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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.



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Archbishop Gregory
Dormition Skete
P.O. Box 3177
Buena Vista, CO 81211-3177
USA
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