The Spiritual Life

Author: Adolphe Tanquerey



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



We shall briefly state the necessity and the notion of penance; then we shall explain: (1) The motives that should prompt us to hate and avoid sin; (2) the motives and the means of atoning for sin.

Necessity and Notion of Penance.

Art. I.--Hatred of sin: mortal and venial.

Art. II.--Atonement for sin: motives and means.


#705. Penance is, after prayer, the most effective means for cleansing the soul of past faults and even for guarding it against future ones.

(1) When Our Lord is about to begin His public ministry, He has His Precursor proclaim the necessity of penance: "Do penance: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. "I He Himself declares He has come to call sinners to repentance: "I came not to call the just, but sinners to penance. " 2 This virtue is so necessary, that unless we do penance we shall perish: "But except you do penance, you shall all likewise perish."3 So well was this doctrine understood by the Apostles, that from the very first they insisted on the necessity of penance as a condition preparatory to Baptism: "Do penance: and be baptized every one of you." 4

For the sinner penance is an act of justice; for having offended God and violated God's rights, he is bound to make reparation for the outrage. This he does through penance.

n1. St. THOM. III, q. 85; SUAREZ, "De Paenitentia," disp. I et VII; BILLUART, "De Paenit.," disp. II; AD. TANQUEREY, "Synop. Theol. Mor.," t. I, n. 3-14; BOSSUET, "Serm. sur la necessity de la penitence," edit. Lebarcq, 1897, t. IV, 596, t. V, 419; BOURDALOUE, "Careme pour le Lundi de la deuxieme Semaine;" NEWMAN, "Disc. to Mixed Congregations," Neglect of Divine Calls; FABER, "Growth in Holiness," C. XIX and XX; TISSOT, "Profiting by Our Faults;" MANNING, "Sin and Its Consequences," "The Love of Jesus for Penitent Sinners;" HEDLEY, "Retreat," C. VII; MEYER, "Science of the Saints," C. XIII; ST. FRANCIS DE SALES, "Devout Life," P. I, C. V-VIII. n2. Matth., 111, 2. n3. Luke, V, 32. n4. 3 Luke, XIII, 5. n5. Acts, 11, 38.

#706. (2) Penance is defined as a supernatural virtue, allied to justice, which inclines the sinner to detest his sin because it is an offense against God, and to form the firm resolve of avoiding sin in the future, and of atoning for it.

Hence, it includes four chief acts, the origin and inter-relation of which may be readily perceived. 1) In the light of reason and of faith, we see that sin is an evil, the greatest evil, in truth the only evil, and this because it offends God and deprives us of the most precious gifts. This evil we hate with our whole soul: "I have hated iniquity." 2) Moreover, conscious that this evil is ours since we have sinned, and that, even once forgiven, its traces remain in our soul, we conceive a lively sorrow, a sorrow that weighs upon and crushes the soul, a sincere contrition, a deep sense of humiliation. 3) To avoid in the future this heinous evil we form the firm resolve or the firm purpose of avoiding it, by carefully shunning dangerous occasions and by fortifying our will against the allurements of sinful pleasures. 4) Lastly, realizing that sin constitutes an act of injustice, we determine to atone for it, to expiate it by sentiments and works of penance.


Before explaining these motives,2 we shall explain what mortal sin is and what venial sin is.

n6. ST. THOMAS, Ia IIae, q. 85-89; SUAREZ, "De Peccatis," disp. I-III; disp. VII-VIII; PHILIP. A S. TRINITATE, "Sum. theol. mysticae", Ia P., tr. II, discursus I- ANTON. A SPIRITU S., "Directorium mysticum," disp. I, sect. III; TH. DE VALLGORNERA, "Mystica theol.," q. II, disp. I, a. III-IV, ALVAREZ DE PAZ, T. II P. I De Abjectione peccatorum; BOURDALOUE, "Careme" mercredi de la 5e sen;., sur l'etat du peche et l'etat de grace; TRONSON, "Ex. Part.," CLXX CLXXX; MANNING, "Sin and its Consequences; MGR. D HULST "Carame 1892, Retraite;" P. JANVIER, "Carame 1903," Ie Conf.; "Careme 1908," entirely.--See other references, no. 705. n7. We develop the treatment of these motives somewhat at length, in order that the reader may be able to meditate on them. Once a lively horror of sin is conceived progress in the spiritual life is assured.

#707. Notion and Species of Sin. Sin is a willful transgression of the law of God. Hence, it is an act of disobedience to God, an offense against Him; for it is the choice of our own will in preference to His, and thereby a violation of the sovereign right God has to our submission.

#708. a) Mortal Sin. When, with full advertence and with full consent we transgress in grave matter a law that is important, necessary to the attainment of our end, the sin is mortal, because it deprives us of habitual grace which is the supernatural life of the soul (n. 105). This is why St. Thomas defines mortal sin as "an act whereby we turn away from God, our last end, willingly attaching ourselves in an inordinate manner to some created good." By the loss of habitual grace, which unites us to God, we turn away from Him.

#709. b) Venial Sin. When the law we violate is not necessary to the attainment of our end, or when we violate such a law, but in a slight matter, or if the law is grave in itself, but we transgress it either without full advertence or without full consent, the sin is but venial and does not deprive us of the state of grace. Our soul still remains in union with God, since we want to do His will in all things necessary, to abide in His friendship and attain our end. Still, venial sin is truly a violation of God's law, constituting an offense against the majesty of the Law-giver.

I. Mortal Sin1

#710. If we would pass sound judgment on grave sin, we must consider: (1) What it is in the sight of God; (2) What it is in itself; (3) What are its baneful effects. If through meditation we realize thoroughly these teachings of faith we shall conceive an invincible hatred of sin.

n1. ST. IGNATIUS, "Spiritual Exercises," 1st Week, 1st Exercise; See also his numerous commentators.

1. What Mortal Sin is in the Sight of God

To form an idea of what mortal sin is in God's eyes, let us see how He punishes it and how He condemns it in Holy Writ.

#711. (1) How God punishes mortal sin. A) In the rebel angels. These committed but a single sin, an interior sin, a sin of pride; and God, their Creator and Father, God, Who loved them, not only as the work of His hands, but as His adopted children, punished their rebellion by casting them into Hell, where through all eternity they will remain separated from God and deprived of all bliss. And withal, God is just and punishes no one beyond his deserts; He is merciful even in His punishments, and tempers the rigors of His justice with His goodness. Sin, then, must be something abominable to merit such a terrible sanction.

#712. B) In our first parents. They had been endowed with all manner of gifts, natural, preternatural and supernatural, n. 52-66, but having likewise committed a sin of disobedience and pride, they were directly despoiled, along with the life of grace, of all the free gifts that had been bestowed upon them; were banished from Paradise and left to bequeath their posterity that dismal heritage of original sin, the sad consequences of which actually weigh upon us all (n. 69-75). Still, God bore our first parents the love of a father and allowed them the joy of intimacy with Him. If an all just and all-merciful God visited such a severe punishment upon them and their posterity, it is because sin is a frightful evil, an evil which we can never sufficiently detest.

#713. C) In the person of His Son. In order not to let man perish forever and in order to safeguard the rights both of justice and of mercy, the Eternal Father sends His Son into the world, makes Him the Head of the human race and lays upon Him the charge of atoning for and expiating sin in our stead. And what is the price of this redemption? Three and thirty years of humiliation and pain, ending in the unspeakable torture of body and mind at Gethsemane, before the Sanhedrin, in the Pretorium, upon Calvary! If we would learn what sin is, let us follow the Savior of the world, step by step, from the Stable to the Cross, through that hidden life of obscurity, of submission, of poverty, of toil; through His apostolic life of fatigues and failures, midst the ill- will and persecutions He was made to endure; through His suffering life, wherein He underwent such anguish of body and soul from friend and foe, so that He could well be called the Man of Sorrows. If we would know what sin is, let us face this truth: "He was wounded for our iniquities: He was bruised for our sins."1 Then we shall not be at a loss to understand that sin is the greatest of evils.

n1. Isaias, LIII, 5.

#714. (2) How God condemns sin. Holy Scripture describes sin as the most odious and the most criminal thing in existence.

a) It is an act of disobedience to God, a transgression of His orders, which is justly punished with the utmost severity, as we witness in our first parents.1 In the people of Israel, God's chosen portion, this disobedience is regarded as a revolt, a rebellion.2 b) It is an act of ingratitude toward our greatest Benefactor, an unnatural lack of filial piety toward the most loving of fathers: I have brought up children and exalted them: but they have despised me." 3 e) It is unfaithfulness, a species of adultery, since God is the spouse of our souls and rightly demands inviolable fidelity: "But thou hast prostituted thyself to many lovers."4 d) It is an injustice, since by sin we openly violate the rights God has over us: "Whosoever committeth sin committeth also iniquity. And sin is iniquity.5

n1. Gen. II 17; III, 11-19. n2. Jeremias, II, 4-8. n3. Isaias, I, 2. n4. Jeremias, III, 1. n5. I John, III, 4.

II Mortal Sin in Itself

Mortal sin is an evil, the only real evil, since all other evils are but its consequences or its punishment.

#715. (1) In relation to God, mortal sin is a crime against the majesty of the Godhead; it is an assault upon all of God's attributes, but chiefly an attempt against Him as our first beginning, our last end, our Father, and our benefactor.

A) God, the first cause of our being is our Maker, from Whom we hold all we are and all we have; He is thereby our Supreme Lord and Master to Whom we owe an absolute obedience. By mortal sin we disobey Him; we affront Him by preferring our own will to His, by preferring a creature to the Creator! Nay more--we revolt against Him, since by the fact of creation, we are subject to Him as we can be to no earthly power. a) This rebellion is all the more grave, since this Master is infinitely wise and infinitely good, and commands nothing that is not conducive to our own happiness as well as to His glory; whilst our will is weak, frail, liable to error. In spite of this, we prefer it to that of God! b) This defiance is all the more inexcusable, since we know well what we do; for from the days of our childhood, we have been taught by Christian parents and have a clear and precise knowledge of God's rights over us and of the malice of sin. c) And why do we thus betray Our Lord and Master? We do so for a vile pleasure that debases us, from a stupid pride whereby we arrogate unto ourselves glory that belongs to God alone, for paltry interests, for a transient gain, to which we sacrifice a good that is eternal.

#716. B) God is also our last end. He created us, and created us for Himself alone. He could not have done otherwise, for He is the Supreme Good, and outside Himself we could neither realize our perfection nor find our bliss. Besides, having come forth from God, we should and we must return to Him; being the work of His hand, we are His own and we must revere, praise, serve, and glorify Him;1 being the object of His love we should love Him with our whole soul--and it is in the love of Him and in the worship of Him, that we find our perfection and our happiness. Hence, He has a strict right that our whole life with all its thoughts, all its longings, all its acts be directed unto Him, unto His glory.

By mortal sin, however, we turn away from God in order to take our delight in some created thing; we do Him an injury when we choose one of His creatures, or rather our own selfish satisfaction in preference to Him, for at bottom, it is not so much the creature which we seek as the pleasure we find therein. This is flagrant injustice, since it constitutes an attempt to strip the Almighty of His supreme rights over us, of that outward glory we are bound to promote; it is a sort of idolatry, the setting up in the heart's sanctuary of an idol over against the One True God; it is scorning the fountain of living water, which alone can quench the soul's thirst, to go, as Jeremias vigorously puts it, after the slimy waters that reek within abandoned wells: "For my people have done two evils: "They have forsaken me the fountain of living water, and have digged to themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." 2

n1. This is the thought developed by St. Ignatius at the outset of the "Spiritual Exercises," beginning with these words "Man was created to this end, that he glorify and worship the Lord his God, and that by serving Him he attain salvation." n2. Jeremias, II, 13.

#717. C) God is to us also a Father, Who has adopted us as His children and Who bestows on us the thoughtful care of a parent (n. 94); He heaps upon us His choicest favors, endowing us with a supernatural organism, in order that we may live a life like unto His; He showers upon us abundant actual graces that we may make good use of His gifts, and thus by good works increase our spiritual life. Now, by mortal sin we scornfully fling aside those gifts, nay we fling them back at the Giver, our Benefactor, our Father; we spurn His grace at the very moment He overwhelms us with His bounty. Is not this ingratitude? Ingratitude all the more culpable because we have received so much, ingratitude that cries out for vengeance!

#718. (2) In relation to Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, mortal sin is a sort of deicide. a) It is sin that has caused the sufferings and death of the Savior: "Christ suffered for us... "1 And washed us from our sins in his own blood."2 That this thought make an impression upon us, we must think of the personal share we have had in Christ's bitter Passion. It is I who betrayed my Master with a kiss, and at times, for even less than the thirty pieces of silver. It is I who caused violent hands to be laid upon Him, and a sentence of death to be passed on Him. I was with the rabble that cried out: "Not this man, but Barabbas... Crucify him."3 I was with the soldiers, lashing Him through my self-indulgence, crowning His head with thorns through my interior sins of pride and sensuality, laying the heavy beam upon His shoulders and nailing Him to the Cross. As Father Olier so well explains it, "our niggardliness crucified His all-embracing charity, our ill temper His meekness, our intolerance His patience, our pride His humility. Thus our vices rack and strangle, and quarter the Christ that lives in us."4 What hatred should we bear a sin that has so cruelly fastened Our Savior to the Cross!

b) Of course, we can no longer visit fresh tortures upon Him, since He can suffer no more, but our present faults do offer Him fresh insults; for when we willfully commit them, we scorn His love and favors; as far as we are concerned, we render void the Blood He shed in such profusion; we hold back from Him that love, that gratitude, that obedience to which He is entitled. What is this, if not repaying love with black ingratitude, and thereby calling down upon our heads a dreadful punishment?

n1. Peter, II, 21. n2. Apoc., I, 5. n3. John, XVIII, 40, XIX, 6. n4. Cat. for an Int. Life, P. I, lesson II.

III. The Effects of Mortal Sin

God has given the law a sanction; He has made happiness the reward of virtue and suffering the wages of sin. Seeing then the effects of sin in this life and in the next, we can in a measure judge of its guilt.

#719. (1) To realize the dire effects of mortal sin in this life, let us remember what a soul in the state of grace is. It is the dwelling-place and the delight of the Most Blessed Trinity. The Three Divine Persons adorn it with divine graces, divine virtues, divine gifts. Under the influence of actual grace, the good acts such a soul performs merit eternal life. Such a soul possesses the holy liberty of the children of God, shares in His power and virtue, and enjoys, especially at certain times, a happiness which is a foretaste of celestial bliss. And what does mortal sin do?

a) It expels God from our soul, and because the possession of God is already the beginning of heavenly joy, the loss of Him is, at it were, a prelude to eternal loss for the loss of God is likewise the loss of all the goods of which He is the source.

b) Losing God we lose sanctifying grace, whereby our soul lived a life similar to that of the Godhead; hence, mortal sin is a sort of spiritual suicide. Together with sanctifying grace we lose that glorious galaxy of virtues and gifts that go with it. If in His infinite mercy God leaves us in possession of Faith and Hope, these virtues are no longer vivified by Love and now abide with us merely to infuse a wholesome fear and inspire us with an earnest desire of atoning and doing penance. In the meantime they show us the sad plight of our soul and excite the pangs of remorse.

#720. c) The merits we have earned in the past with so much effort are likewise lost by mortal sin; we can only regain them by penance. Moreover, whilst we remain in the state of mortal sin, we can acquire no merits for heaven. What a waste of the supernatural!

d) To all this we must add the tyrannical yoke of servitude the sinner must from now on bear. Instead of "the liberty of the children of God,"1 behold him now in the slavery... of sin, of evil passions now unloosed by the loss of grace, of habits soon formed after repeated falls--falls so difficult to avoid! "Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin."2 Little by little the moral strength of the soul is sapped, actual graces become rarer, discouragement and at times despair ensue. This poor soul is lost unless God in His exceeding great mercy comes with His grace and rescues it from the abyss.

n1. Rom, VIII, 21. n2. John, VIII, 34; II Peter, II, 19.

#721. (2) If unfortunately the sinner remains obdurate to the end in his resistance to grace, then follows hell with all its horrors. A) First there is the well-deserved pain of loss. Grace had ever pursued the culprit, but he willingly died in his sin, that is he willingly died without God, and since his soul's dispositions can no longer change, he remains forever separated from Him. As long as he lived on earth absorbed in business or pleasure, he gave no time, no thought to the horror of his plight. But now there is neither business nor pleasure, and he faces constantly the harrowing reality. By the very constitution of his nature, by the cravings of his mind and of his heart, by the urge of his entire being, he is now uncontrollably driven towards Him, Who is his first beginning and last end, his one principle of perfection and only source of bliss; drawn towards that loving Father, so worthy of love, Who had adopted him as His offspring; toward the Redeemer of his soul, Who had so loved him as to die upon the Cross for him. Yet, a ruthless force beyond his power, the force of sin, his own sin, hopelessly thrusts him back upon himself. Death has forever stayed his spirit, irretrievably fixed his dispositions. Having rejected God the very moment death overtook him, he remains estranged from Him forever. Happiness and perfection are everlastingly beyond his quest; he remains attached to his sin and through sin to all that defiles and all that degrades: "Depart from me, ye cursed."

#722. B) To this pain of loss, by far the most terrible, is added the pain of sense. The body, a partner in sin, will share the torment of the soul; the everlasting despair which will torture the reprobate soul, will produce in the body an unquenchable thirst that nothing can assuage. Besides, the damned will be tormented by a real fire different indeed from our material fire, but the instrument of divine justice to punish the flesh and the senses. In fact, it is but just that wherein a man sins, therein also he be punished: "By what things a man sinneth, by the same also he is tormented; "1 and since the evildoer willed to take inordinate delight in creatures these will prove the instruments of torture. This fire enkindled and applied by a knowing hand will torture its victims with that same measure of intensity with which they once entered into their wicked delights.

n1. Wisdom, XI, 17.

#723. C) There will be no end of this double woe, and this everlastingness is what fills the measure of the punishment of the lost; for if a slight discomfort by its persistence becomes well nigh unbearable, what shall we say of those pangs, of themselves so racking, which outlast millions of ages only to begin afresh!

And withal, God is just, God is good even in the sanction He is bound to inflict upon the damned. Mortal sin, then, must be an abomination-to be thus punished! It must be the one real evil, the only evil. Hence, better to die than be defiled by a single mortal sin.

II. Deliberate Venial Sin

From the point of view of perfection there is a great difference between venial faults of surprise and those committed with full deliberation, with full consent of the will.

#724. Faults of surprise. The Saints themselves at times commit such by allowing themselves to be momentarily betrayed though thoughtlessness or weakness of will into some carelessness in prayer, into imprudences, rash judgments, words against charity, or little lies to cover up a fault. No doubt, these faults are to be deplored, and fervent souls do deplore them sincerely; however, such faults are not an obstacle to perfection. Almighty God, Who knows our weakness, readily condones them. Besides, almost invariably fervent souls make amends on the spot through acts of contrition, of humility, of love--acts that endure longer and are more voluntary than are their sins of frailty.

All we have to do as regards these faults is to lessen their number and ward off discouragement. a) We diminish their number through vigilance, by striving to reach and suppress their causes. This we do without anxiety or overeagerness, relying more on the grace of God than on our efforts. We must, above all, endeavor to destroy all attachment to venial sin; for as St. Francis de Sales remarks,1 "if the heart clings thereto devotion loses for us its sweetness, and all devotion vanishes."

n1. "Devout Life," Bk. I, C. XXII.

#725. b) We must carefully avoid discouragement, the vexation of those who "are angry for having been angry, and vexed to see themselves vexed. "1 Such feelings proceed from self-love; one is cast down and troubled at seeing oneself so imperfect. To escape this defect, we must look upon our faults with the same eye of tolerance with which we behold those of others; indeed, we must detest our faults and our failings, but with a calm hatred, highly conscious of our own weakness and misery, and firmly determined to make them an occasion of giving glory to God by bringing more love and more fidelity to the fulfillment of our present duties.

It is otherwise with deliberate venial sins, which are a very great hindrance to our spiritual progress, and which must be vigorously combated.

n1. "Devout Life," Part III, C. IX.

I. The Malice of Deliberate Venial Sin

#726. Deliberate venial sin is a moral evil. In reality it is, mortal sin excepted, the greatest evil. It does not actually turn us from our end, but it checks our progress, robs us of time beyond price, and constitutes an offense against God. It is in this that its malice consists.

#727. It is an act of disobedience to God, in a slight matter it is true, but willed after reflection. Regarded in the light of faith, it is something truly hateful, since it challenges the infinite majesty of God.

A) It is a wrong, an indignity offered to God; for placing God and His glory over against our whims, our pleasure and our vanity, we dare to choose the latter. What an outrage! A will infinitely wise and righteous sacrificed to our own, the slave of error and caprice! "It is," says St. Theresa,1 "as if we said: 'Lord, I know full well this action displeases you, yet I shall do it none the less. I am not unaware that your eyes see it, I know perfectly well you do not want it, but I will rather follow my bent and fancy than your will. Can this be of little consequence? As for myself, no matter how slight the fault might be in itself, I find on the contrary that it is grave and very grave.'"

n1. Way of Perfection, ch. XLI.

#728. B) Hence, there results through our own fault, a diminution of God's external glory; for we have been created in order that by a perfect and loving obedience to His law we may procure His glory. Now, by refusing to obey, even in slight matter, we withhold from Him a measure of that glory; instead of proclaiming with Mary our readiness to exalt Him in all our acts, "My soul doth magnify the Lord", we positively refuse to glorify Him in this or that particular.

C) This, of itself, is an act of ingratitude. Loaded by God with numberless favors, raised to friendship with Him and knowing that in return He claims our love and gratitude, we begrudge Him a small sacrifice. Instead of striving to please Him, we dare to displease Him. Hence, inevitably, a certain coolness in God's friendship towards us. God loves us without stint and asks us in return that we love Him with all our soul: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and - with thy whole mind.1 Now, we do not make the entire gift of ourselves to Him, we hold something back, and the while we want to keep His friendship, we are niggardly with ours, offering Him but a divided heart. This is evidently inconsiderate; it shows a lack of generosity, a smallness that cannot but alter our intimate relations with God.

n1. Matth., XXII, 37.

II. The Effects of Deliberate Venial Sin

#729. (1) In this life. Frequent deliberate venial sin deprives the soul of many graces, gradually lessens its fervor, and predisposes it to mortal sin.

A) Venial sin does not, indeed, take from the soul sanctifying grace or divine love, but it deprives it of the new graces, the increase of divine love and of the corresponding degree of glory that it could have acquired and that God meant to give. Is not this an enormous loss, the loss of a treasure worth far more than the entire world?

#730. B) It causes a diminution of fervor, that is to say, a waning of that generosity whereby we give ourselves without reserve to God. This generosity presupposes a high ideal and an unrelenting effort to pursue it; but these two dispositions are incompatible with habitual venial sin.

a) Nothing so lowers our ideal as attachment to sin: instead of being ever ready to serve God in all things and to aspire to the highest, we purposely halt half-way along the road to relish some forbidden pleasure. We thus waste precious moments, turning away our gaze from the lofty peaks to linger and gather a few flowers that are soon to wither. We feel then the weariness of the way, and heights of perfection that God wants us to reach seem far too remote and too forbidding. We say to ourselves that it is not necessary to aim so high; that we can obtain our salvation on more reasonable terms- and the ideal which once shone before our eyes no longer moves us. We say to ourselves that after all this little self-complacency, these trifling sensual gratifications, these sentimental friendships, these uncharitable words are unavoidable. b) This lowering of our ideals necessarily paralyzes effort towards perfection. Before, we marched joyously on, sustained by the hope of reaching the goal; now, we begin to feel the heat and the burden of the day, and when we want to resume our ascent, our attachment to venial sin holds us back. Even as the bird held by cords to the ground tries in vain to take its flight and falls back bruised, so our souls, held by ties we will not break, fall very soon, harmed in some degree by the fruitless attempt to rise. At times, indeed, it seems as if we were to regain our strength, but alas! other ties hold us and we lack the steady purpose that would tear them asunder. Hence, there ensues a cooling of charity that becomes alarming.

#731. C) The great danger that confronts us then is that of gradually drifting into mortal sin. Our tendencies toward forbidden pleasure gather strength, our will becomes weaker and God's graces are reduced. Then a moment comes when any surrender may be feared.

a) Our tendencies toward forbidden pleasures gather strength, the more we yield to this treacherous and insatiable enemy, the more it demands.

Today sloth makes us shorten our meditation by a few brief minutes; tomorrow it demands twice as many. Today sensuality but asks for some slight gratifications, tomorrow it becomes bold and asks for more. Where shall we stop on this downward grade? We try to reassure ourselves by saying that such faults are only venial, but alas, step by step they come nearer and nearer to grievous sins; imprudences recur and stir the imagination and the senses more deeply than before. This is the fire that lies smoldering beneath the ashes and which may at any given moment be the source of threatening flames; this is the reptile that we warm in our bosom and which makes ready to bite and poison us.--The danger is all the more imminent since familiarity has partly dispelled our fear, we let fall one after the other the barriers that guarded the stronghold of the heart and an hour comes when with added fury in the assault, the enemy gains entry into the citadel of the soul.

#732. b) This is the more to be dreaded, as God's graces are as a rule reduced in proportion to our infidelities. 1) It is the law of Divine Providence that graces are given us according to our own dispositions and our own CO-operation. This is the sense of the Gospel words: "For he that hath, to him shall be given, and he shall abound: but to him that hath not, from him shall be taken away that also which he hath."1 By our attachment to venial sin we offer resistance to grace, we hamper its action in our soul and therefore receive it in smaller measure. If, then, even with a greater abundance of grace we failed to make a stand against the disordered tendencies of our nature, shall we succeed in restraining them now with less grace and less strength? 2) Besides, a soul lacking recollection and generosity hardly feels the promptings of the graces it receives; these are soon stifled by the turmoil of awakening passions. 3) Lastly, grace cannot sanctify us except through the sacrifices it demands of us, whilst the habits of pleasure we have acquired by our attachment to venial faults render such sacrifices all the more difficult.

n1. Matth., XIII, 12.

#773. We can, therefore, conclude with Father Lallemant:1 "The multiplication of venial sins is the destruction of souls, causing the diminution of those divine lights and inspirations, those interior consolations, that fervor and courage, which are needed to resist the assaults of the enemy. Hence follow blindness, weakness, frequent falls, an acquired habit of insensibility of heart; because, when once an affection to these faults is contracted, we sin without feeling that we are sinning."

n1. "Spiritual Doctrine," Principle III, c. II, art. II.

#734. (2) The effects of venial sin in the next world1 show us how much we should dread it. It is in order to expiate venial sin that many souls spend a long time in purgatory.

A) There they endure the most unbearable of sufferings, the privation of the vision of God. This torture, it is true, will not last forever, differing in this from the pains of hell; nevertheless, for a time measured by the number and seriousness of their faults, these souls who love God and who, now removed from the pleasures and distractions of earth, think of Him constantly and long to see His face, are prevented from seeing and possessing Him, and therefore suffer indescribable anguish. They now realize that outside of God there is no solace and no bliss; and still before them looms, like insurmountable barriers, that host of venial sins they have not as yet sufficiently expiated. They are, moreover, so alive to the necessity of the purity required to contemplate the Almighty face to face, that their very shame would not allow them to appear before Him as they are, nor would they ever consent to enter Heaven as long as there remains upon them the least stain of venial sin.2 They find themselves, therefore, in a state of torture the more excruciating as they realize that it is fully deserved.

n1. We do not speak of the temporal punishments of venial sin. Holy Writ repeatedly makes mention of them. When it is question, however, of determining whether a particular punishment is the chastisement for a venial sin, one is reduced to conjectures.

n2. If the soul could discover another purgatory still more terrible than that which it endures, urged on by its love for God, it would eagerly plunge into it, the more speedily to be freed of all that separates it from the sovereign Good." (ST. CATHERINE of Genoa, "Purgatory," c. IX.)

#735. B) Moreover, according to the teaching of St.Thomas, a subtle fire hinders their activity and makes them experience physical sufferings whereby they may expiate the guilty pleasures to which they gave consent. This trial, no doubt, they most willingly accept as they realize the need of it in order to effect their union with God.

"Seeing," says St. Catherine of Genoa,1 "that purgatory is designed to cleanse them of their stains, souls throw themselves into it, deeming it an unspeakable token of mercy that they are offered a place wherein they can rid themselves of what prevents their union with God."

Such willing acceptance, however, does not do away with their great sufferings: "This resignation of the souls in purgatory does not relieve them of one whit of their torments, far from it, love pent up causes their woe, and their woe increases in proportion to that perfection of love of which God has made them capable."2

And yet, God is not only just but merciful as well! He bears those souls a love that is real, tender, fatherly; He longs to give Himself to them for all eternity. If He does not do so, it is because there can be no possible fellowship between His infinite holiness and the least venial sin. Therefore, we can never hate venial sin too much, we can never undergo enough in order to avoid it, we can never endure enough to repair it.

n1. Op. cit., c. VIII. n2. Op. cit., ch. XII. Read entire treatise.


1. Motives of Penance

Three principal reasons oblige us to do penance for our sins. The first is a motive arising from a duty of justice toward God; the second, a duty consequent upon our incorporation into Christ; the last is a duty imposed by charity to ourselves and to our neighbor.


#731. Sin is a real injustice, since it deprives God of a portion of that eternal glory which is His due. Sin, then, requires a reparation which consists in rendering God, to the extent in which we are able, that honor and that glory of which, through our fault, we have defrauded Him. The offense, inasmuch as it is offered to the Infinite Being, is in this respect at least infinite and can never be adequately repaired. Therefore, our expiation of sin must extend over the full span of our life; and this obligation is the more far reaching, as we have been the recipients of more favors and have been guilty of graver and more numerous faults.

Bossuet remarks on this point:1 "Have we not good reason to fear that God's goodness so foully outraged be turned into implacable wrath? If His just punishment of the Gentiles was so severe, will not His anger be more dreadful towards us? Does not a father feel more keenly the faithlessness of his children than the wickedness of his servants?" We must then, he adds, take sides with God against ourselves: "Thus if we side with divine justice as against ourselves, we oblige divine mercy to take sides with us against divine justice. The more we regret the plight wherein we have fallen, the sooner we shall regain the good we have lost. God's loving kindness will accept the sacrifice of the broken heart we offer Him as satisfaction for our crimes; and looking not to the inadequate reparation we offer, this good Father will but regard the good will of the offerers. Besides, we can make our penance more effective by uniting it to the atonement of Christ.

n1. "Premier Panegyrique de S. Fr. de Paul.


#737. Through Baptism we have been incorporated into Christ (n. 143), and since we share His life we are to share His sentiments. Although impeccable, Jesus has taken upon Himself, as the head of a mystical body, the burden of our sins and, so to speak, assumed responsibility for them: "And the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all."1 Behold the reason for His life of suffering from the moment of His conception to His death on Calvary. Knowing that the holocausts of the Ancient Law could not propitiate the Father, He gives Himself as an offering in the place of all victims. All His acts constitute an immolation through obedience, and after a lifelong martyrdom, He dies on the Cross, the victim of obedience and of love: "He was made obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross." And He wills that His members, in orders to be cleansed from their sins, be with Him victims of expiation: "He willed to become a victim that He might become the Savior of mankind but since His mystical body is one, if the head be immolated, the members likewise become living victims."2 It is evident that if Jesus, being innocent, atoned for our sins through His passion and death, we the guilty must share in His sacrifice, in proportion to our guilt.

n1. Isaias LIII, VI. n2. BOSSUET, "Premier Sermon pour la Purification."

#738. To move us to comply with this duty, the atoning Christ comes through His Divine Spirit, to live within us with all His sentiments of victim.

"Thus in reading the Psalms" says Father Olier,1 "we must honor that spirit of penance that was David's and revere in silent adoration the interior dispositions of Christ's Spirit, the fountain- head of penance, as diffused in David's soul. Humbly, insistently, ardently and perseveringly we must ask the Holy Ghost to give us this spirit of penance, trusting that He will grant our request. "We may not be aware of the operations of the Holy Spirit, for He often works in an imperceptible manner; but if we invoke Him with humility, He will hear us and infuse into our hearts the dispositions of the Heart of Jesus towards sin, and thus enable us in union with Him to detest and expiate our sins. Then our penance will become more efficacious since it is no longer we alone who atone, but Christ atoning in us and with us. "All exterior penance," says Father Olier,2 "that has not its source in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, is not true and genuine penance. One may inflict upon oneself rigors, even the most harsh, but if these proceed not from the atoning Christ within us, they cannot be acts of Christian penance. It is through Christ alone that we can do penance. He initiated it here on earth in His own person and He continues it in us, infusing into our soul sentiments of abasement, of confusion, of sorrow, of detestation of self and of fortitude, to fulfill in us the sufferings and the measure of that satisfaction which God the Father wills to receive from Jesus Christ in our flesh." This union with Jesus, then, does not exempt us from the exercise of the spirit of penance nor from the works thereof; its effect is that of conferring upon them a greater worth.

n1. "Introduction," ch. VII. n2. Op. cit., c. VIII.


Penance is a duty of charity both to ourselves and to our neighbor.

#739. A) A duty to ourselves. Sin leaves in the soul baneful consequences against which it is necessary to react. a) Even when the guilt or fault has been remitted, there generally remains a temporal punishment varying according to the gravity and number of our sins, and according to the fervor of our contrition at the moment of our return to God. This punishment must be undergone either in this life or in the next. By far the most advantageous course is to make satisfaction in this life. The sooner and the more perfectly we acquit ourselves of this debt, the better fitted our soul becomes for union with God. Moreover, expiation on earth is easier, since this is the acceptable time for mercy; it is more fruitful, since the acts wherewith we make satisfaction are also meritorious, a source of grace and greater glory (n. 209). Therefore, personal interest and love for our own soul are best served by a prompt and whole-hearted penance.

b) Moreover, by the fact that sin intensifies in us the disordered love of pleasure and weakens our will, it bequeaths to us a pernicious facility to commit fresh faults. Nothing so well rectifies this disorder as the virtue of penance. By having us bear with fortitude the afflictions sent by Providence, by inflaming our desire for privations and austerities compatible with our health, it gradually weakens within us the love of pleasure, and inspires us with a fear of sin which exacts such amends. By inuring us to the exercise of such acts of virtue as are opposed to our evil habits, it helps us to correct them and thus gives us greater security for the future.1 Hence, to do penance is charity towards ourselves.

#740. B) Penance is also an act of charity toward the neighbor. a) In virtue of our incorporation into Christ we are all brethren, all members of the same body of Christ (n. 148). Since our works of satisfaction can contribute to the welfare of others, will not our charity prompt us to do penance not only for ourselves, but likewise, in behalf of our brethren? Is not this the best means of obtaining their conversion or, if they have turned to God, their perseverance? Is not this the best service we could possibly render them, a benefit worth infinitely more than all the temporal goods we could confer upon them? Thus, to atone for our neighbor's faults is but to carry out the will of God, Who having adopted us as His children, commands us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

n1. This is the teaching of the Council of Trent (Session XIV, C. VIII).

#741. b) This duty of reparation devolves more particularly upon priests. For them it is a duty to offer sacrifices not only for themselves but for the souls committed to their charge, "First for his own sins, and therefore the people's."1 We do find, however, outside the priestly state generous souls, who, in the cloister or in the world, feel drawn to offer themselves as expiatory victims for the sins of others. A high calling that associates them with Christ's redeeming work! A call they should fearlessly answer, taking counsel from a wise spiritual director as to the appropriate works of reparation to which they should devote themselves.2

n1. Hebr,, VII, 27. n2. P. PLUS, "The Ideal of Reparation," Book III; L. CAPELLE, "Les Ames Genereuses."

#742. Let us say in conclusion that the spirit of penance is not a duty imposed merely upon beginners and only for a short period of time. Once we have understood what sin is, what an infinite offense it gives to God, we are obliged to do penance all through life, since a whole lifetime is but too short to make reparation for an infinite offense. Hence, we must never cease to do penance.

This point is so important that Father Faber, after giving much thought to the reason why so many souls make but little progress, came to the conclusion that the cause was "the want of abiding sorrow for sin."1 To this the example of the Saints bears witness; they never ceased expiating the faults, at times very slight, into which they had formerly lapsed. God's attitude toward the souls whom He wants to raise to contemplation likewise confirms it, after they have striven for a long time to purify themselves through active exercises of penance, God sends them, in order to complete their purification, those passive trials which we shall describe in the unitive way; for only perfectly pure or perfectly purified hearts can attain to the sweetness of the divine anion: "Blessed are the clean of heart because they shall see God!"

n1. This he explains at length in "Growth in Holiness," C. XIX, and he adds "Just as all worship breaks down, if it is not based on the feelings due from a creature to his Creator. . . just as all penances come to nought which do not rest on Christ, . . so in like manner all holiness has lost its principle of growth if it is separated from abiding sorrow for sin. For the principle of growth is not only love, but forgiven love."

II. The Practice of Penance

The more perfectly to practice penance, we must unite ourselves to the atoning Christ, and ask Him to dwell within us with His dispositions of victim (n. 738); then, we must enter into His sentiments and join in His acts of penance.


#743. These sentiments are most aptly expressed in the Psalms and particularly in the "Miserere."

a) First comes abiding and sorrowful remembrance of our sins: "My sin is always before me."1 No doubt, it is not expedient to recall them to mind in detail; this might stir the imagination and be a source of new temptations. Yet, we must always bear in mind that we have sinned and above all we must entertain a sense of sorrow and humiliation.

We have offended God in His sight: "I have done evil before Thee"2 before that God Who is holiness itself, and Who hates iniquity, before that God Who is all love and Whom we have outraged by dishonoring His gifts. Nothing is left to us but to appeal frequently to His mercy and implore His forgiveness: "have mercy on me, O Go, according to Thy great mercy."3 Indeed, we cherish the hope of having been pardoned; still, longing for a more complete forgiveness, we humbly beg God to cleanse us even more in the Blood of His Son: "Wash me yet more from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin."4 To effect a more intimate union with Him, we want our sins wiped out and their traces removed; we want our spirit and our heart renewed, and we want the joy of a good conscience restored to us.5

n1. Ps. L. n2. Ps. L, 6. n3. Ps. L, 3. n4. Ps. L, 4. n5. Ps. L, 10-14.

#744. b) This sorrowful remembrance is accompanied by an abiding sense of shame: "Shame hath covered thy face."1 We stand in confusion before God like Christ Who bore before His Father the infamy of our sins, especially at Gethsemane and on Calvary. We carry our shame before men, seeing ourselves as criminals in the assembly of the Saints. We bear the opprobrium in our own hearts, and unable to stand the reproach, to suffer the disgrace, we utter the sincere cry of the Prodigal: "Father I have sinned against heaven and before thee;"2 we repeat with the publican: "O God, be merciful to me a sinner."3

n1. Ps. LXVIII, 8. n2. Luke, XV, 18. n3. Luke, XVIII, 13.

#745. c) Of this a wholesome fear of sin is born, a horror for all the occasions that might lead us into it; for despite our good will we ever remain exposed to temptation and liable to fall.

Hence, a great distrust of self follows, whilst from our hearts we are prompted to repeat the prayer of St. Philip Neri, "My God, beware of Philip; otherwise he will betray Thee," or the concluding petition of the Our Father, "Lead us not into temptation." This distrust makes us foresee the dangerous occasions that might bring a fall and the positive means that will ensure our perseverance; it keeps us on our guard against the least imprudence. Such diffidence, however harbors no faint- heartedness. The more we are conscious of our weakness, the more we place our confidence in God, convinced that through the power of His grace we shall conquer.

III. Works of Penance

#746. No matter how painful these works may be, they will seem of light account if we keep constantly in mind this thought: I am a fugitive from hell, a fugitive from purgatory, and, were it not for the mercy of God, I would be there now, undergoing the well- merited punishment of my faults; therefore, I can consider nothing as humiliating me overmuch or grieving me above measure.

The chief works of penance we must perform are:

#747. (1) The submissive, willing, and joyful acceptance of all the crosses Providence may see fit to send us. The Council of Trent teaches us that it is a great token of God's love for us that He deigns to accept as satisfaction for our sins1 the patient endurance wherewith we suffer the temporal ills He visits upon us. Therefore, should we have any physical or moral trials to undergo, arising from the uncontrolled forces of nature or from reverses of fortune, from failure or from humiliation, let us, instead of breaking into bitter complaint as our tendencies would suggest, accept all such suffering in a spirit of gentle resignation, persuaded that they are the just wages of sin, and that patience in adversity is one of the best means of atoning for it. This acceptance, a mere resignation at first, will gradually grow into a manful, nay, a joyous endurance of ordeals, as we see our woes thereby assuaged and made fruitful. We should be glad thus to shorten our purgatory, to become more like Our Crucified Master and to glorify the God we have outraged. Then patience will bear all its fruits and cleanse our soul because it will be a work of love: "Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much."2

n1. Sess. XIV, C, IX. n2. Luke, VII, 47.

#748. (2) To patience we shall add the faithful discharge of our duties of state in a spirit of penance and reparation. The most acceptable sacrifice we can offer God is obedience: "Obedience is better than sacrifices."1 Now, the duties of our state are the manifest expression of God's will in our regard. To fulfill them as perfectly as we can is to offer God the most perfect sacrifice within our giving, a perpetual holocaust, since this duty rests upon us from morning until night. This is assuredly true for such as live in community: faithful obedience to their rule, general or particular, and the courageous accomplishment of the orders or directions of their superiors multiply their acts of obedience, of sacrifice and of love, and enable them to repeat with St. John Berchmans: "My greatest penance is community life." Such perfect discharge of the duties of state is likewise the best means of doing penance for persons in the world. Fathers and mothers who loyally observe all their obligations as husbands and wives and as parents have many occasions of offering God sacrifices that will work unto the purification of their souls. The one thing necessary is that they acquit themselves resolutely of their duties in a Christian manner, for God's sake, and in a spirit of expiation and penance.

n1. 1 Kings XV, 22.

#749. (3) There are other works of penance recommended in Holy Writ, such as fasting and almsgiving.

A) Fasting was, in the Old Dispensation, one of the great means of making atonement; it was called "to afflict the soul;"1 but to be acceptable it had to be accompanied by sentiments of sorrow for sin and mercy towards others.2 Under the New Law, fasting is an earnest of grief and of penance. The Apostles do not fast as long as the Bridegroom is with them, but they will fast when He is gone.3 Our Lord, wishing to expiate our sins, fasted forty days and forty nights, and taught His Apostles that certain evil spirits cannot be cast out except by prayer and fasting.4 True to His teachings, the-Church has established the Lenten Fast, that of the Vigils and of the Ember Days to offer her children the opportunity of making expiation for their faults. Many a sin takes its rise directly or indirectly in the craving for pleasure, in excess in eating and drinking, and nothing is so effective in making atonement as mortification in eating, reaching as it does the very root of the evil by mortifying the craving for sensual pleasure. This is why the Saints have made a practice of fasting even outside the seasons appointed by the Church. Generous Christian souls imitate them and, if they cannot keep the strict fast, forego some food at each meal in order thus to curb their sensuality.

n1. Leveticus, XVI, 29, 32; XXIII, 27, 32. n2. Isa., LVIII, 3-7. n3. Matth., IX, 14-15. n4. Matth., XVII, 20.

750. B) Almsgiving, is both a work of mercy and a privation; from this double title it derives great power of atoning for our sins: "Redeem thou thy sins with alms. "1 When we deprive ourselves of some good to give it to Jesus Christ in the person of the poor, God does not allow Himself to be outdone in liberality, and He willingly remits part of the punishment due to our sins. The more generous we are, each according to his means, and the more perfect our intention in almsgiving, the more fully are our spiritual debts canceled What we say of almsgiving with regard to the things that minister to the body holds true even more of spiritual almsgiving, which is calculated to promote the welfare of souls and thereby the glory of God. Thus it is one of the penitential acts the Psalmist promises to perform in reparation for his sin: "I will teach the unjust thy ways: and the wicked shall be converted to thee."2

(4) Lastly, there come the voluntary privations and the acts of mortification we impose upon ourselves in expiation for our faults, particularly those that reach the heart of the evil, by punishing the faculties that have had part in our sins. This we shall treat in the following chapter on mortification. The priest after absolving the penitent sums up in striking words the means by which we can atone fully for our sins and cleanse our souls from the remains of forgiven sins: "May whatever good you do and whatever ill you bear be to you unto the remission of sins...."

n1. Dan., IV, 24. n2. Ps. L, 15.