The Spiritual Life

Author: Adolphe Tanquerey



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



The Purification of the Soul or the Purgative Way


#635. The characteristic of the purgative way, or the state of beginners, is the purifying of the soul in view of attaining to intimate union with God.

We shall therefore explain (1) what is meant by beginners, and (2) the end these must strive to attain.

n1. A. SAUDREAU, "The Degrees" of the Spiritual Life, the Purgative Way, I- II; SCHRYVERS, "Les principes," IIe Part., ch. 11.


#636. (1) Essential Characteristics. In the spiritual life, beginners are those that habitually live in the state of grace and have a certain desire for perfection, but who have still attachments to venial sin and are exposed to fall now and then into grievous faults. We shall explain these three characteristics:

a) Beginners live habitually in the state of grace: hence, they generally struggle successfully against grave temptations. We therefore rule out of the class of beginners those that frequently commit mortal sin and do not avoid its occasions who would no doubt wish to be converted, but lack the necessary firm and efficacious purpose. Such are not on the way to perfection. They are sinners, worldlings, who must first of all be helped to sever their attachment to mortal sin and to part with the occasions of sin.1

b) They have a certain desire for perfection or for progress, even if this desire be as yet feeble and imperfect. Thus we exclude from the category of beginners those worldlings all too numerous--alas! whose highest purpose is to escape mortal sin, but who have no earnest desire of advancing further. As we have shown above, n. 414, the desire for perfection is the first step on the way.

c) They have, however, some attachment to deliberate venial sin and, therefore, they frequently fall. This distinguishes them from souls already advancing along the way of perfection, who although they may from time to time commit some willful venial sins, yet earnestly strive to avoid them. The existence of these attachments is due to the fact that their passions are not as yet subdued; hence, they yield to temptations of sensuality, pride, vanity, anger, envy, jealousy, and uncharitableness in word and deed. How many persons called devout retain attachments of this kind, which cause them to commit deliberate, venial sins which expose them to fall from time to time into grievous faults!

n1. No doubt there are authors who with FR. MARCHETTE, (Rev. d'Ascetique et de Mystique," Jan. 1920, P. 36-47), are of the opinion that sinners must be included in the purgative way in order to convert them yet he admits that in this he does not follow the common teaching. The conversion of sinners and the means to be suggested to them that they may persevere in the state of grace belong rather to the province of Moral than of Ascetic theology. We may say, however, that the motives we shall soon propose as deterrents from mortal sin will be a confirmation of those given by Moral theology.

#637. (2) Different Categories. There are different categories of beginners:--

a) Innocents souls desiring to grow in the spiritual life-- children, young men and young women who, not content with the mere avoidance of mortal sin, wish to do something more for God and want to become perfect. The number of these would be greater were priests active in arousing this desire for perfection in Sunday school, at the meetings of Sodalities and parochial organizations. (cf. 409-430.)

b) Converts from sin, who after having transgressed grievously, return to God with all sincerity and who, in order to withdraw further from the brink of the abyss, want to press forward in the ways of perfection. Here again we may say that these would be far more numerous if confessors would take heed to remind their penitents that in order not to fall back they must advance, and that the safest means of avoiding mortal sins is to tend to perfection. (cf. 354-361).

c) The lukewarm, those who after having given themselves once to God and having advanced in the way of perfection have fallen into a state of remissness and tepidity. These, even if they had once reached the illuminative way, need to return to the austere practices of the purgative way and begin once more the work of perfection. To aid their efforts, one must carefully put them on their guard against the dangers of carelessness and lukewarmness and teach them to combat their causes, which are generally frivolity or fickleness. listlessness and a sort of sluggishness.

#638. (3) Two classes of beginners. Some show greater generosity, others less. Hence the two classes into which they are divided by St. Teresa.

a) In the first mansion or the Castle of the Soul, she gives a description of those souls that have good desires, are faithful to recite some prayers, but who are taken up with the world and have their minds filled with a thousand and one things which absorb their thought The while they retain these many attachments, they strive from time to time to free themselves from them. Through such efforts they gain an entrance into the first and lower halls of the Castle with them however? enter a multitude of mischievous animals (their own passions) which will hinder them from gazing at the beauty of the castle and abiding peacefully therein. To have entered this mansion, although it is the lowest, is already a singular good- fortune; nevertheless the machinations and subterfuges employed by the devil in order to prevent such souls from advancing are ruthless. The world, likewise, wherein the are yet immersed, allures them with its pleasures and honors, hence they are easily conquered, even though they want to avoid sin and do perform good works.1 In other words, these souls strive to harmonize piety and worldliness. Their faith is not sufficiently enlightened, their will is not strong enough, not generous enough to determine them to renounce not merely sin, but sundry dangerous occasions, they have little realized the need of frequent prayer, of rigorous penance, or mortification; still, they want not only to work out their salvation, but also to grow m the love of God by making some sacrifices.

n1. "Interior Castle," First Mansion.

#639. b) The other class of beginners is described by the Saint in her second mansion. They are souls already initiated in the practice of mental prayer, who understand the necessity of sacrifice as a means of perfection, but who through lack of courage retreat at times to the first mansion, exposing themselves once more to the occasions of sin They love as yet the pleasures of the world and its allurements, and occasionally fall into some grave fault; but hearkening to God's call to penance, presently rise again. In spite of the appeals made to them by the world and the devil, they meditate on the emptiness of the world's false goods and on death that shall soon take these away They grow apace m the love of Him from Whom they receive so many proofs of love; they realize that apart from Him they shall find neither peace nor safety, and wish to avoid the wanderings of the Prodigal Son, then, is a state of struggle in which such souls have much to suffer from the manifold temptations that assail them, but wherein also God deigns to comfort and fortify them. By acting in conformity with God's holy will, which is the great means of perfection, they will finally emerge from the mansions wherein creep such venomous creatures and they will pass to the other mansions beyond the reach of their poisonous sting.1

n1. "Interior Castle," Second Mansion.

640. We shall not treat separately of these two classes, because the means to be suggested to each are practically the same. Let the spiritual director however bear this division in mind when giving advice. Let him draw the attention of souls of the first class to the consequences of sin, the necessity of avoiding its occasions, and awaken in them a longing for prayer, penance and mortification. Souls of the second class he will advise to give more time to meditation, and to take the offensive against the capital vices, those deep-seated tendencies which are the source of all our sins.


#641. We have stated (n. 3O9) that perfection consists essentially in union with God through love. But because God is holiness itself, we cannot be united to Him unless we are clean of heart--a state implying a twofold condition: atonement for the past and detachment from sin and the occasions of sin for the future.

The first task, then, of beginners is purification of the soul.

We may add that the union of the soul with God will be the more intimate as the soul grows in purity and detachment. The purification is more or less perfect according to the motives that inspire it and according to the effects produced by it.

A) The purification remains imperfect, if it is inspired chiefly by motives of fear and hope--fear of hell, and hope of heaven and heavenly gifts. The results of such a purification are incomplete. The soul, indeed, renounces mortal sin, which would deprive it of heaven, but it does not renounce venial faults, even deliberate ones, since these do not deprive it of its eternal welfare.

B) There is, then, a more perfect purification, which, though not excluding fear and hope, has for its ruling motive the love of God, the desire to please Him and hence to avoid whatever would constitute even a slight offense. Here is verified the word of the Savior to the sinful woman: " Many sins are forgiven her because she hath loved much ."1

It is at this second purification that souls should aim; still, the spiritual director must remember that for many a beginner it is not possible to rise thereto at the outset, and whilst speaking to such of the love of God, he will not forget to offer them the motives of hope and of fear which make a stronger impression.

n1. "Luke," VII, 47.


#642. Once we know the end, we must determine the means necessary for its attainment. Fundamentally, they may be reduced to two: prayer, through which grace is obtained, and mortification through which we correspond to grace. Mortification assumes different names according to the point of view from which we consider it. It is called penance when it prompts us to atone for our past faults; mortification properly so called, when it sets upon the love of pleasure in order to reduce the number of faults in the present and obviate their recurrence in the future; it is called warfare against the capital sins, when it combats those deep-rooted tendencies that incline us toward sin, and warfare against temptation, when practiced by way of resistance to the onslaughts of our spiritual enemies. Hence the five following chapters:

Chapter I. --The Prayer of Beginners Chapter II. --Penance, to atone for the past Chapter III.--Mortification, to safeguard the future Chapter IV.--Warfare against the capital sins Chapter V. --The Warfare against temptation

All these means clearly presuppose the practice in some degree of the theological and the moral virtues. No one can pray, no one can do penance and mortify himself without a firm belief in revealed truth, without the expectation of a heavenly reward, without love of God, without the exercise of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. We shall speak of these virtues when we treat of the illuminative way wherein they attain their full development.