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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.



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