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Step 01

ON RENOUNCING BY A HOLY VIOLENCE,
THE VANITY OF A WORLDLY LIFE.

1. Our Lord and our King, who is infinite and incomprehensible goodness, --for it is proper that we should commence our discourse of God’s servants in His holy name, --has endowed His rational creatures with the sublime dignity and noble privilege of our free-will, so that we may say of these creatures, some are His friends, others His faithful servants, many entirely strangers to Him, and not a few directly opposed to Him, although they cannot move a single step without His permission. It seems to me, O holy Abbot,1 from the little knowledge I have, that the intellectual and immortal spirits surrounding the throne of God, are, strictly speaking, His friends; that His faithful servants are those who obey in all things His holy will, with zeal and exactitude; that the servants, who are strangers to Him, and neglect His employments, are those who have been favoured with the grace of baptism, but have not fulfilled the promises to which they pledged themselves when they contracted that sacred alliance; and that His enemies are all those who have not been baptized, or who are walking in the darkness of heresy, or who proclaim war against Him, either by violating His divine law themselves, or by persecuting those who are anxious for its observance.

2. Each one of theses classes of persons would, were I capable of the undertaking, require a separate treatise. But ignorant as I am, I must confine myself to what will be useful for the edification of those faithful servants of God, to whose piety, zeal, and confidence I pay respect, and to whose wishes I am constrained to yield obedience. From them, I may say, I receive my pen, however unworthily I may hold it. The ink into which I dip it shall be the humble submission I owe them. From this obedience, painful though it is to my love of perfect retirement and seclusion, I hope to reap the fruits of wisdom and discretion, whilst I trace, as upon a sheet of white and spotless paper, or rather upon the living tables of their hearts, the rules of a holy life.

3. The possession of God, the gift of grace, eternal salvation, are universal blessings, susceptible of attainment by all persons in the enjoyment of free-will, whether in the household of faith or unbelievers, whether just or wicked, pious or profane, perfect or imperfect, religious or seculars, learned or ignorant, the sound in health as well as the sick, young and old, in the same manner as the light of day, the beams of the sun, and the variations of the seasons are common to them all, and within their reach and enjoyment. For with God there is no exception of persons.

4. The impious is he who, dwelling in a mortal body, is endowed with reason, yet shuns the true Life, and thinks no more of his Creator, the self-existent and eternal God, than if He had no being, no sway over the universe. The rebel against God’s law is he who corrupts the divine precepts by attaching to them his own erroneous meaning, and fancies that he is following the torch of truth, when he is running after an ignis fatuus, that is, some heretical opinion which is entirely destructive of truth. The Christian is he who imitates, as much as such imitation is possible for human nature, Jesus Christ, and who testifies by his thoughts, words and actions, that he entertains no other but the sound and orthodox belief of the Blessed Trinity. The lover of God is he who uses all things that are innocent, and with due permission, and who neglects no good work, which falls within the reach of his power. The man of self-denial is he who, amidst the temptations, dangers, and troubles that surround him, exerts all his energy to imitate those who have freed themselves from these turmoils. The solitary is he who represents perfectly, in a material and perishable body, the order and condition of the heavenly spirits; who, in every place, at all times, and in all his actions, is attached to the things of God, and to them only; who does violence to his nature, and keeps a perpetual watchfulness over his sense; who is chaste in body, faultless in tongue, and in mind enlightened with heavenly wisdom; who cherishes in his heart a salutary contrition for his sins, and whether asleep or wake is constantly occupied with the thought of death.

5. Retirement from the world is a voluntary hatred and renunciation of the goods of nature, for the purpose of enjoying those which are supernatural and eternal.

6. All who have cordially and with a holy alacrity abandoned the conveniences and pleasures of this life, have made this sacrifice, either through the hope of possessing a future and everlasting kingdom, or through sorrow for their manifold sins or from an ardent love of God. They, however, who have taken this step without any of these praiseworthy motives, have acted rashly and without discretion. Nevertheless, so generous is He who crowns our victory, that He regards not the motive through which we entered upon our religious career, provided the end corresponds with His wishes.

7. He who forsakes the world to weep in silence for his sins, and to obtain their remission, imitates those who leave the city to visit the cemetery and weep over the tombs of the dead. He checks not the flow of his warm and heartfelt tears, nor interrupts his profound sighs and moans, until he beholds himself like another Lazarus, with Jesus weeping over him, and commanding the stony entrance of his heart to be removed, and the windingsheet and the bandages of sin to be untied, and His angels to loose him, and let him free from the grave of his passions, that he may enjoy the happy liberty of a soul no longer fettered with the galling chains of sin. If this be not his manner of proceeding, he will derive no fruit from his retirement into solitude.

8. If we sincerely desire to be delivered from the bondage of Egypt, and to escape from the tyranny of Pharao, we must remember that, like the Hebrew people, we require a Moses to be mediator between us and God, and who, uniting contemplation with action, will lift up his hands to heaven in our favour, that marching under his standard as our general, we may pass over the Red Sea of our sins dryshod, and put the Amalec of our passions to flight. For this reason, those who have had so much confidence in themselves as to imagine, that they stood not in need of any guide, have been deceived. The Israelites, when they departed from Egypt, had Moses for their captain; and they who fled from Sodom had an angel to direct them on their journey. They who went out of Egypt represent those who seen the aid of a spiritual physician to heal the diseases of their souls. They who fled from Sodom, are types of those who wish to be preserved from the concupiscence of these miserable bodies. The latter, indeed, have need of an angel, that is, of one, if I may venture to use the terms, who is equal to an angel; for according to the depth of the ulceration which our sins have caused, so much the greater skill is required in the surgeon to probe them and close up the wounds.

9. Truly must we confess that they who, still clothed with the mortal body, have undertaken the task of mounting up to heaven, have occasion to do great violence to themselves, and to allow of no truce to their mortifications, especially at the commencement of their renunciation, until the love of those delights and pleasures to which they were formerly devoted, and the insensibility of their hearts is changed into a true and sincere love of God, and a perfect purity of mind is established by heartfelt repentance. Certainly, it is necessary to undertake many and great labours, to expect many secret trials and contradictions, principally if we be slothful and deficient in fervour, until the spirit, which previously resembled a dog that perpetually dwelt in the kitchen, and was obedient merely for the sake of its belly, becomes simple, mild, vigilant, a lover of purity and continual application to the great business of salvation. Nevertheless, let us take courage, however subject we may be to our passions, or however feeble we may be in virtue at the present moment. Let us offer ourselves to Jesus Christ with an unshaken faith, and acknowledge to Him our weakness and spiritual deficiency, and then we may hope confidently to receive the assistance of His grace, although we have not deserved it, if we but continually descend into the abyss of our humility.

10. Those who desire to walk in the distinguished path of virtue, which, however narrow and thorny it may prove at first, is afterwards smoothened and made easy for us by grace, are fully aware that they must pass through the furnace of tribulation, if they wish the divine fire of heavenly love to be enkindled in their breasts, and to warm their hearts with its chaste and holy flames. This is the reason why every one should prove himself, and eat his bread with wild lettuce, and mingle his drink with tears, lest his warfare on earth should terminate in his utter defeat and confusion. If all who are baptized are not saved, nor all who enter into the religious state, it is easy to draw the consequence, which I here refrain from mentioning.

11. All who would serve God with fidelity, must renounce every thing, despise every thing, and cast from them every thing with contempt, that they may lay a good and solid foundation. But this foundation is good and solid only, when it is composed of three essential materials: simplicity, abstemiousness, and chastity. All who would become the children of Jesus Christ, must begin with the practice of these three virtues. Little children, in whom there is found no malice, no duplicity, must be their model. Children are not the slaves of gluttony; they are not harassed and molested by the stings of the flesh. Whereas the indulgence of the sensual appetite is generally followed by the assaults of concupiscence.

12. The gladiator who shows signs of fear and cowardice at his first entrance into the amphitheatre, exposes himself to the aversion of the spectators, and to certain defeat. It is half the battle to begin in earnest and with courage. To grow somewhat remiss afterwards will not be attended with the same fatal consequences. For when the soul, once so vigorous and determined, sees itself languishing and losing its valour, it will, at the very remembrance of its former heroism, be animated by a powerful stimulant to renewed exertion, and be warmed with fresh fire for the combat, When, however, we feel our fervour and intrepidity evaporating, we should search diligently the cause of this degeneracy; and having found it, take all the arms in our possession to battle with it with all our might; since it is impossible to recover our first ardour, save by the means through which it was lost, that is, unless we remove the cause of this baneful negligence and tepidity.

13. He who renounces the world through fear, may be compared to incense, which at first emits a pleasant fragrance, but finally sends up nothing but smoke. He who renounces the world through the hope of reward, resembles a millstone which turns only in one particular direction. But he who retires from the world from the motive of divine love, is all on fire with this heavenly flame, and feels the warmth increase in proportion as he increases in piety, in the same manner as the flames which consume the forest ascend higher and become more intense as they advance and acquire more fuel.

14. Some persons upon a foundation of stone build an edifice of brick. Others erect the columns of their edifice upon the mere earth without any foundation. Many when they have walked a short distance on foot, become warm and their blood circulates freely, and they journey onwards with the greatest ease and rapidity. The intelligent reader will readily understand what is meant by these similitudes.2

15. Since it is our God and our King that hath called us to His holy service, let us endeavour with all our power to serve Him; lest after this short life we find ourselves destitute of good works, which are the support of the soul in the hour of dissolution, and we die in the state of famine or despair. Let us be as anxious to please God, as soldiers are to please and gratify their king. For when we are enrolled under His banner, He requires that we, as honourable and valiant soldiers, should serve Him with all care and fidelity.

16. Let us fear God as much, at least, as we dread ferocious beasts. For I have seen men who had no fear whatever of God, leave home with the intention of committing a robbery; but when they heard the dogs barking, returned immediately through fright. Thus the very terror which they had of a barking dog, made them abstain from that which the fear of the divine judgment would not have prevented.

17. Let us love God as much, at least, as we love and honour our friends. For I have frequently known those who had grievously offended God perfectly unconcerned about appeasing His wrath, totally indifferent to any reconciliation with his offended justice. But when they displeased their friends, though in matters of trifling importance, they employed all sorts of inventions, made use of the most artful address, testified a thousand regrets, and offered to make every satisfaction requisite, either personally, or through their friends and neighbours, adding even presents,--that their former friendship might be restored, and the offence forgiven and forgotten.

18. In the commencement of our retired life we do not practise virtue without much labour, opposition, and bitterness. But when we have made some progress in the religious life, we experience little or no difficulty in this holy career. When all our earthly affections have been subdued by an ardent zeal for God’s service, then we can run on with joy and alacrity in the way of the evangelical precepts, and feel the lively activity, the fervent desires, and the interior flames of divine love.

19. As much as we are bound in justice to praise those, who, from the very first day of their retirement from the world, lived virtuously, and fulfilled the divine precepts cheerfully and with promptness; so much likewise must we censure those, who, after many years spent in solitude, find great difficulty in the practice of the virtues of holy religion; though, however, they do practise them with considerable hesitation and labour.

20. We must not condemn those renunciations of the world, which are brought about by some extraordinary accident, or some unlooked for and sudden event. For I have known some, who, flying from their King, our Lord Jesus Christ, have met Him in their very flight, contrary to all their expectations, and have thenceforth been received into the number of His servants, have entered with Him into His palace, and have been admitted even to His table. I have seen the divine seed apparently scattered at random upon the earth, produce much and excellent fruit; whilst that which was sown with every care produced no fruit at all. I have likewise known a person come to the school of spiritual medicine, that is, to the monastery, upon an affair which regarded not his soul; and there a wise and skillful physician among his friends, desirous of his salvation, has so wrought upon him by his ingenious civility and address, as at once to win him over to the service of the Almighty, and to dispel that cloud by which hitherto the light of his mind had been obscured. From these examples we may observe, that the renunciation of the world, which is in some persons was involuntary at first, finally became more solid and permanent than that of others who adopted it from their own choice, and after great preparation.

21. Let no one pretend that the multitude and heinousness of his sins render him unworthy of the religious profession, and that it is an act of humility to believe himself unfit for this holy state; when, in fact, he shuns it merely for the purpose of enjoying the pleasures and delights of the world; thus seeking vain pretexts for continuing in his impenitence, and grovelling in his sins. For when there is much proud flesh in a wound, great skill is required from the surgeon in removing it. But they who are in health need not a physician. If an earthly monarch invited us to accept some appointment near his person, and to attend in his presence-chamber, we should not hesitate or delay a moment. No excuse would be alleged, no dilatoriness would be permitted in assuming our office. Let us watch, therefore, lest when the King of kings and Lord of lords calls us to march under His standard, we should be found so faint-hearted and slothful, as to disobey His commands, and be without excuse at the tribunal of our Almighty Judge. It is, indeed, not impossible for those who are bound, as it were, in bands of iron, by the cares and distractions of the world, to walk in the way of the Lord; but it will be with the difficulty of those who have heavy gyves upon their legs. They walk, it is true, but with frequent interruption, and under great pain, from the wounds cased by their galling chains. A single man, who is engaged in secular employments, is like one who has merely manacles on his hands. Hence if he wishes to retire into the holy state of religion, there is nothing to prevent his desire. But he who is married is bound hands and feet. Certain persons in the world, who had little thought or care about their salvation, one day said: “How can we, living with our wives, and surrounded by the innumerable cares of public business, which entangles us almost with as many threads as the spider’s web, how can we possibly embrace a retired and solitary life?” I replied: “Do all the good in your power; speak injuriously of no one; defraud no one; deceive no one by falsehood or hypocrisy; treat no one with contumely; hate no one; fail not to assist at the services of the Church; have compassion upon the poor; give no scandal; commit not adultery, but let each one respect his own wife; practice these instructions, conduct yourselves in this manner, and you will not be far from the kingdom of Heaven.”

22. Let us march with a holy joy, mingled with fear, to the combat assigned us against the evil spirits, and let us meet them, not with dread, but with fortitude. Although they are invisible, yet they watch our souls; and when they see us trembling with fright, they will assault us with greater rage and fierceness, after having discovered by their ordinary sagacity that we are afraid of them. Let us, then, buckle on our armour with undaunted courage. They cannot resist those who join battle with them with an intrepid and magnanimous heart.

23. The admirable Providence and Goodness of God, soften, as we can testify, the rude and fierce shocks of our spiritual warfare, to those who have but recently been converted from sin, through fear, lest the first onslaught might frighten them, and induce them to return to the world. For this reason, you who are His servants, should rejoice in the Lord always, confessing that this is the first testimony of His affection for you, and of your vocation to His service. We have, however, not unfrequently observed, that when God has seen those who forsook the world strong and generous, He has allowed them to experience at the very commencement of their religious life, the fierce assaults of their mortal enemy, that they might speedily win by their valour their crown of glory. With equal wisdom He likewise conceals from those in the world the pain and difficulty of the religious state, (although in reality there is more happiness than sorrow,) lest if the labour and hardship were known to them, few or none would leave the world.

24. Consecrate your youth to Jesus Christ by the exercise of penance and in your old age you will rejoice, in having received for your reward on earth perfect peace, by the complete victory over your passions. That which we gather in our earlier years will nourish and support us in more advanced age. Let us labour with earnestness whilst young; let us run with energy and swiftness, that we may win the race, for the hour of our death is uncertain. We have leagued against us adversaries thoroughly wicked, cruel, wily, devising against us all kinds of snares and deceptions. They are powerful, valiant, immaterial, and invisible. They hold in their hands a torch, in order to set on fire, and burn the living temple of God, with the same criminal flames with which they destroyed their own happiness. Let no young person listen to these artful foes, who say: “Do not humble and macerate your bodies by divers kinds of austerities, lest you bring on sickness and infirmity of constitution.” For we cannot easily find any one, in these days at least, who has so mortified his flesh, as either to injure or kill himself by his fasts and penances. The object of the infernal spirits in persuading us to moderate our austerities is, to make us cowardly and negligent at the beginning of our religious career, hoping that the end will correspond with the lukewarm beginning.

25. But, before all things, it is necessary that they who wish to serve Jesus Christ with fidelity, should employ all their care and industry in choosing, by the advice of their seniors in religion, and according also to the best of their own knowledge, the locality, the kind of life, and the exercises most suitable to their disposition and circumstances. For all cannot dwell in monasteries, particularly those with an unbridled tongue; nor can all endure the stillness of solitude, especially those most prone to impatience. Let each one, therefore, examine that which is proper to his disposition.

26. The whole of the religious life may be classified under three general heads. The 1st is that of anchorets, who dwell alone. The 2nd is a life of retirement and solitude, with one or two companions. The 3rd is that of community life, in the exercises of mortification and patience in a monastery. “Decline not,” says the wise man, “neither to the right hand, nor to the left.....and the Lord will make thy courses straight, he will bring forward thy ways in peace.”3......Hence the second kind of life is one which will be found well adapted for many persons. For the holy Scripture says: ‘Woe to him that is alone, for when he falleth into fretfulness, or sluggishness, or despair, he hath none to lift him up.”4 Whereas our Blessed Redeemer hath told us that, “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”5 Who, then, may be termed a wise and faithful solitary? He who has preserved his first fervour, without ever permitting it to become cold, and who, to the last hour of life, never ceases to add fire to fire, fervour to fervour, industry to industry, and desire to desire for greater and more sublime virtue. Let not those who have mounted this first step in the Ladder of Perfection, look back.


  1. John, Abbot of Raithu, at whose request the Holy Ladder was composed.

  2. The first, who build a brick edifice upon a foundation of stone, are those who, having entered into the religious state, lead an ordinary and somewhat worldly life, an edifice little corresponding to the excellent foundation upon which it is raised. The second, who place their pillars upon mere sand, are they who wish to become anchorets and to attain to the highest and most sublime kind of life, without having first prepared themselves by a cenobitical life in a monastery. Hence their goodly columns,-their stately structure, proves but a baseless fabric,- and is swept away by the winds and the waves of temptation. The third, who become warm and improve their energy by walking, are those who place themselves under some skillful master of a religious life. The more they are trained by him in holy discipline, the more they are warmed and animated by obedience, humility, and patience, the more vigorously they pursue the path of virtue, and advance by more rapid steps to perfection.

  3. Proverbs iv. 27.

  4. Ecclesiastes iv. 10.

  5. Matt. xviii. 20.








Step 02

ON DETACHMENT FROM ALL THINGS THAT ARE EARTHLY.

1. He who is animated by a true love of God, who seeks with a sincere affection a future and eternal kingdom, who weeps for his sins with the tears of heartfelt compunction, who cherishes a lively remembrance of the great Day of Judgment, and of the everlasting torments of hell, who has a profound and continual dread of death, who has no attachment to mislead him, nor care to trouble him, nor anxiety about riches, honours, friends, relations, or any other terrestrial object, but free from every bias, every tie to creatures, every solicitude, follows Jesus Christ with this entire spoliation of all that is self, with this disengagement from every other business, and with a spirit ever fervent, may constantly look up to heaven and wait with confidence like holy David, the aid of the Most High. “My soul,” may he exclaim, “hath stuck close to thee.”1 And with the Prophet Jeremiah: “I am not troubled, following Thee for my pastor, and I have not desired the day of man, thou knowest....Thou are my hope in the day of affliction.”2

2. It would be a burning shame on our part, if, after the complete renunciation we have mentioned, in order to follow not man, but God, who has called us to His service, we should allow ourselves to be harassed with cares and disquietudes about temporal things, which cannot afford us the slightest consolation in the day of our greatest need, the day of our death, on which depends an eternity of happiness or an eternity of misery. To act thus, would as Jesus Christ terms it, be looking back, when we had put our hand to the plough, and consequently rendering ourselves unfit for the kingdom of heaven.3 Our Blessed Lord, knowing the liability of our weak nature to fall after we have entered His service, and with what facility our hearts are again attracted by the world, if we hold conversation and communion with worldly-minded people, said to him who asked permission to go and bury his father, “Let the dead bury the dead.”4

3. When we have renounced the world, the wicked spirits tempt us to imagine those very happy who can exercise alms-deed and other acts of charity, and to believe ourselves very miserable in being deprived of this privilege. Now the object of the devil in suggesting this feeling of false and spurious humility, is to induce us to return to the world, or if we still tarry in our solitude to plunge us into despair. But as there are solitaries who disparage persons in the world merely to extol themselves, so are there others who express their contempt for the state and condition of seculars in their absence, merely to drive away the thoughts of despair to which they are tempted, and to arm themselves with renewed hope and confidence in God.

4. If we desire to run with energy and speed in the career of a religious life, let us attentively consider, that they who dwell in the world and live according to the world, have been numbered by Jesus Christ among the dead, when He said, “Leave the dead,” that is worldlings, “to bury their dead.”

5. Let us listen to that which our Blessed Redeemer said to the young man, who had kept the commandments from his youth: “One thing is wanting to thee: go, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor,”5 that thou mayest receive alms from another. We do not learn from the Gospel that the young man’s riches were an impediment to his reception of baptism. Hence the deception of those who assert, that this proposal of Jesus Christ to the young man to dispose of all he had, was that he might prepare himself for the above mentioned sacrament. Since, then, our Divine Saviour by this example has proved, that He required more from this excellent youth, in order to place him in that state of perfection to which He was anxious he should aspire, than what was merely necessary for baptism, we have need of no testimony greater than his own to be convinced of the excellency of our profession.

6. Some persons who, whilst they lived in the world, macerated their bodies by long watchings, fasts, and all kinds of mortifications, practised these austerities, which were merely fictitious and apparent virtues, no more after they had quitted the society of men to embrace the religious state, and had withdrawn into the monastery as into the school of penance, and the theatre of their spiritual combat. I have seen individuals perform many virtuous actions, whilst they were resident in the world; but these virtues were plants watered by the muddy streams of vainglory. They were cultivated and taken care of by ostentation and the love of popularity; they were manured and fostered in their growth by the applause of men. But immediately they were transplanted into the desert--a land impassable to worldlings--immediately they were deprived of their accustomed humidity and irrigation from the polluted waters of vanity, they withered and drooped to the earth. For such exotics, reared in the rank and moist soil of self-esteem, could not take root in the sands of the wilderness, when nourished by no human praise or flattery.

7. If any one has conceived a real hatred of the world, he is emancipated by this very hatred from all sadness. But if he still cherish an attachment to things that are visible, he carries about with him a source of sadness and melancholy. for how can he be otherwise than sad, when he sees himself liable to be deprived of that which he loves? We have, indeed, need of much circumspection and much vigilance; but we ought to be more circumspect and more vigilant upon this one point, than upon any others. For I have seen many persons in the world, who, through the cares with which their minds were agitated, the multiplicity of their occupations, and the long hours they were obliged to devote to secular employments, were left entirely free from the assaults of concupiscence. But when they had retired from the world, and enjoyed the calm repose of a solitary life, they fell into many shameful sins against chastity.

8. Let us take care lest, whilst fancying ourselves walking in the narrow and rugged path of the Gospel, we should be treading the broad and easy way of perdition. We will here note some of the signs by which our steps may be known to be in the right direction for heaven; mortification of our sensual appetite, long vigils, the limitation of our drink to measure, in having bread alone for our food, the love of humiliation, the patient endurance of ridicule and insult, the suppression of all murmuring when ill-treated and despised, forbearance under injustice, hatred of detraction, and meekness under censure, contumely, and vituperation. Happy are they who walk in this narrow path, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven!

9. No one can be crowned in the nuptial chamber of Paradise, who does not make three solemn renunciations: 1st, the renunciation of every thing and person, even our relatives; 2nd, the renunciation of our own will; 3rd, the renunciation of that self-complacency which sometimes follows our obedience, when we take satisfaction in our good performances, and assume some little credit for our submission and fidelity. “Depart, “says the Lord, by His prophet, “depart, go ye out from thence; touch no unclean thing; go out of the midst of her; be ye clean, you that carry the vessels of the Lord.”6 Who amongst worldlings has ever wrought miracles? Who raised the dead? or chased away demons? Such wonders are reserved by God for solitaries, in regard for their virtue, and not for the votaries of the world. If it were not thus, it would be superfluous to embrace a religious life, and retire into solitude.

10. When, after our retreat from the busy world, the devil attempts to soften our hearts by calling to our remembrance our parents, our father, or mother, or to her relatives, let us have recourse to prayer, as our best defence against such suggestions of tenderness and affection. Let us brace up our courage by the consideration of the eternal flames of hell, that the mental representation of these flames may extinguish the fire of indiscretion, which the enemy endeavours to enkindle in our heart.

11. If any one imagines that he is not attached to any thing, yet feels an inward sadness, when he is deprived of it, that individual is labouring under a grievous delusion.

12. Young people who are prone to concupiscence and to carnal pleasures, and who form the resolution of embracing a solitary life, should practice with great vigour constant sobriety and prayer, and rigorously abstain from all delicacies, and avoid every willful offence, lest their last state should become worse than the first. For the religious life may be termed a port, in which may be found either perfect safety, or a dismal shipwreck. This is a truth well known to all who have navigated this spiritual sea. What a lamentable spectacle to behold those who sailed in security upon the wide ocean, wrecked and lost in the very harbour!

When you have mounted this second step of the Holy Ladder of Perfection, do not imitate Lot’s wife, but Lot himself.


  1. Ps. lxii. 9.

  2. xvii. 16,17.

  3. Luke ix. 62.

  4. Luke ix. 60.

  5. Mark x. 21.

  6. Isaiah lii. 11.








Step 03

ON OUR PILGRIMAGE OR RETIREMENT FROM THE WORLD.

1. Our pilgrimage or retirement from the world is an abandonment, without reservation, of everything which, in our own country, is opposed to that state of piety, to which we have resolved to devote ourselves for the love of God. It is a change of manners, which appears to the eyes of men little better than folly, a prudence which shuns the public gaze, a life concealed, a design which is secret, a meditation purely interior, a desire for things lowly and contemptible, an ardent thirst for suffering and mortification, a cordial affection for God, a fertile source of divine love, a renouncement of vain-glory, and an abyss of silence.

2. The thought which prevails with those, who, in the commencement of their love of God, are actuated, not by any desire of relaxation, but by greater fervour in their new conversion, is the design of withdrawing from their fellow religious into complete solitude, which they mistake for a motion of that heavenly fire with which they are inflamed. Hence these admirers of a beauty so noble and so excellent are animated by the desire of subjecting themselves to all kinds of humiliations and abasements, and of embracing all the austerities of penance. But inasmuch as this resolution is great and praiseworthy; so much the more need is there of discretion in its execution. For not every kind of solitude is good, at all times and for all persons, although entered upon with the greatest courage.

3. If “a prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house,”1 says our Redeemer, let us take care that our pilgrimage become not a subject of vanity. For true solitude is a separation from persons and things, in order to keep the mind inseparably united to God. He who possesses this spirit is moved by an affectionate desire of weeping heartily and continually for his sins. He carefully shuns every attachment to that which belongs either to himself or to others.

4. When you feel invited by the Spirit of God to withdraw into solitude, do not wait until you have engaged others whose hearts are still tied down to the world, to join you in your holy enterprise. For the devil, like a wily thief, secretly watches his opportunity to rob you of your first fervour. Many desirous of saving with themselves their lukewarm and careless neighbours, have lost with them their own souls, through the extinction of that flame of divine love, which they so long delayed to fan and nourish in their bosoms. Have you received the sparks of this heavenly flame? Hasten to enkindle them into a blaze by the fuel of your love, lest otherwise they die out, and leave you in obscurity and darkness. We are not charged with the salvation of others. For the great Apostle of the Gentiles gives us this admonition: “Every one of us shall render account to God for himself.”2 “Thou, therefore, that teachest another, teachest not thyself?”3 As if he had said, I know not if you will be called upon to render an account of others; but of this I am confident, that every one of us shall render an account to God for himself.

5. When you commence your pilgrimage by retiring from the world, beware lest the devil excite in you a wandering disposition, and an inclination to those things which flatter and encourage sensuality. For our pilgrimage gives occasion to the devil to assail us from these two bastions.

6. The most perfect disposition we can possibly cherish, is a complete detachment from everything that can render the soul less free in the service of God. Retirement is the mother of this happy disposition. Hence he who has entered into solitude through the love of God, should no longer encourage any affection to creatures, lest his interior should be in continual agitation, and become a den for the turbulent passions.

7. In your retreat from the world, do not partake any longer in the cares of the world. For the passions which you have banished from your heart, would desire nothing better than to return.

8. Eve was banished from Paradise contrary to her wish; but the solitary freely, and of his own accord, makes himself an exile from his country. As Eve would probably have continued to eat of the fruit of disobedience, had she been allowed to dwell in the neighbourhood of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; so the religious who still cherishes an affection for his friends and relations, exposes himself to danger. Fly, as ye would from some fearful calamity, the places which may be to you the occasions of sin; since the fruit of the tree which we do not see, is not like that which is fair and beautiful to the eye, a constant source of temptation.

9. Let us not be surprised by the cunning and deception of our spiritual enemies, who would fain persuade us not to separate ourselves from people in the world, under the pretext that we shall receive a great recompense,--if, living in the world, we overcome the world,--if, gazing upon women, we can subdue our passions, and not suffer from the fire of concupiscence. Let us be thoroughly convinced that we ought to do everything contrary to what they are anxious to persuade us.

10. Long after our departure from our father’s house and kindred, when we have spent some years in solitude, and have acquired some little piety, some sentiments of penance and mortification of the senses, there will enter our minds vain and frivolous thoughts, which will tempt us to return to our country, to edify by the example of our new life, the persons who had been witnesses of our former irregularities. And this temptation to return to the world will be the more vehement if we possess any talent for speaking, any smattering of theology, by making it appear to the mind, that we may be the salvation of many souls, and a light to those who are in darkness. Thus they hurry us to lose in the deep ocean that which we happily acquired in port. But let us imitate the conduct of Lot, and not that of his wife. For he who returns to the place whence he departed will become fixed as a statue, and remain as immoveable as the woman changed into a pillar of salt. Fly from Egypt without yielding to the possibility of returning. For they who look back upon it with affection will be deprived of the sight of Jerusalem, the city of peace, the tranquil region of the passions. I would not, however, say that it is impossible for those who, at the commencement of their conversion, left their country to escape the dangers to which their spiritual infancy was exposed, and who are now thoroughly purified in heart and affection, I would not say it is absolutely impossible for those to return home without danger to promote the salvation of others, when they have thus laboured so strenuously to secure their own. Yet Moses, who was allowed to see the Almighty Himself, and who was sent by God to be the captain and deliverer of His people, encountered many perils in Egypt, that is, was surrounded by the darkness of the world.

11. It is better to displease our relatives than displease God. For the same God who made us is our Saviour; whereas relations are often the cause of those, whom they love the most, perishing and incurring everlasting torments.

12. He is a true pilgrim who, whilst speaking a language the world knows not, and comprehending not that which the world does understand, nourishes his soul in secret with the knowledge of God and of himself. We do not retire into solitude through any aversion to our relations, or to the place of our nativity. God forbid that we should be actuated by such base motives! No; we retire from them to avoid the losses which their presence and their company might occasion us. Jesus Christ, in this, as in every other respect, is our example and our master. He frequently withdrew from the company of His Blessed Mother and other relations. Having heard from some one that His Mother and brethren were seeking Him, the Lord infinitely good, and our divine Master, teaches us, in the answer which He gave on this occasion, the innocent and holy indifference which we may sometimes display towards our kindred. “Whoever,” He says, “shall do the will of my Father, that is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.”4 Regard him as your father, who is willing to labour with you, that you may be relieved from the heavy load of your sins. Esteem as your mother, that heartfelt compunction, which can efface from your souls the deep stains of your offences. Embrace him as your brother, who is willing to join company and combat with you, that you may march valiantly in the path which leads to heaven. Let your wife and inseparable companion be your constant meditation on death. Let the children whom you cherish with tenderness be the penitential moanings of your heart. Let your body be your slave; and your friends, the celestial powers, who will assist you at the hour of death, if you cultivate their friendship during life. Behold the relations who seek the Lord! The love of God extinguishes our natural love for our kindred. Hence he who pretends to cherish, at one and the same time, the love of God and the love of his worldly friends, deceives himself, according to the testimony of our Blessed Redeemer: “No man can serve two masters.”5 And again: “Do not think I came to send peace upon earth,” that is,-- a love in those who wish to consecrate themselves to my service for father or mother, brother or sister,--”I came not to send peace, but the sword,”6 that those who love God may be separated from those who love the world, the carnal from the spiritual, the proud from the humble. For the Lord takes delight in this division of the spirit, this separation of the body from its endearments, purely through love of Him, the Supreme Perfection.

13. Take care, take every care that the world, which is inundated with the waters of sin, does not, through the compassion which you entertain for your relations, drag you within the vortex of earthly affection. Have no pity on the tears of your friends and kindred, if you do not wish yourselves to weep eternally. When they surround you, like flies or rather wasps round a pot of honey, and make great lamentations about you leaving them, direct your thoughts immediately to your death, and to the actions of your past life, without permitting them to wander to any other subject, that you may subdue one pain by another, and may overcome your compassion for them by compassion for yourselves. Persons who pretend to be our friends, but who in reality are our enemies, readily promise to do nothing but what is agreeable to our wishes. Their principal object, however, is to prevent us from pursuing our holy career, and to bend us to their own sinister purpose.

14. We ought to choose for our retirement those parts of the desert which are the most destitute of human consolation, which are the farthest removed from all danger of vain-glory, and which are the least known, and the least spoken of by men, otherwise we shall fly away from the world like birds, carrying with us our passions.

15. Conceal the splendour of your birth, and glory not before men in your illustrious name, lest we should conclude that as much as you are elevated above others by your rank, so much are you beneath them by the baseness of your actions.

16. No one entered upon his pilgrimage so nobly as Abraham, when he heard these words of the Lord: “Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father’s house, and come into the land which I shall show thee.”7 Although he was commanded to go into a strange and barbarous land, in which was spoken a language different from his own, yet he obeyed without hesitation.

17. All who have imitated Abraham in his pilgrimage, God has rendered illustrious. Though God surrounded them with glory, yet they assumed no portion of that glory to themselves, but opposed to it the buckler of humility.

18. When demons or men attempt to praise our pilgrimage, and our retirement from the world, as a noble and generous enterprise, let us turn our thoughts to Him, who, through love of us, became a pilgrim on earth, descending from heaven to sojourn in this valley of tears among men, and we shall perceive that, were we to live during the endless ages of eternity, we could do nothing equal to that which He has accomplished for us.

19. The affection which attaches us to any particular relative or to one unconnected with us by the ties of kindred, is exceedingly dangerous, since it may insensibly entice us from our solitude back again to the world, and entirely extinguish the fire of our fervour, and the tears of our compunction. As it is impossible to raise one eye to heaven, and fix the other, at the same time, upon the earth, so is it equally impossible, whilst we hesitate absolutely to withdraw by a spiritual estrangement and bodily separation from communication with our friends and acquaintance in the world, not to expose our salvation to great danger.

20. We cannot, without much pain and labour, regulate our manners, and pursue a good and laudable course of life. And that which we have accomplished with much toil and perspiration, may be lost in a moment. “Evil communications corrupt good manners;” and this even with such as are light and worldly, as well as with those which are immodest and indecent. He who after the renunciation of all things, still continues his conversation with the people of the world, or enters into their society, will be sure either to fall into their snares, or sully his heart by profane thoughts, or stain its purity and disgrace himself by the indiscreet judgments he will form of those who are already corrupted.

ON DREAMS, TO WHICH THOSE WHO HAVE RECENTLY

ENTERED INTO SOLITUDE ARE SUBJECT.

21. As my understanding is obscure, and my knowledge very imperfect, I behold in myself nothing but profound ignorance which it is impossible for me to conceal. As “the ear trieth words, and the mouth discerneth meats by the taste,”8 and the sun proveth weak sight; so doth speech show the emptiness of the spirit of him who speaketh. But since the law of charity seems to constrain us to attempt things above our capacity, I have thought it proper, without too much assurance upon the subject, to speak at the conclusion of this discourse on our pilgrimage, on dreams, as far only as is necessary to protect us from the artifices employed by the enemy of mankind.

22. Dreams are emotions of the mind, whilst the body is at rest, and without motion. Visions purely imaginary are a deception of the eyes of those who fancy that they see certain objects, whilst the mind is vacant and at rest. They are an alienation, a sleep as it were of the soul, whilst the body is awake. They are the sight of objects, which have no subsistence.

23. The reason why, after having treated of the world, we wish to speak of dreams, is evident. For when we have quitted our father’s house and our relations for the sake of Jesus Christ,--when we have consecrated and made ourselves over to His service purely through love of Him, the demons begin immediately to assail us with dreams, representing our kindred as weeping at our separation from them, or as dying through our cruelty, or as suffering on our account some grievous loss or injury. He, therefore, who believes these dreams, resembles the man who runs after his own shadow, and endeavours to catch it.

24. The demons who tempt us to vain-glory, pretend to be prophets, by foretelling in dreams events to come, which they have divined by the subtlety of their conjectures. When that comes to pass which we beheld in our sleep, we are filled with admiration and astonishment. This sometimes causes so much elevation of spirit, that we fancy we have received the gift of predicting future events. The devil is often a true prophet with regard to those who believe in him; but he is always a liar with regard to those who laugh at and despise dreams. This adversary of the human race, being of a purely spiritual nature, sees that which is passing in the air we breath; and observing that some one is near death, makes the fact known to those who are credulous enough to believe him. For demons cannot by foreknowledge predict future events. Physicians can as readily as they, give a probably conjecture concerning the death of their patients. These spirits of darkness often transform themselves into angels of light, and assume the appearance of martyrs, who seem, in our vision, advancing to greet us. When awake all this is calculated to foster a presumptuous opinion of ourselves, and to fill us with an unholy joy. Behold, however, one mark, by which you may detect their fraud and trickery. The good angels represent to us the everlasting punishment of the wicked, the terrors of the last day, the separation of the good from the bad; and when awake they inspire us with trembling and penitential sadness. But if we give credence to the devils, they make sport of us, even when we are awake. He who believes in dreams has lost both his understanding and his judgment; whereas he who has no faith in them is truly wise. Believe in those only who announce to you the awfulness of the last day, and the never ending torments of hell. If you feel urged by these dreams to the brink of despair, be convinced they come from the devil.

This third degree completes the figure and symbol of the Blessed Trinity. He who has mounted so high, ought not to turn either to the right hand or to the left.


  1. Matthew xiii. 57.

  2. Romans xiv. 12.

  3. Ib. ii. 21.

  4. Matthew xii. 50.

  5. Matthew vi. 24.

  6. Matthew x. 34.

  7. Genesis xii. I.

  8. Job xxxiv. 3.








Step 04

ON HAPPY AND EVER PRAISEWORTHY
OBEDIENCE.

1. It is to the athletes who combat for Jesus Christ, that our discourse henceforth will be addressed, according to the order which we propose to follow in this work. As the flower precedes the fruit; so retirement from the world, whether in body by change of residence, or in spirit only, always precedes obedience. It is, indeed, upon these two virtues, as upon wings of gold, that the virtuous soul soars without drooping to heaven. Perhaps it was of these virtues, that the Royal Prophet sung in his plaintive but melodious song. “Who will give to me wings like a dove, and I will fly” by my actions in God’s service, “and be at rest” by contemplation and humility.1

2. Here I beg permission to state briefly, what are the spiritual weapons of these generous combatants. Their buckler is their faith and confidence in God and in their superior. By it they repel all thoughts of infidelity and disobedience. The sword, which they always hold drawn from its scabbard, is the sword of the Spirit, with which they slay every suggestion of self-will, the moment it springs into existence. Their cuirass is meekness and patience by which their hearts are defended, so as not to be disturbed by the injuries, the insults, or the malice of men. Their helmet is the prayer of their superior, which protects the head against the assaults of temptation. They, likewise, remain firm in their position, without any undue attachment; ready to spend themselves in the service of charity, or to stand immoveable in contemplation and prayer.

3. Obedience is a perfect renouncement of our own will, which renouncement is visible even in our outward actions. Or it may be termed the mortification or the slaying of the body by the authority or direction of the soul. Obedience is simply going about any thing, without any judgment of our own. It is a voluntary death, a life exempt from all curiosity, a confidence in danger, an excellent appeal to mercy, without any premeditation, when about to appear before God. It is a happy freedom from the fear of death, a secure voyage, even when our eyelids are closed in sleep, upon the ocean of the world. Obedience buries self-will in the grave, and raises humility to life. He who is truly obedient is never contradictory, never uses his own judgment, either in things, good and lawful, or in things apparently evil; because he is, as it were, dead to himself. And we may be sure, that the Christian who has died this holy death of obedience, will not tremble when summoned before God’s tribunal, to give an account of his actions. In short, obedience is the wise and discreet renunciation of our own judgment.

4. The commencement of this mortification or mastery of our own will, as it includes the subjection both of body and soul, is attended with much self-denial and hard labour. Its progress is sometimes through difficulties, and at other times peaceable, and without opposition. But its termination is always free from trouble, free from all sorrow and repugnance. The only anxiety, the only grief which the obedient man, who is dead and yet lives, experiences, is when he detects himself doing his own will; for he dreads exceedingly the responsibility of following such a guide, such a master.

5. All you who have undertaken to despoil yourselves of this clothing of self-will, like the gladiators for the combat, and to take your places in the gymnasium of spiritual exercises, all you who have freely subjected yourselves to the yoke of Jesus Christ, all you who have relieved your own shoulders of their burdens, that you may place them upon the shoulders of another in the person of your superior, all you who have deliberately signed the contract of your servitude, which is to bring you to the enjoyment of true liberty, all you who have crossed the vast sea of the world, supported upon its stormy waves by the hand of another, be convinced that the way which you have chosen is the very shortest, though not the easiest; and that there is but one turn in this straight path by which you can go astray, and this turn is called confidence in our own judgment, and complacency in our own conduct. He who has made an absolute renunciation of his own wishes in things good, spiritual, and agreeable to God, has already reached, by anticipation, the termination of his course of probation, even before he has commenced it; for obedience consists in mistrusting his own judgment in every thing, however good it may be, and this to the end of his life.

6. When we wish to bend our shoulders to the yoke of Jesus Christ, and to confide to another the direction of our souls, through our wish to attain humility, and to walk in the sure path to salvation, we ought, if we possess any adroitness, any prudence, to examine carefully before entering this path, the qualifications of him who we choose for our guide and director. We ought, if I may be allowed to say so, to tempt him in every possible manner, lest falling into the hands of a common mariner instead of a pilot--of a person sick himself instead of a physician, of a man who is the slave of his passions in place of one who has obtained a victory over them, we mistake the stormy sea for the tranquil port, and suffer an inevitable shipwreck. But when we have commenced the career of piety and obedience, let us no longer judge the actions of the virtuous director, who has been the object of our choice, although we may occasionally see in him the slight faults incidental to every mortal and wayfaring man; for we shall certainly derive no fruit from our obedience, if we continually sit in judgment upon his actions.

7. It is absolutely necessary for those who wish to preserve an entire and unshaken confidence in their directors, to engrave so indelibly on their hearts the good deeds which they see them perform, that nothing may be able to efface them from their memory. So that when the wicked spirits would inspire us with mistrust in these our spiritual guides, we may at once arrest their accusations, by recollecting the virtues which we have witnessed in these servants of God. For the more prompt and active the body is in its exercises, the more is confidence strengthened and increased in the heart. But if any one loses this confidence he will fall, because that which has not faith for its foundation is not solid, is not worthy of a supernatural reward. If the thought of judging your director in some particular circumstances arises in your mind, reject it as you would the sin of impurity, and never give the least encouragement, the least admittance, the least opening to this baneful serpent. Say boldly to this monster, that you have received no authority to judge the actions of your spiritual father; on the contrary, he has been appointed to sit in judgment upon yours. I am not commissioned to be his judge; but he is deputed to be mine.

8. Our fathers have informed us that, in the chanting of the psalms, we may find weapons well adapted for our defence; in prayer, a wall of strength to protect us; and in the flow of our heartfelt tears, a bath which will cleanse us from sin. But obedience they have called an act of faith, a confession of our Divine Saviour, without which no one, subject to his passions, shall see God.

9. He who is submissive to the authority of a superior, passes judgment whenever there is any difference of opinion against himself, because his obedience is perfect, and grounded upon the love of God. Though he humbly believes that there is much imperfection in his obedience, yet he feels confident that he will not have to render an account to God of the judgments which he has pronounced upon himself. If the superior continues his reprimands, all may go on well, but if he remains silent, I dare not mention the consequences. They who are obedient in simplicity of heart for the love of God, happily complete their illustrious course, without giving the wicked spirits any encouragement by the reflections and opinions made upon those over them in authority.

10. Before all things let us manifest our faults to our superior, the proper and appointed judge of them, and to no one else. Let us, however, be ready to make them known to all the world, if this were commanded. For when wounds are probed and examined in a good light, they will not fester, but heal and close up.

THE HISTORY OF A PENITENT ROBBER

11. Being one day in the monastery of an excellent superior and charitable pastor, I heard him pronounce a most severe judgment. For it happened whilst I was there, a robber had just arrived in order to embrace the life of a solitary. The prudent superior and wise physician ordered him to remain perfectly quiet during seven days, that he might consider at leisure the kind of life practised in that house. At the expiration of this time he called the robber to him in private, and asked him if he would be content to remain with them. Judging from the sincerity of his answer, that he was well disposed, he interrogated him again upon the crimes which he had committed in the world, and convinced that he had confessed them all candidly, and with good heart, he further said to him to try his humility: “I wish you to make a confession of these crimes publicly to all the brethren.” This poor sinner, who had conceived a real hatred of his sins, and a generous contempt of the confusion which he might experience in so doing, promised to comply with the will of the superior, without hesitation. “Yea,” he added, “ if you wish me to make a confession in the very midst of the city of Alexandria, I will do it.” The holy abbot assembled the brethren in the church, to the number of two hundred and thirty; and during the celebration of the divine mysteries, (for it was Sunday,) after the reading of the Gospel, he ordered the criminal, now purified from his sins, to be brought before them. Some of the brethren led him by a cord, striking him as they went along, a few gentle blows. His hands were tied behind his back; he was clothed in a rough garment, made of the skins of beasts, and his head was covered with ashes. This spectacle took all present by surprise, and filled them with astonishment, because they knew not what was the matter, and they immediately broke forth into sighs and lamentations. When the penitent had reached the door of the church, the prudent director and charitable superior cried out in a loud voice: “Remember where you are; for you are not worthy to enter this hallowed temple.” Such a speech from so good a pastor, and in so sacred a place, struck the poor robber with such terror, that he thought he heard not the voice of man, but a peal of thunder. And he assured us afterwards with an oath, that he threw himself on his face upon the ground, and was almost dead with fear and trembling. Whilst he was thus prostrate, and watering the earth with his tears, the admirable physician who sought in all this severity the salvation of the penitent, and an occasion of presenting to others a living model of an efficacious and sincere humility, commanded him to detail minutely, and in presence of all that were there, all the faults which he had ever committed. This injunction filled him with horror, and struck with astonishment all who heard him relate such enormous and unheard of crimes. For he confessed not only to violations of the law of nature, and to instances of brutality beyond what might be conceived of rational creatures, but also to poisonings, murders and other execrable misdeeds, which it is not prudent for the ear to hear, nor for the pen to write. Immediately after this confession the superior ordered his hair to be cut off, and that then he should be received among the brethren.

12. Having admired the wisdom of this holy abbot, I asked him, in private, what was his motive in producing this extraordinary spectacle. This good physician of souls replied: “I have done it for two reasons. The first reason is, that the shame of this public confession may deliver his soul from the future and eternal shame which, I have no doubt, has been accomplished. For even before he arose from the ground, on which he was prostrate, he had obtained from God the pardon of his sins. Do not, dear brother, call this in question. For one of the solitaries, who was present, assured me that he had seen a man with a forbidding aspect, who held in one hand a written paper, and in the other a pen, with which he effaced each sin recorded on that paper as soon as it was confessed by the penitent robber prostrate upon the earth. And this very justly, since it is written: ‘I have acknowledged my sin to thee, and my injustice I have not concealed. I said I will confess against myself my injustice to the Lord and thou hast forgiven the wickedness of my sin’2 The other reason is, that having some religious in my monastery, who have not yet declared publicly their sins, I was anxious by this example to animate them to do so, since without such confession, they will not obtain the pardon of their offences.”3

THE ADMIRABLE VIRTUES OF THE RELIGIOUS OF A LARGE

MONASTERY NEAR THE CITY OF ALEXANDRIA.

13. I saw many things worthy of admiration, and of being treasured up in the memory, in the excellent superior above mentioned, and in his holy community. I will endeavour to relate to you the greater part of them, for I dwelt sufficiently long in their monastery carefully to note their conduct and the discipline of their house, and I could not refrain from wondering how these men, still inhabitants of the earth, were able to imitate so well the inhabitants of the celestial Sion. They were bound together by the indissoluble chain of Christian friendship; and what was worthy of notice, this mutual affection was exempt from all indiscreet freedom in their words, and without any vain and unprofitable conversation. Their first care was not to wound the consciences of their brethren. If, however, any of them appeared to entertain an aversion towards another, the abbot sent him as a criminal into exile, to a monastery at some distance from his own. One of them having one day spoken injuriously of another in presence of the superior, this holy man commanded him to be immediately driven from his presence, saying that he had no wish to harbour two demons in the same monastery, the one visible and the other invisible.

14. I have witnessed, amongst these saints, things which were both truly profitable and admirable. I have seen a society of brethren whom the Holy Spirit of God had united together, and who possessed in a marvelous degree, that which was most perfect both in the active and contemplative life. They so spent themselves in the practice of all kinds of virtues, and in the meditation of holy things, that they had no need of any admonition from their superior, for they animated one another with a fervour and a vigilance almost divine. They had concerted, regulated, and settled among themselves, certain private and holy practices. If it happened in the absence of the abbot, that any one commenced to speak disrespectfully of another, or to condemn him through rash judgment, or to say against him foolish words, some brother would indicate to him his fault by a secret sign, without any other perceiving it, and thus restrain him within the bounds of duty. But if it happened that the delinquent did not understand the sign of him who reprehended him, the same brother who had given the sign, would prostrate before him, and then go away. When they sometimes held conversation together, the meditation of death, and the thought of the eternal judgment, were the ordinary and inexhaustible topics of their discourse.

15. I will not conceal the admirable and singular virtue of the cook of this monastery. When I saw him in his occupations, and in the services of the kitchen, preserve perpetual recollection of mind, and shed continual tears, I besought him to tell me how he obtained from God so great a grace. Overpowered by my importunity, he replied: “I never felt that I was doing this service for men, but for God. And as I am myself condemned and judged worthy of no repose, the fire which is constantly before me, unceasingly reminds me of the eternal flames of hell.”

16. Listen to another rare and pious custom of the solitaries of this monastery. When at table, they discontinued not their spiritual meditations; and these excellent religious took every care, by secret signs and gestures, to remind each other of that which was necessary to rekindle in them the spirit of prayer. And this they did not only at table, but every time they met or assembled together.

17. When any one committed a fault, many of the brethren would beseech him to allow them to take charge of his fault, and to give an account of it to their father superior as if it were their own, that they might receive from him the proper reprimand and chastisement. When the holy abbot discovered this charitable conduct of his brethren, he became less severe in his corrections, knowing that he whom he reprimanded, was not the guilty one. Yea it was not without difficulty that he could sometimes discover the real delinquent.

18. We never heard these religious hold any profane conversation or use jesting language. If there arose a dispute, some one passing by would prostrate upon the ground, and by this exterior humiliation calm the minds of the disputants, and dispel the risings of their anger. But if he thought that there remained in their hearts, any resentment from their contention, he would inform the superior next in authority to the abbot, and he would dispose them to be reconciled before set of sun. If, however, this superior could not bend the stubbornness of their hearts, he would deprive them of food until they were friends, or he would expel them from the monastery.

19. This discipline, so strict and so praiseworthy, was not sterile, but produced abundant fruit visible to every one. For we beheld many of these saints, who shone as models both in the active and the contemplative life, equally humble and discreet. There was witnessed amongst them a sight which filled one with a reverence accompanied with fear and which appeared more angelic than human. It was that of old men, whose countenances were illuminated with a majesty worthy of respect, running like children to receive the commands of their superior, and whose greatest glory was their submission and their humility. I saw there, men who had passed fifty years under obedience. Having asked them to tell me what consolation they had drawn from the painful exercise of this virtue, some of them replied, that having descended into the abyss of humility, they were now entirely free from all agitation of mind, and warfare of the passions; others said, that they had a perfect insensibility to injuries and insults.

20. I have recognised among these holy men, those who were worthy of being held in eternal remembrance, who, with hair white as snow, and countenances like angels, had acquired by the fervour of their labours and the grace of God, a perfect innocence, a wise simplicity, which displayed no want of reason, no childish levity, usually charged upon old men in the world. Outwardly, there was a delightful sweetness playing upon their features, a wonderful display of goodness, a pleasant cheerfulness, without the shadow of disguise, study, or artfulness, whether in their words or in their manners. Such complete openness of character is seldom found among men. With respect to their interior, they sighed after God and their superior only, like simple, innocent children, who love their parents with extreme affection. But upon evil spirits and upon wickedness, they looked down with the frown of contempt.

21. My whole life would not suffice (O holy pastor, and you his faithful flock, so dear to God) to relate the virtues, the heroic actions of these eminent solitaries. Yet it is better that I should embellish my discourse and excite you to the love of God, by the recital of their labours and struggles, than by my own mean and contemptible exhortations; since that which is imperfect receives a dignity, a polish from that which is perfect. I merely ask this favour that you will not think any thing I have written imaginary and fabulous, because if doubt be cast upon the truth of the narrative, the fruit is at once destroyed. We will now resume our discourse.

THE WONDERFUL PENANCE OF A GENTLEMAN NAMED ISIDORE.

22. I found in the above monastery a person of quality, named Isidore, who had been one of the magistrates of Alexandria, and who many years ago retired from the world, and sought an asylum in this house. The holy abbot who received him, saw that his disposition was lively and active for mischief, and that he was naturally uncouth, harsh, and proud. By prudent management he made him see that a person by skill may elude the cunning of the devil. For this purpose the good abbot said to Isidore, “If you have taken a firm resolution to bear the yoke of Jesus Christ, I wish you above all things to practice obedience.” Isidore replied: “Most holy father, I place myself in your hands as iron in the hands of the workman in the forge.” The wise superior, pleased with the similitude, immediately placed him, to test his sincerity, upon the anvil, by subjecting him to the following proof. “I command you, my dear brother,” he said, “to kneel down at the gate of the monastery before all that may enter in or depart from it, and to say to them, “My father, I beg you to pray for me, because my soul is subject to spiritual epilepsy.” Isidore obeyed this injunction, as an angel would obey God. When he had spent seven years in this exercise, and attained to a very profound humility, and a lively compunction of heart, the excellent superior wished, after such a trial, and such incomparable patience, that he should be received among the brethren, and even admitted to sacred orders. But the penitent besought him most earnestly, both by his own entreaties and those of others, to leave him, miserable wretch as he was, to complete his religious career, in the continuance of the same penance indicating pretty clearly that the end of his trial was at hand, and that God would soon call him to himself, which, indeed, happened shortly. For after the abbot granted his request, he died at the expiration of ten days, and ascended to the glory of heaven by his contempt of the fading glory of earth. Seven days after his death, he appeared, and called to him the porter of the monastery, to whom he had previously said: “If I have found favour with God, we shall soon be united together in heaven, never more to be separated.” His prediction was fulfilled. For God wished to testify in an evident manner to the merit both of his obedience, in enduring without shame, so deep an abasement, and of his humility which had made him a true imitator of Jesus Christ.

23. Having one day, before his death, asked of Isidore, what were the interior exercises of his soul, during the time he was kneeling at the gate, he frankly told me, from the motive that I might perhaps derive some benefit from the recital. “During the first year,” he said, “I represented myself as sold into bondage, in punishment of my sins. This feeling that I was a slave, caused me so much bitterness and vexation of spirit, that I had the greatest repugnance to my position, and my blood would sometimes gush from my mouth, when I prostrated at the feet of the brethren, to perform my penance. After the first year, I felt little or no sadness, dejection, or pain; because I entertained the hope that God would reward my patience. When the second year had passed, the prevailing sentiment of my heart was that I was unworthy to dwell in the monastery, to see or converse with the brethren, or to be admitted to a participation of the Divine Mysteries, or even to look any one in the face. For this reason I kept my eyes fixed upon the ground, my mind deeply humbled, asking those who entered or departed from the monastery to pray for me.”

ON THE HUMILITY OF A HOLY OLD MAN, NAMED LAURENCE.

24. Being one day seated near the first superior at table, he whispered in my ear: “Would you wish to see heavenly wisdom shining forth in venerable old age?” I instantly answered Yes. He then called to him a good father, named Laurence, who was at the second table, who had spent forty-eight years in his monastery, and who was the second priest of the Church. Laurence came immediately, and putting himself on his knees before the abbot, received his benediction. When he arose, the abbot said not to him a single word, but left him standing near the table, and without food. This was at the commencement of dinner; and the old man continued in this position more than an hour, indeed, I might say two hours. This sight filled me with confusion, and I could scarcely take my eyes from that holy and venerable religious. His hair was white as snow; and he bent beneath the weight of eighty years. He remained in the same posture until the end of dinner, without any one making to him a single observation. When we rose from table, the superior commanded him to go and find the penitent Isidore, of whom we have just spoken, and to tell him to recite the beginning of the thirty-ninth Psalm: “With expectation I have waited for the Lord, and He was attentive to me.”

25. As I was somewhat malicious, I ventured to tempt the holy old man by asking him what he was thinking of, whilst standing so long near the table. “I regarded my superior,” he said, “as the image of Jesus Christ. For this reason, I did not consider the injunction as coming from man, but from God Himself. Hence it seemed to me, dear father, that I was not standing before the table of men, but before the altar of God, upon which I was continually offering my prayers during the time you were noticing me. I did not so much as conceive a wrong thought against my superior, on account of the confidence which I have in his prudence, and the love which I bear him, having learnt from the apostle, that the love of our neighbour ‘thinketh no evil’.4 And you yourself know, dear father, that the more any one yields himself willingly to simplicity of heart, and to innocency of life, the more difficult will it be for the devil to find an entrance into his soul.”

THE EXAMPLE OF ANOTHER PATIENT AND HUMBLE SOLITARY.

26. Such, in truth, was that just and holy pastor, the abbot of the afore-mentioned monastery, that God made him the faithful shepherd of many worthy sheep. Amongst these was the housekeeper or cellarer. He had superior wisdom with an extraordinary sweetness of temper. The abbot, desirous that his humility should serve as a model to others, reprimanded him, though guilty of no fault, with much severity and apparent anger; and at a very unseasonable hour, ordered, to the surprise of every one, that he should be expelled from the Church. As I knew this good brother’s innocence, I called the abbot aside, and undertook to defend him who was guilty of no crime. The wise superior replied, “I am fully aware, my dear friend, that the cellarer has in no way transgressed; but as it would not be right for a father to take the bread out of the mouth of his famishing child, so would it be equally unjust for a superior to deprive those entrusted to his care of those gems in their crown of glory, which it is in his power to procure, by subjecting them to reproaches and humiliations, mockery and contempt; provided he is confident that they will bear these trials with patience. By such conduct he would be guilty of three grievous acts of injustice. In the first place, he would deprive himself of the reward which a prudent and charitable reprehension of his brethren would otherwise merit for him. In the second place, he would deprive his brethren of a bright and living example of exalted virtue, from which they would be able to gather good and abundant fruit. In the third place, the greatest loss would be this; they who are most patient in trials and labours, when not exercised for some considerable time in this virtue, when not reprimanded nor humbled by their superior through his esteem of their piety, lose both their mildness and their patience. Their souls may be compared to a very rich and fertile soil, which if left without the waters of humility, will soon become cold and sterile, and produce nothing but the briars and thorns of pride and self-complacency. Hence this admonition of St. Paul to Timothy: “Be instant in season and out of season; reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine.”5

27. I objected, that it might happen in this degenerate age, and through the infirmity of our nature, that many hearing themselves reprehended without reason, or even with reason, would abandon the monastery. This wise and prudent director of religious souls answered: “A monk whom Jesus Christ has united to his superior, by the bonds of faith and love, will preserve this union even at the price of his blood; particularly if the superior has been the physician whom God employed to heal that brother’s wounds; mindful of that which is written by the great Apostle of the Gentiles: ‘For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor any other thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’6 But if a religious be bound by no such ties to his superior, I wonder how he can continue with any degree of benefit in a house, in which he is retained merely by a false and deceitful obedience. Certainly I had reason to know that this excellent superior was not deceived in his judgment, since he had conducted to perfection, and offered to Jesus Christ many souls, the pure oblations which he had so happily consecrated.

28. Let us hearken to the wisdom of God, and express our astonishment that it should be found in vessels of clay. When in this monastery, I contemplated with admiration the faith, the patience, the invincible fortitude with which the young religious endured contempt, and allowed themselves to be expelled the company of their brethren; and this not only by their superior, but even by those far beneath them.

THE EMINENT PATIENCE OF A SOLITARY NAMED ABBACYRUS.

29. One day beholding a brother, called Abbacyrus, who had lived in the monastery fifteen years, ill-treated by almost every body, and sometimes driven away from table by those who had care of the refectory, because he was too apt to speak, I asked him, for my own edification, the reason of this bad usage, and said to him: “Why, brother, are you driven almost every day from table, and not infrequently even sent to bed without your supper?” He replied, “Believe me, my father, I am not treated in this manner through any rudeness, but through a charitable motive on the part of my brethren to prove me, and to ascertain if I can faithfully perform the duties of a religious life. This is the reason why, knowing the intention of my superior and of the community, I bear these trials so cheerfully. I have already spent fifteen years in this house, without taking umbrage at the manner in which I have been treated; for I have heard the brethren declare, that they would try for thirty years continuously one who came to join them from the world. And certainly, dear father, it is with good reason, since we never can be perfect, if we do not pass through the fire which separates the dross from the pure metal.

30. This excellent religious was living two years after I came to the monastery; he then went to repose in the bosom of God, repeating to the assembled brethren, as his spirit was about to take its flight to the realms of bliss: “I return thanks to God and to you for having tried and proved me in the manner in which you have, for my salvation. It is now seventeen years since I was assailed by the temptations of the devil.” The abbot, the upright judge of the virtues of his disciples, ordered Abbacyrus to be buried as a confessor, near to the bodies of the holy fathers that reposed in the monastery.

THE EXTRAORDINARY SUBMISSION OF THE SOLITARY MACEDONIUS.

31. I should give offence to those endued with love and zeal for heroic virtue, were I to pass over in silence the holy exercises and memorable combats of Macedonius, the first among the deacons of the monastery. This servant of God, so favoured by his Divine Master, having asked his superior, two days before the Feast of the Epiphany, permission to go to Alexandria, upon some particular business, and having promised to return immediately to prepare all that was necessary for the approaching solemnity, found so many obstacles thrust in his way by the enemy of mankind, that he could not possibly return by the time appointed. It was not till two days after the feast that he re-entered his monastery. The superior suspended him from his office, and placed him below the novices. This deacon so patient, this archdeacon of constancy and humility, received this penance with so much calmness and serenity of mind, that it might have been upon another, and not upon himself, that it had been imposed. Having continued under this censure during forty days, the worthy abbot reinstated him in his office, and in the exercise of his duties. But on the following day the penitent deacon besought him with much earnestness to leave him as he was, alleging as the ground of this request, that he had committed in Alexandria a crime which was unpardonable. Although the prudent superior knew that this was merely a subterfuge that he might be allowed to continue in his humiliation and abasement, yet yielded to this praiseworthy desire of fervour and humility in Macedonius. Thus we beheld in the rank of novices, a man venerable in age, conjuring all his brethren with great simplicity and sincerity to pray to God for him, because he had been unfaithful and had fallen into the sin of disobedience. The chief and secret motive so candidly mentioned to me utterly unworthy of his confidence, which induced Macedonius to enter upon this humiliating penance with so much ardour, is best stated in his own words: “I was never at any time,” he said, “less assaulted by the troubles and commotions of our spiritual warfare, nor more sensibly affected by the sweet illuminations of heavenly light. It is the happy condition of the good angels never to fall, and as some say, not to have it in their power to fall. But our lot is unhappily to fall, and then to rise again. The devils fell never more to rise.”

32. The cellarer of the monastery also related an adventure which happened to himself. “When I was young,” he said, “and had the care of cattle, I fell into a fault which was dangerous to my soul. But as I was not accustomed to conceal the serpent sin within my bosom, I took it at once by the tail, and presented it to my spiritual physician. Having looked at me with a smile, and given me a slight blow on the cheek, he said: ‘Go, my son, and continue your ordinary occupation, as you were wont, without fear.’ I believed his words with an ardent faith, and in a few days received the assurance that my soul was healed, so that I thenceforth ran in the way of divine perfection with joy and trembling.”

33. As there are many species in each particular genus of those things which God has created, so in a religious house there are various degrees and methods in the growth of holiness, and different inclinations and interior motions to be resisted and overcome. Hence the prudent abbot, having observed that some of the brethren were fond of showing themselves through ostentation to seculars, who visited the monastery, humbled them in the very presence of these visitors, by assailing them with the most cutting reproaches, and by employing them in the very lowest and most humiliating services. After this they would run away immediately when they saw any strangers enter the house. It was, indeed, astonishing to behold how vain-glory thus tormented itself, by hiding itself from the sight of men.

A SINGULAR EXAMPLE OF PATIENCE IN THE VENERABLE MENAS

34. There was in the monastery which we have been praising so highly, an excellent old man, named Menas, who was next in authority to the abbot. He had dwelt in the monastery fifty-nine years, and exercised at various times all the offices of the house. It pleased God that I should not be deprived of the prayers of this holy man, whom He called to Himself seven days before my departure. Three days after his death, whilst we were celebrating the funeral service, there exhaled from his body a most sweet and delicious odour. The abbot ordered the coffin to be opened, when we saw exude from the soles of the feet of this saint, two streams of oil as fragrant as some delightful perfume. At this sight the superior, so skillful in the science of a spiritual life, said to us: “You are witnesses that the labours and perspiration of his feet have been as precious ointment which he offered to God, and God graciously accepted these presents.” The brethren then related many virtuous actions of this saint, among which we will mention the following. One day as Menas, who had been absent from his monastery, returned home, he went about evening to the abbot’s room, knelt down, and asked the accustomed benediction. The abbot, desirous of trying his patience, left him upon his knees till the hour for office, when he gave him his blessing, with permission to rise, reproaching him, however, at the same time, with the love of ostentation and vanity, and with being impatient. The superior knew that Menas would endure all this mortification with a noble mind, but he had recourse to this pious stratagem for the edification of others. One of the disciples of this saint assured me of the truth of this narrative, as well as of all the others related in the life of his excellent master, adding, that having been tempted to ask him if, whilst on his knees before his superior, he did not fall asleep, the holy man replied, No; but during that time he had recited the whole of the Psalter, that is, the whole of the Psalms.

THE CHOICE SAYINGS OF THE MONKS OF THIS MONASTERY.

35. As the emerald and other precious stones adorn and give lustre to the crown of royalty, so do I wish to embellish my narrative with the edifying maxims and sayings of the holy religious among whom I dwelt in order to be trained in the way of perfection. Having one day engaged some of the more virtuous of the ancients to give me their opinion respecting the life of the anchorites, they smilingly replied: “Dear father, rude and unspiritual as we are, we have embraced a life as rustic as ourselves. And our motive for this was, that we ought to be satisfied with undertaking a warfare proportioned to our strength, and that it is far easier to fight with men, who sometimes become angry and cross with each other, and immediately repent of their hastiness, than with demons, who are always in a rage against us, and always armed for deadly warfare.”

36. Another of these pious religious worthy of eternal remembrance, who cherished a great affection for me in our Lord, and who spoke to me with great freedom, said one day with much feeling: “If you, who are so prudent, felt the energy of him who could say from his heart, ‘I can do all things in Him who strengthens me’;7 if the Holy Spirit were to descend upon you in the dew of His sanctifying grace, as He formerly did upon the Blessed Virgin; if the power of the Most High filled you, as it did her pure soul, with patience, you would lay aside your garments, take a towel, and gird yourself in imitation of Jesus Christ at His last supper, that you might learn from Him obedience; you would rise from table, that is, from the repose of solitude, in order to wash the feet of your brethren, with the sentiments of a humble and contrite heart, or rather you would prostrate at their feet with feelings of profound humility. Place over your heart careful guards that will never sleep. Check the wanderings of the human mind, which is never steady amidst the distractions that are caused by the bodily senses. Be tranquil amidst the commotions of your own earthly tabernacle, and view with a serene mind the dangers and the storms which threaten you from without. Curb in the tongue with the chain of silence, lest its audaciousness should embroil you in contention and quarrelling. Fight not once in the day, but seventy times seven, against this unruly member. Carry the cross in your heart, and so fix it therein as an anvil upon its stock, that you may resist every stroke from the hammer of temptation, and be proof against the affronts, calumnies, and injuries which may aim at you their blows one after the other, whilst you suffer no disturbance of temper, but retain your usual calmness and constancy of soul. Cast off your own will, as you would an old garment, and enter upon your heavenly career, disencumbered of every thing that is likely to impede your progress. Arm yourself with a firm confidence in Him who is to crown you after your victory. Let this confidence, which is a virtue very scarce, be your strong and impenetrable breast-plate, against all the doubts and mistrusts that may assail the mind. Rein in with the bridle of continency the sensual inclinations, which will otherwise hurry you into the shameful sins of impurity. Shut out, by timely meditation, the curiosity of the eyes, which are perpetually roving in quest of great and beautiful objects. Keep down, by your solicitude for your salvation, all inquisitiveness of mind, which is ever ready to condemn others, whilst it flatters and favours itself in its own negligence. Let your actions testify to your neighbour the sincerity of your affections, by showing him all the charity and kindness in your power. All men, dear father, will acknowledge us for the disciples of Jesus Christ if, within the sphere of our society, we have charity one towards another.” He then said: “Come, come, and dwell with us. Come and drink forthwith contempt and humiliation like living water. Remember that holy David having sought for that which was most pleasant under the sun, concluded his search with this question: What is there delightful on earth? He answers by this beautiful exclamation: ‘How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.’8 If it is not permitted that we should enjoy this wonderful patience and obedience, let us, at least, sensible of our weakness, dwell in solitude, far from the advantage ground of these holy combatants of a religious life, and whilst admiring their happy lot, let us implore for them the grace of patience.” This good father and master of a spiritual life in this manner convinced me, by his excellent observations, drawn from the evangelists and the prophets, and still further by the amiability of his friendship, that nothing was to be compared to the happiness of obedience, and I yielded to the force of his arguments, and embraced his opinion.

37. Before leaving these choice pieces of instruction, which are as a paradise of delights, and entering again amongst the thorns and briars of my own discourses, so devoid of interest and utility, it is proper I should mention one virtue of these good fathers, from which we may derive considerable profit. The abbot having noticed certain brothers conversing together during office, at which I many times assisted, commanded them to remain at the gate of the monastery during a whole week, and to prostrate, in the manner of penitents, before all who should enter or depart from the house. And these brothers were in sacred orders, yes, some of them priests.

38. Having one day remarked that one of the brethren was much more attentive to the chanting of the Psalms than the rest, that he appeared to be inflamed with an extraordinary devotion, and that more especially when the office was being commenced, he seemed by his gestures, and the visible movement of his features, to be speaking to some one. I asked him to tell me the reason of this. Not wishing to conceal from me that which might promote my spiritual benefit, he replied: “My father, I have a practice, when I begin the office, of collecting my wandering thoughts, and of concentrating the faculties of my soul, by saying to them: ‘Come, let us adore the Lord and fall down before Him; let us joyfully sing to God our Saviour.’”9

39. I was curious, likewise, in noting the actions of him who had care of the refectory, and I observed several small tablets attached to his girdle. Upon these, I was told, that he wrote the thoughts which recurred to his mind during the day, and that he referred them all to the abbot. Indeed, he was not the only one who adopted this practice. Many others did it by the wish of their holy superior.

40. One of the solitaries having been expelled the house by the command of the abbot, because he had falsely accused to him a brother of employing his time in nothing but foolery and talking, remained seven days at the door of the monastery, imploring without intermission, that his fault might be pardoned, and that he might be allowed to reenter. The good abbot, burning with love for the souls of his brethren, having learnt all the circumstances of the case and knowing that the poor brother had eaten nothing during six days, declared to him, that if he had a sincere desire of being readmitted into the monastery, he must be received among the penitents. The brother, animated by the true spirit of repentance, gladly accepted the proposal, and was conducted by the superior into that dwelling set apart for those who did penance for offences committed after their profession. Since I have alluded to this monastic penitentiary, a short description of it will not be out of place.

A DESCRIPTION OF THE PENITENTS’ HOUSE.

41. It was distant about a mile from the great monastery, and was called ‘the prison’. All human consolations were absolutely banished its precincts. There was seen no fire, no wine, no oil, nor any other nourishment but bread and raw legumes. The abbot sent to this penitentiary those who after their entrance into religion, had fallen into some grievous transgression. They did not dwell in a common apartment, but each one by himself, or at most, two together. They were confined in this enclosure, without even being allowed to depart from it, until God had given some evident indication of their reconciliation with Him. The abbot placed over them a person of distinction, named Isaac, who endeavoured to form in their minds the habit of constant prayer. They were plentifully supplied with palm leaves, from which they made baskets, to prevent depression of spirits and disgust of the religious state. Behold the life, the position, and the discipline of those, who truly sought to see the face of the God of Jacob.

42. To admire the labours of the saints is, indeed, very praiseworthy; but to endeavour to imitate them is exceedingly profitable to our eternal welfare. To wish, however, at once, without any training, to be masters of their holy and severe discipline, is both foolish and impossible.

43. When reprehension stirs up our resentment and makes us sad, let us repress this over sensitivity and unjust grief, by the lively sorrow which we ought to entertain for our sins. Let us hope that God, seeing the violence which we have done to ourselves for His sake, will vouchsafe to pardon them, and turn into joy those feelings of vexation which are ready to disturb the peace that reigns in our hearts, “according to the multitude of my sorrows,” says the Royal Prophet, “Thy comforts have given joy to my heart.”10 Again these consoling words: “We have rejoiced in the days in which Thou has humbled us; for the years in which we have seen evils. Look upon Thy servants and upon their works; and direct their children. Let the lightness of the Lord God be upon us; and direct Thou the works of our hands over us; yea the work of our hands do Thou direct.”11

44. Happy the religious, who every day does violence to himself in the sight of God, in supporting injustice and contempt with patience! During the endless day of eternity, he will be filled with the joy of the martyrs, he will be crowned with the glory of the angels. Happy the solitary, who, at all times, deems himself worthy of humiliation and abasement! Yes, happy the monk, who dies completely to his own will, and places himself entirely in the hands of him, whom God has appointed to be his father and his master! His place shall be at the right hand of Jesus Christ in heaven. But he who will not receive reprehension whether just or unjust, renounces his salvation; whereas he who submits to it with humility, whether it be painful or not, will obtain the pardon of his sins.

45. Present to God in spirit and with sincerity, your love of your spiritual father, and your confidence in his direction, and God will communicate this affection to him by some secret inspiration, and will prompt him by grace to unite himself familiarly with you, by that very disposition which you cherish towards him.

46. He who discloses all his temptations, and exposes to the view of his superior the serpents that would fain make their lurking place in his bosom, proves, in the clearest manner, the unshaken nature of his confidence. But he who keeps them locked up in his heart, wanders from the light, and follows the path which leads to perdition.

47. If you wish to know, whether any one has true and fraternal charity towards his neighbour, you will be sure to see him weep, when his brother has committed a fault, and to rejoice when he is advancing in virtue, and in the grace with which God has enriched him.

48. He who, in conversation, maintains too stiffly his own opinion, though he may be right, must know that he is labouring under the same disease as the devil, which is pride. If this fault has been committed with his equals, he may be easily corrected and cured of it by the timely counsel of the ancients. But if with the seniors, and with the more wise among the ancients, the evil is incurable; no remedies will avail for his amendment.

49. The religious who is not humble in his words is not guarded in his actions. For he who is unfaithful in small matters, will be unfaithful and untractable in things of greater consequence. His labour will be in vain; and he will derive no other fruit from his obedience but condemnation.

50. If any one, by a perfect submission to his director, has preserved an upright conscience, he will have no fear of death. He will wait for it each day, as for a pleasant sleep, or as the entrance into a new and happy life. For he is convinced, that when he shall depart from this world it will not be from him, but from his superior, that God will exact an account of his actions.

51. When any one, in the name of God, receives from his spiritual father some office or employment, without any unjust influence being used to induce his acceptance, and falls into some fault which he did not expect, he must not blame the superior who gave him the employment or the weapon, but himself who accepted it; since it was given to him, that he might therewith combat the enemy; whereas he has turned it against himself and pierced with it his own heart. But if the occupation was in a manner forced upon him, and he yielded purely through the love of God, after explaining to the superior his weakness and incapacity, let him be of good courage; for though he should fall, the fall will not be mortal.

52. I forgot, my dear friends, to place before you some delicious bread for the nourishment of your souls, in relating the virtues of certain holy religious, who I saw doing, for the love of God, the lowest and most humiliating actions. In this manner they were prepared to endure injuries without any annoyance or perturbation of mind.

53. The religious who is always resolved to confess his faults, be they whatever they may, employs this resolution as a bridle to the commission of sin. For when we wish to hide our transgressions in the secret recesses of our heart, we shall sin without fear, whenever we are not seen. On the other hand, when, during the absence of our superior, we represent him to the mind as present, and on that account avoid every thing that would be displeasing to him, whether in our conversation, and intercourse with one another, or in our sleep, or in our food, we practise a true and sincere obedience. Unruly children generally consider the absence of their master a time of joy; whereas those directed towards virtue lament it as a disadvantage and check upon their progress.

54. Having inquired from one of the most virtuous of the fathers, in what manner humility is to be the companion of obedience, he replied: “when he who is equally obedient and grateful to his spiritual director, raises the dead to life, possesses the gift of tears, and is delivered from every thing which excites the passions and is the occasion of temptation, he will attribute all these favours to the prayers of his spiritual father, and thus guard himself from dashing against the rock of presumption.

55. The anchorite is not in a position so favourable to the practice of this interior humility. For vanity, which is a flattering opinion of one’s self, has greater power over him, by the belief it is through his own virtue and exertion that his actions are accomplished.

56. When he who is under the guidance of a superior, has avoided all the deceitful snares of the devil, he will thenceforth and for ever be obedient.

57. The devil assaults in various ways those who make professions of obedience. At one time he troubles their minds with foul representations against chastity, and fills their hearts with sadness and vexation; at another time he makes those who are usually meek, turbulent and restive, and leaves them dry and destitute of piety, impatient for their meals, negligent in prayer, addicted to sleepiness, and with their souls obscured by mental darkness. In short, he endeavours to persuade them that they derive no fruit from their obedience, that they are receding instead of advancing. Thus would he gladly withhold them from their daily exercises and accustomed warfare. For he does not leave them time to reflect, that what appears to them the best, is often withholden from them by the wise dispensation of Divine Providence, that there may be laid in their souls the solid foundation of humility.

58. When we have battled by our perseverance these onslaughts of our infernal enemy, he assumes another shape, and endeavours to beguile us by some new artifice. For I have seen religious, who, through their obedience, had obtained from God profound sentiments of repentance, who were mild, continent, full of fervour, free from the strife of the passions, and inflamed with the love of God, secretly persuaded by the devil, that they were then fully prepared for the solitude of the anchorites, and sufficiently strong to acquire in this solitude sovereign peace of soul, and complete mastery over their passions. Permitting themselves to be deluded by these specious reasons, they left the tranquil haven of their monastery for the boisterous sea of the hermitage. There, tossed upon the surges of impure thoughts and diabolical temptations, without any pilot to guide them, they suffered the total shipwreck of their souls.

59. As rivers carry polluted waters into the sea, so do the passions carry their filthy streams into our souls. Hence the soul, like the sea, must be agitated and put in commotion, that the impurities left in it by the passions may be washed back by the waves upon the shore. And let us remember that a tempest is always followed by a calm.

60. He who, at one time, obeys his spiritual father, and at another, disobeys him, resembles the man, who now applies to his eyes medicinal water, and then quick-lime. “When one buildeth up,‘ saith the wise man, “and another pulleth down; what profit have they but the labour?”12

61. You who are the obedient children of the Lord, do not permit yourselves to be deluded by the demon of vanity, nor mention your faults to your superior under the guise of a third person. For we cannot escape the eternal confusion due to sin, unless we first undergo the momentary confusion of confession. Discover and lay bare your wounds to your spiritual physician. Say to him, without shame, “This is my own fault; this the wound of my own soul. It happened entirely through my own negligence. I cannot attribute it to any one else. I must confess it to be wholly mine, without seeking any excuse from the suggestions of men, or from the malice of the devil, or from any weakness or infirmity of body. It occurred entirely through my own cowardice and tepidity.”

62. In your confession, be in appearance, in manner, and disposition, like a criminal. With your eyes fixed upon the ground, bathe, if possible, the feet of your judge and physician, as you would those of Jesus Christ, with the tears of compunction.

63. The ordinary stratagem of the devil is to induce us either to conceal our sins, or to mention them in the third person, or to remove the blame from ourselves and attach it to others.

64. If custom is all-powerful, and carries everything down the stream with it, it may become, in the exercise of virtue, even more irresistible, since we then have the assistance and protection of God’s divine grace.

65. My son, if from the commencement of thy religious career, thou hast not devoted thyself with thy whole heart to humiliation, thou hast not certainly laboured long in acquiring peace and tranquility from the passions which war against the soul.

66. Do not disdain to confess your sins, with a good will, and with a humble and modest countenance, to him who has power to heal your soul of its maladies, as you would do to God Himself. For I have seen criminals, who, by their sad and dejected looks, by the candid confession of their guilt, and by their fervent and humble supplications for mercy, have mollified the severity of their judge, and obtained from him clemency and compassion. Hence St. John, the precursor of Christ, obliged those who came to him to confess their sins before he administered baptism. He did not require this confession for any purpose of his own; but for their advantage and salvation.

67. Be not astonished, if, after your confession, you should have much to battle with; for it is far better that we should have to fight with the corruption of the body only, which humbles us, than with the spirit which inflates us with pride.

68. If the lives of the holy fathers and anchorites of the desert are read for your edification, let not this recital animate you with too much zeal and excite you to embrace that kind of life which is above your strength. For you are now marching under the standard of St. Stephen, the first martyr, by the austerity of your mortification and penance. If you fall or receive a wound, leave not the battlefield, that is, your monastery; for then you are in most need of a physician. For he who by the aid and guidance of his superior has preserved himself from fall or wound, would, probably, without such help and direction, have been defeated, and have lost his soul.

69. When we have been so far overcome, as to be thrown to the ground, the devil immediately prompts us to hide ourselves in the desert, alleging our fall as a sufficient motive for this step, when nothing can be more imprudent than to forsake our monastery. For the object of this enemy of our salvation is to inflict upon us, whilst thus prostrate, a deadly wound.

70. When our spiritual physician declares his inability to heal the maladies of our souls, it is necessary to try another; since few or none can recover their health without the aid of a physician. May we not, indeed, suppose that, if a vessel steered by a skillful pilot escaped shipwreck, it would have been lost without such able guidance at the helm?

71. Obedience brings forth humility; and humility produces peace of soul, by the subjugation of the passions, according to the testimony of the Royal Prophet; “The Lord was mindful of us in our affliction; and hath redeemed us from our enemies.”13

72. The infirm in mind, who, having experienced the skill of their spiritual physician, and having received benefit from his treatment, leave him before their perfect restoration to health, to place themselves under some one else, deserve severe chastisement from God. Do not, therefore, withdraw from the salutary care of him who has offered and consecrated you to the Lord. For never, during the whole of your life, should there be any one, towards whom you entertain a more respectful affection.

73. As it is extremely dangerous for a young and inexperienced soldier to separate himself from his regiment, and fight single handedly with the enemy; so is it equally perilous for a young religious who has not yet learnt how to repel the violent assaults of the passions, to withdraw himself from the company of his brethren, to fight alone, and in the desert, the devil and his army of infernal spirits. The one runs the risk of losing the life of the body; the other, the life of the soul. “It is better, therefore,” says the Wise man, “that two should be together than one; for they have the advantage of their society.”14 Certainly it is better that a son should have the assistance of his father, in subduing his depraved inclinations, by the divine grace and operation of the Holy Spirit, than to be left to his own individual exertions. He who takes away the guide from the blind, the pastor from his flock, the father from his child, the physician from the sick, the pilot from the ship, evidently exposes them to the danger of being lost. In like manner, he who attempts to combat with the spirit of darkness, alone and without the aid of his director, will certainly be vanquished.

74. They who are present for the first time in the consulting room of the physician, observe what are their own ailments. So they who enter the school of their spiritual physician, consider attentively what is the humility which has brought them there. For to those who are suffering from bodily indisposition, the cessation of their pain is a sure sign of their recovery. So likewise to those who are sick in mind, the increase of that humility by which they censure and condemn themselves, will be the best proof of their restoration to health.

75. Let your conscience by the mirror in which you behold the nature of your obedience; and with this be satisfied.

76. They who in the solitude of the desert, live under the guidance of a master, have to defend themselves merely from the assaults of demons, who alone are openly opposed to their salvation; whereas they who reside in a monastery, have to combat both with evil spirits and with men. The first observe with care the precepts of their master, whose eye is always upon them; whilst the latter not infrequently go contrary to the orders of their superior, during his absence. Nevertheless, if they who live in community are fervent and patient in their labours, they will readily repair any want of duty, by the mild manner in which they endure mortification and contradiction from their brethren; and thereby carry off the prize of a double crown.

77. Let us guard our souls with every possible care. For when a monastery, which is the port of salvation, is filled with religious, it is easy for them to fret and annoy one another, particularly for those who are troubled with bile, and easily provoked to anger.

78. Let us studiously observe a profound silence in the presence of our superior, and thereby prove to him that we are both ignorant and mute. For the lover of silence is the friend of wisdom; and is continually receiving new light from above.

79. I have observed a religious, whilst listening to his superior relating some pious story for his edification, interrupt him in his narrative; and I despaired of ever seeing in that religious a true submission of heart; because, instead of having become more humble by his religious profession, he had become inflated with greater pride.

80. Let us search with all diligence, and consider with all the exactitude it is possible, at what time, and on what occasion, we ought to prefer labour to prayer. To make such a preference, on every occasion, would be injudicious.

81. When you are in company with your brethren, be watchful not to appear more just than they; otherwise you will commit two evils. You will make them regret that they have not your apparent justice; and you will expose yourself to vanity and presumption.

82. Be fervent, but fervent in spirit, without any visible display in your actions, signs, words, and gestures. Do not even yield in private to the extraordinary motions of fervour, unless you are really secure from the danger of despising your neighbour. But if you feel inclined to this contempt, conform as much as possible to your brethren, lest you be unlike them in vanity alone.

83. I have heard a wicked religious take praise to himself, in the presence of others, for the good actions of his master. But instead of reaping glory from another man’s field, he brought upon himself nothing but shame and disgrace; for every one asked, how it happened, that so worthless and unfruitful a branch, had grown from so excellent a tree.

84. We must not believe ourselves patient merely because we suffer meekly the humiliating reprimands of our superior. No; then only are we truly patient, when we can endure with resignation, contempt, and injuries from all persons, no matter what they may be. We bear much from our spiritual father, through our reverence and respect for him, and from a sense of our duty.

85. Receive with cheerfulness from the hand of your brethren the bitter waters of humiliation and contempt, and they will be changed for your sanctification into the wholesome waters of life, which will purify your soul from all malignant and corrupted humours. Then will a perfect purity adorn your heart, and the light of God will shine perpetually upon your soul.

86. He who beholds many disciples united in the bonds of Christian friendship, obeying him as their master, must not on that account be vainglorious. For thieves are always on the watch around us. Let these words of Jesus Christ be impressed deeply in your memory. “When you shall have done all these things that are commanded you, say: we are unprofitable servants; we have done that which we ought to do.”15 Then only when we have completed our earthly pilgrimage, shall we know what judgment to form of our labours.

87. A monastery is a celestial paradise. For this reason we ought to dedicate to God all the affections of our hearts, as angels consecrate themselves entirely to His service. In this paradise, some feel their hearts, at times, dry as summer’s dust, and hard as flint; whilst others are wonderfully consoled, by God, with lively sentiments of compunction. This spiritual dryness is permitted by God in the first of these persons, that they may not be caught in the snare of vainglory, and the tears of holy compunction are given to the latter, that the burden of their labours may become easy and lightsome.

88. A small fire will melt much wax: so a little humiliation will frequently soften the hardness and insensibility of our stony hearts.

89. I saw two persons conceal themselves, that they might observe the labours of certain valiant soldiers of Jesus Christ, and listen to their penitential sighs and moanings. One was anxious to become an imitator of their virtues, the other to deride them in public, and turn them by his raillery from the services which they were rendering to God.

90. Do not affect, to the annoyance of your neighbour, an unseasonable and uncalled for silence. When told to hasten your speed, do not walk slowly, lest the quick movement of others, although violent and headlong, should be more supportable than your lagging pace. Thus, according to the testimony of Job, natural slowness and a dilatory disposition are oftentimes detrimental to one class of persons, whilst too much haste is equally baneful to others. In reflecting upon this subject, I have been astonished at the fecundity of our corruption, and the multiplicity of our disorders.

91. In community we cannot derive so much profit from the chanting of the Psalms as from prayer, because the confusion of many voices distracts the attention, and allows not the mind time to comprehend the full meaning of the words.

92. Struggle continually against the levity of your mind, and restrain its roving imaginations, that you may possess interior recollection of spirit, and the command of your thoughts. Be not, therefore, discouraged if your interior recollection is sometimes diverted from its proper object by wandering thoughts. On the contrary, show your courage by constantly calling the mind to its duty and self-possession. It is the privilege of angels alone never to lose that steadfastness of attention, which is the bond of their perpetual union with God.

93. He who from his heart is resolved to endure a thousand deaths, sooner than abandon the combat which he has undertaken for the security of his salvation, and which he purposes to continue till the last breath of life, will not easily incur the inconveniences which we have pointed out. For inconstancy of mind with the unhappy disposition of wandering from place to place, is the source of all our falls and misfortunes. Fickleness in the change of residence argues the want of virtue, for nothing causes in the soul greater sterility in the fruits of divine grace than instability.

94. When you meet with a spiritual physician, and a monastery, with which you are unacquainted, appear as a stranger passing by. Secretly, however, examine the disposition and conduct of its members. If, when you know them, you perceive that they are the workmen of heaven and the ministers of salvation, and that they applied the proper remedies to your disorders, most especially to the inflation of pride, join yourself to them without fear. Nay, sell yourself to them, and seal the contract with the gold of your humility, the written indenture of your obedience, and the bond of your service and labour. Let angels be the witnesses, and tear in pieces the miserable document which rendered you the slave of your own will. For if you wander about without any settled residence, you will forfeit the price at which you have been redeemed by Jesus Christ. Let this monastery in which you have found so much benefit to your immortal soul, be your tomb, the place of your burial. The dead leave not their graves until the general resurrection. If any religious have left the monastery which they had chosen for their sepulchre, remember that they died a second death. Let us pray earnestly that we may not incur a similar misfortune.

95. When the cowardly and the slothful find the commands of their superior painful and laborious, they prefer prayer to labour. But when they are ordered to do anything easy and light, they fly from prayer as they would do from fire.

96. Of those who are appointed to some particular duty or office in a monastery, some will readily transfer it to their brother for his consolation and peace, when they are desired; others will abandon it through idleness, some through vainglory, and others will leave it of their own accord, and joy.

97. If you have engaged by mutual promises to dwell with any one, and you perceive that you are making no progress in his society, and that the eye of your mind is receiving no new light from heaven, make no delay in dissolving the partnership, though it be true that the really virtuous Christian is virtuous wherever he may be, whilst the wicked man is virtuous nowhere. Injuries and calumnies, even in the world, cause many divisions and enmities; but in monasteries the intemperance of the tongue is the cause of all the disgusts and antipathies which are experienced in a religious life. If you can once subdue this little member there is no place in which you may not be free from the violence of the passions. But if the tongue obtain the mastery, you will be in danger till the hour of your death.

98. The Lord enlightens the eyes of those who are blindly obedient, that they may behold the virtues of their director, but shades them that they may not perceive his faults. The devil, the enemy of all that is good, pursues the opposite course.

99. Let us, dear friends, draw an illustration of perfect obedience, from quicksilver, which is perpetually in motion, which sinks below all others liquids, and suffers no mixture from other ingredients.

100. They who are active and fervent are always more watchful over themselves than over others, lest the unfavourable judgment they might form of their brethren who are negligent, should draw down upon their own conduct a heavier condemnation than the negligence of those whom they would thus judge might deserve. I imagine that Lot was justified, because, whilst dwelling amongst the wicked, he did not condemn them.

101. We should endeavour at all times, but more especially whilst chanting the Psalms, and reciting the Divine Office, to preserve peace and tranquillity of mind. For the evil spirits are always intent upon destroying the efficacy of our prayers by vexation and distraction of spirit, which render our supplications of no avail. He who serves his neighbour in obedience to God, is present with men in body, but in spirit, whilst at prayer, knocks at the gate of heaven.

102. Injuries and humiliations are to the obedient soul like the wholesome bitterness of wormwood. But to those who love things sweet and agreeable, praise, honour, and esteem, are as mild and delicious honey. Now what is the nature of these two things? Wormwood purifies the blood and cleanses the body from all its bad humours, whilst honey produces bile, and deranges the whole of the bodily system.

103. We should have, purely through our love of God, a firm confidence in those who have received the charge of our souls; although they may sometimes command things contrary to our wishes, and apparently opposed to our salvation. For it is then, that our faith and confidence in our director are tried by our humility, as metal is tried by the fire of the furnace. Indeed no better proof can be given of this faith and confidence, than to obey, without hesitation, the commands of our superior, however contrary they may be to our desire and expectation.

104. As obedience, according to our previous observation, produces humility; so humility according to Cassian16 produces discretion, which enkindles a light in the soul, and enables it to see all things clearly; yea, which even draws aside the curtain of the present, and opens to the vision a foresight of future events. Who, when he beholds these ample rewards, will hesitate to enter the gymnasium or school of holy obedience? Of this great virtue the bard of Sion sings: “In Thy sweetness, O God, Thou has provided for him that is humbly obedient.”17

105. Constantly remember the generous soldier of Jesus Christ, who had a master so severe, that he never heard from his lips these words of charity; “brother, thou mayest be saved;” but who each day heard God Himself whisper to his soul, not merely-”thou mayest be saved,” which, at most, is simply a wish and an uncertainty, but the consoling words, “you will be saved,” a certain and confirmed truth.

106. Amongst those who make profession of obedience, there are some who will deceive themselves if not careful; when, knowing the easy disposition of their superior, they solicit from him the employment most in accordance with their own wishes. Hence let me remind them, that whilst they obtain their own will, they forfeit the crown which otherwise would have been due to their vow of obedience. For true obedience is the renouncement of self interest, self will, and hypocrisy.

107. Some religious, when they have obtained from their superior what they wanted, have a serious scruple, whether their request was agreeable to his wish, and on this account decline the permission which they have received. Others, on the contrary, with a similar doubt on their mind, make no difficulty upon the matter, and go and do that which was allowed through the condescension of their superior. Reflect within yourself which is the more virtuous conduct.

108. It is impossible that the devil should act contrary to his own will which is to do mischief. In proof of this, we may refer to the example of the solitaries who, having supported with fervour the burden of a religious life, either alone in the desert, or in the brotherhood of a monastery, have, at his suggestion, abandoned their holy state, and now lead a life of negligence and relaxation. When we wish to depart from any particular place, because it has become dangerous to our eternal welfare, this wicked enemy opposes our design; and his opposition is a sure sign that our present state is one of peace with him. But our perseverance in our determination is the signal for his assault, and our mutual declaration of war.

THE ADMIRABLE PATIENCE AND OBEDIENCE OF ACACIUS.

109. I wish not to be guilty of covetousness by reserving to myself that which ought to be made public, and which is calculated to promote general edification. I learnt the facts which I am about to relate from the illustrious John, the Sabaite, whom you very well know, dear fathers, to be a person exempt from all hypocrisy and disguise, and as sincere and truthful in his words as he is pure and holy in his actions.

“There was,” he said, “in a monastery in Asia, in which I dwelt before I came here, an old religious, very negligent and very disorderly in his conduct. In saying this I do not judge his interior, but merely state his outward behaviour and visible actions. It happened, by what means I know not, that he had a disciple called Acacius, who endured from this rude old man such treatment as would appear almost incredible. For the master not only tried his disciple by insulting and humiliating reproaches, but beat him with blows, and every day committed against him some new outrage. I saw that Acacius was hourly exposed to all the cruelties which slave drivers exercise upon their slaves, and when I met him I often said to him, ‘Well, brother, how do you do on today?’ He would make no answer, but immediately show me, at one time, his black and swollen eyes, at another his neck, bruised, and the rest of his body covered with livid spots and swellings. As I knew his patience and his courage, I was accustomed to say to him, ‘All’s well, all’s well. Suffer with patience, and great will be your reward.’ When he had spent nine years under this hard taskmaster, he slept happily in the Lord, and was buried in the cemetery of the fathers. Five days after his death, his master said to an ancient solitary, of distinguished virtue, whom he was then visiting: ‘Brother Acacius, father, died a few days ago.’ The other replied, ‘I cannot believe it.’ ‘Come, then,’ rejoined the master, ‘and see him.’ The ancient solitary arose and went with him to the burial ground, where, speaking to Acacius, as if he were yet living, (as in truth he was, for he slept the sleep of the just), he said: ‘Tell me, brother Acacius, are you dead?’ Upon which the brother, no less obedient after death than before answered the holy solitary: ‘How can a faithful disciple of obedience die?’ At these words the master of Acacius was so struck with fear, that, falling prostrate upon the ground, he bathed it with a flood of tears. He afterwards asked permission from the superior of the Lavra18 to reside in a cell near the grave of Acacius, where he spent the remainder of his life in a most edifying and exemplary manner, saying continually to the other fathers, ‘I am guilty of murder.‘ I believe that this very John the Sabaite was himself the person who spoke to the corpse of Acacius. For this great saint related to me, in the third person, that, which I plainly discovered afterwards, had happened to himself in the following instance.

THE COURAGEOUS OBEDIENCE OF JOHN, THE SABAITE.

110. “There dwelt in the same monastery in Asia, another religious, who had for his master a solitary of a meek and placid disposition. Seeing that this gentle master treated him with honour and respect, and avoided everything that might be painful to him, or a subject of mortification, he prudently reflected how pernicious such conduct had been to many souls. Feeling assured that his departure would not be displeasing to the kind old man, for he had another disciple besides himself, he forthwith asked permission to retire to some other monastery. Having parted from his master in friendship, he made use of his letters of recommendation, in obtaining admittance into another house in the province of Pontus. During the first night in this new residence, he saw in his sleep a certain person urging him to pay his debts, which, upon a strict examination, were found to be a hundred pounds. As soon as he awoke he penetrated the purport of the vision, and said to himself: ‘Poor Antiochus,’ (for this was the name assumed by John in his narrative,) ‘Poor Antiochus, it is but too true that thou hast many debts yet to pay.’ “I remained,” he continued, “in this monastery three years, doing everything that was commanded, without demur or discrimination. All that time I was treated with contempt, and received much ill usage, for I was the only stranger in the monastery. At the expiration of this term, I beheld another vision, in which a person gave me credit for ten pounds, which he subtracted from my debt. This also was intelligible, and I said to myself, ‘So much of my debt is discharged. When, alas! shall I be able to pay the remainder? Poor Antiochus, thou hast many more labours and humiliations to suffer than thou hast yet endured!” Then I began to feign myself a fool, without, however, neglecting any of my duties. When these unfeeling religious saw me so willing to do their bidding, they imposed upon me the most laborious employments of the monastery. At the termination of thirteen years, I beheld again in my sleep the persons I saw in my first vision, who gave me a receipt for the whole of my debt. The remembrance of that which I owed had, during this period, made me endure with cheerfulness all the bad treatment which I had experienced from the community.”

Behold, my father, what John, the Sabaite, that marvel of wisdom, related to me under the name of Antiochus, though he himself was the individual, who, by his generous patience, had obtained the discharge of his debts, that is, the remission of his sins.

JOHN’S PRAISEWORTHY CONDUCT TO THREE YOUNG SOLITARIES.

111. Listen to the manner in which this saint acquired discernment and heavenly light by his perfect obedience. Whilst he was residing in the monastery of St. Sabas, three young religious came to place themselves under his direction. He received them with a smiling countenance, and in the true spirit of hospitality, provided them with every refreshment necessary after the fatigues of their journey. At the end of three days he said to them: “Pardon me, dear brothers, if I cannot grant what you demand. For I am too wicked to be allowed to receive any one under my care and tuition.” As they knew the eminent virtue of the holy old man, they were not scandalized at the reason which he alleged for his refusal. Hence they desisted not from their entreaties to be admitted amongst his disciples. When, however, they could not prevail, they threw themselves at his feet, and besought him at least to lay down a few rules for their conduct, to point out in what manner they ought to live and the place into which they ought to retire. Overcome by their earnest supplications, and convinced that they would receive his advice with humility and obedience, the old man said to the first: “My son, God wishes you to serve Him in a hermitage in the wilderness, under the guidance and discipline of a master.” To the second: “Go you, my son, and sell your own will, and give it entirely to God. Take up your cross with patience dwell in a monastery amongst a community of brethren, and you will undoubtedly have great treasure in heaven.: To the third he gave this counsel: “Constantly remember these words of your Redeemer: ‘He that shall persevere to the end shall be saved.’19

Go, then, in the name of our Lord, and choose for your master the most severe and the most ill-natured person you can find, and never withdraw from his direction. Drink in each day, as if they were milk and honey, all the humiliations and outrages you may experience at his hands.” The brother asked: “If the solitary whom you, father, recommend me to select, should lead a negligent life what must I then do?” The holy old man replied: “When you see him commit an infidelity against the law of God, do not for that abandon him but say within yourself: ‘My soul, for what art thou here seeking?’ And you will feel all vanity subside, and the fire of concupiscence entirely die away.

112. Let all who fear the Lord strive with all their might to make progress in this holy career, lest not learning virtue in the school of virtue, they acquire only the spirit of degeneracy and libertinism, of refined and ingenious malice, of fervent and subtle activity for wickedness. Let us not be astonished that this is sometimes the unhappy result. For as long as any one remains a citizen, a fisherman or a peasant the enemies of his king will not be eager to assault him. But when they see him clothed in the regimentals of his prince, and enrolled under his standard, and provided with proper armour, they will rush upon him with fury, and make every exertion to accomplish his destruction. Hence the soldier of Christ must not be found at his post sleeping.

113. I have seen simple and innocent youths and children with good and peaceful dispositions, who came to be ingrafted with knowledge and wisdom, to be trained up in pious discipline, and to imbibe useful and salutary instruction, learn nothing but craftiness and immorality, by their manners being allowed to be corrupted by evil communications. He who has a quick understanding will readily divine my meaning.

114. It is impossible that they who apply their whole mind to the science of salvation, should not make advancement. Some are permitted to perceive their progress, whilst from others, by a particular dispensation of Providence, it is altogether concealed. A good banker has no need of counting every evening his loss or gain, because he writes down each hour the transactions that are passing, and the total of these hours gives the product of the whole day.

115. A bad religious, observing himself treated with mockery and reproach, felt a strong pique against those who thus insulted him. Nat daring, however, to make any opposition, though he sincerely wished it, he fell upon his knees before the persons who thus provoked him, and asked their pardon, not from a sense of humility, but a desire to be free from persecution. When you receive humiliation and abasement keep silence. When the fire of severe correction is applied to your soul, suffer patiently, for it will not pain you by its visible burning so much as it will purify you by its holy light. When this operation has been completed by your spiritual physician, then kneel down and ask his pardon. For it might be that whilst he is speaking to you with considerable zeal and warmth, he would not take well your prostrate supplication.

116. They who dwell in community should unceasingly strive for the mastery over their passions, especially over their loquacity and anger, because these two find in company much that is calculated to encourage them and make them willful.

117. The devil prompts those under the yoke of obedience to excel in some eminent virtue of which they are incapable. He likewise tempts anchorites to practice virtues not at all suitable to their state. If we look into the interior of the first, we shall perceive them by an aberration of mind sighing for the solitude of the desert, the most austere abstinence, sublime prayer, most profound humiliation, constant meditation on death, continual compunction, complete subjugation of anger, absolute silence, and the chastity of angels. Not being permitted by Divine Providence to attain to, during the first years of their religious life, the summit of these virtues, they imprudently, and without any reason, withdraw from the society of their brethren. Thus are they deceived by the devil, lest by perseverance they should attain those virtues which they are anxious to possess before the proper time. The same restless spirit fills the minds of anchorites with a high idea of those religious who live under obedience, picturing to their imaginations the excellency of their hospitality, the mutual services they render each others, their fraternal friendship, which harmoniously unites them into one body, their tender care of the sick, that by such artifice he may entice them from their solitude.

118. Few, indeed, are they who lead an eremitical life, guided by the light and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Hence this mode of life is proper for those alone who are favoured by special graces and consolations, that they may endure with cheerfulness and fortitude the labours and trials which await them.

119. It is prudent for us to judge what superiors are proper for the direction of our souls from the nature of our passions, and then to employ our discernment in their selection. If you are prone to sins of the flesh, choose for your director one who practices great corporal austerities, and who is inflexible in his strict observance of sobriety, rather than one who performs miracles, and who is fond of receiving and entertaining with hospitality guests and strangers. If you are naturally proud and disdainful, select for your master him who is rude and severe in his manners, and not one who is mild and affectionate. Be not ambitious to have for your spiritual guide one who has the gift of prophecy, or who, by an extraordinary discernment, can see far into the future. But seek him who is really humble, and who by his own example, as well as by the favourable nature of his residence in some retired locality, is capable of healing your maladies. Obey him with the same spirit which was possessed by the holy Abbacyrus, whom we have already mentioned, and believe that your superior is always prepared to tempt you and to put your virtue to the trial. This single reflection will preserve you from ever failing in the duty of obedience. If, when your superior rebukes you, you conceive for him greater love and confidence, it is a certain sign that the Holy Spirit visibly swells in your soul, which is already filled and fortified by the power of the Most High.

120. Do not, however, glory and rejoice when you support with patience the reproaches and humiliations of your superior, but rather weep and lament, that you have given occasion for this displeasure of your master. Be not surprised that I should say, “It is better to sin against God, than against your spiritual director”, for this doctrine has the example and authority of Moses in its favour. When we offend God, our spiritual father can obtain for us a reconciliation, but when we offend this minister of reconciliation, we have no one to restore us to God’s friendship. The case, however, may be termed reciprocal, for God can incline the heart of our superior to mercy and forgiveness; whilst the latter can obtain for us the clemency and compassion of God.

121. Let us examine with care the occasions when we ought to receive with thankfulness, and with a placid silence, the reprehension of our superior, and when we ought to inform him of the truth which has been mistaken. For my part, it seems the best to be silent under all reprimands that are humiliating; because such are occasions of great profit to our souls. But when others are reprehended, we should defend the innocent, that we may preserve that indissoluble bond of charity which ties together the society of a holy brotherhood.

122. There are none who can inform us so well of the utility of obedience, as they who have abandoned it in practice. For then they are fully sensible of the heaven in which they dwelt, and the state of felicity from which they have fallen.

123. He who strenuously labours to conquer his passions, and to draw nearer and nearer to God, believes that every day in which he has to suffer no humiliation, is to him a grievous loss. For as trees strike deeper their roots into the ground, the more violently the wind blows upon them; so do those who are in the school of obedience become stronger and more immoveable in mind, the more severely they are tried and exercised by humiliation.

124. The solitary, who, finding himself too weak to dwell alone in the wilderness, retires from it, that he may consecrate himself to holy obedience in a monastery, is like a blind man who has recovered his sight without any painful operation, and opened his eyes to behold Jesus Christ.

125. Dear brethren, valiant soldiers of Jesus Christ, who are pursuing your holy career, stop a moment, I beseech you, in your march, and listen to the wise man thus cheering you onward: “God hath tried you, and found you worthy of Himself. As gold in the furnace hath He proved you, and as a victim of holocaust hath He received you, and in time there shall be respect had to you.”--Wisdom iii. 6

The number of steps is now equal to the number of the Evangelists. Be courageous, athletes and continue your course without fear. St. John ran before St. Peter to the tomb of their Divine Master. In like manner obedience precedes repentance. St. John was the type of obedience; St. Peter, of repentance.


  1. Psalm liv. 7.

  2. Ps. xxxi. 5.

  3. It is most probable, that as the robber was a public sinner, so were the religious the abbot alludes to, and, for this reason he sought from them a public confession.

  4. I Corinthians xiii. 5.

  5. 2 Timothy iv. 2.

  6. Romans viii. 38.

  7. Philippians iv. 13.

  8. Psalm cxxxii. I.

  9. Psalm xciv.

  10. Psalm xciii. 19.

  11. Psalm lxxxix. 15.

  12. Ecclesiastes xxxiv. 28.

  13. Psalm cxxxv. 23.

  14. Ecclesiastes iv. 9.

  15. Luke xvii. 10.

  16. Collat. ii.c.10.

  17. Psalm lxvii. 12 - Septuagint Translation

  18. The Lavra was a monastery composed of many cells, adjoining, but distinct from each other. Every brother lived entirely in his own cell, whereas, in the ordinary monastery, there was a common refectory, and a common dormitory. The monasteries of the anchorites had cells a considerable distance from each other.

  19. Matthew x. 22.








Step 05

ON TRUE AND SINCERE REPENTANCE.

1. Repentance is the restoration of baptism. Repentance is a compact made with God, by which we bind ourselves to lead a life very different from the one which we have promised to abandon. The penitent is one who labours by penance to acquire humility. Repentance is a perpetual renouncement of bodily comforts and delights, a judgment which we unceasingly pronounce against ourselves, -- a state of soul entirely occupied with its own welfare, and disengaged from every other care and solicitude. Repentance is the daughter of hope, and the enemy of despair. The penitent is a criminal who does not blush to confess his faults. Repentance is a reconciliation with God by the practice of those good works, which are opposite to the vices we have committed. It is the purification of the conscience, the voluntary endurance of all kinds of pains and labours. The penitent is an ingenious artisan, who forges for himself instruments of penance. In short, repentance is a rigorous mortification of the sensual appetite, a soul touched with a lively sensibility of its own misery.

2. Come quickly, all you who have offended God by sin, come and learn from my mouth the wonders which I have witnessed for my edification. Let us assign the first and most honourable place in our narrative to those illustrious penitents whom I have beheld with admiration, and who are as much more worthy of honour, as they themselves seek for dishonour and contempt. Let all who have fallen into deadly sin learn and practise their holy conduct. Arise from your misery, and continue firm in your good purpose, all you who are still grovelling in iniquity. Be attentive, my brethren, to my words, and you will desire a reconciliation with God by a sincere conversion.

3. When I was in that celebrated monastery of which I have spoken so much, I who was at that time so imperfect in myself, learned to my confusion, that a most extraordinary mode of life and a marvellous humility, were practised in a house separate from the monastery, and called the prison; subject, however, to the former, as the sunbeam to the source of light. I besought the holy man who presided over it, to allow me the pleasure of a visit. This great saint, not wishing that I should be made sorrowful by the refusal of any thing just and proper, gave me the desired permission.

4. When we came to this prison of the penitents, which we might appropriately term the house of weeping, I saw, to use a strong expression, that which the eye of the coward hath never seen, the ear of the negligent never heard, nor the mind of the base and the slothful never conceived: I heard words, and I saw deeds, capable to doing violence to God, mortifications and humiliations sufficiently powerful to move, in a short time, His infinite mercy and compassion.

5. I saw some of these innocent sinners, these unjust justified, who spent the whole night in the open air with their feet immoveable. Although oppressed with sleep, they did violence to nature, and refused repose to their heavy eyelids. Yea, they even accused themselves of cowardice, and roused themselves from their inclination to slumber, by self-reproaches, and objurgations.

6. Others I beheld with their eyes lifted up to heaven, in a manner truly worthy of compassion, imploring with loud cries and supplications, that help which is obtained nowhere but from the throne of mercy.

7. Some, again, were in prayer, with their hands tied behind them, like criminals marched to prison. With their pale and sallow faces bent upon their breasts, they believed themselves unworthy of looking up to heaven. So keen a remorse of conscience had they conceived in their souls, so greatly were they filled with confusion at the thought of their sins, that they placed themselves under a total interdict, and would neither speak to any one, nor pour forth their prayers to God. They knew not in what manner to commence the humble petitions they were to offer to Him; and therefore presented to Him their souls in profound silence, and overcast with darkness, and almost despairing of salvation.

8. I saw some seated upon sackcloth and ashes, concealing their faces between their knees, and striking their foreheads against the ground.

9. Many struck their breasts unceasingly, and recalled with poignant regret, the happy state of their souls, before they fell into sin. Some would water the earth with floods of tears; others, who could not weep, beat their bodies with hard blows. Some, again, would both weep and afflict their bodies, as if they were performing funeral rites over their souls, so unable were they to repress the violence of the grief which oppressed them. Whilst others, moaning in their hearts, endeavoured to stifle their moans, which, in spite of their efforts, would sometimes escape in mournful sobs and plaintive cries.

10. I have seen amongst them those who, by their exterior actions and apparent trouble of mind, seemed to have lost their reason, and to have surrendered themselves to a sad and mournful silence, who were buried in darkness and profound affliction, who had become as it were insensible and dead to all the functions of life, who had descended in spirit into the very depth of humility, and who, through the fire of their indignation against themselves, shed streams of scalding tears.

11. Others I observed, whilst seated, absorbed in interior recollection. With eyes cast upon the ground, they displayed their sorrow by certain extraordinary and continual motions of the head, and sent up from the very bottom of their hearts, sighs and groans like unto the roaring of lions. Some encouraged by hope, made every effort to obtain through their prayers, the pardon of their sins. Others, by an almost inconceivable humility, deemed themselves unworthy of pardon, and declared aloud that they could never satisfy God for their past offences. Some would implore the Almighty to chastise them here, but to spare them hereafter. Others, prostrate beneath the weight of their conscience, besought God to rescue them from eternal torments, whilst at the same time they acknowledged themselves unworthy of any participation of His heavenly kingdom, and they testified their satisfaction if this should be their award.

12. I have seen men so humble, so mortified, so bent down beneath the burden of their offences, that the prayers and supplications which they poured forth to God, were capable of melting the very stones. With downcast eyes they would exclaim: “We acknowledge, O Lord, that we justly deserve every kind of chastisement, because the number of our sins is so great, that were the whole universe assembled to weep with us over their guilt, the tears of the universe would not be sufficient to make due satisfaction. One thing only do we implore, one thing only do we beseech Thee from our hearts, that ‘Thou, O Lord, rebuke us not in thy indignation, nor chastise us in thy wrath; but have mercy on us, for we are weak.’1 It is enough if we can escape, O Lord, Thy terrible threats, and the torments of unquenchable fire. Oh! we dare not ask for a plenary pardon! No! we who have violated the holy vows of our profession, even after we had received the special pledges of Thy loving mercy in the remission of our sins!”

13. Here, dear friends, we might behold the words of holy David literally accomplished. For these contrite penitents were “become miserable and bowed down even to the end”2 of their lives, with their countenances ever overcast with penitential sadness. An offensive odour exhaled from their ulcers, of which they took no care. They were “smitten as grass, and their heart was withered, because they forgot to eat their bread . . . . For they did eat ashes like bread, and mingled their drink with weeping.”3 Their bones cleaved to their skin, which was dry as the grass burnt up by the mid-day sun. No other words escaped their lips but these plaintive lamentations: “Miserable wretches! unfortunate beings! Our punishment is just. We deserve our misery. Spare us, O Lord, spare us!” Some would exclaim: “Mercy! mercy!” Others in a tone still more mournful: “Pardon, O Lord, pardon us, if it be possible to pardon such transgressions as we have committed.”

14. Amongst these penitents, some we observed with their tongues so inflamed with the ardour of their sighs and moanings, that they projected from their mouths like those of dogs. Others punished themselves by exposing their bodies to the burning heat of the sun, whilst others chose for their torment, the most severe cold. Some, when they put a cup of water to their lips, would only take sufficient to prevent them dying of thirst. Others, after eating a little bread, would say with regret, that they were unworthy to be nourished like rational creatures, since they had conducted themselves so irrationally.

15. When were they ever seen to smile? When was an idle word heard to escape their lips? When were they seen with their temper ruffled, or in anger? Indeed, they knew not if men were still prone to anger, so completely had they stiffled its emotions in their own breasts. Was there ever witnessed amongst them the slightest dispute? -- the least testimony of festive joy? -- the most trifling freedom of speech? -- the slightest care of the body? -- the smallest vestige of vainglory? -- the least love of ease or pleasure? -- the most distant desire of wine or relish for fruit? -- the most insignificant preparation of food for their meals? -- or even the slightest wish for that which is agreeable to the palate? In their hearts, so thoroughly mortified, the very thought of these things was extinguished. The care of that which is earthly, claimed no attention in their minds, in which there remained no longer any trace of rash and unfounded judgments.

16. Listen to their continual and plaintive cries to God. Some, striking their breasts with great vehemency, as if they were already knocking at the gates of paradise, would say to Him: “Open to us, O Judge of men, open to us in your mercy, this gate to bliss, which we have closed by our sins.” One would exclaim: “Show us, O Lord, thy face, and we shall be saved.”4 Another: “Enlighten, O Lord, them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death, and direct our feet in the way of peace.”5 A third: “Remember not our former iniquities; let thy mercies speedily prevent us, for we are become exceeding poor.”6 Many would ask: “Will the Lord show Himself to us again? Others: “Is it possible to obtain, by our good conduct, the discharge of our debts?” This one would utter despondingly: “Will the Lord, some day or other, console us? We are bound in the chains of sin, -- and shall we ever hear the Lord say to us, ‘Be you unfettered and set free?’ We are now in the grave of penance, and shall we ever hear Him bid us come forth to life and liberty? Will our supplications pierce the ears of the Almighty?”

17. When they were sat down, death was always before their eyes, and they would exclaim: “What will happen to us in the last moment of our lives? What will be our sentence? -- what our final destination? Shall we be ever called from this strange land to which we have banished ourselves, on account of our transgressions? Is grace ever granted to sinners covered with confusion and darkness, to poor and miserable criminals like ourselves? Will our prayers have sufficient fervour or strength of wing, to be able to ascend to the throne of the Most High? Or will they be rejected with contempt and disgrace? If they have been received, is the Lord moved by them to compassion? Is His anger mollified? Is the sword of His justice again sheathed in its scabbard? Oh! since they were offered by impure lips and corrupted hearts, they could not have much efficacy. Have they reconciled us with our Judge? If not fully, in part at least? for the half of our faults? Oh! our wounds are, indeed, great, and have need of much perspiration and of many labours, before they can be healed! Do our guardian angels still watch over us? or have they with disgust, withdrawn from our sinful society? For all our labours are unprofitable, as long as these celestial spirits come not near us; for our prayers have not then the humble confidence of the just, nor the spiritual pinion of purity of heart, to wing their flight to God, if our good angels do not receive them into their golden censers, and offer them as fragrant incense before the throne of the Lord.”

18. They sometimes proposed amongst themselves such doubts as these: “Do you believe, dear brethren, that we are making any advancement? Shall we obtain the object of our prayers.” Will God ever again admit us to His favour? Will He open for us the gates of heaven?” Others would answer: “‘Who can tell,’ as our brethren of Ninive said, ‘who can tell, if God will turn and forgive, and will turn away from us His fierce anger, and we shall not perish?’ Let us, therefore, continually do everything in our power to obtain a mitigation of our sentence. We shall but be too happy if we can reopen the gate of heaven. Let us bless God, even if this should not be our good fortune, for He would not close it against us unjustly. In this uncertainty let us continue knocking at the gate of Paradise during the whole period of our lives. Perhaps His goodness may be conquered by our importunity and unremitting perseverance, and it will be finally opened for our reception.”

19. Thus animating and encouraging one another, they would exclaim: “Let us run, brethren, let us run, for we have need of great haste. Let us run with all our might, since we have lost our holy companions by wandering from the right path. Oh! let us not spare these impure and corrupted bodies. No! let us destroy these murderers, since they have assassinated our souls.”

20. Behold the conduct of these virtuous criminals. Their knees were become hard by constant kneeling. Their eyes were without lustre, deep sunk in their sockets, and without any eyelashes. The scalding tears which were continually flowing, had worn deep furrows in their emaciated cheeks. Their faces, so thin and pale, might appropriately be compared to the dead. They bruised their breasts with hard blows, and forced blood from their wounded lungs. They never knew what it was to sleep upon beds. Their clothing, which was never complete, was always unsightly, ragged, dirty, and covered with vermin. What are the suffering of persons possessed by the devil in comparison with such labours? What the sorrows of those who weep for their departed friends? What the loneliness and melancholy of exiles? What even the punishment of murderers? All these torments, all these involuntary chastisements are as nothing contrasted with the pains and self-inflicted punishments of these penitents. Pray do not, my brethren, believe all this to be a mere fable.

21. They often besought their superior, and also their abbot, that angel amongst men, to put iron collars around their necks, and manacles on their hands, and to enclose their feet in the stocks, never more to be set free until they were carried to their graves.

22. Nay, they would sometimes judge themselves unworthy of a grave. For I will not conceal an instance of the profound humility of these fervent penitents, or of their love of God, which filled them with the sorrow of a broken heart, or of their repentance, which left upon their minds a deep impression of their unworthiness. When these illustrious inhabitants of the asylum of penance were ready to appear before the tribunal of a just God, they besought and even conjured their holy abbot, through the intercession of their superior, not to allow them the honour of burial usually granted to Christians, but merely that which was bestowed upon beasts, either by throwing their bodies into some river, or permitting them to be exposed in the open air to be devoured by hyenas and wolves. that bright model of discretion would sometimes grant their request, and deprive them of Christian obsequies, ordering their bodies to be thrown outside the monastery as they had desired.

23. But what a harrowing and terrifying spectacle was the last hour of these penitents! Seeing one of their companions about to leave the world, and go to heaven before them, they would surround him, whilst still in possession of his reason, and carried away by their zeal, with eyes suffused in tears, they would say to him in words of mournful sadness, and with every testimony of grief and compassion: “How, dear brother and companion of our misfortunes and our labours, do you find yourself? What say you now? What are your expectations? Have you obtained that which you sought for with so much pain and labour? Or is that which you have been seeking for unprofitable? Have you arrived safely at the port of rest? or is it still at a distance? Have you received a confident assurance of salvation? or are you still tossed upon the waves of uncertainty? Do you feel yourself in perfect liberty of spirit? or are you still harassed by anxiety and doubt? Have you experienced in your soul a new light? or is it still shrouded in darkness, confusion, and shame? Have you heard in your heart a voice which said: ‘Behold, thou art made whole?’7 or, ‘Be of good heart, son, thy sins are forgiven thee?’8 Or did you hear this awful sentence: ‘Bind him hands and feet, and cast him into exterior darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth?’9 or, ‘Thou shalt go down into hell?’10 or, ‘In the land of the saints he hath done wicked things, and he shall not see the glory of the Lord?’11 What, brother do you say to these questions? Speak, we beseech you, sincerely, that we may know your present state of mind, which will one day be ours. For you the time of penance is closed for ever. It will never again be at your command during the endless ages of eternity.” One would reply: “Blessed be God, who hath not turned away my prayer, nor His mercy from me.”12 Another, “Blessed be the Lord, who hath not given us as prey to their teeth.”13 A third, with sentiments of sorrow, would exclaim: “Our soul hath passed through a torrent; perhaps our soul hath passed through a water unsupportable.”14 Not being certain of their salvation, they expressed themselves with diffidence, through dread of the awful account they were about to render at the bar of Divine justice. Some would reply with great doubt and expression of grief: “Unhappy soul, who hast not kept inviolable the vows of thy profession. Behold the hour in which thou wilt know what is prepared for thee during a never ending eternity.”

24. When I both saw and heard these things, and reflecting upon my own cowardice in contrast with their labours and mortifications, I was almost ready to sink into despair. For what was the prison itself, not only in appearance, but in reality? A place in which there reigned a profound gloom, in which there was a most disagreeable odour, and a total neglect of cleanliness. Justly, therefore, was it termed a prison, the abode of criminals. The very sight, indeed, of this sad and mournful dwelling-place was sufficient to draw tears and excite us to labours of penance. That, however, which would be oppressive and unsupportable to others is to those who have fallen from the state of virtue, and forfeited their spiritual treasures, light and easy. For when a soul sees herself deprived of her former liberty and familiarity with God; when she has lost the hope of ever enjoying supreme peace by the subjugation of the passions; when she has broken the seal of chastity, and allowed her treasury of heavenly gifts to be violated and plundered; when she has deprived herself of divine consolation, and broken the holy alliance which she had contracted with the Lord; when she has extinguished the bright flame of celestial charity, which excited so many sweet and precious tears; when, in truth, she reflects upon all these grievous losses, she is pierce with the keenest remorse, the most poignant sorrow; and if there be still left one spark of divine love, one sentiment of the fear of God, she will not only embrace these labours of penance with incredible ardour, but will endeavour to make what may still remain of life a sacrifice worthy of heaven, cutting short even her earthly pilgrimage by the severity of her mortification and penance. Such, in truth, were these virtuous penitents. Filled with the reflections which we have just mentioned, and contemplating the high degree of virtue from which they had fallen, they would exclaim: “Oh! where are our former happy days? Where the fire of our first fervour, which we cannot call to mind without the bitterest regret?” One would suppliantly say to God: “Lord, where are thy ancient mercies, according to what thou didst swear to David in thy truth? Be mindful, O Lord, of the reproach of thy servants.”15 Another: “Who will grant me, that I might be according to the months past, according to the days in which God kept me? When his lamp shone over my head, and I walked by his light in darkness?”16

25. Oh! with what lively sentiments of sorrow did they recall the state of sanctity and perfection in which they had spent the earlier portion of their lives! They wept over their loss with all the grief of children, and whilst the tears gushed from their eyes they would exclaim: “Oh! where is now our former purity? Where our wonted prayers? Where that happy familiarity we held with God in days gone by? where are those delicious tears now changed into waters of bitterness? Where that hope we cherished of seeing not only our bodies perfectly chaste, but even our imaginations free from all impure images. Where that expectation we entertained of undisturbed peace by a complete victory over our passions? Where our confidence in our good pastor? Where that inward strength which he imparted to our souls by the efficacy of his prayers? All is lost! All is vanished, as if it had never been! all these things have disappeared from our souls like a dream or a shadow, and left not a trace behind them!”

26. In uttering these and similar regrets, they would sob and shed tears, and some of them even implore God to allow them to be possessed and tormented by devils. Others earnestly besought Him to afflict them with epilepsy, or blindness, or with some disease that would render them objects of pity to their fellow creatures. Some asked to be struck with paralysis, so as to be unable to rise from the ground, provided that by these sufferings they might be delivered from the torments of reprobation. For myself, dear friends, I must confess, that I took so much pleasure in dwelling in this valley of tears, that I almost forgot the time of my departure. I was so enraptured, so transported beyond my usual sphere, that I was no longer master of myself. But let us return to our discourse.

27. I spent an entire month in this prison; but as I was not worthy to dwell in this holy company, I returned to the great monastery. The abbot seeing me greatly changed, and highly excited, knew by the light of his superior wisdom the reason, and said to me: “Well, father, have you seen the labours of those generous soldiers of Christ?” “Yes,” I replied, “I have both seen and admired them. I have thought these penitents who so grievously lament their offences, more happy than those who have not sinned, and who weep not for themselves, because their fall has been the occasion of a glorious resurrection, which places them beyond all others in security from the danger of relapse.

28. “You judge correctly,” he rejoined. Then this lover of truth related to me the following narrative. “About ten years ago, there was in this monastery a brother, whose ardour and activity in all the exercises was so great, that I trembled exceedingly for his welfare, knowing that the devil would employ this very earnestness in the accomplishment of his destruction, by putting a stumbling block in his path, as he commonly does with those who walk with too much precipitation. What I dreaded came to pass. Late one evening, the brother, after his fall, came to me, laid bare his wound, and besought me to apply a remedy, even fire if necessary; testifying, at the same time, the anguish of his spirit, and the great weight which oppressed his heart. But when he saw that the physician did not wish to employ all the severity which he desired, (for he was truly worthy of compassion), he threw himself upon the ground, embraced my feet, watered them with the abundance of his tears, and conjured me to condemn him to the prison, which you have seen, exclaiming, that no one in justice could exempt him from this obligation. Thus by a holy violence he changed the mildness and charity of his spiritual physician into severity, a practice not common with sick persons. I had no sooner granted him the desired permission, than he ran to the prison, joined himself to the penitents in their labours, and became a most fervent imitator of their afflictions and their tears. His heart was so thoroughly pierced by the sword of spiritual sadness, that eight days afterwards he slept in the Lord, desiring, before his death, that he might be deprived of the honour of burial. I commanded, however, his body to be interred in the cemetery of the fathers, as worthy of that respect; because I saw that after a voluntary service of seven days, he had on the eighth been restored to freedom of soul with God. Indeed, a certain person had known, before the penitent had risen from the abject and miserable feet of him who now speaks to you, that God had forgiven him his sins. and let not this astonish us, since by the same faith and confidence, which animated the penitent Magdalen, he had bathed the feet of his master with his tears. ‘Know,’ says our Redeemer, ‘that everything is possible to him who believes.’ I have seen impure souls, who were possessed even to fury and madness with the love of sensible and corporal objects, embrace afterwards a life of penance, and become so inflamed with the love of the Creator, that they shook off, in a moment, all servile fear, and were pierced with the burning arrows of affection and unquenchable zeal for the honour and glory of God. Hence Jesus Christ did not say to Magdalen, that she feared much, but loved much; and that it was by divine love she had so easily banished from her soul all carnal and profane love.”

29. I doubt not, illustrious servants of Christ, that the combats which I have related of these courageous penitents will appear to some incredible, to others hard of belief, and to many the deeds of desperation. But the valiant Christian will draw from their perusal consequences very different in their tendency. He will derive from them a new impetus to penance, and feel his heart pierced with the glowing dart of divine love, which will enkindle in his bosom a holy jealousy and noble emulation. He who is less fervent, will, at least, acknowledge his own weakness, and acquire by his self-condemnation, a profound humility, which will enable him to follow in the footsteps of the former, and perhaps with equal progress in the career of a holy life. But the cowardly and the negligent ought not to hear what we have related, lest they fall into despair, and discontinue even that slight degree of virtue they were practising, and thereby the single talent of divine grace be taken from them, according to the testimony of the Gospel: “For to every one that hath shall be given, and he shall abound; but to him that hath not, that also which he seemeth to have, shall be taken away.”17

30. When we have plunged into the gulf of vice, we can escape from it only by plunging into the gulf of humility, such as was practised by the penitents.

31. The humility of the penitents full of grief and bitterness, is very different from that self-condemnation pronounced by a guilty conscience upon those who run on in their career of sin. Neither is it like that delightful and very happy humility, which God bestows upon those souls, that are made perfect by the efficacy of His divine grace. No effort of ours, no words at our command, can describe this humility of the saints. Every attempt would be fruitless, since it is an ineffable gift of God’s gracious mercy. The humility of penance we know by the calm and unshrinking endurance of contempt and humiliation. With regard to those who still live on in the commission of sin, in defiance of their inward stings of conscience, we are aware that long contracted habits will frequently exercise over them a complete tyranny, even whilst they are lamenting their transgressions. and let us not be astonished, since the reason of God’s judgments and the cause of man’s fall are often shrouded in darkness, and concealed from the most penetrating intelligence. For it is uncertain what are the sins into which we fall through negligence, what are those we commit through the absence of divine grace, specially withheld by the merciful dispensation of Providence, and what we perpetrate through God’s aversion and anger. All I dare say to weak man is this, that when we fall into any sin through God’s hiding Himself from us, by the special appointment of His gracious providence, we shall soon rise from this fall; since the Almighty, who conceals Himself for our welfare, will not permit us to be long under the dominion of His enemy.

32. When we have had the misfortune of falling into sin, let us battle valiantly with the demon of sadness, because he presents himself to us at the time of prayer, and by calling to our remembrance our former familiarity with God, wishes to destroy the attention and efficacy of our devotions, by the troubles and interior conflicts with which he endeavours to harass and agitate the mind.

33. Be not astonished that we fall every day into the same faults; neither be deterred by this consideration from pursuing the important business of your salvation. No; continue with vigour and determination your attainment of virtue, and your guardian angel will respect your patience and your constancy. Whilst a wound is still fresh and bleeding, the cure is easy; whereas one of long standing, if it has been neglected, and allowed to fester and form proud flesh, is very difficult to heal. Sometimes much skill and attention are requisite, yea, even the knife, and cauterization. All wounds, however, even those deemed incurable, may be healed by the grace and power of God.

34. Before the commission of sin, the devils represent God as infinitely merciful, but after its perpetration, as inexorable and without pity.

35. Listen not to the suggestions of your spiritual enemy, when seeing that you have committed some great fault, and are ready to fall into lesser ones, he represents these as nothing, after the more grievous transgression. For your care and vigilance in guarding against small faults are as minor presents, which soften down the anger of your Almighty Judge.

36. He who is performing sincere penance, and making satisfaction for his sins, believes every day, in which he does not weep for them, as lost, whatever other good works he may have performed.

37. Let those penitents who daily lament their sins, wait not until the day of their death, for an assurance of their remission. They cannot even then receive any certainty unless they possess these two clear and manifest testimonies, the presence of the Holy Spirit and a profound humility. Let them, then, say to God continually during the whole period of their lives: “Console, O Lord, Thy servant, by giving to me an assurance of my pardon, that I may not depart from this world without Thy divine refreshment.” Wherever the Holy Spirit dwells, there certainly are the bonds of sin broken asunder. Let those, therefore, who depart this world, without either the one or the other of these assurance, -- the presence of the Holy Spirit, or a profound humility, -- be not deceived, for they are not loosed from their sins.

38. He who weeps over his own sins has no leisure to notice the tears or the failings of his brethren, or to forge against them any accusations. A dog that has been bitten by a wild beast, will become the more angry and violent from the pain of the wound, which will prevent it from seeing anything else but its enemy.

39. Let us take care, that it be not the blindness of our malice, but the purity of our conscience which reprehends us. To believe ourselves always indebted to the Divine Majesty is a certain assurance that our debts are discharged.

40. Nothing can be compared to the mercy of God. Nothing is so boundless. Hence he who despairs is a self-murderer. The true evidence of a sincere and perfect repentance, is to esteem ourselves worthy not only of all the visible and invisible afflictions which we endure, but of far greater than any we have yet experienced. After Moses had seen God in the burning bush, he returned into Egypt, that is, into the world, to brick-making, for the service of Pharao, or rather the devil, of whom Pharao, in Holy Scripture, was the image. He failed not, however, to return not only to the burning bush, but likewise to the mountain of God. whoever understands this similitude, will never yield to despair. Holy Job was reduced from great riches to absolute poverty. But when he had triumphed over the devil, he became twice as wealthy as he was in the days of his first prosperity.

41. Falls after entering the holy state of religion are extremely dangerous to cowardly souls; because they deprive them of the hope of obtaining sovereign peace by the mastery of their passions. They too often remain satisfied if they can escape from the gulf into which they have fallen. We should not, however, return to God by the way we have departed from Him, but by a shorter path.

42. I have seen two persons running in the same path at the same time. The elder was more experienced in the labours and austerities of penance; but the younger, still a disciple, passed his companion, and entered before him the tomb of humility.

43. Let us not fall into the fatal error of Origen with respect to the Divine Bounty, that all punishment will have a termination, an error so agreeable to the sensualist.

44. The fire of prayer which consumes the corruption of concupiscence, is, according to holy David, enkindled in meditation, or rather in penitential exercises. “My heart grew hot within me; and in my meditation a fire shall flame out.” Hence take for your model the penitents of who we have spoken. Let their penance be the pattern and image of yours. Besides this you will have need of no other book, until Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and God Himself, appear in the resurrection of a true and perfect repentance. Amen.18

Having now ascended the 5th degree, which is repentance, you will by it have purified the five organs of the senses, the five avenues of sin; and by your voluntary pains and labours during this mortal life, you will escape the involuntary chastisements of eternity.


  1. Ps. vi. 2.

  2. Ps. xxxvii. 7.

  3. Ps. ci. 5-10.

  4. Ps. lxxix. 4.

  5. Luke i. 79.

  6. Ps. lxxviii. 8.

  7. John v. 14.

  8. Matt. ix. 2.

  9. Matt. xxii. 13.

  10. Matt. xi. 23.

  11. Isaiah xxvi. 10.

  12. Ps. ixv. 20.

  13. Ps. cxxiii. 6.

  14. Ps. cxxiii. 5.

  15. Ps. lxxxviii. 50.

  16. Job xxix. 2.

  17. Matt. xxv. 29.

  18. Ps. xxxviii. 4.








Step 06

ON THE MEDITATION OF DEATH.

1. As thought precedes speech, so the meditation of death and the remembrance of our sins go before weeping and mourning. Hence our treatment of these two virtues in the two following degrees of our holy ladder, each one in its proper rank and order.

2. The thought we entertain of death with reference to mankind generally, is that of a continuous work, death with his scythe, toiling daily at his harvest; but the special thought of our own death is an unfailing source of tears and compunction for our sins

3. The fear of death as a penalty for disobedience is an effect natural to man. But this fear, when it amounts to a horror of death, is a certain sign that we have not expiated our sins by penance. Jesus Christ feared death, but He did not tremble, that these two different effects might show us the qualities proper to His twofold nature.

4. As bread is the most necessary of all food, so is the meditation of death the most useful of all our acts of devotion. It prompts religious who live in community to embrace the labours and exercises of penance, and it makes humiliation and contempt their greatest delight. In solitaries, who are removed from the world, with all its turmoils and cares, it produces an entire disengagement from all earthly solicitude, and leads them to constant prayer and unceasing vigilance over their thoughts. All these virtues are first the daughters, then the parents, of this meditation on death, inasmuch as they mutually foster and excite each other.

5. As pewter, when seen by itself appears like silver, but when compared with this latter metal, displays a remarkable inferiority, so the fear of death, which is natural, appears manifestly different from that which is supernatural, when seen by those who are skillful in judging of things spiritual.

6. The best criterion by which we can know, if the thought of death is impressed deeply and effectively on our hearts, is a voluntary detachment from every earthly creature, accompanied by the renouncement of our own will.

7. He is truly virtuous who expects his death every day; but he is a saint who desires it every hour.

8. It is not every desire of death that is good. For some, through their constant frailty and commission of sin, arising from the inveteracy of their bad habits, desire death with sentiments of humility. Others, not wishing to go through the toil of penance, invoke death from the feelings of despair. Again, we occasionally meet with persons who have a vain and presumptuous opinion, that they have attained to sovereign peace of soul, and to the victory over their passions, and therefore, have no need to fear death. But there are few (if indeed any in these times.) who, by the fortitude and efficacy of the Holy Spirit, sigh for their departure from this probationary life to their future happiness.

9. Certain persons have a difficulty in conceiving how it is, that, the thought of death being so salutary, God should conceal from us the day and the hour of our death. They penetrate not the admirable wisdom of this concealment in the promotion of our salvation. For those who knew the hour of their death would be eager, neither to receive the sacrament of baptism, nor to enter into the religious state. No, they would defer these means of salvation to the very end of life. They would devote the best portion of their existence to earthly pleasure, and to the commission of iniquity, and then make an unwilling sacrifice of the very dregs of their days to God. Thus, sin, by long indulgence and confirmed habits, would eat into the very marrow of their bones, and sleep with them in the dust.

10. When you lament your sins be not caught in the ambuscade of the devil, who represents God to you as infinitely merciful. His purpose is to dry up your tears, and to banish from your heart the fear of God, who alone is able to deliver it from all fear. Hence never be too confident of the divine mercy and compassion, unless when about to fall into the gulf of despair.

11. He who wishes to preserve in his soul the fear of death, and of the last judgment, yet is equally anxious about secular and profane occupations, which distract and unnerve the mind, resembles the man who wishes to swim without the employment of his hands.

12. True and efficacious meditation on death, bridles within just bounds the intemperance of the tongue. and when this intemperance is duly reined in, and humility allowed to take precedency, the other passions will be easily brought into subjection.

13. As insensibility of heart blinds the soul, so a variety of meats dries up the stream of penitential tears. Thirst and watching mortify and afflict the heart, and from the mortified and afflicted heart tears will gush forth abundantly. What I have just said will appear to cowardly persons rude, exaggerated, and incredible. But the fervent and generous Christian will devote himself with ardour to the practice of these virtues. He who will make the trial will smile at the facility with which they may be performed. But he who is always contemplating and proposing some laudable undertaking, without ever putting it in execution, experiences from this want of resolution much vexation and sadness of spirit.

14. As the holy Fathers tell us that perfect love is exempt from sin, so I venture to declare that the meditation of death, made with due dispositions of mind, is exempt from all fear.

15. A fervent soul is occupied with many pious and salutary thoughts. She thinks of the love which she ought to cherish towards God; she reflects upon His Infinite Majesty, and upon His blessed kingdom, in which there reigns an eternal bliss. She considers the ardent zeal of the martyrs, and keeps ever present in the memory that Supreme and Invisible Witness, whose eye looks down upon every thought and every action of her life, according to the testimony of the Royal Prophet: “I set the Lord always in my sight; for he is at might right hand, that I be not moved.”1 She often dwells in thought upon the angels and celestial powers, and not unfrequently she meditates upon her departure from this world, upon the awful moment, when she will stand face to face with God, upon the final sentence which will seal her doom for eternity, and upon the fearful and everlasting torments of hell. All these are great thoughts, great truths, and very profitable; but those which I am about to mention have preserved many souls from the snares of sin.

THE EXCELLENT RESULT OF THE MEDITATION OF DEATH, ETC.

16. A solitary from Egypt one day related to me what had happened to himself. “I had,” he said, “conceived in my heart so profound and lively a sense of death, that, having once wished to grant some ease and comfort to this miserable body, and which this house of clay seemed to require, the thought of death, like an inflexible judge, stepped forward, and with stern authority, forbade the indulgence contemplated. And what was still more wonderful, when I desired to shake off this thought, I found it impossible.”

17. Another solitary, who dwelt in this neighbourhood, in a place called Thola, was often vehemently affected by his meditation on death. He appeared like a person swooning, and falling into a fit of epilepsy. The brothers, when they found him in this state, would carry him home, half dead, and almost breathless.

18. I will likewise relate to you the history of Hesychius, a solitary of Mount Horeb. Having spent all the time he had been in religion negligently, and without any care for his salvation, at length fell sick of a disease, which brought him to the gate of death, and his soul remained during the space of an hour separated from his body. When he came again to his senses, he desired us all to retire immediately, and having bolted the door of his cell, he dwelt in it, thus shut up during twelve years, without speaking to a single person, and without taking any other food but bread and water. He sat wrapt in spirit, and so firmly rivetted to the vision which he had beheld in his disembodied state, that he never changed his position. And, like a person no longer master of his reason, he observed a strict silence, whilst hot tears gushed in streams down his pale and furrowed cheeks. When he was near his death, we forced open his cell, and besought him to answer the questions we were desirous of putting to him. But he promptly replied: “Pardon me, my brethren, if the following be the only answer I can return to you,--He who has the thought of death profoundly engraven on his mind, will never dare to sin.” We were all astonished to behold a solitary who had been so lukewarm during many years, changed into a totally new man, and we admired the transformation. We buried him solemnly in the cemetery near the town, and when, a few days afterwards, we went to look for his body, we found it not. God wished, by this miracle, as well as by the wonderful change which had been wrought in his soul, to give to those who, after a life of tepidity, return to their first fervour, a satisfactory proof how perfect was the repentance of this solitary, and how exceedingly acceptable to His Divine Will. He likewise desired by this instance of His providential interposition to inspire them with confidence in His Infinite Mercy.

19. We are told that an abyss is a body of water, without any fathomable bottom. This expression we employ in a figurative sense to every kind of place or thing that cannot be sounded. In like manner the thought of death produces purity of heart and devout feelings, which, continually increasing and expanding in the glory of their fervour, may in such sense be termed boundless and immeasurable. This truth is confirmed by the example of the holy solitary we have just mentioned. For penitents, who, like him have the image of death always painted on the eye of the mind, feel every moment an increase of that dread which has seized their souls at the contemplation of God’s terrible judgments, until the whole energy of their beings, and even the marrow of their bones, is dried up and consumed.

20. Let us, however, be fully persuaded, from our own experience, that this blessing, like every other we receive from God, is the gift of His boundless liberality, since we often find, when we visit the tombs in the churchyard, that our eyes remain as dry, and our hearts as hard as they were before; whilst at other times, without the prompting of these sad and mournful reminiscences, we are melted into tenderness, and overflow with sentiments of repentance.

21. He who is dead to all things earthly, has, beyond a doubt, his thoughts fixed on death. But he whose affections are still attached to the earth, thinks neither of himself nor of death. Hence he may be deemed his own traitorous enemy.

22. Do not employ words to assure those who are dear to you of your friendships, but rather beseech God to make known to them your charity, through the medium of His own secret communications. Otherwise life would be too short to convey by language the testimony of your affection, and to weep over your own misery by heartfelt compunction and repentance.

23. Do not deceive yourself, O solitary, by the foolish persuasion that you can repair some future day the losses which you are now incurring by your remissness. For each day is not sufficient to discharge towards God the debts which, in our several duties, we are each day contracting.

24. We are not able, said one of the Fathers, we are not able to spend one day of our lives holily, if we do not spent it as if it were to be the last of our mortal existence. Indeed, some of the pagans entertained a similar sentiment. Plato declared that the love of wisdom is the mediation of death.

He who has mounted this step of the Holy Ladder, will not again stumble or fall, according to the testimony of the Wise man: “In all thy works remember thy last end, and thou wilt never sin.” Eccles. vii. 40.


  1. Psalm xv. 8.








Step 07

ON PENANCE AND PENITENTIAL TEARS.

1. Grief, which is pleasing to the Divine Will, is an affliction of spirit, arising from remorse of conscience, an energetic feeling which animates the soul with a dauntless courage, and with an unbridled determination to regain possession of God, her Sovereign Good. This determination produces in the soul an ardent thirst to pursue the object of her wishes, through all kinds of painful labours, and to sigh after it whilst it is absent in mournful and affecting lamentations. Or it may be appropriately termed a golden spur, which goads the soul onwards so supernaturally, that she become despoiled of every earthly affection and attachment, and which, filling her with a holy sorrow, unites her with God, alone and forever.

2. Compunction is a perpetual remorse of conscience, which, in proportion as it consumes our hearts by the remembrance of our sins, infuses into our souls a sweet refreshment by the interior and sincere confession we make of them to God.

3. This spiritual confession is a complete forgetfulness of our natural wants, since it caused holy David to forget his food: “I forgot,” he says, “to eat my bread.”1

4. Penance is the privation of everything that can bring joy and comfort to the body.

5. The virtues most appropriate for those who are advancing in this blessed grief, are temperance and silence. For those who have made some progress, mildness, which conquers anger. and charity which forgets injuries, are recommended. But to the perfect belong humility, an ardent thirst for contempt and abasement, a voluntary hunger of involuntary sufferings, and a love which not only refrains from condemning sinners, but which shows a tender compassion towards their failings. The first who thus cultivate penitential grief or sadness, deserve to be esteemed; the second to be praised, and the third to be beatified; because, for the sake of Christ, they love to be reviled and persecuted, and to have all manner of evil spoken against them unjustly. Hence they shall be glad and rejoice, for their reward is great in heaven.

6. If you once possess the gift of tears, employ every means at your command to retain it in your possession. For it is very easy to lose it, when it is not firmly established and naturalized in the soul. Troubles of mind, disquietude about earthly objects, the delights of the table, but above all, loquacity and fondness for raillery, dry up these tears as quickly as fire melts wax.

7. These tears of sorrow which we shed after baptism, are more powerful even than baptism itself, a proposition which at first sight may appear startling. But baptism cleanses the soul from the sins which precede it only; whereas these penitential tears purify the soul from sins committed after baptism. As we advanced in years we sullied the white robe of our infant baptism, but by our tears we have renewed this regeneration into a new life. Oh! if God, in His Infinite Mercy, had not granted us this second baptism, few, indeed, would have been saved.

8. Our sighs and moans constitute that plaintive voice which is always pleasing, and always heard by the Almighty. The tears which the dread of His Justice forces from our eyes, are powerful in pleading our pardon. But those which gush from the fountain of charity, are an assurance that He has heard our prayers, and that they are most acceptable to His Divine Will.

9. As nothing is more conformable to humility than penitential tears, so nothing is more at variance with it than dissipated laughter.

10. Preserve with all care this holy sadness of compunction, which produces real joy, and cease not to cherish and foster it in your hearts, until it lifts you up above all things terrestrial, and presents you to Jesus Christ.

11. Picture to your mind the bottomless pit of hell, meditate on the rigorous and inflexible Judge, the cruel and pitiless executioners, the dark caves and horrible precipices of the infernal regions, and that dungeon of everlasting torments, which is never to be opened; form in your imagination lively images of these and similar terrors, so that if your spirits are inclined to levity and dissipation, they may be immediately reclaimed by these awful representations, and formed to an incorruptible chastity by holy tears, which have the excellent property of rendering the soul more resplendent than flames of fire.

12. When at prayer before God, be fearful as a criminal before his judge, that by the interior disposition of your mind, and the exterior humiliation of your body, you may extinguish the wrath of your just and Almighty Judge. For He cannot despise a souls that appears before Him like a bereaved and afflicted widow, and who, by the fervour and assiduity of her prayers importunes His divine bounty while He grants her request.

13. To him who has received the gift of interior and spiritual tears, any place is proper for their diffusion. But if they proceed merely from the bodily eyes, let him act with circumspection, both in the choice of the place where he sheds them, and in the persons whom he selects for his witnesses. For as a hidden treasure is more difficult to steal than one which is exposed to the public view, so are interior and spiritual tears much more difficult to lose, than those which are only exterior, and shed in the sight of men.

14. Imitate not those who, after having buried the dead, become immoderately sad in their lamentations over their graves, and then rejoice to intoxication in their funeral banquets. Do you imitate those who are bound in chains and condemned to the mines, and who are continually beaten to their work by their task-masters.

15. The love of delights and pleasures may be compared to a dog, which the penitent should chase from his soul by continual tears. But he who now weeps, and then laughs and rejoices in the good cheer of the banquet-table, throws at the head of this dog pieces of bread instead of stones, and whilst at one moment he seems to drive it away, the next invites it by the tempting morsels which he holds out for its enticement.

16. Be interiorly recollected, free from ostentation, and constantly on the watch over your heart. For the demons dread this vigilance not less than robbers dread dogs.

17. You have not been called, my brethren, to a solitary and religious life, as to a feast or nuptial banquet, but you have been called by Jesus Christ to weep over your sins and imperfections.

18. Some persons in the holy season of their tears do violence to themselves without reason, lest their minds should dwell upon pious thoughts, or commence some profitable meditation. They consider not that tears which flow without any reflection of mind, are more becoming irrational than rational creatures. Tears are the daughters of thought, and thought is the daughter of the mind, acting according to reason.

19. When you lie down to rest, let your body, extended on the bed, represent to you its position when it will be stretched in the coffin, and you will require, from this reflection, less sleep. When you are seated at table, let the viands of which you partake remind you of that sad and funeral board, where you yourself will be the dainty food of worms, and you will feel less inclined to indulge your sensuality. When you quench your thirst with water, think of the burning thirst of the damned, and you will refuse to nature some of its coveted refreshment.

20. When our superior tries us by severe corrections, harsh penances, and by humiliations which are dishonourable in the sight of men, but honourable in the sight of God, let us call to mind that terrible sentence which the Supreme Judge will one day pronounce in a voice that will echo through the endless ages of eternity. This salutary reflection will, no doubt, produce in our souls these two distinguished virtues, --mildness and patience-- with which, as with a two-edged sword, we shall be able to destroy all sadness and bitterness of heart, which excite us to rebel against every just and well-merited reprehension.

21. “As if the waters should depart out of the sea,” says holy Job, “and an emptied river should be dried up;”2 so in like manner, and in due course of time, the virtues we have just mentioned, may with patience be obtained, and made perfect in our souls.

22. If you lie down at night, and rise up in the morning with the thought of everlasting fire in your mind, you will not be either languid or negligent in the chanting of the divine office.

23. Let your religious habit induce you to weep over your transgressions, since they who mourn over the dead are clothed like you, in black. But if you cannot weep, weep on account of this want of tears. If tears be at your command, let the principal subject of your weeping by your sins, which have defiled the purity of your souls, and caused you to fall from an honourable position, a life of tranquility, and the innocency and grace of baptism, to a life of labour, to a state of humiliation and abasement, which is that of penance.

24. There is no doubt but that our Supreme Judge is equally just and considerate with regard to our weaknesses, and the frailty of our nature, as well as with respect to our tears and all our other actions. This I affirm because I have seen persons who could shed but few tears, and these they poured forth with as great an effort of sorrow as if they had been tears of blood. Whilst others, I have noticed, who could make their tears flow at pleasure, and in great abundance. For my part, I have always esteemed in penitents the violence of their grief more than floods of tears. This, also, I believe to be the judgment of God.

25. It is not proper for those that weep to speak on matters of theology, because such discourses are accustomed to dry up our tears. For he who treats of the divine mysteries is like a professor in his chair of divinity, giving lectures to his scholars. But he who laments his sins should be like a man clothed in sackcloth and ashes, and seated upon a dunghill. This, if I mistake not, is the reason why holy David replied to those who urged him to sing, “How shall we sing the song of the Lord in a strange land?”3 that is, in the servitude to which we have been reduced by our passions.

26. As in nature some things possess the power of self-motion, whilst others require to be put in motion; so in compunction there are tears which gush forth of themselves, whilst others require to be stimulated. When our souls, without any effort, are bathed in tears, both holy and delicious, let us run immediately to the Lord, for it is a sign that He has come to visit us without our invitation, and that He present to us this holy sorrow as a mystical sponge, wherewith we may blot our with the celestial dew of our tears the record of our sins from the book of life. Let us cherish this pious and happy disposition as we would the apple of our eye, until it subsides in our interior. For these tears, which are struck from the rock of our hearts by God alone, are much more powerful and efficacious than any which flow from our own exertion and meditation.

27. It is not he who weeps when he pleases that has received the true gift of tears, but he who weeps over that which excites within him a poignant sorrow. Again, it is not so much he who laments over that which deserves his lamentation, who possesses this gift, as he who weeps in submission to God’s appointment. For we often mingle with the tears of penance, which are most pleasing to God, the tears of vainglory, which give Him equal displeasure. This much we may learn by the light of prudence, when we observe that, notwithstanding our tears we still continue to sin.

28. True compunction is a sorrow which is devoid of every element of vanity, and which allows the soul to seek for no human consolation. It represents to the mind the hour of death as always present, and prompts it to seek from heaven that water of comfort which God reserves for humble solitaries.

29. They who possess in their inmost heart a fountain of holy tears, will hate their own life as the source of all their pains, afflictions, and lamentations. They will hold in aversion their own bodies, as if they were their common enemies.

30. The vanity which inflates the mind of man is the unhappy daughter of a false and counterfeit compunction, whereas the consolation which flows from God is the lovely daughter of a true and sincere compunction.

31. When we behold pride and anger in those who weep, apparently according to the Divine Will, we may lawfully conclude that their tears are not from God. “For what fellowship,” asks St. Paul, “hath light with darkness?”4

32. As material fire burns and consumes straw, so likewise the spiritual fire of pious tears burns and consumes within us all impurities, both visible and invisible.

33. Many of the Fathers tell us that it is very difficult, especially in those who are only commencing their religious career, to distinguish true from false tears; and the matter of this discernment is surrounded by much obscurity and darkness. For tears may proceed from so many different causes, from nature, from God’s grace, from sorrow, either praiseworthy or blameable, from vainglory, from a disorderly affection, from divine love, from the thought of death, and from many others too numerous to mention.

34. After having employed the fear of the Lord as our rule by which we distinguish the different sources of our tears, let our endeavour be to acquire those above all others which excite in the mind the thought of death. For they are both pure and sincere; neither susceptible of vanity nor illusion. They purify our souls and greatly promote their advancement in the love of God. They cleanse our consciences from sin, and establish in our interior that sovereign peace which follows the complete victory over our passions.

35. It is no ways astonishing to behold penitents to begin with good tears and end with bad ones. It is, however, a subject of admiration and praise to see men ascend from carnal and natural tears to those which are spiritual and supernatural. Who would not be surprised to behold branches of the wild and barren olive grafted upon the trunk of the cultivated and fruitful olive? They who are prone to vainglory will readily comprehend the truth of what we have just said.

36. Be not too confident in the abundance of your tears before your soul has been perfectly purified. For we can have no assurance of the wine which has just come from the press to be put into the barrels.

37. No one can entertain the slightest doubt but that all our tears which flow in accordance with the Divine Will are exceedingly profitable to our souls. But not before the hour of death shall we know the great benefit of these tears.

38. He who advances towards God steadily and surely by the means of these holy and ever-flowing tears, enjoys each day of his life as a spiritual feast. But he who revels each day in the delights of the body and in earthly festivity, will spend his eternity in tears.

39. Culprits have no appointed days of enjoyment and merriment in prison. In like manner solitaries have no festive days, no days of human consolation, during the period of their earthly pilgrimage. Hence the Royal Penitent, whose tears gushed from a broken heart, exclaimed with a profound sigh: “Bring my soul out of prison, O Lord, that I may praise Thy name;”5 and may enter into that joy, the supreme bliss of which is the unclouded view of Thy ineffable light and resplendent majesty.

40. Be as absolute in the dominion of your heart as a king in his kingdom. Be as much above yourself, by the sovereignty of your reason over your passions, as you are beneath God by a humble and perfect submission to His divine pleasure. Hence when you command joy to retire from your heart, let it obey you immediately; when you invite salutary grief and holy tears to take the place of joy, let them instantly fulfill your wish. In like manner, when you enjoin your body, which at the same time is both your slave and tyrant to do your bidding, let it be forthwith obedient.

41. If any one has adorned his soul with the rich ornament and precious gift of holy tears, he has, indeed, decked it in a nuptial robe, and will experience from it the spiritual hilarity of divine grace.

42. He who has spent his whole life in religious exercises so piously that he has never lost a single day, a single hour, a single moment, but has consecrated all to the service of God, how, in such a supposition, is it possible for the same day, through the whole period of his life, to occur twice?

43. If it is a great happiness to converse with angels, in keeping the eyes of the mind fixed upon those blessed spirits, so is it a state, if not of excellency, at least of security against relapse into sin, to entertain the thought of death in so lively a manner, and the remembrance of our transgressions with so keen a sorrow, that our eyes may continually send for the living waters of repentance. Indeed, we may confidently assert that we must pass by the second contemplation to the first, which is a communication with angels.

44. I have seen those destitute of the possessions of this world solicit alms in so ingenious and so pressing a manner, that they would have softened the hearts even of kings, and, to use a strong expression, obliged them, by their artful importunity, to relieve their wants, and show them compassion. I have also witnessed those who, being poor in the treasures of the soul, cried to the King of Heaven from the very depths of their hearts, through their profound sense of their spiritual poverty, who implored His divine help both without shame and without timidity, and who employing for this purpose not terms framed ingeniously, but modest, humble, and trembling supplications, obliged Him, as it were, by the vehemency with which they appealed to His infinite bounty, to grant them the grace they solicited, although His almighty power is subject to no restraint or coercion.

45. He who becomes haughty because he has received the gift of tears, and who condemns those who have not received this blessing, is like the man who, after having asked from his prince arms with which to fight his enemies, employs them for his own destruction.

46. God, dear friends, has no need of tears; neither does He require that man should always have his heart steeped in grief, and his eyes bathed in tears. No, His wish is that our souls should be set on fire with flames of divine love, which warm them and make them glow with a spiritual and heavenly joy. Take away sin and the bitterness of those tears we shed with the eyes of the body would be superfluous. For there is no need of a surgical knife when there is no bad flesh to be amputated. Adam shed no tears before he fell into sin by disobedience. In like manner the just will shed no tears after the general resurrection, and the termination of the reign of sin. “There will,” says Holy Scripture, “be no more mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow, for the former things will have all passed away.”6

47. I have seen some that wept for their faults, and others that wept because they did not weep for their faults, Although the latter had the gift of tears, yet through humility they believed themselves deprived of this happiness. And this happy ignorance of the blessing which they really possessed prevented the devil from stealing this precious gift. The Royal Prophet tells us that “The Lord enlighteneth the blind.”7

48. It sometimes happens that tears excite vanity in those who are not well grounded in virtue. And this is the reason why many are not honoured by God with this gift, that in its absence they may seek for it with ardour, may deplore their miserable condition, may groan, and sigh, and grieve, and annihilate themselves by profound humiliation and interior confusion of soul. For all these pains and sorrows of mind, without exposing them to the danger of vanity, supply the place of tears. And God permits for their greater good that all this grief and lamentation should be esteemed by them as nothing.

49. If we observe well the malicious artifices of the infernal spirits, we shall find that they often make sport of us by some ridiculous illusion. For when we have eaten heartily at our meals they excite within us great tenderness of heart, and cause tears to flow plentifully; whereas, after fasting they harden our hearts, and dry up our tears. Their motive for exciting this false tenderness is to make us in love with intemperance, the mother of all vices. But instead of allowing ourselves to be thus deluded, we must act in all things contrary to their evil persuasion.

50. For my part, when I consider the power and excellency of this interior compunction, I am struck with astonishment, and cannot but wonder how that which is called the affliction, the sorrow of repentance, should contain so much liveliness and spiritual joy. But we may liken it to wax which contains the honey. What, then, should be the lesson we draw from this admiration? This undoubted and invaluable truth, that the salutary grief of a contrite and humble heart is truly a gift of God. Now the reason why this sorrow is found united in the soul with a cheerful and delightful feeling is simply this, because God consoles in a secret and invisible manner those whose hearts are broken by this holy compunction.

THE SINGULAR TEARS OF THE ANCHORITE STEPHEN.

51. Nothing, however, is better calculated to prove to us that we have reason to weep for our iniquities with tears truly efficacious, and with lively sentiments of a salutary repentance, than what I am about to relate, and which will be as useful as it is extraordinary, and as edifying as it is astonishing. A religious named Stephen, who dwelt in this part of the country, and who had spent many years in his monastery, in which he was distinguished above others for his fasting and tears, and for the remarkable virtues which adorned his soul, had a great desire to lead a solitary and eremitical life. To carry out his wish he withdrew to a cell on the declivity of Mount Horeb, where the prophet Elias had been honoured by a vision of God. [3 Kings, xix.] Afterwards this truly religious man, desirous of embracing a more austere life and greater labours than he had hitherto been practising, retired to the quarter of the anchorites, called Siden, and there spent many years under the most rigorous discipline. For the place itself was destitute of every human comfort, almost inaccessible, and nearly seventy miles from any village. Towards the end of his life this worthy old man returned to his cell on Mount Horeb, which we previously mentioned, and where he had two disciples from Palestine, both of them very pious, and who a short time before their master had also returned to this abode. Some days after his return the venerable old man fell sick of the disease which terminated his life. The evening before his death he had an ecstasy, in which, with his eyes perfectly open, he looked on one side, then on the other of his bed, as if he saw persons around it, taking an account of his actions. He spoke so loud to them that he was heard by the attendants present at one time saying: “Yes, I confess it is perfectly true, but I have fasted so many years to expiate that fault.” Then he would say: “This is not true. It is certain you are telling a falsehood. I have not done it.” Now he replied: “This also I acknowledge. You speak the truth. But I have wept for it, and done penance by the many services which I have rendered to religious persons.” Again he would exclaim: “Not true! You are impostors.” But to other accusations he would plead guilty. “I have nothing to say to these charges but that God is merciful.” Truly were these severe and invisible examinations the cause of alarm and terror to the spectators. But that which seemed to cause the greatest dread was the accusation made against him of things that were not true. O God! if a hermit, who has spent forty years in a religious and retired life, possessing, too, the gift of tears, declares that he has nothing to say to many of the sins upon which he is indicted, O unhappy me! miserable wretch that I am, what will become of me? Why did not the holy solitary object to the devils these words of the prophet Ezechiel: “I will judge every man according to his ways, saith the Lord?”8 Certain it is he did not allege anything like this in his defence. Glory be to God, to whom alone is known the reason. This, however, I was told by credible witnesses, with strong assurances of its truth, that whilst this holy man dwelt in the desert he had given food with his own hands to a leopard. Whilst the trial was going on which we have just related, the venerable solitary expired, leaving it quite uncertain in what manner the judgment had terminated, and what was the sentence pronounced by the Judge.

52. As a widow, after the death of her husband finds in her only son, next to God, her chief consolation in her bereavement, so the Christian, that has fallen into sin, has no other comfort at the hour of death but the fasts and abstinences he practised, and the tears which he shed in the concluding portion of his life.

53. Penitents sing not in private hymns and canticles of joy, because such songs would stifle the tears of repentance. If you wish to employ such canticles to excite your hearts to sorrow, it is evident you are very far from possessing the gift of compunction. For the grief which produces tears is an interior sentiment, enkindled and domesticated in the soul by divine love.

54. The gift of tears in many persons precedes that blessed peace which is derived from the complete victory over their passions. For that which eradicates the very germ of sin, which has its seat in the concupiscence of our corrupted hearts, cleanses us from every defilement.

55. A person eminent for this gift, said to me one day: “It often happens that when I feel myself inclined to vainglory, or anger, or excessive talkativeness, this spirit of penance interiorly chides me, and in a tone of reprimand, whispers to my soul: Suffer not yourself to yield to such a vanity, otherwise I cannot remain in your company. It holds out a similar menace every time I seem disposed to give way to any other passion. To its admonitions I interiorly reply: I will never disobey you, because you have presented me, purified from sin, to our Lord Jesus Christ.

56. The lively and profound sorrow of repentance, receives consolation from God, as purity of heart receives illumination from heaven. This illumination is a strong and efficacious impression, which cannot be described; which we know by interior feeling, but not by intelligence; and which we behold with the eye of grace, but not with the eye of reason. That consolation is the refreshment of the afflicted soul, which like a child, weeps and cries to itself through tenderness and love; and this refreshment may be termed, the renewal of the energy of the soul, laden and oppressed with sorrow, and which, by its marvellous effect, changes bitter and scalding tears, into tears of sweetness and delight.

57. Tears which are excited by the thought of death, produce fear. To this fear succeeds confidence, from confidence springs joy, and joy, when complete and permanent, produces the celestial flower of divine love.

58. Repress, as unseemly in one of your profession, all external joy, with the hand of humility, lest admitting it too easily, you receive the wolf instead of the shepherd, that is, the devil in place of Jesus Christ.

59. Do not be eager to be elevated before the time, by an indiscreet temerity of aspiring to the sublime state of contemplation; but withdraw from such elevation by an humble acknowledgment of your own unworthiness, so that it may be contemplation herself who comes to seek you, through her admiration of your humility and bashfulness, and that she may contract with you a chaste and spiritual marriage, which will continue in holy friendship during the endless ages of eternity.

60. When a religious person, who is in regard to God what a child is with respect to its father, begins to know him by the interior light with which he is enlightened, he is filled with joy whenever he beholds God in His manifestations. But when this celestial Parent conceals Himself for a time, through a wise dispensation of His mercy and love, and then again displays Himself, such a person is filled at once with joy and sadness; with joy, because he has beheld again the object of his affections and desires; and with sadness, because he has been so long deprived of this divine and adorable Beauty. A mother will sometimes hide herself from her child to watch its eagerness in seeking for her, and she is exceedingly pleased to observe it seeking for her with sorrow and anxiety. By this means she wins its love, and binds it inseparably to her heart, that it may never be alienated from her in affection. “He that hath ears to hear,” saith our Lord, “let him hear.”9

61. As a criminal who has received the sentence of death, will think no more of plays or theatres, so he who bewails with poignant regret his past sins, will be no longer attached to the delights of the table, to vainglory, or to anger, For this effusion of tears arises from a profound sorrow caused by the spirit of repentance, in a manner similar to the painful throes of childbirth.

62. The Lord, who is no less just than holy, recompenses with heartfelt compunction the religious, who leads a sanctified life in the desert. He likewise bestows divine consolations upon the religious, who spends a devout life under obedience in a monastery. They who in either of these states, live not according to the divine Will, are deprived of the gift of tears infused by the Holy Spirit.

63. Drive from you, as you would a mad dog, the demon of despair, which, when you are plunged into the deepest sorrow or repentance, would fain represent God to your minds as inexorable. If you notice this malicious spirit diligently, you will observe, that it was he who, before you committed sin, depicted God as overflowing with love for men, touched with tender compassion for their weaknesses, and allowing Himself to be easily moved to forgiveness by their prayers.

64. The continual effusion of holy tears produces in the soul a pious habit; this habit grows into a sentiment or feeling of the heart, and that which becomes an ingrafted feeling of the heart, cannot easily be eradicated.

65. However great, however excellent may be the works of piety which we perform, we should esteem them as vain and counterfeit, if we were interiorly affected by a lively regret, and a sensible sorrow for our sins. For it is beyond question that they who have transgressed, and have sullied the white robe of baptism, have need of true contrition, which, like an inward fire, burns and consumes them without intermission, and of the help also of the divine mercy, to purify their hands from the impurities of their offences, which, to use a homely expression, are as tenacious as pitch.

66. I have seen persons touched with the keenest sorrow, that the remembrance of past sins could excite in the breast. Indeed, they were so violently affected, so pierced to the very core of the heart with grief, that they vomited blood. At the sight of this compunction, I remembered the words of the Royal Prophet: “I am smitten as grass, and my heart is withered;...and my bones are grown dry like fuel for the fire.”10

67. The tears which are excited by a dread of God’s judgments, are preserved by the same salutary fear. But those which are produced by love, may in part be dried up, especially if the divine love should not be perfect, or should in an extraordinary manner, have enkindled their heart into a flame, at the time that it caused the tears to gush forth. And truly may we be surprised, that the state which is the most humble, and the most despised, the state of fear, which has place at the commencement of our conversion, should be that in which there is the greatest confidence and security in our tears.

68. There are some of the passions, intemperance for instance, which dry up entirely the fountain of tears. Others, for example, pride and vanity, produce in the wellhead of our tears mud, and reptiles which breed in that mud. The first was the cause of Lot’s incest with his daughters; the second were the cause of the fall of the rebel angels.

69. The malice of our invisible enemies is incredible. They change tears, which ought to be the mother of virtue, into the parent of vice. They also employ them to inspire us with presumption in those very things which ought to excite in us a humble mistrust of ourselves. Thus it happens, that at one time the retirement of the cell, and the view of the wilderness soften the heart and cause tears to flow. In confirmation of this truth, we may adduce the example of Jesus Christ, Elias and John the Baptist, who retired into the desert to pray, and to pour out the plaintive effusions of their hearts to God. At another time, I have known demons so to melt the hearts of some religious, that they would shed tears even in the midst of cities, and the tumult of the world, to induce them to entertain the presumptuous opinion, that they received no injury, no detriment from the distractions and profane objects, which continually engaged their attention, and by this means might be induced to form new attachments with the world, which was the chief purpose and design of these artful enemies of mankind.

70. One word alone has often dried up in a penitent, all the tears of his repentance. But it would be a marvel if one word could make them flow again.

71. We shall not be charged, my dear friends, when our souls depart from this world, with not having performed miracles, with not having penetrated the sublime truths of theology, with not having ascended to the highest degree of contemplation; but we shall certainly have to render an account to God, if we do not unceasingly bewail our sins.

Let him, who by the favour of heaven, has ascended the seventh step of our Holy Ladder, stretch out a helping hand to me, to assist me to mount so high, since it has been by the aid and assistance of another only, that he himself has attained to this degree, and has been purified from the stains and impurities of a corrupt world.


  1. Psalm ci. 5.

  2. Job xiv. 11.

  3. Psalm cxxxvi. 4.

  4. 2 Corinth. vi. 14.

  5. Ps. cxli. 8.

  6. Apoc. xxi. 4.

  7. Ps. cxiv. 8.

  8. Ezech. xviii. 30.

  9. Luke xiv. 35.

  10. Ps. cl.








Step 08

ON MEEKNESS THAT TRIUMPHS OVER ANGER.

1. As water which we pour drop by drop upon the fire, finally extinguishes the flame, so the tears which flow from a heart truly sorry for our sins, suppresses in time the flames of anger and passion. Hence, having spoken of penitential tears, we now proceed in due order to treat of meekness, the offspring of these tears.

2. Meekness, which triumphs over anger, is an insatiable desire of humiliation and abasement; being opposed to vanity, which is an ever craving desire of honour and applause. The victory obtained over anger, is a conquest over nature itself, by suffering all kinds of ignominy without any sensitiveness, which is both the fruit and the crown of our warfare and our perspiration.

3. Meekness is an immutability of soul, which ever continues the same, whether amidst the injuries, or the applause of men.

4. The commencement of this victory over anger, is the observance of silence amidst the troubles which are giving us interior annoyance. Our progress in this victory is the stillness of our thoughts amidst trials of every kind, although we may still slightly experience their bitterness. The perfection of this victory is, a stable and constant serenity of soul amidst the temptations, which the devils, like so many foul winds, are continually exciting for our destruction.

5. Anger is a long and obstinate continuance of a secret and concealed hatred. It is the remembrance perpetually renewed of the injuries which we have received. Anger is a vindictive passion, which induces us to take pleasure in the afflictions and misfortunes of those who may have offended us, or given us any provocation. The quick and violent emotion of choler is an inflammation of the heart, which is excited and extinguished in a moment. Hatred is a feeling of bitterness which takes possession of, and continues its residence in, the mind. Rage is a sweeping storm, which puts all the powers of the soul in commotion, and which renders it altogether frightful and hideous.

6. As darkness retires when the gates of the rosy morn are opened, so in like manner hatred and anger disappear from our souls the moment humility enters to diffuse the sweetness of its perfumes.

7. Some persons, because their anger quickly passes away, and the dark cloud is speedily followed by sunshine, employ no remedies to free themselves from this vice. But these unhappy and deluded Christians do not consider the words of the Royal Prophet: “cease from anger, and leave rage; have no emulation to do evil. For evil doers shall be cut off.”1

8. Some emotions of anger are so violent, that they resemble the most rapid movement of the sails of a windmill. They crush and destroy in our souls more wheat, more grain, in a moment, than others would do in a day. Hence, we ought to watch ourselves incessantly for their effectual suppression. For these ebullitions of anger, like fires suddenly enkindled by impetuous winds, burn and consume in an instant, more spiritual fruits in the garden of our souls, than a slow fire would do in a considerable length of time.

9. Let us not be unmindful, my dear friends, that the demons, the treacherous enemies of our souls, know when to withdraw from us, and discontinue for a time their temptations, that they may lull our souls into a fatal peace, in which we may neglect the greatest evils as if they were trifles, and our interior maladies, through want of attention, may become incurable.

10. When a sharp and uneven stone is frequently rubbed against other stones, it loses its angularity and roughness, and is made by the friction smooth and round; in like manner when an excitable and angry temper comes in contact with other choleric and irascible spirits, it follows that either this inclination to excitement will be worn down and made smooth by the friction of patience, and the acquirement of meekness in the place of anger, or there will be a separation of the conflicting parties, from which the irascible character will perceive his own weakness, and behold it in this his retirement from others as in a mirror.

11. The angry man, when violent, is a spiritual epileptic. He falls down and tears himself voluntarily, through the vehemency of the habit which has become involuntary.

12. There is nothing more opposite to the state of true penitents than the agitations of anger; because in their conversion and return to God, they stand in need of great humility; whereas, anger is the mark of great pride.

13. If it be the perfection of meekness to preserve peace of mind, and the tenderness of charity towards him who has ill-treated us, and who is actually in our presence; it is certainly the height of anger to use both violent language and gestures towards him who has given us displeasure, even when we are alone and he is not present.

14. If the Holy Spirit be called the peace of the soul, and anger the perturbation of the mind, as it really is, we must naturally conclude, that nothing banishes from us the presence of the Holy Spirit sooner than anger.

15. We know of many wretched children of this unhappy parent; yet we know but of one, which, -- like an illegitimate child, enters the world contrary to its mother’s wish, -- is in any way serviceable in the promotion of our welfare. For I have seen persons who, inflamed with rage against some one, have given vent to their passion, and vomited at once all the bitterness which for a long time had been stagnating in their hearts, and who, by this burst of their pent-up wrath, having given occasion to the person that had offended them of testifying his regret, and making them satisfaction, have freed themselves entirely from their long cherished anger. Thus were they delivered from this passion by anger itself.

16. Others, on the contrary, I have observed, who by a pernicious dissimulation appeared to bear patiently all that displeased them; but who dwelt upon it so much the more bitterly in their hearts, as they forcibly stifled by silence all outward resentment. These latter seemed to me more unhappy than the former, who vented their spleen at once, and were thus entirely set free from its morbid feelings. Whereas they who retain this passion under the mask of silence, banish and efface the whiteness and the simplicity of the dove by the dark and deceitful humour of the serpent, against which we should guard ourselves as carefully as against the demon of impurity; because, like this last named vice, it is favoured by our natural disposition, which is prone to anger.

17. I have witnessed persons so enraged, that they would not take their food, and by this indiscreet and unreasonable abstinence, aggravated their former evil, and added poison to poison. Whilst others have fallen under our observation, who, in a spirit contrary to the former, made their anger a justifiable excuse for gluttony, venting their rage upon the various meats at table, thus falling from a pit into a gulf. Some I have noticed much wiser, who, like skillful physicians, blending together two different ingredients, and producing from this mixture a pleasant and healing medicine, have avoided extremes, and preserved themselves in the gold medium, by cooling down and quietly suppressing their anger, with the moderate indulgence and refreshment which they allowed their bodies.

18. Having occasion to visit the anchorites, I heard them, whilst I was sitting outside their hermitage, vex and excite themselves, though alone in their cells, by the vehemency of their anger and rage, like partridges flapping their wings against the cage in which they are pent up, and quarreling with those who had offended them, as if, though absent, they had been really present, and actually ready to rush upon them in their rage, and do them some bodily injury. When I beheld them in this deplorable condition, I charitably advised them not to dwell alone, lest from men they might become demons. When I saw others, on the contrary, who were licentious and given to intemperance, love their brethren with an affection that was not very spiritual, and which was blended with courtesy and flattery, I exhorted them to apply the remedy proper to their condition, by retiring into the solitude of the desert, which is the enemy of sensuality and intemperance, lest otherwise they might fall from the state of reason and the nature of men, to that of irrational beasts. When I heard some complain that they were subject to these two disorderly passions, anger and sensuality, I forbad them ever to follow their own guidance, and I charitably recommended their superiors to allow them to spend some time in retirement, which is an excellent corrective of sensuality, and then another portion of their time in the exercises of religious obedience, which is very serviceable in the suppression of anger. In both cases, however, they were to be perfectly submissive and obedient to him, under whose rule and guidance they were placed.

19. With respect to the solitary who is prone to licentiousness, he not only destroys his own soul, but it may be, that he also kills the soul of him who chooses him for his master and director. But anger is a wolf, which often throws the whole flock into confusion and terror, and which wounds many of the brethren by its humiliating and afflicting bursts of passion.

20. It is a great evil to disturb the eye of the soul by fury, according to the testimony of holy David: “My eye is troubled through indignation.”2 It is a far greater evil to make known by our words the violent agitation of our hearts. But nothing is so inimical to, so unworthy of, a religious life, which should be both angelical and divine, as to allow our passion to hurry us to blows.

21. If you are desirous of curing your neighbour of some particular sin, of extracting a mote from his eye, or, rather, if you believe yourself able to effect this cure, do not employ for this purpose a clumsy and improper instrument, which would only bury the particle deeper in the tender substance of the eye, but select a probe both fine and smooth in this delicate operation. The rough and clumsy instrument is no other than harsh language, violent and unbecoming gestures, such as are displayed by a person in anger. The fine and smooth instrument is a mild exhortation, a charitable and well-timed reprehension. “Reprove,” says St. Paul to Timothy, “reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine,”3 but strike not. If, however, it be necessary to employ bodily correction, let it be seldom, and never from yourself.

22. If we watch closely the inclinations of many that are prone to anger, we shall perceive that they embrace with great fervour, fasting, watching, and solitude. For the object of the devil is to urge them on, under the pretense of penance, to things which nourish and foster their disposition to anger.

23. If one religious, as we have already observed, can by the aid of the demon of anger disturb, and, like a wolf, put into disorder the whole flock, so may a religious, with the cooperation of the angel of peace, soothe them by his presence, and throw oil upon the troubled waters. Thus may he save the vessel, and by his meekness calm the anger of his brethren, and procure their salvation. Certainly the severity of the punishment the first will incur, will be the measure of recompense awarded to the second, who by his mildness has been a model to all religious, and whom they ought to imitate, if they wish to be useful to their neighbour.

24. The first degree of holy patience is to endure with a quiet mind humiliations and reproaches, whatever may be the sorrow or vexation we interiorly experience. The second is to harbour no resentment. The third or last, which is perfect patience, is to receive humiliations as honours and testimonies of esteem. Let the individual who possesses the first degree, be filled with consolation; let him who has attained the second, rejoice; but let him who has arrived at perfect patience, appreciate his treasure in having found his joy and his glory in God alone.

25. I have remarked in irascible persons a disposition arising from vanity, to be vexed, in order that they may be provoked to anger. I grant that they punish themselves for the first fault by the second. I cannot, however, witness this inclination to revenge one offense by another, without a feeling of compassion. Whilst considering with astonishment the artful malice of the devil, little is wanting to make me despair of myself and of my salvation.

26. If any one perceives himself easily conquered by vanity, anger, malice, or hypocrisy; if he has resolved to defend himself against these enemies by meekness and patience, as with a two-edged sword, which he draws from the scabbard of a religious community of strict observance, as from the salutary workshop of spiritual fullers; and if he desires from his heart perfectly to free himself from his vicious habits, that being beaten flat and stretched out by the humiliations and rude behaviors of his brethren, like cloth extended upon the press--with his spirit, too, humbled and trodden down, and sometimes even sensibly suffering from blows on the body--he will undoubtedly be purified from all the stains of corruption which his soul had contracted. To be thoroughly persuaded that nothing cleanses our hearts from the filth of vice so well as humiliation and mortifying reproaches, we have only to reflect upon an expression commonly used in the world. For the worldling, when he has abused some one to his face, and heaped upon him all kinds of raillery and contempt, boasts of it to his companions, and says: “I have washed his head well for him.”

27. There is a difference between the victory, which the humble sorrow of repentance enables those newly converted to obtain over the emotions of anger, and the unshaken tranquillity of the perfect, who are never disturbed or excited by irascible feelings. With respect to the former, we may say that anger is merely checked by the tears of repentance, as with a bridle which curbs and reins it in; whereas with regard to the latter, it is utterly destroyed by the sovereign peace of the soul, as a serpent when killed by the sword.

28. I once saw three solitaries who at the same time had received the same injury. The first felt piqued and disturbed, but because he dreaded Divine justice, held his peace. The second rejoiced at the bad treatment which he had experienced, because he hoped to receive a reward for its patient endurance. Nevertheless, he was grieved on account of the person who had inflicted the outrage. The third thought only of the fault of his neighbour, whom he loved sincerely, and therefore wept for him with heartfelt tears. Thus, in these three servants of God, we behold three different emotions; in the first, the fear of chastisement; in the second, the hope of recompense; and in the third, the disinterested and tender love of our neighbour.

29. As a sensible and bodily fever is but one disease, though there are many causes of inflammation; so may the perturbation and inflammation of anger arise from many different sources. The same may, perhaps, be said of all the other passions. Let me advise each one, therefore, who is sick, to examine carefully the method he ought to pursue for his restoration to health. But the first step in this art of healing is to find out the cause of the disease. For when we have discovered this root of the evil, we may receive from Divine Providence, and the assistance of our spiritual physician, the remedy proper for our cure. Hence let those who, influenced by the Spirit of God, wish to join us in this our search, enter with us into the scrutiny and spiritual judgment which we are about to propose with reference to anger, that they may have a true criterion by which they may know the properties of the passion we have been treating of, together with its various causes.

30. Bind, therefore, anger, as you would a furious tyrant, with the chains of meekness. Strike it smartly with the rod of firm patience. Drag it forward by the cords of holy love; and when you have brought it before the tribunal of reason, oblige it to answer these questions, which you have a perfect right to ask. “Tell us, foolish and disgraceful passion, the names of thy unfortunate father, of thy unhappy mother, and of thy miserable and corrupt children? Declare to us, moreover, who are they that war against thee, and subdue thee?” To which, it would seem, this passion might answer: “There are many different causes of my origin. I have not one father, but many, the chief of which is pride. I have also many mothers--vainglory, avarice, intemperance, and sometimes impurity. My offspring are enmities, retaliations, quarrels, and hatred. My opponents who overcome me, and bind me in chains, are the virtues opposite to my children: moderation and meekness. That which is continually laying ambuscades for my downfall, is called humility, from which you may enquire in turn, whence it derives its birth.”

In this eighth step of our Holy Ladder, the crown of meekness is proposed for our attainment. He who has received this crown only from the hand of nature, may not have obtained any of those, which we receive from the practice of the seven virtues, treated of in the preceding seven steps. Whereas, he who has won this crown by his own industry, labour, and perspiration, has certainly carried off all the other seven crowns.


  1. Ps. xxxvii. 21.

  2. Ps. vi. 8.

  3. 2 Timothy iv. 2.








Step 09

ON THE REMEMBRANCE OF INJURIES.

1. The various Christian virtues may be compared to the steps of Jacob’s ladder, and vicious and profane habits of sin to the chains which fell from the hands of St. Peter, the Prince of the Apostles. For the virtues follow each other like the rounds in the ladder, elevating those who practise them step by step to heaven. The vices, in like manner, follow and give occasion to one another, and are linked together like the rings of a chain. Hence having spoken of the foolish passion of anger, and having learnt that the remembrance of injuries is one of its offspring, we shall be following the right order of our discourse if we treat of this latter vice in this its appropriate place.

2. The revengeful remembrance of injuries is the consummation and highest reach of anger. It is that which nourishes and keeps sin alive in the soul. It is a hatred of justice, the ruin of virtue, the venom which poisons the mind, the worm which gnaws the heart. It is a subject of confusion to those who, by the prayer which God Himself has taught them, pledge themselves to forget injuries. It is a perpetual obstacle to all the supplications which they may pour forth to God. It is the banishment of friendship, the cruel point of a lively resentment that pierces the soul; a sensible and poignant sorrow, which leaves in the heart no particle of love, through the delight that it experiences in the bitterness of anger. It is one continuous sin; the eye of iniquity which never sleeps; a malicious disposition which is strengthened in its malignity every hour.

3. The remembrance of injuries is a dark and concealed passion, the daughter, but never the mother, of any other passion. For this reason our observations upon it shall be few and brief.

4. He who has stifled anger has also blotted out the remembrance of injuries. For as long as anger lives she continues to be the fruitful mother of many unhappy children.

5. Whoever entertains a true affection for his neighbour has banished from his soul the commotions of anger. But he who harbours hatred against any one introduces into his soul a legion of vexations, inquietudes, and bitter meditations of revenge.

6. A banquet, at which charity feasts her enemies, dispels hatred, and with pure and sincere gifts soothes the agitated soul. A table, on the contrary, which is not regulated by sobriety and prudence, produces licentiousness, and this intemperance glides into the feast through the door of charity.

7. I have seen hatred break at once the long established bonds of profane love, and discard the remembrance of the injurious words which had unceasingly kept open the rupture, contrary to the expectation, and certainly to the admiration of every one. It was wonderful to behold one demon thus cure the evil which another had committed. But perhaps it was a particular dispensation of Divine Providence, and not the work of demons.

8. The remembrance of injuries generally closes the door against any firm and solid friendship. There is, however, sometimes formed between it and a too great and indiscreet freedom an intimate acquaintance and association. Thus we behold this vermin of the soul become secretly attached to the pure dove.

9. Let him who wishes to remember injuries call to his recollection those which have been inflicted upon him by the devil. And let him who desires to be revenged wreak his vengeance upon his own body. For it is an ungrateful and malicious friend, and the better we treat it the more intent is it on doing us mischief.

10. The remembrance of injuries is a subtle and artful interpreter of Holy Scripture, which it expounds and perverts to its own sense and deceitful imagination. But our Lord’s Prayer, bequeathed to us by Jesus Christ, ought to overwhelm such persons as entertain this remembrance with confusion, since no one can repeat this prayer with his heart and be mindful of injuries.

11. When, after a severe contest with yourself to forget an injury, you feel that you cannot entirely master this foe to your salvation, at least humble yourself in words before your enemy, that you may blush at yourself for your false reconciliation, and that the reproach of shame with which your conscience will chide you, may be as the point of a flame that is already penetrating you, and burning you so severely, that the very pain you endure may induce you to love the individual with whom you were at variance with a perfect friendship.

12. Know that your soul is delivered from the corruption of revenge, not when you have offered prayers and good wishes to God for him who has offended you, nor when you have returned him good for evil, no, nor when you have invited him to your table, but then only when, having learnt that some fatal accident has befallen him, whether in soul or body, you are afflicted thereat, and bewail his misfortune as if it were your own.

13. An anchorite who fosters in his soul the remembrance of injuries, is in his cell what an asp is in his hiding-hole, cherishing the deadly poison which fills its veins.

14. The remembrance of Jesus Christ can heal a soul of the remembrance of injuries by the extreme confusion which His bright example of patience causes in such a soul, and which is a stinging reproach to its impatience.

15. Worms are engendered in wood that is rotten at the core, and anger is the vice of those who, though outwardly mild, harbour a secret bitterness, which infects and corrupts the heart. He who has purified his soul from anger has obtained the pardon of his sins. But he who nourishes and preserves his vice deprives himself of all right to mercy.

16. Many persons have undertaken with ardour great and painful labours, that they might deserve the pardon of their offences. But he who forgets injuries will obtain this forgiveness, this favour far sooner, because it is an acknowledged truth, that in readily forgiving the injustice which has been done ourselves, we shall receive most bountifully the pardon of those transgressions which we have committed against God, according to Jesus Christ in the Gospel. [Luke, vi.37.]

17. The forgetfulness of injuries is the testimony of a solid and sincere repentance. But he who harbours animosity in his heart, yet fancies that he is moved by the true spirit of repentance, resembles the man who imagines that he is running whilst he is stretched on his bed dreaming.

18. I have seen those who were sick of this malady exhort others similarly affected with it themselves, through the secret shame they felt of belying their words by their actions.

19. Let no one imagine that this passion, which spreads over the soul the darkness of night, is one of little importance, since it oftentimes corrupts the hearts even of devout persons.

He who has mounted this ninth step may ask with confidence from Jesus Christ, our God and Saviour, the pardon of his sins.








Step 10

ON DETRACTION.

1. I cannot believe any wise man will deny that hatred and the remembrance of injuries are the parents of a great deal of detraction. For this reason, having spoken of the father and the mother, it is now proper that we should treat of their offspring in their due order.

2. Detraction is the progeny of hatred. It is a subtle and imperceptible malady. It is a monstrous leech concealed in the very depth of the soul, and which sucks and draws away all the blood from charity. It is an interior dislike, which outwardly hides itself under the mask of fraternal affection. It is an imposthume of the heart, a weight which oppresses the conscience, and the ruin of purity.

3. There are some young women who commit sin without a blush, whilst others act more covertly, and with more reservation, yet commit far greater sins than the former. The same observation may be made with respect to the spiritual passions, of which the soul is so ashamed, is so filled with confusion by them, that it has not the courage to acknowledge itself guilty of them before men. Such are hypocrisy, malignity, sensible grief at an affront, the remembrance of injuries, and detraction, which proceeds from the malice of an ulcerated heart. For these vices are like deceitful women dressed in disguise, who would fain make you believe by their words that the object which they have in view is really different from that which they are contemplating in their mind.

4. Having heard persons detracting their neighbour, and having reprimanded them for their evil talk, these workers of iniquity replied to me in excuse that they did it through love of him whom they had spoken disadvantageously, and through the care which they had of his salvation. But I rejoined: “Mistrust, I beseech you, such love, such charity, if you do not wish to contradict the Royal Prophet, who said: ‘The man that in private detracted his neighbour, him did I persecute.’1 If, as you assert, you truly love your neighbour, offer up to God for him your prayers and supplications in the secret of your heart, and not wound his reputation by your slanderous language. For this method of loving your neighbour by praying for him is very pleasing to Almighty God. But if you wish to abstain from judging your brother when he commits a fault, remember that Judas was one of the apostles, and that one of the thieves crucified with Jesus Christ had been a murderer, yet by a wonderful and sudden change the former became an apostate, the latter a saint.”

5. If any one wishes to conquer the demon of detraction, let him not attribute the sin to the man who has committed it, but to the devil, who whispered the suggestion. For although we all sin without constraint or violence, yet no one formally wishes to offend God.

6. I saw a man who, having committed a crime in public, had done penance for it in private. Thus I found that he whom I had condemned as still incontinent, was at that very time chaste in the sight of God, and reconciled to Him by a true conversion.

7. Have no respect, no forbearance towards him who detract his neighbour in your presence. No, say to him: “Cease, brother, to speak evil of that person. How could I condemn him, I who fall into far more grievous faults every day?” From this simple proceeding you will derive a twofold advantage, that is, a remedy both for your brother and yourself. For one of the shortest methods to obtain the pardon of our sins, is not to judge our neighbour, according to the testimony of the Gospel: “Judge not, that you be not judged.”2

8. Fire is not more opposed to water than rash judgment to the spirit of true repentance. If you should behold a person falling into sin even at the hour of death, do not condemn him, for the judgments of God are concealed from men. Some who have publicly committed grievous transgressions, have in secret redeemed their sins by deeds of virtue far more meritorious than the penalty of their sins demanded. Thus those who were disposed to commit detraction were deceived, by attending only to the smoke which the scandalous actions of these persons had diffused in the eyes of the world, without observing the secret and divine light with which the Sun of Justice had illuminated their hearts.

9. Hearken to me all you who are malicious censurers of your brother’s actions, if it be true, as undoubtedly it is, that you will be judged with the same judgment which you pass upon others, according to the testimony of Jesus Christ,3 -- must you not expect to fall into the same faults, whether spiritual or corporal, which you condemn in your neighbour? This, at least, is an ordinary occurrence.

10. Those persons who so readily assume the office of judging their neighbours, and censuring their actions with a rigorous exactitude, are guilty of violating charity. For they certainly entertain not a perpetual remembrance of their own sins, neither do they bewail them with sufficient sorrow. Since he who has removed from before his eyes the evil of self-love, and considered attentively his own faults, will not trouble himself about any thing else on earth, firmly believing that the remainder of his life, should it be a hundred years, will not suffice to wash out his own guilt, were he even to shed tears equal to the waters of the Jordan; nay, were each single tear a large river. I have closely observed the spirit of true penance in sincere penitents; but I never found in any of them the slightest trace of detraction or rash judgment.

11. The devils, those murderers of souls, violently urge us on to commit sin; or, if they cannot induce us to sin, they prompt us to pass unfounded judgments upon those who do sin. Thus by the pernicious effect of a second suggestion, they sully the purity of our hearts, which we preserved inviolate against their first temptation.

12. One of the marks by which we may recognize the vindictive and the envious, is their hastiness in proceeding, without scruple, and with evident pleasure, to blame and calumniate the doctrine, the actions, and the virtues of their neighbour, being precipitated by the devil into the gulf of hatred.

13. I have known those who, in secret, and secluded from the sight of men, have committed great faults, so confident of the good opinion that was entertained of their purity, that they insulted and treated with contempt any one, who even slightly transgressed before others.

14. To judge our neighbour, is to usurp with insolence, the honour which is due to God alone; and to condemn our neighbour, is to pronounce upon ourselves the sentence of an unhappy death.

15. As the sin of vanity is alone sufficient to plunge man into perdition, so likewise, is rash judgment; for this sin was the condemnation of the Pharisee mentioned in the Gospel.

16. As the prudent vintager eats only ripe grapes, and gathers not those which are green; so an equitable and prudent Christian applies his mind to observe only the virtues of others; whereas the fool and detractor looks after only the faults and vices which he can detect in his neighbour. For this reason the Psalmist exclaims: “They have searched after iniquities; they have failed in their search.”4

17. Do not condemn your neighbour even upon the testimony of your own eyes, because the sight itself is often deceived.

He who has ascended this tenth step will conduct himself by no other rule than by that of the spirit of charity and penance.


  1. Ps. c. 5.

  2. Matt. vii. I.

  3. Matt. vii. 2.

  4. Ps. lxiii. 7.








Step 11

ON SILENCE.

1. I have briefly pointed out in the preceding degree, how dangerous a thing it is, and how easily it glides into the souls of those who seem pious, to judge others, or what is equivalent, to expose ourselves to be judged by God, and to be punished by Him most severely for the intemperance of the tongue. It is now our duty, according to the order and sequence of our discourse, to examine the cause of this vice, and the gate by which it enters our souls, or rather the gate by which it takes its departure.

2. The intemperance of the tongue is the throne in which vanity is accustomed to display herself with much pomp and ostentation. An ungoverned tongue betokens ignorance, and opens the door to detraction. It is the parent of raillery; the workshop of falsehood; the ruin of compunction. It introduces weariness and tepidity. It is the harbinger of sleepiness, and the dissipated enemy of meditation. It is the deadly foe of interior recollection; the extinguisher of spiritual fervour, and the curtain which shuts out the Holy Spirit in the time of prayer.

3. Silence, on the contrary, when accompanied by knowledge and wisdom, is the parent of prayer. It is the deliverance of the soul from captivity; the preservation of the divine fire which is enkindled in the soul; the vigilant guardian of our thoughts; the sentinel who gives us timely notice of the enemy. Silence is an interior prison, into which we enter in spirit, that we may there bewail our transgressions. It is the friend of penitential tears; the kind monitor who reminds us of death. Silence is a picture of the mind, which represents in most glowing colours, the torments of hell. It is a prudent and diligent observer of the divine and eternal judgments, and the faithful coadjutor of the salutary grief of penance. Silence is the foe of presumptuous confidence; the inseparable companion of tranquillity of mind; the adversary of the ambitious desires to instruct others. It is the fuel of the heavenly light which shines in the soul; the help-mate of contemplation; the invisible staff by which we advance in virtue; the secret elevation of the soul to God.

4. He who has a true knowledge of his faults, will repress the intemperance of the tongue. But he who is loquacious, knows himself not as he might.

5. The friend of silence draws near to God, and entering secretly into a holy familiarity of Him, is enlightened by His divine light.

6. The silence of the Son of God obtained respect even from Pilate. The silence of the pious Christian frees him from the temptations of vainglory.

7. St. Peter wept very bitterly for having spoken, and for having forgotten that sentence of Holy Scripture: “I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue;”1 and likewise the counsel of the wise man: “The slipping of a false tongue is as one that falleth on the pavement; so the fall of the wicked shall come speedily.”2

8. But I do not wish to treat of this subject more at length, although the artful malignity of our propensity to talkativeness, is a strong inducement. I will only mention that which was told me by a person with whom I conversed upon silence, that the intemperance of the tongue always proceeds from one of these causes, -- from a too great freedom in conversation, or from an inveterate habit (for the free use of the tongue, like the use of the other members of the body, becomes a second nature), or frequently from vanity, in those who are still struggling with their passions, or, and this not seldom, from gluttony. It has often happened, however, that many giving full rein to their appetite, have also, at the same time, given full play to their tongue, in their eagerness to swallow down the good things of the table; thus by the weakness they have brought upon the body, and by the full employment they have found the tongue, they have closed the door to much speaking.

9. He who reflects upon death, has already cut short this evil habit of talkativeness; and he who has received the gift of inward and spiritual tears, shuns it as he would fire.

10. He who loves solitude loves silence. But he who is fond of being abroad, wanders from cell to cell through his desire of speaking to every body.

11. He who has once been regaled with the perfumes diffused through his soul by the flames of divine love, flies from conversation as bees flee from smoke. For as smoke is most hurtful to bees, so is the conversation of men disagreeable and irksome to those who love solitude.

12. It is difficult to stem a stream of water, unless we raise a mound or bank in front of it; but it is still more difficult to stop the garrulity of the tongue, if we do not put upon it the curb chain, which brings it into subjection.

He who by a noble victory has conquered the eleventh step has eradicated, together with this one vice of much talking, the roots of many others.


  1. Ps. xxxviii. 1.

  2. Eccles. xx. 20.








Step 12

ON LYING.

1. As flint and steel when struck against each other produce fire, so much talking, mingled with raillery, occasions falsehood.

2. By lying, we extinguish charity; and by false swearing, we renounce our allegiance to God.

3. Let no one who is truly wise, imagine that lying is a trifling fault, since no vice is condemned under more fearful denunciations than this in Holy Scripture: “O God, if thou wilt destroy all that speak a lie,”1 what will be the punishment of those who add perjury to falsehood?

4. I have seen those who, coveting the glory of being agreeable liars, and of exciting laughter by their witty and fabulous stories, have dried up the source of tears in the hearts of those who listened to them.

5. When the devils perceive, that, as soon as these facetious and jesting persons begin to speak, we wish to retire from their company, and shun such dangerous buffoonery as a contagious and pestilential atmosphere, they exert themselves to retain us by these two false and deceitful reasons; the first is not to displease by our retiring from him who seeks our entertainment; the second is not to appear more deeply affected with the love of God than others who are present, and who do not think it proper to withdraw from this social circle. But we say, retire immediately and without any further deliberation; if we do not, our minds will represent, during our prayers, the images and thoughts of all the pleasantries to which we have been listening. And do not content yourself with merely flying from such company, but endeavour before you retire, to break off the profane conversation by some pious remark, and by placing before the eyes of the guilty parties the remembrance of death, and of the last judgment. Even should you experience from this charitable proceeding, some slight thought of vainglory, no matter, it would be better to allow this trifling imperfection, than not procure so great a benefit to many of your neighbours.

6. Hypocrisy is the mother of lying, and is oftentimes its subject matter. For it is the opinion of many, that hypocrisy makes no meditation so frequently, and performs no work so commonly, as falsehood, with which it unites false swearing.

7. He who is filled with the fear of the Lord, is the enemy of lying; because he follows the dictates of his own upright conscience, which is the uncorrupted judge of his actions.

8. We may say of falsehood, what we say of all the passions; the offence is not always of the same magnitude. We judge of the degree of guilt from the diversity of the circumstances. For he who tells a falsehood through the dread of punishment, will be chastised by God less severely, than one who tells lies without any such fear, and who is influenced by no danger or threat of peril.

9. Some persons tell lies through the pleasure which they take in lying; others to gratify an unlawful passion; many to make their companions cheerful, and perhaps not a few to lay snares for their neighbours, to inflict upon him some injury, or to accomplish his ruin.

10. Judges suppress falsehood in the mouths of criminals by the employment of torments, but penitents utterly extinguish it in their hearts by the copious streams of their tears.

11. The liar alleges as the pretext of his falsehood, that he wounds truth merely, that he may do a kind office and a charitable action to his neighbour. In this manner he often mistakes for an act of charity that which, in reality is the perdition of his own soul. This inventor of deception and trickery pretends that he imitates Rahab, the harlot who concealed the spies; and whilst he is working his own ruin by his falsehood, assures us that he is but labouring for the salvation of others.

12. An author informs us: that to conceal the truth innocently there must lurk no falsehood within the foldings of the heart. There must also be a sufficient reason for this concealment of the truth, and we must never have recourse to this measure without fear.

13. A little child knows not what lying is; neither does a soul that is free from all malice. As he who is gay and cheerful over a bottle of wine cannot well disguise the truth, so he whom compunction has spiritually inebriated cannot utter a falsehood.

He who has mounted the twelfth step of our Holy Ladder, by the victory which he has obtained over lying, possesses the love of truth, which is the root of all the other virtues.


  1. Ps. v. 7.








Step 13

ON WEARISOMENESS OR SLUGGISHNESS.

1. Weariness or sluggishness is like detraction, frequently an offshoot from the intemperance of the tongue, and one of the oldest of its children. For this reason I have placed it here, as the most appropriate place in the chain of vices.

2. This wearisomeness is a depression of the soul, a fainting of the spirit, a disgust of spiritual exercises, an aversion to the religious life, which has been solemnly professed. It is the calumniator of God, whom it accuses of being cruel and hard-hearted.

3. Whilst under the influence of this weariness, the soul is languid in chanting the psalms, sluggish at prayer, but indefatigable, and hard as iron in bodily exercises, diligent and laborious in manual labour, and prompt and alert in all the duties of obedience.

4. He who lives submissively under a superior in a religious community, is unacquainted with this passion, because he makes the ministration of the temporal things with which he is occupied, subservient to the regulation of his spiritual duties.

5. The community life of monasteries is opposed to weariness. But anchorites have this enemy for their constant companion in solitude. It never forsakes them until death steps between it and its victims. Hence it never ceases until the last hour of life the warfare which it wages against them. When it sees the cell of any solitary it smiles, creeps nearer and nearer, and establishes its dwelling place in the immediate neighborhood.

6. The physician generally visits his patients in the morning, but this interior languor usually calls upon those who lead a religious life, about mid-day.

7. It prompts those who are under its influence to perform with care the duties of hospitality, and conjures the brethren to labour strenuously with their hands, that they may have much to bestow in alms. Others it encourages very earnestly to visit the sick, by reminding them of the words of Jesus Christ: “I was sick, and you visited me.”1 It induces them to go and see those who are sad or desponding, and it inspires them to console and strengthen the weak, when in reality there is no one more languid, more feeble than themselves.

8. When at divine office and at prayer, it calls to our remembrance something that appears urgent and necessary; and, however unreasonable the thing may be, it endeavours with all its energy to withdraw us under some specious pretext from our holy occupation.

9. This demon of wearisomeness makes us feel, about three hours before bedtime, shivering, headaches, symptoms of fever, and pains in the bowels. About noon it brings on oppression and tiredness, but when the table is spread, and the dinner ready, we feel that we could leap over the moon for joy. When, however, the hour of divine office and prayer has returned, the body again becomes heavy and languid. If we being to pray it brings on drowsiness, and by the yawnings which it untimely excites, it prevents us from pronouncing the concluding words in the verses of the psalms.

10. Each one of the virtues destroys the vice to which it is opposed; but this unhappy wearisomeness is generally the death of all the virtues that adorn a religious life.

11. A generous soul rekindles, reanimates its spirit, when it is cast down, and as it were dead; but this weariness and languor in a sluggish soul scatters and wastes all the treasure of virtue. As this vice is the most dangerous of all the eight capital vices, let us follow the method we have pursued, in our treatment of the other passions. Previously, however, we will subjoin two or three articles to what we have already said.

12. This weariness does not attack us when we are not at the divine office, and our eyes are opened the moment we have finished reciting the psalms.

13. It is during the time of combat that we may know whether we are doing a holy violence to ourselves or not. For there is nothing which wins for a solitary so many crowns as his successful war upon this passion.

14. You will perceive if you make diligent observation that this demon tempts those who are standing, to be seated; and those who are seated, to support themselves against the wall, to look out through the windows of their cells, and to make a noise in beating time with their feet.

15. He who bewails his sins with the sentiments of true repentance, is never afflicted with this malady.

16. Let us, therefore, chain down this tyrant by the remembrance of our sins. Let us strike him manfully with the labour of our hands. Let us drag him forth to justice by the consideration of the good things to come, and oblige him to appear before the tribunal of reason; there let us put to him these questions:

17. “Base coward as thou art, tell me, from whom didst thou receive thy unhappy birth? What is thy family? Who are they that fight against thee? Who is he that slays thee?” Feeling himself under this constraint, he may, perhaps, reply in the following terms: “I find no place of repose amongst religious, who are truly obedient. But by the solitaries of the desert I am kindly received, and with them I make my abode. I derive my origin from many different causes, – at one time from insensibility of soul; at another from the forgetfulness of celestial happiness; and not infrequently from excessive bodily labour. My children are restlessness and instability, which are perpetually roaming from place to place. My companions are contempt for the orders of the spiritual director, forgetfulness of the last judgment, and sometimes the total abandonment of the religious profession. My adversaries that bind me down, as you see, are the chanting of the psalms and manual labour. The opponent that conquers me is the meditation of death. But the enemy that kills me is prayer, joined to a firm hope of eternal happiness. If you wish to know whence prayer derives its birth, you have but to consult, and ask itself.”

He who has succeeded in attaining this thirteenth step, or victory, runs with ardour in the way of virtue.


  1. Matt. xxv. 36.








Step 14

ON INTEMPERANCE, A BAD MISTRESS, ETC.

1. Having to speak against intemperance, I have on this occasion, as on all others, to speak against myself. For it would be a miracle for a man to deliver himself entirely from the yoke of this tyrant, before he passes through the gate of death into the silent tomb.

2. Intemperance or gluttony may be termed the hypocrisy of our stomach, which, though too full, is yet clamorous for more food; yea, though ready to burst, yet complains that it is dying of hunger.

3. Gluttony is the artful mistress of all kinds of seasoning, and high-flavoured dishes, of every variety of delicacies and good cheer.

4. When we tie a vein, or stop the blood on one side, it immediately flows to another; when this also is stopped, it forces elsewhere a passage; so in like manner, when we extinguish the flame of concupiscence (lust) on the side of impurity, it breaks out into gluttony; and when we suppress the flame of gluttony, it blazes forth in some other passion.

5. Intemperance is a deception of the eyes, by which we fancy that we can devour all that is upon the table, at one repast, when in reality we can but eat a small portion of the viands before us.

6. Repletion from food is the mother of incontinency, as mortification of the appetite is the parent of chastity.

7. He who strokes and coaxes a lion will make it tame and gentle; but he who indulges and flatters the body renders it more cruel and ferocious.

8. The Jew rejoices on Sabbath and festival days, the intemperate solitary on Saturdays and Sundays. He reckons during Lent how long it will be to Pascha, and he prepares many days beforehand that which he purposes to eat on this festival. He who is the slave of his appetite thinks only of the delicious meats with which he may glut himself, on the solemn feasts of the Church. But the true servant of God reflects only on the graces and virtues with which he may enrich himself on these days consecrated to the worship of God.

9. When any guests arrive, he who is the servant of this passion, feels himself moved with charity in their behalf, and takes occasion to gratify his intemperance by keeping them company at table. Thus he would fain hide the indulgence of his sensuality, under the pretense of affording refreshment and consolation to his brethren. He believes it his duty sometimes to relax his austerity by drinking a little wine with them, and whilst he imagines that by this exterior action he is preserving his sobriety, he becomes in effect the slave of gluttony.

10. Vainglory sometimes makes war against intemperance, and these two passions struggle to obtain possession of the miserable solitary, whom they are both anxious to bring into bondage to themselves. Intemperance vehemently presses him to yield to relaxation. Vainglory prompts him to allow his virtue to shine before the world by his frugality and temperance. The prudent solitary carefully shuns both these rocks, and know how and when he can make these two passions work each other’s destruction.

11. When our bodies become rebellious by our overly kind treatment, we must mortify them at every opportunity, and in every place, by the firm reins of temperance. But when they have become peaceable and tranquil, which is seldom, we believe, the case before death, we may then conceal our fasts and abstinences from those towards whom we exercise hospitality.

12. I have seen ancient priests who were deceived by the devil, and who, whilst at table, drinking with young people, not well masters of their conduct, engaged them by their benedictions to take wine, and depart from their ordinary austerity. But if the persons whom we entertain are known by all to be eminent in virtue, we may then remit something of our usual sobriety, keeping, however, ourselves within the strict bounds of moderation. If, on the contrary, these individuals are not careful in their mode of living, we must pay very little respect to their benedictions, particularly if their visit should be at a time when we are obliged to fight for the mastery over the flesh.

13. Evagrius1 being struck by God, imagined himself wiser than all the wise men in the world, as well for the eloquence of his discourses, as for the sublimity of his thoughts. But the poor wretch was miserably deceived; and appeared a greater fool, in many things, than all the fools who had preceded him, but more especially in this ridiculous saying: “when our sensuality desires divers kinds of meats, we must mortify and keep it in subjection by bread and water;” which would be the same thing, as if we should order a little child not to mount step by step, but all the rounds of the ladder at once. In order to refute this pernicious maxim, the following reflection will be sufficient. When sensuality desires divers kinds of meats, this desire, this instinct is in strict accordance with nature. And this is the reason why we should employ every kind of artifice against one of the most artful of our passions. But if we fail, we shall find ourselves engaged in a very dangerous warfare, and in the proximate occasion of our fall and ruin. Retrench or cut back on therefore, at first only such meats as produce obesity; then those which excite the warmth of temperament; and finally such as are delicate and agreeable. But let us give to our stomach if we can, that food which will replenish it, and be easy of digestion; that this fulness may satisfy its insatiable avidity; and that this quick digestion may free us from the pernicious warmth of temperament usually excited by meats more solid, and more difficult to digest. If, indeed, we carefully examine the greater part of those viands (foods) which are nourishing, and which contain much that is exciting, we shall find that they give occasion to, and foster, concupiscence or lustful desire or gluttony.

14. Laugh at the artifice of the devil, who about supper time prompts you to defer your repast later than ordinary, because at noon the following day he will induce you to renounce the resolution which you had made at his suggestion the previous day.

15. The abstemiousness or temperance which is suitable to the innocent is very different from that which is becoming in penitents. For the innocent in their fasting are guided by the motions of concupiscence or gluttony, which from time to time renews against them its assaults. Whereas penitents practice the mortification of the appetite to the very end of life, without ever giving any consolation to the body, without any relaxation of their penance, or truce to the severity of their fasting. The first wish to preserve their souls in a just and proper temperament, but the second are desirous of appeasing God’s anger by their compunction and heartfelt tears.

16. The time of joy and consolation for a perfect solitary is the period when he sees himself delivered entirely from all care and trouble about temporal matters. For the solitary who has still to combat with his passions, the time of his comfort is when he is practising rigorous austerities and encountering violent struggles. For the one who is the slave of his disorderly affections the period of his rejoicing is the time of Pascha, the feast of feasts, the queen of all the solemnities, for then he can indulge his appetite.

17. The intemperate dream during the night of sumptuous banquets and all the delicacies of good cheer. But penitents meditate even in their sleep upon the last judgement and upon everlasting torments.

18. Make yourselves masters of your appetite before it becomes master of you, and before you are placed under the obligation of putting forth great exertion to emancipate yourselves from its tyranny. Those who have fallen into the gulf of sins, which I do not wish to mention, will understand what I mean.

19. Let us check, by the dread of eternal fire, the excesses of intemperance, which sometimes hurries those who are its slaves to commit suicide, and to die not only the death of the body, but the fatal and eternal death of the soul. For if we examine the subject carefully we shall feel convinced that it is intemperance alone which draws upon us such misfortune.

20. The mind of him who fasts is occupied with pure and chaste thoughts during the time of prayer. But the soul of the voluptuary is filled at that holy season with impure and shameful imaginations. Wine and food that overloads the stomach dry up the very source of tears, but the stomach that is parched by fasting produces in abundance these salutary streams of penance.

21. He who pretends, whilst he is the slave of his belly, to conquer the demon of impurity, resembles the man who attempts to extinguish a fire by pouring oil instead of water upon its flames.

22. The mortification of the appetite produces humiliation of heart, whereas the gratification of the palate tends to fill the mind with pride and vanity.

23. Consider in what state you find yourselves in the morning, at midday, and before your evening repast, and you will learn from this consideration the utility of your fasting. You will perceive in the morning, the period nearest to the supper of the previous evening, that you will be still troubled with wandering and dissipated thoughts; towards noon you will be more tranquil, and at the setting of the sun, when you take your repast, you will find your spirit thoroughly mortified and humbled.

24. Check by abstinence the avidity of your appetite, and at the same time curb in the activity of the tongue, which generally spends itself the more freely in useless words in proportion as the body is nourished and strengthened by the abundance of a luxurious diet. Fight manfully in order to overcome this tyrant, and exert yourself by fasting to weaken its opposition. For if we labour in earnest, God will immediately help us by His all powerful grace.

25. When skins are wet they easily stretch and contain much more moisture than before. But when we neglect and leave them dry, they shrink up, and have little or no moisture. In like manner, when the stomach is filled to excess, the bowels are distended; but when, by great restrain, we give them but little nourishment, they shrink up and become empty. Then when the intestines are thus shrunk, they require no longer any food for their support. Thus we become abstemious even by the necessity of nature.

26. Thirst sometimes appeases thirst, that is, thirst sometimes passes away, but it is impossible to drive away hunger by hunger. When it has conquered you subdue it by labour. If you cannot do this on account of your weak health, master it by watching. When you feel your eyes oppressed with sleep apply yourself to manual labour, but when sleep does not oppress you, remain quiet. For as the Scripture says, it is impossible to serve both God and Mammon, so it is impossible to have the mind intent upon labour and prayer at the same time.

27. We may be sure of this, that the demon of intemperance oftentimes takes possession of our stomach, and excites therein so great a hunger and thirst that all the food of Egypt, and all the water of the Nile, could not satiate one individual.

28. When we have taken refreshment this fiend retires to give place to the demon of impurity. Hence he hastens to this foul spirit, tells him the condition in which he has left us, and says to him: “Go boldly and attack without fear such a one, whom I have prepared for your easy conquest. For he has been treating his body well, and will not, therefore, make much resistance.” The demon of impurity then comes smiling to us, and binds us hands and feet in the chains of sleep, during which he does with us whatever he pleases, and troubles our souls with illusions and phantoms, which produce their effects even upon our bodies.

29. It is wonderful to see how the mind, which is immaterial, is sullied and obscured by the body, and how, on the contrary, the same mind, which has nothing in its nature material, is sometimes purified and elevated to the higher regions of spirituality by the very body which is but dust and ashes.

30. If you have promised Jesus Christ, by your holy profession, to walk in the thorny and narrow path of the Gospel, repress your appetite and inclination to gluttony. Listen to these words with attention: “Wide is the gate (of luxuriousness), and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, (through impurity,) and many there are that go in thereat. But narrow is the gate, and straight is the way (of abstemiousness) that leadeth to life, and few there are that find it.”2

31. As Lucifer, who fell from the highest sphere in heaven, is the first of demons, so intemperance is the first of the passions.

32. When you are at table, place before the eyes of your mind death and judgment. For scarcely will you be able to check, even by this means, a little of your gluttony. When you put the cup to your lips, think of the gall and vinegar present to Jesus Christ, your Lord and Master, and you will keep within the bounds of sobriety, or at least you will entertain more lowly sentiments,. and express your feelings in profound sighs.

33. Be not deceived, you can never deliver yourselves from the servitude of Pharao, nor celebrate the Paschal solemnity of heaven, if, during the whole of your life, you do not eat wild lettuce and unleavened bread. The bitter lettuce is the violence and mortification which you endure from fasting. And the unleavened bread is the spirit of humility, which frees you from all pride and haughtiness of mind. Remember, without any forgetfulness, these words of holy David: “But as for me, when they (the demons) were troublesome to me, I was clothed with haircloth. I humbled my soul with fasting and my prayer shall be turned into my bosom.”3

34. Fasting is a violence which we offer to nature; a retrenchment/cutting back of all that can merely gratify the palate; a repression of the ardour of concupiscence; a banishment of bad thoughts; a deliverance from impure dreams; the purification of prayer; the torch of the soul; the guardian of the mind; the illumination of our hearts; the door of compunction; the humble moaning of penitence; an affection filled with joy; the bridle of the tongue; the tranquility of the spirit; the rampart of obedience; the dispenser of sleep; a salutary remedy for the health of our bodies; the mediator of happy peace to the soul, and the serenity of the passions; the blotting out of sin; the gate of Paradise; and a celestial pleasure.

35. Let us interrogate this vice of intemperance as we did the others, and even more closely than the others, since it is the chief of our mortal enemies, the leader of all the other passions; the one which caused Adam’s fall; which ruined Esau; which brought many evils upon the Israelites; which covered Noe with confusion; which disgraced Lot; which inflicted death upon the sons of Heli, and which is the wellhead of all kinds of corruption. Let us ask it whence it derived its birth? What are its own offspring? Which of its opponents tramples it under foot? Which of them gives it the deathblow?

36. Tell us, then, O thou tyrant of men, who purchases them with food as with gold that they may be thy slaves, tell us how thou hast obtained possession of us? What is thy accustomed occupation, when thou hast gained an entrance into our interior? What compels thee to take thy departure? How may we set ourselves free from thy servitude?

37. Irritated by these searching questions, and inflamed with fury, it will thus haughtily reply to us. “Why do you attack me with these reproaches and outrages, since you are my conquerors? Why do you endeavour to separate yourselves entirely from me, since you are bound to me by the very bonds of nature? The quality of the food more or less delicate, is that which opens for me an entrance into the souls of men. Custom is the cause of my insatiable avidity; and that which feeds and nourishes my growth, is the same custom, together with insensibility of mind, and the forgetfulness of death. Why do you inquire about my children? Were I to name them all to you, the sand on the seashore would not equal their number. But notice those whom I brought first into the world, and who thence became my favourites. My eldest son is the incentive to voluptuousness/sensuality; my second, hardness of heart; my third, drowsiness. I send forth a deluge of evil thoughts, which are the sources of all kinds of depravity, and a bottomless sea of secret and detestable impurities. My daughters are idleness, vain and unprofitable conversation, a presumptuous liberty of speech, raillery, buffoonery, contradiction, obstinacy, indocility, insensibility, the captivity and abasement of the mind, ostentation and vanity, a foolish and rash confidence in our own strength, the love of the world, accompanied by inattention at prayers, troubled thoughts, and oftentimes many unexpected and unforeseen evils, which are followed by despair, the greatest and the most dangerous of all misfortunes. The remembrance of sin combats me, without the power to subdue me. The meditation of death wages against me a fierce and most humiliating war; but there is not amongst men any thing that can effect my entire destruction. He who has received the Holy Spirit, implores against me His divine succour, which being united to, and strengthened by, his own prayers, prevents me from producing in him the disorderly effects, which I accomplish in others. But they who have not tasted the sacred delights of this Holy Spirit, being chained down to the earth by the pleasures which I place before them, seek only after the comforts of good cheer, and the full gratification of their sensuality.”

There is need of a masculine courage to overcome this vice. He who has become master of it, has opened a straight path to tranquility of mind, and to perfect continence.


  1. This Evagrius was a disseminator of the errors attributed to Origen. He wrote a work on the religious state, in which these errors were broached.

  2. Matt. vii.13

  3. Ps. xxxiv. 13.








Step 15

ON CHASTITY.

1. We have heard from that impetuous mistress intemperance, that impurity, through whom she makes war against the chastity of men, is one of her favourite daughters. Indeed, we need not be astonished at this assertion, since our first parent Adam, has taught us this truth sufficiently by his own example. For had he not committed intemperance by eating of the forbidden fruit, he would always have lived with Eve as with a sister. Hence they who keep the first commandment of God by the observance of temperance, never violate the second which is chastity. And although they continue to be the children of Adam, they know not what Adam has been since his disobedience. They are but inferior to the angels in their liability to death, to which God has subjected all men on account of sin, that according to the testimony of St. Gregory Nazianzen, termed by excellence the Theologian, this evil might not become immortal.

2. Chastity is a participation of the incorporeal nature of angels. It is the adornment of a dwelling place singularly agreeable to Jesus Christ. It is the buckler of the heart; a terrestrial paradise; the renouncement of nature, prompted by a supernatural motive; a marvellous contest of emulation between our mortal and corruptible bodies, and the celestial spirits that have no bodies.

3. Chastity banishes from the soul sensual love, and establishes in its place divine charity. It extinguishes the fire of earth by the fire of heaven.

4. Continence is a generic term common to all virtues.

5. He is a continent man, who even during sleep, experiences no emotion, or bodily derangement calculated to disturb the enjoyment of repose.

6. He is a continent man, who always possess a perfect insensibility at the sight of sensible and corporal objects, whatever may be their beauty or their sex.

7. The rule and character of a perfect and angelic purity is a complete stillness from any emotion in presence of objects, either animate or inanimate, rational or irrational.

8. Let no one who has successfully exerted himself in the acquirement of this virtue, attribute its attainment to his own natural strength and power. For it is a thing impossible, that any one of himself should be able to conquer his own nature. Hence, when nature is subdued, we ought to attribute the victory to Him who is above nature. For, “without all contradiction,” says the Apostle, “that which is less is blessed by the better.”1

9. He is truly happy who is indifferent to all the appearances of symmetry, colour, or other fascinations, of beauty.

10. It is not sufficient to be chaste to have preserved from corruption this clay of our bodies; but it is further needful to have completely subjected these earthen vessels to the dominion of our souls.

11. He whose heart is not affected by that which affects the senses, has attained a high degree of virtue. But he has mounted higher who is invulnerable to all the shafts that proceed from the sight or view of mortal creatures, and who extinguishes the flames enkindled by the beauties of earth, by meditating on the beauties of heaven.

12. He who fights impurity by his own bodily exertions and perspiration, is like one who attempts to bind his enemy with cords of rushes. But he who strives to subdue it by fasting and watching resembles the man who throws a chain around the neck of his opponent. He, however, who employs in this contest meekness and humility, and the endurance of thirst, may be compared to the warrior, who kills his adversary, and after his death buries him in the sand. By dry and sterile sand I mean humility, which furnishes no nourishment to the passions, and unlike the rich soil or earth which supplies plenty of food to the cattle that graze its verdant pastures.

13. There are several classes of persons who lead captive the tyrant lust. The first chain him fast by the cords of a religious life, that is, by painful labours and corporal austerities. The second keep him in subjection by humility. The third preserve their mastery over this enemy by the secret infusion of a divine light. The first resemble the glorious orb of day; the second the moon; the third the sun in its meridian splendour. All have their conversation, according to the Apostle, in heaven. As the aurora is followed by the full light of day, and this by the splendid beams of the sun; so too the first degree of chastity which is acquired by manual labour, follows the second which is obtained by humility; and to the second succeeds the third, the most elevated, and which is attained only by an extraordinary grace and heavenly illumination.

14. The fox counterfeits the sleeper; and the devil in our bodies counterfeits chastity. The first in order to surprise and carry off the poultry; the second in order to destroy our souls.

15. Whilst pilgrims on earth, you must not put confidence in the impure clay of which your bodies are formed; nor dwell in them in security, until you appear before the judgment seat of Christ.

16. Put no trust in your fasts, when you observe that they prevent you not from falling into incontinency, since an angel who partook of no earthly food, fell from his principality in heaven.

17. Eminent spiritual writers have happily defined the renouncement of a worldly life to be a war against the body, a struggle for the mastery over intemperance and gluttony.

18. In those who are only commencing their career in the service of God, transgressions ordinarily arise from the sensuality of the appetite. In those who are more advanced, they are caused by the inflation of vanity, from which the first are not entirely exempt. But in persons who are drawing near to perfection, they generally spring from the unfavourable and rash judgments which they entertain against their neighbour.

19. He who falls into grievous sin is very miserable; but he is very much more miserable who not only sins in himself, but likewise causes others to sin, because he bears two burdens, both his own and his neighbour’s transgressions.

20. Do not attempt to drive away the demon of impurity, by opposing to his temptations the arguments suggested by your own reason; because he has always in his favour those which appear true and plausible, as we have when we attempt to fight ourselves with our own weapons, that is, with the corrupt inclinations of our nature.

21. He who of himself pretends to conquer, or even undertakes to combat his flesh is as one who beats the air and fights in vain. For if the Lord destroy not the house of flesh in destroying concupiscence, and build not up the mansion of the soul, by erecting therein the temple of chastity, in vain will any one attempt by fasting and watching to destroy that which the Lord Himself has not destroyed.

22. Make known to God the weakness of your nature, in acknowledging your frailty in all things, and you will receive the gift of chastity by an efficacious grace, although you may have no sensible perception of this gift.

23. Voluptuous and incontinent persons, as I was told by one who had bought his knowledge by painful experience, feel themselves possessed with a violent passion for corporal objects, through the malice of an impudent and furious demon, who erects his throne in their hearts, and there gives sensible proofs of his baneful presence. Whilst enduring the assaults of temptation, he enkindles in their interior a fire like unto the flames of a furnace, which deprives them of all fear of God, which emboldens them to despise the torments of hades as vain and fabulous inventions, which gives them a horror of prayer, which induces them to regard their bodies as inanimate stones, which in the gratification of their brutal passion takes from them all sense and reason, deprives them of self control, and inebriates them with a continual longing for unlawful objects, in such manner that we might exclaim, if the days of this tyranny were not shortened according to the expression of the Gospel, “no soul would be saved,” as long as it was clothed with this frail and mortal flesh--this compound of dust and ashes. Happy are they who have not experienced the misfortunes of the warfare of which we have just spoken. Oh! Let us pray that God may preserve us from so deplorable an experience! For they who have fallen into this gulf, are not able like the angels upon Jacob’s mysterious ladder to ascend and descend; for they have need of much exertion, of many fasts, of extraordinary temperance, in order to climb from the bottom of that deep, very deep abyss into which they have been plunged.

24. This flesh, which is both our friend and enemy, is called by St. Paul, “a death”. “Unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”2 Another theologian calls it a mass of corruption, a slave, a friend to night and darkness. Why, I wish to know, have these two saints given to our flesh these several names? If our flesh is a death, that is, is subject to the death of sin, we must conclude, that he who has conquered it will never die, that is, will never more sin. But, “who is the man that shall live and not see death,”3 in the corruption of the flesh? That is, who shall not feel in himself any effects from this death of sin?

25. Weigh well, I beseech you, which of the two is greater before God,---the penitent who died through sin, but has risen again by grace, or the innocent who never contracted this spiritual death? He who pronounces the innocent more happy is deceived. For Jesus Christ, who died and rose to life again, has prefigured by His death the death of the sinner, and by His resurrection, the resurrection of the penitent.

26. The demon of impurity, that most cruel foe of man, continually suggests to us, that God has for man an infinite love, and therefore will readily pardon a sin against chastity, because it may be termed the frailty of our weak nature. But, if we carefully notice the artifice of this demon, we shall observe that, when we have committed sin, he speaks no longer of God, unless as a severe and inexorable Judge. Thus, he first represents him as overflowing with kindness and mercy, to prompt us to commit sin, and then, when he has caught us in the snare, he paints Him to the imagination as most rigorous and inflexible in His chastisements, that he may precipitate us into despair.

27. When sorrow and despair concur to disquiet our souls, we cannot know the depth of our misery, nor accuse ourselves of our faults, nor even punish ourselves for them by penance. After this sorrow and these regrets have passed away, the demon that tyrannizes over souls again represents to us the sweetness and clemency of God, that he may delude us into the renewal of our transgressions.

28. As God is incorruptible and incorporeal, so does He love the purity and incorruption of our bodies. Whereas, according to the opinion of many, the devils love nothing so much as impurity, and are never more delighted than when they see the bodies of men shamefully sullied by this vice.

29. Chastity renders man familiar with God, and like to God, as far as human nature is susceptible of such similitude.

30. The earth moistened with dew is the parent of all the sweetness that is to be found in fruits and plants. Solitude in unison with obedience is likewise the mother of chastity. If, however, from solitude alone we have acquired a supereminent purity of body, we shall not be able to preserve it without considerable trouble and agitation, when we are brought into contact with the world by our conversation with secular persons. But if the foundation of this purity rests upon obedience, it will continue unshaken at all times, and in all places.

31. I have seen pride produce humility, and then I remembered the words of the Apostle: “Who hath known the mind of the Lord?”4 If it be asked, how can pride produce humility? I answer, by causing the proud man to fall down some precipice, and commit himself by some public delinquency. This unexpected and public transgression will be the occasion of humility to those who wish to turn it to their advantage.

32. He who desires to conquer the demon of impurity by good cheer and intemperance, resembles the man who attempts to extinguish a fire by pouring oil upon it in place of water.

33. He, again, who persuades himself that he can put an end to this unhappy warfare by abstinence alone, is like the person who, having fallen into the sea, fancies he can save himself by swimming with one hand only. Let abstinence have humility for its companion, then you may hope for the victory. For the first virtue is powerless without the second.

34. When any one sees himself mastered by some particular vice, he ought to arm himself especially against this enemy, and if it be a natural and domestic enemy, like impurity, to subdue it in preference to all others. For if we do not conquer this vice, we shall derive no advantage from our victory over the rest. But when we have slain this spiritual Egyptian, as Moses slew the natural one, we shall not fail to see God, as he beheld Him in the burning bush of humility.

35. I have experienced, whilst assailed by temptation, in which this wolf, the deceiver and devourer of souls, wished to surprise me by his artifices,--I have experienced a joy, a consolation, and tears which had no reasonable cause; and so simple and childish was I, that I fancied that I was receiving a present from heaven, and not from hell.

36. If all the other sins which men commit, are committed independently of the body, whilst impurity, on the contrary, is perpetrated on the body, and against the body, says the Apostle,5 I should wish to know, why, in all other sins, we are accustomed to say, that men have been seduced and deceived; but in the case of incontinency we exclaim, with shame and sorrow, Alas! such a one has fallen!

37. Fishes do not fly from the hook more rapidly than the voluptuary from the solitude of the desert.

38. When the devil wishes to unite two persons by the bands of impure love, he observes their inclinations, and begins to cast the fire, where he perceives the flame of passion will be more easily enkindled.

39. They who are prone to impurity are usually the most compassionate, the most charitable towards the poor, and the most tender-hearted. Whilst they who labour to preserve their chastity have not, generally speaking, so great a tenderness and mildness of character.

40. A man, eminent for his knowledge of spiritual subjects, proposed to me, one day, this difficult and important question: “What sin is the greatest, and deserving of the severest punishment from God, after murder and apostasy? I answered, “Heresy.” But he rejoined, “When comes it, then, that heretics, who have anathematized and sincerely abjured their errors, are so readily received by the Catholic Church, and admitted to the participation of the divine mysteries; whilst he who confesses a sin of impurity, though he may have entirely broken with the bad habit, and may be received to penance by the Church, yet is excluded for many years from holy communion, and this according to apostolical tradition?” This rejoinder very much surprised me, and threw me into doubt and uncertainty, and the question remained still undecided.

41. It is my opinion that we ought not to call any one truly and perfectly holy, unless he has changed the impurity of his material and terrestrial body, into a sanctity and purity without spot or wrinkle, if such a change be possible during this earthly pilgrimage.

42. We should never observe a stricter guard over ourselves, by pure and holy thoughts, than when we retire to rest, because, during sleep, the mind has to bear the brunt of the battle alone, without the assistance of the body, and by the aid of those very thoughts which were entertained previously to the approach of sleep. Hence, if the imagination was at that time occupied with impure thoughts, the mind will be betrayed during sleep, and it will likewise drag along with it the body.

43. Never retire to rest, and never awake from sleep without the remembrance of, and without entertaining yourselves with, Jesus Christ, by meditating upon the beautiful prayer which He has taught you. For you cannot find in your sleep any help more powerful, than that which you will derive from this pious custom of preparing yourselves for the night.

44. There are some who believe and maintain, that all these combats against the demon of impurity, and all the accidents which happen to us during sleep, come from repletion of food. But I have seen those who were in the last extremity of sickness, and who were mortifying themselves by very austere fasts, as subject to nocturnal weaknesses of nature, as when they were in the vigour of health. Talking one day upon this subject with one of the most virtuous of the solitaries, and who possessed in an eminent degree the gift of discernment, I received this solution of the difficulty, as clear as it is solid. “These accidents,” said the devout and illustrious servant of God, “sometimes happen from the abundance of nourishment which has been taken over night, and from the softness of a free and effeminate life, sometimes from pride and presumption, when, having been free for a long time, we conceive thoughts of vanity, from this freedom, from their annoyance, and sometimes from the liberty which we take of condemning our neighbours. But these two latter causes are common to the sick and to the healthy. Nay, we perhaps might say the same of all the three. If, however, there should be found any one in whom neither repletion from food, a luxurious life, the entertainment of vanity, nor rash judgments, produce these effects, these nocturnal illusions, he will possess his soul in peace and perfect tranquility, persuaded that such accidents happen to him through the sheer envy of the devil, who, by God’s permission, causes this weakness of body for a time, even when we have arrived at the state of perfection, that by this infirmity, which is painful to the sensitive soul, but innocent, the servant of God may acquire a more profound humility.”

45. Let no one review in the day the phantoms which have haunted his imagination during the night, because the design of the devil, by these accidents which happen during sleep, is to excite us to impurity when awake.

46. Listen to another artifice of the enemy: as there are viands which are injurious to the health of the body, and which, in the course of a year, and sometimes of a day, bring on various maladies; so likewise it frequently happens that the causes of corruption to the soul produce their effect sometimes early and sometimes late. For I have seen those who were leading a life of sensuality, not immediately assailed by the emotions and stings of impurity. Again, others I have noticed conversing and eating familiarly with women, without any bad thoughts arising there and then from such intercourse. Thus were they unhappily allowed to be deceived by a too great confidence in their own strength, and to be thrown entirely off their guard; so that when they expected to find peace and security in their solitude, encountered nothing but opposition, and even spiritual death, when they entered into the privacy of their own cell. I do not wish to mention this detriment and this death, which happen when we are alone and in retirement, and which include in their effect both soul and body. He who has experienced them knows them but too well; whilst to him who is ignorant of them they should be forbidden knowledge.

47. The most salutary remedies which we can employ during the storm of temptation, are to clothe ourselves with sackcloth and ashes; to pass the night in an upright posture; to endure hunger; to let the tongue be parched with thirst, and then refresh it with a little water only; to take up our abode in the grave-yard; to entertain in our hearts sentiments of profound humility, which annihilate us by the very sight of our misery; and finally, to choose, if possible, some father or fervent brother, who may be able to assist us more by his wisdom than by his age, more by the weight of his judgment and discretion, than by the number of his years. I should esteem it a miracle, if any one in such a tempest could of himself save his vessel from shipwreck.

48. A sin deserves to be punished sometimes more severely, when committed by one than by another, according to the different circumstance, whether of the will of the sinner, or of the place where it was committed, or of the state of grace when the consent was given, with many similar considerations.

49. We heard, one day, an action related, which may be termed a singular instance of purity in its highest degree. A certain person, I was told, having seen an object of remarkable beauty, took occasion from it to adore and glorify by his praises the Sovereign Beauty, of which this was merely the handiwork, and by this sight alone felt so carried away by divine love as to be bathed in tears. And truly it was a marvellous spectacle to behold, that which might cause another to fall into the gulf of impurity, procure for this one a crown of glory, by a prodigy entirely beyond the power of nature. But if any other person besides this privileged individual, has ever received from God any such sentiment, any such virtue on similar occasions, we may esteem him, though still living in this corruptible flesh, as risen again incorruptible before the general resurrection of the dead.

50. We should be animated by similar emotions to praise God, when we listen to the delightful strains of music. For those who love God are filled with holy joy, with divine affection, and with a tenderness which melts them into tears, when they hear the touching cords of harmony, whether of profane airs, or of spiritual canticles. Whereas, those who love the pleasures of sense, are affected by contrary emotions.

51. Some of those who retire into the solitude of the desert, are, as I have already remarked, much more grievously assaulted by devils than others. And let not this appear strange; because the demons are pleased with these solitary places, since our Redeemer, through His love for the salvation of our souls, has driven them into the desert and into the sea. There are, however, fiends of impurity, that cruelly assault anchorites through a wish to persuade them that they derive no fruit from their retirement, and therefore, that it would be better for them to return into the world. But as long as we live in the world, these very enemies keep aloof from us, that seeing ourselves assailed by no temptations, we may continue to dwell with secular and worldly-minded people. Hence we ought to conclude, that the place in which we are attacked by the enemy, is that in which we fight with greater fortitude and greater advantage. For when we no longer fight the devil as our foe, he deals with us as with a friend.

52. When we converse with the world upon any business of necessity, in which we are employed by obedience, we are then protected by the hand of God. And this may often happen through the merits and prayers of our superior, who beseeches the Almighty not to allow His holy name to be dishonoured by our misconduct. This safety from danger in our intercourse with the world, may arise also from our insensibility to things that are visible, which insensibility may have been occasioned by long habit of reservedness, by our seclusion from the vain objects of the world, and conversation with worldlings, or by the artful retirement of the demon of impurity, in order to give place to vainglory, that this may be our opponent, and the champion of all other passions.

53. All you who have determined to preserve an inviolable chastity, listen to another malicious artifice of the seducer of souls, and guard yourselves against deceptions. A servant of God, who himself was the dupe of this stratagem, told me, that the demon of impurity often retires and remains absent until the period which he has fixed upon for the renewal and completion of his temptation. In the meantime, he excites within us excellent sentiments of piety, and makes upon us so lively an impression by this false devotion, that we shed tears; and when we converse with women, we feel an ardent desire to instruct them, by dwelling upon the meditation of death, judgment, and even chastity. These poor unhappy creatures are thus induced by this plausible discourse on piety, to run after such a religious in wolf’s clothing, as after their true pastor, and to be the occasion, by their familiarity and unguarded freedoms, of the fall and ruin of the deluded monk.

54. Let us, as much as possible, avoid not only looking at, but even listening to any conversation about this forbidden fruit; since by our solemn profession, we have renounced its enjoyment during the whole period of our earthly pilgrimage. And certainly it would be strange, if we should fancy ourselves stronger and more invulnerable than the holy Prophet David--a case impossible.

55. Chastity is a virtue so great, so exalted, that among the many eulogiums which the holy fathers have pronounced upon it, it has been confidently termed, the calm of all the passions.

56. Some assert that he cannot be called chaste, who has not preserved this virtue from his infancy. In refutation of this opinion, I beg to say that it is easy and possible to ingraft the wild upon the cultivated olive. If the keys of the kingdom of heaven had been confided to one, who possessed in his body virginal purity, such an assertion might appear plausible. But St. Peter was engaged in marriage, though mutually separated from his wife after he had entered upon his apostleship, yet he holds the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

57. When, on being awakened in the morning, we find ourselves in purity of body and peace of mind, let us attribute this secret and interior consolation to our good angels, more especially, if the previous evening we purified our minds by many prayers, and a strict watchfulness over our thoughts. It may, however, happen that this bodily purity and interior peace are merely the effects of vain dreams, with which the demons maliciously attempt to delude our imagination during the night.

58. According to the expression of holy David, we may exclaim: “I have seen the wicked, that is, the demon of impurity, highly exalted, and lifted up like the cedars of Libanus, causing me by his fury much trouble and disturbance of soul. And I passed by him through the austerity of my fasts and my abstemiousness, and lo he was not burning with rage against me any longer; I sought him after I had profoundly humbled both my mind and my heart, and his place was not found in me, nor any trace of his violent assaults.

59. He who has conquered his own flesh, has conquered nature itself. And he who has subdued nature is only a little--nay, if I dare say so,--not at all below the angels.

60. It is not marvellous that spirits should combat spirits, and demons fight against disembodied souls; but it is a marvel, and a marvel truly great, that a spirit surrounded, like ours, with the impurity of matter, and with flesh corrupted and earthly, a spirit which is every hour assailed by the sensual emotions of this domestic and unwearied foe, should be able to put to flight foreign armies that are immaterial and encumbered by no weight or bias from the body.

61. God has given a particular instance of His bounty, and of the wisdom of His providence towards mankind, by adorning woman with modesty, to be a salutary bridle upon her demeanour. For if women were not more modest than men, we could not feel the assurance, according to the expression of the Gospel, that any of the human family would be saved.

62. By the most spiritual of the holy fathers we are taught that there is a difference between the first motion of the soul, when it is attracted by the sight of any object, between its reflection fixed and resting upon that object, and the consent which it gives to sin; that the captivity in which it is entangled by temptation is to be distinguished from the combat in which it resists temptation; that this combat is again very different from the passion which has been formed and ratified. They observe, that the first motion of the soul is the first and most simple idea that is created in the mind, or the first image that is represented by the novelty of the object; that the second motion, which is an attention fixed and deliberate, is, as it were, a more familiar conversation with the object, whether the soul has already been wounded by allurement or not; and that the consent of the will is the fulness of affection and joy with which it is carried towards the same object, and with which it embraces the evil thus represented under the appearance of good. They likewise remark, that cupidity is either a violent and involuntary emotion of the heart, which is propelled by the sudden force of an extraordinary temptation, or a voluntary renouncement which the soul makes of its own liberty, in its ardent attachment to an object, towards which it is so vehemently carried, as to lose in a moment all the treasures of virtue accumulated during past years. They tell us that a combat is an equality of strength between the tempter and the tempted, in which the soul either proves victorious, if she is determined to conquer, or is vanquished, if she does not wish to obtain the victory. In fine, they teach that passion fully formed is properly vice, which has long taken root in the soul, and by its criminal commerce with it has established so strong a habit of corruption, that the soul henceforth runs after it with pleasure and yields herself up its willing slave. The first step we have mentioned is absolutely without sin, the second, is not without blame, the third, which is the consent, is more or less sinful, according to the state and disposition of the mind of him, who, after having made some resistance, at length yields to the temptation. The combat, if won, will wreathe our temples with a crown of glory; if lost, will entail upon us very severe chastisement. The captivity of the soul must be considered diversely, according to the diversity of times and circumstances in which it happens; whether at the time of prayer, whether in the desire of things in themselves indifferent, or those which are bad and unlawful. With respect to sin formally committed, it is certain that it will be punished, either in this world by a penance proportioned to the nature of the crime, or in the next world by unmitigated chastisement. But he who allows not the first assault to make any impression upon his soul, arrests the evil at once, and by this early and successful opposition, prevents all baneful consequences.

63. The most discerning of the Fathers in spiritual doctrine have made another remark far more subtle in its nature than any we have yet mentioned. This remark has reference to a sudden emotion of the soul, which takes it by surprise, and which, like the wind breathing, enters into it so suddenly and so imperceptibly, that before the soul has time to reason upon that which affects it, and before there is formed in the mind any distinct image, it excites within the bosom an impure flame, and is discovered by the fire of the dark and concealed passion which it nourishes. There is nothing in all the activity of a spirit more prompt and imperceptible than this emotion, which by a single act of remembrance, without reflection, without duration of time, and in some even without perception, is felt in the soul like an electric shock, through the excitement to evil desires which it produces. If any one, by the gift of tears, has obtained from the Almighty grace to penetrate this mystery of iniquity, he will comprehend how it happens that by a single glance of the eye, or by an action that is purely innocent, or by the words of a song that has once been heard sung, the soul, without the leisure of thought or time to fix the imagination, is hurried to the unlawful gratification of passion.

64. Some assert the thoughts of the mind carry the body to the excitement of impurity, whilst others, on the contrary, affirm that the senses of the body produce the bad thoughts in the mind. The former allege, in favour of their opinion, that the mind always marches first, and that the body follows as a servant. The latter, in defence of their assertion, represent the malignity of corporeal concupiscence, which oftentimes causes, by the sight of an agreeable object, a touch of the hand, the scent of perfumes, the soft melody of the harp or voice, corresponding thoughts within the mind. Let him who is enlightened by the wisdom of God choose for us the judgment which is right. These kinds of question are useful and necessary for those who have need of light and knowledge to practise virtue, although unprofitable to those who are guided by the simplicity and rectitude of their hearts. For all have not understanding and knowledge, nor have all the happy gift of simplicity, which is a strong buckler against the artifices of the devil.

65. Some of the passions spring up in the soul, and then pass on to the body; others, on the contrary, commence in the body, and afterwards proceed to affect the soul. These last ordinarily happen to those who dwell in the world, the first to those whose habitation is in the wilderness, because the sight is not attracted by objects calculated to excite sensuality. With respect to myself, all I can say upon the subject is, that if you seek for an accurate distinction in the order and origin of the various vices of mankind, you will be disappointed.

66. When, having fought a long time against the demon of impurity, which is the inseparable companion of the flesh, we have tormented this evil spirit, and chased it from our hearts by fasting, as if we had cast stones at it, and by humiliation as if we had given it many strokes with the sword, then this wicked fiend attaches himself like a worm to the body, and endeavours by weariness and the importunate stings of concupiscence to excite emotions which sully the purity of the soul.

67. None are more subject to these sensual emotions than those who yield to the suggestions of the demon of vainglory. For when they boast of their deliverance from the spiritual pest, and consider that they are no longer troubled in mind by thoughts contrary to chastity. they are miserably assailed by this bodily pestilence. That which confirms the truth of our observation is the fact, that if, with all due attention and sincerity of mind, they will examine their interior, they will infallibly find some secret thoughts of vanity coiled up within the foldings of the heart, like a serpent in the mire, and that they secretly attributed to their own fervour and zealous exertions this pretended purity of soul, not considering, miserable beings as they are, that searching question of the apostle: “What have you that you have not received” gratuitously, and as a pure gift, either from the immediate liberality of God, or through the prayers and merits of others in your behalf? Let them, therefore, watch over themselves, and take every possible care to kill this serpent with the sword of humility, and then eject it from their hearts. Thus being delivered from their enemy, they may one day be happy in laying aside their garments made of the skins of beasts, and sing, as the chaste children mentioned in the Gospel, the canticle of triumphant chastity, in honour and praise of our Lord. This, however, they will not accomplish, unless, like St. Paul, they despoil themselves of everything, and put on the robes of a true and innocent humility.

68. The demon of impurity observes more carefully than any others the times most favourable for his snares against us, and when he perceives that we cannot implore the help of God by vocal and external prayer, he then commences his main assault.

69. It is very useful for those who have not yet acquired the purely spiritual prayer of the heart, to mortify their bodies during vocal prayer, by extending their hands, striking their breasts, raising their eyes with tenderness and affection to heaven, pouring forth deep sighs, and by genuflecting during the time they are thus communing with God. But as it sometimes happens that we cannot do all these things, on account of the presence of others, the devils specially choose this time for their warfare against us, since not having strength to resist them by the constancy and firmness of the mind, as well as by the interior and invisible power of prayer, it is very difficult not to yield to the violence of their assaults. Hence retire as soon as you can, conceal yourselves for a short time in some place of seclusion; lift up, if it be possible, the eyes of the soul to heaven; at least fix those of the body on the celestial regions. Extend your arms in the form of a cross without moving them, that you may confound and overcome the spiritual Amalec by this holy and salutary sign of salvation. Call upon Him who is able to save you; call upon Him, not in studied and elegant phrases, but with humble and earnest words, such as were employed by the Royal Prophet: “Have mercy on me O Lord, for I am weak; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.”6 Then will you be protected by the power of the Most High, and by His divine aid you will repress the invasions of your invisible enemies. He who is accustomed to fight in this manner can, even by the prayer of the heart alone, defeat his infernal adversaries. For God usually grants this second victory as a reward for the first labours of those who are zealous in His service. This dispensation is in perfect harmony with the rules of His wisdom and justice.

70. The spirits of wickedness endeavour in their first engagement to overcloud the mind with darkness, that they may readily, during this night of confusion, suggest the evil which they themselves love, and for which they would fain excite an affection in our hearts. For if we do not willfully shut the eyes of our soul, which ought to be at all times open in order to guard the treasure of our hearts, they will not succeed in their intended ravishment. But the demon of incontinency uses far deeper artifice than any other, and oftentimes so obscures our reason, which ought to regulate all our actions, that he persuades us to do, even in the presence of others, things which would scarcely be done by fools and idiots. When, in the lapse of time, we have aroused ourselves from this stupor, this intoxication of reason, we blush with shame not only before those who were spectators of these irregular actions, but even to ourselves; and reflecting upon the indiscretion of our words and the indecency of our conduct, we are filled with astonishment at our extraordinary blindness. It not infrequently happens that they who have had their attention directed to their public sin and scandal, have thenceforth entertained a horror of it, and renounced it in earnest and for ever.

71. Hold your enemy in great execration, when, having committed some offence against God, he seeks to thwart your endeavours to propitiate your Maker by fervent prayer, pious vigils, and penitential exercises. Remember him who said; “Unable to endure the tyranny which evil and inveterate habits exercise over my soul, or the troubles which agitate and disturb it; it becomes necessary that I should vindicate it, and rescue it from the thraldom of its cruel foes.”

72. But who is he that has conquered his body? He who has broken and humbled his heart. And who is he that has broken and humbled his heart? He who has renounced himself. For how can his heart be broken and humbled, who is not dead to his own will?

73. But by what means, and in what manner can I bind in chains my own body, which I love so tenderly? How can I lead it manacled in the train of other criminals, such as the vices, that it may be judged like them? For, before I have bound it, it slips away from my hands. Previous to my assuming the office of judge, I am reconciled, and receive it again into favour. Ere I have risen to punish it, I have stooped to pardon. How can I conquer that which is always victorious, by the love which I bear towards it naturally? How can I sever myself in time from that to which I must be linked for eternity? How can I kill that which is one day to be raised with me to a new life? In what manner can I endow with incorruptibility, that which I have received corruptible? What artificial pleas shall I oppose to that which alleges against me so many natural ones? If my fasts have bound this body as a slave, my rash judgments have robbed me of the victory, and made me again its prisoner. But if I retain my conquest by abstaining from this uncharitableness, I assume a superiority over it through vanity, and by this very fact degrade myself beneath it. It is at once my friend and my enemy; my helper and my opponent; my defender and my persecutor. If I flatter it by good cheer, it immediately raises the standard of rebellion. If I beat it down, and make it weak by the austerities of penance, I myself, through this emaciation, am languishing and worthless. When I spare it and console it, it eludes my control. When I subdue and chastise it, it falls prostrate. If I afflict it, I run the risk of experiencing in myself the sad effects of this affliction. If I entirely ruin it, I deprive myself of that by which alone I can acquire virtue. It is, in fine, at once the object of my affection and my aversion. What then is this secret combat which I experience within me? What is this strange medley of contradictory passions? How can I hate and love myself at the same time? Tell me, then, tell me, frail and corruptible flesh, appointed by nature to be my inseparable companion, tell me how I can become invulnerable to the sweetness of thy attraction? Tell me how I can fly from this danger, without flying from myself and my own nature? For I have promised Jesus Christ that I would keep up a continual warfare against thee. Tell me, then, how I am to deliver myself from thy tyranny? For I have determined upon opposing thy unjust and criminal violence, by a just and holy energy. To these questions and remonstrances, the flesh may reply: “Allow me to mention one thing of which you are no more ignorant than I am: I boast of having for my mother, the affection which I bear towards myself. The ardour which I experience from without, is produced by the delicate manner in which I am treated, and by the tepidity of a soft and effeminate life. That fire which burns within me, and which assails the interior purity of the soul, arises from the abandonment of the spirit of piety, and from the disorderly nature of the exterior actions. When I have conceived, I bring forth sin, but sin begetteth death. If you knew for certain my extreme weakness, as well as you know your own, you would bind my hands. You would restrain my gluttony by temperance, and by putting fetters upon my feet, you would check the impetuosity of my movements. By an entire submission to the yoke of obedience, you will effectively deliver yourselves from the thraldom of my passion. But, by the acquirement of humility, you will cut off my head, and obtain a lasting triumph.”

He who whilst clothed in this mortal flesh, has received the gift of chastity, in recompense for his labours, is dead and raised to life again. He has tasted here below, by anticipation, the first fruits of future incorruptibility.


  1. Heb. vii. 7.

  2. Rom. vii. 24.

  3. Ps. lxxxviii. 49.

  4. Rom. xi. 34.

  5. I Corinth. vi. 18.

  6. Ps. vi. 3.








Step 16

ON AVARICE AND VOLUNTARY POVERTY.

1. Many ecclesiastical writers, eminent for their knowledge of theology, after treating of incontinency, which is the tyrant of the body, proceed to speak of avarice, which is a monster with many heads, and the tyrant of souls. As it is not becoming in one like myself, devoid of wisdom and knowledge, to change the order prescribed by the wise and the learned, I purpose, therefore, to follow the arrangement just mentioned; I will first briefly describe this malady of the soul, this love of riches, and then suggest a few remedies proper for its cure.

2. Avarice is a sacrilegious adoration, a profane worship of idols. It is the daughter of infidelity. It takes advantage of the need we have in our infirmities of temporal goods, to cloak over its avidity in their unnecessary accumulation. It foretells the wants and weaknesses of old age; it insinuates that times of draught and scarcity are approaching, yea, it even ventures upon the prediction of famine.

3. Avarice is an insulting scoffer; a willful violator of the precepts of the Gospel. He who possesses the love of God, distributes his riches in alms to the poor. To pretend to cherish the love of God and the love of riches, at the same time, is a miserable deception.

4. He who deplores his sinfulness, renounces not only his wealth, but even his own body. For he never spares it in his pursuit of penitential exercises.

5. Say not that you are amassing riches for the poor, since a poor widow bought with two mites the kingdom of heaven.

6. When charity and avarice meet, avarice taunts charity with the want of prudence and discretion.

7. He who has conquered avarice, has torn up by the roots all inquietude and trouble of mind. But he who is its slave never offers to the Almighty, any prayers worth of His acceptance.

8. Avarice often commences under the false pretext of assisting the poor, but its true object is real hatred of the poor, because it wishes to appear charitable in the eyes of the world, until it has amassed great riches; then it closes the hand with an iron grasp, which nothing can relax.

9. I have seen those, poor in the goods of this world, who, being enriched with the treasures of the soul, in the company of the truly poor in spirit, had forgotten their former poverty.

10. A solitary who loves money, is the enemy of idleness, and has in continual remembrance the words of the apostle: “If any man will not work, neither let him eat.”1 “And you yourselves know, for such things as were needful for me and them that were with me, these hands have furnished.”2

ON VOLUNTARY POVERTY.

11. Voluntary poverty is a renouncement of all earthly cares. It is a perfect freedom from the disquietude of this mortal life. It is a voyage by which, after having unladen our vessel of every thing calculated to delay our advancement towards our salvation, we sail swiftly and pleasantly to heaven. It is an unshaken faith in the precepts of the gospel, which condemns avarice and recommends poverty. It is the banishment of all sadness and vexation of spirit.

12. The solitary who is really poor, is truly master of the world, by casting all his care upon God, and by this his confidence in God, has all men for his servants. He does not ask from men the things which are needful, but he will receive from the hands of God, what he would otherwise receive from the hands of men.

13. He who practices voluntary poverty, possesses tranquility of mind resulting from the lull and rest of the passions. He values the things that are in his possession no more than if they were not in existence. In the depths of his solitude, they appear to him but as smoke. He, however, who is grieved to see himself in want of what he deems needful, is not truly poor in spirit.

14. Voluntary poverty offers to heaven prayers which are purified and free from all worldly distractions; but avarice blends with its supplications, the representation and desire of those temporal goods which both the heart and the mind covet.

15. They who are ruled by obedience in a monastery, are rescued from the vice of avarice. How can they who are not masters even of their own bodies, possess any thing in private? This absolute privation of all personal property, so beneficial in many ways, is detrimental in this only; that it excites those who are thus free from every encumbrance to a continual change of residence. I have known solitaries, who, through a little property, became stable in their first habitation. For my own part, I esteem those who, through the love of God, have changed their dwelling, more happy than they who have remained permanently settled through their attachment to their property.

16. It is easy for one who has tasted the good things of the Lord, to feel a disgust for the enjoyments of the earth. But it is utterly impossible for him who has never been favoured with the first, to experience joy and delight in the latter.

17. He who is involuntarily poor is doubly miserable, by the want of those things which he covets in this world, and then by the loss of eternal possessions.

18. Do not, therefore, O ye solitaries, be more distrustful of Divine Providence than the birds of the air, that are never solicitous about the present moment, nor lay up stores for the future.

19. He who renounces his earthly possessions that he may become rich in virtue, is great before God; but he who renounces his own will, that he may become poor in spirit, is still more holy and pleasing in the sight of heaven. The first will receive a hundred-fold of the treasure either of earth or heaven, but the recompense of the latter is everlasting life.

20. As the sea is never entirely at rest, from the heaving of the waves, so the covetous man is never without anger and sadness.

21. He who has parted with his wealth has withdrawn from the circle of contentions and quarrels. But he who dotes upon his money will fight unto death for a penny.

22. A constant and unshaken faith banishes from the mind all vexation and trouble. But the meditation of death enables us to renounce even our own bodies.

23. There was not in the disposition of holy Job the slightest trace of avarice. Hence when he lost all that he had beneath the sun, he lost not his peace of mind, the tranquility and command of his soul.

24. Covetousness is rightly termed the root of all evils. From it spring hatreds, thefts, envy, divorces, enmities, vexations, resentment of injuries, cruelties, and murders.

25. As a small spark may set on fire a large forest, so may one virtue consume all the vices we have mentioned. This virtue is termed a spiritual disgust for things terrestrial, a holy detachment from all that passes away with time. This virtue is acquired by cultivating a relish for the delights of God, and by reflecting on the dread account we shall have to render to Divine Justice after death.

26. He who has read with attention in a former chapter the speech of intemperance, the parent of endless mischief, cannot be ignorant that, in her execrable genealogical tree, she stated insensibility to be the second born of her children, --insensibility which renders the soul as hard as adamant against the impressions of every good and holy purpose. But I have not been able to treat of it in this order, being obliged to speak of avarice, that dragon with many heads, that sacrilegious worship of gold, which the most eminent of the Fathers have enumerated in the third rank of the eight deadly sins. Thus, after the little I have said of avarice, I will now treat of insensibility, as the third amongst the eight capital vices, although it is the second born imp of intemperance.

He who, through his love of poverty is victorious over avarice, marches lightly on his way to heaven, since he toils not beneath the burden of earthly possessions.


  1. Thess. iii. 10.

  2. Acts xx. 34.








Step 17

ON SLOTH, THE DEATH OF THE SOUL,
PRECEDING THE DEATH OF THE BODY.

1. Sloth, whether in the body or in the soul, is a lethargy which, from habitual languor and criminal indolence, has grown into complete insensibility of heart.

2. This paralysis of the soul, which destroys every sentiment of piety, is a numbness that, in the course of time, becomes natural. It is a torpor of spirit, the result of unchecked habit. It is the shackle with which we fetter our feet, and arrest our fervent progress in the path of salvation. It is a new cord which binds up and holds in captivity all our strength and energy. It is the total privation of a penitential spirit, and the gate of despair. It is oblivious of eternal truths, and with this oblivion feeds its own obduracy. It is the banishment of the holy fear of God.

3. Sloth is a philosophy without reflection, which condemns itself the moment it presumes to teach and direct others. Sloth is an orator whose actions are a severe censure upon his words. It is a blind guide that wishes to make others see what itself cannot see. It speaks of that which is calculated to heal the mortal wound of the soul, yet it ceases not to re-open this wound, and to infuse into it fresh poison. It regrets the malady, yet eats that which fosters it. The slothful Christian beseeches God to deliver him from his criminal servitude, and immediately proceeds to the commission of actions as censurable as before, at the same time reproaching himself with his blindness, whilst his reproaches mantle his cheeks with no blush of shame.

4. The slothful man exclaims: “I have done evil”; and then hastens to renew the evil of which he complained. Whilst his lips are supplicating God to pardon his sin, his body is fighting strenuously for his sinful state. He discourses eloquently on death, and yet lives as if he were immortal. Sighs heave his bosom whilst speaking of the dissolution of his frail tenement, yet he awakens from sleep as if this were his everlasting abode. He preaches upon abstinence, even when labouring to procure good cheer. He reads of the severe judgments of God against the wicked, yet is so little affected that he laughs instead of weeping. Whilst he is pondering upon the sin of vainglory, he yields himself captive to vanity. The moment he has extolled watching, he falls asleep. He eulogises prayer, and flies from it as from chastisement. Obedience is amongst his favourite virtues, and yet he is the first to raise the standard of rebellion. Greatly does he esteem and admire those who are detached from the possessions of earth, yet he is ready to quarrel and contest with any one, no matter whom, about the merest trifles.

5. The slothful Christian becomes angry with himself, for having given way to passion, and he yields to passion through this very anger at himself. Thus, though twice conquered by the same vice, his callous heart is not overwhelmed with confusion. He regrets excess at table, and immediately afterwards commits greater gluttony. Silence receives his warmest encomiums, and he discourses at tiresome length of that virtue, which is the enemy of long speeches. He exhorts others to meekness, and in the very midst of his exhortations frequently gives way to bitterness and sarcasm.

6. If the sluggard at any time awakens from his spiritual lethargy, his bosom heaves with profound sighs, but gently inclining his head, he immediately falls off into his wonted torpor. He censures laughter, and gives lessons upon penitential tears, and laughs whilst he is delivering his lessons. In the presence of others he accuses himself of being boastful, and from this very accusation fills himself full of vanity. He gazes upon agreeable objects with a roving and lustful eye, at the time he is recommending a guarded and modest demeanour. Whilst he is spending his life in fellowship with the world, he hesitates not to praise those that dwell in the desert, forgetting that his praises are his own confusion. He speaks honourably of those who are generous and charitable, whilst he himself scruples not to cast insults upon the poor. Thus he pronounces judgment upon himself, both in his words and actions. But to acknowledge his error, and to be sensible of his evil position, is what he neither wishes nor is able, perhaps, to effect.

7. Of this unhappy vice many are the slaves, who, whilst listening to the subject of death, and to the formidable judgments of God after death, shed abundant tears; yet, whilst their eyes are moist with weeping, sit down to the enjoyments of the table. I could not but wonder, how this shameful vice of intemperance, this imperious mistress, could become so hardened by habits of sloth, as to triumph over grief, and the salutary tears of repentance.

8. With what knowledge and discernment I possess, I have now stated to you the artifices of this foolish and baneful vice, and the wounds which it inflicts upon the soul by rendering it as hard and insensible as a stone. If there is found any one, who, by the assistance of heaven, and his own experience, can apply the proper remedies to these mortal wounds, let him not neglect this most important work. For I must confess without shame my own inability in this respect, since I myself am ruled with no gentle hand by this unhappy vice. And I should not have been able to discover by my own ingenuity all its wiles and deceptions, if I had not courageously done violence against it, if I had not, by tormenting it with the fear of the Lord, and putting it upon the rack of continual prayer, constrained it to acknowledge that which I have written. You may behold very nearly all that this malicious and tyrannical passion has told me in the following words.

9. “When those to whom I am united by the most intimate alliance, behold the bodies of the dead, they refrain not even then from laughter. When they kneel down to pray, they are as obdurate and insensible as the hardest rock, whilst their minds are obscured by the shadows of darkness. In contemplating the hallowed table of the Blessed Eucharist, they experience not the slightest sentiment of piety. They partake of this heavenly food as if it were common and ordinary bread. For myself, when I see persons moved by compunction, I mock and deride their weakness. I have learned from my father to destroy those virtues, which are acquired by fervour of spirit and penitential austerity. I am the mother of dissipation, the nursemaid of sleep, the friend of good cheer. No remonstrances can touch and soften my heart. I am the inseparable companion of false piety.”

10. Filled with astonishment at such language, I enquired from whom it derived its origin. This was the answer: “I have not one, but many parents. I am the effect of many causes. My origin is very uncertain. Gluttony gave me strength, time hastens my growth; bad habits consolidate my power, so that he who indulges such habits can never break in pieces my chains and escape from my bondage. If you have spent much time in watching, if you have meditated without intermission upon eternal torments, I may in this case be obliged, perhaps, to relax my control, and restore to you a portion of your liberty. Weigh well what it was that gave me power over you; what enabled me to take possession of your soul, and then vigorously remove this cause of your bondage. For I do not keep all my slaves in subjection by applying to them the same rule. Frequently go to the churchyard, to make your meditations, and offer up your prayers. Represent to the mind in a lively manner the last moments of your dissolution. Let these deathbed scenes never be effaced from the memory. for if you do not form this mental representation, if you do not employ abstinence and fasting, as a pencil wherewith to trace the outlines of your picture, you will never bring me under subjection.”








Step 18

ON SLEEP, PRAYER, AND THE CHANTING OF THE PSALMS, ETC.

1. Sleep is a suspension of the functions of nature, an image of death, the slumber of the senses. It is always the same in itself, though it arises from many different causes, like concupiscence, which, though but one, acts in divers ways, according to the motives that prompt it to action. For sleep at one time is the effect of nature, at another of repletion from food, now the oppression produced by demons, and the effect of exhaustion after excessive fasting, when nature is anxious to recover its strength by repose.

2. As it is by repetition that we contract the habit of intemperance, so excessive drowsiness is the effect of unmortified habit. Hence we should strive to master this drowsiness at the commencement of our religious career, since it is very difficult to overcome an inveterate habit.

3. If we notice we shall observe that, when at the sound of the bell, the spiritual trumpet of the monastery, the brethren awake and assemble in the church for the matutinal office, our infernal enemies are likewise there gathered together invisibly. Some present themselves just when we are roused from sleep, that by a gentle drowsiness they may lull us again to rest, persuading us to prolong our slumbers, until the prayers and hymns which precede the psalms are completed, and that it will then be time enough to enter the church. Others overpower us with sleep whilst reciting the divine office. Many will urge us to leave the church under some feigned pretext, or engage us in improper conversation. These assail our minds with bad thoughts; those tempt us to lean against the wall, as if we had not sufficient strength to stand upright. Frequently they excite us to laugh during our prayers, and then to yawn, that by this indecent and unbecoming behaviour we may provoke the wrath of the Almighty. Some of them hurry us on too rapidly in gliding over the verses, whilst others make us drag behind the rest, as if we had no spirit or energy to observe the proper time of recitation. Yea, they many times so take possession of us, that they perch upon our lips, and by closing them, silence our tongues, and render it difficult for us to speak.

4. But he who seriously reflects that, during the solemn hour of prayer, he stands in the presence of God, will remain like a firmly based column, immoveable amidst these temptations and illusions of the devil.

5. The truly obedient Christian oftentimes experiences a heavenly light, a glowing fervour and extraordinary joy, immediately he presents himself before God in prayer, because he prepares himself by a faithful accomplishment of the divine precept, and enters upon his devotions with a heart already inflamed with celestial charity.

6. All the members of a religious community are permitted to pray in public. But there are many servants of God who derive the greatest advantage from reciting office with another endowed with the same spirit as themselves. To pray alone is beneficial to few.

7. If you chant with a numerous choir in the church, you will have difficulty in preserving the spirituality of your prayers, free from the images and temptations of the senses. But, to keep your mind occupied, you have merely to meditate upon the verses you are chanting, or to say some private prayer, whilst the alternate choir are chanting their verse.

8. To employ ourselves with things useless, or even with what is profitable, during prayer, is contrary to the respect which is due to God. The time for prayer, as well as labour, should be well regulated. This is what the angel, who appeared to the great St. Anthony, expressly ordained.

9. As fire tries gold, so prayer tries the fervour and love of solitaries towards God.








Step 19

ON BODILY AND MENTAL VIGILANCE.

1. Amongst the attendants of an earthly monarch, some are vested in robes of state, without armour, others carry battle-axes, many bear shields, or swords. There is a wide difference between the first and the last, and they cannot be compared one with the other. For the first are either the relatives or intimate friends of the sovereign; but they who are clothed in armour are merely his officers and domestics. Such is the order and rank of those who dwell in the palaces of earthly kings.

2. Let us learn from this the rank and order in which we should present ourselves before the Lord, our heavenly King, during our prayers at eventide, midnight, or in the course of the day. During their evening devotions some address their supplications to Him with arms extended, clothed only with spiritual ornaments, and disengaged from all terrestrial cares. Others stand before His Divine Majesty whilst chanting in His honour their psalms and canticles of jubilation and praise. Several are principally employed in reading the Holy Scriptures. Others, whose intellectual capacity is not so great, courageously resist drowsiness by manual labour. And not a few keep their attention alive by the meditation of death, which awakens in their bosoms sentiments of true compunction. Of all the solitaries here mentioned, the first and the last are they who employ the hours of watching in exercises the most holy and divine. The second adopt a method less excellent, and which is common to all religious. The vigils of the remainder are spent far less perfectly. Nevertheless, God accepts these presents from these differently disposed persons, and varies His judgment according to the zeal and fortitude they display in His service.

3. The eye of the body which watches, purifies the eye of the mind. Protracted sleep obscures the light of the soul.

4. The solitary who loves watching is the enemy of incontinency; but he who indulges in immoderate sleep has usually impurity for his companion.

5. Holy watching cools down the ardour of sensuality; it is the banishment of obscene songs; the fountain of penitential tears; the fixed attention and careful superintendence of our thoughts; the salutary warmth which quickly digests our nourishment, that it may not oppress the chest; the extermination of the passions; the bridle of an indiscreet tongue; the dispersion of all the clouds, the annihilation of all the phantoms, which darken with their shadows the purity of the mind, and trouble its repose.

6. The solitary that is vigilant is a spiritual fisherman, who, without distraction from sensible objects, observes with diligence all his thoughts during the silence and repose of the night, and who seizes them, arrests them, and permits not one of them to escape.

7. The solitary who loves God hears the bell for divine office with joy, and exclaims: “Courage, my soul, courage”. But the sluggard, with much regret, cries out: “Alas! Alas!”.

8. As gluttons display their intemperance during their meals, so do those who are cold in the service of God, show forth their tepidity in the time of prayer. The first leap with joy at the sight of a well-spread table, the latter grow sad when they are summoned to prayer.

9. A too great indulgence in sleep produces a forgetfulness of holy things; whilst watching purifies the imagination and the memory.

10. As it is into the granary and the corn-bin that husbandmen gather their treasures, so is it in the prayer of the evening and of the night, that solitaries amass their store of virtue, their treasures of knowledge.

11. Drowsiness is to the sluggard an unfaithful ally, which steals from him, by a just robbery, the half or greater part of his life.

12. The lukewarm religious is but too much awake in conversation and entertainments, but the moment the hour of prayer is announced, his eyelids become heavy with sleep.

13. The solitary who has lost the spirit of his state is active and prompt enough in vain and frivolous discourse, but always nodding and dropping asleep whilst reading pious books. As at the end of the world, the archangel’s trumpet will be the signal for the resurrection of the dead; so the invitation to those entertaining colloquies is the hour for these dormant religious to arise from their slumbers.

14. The demon that tyrannizes over us is a deceitful friend. Frequently will he retire from us after a full meal, but persecute us beyond endurance, when, during our longest fasts we are oppressed by hunger and thirst.

15. In the very midst of our prayers, he prompts us to employ ourselves in manual labour. For he cannot distract in any other way those who are fully awake.

16. Sleepfulness is the first of the spiritual enemies that glides into the souls of young solitaries, and that begins with them their first combat, for the purpose either of rendering them slothful at the outset of their career, or to open a passage to the demon of incontinency.

17. Until we have conquered this disposition to drowsiness, it is our best policy to join a religious community. and chant the divine office in company with many brethren. For respect and shame will prevent us from sleeping much in a numerous choir. The dog is the deadly enemy of the hare, and vainglory the mortal foe of sleep.

18. As the merchant counts in the evening the profits of the day, so the virtuous solitary reckons his spiritual gain, derived from the chanting of the Psalms, at the termination of the Divine Office.

19. Watch attentively after prayer, and you will behold yourselves surrounded by legions of demons, invisible to the eyes of the body. Not able to endure the defeat they sustained during our prayers, they exert themselves to obtain a conquest by piercing our souls with the poisoned shafts of impure and dishonest thoughts. Observe them with care when you retire to rest, that you may discover which of these enemies is accustomed to steal from you your first aspirations, your first-fruits intended for an oblation to God.

20. It sometimes happens that, from our custom of reciting the Psalms when awake, certain words or verses of these inspired hymns will recur to the mind during sleep. It may also be that the angel of darkness suggests these portions of holy song purposely to inflate our hearts with vanity, and thus hurl us down the precipice of destruction. I would intentionally have suppressed a third effect, had I not been placed under some obligation to mention it. The soul which is nourished by continual meditation on the word of God, often revolves during sleep the pious thoughts which occupied it during the wakeful hours of the day. This second grace is an appropriate recompense for our correspondence with the first, and God grants it to us that we may repel the midnight phantoms and illusions of the evil spirits.

He who has ascended this nineteenth step in the Ladder of Perfection, has received in his heart the illumination of celestial light.








Step 20

ON EFFEMINATE TIMIDITY.

1. He who chooses a monastery, or community of God’s servants, wherein to live in the exact observance of all religious duties, is not commonly assailed by timidity and fear. But he who has embraced the eremitical life in a desert, is obliged to combat this vice of timidity, an offshoot of vainglory, and the daughter of infidelity, with all his might, lest it subject him to its tyranny.

2. Timidity is a habit of childish fear, which seizes upon and takes possession of the soul of him that is the slave of vainglory. It is a want of faith and confidence in God, which makes us anticipate evils that are neither to be feared nor expected.

3. Fear is a deceptive foresight, a vain apprehension of imaginary perils. Or it may be termed a trembling of the heart, brought on by the dread of certain evil, with the reality of which, though very uncertain, it is deeply affected. Fear is the want of assurance even in things the most certain.

4. The slave of pride is the slave of fear, and the vain confidence which such a person has in his own strength, at best but that of a shaken reed, makes him dread the least noise or even shadow of creatures.

5. Those who lament not their sins, who in contempt of Divine Justice are insensible to everything that regards their salvation, are not, indeed, subject to fear. Nevertheless God permits that even they should sometimes be struck with sudden and extraordinary terror, through which they fall into complete trepidation and confusion of mind. This we might reasonable expect. For it is but right that God, who is infinitely just, should abandon the proud, that others by their example may be deterred from this pernicious vice.

6. All who are timid are vain. But all who are not timid are not humble, since robbers, and those who plunder churchyards, though not always timid, are very far from being humble.

7. When you feel in certain localities a sensation of fear, put on a determination to go there during the night. For if you yield ever so little to this childish and ridiculous timidity, it will continue with you longer than you wish. But when you enter these places that inspire you with dread, fortify yourselves by prayer. Extend your arms in this holy exercise, and begin the combat by invoking the sacred name of Jesus. You can find no better weapons in heaven or on earth. When delivered from this sickly fear, sing a canticle of thanksgiving to your Saviour. For gratitude will ensure to you His unfailing help and protection.

8. As we do not satiate the appetite in a moment, so neither can we instantly overcome our timidity. It withdraws, however, the more rapidly in proportion as we advance in the path of penance. But as long as our tears are pent up our souls remain timid.

9. “When a spirit passed before me, the hair of my flesh stood up,”1 said Eliphaz to Job, in relating to him the malicious artifices of the devil. At one time the body, at another the soul, receives the first impression of fear, and they mutually communicate their impressions and feelings. If the soul, when the senses are struck by some vain apprehension, remains undisturbed, it is evident that it has been cured of this malady. But when, with true contrition of heart, we meet with a humble and firm confidence in God, all the unforeseen events that may befall us, it is a certain sign that our restoration is perfect.

10. It is neither the obscurity of the place, nor the horror of solitude, which enables demons to trouble us with fear; no, it is the dryness and sterility of our souls. Sometimes it is even a secret mercy and providence of God, who abandons us to this temptation, that we may learn to put our trust and confidence in Him alone.

11. He who is the servant of God fears Him alone who is his Supreme Master. But he who has not this fear will often dread even his own shadow.

12. When the devil is present, though invisibly, the body trembles. But if an angel is present, the soul of the humble is filled with joy. Hence we run immediately to pour forth our blithesome hearts in prayer. For we believe that the heavenly spirit, appointed to be our guardian, has come to unite his prayers with ours.


  1. Job iv. 15.








Step 21

ON VAINGLORY, THE MOTHER OF MANY CHILDREN.

1. There are some spiritual writers who treat vainglory apart from pride, and class them as two distinct vices. Hence they enumerate eight capital sins. But St. Gregory, the Theologian, with other holy Fathers, have assigned but seven. With their judgments I agree. For who that has conquered vainglory has ever been overcome by pride? Certainly there is no other difference between these two vices than that which is found between a child and a man, between wheat and bread made from wheat. For vainglory is the beginning of pride, and pride is the end and consummation of vainglory. Since, then, the series of our discourses leads us to speak of this inflation of the heart, which is the root of all vices, and the last degree of their guilt, we will confine ourselves to a few words. For he who wishes to write a long article upon this subject is like a man that, by vain curiosity, and a fruitless investigation of hidden causes, is desirous of knowing the weight of the winds.

2. Vainglory, considered in itself, is a deceitful passion, which represents us otherwise than we really are, in displaying outwardly those virtues which have no abiding place in the soul, and by concealing the vices with which we are most infected. Thus it may be termed an ingenious flight from everything calculated to humble and abase us before the world. But if we consider it according to its properties and effects, it may be proclaimed a dissipation of all the riches we have acquired by our past labour, the total loss of the fruit of our toil and perspiration, and therefore a domestic enemy that robs us of all the treasure of our virtue. Vainglory is the daughter of infidelity, the advanced guard of pride. It is our shipwreck in the very port itself. It is in our hearts a busy ant that never ceases, diminutive insect as it is, from carrying off to its own storehouse some portion of our good works. The ant waits until the corn is ripe and ready to be garnered. Vainglory, likewise, waits until our spiritual treasures are ready to be secured in the granary of heaven. The industrious insect hurries away rejoicing and laden with corn; vanity gloats over the riches which it pilfers from the soul.

3. The demon of despair experiences a peculiar joy when our sins are multiplied. But the demon of vainglory exults when our virtues are increased. For as the multitude of our offences is the gate of despair, so the abundance of our virtuous actions is the gate of vanity.

4. In considering the corrupt nature of this unhappy passion., you will perceive that, until it drops into the grave, it is continually exhibiting itself in gay and scented apparel, in empty pomps, and such like follies.

5. The sun sheds his beams upon all creatures, and vainglory casts its venom upon all our good works. For instance, when I fast I take some sort of vanity in it; when I break my fast to conceal my abstemiousness, I still pride myself upon this pretended holy and praiseworthy address; when I am decked in fine apparel, I am both vain and boastful. When I put off these splendid robes to put on others, poor and mean, I am still the creature of vanity. If I speak, I pride myself upon my discourse. If I am silent, I am even vain of this silence. So that vainglory may be compared to an iron snare with three prongs, and which , on whatever side it may be hurled, always presents one of these prongs, to pierce the feet of those that pass over it.

6. A vain man is one of the faithful that is unfaithful, a Christian that is an idolator, since he apparently honours God, but in reality seeks to please men.

7. Every one that wishes to make a public display of himself is filled with secret vanity. His fasts are without recompense, his prayers without merit in the sight of the Almighty, because in these works of piety he is ambitious of the praise of men, and not of the approbation of God.

8. The solitary who is vain is doubly miserable, since he afflicts and bruises his body by the austerities of penance without gathering any fruit from these penitential exercises.

9. May we not deride a religious who is the slave of vainglory, since, during the Divine Office, he at one time laughs, as if he were transported with celestial joy; yet at another, weeps in the presence of everyone; as if his heart was pierced with lively sentiments of compunction?

10. God often throws a veil over our eyes that He may conceal from us our real virtues. But he who praises us, or rather he who deceives us, removes this veil by the eulogium which he pronounces upon our good deeds before unknown to us. Immediately, as the shade is removed from our eyes, we contemplate our virtues with complacency, and they vanish altogether from the soul.

11. The flatterer is the devil’s servant, who introduces vanity, and shuts out compunction from the heart, and scatters to the winds all our good works. In short, he is a guide that deludes and leads us astray; for “they,” says the prophet, “that call thee blessed, the same deceive thee, and destroy the way of thy steps.”1

12. We must possess virtue in a sublime degree not to be wounded by injuries, and to endure them with a noble forbearance and interior joy. But not to be wounded by the flattering tongue of praise, and to listen to it with humility and regret, demands perfect sanctity.

13. I have seen penitents inflamed with anger against those who praised them, through their dread of being elevated by pride, and who thus fell into one vice that they might escape from another, unhappily exchanging vanity for anger, like men in the daily barter of commerce.

14. If, according to Holy Scripture, no “man knoweth the things of a man, but the spirit of a man that is in him,”2 ought not those who praise us in our presence to be covered with confusion, and to impose upon their lips in this respect a perpetual silence?

15. When any of our neighbours or friends has spoken evil of us, whether in our absence or presence, then only should we applaud him for this testimony of affection.

16. To reject from our hearts the applause of men demands a great grace, but a far greater one is necessary to guard against the praises of demons, that are so much more cunning than men.

17. It is not any test of humility to abase and despise ourselves before others, for we suffer nothing from such ‘self contempt’; but it is a proof of very great humility when we bear towards him who has offended us the same affection as formerly.

18. One day I observed that the demon of vainglory inspired a solitary with certain thoughts which he had also awakened in the mind of another, and that having induced the latter to communicate to the former that which was occupying his attention, he afterwards dragged him on to boast of himself as a great prophet.

19. Do not hearken to this demon, when he tempts you to believe that he will make a bishop of you, or the superior of some monastery, or a doctor of theology, or place you in authority over others. For it is difficult to drive a dog from a table covered with viands, that is, for superiors to drive from their hearts the demon of vanity.

20. When the devil sees solitaries in possession of peace of mind, by the subjugation of their passions, he persuades them to leave their solitude immediately, and return to the world. “Depart,” he says, “from this useless spot, and go and labour in saving souls that are perishing by thousands.”

21. As there is a difference between the countenance of an Ethiopian, and that of his bust or portrait, for the one is living, the other inanimate and deficient in expression; so is there a difference between the vainglory which tempts a religious, and that which assails anchorites.

22. Vainglory induces religious who are not well grounded in virtue, to anticipate the arrival of guests, to leave their monasteries to meet them, and to prostrate themselves before them on the way. Thus, though the interior is full of pride, it is artfully concealed beneath the comely robe of humility. Such a religious under the guidance of vainglory, studies his actions, his features, his voice, and fixing his eyes upon the hands of the persons he goes forth to greet, through his desire to receive a present, he addresses them by the titles of nobility, and calls them his protectors, his salvation, next to God. At table he exhorts his brethren to be sober before these strangers, and he treats his inferiors with great severity, that he may appear a strict observer of discipline. During the Divine Office, he animates the tepid, lifts up the voice of those that are languid, and rouses those that are usually given to sleep. He flatters the one who presides over the choir, solicits from him the office of cantor, and calls him father and master, as long as the guests remain at the monastery.

23. Vainglory fills with pride those who are honoured and raised above others; whilst it provokes to envy and wrath those who are humbled and abased beneath their fellow creatures.

24. This vice often brings confusion upon those who are ambitious of honours. For when they are carried away by anger, it fills them with a secret and interior shame, for allowing themselves to be hurried away by passion.

25. Thus it causes those who are angry with themselves to become meek and gentle towards others.

26. Vainglory prompts its slaves to covet the gifts both of grace and nature, though it is frequently by these very gifts that it ruins the souls of the possessors.

27. I have seen the demon of vainglory fight against, and chase away, the demon of anger. For one monk that was wrangling with another, seeing some secular persons approaching, became calm and peaceable; and thus passed from the servitude of anger to that of vainglory, not being able, according to the testimony of our Divine Redeemer, to serve at one and the same time two masters.

28. A religious under the control of vainglory, leads, at the same time, two different lives; since with reference to his body, he resides in a monastery in the exterior observance of regular discipline; whilst with reference to his soul, he dwells in the world by the indulgence of profane thoughts and earthly attachments.

29. If we desire to render ourselves agreeable to our Immortal king, let us have no relish but for His glory, and for the delights of His table which are everlasting. For he who has once foretasted the pleasures of heaven, will experience nothing but disgust and contempt for the pleasures of earth. I believe, however, that it is very difficult for him, who has had no anticipation of the first, to despise the second.

30. It frequently happens, that when we have been despoiled of our spiritual treasure by the repeated thefts of vainglory, we in turn have our victory by our conversion to God, and stript it, with far greater advantage, of all the spoils which it had carried off from our souls. For I have witnessed those, who, having commenced the spiritual exercises of a religious life, through the prompting of vainglory, have afterwards corrected this evil principle, changed their disposition and their will, and terminated their earthly pilgrimage as holy and praiseworthy, as the commencement of it was defective and censurable.

31. He who prides himself upon his natural endowments, his talent for science, his melodious voice in reading and similar qualifications which are not the fruit of his own labour, will never enjoy the graces and favours which are supernatural. For, “he who is unjust in that which is little, is unjust in that which is greater.”3 So that he who is vain of the small gifts of nature, will be more so of the greater blessings of divine grace and virtue; therefore God does not bestow them upon him, lest he abuse them by vanity.

32. There are many who in vain mortify and afflict their bodies by extraordinary austerities, thinking by such means to obtain perfect tranquility of soul, the treasure of celestial gifts, the power of working miracles, and the knowledge of future events. But these unhappy individuals are deceived in supposing, that these signal favours are attainable by their own labour and perspiration. It is rather by humility than by such toils, that they are to be made worthy of these supernatural gifts.

33. He who upon the plea of these labours, solicits from God His special favours, builds upon a perilous foundation. Whereas he who considers himself always in debt to the Divine Justice, will presently be enriched with the blessings of heaven beyond his most sanguine expectations.

34. Give no credit to the enemy that tempts you, and who, according to the gospel, sifts you like wheat, when he persuades you to display your virtues to the world, under the pretence of promoting the salvation of those before whom your good works are thus permitted to shine. For what will it profit a man to gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul? Nothing can edify those who notice our conduct, or who listen to our conversation, but humility joined to simplicity in our actions, and candour and sincerity in our words. For this is to give good example to our neighbours, without filling ourselves with vanity.

35. A solitary of great discernment, and endowed with the gift of beholding the invisible combats carried on by the demons against mankind, told me one evening, what he himself had witnessed: “When,” he said, “I was seated in an assembly of monks, the demon of vainglory and the demon of pride, came and sat by me, the one on my right hand, the other on my left. The first one touched me with his finger, to induce me to entertain the brethren with some pious meditations which I had composed in the wilderness; or in relating the virtuous actions I had performed during my residence in that solitude. The moment I had discarded this suggestion by the recital of these words of the Royal Prophet: ‘Let them be confounded and ashamed together, that seek after my soul to take it away,’4 the one on my left hand whispered in my hear: ‘Well done, my good monk. Courage, courage, you have performed an excellent action, and you have signalized the greatness of your virtue by the victory which you have obtained over my mother, who displayed great impudence in this daring assault.’ But I replied by the following verse of the Psalmist: ‘Let them immediately bear their confusion, that say to me: ‘Tis well, ‘tis well.’ Having asked this same demon how vainglory was the mother of pride, he answered: ‘Praise inflates the soul, and elevates it in its own estimation; then pride follows and makes it extol itself even to heaven, that it may afterwards fall into the deepest abyss of hell.’”

36. There is a glory which comes from God, according to the testimony of the Holy Scripture, “Whosoever shall glorify me,” saith the Lord, “him will I glorify.”5 There is likewise a glory that proceeds from the malicious wiles of the devil, according to words of the Gospel: “Woe to you when men shall bless you.”6 You may be sure that the glory is from God, when you deem it hurtful to your spiritual welfare; when you employ all your address and caution to shun it; when you use every means at your command to conceal, no matter where you may be, your virtues and praiseworthy actions. You may likewise, with equal certainty, know that the glory which is lavished upon you, is from the devil, when your least actions are done to be seen by men, according to the assurance of the Gospel.7

37. Vainglory is a deceitful, hypocritical vice, which makes us counterfeit the virtues we do not possess, under the pretence of observing the instruction of Jesus Christ: “So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”8

38. God frequently employs the dishonour which befalls vain and boastful persons, to wean them of the love of a false honour, and to stifle in their bosoms the illusion of vainglory.

39. The commencement of our victory over this unhappy vice, is the restraint of our tongue, and our love of humiliation and contempt. The progress we make in this triumph, is our retrenchment of every thing calculated to foster vanity of spirit. The final conquest, if it be possible totally to suppress this hydra-headed monster, is so to conduct ourselves before men, that we may be humble in their sight, without feeling any pain from our humiliation.

40. Let not the fear of giving scandal deter you from making public, that which you cannot mention without shame and confusion. It may not, however, be proper to use this remedy in every case, but only with reference to certain sins, for the cure of which it will be beneficial to ourselves, and not hurtful to our neighbour.

41. When we seek glory from men, or when we do not canvass for it ourselves, but merely receive it from others; or when we endeavour by certain actions esteemed by the world to acquire human glory, let us remember the penitential life we have chosen, that we may weep over our past offences; let us reflect on the fear and trembling which will be experienced by the soul when we shall appear before God, the Supreme Judge of all our actions, that we may offer to Him, in secret, the sighs and moanings of our hearts, and we shall undoubtedly make vanity blush, if it be at all susceptible of shame. But if we cannot dwell upon these reflections, because we have not been sufficiently careful to render our prayers pure and sincere, let us, at least, revolve in our minds the dread moments of death. If, to form a striking and lively image of death be difficult, let us stand in awe of the humiliation and shame, which will succeed the empty glory we covet, since Jesus Christ has said: “Whoever shall exalt himself, shall be humbled,”9 not only in eternity, but even in this life.

42. When any one begins to praise us, or rather to deceive us by his praises, let us review our innumerable sins, and we shall be convinced that we are truly unworthy of that which is said or done in our honour.

43. It sometimes happens, that God, having resolved to grant certain favours to certain vain and boastful persons, He concedes them before they have asked for them by prayer; lest having received them after they had besought Him, they would assume greater glory to themselves, and be filled with greater vanity.

44. They who are simple by nature, are less liable to be infected with this poison of souls. For vainglory is the banishment of all Christian simplicity, and tinctures all our actions with hypocrisy.

45. As the caterpillar becomes a butterfly that flutters through the air, so vainglory, ascending the utmost height it can reach, brings forth pride, which is the chief, the consummation of all vices.


  1. Isaiah iii. 12.

  2. I Corinth. ii. 11.

  3. Luke xvi. 10.

  4. Psalm xxxix. 15.

  5. I Kings ii. 30.

  6. Luke vi. 26.

  7. Matt. vi. 5.

  8. Matt. v. 16

  9. Matt. xxiii. 12.








Step 22

ON PRIDE.

1. Pride is a renouncement of God, the invention of the devil, and a contempt of men. It is the fountain from which spring rash judgments. It is the effect flowing naturally from the praises to which we give a willing ear. It is the sure sign of the soul’s sterility; the privation of divine aid; the courier of an impenitent heart; the cause of grievous faults; the promoter of spiritual epilepsy; the source of anger; the door of hypocrisy; the most powerful ally of demons; the champion of sin; the instigator of all kinds of cruelties; and the forgetfulness of compassion.

2. Pride is an extremely rigorous creditor, an exorable judge; the mortal enemy of God; the unhappy root of various kinds of blasphemy.

3. Pride begins where vainglory terminates. The completion of vainglory is the commencement of pride. The progress of pride is the contempt of our neighbour; the insolent boasting of our achievements; the love of praise; the dislike of reproach and humiliation. Its end is the renouncement of divine grace; a presumptuous confidence in our own strength; the possession of our souls by the devil.

4. Dreading the precipice of pride, let us remember, that this pest nourishes and fortifies itself in the soul of the very thanksgiving and gratitude which we return to God. For it is not so daringly impudent as to suggest the immediate renunciation of our Maker. I have noticed that some would thank God exteriorly in terms of humility, yet interiorly fly in His face by thoughts of vanity. Of this we have a striking illustration in the conduct of the Pharisee mentioned in the gospel, who said: “O God, I give thee thanks,” etc.1

5. When a soul falls into sin, it is manifest that pride had obtained possession of it previously. For “pride goeth before destruction, and the spirit is lifted up before a fall.”2

6. An eminent person said to me, one day, that our souls were disposed to the commission of twelve sins,3 which through shame he did not wish to mention. But he who was voluntarily guilty of pride, was guilty of that which concentrated in itself the malice of all these transgressions.

7. A solitary given to haughtiness, contradicts others with much contumely and bitterness. But the humble Christian will scarcely look him that reprehends him in the face.

8. As the cypress always shoots its branches on high, without ever lowering them to the earth, so the religious who is full of pride, is constantly lifting up his heart by vanity, and never subduing and bowing it down by humble obedience.

9. The proud are desirous of ruling, and although authority will prove their inevitable ruin, yet sooner than forego authority, they will embrace perdition.

10. We are told by St. James, that “God resisteth the proud.”4 Who, then, can have compassion upon them? If the proud man be impure in the sight of the Almighty, who will cleanse him and make him pure?

11. Reprehension is to the proud a stumbling block, over which they fall. The temptation of the devil is a spur, which urges them onwards to sin. But the abandonment of God is the cause of their hardness of heart. Sinners may be reclaimed by their fellow creatures from the first and the second evil, a presumptuous disregard of correction, and a criminal consent to temptation; but the third, which is a callous heart, is incurable.

12. He who rejects correction, discovers the pride which lurks within the recesses of his soul. But he who receives a reprimand with humility, breaks from off his neck, the galling chains of pride.

13. If pride alone made an angel fall from heaven, will humility, we may ask, without any other virtue, enable us to ascend to heaven?

14. Pride squanders away all the riches of virtue, all the toils and pains of penance. “They cried,” says the Psalmist, “to the Lord, and there was none to save; for he heard them not.”5 And for this reason, they plucked not up by the roots, the tree which bore all the evil, and from which they sought deliverance.

15. An old man of remarkable virtue and discernment in the guidance of souls, one day reprimanded with much charity, a young religious who assumed the airs of pride, and who in his spiritual blindness, thus replied: “Pardon me, my father, I am not proud.” The venerable old man justly retorted: “How could you, my son, prove to us more evidently that you are proud, than by denying your guilt?”

16. Persons prone to pride have great need of a director. It is prudent for them to choose a state of life the most lowly and contemptible in the eyes of men, and to read diligently the virtuous and heroic actions of the most eminent of the holy Fathers. By the adoption of these measures, there will be some hope, though not a confident one, of their amendment and salvation.

17. It is shameful to boast of an ornament which does not belong to us; but it is the height of folly to be proud of gifts and graces, which are the sole and absolute property of God. Hence there are no good works in which we can glory as our own. For our very existence, with all that depends upon this existence, is a donation of God’s liberality. In truth, the entire produce both of soul and body, and all the virtues which adorn our being, belong in strictest right to God, either as His immediate favours, or produced by His assistance. It is, therefore, a grievous injustice to boast of His work.

18. Continually mistrust our own weakness, even to the very hour, when your final doom will be pronounced, for you are told in the gospel, that he who had taken his place at the wedding feast, through want of the nuptial garment, was bound hands and feet, and cast into exterior darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

19. Let not dust and ashes be lifted up in mind, since the pure spirits around the throne of God, fell from their principality through pride.

20. When the devil has established his dwelling in the souls of those that submit to be his slaves, he appears to them in a dream, or when they are awake, as an angel of light, or as a glorious martyr. Then he makes known to them certain secrets, and apparently confers upon them extraordinary graces, that these his deluded victims may become totally blind of understanding.

21. Were we to endure a thousand deaths for Jesus Christ, we should not be able to discharge the immense debt which we owe to His infinite charity. For there is an infinite distinction between the blood of a God made Man, and that of a servant, if we consider the dignity, and not the substance.

22. Were we carefully to examine our conduct by that of the holy Fathers who have preceded us, and who were the bright luminaries of their age, we should be convinced that we have not taken a single measure which may enable us to walk in the footsteps of these illustrious characters, and imitate their noble exploits. No; we should perceive that we still persist in leading a secular and worldly life.

23. He is worthy to be called a solitary, who permits neither the eye of his mind to be dazzled by vanity, nor his bodily senses to be too much attracted by visible and temporal objects.

24. He, also, is truly a solitary, who, when his infernal foes fly before him, challenges them to combat, and provokes them to the fight, as he would do a ferocious beast.

25. He whose mind is always fixed on heaven, and ravished with the contemplation of God, and who toils with disgust through the weary pilgrimage of this perishable world, is a virtuous solitary.

26. We may likewise give this holy name to one, to whom virtue becomes as natural as pleasure and sensuality to the voluptuary.

27. He whose soul is always enlightened with heavenly light, is truly entitled to be called a solitary.

28. We will term him, too, a true solitary, whose heart is an abyss of humility, in which are engulfed all the proud thoughts and suggestions of the devil.

29. Pride brings on a total oblivion of sin, whilst the remembrance of our transgressions is the fountain of humility.

30. Pride is the foolishness of him, who believes himself to be very wealthy, whilst at the very time he is in extreme indigence, and to be illuminated with heavenly light, whilst he is groveling in total darkness.

31. This dangerous pest of souls not only prevents our advancement in piety, but hurls us headlong from the highest pinnacle of virtue.

32. The proud resemble a pomegranate, which appears all beautiful and crimson to the eye, but within is full of corruption.

33. A religious who is proud has no need of the devil to tempt him. For he is himself a devil, his own tempter and enemy.

34. As darkness is the opponent of light, so is pride the antagonist of every virtue.

35. Pride excites in the heart words of blasphemy, but humility brings with it heavenly and salutary thoughts.

36. The robber hates the light of day; and the proud despise the meekness of the humble.

37. I know not how it happens, that the generality of the proud do not know themselves, but fancy that they have won the victory over their passions; and discover not, until death opens their eyes, their extreme indigence.

38. He who is the slave of this tyrant, has great need of the grace of God to escape from his bondage. Every human aid is unavailing.

39. Having one day remarked that this seducer of souls had entered my heart by the door of vainglory, I fought them both, the mother and the daughter, by exercises of obedience and profound humility. At length I constrained them to tell me how they had obtained admittance into my soul. This is the substance of their information: “We give birth to all vices, whilst we derive our origin from none. One of our greatest opponents is humiliation, and the bowing down of the heart under obedience. For to no one do we pay submission. Hence we refused homage to God Himself, and raised against Him the standard of rebellion. We are, in short, the principle and the cause of all opposition to humility, because every friend of this virtue is our adversary. If we had formerly so much power in heaven, in what place can you, pray, avoid our power? We often tempt those who endure humiliation and contempt, those who practise obedience, those who check the impetuosity of their disposition by meekness, who pardon injuries, who perform acts of charity and kindness to their neighbour. Our offspring are the sins, into which even religious persons sometimes fall, as anger, detraction, bitterness, animosity, indignation, blasphemy, hypocrisy, hatred, envy, self-love, and disobedience. There is but one thing that renders our power impotent, and our efforts fruitless; we mention it through constraint. It is the constant and sincere accusation of ourselves in the presence of God. By this wise practice you will escape from our snares as from so many spider’s webs. You now see, exclaimed pride, that vainglory is the horse upon which I am mounted. But holy humility and self-accusation laugh both at me and my horse, and chant in divine harmony this canticle of triumph: ‘Let us sing to the Lord, for He is gloriously magnified; the horse and the rider He hath thrown into the sea,’6, that is, into the abyss of humility.’”

He who has ascended this 22nd step, if it be possible for any one to mount it, has attained a very high point of virtue.


  1. Luke xviii. 11.

  2. Prov. xci. 18.

  3. These twelve sins are enumerated a little later in this step. They are: anger, detraction, bitterness, animosity, wrath, blasphemy, hypocrisy, hatred, envy, self-love, and disobedience. Pride makes the twelfth. These sins are sufficient to make any religious person blush.

  4. James iv. 6.

  5. Psalm xvii. 42.

  6. Exod. xv. 1.








Step 23

ON THOUGHTS OF BLASPHEMY.

1. We have seen in the preceding discourse, that blasphemy is an offshoot of the baneful root of pride. Thence it is prudent to expose it; since this abominable descendant of so abominable a father, is not the least of our adversaries, but, perhaps, the most cruel of those against whom we have to combat. But what is still more formidable, is the difficulty of making it known to our spiritual physician by a true and sincere confession. When it has happened, that many have fallen into despair, through this vice depriving them of the hope of salvation, like the worm that destroys by its gnawings the tree which it pierces to the core.

2. During the celebration of the holy Sacrifice of the Divine Liturgy, whilst the most august mystery is being accomplished upon our altars, this execrable monster endeavours to excite thoughts of blasphemy against Jesus Christ, and against His infinite and immaculate oblation. Hence we are sure that it is not our souls that utter interiorly these words of abomination and impiety; but the devil, that irreconcilable enemy of God, and cast out of heaven for his blasphemies against the pure and inviolable Majesty of the Sovereign Lord. For if these terrible and detestable words were our own, how could we adore, as we do, the precious gift we receive from heaven? How could we from the same mouth bless and curse at the same time?

3. This deceitful corrupter of souls has hurried many into extravagance and folly. For there are no thoughts so difficult to discover and confess as thoughts of blasphemy. Hence many have allowed such thoughts to fester in their souls to the very end of life. And this concealment becomes the devil’s weapon for our destruction.

4. Let no one suppose, because these blasphemous thoughts torment him that he is liable to their responsibility. The Lord, who sees the inmost recesses of the soul, knows that we do not willfully harbour such wicked suggestions, prompted by the devil, our inveterate calumniator.

5. As wine makes the drunkard to stagger and fall, so pride causes these horrible thoughts in proud persons. As the drunkard is culpable not in falling, but in being drunk, so the proud are chastised, not for having entertained blasphemous thoughts, but for being inflated with pride.

6. It is chiefly during the holy time of prayer that these impious and dreaded thoughts assail us; but when we continue our devotions without noticing them, they immediately retire. For they fight with those only who are amused with the combat.

7. The spirit of impiety is not satisfied with blaspheming God and divine things; but it clothes with an appearance of spirituality indecent and dishonest words, that thereby we may be induced either to abandon our devotions, or yield to despair.

8. This malicious and exorable tyrant has made many to forsake the duty of prayer, many to withdraw from their attendance at the holy mysteries, many to become either perfectly callous to sentiments of piety, or to hasten their ruin by excessive fasting, which allowed no moment of repose.

9. This is the conduct of blasphemy, not only with regard to persons of the world, but likewise with religious and solitaries. It persuades them that there is no hope of salvation, and represents their state as worse than that of pagans and infidels.

10. He who is assailed by the spirit of blasphemy, and is anxious to be delivered from it, may rest assured, that it is not from his heart the thoughts of this vice sprung, but from the devil only, that impure spirit, who had the insolence to say to Jesus Christ in the wilderness, whilst showing Him all the kingdoms of the world: “All these will I give thee, if falling down, thou wilt adore me.”1 Hence we ought to despise them, and in imitation of our Divine Master, say to the tempter: “Begone, Satan, for it is written, ‘The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and Him only shalt thou serve.’ All thy artifices and suggestions will be turned against thyself, and thy blasphemies will fall upon thine own head, both now and for ever.

11. He who wishes to fight in any other manner with this spirit of blasphemy, will resemble the man that attempts to seize a flash of lightning, and to hold it a prisoner in his hand. For what chance is there of arresting, repressing, or combatting even by argument, that spirit which enters the heart as swiftly as the wind, and vanishes the instant it has ceased to speak? All our other enemies firmly stand their ground, contend with us front to front, and afford us sufficient time to resist and effect their defeat. But this foe, the moment it has made its appearance, retire, and his words are scarcely uttered, when he has taken flight.

12. Let us not judge or condemn our neighbour, and we shall have no occasion to dread the thoughts of blasphemy, since rash judgement is ordinarily the source from which they spring.

13. As he who is in the house of mourning, hears the conversation of those who are passing by, but joins not with them; so a soul recollected and retired within itself, hears the blasphemies which the devils utter within it, but takes no part in these wicked discourses,

14. We may rid ourselves of this enemy by treating him with contempt. He who strives to overcome him with any other weapon, will find himself subdued and conquered. For it is evidently greater folly, to attempt the arrest by mere words of beings purely spiritual, such as demons, than to endeavour to chain the winds.

15. A holy solitary having been tormented by the demon during twenty years, had reduced his body to a skeleton by his long fasts and watchings. But deriving no consolation or advantage from these austerities, he wrote down his temptations and troubles, and went to visit an ancient and neighbouring solitary, to whom he gave the document, and then fell prostrate upon the ground overwhelmed with confusion, at the thought of his weakness. The venerable old man having read the paper, smiled, and lifting up the young religious from the ground, said to him: “My son, put your hand upon my neck.” Having done so, the ancient added: “My brother, I willingly take your sins upon myself, both the past and the future, provided that you will not give yourself any further grief or vexation of mind.” These words so greatly encouraged and fortified the young man, that he had scarcely left the cell of his holy friend, when his temptation vanished. I learnt this fact from the religious himself, who related it with a lively sense of gratitude towards God for so great a favour.


  1. Matt. iv. 9.








Step 24

ON MEEKNESS AND INNOCENT SIMPLICITY.

1. As the aurora precedes the splendour of the sun; so does meekness precede humility. Jesus Christ Himself has marked out for us the natural order of these two virtues. “Learn of me,” He says, “because I am meek and humble of heart.”1 It is proper, therefore, before treating of humility, represented by the sun, to speak of meekness, which is the aurora; that first beholding a light less brilliant, we may afterwards gaze with a clear and steadfast eye on the full blaze of glory reflected from humility. For it is impossible to look upon the one, without first habituating the eye to the other, as we learnt from the words of our Divine Redeemer.

2. Meekness is an immutable state of mind, which runs on in the same even temper through honour and dishonour, through evil report and good report.

3. This virtue consists in bearing with a holy insensibility the troubles caused by our neighbour; and in praying for him with true sincerity of heart at the time he is treating us with injustice.

4. Meekness is a rock high above the raging sea, dashing back with irresistible might the foaming surges that lash its sides, and continuing unmoved amidst the agitations that threaten its destruction.

5. Meekness is the staff of patience. It is the gate, or rather the mother of charity, the principle of discernment and interior light, according to the testimony of the Royal Prophet: “The Lord will guide the mild in judgment; He will teach the meek His ways.”2 Meekness is our mediatrix in obtaining the pardon of our sins, and the humble confidence we have in our prayers. It is the living temple of the Holy Spirit. “To whom shall I have respect,” saith the Lord, “but to him that is poor, little, and of a contrite heart, and that trembleth at My words?”3

6. Meekness is the helpmate of obedience; the guide and the bond of fraternal friendship the bridle of fury; the curb-chain of anger. It is the source of holy joy; the imitator of Jesus Christ; the sweet disposition of angels. It is a chain wherewith to bind demons; a buckler which repels the darts of hatred and ill-nature.

7. The heart of the meek is the throne on which the Lord reposes; whilst the soul of the turbulent and the choleric is the tribunal over which demons preside.

8. “Blessed are the meek; for they shall possess the land,”4 says our Divine Redeemer; yea, not only possess the land, but rule and govern it; whilst the ungovernable and irritable are justly termed its destruction.

9. The soul of the meek and the peaceable is the seat of simplicity; but the mind of the angry and the violent is the abundant source of malice.

10. He who is endowed with meekness is full of the words of wisdom. “The Lord will guide the mild in judgment; He will teach the meek His ways.”5 These ways are the ways of lightsomeness and discernment.

11. The soul which is upright and sincere is the faithful companion of humility; whereas, the malicious and irascible Christian is the slave of pride.

12. Meek souls are gifted with divine knowledge. But hot and fiery minds are always groping in ignorance and darkness.

13. An irritable man and an impostor having, one day, met together, their conversation consisted of nothing that was solid or sincere. If we could have unveiled the heart of the first, we should have beheld nothing but folly; and of the second, we should have detected nothing but malice and deception.

14. Simplicity in the soul is a salutary habit, which renders us incapable of duplicity, and proof against all the motions of a corrupt mind.

15. Malice is the science of demons, or rather the infamous heritage of these spirits of darkness. It is the opponent of truth, of which having entirely divested itself, it seeks by wiles and deceptions to divest others.

16. Hypocrisy is a deportment in our words and actions contrary to the interior dispositions of our hearts.

17. Innocence, on the contrary, is the condition of a tranquil soul, which is full of holy joy, and free from all guile and artifice.

18. The rectitude of the heart is a pure intention, which has recourse to no subtleties, no equivocation to escape from the truth. It is as sincere in its action, as it is simple and without guile in its words.

19. The innocent is one who has preserved the natural purity in which his soul was created by God, and who acts and speaks with every one, according to the dictates of this unblemished candour.

20. Malice is the assassin of the heart’s rectitude; the malignant intent to conceal, under the pretext of a wise and judicious conduct, its many grievous faults. It is an affected ambiguity in words, confirmed by false swearing. It is the duplicity of a dark and impenetrable heart. It is an abyss of deception; a habit of falsehood; an unnatural haughtiness, that deadly enemy of humility. It is a false and artful imitation of penance--the drought of holy tears--the hatred of sacramental confession--the obstinate adherence to our own judgments--the source of depravity and many downfalls--an obstacle to our repentance and reconciliation with God. It is a secret and interior complacency experienced by the cunning and malicious, and which induces it to smile, when reproached for its suppleness and want of principle. It is an affected and ridiculous modesty--a false and trumpery devotion--a life truly diabolical.

21. The wicked man and the devil are not only united by the conformity of their actions, but even by the very name. For we have learned from our Redeemer to beseech God in our daily prayers, “to deliver us from the evil one.”6 (Note. In our translation it is simply “from evil.”)

22. Let us, terrified by the words of the Royal Prophet, flee from the precipice of hypocrisy and the gulf of dissimulation: “Be not emulous of evil doers; nor envy them that work iniquity, for they shall shortly wither away as grass, and as the green herbs shall quickly fall.”7

23. God, who is called in Holy Scripture Charity, is likewise called the God of equity. Hence Solomon, speaking to the undefiled soul, says: “The Righteous One loves thee.”8 And David his father: “The Lord is sweet and righteous; therefore He will give a law to sinners in the way.”9

24. The simplicity natural to some is a most favourable disposition, an inestimable happiness. But this natural disposition is very inferior to that which is supernatural, which has been engrafted as it were upon the unhappy root of our corruption and malice, by the merit of our toilsome labours. For the first, indeed, inspires us with an aversion to all guile and deception; but the second, rising superior to nature, procures for us the most profound humility, the most perfect meekness of spirit; so that whilst the recompense of the former will not be great, that of the latter will be infinite.

25. One of the most prominent features in little children is their innocent simplicity. As long as Adam possessed this beautiful qualification he was not ashamed of his nakedness.

26. Let all who desire to welcome Jesus Christ to their hearts come to Him as to their best master, to receive His divine instructions. But let them come to Him in the robe of simplicity, and free from the tawdry disguise of malice and curiosity. For as He Himself is the most pure and simple of all beings, so does He wish us to be pure and simple like Himself, because when we are simple, we shall undoubtedly be humble, since humility and simplicity are inseparable companions.

27. Malice is a false prophet, that endeavours to discover thoughts by words, and the secrets of the heart by the exterior actions of the body.

28. I have seen those who were good and simple taught to be wily and wicked by their communication with the wicked. And I wondered how, by this intercourse, they could have lost in so short a time the excellent qualifications which they had received from nature. But it is as easy for the virtuous to be corrupted as it is difficult for the wicked to be reclaimed.

29. Retirement from the world, perfect obedience, a strict watch over our words, are very efficacious in preserving the mind undefiled. Yea, by an almost miraculous change of heart they have healed souls of those wounds which appeared incurable.

30. If, as the apostle says, “knowledge puffeth up,”10 we may, I think, affirm that simplicity and ignorance abase and make us naturally the most humble.

31. St. Paul, surnamed the Simple, was a happy illustration of this truth, and an admirable model of heavenly simplicity, for he made greater progress in this virtue than any one we can remember.

32. The solitary who is simple, and like a rational beast, perfectly submissive to his guide, lays upon this guide, by this happy submission, the heavy burden of his own will. And as a beast does not resist its master when he fastens upon it the yoke, so the simple Christian opposes not the commands of his superior, but follows him whithersoever he directs without contraction, although he leads him forth as a victim to the sacrifice.

33. If the rich, according to the testimony of divine truth, “shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven,”11 so the wise of the world, who are fools in the sight of God, shall with difficulty enter into the spirit of a happy simplicity.

34. A grievous fall has frequently made the malicious and deceitful enter into themselves, and procure, almost in defiance of their former disposition, this innocent simplicity, so advantageous to our salvation.

35. Strive manfully to rid yourselves of false wisdom, then will you secure the salvation of your souls by the simplicity of your hearts. Both are to be obtained by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.


  1. Matt. xi. 29.

  2. Ps. xxiv. 9.

  3. Isaiah lxvi. 2.

  4. Matt. v. 4.

  5. Ps. xxiv. 9.

  6. Matt. vi. 13.

  7. Ps. xxxvi. 2.

  8. Cant. i. 3.

  9. Ps. xxiv. 8.

  10. I Cor. vii. 1.

  11. Matt. xix. 23.








Step 25

ON HUMILITY.

1. He who should wish to express by words the interior sentiments of divine love in all its fervour, or humility in all the depth of its abasement, or chastity in all its pure and angelic dignity, or heavenly illumination in all its supernatural brightness, or the fear of God with all its lively emotions, or the bashful confidence of the heart, with all its tenderness and immutability of purpose towards the object of its hope, he, I repeat, who should wish, by the mere elucidation of his subject, to enlighten the ignorance of those who have never possessed any of these virtues, nor relished the sweetness of their ineffable graces, would resemble the person who attempted, by the assistance of language, to convey an idea of the sweetness of honey to the minds of those who had never tasted it. But as this would be vain, so would it be equally unprofitable to speak of humility, and the other virtues, in the manner we have mentioned. The speaker would either be ignorant of what he said, or if he spoke from knowledge, would be liable to be deceived by the illusions of vanity.

2. The virtue of which I intend to treat in this degree or step of our holy ladder, is a treasure contained in clay vessels, that is, in our frail bodies. I leave you to form a judgment of it according to the light of your wisdom and discernment. No words are adequate to express all its qualities and excellencies. Even the inscription of this virtue is so celestial that it is incomprehensible. They who have attempted to comprehend its mystery, and to explain what they comprehended, have found themselves engaged in an incredible difficulty, in an investigation not only sublime, but infinite. Ponder this divine inscription: HOLY HUMILITY.

3. Having invited those who are guided by the Holy Spirit to enter with us upon this spiritual investigation, as if assembled in wise and sacred council, and to bring to it, not with bodily, but intellectual hands, the tables of heavenly knowledge, engraven by the finger of God in their hearts, we inquired and sought with unanimous accord what was the sense, what the power, the excellency, of this hallowed inscription. One said: “Humility is the perpetual forgetfulness of our good actions.” Another: “It is a luminary which enable our souls to see their weakness and insufficiency.” A fourth: “It is the mild answer, by which we moderate or suppress the anger of our neighbour, and stifle contentions and quarrels in their birth.” A fifth: “It is the acknowledgment of God’s grace and mercy towards us.” Finally, one proclaimed humility to be “a heart truly contrite, and the renouncement of our own will.”

4. Having listened to, and examined with great care, these several opinions, I found that I was unable, by what they had stated, to comprehend in all its force and extent this most praiseworthy virtue. Being the least and the last of all, I could but gather up, like a whelp, the crumbs that fell from the table of these holy Fathers, these saints so wonderfully enlightened, and to give the following as my definition of humility. Humility is a grace which adorns the soul, which no tongue can describe, and which can be known only by experience. It is an ineffable treasure; a gift of heaven; one of the names even of God Himself, since it is declared in the Gospel: “Learn of me,” not from an angel, not from man, not from the written tables of the law, but “from me,” that is, from my immediate example, from the infusion of my light, and from the efficacious operation of grace in your souls, “because I am meek and humble of heart, and you shall find rest to your souls”1 by the cessation of the temptation and warfare with which you are now harassed.

5. Humility is a holy vine, which varies its appearance according to the season in which we view it. It is not the same in winter as in summer, for then it lies upon the ground, beaten down by the winds of our several passions. In spring-tide it sends forth young shoots, and then flowers, which knit and form the fruit. In summer the virtues, which are its grapes, attain their maturity. These divers changes all concur to the gathering of the joyful vintage. Yea, we have certain points from which we can watch and ascertain the progress of these heavenly fruits, in the various stages of their growth; for immediately this spiritual vine blossoms in the garden of the soul, we begin to dislike the glory and the praises of men. They become to us unsavoury, and we cast them from us. We feel a solicitude to master and keep down the emotions and transports of anger. But when humility, growing day by day, has become a vigorous plant, and struck its roots deeply in our hearts, then have we not only a contempt of, but even a horror of our good actions, from the conviction that we are every day adding to the burden of our sins in secret and unknown ways, and that the abundant grace which we receive from God’s bounty but augments our chastisement, through our unworthiness of these extraordinary favours. Thus our souls, constrained to hide themselves in sentiments of their own baseness, remain invincible and proof against the assaults of their enemies. They hear without disturbance the turmoils the demons are exciting around them; and they regard as mere sport and diversion the stratagems which these infernal foes are plotting for their destruction, without experiencing therefrom the slightest injury. For this lowly estimation of themselves is a secure treasury, in which are stored up all their virtues, far beyond the reach of the powers of darkness.

6. So much have I ventured to say in few words concerning the flowers and the fruit, which are always in season, of holy humility. For with reference to the perfection and full maturity of this virtue, it is for you who are intimately united to God in hallowed friendship, to beseech Him to impart to you the requisite information. If I am unable to depict the grandeur and extension of this sublime virtue, it would still farther surpass my slender ability to explain its several qualities. Hence I will limit myself to the delineation of some of the more striking features of it, which have particularly fallen under my observation.

7. True and sincere repentance, tears which efface from the soul the stains of sin, profound humility in those who have recently commenced the service of God in holy religion, are things as distant from one another as the flour and the dough in bread. For the soul is bowed down even to the dust by true repentance, and kneaded and blended, if the expression may be allowed, with God by the moisture of heartfelt tears. When this dough has been baked by the fire of divine love, it becomes the solid, sacred bread of humility, free from all the adulterations of pride and vainglory.

8. This chain, composed of three strong links, or rather this rainbow, with its three primitive colours, has certain appropriate qualities. These three links, these three colours, are so united and blended together, and made indiscernible, that the presence of one is a sure indication of the others. That you may understand my meaning the better, I will now explain myself more fully and in detail.

9. The first, and one of the most excellent properties of this admirable trinity of virtues, is the sufferance of humiliation and contempt with joy and alacrity, and which the soul welcomes with ardour, as the salutary remedy for its disorders, and the remission of sin. The second property is, the complete victory over anger, and the lowliness of our mind in the midst of this victory. The third property, and the one which attains to the highest merit, is a distrust of our best actions, with confidence in the mercy of God, and an earnest and continuous desire for instruction.

10. As Jesus Christ is the end of the law and the prophets, in the justification of the faithful, so vainglory and pride are the end of the impure and disorderly passions, for the fall and ruin of those who neglect the amendment of their lives. But as humility is the inveterate foe and complete destruction of the passions, as the hind is of serpents, so does it preserve those, who choose it for their faithful companion, from their deadly venom. For whoever saw in humility the poison of hypocrisy? Can the infernal serpent find a single spot in this virtue wherein to coil himself? On the contrary, does not humility drag him from his lurking place in our hearts, and then having exposed him to the light of day, kill him?

11. We shall certainly never behold in those who possess this virtue the slightest appearance of hatred, contradiction, or disobedience, save when faith is in danger.

12. He who by a spiritual and holy marriage clasps humility to his bosom, is mild and peaceable. His heart is contrite, lowly in its desires, and easily melted to mercy and compassion. He is tranquil, cheerful, obedient, vigilant, full of fervour, and the conqueror of his passions. “The Lord,” says holy David, “Was mindful of us in our affliction; for His mercy endureth for ever. And He redeemed us from our enemies;”2 that is, from our passions and the impurities which they leave behind in the soul.

13. The solitary who is humble investigates not with curiosity things unknown, whereas he who is proud wishes to pry into the unsearchable judgments of God.

14. The demons appeared one day to one of the more intelligent of the brethren, and highly extolled him in his presence. But the religious, with great wisdom replied: “If you discontinue your disgusting high praise, and refrain from exciting in my mind thoughts of vanity, your silence and your departure from me, will make me conceive a favourable opinion of myself. But if you continue to praise me, your flatteries will merely serve to place before mine eyes the polluted state of my soul, since every one that is exalted in his own heart, is defiled in the sight of God. Withdraw, then, if you wish that I should be proud, or persist in praising me, if you desire me to be humble.” This ambiguous and cutting expostulation so utterly astonished and confounded those evil spirits, that they immediately betook to flight.

15. Let not your soul be a cistern, at one time filled with the living waters of humility, and then broken and left dry by the burning heat of vainglory and presumption. No; let it be a perennial fountain, from which humility may flood your interior with peace and rest, and lull into a sweet and pleasant calm the agitation of the passions, and feed with its pellucid waters the silver stream of voluntary poverty.

16. You are aware, dear brethren, that the valleys yield abundant crops of corn and fruit. These valleys are appropriate emblems of the humble, who, whilst surrounded by the mountains of pride and vainglory, remain steadfast in their lowliness, yielding the good fruit of charity and self abasement. Holy David did not say, “I fast, I watch, I sleep without any covering upon the bare ground;” but “I was humbled, and the Lord delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.”3

17. Penance enables us to ascend to heaven, tears knock at the gate, and holy humility opens it for our admittance. Hence, I adore this trinity of virtues in unity, (that is, in Jesus Christ,) and this unity in trinity.

18. The sun sheds his beams upon all visible creatures; humility vivifies and strengthens every thing achieved by reason and piety. As in the absence of the sun there is the darkness of night, so in the absence of humility all our actions are under a dark cloud, and blighted by the seering breath of vanity.

19. As there is but one spot on the face of the globe which has seen the sun but once, (the bottom of the Red Sea,) so a single thought has often produced humility, which we have already compared to the sun. As there is but one day on which every body then in existence rejoiced, (the day that Noah and his family departed from the ark,) so there is but one virtue which cannot be imitated by demons.

20. There is an immense difference between self-exaltation and self-humiliation. He who exalts himself summons everything to the tribunal of his own judgment. But he who rejoices in his lowliness suspends his judgment, and delights in self-condemnation. And when he is truly humble this self-censure becomes his daily exercise.

21. There are three things distinct in themselves,--to be humble, to labour to be humble, and to praise the humble. The first is the virtue of the perfect; the second, of the truly and sincerely obedient; and the third, of all the faithful.

22. The truly humble of heart will not hazard the forfeiture of his humility by vain and presumptuous discourses. For the tongue being the door which opens the treasure of the heart, we cannot, if our inward house be occupied with thoughts of humility, display ourselves to others in foolish boasting and vanity.

23. Not infrequently the horse which appears swift whilst running alone, is found slow when contending in the race with others. It may, in like manner, happen that an anchorite, dwelling alone, may believe himself very holy, but find himself very weak and imperfect when residing in a community.

24. When a person does not boast of the gifts of nature, it is an evident sign that he is recovering his health. But as long as he delights in the noxious odour of vainglory, he cannot relish the delicious perfumes of humility.

25. This lovely virtue allows no one who loves it to reprehend others, to judge others, to domineer over others, or to practise upon others any kind of deception. They who have contracted an alliance with humility, have no need, says the Apostle,4 of any other law but the law of this virtue.

26. The infernal spirits have suggested thoughts of vanity to a virtuous solitary, one who was earnestly striving for the attainment of humility. He, in order to defeat so dangerous a temptation, was prompted by divine inspiration to employ this laudable artifice. He immediately wrote upon the walls of his cell the names of the most distinguished virtues, such as perfect charity, profound humility, fervent prayer, angelic chastity. Then, when the thoughts of vainglory began to assail him, he said to them: “Let us go and find our judges,” reading at the same time the names he had inscribed on the walls of his dwelling, and thus communing with himself aloud: “When thou possessest all these virtues, thou wilt know how far thou art still from God.”

27. Humility resembles the sun. We cannot describe its efficacy or its substance. But if we cannot thoroughly penetrate its nature, we can, at least, form a judgment of it from its several effects and properties.

28. Humility is a sacred veil which conceals from us our good actions.

29. Humility is an abyss into which we plunge at the sight of our own nothingness, into which the spirits of darkness dare not look down, lest they should become giddy.

30. Humility is the strong tower spoken of in Holy Scripture: “A tower of strength against the face of the enemy. In thy tabernacle I shall dwell for ever; and I shall be protected under the cover of thy wings.”5

31. Besides the properties which I have just mentioned, and which, with one exception, are external and visible proofs of the rich treasury of humility, there are others, known to him only who happily possesses this virtue, and which have their abiding place in the retirement of the soul. You may, however, know with certitude what this great virtue is in your interior, when you are filled with ineffable light,--when you feel animated by an extraordinary fervour and love of prayer, and when, more especially, you preserve the purity of your heart without scorning your neighbour, though he has been guilty of transgression. All this must be preceded by an intense hatred of vainglory.

32. The knowledge of ourselves, and of all the various operations of the heart, is the germ of humility, and without which it is impossible that this divine plant can strike root and flourish in the soul.

33. He who knows himself knows how much he ought to fear God, and by pursuing this path of holy fear, will at length reach the gate of love.

34. Humility is the portal of heaven. It introduces those who come to it by the strait and narrow path, into that blessed kingdom. It is of such, I presume, that Jesus Christ speaks in the Gospel: “I am the door. By me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved; and he shall go in and go out, and shall find pastures.”6 the pastures of the celestial paradise. They who begin their career in religious life from any other gate than that of humility, are thieves of their own life and salvation.

35. If we wish to acquire a true knowledge of ourselves, let us never omit our self-examination. If in the sincere sentiments of our hearts we esteem ourselves inferior to our neighbour, we may be assured that we are not far from the mercy of God.

36. It is impossible to kindle fire with snow. But it is equally impossible that humility, a virtue proper to Catholics only, and to such as are pious, should be found amongst those who are guilty of heresy.

37. We almost all say that we are sinners, and we, perhaps, say this from conviction. But it is by the proof of humiliations and reproaches that we can be certain that our hearts are in unison with our lips.

38. He who hastens his voyage to humility, as to a calm and peaceful haven, will never cease from doing all that his imagination can suggest, whether in word or action, whether by skill or address, whether by his diligence or his demeanour, whether by his prayers or his protestations, until by the aid of divine grace, and the exercise of painful humiliation, he has escaped the perils of the stormy ocean of vainglory. When free from this vice we are easily purified before God from all other sins, as we learn from the example of the publican.

39. There are Christians who preserve to the end of their days the remembrance of their past offences, although forgiven, that they may repress, by this subject of humiliation, the risings of vainglory. Others, thinking of what Jesus Christ has suffered for them, are always meditating upon the infinite debt which they owe to His divine charity. Many are continually humbling themselves by reflecting on their daily imperfections, Not a few, by their temptations, by the interior maladies of the soul, and by their sins, have acquired humility, the mother of all graces. In fact, there are some, though difficult to find at the present day, who humble themselves the more God showers upon them His favours, believing that they are unworthy to be the depositaries of these celestial treasures, and that every fresh grace adds a new debt, thus hourly augmenting that which of themselves they will never be able to liquidate. This is true humility. This is the beatitude of the present life, the highest recompense of the perfect. When you are told that some one has acquired in a few years that sovereign peace of mind which allays the agitation of the passions, be convinced that he has obtained this blessed tranquility, in so short a time, only by the happy way of humility.

40. Charity and humility are faithful and holy companions. The one elevates to heaven, the other supports us in our ascent with so firm a hand, that we are in no danger of falling.

41. Contrition, the knowledge of ourselves, and humility, are three distinct things.

42. Contrition is a lively sorrow which follows the commission of sin. He who falls into sin bruises himself, and when he afterwards kneels down to pray, he does so with entire mistrust of himself, but with a laudable trust in God’s mercy, making it the staff of his hope, wherewith to support his tottering and almost broken heart, and to chase away despair, which, like a furious dog, is ready to tear him in pieces.

43. The knowledge of ourselves is a light which shows us in the clearest manner the true state of our souls. It brings to our remembrance our slightest transgressions.

44. Humility is a holy science, of which Jesus Christ is the Master, who teaches it to those whom He Himself renders worthy of His lessons. It is hidden in the deepest recesses of the heart, and no effort of eloquence can express its secret and impenetrable virtue.

45. He who boasts that he feels within a breeze wafting upon its balmy wings the delicious perfumes of humility, yet takes ever so little complacency in human praise, or who stops to examine if the praise he has received be true, is very much deceived if he does not detect his own deception.

46. One day I heard a holy religious say to God, with lively sentiments of abasement: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to thy name give glory.”7 For he knew how difficult it is for our nature, weak as it is, to receive praise, without at the same time receiving injury. Hence holy David: “With thee, O Lord, is my praise in a great church. I will pay my vows in the sight of them that fear him.”8 For I cannot receive the reward of praise in this life without evident danger of perdition.

47. If we may term it the last effort of pride to feign, through love of imaginary glory, virtues that we do not possess, it is likewise an unquestionable testimony of profound humility, to put on, wherever we may be, the semblance of faults, of which we are not guilty, through our love of humiliation. Actuated by this spirit, a virtuous solitary took bread and cheese, and ate them publicly, to lessen the esteem which had been formed of his sanctity.

48. Be always ready to displease men rather than God. For He takes pleasure in beholding us seeking with eagerness the ignominies which are displeasing to the eyes of man, that we may tread under our feet, may stifle, and annihilate the foolish passion of vainglory.

49. Seclusion, by which we absolutely renounce the honors of the world, is the commencement of our holy career in the exercises of virtue. For, to expose ourselves to the contempt and railleries of our neighbour, is a part that can be taken only by extraordinary characters. Be not astonished at what I have said. No one has been able to mount this divine ladder at a single leap.

50. Every one may know that we are true disciples of Christ, not when the demons are submissive to us, but when our names are written in the book of humility.

51. Citrons, when they cease to bear fruit, shoot all their branches upwards; whereas the more fruit they bear, the more do their branches hang downwards. Hence, this reflection, the soul will be as much more productive of virtue and heavenly fruit, as she is the more humble, the more cast down at the view of her own nothingness.

52. Humility is a sacred ladder by which we may easily mount up to God. Some, according to the expression of the gospel, ascend this ladder as far as the thirtieth, some the sixtieth, and others the hundredth round. The last round, which is the most sublime, is the achievement of those only, who have established their souls in peace, by the suppression of their passions. The second from the summit is attained by those who pursue the path of salvation with courage. But the last and nearest to the earth, all are able to mount.

53. He who knows himself thoroughly, will never through presumption, undertake any thing beyond his abilities. No, he will never allow his feet to stray from the path of humility, but will ever pursue his journey along this path with undaunted confidence.

54. As small birds tremble at the sight of the hawk, so the humble are alarmed at the least noise of contentions and quarrels.

55. There are many saved without being favoured by any revelations, or the gift of prophecy, or the power of working miracles; but no one can enter the nuptial chamber of paradise without humility. For humility is the faithful guardian of these extraordinary gifts of grace, which sometimes overpower and destroy all lowliness of mind in those who are not well grounded in solid virtue.

56. God, by the admirable dispensation of His providence and mercy, permits, for our greater humiliation, and much against our will, others to know our faults far better than we do ourselves, that we may attribute our restoration to health, not to our own wisdom, but to the assistance of our neighbour, and the aid of divine grace.

57. He who has a humble mind, holds his own will in horror and detestation, as his greatest deceiver. By the firm and lively faith with which he offers his prayers to God, he generally obtains both light wherein to see his duty clearly, and strength for its performance. He does not examine minutely the manners and behaviour of those who have the care of his conduct, but he surrenders himself entirely into the hands of God, who was pleased, in the days of old, to convey to the prophet Balaam, through the instrumentality of an ass, that knowledge with which He wished him to be acquainted. When he who is humble is conducted by the Spirit of God, in all his thoughts, words, and works, he will no longer trust, or give credit to, his own mind. For it is far easier for the humble Christian to mistrust his own judgment, than for the proud to submit to the decision and guidance of another.

58. It is the privilege of angels alone never to commit sin, even through ignorance. For that terrestrial angel, the illustrious Apostle of the Gentiles, tells us: “I am not conscious to myself of any thing; yet am I not hereby justified; but he that judgeth me is the Lord.”9 Hence we ought continually to reprehend and condemn ourselves, that by the merit of this voluntary humiliation, we may efface our involuntary faults. Otherwise we shall experience considerable difficulty in submitting our accounts to God, when summoned before His tribunal.

59. He who asks from the Lord less than he deserves, will infallibly obtain from His infinite bounty, more than he has merited. Take the instance of the publican, who merely asked pardon for his sins, yet obtained the grace of justification. The good thief besought Jesus Christ to remember him when He should come into His kingdom, and he received the joyful assurance of being made partaker of all the glory and happiness of that kingdom.

60. As we perceive no fire in any creature, great or little, in creation, so neither is concupiscence, the natural fire of the passions, found in company with true and sincere humility. As long as we cherish this virtue, we cannot sin deliberately, but merely by surprise and frailty, for the heat of concupiscence, which foments the passions, is smothered and extinguished beneath the ashes of our humiliation. Willful sin does, indeed, cause concupiscence to revive, and at the same time undermines humility.

61. The Son of God, knowing the inward comportment of the soul with the external comportment of the body, girded Himself with a towel, and began to wash His disciples’ feet. By this example, He pointed out to us a short and easy method of acquiring humility. For the soul accustoms itself interiorly to what is done exteriorly, and strings its ordinary affections in unison with its actions. The principality, which Lucifer enjoyed above his fellow angels, was the occasion of his pride; abusing, therefore, that which was intended for his dignity, to his own eternal destruction.

62. He who is mounted on a throne, has not the sentiments of him who is seated on a dunghill. This, perhaps, was the reason why the venerable Job slept outside the walls of his mansion. For being perfectly humble, he said from his heart: “Therefore I reprehend myself, and do penance in dust and ashes.”10

63. We learn from Holy Scripture, that Manasses, king of Judea, was one of the most wicked of men, that he had desecrated the temple of God, had profaned the divine worship and sacrificed to idols; yea, to such a depth of depravity did he proceed, that the people of his kingdom endeavoured to expiate his grievous impiety by solemn fasts and works of penance. Nevertheless, humility healed even his ulcerated and hardened soul. “If thou, O Lord,” exclaimed the holy David, “hadst desired sacrifice, I would, indeed, have given it; with burnt offerings thou wilt not be delighted. A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit; a contrite and humble heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”11

64. When David was reproved by the prophet for the crimes of adultery and murder, this well disposed king had no sooner uttered the lamentation, “I have sinned against the Lord,” than he heard these words of consolation: “The Lord hath taken away thy sin; thou shalt not die.”12

65. Our fathers, men worthy of eternal remembrance, have told us that manual labour is the path by which we may attain to humility, and forms also the basis upon which it is to be established. But obedience and rectitude of heart, naturally so opposite to vanity, are, in my opinion, the sure means by which we may obtain this eminent virtue.

66. If pride transformed angels into demons, may not humility change men, who once lived as demons, into angels? Hence they who have fallen into sin, however grievous, should never lose their confidence in God.

67. Let us earnestly strive to reach, as soon as we can, the lowest paths of humility. If we are too cowardly to push onwards to this deep abiding place of the lowly soul, let us, at least, renew our attachment to it, and never sever ourselves from this virtue; since without its lovely mantle God will not crown our other virtues with His heavenly and meritorious grace.

68. There are many exercises of virtue which may be termed the nerves of humility, or may be considered as ways, though not always certain, by which we may arrive at this virtue. These exercises are to be poor in heart and affection, to leave the world by a retirement unknown to the world, to conceal our wisdom, to be simple and sincere in our words, to ask alms, to hide our rank or dignity, to banish all vain confidence in ourselves, and to suppress all unprofitable conversation.

69. Nothing humbles a soul more than poverty, and that mode of life which requires from us every day the practice of this virtue. For we prove our merit and our love of God, when we cast down all the aspiring thoughts of the heart with unwavering perseverance.

70. When you gird on your armour to combat, never fail to take humility for your ally; then may you walk securely upon the asp and the basilisk, sin with its despondency, and tread upon the lion and the dragon, which are the demons in league with our own flesh.

71. Humility is a divine and holy ceremony which withdraws the soul from the abyss of sin, and marches with it in solemn procession to heaven.

72. Having, one day, contemplated the incomparable beauty of this virtue, I sought with astonishment and admiration to know whence it derived its origin. With a gay and smiling countenance, it made me this reply: “Why do you wish to know the name of my parents, since none can lay greater claim to my parentage than myself? Hence I will not inform you until you shall have entered into the house of the Lord, to whom be honour and glory, for ever and ever.” Amen.

As the sea is the source of fountains, so is humility the parent of discretion.


  1. Matt. xi. 29.

  2. Ps. cxxxv. 23.

  3. Ps. cxiv. 6-8.

  4. I Timothy i. 9.

  5. Psalm lx. 4.

  6. John x. 9.

  7. Ps. cxiii. 9.

  8. Ps. xxi. 26.

  9. I Corinth. iv. 4.

  10. Job xlii. 6.

  11. Psalm 1. 18.

  12. II Kings xii. 13.








Step 26

ON DISCRETION.

1. They who have a true knowledge of their interior, and of their progress in sanctity, possess the virtue of discretion. They also are endowed with this intellectual discernment, who can distinguish, without self-deception, that which is supernaturally, from that which is naturally good, or merely deceptive. Discretion is to the perfect, a knowledge shedding its divine illumination over their minds, and discovering not only every secret lurking place of the heart, but enabling them by its effulgent beams, to penetrate the obscurity and darkness of their neighbour’s souls.

2. Were we to give a general definition of this virtue, we should call discretion an interior light, which makes known to us with certitude, the will of God, at all times, in all places, and in all our actions. It imparts this light to those alone, who are pure in mind, body, and conversation.

3. He who, by the assistance of divine grace, has subdued three of the eight capital vices, intemperance, avarice, and vainglory, has likewise obtained the mastery of the other five. But he who has not conquered the former, cannot easily bring into subjection the latter.

4. Discretion is the purity of the conscience, the chastity of the senses.

5. When we behold in the religious life, extraordinary and supernatural actions, or when we hear them spoken of, we must not believe them to be incredible, although they surpass our comprehension; since there is no ground for astonishment in the fact, that supernatural achievements are performed in the favoured locality, in which God, who is above nature, has fixed the tents of His habitation.

6. There are three general causes of the warfare which we have to carry on continually with the powers of darkness, viz., our own negligence, our pride, and the devil’s envy. Our negligence is a deplorable evil; our pride, the very depth of misery; but the devil’s envy, when it arises from our singular virtue, is a great happiness.

7. In all our contests, let us, next to God, have recourse to our own conscience, as to a compass, or vigilant sentinel, who gives us timely warning on what side the storm is gathering, that we may hoist our sails in such manner as will preserve our vessel from shipwreck.

8. In the pious practices of religious life, we must guard against three snares artfully prepared by the devil for our destruction. In the first place, he makes every exertion to prevent us from doing that which is really good. When foiled in these attempts, he strives to make us forget or leave out God in the performance of our good works. If this stratagem fails, he congratulates us upon having done all things according to God’s will, and thereby seeks to flatter our vanity. Against the first of these wiles watchfulness and meditation on death, will be our protection; against the second, obedience and self-contempt; and against the third, the continual self-condemnation of our faults. These are combats and labours which we must sustain, until, as the Royal Prophet tells us,1 the fire of divine love is enkindled in the sanctuary of our souls. For, then, vicious habits will foster no longer within us a deplorable and voluntary necessity of sinning, because God is a fire which consumes the material of concupiscence, and all disorderly emotions, all bad habits, all hardness of heart, and disperses the thick smoke which so darkens the understanding, that it can no longer form a judgment of the actions which are performed under its guidance.

9. Now the devil’s part is the very contrary to that which we have just attributed to God. For when he has become master of our souls, and extinguished the light of the mind, we become so wretched, that we lose all fervour, discernment, knowledge, and respect, and receive for our portion, hardness of heart, insensibility, indiscretion, and blindness of the intellect.

10. All this is well known to those who have escaped from the dark pit of impurity by the ladder of penance; who have renounced the indiscreet liberty of a disorderly life; and who have changed the bold front of impudence for the pleasing demeanour of modesty. They know these things, I repeat, well, when their souls have been purified, their blindness superseded by the clearest vision, and the chains of their captivity broken asunder, for they then blush deeply at the reflection of their former proceedings. The words they uttered, the actions they performed in darkness, now overwhelm them with confusion.

11. The spirits of the infernal regions cannot rob the soul, or assassinate it, unless the day Star of Justice withhold its guidance, and leave it beneath the shadows of the dark night. They plunder it, when they strip it of the treasures of grace and virtue, and they murder it when they induce it to commit evil under the appearance of good. They despoil it of its property, when they make it their slave, without cognizance of its bondage. They assassinate it when they extinguish the light of reason, and hurry it into the most shameful and detestable crimes. In fine, they destroy it, when, after the commission of these enormities, they plunge it into despair.

12. Let no one pretend that it is impossible to observe the evangelical counsels, since there are holy persons who do more than what the gospel requires. The virtuous solitary, Leo, gave himself as a prisoner to the barbarians in place of the Abbot John, and received for this charity, the crown of martyrdom. He loved his neighbour more than himself, and more than was enforced by the commandment of Jesus Christ.

13. Let those who experience with much repugnance the violence of their passions, and who are truly humble and afflicted in mind, be not, on this account, discouraged, for when they have fallen into various snares of the enemy, when they have been afflicted with grievous diseases of the soul, they will, after their perfect restoration to health, by the mercy of God, be to others skillful physicians, beacons of heavenly light, to point out the rocks and shoals that must be carefully avoided by all who are anxious to escape the shipwreck of their eternal treasure.

14. If any still experience the tyranny of their former vicious habits, and who are competent to instruct others, if not by example, at least by their words, let them do so, without, however, attempting their government and direction. They themselves may derive this advantage from their own instruction, that when they have given salutary advice to others, they may blush at their own weakness, and begin from very shame, to practise that which they have been so freely inculcating. They who have fallen into the mire, have, as we have witnessed, daily plunged deeper and deeper, though most anxious to escape from this predicament. For this purpose, they made known their deplorable condition to all that passed by, and the means by which they became thus entangled in misery, to be a caution to others not to fall down the same precipice, not to follow their example. This laudable regard for their neighbour’s welfare, has moved the Almighty to show them mercy, and withdraw them by the power of His grace, from the corruption of their sins. With respect to those who, by their own depraved inclinations, plunge into iniquity, let them be silent, for it is by silence alone that they can be of any benefit to others. In the Acts of the Apostles, it is said, that Jesus “began first to do, and then to teach.”2

15. Truly, O holy anchorites, the sea across which we are sailing is stormy and boisterous. The rocks from which we just turn aside, are fits of anger, which in a moment shake the whole soul, and place it in imminent danger. The whirlpools against which we must take every precaution, are the fatal and unforeseen accidents, which on every side beset our souls, striving to draw them within the circle of their influence, and to swallow them down the vortex of despair. The sandbanks which we must take notice of on the holy chart of religion, are those instances of ignorance and deception, that lead us to the performance of evil under the persuasion that it is good. The monsters which cross our path, and interrupt our peaceful voyage, are sensual pleasures which cruelly distract and torment the soul. The pirates that pursue us, are the complacencies of vanity, which rob us of all our labours. The billows upon which we are tossed to and fro, are the cravings and excesses of gluttony, which cast us as a prey to the monsters of the deep. The whirlwinds which threaten us with immediate destruction, are the insupportable assumptions of pride, which, when it had inspired the angels with daring ambition, hurled them headlong from heaven.

16. The learned know what should be the study of those who are merely commencing their pursuit of science; and what, also, should be that of the more advanced, who are competent to teach others. Take care, therefore, that, after all your application, you be not left in the class of grammar; for it is painful to see an old man going to school to learn his rudiments. Now the virtues which compose the alphabet for students in a religious life are: obedience, fasting, hairshirts, ashes, tears, confession, silence, humility, watching, fortitude, generosity, the endurance of cold and heat, labour, contempt, patience under all kinds of evils, contrition, forgiveness of injuries, fraternal charity, meekness, simplicity, faith, forgetfulness of the world, aversion to the society of neighbours, detachment from all things earthly, and voluntary abjection.

17. With respect to the more advanced, their study should be to avoid anger and vanity, and to cultivate the hope of future good things, a peaceful mind, discretion, a constant remembrance of the day of judgment, hospitality, kindness and courteousness to others, tranquil and fervent prayer, and an absolute contempt of riches.

18. The perfect, who, in their ardent piety, devote all their thoughts, words and deeds to God, have for their study, their habitual practice, their rule of conduct, the preservation of their souls from all subjection to the passions, the attainment of heavenly charity, the groundwork of a solid and profound humility, the estrangement of the mind from all things terrestrial, the lively sense of God’s presence, the protection of their prayers and interior illuminations from the snares of their enemy, the embellishment of their minds with celestial gifts and inspirations, the desire of death, the hatred of life, and the renouncement of whatever may afford delight to the body. They should be powerful intercessors with God in behalf of a wicked world. They should do violence to His clemency by the merit and fervency of their prayers. By aiding and promoting the welfare of their fellow-creatures, they should be partakers of the ministry of angels, and become the masters, the interpreters of the Divine Word, the secret depositaries of Heaven, the saviours of men, the gods of the wicked spirits, the triumphant foes of vice, the rulers of the body, the conquerors of nature, the living temples of a peaceful soul, and finally, the faithful imitators of their Divine Master, by the assistance and cooperation of His heavenly grace.

19. We should be very cautious, when labouring under any indisposition. For the devils seeing us feeble and prostrate, and incapable of fighting with our accustomed weapons, that is, our usual pious exercises, assail us with redoubled fury.

20. People in the world are sometimes tempted, during sickness, to anger and to blasphemy. They who have retired from the world are tormented in their indisposition by the demon of intemperance; and when they abound in earthly comforts, by the demon of impurity. But they who reside in the wilderness, or places which breathe only of penance, and are destitute of all human consolation, are tempted and troubled by the demon of weariness and sadness, whose yoke is very grievous and depressing.

21. I have remarked, that the demon of impurity sometimes increases the sorrows of solitaries during the period of their sickness, and excites within them sensual emotions, which cause them great pain and anxiety. I wondered how, amidst their poignant sufferings, the flesh could be rebellious to the spirit. Having renewed my visit to certain of these holy solitaries, I found them stretched on the bed of sickness as before; but God had so consoled them by His secret and extraordinary graces, and by the sentiments of lively compunction, that their pains were forgotten, and in the exuberance of their consolation they longed for the continuance of their malady. I paid them a third visit, and still found them invalids; but their bodily aliment, although sharp and painful, had proved the remedy of their spiritual disorders. I then gave glory to God, who had thus, by the miserable and frail clay of the body, purified and rendered holy the soul.

22. In the soul renewed by baptism and the infusion of the Holy Spirit, there is the interior light of discretion, which enables us to judge all outward things according to God and His divine law. This light of discretion is partly interior and partly exterior. Hence, as it is partially concealed by the clouds raised by the passions, we must never discontinue our search for it; because when the Spirit of God shall have dispersed these clouds that obscure the purity of its light, our senses will have no longer the power to attract and disturb us by sensible objects. On this account, a person enlightened by divine wisdom, exclaimed: “You will discover in your interior a sense divine.”

23. A solitary and religious life directs every feeling and sentiment of the heart, regulates every action of those who adopt it, watches over their conversation, forms their thoughts, and gives animation to all their movements. Did it not do this, it would not be the religious, much less angelic, life it ought to be.

24. The Providence of God differs from His grace, His protection His mercy, and His consolation. His Providence is His general superintendency and preservation of the universe. His grace is a supernatural gift of light and strength which He imparts to His creatures. His protection, which may be termed His special providence, is an effective care, or interest, thrown around the members of His Church. His mercy is bestowed upon those who devote themselves to His service. His consolations are the heavenly dews which He showers upon those who sincerely love Him.

25. What may be a remedy for one, may be a poison to another. A remedy may be salutary if applied at the proper time, but pernicious, if misapplied, and at the wrong period.

26. I have known a spiritual physician, who, both ignorant and inexperienced, humbled and mortified very improperly a person languishing and drooping under the weight of sin, and who obtained no other result from his untimely and misapplied remedies, than the despair into which he plunged the heartbroken sinner. I have seen another both wise and prudent, who, having made by the cogency and severity of his words, deep incisions into a soul wounded and inflated by pride, cleansed it from the corruption of its festered sores, the odour of which was insupportable.

27. I have witnessed a patient thus spiritually sick, who, anxious to purge away the malignant humour which infected his heart, drank the bitter draught of obedience, in the unceasing occupation of manual labour. Sometimes, however, to restore to health the eye of his mind, he would remain quiet and silent. He who has ears to hear, let him hear and understand.

28. Some persons are naturally disposed to the observance of temperance, others to quietness and solitude, others to chastity, others to a respectful and becoming demeanour, others to meekness, and others to compunction. I confess that I am ignorant how these effects are produced by nature. For I have never presumed by a vain and rash curiosity to pry into the secrets of God, who distributes His gifts to men as He pleases. There are other persons who have inclinations almost opposite to the virtues we have mentioned, and who are compelled to put great constraint upon themselves to overcome these perverse inclinations. Although they are sometimes worsted in this warfare, yet I esteem them more than the first, because they offer violence to nature.

29. Do not glory, O man, in the natural gifts with which you have been endowed, without any labour of your own in the acquisition. Acknowledge that the Supreme Master of these favours has bestowed them upon you, only because He saw your extreme feebleness, irregularity, and disadvantage, and that He was solicitous by these pure gratuitous gifts to preserve you from your wonted disorders.

30. The instructions we received in our childhood, the exercises of our youth, contribute in advanced life, if they were really good, to enkindle the embers of virtue and a pious turn of mind; but if they were bad, to withhold us from the pursuit of holiness, and entice us to greater depravity.

31. Angels are the torches which give light to anchorites and religious persons; and religious should be torches to their fellow-men. Let them, therefore, strive to become models of virtue, at all times, and on all occasions; and to give scandal to no one either by word or deed. For if they, who should be the light of the world, become its darkness, how must not they who already live in the thick mists and deep shades of a corrupt world, become more deeply buried in the dark night of iniquity?

32. If you wish to repel with advantage the multitude of enemies that assail you, be convinced that you cannot divide your love between God and the world, that you cannot divide the powers of the soul, without destroying its energy and its fortitude. For if our strength be not united and concentrated, it will be impossible for us to detect the artifices of the spirits of darkness in their attempts to take us by surprise.

33. Aided by the Most Holy Trinity, we should arm ourselves with three virtues, chastity, charity, and humility, to be able to combat valiantly three dangerous foes, voluptuousness, avarice, and vainglory. If we fail in securing this armour, we shall encounter evils beyond calculation.

34. As God made a passage for the Israelites through the Red Sea, so may He do for us, not in a natural but spiritual sense. As they were conducted by a pillar of fire dryshod, between the waters that stood up in crystal walls on each side of them; so may our minds, prefigured by the ancient Israel, and enlightened by the presence of God, pass through without danger the spiritual sea of the passions, and behold the Egyptians, that is, the demons, sinking beneath the waves of our tears. But if God be not with us, who can endure even the roaring of the waves of this sea, always vehemently agitated; that is, of our flesh, always in rebellion, always in arms against us?

35. “Let God, therefore, arise,” and enable us by His Holy Spirit to perform good works; and then “let His enemies,” which are always ours, “be scattered.” If we draw nigh to God by holy meditation, then, “let them that hate Him,” and us likewise, “flee from before His face.”3

36. Let us study to become learned in divine things, in seeking for the light which is diffused in the soul by the merit of virtuous actions, rather than that which shines merely in conversation upon the great truths of Christianity. For when we appear at the tribunal of the Almighty, after death, we must present to Him, not words, but actions, not merely speculative truths, but virtues.

37. They who are informed that a treasure lies concealed in some certain place, are diligent in seeking for it; and when they have found it, they guard it with so much more solicitude in proportion to the difficulty and labour with which they sought it. For they who become rich without care, or toil, or anxiety, in the accumulation of their riches, are generally very free in their use of them. So they who become rich in virtue without much labour, guard it with less vigilance than they who have toiled for it through perspiration, solicitude, and danger.

38. Conversion is certainly an arduous undertaking for those who have allowed the passions to become domesticated in their souls, by long indulgence and inveterate habits. But they who day by day strengthen these vicious habits by fresh indulgence, must either have plunged into despair in their fall from their first fervour and piety, or have derived no benefit from their retirement from the world. The Almighty alone, whose power is infinite, can deliver them from this abyss.

39. Certain persons proposed, one day, a question very difficult of solution, and one which I never met with in any work at my command. First, what other vices spring from the eight deadly sins? And then, which three of these sins give birth to the other five? Upon the acknowledgment of my ignorance, they said: “Intemperance is the mother of lust, and vainglory of sloth. Anger and the resentment of injuries are the children of three other of the capital vices, pride, avarice, and envy. Vainglory, which we said, begets sloth, and is also the parent of pride.

40. I wished further to learn, what other vices owe their origin to the eight deadly sins, and from which of the eight each one is particularly derived. They replied with much sweetness and serenity, that we must not look for order and union amongst the disorderly passions. This they proved by various arguments, both plausible and persuasive, which I will briefly mention and submit to your judgment. Dissolute and untimely laughter at one time proceeds from inconstancy, at another, from vainglory, when for instance, we boast of ourselves, and glory in our own deeds.

41. Excessive drowsiness arises sometimes from luxury or good cheer, sometimes from fasting, (when they who fast make a boast of their abstemiousness), sometimes from sloth, and sometimes from weak nature.

42. Scurrility, or foolish talking, is at one time the offspring of intemperance, at another of vainglory.

43. Sloth is now the effect of the delicate tenderness with which we treat our bodies; and then the want of the fear of God.

44. Blasphemous thoughts are the natural-born children of pride. They may also spring from the rash judgments we form of our neighbour, or from the malignant envy of the devils.

45. Hardness of heart is many times brought on by gluttony, but more frequently by insensibility towards holy things, through our criminal attachment to that which is perishable. This attachment, again, is at one time an offshoot of lust, at another of avarice, or intemperance, or vainglory.

46. Malice derives its origin from vanity or anger.

47. Hypocrisy is born of complacency in our own actions, and of a vain confidence in our own power.

48. The virtues are the opponents of the vices, and spring from very different sources. But were I to treat of each one separately, time would fail me. It will suffice for me to say, that humility is the extermination of all the vices which I have named; and that they who possess this virtue have obtained over their enemies a complete victory.

49. Sensual pleasure and malice are the parents of all evils. He who is ruled by these two adversaries of his salvation, cannot see God. And it will avail little to conquer the former, if we do not, likewise, subdue the latter.

50. Let the fear in which we stand of kings, and of the fury of wild beasts, be the exemplar of the fear in which we stand of God’s Majesty. And the love which worldlings bear to earthly beauty, should be the model of that love which we entertain for the Sovereign and Infinite Beauty. For we may lawfully turn the passions to profit, by drawing from them examples to virtue.

51. The religious state in these times, has fallen much from its primitive purity. It is now full of pride and hypocrisy. We may, perhaps, witness the exterior actions of virtue, the corporal austerities of penance, practised by our saintly forefathers. But God does not now bestow those wonderful gifts and graces with which He favoured the solitaries of former ages, though in no age, in my humble opinion, was there greater need of these extraordinary blessings, than in these days of depravity. And surely, it is with justice, that the Almighty has withholden from us these His choicest favours, since He does not reveal Himself to those who practise merely exterior mortifications, such as we perform, but to those who possess simplicity and humility, in which we have made little proficiency. For although, according to the Apostle,4 Jesus Christ is sometimes pleased to let the power of His grace shine forth in weak nature, in enabling it to perform self-denial and mortification, otherwise impossible; nevertheless, God loves no one so much as the humble; for the humble and contrite heart, says the Royal Prophet, He will never despise.5

52. When one of the soldiers of Christ falls, let us not maliciously seek to discover the cause of his fall, as if it were a punishment of God for his former misconduct. No, let us, on the contrary, exercise towards him kindness and charity, and embrace him with the tenderness of a brother, who forms with us but one body, a companion who has been wounded in battle, and let us exert ourselves to bind up his wounds and restore him to health.

53. God permits certain diseases, that by their means the soul may be cleansed from its defilements.

54. There are occasions, when our infinitely good God, seeing solitaries slow and timid in mortifying themselves by works of penance, sends them sickness to beat down and humble the flesh, and to purify their souls from all disorderly affection.

55. Some will receive with generous thankfulness, whatever is intended for their humiliation, whether visible or invisible; others repel such humiliation with anger, and others treat it with an indifference equally removed from the virtue of the first, and the violence of the second. I once saw three brothers ill treated at the same time. One resented the ill treatment with indignation and bitterness; another endured it with impatience and sadness; but the third received it with delight and satisfaction.

56. I have seen spiritual husbandmen scatter seed upon the earth with very different intentions. One thought only of discharging, by the fruit of his labours, his own debts (the penitent); another sought to increase his present riches (the innocent); another to render honour to his Divine Master by the harvest he should reap (the perfect); another to be praised by travelers, who would notice the excellency of his husbandry (the vain); another to mortify his enemy the devil; another not to be blamed by men as idle and negligent (the slave of human respect). Now what is the seed of these spiritual husbandmen? It is fasting, watching, alms-deeds, and the various duties of the monastery. Religious persons, whether monks or solitaries, should examine, by the light of the Holy Spirit, and with as much exactitude as discretion, their purpose or intention in sowing this seed.

57. In drawing water from a well, we sometimes see young frogs floating on its surface, as we pour it into the pitcher, so in the practice of virtue, we sometimes draw up together with our good actions, various imperfections and vices. Intemperance, for instance, is found blended with hospitality; sensual love with divine charity; shrewdness with discretion; malice with prudence; trickery, sloth, contradiction, and self-love with meekness; the presumptuous esteem of our own erudition and ability with silence; vanity with joy, idleness with hope, rash judgment with fraternal charity, tepidity with solitude, sternness with chastity, and too much confidence in our own power with humility. Of vainglory, we may, indeed, assert, that it is a poison which more or less infects all the virtues of which we have spoken.

58. Let us not be grieved if God defers to grant the favour we earnestly solicit. For without doubt He would wish that all men should be set free from their passions and become perfect in a moment, if this would be profitable for their salvation.

59. When they who ask a favour from God do not immediately receive the object of their prayers, the reason may be assigned to one of these causes, either they ask before the appointed time, or in an improper manner, or with presumption, or for a gift that would fill them with vanity, or render them negligent when in their possession.

60. No one, I suppose, will deny that the demons, as well as the passions, sometimes leave the soul temporarily, and sometimes for ever. But as few know the reasons of this retirement, I here mention five.

61. The first; the passions are sometimes suppressed not only in the hearts of the faithful, but even of the unfaithful, if we except pride, which remains behind, and holds the place of all the rest; as it is the first and the greatest, since it precipitated the angels from their principalities in heaven.

62. The second; the material of the passions, which is nothing but the corruption of our concupiscence, is utterly destroyed, root and branch, by the fire of divine love. When the soul has been thus purified, the passions are lulled to rest for ever, if we do not take measures to revive them, by returning with a perverse and degenerate will to the yoke of concupiscence.

63. The third; the demons sometimes withdraw from us in order to soothe us into a fatal security of our salvation, that when we have become bold and confident, they may attack us to greater advantage.

64. The fourth; these ferocious beasts retire from the soul when it is so immersed in vice that its vicious habits have become chains of brass, as difficult to be broken asunder, or shaken off, as nature itself. Therefore it is, in this case, its own most powerful tempter, its own worst enemy. We may form an idea how fearfully custom fetters sinners with the bands of sin, from the practice of infants, weaned from the mother’s breast, sucking their fingers instead of the nipple.

65. The fifth; the passions retire before that holy simplicity and innocence which are derived from grace, and not from nature. Hence the exclamation of holy David: “My help is from the Lord, who saveth the upright of heart.”6

66. Malice and the vicious propensities were not planted originally in the nature of man. For God is not the author of sin. There are, however, inclinations in man which we may term natural virtues, such are manifestly compassion for the poor and miserable, (a virtue with which pagans were endowed); affection and tenderness, (even irrational animals seem sorrowful and afflicted when separated from one another); faith, which induces us to believe whatever is supported by credible evidence; and lastly, hope, since whether we have received baptism or not, we put out our money to interest, or take a voyage, or cast seed into the ground, with the hope of deriving in due time a satisfactory profit and advantage. If, then. the natural love within us may be termed a virtue, may be called natural charity, and if divine or supernatural charity is the bond of perfection, the fulfillment of the law,7 it follows that charity, as well as faith and hope, as they are theological virtues in the Christian religion, are not so far removed from the innate principles of our nature as others we shall speak of by and by; and that they, therefore, who allege their inability to believe in God, to hope in Him, and to love Him, ought to blush and be filled with confusion.

67. But with respect to chastity, meekness, humility, prayer, watching, fasting, perpetual compunction, these are virtues not favoured by the inclinations of nature. Some of these latter virtues we have learned from the example of men, others from angels, and others from the doctrine and life of the Eternal Word, our Lord Jesus Christ. He has, likewise, bestowed them upon us by His divine grace.

68. Of many evils, all of which we cannot avoid, let us choose the least. When, for instance, we are engaged in prayer, and our brethren come to speak to us upon business, and we must either leave our prayers or displease our brothers, charity should be preferred to prayer, because prayer is only a single virtue, whereas charity, according to universal suffrage, contains all virtues.

69. It sometimes happened that when I went fasting to a town or village, I had no sooner sat down to table than I was assailed both by intemperance and vanity. Dreading the pernicious consequences of intemperance, I preferred the lesser evil of vanity in eating but little. For I knew that in young people the demon of intemperance usually overcomes the demon of vainglory. And let us not be astonished, for as avarice with people of the world is the root of all evil, so with religious and with solitaries, intemperance is the source of their vices.

70. The wisdom and goodness of God are admirably displayed in permitting religious and pious persons to be subject to imperfections and trivial faults, that they may practise continual and severe self-condemnation, and acquire by these failings and humiliations an interior confusion, the friend of humility, which can never become the prey of demons.

71. It is impossible for any one, who does not at the commencement of his religious solitude practise obedience, to attain humility. Since they who wish to have no other master but their own will, in learning any art or science, follow but their own fancy, and not the proper rules of their handicraft or profession.

72. The holy Fathers have comprised all the virtues of a religious life within these two, temperance and humility. And certainly with good reason, since temperance retrenches all sensual pleasures, and humility guards and preserves this retrenchment, by keeping down all elevation and presumption of the mind. Hence, also, the sorrow of repentance has two special qualities, the one cuts off from the heart the corruption of sin, the other produces in the heart sentiments of perfect humility.

73. Persons of ordinary piety will bestow alms upon those who ask them. They who are more generous will exercise their liberality upon those who do not solicit their charity. But they who have acquired perfect tranquility of mind, by their detachment from all things earthly, never trouble themselves about that which has been taken from them, though they may have the means of recovering it within their power.

74. Let us never intermit our examination of both our vices and virtues, to the end that by this interior scrutiny we may know what progress we have made in virtue; whether we have scarcely advanced beyond the entrance of this holy career, or traversed a considerable portion of it, or happily reached the goal.

75. All the battles which the demons fight against us proceed from three causes; from our love of that which flatters sensuality, from our pride, or from their envy of our happiness. They who provoke the envy of the devils are truly happy. The proud are equally miserable. The slaves of sensual pleasure will continue the butt of demons, as long as they grovel in the mire, and refuse the yoke of mortification and penance.

76. God gives us a special grace, which is termed patience in the endurance of all kinds of labours and sorrows. He who possesses this virtue finds nothing too hard or poignant. This spirit of constancy and heroic firmness formerly animated the martyrs to despise every torment employed to shake their fortitude.

77. The difference between vigilance over our thoughts and the guardianship of our hearts is this, the former is the rejection of vain and unprofitable thoughts, the latter the ever-abiding sense of God’s presence.

78. To beseech God to deliver us from bad thoughts, to repel bad thoughts by dwelling upon those which are good and holy, and to conquer bad thoughts by treating them with contempt, are three distinct things. The first is represented to us by holy David in these words: “O God, come to my assistance;”8 the second, “So shall I answer them that reproach me in any thing, that I have trusted in thy words.9 Things set on fire, and dug down, shall perish at the rebuke of thy countenance;”10 and the third, “I have set a guard to my mouth, when the sinner stood against me. I was dumb, and was humbled, and kept silence from good things.”11 He who wishes to resist bad thoughts by good and pious ones, will often be obliged to have recourse to prayer. For he is not always well prepared for these assaults of the wicked spirits. He who fights with prayer alone cannot employ the same strength and power of resistance. He must abide in prayer as in a secure asylum. The third breaks through all the snares of the infernal spirits, by treating them with absolute contempt.

79. It is impossible for that which is incorporeal, such as are the subtle temptations of the devil, to be fully comprehended by a corporeal being. But all things are possible to him who possesses God, and is enlightened by His Holy Spirit.

80. As they whose olfactory nerves are good quickly detect the scent of perfumes in persons that use them, so divine grace, by the purity which it establishes in the soul, gives to it a power of quickly discovering in others the good odour of virtue, or the bad odour of the criminal passions, although others, with equally good natural perception, perceive nothing either bad or good.

81. It is impossible, perhaps, that all should attain to that blessed peace of soul which completely detaches it from everything earthly and perishable. But it is not impossible for all to be reconciled to God and to be saved.

82. Be not ruled by proud and lofty thoughts, which instigate you to the vain and presumptuous curiosity of prying into the ineffable secrets of Divine Providence in its guidance of souls, and which fill you with envy of the extraordinary revelations and visions bestowed upon certain of His servants, lest you should rashly believe that with God there is exception of persons. For such thoughts are from pride, and certainly can claim no other father.

83. Avarice sometimes hides itself behind the veil of a false humility. The demon of vainglory, and the demon of lust, induce their votaries to be generous in almsgiving. We should endeavour, therefore, to purify our hearts from these various kinds of corruption, that everywhere, and on every occasion, we may practise charity with the security of a right motive.

84. Some have said that demons are opposed to demons, and fight with one another. This, at least, I know well, that they all seek our ruin.

85. All our spiritual exercises, whether interior or exterior, are always preceded by a resolution and desire of their accomplishment. But this resolution and this desire are the effects of God’s grace, which acts in us and with us in this performance of virtue. For if these three causes do not combine, viz, the resolution of the mind, the desire of the heart, and the grace of God, there will be no good work.

86. If, according to the Wise man, “All things have their season; and in their times all things pass under heaven;”12 and if that which regards our salvation is something sacred, and included in the expression “passes under heaven,” let us attentively consider what our conduct should be at different seasons, and what is the appropriate time for each particular action. For it is certain that they who are engaged in the warfare of a religious life, have their moments of peace, their hour of struggle and danger from the passions, and that the Almighty tempers these things according to their strength and advancement in virtue. There is a time to weep; a time of drought; a time of obedience; a time to command; a time of fasting; a time of refreshment; a time to wrestle with our domestic enemy, the body; a time when the fever of sensuality is unto death; a time when the soul is in a storm; a time of calm and sunshine; a time of sadness of mind; a time of spiritual joy; a time to teach; a time of sickness, perhaps in punishment of our pride; a time of purity of body in reward of purity of mind; a time to fight; a time of peace; a time of retirement; a time to be busy in temporal occupations; without losing interior recollection of God; a time to pray with assiduity and fervour; and a time to be employed with a lively interest in the duties of the monastery. Let us, therefore, be careful not to be engaged in anything out of its proper time, through a rash and presumptuous zeal. Let us not seek in winter the fruits which are ripe only in summer, nor look for the harvest when we are but sowing the seed; for there is a time to sow the corn of penitential labours and austerities, and a time to enjoy the ineffable consolations of divine grace. But if we anticipate the time when God is pleased to grant these favours, we shall not garner our harvest at the proper season.

87. By a mysterious dispensation of Divine Providence some receive their reward before they begin their labours, others whilst in the midst of them, and many when their toils and fatigues are ended. We will not determine which of these are the most humble.

88. Despair, arising from the multitude and grievousness of sin, presses upon the conscience with an insupportable weight and sadness, so that the soul seeing itself one mass of wounds, and clogged and dragged down on every side by heinous crimes, precipitates itself into the gulf of perdition. Pride and presumption are likewise the cause of despair. This is the case when we fall into some heinous transgression, and fancy that we have not deserved so great a misfortune. The first kind of despair induces its victim to plunge recklessly into all kinds of sin; the second does not withhold its slave from the exercises of religion, but it deprives him of all hope of salvation. The former may be overcome by abstaining from whatever leads to vicious habits, and by a firm confidence in God’s mercy; the latter may be dispelled by humility, and by refraining from rash judgment.

89. We must not be astonished if a person’s fair words do not always correspond with his actions, since it was much more wonderful to see an angel forfeit his happiness in the midst of Paradise, a bright spirit transformed into an ugly devil by the daring pretensions of pride.

90. The rule to be followed in our works, whether of our own prompting, or required by obedience, is to see that they be done according to the will of God. If, for instance, in the performance of an undertaking with zeal and energy, we derive therefrom no increase of humility, it has not, I should say, been done according to the will of our heavenly Master. Humility in novices is a certain sign that their actions are conformable to the divine pleasure of God. In the more advanced this criterion is the establishment of peace in their souls, and the termination of their wrestling with the flesh and the devil. But in the perfect the assurance of God’s will is in the increase and superabundance of divine light.

91. Virtues which are deemed little by great souls, may not be so in themselves. But those which are esteemed great by weak minds, are not always either great or eminent.

92. When the sky is serene we behold the sun in all his splendour. In like manner, when the soul is free from the dark clouds of criminal habits, and has obtained from God the pardon of her sins, she sees her interior illuminated with a peaceful and heavenly brightness.

93. The violation of the commandments of God, the insensibility of the soul, which renders it averse to the exercises of piety, and the negligence which renders it languishing and cowardly in the performance of these exercises are distinct from their actions. Let him who has received the light of the Holy Spirit in these profound matters, instruct his brethren.

94. Some believe that the greatest grace and happiness of this life is, to have the power of working miracles, and to appear in the sight of others distinguished by these supernatural gifts. But they are not aware that there are many graces far more excellent, and which we possess with far greater security, and with less danger of losing them, when we keep them as much concealed as possible.

95. He who is perfectly pure of heart, sees by an intellectual vision the condition of his neighbour’s soul, though he sees not the soul itself. But he who has not this high perfection, forms his judgment of others from their exterior actions.

96. The smallest spark is sufficient to set on fire the largest forest, so the smallest aperture which a light fault may make in vain souls, is sufficient to ruin the fruit of their labours.

97. Although there is enmity between the flesh and the spirit, yet a consolation conceded to the flesh may sometimes refresh the strength and activity of the soul, without enkindling the fire of concupiscence. Great bodily labour, on the contrary, will sometimes incite the flesh to rebellion. All this is permitted that we may not confide in ourselves but in God, who, by the secret ways of His Spirit and His grace, mortifies and checks within us the ardour of concupiscence, when it is most troublesome.

98. When we observe in any one a love for us according to God, let us be careful not to be too familiar, too free, for there is nothing which sooner unties the bonds of friendship, and changes affection into aversion, than this over fondness.

99. The eye of the mind is keen and farseeing, and surpasses in the power of penetration and the extent of its vision, the sight of all creatures save the angels. Hence, even those who are carried away by their passions often perceive the thoughts of others by the affection which they bear towards them, particularly when they are not addicted to sensuality. True, indeed, it is, that nothing is more opposed to that which is spiritual and immaterial, than that which is carnal and sensual. The prudent and judicious reader will readily draw the conclusion I intend from these premises.

100. The superstitious observations by which people in the world wish to divine future events, are an insult to God’s Providence. For those who have retired from the world, such forbidden practices are an obstacle to the light of heaven, and the attainment of spiritual knowledge.

101. Persons weak in virtue should believe that, in sending them bodily sickness, God visits them with the testimony of His special favour, and that, in allowing them to experience temporal misfortunes and calamities, He wishes to try and prove them by these exterior temptations. But it is in the presence of the Holy Spirit, and in the increase of His heavenly gifts in their hearts, that the perfect are to recognize the visits of the Almighty.

102. When we retire to rest the devil troubles the mind with wicked and sensual thoughts, that, in our supineness and torpor we may not have recourse to the armour of prayer, but sleep with these thoughts roving in the mind, and may entertain bad dreams.

103. There is one amongst the demons called the courier, who comes to tempt us the moment we are awake, and to corrupt the purity of our first thoughts. Consecrate, therefore, to your Creator the first breathings of the mind, the first fruits of the day. For the day will belong to him who is first in possession. An eminent servant of God once said to me these memorable words: From the state in which I find myself in the morning, I can judge what will be my disposition during the rest of the day.

104. Many ways lead to piety, and many to perdition. Hence it happens that persons anxious to serve God, may be walking in different paths, to the attainment of their object, and that God, who regards the heart, accepts their good intention and desire to please Him.

105. In our afflictions the devils will often fight with us more fiercely, that they may constrain us in our anguish to utter complaints unworthy of a religious life. If we resist these open assaults, they will then covertly endeavour to persuade us to render God the haughty and ungracious thanks of the Pharisee.

106. They who during life have their conversation in heaven, by the purity of their mind, will ascend to that blessed kingdom at their death. They who are attached and wedded to the earth, will at death sink beneath the earth. For there are no other places of final destination but heaven and hell. It is wonderful to see the soul at its creation united to the body, and dwelling in the body as in a mansion, and not subsisting of itself like the angels, yet subsisting without the body after death.

107. These holy parents, faith, hope, and charity, have holy children. It is God who gives existence to these parents. But the vices of intemperance, avarice, and vainglory, give birth to a brood of vipers. And the devil is the father of these prolific vices.

108. Moses forbad those who were timid or cowardly to go to battle. By this appointment of the ancient law, we may learn, that those who have offended against chastity, in a monastery, must not retire into the desert, lest they should not have courage to combat with the devils alone, and their cowardliness should throw them into despair, and their last state become worse than the first.

109. The thirsty stag seeks not with greater impatience the refreshing waters of the fountain, than the solitaries to know what is the holy will of God in their own particular conduct, and to discern not only that which is entirely conformable, or totally opposed to, but that which is partially in unison, or partially at variance with, this divine will. We have much to say upon this subject, much that is difficult, in order to know what is in our power at present, and what to defer to some future occasion, without the guilt of procrastination. For, “delay not,” says the Wise man, “to be converted to the Lord, and defer it not from day to day.”13 Again, to know what we must do at all times with great caution and circumspection, according to the further advice of Divine Wisdom: “War is managed by due ordering; and there shall be safety where there are many counsels.”14 The great Apostle of the Gentiles exhorts us to “let all things be done decently, and according to order.”15 For it belongs not to all, I repeat, to discern with as much promptitude as prudence, matters which are difficult of discernment, since holy David, though guided by the Spirit of God, frequently besought this gift in his fervent prayers. “O Lord,” he says, “to Thee have I fled. Teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God....Make the way known to me wherein I should walk; for I have lifted up my soul to Thee,”16 in detaching it from all the cares and affections of this life.

110. Every one who is desirous of knowing the will of God, must first renounce his own will. When he has prayed to the Almighty with a lively faith, and innocent simplicity, let him consult his fathers and brothers, with a humble mind and firm confidence in their judgement; and let him hearken to their advice as to the counsel of God, even when it is opposed to his own opinion and inclination, and those who he has consulted are not very spiritual persons. For God is too just to permit those who, with a firm faith and holy simplicity, submit to the judgment of others, to be deceived. Though they who are consulted may not be distinguished for their intelligence and discretion, yet it is God who, in an intellectual and invisible manner speaks by their mouth. They who walk in this path, who follow this rule without hesitation, are perfectly humble. If David employed his harp17 in giving utterance to his thoughts and prophecies, should you not believe that a rational and enlightened soul can speak or suggest things more profitably that the cords of an instrument?

111. There are many, unfortunately, who, by a too great complacency in their own judgment, and by not adopting this humble and virtuous conduct so easy, so holy, have been constrained to seek by themselves and in themselves that which is pleasing to God, and have handed down to us methods of acquiring this salutary discernment very different from those which we have suggested.

112. There are others who, desirous of knowing the will of God in particular circumstances, have renounced their evil ways, and when they had presented to Him all the thoughts of their mind, harassed by contending interests, have besought, during several days of fervent prayer, and with a heart free from prejudice and self-will, His heavenly guidance, and have had a clear indication of His will, whether by the communication of a celestial spirit in a language purely spiritual, or by the oblivion of their former contentions, which left behind them a determination of soul in strict conformity to the appointments of Divine Providence.

113. Others have concluded, from the very troubles and difficulties with which they were annoyed, that what they had undertaken was in unison with the will of God, according to the example of the Apostle: “For we would have come unto you, I Paul, indeed, once and again, but Satan hath hindered us.”18

114. Some, again, have thought from the unexpected assistance which they received from heaven in the execution of their design, that it was agreeable to the Divine Will, according to the maxim, that God co-operates with those who are anxious to perform any good work.

115. He who by divine illumination entertains God in his soul, ordinarily receives without delay indications of the divine pleasure, whether in matters of urgency, or in those which may be deferred to a future day. And these indications, like the former we mentioned, are the unexpected succours vouchsafed by heaven.

116. It is a sign that the mind is not enlightened by divine light, but filled with vanity, when it wavers and is irresolute in its judgments, and cannot determine upon action.

117. God is just, and will not close the gate of mercy against those who possess the virtue of humility.

118. We should in all circumstances examine before God what is our intention and our end, as well in that which is to be executed promptly, and in that which may be postponed. For when we act with purity of heart, entirely free from passion and interest, and for God alone, although the deeds themselves may not be strictly holy, yet God will recompense the upright motive through which they were performed.

119. Such is the object of our research and examination before God. But if we pry too eagerly into the secrets of His divine will, our inquisitiveness will have a fatal termination. The judgments of God are as impenetrable as they are ineffable. By a wise dispensation of His Providence, He often conceals from us His holy will, because He foresees that if we knew it we should not obey it; consequently, our knowledge would but draw down upon us the severer chastisements of His justice.

120. An upright heart preserves its purity amidst the multiplied occupations and distractions of life; and its innocent simplicity is a vessel in which it sails on the ocean of life securely.

121. There are brave and generous Christians who, through their love of God and the humbleness of their heart, undertake the performance of deeds above their strength. Proud spirits will likewise attempt similar achievements. For the devil often induces men to undertake that which is above their power, that falling into languor and depression at their failure, they may neglect those things which are really proportioned to their strength and ability, and thereby expose themselves to the derision of the enemies of their salvation.

122. I have seen those who, as weak in mind as they were strong and vigorous in body, endeavour to repair their past relapses into sin and multiplied offences, by austerities far too severe, and which they were unable to continue. I gave them this counsel, that God would not judge of the merit of their penance by the greatness of their mortification, but by the depth of their humility.

123. Education is sometimes the cause of the very greatest evils we commit, and is then a very bad companion. But frequently, the self-corruption of the soul is alone sufficient for its perdition. He who has obtained his freedom from the first and second of these evils, is, perhaps, delivered from the third. But he whose soul is corrupted, is thoroughly diseased in every part. For no place could be more secure than heaven, yet the angels perished by their own self-pride and moral deformity.

124. When infidels and heretics dispute with us through contention and malice, let us be satisfied with representing to them once or twice their error and departure from the truth, without further disputation. But if any have a sincere desire to be acquainted with the truth, let us not fail to give them necessary and salutary instruction. we should deal, however, both with the one and the other, accordingly as we find our heart and mind strengthened in the knowledge and belief of the mysteries of faith.

125. He who, being deficient in understanding and judgment, should undertake to relate the virtues of the saints, who were elevated to a supernatural state, would expose himself to despair. But the exalted deeds of such holy servants of God may be useful to us, either by animating our courage to an imitation of their heroic achievements, or by impressing us with sentiments of humility, with the wholesome knowledge of ourselves, and with the interior view of our own weakness.

126. Some of the spirits of darkness are more wicked than others. And these more malicious demons are not content with simply inducing us to sin, but they would make us decoys, whereby to draw others into the same evil ways as ourselves. I have seen a person who, by his example, had enticed another into vicious habits, and who afterwards became sincerely sorry, and did penance for his sin. But in punishment of the scandal which he had given, he had not sufficient strength and resolution to persevere in, and complete his repentance.

127. Certainly the malice of the demons is great, and their fecundity in mischief almost inconceivable. It is known to few only, and to these few in part only. For whence comes it that, in feasting on delicacies and eating to satiety, we are as wakeful as if we were very temperate; whilst, on the contrary, in fasting and in the practice of austerities, we are drowsy and overpowered by sleep? How, pray, does it happen that, living alone in the wilderness, we experience our heart to be as dry and as hard as a stone; yet, when in company with others, we are melted with the tenderest compunction? To what cause must we attribute this strange effect of being troubled with dreams whilst we are suffering from hunger, and of being exempt from these annoyances whilst partaking of good cheer? In short, how can we account for the darkness and obscurity with which our minds are clouded, during our poverty and sobriety, whilst we feel very religious and very penitent for our sins, whilst enjoying the bowl? Let him who has received from the Almighty light to discover the hidden causes of strange effects, instruct his brethren. For myself I plead ignorance. I do, however, feel assured, that they do not always proceed from the spirits of darkness, but sometimes from the corruption inherent in that body of flesh and blood, by which the soul is so mysteriously surrounded.

128. Let us have recourse to prayer in the discernment of this matter, so intimately connected with our welfare. When after this holy exercise our sorrow and trouble still continue, we may be assured that they do not proceed from the devil, but from nature. For the Providence and goodness of God frequently work for our eternal welfare in a manner which seems directly opposed to our interest, the more effectively to subdue our vanity.

129. Beware of prying into the unfathomable secrets of the Almighty, for the curious in this respect expose themselves to great danger through their presumption and vanity. We offer a few words upon this subject to the feeble of mind.

130. A very spiritual person was asked, why God favoured certain individuals with extraordinary gifts, even to the performance of miracles, though He foresaw that they would presently fall? He replied: “God does this that spiritual persons may learn from these examples to be upon their guard; that all persons may be convinced that the human will is free, and that they who fall into sin after these great favours may be without excuse at the day of judgment.”

131. As the ancient law was imperfect, it merely said: “Take heed to thyself that thou fall not.”19 But our Lord, who is perfection itself, not only recommends us to have a care of our own salvation, but likewise that of our neighbours, according to the words of the Gospel: “If thy brother shall offend against thee, go and rebuke him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother.”20 If you cannot give a sincere and humble reprehension, which would appear to your brother in the light of charitable advice, at least obey the law in watching over yourself.

132. Be not astonished if your best friends, through your chiding, become your enemies. For such light minds are instruments which the devil employs in making war upon men, but principally upon the virtuous, who are his unceasing opponents.

133. God, who is all-powerful, and His good angels cooperate with us in the performance of virtue, whilst but one demon is our helpmate in sin, yet to my great surprise we are more disposed and prompted to do evil than good. Would that I were able to dive into this matter more profoundly.

134. If created beings have ordinarily no other state but that which is conformable to their nature, how, then, asks St. Gregory Nazianzen, (Orat. 16) is my soul fashioned to the likeness of God, so blended and kneaded together with the clay of my body? And if in this state contrary to nature, it experiences a strong and enduring inclination towards that to which it is adapted, what efforts should not the soul make, what skill should it not employ, to purify the clay of the body, and elevate it even to the throne of the Most High? Let no one excuse himself by alleging that it is difficult to ascend to this elevation. For the way which conducts to heaven is before us, and the gate is open for our reception. The admirable example of the holy Fathers animates the spirit with a holy and earnest emulation, and the heavenly doctrine to be found in their writings stirs us up to a zealous imitation of their virtues.

135. Discretion is a lamp which enlightens the soul, and strengthens the mental vision. It is the guide to direct our feet in the paths of peace and truth.

136. He who is endowed with the gift of discretion, is eminently skillful, both in the examination of diseases, and in the application of remedies.

137. They who admire in others the most trifling virtue, commit this extravagant adulation, either from ignorance or from a wish to debase themselves by praising and extolling their neighbours.

138. Let us put forth all our courage in not only struggling with the spirits of darkness, but in assuming the offensive and carrying war into their territories. He who is content with repelling his spiritual enemies will, indeed, sometimes wound them, but will in turn be himself wounded. But he who anticipates their assaults by an energetic onslaught, will put them to flight and obtain the victory.

139. As many victories as we gain over our passions, so many wounds do we inflict upon the demons. Even the pious address by which we feign to be subject to our passions, deceives these infernal spirits, and renders us invincible against all their efforts. A solitary who had been treated ignominiously by his brethren, and who felt no anger arise in his heart, but offered himself to God by the interior prayer of his mind, outwardly began to complain of the injury he had received, concealing by his feigned impatience the true meekness and tranquility of his soul.

140. Another religious, who, through sincere humility, believed himself unworthy of the first place, pretended to desire it with great eagerness.

141. What shall I say of the purity of Paphnutius, who, like one bent upon offending God, entered the house of Thais, the sinner and seducer of souls, that he might withdraw her from her wickedness, and consecrate her to God by a penitential and religious life?

142. Another solitary. to whom. at dawn of day, was brought a bunch of grapes, no sooner saw himself alone than he eat them with apparent avidity, that by this assumed intemperance he might seem a glutton to the spirits of darkness.

143. A solitary having lost some dates, pretended to be grievously afflicted during the whole of the day. But they who act in this manner must be very cautious, lest whilst they are thus making sport of the demons, they themselves be not deluded by these spiteful enemies. For the Apostle says of good and virtuous Christians, “They are deceivers and yet true.”21

144. If any one is desirous of offering to God a chaste body, and a pure heart, let him preserve with great care the spirit of meekness in opposition to anger, and temperance in opposition to sensuality, since without these two virtues all his efforts and labours will be fruitless.

145. As light affects the eyes of men in various ways, so does the Sun of Righteousness shed upon the soul a variety of illuminations. At one time He softens them into penitential tears, which gush from the eyes of the body; at another, by the interior sighs and lamentations of the soul. Now He enables them to understand the Holy Scriptures, or comforts them with inward delight; then He speaks to them in the repose of solitude, or by holy obedience. Besides these several kinds of illumination, there is the special one of ecstasy, which introduces the soul into the presence of Jesus Christ in a mysterious manner, and fills it with spiritual and ineffable light.

146. Some virtues may be termed the offspring, others the parents. It is of these parent virtues that the wise and the prudent strive to become the masters. God, by the efficacious power of His grace, impresses a knowledge of them on the heart, whilst the virtues which descend from these may be taught us by persons well instructed in their religion.

147. Let us be careful not to give way to drowsiness during our fasts, under the plea of consoling our body by slumber. Let us be equally careful not to eat much during our watchfulness, under the pretence of fortifying the body, and enabling it to bear mortification with patience. In such performances discretion should be our mistress.

148. I have seen the servants of God, after having, on some particular occasion, partaken of more food than usual, and relaxed their usual austerity, adopt the resolution, as generous as it was holy, of spending the whole night in an upright posture. By this means they punished the cravings of the appetite, and experienced from it no longer any pain; on the contrary, they felt an inward joy from the conviction that they could now restrain themselves within the bounds of temperance.

149. The devil wages a cruel warfare against those who have embraced voluntary poverty, through love of Jesus Christ. And when he cannot induce them to abandon it on their own account, he persuades them to do so for the benefit of the poor, by engaging these religious persons in the profane commerce of the world.

150. Let us remember, every time we are sad and discouraged at the recollection of our sins, that Christ enjoined St. Peter to pardon seventy times, and that He will forgive us many more offences than we forgive others. But when we are tempted to vanity at the thought of our purity of heart, let us remember the words of St. Iakovos: “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, but offend in one point,” for instance, that of vainglory, “is guilty of all.”22

151. Amongst the spirits of darkness, equally envious and malicious, some do not wish to assault holy souls, through fear that if they do not conquer, they will but augment by their own defeat the glory of these just servants of God in heaven.

152. Peacemakers amongst brethren are truly happy in the estimation of every one. But I have seen those who procured discord and variance amongst brethren happy likewise. For two persons loving each other with an unlawful affection, one of the most enlightened and most virtuous of the fathers took upon himself to cause their mutual aversion, by saying to each of them separately, that he was spoken ill of by the other. Thus this wise physician rendered the skill of man superior to the malice of the demons, and broke asunder the bonds of that unhappy affection, by the substitution of a salutary hatred.

153. As the marriage ceremony is the contrast of the funeral service, so is pride of despair; nevertheless, such is the ingenious malice of the devils, that they sometimes unite these strange and discordant passions.

154. Amongst these evil spirits there are some who interpret the Holy Scriptures to persons that enter the state of holy religion. They do so chiefly for vain persons and such as are eminent for human learning, that, deceiving them little by little, they may finally plunge them into heresy and blasphemy. We may know these diabolical interpretations, these fantastical and not theological discourses, when the soul experiences an interior uneasiness, an indiscreet and immoderate joy at the time that we are interpreting the Sacred Oracles.

155. God has appointed all things in their proper order, and assigned to them their proper end. But virtue has no limit but the limitation of life. The Royal Prophet exclaims: “I have seen an end of all perfection,” that is, of human things; “Thy commandment is exceeding broad;”23 that is, without measurement or limitation. And this is truly the case since many servants of God pass from the virtues of an active to those of a contemplative life, for charity never ceases its activity in the breast which it inflames. The Lord “keepeth thy coming in,” which is the fear of His judgments, “and thy going out,”24 which is the love of His infinite goodness. Is it not true, then, that the possession of this love is without limits, without end, since we never cease to make progress, for the light of our knowledge will for ever receive augmentation? Though what I assert may appear in the minds of many a paradox; yet, dearly venerated father, I fear not to draw this consequence; the angels remain not in the same precise state; if their glory and their knowledge go on increasing during the endless ages of eternity.

156. Be not astonished if the demons often inspire us with good thoughts, and then fight against these thoughts; for their object by this artifice is to persuade us that they penetrate the most secret thoughts of our hearts.

157. Do not judge too severely those whom you see teaching important truths in their discourse, but faintly carrying out their doctrine in practice. For the utility of their instruction atones for the deficiency of their performances.

158. We have not all an equal share of the gifts of the soul. For some excel in speech more than in action, whilst others can do much but say little.

159. God is not the author of sin. Hence it is a deception to suppose that certain vices are part and parcel of our nature, since it is we ourselves, by our proneness to evil, that change our natural qualifications into vices. For example, the procreation of children in the married state is lawful, is ordained by God; but many abuse this law of their Maker by criminal and unlawful actions. Nature has furnished us with the means of showing anger and displeasure, that we may be indignant and wrathful against our infernal enemy, but we too frequently employ them against our brethren. Nature inspires us with the spirit of emulation, that we may imitate the virtues of the just; but we abuse this principle by striving to surpass the wicked in depravity. Our soul has a natural love of glory; this, however, should be the glory of heaven, and not of earth. we are prone by nature to be lifted up by pride; but this elation of mind is lawful only when it is in contempt of evil spirits. We are naturally joyful, but our joy should be our gratitude to God, and delight in our neighbour’s good actions. The remembrance of injuries is the offspring of nature; but this remembrance should extend to the injuries only inflicted by the powers of darkness. It is the law of nature that we should partake of food, but this for the preservation of life only, and not for sensuality.

160. A generous and vigilant Christian provokes the enmity of demons. The more they renew their attacks the greater number of crowns does he win by his victories. He who has never fought his enemies, has never merited from his Lord a wreath of glory. If any one, notwithstanding occasional falls, retains his courage, and valiantly continues the combat, he will receive from angels the praises due to a courageous warrior.

161. Jesus Christ rose on the third day from the dead, to die no more; and he who has conquered, at three different periods of his life, the three vices of intemperance, avarice, and vainglory, will die no more, will be buried no more in the grave of sin.

162. God, who knows how to instruct, and how to chastise us in the promotion of our welfare, permits the light of His countenance to shine upon our souls for a time, and then to leave them again in darkness. “The moon,” says the Psalmist, “He hath made for seasons; the sun knoweth his going down. Thou hast appointed darkness, and it is night; in it shall all the beasts of the woods,” that is, the passions, “go about.....The young lions roaring after their prey, and seeking their meat from God.” But when we are truly humble, “the sun ariseth, and they,” the passions, “are gathered together; and they shall lie down in their dens,”25 which are the hearts of the voluptuous. Let us, therefore, exclaim with the Prophet: “Behold, the Lord will ascend upon a swift cloud,” upon a soul soaring above the affections of the earth, “and will enter into Egypt,” into hearts that were before filled with darkness; “and the idols shall be moved at His presence,” the evil thoughts of the mind shall be dispersed.

163. If our Redeemer, though all-powerful, fled into Egypt to escape from the fury of Herod, the indiscreet and the rash may learn from this illustrious example, not to throw themselves into the way of temptation. Do not expose thyself to danger; and “behold,” says holy David, “He shall neither slumber nor sleep that keepeth Israel.”26

164. The elation of the heart clings to generosity, like the ivy entwined around the cypress.

165. Let us watch continually against the presumptuous thought that would persuade us that we are in possession of any virtue, great or small. When tempted upon this subject let us carefully consider what are the special properties of the virtue we claim, and whether these properties are really found in our hearts. By this means we shall discover our deficiency.

166. Again, when we suppose ourselves free from the passions, if we examine their several features, we shall discover that we are still subject to their influence, and even domination. This ignorance may arise from the languid state to which they have reduced us, and to the deep root which they have struck in the soul by the force of long indulged habit.

167. God is satisfied with our good will in things beyond our power. But His infinite charity requires that we should carry out our good will in things that are possible. He is great in His sight who does not fail to do all he can; but far more noble is he who, in the spirit of humility, undertakes more than he can accomplish.

168. The infernal spirits often withdraw us from that which is most easy and most beneficial to our souls, to exhaust our energies in more difficult and more laborious achievements.

169. The holy and chaste Joseph is praised in Holy Scripture for having fled from the occasion of sin, but not for having displayed the firmness of his virtue, by remaining insensible to the allurements of his mistress. It is well for us to consider from what, and from how many sins, we may win a crown by our flight. For there is a great difference between flying from the shadow and shunning the occasion of sin, and running towards the Sun of Righteousness by deeds of charity and justice.

170. The darkness which sin spreads over the soul makes it stumble. This spiritual stumbling leads to a fall, and a fall to the second and everlasting death.

171. They who are overpowered by the fumes of wine, are often brought to their sense by a draught of cold water. So they who have lost the light of divine grace through the intoxication of the impure affections, are awakened from their dangerous lethargy by the tears of true repentance.

172. The corruption which springs from evil propensities of the soul has temperance for its remedy; the depravity which arises from connection with external and worldly objects has its remedy in solitude; but the moral blindness which requires the guidance of others, is healed by obedience and the aid of divine grace.

173. A well regulated monastery is like to a fuller’s cleansing house, in which all the disagreeable odours and the foul stains of sin are washed away. The solitude of anchorites may be termed the dye-house; because, when the soul has been cleansed in a monastery from all impurity, revenge, and anger, it retires to the desert to acquire the last degree of perfection, as woollen cloth receives its colour and finish at the dye-works.

174. Some affirm that our fall into the same grievous sins arises from the deficiency of our penance, which is not in proportion to the heinousness of our offences, and that we do not expiate our sins by a real change of manners. Indeed, we may ask, if they who continually renew their sins perform a true and worthy penance? They relapse, either because they forget their former transgressions, and believe that God is too merciful to punish them, or they give way to the recklessness of despair. If I did not fear a reprimand, I would subjoin that some of these relapsing sinners can neither bind nor vanquish their enemy, because he holds them chained down beneath the yoke of his tyranny by their vicious and inveterate habits.

175. Whence is the spiritual and immaterial soul incapable, ordinarily speaking, of knowing the nature of the evil spirits, save from the union of the soul with the body, which renders it dull, and clogs it with the heavy weight of flesh and blood?

176. A solitary, one day, pressed me to tell him what the wicked spirits are, that either depress or elevate our souls in dragging us onwards to the commission of sin. Not knowing what to reply, I frankly owned my ignorance. Then he gave me the following instruction: “I will,” he said, “here furnish you with some examples of the discrimination which we ought to make in our judgment of the wicked spirits for your guidance to others. The demons of incontinency, anger, intemperance, sloth, and drowsiness, are not accustomed to excite in us the emotions of vanity. But avarice, ambition, garrulity, with many others, have, besides their own malice, the further evil of fomenting vanity and presumption. Rash judgment, too, so full of pride, is usually found in their society.”

177. If a solitary after having visited seculars, or having entertained them in his cell a considerable part of the day, experiences sadness at their departure, whereas he ought to rejoice in being delivered from company so contagious, it is a sure sign that the demon of vanity, or some other enemy, has been sporting with him.

178. Watch which way the wind blows, that you may not hoist your sails in a wrong direction.

179. Charity obliges us to mitigate the rules of austerity, in favour of those prudent and virtuous old men, who have humbled and broken down the body by the laborious exercises of a penitential life. But with respect to young persons who have defiled their souls by sin, charity compels us to restrain them within the strict bounds of temperance, and unceasingly to represent to them the greatness of the eternal torments.

180. It is not possible, as I have already observed at the very commencement of our conversion and retirement from the world, to purify our souls entirely from all intemperance and vainglory. Let us, however, take care not to combat vainglory with the weapon of intemperance, since novices in religion, who employ intemperance against vainglory, will experience from the victory thus obtained an incentive to vanity. Let us, on the contrary, employ in this warfare the secure armour of temperance.

181. The young and the old have not, when they enter the service of God, to encounter the same enemies. Hence the excellent virtue of humility, which gives solidity and efficacy to the penitence, both of the young and the old, and becomes the common and universal remedy for all their evils.

182. Be not troubled at what I am about to say; we seldom find souls that march straightforward in the way of the Lord, free from all malice, all hypocrisy, all guilefulness. The conversation of men is not in unison with the spirit of such pure souls who, of themselves with a good director, pass from the repose, the harbour of solitude, to heaven, who are always tranquil, without ever experiencing any of the troubles and scandals which sometimes agitate religious communities.

183. God sometimes employs men to cure the incontinent, and angels the malicious; but He alone can heal the proud of their fearful malady.

184. It is, perhaps, an act of charity to permit, at first, those who join us to do what they please, and to show them a gay and pleasant countenance. But we should consider well in what manner this indulgence should be granted, how long continued, and when discontinued; for penance, which is established for the destruction of sin, cannot accord with the destruction of religious discipline, since it is opposed to all kinds of relaxation.

185. We have great need of discretion, to know when, and in what circumstances, and how far, we are bound to fight against sin the particular occasions to which we are exposed, and when it is the part of wisdom to retire from the combat. For flight is sometimes better than courage, lest our weakness should yield, and we die the eternal death.

186. Let us consider with care, at what time, and in what manner, we may purify ourselves from the bitterness of anger, by the wholesome bitterness of mortification,--which are the demons that inflate the mind with presumption,--which are they that combat us, that harden our hearts, that console us, that spread over us a fatal darkness, that hold out to us false and deceitful lights, that render us slothful and stupid, or wily and treacherous, that plunge us into sadness, or lift us up with joy.

187. Let us not be astonished if we find ourselves, at the commencement of our retirement and career of piety, more harassed and troubled by our passions, than when we were living in the world. For it is necessary that the bad humours which cause sickness should be put into circulation and carried off before we can recover our health. Our passions were concealed in the obscurity of our mind, like wild beasts in the shade of the forest, and we saw them not whilst we were in the world.

188. When those who are not far from perfection, are, in some particular circumstances, conquered by the devil, in yielding to some light fault, they should employ all their address, and all their efforts, to repair their loss.

189. As the winds in gentle breezes merely ripple the surface of the ocean when it is calm, but swell its very bosom, and throw it mountains high in a tempest, so the spirits of darkness give us more or less trouble by the winds of temptation in proportion as we are more or less united to God. For they who are the slaves of passion are shaken by violent storms to their heart’s core, whilst those who have made advancement in virtue are troubled merely upon the surface of the soul, like the waves which play upon a summer’s sea. Hence their tranquility is easily restored, for they always preserve their purity of heart.

190. The perfect alone can discover what thoughts spring from their own conscience, what come from God, and what from the devil. For this adversary does not at once inspire us with thoughts directly opposed to that piety which we practice. Hence the difficulty of a right discernment in a matter surrounded by so much obscurity.


  1. Ps. lxxii. 17.

  2. Acts i. 2.

  3. Ps. lxvii. 1.

  4. 2 Corinth. xii. 9.

  5. Ps. 1. 19.

  6. Ps. vii. 11.

  7. Rom. xiii. 10.

  8. Ps. lxix. 2.

  9. Ps. cxviii. 42.

  10. Ps. lxxix. 17.

  11. Ps. xxxviii. 2.

  12. Eccles. iii. 1.

  13. Eccles. v. 8.

  14. Prov. xxiv. 6.

  15. 1 Corinth. xvi. 40.

  16. Ps. cxlii. 8,9.

  17. Ps. xlviii. 5.

  18. I Thess. ii. 18.

  19. Eccles. xxix. 27.

  20. Matt. xviii. 16.

  21. 2 Corinth. vi. 8.

  22. Iakovos ii. 10.

  23. Ps. cxviii. 6.

  24. Ps. cxx. 8.

  25. Ps. ciii. 19 & co.

  26. Ps. cxx. 4.








Step 27

ON THE SACRED REPOSE OF BODY AND SOUL.1

1. The repose of the body is a state of tranquility and peace, in which all the corporeal senses and motions are in subjection to reason. The repose of the soul is a serenity of mind, a calm meditation free from all distraction, and secure from the annoyances of the infernal spirits.

2. The first degree of interior peace is to banish from us all the noise and commotion created by the passions, which disturb the most profound tranquility of the heart. The last and most excellent degree is to stand in no fear of this disturbance, and to be perfectly insensible to its excitement.

3. He who is midway in this holy progress of peace, concentrates his attention within himself by silence, as he pursues his journey towards the delightful regions of perfect serenity. He is endowed with meekness, and possesses an invaluable fund of tenderness and charity. For he who is not fluent with his tongue, is not readily provoked to anger; but the soul of the talkative is quickly set on fire by passion.

4. As he who plunges into the water with his clothes on is not very sure of being able to swim, so he who is still subject to his passions cannot be certain that he understands the mysteries of theology.

5. Close the door of your closet upon your body, the door of your lips upon your tongue, and the door of your soul upon the evil spirits.

6. They who pray to God in spirit, speak to Him face to face, like the favorites of a king. They who pray with the lips are like those who prostrate themselves at the feet of their sovereign in the presence of his council. They who pray whilst engaged in worldly occupations, resemble those who present their petitions to the king when he is surrounded by a multitude of his people. If you are a proficient in the divine science of prayer, you will readily comprehend what I mean.

7. During prayer elevate the superior part of your soul, and observe, if possible, who are the robbers that steal the fruit from the vine tree of your heart, --how, whence, and when they come, and in what number they assail you.

8. When our spirit is weary with meditation in a sitting posture, let us renew our attention by standing. When overcome by the fatigue of standing, we shall return to our former position with fresh vigor.

9. Let not those who are subject to anger, or vanity, or dissimulation, or the resentment of injuries, ever presume to live in solitude, lest they derive no other fruit from their retirement than a wandering mind, and a criminal insensibility to all that appertains to God. With respect to those who have already subdued their passions, they may choose by the aid and counsel of others, that state of life which will best promote their eternal welfare.

10. We here subjoin the special qualities of those who, with sincerity and purity of mind, embrace the holy and distinguished virtue of obedience. These qualities have been pointed out to us by the holy Fathers, men eminently filled with the Spirit of God. Although they do not receive their perfection but at the time appointed by God, nevertheless they are susceptible of increase day by day in proportion as we increase in virtue. Now these amiable qualities or features of true obedience are the growth of humility by the suppression of anger and bile, the enlightenment of the mind, the augmentation of divine love, freedom from the passions, an aversion to hatred, the retrenchment of sensuality, the banishment of languor and weariness, constant vigilance, compassion, and the extermination of pride, a blessing which most people desire, but few obtain.

11. The wife who violates her fidelity to her husband dishonors her body, but he who breaks his faith with God defiles the purity of his soul. The crime of the former entails infamy, public scandal, severe chastisement, and divorce; the sin of the latter is followed by incontinency, the forgetfulness of death, an unbridled intemperance, vainglory, drowsiness, hardness of heart, confusion of mind, corruption of the will, subjection to the tyranny of the passions, trouble of mind, disobedience, obstinacy, perfidy, infidelity, loquacity, a groveling attachment to earthly things, and self-confidence, the most dangerous of all evils, which attains its consummation of misery by dryness of heart, and which, from its want of compunction, acquires an obdurate insensibility, and is the parent of all that is nefarious and wicked.

12. Constantly observe the different attacks of that slothfulness which dodges your soul, and notice whence they come, and to what they tend. They alone who have received peace and tranquility from the Holy Spirit, can make this discernment.

13. It is difficult to prevent sleep after dinner, especially in warm and oppressive weather, The best method we can then adopt is, to be employed in manual labour.

14. He who, being desirous of offering to God a pure mind, allows himself to be disturbed by a thousand cares, resembles the man who, after he has fettered his legs with heavy chains, wishes to run swiftly.

15. Persons who excel in the knowledge of philosophy and human wisdom, are seldom to be found. But it is far more difficult to meet with those who are eminent in the science of heaven, in that divine philosophy which is acquired in retirement.

16. A religious who is obedient, although poor in the treasures of heaven, is better than a solitary distracted by vain and unprofitable anxieties.

17. Breathe nothing but Jesus; let this name be engraven in your memories and on your hearts, and you will then know what is the fruit of retirement.

18. As the following [of] our own will is the stumbling block which causes many to fall that live in community, so the intermission of prayer is the ruin of many that dwell in solitude.

19. The reading of the Holy Scriptures is very profitable for the enlightenment and recollection of the mind. They contain the words of the Holy Spirit, and prove a faithful guide to those who read them with piety and respect. And if God has called you to the holy state in which you are living, you will carefully practice that which you read; with this practice few or no other books will be needful. Endeavour to understand the science of salvation more by the performance of good works than by the reading of books. Read not the works of heretical writers, before you have been enlightened and fortified by the Holy Spirit, lest you lose yourself in that darkness which obscures weak minds.

20. Let the eye of the mind be always vigilant and attentive against the snares of vanity. For it is the most subtle and the most dangerous of your enemies.


  1. This step, as chiefly appertaining to solitaries, has been abridged by the translator.








Step 28

ON PRAYER.

1. Prayer in itself may be termed a holy familiarity, a sacred union of man with God; but, considered with respect to its efficacy, we may call it the support and conservation of the world, the reconciliation of man with God, the mother of holy fear, the daughter of compunction, the mediatrix in the remission of sin, the bridge which conducts us in safety over the torrent of temptation, the rampart proof against the miseries and afflictions of this life, our champion against the spirits of darkness, the daily exercise and employment of the angels, the spiritual manna which nourishes the mind, the joy of the blessed in heaven.

2. Prayer is the unction of the heart, which it perpetually renews without weariness or exhaustion. It is the fountain of virtue, the channel through which flows the gifts and graces of heaven, our onward progress in holiness, the nourishment of the soul, the lamp which dispels the darkness of the mind, the alleviation of despair, the sign and the effect of hope, and the banishment of sadness.

3. Prayer is the wealth of religious persons, the treasure of anchorites, the soother of anger, the mirror which shows us our advancement in piety. By prayer we learn that God will be clement to us in proportion as we are merciful to others; and that, according to the words of the Gospel, we shall in vain ask pardon for our trespasses, unless we first forgive the trespasses of our neighbours.

4. Prayer makes the soul acquainted, in this life, with the state which it is in before God shows it, by anticipation, the condition of its future existence, and traces out for it, as with a pencil, the glory of heaven.

5. Prayer, when holy, is the tribunal and throne of heavenly justice, upon which God sits in judgment daily, and before which He will judge us at the last day.

6. Listen to the invitation of this queen of virtues: “Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you, learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart; and you shall find rest to our souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.”1

7. When we are about to have an audience with our Almighty Lord and King, and to lay our petitions before Him, let us not be found unprepared, lest seeing us afar off, with out the apparel suitable to those who stand before His Divine Majesty, He command the officers of justice to lead us from His presence, and then in contempt tear our petitions in pieces, and throw them in our faces, as the ministers of an earthly monarch would do in a court of justice.

8. When you kneel before God in prayer, banish all resentment of injuries, otherwise you will derive no benefit from your supplications.

9. Let your prayers be simple, without guile and affectation, for both the publican and the prodigal soothed the justice of God, and obtained His mercy by a single expression,--”Have mercy on me; for I am a sinner.”

10. All present themselves before God to pray; but all do not pray in the same manner, nor ask for the same favours. Some present themselves before God as their Friend and Master, and offer to Him their praises and supplications, not for themselves alone, but also for their neighbour. Others beseech Him to multiply in them His spiritual riches and graces, and to increase their confidence in that divine help which they already possess...These beg to be delivered from the snares of their infernal enemy. Those implore some special favour needful in their present circumstances. Many solicit a reasonable assurance of the pardon of their sins, or deliverance from this prison of the body.

11. Our prayer should commence with hearty thanksgiving, and then proceed to the confession of our faults, with a lively sorrow for having offended the Divine Majesty. After this we may humbly place before God, the King of the universe, our various wants and petitions. This method is the best, as we learn from the testimony of an angel to one of the solitaries of the desert.

12. If ever you have appeared as a criminal before an earthly judge, you have but to recollect in what manner you implored his forgiveness, to know with what humility you ought to offer your prayers to the eternal and invisible Judge. But if you have never been accused before men, nor seen those who have been reduced to this miserable condition, learn at least what should be the fervour and attention of your prayers, from the earnest and feeling manner in which the wounded beseech the surgeon to have compassion upon them in the application of his instruments.

13. Seek not to adorn your prayers with polished phrases, for we behold Christians frequently obtain from their Father in heaven, the favours they ask of Him in simple and unstudied language.

14. Make not long verbal prayers, lest this vain parade of words divert the attention of the mind from the contemplation of its principal and divine object. The simple expression of the publican,--”Lord, have mercy on me,” was sufficient to open the floodgates of the divine compassion. Much speaking in prayer ordinarily fills the mind with vain and fleeting images, and disturbs the attention, which is best preserved by the employment of few words.

15. When you feel affected and consoled by some expression to which you have given utterance in your prayers, stop and fix your attention upon it, since it is a sign that your guardian angel has been praying with you.

16. Whatever may be the purity of your heart, never approach God with too much confidence, but always with profound humility; and this humility will give you a greater and more holy confidence than any you can obtain of yourself.

17. Even when you have reached the summit of virtue, cease not to ask pardon of God for your sins, in imitation of the illustrious Apostle of the Gentiles: “A faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief.”2

18. As we season our food with oil and salt, so let chastity and penitential tears season our prayers, and make them worthy to be presented before the throne of heaven.

19. If you have completely subdued anger by meekness, you will experience no difficulty in preserving peace and freedom of mind during prayer.

20. When we have not yet received the grace of interior prayer and recollection in God, we resemble nurses that teach little children to walk, we are obliged continually to lift up our thoughts and prevent them from falling to the earth.

21. Strive to raise your thoughts to heaven, or rather to shut them up in the holy words of your prayers. But if your mind, still in its spiritual infancy, droops, and is tied down to the earth by a multitude of distractions, exert yourself and lift it up immediately, for instability is one of the imperfections of the human mind. God, however, can render constant things that are inconstant. If you never desist from fighting against this fickleness of the mind, He who said to the swelling waves of the sea, “Hitherto shall you come, and no farther,” will likewise allay the agitation of your soul, and forbid all intruding thoughts to pass their prescribed boundary. It is impossible for man to chain the mind, but when the Creator of the mind is present, all things are obedient.

22. If ever you have known the Sun of Righteousness as you ought to know Him, that is, according to His greatness and majesty, and your baseness and nothingness, you will be able to pray to Him with becoming reverence. But if you have not this happiness, how can you worthily entertain God, whose grandeur and majesty are unknown to you?

23. The first degree of prayer consists in being able to expel at first sight the distractions calculated to dissipate the mind. The second degree consists in confining our minds to the meditation of the words in the prayers which we are reciting. But the last and most perfect degree is the joy of the soul, the enrapture of the mind in God.

24. There is a difference between the joy experienced in prayer by religious persons praying together in community, and that felt by solitaries during their devotions in their cells. The former may be somewhat liable to vanity by the sight and presence of their brethren, but the latter is tempered by humility, as coming from the presence of God alone, and without any witnesses but God and His angels.

25. If by continual vigilance you labour to preserve your minds from distracting thoughts, you will be recollected even when at table. But if you give your minds full liberty to wander in quest of distraction and dissipation, you will not be able to rein them in when you wish. Hence these words of the apostle addressed to one raised to the most sublime and perfect prayer: “I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.”3 But this practice is not proper for persons so weak and imperfect as we are. And the reason is, that we cannot be content with few words in our prayers, and because we are under the necessity of selecting the most appropriate expressions in our supplications. But this very imperfection leads to the more perfect method of prayer. For God grants purity of mind to him who prays with fervour, although his prayer may still be disturbed by roving thoughts which give him annoyance.

26. There is a difference between that which sullies prayer and that which destroys it entirely, between that which removes from prayer its most beautiful robes, and that which strips it entirely naked. To allow through connivance the mind to be occupied with indiscreet and profane thoughts, when in the presence of God, is to sully our prayers; but to dwell during our prayers voluntarily upon vain and superfluous cares, is their total destruction. To be insensibly diverted by vague and foreign thoughts is to divest our prayers of their appropriate apparel; but to permit our attention to be entirely directed to some other object, is shamefully to dishonour our prayers by leaving them naked.

27. When we assist in a standing position at the Divine Office in church, let us be satisfied by humbling ourselves interiorly, in the same manner that supplicants humble themselves exteriorly. But if we pray alone and without witnesses, who might be to us an occasion of vanity, let us not be content with interior humiliation, but let us likewise humble the body by prostrations, in offering our vows and supplications to God. For in those who are imperfect the interior is generally conformable to the exterior.

28. Men in general, but especially they who address themselves to the King of heaven to obtain the pardon of their sins, have great need of contrition. Whilst we are in this prison of the body, let us, for our edification, apply to ourselves the words which the angel spoke to St. Peter: “Gird thyself, and put on thy sandals.”4 Gird yourself with the cincture of obedience, and put off your own will, and come to Jesus Christ in this state of detachment, that when you pray you may ask from Him nothing but the knowledge of His will. Then will the Holy Spirit descend upon you, take the direction and guidance of your soul, and conduct it safely to heaven.

29. When you have arisen as it were from the tomb, by becoming superior to the love of the world and the pleasures of the earth, cast off all care about this momentary and perishable life. Reject every other thought but that of your eternal salvation. For prayer is nothing else but the total forgetfulness of the world. Let us exclaim with the Royal Prophet: “What have I in heaven? And besides Thee what do I desire upon earth?”5 Nothing, O Lord, do I covet so much as to be united to you so intimately and so firmly as never to be separated. Some desire wealth, others glory, but my wish is an inviolable union with you; and it is from you alone that I can hope for perfect tranquility of soul.

30. Faith furnishes prayer with wings, without which it cannot soar to heaven.

31. If our passions still harass and disturb us, let us, without intermission and without weariness, implore from God deliverance from their thraldom. For all who enjoy undisturbed tranquility have not attained to this peace and to this victory, without many a severe contest with their passions.

32. Remember that the unjust judge mentioned in the Gospel (Luke, xviii. 5), although he feared neither God nor man, decided the widow’s case, that he might be free from her importunity. Thus we may represent our Sovereign Judge viewing our soul as a widow, through the dissolution of our marriage with Jesus Christ by our sins, and clamouring for justice against the body, and against the spirits of darkness, its enemies, and that the Supreme Judge decides the cause of our soul not from fear, but through the earnestness and importunity of our prayers.

33. Although you may have persisted a long time in soliciting by prayer some particular favour without success, yet say not that your prayers have been fruitless, since your very assiduity in the solicitation has been to you a great advantage. For what is more excellent or more sublime than to be closely united to God by prayer, and to persevere without weariness in this holy union?

34. A criminal who awaits his sentence is not so much alarmed, as is he who prays in the right spirit of intercession when seized with fear and trembling, as he presents himself before God in supplication. The remembrance of this respectful fear, which is experienced at the time of prayer, is sufficient to induce in those who are wise and thoughtful of their salvation, to avoid to entertain the resentment of injuries, to repress all the emotions of anger, to banish from their mind all superfluous cares, all chagrin and disquietude, to shun every occupation that withholds them from the object of their love, to observe temperance, and to preserve themselves from the snares of temptation and evil thoughts.

35. Prepare your heart by continual prayer for the interior and exterior acts of devotion in which you present yourselves before God, that you may offer to Him your supplications and make known to Him your wants, and in a short time you will make considerable progress in this holy science. I have seen persons eminent for the virtue of obedience, and constant remembrance of God’s presence, no sooner join their brethren in prayer than they were perfectly recollected in mind, and shed abundance of tears, because they were prepared for their devotions by holy obedience.

36. The chanting of the Psalms in a community may be attended by voluntary distractions, and involuntary disturbances which do not incommode the solitaries of the desert. The latter, however, are liable in their prayers to lukewarmness and slothfulness, whilst the presence of companions in the monastery is calculated to infuse into the prayers of the former both liveliness and fervour.

37. As the love which soldiers entertain for their king is shown on the field of battle, so the affection which the solitary has for God is seen at the time of prayer.

38. Prayer discovers to us the true state of our soul, for, according to theologians, it is the mirror which shows us our correct portrait.

39. He who continues his employment when the bell has rung for prayer, is deluded by the devil. The purpose of this enemy of souls is to steal hour after hour from our spiritual exercises, and to destroy the merit of our pious actions done according to the rule and the will of God, by others done according to our own will.

40. When asked to pray for the salvation of some particular person, do not refuse the request. For he who, though a sinner, sees himself with inward sorrow thus engaged in praying for another, may frequently obtain the grace that is wanting to himself, through the faith of him for whom he prays.

41. Do not be lifted up with vanity when you pray for your neighbour, and God hears your prayers, for it might be your neighbour’s faith that has obtained for them the efficacy which they might not have had of themselves.

42. As masters require from their pupils an account each day of that which has been taught them, so likewise does the justice of God demand from our souls an account of the graces and virtues which He has conferred upon them through our prayers. Hence we should watch over ourselves even when we pray with the most fervour, for it is then that the devil attacks us with the greatest violence, in order to trouble our minds by the emotions of anger and hastiness, and thereby deprive us of the benefit of our prayers.

43. We should always act from the fulness of our heart and affection in the practice of virtue. But the soul prays with this fulness of fervour when it continues victorious over anger.

44. Spiritual blessings attained by much prayer and labour are solid and durable.

45. He who possesses God does not of himself propose any particular point of meditation whereon to entertain himself with God in his prayers. For then the Holy Spirit prays in him and for him by ineffable groanings.

46. Do not admit indiscriminately all the sensible and corporeal images that present themselves to the mind during prayer, to assist you more readily to conceive the divine mysteries of our holy faith, lest you wander and become entangled in error.

47. It is in prayer that we receive from the Almighty an assurance that He will hear our request. This assurance is the whispering of the Holy Spirit to the soul, solving and terminating its doubts, manifesting that which is conformable to the divine will, making clear that which was before obscure, and stamping a certainty upon that which seemed hitherto uncertain.

48. If you wish to render your prayers efficacious, and to draw down by them the mercy of God, freely exercise mercy towards others. For it is in prayer that solitaries receive the hundred-fold promised by God in this life to the merciful, and the eternal life hereafter.

49. When the heavenly fire of divine grace descends upon the soul, it enkindles therein fervent prayer, which sends up its flames like incense to the throne of the Most High, and receives therefrom fresh fuel, as was seen in the wonderful prodigy which occurred on the day of Pentecost.

50. Some assert that prayer is more useful and more salutary than the meditation of death. But in my opinion these two holy customs, although different in their nature, are nevertheless united, as the divine and human natures are united in the person of Jesus Christ.

51. As the noble horse “breaketh up the earth with his hoof, and pranceth boldly, and goeth forward to meet armed men; and when he heareth the trumpet, and smelleth the battle afar off, chasing and raging he swalloweth the ground, and despiseth all fear in his terrific onset,” so the courageous Christian, perceiving the hour of combat to draw nigh, prepares himself by the chanting of Psalms, and becomes the more animated the more he advances toward the battle-field, until all on fire by the ardour of his meditation, he repels with irresistible heroism the fiercest assaults of his enemies.

52. It is a bold deed to take the water from him who is quenching his thirst. But it is much more difficult for a soul praying with sentiments of tenderness and of the love of God, to deprive itself in the midst of such prayer of the sweet refreshment and ineffable consolation it is receiving.

53. Retire not from prayer until you perceive that the fire which God enkindled in your heart, and the tears you were shedding. have ceased by His appointment to exercise their happy influence. For we may not, during the remainder of our lives, meet with a time so favourable as that of the fire of penance and the tears of love for the remission of our sins.

54. It frequently happens that he who has received from God the gift of perfect prayer, and who has relished all its comforts, sullies the purity of his heart by some inconsiderate expression, and then he finds in his prayers no longer that which he sought, and was accustomed previously to find.

55. There is a difference between watching over the heart with assiduity, in order to know its emotions and desires, and the ruling of that same heart with the absolute authority of reason, which being enlightened by faith--the mistress and the queen of the passions--offers to Jesus Christ in prayer, pious aspirations, holy thoughts, as the high priest formerly immolated to God spotless victims. One of the fathers and theologians (St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Or. 40) has said, That the fire of heaven descends upon those who are in the former of these states, to burn and consume all that may remain of imperfection; and upon those who are in the latter to shed upon them a greater light, and to enable them to march onwards unceasingly in the path of perfection, which they have chosen. For divine grace is sometimes called a fire which consumes, and sometimes a fire which enlightens. Hence the first we have mentioned depart from prayer as from a furnace, in which they have been purified from all stains and imperfections; the second retire from it resplendent with new light, and clothed with the twofold grace of humility and interior joy. They who withdraw from prayer without experiencing one of these two effects, pray rather with the body than with the mind, or rather, perhaps, as Jews than Christians.

56. If bodies by touching bodies sometimes change their nature, and become more active by the activity which is communicated to them, how does it happen that he who with a pure conscience and clean hands touches the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, does not perceive any change in his soul, does not become more holy, more like unto God whom he has received into his inward house?

57. We behold in the various liberalities of the kings of the earth types of the innumerable bounties of the King of heaven, who is the Sovereign and infinite Goodness. These treasures of His clemency He confers either by Himself or by His friends and servants, or in some secret and imperceptible manner, upon those who have generously consecrated themselves to His service. But they are dealt out to us in proportion to our humility.

58. As an earthly monarch would view with extreme aversion one of his subjects who, whilst in his presence, instead of speaking to him with respect, turned away his face, and began to entertain himself with the enemies of his king, so God has a great dislike towards him who, placing himself in the divine presence by prayer, willingly directs his attention to the entertainment of evil and indiscreet thoughts.

59. When the devil tries to distract you by the noise and commotion he excites in the mind, drive him away as you would a dog, and pursue him with spiritual weapons, and with all your might, every time he impudently renews his attacks.

60. Ask with tears; seek with obedience; knock with perseverance. For he who asks in this manner will receive; he who thus seeks shall find; and to him who is never weary with knocking the door will be opened.

61. When you confess your sins before God, enter not into the detail of your bodily faults, lest you might prepare a snare for yourself in the evil impressions which such examination might excite in the mind.

62. Do not devote the time destined for prayer to other employments, however necessary, or however spiritual they may be in their nature. Otherwise the devil will rob you by this artifice of that which is most precious to a religious life.

63. He who prays continually does not stumble. But if he should stumble, he does not entirely fall. For prayer is a holy violence which man offers to God.

64. We know the utility of prayer from the efforts of the wicked spirits to distract us during the Divine Office; and we experience the fruit of prayer in the defeat of our enemies. “By this I know, O Lord,” said holy David, “that thou hast a good will for me; because my enemy shall not rejoice over me.”6 Jesus Christ has said to us in the Gospel: “If two of you shall consent upon earth concerning any thing whatsoever they shall ask, it shall be done to them by my Father who is in heaven.”7 The dispositions of religious persons are not all alike in that which regards either mind or body. For some find it more advantageous to recite the Office briskly, others slowly. The former adopt their method to avoid distractions, the latter that they may comprehend what they recite.

65. If you continually pray to the King of heaven against the spirits of darkness, you will not have occasion to dread their approach. They will not give you much annoyance, but will retire of themselves, being too proud to augment your crown by the repeated victories which you would obtain over them by prayer. Your prayer, moreover, will be a fire that will scorch and put them to flight.

66. Have a firm confidence in God, and He will be your master and teach you how to pray. As words cannot convey to us an idea of visible objects which have never been seen, because they must first be presented to the mind by vision before they can be described by language, so we cannot learn from the instruction of men what is the beauty of prayer, since it is from prayer itself that we learn its efficacy by the light of God, who imparts to men the knowledge of divine things, and who bestows the gift of prayer upon him who prays, and blesses the days and years of the just. Amen.


  1. Matt. xi. 28.

  2. I Timothy i. 15.

  3. I Corinth, xiv. 19.

  4. Acts xii. 8.

  5. Ps. lxxii. 25.

  6. Ps. xl. 12.

  7. Matt. xviii. 19.








Step 29

ON TRANQUILITY OF SOUL.

1. Ignorant as I am, and labouring under the obscurity of the passions, yet I am bold to speak of that eminent virtue of peace of mind which enables us to behold heaven on earth, and angels in mortal bodies.

2. As the stars compose the beauty of the firmament, so the virtues constitute the beauty of this blessed peace. For I view it in no other light but as an interior and spiritual paradise, in which the soul treats the artifices of the devil as so many vain and foolish phantoms.

3. He who has purified his body from every stain of lust, who has elevated his mind above all terrestrial objects, who has subjected his senses to the command of reason, who walks before God, and tends to Him unceasingly, with the aid of divine grace, and with all the energy of his soul, he who does all this, possesses truly, both in the sight of God and men, the sweet serenity of holy peace.

4. Some affirm that this tranquility of soul may be termed a resurrection preceding that of the body; others a knowledge of God inferior only to that of the angels.

5. Thus this virtue, which constitutes the perfection of the saints in this life, and which is susceptible of increase until death, sanctifies the soul in such manner, as a well-instructed and experienced person informed me, and detaches it so completely from all affection to the world, that after having brought it to this celestial port, it raises it by a rapture of ecstasy even to heaven, there to enjoy a foretaste of the sight and contemplation of God. Souls endowed with this heavenly peace are termed by holy David “the strong gods of the earth, exceedingly exalted.”1 We have seen such ecstasies and transports of delight in a holy solitary of Egypt, who always held his arms extended in the form of a cross when he prayed with his brethren.

6. All do not possess this peace in an equal degree. For whilst some have an extreme horror of sin, others have an insatiable desire of becoming rich in virtue.

7. Chastity is sometimes termed the tranquility of the mind, and for this reason, that it is the beginning of the general resurrection of the incorruptible body, which before was corruptible.

8. The apostle of the Gentiles gives us to understand that he possessed this peace: “Henceforth,” he says, “we know no man according to the flesh, ....we know him so no longer.”2 The solitary of Egypt, (St. Anthony) could also claim it when he said: “That the love of God had banished from his soul all fear.” And what peace did not he (the holy Deacon of Edessa) enjoy, when he besought God to permit him to be again assailed by his former temptations and passions? When, not like David praying to be refreshed with comfort,3 he implored Jesus Christ to moderate the effusions of His grace, with the sweetness of which he was overpowered.

9. We may affirm that a person enjoys this tranquility of soul when virtue is as natural and familiar to him as vice is to the voluptuous.

10. If it be the height of intemperance to be dragged by our insatiable appetite to eat when we are not hungry, so is it the perfection of temperance to refrain from eating when we are hungry, by the power which the soul has obtained over the inclinations of the body. If it show an excess of brutality to be affected by things animated, as if they possessed life; so is it a high degree of chastity to be indifferent to things animate and living, as if they were lifeless and senseless. If it be the propensity of a truly avaricious mind to go on amassing wealth without any limit or cessation; so is it true evangelical poverty when we no longer spare our own bodies. If it be no small baseness and cowardice to lose patience in a state the most mild and easy, so is it the testimony of longanimity to accept of affliction and sorrow, in place of contentment and serenity. If to break out into fury when we are alone, be the climax of anger, so to preserve our temper unruffled, when in the presence of those who have dishonoured us by their calumnies, is the summit of moderation. The greatest extravagance of vainglory is to feast upon the false praises which others have lavished upon us, as if these praises were truly merited; the utmost reserve of modesty is to feel not the slightest emotion of vanity in the encomiums which may be pronounced upon us in our presence. The true character of pride, from which all perdition took its beginning, is to be lifted up even in the most miserable and abject condition. The surest test of a salutary humility, is to abase ourselves by sentiments the most humble, even in the performance of the most heroic enterprises, and the most holy actions. If it be a proof that we are still subject to our passions, when we consent without resistance to the evil thoughts suggested by the devil, so is it the strongest testimony, in my opinion, that we have attained to peace of soul, when we can say with holy David: When my enemy departed from me, I did not perceive it.” And I know not how he comes, or why he comes, or why he retires; because I am insensible to all these things, being perfectly and inseparable united to God, by all the cords of affection that can bind my heart.”

11. He upon whom the Almighty has conferred the grace of this sublime state, is, whilst clothed with this mortal body, the living temple of God, who guides and directs him in all his thoughts, words, and actions, who, by the interior grace with which He enlightens his mind, enables him to listen to the voice of His divine will, and to exclaim with the sweet Bard of Sion: “My soul hath thirsted after the strong and living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God?”4 For I can no longer endure the violence of that desire which consumes me; and I sigh after that immortal beauty which you had bestowed upon me before the original sin of disobedience had subjected me to death.

12. What shall I say further? He who possesses this inexpressible happiness, cries out with the apostle: “I live now not I; but Christ within me.”5 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. As for the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord, the just judge, will render to me in that day.”6

13. As the crown of an emperor is not composed of a single diamond, but of many precious jewels, so the sovereign tranquility of the soul is composed not of a single virtue, but of all the virtues.

14. Consider this happy state as the palace of the King of Heaven, and the divers rooms in it the several degrees of this virtue of peace. The wall which surrounds this heavenly palace is the remission of our sins. Hasten then, my brethren, hasten, that you may be admitted into that nuptial chamber which is in the midst of this celestial mansion. But if unfortunately we should be too much weighed down by our former habits, or should be too suddenly arrested in our mortal career, to attain the chamber itself, let us select some apartment near to this royal abode of our Divine Spouse. If, however, we are too languid, and too cowardly to strive for this secondary residence, let us not fail to be included within the precincts of the palace. For he who has not entered before his death, or rather who has not scaled the walls, will then find himself in a terrible solitude with the demons, and with his passions. “By thee,” says holy David, “I shall be delivered from temptation; and through my God I shall go over a wall.”7 And Isaiah, speaking to the Jews, exclaims: “Your iniquities have divided between you and your God; and your sins have hid his face from you, that he should not hear.”8 Overturn then, my beloved friends, this wall raised by disobedience, which exists between God and you. Obtain in this life the pardon of your sins, for there is no one that is mindful of God in hell. Labour with zeal during the remainder of your short life, since you have been enrolled in the army of Jesus Christ, that you may display your valour on the field of battle. For we have no excuse from our relapses into sin, from our want of time, or from the difficulty of God’s commandments, since all we, who have been regenerated in Jesus Christ by baptism, have received the adoption of the sons of God.9 This is the exclamation of God himself: “Be still and see that I am God;”10 and that I am the sovereign peace of the soul. To Him be glory and empire for ever and ever. Amen.

15. This holy tranquility lifts up the soul from the earth, and withdraws the spirit of the humble from the mire of the unruly passions. But charity, which is beyond all praise, gives to this virtue of blessed peace, precedence amongst the most eminent of the celestial spirits, and places it with the princes of God’s holy people.


  1. Ps. xlvi. 10.

  2. 2 Corinth. v. 16.

  3. Ps. xxxviii. 14.

  4. Ps. xii. 3.

  5. Gal. ii. 20.

  6. II Timoth. iv. 7.

  7. Ps. xvii. 30.

  8. Isaiah lix. 2.

  9. I John iii. 1.

  10. Ps. xlv. 11.








Step 30

FAITH, HOPE, AND LOVE.

1. Having spoken of the virtues proper both for Christians in general, and for religious in particular, we have now only to treat of faith, hope, and love, three virtues most intimately connected with each other. The greatest of these is love, because God is love.

2. I regard faith as the beam, hope as the light, and love as the disc of the sun. I look upon the three as forming but one focus of brilliancy and splendour.

3. Faith can accomplish things that are deemed impossible.1 Hope is always accompanied by the mercy of God; and resting upon this solid basis, it cannot be overthrown or confounded.2 Love never falleth away, never stands still, never gives any repose to him who is pierced by its burning darts, but urges him perpetually onwards by a holy and happy delirium of love.

4. He who selects the love of God for his theme, undertakes to speak of God himself. But it is a most difficult and dangerous thing to speak of Him, when we have not a sufficiently elevated idea of this most mysterious and sublime object.

5. The angels know the excellency of divine love; they do not, however, all know it in an equal degree, but only in proportion as they are enlightened by divine light.

6. “God is love;”3 and he who should undertake to define what God is, would be like the blind man who should attempt to count the grains of sand on the sea shore.

7. Divine love, according to its essence and nature, is the resemblance of man to God, as far as a mortal creature is susceptible of such resemblance; according to its power and efficacy, it is the inebriation of the soul; according to its properties, it is the source of faith, the abyss of patience, and the ocean of humility.

8. Divine love banishes every thought contrary to the welfare of our neighbour. For “love”, says the apostle, “thinketh no evil.”4

9. Love, which is the sovereign peace of the soul, and love which makes us the adopted sons of God, differ from each other in name only, in the same manner as these three, light, fire, and flame, concur to produce one and the same effect.

10. We have more or less of fear as we have more or less of love. For he who is without fear, is either filled with divine love, or is spiritually dead. We still, however, admit, that this perfect love produces the pious and salutary fear of the Lord, which itself again fans the flame of love. Thus they mutually cherish each other in an interchange of holy and reciprocal services.

11. It will not, it seems to me, be improper to draw from the conduct of men towards each other, faint images and examples of the desire, the fear, the ardour, the zeal, the respect, and the love, which we ought to cherish and entertain for God. Happy is he who has an affection for God, not less ardent than people of the world have for its perishable beauties! Happy is he who does not fear God less than a criminal does his judge! Happy is he who takes as deep an interest in divine things, which alone deserve our attachment, as good and faithful servants do in the employment of their master! Happy is he who has not less desire and jealousy of the virtues which adorn a Christian, than fond husbands have of their wives! Happy is he who pays the same respect to God in prayer, as courtiers pay to their king in his presence! Happy is he who strives as earnestly to please God, as many do to please men, and win their friendship!

12. A mother does not take so much pleasure in folding in her arms the infant she nourishes at her breast, as he whom we call the child of divine love takes in always being united to God, and held within the embraces of his heavenly Father.

13. He who truly loves another, beholds the image of his beloved ever present to his imagination; and entertains it with so much delight, that during the oblivious hours of sleep, it still flits before his mind, and forms the subject of his dreams. The same observation is applicable to divine love. Hence these expressions in the Canticle of Solomon: “I sleep,” through the necessity of nature, “but my heart watches” through the ardour of my love.5

14. I beg you, dear Reverend Father Abbot, to remark, that the stag has no sooner attracted the serpent from its hiding place, killed, and devoured it, than it is seized with so violent a thirst, that it roams every where in quest of a fountain; in like manner, the Christian who has drawn his passions from their lurking places in his heart, and then destroyed them, sighs and languishes after the Lord, with his soul pierced by the flaming dart of divine love.

15. The feeling of hunger is often uncertain and unknown to others, but that of thirst, which is a more violent sensation, is clear and visible, since the exterior features display the effects of the burning heat of the interior. Hence, holy David, in his ardent longings for the enjoyment of God’s infinite beauty, exclaimed: “As the hart panteth after fountains of water; so my soul panteth after thee, O my God. My soul hath thirsted after the strong and living God.”6

16. If the presence of a person who is dear to us produces a visible change, both in mind and body, and fills us with joy and delight that are visible in the countenance, what change should not the presence of our Lord produce in a pure soul, when He makes Himself known to her in an invisible manner?

17. When the fear of the Lord is engraven deeply on our heart, it will efface and blot out all the stains of the soul. Hence the request of holy David: “Pierce, O God, my flesh with thy fear.”7 Divine love, likewise, consumes those who possess it day by day. “Thou hast wounded my heart.”8 Some, that rejoice in this virtue, are so overpowered with joy, that their eyes sparkle with the heavenly flame; and they exclaim with the Royal Prophet: “The Lord is my helper and protector; in him hath my heart confided, and I have been helped.”9 For the joy of the heart enkindles the countenance into a pleasing and brilliant lustre. Hence, when the interior of a Christian is on fire with divine love, the brightness of the flame is reflected upon the exterior, as upon the face of a mirror, and we perceive the peace and serenity of his soul, as in the case of Moses, who, when he had been honoured by an interview with God, was obliged to veil his face, that its effulgence might not dazzle the Israelites.

18. They who have attained to that degree of divine love, which assimilates them to angels, frequently forget to take the nourishment necessary for the body, and ordinarily, in my opinion, have not that desire for food, which is natural to other men. And certainly there is no occasion for surprise, since people in the world sometimes neglect their meals, when agitated by any violent passion.

19. I believe that the bodies, which are, as it were, become incorruptible, are not so subject to diseases as other; because, purified by the bright flame of divine love, which extinguishes concupiscence, they are not liable to corruption. I believe, likewise, that when persons thus pure in body do eat, they have no relish or pleasure in their food. For the water which is in the earth, does not supply more nourishment to vegetables by moistening their roots, than the celestial fire of love does to souls whom it prepares for heaven.

20. The increase of the fear of God is the commencement of love. And the perfection of chastity is the foundation of knowledge in the divine mysteries and in theology.

21. He who is perfectly united to God in all the powers both of mind and body, receives from God Himself, in a secret and mysterious manner, which is understood by the heart, a knowledge of His sacred truths. But it is dangerous to speak of God, when we are not intimately united to Him.

22. The Son of God renders our chastity perfect by His divine presence, which suppresses the concupiscence of the flesh. And when sensuality is dead within us, the soul aspires to know the mysteries of faith, and begins to be favoured with an interior light in this heavenly science.

23. When we speak of God by the Spirit of God, our speech is that of God Himself, and is pure and holy, and subsists for ever. But he who treats of God by his own knowledge, and not by that which comes from the Holy Spirit, deals merely in assertion and conjecture, which have no solid ground work or subsistence.

24. Chastity of mind and body enlightens the soul with the doctrines of true theology, and furnishes it with the gift of understanding what the Church teaches concerning the mystery of the Blessed Trinity.

25. He who loves God loves his brother. For the love we have for our neighbour, is the sign and manifestation of the love which we bear to God.

26. Now he who loves his neighbour, cannot endure those who speak evil of him, but shuns them as he would fire.

27. He who boasts that he loves God, but hates his brother, resembles the man who fancies that he is running, whilst he is but dreaming.

28. Hope fortifies love, because it induces us to expect the recompense due to our love.

29. Hope is a gift of heaven, and enriches us with spiritual and hidden riches. It is a treasure which the soul possesses with an unshaken faith in this life, before it possess with an immutable assurance, the treasures of the next. Hope is our comfort amidst toil and labour, the gate of love, the mortal enemy of despair, the image of our future possessions.

30. The want of hope is the ruin of divine love. It is hope which gives us patience and courage under our trials, which wipes from the brow the dew drops of perspiration, and which obtains for us the mercy of the Lord.

31. Hope is a sword with which the solitary puts to flight tepidity and idleness.

32. Experience in the reception of God’s favours, is the ground work of our hope. He who has never received these blessings, cannot rely upon God with a firm confidence.

33. Anger destroys hope. “Hope,” says the apostle, “confoundeth not.” 10 Whereas anger heapeth upon us confusion and shame.

34. Divine love is sometimes favoured with the gift of prophecy, and the power of working miracles. It is an inexhaustible ocean of divine illuminations, and the commencement of a flame, which, the more it spreads over the heart, burns and consumes with thirst, him who cherishes it. Love constitutes the happiness of the angels, and enables them to increase in glory and knowledge for all eternity.

35. Shew me, O most beautiful virtue, where thou feedest, where thou liest in the mid-day.11 Enlighten me, quench my thirst, lead me by the hand, that I may speedily come and be united to Thee, without wandering after the flocks of Thy companions. Thou reignest over all creatures. Thou hast wounded and pierced my soul. I cannot contain the fire which Thou hast enkindled within me. Its flames will not abide within; they will display themselves outwardly, in the praises which I now bestow upon thee in the conclusion of my work. “Thou rulest the power of the sea, and appeasest the motion of its waves. Thou hast humbled the proud one, as one that is slain. With the arm of thy strength thou hast scattered thine enemies....But blessed is the people that knoweth thy jubilation....For thou art the glory of their strength; and in thy good pleasure shall our horn be exalted.”12

36. I could wish, O renowned virtue, I could wish to learn from thyself, in what manner Jacob saw thee leaning upon the mysterious ladder. Explain to me, I pray thee, in what state we ought to be in order to ascend this ladder; and by what series of virtues, like so many rounds in the ladder, the admirers of thy sovereign beauty, may mount up to thee. I wish, also, to know very much, how many are these rounds or steps, and what is necessary to attain the topmost. For Jacob, who formerly wrestled with thee, and deserved to mount this mystic ladder, has informed us that angels are our guides in its ascent; but he has not expounded to us the mysteries concealed under this beautiful vision. When I had concluded this discourse, I thought I beheld love, as a queen standing before me, and saying: “You cannot, O admirer of divine love, contemplate the attractive features of my beauty, until you are set free from the frail tenement of your mortal body, which, as a thick and impenetrable veil, shrouds me from your sight. Be content, therefore, at present to learn that the ladder is the order and connection of those virtues which compose divine love; and that it is I who am leaning upon the ladder, according to the testimony of him who is the interpreter of the secrets of heaven: ‘Now there remains faith, hope, and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.’”13


  1. Heb. xi.

  2. Rom. v. 5.

  3. I John iv. 8.

  4. I Corinth. xiii. 5.

  5. Cant. v. 2.

  6. Ps. xli. 1.

  7. Ps. cxviii. 120.

  8. Cant. iv. 9.

  9. Ps. xxvii. 7.

  10. Rom v. 5.

  11. Cant. i. 6.

  12. Ps. lxxxviii.10. & c.

  13. I Corinth. xiii. 13.








Conclusion

Ascend, my beloved, ascend, dispose your heart “to ascend by steps in the vale of tears, in the place which he hath set.”1 Hearken to the words of the prophet: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths.”2 “Who hath made our feet like the feet of harts, and who setteth us upon high places,’’3 in order that we may overcome all temptation during our journey in this holy way. Run, I beseech you, with him who said: “Let us hasten until we all meet into the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fulness of Christ,”4 Who was baptized when He was thirty years of age. Hence we must consider this measure of the age of the fulness of Christ, as the thirtieth stave or round in the mystic ladder. “For God is love.”5 To Him, as the source of every blessing, be praise, and glory, and empire, for ever and ever. Amen.


  1. Ps. lxxxviii. 6.

  2. Isaiah ii. 3.

  3. Ps. xvii. 34.

  4. Eph. iv. 13.

  5. I John iv. 8.








Appendix

A FEW OF THE COMPARISONS EMPLOYED BY ST. JOHN.

1. As it is impossible for the serpent to cast off its skin, unless it creep through some small aperture; so is it equally impossible for us to forsake our evil habits, to put off the polluted garment of the old man, and to renew the youth of our soul, unless we walk in the narrow and painful way of fasting and humiliation.

2. As it is difficult for birds that are plump and well fed to soar high upon the wing; so is it an arduous task for those who are fond of good cheer and fare sumptuously, to lift up their minds and hearts to heaven by pious thoughts and aspirations.

3. As mire, which has become dry and hard by the beams of the sun, is unfit for pigs to roll and wallow in; so when our flesh, which is but clay, has become dry and shrunk by the austerity of penance, it is no longer suitable for the harbour of demons.

4. As a great quantity of wood often stifles and quenches the flame, whilst it increases the smoke of the fire; so an excessive sadness fills the soul with darkness and obscurity, and dries up the source of tears.

5. As a blind man is not a person to shoot at a target; so a disciple that is blind enough to contradict his spiritual father, is not fit for the kingdom of heaven.

6. As iron well tempered will sharpen that which is softer; so a fervent solitary, by his example, may be the means of salvation to one that is slothful.

7. As eggs concealed in a dunghill may be hatched by the heat thereof and produce chickens; so pious thoughts hidden in the mind, and unknown to the world, may be impregnated with life, and afterwards produce the most virtuous and heroic actions.

8. As horses that run together animate each other in the race; so the religious that live together in community, animate each other in their exercises of penance.

9. As clouds obscure the light of the sun; so bad thoughts obscure the light of the mind, and surround it with the darkness of the grave.

10. As the criminal who is led to execution, speaks not of games and diversions; so he who truly deplores his sins, thinks not of sumptuous and dainty fare.

11. As the poor, when they behold the vast treasures of a king, see in a stronger light, and are more sensible of their own poverty; so the religious, who reads of the great and wonderful virtues of the holy fathers, conceives a profound humility in comparing his own spiritual poverty with the riches of those eminent saints.

12. As the magnet by a secret and mysterious influence attracts steel with irresistible power; so they who have long indulged their passions are chained and dragged along by the tyrannical power of vicious habits.

13. As oil calms the troubled and boisterous waves of the sea; so fasting quenches the ardour of sensuality even in its greatest violence.

14. As water which is compressed and confined within a tube below its own level, will ascend with considerable force high into the air; so the soul which is oppressed and surrounded by dangers, will frequently ascend to God by penance, in which it finds eternal salvation.

15. As he who uses perfumes is easily recognised by the ordour which they exhale; so he in whose heart dwells the Spirit of God, is readily known both by his conversation and humble demeanour.

16. As we have not much desire to partake at table of dishes which are unknown to us; so they who have preserved the virginity of the body, have this great comfort in their happy ignorance of sensual pleasures, that they can thereby preserve more readily the purity and tranquility of their souls.

17. As the wind agitates the sea; so anger more than any other passion disturbs the mind.

18. As robbers cannot easily steal from those places which are guarded by a military force; so neither can demons, that are ever seeking whom they may devour, easily plunder those who have already in their hands the arms of prayer.

19. It is not more impossible for fire to produce snow, than for him who seeks the glory of earth to enjoy that of heaven.

20. A small spark is sufficient to set on fire and consume a large forest; so one good action by way of satisfaction can consume many sins.

21. As we cannot kill a wild beast without weapons; so neither can we conquer anger without humility.

22. As the life of the body cannot be preserved without food; so neither can the life of the soul be preserved without constant vigilance to the end of life.

23. A single ray of the sun shining through a crevice is sufficient to light up a room and show the smallest atom floating in the air; so in like manner, when the fear of God enters a soul, it floods it with so much light that the smallest faults may be readily detected.

24. As crawfish are easily taken, because they frequently turn back in the path they are pursuing; so he who is at one time dissipated, and at another melted into tears through compunction for his sins, is easily surprised by the devil, and derives no fruit from the few good works which he performs amidst all his fickleness.

25. As they who are buried in sleep may be easily robbed; so they who yield to spiritual supineness, by engaging in worldly occupations after their profession of the religious state, may be easily plundered of all their virtue.

26. As he who fights with a lion cannot for a moment withdraw his eyes from those of the enraged animal without losing his life; so neither can he who is combatting with his flesh turn away the eyes of his soul a moment by relaxation, without imminent danger to his salvation.

27. As he who mounts a ladder, the staves of which are rotten, runs the risk of falling; so the honour, the glory, and the power of the world, being opposed to Christian humility, are the unsafe rungs of a ladder, which easily break with the weight of those that attempt to climb them.

28. As it is not possible for a hungry man to forget the bread which is to allay the cravings of his appetite; so in like manner, it is not possible for one labouring earnestly in the business of his salvation to forget that it is appointed for him once to die, and after that the judgment.

29. As water effaces writing, so do tears blot out sin.

30. As they who have no water employ other means to efface that which is written; so they who have no tears employ sighs, groans, and poignant grief of heart to erase the guilt of their offences.

31. As large heaps of manure produce innumerable worms and insects; so many viands at table lead to many falls,, to many bad thoughts and dreams.

32. As they whose feet are fettered cannot walk; so they who allow themselves to be bound by the chains of avarice, cannot ascend the mountain of the Lord.

33. A new wound is easily closed and healed; but the old wounds of the soul are cured--if ever--with great difficulty.

34. As a dead body is motionless; so he who despairs of salvation, can take no steps to attain it.

35. The Orthodox Christian who commits deadly sin, is like to a face without eyes.

36. He who performs good works without faith, is like the man that draws water from a well and pours it into a sieve.

37. As a vessel that is steered by an able pilot and propelled by favourable winds, soon reaches port, so a soul which is guided by a skillful director, easily sails into the haven of eternal rest, whatever may have been its former transgressions.

38. As he who journeys in unknown ways without a guide easily wanders, notwithstanding all his prudence, from the right path; so he likewise who undertakes to guide himself in a religious life may very readily lose himself, though he possesses all the wisdom and knowledge of the world.

39. Let him who has committed grievous sins, and who has a weak and sickly body, walk in the way of humility; and let him adopt the disposition and demeanor proper to that virtue, as the only means by which he can save his soul.

40. As it cannot be expected that no one after a long sickness should recover his health in a moment, so neither must we deem it possible to cure at once the wounds inflicted by our evil and long indulged propensities.

41. To part with gold for clay cannot be termed an exchange, but an absolute loss; so to discourse on spiritual things through ostentation and vanity, is not to gain anything, but to lose the whole profit of our labour.

42. Many have received in an instant the pardon of their sins; but no one has received in an instant that sovereign peace which always reigns victoriously over the passions. For this blessed virtue is acquired by a slow process, by much labour, and by singular graces from heaven.

43. Let us observe which are the demons that, like so many birds of the air, watch their opportunity to steal from us the good grain graciously sown by the Divine Mercy in our souls; which, again, are they that devour it when it has sprung up; and, finally, which are they that carry it off when it is ready for the harvest. With these observations before us, we may, instead of being defeated, lay our snares for the overthrow of our enemies.

44. As he who sought to terminate the pains of a violent fever by an act of suicide, would be both unjust and cruel towards himself; so, in like manner, a Christian would be unjust both to God and himself, if as long as life remained, he should plunge into despair, in order to deliver himself from the weight of his sins.

45. As he who went directly from the funeral ceremonies of his father to his marriage feast, would violate all the rules of decorum and respect due to society; so is it equally shameful for those who have been lamenting their sins, to seek the esteem of men, the glory of the world, and the delights of this present life.

46. As the houses of citizens are very different places of abode from the prisons of the guilty; so the life of penitents, weeping over their past offences, should likewise be different from that of the innocent.

47. As a king would not discharge a soldier, who, whilst fighting in his service, had received a severe wound that disfigured his person; but would promote him to some honourable post and allow him a pension; so the King of heaven crowns the solitary, who, in the battles which he has fought with the spirits of darkness, has oftentimes exposed himself to their buffets and their violent outrages.

48. Feeling is a property of the soul. But sin strikes at this feeling most forcibly, and deals it a fatal blow. A deep sense and remorse of sin produce either its cessation or diminution. Remorse springs from conscience. Conscience is the interior reprehension, when we have done wrong, of our guardian angel, who was appointed by God to watch over us from the time of our baptism. Hence we know from experience, that they who have not received the grace of baptism, are struck with much less remorse, when they do evil, than they who have received this holy sacrament.

49. The abatement of the power of sin leads to the complete cessation of sin. The cessation of sin is the commencement of penance. The commencement of penance is the commencement of salvation. The commencement of salvation is the firm resolution to lead a good life. This firm resolution begets a generous endurance of labour. This generous endurance of labour has virtue for its groundwork and principle. Virtue in due time produces the beautiful flower of a good will. This good will yields the fruit of praiseworthy actions. These actions repeated establish a custom. But custom and renewed exercise grow into a habit. Habit makes piety natural to the soul. But piety, when natural and familiar, engenders the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord ensures the observance of His precepts. The observance of His precepts is the testimony of our love of God. This love springs from a profound humility. Profound humility is the mother of that blessed peace which reigns supremely over the soul. But this sovereign peace is the perfection and the crown of love, or a perfect plenitude of the Spirit of God, dwelling in the souls of those who, by this happy tranquility, have entered into the possession of purity of heart. For, according to the Gospel: “Blessed are the clean of heart; for they shall see God,”1 to Whom be glory and empire for ever and ever. Amen.


  1. Matt. v. 8.



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Archbishop Gregory
Dormition Skete
P.O. Box 3177
Buena Vista, CO 81211-3177
USA
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