The Spiritual Life

Author: Adolphe Tanquerey



by the Very Reverend Adolphe Tanquerey, S.S., D.D.



#295. All life must perfect itself. This is true, above all, of the Christian life. It is by its very nature a progressive life, its completion being achieved only in Heaven. We must examine, then, in what its perfection consists, in order that we direct our steps more surely along its way. Since there exist erroneous conceptions and more or less incomplete ideas on this fundamental point, we shall begin by eliminating the false notions of Christian perfection, and then explain its true nature.1

I. False notions held by : Unbelievers, Worldlings, & Devout Souls

II. The true notion: Consists in love, Presupposes sacrifice here on earth, Blends harmoniously this twofold element, Includes both the precepts and the counsels, Has degrees and limits

n1. "Introd. to a Devout Life," P. I, C. I-II; "Spiritual Combat," C. I; FABER, "Growth in Holiness," C, XXII-XXV; MEYER, "Science of the Saints," Vol. I, C. XIX.


These false notions are met with among unbelievers worldlings, and even among devout souls.

#296 (1) In the eyes of unbelievers, Christian perfection is no more than a subjective phenomenon without any corresponding reality.

A) Many of them study what they call mystical phenomena, only with malicious prejudices and without distinguishing the true from false mystics. Such are, Max Nordau, J. H. Leuba, E. Murisier.1 According to them, the so-called perfection of the mystics is nothing more than a morbid phenomenon, a species of psycho-neurosis, a sort of exaltation based on religious feeling or even a special form of sexual love. This, they say, is shown by the terms spousals, spiritual marriage, kisses, embraces and divine caresses so frequently found in the writings of mystics.

It is evident that these authors, hardly acquainted with any but sensual love, have not the slightest conception of divine love; they are among those to whom the words of Our Lord can be aptly applied: "Neither cast ye your pearls before swine."2 No wonder then that other psychologists, such as William James, have pointed out that sexual instinct has nothing to do with sanctity; that the true mystics have practiced heroic chastity, some having never experienced, or hardly so, the weaknesses of the flesh, others having overcome violent temptations by heroic means, for instance, throwing themselves among thorns. If they have, therefore, employed the language of human love, it is because every other falls short of terms to express the tenderness of divine love.3 They have further shown by the whole tenor of their conduct, by the greatness of the works they have undertaken and brought to a successful end, that they were full of wisdom and poise and that at any rate we cannot but bless the neuroses that have given to the world an Aquinas and a Bonaventure, an Ignatius Loyola and a Xavier, a Teresa of Jesus and a John of the Cross, a Francis de Sales and a Jeanne de Chantal, a Vincent de Paul, a Mademoiselle Legras, a Berulle, an Olier, an Alphonsus Liguori, a Paul of the Cross.

n1. MAX NORDAU, "Degenerescence, t. I, p. 115; J. H. LEUBA, "Psychological Study of Religion;" E. MURISIER, "Les maladies du sentiment religieux." n2. "Matth.," VII, 6. n3. W. JAMES, "The Varieties of Religious Experience," p. 9-12.

#297. B) Other unbelievers, such as William James and Maxime de Montmorand,1 whilst doing justice to our mystics, yet doubt the objective reality of the phenomena they described. They acknowledge the marvelous effects caused in souls by the religious sentiment, an indomitable impulse toward good, an absolute devotedness to others. They recognize their supposed egotism to be in reality charity of the highest social character and productive of the most wholesome influence, that their thirst for sufferings does not hinder them from enjoying unspeakable delights nor from radiating a measure of happiness to their surroundings.--Yet, they ask themselves the question: are not mystics the victims of auto-suggestion and hallucinations?

To this we answer that such salutary effects can only proceed from a proportionate cause; that no real and lasting good can come from aught but what is true; and that if Christian mystics have produced useful social works, it is because contemplation and the love of God, which have inspired such works, are not hallucinations but actual, living and working realities: "By their fruits you shall know them."2

n1. W. JAMES, op. cit,; M. DE MONTMORAND, "Psychologie des Mystiques," 1920. n2. "Matth.," VII, 20.

#298. (2) Worldlings, even when they have the faith, often entertain very false ideas concerning perfection or, as they call it, devotion.

A) Some look upon devout souls as hypocrites, who under the cover of religion, hide odious vices or political designs and ambitions, such as the desire to lord it over consciences and thus to control the world. This is the fallacy that identifies the thing with its abuse. The course of the present study will show us that frankness, honesty and humility are the true characteristics of piety.

#299. B) Others see in piety a sort of exaltation of feeling, and imagination, a kind of vehemence of emotion good at best for women and children, but unworthy of men who want to be guided by reason and will. And, yet, how many men whose names appear in the catalogue of the Saints have been distinguished by proverbial good sense, an uncommon degree of intelligence, an energetic and persevering will! Here again a caricature is mistaken for the portrait.

#300. C) Lastly, there are those will maintain that perfection is a Utopia beyond realization and hence fraught with danger, that it suffices to keep the Commandments without wasting time in punctilious practices or in the quest of extraordinary virtues.

The perusal of the lives of the Saints suffices to rectify such an erroneous view: perfection has been realized here on earth, and the practice of the counsels, far from working to the detriment of the precepts, simply renders their observance all the easier.

#301. (3) Even among devout souls there are those who err as to the true nature of perfection, and who describe it, each according to the caprice of his own bias and fancy.1

A) Many, mistaking devotions for devotion, imagine perfection to consist in reciting a great number of prayers In joining sundry religious societies, even if such practices entail the occasional neglect of their duties of state or of the charity due to the other members of the household. This is a substitution of non-essentials for the necessary, a sacrifice of the end to the means.

n1. Thus remarks St. FRANCIS DE SALES, "Introduction to a Devout Life," Part. I, C. I which should be read in its entirety.

#302. B) Others give themselves to fastings and austerities to the exhaustion of the body, and thus become unfit for the discharge of their duties of state and consider themselves dispensed therefore from the law of charity toward their neighbor. They dare not permit themselves any little dainties, yet they do not hesitate " to drench their lips with the life- blood of their fellow-men through calumny and slander.1 "Here again one forgets the essentials of perfection and neglects the fundamental duty of charity in favor of practices good indeed but far less important.-- The like mistake is made by those who give generously to charity, but refuse to forgive their enemies, or those who, whilst forgiving them, think not of paying their debts.

n2. "Devout Life," ib.

#303. C) Some, taking spiritual consolations for fervor, think they have arrived at perfection if they are filled with joy and can pray with ease, and they consider themselves lukewarm when they are seized by aridity and distractions. Such persons forget that what counts before God is the generous, oft-renewed effort despite apparent failures.

#304. D) Others, taken up by a life of action and external activities, neglect the interior life to give themselves more entirely to works of zeal. They forget that the life and soul of all zeal is habitual prayer which draws down the grace of God and gives fruitfulness to action.

#305. E) Others, having read mystical works or the lives of the Saints in which ecstasies and visions are described, fancy perfection to consist in these extraordinary phenomena and strain their minds and imaginations to obtain them. They have never understood that such phenomena are, as the mystics themselves testify, but incidental; that they do not constitute the essence of sanctity and that it is foolhardy to covet them; that conformity to the will of God is by far the safer and more practical way.

Having thus cleared the ground, we shall be able to understand more easily in what perfection essentially consists.


#306. The State of the Question. (1) Any being is perfect (perfectum) in the natural order when it is finished, completed, hence, when it has attained its end: "Each is said to be perfect in so far as it attains its own end, which is the highest perfection of anything."2 This constitutes absolute perfection. However, there is also a relative and progressive perfection which consists in the approach toward that end by the development of all one's faculties and the carrying out in practice of all duties, in accordance with the dictates of the natural law as manifested by right reason.

n1. ST. THOM., IIa IIae, q. 184, a. I-3; "Opuscul. de perfectione vitae spiritualis," ALVAREZ DE PAZ, op. cit., I, III; LE GAUDIER, op. cit., P. Ia; SCHRAM, "Instit. Theol. ascetique," Introduction; GARRIGOU-LAGRANCE, dans la "Vie spirit.," oct. et nov. 1920. n2. "Sum. theol., IIa IIae, q. 184, a. I. See also works referred to above, n. 295.

#307. (2) The end of man, even in the natural order, is God: 1) Created by Him, we are of necessity created for Him since He is the fullness of Being. On the other hand to create for an imperfect end would be unworthy of Him. 2) Besides, God being infinite perfection and thereby the origin of all perfection, man is the more perfect as he approaches closer to God and shares in His divine perfections. This is the reason why man cannot find in creatures anything that can fully satisfy his legitimate aspirations: "The ultimate end of man is uncreated good, that is to say, God, Who alone is capable, by His infinite goodness, of satisfying completely the human will."1 All our actions then must be referred to God--to know, love and serve Him and thereby glorify Him, this is the end of life, the source of all perfection.

ST. THOM., Ia IIae, q. III, a. I. Cfr. TANQUEREY, "Synopsis Theol. moralis," Tr. de Ultimo fine, n. 2-18.

#308. (3) In the supernatural order this is so all the more. Raised by God to a state that surpasses all our needs and all our capabilities, destined one day to contemplate Him through the Beatific Vision, possessing Him even now through grace, and endowed as we are with a supernatural organism that we may unite with Him by the practice of the Christian virtues, we cannot evidently perfect ourselves unless we unceasingly draw closer to Him. This, however, we cannot effect except by uniting ourselves to Jesus--the One indispensable way to go to the Father. Hence, our perfection will consist in living for God in union with Jesus Christ: "To live wholly unto God in Christ Jesus."1 This we do when we practice the Christian virtues, theological and moral. The end of all these is to unite us to God more or less directly by making us imitate our Lord Jesus Christ.

n2. FATHER OLIER, "Pietas Seminarii," n. I.

#309. (4) Here the question arises whether there is among these virtues any one which summarizes and embodies all the others, thus constituting the essence of perfection. Summing up the doctrine of Holy Writ and of the Fathers, St. Thomas answers that perfection essentially consists in the love of God and of the neighbor for God's sake: "Essentially the perfection of the Christian life consists in charity, first and foremost in the love of God, then in the love of neighbor."1 But in this life the love of God cannot be practiced without renouncing inordinate self-love, that is, the threefold concupiscence; therefore, in practice, sacrifice must be joined to love. This we are to explain by showing: 1) how the love of God and of the neighbor constitutes the essence of perfection; 2) why this love must go to the point of sacrifice; 3) how these two elements must be combined; 4) how perfection includes both precepts and counsels; 5) what are the degrees of perfection and how far perfection can be attained here on earth.

n1. "Sum, theol.," IIa IIae, q. 184, a. 3; Opusculum, "De perfectione vitae spiritualis," cap. I, n. 56, 7.

I. The Essence of Perfection consists in Charity

#310. First of all we shall explain the sense of this proposition. The love of God and of neighbor here in question is supernatural by reason of its object as well as by reason of its motive and its principle.

The God we love is the God made known to us by revelation, the Triune God. We love Him because our faith shows Him to us infinitely good and infinitely loving. We love Him through the will perfected through the virtue of charity and aided by actual grace. This love then is not a mere sentiment. Man is indeed a composite being made up of body and soul and, doubtless, some feeling often enters into his affections even the noblest. At times, however, this sentiment which is wholly accidental, is utterly lacking. The essence of love itself is devotedness. It is a firm determination of the will to give itself up to God, and, if need be, to make the entire sacrifice of self to Him and His glory, preferring His good pleasure to that of self and others.

#311. The same is to be said, with due proportion, of the love of neighbor. It is God Whom we love in him, a likeness, a reflection of God's perfections. The motive of this love is then the divine goodness as manifested, expressed and reflected in our neighbor. To speak more concretely, we see and love in our brethren a soul inhabited by the Holy Ghost, beautified by divine grace, redeemed at the price of Christ's blood. In loving him, we wish his supernatural perfection, his eternal salvation.

Thus there are not two distinct virtues of charity, the one towards God and the other towards the neighbor. There is but one, comprising at once God loved for His own sake, and the neighbor loved for God's sake.

With these notions in mind, we shall easily understand that perfection does really consist in this one virtue of charity. But what degree of charity is required for perfection? That the charity which necessarily accompanies the state of grace and which coexists with the habit of venial sin and unmortified passions cannot be sufficient for perfection, every one will agree. On the other hand charity causing us to love God as much as He deserves to be loved, or charity causing us to avoid all venial sins and imperfections, is not required, for as will be seen further (N. 344-348), such charity is not within our power here on earth. Charity required for perfection may then be defined: Charity so well established in the soul as to make us strive earnestly and constantly to avoid even the smallest sin and to do God's holy will in all things out of love for Him.

Proofs of this Thesis

#312. (1) Let us see what Holy Writ tells us. A) Both in the Old and the New Testaments, the dominating principle wherein the whole law is summed up is the Great Commandment of love--the love of God and the love of neighbor. Thus when a certain lawyer asked our Lord what was to be done in order to gain everlasting life, the divine Master made the simple reply: "What .saith the law?" And the lawyer without hesitation recalled the sacred text in Deuteronomy: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with all thy strength and with all thy mind: and thy neighbor as thyself." Our Lord approved it, saying: "This do: and thou shalt live"1 He adds elsewhere that in this twofold precept of the love of God and of the neighbor are contained all the Law and the prophets.2 St. Paul declares the same when after having enumerated the principal precepts of the Decalogue he adds: " Love therefore if the fulfilling of the Law."3 Thus the love of God and of the neighbor is at one and the same time both the summary and the plenitude of the Law. Now Christian perfection cannot be anything else but the perfect and complete fulfillment of the Law, for the Law is the will of God, than which there can be nothing more perfect.

n1. "Luke," X, 25-29; cfr. "Deut." VI, 5-7. n2. "Matth.," XXII, 39-40. n3. "Rom.," XIII, 10.

#313. B) Another proof is the one drawn from St. Paul's doctrine on charity in the thirteenth chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians. There, in lyric language he describes the excellence of love, its primacy over the charisms or freely given graces, and over the other theological virtues of faith and hope. He shows that it embodies and possesses all virtues in the highest degree; so much so, that love is itself the aggregate of all those virtues: "Charity is patient, is kind; charity envieth not, dealeth not perversely, is not puffed up, is not ambitious, seeketh not her own, is not provoked to anger, thinketh no evil. " He ends by affirming that the charismata shall pass, but that charity abideth eternally. This means not only that love is the queen and the soul of all the virtues, but that its worth is such that it suffices to make man perfect by imparting to him all the virtues.

#314. C) St. John, the Apostle of divine love, gives us the fundamental reason for this doctrine. God, says he, is love. This is, so to speak, what characterizes Him. If we, therefore, wish to be like unto Him, to be perfect like Our Heavenly Father, we must love Him as He loves us, " because He hath first loved us."1 But since we cannot love Him if we love not our neighbor, we are to love our brethren even to the point of sacrifice: "We also must lay down our lives for the brethren." "Dearly beloved, let us love one another: for charity is of God. And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is charity... In this is charity: not as though we had loved God, but because He hath first loved us, and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins. My dearest, if God hath so loved us, we also ought to love one another... God is charity and he that abideth in charity abideth in God, and God in him."2 It cannot be stated in clearer terms that all perfection consists in the love of God and of the neighbor for God's sake.

n1. "John," IV, 10. n2. "I John," IV, 7-16. The whole Epistle should be read.

#315. (2) When we seek an answer to this question from reason enlightened by faith, we arrive at the same conclusion, whether we consider the nature of perfection or the nature of love.

A) We have said that the perfection of any being consists in attaining its end or in approaching it as closely as possible (N. 306). Now, man's end in the supernatural order is the eternal possession of God through the Beatific Vision and the love resulting therefrom. Here upon earth we approach the realization of this end by living already intimately united to the Most Blessed Trinity dwelling in us, and to Jesus the indispensable Mediator with the Father. The more closely we are united to God, our last end and the source of our life, the more perfect we are.

#316. Among the Christian virtues, the most unifying the one which unites the whole soul to God is divine charity. The other virtues indeed prepare us for that union or initiate us into it, but cannot effect it. The moral virtues of prudence, fortitude, temperance, and justice do not unite us directly to God, but limit themselves to removing or reducing the obstacles that estrange us from Him, and to bringing us closer to Him through conformity to His order. Thus temperance by restraining the immoderate use of pleasure, weakens one of the most potent obstacles to the love of God; humility by putting off pride and self-love predisposes us to the practice of divine charity. Besides these virtues, by making us observe order or right measure, subordinate the will to that of God. As to the theological virtues other than charity, they do indeed unite us to God, but in an incomplete fashion. Faith unites us to God, infallible Truth, and makes us see all things in the divine light, yet it is compatible with mortal sin which separates us from God. Hope raises us to God inasmuch as He is good to us and makes us desire the joys of Heaven, but it can exist along with grave faults that turn us away from our end.

#317. Love alone unites us fully to God. It presupposes faith and hope, but it surpasses them. It lays hold of our entire soul, intellect, heart, will, activity, and delivers all unreservedly to God. It excludes mortal sin, God's enemy and makes us enjoy the divine friendship: " If any one love Father will love him."1 Now, friendship is the union, the blending of two souls into one: One heart and one soul... the same likes and dislikes, " (Cor unum et anima una: unum velle, unun nolle). Thus our friendship with God is a perfect union of all our faculties with Him a union of our mind that patterns our thoughts after those of God; a union of our will that causes us to embrace the divine will as our very own, a union of heart that prompts us to live ourselves to God as he has given Himself to us "My beloved to me and I to Him, " 2 a union of activities in virtue of which God places His divine power at the service of our weakness to enable us to carry out our good desires. Charity then unites us to God, our end,--to God, infinitely perfect, and thus constitutes the essential element of our perfection.

n1. "John," XIV, 23. n2. "Cant.," II, 16.

#318. B) If we inquire into the nature of charity we arrive at the same conclusion. St. Francis de Sales shows that charity includes all the virtues and even lends them a perfection all its own.1

a) It comprises all the virtues. Perfection evidently consists in the acquisition of virtues. If we possess all, not simply in an initial stage, but to a high degree, we are perfect. But whoever has the virtue of charity in the degree described in n. 311, has all other virtues and has them in all their perfection, without which it is impossible to know and love God's infinite loveliness; he has hope, which by inspiring trust leads to love; he has all the moral virtues, such as prudence without which charity could neither last nor grow, fortitude which triumphs over the obstacles impeding the practice of charity, temperance which curbs sensuality, that relentless enemy of divine love. Nay more, adds St. Francis de Sales, " the great Apostle does not simply say that charity bestows on us patience and kindness, and steadfastness and simplicity, but he says that charity is itself patient and kind, and steadfast, " because it embodies the perfection of all virtues.

1. "Treatise on the Love of God," Book XI, C. 8.

#319. b) Charity, moreover, gives to other virtues a special perfection and worth. It is, according to St. Thomas,1 the form, the soul, of all the virtues. "All the virtues when separated from charity fall very short of perfection, since they cannot in default of this virtue fulfill their own end, which is to render man happy. I do not say that, without it, they cannot be born and even develop; but they are dependent on charity for their perfection, for their completeness to draw therefrom the strength to will in God and to receive from His mercy the manna of true merit and of the sanctification of those hearts wherein they are found. Charity is among the virtues as the sun among the stars--it gives to all their brightness and their beauty. Faith, hope, fear, sorrow ordinarily precede charity into the soul, there to prepare its abode, but once love arrives they obey and minister to it like all other virtues; charity, by its presence, animates, beautifies and vivifies them all. "2 In other words, charity by directing our soul immediately toward God, the supreme perfection and the last end, gives the selfsame direction and hence the same worth to all the other virtues under its sway. Thus an act of obedience or of humility, besides having its own proper value, derives from love a far greater worth, when done in order to please God. It becomes then an act of charity, an act of the most perfect of all virtues. Let us add that such an act becomes easier and more attractive. To obey and to undergo humiliation is a bitter thing to our proud nature, but this becomes easier once we are conscious that by the performance of such acts we actually practice the love of God and procure His glory.

Thus charity is not only the synthesis but the very soul of all virtues, it unites us to God in a manner more perfect and more direct than any of the others. Hence it is love that constitutes the very essence of perfection.

n1. "Sum. theol.," IIa IIae, q. 23, a. 8. n2. St. Francis de Sales, 1, c., c. 9.


#320. Since the essence of perfection consists in the love of God, it follows that the short-cut thereto is to love with a great love, with a generous heart, with intensity and above all with a pure and disinterested love. Now we truly love God not only when we give expression with our lips to an act of charity, but even each time we do His will or perform the least duty with the intention of pleasing Him. Each of our actions then, however commonplace, can be transformed into an act of love and become a help to our advancement in perfection. Our progress will be all the more real and rapid as our love becomes more intense and generous and our effort accordingly more strenuous and steadfast, for that which has value in the eyes of God is the will, the effort, apart from all sensible emotion.

Lastly, because the supernatural love of the neighbor is likewise an act of the love of God, all the services we render our brethren, while seeing in them reflections of the divine perfection, or, what is the same, seeing Jesus Christ in them, become acts of love that make us advance toward sanctity.

II. Love on Earth Requires Sacrifice

#321. In Heaven we shall love without any need of self-immolation. Here on earth it is quite otherwise. In our present state of fallen nature, it is impossible for us to love God truly and effectively without sacrificing ourselves for Him.

This follows from what we have said above (n. 74-75) regarding the tendencies of fallen nature which remain in regenerated man. We cannot love God without fighting and curbing those tendencies. This is a struggle that begins with the dawn of reason and ends only with our last breath. Assuredly there are moments of respite when the struggle is not so intense, but even then, we cannot afford to rest upon our oars except at the risk of another sally on the part of the enemy. To this Holy Writ bears witness.

(1) Holy Writ clearly states the absolute necessity of sacrifice and self- renunciation in order to love God and the neighbor.

#322. A) Our Lord addresses the following invitation to all His disciples: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."1 In order to follow and to love Jesus, there is an indispensable condition, that of renouncing self, that is to say, renouncing the evil inclinations of our nature: selfishness, pride, ambition, sensuality, lust, inordinate love of ease and riches. There is the condition of carrying one's cross, of accepting the sufferings, the privations, the humiliations, the evil turns of fortune, labor, sickness, in a word, those crosses with which the hand of God's Providence puts us to the test, strengthens our virtue and makes easy the expiation of our faults. Then, and only then, can one be Christ's disciple and walk the way of love and perfection.

Our Lord confirms this lesson by His example. Having come from Heaven with the express purpose of showing us the way of perfection, He followed no other way than that of the Cross: "Christ's whole life was a Cross and a martyrdom."2 From Bethlehem to Calvary His life is a long series of privations and humiliations, of fatigue and apostolic labors, all crowned by the anguish and the tortures of His bitter Passion. It is the most eloquent commentary on His words: "If any man will come after me." Were there a surer road, He would have shown it to us. But He knew there was no other and He followed it to draw us after Him." And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself"3 Thus it was understood by the Apostles who repeat to us with St. Peter, that if Christ suffered for us it was that we might walk in his steps: "Because Christ also suffered for us leaving you an example that you should follow His steps."4

n1. "Matth.," XVI, 24; cfr. "Luke," IX, 23.--Read the commentary of Blessed Grignion de Montfort in his "Circular letter to the friends of the Cross." n2. "Imitation," Book II, C. XII, n. 7. n3. "John," XII, 32. n4. "I Peter," II, 21.

#323. B) This is also the teaching of St. Paul. For him Christian perfection consists in divesting oneself of the old man to invest oneself with the new: "Stripping yourselves of the old man with his deeds and putting on the new."1 Now the old Adam is but the sum-total of the evil tendencies we have inherited from the first man. It is that threefold concupiscence we are to fight and to muzzle by the practice of mortification. "They that are Christ's," says he, "have crucified their flesh with the vices and concupiscences."2 This is the essential condition; so much so that St. Paul himself feels obliged to punish his body: "But I chastise my body and bring it into subjection, lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway."3

n1. "Coloss.," III, 9. n2. "Galat.," V, 24. 3. "I Cor.," IX, 27.

#324. C) The Apostle of Love, St. John, is no less emphatic. He teaches that in order to love God we must keep the Commandments and fight the threefold concupiscence which holds the world under its sway. He adds that if one loves the world and the things that are in the world one cannot possess the love of God: "If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him. "1 But in order to hate the world and its allurements, it is clear that one must practice the spirit of sacrifice by foregoing dangerous and evil pleasures.

n1. "I John," II, 15.

#325. (2) This need of sacrifice is a consequence of the condition of our fallen nature as described in n. 74, and of the threefold concupiscence, n. 193. As a matter of fact, it is impossible to love God and the neighbor without sacrificing whatever goes counter to that love. The threefold concupiscence, as we have shown, does go counter to the love of God and of the neighbor; hence, if we wish to advance in the way of charity, we must relentlessly fight against our bad tendencies.

#326. Let us consider a few instances. Our exterior senses eagerly tend toward whatever flatters them, thus putting at hazard our virtue. What is to be done to avoid this danger? Our Lord tells us very forcibly: " If thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee. For it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than thy whole body be cast into hell."1 This means that we must learn by mortification to deprive our eyes, our ears, all our senses, of whatever constitutes for us an occasion of sin. Without this there is neither perfection nor salvation.

The same holds true of our interior senses, particularly, of our imagination and our memory. Who does not know from experience the risk we run, unless we repress their vagaries from the outset?

Even our higher faculties, intellect and will, are liable to go astray through curiosity, independence or pride. What efforts must be made, what combat sustained, in order to place them under the yoke of Faith, in humble submission to the will of God and to His representatives!

We must confess then, that if we want to love God and our neighbor for God's sake, we must learn to mortify our selfishness, our sensuality, our pride, our love for riches. Thus sacrifice is the essential condition of loving God in this life.

This seems to be the mind of St. Augustine when he says: " Two loves have built two cities: the love of self carried unto the contempt of God has built the city of this earth, the love of God carried unto the contempt of self has built the heavenly city."2 In other words, we cannot truly love God except through repression of our evil tendencies.

n1. "Matth.," V, 29. n2. "Ce Civitate Dei," XIV, 28.

#327. The conclusion that necessarily follows is that, in order to be perfect, we must not only multiply acts of love, but also acts of sacrifice, for in this life love cannot be without self-immolation. Of course, it can be truly said of all our good works that inasmuch as they detach us from self and from creatures they are acts of sacrifice, and, inasmuch as they unite us to God they are acts of love. It remains for us to see how love and sacrifice can be combined.

III. The Part of Love and the Part of Sacrifice in the Christian Life

#328. Since both love and sacrifice must have a part in the Christian life, what shall be the role of each? On this subject there are points on which all agree, and there are others on which a difference of opinion is manifest. Practically, however, the present authors of the various schools arrive at conclusions that are nearly the same.

#329. (1) All admit that objectively and in the order of excellence, love holds the first place. It is the end and the essential element of perfection, as we have proved in our first thesis, N. 312. It is love, then, that we must look to above all, it is love that we must seek without respite, it is love that calls for sacrifice and gives it its chief value. Hence, it is essential that even with beginners, the spiritual director should insist on the love of God; but he should make clear to them that while love renders sacrifice easier, it can never dispense with it.

#330. (2) As regards the chronological order, all admit that both elements are inseparable and must be cultivated at one and the same time, nay more, that they must blend one with the other. This, because there is no true love here on earth without sacrifice, and because sacrifice made for God is one of the best signs of love.

The whole question resolves itself into this: Taking the chronological order, which of these two elements must be emphasized, love or sacrifice? Here we come upon two distinct schools and trends of thought.

#331. A) St. Francis de Sales, resting upon the authority of many representatives of the Benedictine and the Dominican schools, and relying upon the resources which regenerated human nature has to offer, insists first on the love of God, in order the better to make us accept and practice sacrifice. But far from excluding the latter, he demands of Philothea much self-renunciation and self-sacrifice. If he does so with great caution and suavity of manner, it is to attain his purpose all the better. This becomes evident from the first chapter of the "Introduction to the Devout Life":1 "True devotion presupposes not a partial, but a thorough love of God... As devotion then consists in a certain excellent degree of charity, it not only makes us active and diligent in the observance in God's commandments, but it also excites us to the performance of every good work with an affectionate alacrity, even though it be not of precept but only of counsel." But to keep the commandments, to follow the counsels and the inspirations of grace, is to practice mortification to a high degree. Besides, the Saint asks that Philothea begin by purifying herself not only from mortal sins, but also from venial faults and from the affection for vain and dangerous things, as well as from evil tendencies. When he deals with the virtues, he does not forget their austere side; although he is ever concerned that all be pervaded by the love of God and that of the neighbor.

n1. St. Francis de Sales, "Introduction to the Devout Life," C. 1.

#332. B) On the other side, we have the school of St. Ignatius and the French School of the Seventeenth Century. Without forgetting that the love of God is the end to be attained and that it must vivify all our acts, they place to the fore, especially for beginners, renouncement, the love of the Cross, the mortification of our passions, as the surest means of arriving at real effective love. The representatives of these schools seem to fear that unless this be insisted on at the beginning, many souls would fall victims to illusions, think themselves already far advanced in the love of God, whilst, in fact, their virtue is more sentimental and apparent than real. Hence those lamentable falls when grave temptations come or when spiritual dryness sets in. Besides, sacrifice courageously accepted for the love of God leads to a charity that is more generous and more constant, and the habitual practice of this charity gradually comes to complete the spiritual edifice.

#333. Practical conclusion. Without any desire to settle this controversy, we shall simply propose some conclusions admitted by the most prudent of all schools.

A) There are two excesses to be avoided: a) that of wishing to lead souls prematurely into the so-called way of love whilst failing to train them to the stern discipline of daily self-denial. It is in this way that illusions are fostered and at times the ground made ready for regrettable falls. How many souls experiencing those sensible consolations God dispenses to beginners, and thinking themselves well-grounded in virtue, expose themselves to occasions of sin and fall into grievous faults! A little more mortification, true humility, distrust of self, and a more determined fight against their passions, would have preserved them from such lapses.

b) The other excess is to speak constantly of renouncement and mortification without making it clear that these are but means of arriving at the love of God, or manifestations of that love. Thus some persons possessed of good will, but as yet of little courage are disheartened. They would take more heart and be filled with greater strength, if they were shown how such sacrifices become so much easier if done for the love of God: " Where there is love, there is no labor."

#334. B) Once these excesses are avoided, the spiritual director must know what path to point out to each penitent according to his character and the promptings of grace.

a) There are affectionate souls who have no taste for mortification until they have for some time practiced the love of God. It is true that this love is ofttimes imperfect, more sentimental than generous and lasting. However, if one takes advantage of these first flights to show that real love cannot endure without sacrifice, if one succeeds in inducing such souls to exercise themselves in some acts of penance for the love of God, in some acts of reparation, of mortification, such acts as are more indispensable to the avoidance of sin, then their will will be gradually strengthened, and the moment will come when they will understand that sacrifice and the love of God must go hand in hand.

b) On the other hand, if one has to deal with energetic characters, accustomed to act from a sense of duty, one may from the outset insist on renouncement as the touchstone of charity, and cause them to exercise themselves in penance, humility and mortification, while infusing into these austere virtues the motive of the love of God or zeal for souls.

Thus love and sacrifice will ever be united, and it will become evident that these two elements blend and perfect each other.

IV. Does Perfection consist in the Commandments or in the Counsels?

#335. (1) The State of the Question. We have seen that perfection consists essentially in the love of God and of the neighbor carried unto sacrifice. But the love of God and sacrifice include both commandments and counsels; commandments that oblige under pain of sin, counsels that invite us to do for God over and above what is demanded; failure in this case would not involve sin but willful imperfection and resistance to grace. It is this distinction of precept and counsel that Our Lord alluded to when He declared to the rich young man: "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast and give to the poor and thou shalt have a treasure in heaven."1 Thus, to observe the laws of justice and charity in what concerns ownership suffices for entrance into heaven, but if one would be perfect, one must sell his possessions, give their price to the poor and so practice voluntary poverty. St. Paul points out to us likewise that virginity is a counsel and not a commandment--that to marry is good, but that to be a virgin is better.2

n1. "Matth.," XIX, 17-21. n2. "I Cor.," VII, 25-40.

#336. (2) The Solution. Some authors have reached the conclusion that the Christian life consists in the observance of the commandments, and perfection in that of the counsels. This explanation is a little too simple, and if wrongly understood, would end in fatal results. In reality, perfection requires, in the first place, the keeping of the commandments and, in the second, the observance of a certain number of counsels.

This is the teaching of St. Thomas.1 After proving that perfection is nothing else but the love of God and of the neighbor, he concludes that, in practice, it consists essentially in the commandments, the chief of which is that of love; secondarily, in the counsels all of which are directed toward charity, for they remove the obstacles that hinder its practice. We shall explain this doctrine.

n1. "Sum. theol.," IIa IIae, q. 184, a. 3.

#337. A) Perfection demands peremptorily and in the first place the keeping of the commandments. It is important to impress this notion strongly upon certain persons, who, for example, in order to practice some devotions, forget their duties of state, or who under the pretext of almsgiving, defer indefinitely the payment of their debts; in a word, on all those who, aiming at a perfection of a higher order, neglect some precept of the Law of God. It is evident that the infraction of a grave precept, like that of the payment of debts, destroys charity in us, and that the pretext of giving alms cannot justify this violation of the natural law. In like manner, the willful violation of a commandment in light matter is a venial sin which, though not destroying charity in us, impedes to a greater or lesser extent its exercise, offends Almighty God, and interferes with our intimacy with Him. This is especially true of frequent deliberate venial sins which create in us attachments, and retard our advance towards perfection. To be perfect, therefore, we must, above all, observe the commandments.

#338. B) To this, however, we must join the observance of the counsels--of a few at least--chiefly of those related to our duties of state. a) Thus, religious, having bound themselves by vow to practice the three great evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience, cannot evidently sanctify themselves without fidelity to their vows. Besides, this fidelity renders singularly easy the exercise of the love of God by detaching the soul from the chief obstacles which stand in the way of divine charity. Poverty, by uprooting disordered love for wealth, sets the heart free to reach out to God and heavenly things. Chastity, by spurning the pleasures of the flesh, even those the holy state of marriage would sanction, fosters an undivided love of God. Obedience, by fighting pride and the spirit of independence, subjects the will to that of God. This obedience is, in reality, a genuine act of love.

#338. b) Those who are not bound by vows must, in order to be perfect, observe the spirit of these vows, each according to his condition in life, the inspirations of grace, and the guidance of a prudent spiritual adviser. Thus they will exercise themselves in the spirit of poverty by depriving themselves of many useless things, and so will spare money for almsgiving and for works of charity or zeal; in the Spirit of chastity, even if they be married, by using with moderation or restraint the rights to the lawful pleasures of their state, and, above all, by scrupulously avoiding whatever is forbidden or dangerous; in the spirit of obedience, by submitting themselves with docility to their superiors in whom they will see the image of God, and by a like submission to the inspirations of grace, under the guidance of a wise spiritual director.

Hence to love God and the neighbor for God's sake, to know how to sacrifice oneself in order to fulfill the better this twofold commandment and the counsels related thereto, this is true perfection.

V. The Different Degrees of Perfection

Perfection here on earth has degrees and limits. Hence two questions: (1) What are the principal degrees of perfection? (2) What are its limits here on earth?

I. The Different Degrees of Perfection I

#340. The degrees by which one is raised to perfection are numerous. The question here is not to enumerate all of them, but only to note the chief stages. According to the common doctrine, explained by St. Thomas, there are three principal stages or, as they are commonly called, three ways: that of beginners--the purgative way, that of souls already advanced--the illuminative way, and that of the perfect--the unitive way.

n1. ST. THOMAS, "Sum. theol.," 2a 2ae, q. 183, a. 4; "Catholic Encycl. States; Cursus Asceticus," I, p. 19-29.

#341. a) The chief care of beginners is that of preserving charity. Their efforts, then, are directed toward the avoidance of sin, above all, mortal sin, and toward the conquest of evil inclinations of the passions, and of all that could make them lose the love of God.1 This is the purgative way, the end of which is the purification of the soul.

n1. "Sum. theol.," 2a 2ae, q. 24, 1. 9.

#342. b) The chief concern of those already advanced, the "proficientes," is progress in the positive exercise of the virtues and growth in charity. The heart, already purified, is all the more open to divine light and to the love of God. The soul wishes to follow Jesus and to imitate His virtues, and since by following Him one walks in the Light, this is called the illuminative way.1 Here the soul strives to avoid not only mortal, but even venial sin.

n1. "L. cit."

#343. c) Perfect souls have but one concern -- to cling to God and to take their delight in Him. Ever seeking to unite themselves to God, they are in the unitive way. Sin fills them with horror, for they fear to displease God and to offend Him. The virtues that most attract them are the theological virtues, which unite them to God. Hence, the earth seems to them an exile, and, like St. Paul, they long to die to be joined to Christ.1

These are only brief indications. Later on we shall resume them again and develop them in the Second Part of this work. There we shall take the soul from the first stage, that of the purification, to the transforming union that prepares it for the Beatific Vision.

n1. "L. cit."

II. The Limits of Perfection here on Earth

344. When reading the lives of the Saints, and especially those of the great contemplatives, one marvels at the sublime heights to which a soul can rise that refuses nothing to God. There are, however, limits to our perfection here on earth. Beyond these we must not wish to go lest we fall back into a lower degree, or even lapse into sin.

#345. (1) It is certain that we cannot love God as He deserves to be loved. He is infinitely lovable, and, our hearts being finite, can never love Him, even in Heaven, except with a finite love. We can, therefore, always strive to love Him more. According to St. Bernard, the measure wherewith to love God is to love Him without measure. Let us not forget, however, that real love consists less in pious sentiments than in acts of the will, and that the best way to love God is to make the will conform to His. This we shall explain further on, when treating of conformity to the divine Will.

#346. (2) On earth one cannot love God uninterruptedly nor unfailingly. One can, no doubt, with the aid of choice graces granted to souls of good-will, avoid all deliberate venal sin, but not all faults of frailty. No one ever becomes impeccable, as the Church has declared on many occasions.

A) In the Middle Ages, the Beghards1 pretended "that man is capable in this present life of reaching such a degree of perfection that he becomes altogether impeccable and can no more grow in grace." They concluded from this that those who have attained this degree of perfection should neither fast nor pray, for in this state sensuality has been so completely subjected to the spirit and to reason that a man may grant his body whatever he pleases; he is no longer obliged to observe the commandments of the Church nor to obey men, nor even to exercise himself in acts of the virtues, such things being only for the imperfect. These are dangerous doctrines leading to immorality. Once a person believes himself impeccable and no longer strives to practice virtue, he soon becomes a prey to the vilest passions. This happened to the Beghards, whom the Oecumenical Council of Vienne rightly condemned in 1311.

n1. DENZ-BANN., n. 471-178. Cfr. P. POURRAT, "Christian Spirituality," t. II; "Cath. Encyclop.," BEGHARDS, Beguines.

#347. B) In the Seventeenth Century, Molinos1 revived this error by teaching that " through acquired contemplation one arrives at such a degree of perfection that one no longer commits any sins, either mortal or venial. " He showed only too well, by his example, that with maxims that seem so exalted, one is greatly exposed to fall into scandalous disorders. He was justly condemned by Innocent XI on November 19, 1687. Upon reading the propositions he had dared maintain, one is horrified at the frightful consequences to which this pretension to impeccability could and did lead.2 Let us be more modest then and ever seek to correct our deliberate faults and to diminish the number of those of frailty.

n1. "Catholic Encyclop.," MOLINOS n2. DENZ.-BANN., n. 1228-1288

348. (3) Contrary to what Fenelon maintained,1 we cannot on earth love God with a constant, nor yet habitual love, which is at the same time perfectly pure and disinterested. No matter to what degree of perfection we may attain, we are obliged from time to time to make acts of hope. We, therefore, cannot remain altogether indifferent to our own salvation. It is true that there have been Saints, who, in the midst of passive trials, have momentarily acquiesced to their reprobation, but on the supposition that it were so willed by God, whilst at the same time firmly declaring their unwillingness, were this the case, to desist from loving Him. These are only suppositions that must be thrust aside since the fact is that God wills the salvation of all men.

From time to time, though, we can elicit acts of pure love with no thought of self whatever, and therefore without actually hoping or wishing for Heaven. Such is the following act of love of St. Theresa:2 "If I love Thee, Lord, it is not because of Heaven which Thou hast promised me. If I fear to offend Thee, it is not because of Hell that threatens me. What draws me unto Thee, Lord, is Thyself alone--it is the sight of Thee, nailed to the Cross, Thy body bruised mid the pangs of death. Thy love doth so hold my heart that were there no Heaven, I would love Thee still; were there no Hell, I would fear Thee yet. I need not thy gifts to make me love Thee, for although I should have no hope of all I do hope for, I would love Thee still with the selfsame love."

n1. DENZ.-BANN., n. 1327-1349. n2. "The Bollandists, History of St. Theresa," vol. II, c. 31.

#349. Ordinarily, our love of God is a mixture of pure and interested love; that is to say, we love God both for His own sake, because He is infinitely good, and also because He is the source of our happiness. These two motives are not exclusive of each other, since it is the will of God that we find our happiness in loving and glorifying Him. Let us not, therefore, be alarmed at this admixture of motives in our love of God. Let us simply say to ourselves when thinking of Heaven, that our happiness will consist in the possession and the vision of God, in loving and glorifying Him. Then even when we are influenced by the desire and the hope of Heaven, the predominant motive in our actions will truly be the love of God.


#350. Behold, then, the whole of Christian perfection: --love and sacrifice. Who cannot, with God's grace, fulfill this twofold condition? Is it, indeed, so difficult to love Him Who is infinitely lovable and infinitely loving? The love that He asks of us is nothing extraordinary; it is the devotedness of love -- the gift of oneself -- consisting chiefly in conformity to the divine will. To want to love is to love. To keep the commandments for God's sake is to love. To pray is to love. To fulfill our duties of state in view of pleasing God, this is likewise to love. Nay more, to recreate ourselves, to take our meals with the like intention is to love. To serve our neighbor for God's sake is to love. Nothing then is easier, God's grace helping, than the constant exercise of divine love and through this, steady advance toward perfection.

#351. As for sacrifice, doubtless it seems hard. But we are not asked to love it for its own sake. It is enough if we love it for God's sake, or, in other words if we realize that here on earth one cannot love God without renouncing whatever is an obstacle to His love. Then sacrifice becomes first tolerable and soon even lovable. Does not a mother passing long, sleepless nights at the bedside of her son joyously undergo fatigue when she entertains the hope and more especially, when she has the certainty of thereby saving his life? Now, when we accept for the sake of God the sacrifices He demands, we have not only the hope, but the certainty itself, of pleasing Him, of giving Him glory and of working out the salvation of our own souls. In this have we not for our encouragement the example and the help of the God-Man? Has He not suffered as much as and even more than we ourselves suffer, for the glory of His Father and the salvation of our souls? Shall we, His disciples, incorporated into Him in Baptism, nourished with His Body and Blood, shall we hesitate when we are to suffer together with Him, for His love and for His intentions? Is it not true that in the Cross there is gain, especially for loving hearts? "In the Cross" says the author of the Imitation,1 "is salvation; in the Cross is life; in the Cross is protection from enemies. In the Cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness." We shall conclude with the words of Saint Augustine: "There are no labors too great for loving hearts. In fact, one finds pleasure therein, as we observe in the case of the fisherman fishing, the hunter at the chase, the merchant at the mart. For where there is love, there is no labor, or if there be labor, it is a labor of love."2 Let us then hasten toward perfection by this path of love and sacrifice.

n1. "Imitation," Bk. II, C. 12, v. 2. n2. St. AUGUST., "De bono Viduitatis," c. 21, P. L. XL, 448.