THE SPIRITUAL LIFE
A TREATISE ON ASCETICAL AND MYSTICAL THEOLOGY
by the Very Reverend Adolphe Tanquerey, S.S., D.D.
The Duty of Tending to Perfection1
#352. Having already explained the nature of the Christian life and its
perfection, we are now to examine whether there is for us a real obligation
to advance in it or whether it suffices to keep it as we keep a treasure.
To answer with greater exactness we shall examine this question with regard
to three categories of persons: (1) the laity; (2) the religious; (3) the
n1. ALVAREZ DE PAZ., op. cit., lib. IV-V; LE GAUDIER, P. III, sect. I.,
sec. VII-X; SCARAMELLI, "Guide Ascetique," Traite I, art, II; RIBET,
"Ascetique", ch. VII-IX; IGHINA, op. cit., Introd., XX-XXX. "Cursus
Asceticus," Vol. I, n. 15.
ART. I. THE DUTY INCUMBENT UPON ALL CHRISTIANS IN GENERAL TO TEND TOWARD
We shall explain: (1) The obligation itself. (2) The motives that make this
duty more easy to perform.
I. The Obligation Itself
#353 In a matter so delicate as the one now under consideration, we cannot
be too precise. It is certain that one must die in the state of grace in
order to be saved, and that this suffices. It would appear then that for
the faithful in the world there is no other obligation than that of
preserving the state of grace. However, the question is precisely whether
they can preserve the state of grace for a long time without striving to
grow in holiness. To this, authority and reason enlightened by faith answer
that, in the state of fallen nature, one cannot for long remain in the
state of grace without striving at the same time to make progress in the
spiritual life and to exercise oneself from time to time in the practice of
some of the evangelical counsels. It is only in this restricted sense that
we maintain the obligation of perfection for ordinary christians.
I. The Argument from Authority
#354. (1) Holy Writ does not deal with this question directly. It does
indeed furnish us with the distinction between precept and counsel (cf. n.
335), but it does not as a rule tell us which of the exhortations of Our
Lord are obligatory and which are not. However, Holy Scripture lays so much
stress upon the holiness that becomes a Christian, it proposes such an
ideal of perfection, it proclaims so emphatically to all Christians the
necessity of renouncement and of love-- the essentials of perfection --
that any impartial mind will draw the conclusion that in order to save our
souls, we must, at least at times, do more than is strictly commanded and,
therefore, strive after holiness.
#355. A) It is evident that one who would merely aim at avoiding mortal sin
would not be living according to the standard of moral conduct outlined in
the Gospel. Our Lord proposes to us as the ideal of holiness the very
perfection of Our Heavenly Father: "Be ye therefore perfect as also your
heavenly Father is perfect."1 Hence, all having God for their Father must
approach this divine perfection--which evidently cannot be accomplished
without progress. At bottom, the whole Sermon on the Mount is nothing but a
commentary on and the development of this ideal. The path to follow is the
path of renunciation, the path of imitation of Christ and of the love of
God: " If any man come to me, and hate not" (that is to say does not
renounce) " his father and mother and wife and children and brethren and
sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple."2 We are
bound, then, on certain occasions to choose God and His will rather than
the love of parents, of wife, of children, of self, and to sacrifice all to
follow Christ. This supposes heroic courage, which will be found wanting in
the time of need, unless God in His mercy give a special grace and unless
one be prepared by sacrifices that are not of strict obligation. True, this
is a straight and narrow path and few there are that follow it, but Jesus
Christ wills that we make earnest efforts to walk this path: "Strive to
enter by the narrow gate."3 Does He not thereby ask us to strive after
n1. "Matth.," V, 48.
n2. "Luke," XIV, 26, 27; cfr. "Matth.," X, 37, 38.
n3. "Luke," XIII, 24; cfr. "Matth.," VII, 13, 14.
#356. B) The apostles speak the same language. St. Paul often reminds the
faithful that they have been elected to be saints "That we should be holy
and unspotted in His sight in charity."1 This cannot be accomplished
without putting off the Old Adam and putting on the New, that is to say,
without mortifying the tendencies of fallen nature and striving to
reproduce the virtues of Christ. But St. Paul adds that this cannot be done
without endeavoring to reach " unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the
age of the fullness of Christ."2 This means that being made into one body
with Christ, we are His complement and that it is we who are to effect His
completeness and the fullness of His growth by our own progress in the
reproduction of His virtues. St. Peter likewise wants all his disciples to
be saints, like Him Who has called them unto salvation: " According to Him
that hath called you, Who is holy, be you also in all manner of
conversation holy."3 Could they be so, should they make no progress in the
exercise of Christian virtues? St. John in the last chapter of the
Apocalypse asks the just to cease not in the working of justice and invites
the holy to become holier still: "He that is just, let him be justified
still; and he that is holy, let him be sanctified still."4
n1. "Ephes.," I, 4.
n2. "Ephes." IV, 13. Read the entire passage, v. 10-16.
n3. "I Peter," I, 15.
n4. "Apoc.," XXII, II.
#357. C) The same doctrine follows from the nature of the Christian life.
This life Our Lord and His disciples describe as a warfare, wherein
watchfulness and prayer, mortification and positive exercise of the virtues
are the necessary conditions for victory: " Watch and pray that ye enter
not into temptation. "1 Having to struggle not only against flesh and
blood, that is, the threefold concupiscence, but also against the evil
spirits that excite our passions, we stand in need of arming ourselves
spiritually and fighting fearlessly. But in a protracted struggle, if one
remains always on the defensive, defeat is almost inevitable. Recourse,
therefore, must be had to counter-attacks, to the positive practice of the
virtues, watchfulness, mortification, and the spirit of faith and of trust.
This is, in fact, the conclusion drawn by St. Paul after a description of
the fight we are to sustain. He declares that we must be armed from head to
foot after the fashion of the Roman soldier:
"Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth and having on the
breast-plate of justice: and your feet shod with the preparation of the
gospel of peace. In all things taking the shield of faith.. . and take unto
you the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit..."2 In this way
St. Paul shows us that we must do more than is strictly commanded in order
to triumph over our enemies.
n1. "Matth.," XXVI, 41.
n2. "Ephes.," VI, 14-17.
358. 20 This doctrine is confirmed by Tradition. When the Fathers wish to
insist upon the necessity of perfection for all, they assert that we cannot
remain stationary on the way that leads to God and to salvation, that we
must to retreat. " Thus St Augustine, noting that action is characteristic
of charity, remarks that we must not halt on the way, precisely because to
halt is to recede . "He turns back who reverts whence he had once
departed."1 This principle is so evident that even Pelagius, his
antagonist, admitted it. St. Bernard, the last of the Fathers explains this
doctrine in a most telling way: "Dost thou wish to advance?--No.--Then dost
thou wish to turn back? --By no means.--What, then, wishest thou?--I wish
to live in such a way as to remain where I have arrived...--This is
impossible, for nothing in this world does remain in the same condition.2
In another place he adds that: "Of necessity one must rise or else fall: if
one tries to stop, one falls of a certainty."3 No wonder then that Our Holy
Father, Pius XI, in his Encyclical of January 26, 1923, on St. Francis de
Sales, clearly states that all Christians without exception must tend
n1. "Sermon," CLXIX, n. 18.
n2. "Epist." CCLIV, n. 4.
n3. "Epist.," XCI, n. 3.
n4. "Acta Apostolicae Sedis," XV, 50.
II. The Argument from Reason
The fundamental reason that obliges us to tend to perfection is the one
given by the Fathers.
359. (1) Life is movement, hence it is essentially progressive; no sooner
does it cease to grow than it begins to decline. The reason for this is
that there are in all living beings disintegrating forces which, if not
counteracted, end by causing disease and death. The same holds true of our
spiritual life. Side by side with those tendencies that incline us toward
good, there are other forces that incline us strongly toward evil. The one
effective means of combating them is to strengthen within us the living
forces of the love of God and the Christian virtues. Then the evil forces
abate. If we stop trying to advance, our vices reawaken, gather strength,
and assail us with added vigor and frequency; and unless we awake from our
torpor, the moment will come when from surrender to surrender we fall into
mortal sin.1 Such is, alas the story of many a soul, and the experience of
spiritual directors is witness to it.
A comparison will make us understand this. To work out our salvation we
have to go counter to the current, more or less violent, of our own
disordered passions bearing us on toward evil. So long as we make the
effort to go against the current, we advance or at least we hold our own.
The moment we stop we are carried along and driven seaward, there to meet
the ocean storms, that is, grave temptations and perhaps lamentable falls.
n1. This is the common teaching of theologians summarized by SUAREZ in
"Ce'Religione," t. IV, 1. I, c. 4, n. 12.
#360. (2) There are grave precepts that cannot at certain times be observed
except by heroic acts. If we take into account psychological laws, we are
not ordinarily capable of heroic acts, unless we have prepared for them in
advance by sacrifice or, in other words, by the practice of mortification.
A few examples will render this truth more concrete. Let us take, for
instance, the precept of chastity and see the generous, at times heroic
efforts required to keep it throughout life. Up to marriage (and many young
men do not marry before their twenty-fifth or thirtieth year), this precept
exacts absolute continence under the pain of mortal sin. Now, serious
temptations make themselves felt in almost all of us at the age of puberty,
at times even before. To resist them successfully, we must pray; we must
avoid dangerous associations, readings, and shows; we must reproach
ourselves with the slightest failings and profit by them in order to rise
without delay and with added generosity, all this throughout a considerable
part of life. Does not all this presuppose more than ordinary effort? Does
it not demand at least some works of supererogation? Nor does marriage
protect us against all grave temptations. There are periods when conjugal
continence is imperative. To practice it, a heroic courage is required, a
courage acquired only by habitual mortification of sensual pleasure and the
unwearied practice of prayer.
#361. Again, let us consider the laws of justice in financial, commercial
and industrial transactions. Do we not at once think of the thousand and
one ways there are of violating justice, of the difficulties of dealing
with perfect honesty in an atmosphere where competition and greed cause
prices to rise beyond just limits? We shall soon see that in order to
remain simply honest, extraordinary efforts and self-denial are required.
Will a man be ready for such efforts if he has been accustomed to observe
only the precepts that bind under pain of mortal sin? In order to shun this
danger one must do at least a little more that is strictly commanded, so
that the will, schooled by acts of generosity may have the strength to
resist temptations to commit acts of grave injustice.
On all sides this moral law is verified--in order not to fall into sin, we
must stave off the danger by the performance of generous acts which are not
directly prescribed by law. To strike the target we must aim above it, not
to lose grace, we must fortify our will against temptation by works of
supererogation; in other words, we must aim at some measure of perfection.
II. Motives that Make This Duty Easier
The numerous motives that may draw the faithful on to perfection can be
reduced to three principal ones: (1) the welfare of our soul, (2) the glory
of God, (3) the edification of the neighbor.
#362. (1) The welfare of our soul means security of salvation, increase of
merit, and joy of a good conscience.
A) The great work we are to accomplish here on earth truly the one thing
necessary, is the salvation of our soul. If we save our soul, even should
we lose all the goods of earth: parents, friends, good name, wealth, all is
saved; we shall find again in Heaven all we have lost, increased one
hundred fold and that for all eternity. The most effective means, however,
of securing our salvation is to aim at perfection, each one according to
his state of life. The higher we aim, with due discretion and with
constancy, the greater is the distance we put between ourselves and mortal
sin which alone can prevent our salvation. It is evident that when one
sincerely strives to grow in perfection one thereby removes the occasions
of sin, strengthens the will against surprises, so that when the moment of
temptation arrives the will, disciplined by effort toward perfection,
accustomed to pray in order to obtain the grace of God, repels with horror
the very thought of grave sin: "Rather die than be defiled." On the other
hand, those who allow themselves whatever falls short of grave sin, run the
risk of falling the moment a prolonged and violent temptation presents
itself for, accustomed to yielding to pleasure in lesser things there is
reason to fear that carried away by passion they will end by falling, just
as the man who constantly walks on the edge of the abyss finally falls into
it. In order, then, to make sure that we shall not offend God grievously,
the best means is to keep at a safe distance from evil by doing more than
is strictly commanded and by striving to advance toward perfection; for the
more we strive, with due prudence and humility, the surer we are of our
#363. B) In this way we likewise increase daily habitual grace and acquire
a title to a higher degree of glory in heaven. We have seen that every
supernatural act done for God by a soul in the state of grace results in an
increase of merit. Whoever is unmindful of perfection and is more or less
remiss in the performance of his duty, acquires but little merit, as we
have said above, n. 243. On the contrary, he who tends to perfection and
strives to make progress, secures merit in large measure; he augments daily
his store of grace and glory; each of his efforts is rewarded by additional
grace here on earth and of happiness in heaven: "An eternal weight of
n1. II Cor.," IV, 17.
#364. C) If we desire to have true happiness on earth, there is no better
way than to cultivate piety (godliness) which, as St. Paul says, "is
profitable to all things, having promise of the life that now is and of
that which is to come."1 Peace of soul, the joy of a good conscience, the
happiness of union with God, of growing in His love, of effecting a closer
intimacy with Christ, such are a few of the rewards which, along with the
comforting hope of life eternal, God dispenses even now to His faithful
servants in the midst of their trials.
n1. "II Tim.," IV, 8.
#365. (2) The Glory of God. There is nothing more noble than to procure the
glory of God, nothing more just when we recall all that God has done and
ever does for us. Now, a perfect man gives more glory to God than a
thousand ordinary souls. For he multiplies day by day his acts of love, of
gratitude, of reparation; he directs toward God his whole life by the oft-
renewed offering of ordinary actions, thus giving glory to Him from morning
#366. (3) The Edification of our Neighbor. There is no better way to do
good to others, to bring to God sinners or unbelievers and to strengthen
the wavering, than the earnest effort to live a thoroughly Christian life.
Just as a common-place life on-the part of Christians invites the critical
and the unbelieving to scoff at Christianity, so true sanctity calls forth
their admiration for a religion that produces such effects: "By their
fruits you shall know them."1 The best apologetics are those of example
coupled with the fulfillment of all our social duties. This is likewise the
best stimulus to careless Christians who would remain in their spiritual
indolence if the earnest efforts of fervent souls did not stir them up.
This motive appeals today to many a soul. This is an age of proselytism,
and lay people realize better than ever the necessity of defending and
spreading the faith by word and example. It devolves upon priests to
further this movement by creating round about them a choice body of
resolute Christian men and women determined to become daily more and more
faithful to all their duties, civic and social, and above all religious.
These will be valuable co-workers, who going into places inaccessible to
the priest and the religious, will successfully second their efforts in the
exercise of zeal.
n1. "Matth.," VII, 20.
ART. II. THE OBLIGATION INCUMBENT UPON RELIGIOUS OF TENDING TOWARD
#367. There are among Christians those who, wishing to give themselves all
the more perfectly to God and to insure more effectively the welfare of
their souls, enter the religious state. This state is according to the Code
of Canon Law,2 "a permanent manner of living in community wherein the
faithful, in addition to those things that are of precept, engage
themselves by vow to observe the evangelical counsels of obedience,
chastity and poverty."
All theologians agree that Religious are bound to tend to perfection in
virtue of their state. The Code recalls this teaching when it declares that
"each and every religious superior as well as subject is bound to tend
toward the perfection of his state."3 This obligation is so grave that St.
Alphonsus does not hesitate to say: "If a religious takes the firm
resolution of not tending toward perfection or of giving no thought
whatever to it, he commits a mortal sin."4 Such a religious would fail
seriously in his duty of state, which is precisely that of tending to
perfection. On this account the religious state is called a state of
perfection, that is to say, a permanent condition of life, officially
recognized as such by Canon Law, wherein one binds oneself to strive after
perfection. Hence, as St. Thomas teaches, it is not necessary to have
attained perfection before entering the religious life, but one enters it
precisely to acquire perfection.5
The obligation for religious of tending to perfection is based chiefly on a
twofold reason: (1) their vows; (2) their rules and constitutions.
n1. "Codex," can. 487-672; ST. THOM., IIa IIae, q. 24, a. 9;q. 183, a. 1-4;
p. 184-186; SUAREZ, "De Religione," tr. VII; S. FRANCIS DE SALES,
"Spiritual Conferences, De Religiosis;" VALUY, "Les Vertus Religieuses,"
1914; GAUTRELET, "Traite de l etat religieux;" J. P. MOTHON, "Traite sur
l'etat religieux," 1923; GAY, "Religious Life and vows;" Card. GASQUET,
"Religio Religiosi;" H EDLEY, "Retreat, Retreat for Religious;" BUTLER,
"Benedictine Monachism;" SCOTT, "Convent Life;" BUCKLER, "Spiritual
Perfection;" LORD, "Our Nuns;" GIRAUD-THURSTON, "The Spirit of Sacrifice in
the Religious Life;" "Catholic Encyclop., Religious Life."
n2. Can. 487.
n3. Can. 593.
n4. "Theol. moralis," 1, IV, n. 18.
n5. "Sum Theol.," IIa IIae, q. 186, a. I, ad 3.
I. The Obligation Based on the Vows
#368. When one becomes a religious it is for the purpose of giving, of
consecrating oneself more perfectly to God. This is the reason for the
three vows. These vows impose the obligation of performing acts of virtue
which are not of precept; and these acts are all the more perfect as the
vows add to their intrinsic worth the merit of the virtue of religion.
Moreover, these vows remove, at least in part, some of the greatest
obstacles to perfection. We shall understand this better when we examine
these vows in detail.
#369. (1) By the vow of poverty we renounce external possessions present or
future. If the vow is solemn, we renounce the very right to ownership, so
that all acts of ownership would be canonically void, as the Code has it,
Canon 579. If the vow is simple, we do not renounce the right itself to
ownership, but only the free exercise thereof; consequently the use of this
right depends upon the will of Superiors and is confined within the limits
set by them.
This vow is a help in overcoming one of the great obstacles to perfection,
namely, the inordinate love of riches and the cares inherent to the
administration of temporal goods. It is, therefore, a great means of
spiritual progress. Moreover, this vow imposes painful sacrifices; one has
not the security, the independence which the free use of one's own goods
confers. At times, one has to suffer certain privations that community-life
imposes: it is hard and humiliating to be obliged to have recourse to a
Superior for everything, one needs. Here we have acts of virtue imposed by
the vow of poverty which not only make us tend towards, but actually bring
us nearer to perfection.
#370. (2) The vow of chastity enables us to overcome a second obstacle to
perfection, the concupiscence of the flesh and frees us from the cares and
worries of family-life. St. Paul calls attention to this when he says: "He
that is without a wife is solicitous for the things that belong to the
Lord: how he may please God. But he that is with a wife is solicitous for
the things of the world: how he may please his wife. And he is divided."1
But the vow of chastity does not divest us of concupiscence; and the grace
that is given to keep this vow is not meant to spare us pain and struggle.
To observe life-long continence it is necessary to watch and pray, to
mortify the exterior senses and curiosity to check the sensitive appetite,
to avoid idleness, to give the heart entirely to God by the practice of
charity, to live in intimate and affectionate union with Our Lord, as we
shall show when we speak of the virtue of chastity. Now, to do all this is
evidently to tend to perfection. It is to renew constantly the effort to
conquer self and control one of the most violent tendencies of fallen
n1. "I Cor.," VII, 32-33.
#371. Obedience goes even further. It brings into submission not solely to
God, but to Rules and to Superiors that which we cling to most tenaciously,
our own will. By this vow the Religious pledges himself to obey the
commands of his lawful Superior in all that concerns the vows and
constitutions. Here it is question of formal commands and not of mere
advice. Such a command is recognized by the formulas employed by the
Superior, for instance when he commands in the name of holy obedience, in
the name of Our Lord, or when he uses any other equivalent expression
making clear that he means to give a formal order. Of course this power of
Superiors is limited. They are to command according to the rule, " not
going beyond what is expressly or implicitly contained therein, that is the
constitutions, the statutes legally designed to ensure their observance,
the penalties sanctioned to punish transgressions and prevent further
infractions, and whatever relates to the fulfillment of the different
duties and to an efficient and fair administration.1
In spite of these restrictions, it remains true that the vow of obedience
is one of those that come hardest to human nature, precisely because we are
so much attached to our own will. To observe it we need humility, patience
and meekness; we have to mortify that strong tendency of ours to criticize
Superiors, to prefer our judgment to theirs, to follow our likes and at
times our whims. To overcome these tendencies, to bend our will
respectfully before that of Superiors and to see God in them is, without
doubt, to tend to perfection, for it is to cultivate some of the most
difficult virtues. Besides, since true obedience is the best proof of love,
to practice it is to grow in the virtue of charity.
n1. VALUY, "Les Vertus Religieuses," 19e ed. p. 106. To be valid in the
external forum, the command must be given in writing or before two
witnesses(Code, C. 24.).
#372. It is clear, then, that fidelity to the three vows entails not only
the practice of the great virtues of poverty, chastity and obedience, but
also of a great many others which are indispensable to their observance. To
pledge oneself to keep them is certainly to oblige oneself to an uncommon
degree of perfection.
I I. The Obligation Based on the Constitutions and the Rules
#373. Upon entering the religious state one assumes the obligation to
observe the Constitutions and the Rules explained in the course of the
novitiate, before profession. Now, no matter what Order or Congregation one
may enter, there is not a single one that has not as its end the
sanctification of its members and that does not determine, at times in
great detail, the virtues they must practice and the means that facilitate
their exercise. Hence, if one is sincere, one binds himself to keep at
least in general those various rules, and by this very fact, to rise to a
certain degree of perfection; for in keeping these rules, though it be only
in a general way, one has plenty of opportunities to mortify oneself in
things not of precept, and the effort one is forced to make in this
direction is an effort toward perfection.
#374. Here the question arises whether the infringement of the rules
constitutes a sin or a mere imperfection. Many distinctions must be made to
answer this question.
a) There are rules prescribing fidelity to those virtues that are of
precept, or to the vows, and there are other rules determining the means
necessary to the keeping of these virtues and vows, for instance, the rule
of enclosure for cloistered communities. Such rules bind in conscience for
the very reason that they simply promulgate an obligation flowing from the
vows themselves, for when making these, one assumes the obligation of
keeping them and taking the means necessary for their observance. These
rules bind under the pain of sin, mortal or venial according to the
importance of the matter. They are, therefore, preceptive and, in certain
Congregations they are clearly noted as such, either directly or
indirectly, by the infliction of a grave sanction which supposes a
#375. b) There are, on the other hand, rules which explicitly or implicitly
are considered as being simply directive. I) To break them without reason
is no doubt an imperfection, but such infraction is not in itself even a
venial sin, for there is no violation either of a law or of a command. 2)
St. Thomas, however, justly remarks that one may sin grievously against the
rule, if one violates it out of contempt (contempt of the rule itself or
contempt of Superiors).1 One may sin lightly if the violation in question
is due to voluntary negligence, passion, anger, sensuality or any other
sinful motive. In this case it is the motive that constitutes the fault. We
may add with St. Alphonsus that the fault may be grave if the infractions
are frequent and deliberate, either because of the resulting scandal, which
gradually leads to an appreciable weakening of discipline, or because the
delinquent exposes himself to expulsion from the community to the great
detriment of his soul.
n1. "Sum. theol.," IIa IIae, q. 186, a. 9, ad I et 3.
#376. Superiors, therefore, are obliged in virtue of their office to
enforce the rules with care. The Superior who would neglect to check
transgressions of the rule, even slight ones, when they tend to become
frequent, may be guilty of a grave fault, because he thereby encourages a
gradual relaxation, which in a community constitutes a grave disorder. Such
is the teaching of de Lugo, St. Liguori, Schram1 and many other
But the true religious does not enter into these distinctions. He observes
the rule as perfectly as he can, knowing this to be the best way of
pleasing God: "Who lives by rule lives unto God." In like manner, he is not
satisfied with keeping to the letter of the vows, but rather he lives by
their spirit in striving daily to approach perfection according to the word
of St. John :"He that is holy, let him be sanctified still."2 Then, are
fulfilled in him the words of St. Paul: "And whosoever shall follow this
rule, peace on them and mercy." 3
n1. SCHRAM, "Instit. Theol. Mysticae," 655, Scholion.
n2. "Apoc.," XXII, II.
n3. "Galat.," VI, 16.
ART. III. THE OBLIGATION INCUMBENT UPON PRIESTS OF TENDING TO PERFECTION1
#377. Priests in virtue of their functions and of the mission which makes
theirs the duty of sanctifying souls, are bound to a higher interior
holiness than that of the simple religious not raised to the priesthood.
This is the express teaching of St. Thomas,2 confirmed by the most
authoritative ecclesiastical pronouncements. The Councils, and particularly
that of Trent,3 the Supreme Pontiffs, and especially Leo XIII4 and Pius X,5
so insist upon the necessity of holiness in the priest, that to deny our
thesis is to stand in open contradiction to authorities that cannot be
gainsaid. Let it suffice to recall the fact that Pius X, upon the occasion
of the fiftieth anniversary of his priesthood, issued a letter addressed to
the Catholic clergy, wherein he shows the necessity of holiness in the
priest, and enumerates one by one the means necessary to attain it, those
very means, by the way, which are insisted on in our Seminaries. After
describing interior holiness (vitae morumque sanctimonia), he declares that
only this holiness makes us what our vocation requires us to be," men who
are crucified to the world, who have put on the new Adam, men whose
thoughts are fixed on heavenly things and who strive by all possible means
to lead others to heaven. "
n1. Besides the authors already quoted, see ARVISENET, "Memoriale vitae
sacerdotalis;" MOLINA LE CHARTREUX, "L'instruction des pretres," 2e Traite;
OLIER, "Traite des SS. Ordres;" TRONSON, "Particular Examens;" DUBOIS, "Le
saint Pretre;" CAUSSETTE, "Manrese du Pretre;" GIBBONS, "The Ambassador of
Christ;" GIRAUD, "Priest and Victim;" MANNING, "The Eternal Priesthood;"
MGR. LELONG, "Le Pretre;" CARD. MERCIER, "The Interior Life, Retreat to his
Priests, Conferences to his Seminarians;" HEDLEY, "Lex Levitarum, Retreat
for Priests;" CARD. VAUGHN, "The Young Priest, Introduction to the Life of
St. John B. de Rossi;" KEATINGE, "The Priest, His Character and Work;
MILLET-BYRNE, "Jesus Living in the Priest;" BRUNEAU, "Our Priesthood;"
GRIMAL, "Priesthood and Sacrifice;" CARD. BOURNE, "Ecclesiastical Training;
The Teaching of St. Thomas on Priestly Perfection," Cath. Educ. Assoc.,
n2. "By Holy Orders a man is deputed to the most dignified ministry, to
serve Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar. For this a greater interior
sanctity is required than even the religious state demands." IIa IIae, q.
184, a. 6, 8.
n3. Sess. XXII, de Reform. c. I.
n4. Encyclical "Quod multum," Aug. 22nd, 1886; Encyclical Letter "Depuis le
jour," Sept. 8, 1899.
n5. "Exhortatio ad clerum catholicum," Aug. 4th, 1908. The entire letter
should be read. See BRUNEAU, "Our Priesthood," Appendix.
#378. The New Code has confirmed the views of Pius X by emphasizing more
than the old legislation did the necessity of holiness in the priest and
the means of exercising himself therein. It declares in no obscure words
that clerics must lead an interior and exterior life holier than that of
the laity and give these the good example of virtue and good works. " It
adds that Bishops should see to it, " that all clerics receive frequently
the Sacrament of Penance to be purified of their faults; that each day they
apply themselves during a certain length of time to the exercise of mental
prayer, visit the Most Blessed Sacrament, recite the beads in honor of the
Blessed Mother of God, and make their examination of conscience. At least
every three years diocesan priests must make a retreat. All clerics, but
chiefly priests, are especially bound to respect and to obey their
This doctrine, that the priest is obliged to tend to perfection, is proved:
(1) by the authority of Our Lord and of St. Paul, (2) by the "Pontifical",
(3) by the very nature of the priestly functions.
n1. Can. 124-127.
1. The Teaching of Our Lord and of St. Paul
#379. (1) Our Lord eloquently teaches the necessity of holiness in the
priest by His examples as well as by His words.
A) He gives the example. He Who from the beginning was "full of grace end
truth" has willed to submit Himself to the law of progress: "Jesus advanced
in wisdom and age and grace with God and men."1 Nay, during thirty years He
prepared for His public ministry by a hidden life and all that this
implies: prayer, mortification, humility, obedience. Thirty years of the
life of the Incarnate Word are summed up in these few words: "He was
subject to them."2 To make His preaching of the Christian virtues more
effective, He began by practicing them: "Jesus began to do and to teach,"3
so that He could have proposed Himself as a model of all virtues, as He did
of the virtues of humility and meekness: "Learn of me, because I am meek
and humble of heart. "4 At the close of His life He declared in all
simplicity that He sanctifies and sacrifices Himself in order that His
Apostles and His priests, their successors, be sanctified in all truth:
"and for them do I sanctify myself that they also may be sanctified in
truth."5 Now, the priest is the representative of Jesus Christ upon earth,
another Christ: "For Christ therefore we are ambassadors."6 Hence, the
priest, too, must be ever pursuing holiness of life.
n1. "Luke," II, 52.
n2. "Luke," II, 51.
n3. "Act.," I, I.
n4. "Matth.," XI, 26.
n5. "John," XVII, 19.
n6. "II Cor.," V, 20.
#380. B) What Our Lord teaches by His example, He teaches also by His word.
The great work of the three years of His public life was the training of
the Twelve.1 In this He employed the most of His time; it was His habitual
occupation. Preaching to the crowds was merely secondary and was to serve
as a model of what the preaching of His disciples should be. From this are
drawn the following conclusions: a) The sublime teachings on godliness,
inward holiness, self-denial, the love of God and the neighbor, humility,
meekness and all the other virtues so frequently inculcated in the Gospel,
are meant, no doubt, for all Christians aspiring to perfection, but they
are first of all addressed to the apostles and their successors. For it is
they who are commissioned to teach the people of God these great duties by
their example even more than by their word. The "Pontifical" recalls this
to the deacons : "Take heed that ye show forth the living works of the
Gospel unto whom you proclaim it by word of mouth." Every one agrees that
these doctrines embody a code of perfection that is very high. Hence, it is
a duty of state for priests to strive after holiness.
n1. DELBREL, S.J., " Jesus, Educateur des Apotres," Ch. IV-VI.
#381. b) The exhortations to higher perfection that we find in so many
places in the Gospel are most particularly addressed to the Apostles and to
priests . "You are the salt of the earth... You are the light of the
world."1 This light is not only knowledge but rather and chiefly the
beacon-light of example, which enlightens and attracts even more than
knowledge: "So let your light shine before men that they may see your good
works and glorify your Father who is in heaven."2 It is likewise to priests
that are addressed in a special manner the counsels regarding poverty and
chastity, for in virtue of their vocation they are obliged to follow Christ
n1. "Matth.," V, 13 and 14.
n2. "Matth.," V, 16.
#382. c) Lastly, there is a whole series of teachings that directly and
explicitly are meant for the Apostles and their successors: the
instructions He gave to the Twelve and to the Seventy-two when He sent them
to preach in Judea, and the discourse He pronounced at the Last Supper.
These utterances embody a code of priestly holiness so high as to imply the
duty of tending to perfection. Priests must live a life of complete
detachment, be poor in spirit, and poor in fact, being satisfied with what
they need; they must exercise zeal, charity, absolute devotedness, patience
and humility in the midst of persecutions, courage to confess Christ and
preach His Gospel before all men and in spite of all men. They must be
detached from the world and from their kin, learn to carry the Cross and
live in total abnegation of self.1
n1. "Matth.," X, XI; "Luke," IX, X etc.
#383. At the Last Supper1 He gives unto them that new commandment, to love
one another as He has loved them, that is to say, unto the complete
immolation of self. He counsels them to have faith, a live faith and an
absolute confidence in the prayer that is offered in His name. He urges on
them the love of God, which is made manifest by keeping His commandments;
peace of soul in order to receive and relish the teachings of the Holy
Spirit; an intimate and abiding union with Himself as the essential
condition for their sanctification and the discharge of their ministry. He
exhorts them to patience midst the persecutions of the world that shall
hate them as it has hated their Master; to docility to the Holy Ghost,
their Comforter in their tribulations; to steadfastness in the faith, to
prayer in their trials. In a word, He recommends to them all those things
which constitute the essential condition of what we call today the interior
life or the life of perfection. He ends this discourse by that grand
sacerdotal prayer, so full of tenderness, wherein He asks His Father to
keep His chosen ones as He Himself has kept them during the course of His
mortal life; to keep them from evil in the midst of the world which they
must evangelize, and to sanctify them in all truth. He utters this prayer
not only in behalf of His Apostles but for all those that through them
would believe in Him, so that they may ever be one, even as the Three
Divine Persons are one, that they may all be one with God and one with
Christ: "That the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I
in them."2 This is a charter of perfection drawn up for us by Our High-
Priest Whose representatives on earth we are, Whose priesthood we share. It
must be an inspiration for us to think that He prayed that we might live
according to this standard.
n1. "John," XIV-XVII.
n2. "John," XVII, 27.
#384. (2) St. Paul, drawing his inspiration from this teaching of the
Master, describes in his turn the apostolic virtues. Stating in the first
place that priests are the dispensers of the mysteries of God, His
ministers, the ambassadors of Christ, and the mediators between God and
men, he then enumerates in the Pastoral Epistles the virtues wherewith
deacons, priests and bishops must be adorned. For them, it is not enough to
have once received the grace of ordination; they must make it live
vigorously lest it wane: "I admonish thee that thou stir up the grace of
God which is in thee by the imposition of my hands."1 Deacons must be
chaste and modest, sober, disinterested, discreet and faithful, knowing how
to govern their houses with prudence and dignity. Even more perfect must
priests and bishops be.2 Their lives must be so pure as to be
irreproachable. They must sedulously combat pride, anger, intemperance,
avarice, and cultivate the virtues of humility, temperance, chastity,
holiness, kindness, generosity, patience, meekness and above all godliness
(which is profitable unto all things), faith and charity.3 They must be
examples of these virtues and must therefore practice them to a high
degree: "In all things show thyself an example of good works."4 All these
virtues presuppose a certain measure of perfection already acquired and a
generous and constant effort to advance.
n1. "II Tim.," I, 6.
n2. " For a bishop must be without crime, as the steward of God; not proud,
not subject to anger, not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy
lucre: but given to hospitality, gentle, sober, just, holy, continent:
embracing that faithful word which is according to doctrine, that he may be
able to exhort in sound doctrine and to convince the gainsayers." "Tit.,"
n3. "Pursue justice, godliness, faith, charity, patience, mildness." "I
Tim.," VI, II.
n4. "Tit.," II, 7.
II. The Teaching of the "Pontifical"
#385. It would be an easy task to show that the Fathers, commenting on the
Epistles and Gospels, have unfolded these teachings and explained them in
detail. We could even add that they have written Letters and entire
Treatises upon the dignity and the holiness of the priesthood.1 In order to
be brief, however, we shall confine ourselves to the teaching of the
"Pontifical", which is the Priestly Code, as it were, of the New Law,
embodying the summary of what the Catholic Church requires of her
ministers. This simple exposition will show the high degree of perfection
demanded of the Ordinands and still more of priests in the ministry.2
n1. Most of these Treatises are to be found in a work entitled: "Le Pretre
d apres les Peres", by RAYNAUD, 12 in-8, Paris, 1843. See likewise the
numerous texts in L. TRONSON'S book, "Forma Cleri."
n2. For the explanation of the "Pontifical", cfr. OLIER, op. cit.,; BACUEZ,
"Major Orders, Minor Orders, Vocation and Tonsure;" GIRAUD, op. cit., t.
II; GONTIER, "Explication du Pontifical;" BRUNEAU, "Our Priesthood."
#386. (1) The Church demands of the tonsured cleric a universal detachment
from whatever is an obstacle to the love of God, and an intimate union with
Our Lord, that he may wage war against the tendencies of the Old Adam and
may put on the dispositions of the New. The "Dominus pars," which he should
utter every day, reminds him that God, and God alone, is his portion, his
inheritance, and that whatever cannot be referred to Him should be trodden
under foot. The "Induat me" shows him that life is a warfare, a struggle
against the evil inclinations of nature, an effort to cultivate the
supernatural virtues implanted in our souls on the day of our Baptism.
Thus, from the outset, it is the love of God that is given him as the end
to be reached, and sacrifice as the means thereto, with the obligation of
fostering these two dispositions in his soul, if he is to be promoted to
higher ranks in the clergy.
#387. (2) Minor Orders confer upon the cleric a twofold power: one over
Christ's Eucharistic Body, the other over His mystical body, that is, over
souls. Besides detachment, he is to have a twofold love, the love of Our
Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and the love of souls. Both imply sacrifice.
As porter, he is separated from the occupations of the home and constituted
the official custodian of the House of God. The reader rises above the
interest of worldly studies to tarry in the consideration of the Sacred
Text, to draw therefrom that doctrine which will work unto his own
sanctification and that of others. The exorcist casts off sin and the
remnants of sin, to evade all the more surely the power of Satan. The
acolyte renounces the pleasures of sense to live in that state of purity
which the service of the altar exacts. At the same time His love for God
becomes stronger. He loves the God of the Eucharist, Whose guardian he is.
He loves the Word, hidden beneath the sacred veil of Holy Writ. He loves
Him at Whose commands the spirits of darkness tremble and obey. He loves
the Victim of the Altar. This love blossoms forth in zeal: the cleric loves
souls, whom with joyful heart he brings to God by word and example, whom he
sanctifies by his participation in the Holy Sacrifice. Thus step by step he
makes his way forward unto perfection.
#388. (3) By his irrevocable consecration to God, the subdeacon immolates
himself out of love for Him, a prelude to the Sacrifice he will one day
offer upon the altar. He immolates his body by the vow of chastity and
consecrates his soul by dedicating it to the recitation of the divine
office. Chastity implies mortification of the interior and exterior senses,
of the mind, of the heart. The duty of the Divine Office supposes a spirit
of recollection and of prayer, the sustained effort for a life of union
with God. One cannot be faithful in these two duties of chastity and of
prayer without an ardent love of God, which love alone can shelter the
heart from the allurements of sensual love and lay the soul open to prayer
and recollection. Sacrifice and love, then, is what the Church demands of
the subdeacon, a sacrifice greater than any he had made up to the present;
for the efforts demanded at times by a life-long chastity are nothing short
of the heroic, and require an habitual spirit of watchfulness, humble
mistrust of self, and mortification.1 Furthermore, it is a sacrifice which
is irrevocable: "But if you receive this Order, you will no longer be at
liberty to recede from your resolution, but you will be obliged to serve
God perpetually, to serve Whom is to reign."2 That this sacrifice be
possible and lasting it must be made with a great deal of love. An intense
love of God and love for souls alone can shield us from profane love; it
alone gives us the relish for the sweetness of perpetual prayer, by
directing our thoughts and our affections toward Him Who alone can steady
them. Therefore, the Pontiff invokes upon the ordinand the seven gifts of
the Holy Ghost that he be made mighty unto the fulfillment of the stern
duties laid upon him by the subdiaconate.
n1. "Celibacy is an heroic virtue, and for heroic virtue we need high
sanctity. If I am asked what degree of perfection or holiness the Church
demands of her priests, it is enough for me to answer that she demands of
them perfect chastity and a life of celibacy. This obligation is so heavy,
its extent is so broad, that it either presupposes or leads to a high
degree of personal sanctity." KEATINGE, "The Priest, His Character and
Work," p. 101.
n2. "Pontifical," ordination of Subdeacons.
#389. (4) Of deacons, who co-operate actively, in the oblation of the
Sacred Victim, who are "co-ministers and co-operators of the Body and Blood
of the Lord," the "Pontifical" exacts even a more perfect purity: "Be
clean, undefiled, pure, chaste." Because they have the power to preach the
Gospel, they are asked to proclaim it even more by example than by word:
"Take care that you may illustrate the gospel by your living works, to
those to whom you announce it with your lips." Their life must be a living
exemplification of the Gospel and a constant imitation of the virtues of
the Master. Thus, the Bishop praying that the Holy Spirit may descend upon
them with all His gifts, chiefly that of fortitude, addresses to God this
beautiful prayer: "Let the practice of every virtue abound in them, mild
authority, constant modesty, the purity of innocence, and the observance of
spiritual discipline." Is not this a petition in their behalf for the
virtues that lead to sanctity? In his final prayer, in fact, the Pontiff
asks that they be adorned with all the virtues: "Well-formed in all the
#390. (5) The "Pontifical" demands even more of the priest. Because he
offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass he must be both priest and victim.
This he shall be by the immolation of his passions: "Bear in mind what you
do. Let your conduct be in conformity with the action you perform, so that
celebrating the mystery of the Lord's death, you take heed to mortify your
members from all vices and lusts." He shall become such a victim by his
constant renewal in the spirit of holiness: "Renew in them, O God, the
spirit of holiness." To attain this, the Law of God shall be the object of
his thoughts by day and by night that he may teach it to others, that he
may live by it himself and thus be an exemplar of all Christian virtues:
"That meditating on Thy law, day and night, they may believe what they
read, teach what they believe and practice what they teach. May they show
forth in themselves justice, constancy, mercy, fortitude and all other
virtues." As he is to be spent for souls, he shall practice brotherly love
in the form of devotedness: "Receive the priestly vestment by which charity
is signified;" and, after the example of St. Paul, he shall spend himself
entirely for the sake of souls: "I most gladly will spend and be spent
myself for your souls."1
n1. "II Cor.," XII, 15.
#391. Thus it is that at each step toward the priesthood, the "Pontifical"
demands a greater measure of virtue, of love and of sacrifice. Coming
finally to the priesthood, it requires sanctity in order, as St. Thomas1
says, that the priest be made fit to offer worthily the august sacrifice
and be enabled to sanctify the souls committed to his care. The Ordinand is
free to go, on or not, but if he receives orders, he thereby evidently
accepts the conditions so explicitly laid down by the Prelate, that is, the
obligation of tending to perfection, an obligation which far from ceasing,
becomes more urgent with the actual exercise of the sacred ministry.
n1. ST. THOMAS, "Suppl," 1. 35, a. I, ad 3. "For the worthy exercise of
Holy Orders, ordinary virtue is not enough, but a high degree of sanctity
III. The Nature of the Priestly Functions Demands Holiness of Life
#392. On the testimony of the Apostle St. Paul, the priest is the mediator
between God and man, between heaven and earth. Chosen from among men to be
their representative, he must be acceptable to God, called by Him so as to
have a right to appear before Him, and to offer the homages of men and to
obtain His favors: "For every high priest taken from among men is ordained
for men in the things that appertain to God, that he may offer up gifts and
sacrifices for sin... Neither doth any man take the honor to himself, but
he that is called by God, as Aaron was."1 His functions can be reduced to
two principal ones: he is the "Religious of God,"2 charged with glorifying
Him in the name of the whole Christian people; he is also a Savior, a
Sanctifier of souls, his mission being that of co-operating with Jesus
Christ in the work of their sanctification and their salvation. He should
be saintly on this twofold ground,3 and should therefore ever tend toward
perfection, since he will never fully attain to the plenitude of that
holiness demanded by his office.
n1. "Hebr.," V, I, 4.
n2. Religious in the sense that he is officially charged with fulfiling
towrad God the duties of religion, and not in the sense of a man entering a
religious order and making the three vows.
n3. ST. THOMAS says: "Those who handle the divine mysteries obtain a regal
dignity and must be perfected in virtue." (IV Sent., dist. 24, q. 2.)
(1) THE PRIEST, AS "THE RELIGIOUS OF GOD, " SHOULD BE A SAINTLY MAN
#393. In virtue of his mission, the priest must glorify God in the name of
the Christian people. Truly, then, he is the Religious of God, and that by
reason of the priesthood such as Our Lord instituted it. "He is ordained
for men in the things that appertain to God, that he may offer up gifts and
sacrifices. "It is above all through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the
recitation of the Divine Office that he acquits himself of this duty; yet
all his actions, even the most ordinary, may contribute thereto, if they be
done with a view to please God. This mission cannot be fulfilled in a
seemly manner except by a priest who is saintly or a least who is striving
to become so.
#394. A) What holiness is required in order to offer up the Holy Sacrifice!
The priests of the Old Law had to be holy, and this under pain of
punishment, because they came near to God. (It is question here chiefly of
legal holiness). "The priests also that come to the Lord, let them be
sanctified; lest He strike them."1 They were bound to be holy in order to
offer worthily incense and the bread destined for the altar: "For they
offer the burnt offering of the Lord and the bread of their God: and
therefore they shall be holy."2
How much holier should they be, how much greater interior holiness should
they have who offer no longer shadows and figures, but the Great Sacrifice
itself, the All holy Victim! All is holy in this Divine Sacrifice : the
Victim and the chief Offerer, Jesus Himself, Who, says St. Paul, is "holy,
innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the
heavens."3 The Church in whose name the priest offers Holy Mass is likewise
holy, whom Jesus hath sanctified with His Blood: "Christ delivered Himself
up for it... that it should be holy and without blemish."4 The end for
which such offering is made is holy, to glorify God and bring forth in
souls the fruits of holiness. The prayers and ceremonies are holy,
recalling the Sacrifice of Calvary and the effects it merited unto
sanctification. Above all is the Communion holy that unites us to the very
source of all sanctity.
The priest, who as the representative of Jesus Christ and of the Church
offers up this august Sacrifice, must of necessity be also clothed in
holiness. How could he worthily represent Christ, how could he be another
Christ, if his life be but commonplace, void of any aspiration toward
perfection? Could he be the minister of the Church, the spotless Spouse of
Christ, if his soul, attached to venial sin, is neglectful of spiritual
progress? Could he glorify God if his heart be void of love and sacrifice?
How could he sanctify souls if he lacked the earnest desire of sanctifying
n1. "Exod., " XIX, 22.
n2. "Levit.," XXI, 6.
n3. "Hebr.," VII, 26.
n4. "Ephes.," V, 25-27.
#395. How would he have the audacity to mount the altar uttering those
prayers of the Mass which breathe the most pure sentiments of sorrow,
faith, religion, love, self-denial, if his soul had no part in these? How
could he venture to offer himself with the Divine Victim, "in a humble
spirit and a contrite heart may we be received by Thee, O Lord,"1 if those
sentiments were in contradiction with his life? How can any man whose life
is all human, demand a share in the divinity of Jesus Christ? How could
such a one make his own this protestation of innocence: "But as for me, I
have walked in my innocence,"2 if he make no effort to shake off the dust
of a thousand and one deliberate venial sins? How dare he utter the Sanctus
wherein God's awful holiness is proclaimed? How make bold to identify
himself with Jesus Christ at the Consecration, with the Author of all
holiness, if he strive not to sanctify himself with Him and through Him?
Could he utter the Lord's prayer and not think that we must be perfect as
Our Father in heaven is perfect? Could he repeat the Agnus Dei without a
humble and contrite heart? What of those tender prayers before Communion:
"Make me always adhere to Thy commandments, and suffer me never to be
separated from Thee."3 And yet the heart far from God, far from Jesus! To
unite himself daily in Communion with an All-holy God without a sincere
desire of sharing in His holiness, without striving daily to become more
and more like Him, would not this be a flagrant contradiction, a lack of
loyalty, an abuse of grace and a lack of fidelity to the priestly vocation?
Let priests meditate on and take to heart the Fifth Chapter of the Fourth
Book of the Following of Christ: ON THE DIGNITY OF THE SACRAMENT AND OF THE
PRIESTLY STATE. "If thou hadst the purity of an angel, and the sanctity of
St. John the Baptist, thou wouldst neither be worthy to receive nor to
handle this Sacrament.. Thou hast not lightened thy burden, but art now
bound by a stricter bond of discipline, and art obliged to greater
perfection of sanctity."4
n1. Prayer of the Offertory.
n3. "Roman Missal," Prayer before Communion.
n4. "Imitation," Bk, IV, c. V, n. I.
#396. B) What we have said of Holy Mass can be said in a certain sense also
of the Divine Office. It is in the name of the Church, in union with Jesus,
the great Religious of God, and for the whole Christian people, that seven
times a day the priest appears before God to adore Him, to thank Him, and
to obtain from Him the numberless graces souls need. If his prayer is but
lip-service and not the tribute of his heart, will he not merit the
reproach addressed by God to the Jews: "This people hononeth me with their
lips: but their heart is far from me."1 And will grace be granted
abundantly if he asks for it in so unworthy a manner?
n1. "Matth.," XV, 8; "Isaiah," XXIX, 13.
#397. Furthermore, in order that our ordinary actions be transformed into
acts of worship pleasing to the Lord they ought to be accomplished with
dispositions inspired by love and by the spirit of sacrifice (cf. n. 309).
Whithersoever we turn, the selfsame conclusion imposes itself: as The
Religious of God, the priest must aim at holiness of life.
(2) THE PRIEST CANNOT BE SUCCESSFUL IN THE WORK OF SAVING SOULS UNLESS HE
AIMS AT PERSONAL HOLINESS1
#398. A) The priest's duty of state is to sanctify and to save souls. When
Our Lord chose His Apostles it was in order to make them " fishers of men
";2 in order that they should bring forth, in themselves and in others
abundant fruits of salvation: "You have not chosen me: but I have chosen
you, that you should go and should bring forth fruit; and your fruit should
remain."3 For this must they preach the Gospel, administer the Sacraments,
give good example and pray in all earnestness.
It is of faith that what converts and sanctifies souls is the grace of God.
We ourselves are but instruments that God deigns to use, that bring forth
fruit only in the measure wherein they are one with the principal cause.
This is the doctrine of St. Paul: " I have planted; Apollo watered: but God
gave the increase. Therefore neither he that planteth is anything, nor he
that watereth: but God that giveth the increase."4 Now, it is certain that
this grace is obtained in two ways, by prayer and by merit. In either case
we obtain grace in proportion to our sanctity, to our fervor, to our degree
of union with Our Lord (N. 237). If, then, our duty of state consists in
the sanctification of souls, our first duty is to sanctify ourselves: " And
for them do I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth."5
n1. Read on this subject the excellent book of DOM CHAUTARD, "L'ame de tout
apostolat." Eng. Tr., "The True Apostolate."
n2. "Matth.," IV, 19.
n3. "John," XV, 16.
n4. "I Cor.," III, 6-7.
n5. "John," XVII, 19.
#399. B) We arrive at the same conclusion if we consider the principal
means of zeal, namely, preaching, example and prayer.
a) Preaching produces no salutary effects unless we speak in the name and
in the power of God: " God as it were exhorting by us."1 This is what the
fervent priest does. Before preaching he prays in order that grace may
inspire his words: He humbly asks Our Lord to be "in his heart and on his
lips," "Dominus sit in corde meo et in labiis meis." Whilst preaching he
seeks, not to please, but to instruct, to do good, to convince, to
persuade; and because his heart is intimately united to that of Jesus,
there is in him an emotion, a power of persuasion that moves his hearers.
Because by forgetting himself he attracts the Holy Spirit, souls are moved
by grace and either converted or sanctified. A lukewarm priest, on the
contrary, preaches but with his lips and, because he seeks self, beats the
air and often is but "sounding brass or tinkling cymbal."2
n1. "II Cor.," V, 20.
n2. "I Cor.," XIII, I.
#400. b) The priest cannot fulfill his duty1 of giving good example to the
faithful unless he concerns himself with his own spiritual progress. Then
only can he repeat in all confidence the words of St Paul: "Be ye followers
of me as I also am of Christ."2 Witnesses of his piety, of his kindness, of
his poverty and of his self-denial, the faithful realize that he practices
what he preaches, that he is a Saint; they venerate him and are drawn to
follow in his footsteps. The old saying is again verified, that "words
touch the heart, but examples rule our lives." A mediocre priest may be
esteemed as an honest man who works at his craft like any other, yet his
ministry will bear little or no fruit.
n1. "Cod.," Can. 124.
n2. "I Cor.," IV, 16.
#401. c) Prayer is and will ever remain the most effective means of
exercising zeal. What a contrast is offered in this regard between the
saintly priest and the commonplace priest? The former prays habitually and
constantly, for his very actions, done for God, constitute a real prayer.
He does nothing, he does not even give a word of counsel without
acknowledging his helplessness and begging God to make up for it by His
grace. God, "Who giveth grace to the humble,"1 grants it to him in
abundance and his ministry brings forth fruit. The imperfect priest prays
little and prays poorly, and for this reason his ministry remains barren.
Therefore, whoever wishes to work successfully for souls, must make daily
efforts to advance. Sanctity is the soul of the true Apostolate.
n1. "James," IV, 6.
#402. From all that has been said it is clear that before entering the
priesthood one must be already possessed of a measure of sanctity; and
that, once a priest, one must continually strive to attain to a higher
(1) To enter the priesthood one must needs have acquired already a certain
measure of perfection. This is brought out by all the texts of the
""Pontifical"" cited above. Even of the mere cleric is required detachment
from the world and from self, and attachment to Jesus Christ. If the Church
prescribes regular intervals between ordinations, it is with a view that
the young ecclesiastic may have the time of acquiring one by one the
various virtues proper to the different orders. The "Pontifical" gives
clear expression to this in the following words:1 "And thus let them
advance from one Order to the other that as they grow in age, they may
likewise grow in probity of life and in doctrine." Moreover, it demands
tried virtue: "Let tried virtue be to them in the stead of old age."2 But
such virtue is not acquired except by the painstaking fulfillment of the
duties of state, by the unwearied exercise of the virtues which the Prelate
points out in every ordination. This virtue should be so solid that it
resembles that of men advanced in years (senectus sit), who through long
and arduous efforts have attained to the maturity and constancy becoming
n1. De Ordinibus Conferendis.
n2. Loc. cit.
#403. It is not any sort of virtue that is required for the right exercise
of the sacred functions; it is a superior kind of virtue, says St. Thomas:
"For the worthy exercise of Holy Orders ordinary goodness does not suffice,
superior virtue is required. "We have seen that the "Pontifical" requires
of the Ordinands a solid and active faith, a great trust in God, a devoted
love of God and of the neighbor, not to mention the moral virtues of
prudence, justice, religion, humility, temperance, fortitude, constancy.
The practice of these virtues must reach a high degree, since the Pontiff
calls down upon the Ordinands the gifts of the Holy Ghost, which supplement
the virtues and perfect their practice. Hence, it is not enough to be in
the state of beginners, as yet exposed to relapse into serious faults. One
must have undergone a purification from faults and inordinate attachments,
be grounded in the exercise of those virtues that belong to the
illuminative way, and have for goal a closer and closer union with Almighty
404. (2) Once a man has become a priest, he must not stop, but rather go on
daily from virtue to virtue. This is the teaching of the Imitation: "Thou
hast not lightened thy burden, but art now bound by a stricter bond of
discipline, and art obliged to greater perfection of sanctity."1 Not to
advance is to fall back. (N. 358, 359.) Moreover, such is the extent of our
obligation to follow in Christ's footsteps and to edify our neighbor, that
despite all efforts, we still fall short of the ideal proposed to us by the
Gospel and by the "Pontifical," as we proved when we spoke of the priestly
functions (N. 392 and foll.). We must therefore say to ourselves each day
that we have yet a great way to go before attaining the goal: "Thou hast
yet a great way to go."2
n1. Book IV, ch. 5.
n2. "III Kings," XIX, 7.
405. This is all the more so, since we live in the midst of the world and
its dangers, whilst religious are protected by their rules and all the
helps of community life. If they are obliged to tend constantly toward
perfection, are we not under the same obligation, and even a greater one?
And if we have not for the protection of our virtue all the exterior helps
that protect them, are we not bound to make up for these by greater
interior strength? This strength, it stands to reason, cannot be acquired
but by an ever-renewed effort toward a better life; for the world wherein
we must mingle forever tends to lower our ideal, and we must therefore
raise it, again and again, by constantly stirring up the spirit of the
What makes this spiritual progress a more pressing duty still is the fact
that on the degree of our own sanctity depend the welfare and the
sanctification of the souls entrusted to our care. According to the
ordinary laws of a supernatural Providence, the holier the priest, the
greater the good wrought by him. This we have shown (N. 398 and foll.).
Would it be in harmony with our mission as sanctifers of souls to call a
halt half-way or at the very outset on the road to perfection, when so many
souls in imminent danger of being lost cry out on all sides, " Pass over..
. and help us."1 A worthy priest has but one answer to this cry of
distress. It is Our Lord's own answer: " And for them do I sanctify myself,
that they also may be sanctified in truth."2
n1. "Acts XVI," 9.
n2. "John," XVII, 19.
406. We shall not examine in this place the question of whether the priest,
obliged as he is to an interior perfection greater than that of the
religious who is not in Holy Orders, is or is not in the state of
perfection. This is a question of Canon Law. It is commonly answered in the
negative, for the priest's status, even if he be a pastor of souls, lacks
that stability which is canonically required in order to constitute the
state of perfection.
As regards the priest who is also a religious, he evidently has all the
obligations imposed on him by his priesthood besides those imposed by his
vows, finding in his rule additional helps to become holy. He must not
forget, however, that his priesthood obliges him to a higher perfection
than does his religious profession.
Thus the members of the clergy, secular and regular, far from falling into
petty jealousies, should hold each other in mutual esteem and help each
other, having but one and the same aim, to glorify God by gaining unto Him
souls--as many as possible. They should find in the virtues and in the
success of their brethren a stimulus to a noble emulation: "And let us
consider one another, to provoke unto charity and to good works."1
n1. "Hebr.," X, 24.