (waterwheel) which symbolizes this work, which prepares the soul to receive the divine illumination.890

The translator also points out to us in the same appendix, apropos of the aforementioned passage, that we did not mention between “meditation, which has become impracticable” and “the prayer of quiet,” the initial obscure contemplation which St. John of the Cross speaks of in the night of the senses (that contemplation later on occasionally called acquired or mixed contemplation, which prepares for infused), or that which St. Jane de Chantal speaks of. We are all the more surprised at this remark since, in the lines which precede the passage mentioned and in those which follow it, we speak precisely of the initial infused contemplation of St. John of the Cross, and of that of “simple surrender to God” of St. Jane de Chantal.891

We conclude by repeating that if between the two great mystics of Carmel there exist certain differences easy to see and often pointed out, which are clearly explained by the fact that St. John of the Cross is a theologian and St. Teresa is not, there is, nevertheless, in their works an undeniable common principle, a fundamental conception of infused contemplation, of the union with God which results from it, and of the passive purifications necessary to reach perfect union.

If it is fitting to point out their differences, it is even more important to indicate their fundamental agreement; and in order to see in what this harmony consists, one should not neglect the help which the profound study of theology can give in these difficult questions. It is highly important to distinguish in the mystical life, and even in each of the seven mansions, between what is essential and normal and what is an accessory and concomitant phenomenon.892

PART 4—The Unitive Way of the Perfect

Section I: The Entrance into the Unitive Way through the Night of the Spirit

In accordance with our plan for the division of this work,893 we shall follow the teaching of St. John of the Cross, who is the faithful echo of the tradition of the great spiritual writers, and treat of the night of the spirit at the beginning of the unitive way, since, according to the Mystical Doctor, the night of the spirit marks the entrance into this way, understood in its full and intense meaning. We shall see the nature of the passive purification of the spirit, the conduct to be observed in it, its effects, and the principal characteristics of the spiritual age of the perfect or of souls already purified.


In this fourth part we shall discuss, first of all, the entrance into the unitive way. According to St. John of the Cross, the soul enters this way by the passive purification of the spirit, which he explains in the second book of The Dark Night. In our opinion the Mystical Doctor thus preserves and examines thoroughly the traditional doctrine, because he considers the illuminative way of proficients and the unitive way of the perfect not in their diminished forms, but in their normal plenitude. From this higher point of view, the illuminative way demands the passive purification of the senses, which, we have seen, marks the entrance to it and is like a second conversion, analogous to that of the apostles, especially of Peter, during the dark night of the Passion. For the same reason, the unitive way of the perfect demands a passive purification of the spirit, which is like a third conversion, or rather a transformation of the soul, similar to that experienced by the apostles when, after being painfully deprived of the presence of Christ on Ascension Day, they received the Holy Ghost on Pentecost. This new purification strengthened them greatly and prepared them for their apostolate, which from then on, was to have its source in the plenitude of the contemplation of the mystery of Christ. This was truly the case, as St Peter’s sermons on Pentecost and the following days show.894

We shall, therefore, discuss, first of all, the necessity of the passive purification of the spirit because of the defects which subsist in proficients or the advanced. We shall see the nature of this purification and its theological explanation; we shall give the rules for direction appropriate at this stage, and point out the effects of this purification and its concomitant trials.

It will then be easier to characterize the spiritual age of the perfect, to see the nature of the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity in the purified soul, to describe the contemplative faith of the perfect, their confidence in God, their abandonment, charity, and zeal. We shall thus be led to speak of the transforming union, following chiefly St. John of the Cross, and of the radiation of this intimate union with God in the life of reparation and in the apostolate. We shall thus be able better to determine what constitutes the full perfection of Christian life, the normal prelude of the life of heaven and the immediate disposition to receive the beatific vision without passing through purgatory.

To show more clearly in what this normal plenitude of Christian life consists, we shall not discuss in this Section the essentially extraordinary graces that sometimes accompany and even precede the transforming union; we shall deal with them in the following section. Thus we can draw a clearer distinction between every essentially extraordinary grace and the normal summit of the life of grace on earth, that is, the full development of the virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost. To be sure, this summit is an eminent and relatively rare state, like lofty perfection; but it does not follow that it is an intrinsically extraordinary favor, like the gift of prophecy and other charisms, or graces gratis datae, which are, besides, inferior to sanctifying grace. St. Thomas895 proves that prophecy and other similar charisms are only as it were exterior signs, whereas sanctifying grace, from which proceed charity, the other infused virtues, and the gifts, unites us to God and tends while growing to unite us ever more closely to Him, until it merits the name of consummated grace, which is eternal life itself.

Chapter 34: The necessity of the Passive Purification of the Spirit, and the Prelude of the Unitive Way

Christ said: “I am the true vine; and My Father is the husbandman. Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit, He will take away: and everyone that beareth fruit, He will purge it, that it may bring forth more fruit. . . . He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit. . . . If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you shall ask whatever you will; and it shall be done unto you.”896 But to reach this state, the good branch must be pruned. In his commentary on St. John’s Gospel, St. Thomas says: “In the natural vine, the branch which has many shoots yields less fruit, because the sap loses its efficacy by excessive diffusion in these superfluous shoots; therefore the vine-dresser prunes them. Something similar occurs in a man who is well disposed and united to God, but whose affection and life are excessively exteriorized in various ways; the strength of his interior life is then diminished and less efficacious in regard to the good to be accomplished. For this reason the Lord, who in this respect is like the vine-dresser, prunes His good servants and frequently cuts away what is useless in them so that they may bear more fruit. He purifies them for a long time, sending them tribulations, permitting temptations that oblige them to a holy and meritorious resistance, which renders them stronger in regard to the good. The Lord inures to war and thus purifies those who are already pure, for no one is ever sufficiently so on earth, according to St. John’s statement: ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us’ (I John 1:8). Thus the Lord purifies His servants so that they may bear more fruit, that they may grow in virtue and be proportionately richer in good works as they are more pure.

This text from St. Thomas’ commentary on St. John refers properly to the passive purifications, which the just man does not impose upon himself like mortification, but which he receives from God. Thus was purified holy Job, who declared: “The life of man upon earth is a warfare.”897 It is a time of laborious and painful service, a time of trial, like the life of a soldier. Such it was for the apostles after Christ left them on Ascension Day, and they assembled in the upper room to pray and prepare themselves for the struggles which Christ had announced to them, and which were to be crowned by their martyrdom.

The fathers of the Church and spiritual writers have often spoken in this intimate sense of the cross we must bear daily, the cross of the sensibility and that of the spirit, that the lower and the higher parts of the soul may gradually be purified, that the sensitive part may be perfectly subjected to the spirit, and the spirit to God.

The fathers have often commented on these words of Scripture: “As when one sifteth with a sieve, the dust will remain: so will the perplexity of a man in his thoughts. The furnace trieth the potter’s vessels, and the trial of affliction just men.”898 “For gold and silver are tried in the fire, but acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation.”899 “From above He hath sent fire into my bones,”900 said Jeremias in his Lamentations. Christ likewise said to Peter before the Passion: “Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.”901 Now this is realized especially in the passive purification of the spirit, which prepares the soul for the life of close union with God. St. Augustine,902 St. Gregory the Great,903 St. Maxim,904 Hugh of St. Victor,905 Ruysbroeck,906 Tauler,907 and more profoundly St. John of the Cross,908 have shown that this purification is necessary because of the defects that remain in the proficients or advanced.


Consideration of this subject is advantageous to interior souls, especially for three reasons: that they may see more clearly the necessity and the value of the daily cross that each must carry; that they may also better discern the unreasonable troubles which they foolishly create for themselves from those which have a true purifying value; lastly, that they may get a more exact idea of purgatory, which will be necessary for them if they do not profit sufficiently by the crosses sent to them in this life.

There are still many defects in proficients who have made considerable progress, the inferior or sensible part of whose souls is already in large part purified, and who have begun to live the life of the spirit through the initial infused contemplation of the mysteries of faith. The stains of the old man still remain in their spirit like rust that will disappear only under the action of a purifying fire.

St. John of the Cross points out909 that these advanced souls are still often subject to indirectly voluntary distractions in prayer, to dullness, to useless dissipation, to excessively human sympathy for certain persons, leading to a lack of esteem for others, which is more or less contrary to justice and charity. They have moments of natural rudeness, the result of the sin of impatience. Some fall into illusion by being too much attached to certain spiritual communications; they expose themselves to the devil, who takes pleasure in deceiving them by false prophecies. Others, under the same influence, fall into bitter zeal, which leads them to sermonize their neighbor and to deliver untimely remonstrances. Thereby, though unaware of it, these advanced souls are puffed up with spiritual pride and presumption and thus deviate from the simplicity, humility, and purity required for close union with God. St. John of the Cross says: “Some of them become so entangled in manifold falsehoods and delusions, and so persist in them that their return to the pure road of virtue and real spirituality is exceedingly doubtful”910 Evidently there are greater dangers than those at the beginning.

According to the holy doctor, this matter is inexhaustible; and so far he has considered only the defects relative to the purely interior life, to relations with God. What would it be if one were to consider the defects that advanced souls still have in their relations with superiors, equals, and inferiors; if one were to consider all that, in this period of the spiritual life, still injures charity and justice; all that, in those who have to teach, govern or direct souls, stains their apostolate, teaching, government, and direction?

Spiritual or intellectual pride, which still subsists, inspires excessive attachment to personal judgment, to one’s own way of seeing, feeling, sympathizing, willing. From it are born jealousy, secret ambition, or again great authoritarianism, unless one is by temperament inclined to the contrary defect, that is, to excessive indulgence and to weakness toward those who oppress others. Here too, may often be remarked a lack of promptness and generosity in obedience, or, on the contrary, a servility inspired by self-love. Frequent also are faults against charity through jealousy, envy, slander, discord, contention.

At this stage may reappear many deviations, which seriously trouble the life of the soul. The root of the higher faculties of intellect and will is still deeply tainted with pride, personal judgment, and self-will. The divine light and the will of God do not yet reign there uncontested; far from it. These stains, which are in the root of the higher faculties, have, in some cases, been there for a long time; they may become encrusted as they grow old and may profoundly alter the character by turning it away from true intimacy with God. Thence are born many defamations and at times most grievous divisions among those who should work together for the good of souls.

St. John of the Cross says that this state of things shows that, “if they be not removed by the strong soap and lye of the purgation of this night, the spirit cannot attain to the pureness of the divine Union.”911 “The intercourse of proficients with God is, however, still most mean, because the gold of the spirit is not purified and refined. They think, therefore, and speak of Him as children (they have little understanding of the ways of Providence, which humiliates them in order to exalt them), and their feelings are those of children, as described by the Apostle: ‘When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child,’912 because they have not reached perfection, which is union with God in love. But in the state of union, having grown to manhood, they do great things in spirit—all their actions and all their faculties being now rather divine than human.913 This is a clear way of stating that the full perfection of Christian life belongs normally to the mystical order, since it presupposes the passive purifications of the senses and of the spirit, which are sharply characterized passive or mystical states easily distinguished from melancholy and other fruitless spells of dejection of the same kind, as we shall see farther on. It is a question here of fruitful spiritual suffering and of a spiritual winter that prepares the germination of a new spring. Winter is indispensable in nature; there is also one which may be very useful in the life of the soul.

This is why St. Augustine used to say the prayer, often repeated centuries later by St. Louis Bertrand: “Lord, burn, cut, do not spare on this earth, that Thou mayest spare in eternity.” It is important to be purified on earth with merit rather than after death without merit. Nothing soiled enters heaven; consequently, to enter there the soul must, sooner or later, undergo a profound purification. The beatific vision of the divine essence cannot, it is evident, be granted to a soul that is still impure.


Before St. John of the Cross, Tauler greatly insisted on the depths of our will, which need to be purified from the often unconscious egoism that has for long subsisted in it, leading us to disturbing and fruitless conversation with ourselves and not to tranquilizing and vivifying conversation with God.

Tauler914 often speaks of the unconscious egoism that still inclines us to seek ourselves in everything and at times to judge our neighbor with severity while treating ourselves with great indulgence. This same egoism which makes us seek ourselves in many things is especially evident when trial strikes us; we are then completely upset and seek help, consolation, and counsel from without, where God is not to be found. We have not built our house sufficiently on Christ the rock, with the result that it lacks solidity. We have built on self, on self-will, which is equivalent to building on sand; thus at times there is great weakness underlying harshness of judgment.

Tauler declares: “There is only one way to triumph over these obstacles: God would have to take complete possession of the interior of the soul and occupy it, which happens only to His true friends. He sent us His only Son in order that the holy life of the God-Man, His great and perfect virtue, examples, teachings, and multiple sufferings might lift us above ourselves, make us leave ourselves completely (draw us from this depth of egoism), and that we might let our own pallid light disappear in the true and essential light.”915

“This light [of the Word made flesh] shines in the darkness, but the darkness did not comprehend it (John 1:5). None but the poor in spirit and those who are completely stripped of self, of self-love, and of their individual wills, receive this light. There are many who have been materially poor for forty years and who have never received the slightest [interior] ray of it. Through their senses and reason, they know thoroughly what is said of this light, but, in its essence, they have never tasted it; it is foreign to them and remains far from them.”916

Again Tauler says: “It is thus that, whereas simple common folk followed our Lord, the Pharisees, the princes of the priests and the scribes, every class that had the appearance of sanctity, harshly opposed Him and ended by putting Him to death.”917 God is the grandeur of humble souls, and His very lofty ways remain hidden to our pride.

We see, consequently, to what extremities we may be led by this depth of egoism and pride which blinds us and hinders us from recognizing our sins. Therefore it is important that the light of life of living faith and of the gifts of the Holy Ghost should penetrate the depths of our intellect and, as it were, the root of our will.

That we may receive this light and these gifts, it is not sufficient to know the letter of the Gospel and adhere to it; we must assimilate its spirit profoundly. Otherwise, appearing as Christians and using the language of Christians, we would preserve in the depths of our being something which is not Christian and which resists the light of life. There would be in the depths of our intellect and will as it were a citadel which would serve as a refuge for self-love, which is unwilling to surrender and to allow the reign of God to be profoundly and eternally established in us. Thereby certain souls, that think themselves quite advanced but that do not recognize their defects, are in greater peril than the common run of men who admit that they are sinners and who preserve the fear of God.

Consequently we should meditate on Tauler’s conclusion: “Therefore, well-beloved children, employ all your activity, both of soul and body, to obtain that this true light may shine in you in such a way that you may taste it. In this way you will be able to return to your origin, where the true light shines. Desire, ask, with nature and without nature,918 that this grace may be granted to you. Employ all your energy to this end, pray to the friends of God that they may help you in this work; attach yourself to those who are attached to God in order that they may lead you to God with them. May this grace be granted to all of us, and may the all loving God help us! Amen.”919

As a note in the translation which we have just quoted points out, Tauler draws a distinction here between the ordinary knowledge of faith, common to all the faithful, and mystical knowledge, the loving experience of God felt in the depths of the soul, which is reserved to the friends of God. Tauler invites all his hearers and readers to desire this intimate knowledge that transforms the center of the soul by illumining it, and that liberates it from this prison of egoism in which the soul had shut itself up. In this way alone can it be deified, divinized, by participating profoundly through grace in the inner life of God. All these defects, which still subsist in a measure in the depths of the intellect and will, even in the advanced, demand, therefore, a purification that God alone can effect. “God alone can deify, as fire alone can ignite,” St. Thomas says in substance.920

This passive purification will certainly not be without suffering, and, as St. John of the Cross teaches, it will even be a mystical death, the death to self, the disintegration of self-love, which until then has resisted grace, at times with great obstinacy. Here pride must receive the deathblow that it may give place to genuine humility, a virtue which has been compared to the deepest root of a tree, a root which buries itself so much the more deeply in the soil as the loftiest branch, the symbol of charity, rises higher toward the sky.

This center of the soul, the refuge of personal judgment and self­love that is often very subtle, must be illumined by the divine light and filled by God, rendered completely healthy, and vivified. On the feast of the Purification, at Mass and in the procession each person carries a lighted candle, the symbol of the light of life that each should bear in the innermost depths of his soul. This light of life was given to man on the first day of creation; extinguished by sin, it was rekindled by the grace of conversion and by the hope of the promised Redeemer. This light grew in the souls of the patriarchs and the prophets until the coming of Christ, “a light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of . . . Israel,” as the aged Simeon said in his beautiful canticle, Nunc dimittis, on the occasion of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

This same light of life, which grew in humanity until the advent of the Messias, should also grow in each of our souls from baptism until our entrance into heaven. It should gradually illumine and vivify the very center of our intellect and our heart that this depth may be not an obscure depth of egoism, personal judgment, and resistance to grace, but a depth of light and goodness where the Holy Ghost, the source of living water springing up into eternal life, may reign increasingly.

From what we have just said it is evident that the passive purification of the spirit, made necessary by the defects of proficients, is the decisive struggle between two spirits: the spirit of pride, which may grow even to blasphemy, to hatred of God, and despair, and that of humility and charity, which is eternal life begun in us. These two conflicting spirits may be symbolized by two trees, one of which illustrates the teaching of St. Gregory the Great and St. Thomas on the roots and results of the seven capital sins, while the other explains their doctrine on humility and charity, and the connection of these virtues with the other virtues and the seven gifts.

We showed earlier in this work,921 following these two great doctors, that from egoism or inordinate self-love is born,—together with the concupiscence of the flesh and that of the eyes,—pride, from which proceed especially four capital sins: vanity, acedia, envy, and anger. We have also seen that from the capital sins spring other defects and sins that are often still more serious; among them should be noted particularly blindness of spirit, discord, rancor, hardness of heart, blasphemy, hatred of God, and despair. The tree of evil with its accursed flowers and poisonous fruits symbolizes these sins.

In contradistinction, the tree of the virtues and of the gifts has for its root humility, a root which penetrates more and more deeply into the earth in order to draw nourishing secretions from it. The lower branches of this tree are the cardinal virtues with the connected virtues and the corresponding gifts; its higher branches are faith, hope, and charity, the last being the loftiest and most fruitful. To faith is attached the gift of understanding, and also that of knowledge, which greatly perfects hope by showing us the vanity of created things, the inefficacy of human helps for a divine end, and by leading us consequently to desire eternal life and to place our trust in God. To charity corresponds the gift of wisdom. From it principally proceeds contemplation; and from contemplation, actual union with God, which should become almost continuous, and also perfect abandonment.

That this tree of the virtues and of the gifts may reach its full development, there must be a definitive victory over the remains of intellectual and spiritual pride which subsist in proficients. Whence the necessity of the passive purification of the spirit in which, with an eminent help from the Holy Ghost, the soul makes heroic acts of the theological virtues to resist temptations contrary to these virtues.

Chapter 35: Description of the Passive Purification of the Spirit

In the preceding chapter we discussed the defects of proficients or the advanced, the remains of spiritual or intellectual pride found in them, and the absolute need of purification for the depth of the soul impregnated with self-love and subtle egoism. The Lord alone can effect this profound purification.

We purpose here to describe this purification so that it may not be confused either with sufferings springing only from melancholy or neurasthenia, or with the sensible aridity of beginners. Such a con­fusion would evidently be an unpardonable error.922


As the passive purification of the sensible parr of the soul is manifested by the loss of the sensible consolations to which it was excessively attached, the passive purification of the spirit seems at first to consist in the deprivation of the lights previously received of the mysteries of faith. Having become too familiar, as it were, with them, the facility with which the soul considered them in prayer caused it to forget their infinite elevation; it thought of them in a manner somewhat too human. It dwelt, for example, a little too much on Christ’s humanity, without living sufficiently by faith in His divinity; it attained as yet only the exterior aspects of the great mysteries of Providence, of the Incarnation, of the redemption, of the Mass, and of the life of the indefectible Church in the midst of continually recurring trials. The soul had still only a very superficial knowledge of these spiritual realities; its view of these mysteries was like that of a stained-glass window seen from without.

Then, what occurs? To lift the soul above this excessively inferior and superficial knowledge of divine things, the Lord detaches it from this way of thinking and praying and seems to strip it of its lights. In the words of St. John of the Cross: “God now denudes the faculties, the affections, and feelings, spiritual and sensual, interior and exterior, leaving the understanding in darkness, the will dry, the memory empty, the affections of the soul in the deepest affliction, bitterness, and distress; withholding from it the former sweetness it had in spiritual things.”923

The sadness then experienced is very different from that which has its origin in neurasthenia, disillusions, or the contradictions of life. The chief difference is that the sadness of the passive purification of the spirit is accompanied by an ardent desire for God and perfection, by a persistent seeking after Him who alone can nourish the soul and vivify it. No longer only a sensible aridity, it is a dryness of the spiritual order, which springs, not from the deprivation of sensible consolations, but from the loss of the lights to which the soul was accustomed.

The soul should then walk “in the dark, in pure .faith, which is the dark night of the natural faculties.”924 It can no longer easily apply itself to the consideration of our Savior’s humanity; on the contrary, it is deprived of such consideration, as were the apostles immediately after Christ’s ascension into heaven. During the months preceding the Ascension, their intimacy with Him had grown daily; it had become their life, and then one day He took final leave of them on this earth, thus depriving them of the sight of Him and of His encouraging words. They must have felt very much alone, as it were, isolated, especially while thinking of the difficulties of the mission our Savior had entrusted to them: the evangelization of an impious world, plunged in all the errors of paganism. On the evening of Ascension Day, the apostles must have experienced the impression of profound solitude, similar to that of the desert and of death. We can get a slight idea of this solitude, when, after living in a higher plane during a fervent retreat under the direction of a priest who is closely united to God, we return to ordinary everyday life, which seems suddenly to deprive us of this plenitude. The same thing is true, and indeed much more so, after the death of a father, of a founder of an order, for those whom he leaves and who must continue his work. Thus after Christ’s ascension, the apostles remained gazing toward heaven; their beloved Master had been taken from their gaze, and they felt alone in the face of all the sufferings to come.

They must then have recalled Christ’s words: “I tell you the truth: it is expedient to you that I go. For if I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”925 “It is expedient to you that I go,” that I deprive you of My sensible presence. In his commentary on St. John (loc. cit.), St. Thomas says: “The apostles were attached to the humanity of Christ, they did not rise sufficiently to the spiritual love of His divinity, and were not yet prepared to receive the Holy Ghost . . . who was to be given to them to console them and strengthen them in the midst of their tribulations.”

This deprivation of the sensible presence of Christ’s humanity which preceded the transformation of the apostles, effected on Pentecost, throws light on the state of darkness and desolation that we are discussing. It seems to the soul in this state that it enters a spiritual night, for it is deprived of the lights which hitherto illumined it; darkness descends as when the sun goes down.


But does the soul see nothing in this dark night? In the natural order when the sun has set and completely disappeared, at least some stars are visible, which convey an idea of the depth of the firmament. Hence at night we can see much farther than during the day; true, hills or mountains, fifty or a hundred miles away, are no longer visible, but we can see stars and constellations which are thousands of leagues from the earth. The nearest star requires four and a half years to send us its light. The sun seems larger than the stars, although those of the first six magnitudes are far greater than it.

In this natural fact we have a sensible symbol of a lofty truth. When the soul enters the spiritual darkness we are speaking of, it no longer sees what is near it, but it has an increasingly better anticipatory apprehension of the infinite majesty ana purity of God, although it does not see it, an apprehension superior to all the ideas that we of ourselves can have of Him; and, by contrast, it perceives much more clearly its own indigence and wretchedness.

Thus after the Ascension, the apostles, deprived of the presence of Christ’s humanity, began to glimpse all the majesty of the Son of God. On Pentecost, Peter preached to the Jews with unshakable faith: “But the Author of life you killed, whom God hath raised from the dead.”926 “This [Jesus] is the stone which was rejected by you the builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other.”927

Such is the lofty contemplation born in the darkness of which we are speaking. When the sun has set, we see the stars in the depths of the firmament. But before enjoying the contemplation of the starry sky, we must become used to walking fearlessly in the night and triumphing over powerful temptations against faith and hope, just as, during the night of the senses, it was necessary to overcome many temptations against chastity and patience that have their seat in the sensible part of the soul.

We may profit by recalling the case of the holy Cure of Ars. His principal suffering sprang from the fact that he felt himself far from the ideal of the priesthood, whose grandeur appeared increasingly to him in the obscurity of faith, at the same time that he had an ever clearer understanding of the needs of the innumerable souls coming to him. The more he saw all the good that remained to be done, the less he saw what had already been accomplished; consequently he could not be complacent about it. His great suffering, which approached that of Jesus, Priest and Victim, and of Mary at the foot of the cross, was that which comes from the sight of sinand from the loss of souls. This suffering presupposes a penetrating view which is nothing else than the contemplation of the infinite goodness of God, who is disregarded and outraged, and of the value of eternal life. This contemplation grows more and more in the dark night of faith which we are discussing.

St. Catherine of Siena pointed out in her Dialogue that the contemplation of our indigence and wretchedness and that of the infinite majesty and goodness of God are like the lowest and highest points of a circle that could grow forever. In reality, in this contemplation there is a contrast, a clear-cut opposition between two things which in an admirable manner mutually illumine each other.

In the life of Blessed Angela of Foligno we find a striking example of this fact, which she recounts as follows: “I see myself deprived of every good, of every virtue, filled with a multitude of vices; . . . in my soul I see only defects . . . false humility, pride, hypocrisy. . . . I would wish to cry out my iniquities to others. . . . God is hidden for me. . . . How can I hope in Him? . . . Though all the wise men of the world and all the saints of paradise were to overwhelm me with their consolations, they would bring me no relief, if God does not change me in the depths of my soul. This interior torment is far worse than martyrdom.”928 Then, recalling that God Himself was afflicted in Gethsemane, that during His passion He was scorned, buffeted, and tortured, she wished that her suffering might be increased still more, for it seemed to her a purifying suffering, which revealed to her the depths of the Passion. Some days later, on a road near Assisi, she heard these interior words: “O My daughter! I love thee more than any other person in this valley. . . . Thou hast prayed to My servant Francis, hoping to obtain with him and through him. Francis loved Me greatly, I did much in him; but if anyone loved Me more than Francis, I would do more for him. . . . I love with an immense love the soul that loves Me without falsehood. . . . Now, no one has any excuse, for all the world can love; God asks only love from the soul; for He Himself loves without falsehood, and is Himself the love of the soul.”929 Causing her to glimpse His passion, Jesus crucified added: “Look closely: dost thou find anything in Me which is not love?”930

Another striking example of the spiritual night which we are speaking of is found in St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists. We read in his Letters:

Little corporal or spiritual tribulations are the first steps of this lofty and holy ladder which great and generous souls climb. They ascend step by step until they reach the last rung. There, at the summit, they find the purest suffering, without the slightest admixture of consolation coming from heaven or earth (the suffering which comes from offense offered to God). And if these souls are faithful in not seeking consolations, they will pass from this pure suffering to the pure love of God, without anything else being mingled with it. But rare are the souls which reach such a degree. . . .

It seems to them that they are abandoned by God, that He no longer loves them, that He is irritated against them. . . . This is almost the pain of damnation, if I may express myself in this manner, a suffering, whose bitterness is comparable to no other. But if the soul is faithful, what treasures it amasses! The storms pass and go, the soul approaches true, very sweet, and very close union with Jesus crucified, who transforms it in Himself and reproduces His own features in it.931

These excerpts show that St. John of the Cross is not the only one who spoke profoundly of the night of the spirit because he had experienced it. Before him, Hugh of St. Victor had compared the passive purification of the soul by grace and the love of God to the transformation which green wood undergoes when attacked by fire: “The dampness is consumed, the smoke diminishes, the victorious flame shows itself; . . . finally it communicates its own nature to the wood, which is set completely on fire. Likewise the love of God gradually grows in the soul, the passions of the heart at first resist, which causes many sufferings and troubles; this thick smoke must be dissipated. Then the love of God becomes more ardent, its flame more lively . . . and finally it penetrates the entire soul. The divine truth is found and assimilated by contemplation; the soul, detached from self, no longer seeks anything but God. He is for it all in all; it rests in His love and finds therein joy and peace.932

Speaking in like terms, Tauler says that the Holy Ghost creates a void in the depth of our souls where egoism and pride still dwell. He creates the void that He may heal us, and then He fills it to overflowing while continually increasing our capacity to receive.933

St. Teresa speaks of the passive purification of the spirit in the first chapter of the sixth mansion of The Interior Castle.

We read also in the life of St. Vincent de Paul that for four years he endured a trial of this type, which was marked by a persistent temptation against faith. The temptation was so strong that he wrote the Credo on a sheet of paper, which he carried over his heart and pressed from time to time to assure himself that he did not consent to the temptation.934

We should also keep in mind that St. John of the Cross, after Tauler, describes this state as it is in the saints in all its amplitude and intensity, such as he himself must have undergone it. But the purification is found in lesser degrees and under less purely contemplative forms, united, for example, to the great trials met with in the apostolate.

If the passive purification of the spirit seems extraordinary to us outside the normal way of sanctity, this is because we do not give enough thought to what a profound purification of the soul is necessary to receive immediately eternal life, the beatific vision of the divine essence, without having to pass through purgatory or after having done so. And when we read the exposition of this doctrine in the great masters, we read it perhaps through a certain curiosity about divine things, but without a sufficiently sincere desire for our own sanctification. If we had this desire, we would find in these pages what is suitable for us, we would see there the one thing necessary.

We must in one way or another pass through this crucible in order to have a concept of our Savior’s passion, of the humility of Jesus and His love for us, that will not be only a confused concept, or only a theoretically distinct concept, but an experimental concept, without which there is no love of the cross or true sanctity.

We must tell ourselves that the world is full of crosses that have unfortunately been lost like that of the bad thief. God grant that our sufferings may not be fruitless and that our crosses may resemble that of the good thief, which served as a reparation for his sins. May our crosses resemble even more closely the cross of Jesus and configure us to Him. Sanctifying grace, as it grows, makes us more and more like to God; inasmuch as it is Christian grace, it assimilates us to Christ crucified, and should make us grow more like Him until our entrance into heaven. It should mark us with the likeness of our Savior who died for love of us.

We must also take into account the inequality between souls and between their means. We must ask of souls only what they can give: of some, a continuous upward surge of heroism; of others, little steps, which bring them ever nearer the end to be attained. But, to be configured to Christ, every soul must sacrifice itself under some form or other.

Chapter 36: The Cause of the Passive Purification of the Spirit

Having described in the preceding chapter the passive purification of the spirit as it appears especially in the interior lives of the great servants of God, we shall now explain this spiritual state theologically by determining its cause. We have seen that it consists chiefly in a profound experiential knowledge of our indigence and wretchedness and, by contrast, of the infinite majesty of God, a knowledge which is accompanied by great spiritual aridity and a lively desire for perfection. What can be the cause of this obscure and painful contemplation?

St. John of the Cross935 answers, as theology must do, by invoking Holy Scripture, which speaks to us in a number of passages of a purifying light, a spiritual fire that rids the soul of its stains.


The Book of Wisdom says of the just: “As gold in the furnace He hath proved them, and as a victim of a holocaust He hath received them.”936 Gold in the crucible is purified by material fire; a still more intense fire is needed to transform coal into a diamond; likewise, in tribulation the soul of the just man is purified by a spiritual fire. Scripture often insists on this thought, telling us that God is a fire which gradually consumes whatever hinders His reign in souls.937

Jeremias writes in his Lamentations: “From above He hath sent fire into my bones. . . . He hath made me desolate, wasted with sorrow all the day long.”938 In the light of this spiritual fire, which in him, the prophet sees far more clearly the sins of Israel, the justice and goodness of God, and he prays earnestly to Him for the salvation of sinners.

The Psalmist says likewise: “Who can understand sins? From my secret ones cleanse me, O Lord.”939 “My substance is as nothing before Thee.”940 “O my God, enlighten my darkness.”941 “Create a clean heart in me, O God.”942 Thus, like a flash of lightning, the Holy Ghost illumines the soul He wishes to purify. He says at times to the soul: “Do you wish to be purified?” And if the reply is what it ought to be, a profound work begins in it; divine truth is given to the soul to deliver it from the depth of self-love that still so often deludes it. “If you continue in My word,” says Christ, “you shall be My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”943 If anyone lives seriously by the words of Christ, correcting himself, the first Truth will gradually penetrate into his soul and deliver it from that most pernicious of lies, the lie that a person tells himself while cherishing his illusions.

We can never too strongly desire this purifying light which Scripture speaks of. Unfortunately we often flee from it, because we are afraid we may be told the truth about ourselves, when we so greatly love to tell others the truth about themselves.

St. John of the Cross simply explains the nature of the purifying light spoken of in Scripture, when he writes: “The dark night is a certain inflowing of God into the soul which cleanses it of its ignorances and imperfections, habitual, natural, and spiritual. Contemplatives call it infused contemplation, or mystical theology, whereby God secretly teaches the soul and instructs it in the perfection of love, without efforts on its own part beyond a loving attention to God, listening to His voice and admitting the light He sends, but without understanding how this is infused contemplation.”944 In the life of the holy Cure of Ars we have a striking example of this state. Comprehending better every day the loftiness of the priestly ideal and judging himself to be farther than ever from it, he certainly did not think then that he was a contemplative, and yet it was God Himself who was enlightening him and instructing him in this way.

Among the comparisons used to explain more clearly the spiritual state we are speaking of is one by Hugh of St. Victor,945 which St. John of the Cross reproduces as follows: “This purgative and loving knowledge, or divine light, . . . is to the soul which it is purifying in order to unite it perfectly to itself,946 as fire is to fuel which it is transforming into itself. The first action of material fire on fuel is to dry it, to expel from it all water and all moisture. It blackens it at once and soils it, and drying it little by little, makes it light and consumes all its foulness and blackness which are contrary to itself. Finally, having heated and set on fire its outward surface, it transforms the whole into itself, and makes it beautiful as itself. . . . It is in this way we have to reason about the divine fire of contemplative love which, before it unites with, and transforms the soul into itself, purges away all its contrary qualities. It expels its impurities, blackens it and obscures it, and thus its condition is apparently worse than it was before. For while the divine purgation is removing all the evil and vicious humors, . . . the soul—though not worse in itself, nor in the sight of God—seeing at last what it never saw before, looks upon itself not only as unworthy of His regard, but even as a loathsome object and that God does loathe it.”947

This salutary crisis is a purgatory before death, in which the soul is purified under the influence, not of a sensible fire, but of the spiritual fire of contemplation and love. “And thus,” says St: John of the Cross, “the soul which passes through this state in the present life, and is perfectly purified, either enters not into purgatory, or is detained there but a moment, for one hour here is of greater moment than many there.”948 The reason is that on earth man is purified while meriting and growing greatly at times in charity, whereas after death he is purified without meriting. And as purgatory is a penalty and every penalty presupposes a sin that could have been avoided, the normal way of sanctity is to undergo the passive purifications of which we are speaking before death and not after death. In reality, however, rare are they who go immediately from earth to heaven, without passing through purgatory. The true order of Christian life is fully realized only in the saints.

Is the purifying light, which we have just spoken of, only that of living faith, or also that of one of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, present in all the Just? If we consider the characteristics of the gift of understanding, we see that it is chiefly this gift which intervenes in this state.


St. John of the Cross offers the following explanation: “Because the soul is to attain to the possession of a certain sense and divine knowledge, most generous and full of sweetness, of all human and divine things which do not fall within the common-sense and natural perceptions of the soul, it views them with different eyes now; as the light and grace of the Holy Ghost differ from those of sense, the divine from the human. . . . For this night is drawing the spirit away from its ordinary and common sense of things, that it may draw it toward the divine sense, which is a stranger and an alien to all human ways; so much so that the soul seems to be carried out of itself.”949

This teaching of St. John of the Cross receives additional light from what St. Thomas says about the gift of understanding and the new penetration and purification of which it is the principle. According to St. Thomas: “The stronger the light of the understanding, the further can it penetrate into the heart of things. Now the natural light of our understanding (even in the greatest geniuses) is of finite power; wherefore it can reach to a certain fixed point. Consequently man needs a supernatural light in order to penetrate further still (into God or into the depths of the life of the soul) so as to know what it cannot know by its natural light: and this supernatural light which is bestowed on man is called the gift of understanding.”950 “Wherefore this addition is not called reason but understanding, since the additional light is in comparison with what know supernaturally, what the natural light is in regard to those things we know from the first.”951

This gift presupposes faith united to charity and perfects it. Living faith makes us firmly adhere to the divine mysteries because God has revealed them, but of itself alone it does not yet make us penetrate the profound meaning of the mysteries, of the majesty of God, the Incarnation, the redemption, the humiliations of Christ dying for love of us. The penetration that we are here speaking of is not that which comes from study, from theological labor; it proceeds from a special illumination of the Holy Ghost, which, not abstractly and theoretically, but vitally, concretely, and practically, goes farther, higher, and deeper than study. Through the gift of understanding we receive this penetrating illumination with docility. It prevents us, first of all, from confusing the true meaning of the word of God with the erroneous interpretations sometimes given of it. This gift shows us in an instant the inanity of the objections raised by an evil spirit, so wholly different from the spirit of God. Error then creates the impression of a false discordant note in a symphony; though unable to refute it theologically, we see that it is an error. Likewise the gift of understanding emphasizes the immense distance separating spiritual realities from sensible symbols, or the spirit from the flesh.952 Similarly it dispels the confusion between sensible consolations and spiritual tastes, which are far more elevated and more sure, as St. Teresa pointed out.953

Not only does the gift of understanding remove error, but it positively makes man penetrate vitally the truths of religion which are accessible to reason, such as the existence of God, the sovereign freedom of the Creator, and His providence;954 but principally it makes him penetrate the meaning of the supernatural mysteries inaccessible to reason, what St. Paul calls “the deep things of God.”955 It cannot give us here on earth the evidence of these mysteries, but, in the obscurity of faith, it manifests to us their deep meaning, so difficult to express in human speech. It thus shows us the majesty of God, of His wisdom, justice, power, and paternity in relation the Word and to us. It gives us, for example, a more profound understanding of the mystery of the redemption by making us understand St. Paul’s words: “Christ Jesus . . . emptied Himself . . . He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.”956

The gift of understanding is thus both speculative and practical as St. Thomas says.957 It reminds us of the sovereign importance of the precept of love. In times of strong temptation, for example, to discouragement or even despair, it shows us as it were in a lightning flash the value of eternal life, the loftiness of our last end.958 Thus by the penetration it brings, this gift removes dullness of mind;959 it shows us our culpability far better than the most attentive examination of conscience; it reveals to us our indigence, our poverty, our wretchedness, and by contrast the eminence of God.

Therefore we see how, as St. Augustine and St. Thomas say, it corresponds to the beatitude: “Blessed are the clean of heart.” In fact, it purifies our intellect of speculative and practical errors, of attachment to sensible images; it makes us perceive, though indistinctly, that God is infinitely superior to all created goods, that the Deity or divine essence, which the blessed contemplate immediately, is superior to all the analogical ideas that we can form of it.960 We thus perceive that the Deity, which will appear unveiled only in heaven, is to our ideas of the divine perfections somewhat as white light is to the seven colors of the rainbow which come from it. A man who has never seen whiteness, but only the colors which come from it, cannot say positively what white is. Just so, we cannot say what the inner life of God is. “Nescimus de Deo quid est,” St. Thomas often says. The Deity as such, in which we share only by grace, is superior to all the naturally knowable and participable perfections which it contains formally and eminently; it is superior to being, to unity, to truth, to goodness, to understanding, to love.961 It is the Deity, which we cannot know in its essence as long as we are on earth; that is why great mystics, like Angela of Foligno, have called it “the great darkness.”962 But this great darkness is nothing else than the transluminous obscurity, or, as St. Paul says, “the light inaccessible”963 in which God dwells.

Thus we see why the purifying light of the gift of understanding gives the impression of darkness; it makes us enter on a higher plane into the obscurity of the supernatural, the divine mystery, which is the direct opposite of the obscurity on the lower plane on which we are affected by the condition of material things, by inordinate passions, by sin and error.

We can also understand why St. Thomas tells us that the gift of understanding confirms the supernatural certitude of faith by making us penetrate mysteries and by dispelling error.964 Thus contemplation, which exists in the state of darkness we are speaking of, proceeds from living faith as from its radical principle, and from the gift of understanding as from its proximate principle. The gift of knowledge also often concurs in it by revealing to us more in detail our poverty, culpability, and wretchedness.965

The spiritual aridity found in this state shows that the gift of wisdom does not exert a notable influence in it, for this gift makes us relish divine things and thus brings us great spiritual consolation and profound peace.966

The penetration, which, in this state, comes from the gift of understanding, differs from this relish of the divine mysteries. The proof of it is that he who in this way penetrates or comprehends increasingly the majesty of God, feels that he is alienated from Him because of the contrast between God’s majesty and his own indigence.967 Later, at the end of the purification of the spirit, he will taste profoundly the presence of the Blessed Trinity in his soul, he will have a quasi-experimental knowledge of it, which was, as it were, sketched before the night of the spirit, and which, after this night, will appear in its plenitude in the transforming union.

St. John of the Cross describes the passive purification of the spirit as it is realized in great saints, but, all proportion being kept it should exist in every servant of God that his higher faculties may be truly purified to their depths, either on earth or after death in purgatory, since nothing unclean can enter heaven. Moreover, the proximate principle of this purification, the penetrating light of the gift of understanding, exists in all the just. For this reason Christ says to all: “Blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear,” that you may grasp the spirit under the letter, the divine reality under figures, symbols, or parables. Blessed are they who thus distinguish between the spirit of God and a human wisdom that would lead them astray.

It remains for us to explain more fully the reasons why the purifying light of the gift of understanding creates the impression of darkness during the passive purification of the spirit. We shall thus see more clearly how this higher obscurity differs from the lower. In many supernatural facts more or less disconcerting to human reason, such as the passion of Christ, there is an enigma in which some are inclined to see darkness from the lower level of their illusions and pride; others discover the darkness from the higher level, that of God’s inner life and of the mysteries of His grace. We need only recall the first controversies over the apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes to Bernadette. The confusion of these two darknesses is that of two extremes infinitely distant one from the other, between which we have to walk. More than that, we must continually lift ourselves out of the darkness of the lower plane to penetrate more and more into the darkness of that higher plane, which is the inaccessible light in which God dwells. The night of the Spirit thus appears as the normal prelude of eternal life and as its painful germination in us.968

Chapter 37: The Transluminous Obscurity

We have seen that the spiritual light of the gift of understanding, which is given to the soul in the passive purification of the spirit, enlightens it regarding the infinite majesty of God on the one hand, and, by contrast, regarding its own poverty and wretchedness.

Our problem now is why this infused purifying light manifests itself as darkness. Why does it give the impression of a great darkness and why does it at times cause great suffering?

There are three reasons for it, which are pointed out by St. John of the Cross and more readily understood with the help of the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas. A great light gives the impression of darkness because of its very strength and of the elevation of its object. Moreover, it makes us suffer because of our impurity and weakness, which we feel more keenly under certain temptations of the devil that occur in this period.


First of all, St. John of the Cross, following Dionysius and the great theologians, says: “The divine wisdom is so high that it tran­scends the capacity of the soul, and therefore is, in that respect, darkness,”969 because we comprehend with increasing clarity that the divine Essence or the Deity surpasses all the ideas we can have of it, ideas of being, truth, goodness, intelligence, and love; it contains them all in an eminence inaccessible to us, which essentially is sovereignly luminous, but which seems dark to us because we cannot attain it.970 This “inaccessible light”971 in which God dwells is for us the great darkness. Thus the light of the sun seems dark to the eye of the owl, which can bear and attain only the dim light of twilight or dawn. Aristotle pointed this out,972 and Dionysius the Mystic likewise says that contemplation is like “a ray of darkness.”

Consequently what seems clear to us in God, as His existence and the existence of His providence, is what we grasp of it in the mirror of sensible things, in the dim light within our reach. But the intimate harmonization of infinite justice, infinite mercy, and supreme liberty in the mystery of predestination seems very obscure to us, although this intimate harmonization may be intrinsically very luminous. Souls passing through the dark night of the spirit are consequently often tempted on the subject of the mystery of predestination; and in this trial they cannot dwell on the excessively human and seemingly clearer conceptions of this mystery.973 They would feel as if they were descending instead of ascending. They must rise above the temptation by turning, through a great act of faith, toward the superior obscurity of the intimate life of God, of the Deity, in which harmonize infinite justice, infinite mercy, and the supreme liberty of the Most High.

The Blessed Trinity also, which is Light itself, seems obscure to us because too luminous for the weak eyes of our spirit. For this reason St. Teresa says: “I have more devotion to the mysteries of faith in proportion as they are more obscure; because I know that this obscurity comes from a light too great for our weak understanding.” Christ’s passion, which was the darkest and most disconcerting period for the apostles, was that of Christ’s greatest victory over sin and the devil.974


Furthermore, the divine light, given in the night of the spirit, causes suffering because of the impurity still existing in the soul. St. Augustine pointed this out, saying: “The light which so greatly pleases pure eyes is hateful to weak ones.” This is so much truer when this divine light must overcome a special resistance of the soul, which is unwilling to be enlightened in regard to certain of its defects, wishing at times to see virtues in them: for example, in regard to a somewhat bitter zeal and a secret complacency, as a result of which it is deceived by its self-love and by the enemy of the good. “The light shineth in darkness,” says St. John, “and the [inferior] darkness did not comprehend it.”975 This light seems painful when it must overcome resistance, especially a prolonged resistance.

It even happens often that the soul suffers greatly because it cannot understand why God tries it in this way, as if He were an implacable judge. As a result, it has difficulty in believing practically in His goodness; and when someone speaks of the goodness of God, it seems abstract and theoretical to the soul at a time when in its opinion it needs to experience this goodness by a little consolation.976


This interior suffering increases still more through the fear of consenting to temptations arising at this time against faith, hope, and the love of God and of neighbor. Holy Job experienced this fear, and so did the apostles during the Passion and after the Ascension, when Christ had departed from them and left them alone.

In this painful state, the soul sees clearly that at times it resists these temptations, but at others it fears that it consented. This fear causes it anguish, for in this state the soul already greatly loves the Lord and would not for anything in the world offend His majesty or slight His goodness.977

We have here the explanation of the fact that, whereas at the summit of the spirit there is an act of faith illumined by the gift of understanding, a direct and very simple, though unperceived, act of arid contemplation, at the same time the just man is inclined by his lower reason to conclude that he is abandoned by God. This was the case with St. Paul of the Cross when he exclaimed in the streets of Rome: “A via Pauli, libera nos Domine”; also with St. Alphonsus Liguori, who believed that the Order which he had founded was going to perish; with Father Surin in his desolations, from which he emerged occasionally to preach, out of charity, an admirable sermon springing from the depths of his tormented faith, which was daily growing in this struggle. At this stage there is in tried souls, as in those of purgatory, a flux and reflux; carried toward God by the impulse of their love, they feel themselves repulsed by all the wretchedness and pusillanimity which they see in themselves.

As a rule, the director can bring no consolation to the soul thus afflicted, says St. John of the Cross.978 He speaks to it of the glorious end of this trial, of the soft light that will be met with again on leaving this tunnel, but the soul, immersed in suffering, cannot understand these words. It cannot receive consolation by this human and discursive way, but only through a special inspiration of the Holy Ghost and through very simple direct acts which He excites in it. For this reason Father de Caussade says with his usual charm: “Souls walking in the light sing hymns of light; those walking in the darkness sing canticles of darkness. We must let both classes sing even to the end the part and the motet that God assigns to them. We must put nothing into what He is filling; we must let all the drops of this gall of divine bitterness flow, though it should inebriate. Jeremias and Ezechiel acted in this manner. . . . The spirit which renders desolate, alone can console. These different waters flow from the same source.”979

Scripture states several times: “The Lord . . . bringeth down to hell and bringeth back again. The Lord maketh poor and maketh rich, He humbleth and He exalteth.”980 This statement is verified especially in the night of the spirit, which is the mystical death; it prepares the soul for the intimacy of union with God. The soul empty of all self-love can reach absolute sincerity; every mask drops away. The soul no longer possesses anything of its own, but is ready to possess God, like the apostles, of whom it was said: “As having nothing, and possessing all things.”981 The emptiness that it experiences renders it still more eager for God.


The doctrine just set forth is confirmed in several ways. First of all, it is confirmed by the dogma of purgatory. Nothing unclean can enter heaven; therefore the purification of the spirit, which we are speaking of, must be undergone before or after death. However it is far better and more profitable to undergo it before death; for in the present life man merits while growing in charity, whereas in purgatory he no longer merits. It is far better to be purified by the spiritual fire of growing infused love than by another inferior fire. In this connection, it will be profitable to read what St. Catherine of Genoa says in her Treatise on Purgatory about the purification in the next world.

St. John of the Cross points out an additional confirmation: “For the light of God that illumines an angel enlightens him and sets him on fire with love, for he is a spirit already prepared for the infusion of that light; but man, being impure and weak, is ordinarily enlightened . . . in darkness, in distress, and pain—the sun’s rays are painful in their light to weak eyes.”982

When we receive this divine illumination, we are not as a rule conscious that God is enlightening us; nevertheless, some words of the Gospel on mercy or justice are illumined for us. This is a sign that we have received a grace of light.

We find a third confirmation of what we have said in the analogy of night in nature, a symbol that enables us to understand a little the state of purification, called the night of the spirit. In nature, when the sun goes down and night falls, we no longer see the objects surrounding us, but we do see distant objects not visible during the day, such as the stars, which are thousands of leagues away. And the sun must hide that we may see them, that we may be able to glimpse the depths of the firmament. Analogously, during the night of the spirit we see much farther than during the luminous period preceding it; these inferior lights must be taken away from us in order that we may begin to see the heights of the spiritual firmament.983 This is why Christ said to His apostles: “It is expedient to you that I go. For if I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”984 As a matter of fact, when the apostles could no longer see Christ’s humanity, they began to glimpse the grandeur of His divinity. They were so well enlightened and fortified that on Pentecost the Apostle Peter preached to all who were in the temple at Jerusalem, saying: “But the Author of life you killed, whom God hath raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses.”985 “Neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby We must be saved.”986 Peter’s preaching sprang from the plenitude of the contemplation of the mystery of Christ. St. Thomas says it must be so in order that preaching may be living and profound,987 a condition that is fully realized only after the purification of the spirit.

What St. John of the Cross says, Tauler has pointed out several times in his sermons, for example, in the sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent.988 According to Tauler, the tried soul, which at first seems to pray in vain, like the woman of Canaan, is, however, as if pursued by God:

This divine pursuit provokes in the soul an appealing cry of immense force; . . . it is a sigh coming from a measureless depth. This desire of the soul far exceeds nature; it is the Holy Ghost Himself who must utter this sigh in us, as St. Paul says: “The Spirit Himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings.” . . . But God acts then as if He heard absolutely nothing, . . . as Christ seemed at first not to wish to hear the prayer of the woman of Canaan, saying to her: “I was not sent but to the sheep that are lost of the house of Israel. . . . It is not good to take the bread of the children and to cast it to the dogs.” . . . Humbling herself then she replied with great confidence: “Yea, Lord; for the whelps also eat of the crumbs that fall from the table of their master.” . . . That ‘s why Jesus answered her: “O woman, great is thy faith: be it done to thee as thou wilt.” In truth, this is the answer that will be made to all those who will be found in such dispositions (of profound humility and confidence) on this road. All that you wish will happen to you and in the way you wish it, for “in the measure in which you have gone forth from what is yours,” says the Lord, “in this measure you are to share in what is Mine.” . . . In proportion as a man renounces himself and goes out of himself, in the same proportion God enters into him in very truth. . . . Take the last place, as the Gospel says, and you will be lifted up. But those who exalt themselves will be put down. Desire only what God has willed from all eternity; accept the place which in His most amiable will He has decided should be yours. My children, it is by complete renunciation of self and of all that one possesses that one goes to God. One drop of this renunciation, one rill of it, would better prepare a man and lead him nearer to God than the most absolute exterior denudation. . . . A short moment lived in these dispositions would be more useful for us than forty years following practices of our own choice.

In this sermon Tauler speaks forcibly of the one thing necessary. The grace of denudation in question here fulfills profoundly the words of the Gospel: “Unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, itself remaineth alone. But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”989 Blessed is the death that is followed by such a spiritual resurrection.990

Chapter 38: Conduct to Be Observed during the Purification of the Spirit

After describing the period of passive purification that should introduce the soul into the unitive way of the perfect, we explained this purification by the purifying light, which is chiefly that of the gift of understanding, in which we contemplate the majesty of God and our poverty, not to mention our wretchedness. We shall now give rules of direction for souls in this state of prolonged aridity, which is sometimes so painful.


There is, first of all, a general rule. These afflicted souls should be treated with kindness and helped that they may be led to full conformity to the divine will. The first rule of direction is that these souls should accept this trial generously for as long a time as, according to the good pleasure of God, it may last, and they should live in abandonment to the divine will. Moreover, as a general rule, the more generously they accept this purification, the quicker it will end, since the effect for which God wills it, will be more promptly accomplished. If it is more intense, it will generally be shorter (like the purification of purgatory) unless the soul is to suffer specially for sinners, over and above its personal purification.

Excellent books have been written on abandonment to Providence in this period of the spiritual life. Besides The Dark Night (Bk. II) of St. John of the Cross, there is the Treatise on The Love of God (Bk. IX) of St. Francis de Sales on the love of submission and of holy indifference in spiritual afflictions.991 In the seventeenth century, Father A. Piny, O.P., wrote Le plus parfait, or the way of abandonment to the will of God, and also L’Etat du pur amour. In the same period we find Les saintes voies de la croix by the Venerable Henry Mary Boudon; in the eighteenth century, Abandonment to Divine Providence by Father de Caussade, S.J.; and recently (1919), Le saint abandon by Dom Vitalis Lehodey, O.C.R.

In this question of abandonment, two dangers must be avoided: quietism and the opposing error. Quietism or semi-quietism denies the necessity of our cooperation and goes so far as to demand in these trials the sacrifice of our hope or desire of salvation.992 On the contrary, we must in this case, as St. Paul says: “Against hope believe in hope.”993

The contrary error would consist in exaggerating the necessity of our cooperation while diminishing that of prayer and disregarding the efficacy of our petitions and the conduct of Providence which directs all. It would amount to a sort of practical naturalism. Tried souls should, on the contrary, pray particularly, ask the help of God to persevere in faith, trust, and love. They must be told that, if they continue to pray in this severe trial, it is a sign that, in spite of appearances, their prayer is granted; for no one can continue to pray without a new actual grace. And God who, from all eternity, has foreseen and willed our prayers, excites them in us.

To this general rule of the generous acceptance of the trial in conformity with the divine will, must be added three special rules relating to the three theological virtues, by which especially one must live during the night of the spirit. Here more particularly is verified the expression: “The just man liveth by faith.”994 The night of the spirit is that of faith whose object is obscure mysteries which appear so much the more obscure in proportion as they are higher above the senses. St. Thomas often says: “Fides est de non visis,” the object of faith is things not seen. One does not believe on testimony what one sees.


In the trial of which we are speaking, the soul must, therefore firmly believe in what God has told of the great efficacy of the purifying cross in the life of the Church and in its own personal spiritual life. That this faith may be practical, it must tell itself that the cross is necessary and good for it. St. Louis Bertrand, during this period of his life, used often to repeat the words of St. Augustine: “Lord, burn, cut, do not spare now, that in eternity Thou mayest spare.” The soul must believe that it is good for it to be thus painfully purified, that this purification is one of the distinctive signs of the children of God, and that this profound and painful purification glorifies the Lord. It must be penetrated with St. Paul’s words: “We have this treasure [of divine grace] in earthen vessels, that the excellency [of the Gospel] may be of the power of God, and not of us. In all things we suffer tribulation, but are not distressed; we are straitened, but are not destitute; we suffer persecution, but are not forsaken; we are cast down, but we perish not: always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies.”995 “Power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”996 “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so to enter into His glory?”997 “We are the sons of God. And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified with Him.”998

As sanctifying grace is a participation in the divine nature and makes us like to God, habitual grace, as Christian and as coming from Christ crucified, configures us to Him and prepares us to carry our cross in imitation of Him. In this sense it adds a special modality to sanctifying grace as it was on the first day of creation in the angels and in Adam in the state of innocence. St. Thomas points this out in treating of baptismal grace.999

Thus we know the mystery of the redemption in a more living, profound, and quasi-experiential manner. We then comprehend how greatly deceived were the Jews who said to our Lord: “If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.”1000 They should have said, on the contrary, as did the centurion on witnessing the death of our Savior: “Indeed this man was the Son of God.”1001 Christ never appeared greater than during His passion, when He said: “My kingdom is not of this world.”1002 “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”1003 “It is consummated.”1004 Christ’s victory over sin and the devil on Good Friday is far greater than the victory He won over death by His resurrection. The resurrection of His body is only a sign of the power He has to restore life to souls, to forgive them their sins.

The cross is thus a distinctive sign of the Christian who is configured to his Savior. Therefore, as a rule, among the signs of predestination are named: patience in adversity for the love of God, love of enemies in spite of their insults and calumnies, love of the poor, especially when personal affliction supernaturally inclines us to help them. “Because I am not unacquainted with evil things. I know how to commiserate the wretched.”

The soul that is in the night of the spirit should, therefore, often contemplate the passion of Christ, following the example of the saints, and ask for light to have a more profound understanding of the holy humiliations of our Savior and of their infinite redemptive value.


During this painful purification, the soul should also, the quietists to the contrary notwithstanding, hope against all human hope, asking unceasingly for the help of God. Abraham acted thus when God tried him by asking for the immolation of his son.1005 It may seem to it at first that God does not hear it, as was the case with the woman of Canaan; but He wishes in this way to try the confidence of the soul and at the same time, if it asks Him, He gives it the grace to continue to pray. This grace is itself a sign that He grants the prayer of the soul.

The soul must also recommend itself to the saints that they may intercede for it, especially those who were particularly tried in this manner, such as St. John of the Cross, St. Paul of the Cross, St. Benedict Joseph Labre, and the holy Cure of Ars.

It should pray in the manner used in the liturgy, the elevation of which then appears increasingly clear to those who bear this trial well. “O Lord, deliver my soul. The Lord is merciful and just, and our God showeth mercy.”1006 “The Lord ruleth me: and I shall want nothing. . . . He hath led me on the paths of justice, for His own name’s sake. For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for Thou art with me. Thy rod and Thy staff, they have comforted me.”1007 “Deliver me, O Lord, and set me beside Thee, and let any man’s hand fight against me.”1008 Christ said: “He that followeth Me, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”1009

That hope may be strengthened in the soul, it is also well in this state to meditate on the canticle in Compline for Lent, which used to make St. Thomas Aquinas weep: “In the midst of life, we are in death. Whom seek we as a protector, except Thou, O Lord, who art justly angered by our sins. Holy God, holy Strong One, holy and merciful Savior, deliver us not up to the bitterness of death. Abandon us not in our old age, nor when our strength will fall us, holy God; holy and strong, holy and merciful” Such is the prayer the soul should make in the night of the spirit; it enables the soul to glimpse all the mystical grandeur of the liturgy.

When we pray in this manner, hope is purified and strengthened in the soul; far from sacrificing the desire for its salvation, as the quietists advised, the soul should desire God more and more purely and strongly. True, this desire should not subordinate God to the soul like a fruit necessary to its subsistence, but it should desire to possess God, its supreme Good, in order to glorify Him eternally.1010


Lastly, in this state of trial, the soul should, as St. Francis de Sales well shows,1011 be penetrated with Christ’s words: “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me.”1012 In spiritual tribulations and afflictions, the soul should nourish itself with the will of God so that self-love may die definitively in it, that the soul may be truly stripped of self-love, and that the reign of the divine will may be established in the depths of its will. The soul will obtain this grace if it accepts, for love of God, to do and suffer all that He wishes, as obedience, circumstances, and the interior light of the Holy Ghost may indicate.

Consequently the soul should be penetrated with the evangelical beatitudes: blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, those who shed the tears of contrition; those who hunger and thirst after justice and preserve this zeal in spite of all difficulties; blessed, too, are the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers; blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice, when they are insulted and persecuted because of the Savior. Their reward is great in heaven, and even on earth they will receive the hundredfold of all that has been taken from them; they will receive it especially in close union with God and in working for the salvation of their neighbor.

Souls that pass through this denudation and are calumniated ought often to reread what St. Paul says to the Romans: “If God be for us, who is against us? . . . Christ Jesus . . . maketh intercession for us. . Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or persecution, or the sword? . . . But in all these things we overcome, because of Him that hath loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities nor powers nor things present nor things to come nor might nor height nor depth nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God,”1013 nor be able to make God abandon the just, if they do not abandon Him first.

In this period of purification, one should ask our Lord for the love of the cross, for the desire to share in His holy humiliations in the measure willed by Providence. The soul should ask Him also to let it find in this desire the strength to bear whatever may come, the peace, and sometimes the joy, to restore its courage and that of souls that come to it.1014 Then this trial, hard as it may be at times, will seem good to it; at least the soul will believe that it is salutary and sanctifying for it.

Then it will more readily grasp the great meaning of the words of The Imitation on the royal road of the cross: “In the cross is salvation; in the cross is life; in the cross is protection from enemies. In the cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness; in the cross is strength of mind; in the cross is joy of spirit; in the cross is height of virtue; in the cross is perfection of sanctity. . . . No man hath so heartfelt a sense of the Passion of Christ as he whose lot it hath been to suffer like things. . . . If thou carry the cross willingly, it will carry thee. . . . If thou carry it unwillingly, thou makest it a burden to thee, and loadest thyself the more. . . . For the sufferings of this life are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come.”1015

The painful purification we are speaking of creates a great void in the soul by driving out self-love and pride, and gives it an increasingly eager desire for God. St. Francis de Sales explains this effect, saying:

As man can be perfected only by the divine goodness, so the divine goodness can scarcely so well exercise its perfection outside itself as upon our humanity. The one has great need and capacity to receive good, the other great abundance and inclination to bestow it. Nothing is so suitable to indigence as a liberal abundance; nothing so agreeable to a liberal abundance as extreme indigence. . . . The more needy the indigent man is, the more eager he is to receive, as a vacuum is to be filled. Therefore the meeting of abundance and indigence is sweet and desirable; and if our Lord had not said that it is better to give than to receive, one could hardly say which has greater contentment, abundant good in diffusing and communicating itself or failing and indigent good in receiving. . . . Divine goodness has, therefore, more pleasure in giving its graces than we in receiving them.1016

The void created in the soul that is stripped of self-love and pride causes it to become, therefore, increasingly capable of receiving divine grace, the abundance of charity. In this sense the Apostle says: “God . . . giveth grace to the humble,” and He makes them humble in order to fill them to overflowing.

All we have just said shows the profound truth of St. Thomas’ words: “The love of God is unitive (congregativus), inasmuch as it draws man’s affections from the many to the one; so that the virtues, which flow from the love of God, are connected together. But self-love disunites (disgregat) man’s affections among different things, so far as man loves himself, by desiring for himself temporal goods, which are various and of many kinds.”1017 The love of God causes the light of reason and that of grace to shine increasingly in us, whereas sin stains the soul, taking away from it the brilliance of the divine light.1018 The purification of the spirit removes these stains, which are in our higher faculties, that they may be resplendent with the true light, which is the prelude of that of eternity.

Chapter 39: The Effects of the Passive Purification of the Spirit in Relation Especially to the Three Theological Virtues

Having described and explained the passive purification of the spirit and pointed out the rules of direction which should be followed, we shall now set forth its effects on the soul when borne with generosity.

These effects show the end for which God thus purifies His servants. He does so that the higher part of the soul may be supernaturalized and prepared for divine union, as the sensible part must be spiritualized or wholly subjected to the spirit. Among these effects some are negative, consisting in the suppression of defects; others are positive and are profound especially in the perfection they give to the virtues in the elevated part of the soul, principally humility and the theological virtues.


These effects are visible in the progressive disappearance of distractions, dullness of spirit, and the need of external dissipation or of finding consolation. Self-love or subtle egoism gradually disappears. The result is that the soul is less subject to illusions, for it lives increasingly by its higher part, into which the enemy cannot penetrate. God alone penetrates the innermost depths of the heart and spirit. Doubtless the devil still multiplies his temptations, but if the soul takes refuge in its center, where God dwells, the enemy cannot harm it and even cannot know but can only conjecture what is taking place in it; the intimate secrets of hearts escape him.1019

This purification removes many other defects in our relations with our neighbor or in respect to our duties of state: a certain natural rudeness, which leads to impatience; an a most unconscious secret ambition, the cause of many disorders and divisions among people; and also a lack of interest in the occasionally great needs of our afflicted neighbor who turns to us for help. It is in this state that those who have the duty of caring devotedly for others, possess a deeper understanding of Christ’s words: “The good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep. But the hireling, and he that is not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming and leaveth the sheep and flieth; and the wolf catcheth and scattereth the sheep.”1020 To profit by these words, we should ask the Lord to give us an increase of true zeal, the patient, gentle, disinterested zeal which draws life from God to give it in greater measure to our neighbor.

In connection with this subject, it should be noted that there are also at times collective purifications, like persecutions, from which the soul must know how to draw profit. On such occasions the heroic degree of the virtues becomes necessary; one is in the happy necessity of becoming a saint in order not to be lost. Those who seem fairly good in prosperity are often weak and cowardly in these great difficulties; others, on the contrary, reveal their true character on these occasions. These grave moments should lead us to make the following salutary reflection: true sanctity does not require a lesser purification in outwardly calm periods than in periods troubled by persecution. The saints who lived in the calmest periods of the life of the Church had their interior trials, without which their souls would not have attained to the perfect purity which God willed to see in them.

In no period, however calm it may be, can anyone become a saint without carrying his cross, without being configured to Christ crucified. In troubled times, however, man often faces the urgent necessity of sanctifying himself completely in order not to lose his soul; he must then be heroically faithful in order not to fall back. In other calmer periods, this urgent necessity does not make itself thus felt, but even then, carrying his cross he must follow our Lord. Nothing unclean can enter heaven; one must be purified either before death, like the martyrs, or after it, like the souls in purgatory.

Lastly, there are other collective trials which demand great uprightness of will: for example, when in the society in which we live some exceptional event occurs that obliges us, though at the cost of great sacrifices, to declare ourselves for God. Such events are visits from the Lord; in them are distinguished His true servants, who, instead of being merely good, must become excellent. With this meaning, the aged Simeon said of the coming of the Child Jesus into the world: “Behold this Child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; . . . that out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed.”1021 In other words, Christ, who had come for the salvation of all, was to be an occasion of fall for many. Refusing to recognize the Savior in Him, they have fallen into infidelity. Thus the secret thoughts of the Pharisees were revealed, whereas they would have remained partly hidden had the Pharisees lived two centuries earlier. Something similar occurs when there is a great supernatural event, like the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin at Lourdes, an event about which the good and the bad are divided. There is, as Pascal says, sufficient light for those who wish to see and sufficient obscurity for those who do not wish to see. These great events, persecutions, or exceptional visits of the Lord, on the occasion of which the good and the tepid are profoundly divided, throw light on what we are saying here of the passive purification of the soul. In periods when the life of society is not marked by anything exceptionally bad or good, no less a purification is needed to reach sanctity than in periods of social upheaval.

In regard to the visits of the Lord, we must also remember that they often differ appreciably. There are visits of consolation, like the apparitions of Lourdes; but if people do not profit by them, the Lord comes to chastise; and if they do not profit by this divine correction, He may come to condemn.1022

All that we have said shows what profit we should reap from the trials which the Lord sends us, particularly in this prolonged period of spiritual aridity of which we are speaking. If we bear it generously, many defects, which arrest the growth of the divine life in us, will be uprooted forever. Conquered self-love will then give place to the true love of God, to zeal for His glory and the salvation of souls.


The positive effects of the dark night of the soul consist chiefly in a great increase in the virtues of the elevated part of the soul, principally in humility, piety, and the theological virtues. These higher virtues come forth greatly purified from all human alloy, in the sense that their formal supernatural motive is brought into strong relief above every secondary or accessory motive which sometimes leads man to practice them in too human a manner.1023 At this stage especially the formal motive of each of the three theological virtues stands out with increasing clearness: namely, the first revealing truth, the motive of faith; helpful omnipotence, the motive of hope; the divine goodness infinitely more lovable in itself than every created gift, the motive of charity.

But there is first a similar purification of humility. Humility is commonly said to be the fundamental virtue which removes pride, the source of every sin. St. Augustine and St. Thomas for this reason compare it to the excavation that must be dug for the construction of a building, an excavation that needs to be so much deeper as the building is to be higher. Consequently, to deepen humility it does not suffice to scratch the soil a little, it is not sufficient that we ourselves dig, as we do in a thorough examination of conscience. To drive out pride, the Lord Himself must intervene through the special inspirations of the gifts of knowledge and understanding. He then shows the soul the hitherto unsuspected degree of its profound indigence and wretchedness and throws light on the hidden folds of conscience in which lie the seeds of death. Thus a ray of sunlight shining into a dark room shows all the dust, held in suspension in the air and previously imperceptible. Under the purifying divine light, as under a powerful projector, the soul sees in itself a multitude of defects it had never noticed; confounded by the sight, it cannot bear this light. It sees at times that by its repeated sins it has placed itself in a miserable state, a state of abjection. St. Paul, strongly tempted, felt his frailty keenly. Blessed Angela of Foligno seemed to herself an abyss of sin and wished to declare her state to everyone. St. Benedict Joseph Labre one day began his confession by saying: “Have pity on me, Father, I am a great sinner.” The confessor, finding nothing seriously reprehensible in his accusation, said to him: “I see that you do not know how to go to confession.” He then questioned the saint on the grossest sins, but obtained such humble answers so full of the spirit of faith, that he understood that his penitent, who confessed in this manner, was a saint.

Such is indeed the purification of humility, which is no longer only exterior, no longer the pouting or sad humility of one who holds aloof because people do not approve of him. It becomes true humility of heart, which loves to be nothing that God may be all; it bows profoundly before the infinite majesty of the Most High and before what is divine in every creature.

This true humility then reveals to us the profound meaning of Christ’s words: “Without Me you can do nothing.” It enables us to understand far better what St. Paul says: “What hast thou that thou hast not received? And if thou hast received, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?”1024 The soul then recognizes experimentally that by its natural powers alone it is absolutely incapable of the least salutary and meritorious supernatural act. It sees the grandeur of the doctrine of the Church which teaches, against semi-Pelagianism, that the beginning of salvation, the beginning of salutary good will, can come only from grace, and that man needs a special gift to persevere to the end. The soul thus purified sees why, according to St. Augustine, St. Thomas, and their disciples, grace is efficacious of itself; far from being rendered efficacious by our good consent, it is grace that gives rise to our consent, it is truly “God who worketh in you, both to will an to accomplish,” as St. Paul says.1025 In this period of painful purification, at grips with strong temptations to discouragement, the soul indeed needs to believe in this divine efficacy of grace, which lifts up the weak man, makes him fulfill the precepts, and transforms him.1026

Thus humility grows, according to the seven degrees enumerated by St. Anselm: “(1) to acknowledge ourselves contemptible;(2) to grieve on account of this;(3) to admit that we are so;(4) to wish our neighbor to believe it;(5) to endure with patience people saying it;(6) to be willing to be treated as a person worthy of contempt;(7) to love to be treated in this way,”1027 and, like St. Francis of Assisi, to find a holy joy in this treatment. This is, in fact, heroic humility. Such virtue presupposes a special inspiration of the Holy Ghost and the passive purification of the spirit. Besides, it is clearly in the normal way of sanctity; full Christian perfection cannot exist without it. As a matter of fact, all the saints possessed great humility; it presupposes the contemplation of two great truths: we have been created out of nothing by God, who freely preserves us in existence; and without the help of His grace we could not perform any salutary and meritorious act.

The soul then attains a quasi-experiential knowledge of the gratuity and efficacy of grace, without which it would not advance, but would certainly fall back. Humility thus purified tells the glory of God more than do the stars in the heavens.

In this stage there is a similar purification of true piety, or the virtue of religion toward God. Substantial devotion, the promptness of the will in the service of the Lord, should, in fact, subsist here in spite of the absence of sensible devotion and spiritual consolation over a period of months and sometimes of years. The inspirations of the gift of piety then come greatly to the aid of the virtue of religion, bestowing on the soul perseverance in prayer in spite of the greatest spiritual aridity.1028 The fruit of this deep piety is meekness, which corresponds, says St. Augustine, to the beatitude of the meek.


Just as our Lord Himself teaches His friends to become meek and humble of heart, He also purifies their faith from all alloy.1029

Faith is an infused virtue by which we believe firmly all that God has revealed, because He has revealed it and as the Church proposes it. All the faithful doubtless believe in what God has revealed, but many live very little by the supernatural mysteries which are the principal object of faith. They think more often of the truths of religion that reason can attain—the existence of God, His Providence, the immortality of the soul—or they go no farther than the outward, sensible aspect of Christian worship. Often our faith is still too weak to make us truly live by the mysteries of the Blessed Trinity, the Incarnation, the redemption, the Eucharist, the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in our souls. These are holy formulas, often repeated with veneration, but they are pale and lifeless, and their object is, as it were, lost in the depths of the heavens. These supernatural mysteries have not sufficiently become for us the light of life, the orientation point of our judgments, the habitual norm of our thoughts.

Likewise, the motive for our belief in these mysteries is undoubtedly the fact that God has revealed them, but we dwell excessively on several secondary motives which aid us: first, these mysteries are the rather generally accepted belief of our family and our country; next, we see a certain harmony between supernatural dogmas and the natural truths accessible to reason; lastly, we have some slight experience of God’s action in our souls, and this helps us to believe.

But let us suppose that God were suddenly to take away from us all these secondary motives which facilitate the act of faith and on which we perhaps dwell too much. Let us suppose that in spiritual aridity prolonged for months and years, we no longer experience in ourselves the consoling action of God and no longer see the harmony between supernatural mysteries and natural truths; then the act of faith will become difficult for us. This is true especially if the purifying divine light illumines in these mysteries what is loftiest and apparently least conformable to reason: for example, infinite justice on the one hand, and the gratuity of predestination on the other. Besides, in this trial the devil seeks to make our judgment deviate, to show us that there is severity in inexorable divine justice, as if the damned sought pardon without being able to obtain it, whereas in reality they never ask pardon. The enemy seeks also to make us interpret the judgments of the divine good pleasure as arbitrary, despotic, and capricious, adding that an infinitely good and omnipotent God could not permit all the evil that happens in the world; the evil spirit increases this evil in order to draw an additional objection from it. He sounds a false note to trouble the superior harmony of the mysteries of faith. At times he wishes to persuade the soul that there is nothing after death, and he puts forth every effort to give this negation the appearance of an icy evidence which imposes itself absolutely.1030

The question may then be put under the form of a temptation against faith: Does the supernatural world exist? The soul finds itself between two opposing influences: that of the purifying divine light which casts the intellect into the unsuspected depths of mysteries, as if one were thrown into the sea before knowing how to swim; and on the other hand, the influence of the devil, who tries to cause the effect of the divine light to deviate.

In order to believe, there is left only this sole motive: God has revealed it; every secondary motive has momentarily disappeared. The soul should then ask for the actual grace that enables it to make the act of faith; the grace that makes it overcome, rise above the temptation, instead of reasoning against it; the grace that makes it adhere to the divine revealing Truth: to the authority of God revealing, above the excessively superficial and narrow conceptions it had of the divine perfections.1031 Then the soul gradually “finds shelter in the immutable,” in the first Truth, in the uncreated and revealing word, which makes it clearly understand that infinite justice is free from any cruelty, that it is identical in God with the most tender mercy. It also makes the soul see distinctly that, far from being capricious, the divine good pleasure is infinitely wise, and that the divine permission of the greatest evils is holy, for it has in view a higher good of which God alone is the judge and which the soul shall one day contemplate. This superior good is at times dimly seen on earth in the night of the spirit.1032

Faith is then purified from all alloy and no longer dwells on secondary motives which facilitated its act; they have momentarily disappeared. It no longer dwells on the sensible aspect of the mysteries of the Incarnation, the redemption, the Eucharist; it enters into the depths of divine revelation.

Thus the faith of the apostles was purified during the painful trial of the Passion, in which Jesus, whom three of them had contemplated on Tabor, appeared humiliated and crushed. They had to believe that in spite of this annihilation He was the Son of God made flesh, who would rise on the third day. The Blessed Virgin, St. John, and Magdalen remained firm in faith on Calvary. Likewise after the Ascension, the apostles, henceforth deprived of the sight of the risen Christ, had to live in the obscurity of faith; from Pentecost on, they preached this faith with the most absolute certitude, even to martyrdom.

The saints have known the same kind of trials. St. Vincent de Paul was tormented for four years by a temptation against faith. For ten years Blessed Henry Suso had a similar temptation.

At the end of such a trial, faith is considerably increased, tenfold and even more. The night of the spirit then becomes a starlit night in which one sees dimly the depths of the firmament; that this might be so, the sun had to hide. To glimpse the splendor of supernatural mysteries, reason must have made its sacrifice; it must have renounced seeing by its own light, and must have humbly received the divine light. Similarly, if he is deeply Christian, a deposed king, like Louis XVI, glimpses at the moment of his trial the beauty of the kingdom of God, which is infinitely superior to every earthly kingdom.

At the end of this purification, the soul is deeply convinced that the only reality that counts is supernatural life, and it then asks itself whether it will be able to persevere in this life. At this stage the effects of the purification of hope begin to make themselves felt. This is the third conversion, where we find again, as in the first, the acts of the three theological virtues, but in a far superior manner.1033 The Lord plows the same furrow more deeply that the seed placed in the earth may produce not only ten or thirtyfold, but even sixty and a hundredfold, as we read in the Gospel.1034

At this time there begins in the soul a more intimate contemplation of God, which tends to become continuous and like an uninterrupted conversation with Him. Then one grasps increasingly better what is said in the Book of Wisdom about the value of wisdom itself: “I preferred her before kingdoms and thrones, and esteemed riches nothing in comparison of her. Neither did I compare unto her any precious stone: for all gold in comparison of her is as a little sand, and silver in respect to her shall be counted as clay.”1035 This wisdom is the “pearl of great price” mentioned in the Gospel; a man sells all that he has to buy it.1036


After the effects of the purification of faith, the purification of hope begins to make itself felt. The soul, now convinced that the one thing necessary is sanctification and salvation, asks itself at times whether, in the midst of the great difficulties it is in, it will persevere to the end.

Hope is the theological virtue by which we tend toward God, as toward our beatitude, relying, in order to reach Him, on His mercy and His helpful omnipotence. The first object of hope is God to be possessed eternally; the formal motive of this theological virtue is God our Helper,Deus auxilians, as the formal motive of faith is God revealing: Veritas prima revelans.

Every good Christian has this infused virtue, united to charity; and it is indeed God whom he hopes for when he asks for the grace necessary for salvation. But often our hope lacks elevation, in the sense that we excessively desire certain temporal goods, which may seem useful to us for our salvation and yet are not. We may even too greatly desire certain human goods which would be harmful to us and would impede the higher goods that come from detachment and humility. From this point of view, our hope lacks life; it does not rise directly enough toward God.

Moreover, there is often some alloy in the motive inspiring our hope. Doubtless we count on the help of God, but we also rely, and occasionally too much so, on inferior motives that are much less sure. We may have too much confidence in ourselves, in our tact, energy, virtues, in various human helps within our reach, just as we may pass through moments of discouragement when we do not succeed and human helps fail us.

If God, wishing to purify our hope of all alloy, should suddenly take away from us the temporal goods which we hope for and also the secondary motives which sustain our trust,—the sympathy and help of our friends, the encouragement and esteem of superiors if at the same time He should show us our frailty in a hitherto unsuspected degree, if He were to permit calumnies, tenacious contradictions against us, and, with all of that, illness, would we still hope “against all human hope” for this sole motive, that no matter what happens God remains infinitely helpful?

This is the time to say: “The Lord is compassionate and merciful, long suffering, and plenteous in mercy”;1037 “God never commands the impossible”;1038 He never permits us to be tempted above our strength, aided by grace.1039 The divine help is always offered to us for salvation; God does not abandon us unless we first abandon Him; He is always willing to raise us up from our sins when we cry to Him.

Speaking through Isaias, the Lord says: “For the mountains shall be moved, and the hills shall tremble; but My mercy shall not depart from thee, and the covenant of My peace shall hot be moved: said the Lord that hath mercy on thee.”1040

The Psalmist writes: “For He hath hidden me in His tabernacle; in the day of evils, He hath protected me in the secret place of His tabernacle. He hath exalted me upon a rock. . . . Thy face, O Lord, will I still seek. . . . Be Thou my helper, forsake me not; do not Thou despise me, O God my Savior. For my father and my mother have left me; but the Lord hath taken me up.”1041

The saints hoped thus in the hours of their great trials. In his Lamentations, Jeremias lets the following cry of anguish escape: “My end and my hope is perished from the Lord,” but immediately after he cries out: “Remember my poverty, and transgression, the wormwood and the gall. . . . The mercies of the Lord that we are not consumed: because His commiserations have not failed . . . For the Lord will not cast off forever. For if He hath cast off, He will also have mercy, according to the multitude of His mercies. For He hath not willingly afflicted, nor cast off the children of men.”1042

In his prison St. John the Baptist hoped in this manner when he saw all that was opposed to the kingdom of God, whose coming he had announced. So too the apostles remained firm even to martyrdom. We find another example of heroic hope in St. John of the Cross, who continued to hope in his prison cell when all seemed leagued against the reform of Carmel. In the same way St. Alphonsus Liguori heroically placed his trust in God when the religious family that he had founded seemed on the point of perishing. At times the sacrifice of Isaac is again demanded of the true servants of God, that they may labor at the task entrusted to them, no longer as if it were theirs, but as the work of Almighty God, who can overcome all obstacles and who will infallibly overcome them if He has decreed from all eternity that the work in question should be established.

Then, above every inferior motive of trust, will increasingly appear the formal motive of Christian hope: Deus auxilians, God our Helper, His helpful omnipotence, and the infinite merits of Christ; and the soul will be moved to utter the prayer of Esther: “O my Lord, who alone art our King, help me a desolate woman, and who have no other helper but Thee. My danger is in my hands. . . . Give not, O Lord, Thy scepter to them that are not. . . . Remember, O Lord, and show Thyself to us in the time of our tribulation, and give me boldness. . . . O God, who art mighty above, all hear the voice of them that have no other hope, and deliver us from the hand of the wicked, and deliver me from my fear.”1043

Hope is here transformed into perfect abandonment, whether in regard to a divine work to be accomplished on earth or to our eternal salvation. This trusting abandonment rests on the divine will not yet manifested; but that it may rest on it in this way, presupposes constant fidelity to the divine will already signified by the duty of the present moment. The more our will conforms through obedience to the signified divine will, the more it can abandon itself with confidence to the divine will of good pleasure not yet manifested, on which our future and eternity depend. The same holds true for the dying, and should be kept in mind when we are assisting them in their agony. We should beg God to grant them this trust, united to perfect abandonment, that, being conformed to His signified divine will, they may with more perfect trust accept death, that leap into the unknown, which is nothing else than abandonment to the divine good pleasure not yet manifested. In this way the soul rises above the obscurity from beneath, which comes from matter, error, and sin, that it may lose itself in the obscurity from on high, which is that of the intimate life of God and of His love for each of us.1044

At the end of this purification of hope, this virtue is freed from self-love which mingled in it, from the more or less inordinate desire of consolation, and it becomes much stronger in its purity. Hope is the desire for God, to possess Him Himself, above His gifts; and yet God does not show Himself, does not make His presence felt. At this time the soul begins to experience the effect of the passive purification of charity.


At this stage particularly, the passive purifications of the present life resemble those of purgatory, although they differ greatly from it, since in purgatory there is no longer any merit or increase of charity.

This theological virtue, the highest of the infused virtues, is that which makes us love God for Himself, because He is infinitely lovable in Himself, infinitely better than every creature and than all His gifts. It makes us love Him also because He first loved us, by communicating to us a participation in His intimate life. Charity is thus a holy friendship by which we give back to God the love He has for us, and by which also we love our neighbor inasmuch as he is loved by God, inasmuch as he is a child of God or called to become one.

Every good Christian undoubtedly has this virtue. By it we love God for Himself; but we also love Him for the consolations He gives us, because He makes Himself felt by us, because what we undertake for Him succeeds and gives us contentment. Likewise, we love our neighbor for the love of God, because he is loved by our common Father; but we also love him because he responds to our charity, our courtesies, our devotion, because he gives evidence of gratitude. And at times when, instead of gratitude, we see ingratitude, we do not love the soul of our seemingly ungrateful neighbor as we should, for, as a matter of fact, we should love even our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, that they may return to the road of salvation. Consequently there is some alloy in our charity. This base element is evident occasionally when our charity fails to overcome some bitterness or ill-temper, following on a want of consideration.

Therefore, when the Lord wishes to lead a soul, already possessed of great hope, to a more pure, more disinterested love of God for Himself, above all His gifts, He deprives it of all spiritual consolation, of His sensible presence, for months and years, though He becomes more intimately present in the soul and acts more profoundly in it. He seems to withdraw from it, as God the Father seemed to withdraw from the soul of Jesus on the cross when in His agony He cried out: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”1045 This exclamation, taken from a Messianic psalm,1046 is immediately followed in the same psalm, as it was in the heart of Christ, by sentiments of perfect trust, abandonment, and love.

When in this spiritual night the soul seems to be abandoned by God, it makes a great act of love for this sole and most pure motive: God is infinitely good in Himself, infinitely better than every created gift, and it is He who first loved us. Following the example of His crucified Son, I must return Him love for love.

St. Teresa of the Child Jesus was well acquainted with these very painful hours, and what we learn about them in her life helps us to a clearer understanding of the doctrine of St. John of the Cross on the purification of love, and of St. Thomas’ teaching on the formal motive of charity. At this stage of the spiritual life, this motive ap­pears in all its elevation, like a star of first magnitude in the night of the spirit, together with the motive of faith and that of hope.

We read, in fact, toward the end of the life of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus:

My soul has known many kinds of trials. I have suffered greatly here on earth. In my childhood, I suffered with sadness; today, in peace and joy I taste all bitter fruits. . . . During the luminous days of the paschal season last year, Jesus made me understand that there are really impious souls without faith and hope (which I found it hard to believe). He then allowed my soul to be invaded by the thickest darkness, and the thought of heaven, which had been so sweet to me since my early childhood, to become for me a subject for struggle and torment. The duration of this trial was not limited to a few days, a few weeks; I have been suffering for months and I am still waiting for the hour of my deliverance. I wish I could express what I feel, but it is impossible. One must have passed through this dark tunnel to understand its obscurity. . . .

Lord, Thy child has understood Thy divine light which shines in the darkness. She begs Thee to pardon her unbelieving brethren, and is willing to eat the bread of suffering as long as Thou mayest wish. For love of Thee she takes her place at this table filled with bitterness where poor sinners take their food, and she does not wish to rise from it before receiving a sign from Thy hand. But may she not say in her own name and in the name of her guilty brethren: “O God, be merciful to us sinners”?1047 Send us away justified. May all those who are not enlightened by the torch of faith at last see it shine. . . . When, weary of the surrounding darkness, I wish to rest my heart by the fortifying memory of a future and eternal life, my torment redoubles. It seems to me that the shadows, borrowing the voice of the impious mockingly say to me: “You dream of light, of a sweet-scented country, you dream of the eternal possession of the Creator of these marvels; you believe that you will one day emerge from the mists in which you languish. Forward! Forward! Rejoice in death, which will give you, not what you hope for, but a still darker night, the night of nothingness. . . .”

Knowing that it is cowardly to fight a duel, I turn my back on my adversary without ever looking him in the face; then I run to Jesus and tell Him that I am ready to shed every drop of my blood to acknowledge that there is a heaven. I tell Him that I am happy not to be able to contemplate here on earth with the eyes of my soul the beautiful heaven which awaits me, in order that He may deign to open it for eternity to poor unbelievers.

Consequently, in spite of this trial which takes from me every feeling of enjoyment, I can still cry out: “Thou hast given me, O Lord, a delight in Thy doings.”1048 For what joy can be greater than that of suffering for Thy love? The more intense the suffering is and the less it appears to men, the more it causes Thee to smile, O my God. . . . May I prevent or make reparation for a single sin committed against faith. . . .

When I sing of the happiness of heaven, of the eternal possession of God, I do not experience any joy, for I sing simply what I will to believe. At times, I admit, a very tiny ray of light illumines my dark night, then the trial ceases for a moment; but afterward, the memory of this ray, instead of consoling me, makes my darkness thicker still.

I have never felt so fully that the Lord is sweet and merciful. He did not send me this heavy cross until I was able to bear it; formerly, I believe that it would have cast me into discouragement. Now it produces only one effect: it takes from me every feeling of natural satisfaction in my longing for heaven.1049

Such is the simultaneous passive purification of faith, hope, and love of God and of souls in God, a purification which, in the case of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus, is united to reparatory suffering for sinners.

Then the most pure motive of this love of charity appears in all its elevation: namely, that God is sovereignly lovable in Himself, infinitely more so than all the gifts which He has given us and which we expect from Him. Here the acts of faith, hope, and charity fuse, so to speak, in an act of perfect abandonment to the divine will, while the soul repeats the words of Christ on the cross: “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.”1050

Then the soul understands what St. John of the Cross says: “For this is a certain fire of love in the spirit whereby the soul, amidst these dark trials, feels itself wounded to the quick by this strong love divine. . . . And inasmuch as this love is infused in a special way, the soul corresponds only passively with it, and thus a strong passion of love is begotten within it. . . . The soul is itself touched, wounded, and set on fire with love. . . . The soul, however, amidst these gloomy and loving pains, is conscious of a certain companionship and inward strength which attends upon it and invigorates it.”1051

St. Teresa speaks in like manner of this last purification which precedes the transforming union: “She sees herself still far away from God, yet with her increased knowledge of His attributes, her longing and her love for Him grow ever stronger as she learns more fully how this great God and Sovereign deserves to be loved. . . . She is like one suspended in mid-air, who can neither touch the earth nor mount to heaven; she is unable to reach the water while parched with thirst, and this is not a thirst that can be borne, but one which nothing will quench.”1052

At the end of this trial, charity toward God and one’s neighbor is purified of all alloy, as gold in the crucible is freed from its dross. And not only is the love of charity thus purified, but notably increased. The soul now makes intense and heroic acts of charity, which obtain immediately the increase of grace which they merit, and with sanctifying grace increase greatly at the same time all the infused virtues and the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, which are connected with charity.

The love of God and of souls then becomes increasingly disinterested, ever more ardent and forgetful of self. We admire the purity of the conjugal love of the sailor’s wife who does not cease to think of her absent husband, who may be dead, since for several months she has had no word that he is still alive. She loves him as if he were present, and brings up her children in the love of their father who has disappeared. How can we fail to admire the purity of love in these spouses of Jesus Christ who, like St. Teresa of Lisieux, remain for a long time, for months and months, deprived of His presence, in the greatest darkness and aridity, and who do not cease to love Him with a love as strong as it is pure, for the sole motive that He is infinitely good in Himself and incomparably more so than all His gifts! In this state the tenderness of love is transformed into the strength of union, according to the expression of the Canticle of Canticles: “Love is strong as death,”1053 and even stronger, for no trial can overthrow love. The soul then remembers that in our Lord, who fashions souls to His image, love on the cross was stronger than spiritual death, that it was the conqueror of sin and the devil, and by the resurrection the victor over death which is the result of sin. In the passive purifications, described by St. John of the Cross, the Christian and Catholic mystic relives these great truths of faith; thereby the soul is configured to Christ in His sorrowful life, before being configured to Him in His glorious life for eternity.


St. Teresa1054 speaks of this purification, but does not distinguish as clearly as St. John of the Cross does, what essentially constitutes it from the sufferings which quite often accompany it, and which she herself experienced, as we see from her autobiography.1055

In The Interior Castle she writes:

O my God, how many troubles both interior and exterior must one suffer before entering the seventh mansion! Sometimes, while pondering over this I fear that, were they known beforehand, human infirmity could scarcely bear the thought nor resolve to encounter them, however great might appear the gain. . . . They really seem to have lost everything.

I shall not enumerate these trials in their proper order, but will describe them as they come to my memory, beginning with the least severe. This is an outcry raised against such a person by those amongst whom she lives. . . . They say she wants to pass for a saint, that she goes to extremes in piety to deceive the world. . . . Persons she thought were her friends desert her, making the most bitter remarks of all. They take it much to heart that her soul is ruined—she is manifestly deluded—it is all the devil’s work—she will share the fate of so-and-so who was lost through him. . . . They make a thousand scoffing remarks of the same sort.

I know someone who feared she would be unable to find any priest who would hear her confession,1056 to such a pass did things come. . . . The worst of it is, these troubles do not blow over but last all her life. . . . How few think well of her in comparison with the many who hate her! . . . Experience has shown the mind that men are as ready to speak well as ill of others, so it attaches no more importance to the one than to the other. . . . [Later] the soul is rather strengthened than depressed by its trials, experience having taught it the great advantages derived from them. It does not think men offend God by persecuting it, but that He permits them to do so for its greater gain. . . .

Our Lord now usually sends severe bodily infirmity. . . . Yet, oh! the rest would seem trifling in comparison could I relate the interior torments met with here, but they are impossible to describe. Let us first speak of the trial of meeting with so timorous and inexperienced a confessor that nothing seems safe to him; he dreads and suspects everything but the commonplace, especially in a soul in which he detects any imperfection, for he thinks people on whom God bestows such favors must be angels, which is impossible while we live in our bodies. He at once ascribes everything to the devil or melancholy. . . .

One of the severe trials of these souls, especially if they have lived wicked lives, is their belief that God permits them to be deceived in punishment for their sins. While actually receiving these graces they feel secure and cannot but suppose that these favors proceed from the Spirit of God; but this state lasts a very short time, while the remembrance of their misdeeds is ever before them, so that when, as is sure to happen, they discover any faults in themselves, these torturing thoughts return. The soul is quieted for a time when the confessor reassures it, although it returns later on to its former apprehensions; but when he augments its fears they become almost unbearable: Especially is this the case when such spiritual dryness ensues that the mind feels as if it never had thought of God nor ever will be able to do so. When men speak of Him, they seem to be talking of some person heard of long ago.

All this is nothing without the further pain of thinking we cannot make our confessors understand the case and are deceiving them . . . She believes all that the imagination, which now has the upper hand, puts before her mind, besides crediting the falsehoods suggested to her by the devil, whom doubtless our Lord gives leave to tempt her. . . .

In short, there is no other remedy in such a tempest except to wait for the mercy of God who, unexpectedly, by some casual word or unforeseen circumstance, suddenly dispels all these sorrows. . . . It praises our Lord God like one who has come out victorious from a dangerous battle, for it was He who won the victory. The soul is fully conscious that the conquest was not its own as all weapons of self-defence appeared to be in the enemies’ hands. Thus it realizes its weakness and how little man can help himself if God forsake him.1057

Tauler speaks in like strain, as we noted earlier. His teaching on this subject, which should be read, will be found in his sermons for the Monday before Palm Sunday (nos. 7, 8), for Easter Sunday, for the Monday before Ascension Thursday, and in the third sermon for the Ascension.1058

It would be easy to show by quotations from other masters that the teaching of St. John of the Cross is entirely conformable to the tradition of the great spiritual writers, to what they have said of the royal way of the cross, ad lucem per crucem, and of the progressive configuration of the soul to Christ crucified. We read in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans:1059 “Heirs indeed of God, and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified with Him.”

Chapter 40: The Spiritual Age of the Perfect, Their Union with God

The painful passive purification just described is followed by a resurrection of the soul and a new life. The apostles experienced this change when, after being deprived of the presence of Christ’s humanity on Ascension Day, they were on Pentecost transformed, enlightened, strengthened, and confirmed in grace by the Holy Ghost that they might preach the Gospel to the ends of the known world and seal their preaching with their blood.

We shall point out here the principal signs of the age of the perfect so far as it is distinguished from the age of beginners and that of proficients. We shall indicate particularly what characterizes the knowledge of God and of self in the perfect and also their love of charity.


After the passive purification of the spirit, which is like a third conversion and transformation, the perfect know God in a quasi­experimental manner that is not transitory, but almost continual. Not only during Mass, the Divine Office, or prayer, but in the midst of external occupations, they remain in the presence of God and preserve actual union with Him.

The matter will be easily understood by our considering the egoist’s contrary state of soul. The egoist thinks always of himself and, without realizing it, refers everything to himself. He talks continually with himself about his inordinate desires, sorrows, or superficial joys; his intimate conversation with himself is endless, but it is vain, sterile, and unproductive for all. The perfect man, on the contrary, instead of thinking always of himself, thinks continually of God, His glory, and the salvation of souls; he instinctively makes everything converge toward the object of his thoughts. His intimate conversation is no longer with himself, but with God, and the words of the Gospel frequently recur to his mind to enlighten from on high the smallest pleasurable or painful facts of daily life. His soul sings the glory of God, and from it radiate spiritual light and fervor, which are perpetually bestowed on him from above.

The reason for this state is that the perfect man, unlike the beginner, no longer contemplates God only in the mirror of sensible things or of the Gospel parables, about which it is impossible to think continually. Neither does he, like the proficient, contemplate God only in the mirror of the mysteries of the life of Christ, a prayer that cannot last all day long; but, in the penumbra of faith, he contemplates the divine goodness itself, a little as we see the diffused light that always surrounds us and illumines everything from above.

According to the terms used by Dionysius the Mystic and preserved by St. Thomas,1060 this is the movement of circular contemplation, superior to the straight and the oblique movements. The straight movement, like the flight of the lark, rises from a sensible fact recalled in a parable to a divine perfection, from the sight of the prodigal son to infinite mercy. The oblique movement rises, for example, from the mysteries of the childhood of Christ to those of His passion, of His glory, and finally to the infinite love of God for us. The circular movement is similar to the flight of the eagle, which, after soaring aloft, delights in describing the same circle several times, then hovers seemingly motionless in the light of the sun, scrutinizing the depths of the horizon.

Here it is a question of a knowledge of the radiating goodness of God. The soul sees now in a quasi-experimental manner that everything God has done in the order of nature and that of grace is intended to manifest His goodness, and that if He permits evil, like a dissonance, it is for a higher good, which is glimpsed at times and which will appear on the last day.

This contemplation, by reason of its superior simplicity, may be continual and, far from hindering us from beholding the sequence of events, lets us see them from above, somewhat as God sees them as a man on a mountain sees what is happening on the plain below. It is like the prelude or the aurora of the vision of the fatherland, although the soul is still in the obscurity of faith.

This very simple supernatural view even on earth was continual in Mary, to a lesser degree in St. Joseph. It also enabled the apostles after Pentecost, to see in the divine light what they were to do for the preaching of the Gospel and the constitution of the first churches.

This all-embracing spiritual gaze is to be found in all the saints; it does not exclude significant details, but admirably perceives their profound meaning. At the same time it removes the imperfections springing from natural haste, unconscious self-seeking, and the lack of habitual recollection.

As a consequence the perfect know themselves, no longer only in themselves but in God, their beginning and end. In Him they see their indigence, the infinite distance separating them from the Creator; they feel themselves preserved in being by His sovereignly free love. They ceaselessly experience to what a degree they need His grace for the least salutary act; they do not become discouraged over their sins, but draw a truer humility from them. They make their examination of conscience by considering what is written of their existence in the book of life. They sincerely consider themselves useless servants, who of themselves can do nothing, but whom the Lord deigns to use for the accomplishment of great things, those that prepare the life of eternity. If they see their neighbor’s sins, they think there is no sin committed by another which they themselves would not be capable of committing had they the same heredity and were they placed in the same circumstances, faced with the same temptations. If they see the great virtues of other souls, they rejoice in them for the sake of the Lord and of souls, remembering that in the mystical body of Christ the growth of one member redounds to the profit of all the others.

This infused contemplation proceeds from a living faith illumined by the gift of wisdom, which, under the special inspiration of the Holy Ghost, shows that nothing good happens unless God wills it, nothing evil unless God permits it for a higher good. This eminent view may be almost continual by reason of its simplicity and universality, because the events of daily life fall under its scope, like lessons about the things of God and like the application of the Gospel to each one’s life. It is the continuation of the Gospel which is being written in souls until the end of time.

Then the Christian who has attained to this state has such knowledge of the divine perfections and of the virtues demanded of the soul, that he has passed beyond not only the confused concept but also the distinct concept of the theologian, to the experimental concept, rich in all the experience of life, which becomes concrete, enlightening him from above for the good of souls. Thus he attains to the experiential concept of infinite goodness, as well as to that of perfect simplicity and true humility, which inclines him to love to be nothing in order that God may be all.


The perfect man attains in consequence to that profound intimacy with the Lord toward which charity or the divine friendship tends. Such intimacy is truly reciprocal benevolence together with this convivere, this life shared with another, which is a prolonged spiritual communion.

As the egoist, who is always thinking of himself, loves himself badly in every respect, the perfect man, who is almost always thinking of God, loves Him continually, no longer only by fleeing from sin, or by imitating the virtues of our Lord, but “by adhering to Him, by enjoying Him; and, as St. Paul says, he ‘desires to be dissolved and to be with Christ.’ “1061This adherence to God is a simple, direct act, which transforms a man’s fundamental will and is at the basis of discursive and reflective acts. This adherence to God loved above all, not only as another self but more than self, contains the solution of the problem of the pure love of God harmonized with a legitimate love of self, for indeed the perfect man loves himself in God while loving God more than himself, and he desires heaven less for his personal happiness than that he may eternally glorify the divine goodness, the source of every created good. He tends more toward God Himself than toward the joy that will come to him from God.1062 This is pure love of God and of souls in God; it is apostolic zeal more ardent than ever, but humble, patient, and meek.

Here the soul grasps the profound meaning of the gradation contained in the statement of the precept of love according to Deuteronomy (6: 5) and St. Luke (10: 1. 7 ): “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with all thy strength and with all thy mind.” The beginner already loves God with his whole heart, occasionally receiving sensible consolations in prayer; next he loves God with his whole soul without consolation, placing all his activities at His service; later the advanced Christian loves God with all his strength, particularly in the trials of the night of the spirit; finally, on emerging from these trials, he loves the Lord with all his mind. The perfect man no longer rises only at rare intervals to this higher region of the soul; he is established there; he is spiritualized and supernaturalized; he has become “an adorer in spirit and in truth.”

Consequently such souls almost always keep their peace even in the midst of the most painful and unforeseen circumstances, and they communicate it frequently to the most troubled. This is what causes St. Augustine to say that the beatitude of the peacemakers corresponds to the gift of wisdom, which, with charity, definitively predominates in the perfect. Their eminent model, after the holy soul of Christ, is the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Therefore it is evident that the spiritual age of the perfect is characterized by almost uninterrupted intimate conversation with God, loved purely above all, together with the ardent desire of making Him known and loved.


Consideration of what characterizes the purified soul throws light on the nature of the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity in the perfect soul. In heaven the three divine Persons dwell in the beatified soul as in a temple where they are clearly known and loved. The Blessed Trinity is seen openly in the innermost depths of the beatified soul, which It preserves in existence and in consummated and inamissible grace. Each of the blessed is thus like a living tabernacle, like a consecrated host, endowed with supernatural knowledge and love.

The normal prelude to this life of heaven is realized on earth in the perfect soul that has reached the transforming union, which we shall describe farther on, following St. John of the Cross. Here we wish merely to point out that this close union is not essentially extraordinary, although very rare; but that it is the result of the mystery of the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity in every just soul1063

The life of grace, which is the seed of glory, is essentially the same as the life of heaven. And since in heaven the Blessed Trinity is present in the souls of the blessed, where It is seen without any veil, It must already dwell in the just soul here on earth in the obscurity of faith, and according as the soul is more purified, it has a proportionately better experimental knowledge of this divine presence. As the soul is present to itself and knows itself experimentally as the principle of its acts, so it is given to it to know God as the principle of supernatural acts which it could not produce without His special inspiration.

And the purer the soul is, the more it distinguishes in itself what comes from itself with the general help of God and what can come only from the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. Christ declares: “If anyone love Me, he will keep My word. And My Father will love him, and We will come to him and will make Our abode with him.”1064 “But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you.”1065 St. John also says to his disciples: “His unction teacheth you of all things.”1066 And St. Paul writes to the Romans: “For whosoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For you have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear; but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba (Father). For the Spirit Himself giveth testimony to our spirit that we are the sons of God.”1067 Commenting on these words, St. Thomas says that the Holy Ghost gives us this testimony by the filial affection He inspires in us for Him. He thus makes Himself felt at times as the soul of our soul and the life of our life.

It is especially through the gift of wisdom that we have the quasi­experimental knowledge of this divine presence. As St. Thomas explains,1068 this gift makes us, in fact, judge of divine things by a certain connaturalness with these things, by a sort of supernatural sympathy based on charity, and by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost who makes use of this sympathy, which He Himself has aroused to make Himself felt by us. We thus taste the mysteries of salvation and the presence of God in us a little as the disciples of Emmaus did when they said: “Was not our heart burning within us, whilst He spoke in the way?”1069 What the disciples experienced was a quasi-experimental knowledge, superior to reasoning, analogous to that which the soul has of itself as the principle of its acts. God, the Author of grace and salvation, is closer to us than we are to ourselves, and He inspires in us the most profound acts to which we could not of ourselves move ourselves. In this way He makes Himself felt by us as the principle of our interior life.1070

The term “quasi-experimental” is applied to this knowledge for two reasons: (1) because it does not attain God in an absolutely immediate manner, as happens in the beatific vision, but in the act of filial love which He produces in us;(2) because we cannot discern with absolute certitude these supernatural acts of love from the natural impulses of the heart that resemble them. Hence without a special revelation or an equivalent favor we cannot have absolute certainty of being in the state of grace.

The indwelling of the Blessed Trinity is permanent as long as habitual union with God lasts, from the fact of the state of grace; it is thus that it lasts even during sleep. But this habitual union is manifestly ordered to the actual union we have just spoken of, and even to the closest, to the transforming union, the prelude of that of heaven.

Consequently it is evident that in the purified soul the supernatural image of God appears more and more.1071 By its nature the soul is already the image of God, since it is a spiritual substance, capable of intellectual knowledge and love. By habitual grace, the principle of the theological virtues, the soul is capable of supernatural knowledge and love of God. The more habitual grace and charity grow, the more they separate us from what is inferior and unite us to God. Finally, in heaven, consummated grace will enable us to see God immediately as He sees Himself and to love Him as He loves Himself. Then the supernatural image of God in us will be completed; inamissible charity will render us like the Holy Ghost, personal Love; the beatific vision will liken us to the Word, who, being the splendor of the Father, will make us like to Him. We can thus judge what should be even here on earth that perfect union, which is the proximate disposition to receive the beatific vision immediately after death without having to pass through purgatory. It is the secret of the lives of the saints.1072


The signs of this indwelling are set forth at length by St. Thomas in theContra Gentes,1073 and more briefly in the Summa theologica1074 where he asks whether a man can know if he is in the state of grace. Without having absolute certitude that he has grace, he has signs which enable him, for example, to approach the Holy Table without fear of making a sacrilegious Communion.

The principal signs of the state of grace, in ascending gradation, are the following.

The first sign is the testimony of a good conscience, in the sense that he is not conscious of any mortal sin. This is the fundamental sign, presupposed by the following signs which confirm it.

A second sign is joy in hearing the word of God preached, not only for the sake of hearing it, but to put it into practice. This may be observed in several countries where there is preserved, together with a simple life, a great Christian faith which leads the faithful to listen willingly to their pastor when he explains the great truths of the Gospel.

A third sign, confirming the preceding ones, is the relish of divine wisdom, which leads a man to read the Gospel privately, to seek in it the spirit under the letter, to nourish his soul with it, even when it deals with the mystery of the cross and with the cross he must bear every day.

A fourth sign is the inclination leading the soul to converse intimately with God, and faithfully to resume this conversation when it has been interrupted. We cannot repeat too often that every man carries on an intimate conversation with himself, which, at times, is not good. True interior life begins, as we have often pointed out, when this intimate conversation is no longer only with self, but with God. St. Thomas says: “Friendship inclines a man to wish to converse with his friend. The conversation of man with God is made through the contemplation of God, according to these words of St. Paul: ‘Our conversation is in heaven’ (Phil. 3: 20). And as the Holy Ghost gives us the love of God, He also inclines us to contemplate Him. That is why the Apostle also says: ‘But we all beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord’” (II Cor. 3: 18).1075

This is one of St. Thomas’ texts which most clearly shows that in his opinion the infused contemplation of the mysteries of faith is not something extraordinary, but something eminent in the normal way of sanctity.

The holy doctor says in the preceding chapter1076 that this intimate conversation with God is like the revelation of the most secret thoughts, in the sense that nothing in us is hidden from the Lord and that He Himself recalls to us the portion of the Gospel that should illumine the duty of every moment. There, says St. Thomas, we have an effect of friendship, “for it in a way unites two hearts in one, and what we reveal to a true friend seems not to have been said outside of ourselves.”1077

A fifth sign is to rejoice in God, fully consenting to His will even in adversity. Sometimes in the midst of dejection there is given us a pure and lofty joy which dissipates all sadness. This is a great sign of the Lord’s visit. Moreover, Jesus, in promising the Holy Ghost, called Him the Paraclete, or Comforter. And normally we rejoice so much the more in the Lord as we more perfectly fulfill His precepts, for by so doing we form increasingly one sole heart with Him.

A sixth sign is found in the liberty of the children of God. On this subject, St. Thomas writes: “The children of God are led by the Holy Ghost, not like slaves, but like free creatures. . . . The Holy Ghost, in fact, makes us act by inclining our free will to will, for He gives us to love God and inclines us to act for love of Him and not through fear in a servile manner. That is why St. Paul tells us: ‘You have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear; but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba (Father). For the Spirit Himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God.’1078 The Apostle also says: ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty’ (II Cor. 3: 17, deliverance from the slavery of sin, and ‘If by the Spirit you mortify the deeds [and affections] of the flesh, you shall live’ (Rom. 8: 13)’”1079 This is truly the deliverance or the holy liberty of the children of God, who reign with Him over inordinate desires, the spirit of the world, and the spirit of evil.

Lastly, a seventh sign of the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity in the soul, according to St. Thomas,1080 is that the person speaks of God out of the abundance of his heart. In this sense is realized what the holy doctor says elsewhere: “Preaching should spring from the plenitude of the contemplation of the mysteries of faith.”1081 Thus, from Pentecost on, St. Peter and the apostles preached the mystery of the redemption; so too, St. Stephen, the first martyr, preached before being stoned; and likewise St. Dominic, who knew how to speak only with God or of God. Thus the Holy Ghost appears increasingly as a source of ever new graces, an unexhausted and inexhaustible source, “the source of living water springing up into life eternal,” the source of light and love.

He is, as the saints say, our consolation in the sorrows of exile. A great hope is left to us in the present world crisis, for the hand of the Lord is not shortened. The numerous saints recently canonized evidence the fact that God is always rich in mercy. These saints who are His great servants, furnish us with magnificent, and often imitable, examples of faith, hope, and love. Proof of this statement is found in the lives of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus, St. Gemma Galgani, St. John Bosco, St. Joseph Cottolengo, Blessed Anthony Mary Claret, St. Catherine Laboure, St. Louise de Marillac, St. Conrad of Parzham, the humble Capuchin lay brother in whom are so admirably fulfilled our Savior’s words: “I confess to Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones” (Matt. 11:25).

In this spirit interior souls should consecrate themselves to the Holy Ghost in order to place themselves more profoundly under His direction and impulsion, and not allow so many of His inspirations to pass unperceived.

Good Christians consecrate themselves to the Blessed Virgin that she may lead them to our Lord, and to the Sacred Heart that Jesus may lead them to His Father. Particularly during the Pentecostal season, they should consecrate themselves to the Holy Ghost in order better to discern and follow His inspirations. With this intention they should repeat the beautiful prayer:

O Lux beatissima,
Reple cordis intima
Tuorum fidelium.

Sine tuo numine,
Nihil est in homine,
Nihil est innoxium.

Da virtutis meritum,
Da salutis exitum,
Da perenne gaudium.

Chapter 41: A Form of Perfect Life: the Way of Spiritual Childhood

The way of spiritual childhood taught by St. Teresa of Lisieux was highly praised on several occasions by Pope Benedict XV, and by Pope Pius XI who often expressed his confidence in the providential mission of the saint for the spiritual formation of souls in our day. The way of childhood which she recommends to us is explained by the innate qualities of the child, which should be found in an eminent degree in the child of God. There is in this idea a deep intuition in perfect harmony with what theology teaches on sanctifying grace, the infused virtues, and the gifts of the Holy Ghost. By recalling the innate qualities of the child, the principal virtues of the child of God, and what distinguishes spiritual childhood from natural childhood, we shall find great light on the doctrine of grace.


What are ordinarily the innate qualities of a child? In spite of his little defects, we find in a child, as a rule, simplicity and conciousness of his weakness, especially if he has been baptized and is being raised in a Christian manner.

The simplicity, or the absence of duplicity, of a child is wholly spontaneous; in him there is no labored refinement, no affectation. He generally says what he thinks and expresses what he desires without subterfuge, without fear of what people will say. As a rule he does not pose; he shows himself as he is. Conscious of his weakness, for he can do nothing of himself, he depends in everything on his father and mother, from whom he should receive everything. This awareness of his weakness is the seed of humility, which leads him to practice the three theological virtues, often in a profoundly simnple manner.

At first the child spontaneously believes what his parents tell him; often they speak to him of God and teach him to pray. Innately the child has confidence in his parents, who teach him to hope in God even before he knows the formula of the act of hope, which he will soon read in his catechism and recite morning and evening. Finally with all his heart the child loves his parents, to whom he owe everything; and if his father and mother are truly Christian, they lift the lively affection of this young heart toward God, our Lord, and His holy Mother. In this simplicity, this consciousness of his weakness, and this simple practice of the three theological virtues, there is the seed of the loftiest spiritual life. For this reason, when Jesus wished to teach His apostles the importance of humility, setting a little child in the midst of them He said: “Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”1082 In recent years we have seen realized the prediction of Pope Pius X: “There will be saints among the children,” called at an early age to frequent Communion.

Later on, during the awkward age, the child often loses his simplicity, the consciousness of his weakness, and wishes to act prematurely like a man; he gives evidence of pride and duplicity. And if he delights in speaking of certain virtues, it is less of the theological virtues than of human virtues, like fortitude and courage, which lend importance to his budding personality, and a certain prudence which he does not know how to distinguish from false prudence, and which, in his attempt to hide disorders in his life, may turn into deceit.

The harsh experience of life then reminds him of his weakness; at times he meets with injustice, which shows him the value of a higher justice. He suffers from lies that are believed, thus discovering the value of uprightness. Finally, if he reflects, if he has not ceased to pray a little every day, he understands Christ’s words: “Without Me you can do nothing,” and the profound meaning of the Our Father again becomes apparent to him. He repeats this prayer of his childhood, sometimes spending ten minutes saying the Our Father once from the depths of his heart. He has again found the road of salvation.


St. Teresa of the Child Jesus reminds us that the principal virtues of the child of God are those in which are reproduced in an eminent degree the innate qualities of the child, minus his defects. Consequently the way of spiritual childhood will teach us to be supernaturally ourselves minus our defects.

The child of God should, first of all, be simple and upright, without duplicity; he should exclude hypocrisy and falsehood from his life, and not seek to pass for what he is not, as our Lord declares in the Sermon on the Mount: “If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome”:1083 that is, if the gaze of your spirit is honest, if your intention is upright, your whole life will be illumined.

The child of God should preserve the consciousness of his weakness and indigence; he should constantly recall that God our Father freely created him from nothing, and that without God’s grace he can do absolutely nothing in the order of sanctification and salvation. If the child of God grows in this humility, he will have an ever deeper faith in the divine word, greater even than little children have in the words of their parents. He will have a faith devoid of human respect, he will be proud of his faith; and from time to time it will become in him penetrating and sweet, above all reasoning. He will truly live by the mysteries of salvation and will taste them; he will contemplate them with admiration, as a little child looks into the eyes of his beloved father.

If the child of God does not go astray, he will see his hope grow stronger from day to day and become transformed into trusting abandonment to Providence. In proportion to his fidelity to the duty of the moment, to the signified divine will, will be his abandonment to the divine good pleasure as yet unknown. The arms of the Lord are, says St. Teresa Of the Child Jesus, like a divine elevator that lifts man up to God.

Finally, the child of God grows steadily in the love of his Father. He loves Him for Himself and not simply for His benefits, as a little child loves his mother more than the caresses he receives from her. The child of God loves his Father in trial as in joy; when life is difficult, he remembers that he should love the Lord with all his strength and even with all his mind, and be always united to Him in the higher part of his soul as an adorer “in spirit and in truth.”

This last characteristic shows that the way of spiritual childhood often demands courage in trial, the virtue of Christian fortitude united to the gift of fortitude. This is especially evident toward the end of the life of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus1084 when she had to pass through the tunnel, which St. John of the Cross calls the night of the spirit. She passed through this profound darkness with admirable faith, praying for unbelievers, with perfect abandonment and most pure and ardent charity, which led her to the transforming union, the immediate prelude of eternal life.

The way of childhood thus understood wonderfully harmonizes several seemingly contradictory virtues: meekness and fortitude, and also simplicity and prudence, to which Jesus referred when He said to His apostles: “Behold I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents and simple as doves.”

We must be prudent with the world, which is often perverse; we must also be strong, at times even to martyrdom, as in Spain and Mexico in recent years. But to have this superior prudence and fortitude, we need the gifts of counsel and fortitude, and to have them we must be increasingly simple and childlike toward God, our Lord, and the Blessed Virgin. The less we should be children in our dealings with men, the more we should become children of God. From Him alone can come the fortitude and prudence we need in the struggles of today: we must hope in God and divine grace more than in the strength of popular movements; and should this force stray farther and farther into the way of atheistic communism, we should continue to resist even to martyrdom, placing our trust in God like a little child in the goodness of his father. Father H. Petitot, O.P., in his book, St. Teresa of Lisieux: a Spiritual Renascence, emphasizes this intimate union of virtues so contrary in appearance in St. Teresa of Lisieux.

Another point of capital importance is that when well understood the way of spiritual childhood wonderfully harmonizes also true humility with the desire for the loving contemplation of the mysteries of salvation. Thereby we see that this contemplation, which proceeds from living faith illumined by the gifts of understanding and wisdom, is in the normal way of sanctity. This penetrating and at times sweet contemplation of the mysteries of faith is not something extraordinary like visions, revelations, and the stigmata, extrinsic favors, so to speak, which we do not find in the life of St. Teresa of Lisieux; it is, on the contrary, the normal fruit of sanctifying grace, called the grace of the virtues and the gifts and the seed of glory. It is the normal prelude of eternal life. This point of doctrine stands out clearly in the writings of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus. She makes us desire and ask the Lord for this loving contemplation of the mysteries of the Incarnation, the redemption, the Eucharist, the Mass, and the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity in our souls.


Lastly, in her teaching on the way of spiritual childhood, St. Teresa sets forth clearly what constitutes the distinction between spiritual and natural childhood. Differentiating between them, St. Paul tells us: “Do not become children in sense. But in malice be children; and in sense be perfect.”1085 Consequently maturity of judgment first of all distinguishes spiritual from natural childhood. But there is also a character to which St. Francis de Sales1086 draws attention. In the natural order, in proportion as the child grows, the more self-sufficient he should become, for some day he will no longer have his parents. In the order of grace, on the contrary, the more the child of God grows, the more he understands that he will never be self-sufficient and that he depends intimately on God. As he matures, he should live more by the special inspiration of the Holy Ghost, who, by His seven gifts, supplies for the imperfections of his virtues to such an extent that he is finally more passive under the divine action than given up to his personal activity. In the end he will enter into the bosom of the Father where he will find his beatitude.

A young person, on reaching maturity, leaves his parents to begin life for himself. The middle-aged man occasionally pays a visit to his mother, but he no longer depends on her as he formerly did; instead, it is he who supports her. On the contrary, as the child of God grows up, he becomes so increasingly dependent on his Father that he no longer desires to do anything without Him, without His inspirations or His counsels. Then his whole life is bathed in prayer; he has obtained the best part, which will not be taken away from him. He understands that he must pray always.

This doctrine, at once so simple and so lofty, is set forth in detail in the following page from St. Teresa of Lisieux:

To remain little is to recognize one’s nothingness, to expect everything from God, as a little child expects everything from his father; it is to be disturbed about nothing, not to earn a fortune.

Even among poor people, as long as the child is quite small, they give him what he needs; but as soon as he has grown up, his father no longer wishes to feed him and says to him: “Work now, you can be self-supporting.” Well, so as never to hear that, I have not wished to grow up. since I feel myself incapable of earning my living, the eternal life of heaven. I have, therefore, always remained little, having no other occupation than to gather the flowers of love and sacrifice and to offer them to God for His pleasure.

To be little also means not to attribute to oneself the virtues that one practices, believing oneself capable of something; but it means recognizing that God places this treasure of virtue in the hand of His little child that he may make use of it when necessity arises; and it is always God’s treasure.1087

This is likewise the teaching of St. Augustine, when he affirms that, in crowning our merits, God crowns His own gifts. This is also what the Council of Trent says: “So great is God’s goodness toward us that He wills that His gifts should become merits in us.”1088 We can offer Him only what we receive from Him; but what we receive under the form of grace, we offer to Him under the form of merit, adoration, prayer, reparation, and thanksgiving.

St. Teresa adds: “Finally, to be little is not to become discouraged by one’s sins, for children often fall, but they are too little to do themselves much harm.”

In all this spiritual teaching appears the great doctrine of grace: “Without Me you can do nothing”; “What hast thou that thou hast not received?” St. Teresa lived this lofty doctrine, on which the fathers of the Church and theologians have written so much. She lived it in a very simple and profound manner, allowing the Holy Ghost to lead her, above human reasoning, toward the harbor of salvation, to which she, in her turn, leads many sinners. Happy indeed the theologian who shall have converted as many souls as our saint! The Anglican preacher, Vernon Johnson, was not converted by theologians or by exegetes, but by St. Teresa of the Child Jesus.

St. Gregory the Great expressed his admiration for this way of childhood when he wrote in a homily, which the breviary recalls in the common for virgin martyrs: “When we see young maidens gain the kingdom of heaven by the sword, what do we say, we who are bearded and weak, we who allow ourselves to be dominated by wrath, inflated by pride, disturbed by ambition?”

Truly St. Teresa of Lisieux traced for us the simple road which leads to great heights. In her teaching, as it pleased Pope Pius XI to point out, the gift of wisdom appears in a lofty degree for the direction of souls thirsting for the truth and wishing, above all human conceptions, to live by the word of God.1089

Section II: The Heroic Degree of the Virtues

To apprehend clearly what the unitive way should be in the full and strong sense of the term, we must treat of the heroic degree of the virtues in general, and more particularly of each of the theological virtues that chiefly constitute our life of union with God. With this intention, we shall also consider devotion to Jesus crucified and to Mary in the unitive way.

Chapter 42: The Heroic Degree of the Virtues in General

More perfectly to characterize the spiritual age of the perfect, we shall discuss at this point the heroic degree of the virtues which the Church requires for the beatification of the servants of God.1090

Heroic virtue commences even in the illuminative way, which begins by the passive purification of the senses, in which there are heroic acts of chastity and patience. With still greater reason it exists in the passive purification of the spirit, which introduces the soul into the unitive way. As we have seen, during this trial the soul must make heroic acts of the theological virtues in order to resist temptations against faith and hope. But this heroic degree manifests itself still more when the soul emerges from this trial into the unitive way of the perfect. We even pointed out earlier in this work that these two nights of the senses and the spirit are like two tunnels whose darkness is quite disconcerting. When we see a soul emerge from the first tunnel and with greater cause from the second with manifestly heroic virtues, it is a sign that the soul has successfully traversed these dark passages, that it did not go astray, or that, if in them it committed some sins, like the Apostle Peter during our Savior’s passion, divine grace raised it up again and led it to still greater humility, a greater mistrust of self, and a firmer hope in God.

We shall discuss first the distinctive marks of heroic virtue, then the connection of the virtues in relation to their heroic degree. In the following chapters we shall treat of the heroic degree of the theological and moral virtues in the perfect.


On this subject St. Thomas says in his Commentary on St Matthew, apropos of the evangelical beatitudes, which are the most perfect acts of the infused virtues and of the gifts: “Common virtue perfects man in a human manner, heroic virtue gives him a superhuman perfection. When a courageous man fears where he should fear, it is a virtue; if he did not fear in such circumstances, it would be temerity. But if he no longer fears anything, because he relies on the help of God, then it is a superhuman or divine virtue.”1091

It is these heroic virtues that are spoken of in the evangelical beatitudes: blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, those who weep over their sins, those who hunger and thirst after justice, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers, those who suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you untruly, for My sake.”

The true Christian notion of heroic virtue is expressed in these words of our Savior and in the commentary on them given us by the fathers of the Church, in particular by St. Augustine.1092 St. Thomas explains this traditional idea in the Summa,1093 where he distinguishes between the social virtues, the perfecting virtues, and those of the purified soul; and also where he treats of the beatitudes. After treating of the acquired virtues of the good citizen (social virtues), St. Thomas describes the infused perfecting virtues as follows: “These virtues . . . are virtues of men who are on their way and tending toward the divine similitude; and these are called perfecting virtues. Thus prudence by contemplating the things of God, counts as nothing all things of the world, and directs all the thoughts of the soul to God alone; temperance, so far as nature allows, neglects the needs of the body; fortitude prevents the soul from being afraid of neglecting the body and rising to heavenly things; and justice consists in the soul giving a whole-hearted consent to follow the way thus proposed.”

In a higher degree, these same infused virtues are called virtues of the fully purified soul; they are those of great saints on earth and of the blessed in heaven. “Thus prudence sees naught else but the things of God (the rules of our conduct); temperance knows no earthly desires (after having often overcome them); fortitude has no knowledge of passion (as in the martyrs); and justice, by imitating the divine Mind, is united thereto by an everlasting covenant.”1094

Treating of the beatitudes, St. Thomas1095 tells us that, as meritorious acts, they are the highest acts of the infused virtues and of the gifts, and that their reward is here on earth the prelude of eternal life (aliqua inchoatio beatitudinis). He distinguishes those of the flight from sin, which is attached to wealth, pleasure, earthly power; those of the active life (the thirst after justice and mercy), and those of the contemplative life (purity of heart, radiating peace); the highest contains all the preceding in the midst even of persecution.

This traditional teaching on the distinctive marks of heroic virtue is summed up by Benedict XIV when he says: “Four things are required for proven or manifest heroic virtue: (1) the matter or object should be difficult, above the common strength of man;(2) the acts should be accomplished promptly, easily;(3) they should be performed with holy joy;(4) they should be accomplished quite frequently, when the occasion to do so presents itself.”1096

The heroic degree of virtue is therefore superior to the common way of acting of even virtuous souls. Heroic virtue is present when one practices all one’s duties with ease and spontaneity, even in particularly difficult circumstances.

The different signs pointed out by Benedict XIV should be clearly understood in relation to the subject who practices heroic virtue. Thus, what is difficult for a ten-year-old child is what is above the ordinary strength of children of his age; likewise, what is difficult for an old man differs in a measure from what is hard for a man in his prime.

The second distinctive mark, promptness and facility, is understood especially in regard to the higher part of the soul; it does not exclude difficulty in the less elevated part, as the mystery of Gethsemane shows. That the holocaust may be perfect, there must be suffering involved and great difficulty to be overcome; but heroic charity promptly surmounts them.

Likewise holy joy, the third sign, is that of the sacrifice to be accomplished, and does not exclude sorrow and sadness; it is even at times accompanied by extreme dejection, which is religiously offered to God. The joy of suffering for our Lord even increases with suffering, and for that reason it is the sign of a very great grace.

The fourth mark, frequency in the accomplishment of such acts when the occasion demands it, greatly confirms the preceding ones and shows tested heroic virtue.

The heroic degree of virtue is especially evident in martyrdom undergone with faith for love of God; but outside of martyrdom, this heroic degree is often manifest, and at times in a striking manner. This was the case especially in the life of Jesus before His passion, as shown by His humility, meekness, abnegation, magnanimity, and even more so by His immense charity toward all, the charity of the supreme Shepherd of souls who is preparing to give His life for them.

An example of heroic virtue outside of martyrdom is frequently found in the saints, in their pardon of injuries, in their admirable charity toward those who persecute them. For example, one day a spiteful man seeing St. Benedict Joseph Labre passing by, hurled a sharp stone at him; the stone struck the servant of God on the ankle, and the blood gushed forth. The saint immediately bent down, picked up the stone, kissed it, doubtless praying for the man who had thrown it, and then placed the stone at the edge of the road so that it would injure no one else. Still another example is Henry Mary Boudon, archdeacon of Evreux, counselor of his bishop and of many other bishops of France, and the author of excellent spiritual books. As the result of a calumnious letter to the bishop of his diocese, he was forbidden to celebrate Mass and to hear confessions. On receipt of this prohibition, he immediately threw himself at the feet of his crucifix and thanked God for this grace, of which he judged himself unworthy. His action is an example of perfect promptness in the acceptance of the cross.

Such examples could be endlessly multiplied. St. Louis Bertrand remained calm in the midst of great dangers. On one occasion when he perceived that he had drunk a poisoned beverage offered to him, he remained in peace and trusted to God. In the midst of sharp pain, he did not lament, but said to God: “Lord, now burn and cut that Thou mayest spare me in eternity.”

We should note that in heroic virtue the happy mean is far higher than in ordinary virtue. In proportion as the acquired virtue of fortitude grows, without deviating to the right or the left toward contrary vices, its happy mean rises. Higher up still is found the happy mean of the infused virtue of fortitude, which itself rises progressively. Finally, still more elevated is the superior measure of the gift of fortitude, dictated by the Holy Ghost. Now, heroic virtue is exercised conjointly with the corresponding gift and, as it is thus placed at the service of charity, something of the impulse of this theological virtue is found in it.

Moreover, as the acts of the gifts depend on the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, the Christian hero remains very humble like a child of God who continually looks toward his Father. In this respect he differs notably from the hero who is conscious of his personal strength, like the Stoic, and who aims at great things or exalts his personality instead of allowing the Lord to reign profoundly in him.

The distinctive marks of heroic virtue are dominated by charity toward those who make one suffer and by prayer for them. This consideration leads us to discuss the connection of the virtues from this higher point of view.


To discern more clearly between heroic virtue, which comes from a great help from God, and certain deceptive appearances, we must consider, besides the four distinctive marks already indicated, the connection of the virtues in prudence and charity. Prudence, the driver of the virtues, directs the moral virtues that it may kindle in our sensible appetites and will the light of right reason and faith. We saw earlier in our study that in this work of direction acquired prudence is at the service of infused. Charity, on its part, directs the acts of all the other virtues to God loved supremely, making them meritorious. This is why all the virtues, being connected in prudence and charity, grow together, says St. Thomas, like the five fingers of the hand, like the different parts of one and the same organism.1097 This point of doctrine is of primary importance in discerning heroic virtues, for there is extraordinary difficulty in practicing, especially at the same time, seemingly contradictory virtues, like fortitude and meekness, simplicity and prudence, perfect truthfulness and the discretion which knows how to keep a secret.

Difficulty in practicing simultaneously virtues that are so unlike springs from the fact that each one of us is determined by his temperament in one direction rather than in another. A person naturally inclined to meekness is but little inclined to fortitude; a naturally simple person sometimes carries simplicity to naivete and a lack of prudence; one who is very frank does not know how to answer an indiscreet question relative to something about which he should keep silent; one who is inclined to mercy will at times lack the firmness which justice or the defense of truth demands. Each one’s temperament is determined in one direction; natura determinatur ad unum, the ancients used to say. All must climb toward the summit of perfection by opposite slopes; the meek must learn to become strong, and the strong to become meek. Thus the acquired and the infused virtues should complete man’s excellent natural inclinations and combat the numerous defects which sully his moral character. Were we to count all the virtues annexed to the moral and theological virtues, we would discover that there are about forty of them to be practiced, and that each one occupies a middle position between two opposing defects to be avoided, as fortitude between cowardliness and temerity. It is essential to know how to play the keyboard of the virtues without sounding false notes, without confounding meekness with pusillanimity, and magnanimity with pride.

Hence the importance of the connection of the virtues and the difficulty there is in practicing them all at the same time, or practically so, in order that the equilibrium or harmony of moral life may be preservedfortiter et suavite.

It also follows that a virtue exists in the heroic degree only if the others exist in a proportionate degree, at least in praeparatione animi, that is, in such a way that they can be practiced should the occasion arise. Thus the deeper the root of a tree is, the loftier is the highest of its branches.1098

Therefore one must possess lofty charity, eminent love of God and neighbor, and also great prudence, aided by the gift of counsel, in order to have simultaneously a high degree of fortitude and meekness, perfect love of truth and justice joined to great mercy for those who have gone astray. God alone, who unites all perfections in Himself, can grant that His servants unite them also in their lives. This is why St. Paul asserts this connection when he says of the charity poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Ghost: “Charity is patient, is kind: charity envieth not, dealeth not perversely, is not puffed up, is not ambitious, seeketh not her own, is not provoked to anger, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth with the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”1099

Likewise Benedict XIV declares: “The heroic degree, properly so called, demands the connection of all the moral virtues, and although pagans have excelled in one virtue or another, like love of country, it is not evident that they had the heroic degree properly so called, which cannot be conceived without great love of God and neighbor and the other virtues which accompany charity.”1100

This admirable harmony of the virtues appears especially in our Lord, particularly during the Passion. In Him, together with His heroic love of God and immense mercy for sinners, which led Him to pray for His executioners, we see the greatest love of truth and uncompromising justice. In Him are united the most profound humility and the loftiest magnanimity, heroic fortitude in self­forgetfulness and the greatest meekness. Our Savior’s humanity thus appears as the spotless mirror in which the divine perfections are reflected.1101

The connection of the virtues likewise enables us to distinguish as Benedict XIV points out,1102 between true and false martyrs. The latter endure their torments through pride and obstinacy in error whereas only true martyrs unite to heroic fortitude that meeknes which leads them, in imitation of our Lord, to pray for their executioners. In their martyrdom, St. Stephen and St. Peter Martyr exemplified this teaching, showing us, in consequence, that their constancy was true Christian fortitude, united to the gift of fortitude, in the service of faith and charity. In them especially we have living examples of the four characteristics of heroic virtue explained above: to accomplish very difficult acts, promptly, with holy joy, and not only once, but every time that circumstances demand such action. To act in this manner requires a special intervention on the part of God who sustains His servants and who, in extreme circumstances, gives extreme graces.

We must insist on the point that the heroic degree of virtue thus defined is relative to different ages of life.1103 Heroic virtue in children is judged in relation to the common strength of virtuous children of the same age. If certain grown persons are morally very small, there are little children who by reason of their virtues are very mature. Scripture declares: “Out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings Thou hast perfected praise.”1104 Christ reminded the chief priests and the scribes of this passage when they grew indignant at the children who were crying in the temple: “Hosanna to the Son of David.”1105 And if the faith of little ones is at times an example for their elders, as much must be said of their confidence and love.

An example of such virtue is the heroism of little four-year-old Nellie of Ireland, whose well-known life written some years ago, aroused wonder and delight in Pope Pius X.1106 Tortured by caries of the bone which ate away her jaw, she used to press her crucifix to her heart in order to endure her sufferings; tears streaming down her cheeks, she accepted all her suffering, repeating unceasingly: “See how Holy God suffered for me!”

In 1909 little Guglielmina Tacchi Marconi, known in Pisa for her extraordinary love for the poor, died just as heroically.1107 In the streets she used to watch for the poor in order to assist them; at table she could not eat if they lacked anything. She died at the age of eleven, after seven months of torture by endocarditis; throughout this period she was never guilty of a pout or a caprice. From the very first day, though she was never again to know an hour of peaceful sleep, she contented herself with repeating with great confidence: “All for the love of Jesus!” After her first Communion, made just before she died, she remained for a long time as if in ecstasy, and died exclaiming: “Come, Jesus, come.”

Another striking example is the martyrdom of the three little Japanese boys, canonized by Pope Pius IX in 1861. One of them, thirteen years of age, made the following reply to the governor who urged him to apostatize: “How foolish I would be to give up today certain and eternal goods for uncertain and passing goods!” Another, Louis Ibragi, twelve years of age, died on his cross singing the Laudate, pueri, Dominum.1108 On reading the account of these heroic acts performed by children from ten to twelve years of age and even less, and recalling the sublime words that several of them uttered before dying, one recognizes in them a wisdom incomparably superior in its simplicity and humility to the often pretentious complexity of human knowledge. In it is evident an eminent degree of the gift of wisdom, proportionate to the charity of these little servants of God, who were great by the heroic testimony they gave Him even unto death.1109

Chapter 43: Heroic and Contemplative Faith

“This is the victory which overcometh the world, our faith.”
I John 5:4

Since we have studied the heroic degree of the virtues in general, it will be profitable next to consider that of faith and the principal virtues in particular. We shall thus form an accurate idea of perfect Christian life according to the common teaching of the Church. There is no room for discussion in these matters, for they are the great common grounds of sanctity on which all theologians agree.

This description of the signs of the heroic degree of the principal virtues may be very useful in the beatification of the servants of God. A knowledge of these signs will also make clear why in these causes the Church does not seek to establish whether the servants of God in question had infused contemplation under a more or less determined form; it is sufficient to see that they had heroic faith, the signs of which we shall examine, since in them are often visible the fruits of contemplation, which makes such souls live in an almost continual conversation with God.

Heroic faith is not only the living faith, vivified by charity, which is found in all the just; it is eminent faith which has for its principal characters firmness of adherence to the most obscure mysteries, promptness in the rejection of error, penetration, which makes it contemplate all things in the light of divine revelation, while living profoundly by revealed mysteries.1110 Thereby it is victorious over the spirit of the world, as is evident especially in times of persecution.1111


When we spoke of the passive purification of the spirit, we saw that faith must be very firm to overcome the strong temptations which then present themselves. We stated,1112 on the one hand, that during this painful period the gift of understanding vividly enlightens the soul on the grandeur of the divine perfections, on infinite justice, as well as on the gratuitous character of the favors of mercy toward the elect. In consequence the soul asks itself how infinite justice can be intimately harmonized with infinite mercy. On the other hand, the devil tells it that infinite justice is excessively rigorous and that mercy is arbitrary. But the faithful soul, which is purified in this crucible, rises above these temptations, and divine grace convinces it that the darkness found in these mysteries comes from a light too great for the weak eyes of the spirit. Hence, in spite of the fluctuations of the lower part of the intellect, at its summit faith not only remains firm but daily grows stronger. In this darkness it rises toward the heights of God, just as at night we glimpse the heights of the firmament, which remain invisible during the day.

This firmness of faith then manifests itself more and more by love for the word of God contained in Holy Scripture, by the cult of tradition preserved in the writings of the fathers, by perfect adherence to even the most minute details of the doctrine proposed by the Church, by docility to the directions of the supreme shepherd, the vicar of Jesus Christ. This firmness of faith appears especially in the martyrs, and also, during great conflicts of opinion, in those who, far from vacillating, are capable of sacrificing their self­love in order to keep immutably to the right road.

In the practical order, this firmness of perfect faith is also evident when the servants of God, faced with the most painful and unforeseen events, are not astonished at the unsearchable ways of Providence, disconcerting to reason. Of this firm faith Abraham gave evidence when he prepared to sacrifice is son Isaac, in spite of the fact that God Himself had promised him that from this Son was to spring his posterity, the multitude of believers. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, St. Paul says: “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered Isaac: and he that had received the promises, offered up his only begotten son. . . . Accounting that God is able to raise up even from the dead. Whereupon also he received him.”1113 This was a remote figure of the sacrifice of Christ.

This heroic obedience emanated from heroic faith. In the practical affairs of daily life as well as in the mysteries which we must believe, the obscurity of certain ways of God comes from a light too strong for our weak eyes. So in the life of Christ, His passion was at one and the same time the darkest hour, considered from a worldly point of view, and the most luminous from a spiritual point of view. This is what made St. Philip Neri say with admirable firmness of faith: “I thank Thee, Lord God, with all my heart that things are not going as I wish, but as Thou dost.” In Isaias the Lord says: “My thoughts are not your thoughts: nor your ways My ways.”1114 These words are sometimes quoted to emphasize the disconcerting character of certain ways of God; but in this passage of Isaias, it is a question especially of the divine mercy which comes to us in these astounding ways. In the same chapter the Lord says: “All you that thirst, come to the waters. . . . Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unjust man his thoughts, and let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God; for He is bountiful to forgive. . . . And as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return no more thither, but soak the earth, . . . so shall My word be, which shall go forth from My mouth. It shall not return to Me void, but it shall do whatsoever I please. . . . For you shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace.”1115 The firmness of the faith of the true servants of God makes them see, but a little indistinctly, that the most disconcerting trials are directed by Providence to their sanctification, their salvation, and that of many souls.


Heroic and contemplative faith is characterized not only by firmness in adherence, but by promptness in rejecting error. It not only immediately spurns the false maxims of the world that cloak themselves in deceiving formulas, but it quickly perceives errors that are small in appearance, but that may become the cause of a great deviation; a slight deviation at the summit of an angle becomes great when its sides are prolonged. Thus, for example, when Jansenism was leading some theologians astray, St. Vincent de Paul, through his great spirit of faith, immediately grasped the error of this doctrine, so opposed to the divine mercy, which kept the faithful away from Holy Communion. He denounced this error to Rome through love for the word of God, which it altered, and for souls, which it was leading astray.

Promptness in rejecting every source of deviation is shown in the practical order by the way a person makes his confession, that is, without routine, with a clear view of his sins, and perfect sincerity that avoids every attenuation, as if he were reading in the book of life, which will be open to his gaze after death.

Promptness of faith in rejecting error causes the servants of God great suffering when they see souls being lost. After disciplining himself for those to whom he was to preach, St. Dominic used often to say in his nocturnal prayers: “O my God, what will become of sinners? “

Thence is born great zeal for the propagation of the faith in the missions and in countries where faith was once alive but now is lamentably declining. This zeal is ardent but not bitter or harsh; it manifests itself chiefly by fervent and almost continual prayer, which should be the soul of the apostolate.


Perfect faith makes the soul see everything in the light of Scripture and, as it were, with the eye of God. Possessed of this degree of faith, it sees with increasing clearness all that has been revealed about the majesty of God, the divine perfections, the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, the redeeming Incarnation, the intimate life of the Church, and eternal life. Under the same supernatural light with increasing clarity the soul sees itself, its qualities, and its weaknesses, and also the value of graces received. Similarly, in peace it considers other souls, their frailty and their generosity; hence it judges agreeable or painful events in relation to the end of our journey toward eternity. Judgment rises above sensible things and above the purely rational aspect of these events in order to attain though indistinctly, God’s supernatural plan.

St. Catherine of Siena often insists on this point in her Dialogue. Speaking of the perfect, the Lord says there:

She [the soul] would be illuminated to see that I, the primary and sweet Truth, grant condition, and time, and place, and consolations, and tribulations as they may be needed for your salvation, and to complete the perfection to which I have elected the soul. And she would see that I give everything through love, and that, therefore, with love and reverence she should receive everything.1116

Those who belong to the third state . . . deem themselves worthy of the troubles and stumblingblocks caused them by the world, and of the privation of their own consolation, and indeed of whatever circumstance happens to them. . . . They have known and tasted in the light My eternal will, which wishes naught else but your good, and gives and permits these troubles in order that you should be sanctified in Me.1117 . . .

With this light the souls in the unitive state love Me, because love follows the intellect, and the more it knows the more can it love. Thus the one feeds the other.1118

The perfect soul thus attains to a penetrating faith, which enters the depths of the mystery of Christ, of the Son of God made man and crucified for our salvation. We read on this subject in the sameDialogue: “Such as these follow the Immaculate Lamb, My only­begotten Son, who was both blessed and sorrowful on the cross. He was sorrowful in that He bore the cross of the body, suffering pain and the cross of desire, in order to satisfy for the guilt of the human race, and He was blessed because the divine nature, though united with the human, could suffer no pain, but always kept His soul in a state of blessedness, being revealed without a veil to her.”1119 Likewise, says St. Catherine of Siena, the intimate friends of the Lord Jesus suffer at the sight of sin, which offends God and ravages souls, but they are happy at the same time because no one can take away their charity, which constitutes their happiness and beatitude. Thus to the gaze of the servants of God there appear more clearly the infinite value of the Mass, the worth of the real presence of our Savior in the tabernacle, the grandeur of the intimate life of the Church, which lives by the thought, the love, the will of Christ. Everything takes on a true value in the liturgy, which is like the song of the Spouse accompanying the great prayer of Christ, perpetuated by the sacrifice of our altars.

This penetrating and contemplative faith leads man to rejoice in the triumphs of the Church, to see in men not rivals or indifferent persons, but brothers bought by the blood of Christ, members of His mystical body. St. Vincent de Paul, going to the assistance of abandoned children or of prisoners condemned to the galleys, had a high degree of contemplative faith which inspired his whole apostolate.

Perfect faith leads the just man always to base his decisions not on human but on supernatural motives. It gives life a superior radiant simplicity, which is like the reflection of the divine simplicity. Sometimes it shines forth on the countenances of the saints, which are as if illumined by a celestial light. One day St. Dominic, all unsuspecting, escaped an ambush prepared by his adversaries to bring about his death. When those who were awaiting him in a lonely place in order to kill him, saw him approaching, they were so struck by the light illuminating his countenance that they did not dare to lay hands on him. St. Dominic was thus saved, as someone has said, by his contemplation, which radiated over his features; and with him was saved the Order he was to found.


St. John writes in his First Epistle: “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world. And this is the victory which overcometh the world, our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?”1120

The victory of heroic faith appears even in the Old Testament, as St. Paul says: “By faith, Abraham, when he was tried, offered Isaac. . . . By faith also of things to come, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob dying, blessed each of -the sons of Joseph . . . By faith he [Moses] left Egypt, not fearing the fierceness of th king: for he endured as seeing Him that is invisible. . . . By faith they [the Israelites] passed through the Red Sea. . . . The prophets . . . by faith conquered kingdoms, wrought justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions [like Daniel], quenched the violence of fire [like the three children in the furnace]. . . . They were stoned, they were cut asunder, they were tempted, they were put to death by the sword . . . being in want, distressed, afflicted: of whom the world was not worthy.”1121 This is what makes St. Paul say in the same epistle: “And therefore, . . . let us run by patience to the fight proposed to us: looking on Jesus, . . . who having joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and now sitteth on the right hand of the throne of God. . . . For you have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.”1122

The numerous martyrs who have died in Spain since July, 1936, gave our Lord this testimony of blood; they won the victory of heroic faith over the spirit of the world or the spirit of evil. Without going as far as the shedding of blood, this victory is won by the faith of all the saints: in the last century by that of the Cure of Ars, Don Bosco, St. Joseph Cottolengo, and nearer our day by that of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus, and of many very generous souls whose names we do not know, but whose oblation ascends toward God like the sweet odor of incense. “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.”1123 In this way souls are configured to Christ: first of all, to His childhood, then to His hidden life, in a measure to His apostolic life, and finally to His sorrowful life, before sharing in His glorious life in heaven.

Chapter 44: Heroic Hope and Abandonment

“Against hope . . . in hope.”
Rom. 4: 18

Heroic hope is the eminent degree of this virtue, which makes us tend toward God, the object of eternal beatitude, relying, in order to reach Him, on the help He promised us.1124 The formal motive of infused and theological hope is God Himself ever helpful, Deus auxilians, or helpful Omnipotence.

As long as the Christian has not reached perfection, his hope lacks firmness; it is more or less unstable, in the sense that the soul sometimes allows itself to slip into presumption when all is going well, and to fall subsequently into a certain discouragement when some undertaking does not succeed. Above these fluctuations, heroic hope is characterized by invincible firmness and trusting abandonment, sustained by unwavering fidelity to duty. The heroic confidence of the saints is also shown by its effects: it restores the courage of others and arouses hunger and thirst after the justice of God.


The Council of Trent tells us: “We should all have a most firm hope in the help of God; for if we do not resist His grace, as He has begun the work of salvation in us, He will finish it, working in us both to will and to accomplish, as St. Paul says (Phil. 2: 13).”1125

The invincible firmness of hope appears, we have seen, in the passive purification of the spirit when, to make us hope purely in Him, the Lord permits every human help to disappear. Then occur rebuffs, at times calumnies, which give rise to a certain mistrust in those who until then had been helpful. In addition, the tried soul has a clearer view of its own wretchedness; it is likewise at times depressed by illness, and must overcome strong temptations to discouragement or even to despair, proceeding from the enemy of all good. The soul must then hope supernaturally and heroically against all human hope, as St. Paul says of Abraham, who, although nearly a hundred years old, did not despair of becoming the father of a great number of nations, according to the promise which had been given to him: “So shall thy seed be.”1126

If this trial is courageously endured, hope grows stronger and stronger during it and is increased tenfold. However, it does not give us absolute certitude that individually we shall be saved, since that would require a special revelation;1127 but we hope increasingly for salvation with a certitude of tendency. Just as under the direction of Providence, the animal’s instinct tends infallibly toward its end, the swallow toward the country to which it should return, so under the direction of faith in the divine promises we tend infallibly toward eternal life.1128

This firmness in tending toward eternal life should be invincible because of the formal motive on which it rests: God who always aids us, according to His promises. In spite of rebuffs, contradictions, the sight of our wretchedness and our sins, we should always hope in God, who has promised His help to those who ask Him for it with humility, trust, and perseverance. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. . . . And which of you, if he ask his father bread, will he give him a stone? Or a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? . . . If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father from heaven give the good Spirit to them that ask Him!”1129 And if we must ask conditionally for temporal goods, in the measure in which they are useful to our salvation, we should ask unconditionally, humbly to be sure, but with absolute trust, for the graces necessary to persevere. And as St. Luke relates in the text just quoted, we should thus ask not only for the graces necessary for our sanctification, but for the Holy Ghost Himself, the gift par excellence. He is sent anew when the soul passes from one degree of charity to another that is notably higher, as it must be, for the soul to pass through the trials which are ordered precisely to this progress. Hope thus purified becomes invincible, according to the words of St. Paul, which have sustained the martyrs: “If God be for us, who is against us?”1130 The Lord has more than once said to His saints: “You shall lack help only when I lack power.” St. Teresa of the Child Jesus used to say: “Even if I were the greatest sinner on earth, I should not have less trust in God, for my hope does not rest upon my innocence, but on God’s mercy and omnipotence.”

St. Paul grasped all the sublimity of this formal motive of hope when he wrote: “And lest the greatness of the revelations should exalt me, there was given me a sting of my flesh, an angel of Satan, to buffet me. For which thing thrice I besought the Lord that it might depart from me. And He said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly, therefore, will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful”:1131 that is, I cease to trust in myself, that I may trust in God: “I can do all things in Him who strengtheneth me.”1132 It is expedient to say to oneself then, as a holy soul used to say: Of ourselves we are nothing, but through our Lord we are something, since He loves us and redeemed us by His blood.

The story is told that one day St. Philip Neri went through the cloisters of his monastery exclaiming in a loud voice: “I am in despair, I am in despair.” His spiritual sons, astonished, said to him: “Is it possible, you, Father, who so many times have restored our trust?” Leaping joyfully, St. Philip replied in his characteristic way: “Yes, left to myself, I am hopeless; but by the grace of our Lord, I still have confidence.” He had doubtless had a very strong temptation to discouragement, which he overcame in this fashion. He thus experienced the truth that one must be crushed in order to grow, to be configured to Him of whom Isaias says: “He was wounded for our iniquities.”1133 St. Paul of the Cross had the same experience over a long period of years when he had to suffer in order to unify the Order of Passionists which he had founded, an order that was to bear especially the marks of our Savior’s passion.1134


Heroic hope manifests itself not only by its firmness, but by trusting abandonment to Providence and to the omnipotent goodness of God. Perfect abandonment differs from quietism because it is accompanied by hope and unwavering fidelity to duty, even in little things, from moment to moment, according to our Lord’s words: “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in that which is greater.”1135 He will receive the divine help to undergo martyrdom if necessary. Unwavering fidelity to the will of God signified in the duty of the present moment prepares the soul to abandon itself with entire confidence to the as yet unrevealed divine will of good pleasure, on which depend its future and eternity. The more faithful the soul is to the divine light received, the more it can abandon itself wholly to Providence, to divine mercy and omnipotence. Thus are harmonized in the soul the activity of fidelity and the passivity of abandonment, above restless, fruitless agitation and slothful quiet. At those times when all may seem lost, the soul repeats with the Psalmist: “The Lord ruleth me; and I shall want nothing. . . . For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for Thou art with me. Thy rod and Thy staff, they have comforted me.”1136

In its greatest difficulties, the tried soul remembers the holy man Job, who, after losing all he possessed, exclaimed: “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away. As it hath pleased the Lord, so is it done. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”1137 The tried soul should also repeat the words of the Book of Proverbs: “Have confidence in the Lord with all thy heart, and lean not upon thy own prudence. In all thy ways think on Him, and He will direct thy steps.”1138 The Psalmist likewise says: “In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped, let me never be confounded.”1139 When all seemed lost, St. Teresa used to say: “Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thou canst do all, and Thou love