CONTAINS SEVERAL INSTRUCTIONS CONCERNING THE PRACTICE OF VIRTUES.
OF THE CHOICE WE OUGHT TO MAKE AS TO THE EXERCISE OF VIRTUES.
AS the queen of the bees never goes abroad into the fields without being surrounded by all her little subjects, so charity, the queen of virtues, never enters the heart without bringing all the other virtues in her train, exercising and disciplining them as a captain does his soldiers. But she neither employs them all at the same time, nor in the same manner, nor in all seasons, nor in every place; for as the just man, like a tree planted by the river side, brings forth fruit in due season, so charity, watering the soul, produces a variety of good works, each one in its proper time. "Music, how agreeable soever in itself, is out of season in time of mourning," says the proverb. It is a great fault in many, who, undertaking the practice of some particular virtue, wish to exercise it on all occasions. Like some ancient philosophers, they either always weep or laugh; and, what is yet worse, they censure those who do not always, like themselves, exercise the same virtues; whereas, we should "rejoice with the joyful, and weep with them that weep," says the Apostle; "for charity is patient, kind, bountiful, discreet, and condescending."
There are, however, some virtues of so general utility as not only to require an exercise of themselves apart, but also communicate their qualities to the practice of other virtues. Occasions are seldom presented for the exercise of fortitude, magnanimity, and magnificence; but meekness, temperance, modesty, and humility, are virtues wherewith all the actions of our life should be tempered. It is true, there are other virtues more agreeable, but the use of these is more necessary. Sugar is more agreeable than salt; but the use of salt is more necessary and general. Therefore we must constantly have a good store of these general virtues in readiness, since we stand in need of them almost continually.
In the exercise of the virtues we should always prefer that which is most conformable to our duty, not that which is most agreeable to our imagination. St. Paula was prejudiced in favor of corporal austerities and mortifications, that she might more easily enjoy spiritual comfort; but she was under a greater obligation to obey her superiors, and therefore St. Jerome blamed her for using immoderate abstinences against her bishop's advice. The apostles, on the other hand, being commissioned to preach the gospel and distribute the bread of heaven, thought that they should act wrongly by interrupting these evangelical exercises for the relief of the poor, which, though, is in itself an excellent virtue. Every condition of life has its own peculiar virtue. The virtues of a prelate are different from those of a prince; those of a soldier from those of a married woman, or a widow, and so on through every class of society. Though all ought to possess all the virtues, yet all are not equally bound to exercise them; but each ought to practise, in a more particular manner, those virtues which are most requisite for the state of life to which he is called.
Among the virtues unconnected with our particular duty we must prefer the excellent to the glittering and showy. Comets appear greater than stars, and apparently occupy a greater space; whereas, in reality, they can neither in magnitude nor equality be compared to the stars; for as they only seem great because they are nearer, and appear in a grosser manner than the stars, so there are certain virtues, which, on account of their proximity, become more sensible, or, to use the expression, more material, that are highly esteemed and always preferred by the vulgar. Hence it is that so many prefer corporal alms before spiritual; the hair-shirt, fasting, going barefoot, using the discipline, and other such corporal mortifications, before meekness, mildness, modesty, and other mortifications of the heart; which are, nevertheless, more exalted. Choose then, Philothea, the best virtues, not the most esteemed; the most noble, not the most apparent; those that are actually the best, not those that are the most ostensible or shining.
It is profitable for every one to exercise some particular virtue, yet not so as to abandon the rest, but to keep his spirit in a more settled order. A fair virgin, in royal attire, more bright than the sun, whose head was decorated with a crown of olives, appeared to St. John, bishop of Alexandria, and said to him: "I am the eldest daughter or the king: if thou canst have me for thy friend, I shall conduct thee to his presence." He understood that she was mercy towards the poor, which God recommended to him; and therefore ever after he gave himself up so absolutely to the practice of this virtue as to obtain the title of St. John the Almoner. Eulogius, the Alexandrian, desiring to render God some particular service, and not having strength enough to embrace a solitary life, nor to subject himself to the obedience of another, took a poor wretch, quite eaten up with the leprosy, into his house, that he might exercise towards him the virtues of charity and mortification; and, to perform them the more worthily, he made a vow to honor and serve him as his lord and master: being tempted to separate, they addressed themselves to the great St. Anthony, who said, "Take care, my children, not to separate from each other, for being both of you near your end, if the angel should not find you together, you run a great risk of losing your crown."
St. Lewis visited hospitals, and attended the sick as diligently as if he had served for wages. St. Francis had so extraordinary a love for poverty as to call her his lady, and St. Dominick, for preaching, from which his order takes its name. St. Gregory the Great, following the example of Abraham, took pleasure in entertaining pilgrims, and like him received the King of Glory in the form of a pilgrim. Tobias exercised his charity in burying the dead. St. Elizabeth, though a great princess, delighted in nothing so much as in abasing herself. St. Catharine of Genoa, in her widowhood, dedicated herself to serve a hospital. Cassian relates that a devout lady, desirous to exercise the virtue of patience, came to St. Athanasius, who, at her request, placed with her a poor widow, so exceedingly peevish, choleric, and troublesome, that by her insupportable temper she gave the good lady ample occasion to exercise the virtues of meekness and charity.
Thus, among the servants of God, some apply themselves to serve the sick; others to relieve the poor; others to propagate the knowledge of the Christian doctrine amongst children; others to reclaim souls that are gone astray; others to adorn churches and decorate altars; others to restore peace and concord amongst those who have been at variance. As embroiderers lay gold, silver, and silk on their several grounds, with such an admirable variety of colors as to resemble all kinds of flowers, so these pious souls make choice of some particular devotion to serve as a ground for the spiritual embroidery of all other virtues, holding thereby all their actions and affections better united and ordered, by referring them to their principal exercise; and thus they show forth their spirit in its gilded clothing, surrounded with variety. Ps. xliv. 10.
When assaulted by any vice we must embrace the practice of the contrary virtue, and refer all the others to it; by which means we shall overcome our enemy, and at the same time advance in all virtues. Thus, if assaulted by pride or by anger, we must, in all our actions, practise humility and meekness; and make all our other exercises of prayer, and the sacraments of prudence, constancy, and sobriety, subservient to this end. For as the wild boar, to sharpen his tusks, wets and polishes them with his other teeth, and by this means sharpens all of them; so a virtuous man, having undertaken to perfect himself in that virtue of which he stands in most need for his defence, files and polishes it by the exercise of the other virtues, whilst they help to refine that one, make all of them become better polished. Thus it happened to Job, who, exercising himself particularly in patience, against the many temptations wherewith he was assaulted, became perfectly established and confirmed in all kinds of virtues. Nay, St. Gregory Nazianzen says, "that by the perfect exercise of one only virtue a person may attain to the height of all the rest; "for which he alleges the example of Rahab, who, having exactly practised the virtue of hospitality, arrived at a great degree of Glory. But this is to be understood of a virtue which is practised with great fervor and charity.
A CONTINUATION OF THE FORMER DISCOURSE ABOUT THE CHOICE OF VIRTUES.
YOUNG beginners in devotion, says St. Austin, commit certain faults, which, according to the rigor of the laws of perfection, are blamable and yet commendable, on account of the presage they give of future excellence in piety, to which they serve as a disposition. That low and servile fear which begets excessive scruples in the souls of new converts from a course of sin, is commendable in beginners, and a certain foreboding of a future purity of conscience; but the same fear would be blamable in those who are far advanced, in whose heart love ought to reign, which by imperceptible, degrees chases away this kind of servile fear.
St. Bernard, at the beginning, was full of rigor towards those that put themselves under his direction; he told them that they must leave the body behind, and come to him only with the spirit. When he heard their confessions he severely reprehended the most trivial faults, and urged them on to perfection, with such vehemence that, instead of making them advance forward, he drew them back; for they fell into despondency at seeing themselves so earnestly pressed up so steep and high an ascent. Observe, Philothea, it was an ardent zeal for perfect purity that induced this great saint to adopt this manner of proceeding.
This zeal of the saint was a great virtue, but a virtue nevertheless reprehensible; of which God himself, in a holy vision, made him sensible, infusing at the same time into his soul so meek, amiable, and tender a spirit, that, being totally changed, he repented of his former rigor and severity, and became so gracious and condescending to every one as to make himself all to all, that he might gain all. St. Jerome having related how his dear daughter, St. Paula, was not only excessive, but obstinate, in the exercise of bodily mortification, to such a degree that she would not yield to the contrary advice of Epiphanius, her bishop, and, moreover, that she suffered herself to be carried away with so excessive grief for the death of her friends as to be herself frequently in danger of death, concludes at length with these words: "Some will say, that, instead of writing the praises of this holy woman, I write reprehensions and dispraises; but I call Jesus to witness, whom she served, and whom I desire to serve, that I lie not either on the one side, or on the other, but set down sincerely what related to her, as one Christian should do of another; that is to say, I write her history, not her panegyric; and that her vices are the virtues of others;" meaning that the failings and defects of St. Paula would have been esteemed virtue in a soul less perfect, and that there are actions esteemed imperfections in the perfect, which would be held great perfections in those who are imperfect.
It is a good sign, when "at the end of sickness" the legs of the sick person swell, for it shows that nature, now acquiring strength, expels her superfluous humors; but this would be a bad symptom in a healthy person; as it would show that nature has not sufficient strength to resolve and dissipate the humors. We must, my Philothea, have a good opinion of those who practise virtue, though imperfectly, since we see the saints themselves have often practised them in this manner. But, as to ourselves, we must be careful to exercise them, not only faithfully, but discreetly; and to this end we must strictly observe the advice of the wise man, "not to rely on our own prudence," but on the judgment of those whom God has given us for conductors.
There are certain things which many esteem as virtues, which in reality are not; I mean ecstasies, or raptures, insensibilities, impassibilities, deifical unions, elevations, transformations, and similar perfections, treated of in certain books, which promise to elevate the soul to a contemplation purely intellectual, to an essential application of the spirit, and a supernatural life. But observe well. Philothea, these perfections are not virtues, but rather the recompenses of virtues, or small specimens of the happiness of the life to come, which God sometimes presents to men, to make them enraptured with the whole piece, which is only to he found in heaven.
But we must not aspire to their favors, since they are by no means necessary to the serving and loving of God, which should be our only pretension; neither are they such as can he obtained by labor and industry, since they are rather passions than actions, which we may indeed receive, but cannot produce in ourselves. I add that we have only undertaken, and must, strenuously endeavor to render ourselves good, devout, and godly; but, if it should please God to elevate us to these angelical perfections, we, also, shall then be angels. In the meantime let us endeavor humbly and devoutly to acquire those simple virtues for which our Saviour has exhorted us to labor; such as patience, meekness, mortification of the heart, humility, obedience, poverty, chastity, tenderness towards our neighbors, bearing with their imperfections, diligence, and holy fervor. Let us leave these supereminent favors to elevated souls; we merit not so high a rank in the service of God; we shall be too happy to serve him in his kitchen or to be his domestics in much lower stations. If he should hereafter think proper to admit us into his cabinet, or privy council, it will be through the excess of his bountiful goodness. Yea, Philothea, the King of Glory does not recompense his servants according to the dignity of the offices they hold, but according to the measure of the love and humility with which they exercise them. Saul, seeking the asses of his father, found the kingdom of Israel. Rebecca, watering the camels of Abraham, became the spouse of his son. Ruth, gleaning after the reapers of Boaz, and laying down at his feet, was advanced to his side and made his wife. High and elevated pretensions to extraordinary favors are subject to illusion and deceit; and it sometimes happens that those who imagine themselves angels are not so much as good men, and that there is more sublimity in their words and expressions than in their manner of thinking and acting. We must neither despise nor censure any one; but, blessing God for the supereminence of others, keep ourselves in our lower but safer way, less eminent, but better suited to our insufficiency and littleness; in which, if we conduct ourselves with humility and fidelity, God will infallibly elevate us to a situation that will be truly exalted.
PATIENCE is necessary for you; that, doing the will of God, you may receive the promise,"-Heb. x. 36. If our Saviour himself has declared, Luke xxi. 19, " In your patience you shall possess your souls," should it not be, Philothea, a great happiness for man to possess his soul? - and the more perfect our patience, the more absolutely do we possess them. Let us frequently call to mind, 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.
Limit not your patience to this or that kind of injuries and afflictions, but extend it universally to all those that it shall please God to send you. Some are unwilling to suffer any tribulations but those that are honorable; for example, to be wounded in battle, to be a prisoner of war, to be persecuted for religion, or impoverished by some lawsuit determined in their favor; now these people do not love the tribulation, but the honor wherewith it is accompanied; whereas he that is truly patient suffers, indifferently, tribulations, 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. I admire the meekness with which the great St. Charles Borromeo suffered a long time the public reprehensions that a great preacher of a strictly reformed order uttered against him in the pulpit, more than all the assaults he received from others; for as the sting of a bee is far more painful than that of a fly; so the evils we suffer from good men are much more insupportable than those we suffer from others; and yet it often happens that two good men, having each of them the best intentions, through a diversity of opinion, foment great persecutions and contradictions against each other.
Be patient, not only with respect to the subject of the affliction which may befall you, but also with regard to its accessories or accidental circumstances. Many could be content to encounter evils, provided they might not be incommoded by them. I am not vexed, says one, at being poor, if it had not disabled me to serve my friends, to give my children proper education; or to live as honorable as I could wish. It would give me no concern, says another, were it not that the world would think it happened through my own fault. Another would be content to suffer the scandal patiently, provided no one would believe the detractor. Others are willing to suffer some part of the evil, but not the whole; they do not complain on account of their sickness, but for the want of money to obtain a cure, or because they are so troublesome to those about them. Now, I say, Philothea, we must not only bear sickness with patience, but also be content to suffer sickness under any disorder, and in any place, amongst those persons, and with those inconveniences, which God pleases; and the same must be said of other tribulations. When any evil befalls you, apply the remedies that may be in your power, agreeably to the will of God; for to act otherwise would be to tempt divine Providence. Having done this, wait with resignation for the success it may please God to send; and, should the remedies overcome the evil, return him thanks with humility; but if, on the contrary, the evils overcome the remedies, bless him with patience.
Attend to the following advice of St. Gregory: whenever you are "justly accused" of a fault, humble yourself, and candidly confess that you deserve more than the accusation which is brought against you; but, if the charge be false, excuse yourself meekly, denying your guilt, for you owe this respect to truth, and to the edification of your neighbor. But if, after your true and lawful excuse, they should continue to accuse you, trouble not yourself nor strive to have your excuse admitted; for, having discharged your duty to truth, you must also do the same to humility, by which means you neither offend against the care you ought to have of your reputation, nor the love you owe to peace, meekness of heart, and humility.
Complain as little as possible of the wrongs you suffer; for, commonly speaking, he that complains sins, because self-love magnifies the injuries we suffer, and makes us believe them greater than they really are. Make no complaint to choleric or censorious persons; but if complaints be necessary, either to remedy the offence or restore quiet to your mind, let them be made to the meek and charitable, who truly love God; otherwise, instead of easing your heart, they will provoke it to greater pain; for, instead of extracting the thorn, they will sink it the deeper.
Many, on being sick, afflicted, or injured by others, refrain from complaining or showing a sensibility of what they suffer, lest it should appear that they wanted Christian fortitude, and resignation to the will of God; but still they contrive divers artifices, that others should not only pity and compassionate their sufferings and afflictions, but also admire their patience and fortitude. Now this is not a true patience, but rather a refined ambition and subtle vanity. "They have glory," says the apostle, "but not with God." The truly patient man neither complains himself nor desires to be pitied by others; he speaks of his sufferings with truth and sincerity, without murmuring, complaining, or aggravating the matter. He patiently receives condolence, unless he is pitied for an evil which he does not suffer, for then he modestly declares that he does not suffer on that account, and thus he continues peaceable betwixt truth and patience, acknowledging, but not complaining of the evil.
Amidst the contradictions which shall infallibly befall you in the exercise of devotion, remember the words of our Lord, John xvi. 21: "A woman when she is in labor, hath sorrow because her hour is come; but when she hath brought forth her child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world." For you have conceived Jesus Christ, the noblest child in the world, in your soul, and until he is quite brought forth, you cannot but suffer in your labor; but be of good courage, these sorrows once past, everlasting joy shall remain with you for having brought him forth. Now you shall have wholly brought him forth, when you have entirely formed him in your heart and in your works, by an imitation of his life.
In sickness offer up all your griefs and pains as a sacrifice to our Lord, and beseech him to unite them with the torments he suffered for you. Obey your physician, take your medicines, food, and other remedies, for the love of God, remembering the gall he took for your sake; desire to be cured, that you may serve him, but refuse not to continue sick, that you may obey him; and dispose yourself for death, if it be his pleasure, that you may praise and enjoy him forever.
Remember, that as bees, whilst making their honey, live upon a bitter provision, so we can never perform acts of greater sweetness, nor better compose the honey of excellent virtues, than whilst we eat the bread of bitterness, and live in the midst of afflictions. And as the honey that is gathered from the flowers of thyme, a small bitter herb, is the best, so the virtue which is exercised in the bitterness of the meanest and most abject tribulations is preferable.
Consider frequently Christ Jesus crucified, naked, blasphemed, slandered, forsaken, and overwhelmed with all sorts of troubles, sorrows, and labors; and remember that all your sufferings, either in quality or quantity, are not comparable to his, and that you can never suffer anything for him equal to that which he has endured for you.
Consider the torments the martyrs have suffered, and those which many at present endure more grievous without any comparison than yours, and then say: Alas! are not my sufferings consolations, and my pains pleasures, in comparison of those, who, without any relief, assistance, or mitigation, live in a continual death, overcharged with afflictions infinitely greater than mine?
OF EXTERIOR HUMILITY.
BORROW empty vessels, not a few," said Eliseus to the poor widow, 4 Kings iv. 3; "and pour oil into them." To receive the grace of God into our hearts they must be emptied of vainglory. As the Castrel, (Or Kestrel, a bird of the hawk kind.) by crying and looking on the birds of prey, affrights them by a secret property peculiar to itself, which makes the doves love her above all other birds, and live in security with her; so humility repels Satan, and preserves the grace and gift of the Holy Ghost within us. All the Saints, but particularly the King of Saints and his Mother, have always honored and cherished this blessed virtue more than any amongst the moral virtues. We call that glory vain which we assume to ourselves, either for what is not in us, or for what is in us, and belongs to us, but deserves not that we should glory in it. The nobility of our ancestors, the favor of great men, and popular honor, are things, not in us, but either in our progenitors, or in the esteem of other men. Some become proud and insolent, either by riding a good horse, wearing a feather in their hat, or by being dressed in a fine suit of clothes; but who does not see the folly of this? for if there be any glory in such things, the glory belongs to the horse, the bird, and the tailor; and what a meanness of heart must it be, to borrow esteem from a horse, from a feather, or some ridiculous new fashion! Others value themselves for a well-trimmed beard, for curled locks, or soft hands; or because they can dance, sing, or play; but are not these effeminate men, who seek to raise their reputation by so frivolous and foolish things? Others, for a little learning, would be honored and respected by the whole world, as if everyone ought to become their pupil, and account them his masters. These are called pedants. Others strut like peacocks, contemplating their beauty and think themselves admired by every one. All this is extremely vain, foolish, and impertinent; and the glory which is raised on so weak foundations is justly esteemed vain and frivolous.
True goodness is proved like true balm; for as balm, when dropped into water, if it sinks and rests at the bottom, is so accounted the most excellent and precious; so, if you would know whether a man be truly wise, learned, or generous, observe whether his qualifications tend to humility, modesty, and submission; for then they shall be good indeed; but if they swim on the surface, and strive to appear above water, they shall be so much the less true, in the same proportion as they appear. As pearls, that are conceived and nourished by the wind, or by the noise of thunder, have nothing of the substance of pearls, but merely the external appearance; so the virtues and good qualities of men that are bred and nourished by pride, ostentation, and vanity, have nothing but the appearance of good.
Honors, rank, and dignities, are like saffron, which thrives best, and grows most plentifully, when trodden under foot. It is no honor to be beautiful when a man prizes himself for it: beauty, to have a good grace, should be neglected; and learning is a disgrace to us when it degenerates into pedantry.
If we stand upon the punctilio for places, precedency, and titles, besides exposing our qualities to be examined, tried, and contradicted, we render them vile and contemptible; for as honor is beautiful when freely given, so it becomes base when exacted or sought after. When the peacock spreads his tail to admire himself, in raising up his beautiful feathers he ruffles all the rest, and discovers his deformities. Flowers that are fair whilst they grow in the earth wither and fade when handled; and as they that smell the mandrake at a distance perceive a most agreeable fragrance, whilst they that approach become sick and stupefied, so honors give a pleasant satisfaction to those that view them afar of, without stopping to amuse themselves with them, or being earnest about them. Those who affect them, or feed on them, are exceedingly blamable, and worthy of reprehension.
The pursuit and love of virtue begin to make us virtuous; but the pursuit and love of honor make us contemptible and worthy of blame. Generous winds do not amuse themselves about the petty toys of rank, honor, and salutation; they have other things to perform; such baubles only belong to degenerate spirits.
He that may have pearls never loads himself with shells; and such as aspire to virtue trouble not themselves about honors. Every one indeed may take and keep his own place without prejudice to humility, so that it be done carelessly, and without contention. For as they that come from Peru, besides gold and silver, bring also thence apes and parrots, because they neither cost much, nor are burdensome; so they that aspire to virtue refuse not the rank and honor due to them, provided it cost them not too much care and attention, nor involve them in trouble, anxiety, disputes, or contentions. Nevertheless, I do not here allude to those whose dignity concerns the public, nor to certain particular occasions of important consequences; for in these every one ought to keep what belongs to him with prudence and discretion, accompanied by charity and suavity of manners.
OF MORE INTERNAL HUMILITY.
BUT you desire, Philothea, to penetrate still deeper into humility; for what I have hitherto said rather concerns wisdom than humility. Let us, then, proceed. Many neither will not and dare not consider the particular favors God has done them, lest it might excite vainglory and self-complacency; but in doing so they deceive themselves; for since the best means to attain the love of God (says the great angelical Doctor) is the consideration of his benefits, the more we know them the more shall we love him; and as the particular benefits he has conferred on us more powerfully move us than those that are common to others, so ought they to be more attentively considered. Certainly nothing can so effectually humble us before the mercy of God as the multitude of his benefits; nor so much humble us before his justice as the enormity of our innumerable offences. Let us, then, consider what he has done for us, and what we have done against him; and as we reflect on our sins, one by one, so let us consider his favors in the same order. We must not fear lest the knowledge of his gifts make us proud, so long as we are attentive to this truth, "that whatsoever there is of good in us is not from ourselves." Do mules cease to be disgusting beasts, because they are laden with the precious and perfumed goods of the prince? "What hast thou which thou hast not received?" says the apostle, 1 Cor. iv. 7. "And if thou hast received it, why dost thou glory?" Nay, on the contrary, the lively consideration of favors received makes us humble, because a knowledge of them excites gratitude. But if, in considering the favors that God has conferred on us, any thoughts of vanity should attack us, it will be an infallible remedy to recur to the consideration of our ingratitudes, imperfections, and miseries. If we consider what we did when God was not with us, we shall easily be convinced that what we do while he is with us is not of our own exertion; we shall indeed rejoice in it, because we enjoy it, but we shall glorify God, because he alone is the author of it. Thus the blessed Virgin confesses that God had done great things for her, but it is only to humble herself, and to glorify God: "My soul," says she, "doth magnify the Lord, because he has done great things for me." Luke i. 46, 49.
We often confess ourselves to be nothing, nay, misery itself, and the refuse of the world; but would he very sorry that any one should believe us, or tell others that we are really so miserable wretches. On the contrary, we pretend to retire, and hide ourselves, so that the world may run after us, and seek us out. We feign to wish ourselves considered as the last in the company, and sit down at the lowest end of the table; but it is with a view that we may be desired to pass to the upper end. True humility never makes a show of herself, nor uses many humble words; for she desires not only to conceal all other virtues, but principally herself; and, were it lawful to dissemble, or scandalize her neighbor, she would perform actions of arrogancy and haughtiness, that she might conceal herself beneath them and remain altogether unknown.
My advice, therefore, Philothea, is that we should either not accustom ourselves to words of humility, or else use them with a sincere interior sentiment, conformably to what we pronounce outwardly. Let us never cast down our eyes but when we humble our hearts; let us not seem to desire to be the lowest, unless we sincerely desire it. I think this rule so general as to admit of no exception; I only add, that civility requires we should sometimes offer precedency to those who will doubtless refuse it, and yet this is neither duplicity nor false humility; for in this case, as the offer of precedency is only the beginning of honor, and since we cannot give it them entirely, we do well to give them the beginning. I say, though some words of honor or respect may not seem strictly conformable to the truth, yet they are sufficiently so, provided the heart of him that pronounces them has a sincere intention to honor and respect him to whom they are addressed, for although the words signify with some excess that which we would say, yet we do not act wrongly in using them when common custom requires it; however, I wish our words were always as nearly as possible suited to our affections, that so we might follow; in all and through all, a cordial sincerity and candor. A man that is truly humble would rather another should say to him that he is miserable, and that he is nothing, than to say it himself; at least, if he knows that any man says so he does not contradict it, but heartily agrees to it; for, believing it himself firmly, he is pleased that others entertain the same opinion.
Many say that they leave mental prayer to those that are perfect; that, as for themselves, they are unworthy to use it. Others protest they dare not communicate often, because they find themselves not sufficiently pure. Others fear they should bring disgrace upon devotion if they meddled with it, by reason of their great misery and frailty. Others refuse to employ their talents in the service of God and their neighbor, saying they know their own weakness, and fear they should become proud if they proved instruments of any good; and that, in giving light to others, they should consume themselves in the flames of vanity. All this is nothing but an artificial kind of humility, false and malicious, whereby they tacitly and subtilely seek to find fault with the things of God; or, at the best, to conceal the love of their own opinion, humor, and sloth, under the pretext of humility. "Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God either unto the depth of hell, or to the height above," said the prophet (Isaias vii. 11) to unhappy Achaz; and he answered, "I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord." Oh! the wicked man! He would seem to bear an extreme reverence to God, and excuses himself, under the color of humility, from aspiring to that grace which the divine goodness offers him; but does he not see, that when God desires to give us his graces, it is pride to refuse them; that the gifts of God oblige us to receive them; and that it is humility to obey, and to comply as nearly as we can with his desires? The desire of God is, that we should be perfect, uniting ourselves to him, and imitating him as nearly as possible. The proud man, who trusts in himself, has just reason not to attempt anything; but he that is humble is so much the more courageous, by how much the more he acknowledges his own inability; and the more wretched he esteems himself the more confident he becomes; because he places his whole trust in God, who delights to display his omnipotence in our weakness, and to elevate his mercy upon our misery. We may then humbly and devoutly presume to undertake all that may be judged proper for our advancement by those that conduct our souls.
To imagine we know what we do not know is folly; to desire to pass for knowing that of which we are ignorant is an intolerable vanity. For my part, as I would not make a parade of the knowledge even of that which I know; so, on the other hand, I would not pretend to be ignorant thereof. When charity requires it we must freely and mildly communicate to our neighbor, not only what is necessary for our instruction, but, also, what is profitable for our consolation; for humility, which conceals virtues, in order to preserve them, discovers them, nevertheless, when charity requires it, in order that we may enlarge, increase, and perfect them. In this respect humility imitates a certain tree in the Isles of Tylos, that at night closes up her beautiful carnation flowers, and only opens them to the rising sun; and as the inhabitants of the country say that those flowers sleep by night, so humility covers all our virtuous and human perfections, and never unfolds them except for the sake of charity, which, being not a human and moral, but a divine and heavenly virtue, is the true son of all other virtues, over which she ought always to have dominion. Hence we may conclude that those humilities which are prejudicial to charity are assuredly false.
I would neither pretend to be a fool nor a wise man, for if humility forbids me to conceal my wisdom, candor and sincerity also forbid me to counterfeit the fool; and as vanity is opposite to humility, so artifice, affectation, and dissimulation are contrary to sincerity. But, if some great servants of God have pretended to be fools, to render themselves more abject in the eyes of the world, we must admire, but not imitate, them; for, having had peculiar and extraordinary motives that induced them to this excess, no one ought thence to draw any consequence for himself. David, when he danced and leaped before the ark of the covenant with an excess that ordinary decency could not admire, had no design to make the world believe him foolish; but, with all simplicity and openness, he made use of those exterior motions to express the extraordinary and excessive joy he felt in his heart; and when Michol, his wife, reproached him for it, as an act of folly, he did not regret to see himself vilified; but, continuing in a true and sincere manifestation of his joy, he testified that he was glad to be reproached for his God. Wherefore remember, Philothea, that if, for acts of a true and sincere devotion, the world shall esteem you mean, abject, or foolish, humility will make you rejoice at this happy reproach, the cause of which is not in you, but in those that reproach you.
THAT HUMILITY MAKES US LOVE OUR OWN ABJECTION.
I PROCEED now, and tell you, Philothea, that in all, and through all, you should love your own abjection. But you will ask me what it is to love your own abjection. In Latin "abjection" signifies "humility," and "humility" signifies "abjection;" so that when our Lady, in her sacred canticle, says, that "all generations should call her blessed," because our Lord had regarded the "humility of his handmaid," her meaning is, that our Lord had graciously looked down on her abjection, her meanness, and lowliness, to heap his graces and favors upon her. Nevertheless, there is a difference between the virtue of "humility "and our "abjection;" for our "abjection" is the lowliness, meanness, and baseness that exists in us, without our knowledge; whereas, the virtue of "humility" is a true knowledge and voluntary acknowledgment of our abjection. Now, the main point of this humility consists in being willing, not only to acknowledge our abjection, but in loving and delighting in it; and this, not through want of courage and generosity, but for the greater exaltation of the divine Majesty, and holding our neighbor in greater estimation than ourselves. To this I exhort you; and, that you may comprehend me more clearly, I tell you that among the evils which we suffer some are abject, and others honorable; many can easily accommodate themselves to those evils that are honorable, but scarce any one to such as are abject. You see a devout old hermit covered with rags; every one honors his tattered habit, and cornpassionates his sufferings; but if a poor tradesman, or a poor gentleman, be in the like case, the world despises and scoffs at him; and thus you see how his poverty is abject. A religious man receives a sharp reproof from his superior, or a child from his father, with meekness, and every one calls this mortification, obedience, and wisdom; but should a gentleman or lady suffer the like from another, and although it were for the love of God, it is then called cowardice and want of spirit. Behold, then, here another evil that is abject. One has a canker in his arm, and another in his face; the first has only the disease, but the other, together with the disease, has contempt, disgrace, and abjection. I say, then, that we must not only love the evil, which is the duty of patience, but also embrace the abjection, by virtue of humility. There are, moreover, virtues which are abject, and virtues which are honorable. Patience, meekness, simplicity, and even humility itself, are virtues which worldlings consider as mean and abject; whilst, on the contrary, they hold prudence, fortitude, and liberality, in the highest estimation. There are also actions of one and the same virtue, some of which are despised and others honored; to give alms, and forgive injuries, are both acts of charity; yet the first is honored, whilst the latter is despised in the eyes of the world. A young gentleman or lady who refuses to join in the disorders of a debauched company, or to talk, play, dance, drink, or dress, as the rest do, will incur their scorn and censure; and their modesty will be termed bigotry or affectation; to love this is to love our own abjection.
Behold an abjection of another kind, We go to visit the sick; if I am sent to the most miserable, it will be to me an abjection according to the world, for which reason I will love it. If I am sent to a person of quality, it is an abjection according to the spirit, for there is not so much virtue or merit in it, and therefore I will love this abjection. One falls in the midst of the street, and, besides his fall, receives shame; we must love this abjection. There are even faults which have no other ill in them besides abjection; and humility does not require that we should deliberately commit them, but that we should not vex ourselves when we have committed them. Such are certain follies, incivilities, and inadvertencies, which as we ought to avoid before they are committed, for the sake of civility and discretion; so when they are committed, we ought to be content with the abjection we meet with, and accept it willingly, for the sake of practising humility.
I say yet more: should I, through passion or anger have spoken any unbecoming words, wherewith God and my neighbor may have been offended, I will repent, and be sorry for the offence, and endeavor to make the best reparation I can, but yet will admit of the abjection, and the contempt which it has brought upon me: and could the one be separated from the other, I would most cheerfully cast away the sin, and humbly retain the abjection.
But though we love the abjection that follows the evil, yet we must not neglect, by just and lawful means, to redress the evil that caused it, especially when it is of consequence; as, for example, should I have some disagreeable disorder in my face, I will endeavor to have it cured, but not with the intention of forgetting the abjection I received by it. If I have been guilty of some folly, which has given no one offence, I will give no apology for it; because, although it were an offence, yet it is not permanent; I could not, therefore, excuse it, but only with a view to rid myself of the abjection, which would not be agreeable to humility. But if, through inadvertence or otherwise, I should have offended or scandalized any one, I will repair the offence by some true excuse; because the evil is permanent, and charity obliges me to remove it. Besides, it sometimes happens that charity requires we should remove the abjection for the good of our neighbor, to whom our reputation is necessary; but in such a case, though we remove the abjection from before our neighbor's eyes, to prevent scandal, yet must we carefully shut it up in our heart for its edification.
But would you know, Philothea, which are the best abjections? I tell you plainly, that those are most profitable to our souls and most acceptable to God which befall us by accident, or by our condition of life; because we have not chosen them ourselves, but received them as sent by God, whose choice is always better than our own. But were we to choose any, we should prefer the greatest, and those are esteemed such as are most contrary to our inclinations, provided that they be conformable to our vocation; for, as I have already said, our own choice spoils or lessens almost all our virtues. Oh, who will enable us to say: "I have chosen to be an abject in the house of God, rather than to dwell in the tabernacles of sinners"? - Ps. lxxxiii. 11. No one certainly, Philothea, but he who, to exalt us, lived and died in such a manner as to become the reproach of men, and the abjection of the people. I have said many things to you which may seem hard to you in theory, but, believe me, they will be more agreeable than sugar or honey when you put them in practice.
HOW WE ARE TO PRESERVE OUR GOOD NAME IN THE PRACTICE OF HUMILITY.
PRAISE, honor, and glory are not given to men for every degree of virtue, but for an excellence of a virtue; for by praise we endeavor to persuade others to esteem the excellency of those whom we praise; by honor we testify that we ourselves esteem them; and glory, in my opinion, is only a certain lustre of reputation that arises from the concurrence of praise and honor, so that honor and praise are like precious stones, from a collection of which glory proceeds like a certain enameling. Now, humility not enduring that we should have any opinion of our own excellence, or think ourselves worthy to be preferred before others, cannot permit that we should seek after praise, honor, and glory, which are only due to excellence; yet she consents to the counsel of the wise man, who admonishes us to be careful of our good name (Ecclus. xli. 15), because a good name is an esteem, not of an excellence, but only of an ordinary honesty and integrity of life, which humility does not forbid us either to acknowledge in ourselves, or to desire the reputation of it. It is true, humility would despise a good name if charity did not need it; but, because it is one of the foundations of human society, and that without it we are not only unprofitable, but prejudicial to the public, by reason of the scandal it would receive, charity requires, and humility consents, that we should desire it, and carefully preserve it.
Moreover, as the leaves, which, in themselves, are of little or no value, are, nevertheless, necessary, not only to beautify the tree, but also to preserve its young and tender fruits; so a good reputation, which, though of itself not very desirable, is, not, withstanding, very profitable, not only for the ornament of life, but also for the preservation of virtue, especially of those virtues which are as yet but weak and tender.
The obligation of preserving our reputation, and of being actually such as we are thought to be, urges a generous spirit forward with a strong and agreeable impulse. Let us, then, preserve our virtues, dear Philothea, because they are acceptable to God, the sovereign object of all our actions. But as they who desire to preserve fruits are not content to cover them with sugar, but also put them into vessels that are proper to keep them; so, although the love of God be the principal preserver of our virtues, yet we may further employ our good name as very profitable for that purpose.
Yet we must not be over-nice in regard to the preservation of our good name; for those who are too tender and sensible in this point are like those persons who, for every slight indisposition, take physic, and, thinking to preserve their health, quite destroy it. Thus, persons, by endeavoring to maintain their reputation so delicately, entirely lose it; for by this tenderness they become whimsical, quarrelsome, and insupportable, and thus provoke the malice of detractors.
The overlooking and despising of an injury or calumny is, generally speaking, by far a more effectual remedy than resentment, contention, and revenge; for contempt causes them to vanish; whereas, if we are angry, we seem to own them. Crocodiles hurt only those that fear them, and detraction, those that are vexed by it. An excessive fear of losing our good name betrays a great distrust of its foundation, which is the truth of a good life. The inhabitants of towns that have wooden bridges over great rivers fear lest they should be carried away by every little flood, but they that have bridges of stone only apprehend extraordinary inundations; so they that have a soul solidly grounded on Christian virtue despise the overflowing of injurious tongues; but those that find themselves weak are disturbed with every discourse. In a word, Philothea, he that is too anxious to preserve his reputation loses it; and that person deserves to lose honor who seeks to receive it from those whose vices render them truly infamous and dishonorable.
Reputation is but a sign to point out the residence of virtue; it is virtue, then, that must be preferred in all and through all; wherefore, should any one call you a hypocrite because you are devout, or a coward because you have pardoned an injury, laugh at him; for, although such judgments are passed on us by the weak and foolish, we must not forsake the path of virtue, even if we were to lose our reputation, because we must prefer the fruit before the leaves, viz., interior and spiritual graces before all external goods. It is lawful to be jealous, but not an idolator of our reputation; and, as we should not offend the eyes of the good, so we must not strive to satisfy those of the wicked. The beard is an ornament to the face of a man, and the hair to that of a woman; if the beard be plucked from the chin, and the hair from the head, it will hardly grow again; but if it be only cut, nay, though it be shaved close, it will soon be renewed, and grow stronger and thicker than ever; so, although our reputation be cut, or even shaved by the tongues of detractors, which David compares to sharp razors, we must not make ourselves uneasy, for it will soon shoot forth again, not only as fair as before, but much more firm and durable. But if our vices and wicked course of life take away our reputation, it will hardly return, because it is pulled up by the root; for the root of a good name are virtue and probity, which, as long as they remain in us, can always recover the honor due to it.
If any vain conversation, idle habit, fond love, or custom of frequenting improper company blast our reputation, we must forsake these gratifications because our good name is of more value than such vain contentments. But if, for the exercise of piety, the advancement of devotion, or our progress towards heaven, men grumble, murmur, and speak evil of us, let us leave these, like curs, to bark at the moon; for should they, at any time, be able to cast an aspersion on our good name, and by that means cut and shave the beard of our reputation, it will quickly spring up again, and the razor of detraction will be as advantageous to our honor as the pruning-knife to the vine, which makes it abound and multiply in fruit.
Let us incessantly fix our eyes on Jesus Christ crucified, and proceed in his service with confidence and sincerity, but yet with wisdom and discretion; he will be the protector of our reputation; and, should he suffer it to be taken from us, it will be either to restore it with advantage, or to make us profit in holy humility, one ounce of which is preferable to ten thousand pounds of honors. Are we blamed unjustly, let us peaceably oppose truth against calumny; does the calumny continue, let us also continue to humble ourselves, resigning our reputation, together with our soul, into the hands of God; we cannot secure it better. Let us serve God in evil and in good report (2 Cor. vi.), according to the example of St. Paul, that we may say with David (Ps. xviii.): "For thy sake, O Lord, I have borne reproach, and shame hath covered my face." I except, nevertheless, certain crimes, so horrid and infamous, that no man ought to suffer the false imputation of them, if he can justly acquit himself; and also certain persons, on whose reputation depends the edification of many; for, in these cases, according to the opinion of divines, we must quietly seek a reparation of the wrong received.
OF MEEKNESS TOWARDS OUR NEIGHBOR, AND REMEDIES AGAINST ANGER.
THE holy chrism, which, by apostolical tradition, we use in the Church of God for confirmations and consecrations, is composed of oil of olives mingled with balm, which, amongst other things, represents to us the two favorite and well-beloved virtues which shone forth in the sacred person of our Lord, and which he has strenuously recommended to us; as if by them our hearts ought to be in a particular manner consecrated to his service, and dedicated to his imitation. "Learn of me," says he, "for I am meek and humble of heart." (Matt. xii. 29.) "Humility" perfects us with respect to God; and " meekness," with regard to our neighbor. The balm, which, as I have before observed, always sinks beneath all other liquors, represents humility; and the oil of olives, that swims above, represents meekness and mildness, which surmount all things, and excel amongst virtues, as being the flower of charity, which, according to St. Bernard, is then in its perfection, when it is not only patient, but also meek and mild. But take care, Philothea, that this mystical chrism, compounded of meekness and humility, be within your heart, for it is one of the great artifices of the enemy to make many deceive themselves with the expressions and exterior appearance of these two virtues, who, not examining thoroughly their interior affections, think themselves to be humble and meek; whereas, in effect, there are no virtues to which they have less pretensions. This may be easily discovered, for, notwithstanding all their ceremonious mildness and humility, at the least cross word, or smallest injury, they exhibit an unparalleled arrogance. It is said that those who have taken the preservative which is commonly called "the grace of St. Paul," do not swell when they are bitten and stung by a viper, provided the preservative be of the best sort; in like manner, when humility and meekness are good and true, they preserve us from that swelling and burning heat which injuries are wont to raise in our hearts. But if, being stung and bitten by detractors and enemies, we swell, and are enraged, it is a certain sign that neither our humility nor meekness is true and sincere, but only apparent and artificial.
That holy and illustrious patriarch Joseph, sending back his brethren from Egypt to his father's house, gave them this only advice: "Be not angry with one another by the way." Gen. xlv. 29. I say the same to you, Philothea; this wretched life is but a journey to the happy life to come; let us not, then, be angry with each other by the way, but rather march on with the troop of our brethren and companions meekly, peaceably, and lovingly; nay, I say to you, absolutely and without exception, be not angry at all if it be possible, and admit no pretext whatsoever to open the gate of your heart to so destructive a passion; for St. James tells us positively, and without reservation, "The anger of man works not the justice of God." St. James ii. 20. We must, indeed, resist evil, and restrain the vices of those that are under our charge constantly and courageously, but yet with meekness and compassion. 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. We do not value so much the correction which proceeds from passion, though it be accompanied with reason, as that which proceeds from reason alone; for the reasonable soul, being naturally subject to reason, is never subject to passion but through tyranny; and, therefore, when reason is accompanied by passion, she makes herself odious, her just government being debased by the fellowship of tyranny. Princes do honor to their people, and make them rejoice exceedingly, when they visit them with a peaceable train; but when they come at the head of armies, though it be for the common good, their visits are always disagreeable; for although they cause military discipline to be rigorously observed among their soldiers, yet they can never do it so effectually but that some disorders will always happen, by which the peasant will be a sufferer. In like manner, as long as reason rules, and peaceably exercises chastisements, corrections, and reprehensions, although severely and exactly, every one loves and approves it; but when she brings anger, passion, and rage, which St. Austin calls her soldiers, along with her, she rather makes herself feared than loved, and even her own disordered heart is always the sufferer. "It is better," says the same St. Austin, writing to Profuturus, "to deny entrance to just and reasonable anger, than to admit to it, be it ever so little; because, being once admitted, it is with difficulty driven out again; for it enters as a little twig, and in a moment becomes a beam; and if it can but once gain the night of us, and the sun set upon it, which the apostle forbids, it turns into a hatred, from which we have scarce any means to rid ourselves; for it nourishes itself under a thousand false pretexts, since there was never an angry man that thought this anger unjust.
It is better, then, to attempt to find the way to live without anger, than pretend to make a moderate and discreet use of it; and when, through our imperfections and frailty, we find ourselves surprised, it is better to drive it away speedily than enter into a parley; for, if we give it ever so little leisure, it will become mistress of the place, like the serpent, who easily draws in his whole body where he can once get in his head.
But how shall I banish it? you may say. You must, my dear Philothea, at the first alarm, speedily muster your forces; not violently, not tumultuously, but mildly, and yet seriously; for as we hear the ushers in public halls and courts of justice crying Silence, make more noise than the whole assembly; so it frequently happens that, by endeavoring with violence to restrain our anger, we stir up more trouble in our heart than wrath has excited before; and the heart, being thus agitated, can be no longer master of itself. After this meek effort practise the advice which St. Austin, in his old age, gave the young bishop Auxilius. Do, says he, that which a man should do, if that befall you of which the man of God speaks in the Psalms: "My eye is troubled with wrath." Ps. xxx. Have recourse to God, crying out, "Have mercy on me, O Lord!" that he may stretch forth his right hand to repress your anger. I mean we must invoke the assistance of God, when we find ourselves excited to wrath, in imitation of the apostles when they were tossed by the wind and the storm upon the waters; for he will command our passions to cease, and a great calm shall ensue. But the prayer which is made against present and pressing anger must always be performed calmly, and not violently; and they must be observed in all the remedies against this evil. Moreover, as soon as ever you perceive yourself guilty of an act of wrath, repair the fault immediately, by an act of meekness towards the same person against whom you were angry. For, as it is a sovereign remedy against a lie, to contradict it upon the spot, as soon as we perceive we have told it, so we must repair anger instantly by a contrary act of meekness; for fresh wounds are most easily cured.
Again, when your mind is in a state of tranquility, supply yourself with meekness, speaking all your words, and doing all your actions, little and great, in the mildest manner possible, calling to mind, that as the Spouse in the Canticles has not only honey in her lips, on her tongue, and in her breast, but milk also, so we must not only have our words sweet towards our neighbor, but also our whole breast; that is to say, the whole interior of our soul; neither must we have the aromatic and fragrant sweetness of honey only, viz., the sweetness of civil conversation with strangers, but also the sweetness of milk amongst our family and neighbors; in which those greatly fail, who in the street seem to be angels, and in their houses demons.
OF MEEKNESS TOWARDS OURSELVES.
ONE of the best exercises of meekness we can perform is that of which the subject is within ourselves, in never fretting at our own imperfections, for though reason requires that we should be sorry when we commit any fault, yet we must refrain from that bitter, gloomy, spiteful, and passionate displeasure, for which many are greatly to blame, who, being overcome by anger, are angry for having been angry, and vexed to see themselves vexed; for by this means they keep their heart perpetually steeped in passion; and, though it seems as if the second anger destroyed the first, it serves, nevertheless, to open a passage for fresh anger on the first occasion that shall present itself. Besides, this anger and vexation against ourselves tend to pride, and flow from no other source than self-love, which is troubled and disquieted to see itself imperfect. We must be displeased at our faults, but in a peaceable, settled, and firm manner; for, as a judge punishes malefactors much more justly when he is guided in his decisions by reason, and proceeds with the spirit of tranquillity, than when he acts with violence and passion (because, judging in passion, he does not punish the faults according to their enormity, but according to his passion), so we correct ourselves much better by a calm and steady repentance, than by that which is harsh, turbulent, and passionate; for repentance exercised with violence proceeds not according to the quality of our faults, but according to our inclinations. For example, he that affects chastity will vex himself beyond all bounds at the least fault he commits against that virtue, and will but laugh at a gross detraction he shall have been guilty of; on the other hand, he that hates detraction torments himself for a slight murmur, and makes no account of a gross fault committed against chastity; and so of others. Now, all this springs from this source, that these men, in the judgment of their conscience, are not guided by reason, but by passion.
Believe me, Philothea, as the mild and affectionate reproofs of a father have far greater power to reclaim his child than rage and passion; so when we have committed any fault, if we reprehend our heart with mild and calm remonstrances, having more compassion for it than passion against it, sweetly encouraging it to amendment, the repentance it shall conceive by this means will sink much deeper, and penetrate it more effectually, than a fretful, injurious, and stormy repentance.
If, for example, I had formed a strong resolution not to yield to the sin of vanity, and yet had fallen into it, I would not reprove my heart after this manner: "Art thou not wretched and abominable, that, after so many resolutions, hast suffered thyself to be thus carried away by vanity? Die with shame; lift up no more thy eyes to heaven, blind, impudent traitor as thou art, a rebel to thy God; " but I would correct it thus, rationally saying, by way of compassion: "Alas, my poor heart, behold we are fallen into the pit we had so firmly resolved to avoid! Well, let us rise again, and quit it forever; let us call upon the mercy of God, and hope that it will assist us to be more constant for the time to come, and let us enter again the path of humility. Let us be encouraged; let us from this day be more upon our guard; God will help us; we shall do better;" and on this reprehension I would build a firm and constant resolution never more to relapse into that fault, using the proper means to avoid it by the advice of my director.
However, if any one should find his heart not sufficiently moved with this mild manner of reprehension, he may use one more sharp and severe, to excite it to deeper confusion, provided that he afterwards closes up all his grief and anger with a sweet and consoling confidence in God, in imitation of that illustrious penitent, who, seeing his soul afflicted, raised it up in this manner, Ps. xliii. 5: " Why art thou sad, O my soul, and why dost thou disquiet me? Hope in God, for I will still give praise to him, who is the salvation of my countenance, and my God."
Raise up your heart, then, again whenever it falls, but fairly and softly; humbling yourself before God, through the knowledge of your own misery, but without being surprised at your fall, for it is no wonder that weakness should be weak, or misery wretched: detest, nevertheless, with all your power, the offence God has received from you, and return to your way of virtue, which you had forsaken, with great courage and confidence in his mercy.
THAT WE MUST TREAT OF OUR AFFAIRS WITH DILIGENCE, BUT WITHOUT EAGERNESS OR SOLICITUDE.
THE care and diligence with which we should attend to our concerns must never be confounded with anxiety and solicitude. The angels are careful of our salvation, and procure it with diligence, yet they are never agitated by anxiety and solicitude; for care and diligence naturally result from their charity, whereas solicitude and anxiety are utterly incompatible with their felicity; because the former may be accompanied by a calm and tranquil state of mind, whereas the latter never can.
Be careful and attentive, then, O Philothea! to all those affairs which God has committed to your care, for such a disposition in you is agreeable to the will of his divine Majesty, without suffering your care and attention to degenerate into inquietude or anxiety; be not flurried about them, for an over-solicitude disturbs the reason and judgment, and prevents us from doing that properly for the execution of which we are so eager and anxious.
When our Lord reprehended Martha, he said: "Martha, Martha, thou art solicitous, and art troubled about many things. You must here observe, that she would not have been "troubled," had she been but merely diligent; but, being over-concerned and disquieted, she hurried and troubled herself, and therefore received this reprehension from our Lord. As rivers, that flow slowly through the plains, bear large boats and rich merchandise; and the rain, which falls gently in the open fields, makes them fruitful in grass and corn; or, as torrents and rivers, which run rapidly, and overflow the grounds, ruin the bordering country, and render it unprofitable for culture; so, in like manner, vehement and tempestuous rains spoil the fields and meadows. That work is never well executed which is done with too much eagerness and hurry. We must listen leisurely, according to the proverb. "He that is in haste," says Solomon, Prov. xix. 2, "is in danger of stumbling." We perform our actions soon enough when we perform them well. As drones, although they make more noise, and are more eager at work than bees, make only wax, and no honey, so they that hurry themselves with a tormenting anxiety, and eager solicitude, never do much, and the little they do perform is never very profitable.
As flies do not trouble us by their strength, but by their multitudes, so affairs of importance give us not so much trouble as trifling ones, when they are in great number. Undertake, then, all your affairs with a calm and peaceable mind, and endeavor to despatch them in order, one after another; for, if you make an effort to do them all at once, or in disorder, your spirit will be so overcharged and depressed, that it will probably sink under the burden without effecting anything.
In all your affairs rely wholly on Divine Providence, through which alone you must look for success; labor, nevertheless, quietly on your part, to cooperate with its designs, and then you may be assured, if you trust, as you ought, in God, the success which shall come to you shall be always that which is the most profitable for you, whether it appear good or bad, according to your private judgment. Imitate little children, who, as they with one hand hold fast by their father, with the other gather strawberries or blackberries along the hedges; so you, gathering and handling the goods of this world with one hand, must with the other always hold fast the hand of your heavenly Father, turning yourself towards him, from time to time, to see if your actions or occupations be pleasing to him; but, above all things, take heed that you never leave his protecting hand, nor think to gather more; for, should he forsake you, you will not be able to go a step further without falling to the ground. My meaning is, Philothea, that amidst those ordinary affairs and occupations, that require not so earnest an attention, you should look more on God than on them; and when they are of such importance as to require your whole attention, that then, also, you should look, from time to time, towards God, like mariners, who, to arrive at the port to which they are bound, look more up towards heaven than down on the sea on which they sail; thus will God work with you, in you, and for you, and your labor shall be followed with consolation.
CHARITY alone can place us in perfection, but obedience, chastity, and poverty, are the three principal means to attain to it. Obedience consecrates our heart: chastity, our body; and poverty, our means, to the love and service of God. These three branches of the spiritual cross are grounded on a fourth, viz., humility. I shall say nothing of these three virtues, as they are solemnly vowed, because this subject concerns the religious only; nor even as they are simply vowed: for though a vow gives many graces and merits to virtues, yet, to make us perfect, it is not necessary they should be vowed, provided they be observed. For though being vowed, and especially solemnly, they place a man in the state of perfection; yet to arrive at perfection itself, it suffices that they be observed: there being a material difference betwixt the state of perfection and perfection itself; since all bishops and religious are in the state of perfection; and yet, alas! all are not arrived at perfection itself, as is too plainly to be seen. Let us endeavor, then, Philothea, to practise well these virtues, each one according to his vocation; for though they do not place us in the state of perfection, yet they will make us perfect; and, indeed, every one is obliged to practise them, though not all after the same manner.
There are two sorts of obedience, the one necessary, the other voluntary. By that which is necessary, you must obey your ecclesiastical superiors, as the Pope, the Bishop, the Parish Priest, and such as are commissioned by them; as also your civil superiors, such as your Prince, and the magistrates he has established for administering justice; and, finally, your domestic superiors, viz., your father and mother, master and mistress. Now, this obedience is called necessary, because no man can exempt himself from the duty of obeying his superiors, God having placed them in authority to command and govern, each in the department that is assigned to him. You must, then, of necessity obey their commands; but, to be perfect, follow their counsels also, nay, even their desires and inclinations, so far as charity and discretion will permit. Obey them when they order that which is agreeable, as to eat, or to take your recreation; for though there seems no great virtue to obey on such occasions, yet it would be a great vice to disobey. Obey them in things indifferent, as to wear this or that dress; to go one way or another; to sing or to be silent; and this will be a very commendable obedience. Obey them in things hard, troublesome, and disagreeable; and this will be a perfect obedience. Obey, in fine, meekly, without reply; readily, without delay; cheerfully, without repining; and, above all, obey lovingly, for the love of him, who, through his love for us, made himself obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross, and who, as St. Bernard says, rather chose to part with his life than his obedience.
That you may learn effectually to obey your superiors, condescend easily to the will of your equals, yielding to their opinions in what is not sin, without being contentious or obstinate. Accommodate yourself cheerfully to the desires of your inferiors, as far as reason will permit; never exercise an imperious authority over them so long as they are good. It is an illusion to believe that we should obey with ease if we were religious, when we feel ourselves so backward and stubborn in what regards obedience to those whom God has placed over us.
We call that obedience voluntary to which we oblige ourselves by our own choice, and which is not imposed on us by another. We do not commonly choose our prince, our bishop, our father or mother; and even wives, many times, do not choose their husbands; but we choose our confessor and director. If, then, in choosing we make a vow to obey, as the holy mother Teresa did, who, as has been already observed, besides her obedience, solemnly vowed to the superior of her order, bound herself by a simple vow, to obey Father Gratian; or if, without a vow we dedicate ourselves to the obedience of any one, this obedience is always called voluntary, on account of its being grounded on our own free will and choice.
We must obey every one of our superiors, according to the charge he has over us. In political matters we must obey our prince; in ecclesiastical, our prelates; in domestic, our father, master, or husband; and, in what regards the private conduct of the soul, our ghostly father, or director.
Request your ghostly father to order you all the actions of piety you are to perform, in order that they may acquire a double value; the one of themselves, because they are works of piety; the other of obedience to his command, and in virtue of which they are performed. Happy are the obedient, for God will never suffer them to go astray.
OF THE NECESSITY OF CHASTITY.
CHASTITY, the lily of virtues, makes men almost equal to angels. Nothing is beautiful but what is pure, and the purity of men is chastity. Chastity is called honesty, and the possession of it honor; it is also named integrity, and the opposite, vice, corruption. In short, it has its peculiar glory, to be the fair and unspotted virtue of both soul and body.
It is never lawful to draw an impure pleasure from our bodies in any manner whatsoever, except in lawful marriage, the sanctity of which may, by a just compensation, repair the damage we receive in that delectation; and yet, even in marriage itself, the honesty of the intention must be observed, to the end that, if there be any indecency in the pleasure that is taken, there may be nothing but honesty in the will that takes it.
The chaste heart is like the mother-pearl, that can receive no drop of water but such as comes from heaven; for it can accept of no pleasure but that of marriage, which is ordained from heaven; out of which it is not allowed so much as to think of it, so as to take a voluntary and deliberate delight in the thought.
For the first degree of this virtue, Philothea, beware of admitting any hind of forbidden pleasure, as all those are which are taken out of, or even in, marriage, when they are taken contrary to the rule of marriage For the second, refrain as much as is possible from all unprofitable and superfluous delights, although lawful and permitted. For the third, set not your affection on pleasures and delights which are ordained and commanded; for though we must take these delectations that are necessary, I mean those which concern the end and institution of holy matrimony, yet we must never set our heart and mind upon them.
As to the rest, every one stands in great need of this virtue. They that are in the state of widowhood ought to have a courageous chastity to despise not only present or future objects, but to resist also the impure imaginations which former pleasures, lawfully received in marriage, may produce in their minds, which on this account are more susceptible of unclean allurements. For this cause St. Austin admires the purity of his friend Alipius, who had wholly forgotten and despised the pleasures of the flesh, of which, nevertheless, he had some experience in his youth.
In effect, as when fruits are entire and sound, they may be preserved, some in straw, some in sand, and some in their own leaves, but being once cut or bruised, it is almost impossible to preserve them but by honey and sugar, in the form of sweetmeats; so untainted chastity may many ways be kept; but, after it has once been violated, nothing can preserve it but an extraordinary devotion, which, as I have often repeated, is the true honey and sugar of the spirit.
Virgins have need of a chastity extremely sincere, nice, and tender, to banish from their hearts all sorts of curious thoughts, and to despise, with an absolute contempt, all sorts of unclean pleasures; which in truth deserve not to be desired by men, since they are better enjoyed by swine. Let, then, these pure souls be careful never to doubt but that chastity is incomparably better than all that which is incompatible with it; for, as the great St. Jerome says, the enemy violently tempts virgins to desire to make a trial of these pleasures, representing them as infinitely more agreeable and delightful than indeed they are, which often troubles them very much, whilst, as this holy father says, they esteem that more sweet of which they know nothing.
For as the little butterfly, seeing the flame, hovers with a curiosity about it, to try whether it be as sweet as it is fair, and, being borne away with this fancy, ceases not till it is destroyed at the very first trial; so young people suffer themselves frequently to be so possessed with the false and foolish opinion they have formed of the pleasure of voluptuous desire, that after many curious thoughts they at length ruin themselves, and perish in the flames; more foolish in this than the butterflies, for these have some cause to imagine that the fire is sweet, because it is so beautiful; but those knowing that which they seek to be extremely dishonest, cease not, nevertheless, to set a value on that brutish pleasure.
But as for those who are married, it is most true, though the vulgar cannot conceive it, that chastity is very necessary, also, for them; because, in respect of them, it consists not in abstaining absolutely from carnal pleasures, but in containing themselves in the midst of pleasures. Now as this commandment, Be angry and sin not, is, in my opinion, more difficult to be observed than this, Be not angry; and as one may more easily abstain from anger than regulate it; so it is easier to keep ourselves altogether from carnal pleasures than to preserve a moderation in them. It is true, that the holy liberty of marriage has a particular force to extinguish the fire of concupiscence; but the frailty of them that enjoy this liberty passes easily from permission to dissolution, and from use to abuse; and as we see many rich men steal, not through want but avarice, so also we may observe many married people fall into excess by mere intemperance and incontinency, notwithstanding the lawful object to which they ought and might confine themselves; their concupiscence being like wildfire, which runs burning here and there, without resting in any one place. It is always dangerous to take violent medicines, for if we take more than we should, or if they be not well prepared, they may be attended with fatal consequences. Marriage was blessed and ordained in part as a remedy for concupiscence, and, doubtless, it is a very good remedy, but yet violent, and consequently very dangerous, if it be not used with discretion.
I add, that the variety of human affairs, besides long diseases, oftentimes separates husbands from their wives; and therefore married people have need of two kinds of chastity: the one for absolute abstinence, when they are separated upon the occasions of which I have been speaking; the other for moderation, when they are together in the ordinary course. St. Catharine of Sienna saw, amongst the damned, many souls grievously tormented for having violated the sanctity of marriage, which happened, said she, not for the enormity of the sin, for murders and blasphemies are more enormous, but because they that commit it make no conscience of it, and thereof continue long in it.
You see, then, that chastity is necessary for all classes of people: "Follow peace with all men," says the Apostle, "and holiness, without which no man shall see God;" by holiness is here understood "chastity"; as St. Jerome and St. Chrysostom observe. No, Philothea, no one shall see God without chastity; no one shall dwell in his holy tabernacle, that is not clean of heart; and, as our Saviour himself says, Apoc. xxii. 15, "Dogs and the unchaste shall be banished thence," and "Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God." St. Matt, v, 8.
ADVICE HOW TO PRESERVE CHASTITY.
BE exceedingly diligent in turning yourself from all the approaches and allurements of incontinency: for this evil works insensibly, and, from small beginnings, advances to great accidents, which are always more easy to avoid than to cure. Human bodies are like glasses, which cannot be carried, when they touch one another, without danger of being broken, or like fruits which, though ever so sound and seasonable, yet by touching one another are impaired. Water itself, in a vessel, be it ever so fresh, being once touched by any beast of the earth, cannot long retain its freshness. Never suffer any one, Philothea, to touch you uncivilly, either through play or love; for though perhaps chastity may be preserved in those actions which are rather light than lewd, yet the freshness and flower of chastity always receive some detriment and loss; but to suffer yourself to be touched immodestly is the utter ruin of chastity.
Chastity depends on the heart as its source, yet regards the body as its subject; and therefore it may be lost as well by the exterior senses of the body as the interior thoughts and desires of the heart. It is impurity to behold, to hear, to speak, to smell, or touch any immodest thing in which the heart entertains itself, and takes pleasure. St. Paul says positively, "Let not fornication be so much as once named amongst you."
The bees not only have an aversion to carrion, but avoid and hate extremely all sorts of stench which proceed from it. The sacred Spouse, in the Canticles, has her hands distilling myrrh, which is the antidote against corruption; her lips are bound up with a scarlet ribbon, the mark of her modesty in her words; she has the eyes of a dove, by reason of her cleanness; her ears have gold earrings, in token of their purity; her nose is amongst the cedars of Lebanon, which are incorruptible wood; such ought to be the devout soul: chaste, clean, and pure, in hands, lips, ears, eyes, and in all her body.
To this purpose I will remind you of an expression which the ancient father John Cassian relates, as coming from the mouth of the great St. Basil, who, speaking of himself, said one day: "I know not what belongs to a woman, yet I am not a virgin. Certainly chastity may be lost as many ways as there are kinds of immodesty and wantonness; so that, according as they are great or little, some weaken it, others wound it, and others destroy it entirely. There are certain indiscreet and sensual familiarities and passions, which, to speak properly, do not destroy chastity, and yet they weaken it, leave it languishing, and stain its beautiful whiteness. There are other familiarities and passions not only indiscreet, but vicious; not only fond, but dishonest; not only sensual, but carnal; and by these chastity is at least grievously wounded. I say, at least; because it dies by them, and perishes altogether, when these fooleries and wanton dalliances cause in the flesh the utmost effect of impure delight; for then chastity perishes in a more unworthy, more wicked, more wretched manner than when it is lost by fornication, or even by adultery and incest: since these latter kinds of filthiness are but sins, but the former, as Tertullian says in his book of Chastity, are monsters of iniquity and sin. Now, neither does Cassian believe, nor do I believe myself, that St. Basil spoke of any such disorder, when he accused himself of not being a virgin; but I am of opinion that he only said this in relation to pleasure in evil thoughts, which, though they had not defiled his body, yet had contaminated the purity of which generous souls are exceedingly jealous.
Frequent not the company of immodest persons, especially if they be also impudent, as is generally the case; for as when goats touch the sweet almond trees with their tongues, they make them become bitter; so these corrupted souls and infected hearts scarcely speak to any, either of the same or a different sex, without causing them to fall in some degree from purity; they have poison in their eyes and in their breath, like basilisks. On the contrary, keep company with the chaste and virtuous; often meditate upon and read holy things; for the word of God is chaste, and makes those also chaste that delight in it; which made David compare it to the Topaz, - a precious stone which has the property of assuaging the heat of concupiscence.
Keep yourself always near to Jesus Christ crucified, both spiritually by meditation, and really by the holy communion. For as they who lie on the herb called agnus castus become chaste and modest; so you, laying down your heart to rest upon our Lord, who is the true, chaste, and immaculate Lamb, shall see that your soul and your heart shall soon be cleansed from all the defilements.
OF POVERTY OF SPIRIT TO BE OBSERVED IN THE MIDST OF RICHES.
BLESSED are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Matt. v. 3. Cursed, then, are the rich in spirit, for the misery of hell is their portion. He is rich in spirit who has riches in his spirit, or his spirit in riches; he is poor in spirit who has no riches in his spirit, nor his spirit in riches. The halcyons form their nest like an apple, and leave only a little opening at the top; they build them on the sea-shore, and make them so firm and impenetrable that, although the waves surprise them, the waters never can get into them, but, keeping always firm, they remain in the midst of the sea, upon the sea and masters of the sea. Your heart, dear Philothea, ought to be in this manner open only to heaven, and impenetrable to riches and all transitory things. Whatever portion of them you may possess, keep your heart free from the least affection towards them; keep it always above them, and amidst riches let it hold them in contempt, and he the master of riches. Do not suffer this heavenly spirit to be the captive of earthly goods; let it be always their master, but never their slave.
There is a material difference between having poison and being poisoned; as apothecaries have almost all kinds of poisons for use, on several occasions, and yet are not poisoned; because they have not poison in their bodies, but in their store: so you may possess riches without being poisoned with them, if you keep them in your house or purse, and not in your heart. To be rich in effect and poor in affection is the great happiness of a Christian; for by this means he has the benefit of riches for this world, and the merit of poverty for the world to come.
Alas! Philothea, no one ever acknowledges himself to be covetous; every one disavows that base and mean passion; every one excuses himself on account of the charge of children, which oppresses him, and on that wisdom which requires that men should establish themselves in the world; he never has too much; some pretence is always found to procure more; nay, the most covetous not only deny they are avaricious, but even think in their conscience they are not so. Covetousness is a malignant fever, which makes itself so much the more insensible, by how much the more violent and ardent it is. Moses saw the sacred fire which burned the bush, and yet did not consume it; but this profane fire of avarice, on the contrary, consumes and devours the covetous person, and yet does not burn him, for, in the midst of the most violent heats of his avarice, he boasts of the most agreeable coolness in the world, and esteems his, insatiable drought to be a natural and pleasing thirst.
If you have a longing desire to possess the goods which you have not, though you may say you would not possess them unjustly, you are, nevertheless, truly covetous. He that has a longing, ardent, and restless desire to drink, although he would drink nothing but water, is certainly feverish.
O Philothea! I know not whether it be a justifiable desire to wish to have that justly which another justly possesses; for it seems by this desire we should serve our own convenience to the prejudice of another. If a man possesses anything justly, has he not more reason to keep it justly than we to desire it justly? Why, then, do we extend our desires to his possessions, to deprive him of them? At the best, if this desire be just, it certainly is not charitable; for we would not, in any case, that another man should desire, although justly, that which we have a desire to keep justly. This was the sin of Achad, who desired to have Naboth's vineyard justly, which Naboth much more justly desired to keep; Achad desired with an ardent and impatient desire, and therefore offended God. It is time enough, dear Philothea, to desire your neighbor's goods when he is desirous to part with them; for then his desire will make yours not only just, but charitable also; for I am willing you should take care to increase your wealth, provided it may be done, not only justly, but with peace and charity.
If you have a strong attachment to the goods you possess, if you be too solicitous about them, set your heart on them, have them always in your thoughts, and fear the loss of them with a sensible apprehension, believe me you are still feverish; for they that have a fever drink the water that is given them with a certain eagerness of attention and satisfaction which the healthy are not accustomed to have. It is impossible to take much pleasure in laughing without having an extraordinary affection for it.
If, when you suffer loss of goods, you find your heart disconsolate, believe me, Philothea, you have too great an affection for them; for nothing can be a stronger proof thereof than your affliction for their loss.
Desire not, then, with a full and express desire, the wealth which you have not, and do not place your affection on that which you have; grieve not for the losses which may befall you, and then you shall have some reason to believe that, though rich in effect, you are not so in affection, but rather poor in spirit, and consequently blessed, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to you.
HOW TO PRACTISE TRUE AND REAL POVERTY, BEING, NOTWITHSTANDING, REALLY RICH.
THE painter, Parrhasius, painted the people of Athens in a very ingenious manner, representing their several variable dispositions, - choleric, unjust, inconstant, courteous, gentle, merciful, haughty, proud, humble, resolute, and timorous, and all this together. But I, dear Philothea, would infuse into your heart riches and poverty, a great care and a great contempt of temporal things.
Be more careful than worldly men are, to make your goods profitable and fruitful. Are not the gardeners of great princes more careful and diligent in cultivating and embellishing the gardens committed to their charge than if they were their own? And why? Because they consider them as the gardens of kings and princes, to whom they desire to make themselves acceptable by their services.
Philothea, our possessions are not our own, but were lent us by God to cultivate, and it is his will that we should render them fruitful and profitable, and therefore we do him an agreeable service in being careful of them; but then it must be a greater and more solid care than that which worldlings have of their goods; for they labor only for love of themselves, but we must labor for the love of God. Now, as self-love is violent, turbulent and impetuous, so the care which proceeds from it is full of trouble, uneasiness, and disquiet; and as the love of God is sweet, peaceable, and calm, so the care which proceeds from this love, although it be for worldly goods, is yet amiable, sweet, and agreeable. Let us, then, exercise this peaceable care of preserving, nay, of even increasing, our temporal goods, whenever just occasions shall present themselves, and as far as our condition requires, for God desires us to do so through love of him.
But beware lest self-love deceive you; for sometimes it counterfeits the love of God so closely that one would imagine it to be the same. Now, that it may not deceive you, and that the care of your temporal goods may not degenerate into covetousness, besides what I said in the former chapter, we must practise a real poverty in the midst of all the riches that God has given us.
Deprive yourself, then, frequently of some part of your property, by bestowing it on the poor with a willing heart; for to give away what we have is to impoverish ourselves in proportion as we give; and the more we give the poorer we become.
It is true, God will repay us not only in the next world, but even in this; for nothing makes us so prosperous in this world as alms; but till such time as God shall restore it to us we remain so much the poorer by as much as we have given. Oh, how holy and rich is that poverty which is occasioned by giving alms!
Love the poor and poverty, and you shall become truly poor, since, as the Scripture says, "we are made like the things which we love." Love makes the lovers equal. "Who is weak," saith St. Paul, "with whom I am not weak?" He might have likewise said, Who is poor, with whom I am not poor? For love made him resemble those whom he loved; if, then, you love the poor you shall be truly a partaker of their poverty, and poor like them. 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. Be poor in conversing with them, speaking to them as their companion; but be rich in assisting, by imparting your goods to them, since you have more abundance.
Besides, Philothea, content not yourself to be as poor, but poorer than the poor themselves; but how may this be effected? The servant is lower than his master; make yourself, then, a servant of the poor; go and serve them in their beds when they are sick; serve them with your own hands; prepare their food for them yourself, and at your own expense; be their sempstress and laundress. O Philothea! this service is more glorious than a kingdom.
I cannot sufficiently admire the ardor with which this counsel was practised by St. Louis, one of the greatest kings that ever graced a throne; great in every kind of greatness. He frequently served at table the poor whom he maintained, 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, which he frequently did, he commonly served the leprous, ulcerous, and such as had the most loathsome diseases, kneeling on the ground, respecting in their persons the Saviour of the world, and cherishing them as tenderly as any fond mother cherishes her child. St. Elizabeth, daughter of the king of Hungary, often visited the poor, and, for her recreation, sometimes clothed herself like a poor woman among her ladies, saying to them, "If I were poor I would dress in this manner." Good God, Philothea, how poor were this prince and princess in the midst of their riches, and how rich in their poverty! Blessed are they who are poor in this manner, for to them belongs the kingdom of heaven. "I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was naked, and you clothed me; come, possess the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world," he who is the King of the poor, as well as of kings, will say, when he addresses himself to the elect at the day of general judgment.
There is no one, who, on some occasion or other, does not feel a want of some convenience. Sometimes we receive a visit from a guest, whom we would entertain very well, but at present have not the means; at other times, our best clothes are in one place when we want them in another, where we must be seen. Again, sometimes all the wines in our cellar ferment and turn, so that there remain only those that are bad or green; at another time we happen to stop at some poor village, where all things are wanting; where we have neither bed, chamber, table, nor attendance; in fine, it is very often easy to suffer the want of something, be we ever so rich. Now, this is to be poor in effect, with regard to the things we want. Philothea, rejoice on these occasions, accept them with a good heart, and suffer them cheerfully.
But should you meet with losses which impoverish you, more or less, as in the case of tempests, fires, inundations, dearths, robberies, or lawsuits, then is the proper season to practise poverty, receiving those losses with meekness, and submitting with patience and constancy to your impoverishment. Esau presented himself to his father with his hands covered with hair, and Jacob did the same; but as the hair on Jacob's hands belonged not to his skin, but his gloves, one might take away the hair without injuring the skin; on the contrary, the hair on the hands of Esau adhered to his skin, so that if any one would attempt to pluck off his hair it would have caused excessive pain. Thus, when our worldly goods cleave to our heart, if a tempest, a thief, or an impostor, should take any part of them from us,
what complaints, trouble, and impatience do we not fall into? But when our goods do not cleave to our hearts, and are only considered on account of the care God would have us take of them, should they be taken from us, we lose neither our peace nor our senses. Hence the difference betwixt beasts and men, as to their garments; for as the garments of the former, viz., their skin, adhere to their flesh, those of the latter are only put upon them, so that they may be taken off at pleasure.
HOW TO PRACTISE RICHNESS OF SPIRIT IN REAL POVERTY.
BUT if you be really poor, dear Philothea, be likewise for God's sake actually poor in spirit: make a virtue of necessity, and value this precious jewel of poverty at the high rate it deserves: its lustre is not discovered in this world, and yet it is exceedingly rich and beautiful.
Be patient; you are in good company; our Lord himself, his blessed mother, the apostles, and innumerable saints, both men and women, have been poor; nay, even when they might have been rich, they refused to be so. How many great personages have there been, who, in spite of contradictions from the world, have gone to seek after holy poverty in cloisters and hospitals, and took indefatigable pains to find her! Witness St. Alexius, St. Paula, St. Paulinus, St. Angela, and so many others; and behold, Philothea, this holy poverty, more gracious towards you, comes to present herself to you in your own lodging; you have met her without being at the trouble of seeking after her; embrace her, then, as the dear friend of Jesus Christ, who was born, who lived, and who died in poverty; poverty was his nurse during the whole course of his life.
Your poverty, Philothea, enjoys two great privileges, by means of which you may considerably enhance its merits. The first is, that she came not to you by choice, but by the will of God, who has made you poor, without any concurrence of your own will. Now, that which we receive purely from the will of God is always very agreeable to him, provided that we receive it with a good heart, and through a love of his holy will; where there is least of our own there is most of God; the simple and pure acceptance of God's will makes our offerings extremely pure.
The second privilege of this kind of poverty is that it is truly poverty. That poverty which is praised, caressed, esteemed, succored, and assisted is nearly allied to riches; at least, it is not altogether poverty; but that which is despised, rejected, reproached, and abandoned, is poverty indeed. Such is ordinary poverty; for, as the poor are not poor by their own choice, but from necessity, their poverty is not much esteemed, for which reason their poverty exceeds that of the religious; although otherwise the poverty of the religious has a very great excellency, and is much more commendable, by reason of the vow, and of the intention for which it is chosen.
Complain not, then, my dear Philothea, of your poverty; for we never complain but of that which displeases us; and if poverty displease you, you are no longer poor in spirit, but rich in affection.
Be not disconsolate for your not being so well assisted as might appear necessary; for in this consists the excellence of poverty. To be willing to be poor, and not to feel the hardships of poverty, is to desire the honor of poverty with the convenience of riches.
Be not ashamed to be poor, nor to ask alms in charity. Receive with humility what shall be given you, and bear the denial with meekness. Frequently remember the journey our blessed Lady undertook into Egypt, to preserve the life of her dear Son, and how much contempt, poverty, and misery she was obliged to suffer; provided you live thus, you will be very rich in your poverty.
OF FRIENDSHIP; FIRST OF THAT WHICH IS EVIL AND FRIVOLOUS.
LOVE holds the first place among the several passions of the soul; it is the sovereign of all the motions of the heart; it directs all the rest towards it, and makes us such as is the object of its love. Be careful, then, O Philothea, to entertain no evil love, for, if you do, you will presently become evil. Friendship is the most dangerous love of all; because other loves may be without communication; but friendship, being wholly grounded upon it, we can hardly hold a communication of friendship with any person without partaking of its qualities.
All love is not friendship; for when one loves without being again beloved, then there is love, but not friendship; because friendship is a communication of love, therefore, where love is not mutual, there can be no friendship. Nor is it enough that it be mutual, but the parties that love each other must know their mutual affection, for, if they know it not, they have love, but not friendship. There must be also some kind of communication between them, which may be the ground of friendship. Now, according to the diversity of the communications, the friendship also differs, and the communications are different according to the variety of the things which they communicate to each other; if they be false and vain, the friendship is also false and vain; if they be true, the friendship is likewise true; and the more laudable the goods may be the more laudable also is the friendship. For as that honey is best which is gathered from the blossom of the most exquisite flowers, so that love which is founded upon the most exquisite communication is the most noble. And as there is honey in Heraclea of Pontus, which is poisonous. and deprives those of reason that eat it, because it is gathered from the aconite, which abounds in that country; even so the friendship, grounded upon the communication of false and vicious goods, is altogether false and vicious. The communication of carnal pleasures is a mutual inclination and brutish allurement, which can no more bear the name of friendship among men than that of beasts for the like effects; and if there was no other communication in marriage there would be no friendship at all; but because, besides that, there is a communication in matrimony of life, of industry, of goods, of affections, and of an indissoluble fidelity, therefore the friendship of matrimony is a true and holy friendship. A friendship that is grounded on the communication of sensual pleasures is utterly gross, and unworthy of the name of friendship; and so is that which is founded on virtues which are frivolous and vain; because these virtues also depend on the senses. I call those pleasures sensual which are immediately and principally annexed to the exterior senses; such as the pleasure to behold a beautiful person, to hear a sweet voice, to touch, and the like. I call certain vain endowments and qualities frivolous accomplishments, which weak minds call virtues and perfections. Observe how the greater part of silly maids, women, and young people talk; they hesitate not to say: Such a gentleman has many virtues and perfections, for he dances gracefully, he plays well at all sorts of games, he dresses fashionably, he sings delightfully, speaks eloquently, and has a fine appearance; it is thus that mountebanks esteem those, in their way, the most virtuous who are the greatest buffoons. But as all these things regard the senses, so the friendships which proceed from them are termed sensual, vain, and frivolous, and deserve rather the name of foolish fondness than of friendship; such are the ordinary friendships of young people which are grounded on curled locks, a fine head of hair, smiling glances, fine clothes, affected countenances, and idle talk; a friendship suited to the age of those lovers whose virtue is, as yet, only in the blossom, and their judgment in the bud; and, indeed, such amities being but transitory, melt away like snow in the sun.
OF FOND LOVE.
WHEN these foolish friendships are maintained between persons of different sexes, without pretensions of marriage, they are called fond love; for being but embryos, or rather phantoms of friendship, they deserve not the name either of true friendship or true love, by reason of their excessive vanity and imperfection. Now, by means of these fondnesses, the hearts of men and of women are caught and entangled with each other in vain and foolish affections, based upon these frivolous communications and wretched complacencies of which I have been just speaking.
And although these dangerous loves, commonly speaking, terminate at last in carnality and down-right lasciviousness, yet that is not the first design or intention of the persons between whom they pass; otherwise they would not be merely fond loves, but absolute impurities and uncleannesses. Sometimes even many years pass before anything directly contrary to the chastity of the body happens between them, whilst they content themselves with giving their hearts the pleasure of wishes, desires, sighs, amorous entertainments, and such like fooleries and vanities, and this upon different pretensions.
Some have no other design than to satisfy their hearts with loving and being loved, following in this their amorous inclination; and these regard nothing in the choice of their loves but their instinct: so that at the first meeting with an agreeable object, without examining the interior, or the comportment of the person, they begin this fond communication, and entangle themselves in these wretched nets, from which afterwards they find great difficulty to disengage themselves. Others suffer themselves to be carried to fond loves, by the vanity of esteeming it no small glory to catch and bind hearts by love. Now these aiming at glory in the choice they make set their net and lay their snares in specious, high, rare, and illustrious places. Others are led away at the same time, both by their amorous inclination and by vanity; for though their hearts be altogether inclined to love, yet they will not engage themselves in it without some advantage of glory. These loves are always criminal, foolish, and vain; criminal, because they end at length, and terminate in the sin of the flesh, and because they rob God, the wife and the husband, of that love, and consequently of that heart, which belonged to them; foolish, because they have neither foundation nor reason: vain, because they yield neither profit, honor, nor content; on the contrary, they are attended by a loss of time, are prejudicial to honor, and bring no other pleasure than that of an eagerness in pretending and hoping, without knowing what they would have, or to what they would make pretensions. For these wretched and weak minds still imagine they have something to expect from the testimonies which they receive of reciprocal love; but yet they cannot tell what this is; the desire of which can never end, but goes on continually, pressing their hearts with perpetual distrusts, jealousies, and disquietudes.
St. Gregory Nazianzen, in his discourse, addressed indeed to vain women, but applicable also to men, says: "Thy natural beauty is sufficient for thy husband; but if it be for many men, like a net spread out for a flock of birds, what will be the consequence? He shall be pleasing to thee who shall please himself with thy beauty; thou wilt return him glance for glance, look for look; presently will follow smiles and little amorous words, dropped by stealth at the beginning, but soon after they will become more familiar, and pass to an open courtship. Take heed, my tongue! of telling what will follow: yet will I say this one truth: nothing of all those things which young men and women say and do together in these foolish complacencies is exempted from grievous stings. All the links of wanton loves depend on one another, and follow one another as one piece of iron, touched by the loadstone, draws many others after it."
How wisely has this great bishop spoken! What is it you think to do? To give love? No; for no one gives love voluntarily, that does not receive it necessarily. He that catches in this chase is likewise caught himself. The herb an aproxis receives and conceives fire as soon as it sees it: our hearts do the like: as soon as they see a soul inflamed with love for them they are presently inflamed with love for it. But some one will say, I am willing to entertain some of this love, but not too much. Alas! you deceive yourselves, the fire of love is more active and penetrating than you imagine: you think to receive but a spark, and will wonder to see it in a moment take possession of your whole heart, reduce all your resolutions to ashes, and your reputation to smoke. "Who will have pity on a charmer struck by a serpent?" Ecclus. xii. 13. And I also, after the wise man, cry out, O foolish and senseless people! think you to charm love in such a manner as to be able to manage it at pleasure? You would play with it, but it will sting and torment you cruelly; and do you know that every one will mock and deride you for attempting to charm or tie down love, and on a false assurance put into your bosom a dangerous serpent, which has spoiled and destroyed both your soul and your honor?
Good God! what blindness is this, to play away thus at hazard, against such frivolous stakes, the principal power of our soul! Yes, Philothea, for God regards not man, but for his soul; nor his soul, but for his will; nor his will, but for his love. Alas! we have not near so much love as we stand in need of; I mean to say that we fall infinitely short of having sufficient wherewith to love God; and yet, wretches as we are, we lavish it away foolishly on vain and frivolous things, as if we had some to spare. Ah! this great God, who hath reserved to himself the whole love of our souls, in acknowledgment of our creation, preservation, and redemption, will exact a strict account of all these criminal deductions we make from it; for, if he will make so rigorous an examination into our idle words, how strictly will he not examine into our impertinent, foolish, and pernicious loves!
The walnut-tree is very prejudicial to the vines and fields wherein it is planted; because, being so large, it attracts all the moisture of the surrounding earth, and renders it incapable of nourishing the other plants; the leaves are also so thick that they make a large and close shade; and lastly, it allures the passengers to it, who, to beat down the fruit, spoil and trample upon all about it. These fond loves do the same injury to the soul, for they possess her in such manner, and so strongly draw her motions to themselves, that she has no strength left to produce any good work: the leaves, viz., their idle talk, their amusements, and their dalliance, are so frequent, that all leisure time is squandered away in them; and, finally, they engender so many temptations, distractions, suspicions, and other evil consequences, that the whole heart is trampled down and destroyed by them. In a word, these fond loves not only banish heavenly love, but also the fear of God from the soul; they waste the spirit and ruin reputation; they are the sport of courts, but the plague of hearts.
OF TRUE FRIENDSHIP.
LOVE every one, Philothea, with a strenuous love of charity, but have no friendship, except for those that communicate with you the things of virtue: and the more exquisite the virtues are, which shall be the matter of your communications, the more perfect shall your friendship also be. If this communication be in the sciences, the friendship is certainly very commendable; but still more so if it be in the moral virtues; in prudence, discretion, fortitude, and justice. But should your reciprocal communications relate to charity, devotion, and Christian perfection, good God! how precious will this friendship be! It will be excellent, because it comes from God; excellent, because it tends to God; excellent, because its very band is God; excellent, because it shall last eternally in God. Oh, how good it is to love on earth as they love in heaven; to learn to cherish each other in this world, as we shall do eternally in the next!
I speak not here of that simple love of charity which we must have for all men; but of that spiritual friendship, by which two, three, or more souls communicate one to another their devotion and spiritual affections, and make themselves all but one spirit. Such happy souls may justly sing: "Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" Ps. cxxxii. 1. For the delicious balm of devotion distils out of one heart into another, by so continual a participation, that it may be said that God has poured out upon this friendship "his blessing and life everlasting." I consider all other friendships as but so many shadows in respect to this, and that their bonds are but chains of glass or of jet, in comparison of this bond of holy devotion, which is more precious than gold.
Make no other kind of friendship than this: I speak of such friends as you choose yourself; but you must not, therefore, forsake or neglect the friendships which nature or former duties oblige you to cultivate with your parents, kindred, benefactors, neighbors, and others.
Many perhaps may say: "We should have no kind of particular affection and friendship, because it occupies the heart, distracts the mind, and begets envy;" but they are mistaken, because having seen, in the writings of many devout authors, that particular friendships and extraordinary affection are of infinite prejudice to religious persons, they therefore imagine that it is the same with regard to the rest of the world; but there is a material difference, for, as in a well-ordered monastery, where the common design of all tends to true devotion, it is not requisite to make these particular communications of friendship, lest by seeking among individuals for that which is common to the whole, they should fall from particularities to partialities. But for those who dwell among worldlings, and desire to embrace true virtue, it is necessary for them to unite themselves together by a holy and sacred friendship, since by this means they encourage, assist, and conduct each other to good: for, as they that walk on plain ground need not lend each other a hand, whilst they that are in a rugged and slippery road hold one by the other, to walk more securely; so they that are in religious orders stand in no want of particular friendships; but they that are in the world have need of them, to secure and assist each other amidst the many dangerous passages through which they are to pass. In the world all are not directed by the same views, nor actuated by the same spirit; we must therefore separate ourselves, and contract friendships according to our several pretensions. This particularity causes indeed a partiality; but it is a holy partiality, which creates no other division but that which of necessity should always subsist betwixt good and evil, sheep and goats, bees and hornets.
No one surely can deny but that our Lord loved St. John, Lazarus, Martha, and Magdalen, with a more sweet and more special friendship. We know that St. Peter tenderly cherished St. Mark and St. Petronilla, as St. Paul did Timothy and St. Thecla. St. Gregory Nazianzen boasts an hundred times of the incomparable friendship he had with the Great St. Basil, and describes it in this manner: "It seemed that in us there was but one soul dwelling in two bodies, and if those are not to be believed, who say that all things are in all things, yet of us two you may believe, that we were both in each other; we had each of us one only pretension to cultivate virtue, and to accommodate all the designs of our life to future hopes; going in this manner out of mortal earth before we died in it." St. Austin testifies that St. Ambrose loved St. Monica entirely for the real virtue he saw in her, and that she reciprocally loved him as an angel of God. But I am blamable in detaining you so long on so clear a matter. St. Jerome, St. Austin, St. Gregory, St. Bernard, and all the greatest servants of God, have had very particular friendships, without any prejudice to their perfection. St. Paul, reproaching the disorders of the gentiles, accuses them that they were people without affection; that is to say, that they had no true friendship. And St. Thomas, with all the wisest philosophers, acknowledges that friendship is a virtue; and he speaks of "particular friendship," since, as he says, "perfect friendship cannot be extended to a great many persons." Perfection therefore consists, not in having no friendship, but in having none but with such as are good and holy.
OF THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TRUE AND VAIN FRIENDSHIP.
OBSERVE, Philothea, this important admonition. As the poisonous honey of Heraclea is so similar to the other that is wholesome, that there is great danger of mistaking the one for the other, or of taking them mixed together (for the goodness of the one cannot destroy the poison of the other); so he must stand upon his guard who would not be deceived in friendships, particularly when contracted betwixt persons of different sexes, under what pretext soever. The devil often effects a change in those that love; they begin with virtuous love, with which, if not attended to with the utmost discretion, fond love will begin to mingle itself, then sensual love, and afterwards carnal love; yea, there is even danger in spiritual love, if we are not extremely upon our guard; though in this it is more difficult to be imposed upon, because its purity and whiteness make the spots and stains which Satan seeks to mingle with it more apparent, and therefore when he takes this in hand he does it more subtilely, and endeavors to introduce impurities by almost insensible degrees.
You may distinguish worldly from holy friendship in the same manner as the poisonous honey of Heraclea is known from the other; for as the honey of Heraclea is sweeter than the ordinary honey, on account of the juice of the aconite, which gives it an additional flavor; so worldly friendship ordinarily produces a great profusion of endearing words, passionate expressions, with admiration of beauty, behavior, and other sensual qualities. Holy friendship, on the contrary, speaks a plain and sincere language, and commends nothing but virtue and the grace of God, the only foundation on which it subsists. As the honey of Heraclea, when swallowed, occasions a giddiness in the head, so false friendship produces a vertigo in the mind, which makes persons stagger in chastity and devotion, hurrying them on to affected, wanton, and immodest looks, sensual caresses, inordinate sighs, and ridiculous complaints of not being beloved, to a studied and enticing carriage, to gallantries, to interchanging of kisses, with other familiarities and indecent favors, the certain and unquestionable presages of the approaching ruin of chastity. But the looks of holy friendship are simple and modest; its caresses pure and sincere; its sighs are but for heaven; its familiarities are only spiritual; its complaints but when God is not beloved. These are infallible marks of a holy friendship. As the honey of Heraclea affects the sight, so this worldly friendship dazzles the judgment to such a degree, that they who are infected with it think they do well when they act wrongly, and believe their excuses and pretexts for two reasons: they fear the light, and love darkness. But holy friendship is clear-sighted, and never conceals herself, but appears willingly before those that are good. In fine, as the honey of Heraclea leaves a great bitterness in the mouth, so false friendships change into lewd and carnal words and demands; and, in case of refusal, into injuries, slanders, imposture, sadness, confusion, and jealousies, which often terminate in madness. Chaste friendship is always equally honest, civil, and amiable, and changes only into a purer union of spirits; a lively image of the blessed friendship existing in heaven.
St. Gregory Nazianzen says, that as the cry of the peacock, when he struts and spreads his feathers, excites the peahens to lust, so, when we see a man dressed in his best apparel, approaching to flatter, and whisper in the ears of a woman, without pretension to lawful marriage, then no doubt it is to incite her to impurity; and every virtuous woman will stop her ears against the cry of this peacock, the voice of this enchanter, who seeks thus subtilely to charm her; but, should she hearken to him, good God! what an ill presage of the future loss of her heart!
Young people who use gestures, glances, and caresses, or speak words in which they would not willingly be surprised by their fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, or confessors, testify hereby that they are treating of something contrary to honor and conscience. Our blessed Lady was troubled when she saw an angel in the shape of a man, because she was alone, and because he gave her extraordinary though heavenly praises. O Saviour of the world! if purity itself be afraid of an angel in the shape of a man, why should not impurity fear a man, even though he should come in the shape of an angel, especially when he praises her with sensual and earthly commendations?
ADVICES AND REMEDIES AGAINST EVIL FRIENDSHIPS.
BUT what remedies must we take against this multitude of filthy loves, fondnesses, and impurities? As soon as you perceive the first approach of them, turn suddenly away, with an absolute horror and detestation, run to the cross of your Saviour, take the crown of thorns, and press it to your heart, so that the evil spirit may not come near it. Beware of coming to any kind of compromise with this enemy: do not say I will hearken to him, but will do nothing of what he shall say to me: I will lend him my ears, but will refuse him my heart. Oh, no! Philothea; for God's sake, be resolute on these occasions: the heart and the ears correspond with each other; and, as it is impossible to stop a torrent that descends by the brow of a mountain, so is it hard to prevent the love which has entered in at the ear from falling suddenly down into the heart.
Alcmæ on pretended that goats breathe by the ears, but Aristotle denies it; as for myself I cannot decide the question; but I know that our heart breathes by the ear; and as it sends forth its own thoughts by the tongue, so it receives the thoughts of others by the ear. Let us, then, keep a diligent guard over our ears, that we may not inhale the corrupt air of filthy words, for otherwise our hearts will soon be infected. Hearken to no kind of propositions, under what pretext soever; in this case alone there is no danger of being rude and uncivil.
Remember that you have dedicated your heart to God, and that your love having been sacrificed to him, it would he a sacrilege to alienate the least part of it from him. Rather sacrifice it to him anew by a thousand resolutions and protestations; and, keeping yourself close within them, as a deer within its covert, call upon God, and he will help you, and take you under his protection, that you may live for him alone.
But if you are already entangled in the nets of filthy loves, good God! how difficult will it be to extricate yourself from them! Place yourself before the divine Majesty, acknowledge, in his presence, the excess of your misery, frailty, and vanity. Then, with the greatest effort of which your heart is capable, detest them; abjure the vain profession you have made of them; renounce all the promises received, and, with the most generous and absolute resolution, determine in your heart never to permit them to occupy the least thought for the remainder of your life.
An excellent remedy would be to withdraw yourself from the object; for as they that have been bitten by serpents cannot easily he cured in the presence of those who were before wounded by the same animal, so the person stung with love will hardly be cured of this passion as long as he is near the other who has been similarly wounded. Change of place contributes very much to allay the heat and pains of grief or love. The youth of whom St. Ambrose speaks, in his second book of Penance, having made a long journey, returned home altogether delivered from those fond loves he had formerly entertained, and so much changed that his foolish mistress meeting him, and saying, "Dost thou no: know me? am I not the same that I was?" - "Yes," answered he, "but I am no longer the same. "Absence has wrought in him this happy change. St. Austin also testifies that, to mitigate the grief he suffered for the death of his friend, he withdrew himself from Tagasta, the place in which his friend died, and went to Carthage.
But what must he do who cannot withdraw himself? Let him absolutely retrench all particular familiarity, all private conversation, amorous looks, smiles, and, in general, all sorts of communication and allurement, which may nourish this dangerous passion; if he must speak to the other party, let it be only to declare, with a bold, short, and serious protestation, the eternal divorce which he has sworn. I call upon every one who has fallen into these wretched snares: cut them, - break them, - tear them; do not amuse yourself in unraveling these criminal friendships; you must tear and rend them asunder; do not untie the knots, but break or cut them, so that the cords and strings may be rendered useless; do not enter into any compromise with a love which is so contrary to the love of God.
But after I have broken the chains of his infamous bondage there will still remain some vestiges: the marks and prints of the irons will still be imprinted in my feet; that is, my affections. No, Philothea, they will not, provided you have conceived as great a detestation of the evil as it deserves; you will now be excited with no other motion but that of an extreme horror for this base love and all its appendages, and will entertain no other affection towards the forsaken object but that of a pure charity, for God's sake. But if through the imperfection of your repentance, there should yet remain in you any evil inclinations, procure a mental solitude for your soul, according to what I have taught you before, and retire thither as often as you can, and by a thousand reiterated ejaculations renounce all your criminal inclinations, and reject them with your whole force. Read pious and holy books with more than ordinary application; go to confession and communion more frequently; treat humbly and sincerely with your director, or some prudent and faithful friend, concerning all the suggestions and temptations of this kind which may befall you, and doubt not but God will deliver you from those criminal passions, provided you continue faithfully in these good exercises.
Ah, will it not be ingratitude to break off a friendship so unmercifully? Oh, how happy is that ingratitude which makes us pleasing to God! But no, Philothea, I tell you, in the name of God, this will be no ingratitude, but a great benefit, which you shall confer upon your lover; because, in breaking your own bonds asunder, you shall also break his, since they were common to you both; and though for the present he may not be sensible of his happiness, yet he will soon acknowledge it, and exclaim with you in thanksgiving: "O Lord, thou hast broken my bonds, I will sacrifice to thee a sacrifice of praise, and call upon thy holy name." Ps. cxv.
OTHER ADVICES ON FRIENDSHIPS.
I HAVE another important advice to give you on this subject. Friendship requires great communication between friends, otherwise it can neither grow nor subsist. Wherefore it often happens, that with this communication of friendship many other communications insensibly glide from one heart to another, by a mutual infusion and reciprocal intercourse of affections, inclinations, and impressions. This happens especially when we have a high esteem for him whom we love; for then we open our heart in such manner to his friendship that with it his inclinations and impressions, whether good or bad, enter rapidly. Certainly the bees, that gather the honey of Heraclea, seek nothing but honey; yet with the honey they insensibly suck the poisonous qualities of the aconite, from which they gather it. Good God! Philothea; on these occasions we must carefully practise what the Saviour of our souls was accustomed to say: "Be ye good bankers," or changers of money; that is to say, "Receive not bad money with the good, nor base gold with the fine"; separate that which is precious from that which is vile; for there is scarcely any person that has not some imperfection. For why should we receive promiscuously the imperfections of a friend, together with his friendship? We must love him indeed, notwithstanding his imperfections; but we must neither love nor receive his imperfections; for friendship requires a communication of good, not of evil. Wherefore as they that draw gravel out of the river Tagus separate the gold which they find, to carry it away, and leave the sand on the banks; so they, who have the communication of some good friendship ought to separate it from the imperfections, and not suffer them to enter their souls. St. Gregory Nazianzen testifies, that many, loving and admiring St. Bazil, were brought insensibly to imitate him, even in his outward imperfections, as in speaking slowly, and with his spirit abstracted and pensive, in the fashion of his beard, and in his gait. And we often see husbands, wives, children, and friends, who, having a great esteem for their friends, parents, husbands, and wives, acquire, either by condescension or imitation, a thousand little ill-humors in their communication of friend ship. Now this should not be so by any means, for every one has evil inclinations enough of his own, without charging himself with those of others; and friendship is so far from requiring it, that, on the contrary, it obliges us mutually to aid and assist one another, in order to free ourselves from all kind of imperfections. We must, indeed, meekly bear with our friend in his imperfections; but we must not lead him into imperfections, much less imbibe his imperfections ourselves. But I speak only of imperfections; for, as to sins, we must neither occasion them, nor tolerate them in our friends. It is either a weak or a wicked friendship to behold our friend perish, and not to help him; -to see him die of an imposthume, and not dare to save his life by opening it with the lancet of correction. True and living friendship cannot subsist in the midst of sins. As the salamander extinguishes the fire in which he lies, so sin destroys the friendship in which it lodges. If it be but a transient sin, friendship will presently put it to flight by correction; but if it be habitual, and take up its habitation, friendship immediately perishes; for it subsists only upon the solid foundation of virtue. We must never, then, commit sin for the sake of friendship. A friend becomes an enemy when he would lead us to sin; and he deserves to lose his friend when he would destroy his soul. It is an infallible mark of false friendship to see it exercised towards a vicious person, be his sins of what kind soever; for, if he whom we love be vicious, without doubt our friendship is also vicious, since, seeing it cannot regard true virtue, it must needs be grounded on some frivolous virtue, or sensual quality. Society formed for traffic among merchants is but a shadow of true friendship; since it is not made for the love of the person, but for the love of gain. Finally, the following divine sentences are two main pillars, upon which reposes a Christian life; the one is that of the wise man: "He that feareth God shall likewise have a good friendship;" the other is that of the Apostle St. James: "The friendship of this world is the enemy of God. "
OF THE EXERCISES OF EXTERIOR MORTIFICATION.
THEY who treat of agriculture tell us that if any word be written upon a very sound almond, and it be again enclosed in the shell and planted, all the fruit which that tree shall produce will have the same word engraven upon it. As for myself, Philothea, I could never approve of the method of those who, to reform a man, begin with his exterior, such as his gestures, his dress, or his hair; on the contrary, I think we ought to begin with his interior. "Be converted to me," said God, Joel ii., "with your whole heart." "Son, give me thy heart." Prov. xxiii. For, the heart being the genuine source of our actions, our works will always correspond to our heart. The divine Spouse, inviting the soul, Cant. v., "Put me," says he, "as a seal upon thy heart, as a seal upon thy arm. Yes, verily; for whoever has Jesus Christ in his heart will quickly show him in all his exterior actions. I desire, therefore, dear Philothea, above all things else, to engrave upon your heart this sacred motto, "Live, Jesus;" being assured that your life, which proceeds from the heart as an almond tree from its kernel, will afterwards produce the same words of salvation written upon all your actions; for, as this sweet Jesus lives within your heart, so will he also live in all your exterior, in your eyes, your mouth, your hands, and even the hair on your head, so that you will be able to say, with St. Paul, "I live, now not I, but Christ liveth in me." In a word, he that has gained the heart has gained the whole man; but even this heart, by which we would begin, requires to be instructed how it should frame its exterior behavior, so that men may not only behold holy devotion therein, but also wisdom and discretion; for this end I desire your serious attention to the following short admonitions: -
If you are able to endure fasting, you would do well to fast some days besides those which are commanded by the Church; for besides the usual effects of fasting, viz., to elevate the spirit, to keep the flesh in subjection, to exercise virtue, and acquire a greater reward in heaven, it is a great means to restrain gluttony, and keep the sensual appetite and body subject to the law of the spirit; and although we may not fast much, yet the enemy fears us when he discovers that we know how to fast. Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays are the days in which the ancient Christians chiefly exercised themselves in abstinence; choose, then, some of these days to fast, as far as your devotion and the discretion of your director shall advise you.
I would willingly say to you, as St. Jerome said to the pious Læ ta: "Long and immoderate fastings displease me greatly, especially in those that are yet in their tender age." I have learned, by experience, that young people, who become infirm through excess of fasting, easily give way to delicacies. We are greatly exposed to temptations, both when our body is too much pampered, and when it is too much weakened; for the one makes it insolent with ease, and the other desperate with affliction. The want of this moderation in the use of fasting, disciplines, hair-shirts, and other austerities, renders the best years of many unprofitable in the service of charity, as it did even in St. Bernard, who repented that he had used so much austerity; and the more cruelly they ill-treated their bodies in the beginning, the more were they constrained to favor them in the end. Would they not have done better to have mortified their bodies moderately, and in proportion to the offices and labors which their condition obliged them?
Labor, as well as fasting, serves to mortify and subdue the flesh. Now, provided the labor you undertake contributes to the glory of God and your own welfare, I would prefer that you should suffer the pain of labor rather than that of fasting. This is the intention of the Church, which exempts those labors that contribute to the service of God and our neighbor even from the fasts commanded.
Some find it painful to fast, others to serve the sick, or visit prisoners; others to hear confession, to preach, to pray, and to perform similar exercises; these last pains are of more value than the former; for, besides subduing the body, they produce fruits much more desirable, and therefore, generally speaking, it is better to preserve our bodily strength more than may be necessary, in order to perform these functions, than to weaken it too much; for we may always abate it when we wish, but we cannot always repair it when we would.
We should attend with great reverence to the admonition given by our blessed Saviour to his disciples, Luke x. 9: "Eat the things that are set before you." It is, in my opinion, a greater virtue to eat, without choice, that which is laid before you, and in the same order as it is presented, whether it be more or less agreeable to your taste, than always to choose the worst; for although this latter way of living seems more austere, yet the former has, notwithstanding, more resignation, since by it we renounce not only our own taste, but even our own choice; and it is no small mortification to accommodate our taste to every kind of meat, and keep it in subjection to all occurrences. Besides, this kind of mortification makes no parade, gives no trouble to any one, and is happily adapted to civil life. To set one kind of meat aside to eat another - to eat of every dish - to think nothing well dressed, or sufficiently exquisite - bespeak a heart too much attached to delicacies and dainties. I esteem St. Bernard in drinking oil instead of water or wine, more than if he had drunk designedly the most bitter draught; for it was a sure sign that he did not consider what he drank; and in this indifference respecting our food consists the perfection of the practice of that sacred rule, "Eat that which is set before you." I except, however, such meats as may prejudice the health, or incommode the spirit, such as hot and high-seasoned meats; as also certain occasions, in which nature requires recreation and assistance in order to be able to support some labor for the glory of God. A continual and moderate sobriety is preferable to violent abstinences, practised occasionally, and mingled with great relaxations.
A moderate use of discipline awakens the appetite of devotion. The hair shirt mortifies the flesh exceedingly; but the use of it, generally speaking, is not proper either for married persons or tender complexions, or for such as have other great pains to support. However, upon some remarkable days of penance, it may be used by the advice of a discreet confessor.
We must dedicate the night to sleep, every one as much as his constitution requires, so that he may be able to watch and spend the day profitably; and also because the Holy Scriptures, the examples of the saints, and reason itself, strenuously recommend the morning to us as the most fruitful part of time, and our Lord himself is named the Orient, or rising sun, and our blessed Lady the dawning of the day. I think it a point of virtue to retire to rest early in the evening, that we may he enabled to awake and rise early in the morning, which is certainly, of all other times, the most favorable, the most agreeable, and the least exposed to disturbance and distractions; when the very birds invite us to awake and praise God; so that early-rising is equally serviceable to health and holiness.
Balaam, mounted on his ass, was going to king Balak; but because he had not a right intention, the angel waited for him in the way, with a sword in his hand to kill them. The ass, on seeing the angel, stood still three several times, and became restive. Balaam in the mean time beat her cruelly with his staff to make her advance forward, until the beast at the third time, falling under Balaam, by an extraordinary miracle spoke to him, saying, Numb. xii. 28: "What have I done to thee? why strikest thou me, lo now this third time?" Balaam's eyes were soon opened, and he saw the angel, who said to him, "Why beatest thou thy ass? if she had not turned out of the way giving place to me, I had slain thee, and she should have lived." Then Balaam said to the angel, "I have sinned, not knowing that thou didst stand against me." Behold, Philothea, although Balaam be the cause of the evil, yet he strikes and beats his poor beast, that could not prevent it. It is often the same case with us; for example, a woman sees her husband or child sick, and presently betakes herself to fasting, hair-cloth, and the discipline, as David did on a similar occasion. Alas! my dear friend, you beat the poor beast, you afflict your body; but it cannot remedy the evil, nor is it on that account that God's sword is drawn against
you; correct your heart, which is an idolator of this husband, and which, having tolerated a thousand vices in this child, has destined it to pride, vanity, and ambition. Again, a man perceives himself frequently to relapse in a shameful manner into the sin of impurity; an inward remorse assails his conscience, and his heart returning to itself, he says, "Ah, wicked flesh! ah, treacherous body! thou hast betrayed me;" and immediately he inflicts great blows on his flesh, with immoderate fasting, excessive discipline, and insupportable hair-shirts. O poor soul! if thy flesh could speak, as Balaam's beast did, she would say to thee, "Why, O wretch! dost thou strike me?" It is against thee, O my soul! that God arms his vengeance; it is thou that art the criminal; why dost thou lead me into bad company? why dost thou employ my eyes, my hands, and my lips in wantonness? why dost thou trouble me with impure imaginations? Cherish good thoughts, and I shall have no evil motions; keep company with those that are modest and chaste, and I shall not be provoked to lust. It is thou, alas, that throwest me into the fire, and yet thou wouldst not have me burn; thou castest smoke into my eyes, and yet wouldst not have them inflamed. And God, without doubt, says to you in these cases, Beat, break, rend, and crush your heart to pieces, for it is against it principally that my anger is excited. Although, to remedy our vices, it may be good to mortify the flesh, yet it is still more necessary to purify our affections and refresh our hearts. But let us never undertake corporal austerities without the advice of our spiritual director.
OF CONVERSATION AND SOLITUDE.
TO seek and avoid conversation are two extremes equally blamable in the devotion of those that live in the world, which is that of which we are now treating. To shun all conversations savors of disdain, and contempt of our neighbor; and to be addicted to them is a mark of sloth and idleness. We must love our neighbor as ourselves, and to prove that we love him we must not fly his company; and to testify that we love ourselves we must remain with ourselves when we are alone by ourselves. "Think first of thyself," says St. Bernard, "and then of others." If, then, nothing obliges you to go abroad into company, or to receive company at home, remain with yourself, and entertain yourself with your own heart; but if company visits you, or any just cause invites you into company, go in God's name, Philothea, and see your neighbor with a benevolent heart and a good intention.
We call those conversations evil which are held with an evil intention, or when the company is vicious, indiscreet, and dissolute; and must avoid them as bees shun wasps or hornets. For, as when persons are bitten by mad dogs, their perspiration, their breath, and their very spittle, become infectious, especially for children, and those of a tender complexion; so vicious and dissolute persons cannot be visited without the utmost hazard and danger, especially by those whose devotion is as yet young and tender.
There are some unprofitable conversations held merely to recreate and divert us from our serious occupations, to which we must not be too much addicted, although we may allow them to occupy the leisure destined for recreation. Other conversations have civility for their object, as in the case of mutual visits, and certain assemblies made to do honor to our neighbor. With respect to these, as we ought not to be superstitious in the practice of them, so neither must we be uncivil in contemning them, but modestly comply with our duty in their regard, so that we may equally avoid both ill-breeding and levity.
It remains for us to speak of the profitable conversation of devout and virtuous persons. To converse frequently, Philothea, with such persons will be to you of the utmost benefit. As the vine that is planted amongst olive trees produces oily grapes, which have the taste of olives, so the soul which is often in the company of virtuous people cannot but partake of their qualities. As drones cannot make honey without the assistance of the bees, so it is of great advantage to us in the exercise of devotion to converse with those that are devout.
In all conversations, sincerity, simplicity, meekness, and modesty should be preserved. There are some persons who make no gesture or motion without so much affectation as to trouble the company; and as he who cannot walk without counting his steps, or speak without singing, would be troublesome to the rest of mankind, so they who affect an artificial carriage, and do nothing without affectation, are very disagreeable in conversation, for in such persons there is always some kind of presumption. Let a moderate cheerfulness be ordinarily predominant in our conversation. St. Romuald and St. Anthony are highly commended, that, notwithstanding all their austerities, they had always both their countenance and their discourse adorned with joy, gayety, and courtesy. "Rejoice with them that rejoice." Rom. xii. 13. And again I say to you, with the Apostle, "Rejoice always, but in the Lord. Let your modesty be known to all men." Phil. iv. 4. To rejoice in our Lord, the subject of your joy must not only be lawful, but also decent; and this I say, because there are some things lawful, which yet are not decent; and, that your modesty may be known to all, keep yourself free from insolence, which is always reprehensible. To cause one of the company to fall down, to disfigure another's face, are foolish and insolent merriments.
But, besides that mental solitude to which you may retreat, even amidst the greatest conversation, as I have hitherto observed, P. ii. ch. 12, you ought also to love local and real solitude: not that you should go into the desert, as St. Mary of Egypt, St. Paul, St. Anthony, St. Arsenius, and the other ancient solitaries, did; but that you should remain for some time alone by yourself in your chamber or garden, or in some other place, where you may at leisure withdraw your spirit into your heart, and recreate your soul with pious meditations, holy thoughts, or spiritual reading. St. Gregory Nazianzen, speaking of himself, says, "I walked with myself about sunset, and passed the time upon the sea-shore; for I am accustomed to use this recreation to refresh myself, and to shake off a little my ordinary troubles; and afterwards he relates the pious reflections he made, which I have already mentioned. St. Austin relates, that often going into the chamber of St. Ambrose, who never denied entrance to any one, he found him reading, and that after having remained awhile, for fear of interrupting him, he departed again without speaking a word, thinking that the little time that remained to this great pastor for recreating his spirit, after the hurry of his various affairs, should not be taken from him. And when the apostles one day had told our Lord how they had preached, and how much they had done, he said to them, Mark vi. 13: "Come ye apart into a desert place, and rest a little."
OF DECENCY IN ATTIRE.
ST. PAUL desires that devout women, and the same may be said of men, should be attired in decent apparel, adorning themselves with modesty and sobriety. 1 Tim. ii. 9. The decency and other ornaments of apparel depend on the matter, the form, and the cleanliness of them. As to the cleanliness, it should be almost always entire in our apparel, on which we should not permit any kind of filth to remain. Exterior neatness represents in some degree the cleanliness of the interior; and God himself requires corporal cleanliness in those that approach the altar, and have the principal charge of devotion.
As to the matter, form, and decency of our dress, it should be considered according to the several circumstances of the time, the age, the quality, the company, and the occasions. People are ordinarily better dressed on holidays, and this in proportion to the solemnity of the feast which is celebrated. In times of penance, as in Lent, their ornaments are laid aside. At marriages they put on wedding-garments; at funerals they use mourning; when near the prince they dress themselves in their best attire; which they put off when they are only amongst their own domestics.
The married woman may and ought to adorn herself when she is with her husband, and he desires it; but if she should do so when she is at a distance from him, it will be asked, whose eyes she desires to favor? A greater liberty in point of ornaments is allowed to maidens, because they may lawfully desire to appear agreeable to many, although with no other intention than to gain one by holy marriage. Neither is it blamable in widows, who propose to marry, to adorn themselves, provided they betray no levity; for, having already been mistresses of families, and passed through the griefs of widowhood, they should be considered as being of a more mature and settled mind. But as for those that are widows indeed, not only in body, but in heart also, no other ornament becomes them but humility, modesty, and devotion; for, if they have an inclination to gain the love of men, they are, not widows indeed; and, if they have no such desire, why do they carry about them the instruments of love? Old people are always ridiculous when they wish to be gay; this folly is only supportable in youth.
Be neat, Philothea; let nothing be negligent about you. It is a kind of contempt of those with whom we converse, to frequent their company in uncomely apparel; but, at the same time, avoid all affectation, vanity, curiosity, or levity in your dress. Keep yourself always, as much as possible, on the side of plainness and modesty, which, without doubt, is the greatest ornament of beauty, and the best excuse for the want of it.
St. Peter, 1 Epist. iii. 3, admonishes women in particular not to wear their hair much curled in ringlets and wreaths; but men who are so weak as to amuse themselves about such toys are justly ridiculed for their effeminacy; and even women, who are thus vain, are esteemed to be very weak in their chastity; at least, if they are chaste, it is not to be discovered amidst so many toys and fopperies. They say they mean no evil by these things; but I again repeat that the devil thinks very differently. I would have devout people, whether men or women, the best dressed of the company, but the least pompous and affected; I would have them adorned with gracefulness, decency, and dignity. St Lewis says, in one word, that each one should dress according to his condition; so that the wise and the good may have no reason to complain that you do too much, nor young people to say that you do too little. But, in case young people will not content themselves with what is decent, we must conform to the judgment of the wise.
OF DISCOURSE; AND, FIRST, HOW WE MUST SPEAK OF GOD.
AS physicians discover the health or sickness of a man by looking on his tongue, so our words are true indications of the qualities of our souls. "By thy words," says our Saviour, Matt. xii. 37, "thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." We readily move our hand to the pain that we feel, and the tongue to the love we entertain.
If, then, Philothea, you are in love with God, you will often speak of him, in your familiar discourses with those of your household, your friends, and your neighbors: "For the mouth of the just will meditate on wisdom, and his tongue will speak judgment." Ps. xxxvi. 30. As bees, with their little mouths, touch nothing but honey; so should your tongue be always sweetened with its God, and find no greater pleasure than in the sweet praises and blessings of his name flowing between your lips, like St. Francis, who used to apply his tongue to his lips, after pronouncing the holy name of the Lord, to draw thence the greatest sweetness in the world.
But speak always of God as of God; that is, reverently and devoutly; not with ostentation or affectation, but with a spirit of meekness, charity, and humility, distilling as much as you can, as it is said of the Spouse in the Canticles, Cant. iv. 11, the delicious honey of devotion and of the things of God, imperceptibly, into the ears sometimes of one, and sometimes of another, and pray secretly to God, in your soul, that it would please him to make this holy dew sink deep into the heart of those that hear you.
Above all things, this angelical office must be done meekly and sweetly; not by way of correction, but inspiration; for it is surprising how powerfully a sweet and amiable manner of proposing good things attracts the hearts of the hearers.
Never, therefore, speak of God, or devotion, in a slight or thoughtless manner, but rather with the utmost attention and reverence. I give you this advice, that you may avoid that remarkable vanity which is found in many false devotees, who upon every occasion speak words of piety and godliness by way of entertainment, without ever thinking of what they say, and afterwards falsely imagine themselves to be very devout.
OF MODESTY IN OUR WORDS, AND THE RESPECT WE OWE TO PERSONS.
IF any offend not in words," says St. James, iii. 2, "he is a perfect man." Be careful never to permit an indecent word to escape from your lips; for, although you do not speak it with an ill intention, yet it may be hurtful to those that hear it. An evil word falling into a weak heart spreads itself like a drop of oil falling on linen; nay, it sometimes seizes on the heart in such a manner as to fill it with a thousand unclean thoughts and temptations to lust; for, as the poison of the body enters by the mouth, so the poison of the heart enters by the ear, and the tongue which utters an indecent word is a murderer. For, although perhaps the poison, which it has cast forth, has not produced its effect, because it found the hearts of the hearers guarded by some preservative, yet there wanted no malice in the tongue to occasion their death. Let no man, therefore, tell me that he has no evil intention; for our Lord, the Searcher of hearts, has said, "That out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh." But if we intend no evil on such occasions, yet the enemy, who is of a contrary opinion, secretly uses immodest words to pierce the heart of some one. As they that have eaten the herb angelica have always a sweet and agreeable breath, so they that have honesty and chastity, which is an angelical virtue, in their hearts, have their words always modest and chaste. As for indecent and obscene things the apostle will not have them even named amongst us; assuring us, "that nothing so much corrupteth good manners as wicked discourse."
When immodest words are disguised with affectation and subtility, then they become infinitely more poisonous; for, the more pointed the dart is, the more easily it enters our bodies; so, also, the more pointed an obscene word is, the more deeply does it penetrate the heart; and if they who esteem themselves men of gallantry for speaking such words were convinced that in conversation they should be like a swarm of bees, convened together to collect honey from some sweet and virtuous entertainment, they certainly would not thus imitate a nest of wasps, assembled together to suck corruption. If some impudent person should address you in a lascivious manner, convince him that your ears are offended, either by turning yourself immediately away, or by such other mark of resentment as your discretion may direct.
To become a scoffer is one of the worst qualities of a wit. God, who detests this vice, has heretofore inflicted remarkable punishments on its perpetrators. Nothing is so opposite to charity or devotion as despising and contemning our neighbor. As derision and mockery is never without scoffing, therefore divines consider it is one of the worst offences of which a man can be guilty against his neighbor, by words; for other offences may be committed with some esteem of the party offended, but by this he is treated with scorn and contempt.
As for certain good-humored jesting words, spoken by way of modest and innocent mirth, they belong to the virtue called Eutrapelia by the Greeks, which we may denominate good conversation; and by these we take an honest and friendly recreation from those frivolous occasions with which human imperfections furnish us. We must be careful, however, not to pass from honest mirth to scoffing; for scoffing excites laughter in the way of scorn and contempt of our neighbor; whereas innocent mirth and drollery cause laughter by an unoffending liberty, confidence, and familiar freedom, joined to the sprightly wit of some ingenious conceit. St. Lewis, when the religious offered to speak to him, after dinner, of high and sublime matters, told them: "It is not now a time to allege texts, but to recreate ourselves with some cheerful conceits; let every man say whatever innocent thing comes to his mind;" this he said when any of the nobility were present, to receive marks of kindness from his majesty. But let us remember, Philothea, to pass our time of recreation in such a manner that we may never lose sight of the greatest of all concerns, Eternity.
OF RASH JUDGMENT.
JUDGE not, and you shall not be judged," says the Saviour of our souls; "Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned." St. Luke vi. 37. "Judge not," says the holy apostle, "before the time; until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts." 1 Cor. iv. 5. Oh, how displeasing are rash judgments to God! The judgments of the children of men are rash, because they are not the judges of one another, and therefore usurp to themselves the office of our Lord. They are rash, because the principal malice of sin depends on the intent in the heart, which is an impenetrable secret to us. They are not only rash, but also impertinent, because every one will find sufficient employment in judging himself, without taking upon him to judge his neighbor. To avoid future judgment it is as necessary to refrain from judging others as to be careful to judge ourselves. For, as our Lord forbids the one, so the apostle enjoins the others, saying, that "if we judged ourselves we should not be judged." But we act quite the contrary; for, by judging our neighbor on every occasion, we do that which is forbidden; and, by not judging ourselves, we neglect to practise that which we are strictly commanded.
The remedies against rash judgments must be according to their different causes. There are some hearts naturally so bitter and harsh as to make everything bitter and harsh that they receive, converting judgment, as the prophet Amos says, into wormwood, by never judging their neighbors except with all rigor and harshness. These must seek the advice of a good spiritual physician, because this bitterness of heart, being natural to them, is subdued with difficulty; and though it be not in itself a sin, but an imperfection only, yet it is dangerous, because it introduces and causes rash judgment and detraction to reign in the soul. Some judge rashly, not through harshness, but through pride, imagining, that in the same proportion as they depress the honor of other men, they raise their own. Arrogant and presumptuous spirits, who admire and place themselves so high in their own esteem, look on all others as mean and abject. "I am not like the rest of men," said the foolish Pharisee. Luke xviii. 11. Others, who have not altogether this manifest pride, indulge a certain satisfaction in considering the evil qualities of other men, the more agreeably to contemplate, and make others admire the contrary good qualities wherewith they think themselves endowed; for this complacency is so secret and imperceptible as not to be discovered even by those who are tainted therewith. Others to silence or assuage the remorse of their own consciences, very willingly judge others to be guilty of the same vices to which they themselves are addicted, or of some other vices equally as great; thinking that the multitude of offenders diminishes the guilt of the sin. Many take the liberty of judging others rashly, merely for the pleasure of delivering their opinion and conjectures on their manners and humors, by way of exercising their wit; and if, unhappily, they sometimes happen not to err in their judgment, their rashness increases to so violent an excess as to render it in a manner impossible ever to effect their cure. Others judge through passion and prejudice, always thinking well of what they love, and ill of that which they hate; excepting in one case only, not less wonderful than true, in which the excess of love incites them to pass an ill judgment on that which they love, - a paradoxical effect, which always proceeds from an impure and distempered love; and this is jealousy, which, as every one knows, on account of a mere look, or the least smile, condemns the person beloved of disloyalty or adultery. In fine, fear, ambition, and other similar weaknesses of the mind, frequently contribute towards the breeding of suspicious and rash judgments.
But what is remedy? As they who drink the juice of the herb of Æthiopia, called ophiusa, imagine that they everywhere behold serpents and other frightful objects; so they who have imbibed pride, envy, ambition, and hatred, think everything they see evil and blamable. The former, to be healed, must drink palm wine; and I say to the latter, drink copiously of the sacred wine of charity, and it will deliver you from those noxious humors that engender rash judgment. As charity is afraid to meet evil, so she never seeks after it; but whenever it falls in her way she turns her face aside, and does not notice it. At the first alarm of evil she closes her eyes, and afterwards believes, with an honest simplicity, that it was not evil, but only its shadow or apparition; and if she cannot avoid sometimes acknowledging it to be real evil she quickly turns from it, and endeavors to forget even its shadow. Charity is the sovereign remedy for all evils, but for this especially. All things appear yellow to the eyes of those who are afflicted with the jaundice; and it is said, that to cure this evil they must wear celandine under the soles of their feet. The sin of rash judgment is indeed a spiritual jaundice, and causes all things to appear evil to the eyes of those who are infected; he that would be cured must not apply the remedies to his eyes, or his understanding; but to his affections, which are the feet of the soul. If your affections are mild, your judgment will also be mild; if your affections are charitable, your judgment will also be charitable. I shall here present you with three admirable examples: Isaac had said that Rebecca was his sister; Abimelech saw him playing with her, that is to say, caressing her in a tender manner, Gen. xxvi. 8, and presently he thought she was his wife. A malicious eye would rather have judged her to have been his harlot, or, if she were his sister, that he had been incestuous; but Abimelech embraced the most charitable opinion he could concerning such an action. We must always do the same, Philothea, judging as much as possible in favor of our neighbors; and, if one action could bear a hundred faces, we should always consider that which is the fairest.
Our blessed Lady was with child, Matt. i. 9, and St. Joseph plainly perceived it; but, on the other hand, as he saw her holy, pure, and angelical, he could not believe she became pregnant in an unlawful manner; so that he resolved to leave her privately, and commit the judgment of her case to God; and though the argument was well calculated to make him conceive an ill opinion of his virgin spouse, yet he would never judge her; and why? Because, says the spirit of God," he was a just man." A just man, when he can no longer excuse either the action, or the intention, of him whom otherwise he sees to be virtuous, nevertheless will not judge him, but endeavors to forget it, and leaves the judgment to God. Thus, our blessed Saviour on the cross, Luke xxiii. 24, not being able to excuse entirely the sin of those that crucified him, extenuated the malice of it by alleging their ignorance. When we cannot excuse the sin let us at least render it worthy of compassion, attributing it to the most favorable cause, such as ignorance or infirmity.
But can we never judge our neighbor? No, verily, never. It is God, O Philothea! that judges malefactors in public justice. It is true that he uses the voice of judges to make himself intelligible to our ears; they are his interpreters, and ought to pronounce nothing but what they have learnt of him, as being his oracles; if they act otherwise, by following their own passions, then, indeed, it is they that judge, and who consequently shall be judged; for it is forbidden to men, in quality of men, to judge others.
To see or know a thing is not to judge it; for judgment, at least according to Scripture, presupposes some difficulty, great or small, true or apparent, which is to be decided; wherefore it says, John iii. 18, that "He who believeth not is already judged," because there is no doubt of his damnation. Is it not, then, a sin to doubt of our neighbor? No, for we are not forbidden to doubt, but to judge; however, it is only allowable to doubt or suspect as far as reason and arguments may constrain us, otherwise our doubts and suspicions will be rash.
If some evil eye had seen Jacob when he kissed Rachel by the well, or had seen Rebecca receive bracelets and ear-rings from Eliezer, a man unknown in that country, he would no doubt have thought ill of these two patrons of chastity; but without reason or foundation: for, when an action is in itself indifferent, it is a rash suspicion to draw an ill consequence from it, unless many circumstances give strength to the argument. It is also a rash judgment to draw an argument from an action, in order to blame the person; but this I shall hereafter explain more clearly.
In fine, those who have tender consciences are not very subject to rash judgment; for, as the bees in misty or cloudy weather keep in their hives to arrange their honey; so the thoughts of good souls do not venture in search of objects that lie concealed amidst the cloudy actions of their neighbors; but, to avoid meeting them, they retire into their own hearts, to arrange the good resolutions of their own amendments.
It is natural to an unprofitable soul to amuse itself with examining the lives of other persons: I except spiritual directors, fathers of families, magistrates, etc., because a considerable part of their duty consists in watching over the conduct of others; let them discharge their duty with love, and, having done this, they must then attend to their own advancement in virtue.
RASH judgment engenders uneasiness, contempt of our neighbor, pride, self-complacency, and many other most pernicious effects; among which detraction, the bane of conversation, holds the first place. Oh that I possessed one of the burning coals of the holy altar to touch the lips of men, so that their iniquities might be taken away, and their sin cleansed, in imitation of the seraphim that purified the mouth of the prophet Isaias! Isai. vi. He that would deliver the world from detraction would free it from a great number of sins.
Whoever robs his neighbor of his good name is not only guilty of sin, but is also bound to make reparation; for no man can enter into heaven with the goods of another; and, amongst all exterior goods, a good name is the best. Detraction is a kind of murder; for we have three lives, viz., the spiritual, which consists in the grace of God; the corporal, which depends on the soul; and the civil, which consists in our good name: sin deprives us of the first, death takes away the second, and detraction robs us of the third. But the detractor by one blow of his tongue commits three murders; he kills not only his own soul, and the soul of him that hears him, but also, by a spiritual murder, takes away the civil life of the person detracted; for, as St. Bernard says, both he that detracts and he that hearkens to the detractor have the devil about them; the one in his tongue, and the other in his ear. David, speaking of detractors, says, "They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent." Ps. cxxxix. Now, as the serpent's tongue, according to Aristotle, is forked, and has two points, so is that of the detractor, who at one stroke stings and poisons the ear of the hearer, and the reputation of him against whom he is speaking.
I earnestly conjure you, then, dear Philothea, never to detract any one, either directly or indirectly; beware of falsely imputing crimes and sins to your neighbor; of discovering his secret sins, or of aggravating those that are manifest; or of making an evil interpretation of his good works; or of denying the good which you know that he possesses, or dissembling it maliciously, or diminishing it by words; for in all these ways you will highly offend God, but, most of all, by false accusations, and denying the truth to the prejudice of a third person; for it is a double sin to calumniate and injure your neighbor at the same time.
They who preface detraction by protestations of friendship and regard for the person detracted, or who make apologies in his favor, are the most subtle and venomous of all detractors. "I protest," say they, "I love him; in every other respect he is a worthy man; but yet the truth must be told, he was wrong to commit so treacherous an action. She was very virtuous, but, alas! she was surprised," etc. Do you not perceive the artifice? As the dexterous archer draws the arrow as near as possible to himself, that he may shoot the dart away with greater force, so, when these detractors seem to draw the detraction towards themselves, it is only with view to shoot it away with more violence, that it may pierce more deeply into the hearts of their hearers. But the detraction which is uttered by way of a witty jest is still more cruel than all the rest. For, as hemlock is not of itself a very quick, but rather a slow, poison, which may be easily remedied, yet being taken with wine is incurable; so detraction, which of itself might pass lightly in at one ear, and out at the other, remains in the minds of the hearers, when it is couched under some subtle and merry jest. "The venom of asps," says David, "is under their lips." The bite of the asp is almost imperceptible, and its venom at first produced a delightful itching, by means of which the heart and the bowels are expanded, and receive the poison; against which there is afterwards no remedy.
Say not such a one is a drunkard, because you have seen him drunk; nor that he is an adulterer, because he has been surprised in that sin; nor that he is incestuous, because he has been guilty of that abominable action; for one act alone is not sufficient to constitute a vice. The sun stood still once in favor of the victory of Josue, and was darkened another time in favor of that of our Saviour; yet none will say that the sun is either immovable or dark. Noah was once drunk, and Lot another time, and this latter also committed a great incest; yet neither the one nor the other was a drunkard, nor was the latter an incestuous man. St. Peter had not a sanguinary disposition, because he once shed blood, nor was he a blasphemer, though he once blasphemed. To acquire the name of a vice or a virtue the action must be habitual; one must have made some progress in it. It is, then, an injustice to say that such a man is passionate, or a thief, because we have seen him once in a passion, or guilty of stealing. Although a man may have been a long time vicious, yet we are in danger of accusing him falsely if we call him vicious. Simon, the leper, called Magdalen a sinner, because she had been so not long before; yet he accused her falsely, for she was then no longer a sinner, but a most holy penitent; and therefore our Saviour took her cause under his protection. The proud pharisee considered the humble publican as a great sinner, or even perhaps an unjust man, an adulterer, an extortioner; but was greatly deceived, for at that very time he was justified. Alas! since the goodness of God is so immense, that one moment suffices to obtain and receive his grace, what assurance can we have that he who was yesterday a sinner is not a saint to-day? The day that is past ought not to judge the day present, or the present day judge that which is past; it is only the last day that judges all. We can, then, never say a man is wicked without exposing ourselves to the danger of lying; all that we can say, if we must speak, is, that he did such bad actions, or lived ill at such a time; that he does ill at present; but we must never draw consequences from yesterday to this day, nor from this day to yesterday, much less to to-morrow.
Now, though we must be extremely cautious of speaking ill of our neighbor, yet we must avoid the contrary extreme, into which some fall, who, to avoid the sin of detraction, commend and speak well of vice. If a person be, indeed, a detractor, say not, in his excuse, he is a frank and free speaker; if a person be notoriously vain, say not that he is genteel and elegant; never call dangerous familiarities by the name of simplicity and innocence; nor disobedience by the name of zeal; nor arrogance by the name of freedom; nor lasciviousness by the name of friendship. No, dear Philothea, we must not, in order to avoid the vice of detraction, favor, flatter, or cherish vice; but we must openly and freely speak of evil, and blame that which is blamable; for in doing this we glorify God, provided we observe the following conditions: -
To speak commendably against the vices of another it is necessary that we should have in view the profit either of the person spoken of, or of those to whom we speak. For instance, when the indiscreet or dangerous familiarities of such or such persons are related in the company of young maids; or the liberties taken by this or that person, in their words or gestures, are plainly lascivious: if I do not freely blame the evil, but rather excuse it, these tender souls, who hear of it, will perhaps take occasion to allow themselves some such like liberties. Their advantage, then, requires that I should freely reprehend these liberties upon the spot, unless I could reserve this good office to be done better, and with less prejudice to the persons spoken of, on some other occasion.
It is, moreover, requisite that it should be my duty to speak on this occasion, as when I am one of the chief of the company; for, if I should keep silence, I would seem to approve of the vice; but if I be one of the least, I must not take upon me to pass my censure. But, above all, it is necessary that I should be so cautious in my remarks as not to say a single word too much. For example, if I blame the familiarity of this young man, and that young maid, because it is apparently indiscreet and dangerous, good God! Philothea, I must hold the balance so even as not to make the matter a single grain heavier. Should there be but a slight appearance, I will call it no more; if a mere indiscretion, I would give it no worse name; should there be neither indiscretion, nor real appearance of evil, but only a probability that some malicious spirit may take from thence a pretext to speak ill, I will either say nothing at all, or say this only, and no more. My tongue, whilst I am speaking of my neighbor, shall be in my mouth like a knife in the hand of a surgeon, who would cut between the sinews and the tendons. The blow I shall give shall be neither more nor less than the truth. In fine, it must be our principal care in blaming any vice to spare, as much as possible, the person in whom it is found.
It is true, we may speak freely of infamous public and notorious sinners, provided it be in the spirit of charity and compassion, and not with arrogance and presumption, nor with complacency in the evils of others, which is always the part of a mean and abject heart. Amongst these, however, the declared enemies of God and his Church, such as the ringleaders of heretics and schismatics, must be excepted, since it is charity to cry out against the wolf, wherever he is, more especially when he is among the sheep.
Every one takes the liberty to censure princes and to speak ill of whole nations, according to the different affections they bear them. Philothea, avoid this fault; for, besides the offence against God, it may bring you into a thousand quarrels.
When you hear any one spoken ill of, make the accusation doubtful, if you can do it justly; if you cannot, excuse the intention of the party accused: if that cannot be done, express a compassion for him, change the topic of conversation, remembering yourself, and putting the company in mind, that they who do not fall owe their happiness to God alone; recall the detractor to himself with meekness, and declare some good action of the party offended, if you know any.
OTHER ADVICES WITH RESPECT TO CONVERSATION.
LET your language be meek, open, and sincere, without the least mixture of equivocations, artifice, or dissimulation; for although it may not be always advisable to say all that is true, yet it is never allowable to speak against the truth. Accustom yourself, therefore, never to tell a deliberate lie, either by way of excuse or otherwise; remembering always that God is the God of truth. Should you tell a lie inadvertently, fail not to correct it upon the spot by some explanation or reparation; an honest excuse has always more grace and force to bear one harmless than a lie.
Though one may sometimes prudently disguise the truth by some equivocation, yet it must never he done but when the glory and service of God manifestly require it; in any other case, such artifices are dangerous. The Holy Spirit dwells not in a deceitful soul. (Wisd. i.) No artifice is so good and desirable as plain-dealing: worldly prudence and artifice belong to the children of the world; but the children of God walk uprightly,
and their heart is without guile. "He that walketh sincerely," says the wise man, Prov. x. 9, "walketh confidently." Lying, double-dealing, and dissimulation, are always signs of a weak and mean spirit. St. Austin had said, in the fourth book of his Confessions, that his soul and that of his friend were but one soul; and that he had a horror for his life after the death of his friend, because he was not willing to live by halves; and yet that for the same reason he was unwilling to die, lest his friend should die wholly. These words seemed to him afterwards so artful and affected, that he recalled them, and censured them in his book of Retractations. Observe, Philothea, the exactness of this holy soul with respect to the least artifice in his words. Fidelity, plainness, and sincerity of speech are the greatest ornaments of a Christian life: "I will take heed," says holy David, "to my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue. Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth, and a door round about my lips." It was the advice of St. Lewis, in order to avoid contention, not to contradict any one in discourse, unless it were either sinful, or very prejudicial to acquiesce to him. But should it be necessary to contradict any one, or oppose our own opinion to his, we must do it with much mildness and dexterity, so as not to irritate his temper; for nothing is ever gained by harshness and violence.
To speak little, a practice so much recommended by all wise men, does not consist in uttering few words, but in uttering none that are unprofitable; for in point of speaking one is not to regard the quantity so much as the quality of the words; but in my opinion we ought to avoid both extremes. For to be too reserved, and refuse to join in conversation, looks like disdain, or a want of confidence; and, on the other hand, to be always talking, so as to afford neither leisure nor opportunity to others to speak when they wish, is a mark of shallowness and levity.
St. Lewis condemned whispering in company, and particularly
at table, lest it should give others occasion to suspect that some evil was
spoken of them. "He that is at table," said he, "in good company, and has
something to say that is merry and pleasant, should mention it so that all the
company may hear him; but if it be a thing of importance, let him reserve it for
a more suitable occasion."
OF PASTIMES AND RECREATIONS; AND, FIRST, OF SUCH AS ARE LAWFUL AND COMMENDABLE.
IT is necessary sometimes to relax our minds, as well as our bodies, by some kind of recreation. St. John the Evangelist, as Cassian relates, amusing himself one day with a partridge on his hand, was asked by a huntsman, how such a man as he could spend his time in so unprofitable a manner? To whom St. John replied: "Why dost thou not carry thy bow always bent?" - "Because," answered the huntsman, "were it always bent, I fear it would lose its spring and become useless." - "Be not surprised, then," replied the apostle, "that I should sometimes remit a little of my close application and attention of mind to enjoy some little recreation, that I may afterwards employ myself more fervently in divine contemplation." It is doubtless a defect to be so rigorous and austere as neither to be willing to take any recreation ourselves, nor allow it to others.
To take the air, to walk, to entertain ourselves with cheerful and friendly conversations, to play on the lute or any other instrument, to sing to music, or go hunting, are recreations so innocent, that, in a proper use of them, there needs but that common prudence which gives to everything its due order, time, place, and measure.
Those games in which the gain serves as a recompense for the
dexterity and industry of the body or of the mind, such as tennis ball,
pall-mall, running at the ring, chess, and backgammon, are recreations in
themselves good and lawful; provided excess, either in the time employed in
them, or in the sum that is played for, be avoided; because, if too much time be
spent in them, they are no longer an amusement, but an occupation, in which
neither the mind nor the body is refreshed, but on the contrary stupefied and
oppressed. After playing five or six hours at chess, the spirits are altogether
fatigued and exhausted. To play long at tennis is not to recreate, but fatigue,
the body; and if the sum played for be too great, the affections of the players
become irregular; besides, it’s unjust to hazard so much upon skill of so little
importance as that which is exercised at play. But, above all, Philothea, take
particular care not to set your affections upon these amusements; for how
innocent soever any recreation may be, when we set our hearts upon it, it
becomes vicious. I do not say that you must take no pleasure whilst at play, for
then it would be no recreation; but I say you must not fix your affection on it,
nor spend too much time in it, nor be too eager after it.
OF PROHIBITED GAMES.
THE games of dice, cards, and the like, in which the gain depends principally on hazard, are not only dangerous recreations, as dancing, but are, of their own nature, bad and reprehensible; hence they have been forbidden by the laws, as well ecclesiastical as civil. You will say, perhaps, what great harm can there be in them? The evil consists in this, that the gain is not acquired at these games according to reason, but chance, which often falls upon him whose ability or industry deserves nothing; and such a proceeding is repugnant to reason. But you will say, it is according to the agreement of the parties. That serves indeed to show that the winner does no wrong to the loser, but it justifies neither the agreement nor the game; for the gain, which ought to be the recompense of industry, is made the reward of chance, which deserves no reward whatever, since it depends not at all upon us. Besides, although these games bear the name of recreations, yet they are by no means recreations, but tiresome occupations, for is it not tiresome to keep the mind incessantly occupied by an unremitted attention, and provoked by perpetual apprehensions and solicitudes? Can there be any attention more painful, gloomy, or melancholy, than that of gamesters? You must neither speak, laugh, nor cough, whilst they are at play, for fear of giving offence. In fact, there is no joy at play but when you win; and is not that joy iniquitous which cannot be felt but by the loss or displeasure of a friend or companion? Surely such satisfaction is infamous. For these three reasons this kind of gaming is prohibited.
St. Lewis, hearing that his brother, the Count of Anjou, and
Monsieur Gautier de Nemours, were gaming, arose from his bed, to which he was
confined by sickness, went staggering to their chamber, and taking the tables,
the dice, and part of the money, threw them out of the window into the sea. The
holy and chaste damsel, Sara, speaking in prayer to God, brings this argument of
her innocency: "Thou knowest, O Lord, that I have never joined myself with them
that play." Tob. iii.
OF BALLS, AND PASTIMES WHICH ARE LAWFUL, BUT DANGEROUS.
ALTHOUGH balls and dancing be recreations of their own nature indifferent, yet, on account of the manner in which they are generally conducted, they preponderate very much on the side of evil, and are consequently extremely dangerous. Being generally carried on in the darkness and obscurity of night, it is by no means surprising that several vicious circumstances should obtain easy admittance, since the subject is of itself so susceptible of evil. The votaries of these amusements, by sitting up late at night, disable themselves from discharging their duty to God on the following morning. Is it not, then, a kind of madness to exchange the day for the night, light for darkness, and good works for criminal fooleries? Every one strives who shall carry the most vanity to the ball; and vanity is so congenial, as well to evil affections, as to dangerous familiarities, that both are easily engendered by dancing.
I have the same opinion of dances, Philothea, that physicians have of mushrooms: as the best of them, in their opinion, are good for nothing, so I tell you the best balls are good for nothing. If, nevertheless, you must eat mushrooms, be sure that they are well dressed. If upon some occasion, which you cannot well avoid, you must go to a ball, see that your dancing be properly conducted. But you will ask me how must it be conducted? I answer, with modesty, gravity, and a good intention. Eat but sparingly, and seldom of mushrooms, say the physicians, for, how well soever they may be dressed, the quantity makes them poisonous; dance but little, and very seldom, I say, Philothea, lest otherwise you put yourself in danger of contracting an affection for it.
Mushrooms, according to Pliny, being spongy and porous, easily attract infection to themselves from the things which surround them; so that being near serpents and toads, they imbibe their poison. Balls, dancing, and other nocturnal meetings, ordinarily attract the reigning vices and sins together, such as quarrels, envy, scoffing, and wanton love; and as these exercises open the pores of the bodies of those that use them, so they also open the pores of their heart, and expose them to the danger of some serpent, seizing the favorable opportunity to breathe some loose words or lascivious suggestions into the ear, or of some basilisk casting an impure look, or wanton glance of love into the heart, which, being thus opened, is easily seized upon and poisoned. O Philothea! these idle recreations are ordinarily very dangerous; they extinguish the spirit of devotion, and leave the soul in a languishing condition; they cool the fervor of charity, and excite a thousand evil affections in the soul; and therefore they are not to be used but with the greatest caution.
But physicians say, that after mushrooms we must drink good wine; and I say, that after dancing it is necessary to refresh our souls with some good and holy considerations, to prevent the baneful effects of those dangerous impressions which the vain pleasure taken in dancing may have left in our minds. But what considerations?
1. Consider that, during the time you were at the ball,
innumerable souls were burning in the flames of hell, for the sins which they
had committed or occasioned by their dancing. 2. That many religious and devout
persons of both sexes were at the very time in the presence of God, singing his
praises, and contemplating his beauty. Ah! how much more profitably was their
time employed than yours! 3. That, whilst you were dancing, many souls departed
out of this world in great anguish, and that thousands of men and women were
then suffering dreadful pains in their beds, in hospitals, in the streets, by
painful distempers, or burning fevers. Alas! they had no rest, and will you have
no compassion for them? And do you not think that you shall one day groan, as
they did, whilst others shall dance as you did? 4. That our blessed Saviour, his
virgin Mother, the angels and saints, beheld you at the ball. Ah! how greatly
did they pity you, seeing your heart pleased with so vain an amusement, and
taken up with such childish toys! 5. Alas! whilst you were there time was
passing away, and Death was approaching nearer; behold how he mocks you, and
invites you to his dance, in which the sighs of your friends shall serve for the
music, and where you shall make but one step from this life to the next. The
dance of death is, alas! the true pastime of mortals, since by it we instantly
pass from the vain amusements of this world to the eternal pains or pleasures of
the next. I have set you down these little considerations: God will suggest to
you many more of a similar nature, provided you fear him.
AT WHAT TIME YOU MAY PLAY OR DANCE.
IN order that playing and dancing may be lawful we must use them as a recreation, without having any affection for them; we may use them for a short time, but we should not continue till we are wearied or stupefied with them; and we must use them but seldom, lest we should otherwise turn a recreation into an occupation. But on what occasions may we lawfully play and dance? Just occasions of innocent games are frequent, whilst those of hazard are rare, on account of their being more blamable and dangerous: wherefore, in one word, dance and play as your own prudence and discretion may direct you, to comply with the civil request of the company in which you are engaged: for condescension is a branch of charity which makes indifferent things good, and dangerous things allowable; it even takes away the harm from those things that are in some measure evil; and therefore games of hazard, which otherwise would be reprehensible, are not so if we use them sometimes through a just condescension.
I was very much pleased to read, in the life of St. Charles
Borromeo, how he condescended to the Swiss in certain things, in which otherwise
he was very strict; and that St. Ignatius, of Loyola, being invited to play, did
not refuse. As to St. Elizabeth, of Hungary, she played and danced sometimes,
when she was present at assemblies of recreation, without any prejudice to her
devotion; for devotion was so deeply rooted in her soul, that as the rocks about
the lake of Rietta grow larger by the beating of the waves, so her devotion
increased among the pomps and vanities to which her condition exposed her. Great
fires increase by the wind; but little ones are soon blown out, if we carry them
THAT WE MUST BE FAITHFUL, BOTH ON GREAT AND SMALL OCCASIONS.
THE sacred Spouse in the canticle says, that his Spouse has wounded "his heart with one of her eyes, and with one hair of her neck." Now, among all the exterior parts of the human body, none is more noble, either for its construction or activity, than the eye, and none more inconsiderable than the hair. Wherefore the divine Spouse would give us to understand, that he is pleased to accept not only the great works of devout persons, but, also the least and most trivial; and that, to serve him as he desires, we must take care to serve him well, not only in great and important things, but in those that are small and unimportant; since we may equally by the one and the other wound his heart with love.
Prepare yourself, then, Philothea, to suffer many great afflictions, even martyrdom itself, for our Lord; resolve to surrender to him whatever is most dear to you, when it shall please him to take it; father, mother, husband, wife, brother, sister, children; yea, even your eyes, or your life; for to all these sacrifices you ought to prepare your heart. But as long as divine Providence sends you not afflictions so sensible or so great, since he requires not your eyes, give him at least your hair. I mean, suffer meekly those small injuries, trifling inconveniences, and inconsiderable losses, which daily befall you; for by means of such little circumstances as these, managed with love and affection, you will engage his heart entirely, and make it all your own. These little daily charities; this headache, or toothache; this cold; this perverse humor of a husband or wife; this breaking of a glass; this contempt of scorn; this loss of a pair of gloves, of a ring, or a hand kerchief; those little inconveniences which we suffer by retiring to rest at an early hour, and rising early to pray or communicate; that little bashfulness we have in performing certain acts of devotion in public; in short, all these trivial sufferings, being accepted, and embraced with love, are highly pleasing to the divine goodness, who for a cup of cold water only has promised an eternal reward to his faithful servants. Wherefore, as these occasions present themselves every moment, to employ them to advantage will be a great means to heap up a store of spiritual riches.
When I saw in the life of St. Catharine, of Sienna, her many raptures and elevations of spirit, so many words of wisdom, nay, even profound instructions uttered by her, I doubted not but that, with the eye of contemplation, she had ravished the heart of her heavenly Spouse. But I was no less comforted when I found her in her father's kitchen, humbly turning the spit, kindling the fire, dressing the meat, kneading the bread, and performing the meanest offices of the house, with a courage full of love and affection towards her God; for I esteem no less the little and humble meditations she made in the midst of these mean and abject employments than the ecstasies and raptures she so often enjoyed, which were perhaps granted to her only in recompense of her humility and abjection. Her manner of meditating was as follows: whilst she was dressing the meat for her father she imagined that, like another St. Martha, she was preparing it for our Saviour, and that her mother held the place of the blessed Virgin, and her brothers that of the apostles; exciting herself in this manner to serve the whole court of heaven in spirit, whilst she employed herself with great delight in these humble services, because she knew that such was the will of God. I have adduced this example, Philothea, that you may know of what importance it is to direct all your actions, how inconsiderable soever they may be, with a pure intention, to the service of his divine Majesty.
Wherefore I earnestly advise you to imitate the valiant woman whom the great Solomon so highly commends; "she hath put out her hands," he says, "to strong things"; that is, to high, generous, and important things, and yet disdained not to "take hold of the spindle." Prov. xxxi. Put out your hand to strong things, exercise yourself in prayer and meditation, in frequenting the sacraments, in exciting souls to the love of God, and infusing good inspirations into their hearts, and, in a word, in the performance of great and important works, according to your vocation; but never forget your distaff or spindle; or, in other words, take care to practise these low and humble virtues, which grow like flowers at the foot of the cross; such as serving the poor, visiting the sick, taking care of your family, and attending to all your domestic concerns, with that profitable diligence which will not suffer you to be idle; and, amidst all these occupations, mingle considerations similar to those I have related above of St. Catharine.
Great occasions of serving God present themselves seldom; but
little ones, frequently. "Now he that shall be faithful in small matters," says
our Saviour, "shall be set over great things." Perform all things, then, in the
name of God, and you will do all things well; whether you eat, drink, sleep,
recreate yourself, or turn the spit, provided you know how to refer all your
actions to God, you will profit much in the sight of his divine Majesty.
THAT WE MUST KEEP OUR MIND JUST AND REASONABLE.
IT is reason alone that makes us men, and yet it is a rare thing to find men truly reasonable; because self-love ordinarily puts us out of the paths of reason, leading us insensibly to a thousand small, yet dangerous, injustices and partialities; which, like the little foxes spoken of in the Canticles, destroy the vines; for, because they are little, we take no notice of them; but, being great in number, they fail not to injure us considerably.
Are not the things of which I am about to speak unjust and unreasonable? We condemn every trifle in our neighbors, and excuse ourselves in things of importance; we want to sell very dearly and to buy very cheaply; we desire that justice should be executed in another man's house, but mercy and connivance in our own; we would have everything we say taken in good part, but we are delicate and touchy with regard to what others say of us; we would insist on our neighbor parting with his goods, and taking our money; but is it not more reasonable that he should keep his goods, ,and leave us our money? We take it ill that he will not accommodate us; but has he not more reason to be offended that we should desire to incommode him?
If we love one particular exercise we despise all others, and set ourselves against everything that is not according to our own taste. If there be any of our inferiors who is not agreeable, or to whom we have taken once a dislike, we find fault with all that he does, and we cease not on every occasion to mortify him. On the contrary, if the conduct of any one be agreeable to us, he can do nothing that we are not willing to excuse. There are some virtuous children, whom their parents can scarcely abide to see, on account of some bodily imperfections; and there are others that are vicious, who are favorites, on account of some corporal gracefulness. On all occasions we prefer the rich before the poor, although they be neither of better condition, nor more virtuous; we even prefer those who are best clad. We rigorously exact our own dues, but we desire that others should be gentle in demanding theirs; we keep our own rank with precision, but would have others humble and condescending; we complain easily of our neighbor, but none must complain of us; what we do for others seems always very considerable, but what others do for us seems as nothing. In a word, we are like the partridges in Paphlagonia, which have two hearts; for we have one heart, mild, favorable, and courteous towards ourselves, and another hard, severe, and rigorous towards our neighbor. We have two balances; one to weigh out to our own advantage, and the other to weigh in to the detriment of our neighbor. "Deceitful lips," says the Scripture, Ps. xi. 3, "have spoken with a double heart," viz., two hearts; and to have two weights, the one greater, with which we receive, and the other less, with which we deliver out, is an abominable thing in. the sight of God. Deut. xxv. 13.
Philothea, in order to perform all your actions with equity and justice, you must exchange situations with your neighbor; imagine yourself the seller whilst you are buying, and the buyer whilst you are selling; and thus you will sell and buy according to justice and equity; for, although small injustices, which exceed not the limits of rigor, in selling to our advantage, may not oblige to restitution; yet being defects contrary to reason and charity, we are certainly obliged to correct and amend them; at best, they are nothing but mere illusions; for, believe me, a man of a generous, just, and courteous disposition is never on the losing side. Neglect not, then, Philothea, frequently to examine whether your heart be such with respect to your neighbor as you would desire his to be with respect to you, were you in his situation; for this is the touchstone of true reason. Trajan, being blamed by his confidants for making the imperial majesty, as they thought, too accessible, said, "Ought I not to be such an emperor towards private men as I would desire an emperor to be towards me were I myself a private man?"
EVERY one knows that we are obliged to refrain from the desire of vicious things, since even the desire of evil is of itself criminal; but I tell you, moreover, Philothea, you must not be anxious after balls, plays, or the like diversions, nor covet honors and offices, nor even visions and ecstasies; for there is a great deal of danger, deceit, and vanity in such things. Desire not that which is at a great distance, nor that which cannot happen for a long time, as many do, who, by this means, weary and distract their hearts unprofitably. If a young man earnestly desires to be settled in some office, before the proper time, what does all his anxiety avail him? If a married woman desires to be a nun, to what purpose? If I desire to buy my neighbor's goods before he is willing to sell them, is it not a loss of time to entertain this desire? If, whilst I am sick, I desire to preach, to celebrate mass, to visit others that are sick, and perform the exercises of those who are in health, are not all these desires in vain, since it is out of my power to put them in execution? Yet in the meantime these unprofitable desires occupy the place of the virtues of patience, resignation, mortification, obedience, and meekness under sufferings, which is what God wishes me to practise at that time; but we are often in the condition of those who long for cherries in autumn, and grapes in the spring.
I can by no means approve that persons should desire to amuse themselves in any other kind of life than that in which they are already engaged; nor in any exercises that are incompatible with their present condition; for this dissipates the heart, and makes it unfit for its necessary occupations. If I desire to practise the solitude of a Carthusian, I lose my time; and this desire occupies the place of that which I ought to have to employ myself well in my actual state. No, I would not that any one should even desire to have more talents or judgment than he is already possessed of; for these desires are not only useless, but moreover occupy the place of those which every one ought to have, of cultivating the genius he inherits from nature; nor should any one desire those means to serve God which he has not, but rather diligently employ those which he has. Now, this is to be understood only of desires which totally occupy the heart; for, as to simple wishes, if they be not too frequent, they do no harm whatever.
Desire not crosses but in proportion to the patience with which you have supported those which have been already sent you; for it is presumptuous to desire martyrdom, and not have the courage to bear an injury. The enemy often suggests a great desire of things that are absent, and which shall never occur, so that he may divert our mind from present objects, from which, however trivial they may be, we might obtain considerable profit to ourselves. We fight with the monsters of Africa, in imagination; and, in the meantime, for want of attention, we suffer ourselves to be killed by every insignificant reptile that lies in our way. Desire not temptations, for that would be rashness; but accustom your heart to expect them courageously, and to defend yourself against them when they shall come.
A variety of food, taken in any considerable quantity, overloads the stomach, and, if it be weak, destroys it; overcharge not then, your soul, either with a multitude of worldly desires, which may end in your ruin; or even with such as are spiritual, as they are apt to produce distractions. When the purified soul finds herself freed from bad humors she feels a craving after spiritual things; and, as one famished, she longs after a variety of exercises of piety, mortification, penance, humility, charity, and prayer. Philothea, it is a sign of good health to have a keen appetite; but you must consider whether you can well digest all that you wish to eat. Amongst so many desires, choose, then, by the advice of your spiritual father, such as you can execute at present, and turn them to the best advantage afterwards; God will send you others, which you may also practise in their proper season; and thus you will never lose your time in unprofitable desires, but bring them all forth in good order; but as to those which cannot be immediately executed, they should be reserved in some corner of the heart, till their time come. This advice I not only give to spiritual persons, but also to those of the world; for, without attending to it, we could not live without anxiety and confusion.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR MARRIED PERSONS.
MATRIMONY is a great Sacrament, but I speak in Christ, and in the Church," Eph. v. 32. It is honorable to all persons, in all persons, and in all things, that is, in all its parts. To all persons, because even virgins ought to honor it with humility; in all persons, because it is equally holy in the rich and poor; in all things, because its origin, its end, its advantages, its form, and its matter are all holy. It is the nursery of Christianity, which supplies the earth with faithful souls, to complete the number of the elect in heaven; in a word, the preservation of marriage is of the highest importance to the commonwealth, for it is the origin and source of all its streams.
Would to God that his most beloved Son were invited to all marriages, as he was to that of Cana; then the wine of consolations and benedictions would never be wanting; for the reason why there is commonly a scarcity of it at the beginning is, because Adonis is invited instead of Jesus Christ, and Venus instead of his blessed Mother. He that would have his lambs fair and spotted as Jacob's were, must, like him, set fair rods of divers colors before the sheep when they meet to couple; and he that would have a happy success in marriage ought in his espousals to represent to himself the sanctity and dignity of this sacrament. But, alas! instead of this there are a thousand disorders committed in diversions, feasting, and immodest discourse; it is not surprising, then, that the success of marriages should not correspond. Above all things, I exhort married people to that mutual love which the Holy Ghost so much recommends in the Scripture. O you that are married! I tell you not to love each other with a natural love, for it is thus that the turtles love; nor do I say, love one another with a human love, for the heathens do this; but I say to you, after the great Apostle, "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church." Eph. v. And you, wives, love your husbands, as the Church loveth her Saviour. It was God that brought Eve to our first father, Adam, and gave her him in marriage; it is also God, O my friends! who, with his invisible hand, has tied the knot of the holy bond of your marriage, and given you to one another; why do you not, then, cherish each other with a holy, sacred, and divine love?
The first effect of this love is an indissoluble union of your hearts. Two pieces of fir glued together, if the glue be good, cleave so fast to each other that they can be more easily broken in any other place than that in which they were, joined. But God joins the husband to the wife with his own blood; for which cause this union is so strong that the soul must sooner separate from the body of the one or the other, than the husband from the wife. Now, this union is not understood principally of the body, but of the heart, of the affection, and of the love.
The second effect of this love ought to be the inviolable fidelity of one party to the other. Seals were anciently graven upon rings worn on the fingers, as the holy Scripture itself testifies. Behold, then, the mystery of this ceremony in marriage. The Church, which by the hand of the priest blesses a ring, and gives it first to the man, testifies that she puts a seal upon his heart by this sacrament, to the end that henceforward neither the name nor the love of any other woman may enter therein, so long as she shall live who has been given to him; afterward the bridegroom puts the ring on the hand of the bride, that she reciprocally may understand that her heart must never admit an affection to any other man, so long as he shall live upon earth whom our Lord here gives her for a husband.
The third fruit of marriage is the lawful production and education of children. It is a great honor to you that are married, that God, designing to multiply souls, which may bless and praise him to all eternity, makes you cooperate with him in so noble a work, by the production of the bodies, into which he infuses immortal souls, like heavenly drops, as he creates them.
Preserve, then, O husbands! a tender, constant, and cordial love for your wives; for the woman was taken from that side of the first man which was nearest his heart, to the end she might be loved by him cordially and tenderly. The weaknesses and infirmities of your wives, whether in body or mind, ought never to provoke you to any kind of disdain, but rather to a mild and affectionate compassion; since God has created them such, to the end that, depending upon you, you should receive from them more honor and respect, and that you should have them in such manner for your companions, that nevertheless you should be their heads and superiors. And you, O wives! love tenderly and cordially the husbands whom God has given you, but with a respectful love, and full of reverence; for therefore did God create them of a sex more vigorous and predominant; and was pleased to ordain that the woman should depend upon the man, being bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh, and that she should be made of a rib taken from under his arm, to show that she ought to be under the hand and guidance of her husband. The holy Scripture, which strictly recommends to you this subjection, renders it also agreeable, not only by prescribing that you should accommodate yourselves to it with love, but also by commanding your husbands to exercise it over you with charity, tenderness, and complacency. "Husbands," says St. Peter, "dwell with your wives according to knowledge, giving honor to the woman as to the weaker vessel." 1 Epist. iii 7.
But while I exhort you to advance more and more in this mutual love, which you owe one another, beware lest it degenerate into any kind of jealousy; for it often happens, that as the worm is bred in the apple which is the most delicate and ripe, so jealousy grows in that love of married people which is the most ardent and affectionate, of which, nevertheless, it spoils and corrupts the substance, breeding, by insensible degrees, strifes, dissensions, and divorces. But jealousy is never seen where the friendship is reciprocally grounded on solid virtue: it is, therefore, an infallible mark that the love is in some degree sensual and gross, and has met with a virtue imperfect, inconstant, and subject to distrust. Jealousy is an absurd means of proving the sincerity of friendship. It may, indeed, be a sign of the greatness of the friendship, but never of its goodness, purity, and perfection; since the perfection of friendship presupposes an assurance of the virtue of those whom we love, and jealousy presupposes a doubt of it.
If you desire, O husbands! that your wives should he faithful to you, give them a lesson by your example. "How," says St. Gregory Nazianzen, "can you exact purity of your wives, when you yourselves live in impurity? How can you require of them that which you give them not? Do you wish them to be chaste? behave yourselves chastely towards them: and, as St. Paul says, `let every man know how to possess his vessel in sanctification.' But if, on the contrary, you yourselves teach them not to be virtuous, it is not surprising if you are disgraced by their perdition. But you, O wives! whose honor is inseparably joined with purity and modesty, be zealous to preserve this your glory, and suffer no kind of loose behavior to tarnish the whiteness of your reputation." Fear all kinds of assaults, how small soever they may be; never suffer any wanton addresses to approach you: whoever presumes to praise your beauty, or your general behavior, ought to be suspected; for he that praises the ware which he cannot buy is strongly tempted to steal it, but if to your praise he adds the dispraise of your husband, he offers you a heinous injury; for it is evident that he not only desires to ruin you, but accounts you already half lost, since the bargain is half made with the second merchant when one is disgusted with the first.
"Ladies formerly, as well as now, were accustomed to wear ear-rings of pearl, for the pleasure," says Pliny, "which they derive from hearing them jingle against each other." But for my part, as I know that the great friend of God, Isaac, sent ear-rings, as the first earnest of his love, to the chaste Rebecca, I believe that this mysterious ornament signifies that the first part which a husband should take possession of in his wife, and which his wife should faithfully keep for him, is her ears; in order that no other language or noise should enter there but only the sweet and amiable music of chaste and pure words, which are the oriental pearls of the gospel; for we must always remember that souls are poisoned by the ear, as the body is by the mouth.
Love and fidelity joined together always produce familiarity and confidence; and therefore the saints have used many reciprocal caresses in their marriage; caresses truly affectionate, but pure, tender, and sincere. Thus, Isaac and Rebecca, the most chaste married couple of antiquity, were seen through a window caressing one another in such manner that, though there was no immodesty, Abimelech was convinced that they could be no other than man and wife. The great St. Lewis, equally rigorous to his own flesh, and tender in the love of his wife, was almost blamed for the abundance of such caresses; though, indeed, he rather deserved praise for being able to bring his martial and courageous spirit to stoop to these little duties so requisite for the preservation of conjugal love; for, although these demonstrations of pure and free affection bind not the hearts, yet they tend to unite them, and serve for an agreeable disposition to mutual conversation.
St. Monica, being pregnant of the great St. Augustine, dedicated him by frequent oblations to the Christian religion, and to the service and glory of God, as he himself testifies, saying, that "he had already tasted the salt of God in his mother's womb." This is a great lesson for Christian women, to offer up to his divine Majesty the fruit of their wombs, even before they come into the world; for God, who accepts the offerings of an humble and willing heart, commonly at that time seconds the affections of mothers; witness Samuel, St. Thomas of Aquin, St. Andrew of Fiesola, and many others. The mother of St. Bernard, a mother worthy of such a son, as soon as her children were born, took them in her arms, and offered them up to Jesus Christ; and, from that moment, she loved them with respect as things consecrated to God and entrusted by him to her care. This pious custom was so pleasing, to God that her seven children became afterwards eminent for sanctity. But when children begin to have the use of reason, both their fathers and mothers ought to take great care to imprint the fear of God in their hearts. The devout queen Blanche performed this duty most fervently with regard to St. Lewis, her son. She often said to him, "I would much rather, my dear child, see you die before my eyes, than see you commit only one mortal sin." This caution remained so deeply engraved in his soul that, as he himself related, not one day of his life passed in which be did not remember it, and take all possible care to observe it faithfully. Families and generations are, in our language, called houses; and even the Hebrews called the generations of children the building up of a house; for, in this sense, it is said that God built houses for the midwives of Egypt. Now, this is to show that the raising of a house, or family, consists not in storing up a quantity of worldly possessions, but in the good education of children in the fear of God, and in virtue, in which no pains or labor ought to be spared; for children are the crown of their parents. Thus, St. Monica fought with so much fervor and constancy against the evil inclination of her son St. Augustine, that, having followed him by sea and land, she made him more happily the child of her tears, by the conversion of his soul, than he had been of her blood, by the generation of his body.
St. Paul leaves to wives the care of the household concerns as their portion, for which reason many think with truth that their devotion is more profitable to the family than that of the husband, who, not residing so among the domestics, cannot of consequence so easily frame them to virtue. On this consideration Solomon, in his Proverbs, makes the happiness of the whole family depend on the care and industry of the valiant woman whom he describes.
It is said, in the book of Genesis, that Isaac, seeing his wife Rebecca barren, prayed to the Lord for her; or, according to the Hebrew, prayed to the Lord opposite to her, because the one prayed on the one side of the oratory, and the other on the other; and the prayer of the husband offered in this manner was heard. Such union as this of the husband and wife, in holy devotion, is the best and most fruitful of all; and to this they ought mutually to encourage and to engage each other. There are fruits, as, for example, the quince, which, on account of the bitterness of their juice, are not agreeable unless they are preserved with sugar; there are others, which, on account of their tenderness, cannot be long kept, unless they are preserved in like manner, such as cherries and apricots; thus, wives ought to wish that their husbands should be preserved with the sugar of devotion; for a man without devotion is severe, harsh, and rough. And husbands ought to wish that their wives should be devout, because without devotion a woman is very frail, and liable to obscure, and perhaps to lose, her virtue. St. Paul says "that the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife; and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the believing husband;" because, in this strict alliance of marriage, the one may easily draw the other to virtue; but what a blessing is it when the man and wife, being both believers, sanctify each other in the true fear of God!
As to the rest, their mutual bearing with each other ought to be so great that they should never be both angry with each other at the same time, so that a dissension or debate be never seen between them. Bees cannot stay in a place where there are echoes or rebounding of voices; nor can the Holy Ghost remain in a house in which there are reboundings of clamor, strife, and contradictions. St. Gregory Nazianzen tells us, that in his time married people made a feast on the anniversary day of their wedding. For my part, I should approve of the reviving of this custom, provided it were not attended with preparations of worldly and sensual recreations; but that the husband and wife should confess and communicate on that day, and recommend to God, with a more than ordinary fervor, the happy progress of their marriage; renewing their good purposes to sanctify it still more and more by mutual love and fidelity, and recovering breath, as it were, in our Lord, in order to support with more ease the burdens of their calling.
OF THE SANCTITY OF THE MARRIAGE BED.
THE marriage bed ought to be undefiled, as the Apostle says, Heb. xiii. 5; that is to say, exempt from uncleanness and all profane filthiness. Holy marriage was first instituted in the earthly paradise, where, as yet, there never had been any disorder of concupiscence, or of anything immodest. There is some resemblance between lustful pleasures and those that are taken in eating, for both of them have relation to the flesh, though the former, by reason of their brutal vehemence, are called simply carnal. I will, then, explain that which I cannot say of the one by that which I shall say of the other.
1. Eating is ordained for our preservation: as, then, eating, merely to nourish and preserve health, is a good, holy, and necessary thing; so, that which is requisite in marriage for bringing children into the world and multiplying mankind is a good thing and very holy, as it is the principal end of marriage.
2. As to eat, not for the preservation of life, but to keep up that mutual intercourse and condescension which we owe to each other, is a thing in itself both lawful and just: so the mutual and lawful condescension of the parties united in holy marriage is called by St. Paul a debt of so obligatory a nature that he allows neither of the parties exemption from it, without the voluntary consent of the other, not even for the exercises of devotion, as I have already observed in the chapter on Holy Communion, Part Second, ch. XX. How much less, then, may either party be dispensed from it through a capricious pretence of virtue, or through anger or disdain?
3. As they that eat to maintain a mutual intercourse of friendship with others ought to eat freely, and endeavor to show an appetite to their meat; so the marriage debt should always be paid as faithfully and freely as if it were in hopes of having children, although on some occasions there might be no such expectation.
4. To eat for neither of these reasons, but merely to satisfy the appetite, may, indeed, be tolerated, but cannot be commended; for the mere pleasure of the sensual appetite cannot be a sufficient object to render an action commendable. To eat not merely for the gratification of the appetite, but also with excess and irregularity, is a thing more or less blamable as the excess is more or less considerable.
5. Now, excess in eating consists not only in eating too much, but also in the time and manner of eating. It is surprising, dear Philothea, that honey, which is so proper and wholesome a food for bees, may, nevertheless, become so hurtful to them as sometimes to make them sick: for in the spring, when they eat too much of it, being overcharged with it in the forepart of their head and wings, they become sick, and frequently die. In like manner, nuptial commerce, which is so holy, just, and commendable in itself, and so profitable to the commonwealth, is, nevertheless, in certain cases dangerous to those that exercise it; for it frequently debilitates the soul with venial sin, as in cases of mere and simple excess; and sometimes it kills it effectually by mortal sin, as when the order appointed for the procreation of children is violated and perverted; in which case according as one departs more or less from it, the sins are more or less abominable, but always mortal: for the procreation of children being the principal end of marriage one may never lawfully depart from the order which that end requires; though, on account of some accident or circumstance, it cannot at that time be brought about, as it happens when barrenness, or pregnancy, prevents generation. In these occurrences corporal commerce may still be just and holy, provided the rules of generation be followed: no accident whatsoever being able to prejudice the law which the principal end of marriage has imposed. Certainly the infamous and the execrable action of Onan in his marriage was detestable in the sight of God, as the holy text of the 38th chapter of Genesis testifies: for although certain heretics of our days, much more blamable than the Cynics, of whom St. Jerome speaks in his commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians, have been pleased to say it was the perverse intention only of that wicked man which displeased God, the Scripture positively asserts the contrary, and assures us that the act itself which he committed was detestable and abominable in the sight of God.
It is a certain mark of a base and abject spirit to think of eating before meal time, and, still more, to amuse ourselves afterwards with the pleasure which we took in eating, keeping it alive in our words and imagination, and delighting in the recollection of the sensual satisfaction we had in swallowing down those morsels; as men do who before dinner have their minds fixed on the spit, and after dinner on the dishes; men worthy to be "scullions" of a kitchen, "who," as St. Paul says, "make a god of their belly." Persons of honor never think of eating but at sitting down at table, and after dinner wash their hands and their mouth, that they may neither retain the taste nor the scent of what they have been eating. The elephant, although a gross beast, is yet the most decent and most sensible of any other upon earth. I will give you a specimen of his chastity: although he never changes his female, and hath so tender a love for her whom he hath chosen, yet he never couples with her but at the end of every three years, and then only for the space of five days, but so privately that he is never seen in the act. On the sixth day afterwards, when he makes his appearance, the first thing he does is to go directly to some river, where he washes his body entirely, being unwilling to return to the herd till he is quite purified. May not these modest dispositions in such an animal serve as lessons to married people, not to keep their affections engaged in those sensual and carnal pleasures which, according to their vocation, they have exercised; but when they are past to wash their heart and affection, and purify themselves from them as soon as possible, that afterwards, with freedom of mind, they may practise other actions more pure and elevated. In his advice consists the perfect practice of that excellent doctrine of St. Paul to the Corinthians. "The time is short," said he; "it remaineth that they who have wives be as though they have none." For, according to St. Gregory, that man has a wife as if he had none, who takes corporal satisfaction with her in such a manner as not to be diverted from spiritual exercises. Now, what is said of the husband is understood reciprocally of the wife. "Let those that use the world," says the same apostle," be as though they used it not." Let every one, then, use this world according to his calling, but in such manner that, not engaging his affection in it, he may be as free and ready to serve God as if he used it not. "It is the great evil of man," says St. Austin, "to desire to enjoy the things which he should only use." We should enjoy spiritual things, and only use corporal, of which when the use is turned into enjoyment, our rational soul is also changed into a brutish and beastly soul. I think I have said all that I would say to make myself understood, without saying that which I would not say.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR WIDOWS.
SAINT PAUL instructs all prelates in the person of Timothy, saying, "Honor widows that are widows indeed." 1 Tim. v. 3. Now, to be a widow indeed, the following conditions are required: -
1. That the widow be not only a widow in body, but in heart, also; that is, that she put on an inviolable resolution to keep herself in the state of a chaste widowhood; for those that are widows only till an opportunity presents itself of being married again are only separate from men as to the pleasures of the body, but are already joined to them according to the will of the heart. But, if she that is a widow indeed, in order to confirm herself in the state of widowhood, will offer her body and her chastity by vow to God, she will add a great ornament to her widowhood, and give a great security to her resolution. For since, after her vow, she has it no longer in her power to quit her chastity without quitting her title to heaven, she will be so jealous of her design that she will not suffer so much as the least thought of marriage in to occupy her heart for a single moment; so that this sacred vow will serve as a strong barrier between her soul and every project contrary to her resolution. St. Augustine advises this vow very strenuously to the Christian widow; and the ancient and learned Origen goes much further, for he exhorts married women to vow and dedicate themselves to a chaste widowhood, in case their husband should die before them; in order that, amidst the sensual pleasures of marriage, they may also, by means of this anticipated promise, enjoy the merit of a chaste widowhood. A vow not only makes the good works done in consequence of it more acceptable to God, but also encourages us to put them in execution; it gives to God not only the good works, which are the fruits of our good will, but dedicates likewise to him the will itself, which is the tree of all our actions. By simple chastity we lend, as it were, our body to God, retaining notwithstanding a liberty to subject it another day to sensual pleasure; but by the vow of chastity we make him an absolute and irrevocable gift of our body, without reserving to ourselves any power of recalling it, and thus happily render ourselves slaves to him whose service is better than any kingdom. Now, as I highly approve the advice of these two great men, so I should wish that those souls which are so happy as to desire to follow it should do it prudently, piously, and solidly, having first well examined their resolutions, invoked the light and grace of heaven, and taken the counsel of some wise and devout director - by this means all will be done with more fruit.
2. Moreover, this renunciation of a second marriage must be made purely with the intention of turning all the affections of the soul towards God, and of uniting the heart entirely with that of his divine Majesty; for if the desire to leave her children rich, or any other worldly pretension; should keep the widow in her state of widowhood, she may perhaps have praise for it, but certainly not before God; for in the eyes of God nothing can truly merit praise but that which is done for his sake.
3. Moreover, the widow, that would be a widow indeed, must voluntarily separate and restrain herself from profane satisfaction; "for she that liveth in pleasures is dead while she is living," says St. Paul, 1 Tim. v. 6. To desire to be a widow, and to be, nevertheless, pleased with being courted, flattered, and caressed; to he fond of balls, dancing, and feasting; to be perfumed, finely dressed, etc., is to be a widow, living as to the body, but dead as to the soul. What doth it signify, I pray you, whether the sign of the inn of Adonis, or of profane love, consist of white feathers, in the form of a plume, or of black crape, spread like a net around the face? Yea, the black is often put over the white to make it look more conspicuous and favorable to vanity; for the widow having made a trial of that fashion by which women can please men best casts the most dangerous baits before their minds. The widow, then, who lives in these fond delights is dead while she lives, and therefore, properly speaking, she is but an idol of widowhood.
"The time of pruning is come; the voice of the turtle is heard in our land," says the canticle. All that would live devoutly must prune and cut away all worldly superfluities. But this is more particularly necessary for the true widow, who, like a chaste turtle, comes from weeping, bewailing, and lamenting the loss of her husband. When Noemi returned from Moab to Bethlehem, the women of the town, who had known her when she was first married, said one to another, "Is not that Noemi?" Ruth i. 20. But she answered, "Call me not Noemi, I pray you, for Noemi signifies comely and beautiful; but call me Mara, for the Lord has filled my soul with bitterness;" this she said because she had lost her husband. Thus the devout widow never desires to be esteemed either beautiful or comely, contenting herself with being such as God desires her to be, that is to say, humble and abject in her own eyes.
Lamps in which aromatic oil is burnt emit a more sweet odor when their flame is extinguished; so widows whose love has been pure in their marriage send forth a more sweet perfume of virtue and chastity when their light, that is, their husband, is extinguished by death. To love the husband as long as he lives is an ordinary thing amongst women; but to love him so well that after his death she will hear of no other is a degree of love which appertains only to them that are widows indeed. To hope in God whilst the husband serves for a support is by no means unusual; but to hope in God when one is destitute of this support is worthy of great praise. Hence it is easy to know, in widowhood, the perfection of the virtues which a woman possessed during the life of her husband.
The widow who has children who stand in need of her guidance and support, principally in their spiritual concerns and their establishments in life, ought not by any means to abandon them; for the apostle St. Paul says clearly that they are obliged to that care of their children to make the like return to their parents. 1 Tim. iii. And that they who have no solicitude for those that belong to them, and especially for their own family, are worse than infidels. But if the children be in such a state as to stand in no need of her guidance, then should the widow collect all her affections and thoughts, to apply them more purely to her own advancement in the love of God.
If some absolute necessity oblige not the conscience of the true widow to external troubles, such as suits in law, I counsel her to avoid them altogether, and to follow that method in managing her affairs which appears the most peaceable and quiet, although it may not seem the most advantageous. For the advantages to be reaped from worldly troubles must be very great to bear any comparison with the happiness of a holy tranquillity. Moreover, disputes and lawsuits distract the heart and often open a gate to the enemies of chastity, because the parties, in order to please those whose favor they stand in need of, do not hesitate to render themselves displeasing to God.
Let prayer be the widow's continual exercise; for as she ought now to love none but God, so she ought to speak to scarcely any but God. For as the iron, which, by the presence of the diamond, is hindered from following the attraction of the loadstone, springs towards it as soon as the diamond is removed; so the heart of the widow, which could not well give itself up so entirely to God, nor follow the attractions of his divine love, during the life of her husband, ought immediately after his death to run ardently after the sweet odor of the heavenly perfumes, as if she said, in imitation of the heavenly Spouse: "O Lord! now that I am all my own, receive me that I may be all thine; draw me; we will run after thee to the odor of thy ointments."
The virtues proper for the exercise of a holy widow are perfect modesty, a renunciation of honors, ranks, assemblies, titles, and of all such varieties; serving the poor and the sick, comforting the afflicted, instructing girls in a devout life, and making themselves a perfect pattern of all virtues to young women: cleanliness and simplicity should be the ornaments of their dress; humility and charity the ornaments of their actions; courtesy and mildness the ornaments of their speech; modesty and purity the ornaments of their eyes; and Jesus Christ crucified the only love of their heart. In fine, the true widow is in the church a little violet of March, which sends forth an incomparable sweetness by the odor of her devotion, and almost always keeps herself concealed under the broad leaves of her abjection, since, by the obscurity of her attire, she testifies her mortification. She grows in cool and uncultivated places, not willing to be importuned with the conversation of worldlings, the better to preserve the coolness of her heart against all the heats which the desire of riches, of honors, or even of fond love, might bring upon her. "She shall be blessed," says the holy apostle, "if she continue in this manner." 1 Cor. vii. 8.
I could say much more upon this subject; but it will suffice to advise the widow who is solicitous for the honor of her condition to read attentively the excellent epistles which the great St. Jerome wrote to Furia, Salvia, and all those other ladies who were so happy as to be the spiritual children of so great a father. Nothing can be added to his instructions except this admonition: that the true widow ought never to blame nor censure those who pass to a second, or even a third or a fourth marriage; for in some cases God so disposes of them for his greater glory; and that she must always have before her eyes this doctrine of the ancients, that neither widowhood nor virginity have any other place or rank in heaven but that which is assigned to them by humility.
A WORD TO VIRGINS.
O VIRGINS! I have only three words to say to you, for the rest you will find elsewhere. If you pretend to a temporal marriage, be careful to keep your first love for your first husband. In my opinion it is a great deceit to present, instead of an entire and sincere heart, a heart quite worn out, spoiled and tired with love. But if you have the happiness to be called to the pure and virginal espousals of Christ, and you desire to preserve forever your virginity, O God! keep your love with all possible diligence for this divine Spouse, who, being purity itself, loves nothing so much as purity, and to whom are due the first fruits of all things; but principally those of our love. St. Jerome's epistles will furnish you with all advices necessary for you; and, as your condition obliges you to obedience, choose a guide under whose direction you may dedicate, in a more holy manner, your heart and body to his divine Majesty.