THE SPIRITUAL LIFE
A TREATISE ON ASCETICAL AND MYSTICAL THEOLOGY
by the Very Reverend Adolphe Tanquerey, S.S., D.D.
CHAPTER III Mortification1
#751. Like penance, mortification has a part in the cleansing from
past faults, but its chief purpose is to safeguard us against sin in
the present and in the future, by weakening in us the love of
pleasure, the source of our sins. We shall, therefore, explain the
nature, the necessity and the practice of mortification.
Nature: Various names, Definition
Necessity: For salvation, For perfection
Practice: General Principles, Mortification of the exterior senses,
Mortification of the interior senses, Mortification of the
passions, Mortification of the higher faculties
n1. ST. THOMAS, whose principal texts are quoted by TH. DE
VALLGORNERA, op, cit., q. II, disp. I V; PHILIP. A S. TRINITATE, op.
cit., Ia P,, Tr. II, disc. I-IV, ALVAREZ DE PAZ, t. II, lib. II, "De
mortificatione:" SCARAMELLI, "Guide ascetique," Tr. II, a 1-6;
RODRIGUEZ, "Practice of Christian Perfection," Part II, Tr. I and II:
TRONSON, "Exam. part.," CXXIX-CLXIX; MGR GAY, "Christian Life
and Virtues," Tr. VII, MEYNARD, "Tr. de la vie interieure,", L I, ch.
II-IV; A. CHEVRIER, "Le Veritable disciple," IIe P., p. 119-323; ST.
FRANCIS DE SALES, Devout Life," Part. III, C. 23-28, 34; MEYER,
"Science of the Saints," C. 5-7, MATURIN "Self-Knowledge and Self-
Discipline;" MESCHLER, "Three Fundamental Principals of the
Spiritual Life," P. II.
ART. I. THE NATURE OF MORTIFICATION
After explaining the scriptural and the modern terms whereby
mortification is designated, we shall give its definition.
#752. I. Scriptural terms used to designate mortification. In
Holy Writ we find seven principal expressions that describe
mortification in its different aspects.
(1) The word renouncement: "Everyone of you that doth not
renounce all that he possesseth cannot be my disciple." 1 This
presents mortification as a giving up of external goods in order to
follow Christ as the Apostles did: "Leaving all things they followed
(2) Mortification is likewise an act of abnegation or self-
renunciation: "If any man will come after me, let him deny
(3) But mortification also has a positive aspect: it is an act that
maims and cripples the inordinate inclinations of nature: "Mortify
therefore your members...4 But if by the Spirit you mortify the
deeds of the flesh, you shall live."5
(4) Nay more, mortification is a crucifixion of the flesh and its
lusts, whereby we attach, as it were, our faculties to the law of
the Gospel by devoting them to prayer and labor: "They that are
Christ's have crucified their flesh, with the vices and
(5) This crucifixion, if it persists, produces a sort of death and
burial whereby we seem to die completely to self and to be
buried with Christ, to live with Him a new life: "For you are dead:
and your life is hid with Christ in God...7 For we are buried
together with him by baptism into death."8
(6) To indicate this death, St. Paul makes use of another
expression. Since in Baptism a new life is given us, supernatural
life, the while our own natural life subsists with the threefold
concupiscence, the Apostle, calling the latter the old man and the
former regenerated man, declares that we must put off the old
man and put on the new: "Stripping yourselves of the old
man...and putting on the new." 9
(7) And since this is not done without a struggle, he says that life
is a fight: "I have fought the good fight",10 and that Christians are
the athletes who chastise their body and bring it into subjection.
From all these and similar phrases it follows that mortification
comprises a twofold element: one negative--detachment,
renunciation, despoilment; the other positive--the struggle against
the evil tendencies of nature, the effort to curb and deaden them,
a crucifixion, a death of the old man and his lusts, in order to live
Christ' s own life.
n1. Luke, XIV, 33.
n2. Luke, V, II.
n3. Luke, IX, 23.
n4. Coloss., III, 5.
n5. Rom. VIII, 13.
n6. Galat., V, 24.
n7. Coloss., III, 3.
n8. Rom., VI, 4.
n9. Coloss., III, 9-10.
n10. II Tim., IV, 7.
#753. II. Modern expressions designating mortification. Today
milder expressions are preferred which indicate rather the object
to be attained than the effort to be undergone. It is said, for
instance, that we must reform ourselves, exercise self-control,
train the will, practice self-discipline, turn our soul towards God.
These expressions are exact, provided it is kept in mind that we
cannot work out our reform nor master ourselves except by
fighting against and mortifying the inordinate tendencies of our
nature; that the training of the will is not accomplished without
thwarting and curbing our lower faculties; that we cannot direct
the course of our life towards God but by detaching ourselves
from creatures and stripping ourselves of our vices. In other
words, the two aspects of mortification must be duly combined,
as is done in Holy Writ: the end to be attained must be kept in
view in order to give us courage, but we should not lose sight of
the effort necessary to the attainment of this end.
#754. III. Definition. Mortification, then, may be defined as the
struggle against our evil inclinations in order to subject them to
the will, and the will to God. It is not so much a virtue as an
ensemble of virtues--the first degree of all the virtues--which
consists in overcoming the obstacles that stand in the way so as
to restore to our faculties their lost balance and reestablish
among them their right order. Thus it is easily seen that
mortification is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. We
mortify ourselves only to live a higher life; we despoil ourselves
of external goods only the better to lay hold of spiritual goods;
we renounce self but to possess God; we struggle but to obtain
peace; we die to ourselves but to live the life of Christ, the life of
God. Hence, the end of mortification is union with God.
ART. II. THE NECESSITY OF MORTIFICATION
We may consider this necessity from a twofold point of view, that
of salvation and that of perfection.
I. The Necessity of Mortification for Salvation
There is a kind of mortification which is necessary for salvation
in this sense, that if we fail to practice it, we run the risk of
falling into mortal sin.
#755. (1) Our Lord speaks of it in a very clear way concerning
faults against chastity: "Whosoever shall look on a woman to lust
after her hath already committed adultery with her in his heart."1
There are looks, then, that are gravely sinful, such as are
prompted by evil desire. In this case mortification of the eyes is
imperative under pain of mortal sin. Our Lord says so in no
uncertain language: "And if thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it
out and cast it from thee. For it is expedient for thee that one of
thy members should perish, rather than thy whole body be cast
into hell."2 It is not question here of putting out one' s eyes, but
of turning them away from such sights as are a cause of sin. St.
Paul gives us the reason for these serious injunctions: "For if you
live according to the flesh, you shall die; but if by the Spirit you
mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live."3
As we have said, (n. 193-227) the threefold concupiscence that
remains with us, spurred on by the world and the devil, often
inclines us to evil and endangers our salvation, unless we take
heed to mortify it. Hence, the absolute necessity of waging a
constant warfare against our evil tendencies; of fleeing from the
proximate occasions of sin, that is, from such things or such
persons as, given our past experience, are to us a serious and a
probable danger of sin; of renouncing thereby a great many
pleasures towards which our nature draws us.4 There are then
certain practices of mortification which are imperative; without
them we should fall into mortal sin.
n1. Matth., V, 28.
n2. Matth., V, 29.
n3. Rom., VIII, 13.
n4. We treated more at length of these occasions of sin in our
"Synopsis Theologia moralis," De paenitentia, n. 524-536.
#756. (2) Other practices of mortification there are which the
Church prescribes in order to determine the general obligation so
often repeated in the Gospel. Such are: abstinence from flesh-
meats on Fridays, the fast of Lent, the Ember Days and the Vigils.
These laws bind under pain of grievous sin all those who are not
legitimately excused. Here we must make a remark that is of
importance. There are persons who for good reasons are
dispensed from these positive laws; but they are not thereby
exempt from the natural, divine law of mortification, and hence
must comply with it in some form or other. Should they fail in
this, they will ere long experience the rebellion of the flesh.
#757. (3) Besides these practices of mortification enjoined by
divine and by ecclesiastical law, there are others which, when
temptations grow more severe, individuals must undertake with
the advice of their spiritual director. What these mortifications
are shall be indicated in n. 767 and following.
II. Necessity of Mortification for Perfection
#758. This necessity follows from what we have said of the
nature of perfection, which consists in the love of God unto
sacrifice and the immolation of self (n. 321-327). This is so true,
that, according to the "Imitation", the measure of our spiritual
growth depends upon the measure of violence we do to
ourselves: "In proportion as thou dost violence to thyself the
greater progress wilt thou make."1 It will suffice, then to recall
briefly a few of the motives that may aid the will in the discharge
of this duty; they are drawn from the point of view of our relation
to God, to Jesus Christ, and from that of our personal
n1. "The following of Christ," Bk. 1, C. 25.
n2. These motives are similar to those we explained with regard
to penance, n. 736 and foll. Penance is in reality but mortification
that repairs past faults.
(1) MORTIFICATION IS NECESSARY FOR OUR UNION WITH GOD
#759. A) We cannot attain to union with God without
mortification, without detaching ourselves from the inordinate
love of creatures.
St. John of the Cross says: "A soul will become like unto the
creature to which it cleaves, as the attachment grows, the
identification asserts itself; for love establishes the equal
adjustment of the lover to the thing beloved... Therefore, he who
loves a creature stoops down to its level--nay, even lower, since
love is not content with equality, but descends to slavery. This is
why a soul under subjection to anything apart from God becomes
incapable of entering into that pure union with Him and of being
assimilated to Him, for the utter nothingness of the creature is
farther from the sovereignty of the Creator than darkness is from
light. "Now, the unmortified soul soon clings to creatures in an
inordinate way; for since the Fall, the soul of man feels itself
drawn to them, captivated by their charms, and delights in them
as if they were ends in themselves, instead of making them
stepping stones unto God. To break this charm, to escape this
snare, it is absolutely necessary that we detach ourselves from
whatever is not God, or at least, from whatever cannot be looked
upon as a means leading us to Him. This is why Father Olier, in
comparing the condition of Christians to that of Adam in the state
of innocence, sees a vast difference between the two: "Adam
sought God, served Him, and adored Him in His creatures;
Christians, on the contrary, are forced to seek God through faith,
to serve Him and adore Him in the inaccessible heights of His
own Being and of His holiness."1 For this we have the grace of
n1. "Cat. for an Int. Life,", P. I, Lesson IV.
#760. B) By Baptism a real contract is concluded between God and
ourselves. a) God on His part cleanses us from the stain of
original sin, adopts us as His children, and admits us to share in
His life, engaging Himself to bestow upon us all the graces
necessary to the preservation and development of that life. We
know the liberality wherewith He has fulfilled His promises. b)
On our part, we bind ourselves to live like true children of God,
to strive to become perfect as Our Heavenly Father is perfect.
This, however, we can do only if we practice mortification; for, on
the one side, the Holy Ghost, given us in Baptism, "urges us to
embrace contempt, poverty, suffering; and, on the other, our
flesh longs for honor, pleasure, riches."1 Within us, therefore,
rages a conflict, an incessant struggle; nor can we be faithful to
God unless we renounce the inordinate love of honor, pleasure,
and riches. Thus in the rite of Baptism, the priest marks us with
two Crosses, one upon the heart to stamp thereon the love of the
Cross, the other upon our shoulders to give us the strength to
carry it. We should be untrue to our baptismal vows, if we did not
carry our cross by waging war against the lust for honor through
humility, against the lust for pleasure through mortification
against the lust for riches through poverty.
n1. OLIER, "Cat. for an Int. Life," Part I, Lesson VII.
(2) MORTIFICATION NECESSARY FOR OUR CONFORMITY TO
#761. A) Through Baptism we have been incorporated into Christ,
we have become His members, and as such, it is from Him we are
to receive life, and motion, and inspiration, and thereby be made
conformable to Him. But the "Imitation" tells us that "The whole
life of Christ was a cross and a martyrdom."1 Ours, then, cannot
be a life of pleasure and honors, but it must be a life of
mortification. This is what our divine Head clearly tells us: "If any
man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross
and follow me."2 If there is any one who must follow Jesus, it is
he who seeks after perfection. But how can a lover of pleasure, of
honors, of riches follow Jesus? How can one follow Christ, if one
is unwilling to carry his cross daily--the cross that God Himself
has chosen for him and sent to him? How can such a one follow
Him Who from His very entry into the world embraced the Cross,
Who throughout His entire life sighed for sufferings and
humiliations, Who was wedded to poverty at the Crib and Whom
poverty followed unto Calvary? "It is shameful," says St. Bernard,3
"that we appear as delicate members, shrinking at the least smart
of pain, under a Head that is crowned with thorns." Therefore, if
we wish to become like unto Jesus Christ and reflect His
perfection, we must like Him carry our Cross.
n1. "Following of Christ," Bk. II, C. XII, v. 7.
n2. Luke IX, 23. Read the beautiful commentary on this text in the
"Circular Letter to the Friends of the Cross" by the Blessed L.
GRIGNION DE MONTFORT.
n3. "Sermo V in festo omnium Sanctorum, n. 9.
#762. B) If we aspire to a life of apostolic service, we find therein a
new motive for the crucifixion of our flesh. It is through the Cross
that Jesus saved the world; it is likewise through the Cross that
we shall co-operate with Him in the salvation of our brethren; and
the fruitfulness of our zeal will grow in proportion as we share in
the Savior's sufferings. This was what compelled St. Paul to fill up
in his flesh that which was wanting of the passion of His Master
in order to obtain graces for the Church.1 This is the motive that
in the past sustained and even now sustains so many souls who
consent to be victims, that God may be glorified and that souls
may be saved. No doubt, suffering is hard to bear, but when we
look upon Jesus walking before us with His Cross borne for our
own salvation and that of our brethren; when we contemplate His
agony; when we see Him unjustly condemned, scourged,
tormented with a crown of thorns; when we hearken to the jeers,
the insults, the calumnies He silently endured--how dare we
complain! "Ye have not yet resisted unto the shedding of blood."2 If
we prize at their worth our souls and the souls of our brethren,
can we make so much of a few fleeting pangs of suffering
endured for the sake of a glory that will have no end, endured in
union with Our Lord and Master, as our share in His work of
saving souls for whom He shed the last drop of His Blood?
These motives, high as they are, are entered into by some
generous souls from the very moment of their turning to God. By
proposing such motives to them, a spiritual director will further
their purification and sanctification.
n1. Coloss., I, 24.
n2. Heb., XII, 4.
(3) MORTIFICATION NECESSARY FOR OUR OWN SANCTIFICATION
#763. A) We must secure our perseverance in good, and
mortification offers without doubt one of the best means we have
to keep free from sin. What causes us to surrender to temptation
is the love of pleasure or the horror of hardship, the hardships of
the struggle. Mortification combats this twofold tendency, which
is really but one; for by having us break with some few
legitimate pleasures, it arms our Will against those that are
unlawful, thus giving us an easier victory over sensuality and the
love of self; "inveighing against sensuality and self-love", as St.
Ignatius puts it. If, on the contrary, we yield to pleasure, allowing
ourselves all lawful joys, how shall we be able to resist when our
sensuality, hankering after new delights, dangerous or wrong,
feels itself as if overpowered by the force of habit? The bias is so
strong, that where our sensuous nature is concerned, it is easy to
fall into the abyss, by a sort of vertigo. Even when it is question
of pride, the downward plunge is far more rapid than we think:
we lie about a trifle to cover up a fault, to escape humiliation;
and then when we approach the tribunal of penance we run the
risk of failing in sincerity through the dread of a mortifying
avowal. Our safety demands, therefore, a warfare against self-
love as well as against sensuality and greed.
#764. B) To avoid sin is not sufficient; we must grow in
perfection. Here again, what is the great stumbling-block, if not
the love of pleasure and a dread of the cross? How many would
wish to be better than they are, to aim at perfection, were it not
that they shrink from the effort required, from the trials sent by
God to His best friends? Such persons must be frequently
reminded of what St. Paul said time and again to the first
Christians, that is to say, that life is a struggle; that we should
blush for shame if we show less courage than those who strive
for an earthly reward and who in order to assure victory deprive
themselves of sundry pleasures, willingly submitting to a stern
and arduous discipline: "And they indeed that they may receive a
corruptible crown: but we an incorruptible one."1 Do we dread
pain? Let us ponder the terrible sufferings of Purgatory (n. 734)
which will be our lot for years should we persist in living
heedless of mortification and ready to indulge in all those things
that delight us. How much wiser are the children of this world!
Many a one undergoes hard labor and at times endures harsh
treatment that he may earn a living and secure decent comfort in
his declining years; and we would be loath to impose a hardship
on ourselves for the sake of an eternal abode in the Kingdom of
Heaven! Is this rational?
We must, then, realize that there is no perfection, no possible
attainment of virtue without the practice of mortification. How
can we be chaste without deadening that sensuality that urges us
so strongly toward evil and dangerous pleasures? How can we be
temperate unless we curb our greediness? How practice poverty,
nay justice, if we do not combat our greed? How be humble, meek,
kind, if we exercise no control over the passions of pride, anger,
envy, jealousy, that lurk in the recesses of every human heart.
There is not one virtue which, in our fallen condition, we can
practice for any length of time without effort, without a struggle
and, hence, without the practice of mortification. We can,
therefore, say with Father Tronson that "just as a lack of
mortification is the cause of all our vices, mortification is the
foundation and the source of all our virtues."2
n1. I Cor., IX, 25.
n2. "Examens part.," Ier Ex. de la Mortification.
#765 . C) We can go further and add that mortification,
notwithstanding the privations and sufferings it imposes, is even
here on earth rich in goods of the highest order. The mortified
Christian is as a rule more truly happy than the worldling who
abandons himself to every pleasure. This is what Our Lord Himself
teaches when He says: "Every one that hath left house or
brethren... shall receive an hundredfold and shall possess life
everlasting."1 St. Paul speaks the same language. After having
spoken of modesty, that is, of moderation in all things, he adds:
"And the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding, keep
your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."2 Of this he was himself
the living example. In truth he had much to suffer. He recounts at
length not only his own inner conflict, but also the terrible
ordeals he had to undergo for the preaching of the Gospel. He
adds however: "I exceedingly abound with joy in all our
And so it was with all the Saints. Undoubtedly, they had to
endure long and painful trials, but the martyrs mid their tortures
gave testimony that "They have never been so happy." Reading the
lives of the Saints we meet two striking facts: the dreadful
ordeals they sustained, the mortifications they willingly
embraced; and then their patience, their joy, their peace in these
sufferings. They came to love the cross, to lose all fear thereof,
nay, to sigh after it, to count as lost the day wherein they had but
little to suffer. This is a psychological phenomenon which
puzzles the worldly, but which is a comfort to men of good-will.
No doubt, one could not ask of beginners such love of the cross-
but one can, showing them the example of the Saints, make them
understand that the love of God soothes the pain of mortification,
and, if they consent to enter whole-heartedly into the practice of
offering small sacrifices within their strength, that they will
come themselves to love the cross, to long for it and to find in it
true spiritual comfort.
n1. Matth., XIX, 29; Mark, X, 29-30, where it is said: "An hundred
times as much, now in this time."
n2. Philip., IV, 7.
n3. II Cor., VII, 4.
#766. The author of the "Imitation" expresses this in a text which
briefly sums up the advantages of mortification: "In the cross is
salvation; In the Cross is life; in the Cross is protection from
enemies. In the Cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness; in the
Cross is strength of mind; in the cross is joy of spirit. In the Cross is
height of virtue; in the Cross is perfection of sanctity."1 The love of
the Cross is but the love of God unto the immolation of self. And
this love, as we have said, is the embodiment of all the virtues,
the very essence of perfection and therefore the strongest
defense against our spiritual enemies, the fountain-spring of
consolation, the best means of growing in the spiritual life and of
assuring our salvation.
n1. "The following of Christ," Bk. II, c. 12.
ART. III. THE PRACTICE OF MORTIFICATION2
#767. Principles. (1) Mortification must include the whole man,
body and soul; for each of our faculties unless well-disciplined
may be the cause of sin. It is true indeed, that the will alone sins,
but it has for accomplices and instruments our body with its
exterior senses and our soul with all its faculties. Hence, it is the
whole man that must be disciplined, that is, mortified.
n1. Since mortification is defined as the struggle against our evil
inclinations, it must be practiced first of all in resisting
temptations. This aspect of mortification will be treated in nos
900 and following. It is next practiced in overcoming our evil
inclinations, our vices. This will be seen in nos 818 and
following. Here we speak only of the mortification of our
faculties, or rather of their inordinate tendencies.
It must be noted that the word mortification is not used in exactly
the same sense when we speak of the mortification of our sins
and vices as when we speak of the mortification of our faculties.
In the former case it means destroying, putting to death; In the
latter it means correcting, training, disciplining.
#768. (2) Mortification is the enemy of pleasure. True, pleasure of
itself is not an evil; rather, it is a good when subordinated to its
God-given end. God has willed to attach a certain pleasure to the
fulfillment of duty in order to facilitate its accomplishment.
Thus, we find a certain enjoyment in eating and drinking, in our
work, and in other duties. In the divine plan, therefore, pleasure
is not an end, but the means to an end. Hence, the enjoyment of
pleasure in view of a more perfect acquittal of duty is not
proscribed; it is rather in accordance with the order established
by God. But to seek pleasure as an end in itself without any
relation to duty, is at least dangerous, since it exposes one to slip
from lawful to unlawful pleasure. To enjoy pleasure to the
exclusion of duty is a sin more or less serious, because it is a
violation of the order established by God. Mortification,
therefore, consists in foregoing evil pleasures, pleasures contrary
to God's providential plan, or to His Law, or to the law of the
Church; in renouncing dangerous pleasures, so as not to run the
risk of sin; in abstaining from certain licit pleasures, so as to
insure the dominion of the will over our sensuous nature. With
this same end in view we not only forego some pleasures, but
likewise impose upon ourselves some positive practices of
mortification; for it is a matter of experience that nothing is so
effective in breaking down the lure to pleasure as the voluntary
undertaking of some additional labor, the shouldering of some
#769. (3) Mortification, however, must be practiced with
prudence and discretion. It must be properly fitted to the physical
and moral strength of each, and must be in keeping with the
accomplishment of one's duties of state. 1) We must spare our
physical strength, for according to St. Francis de Sales, "We are
exposed to great temptations both when the body is overfed and
when it is too enfeebled."1 In the latter case one becomes an easy
prey to neurasthenia, which subsequently demands a letting
down that may prove dangerous. 2) We must take into account
our moral strength, that is to say, we must refrain from imposing
upon ourselves from the outset excessive privations which we
could not long sustain, and the giving up of which may lead us to
laxness. 3) Above all, our mortifications must be such as would
be compatible with the duties of our state, for the latter are
obligatory and take precedence over practices of supererogation.
Thus it would be wrong for a mother to practice such austerities
as would prevent her from fulfilling her duties towards her
husband and her children.
n1. "Devout Life," Part III, c. XXIII.
#770. (4) There is a hierarchy in the practices of mortification.
Those that mortify our interior faculties have a greater worth
than those that mortify our exterior senses, because the former
attack more directly the root of the evil; yet we must not lose
sight of the fact that the latter aid in a great measure the exercise
of the former. Whoever would attempt to mortify the imagination
without mortifying the eyes will hardly succeed, for the very
reason that these furnish our fancy with sensible images whereon
it thrives. To jeer at the austerities of former Christian days is a
baneful error of modern times. As a matter of fact the Saints of all
ages, those that have been beatified in these latter days as well as
those of old, have severely chastised their bodies and their
exterior senses, well aware that man's whole being must be
brought into subjection, that in the state of fallen nature, man's
whole being must be crucified if he is to belong wholly to God.
We shall therefore examine in succession the entire range of
mortifications beginning with those that are exterior in character,
finally arriving at those of a more interior nature. This is the
logical order; in actual practice we must learn how to combine
them, and make proper use of them.
I. The Mortification of the Body and the Exterior Senses
#771. (1) Its motives. a) Our Lord recommended to His
disciples the moderate practice of fasting and of abstinence, the
mortification of sight and of touch. St. Paul was so alive to the
necessity of mortifying the flesh that he punished it severely in
order to escape sin and final reprobation: "But I chastise my body
and bring it into subjection .lest perhaps, when I have preached to
others, I myself should become a castaway."1 The Church herself
prescribes for the faithful certain days of fast and of abstinence.
b) Why this? No doubt the body, well held in check, is a profitable
servant, nay, an indispensable one, whose strength must be
preserved to place it at the soul's service. But in the state of
fallen nature, the body seeks after the joys of the flesh regardless
of what is licit or illicit; it has a special tendency towards
forbidden pleasures, and at times rebels against the higher
faculties when these stand in the way. This enemy is so much the
more dangerous, because it is ever with us, at table, in our room,
abroad; and because it often meets with abettors ready to excite
its sensuality and lust. The senses are but so many openings for
forbidden pleasure. We are obliged therefore to keep an ever-
watchful guard over our body, to overpower it and bring it into
subjection. If we fail in this it will betray us.
n1. I Cor., IX, 27.
#772. (2) The Modesty of the Body. If we wish to mortify the
body, we must begin by a faithful observance of the prescriptions
of modesty and good deportment. Here we find an extensive field
for mortification. The rule we must follow is the principle of St.
Paul: "Know you not that your bodies are the members of Christ...
that your members are the temple of the Holy Ghost?"1
A) We must, then, hold our body in reverence, as a holy temple,
as a member of Christ. Let there be nothing about us savoring of
those fads, more or less indecent, designed to excite the
unwholesome curiosity of lust. Let our dress be in harmony with
our condition in life, plain and modest, ever becoming, ever
The wisest recommendations on this subject are those of St.
Francis de Sales: "Be neat, Philothea; let nothing be negligent
about you; but at the same time, avoid all affectation, vanity,
curiosity, or levity in your dress. Keep yourself always, as much
as possible, on the side of plainness and modesty, which, doubt
not, is the greatest ornament of beauty, and the best excuse for
the want of it... Women who are vain, are esteemed to be very
weak in their chastity; at least, if they are chaste, it is not to be
discovered amid so many toys and fopperies..."2 St. Louis briefly
says, "that one should dress in accordance to one's condition in
life, so that the wise and the good might not say: 'you are too
fastidious,' nor the young remark, 'you are too negligent.'"
As regards religious and priests, they have rules that prescribe
the form and quality of their dress, and they should conform to
those directions. It is needless to say that worldliness and
affectation would be out of place in them and could not but
shock worldlings themselves.
n1. I Cor., VI, 15, 19.
n2. "Devout Life," Part III, c. XXV.
#773. B) Good deportment likewise furnishes everyone with
ample opportunity for the practice of mortification, an excellent
way of mortifying the flesh without endangering our health or
attracting undue attention, and of gaining a wonderful control
over the body. Examples of good deportment are: the avoidance
of anything like lack of poise or of any bodily pose that smacks of
primness or softness; an erect, easy and natural carriage of the
body; holding the same even posture for a considerable space of
time; not to lounge when sitting or lean when kneeling; to avoid
all brusqueness of movement or manner and ill-regulated
#774. C) There are other positive means of mortification which
penitent souls inspired by generosity delight to employ in order
to subdue their bodies, to temper the importunities of the flesh
and give vent to their holy desires. The more customary ones are
small iron bracelets clasped to the arms, chains worn about the
loins, hairshirts, or a few strokes of the discipline when this last
can be done without attracting any notice.1 As to all such
practices one must faithfully follow the advice of one's spiritual
director, shun whatever tends to evince any singularity or to
flatter vanity not to speak of whatever would be against the rules
of hygiene and personal cleanliness. The spiritual director should
not give his sanction to any of these extraordinary practices
except with the greatest discretion, only for a time, and on trial.
Should it come to his notice that any inconveniences arise
therefrom, he must bring them to a halt.
n1. To resume the practice of corporal mortification is one of the
most effective means of regaining lost joy of spirit and fervor of
soul let us go back to our bodily mortifications. Let us bruise our
flesh and draw a little of our blood, and we shall be happy as the
day is long. If the Saints are such gay spirits, and monks and
nuns such unaccountably cheerful creatures, it is simply because
their bodies, like St. Paul's, are chastised and kept under with an
unflinching sharpness and a vigorous discretion." (FABER, "The
Blessed Sacrament," Book II, Section VII).
#775. (3) Modesty of the Eyes. A) There are looks which are
grievously sinful, that offend not only against modesty, but
against chastity itself; from such we must evidently abstain.1
Others there are which are dangerous; for instance, to fasten our
eyes on persons or things which would of themselves be apt to
bring on temptations. Thus Holy Scripture warns us: "Gaze not
upon a maiden lest her beauty be a stumbling-block to thee."2
Today when indecency in dress, exhibitions of the stage and of
certain types of drawing-room entertainment create so many
dangers, what great care must we not exercise so as not to
expose ourselves to sin!
n1. Matth., V, 28.
n2. Eccli., IX, 5.
#776. B) The earnest Christian who wants to save his soul at all
costs goes even further so as to make the danger more remote. He
mortifies the sense of sight by repressing idle, curious glances
and by duly controlling his eyes in all simplicity without any
show of affectation. He takes the opportunity whenever offered
of directing his looks towards those things that tend to raise his
heart towards God and the Saints, such as holy pictures, statues,
churches and crosses.
#777. (4) Mortification of the Ear and the Tongue A) The
mortification of these senses demands that we speak no word nor
lend a willing ear to utterances that hurt brotherly love, purity,
humility and the other Christian virtues; for, says St. Paul, "Evil
communications corrupt good manners."1 How many souls have
been turned from their godly ways by giving ear to impure
conversations or to words against their neighbor. Obscene words
induce a morbid curiosity, excite the passions, kindle desire and
incite to sin; whilst unkind words stir up strife and divisions
even in the home, give rise to suspicion, enmity and rancor. We
must, therefore, watch over the least of our words and we must
know how to close our ears to whatever may sully purity, hurt
charity or disturb peace.
n1. I Cor., XV, 33.
#778. B) The better to succeed in this, we shall at times mortify our
curiosity, refraining from asking questions that would satisfy it,
or repressing that itch for gossip that draws us into idle
conversations not altogether devoid of danger: "In the multitude
of words there shall not want sin."1
C) Since negative means do not suffice. We should take care to
direct our conversation to subjects not merely harmless, but
good, elevating and edifying, without however growing
burdensome to others by too serious remarks that do not
naturally suggest themselves.
n1. Proverbs, X 19.
#779. (5) The Mortification of our other senses. What we have
said with regard to sight hearing and speech, is applicable to the
other senses as well. We shall return to the sense of taste when
we speak of gluttony, and to the sense of touch when we treat of
chastity. As to the sense of smell, suffice it to say that the
immoderate use of perfumes is often but a pretext for satisfying
sensuality, and at times a ruse to excite lust. Earnest Christians
should use them with moderation; clerics and religious should
never use them.
II. Mortification of the Interior Senses
The two interior senses to be mortified are the imagination and
the memory, which generally act in accord, memory-activities
being accompanied by sense-images.
#780. (1) Principle. These are two valuable faculties, which not
only furnish the mind with the necessary material whereon to
work, but enable it to explain the truth with the aid of images and
facts in such a manner as to make it easier to grasp, and render it
more vital and more interesting. The bare, colorless and cold
statement of truth would not engage the interest of most men. It
is not question, then, of atrophying these faculties, but of
schooling them, of subjecting their activity to the control of
reason and will. Otherwise, left to themselves, they literally
crowd the soul with a host of memories and images that distract
the spirit, waste its energies, cause it to lose priceless time while
at prayer and work, and constitute the source of a thousand
temptations against purity, charity, humility and other virtues.
Hence, of necessity they must be disciplined and made to
minister to the higher faculties of the soul.
#781. (2) Rules to be followed. A) In order to check the
wanderings of the memory and the imagination, we must, first of
all, strive to expel from the outset, that is, from the very moment
we are aware of them, all dangerous fancies and recollections; for
such, by conjuring up some crisis of the past, or by carrying us
along midst the seductive allurements of the present, or on to
those of the future, would constitute for us a source of
temptation. Furthermore, since frequent day-dreaming by a kind
of psychological necessity leads us into dangerous musings, we
should take heed to provide against idle thoughts, by mortifying
ourselves as regards useless fancies, which constitute a waste of
time and pave the way to others of an even more perilous nature.
Mortifying idle thoughts, the Saints tell us, is dealing death to evil
#782. B) The best means to attain this end is to apply ourselves
whole-heartedly to the performance of the duties of the moment,
to our work, to our studies, to our ordinary occupations. Besides,
this is likewise the best means of doing well what we are about,
by making all our activities converge towards the production of
the one action: "Do well whatever you do." Let young men
remember that in order to succeed either in studies or in their
profession, they must give more play to the mind and the will
than to the lower faculties. Thus, whilst making provision for the
future, they should avoid all dangerous flights of the
#783. C) Lastly, the memory and the imagination will prove
most helpful if they are employed to nourish our piety by
searching in the Scriptures, in the Liturgy, and in spiritual writers
the choicest texts, the most beautiful similes, the richest imagery,
and if the imagination is used to enter into God's presence, to
picture in their details the mysteries of Our Lord and the Blessed
Virgin. Thus, far from stunting this faculty, we shall fill it with
devout representations which will displace dangerous fancies
and enable us the better to grasp and present to our hearers the
beauty of the Gospel-scenes.
III. The Mortification Or the Passions1
#784. The passions in the philosophical sense of the term are not
necessarily nor wholly evil. They are active forces, often
impetuous, that may be used for good as well as for evil,
provided we learn to control them and direct them towards a
high purpose. In popular parlance, however, and with certain
spiritual writers, the word is used to designate evil passions. We
shall, then--(1) recall the principal psychological notions
concerning the passions; (2) indicate their good and their bad
effects; (3) give rules for their right use.
n1. ST THOM., Ia. IIae, q. 22-48; SUAREZ, disp. III, SENAULT "De
l'usage des passions;" DESCURET, "La medecine des passions;"
BELOUINO, "Des passions;" TH. RIBOT, "La pschologie des
sentiments; La logique des sentiments; PAYOT, "The Education of
the Will; Cursus Asceticus," I, P. 157-236, MEYER, "The Science of
the Saints," II-IV; MESCHLER, "Three Fundamental Principles of the
Spiritual Life," P., II, C. X-XV; P. JANVIER, "Careme 1905;" H . D.
NOBLE, "L'education des passions."
I. The Psychology of the Passions
Here we but recall briefly what is explained at length in
#785. (1) Notion. Passions are vehement movements of the
sensitive appetite toward sensible good, reacting more or less
strongly on the bodily organism.
a) At the bottom of passion, therefore, there is a certain
knowledge, at least a sense-knowledge, of a good hoped for or
already possessed, or of an evil opposed to the said good. From
this knowledge spring the movements of the sensitive appetite.
b) These movements are vehement and thus differ from affective
conditions, pleasant or unpleasant, which are calm, peaceful, and
free from the eagerness and the violence found in passion.
C) It is precisely because they are vehement and act strongly
upon the sensitive appetite that they have their reaction upon the
physical organism. This is due to the close union that exists
between body and soul. Thus, anger causes blood to rush to the
brain and strains the nerves, fear causes us to turn pale; love
dilates the heart and fear contracts it. These physiological effects
do not reach the same degree in all subjects; they depend upon
the individual temperament and the intensity of passion itself, as
well as upon the measure of control acquired over self.
#786. Passions differ from sentiments, which are movements of
the will, and which presuppose, therefore, an intellectual
knowledge; although they are strong, they lack the violence of
passions. Thus there is a passion of love and a sentiment of love,
a passionate fear and an intellectual fear. We may add that in
man, a rational animal, the passions and the sentiments almost
invariably blend in varying proportions, and that it is through the
will aided by grace that we transform the most ardent passions
into lofty sentiments by bringing the former under the sway of
#787. (2) Their Number. Eleven are generally enumerated, all of
which proceed from love, as Bossuet1 lucidly shows: "Our other
passions refer but to love, love which embodies or stimulates
1) Love is a yearning for union with a person or thing that pleases
us; we thereby crave possession of it.
2) Hatred is an eagerness to rid ourselves of what displeases us it
is born of love in the sense that we hate that which militates
against what we love. We hate disease only because we love
health; we hate no one, except those who place an obstacle to our
possessing what we love.
3) Desire is a quest for an absent good and proceeds from the fact
that we love that good.
4) Aversion (or flight) makes us shun or repel approaching evil.
5) Joy is the satisfaction arising from a present good.
6) Sadness, on the other hand, makes us grieve over and shrink
from a present evil
7) Courage (daring) makes us strive after union with the object
loved, the acquisition of which is difficult.
8) Fear prompts us to shrink from an evil difficult to avoid.
9) Hope eagerly bears us toward the thing loved, the acquisition
of which is possible, though difficult.
10) Despair arises in the soul when the acquisition of the object
loved seems impossible.
11) Anger violently repels what hurts us, and incites the desire of
The first six passions which take rise in what is called the
concupiscible appetite, are generally known to modern
psychologist as pleasure-passions; the other five, proceeding from
what is termed the irascible appetite, go by the name of
n1. "De la connaissance de Dieu et de soi-meme," C. I, n. 6.
II. The Effects of the Passions
#788. The Stoics assumed that the passions were radically evil
and must be annihilated. The Epicureans deified the passions and
loudly proclaimed the necessity of obeying them; modern
Epicureans re-echo their cry in saying that life must be lived.
Christianity shuns these two extremes. Nothing, it holds, that God
has bestowed on our nature is evil. Our Lord Himself had well-
ordered passions. He loved not only with His will, but with His
heart; He wept over dead Lazarus and over faithless Jerusalem;
He let Himself be roused to righteous indignation; He felt fear,
underwent sadness and weariness; yet He knew how to keep
these passions under the control of the will and subordinate
them to God. When, on the contrary, passions are ill-ordered they
are productive of the most harmful results. Hence, they must be
mortified and disciplined.
#789. The Effects of ill-ordered Passions. Passions are said to be
ill-ordered when directed towards some sensible good which is
forbidden, or even towards a good which is lawful, but is pursued
with too much eagerness and without any reference to God. Such
ill-regulated passions have the following effects:
a) They produce blindness of soul, for heedless of reason, they
move headlong toward their object, led on by attraction or by
pleasure. This constitutes a disturbing factor which tends to
unbalance our judgment and becloud right reason. The sensitive
appetite is by nature blind; and should the soul allow itself to be
guided by it, it will likewise become blind. The soul then, instead
of being guided by duty, allows itself to be fascinated by the
pleasure of the moment; it is as if a cloud stood between it and
the truth. Blinded by the passions, the soul no longer sees clearly
the will of God, the duty to be fulfilled; it is no longer competent
to form a sane judgment.
#790. b) Ill-ordered passions weary and torture the soul.
1) The passions, says St. John of the Cross,1 "are as impatient
little children that can never be pleased, that ask their mother
now for this, now for that, and are never satisfied. A miser tires
of digging in vain for a treasure; likewise the soul wearies of
seeking what its appetites demand. If one of these appetites is
satisfied, others arise and wear us out, because they cannot all be
satisfied... Appetites afflict the soul, enervate it and trouble it as
the wind agitates the sea."
2) Hence, a suffering all the more intense, the more ardent the
passions, for they torture the soul until they are satisfied, and
just as the appetite for food is whetted by eating, so the passions
ever crave for more. If conscience offers resistance, they lose
patience, they fret, they importune the will to yield to their ever-
recurring desires. This is an unspeakable torture.
n1. "The Ascent of Carmel," Bk. I, c. VI; see chapters VI-XII of the
same book, wherein the Saint explains in a wonderful way the
hurtful effects of the appetites, that is of the passions. We but
briefly sum up his thought.
#791. e) Ill-ordered passions also weaken the will. Drawn hither
and thither by these rebellious passions, the will is forced to
scatter its efforts in every direction and by so doing to lessen its
strength. Every concession it makes to the passions increases
their demands and diminishes its own energies. Like the useless,
rapacious, parasitic shoots that sprout round the trunk of a tree,
uncontrolled appetites grow and sap the strength of the soul. A
time comes when the weakened soul becomes the prey of
laxness and lukewarmness and is ready to make any surrender.
#792. d) Ill-ordered passions, lastly, blemish the soul. When the
soul, yielding to the passions, joins itself to creatures it lowers
itself to their level. Instead of being the faithful image of God it
takes on the likeness of the things to which it clings; specks of
dust, blots of grime sully its beauty and impede a perfect union
"I do not hesitate to affirm," says St. John of the Cross1 "that one
single disordered passion, even if it lead not to mortal sin, is
enough to cause the soul such a state of darkness, ugliness and
uncleanness that it becomes incapable of intimate union with
God so long as it remains a slave of this passion. What then shall
we say of the soul that is marred by the ugliness of all its
passions, that is a prey to all its appetites? At what infinite
distance will it not be from divine purity? Neither words nor
arguments can make us understand the divers stains which all
these appetites create in the soul. Each one of them in its own
way places its share of filth and ugliness in the soul."
n1. "Ascent of Carmel," Bk. I, C. XI.
#793. Conclusion. If we wish, then, to attain to union with God,
we must repress all inordinate movements of the passions, even
the most trifling; for perfect union with God presupposes that
there be nothing in us contrary to the divine will, no willful
attachment to creatures or to self. The moment we deliberately
allow any passion to lead us astray, this perfect union no longer
exists. This is especially true of habitual attachments. These
paralyze the will even if they be in themselves trivial. St. John of
the Cross1 says that "it makes little difference whether a bird be
tied by a thin thread or a heavy cord; it cannot fly until either be
n1. "Ascent of Carmel," Bk. I, C. XI.
#794. Advantages of well-ordered passions. Passions are
helpful when they are well-ordered, that is, when they are
directed towards good, when they are controlled and made
subservient to the will of God. They are live, powerful forces that
stir our mind and will to action and thus render them signal help.
a) They act upon the mind by stimulating our ambition to work,
our desire to know the truth. When we are passionately interested
in any object, we are on the alert to know all about it; our minds
grasp the truth more readily; the impression made upon our
memory is more lasting. An inventor, for instance, burning with
love for his country works with greater zest, perseverance and
insight because of the very fact that he wants to serve his
country. In like manner a student inspired by the high purpose of
putting his knowledge at the service of his countrymen makes
greater efforts and obtains greater results. But above all, he who
passionately loves Jesus Christ, will study the Gospel with
greater zeal, understand it better and relish it more; the words of
the Master are for him so many oracles that shed upon his soul a
#795. b) Well-ordered passions, likewise, exert their influence
upon the will, grouping and multiplying its energies. Whatever is
done out of love, is done more thoroughly, more whole-heartedly,
pursued more perseveringly and attended by greater success.
What does not a loving mother do to save her child? What acts of
heroism does not patriotism inspire? A Saint in whom love for
God and for souls is a passion balks at no effort, at no sacrifice,
at no humiliation if he can but save his brethren. Undoubtedly, it
is the will which dictates such acts of zeal, but it is a will
inspired, stimulated, and sustained by a hallowed passion. When
both the sensitive and intellectual appetites, that is to say, when
the heart and the will join forces and work along the same lines,
the attendant results are evidently of far greater import and
much more lasting. Hence, the importance of knowing how to put
the passions to good use.
III. The Good Use of the Passions
After recalling the psychological principles that will make our
task easier, we shall show how evil passions are resisted, how
passions are directed towards good, and how they are controlled.
(1) PSYCHOLOGICAL PRINCIPLES TO BE APPLIED1
#796. To attain mastery over the passions, we must first of all,
count on the grace of God and, therefore, on prayer and the
Sacraments; but we must also employ the sound tactics furnished
a) Every idea tends to evoke a corresponding act, especially if the
idea is attended by live emotions and associated with strong
Thus the thought of sensual pleasure, vividly depicted by the
imagination, provokes a sensual desire, often a sensual act. On
the other hand, the thought of noble deeds and their happy
results excites the desire of performing such acts. This is
especially true of the idea that does not remain cold, colorless,
abstract, but, accompanied by sensitive images, becomes
concrete, real and thereby captivating. It is in this sense that we
can say that thought is power, a dynamic force, the beginning of
action. If then, we are, to master our ill-ordered passions, we
must cautiously banish every thought, every fancy that presents
evil pleasure in an attractive guise; and, if we want to foster well-
ordered passions or good sentiments, we must welcome the
thoughts and the images that picture the beautiful side of duty,
of virtue, and we must make these as vivid and as concrete as
n1. EYMIEU, "Le gouvernement de soi-meme, t. I, 3e Principe.
#797. b) The influence of an idea abides as long as that idea is
not obliterated and supplanted by a stronger one. Thus sensual
desire continues to make itself felt so long as it is not driven out
by some nobler thought which takes possession of the soul.
Hence, if we would be rid of such desires we must through some
reading or engaging study apply ourselves to an entirely different
or to an absolutely contrary trend of thought; and should we wish
to strengthen some good desire, we must dwell on it and think of
such things as will tend to feed it.
c) The influence of an idea grows by being associated with
correlative ones that enrich and broaden it. Thus the thought and
the desire of saving our soul grow more intense and more active
if associated with the idea of working for the salvation of our
brethren. The life of St. Francis Xavier is a striking example of
#798. d) Lastly, an idea attains its maximum power, when it
becomes habitual, absorbing, a sort of fixed idea, the motive-
power of action. This is exemplified in the sphere of the natural
by the single-mindedness of those who hold but one purpose
in view, for instance, that of bringing about some particular
discovery; in the realm of the supernatural it is illustrated by
those who are deeply impressed by some Gospel-truth which
becomes the ruling principle of their life, for example: "Sell what
thou hast and give to the poor. What doth it profit a man if he
gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul? For to
me, to live is Christ."
We must, therefore, aim at burying deep into our souls some
directing thoughts, and then embody them in a maxim that makes
them real and keeps them ever before our mind, such as: "My God
and my all! To the greater glory of God! God alone suffices! He who
possesses Jesus, possesses all things! To be with Jesus is a sweet
paradise!" With a motto of this kind, we shall more easily triumph
over ill-ordered passions and make a right use of well-ordered
(2) HOW TO WAGE WAR AGAINST ILL.-ORDERED PASSIONS
#799. As soon as we are aware of any ill-ordered movement of the
soul, we must have recourse to every natural and supernatural
means to stay and curb it.
a) From the outset, we should with the help of grace avail
ourselves of the power of inhibition wielded by the will to thwart
We should avoid exterior acts and gestures which would but
stimulate or intensify passion. Thus, if we feel roused to anger,
we should avoid excited gestures, and words, holding our peace
until calm is restored; if it be question of a too ardent attachment
to some person, we should avoid any meeting, any conversation
with that person, and above all we should refrain from showing,
even in an indirect way, the affection we feel. In this wise,
passion gradually subsides.
800. b) If it be question of some pleasure-passion one must strive
to forget the object of that passion.
In order to accomplish this: 1) one must apply the mind and the
imagination to any wholesome activity apt to divert attention
from the object of passion; one must seek to engage all the
powers of the mind on some absorbing subject of study, on the
solution of some question or problem, or find distraction in play,
social intercourse, conversation, walks, etc... 2) Then, when calm
ensues one should have recourse to such moral considerations as
may strengthen the will against the allurement of pleasure:
considerations of the natural order, such as the untoward
consequences, for the present and the future, with which a
dangerous attachment, a too sentimental friendship may be
fraught (n. 603), but above all, one should appeal to supernatural
considerations, for instance, that it is impossible to advance in
the way of perfection so long as we cling to such attachments,
that these are but chains we forge for ourselves, that we thereby
risk our salvation, that through our fault scandal may be given,
If it be some aggressive passion with which we have to deal,
anger for example, we must first of all, through instant flight,
allow the passion time to cool; then we can take the offensive,
face the difficulty, convince ourselves through rational
considerations and chiefly through motives of faith that it is
unworthy of man, unworthy of a Christian to yield himself a
willing prey to anger or to hatred; that serenity, self-control is the
highest, the noblest course to follow, the one most consistent
with the Gospel.
#801. c) Lastly, positive acts directly opposed to the harassing
passion must be elicited.
If we experience dislike for any one we must act as if we wished
to gain his good graces, strive to serve him, be amiable towards
him and above all pray for him. Nothing so empties the heart of
all bitterness as an earnest prayer offered for an enemy. If on the
contrary, we feel a too ardent affection for any one we shall avoid
his company or, if this be impossible, treat him with that cold
formality, that sort of courteous indifference wherewith we
treat the rank and file of human beings. These contrary acts
finally succeed in weakening passion.
(3) THE DIRECTION OF PASSIONS TOWARDS GOOD
#802. We have said that the passions are not in themselves
evil; all can without exception be turned to good.
a) Love and joy can be directed towards pure and lawful
family-affection, towards good and supernatural friendship,
but chiefly towards Our Lord, Who is the most tender, the most
generous, the most devoted of friends. This, then, is what
matters most, that we center our hearts on Him by reading,
meditation, and by actually carrying out in our lives the
teachings contained in the two chapters of the "Following of
Christ," "On the love of Jesus above all things," and "On familiar
friendship with Jesus", two chapters which have proved a potent
source of inspiration to many souls.
b) Hatred and aversion can be turned against sin, against vice,
and against whatever leads to them, in order that we may loathe
them and fly from them: "I have hated iniquity."1
e) Desire is transformed into lawful ambition; into the natural
ambition of doing honor to one's family, one's country, and into
the supernatural ambition of becoming a saint, an apostle.
d) Sadness, instead of degenerating into melancholy, becomes
a sweet resignation under trials, which are for the Christian soul
a seed of glory; or it is changed into tender compassion for the
suffering Christ, loaded down with insults; or it is turned towards
e) Hope becomes a Christian virtue of unfailing trust in God and
multiplies our energies for good.
f) Despair takes the form of a rightful mistrust of self, based upon
our own insufficiency and our sins, but tempered by trust in God.
g) Fear is no longer that sense of depression which weakens the
soul; but in the Christian it is a source of power. The Christian
fears sin, he fears hell; but this righteous fear inspires him with
courage in the struggle against evil. He fears God above all, he
dreads to offend his Maker and treads under foot human respect.
h) Anger instead of causing us to lose self-control, is but a just
and holy indignation that strengthens us against evil.
i) Boldness becomes prowess in the face of obstacles and dangers
the greater the difficulty we encounter, the more eager we are to
make efforts to overcome It.
n1. Ps. CXVIII, 163.
#803. To attain these happy results, there is nothing like
meditation, accompanied by devout actions and generous
resolutions. Thereby, we conceive an ideal, and form deep-seated
convictions that help us daily to approach that ideal. The purpose
in view is to evoke and nurture in the soul such thoughts and
feelings as are in harmony with the virtues we want to practice,
and to remove images and impressions allied to the vices we
want to shun. These results cannot be better realized than by the
practice of daily meditation after the manner noted in no. 679
and following. In this intimate converse with God, infinite Truth
and infinite Goodness, virtue becomes every day more attractive
and vice more loathsome, whilst the will strengthened by
convictions draws the passions towards good instead of allowing
itself to be drawn by these towards evil.
(4) HOW TO MODERATE THE PASSIONS
#804. a) Even when the passions are directed towards good, one
must know how to temper them, that is to say, one must know
how to make them obey the dictates of reason and the control of
the will, both reason and will being guided in turn by the light of
faith and by grace. Without this restraining influence, the
passions would at times run to excess, for they are by nature too
Thus, the desire to pray fervently may become a strain; love for
Jesus may manifest itself in forced emotions which wear out both
body and soul, untimely zeal results in overstrain, indignation
degenerates into anger, and joy into dissipation of mind. We are
particularly exposed to such excesses in this age in which the
feverish activity of our fellow-men readily becomes contagious.
Even when these vehement impulses are directed towards good,
they weary both mind and body and cannot, in any event, be of
lasting duration, for violence is short lived, whereas it is
sustained effort that best secures spiritual progress.
#805. b) We must, therefore, submit our activity to the control of
a wise director, and follow the dictates of Christian prudence.
1) In the training of our desires and of our passions there must be
a certain habitual moderation, a kind of calm tranquillity, and we
must avoid being constantly under a strain. We have a long
journey ahead and it is important that we save our strength, since
our poor human machine cannot be forever under pressure
without danger of collapse.
2) Before a great expenditure of effort, prudence demands that
we enforce a certain rest, that we put a certain curb upon our
ambitions, even the most legitimate and upon our zeal, even the
most ardent and the purest. Our Lord Himself gave us the
example in this. From time to time He invited His disciples to
rest: "Come apart into a desert place and rest a little."1
Thus directed and tempered, the passions, far from constituting
an obstacle to perfection, will be effective means of daily growth
n1. Mark,, VI, 31.
IV. The Discipline of the Higher Faculties
The higher faculties, the intellect and the will, which make man
what he is, need likewise to be disciplined, for they also have
been affected by original sin, n. 75.
I. The Discipline of the Intellect1
#806. We have been endowed with understanding, that we may
know truth, and above all that we may know God and things
divine. It is God Who is the true light of the mind. He illumines
us with a twofold light, that of reason and that of faith. In our
present state, we cannot come to the fullness of truth, without
the joint help of these two lights. To scorn either of them is to
blindfold our eyes. The discipline of the intellect is all the more
important, since it is the intellect that enlightens the will and
enables it to direct its course towards good. It is the intellect
which, under the name of conscience, is the guide of our moral
and our supernatural life. That it may rightly fulfill its office, its
defects must be corrected. The chief of these are ignorance,
curiosity, hastiness, pride and obstinacy.
n1. "Cursus Asceticus," I. P., 94-102, MATURIN, "Self-Knowledge
and Self-Discipline," P. 141-179; PAYOT, "The Education of the
Will," Bk. II, C. I, III.
#807. (1) Ignorance is overcome by a constant and systematic
application to study, above all, to the study of whatever refers to
our last end, and to the means of attaining it. It would be
irrational to concern ourselves with all sciences and neglect the
science of salvation.
Indeed, each one must study those branches of human
knowledge that relate to his duties of state; but the foremost
duty being that of knowing God in order to love Him, to
neglect this would be inexcusable. Yet, how many Christians
there are, who, though well versed in some branch or other of
learning, have but a very imperfect acquaintance with
Christian truths, Christian doctrines, Christian morals, and
#808. (2) Curiosity is a disease of the mind, which is one of the
causes of religious ignorance, for it leads us to seek too eagerly
the knowledge of things that delight us rather than of things that
are profitable to us, and thus to lose precious time.
In order to overcome curiosity we must: 1) study before all else,
not what is pleasing, but what is profitable, especially what is
necessary. "What is more necessary comes first", said St. Bernard,
and we must not be occupied with the rest except by way of
recreation. Hence, books that feed the imagination rather than
the mind should be read sparingly; such are, for the most part,
novels, newspapers and reviews of a worldly character. 2) In
reading, we must avoid any undue eagerness, the desire to rush
through a volume. It is especially when we read serious works
that it is important to go slowly, the better to understand and to
relish what we read (n. 582). 3) This will be all the easier, if we
study, not from curiosity, not merely for the sake of knowledge,
but from a supernatural motive, to improve ourselves and to
enlighten others: "That they edify others, and this is charity...that
they be edified themselves, and this is prudence."1 For, as St.
Augustine tells us, knowledge should be put to the service of
love: "Let knowledge be used in order to erect the structure of
This holds true even in the study of things spiritual. Some there
are who seek in the pursuit of such studies satisfaction for their
curiosity and their pride rather than the purification of their
heart and the practice of mortification. 3
n1. S. BERNARD, "In Cant.,"., sermon XXXVI, n. 3,
n2. Epist., LV, C. 22, n. 39, P. L., XXXIII, 223.
n3. SCUPOLI, "Spiritual Combat," C. IX.
#809. (3) Pride is to be avoided, that pride of intellect which is
more dangerous and more difficult to overcome than the pride of
will, as Scupoli,1 says.
This is the pride that renders faith and obedience to superiors
difficult. One wants to be self-sufficient; the more confidence one
has in one's own judgment the more reluctantly does one accept
the teachings of faith, or the more readily does one submit these
to criticism and to personal interpretation. In like manner, one so
trusts to one's own wisdom, that it is with repugnance that others
are consulted, especially superiors. Hence, regrettable mistakes
occur. Hence comes also obstinacy of judgment, resulting in the
final and sweeping condemnation of such opinions as differ from
our own. Herein lies one of the most common causes of strife
between Christian and Christian, at times even between Catholic
writers. St. Augustine calls those who cause unfortunate
dissensions, destructive of peace and of the bond of charity,
"Dividers of unity, enemies of peace, without charity, puffed up
with vanity, well pleased with themselves and great in their own
n1. Loc. cit.
n2. "Sermo III" Paschae, n. 4.
#810. To heal this intellectual pride: 1) we must first of all
submit ourselves with childlike docility to the teachings of faith.
We are undoubtedly allowed to seek that understanding of our
dogmas which is obtained by a patient and laborious quest with
the aid of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, especially St.
Augustine and St. Thomas; but as the Vatican Council1 says, this
must be done with piety and with discretion, following the maxim
of St. Anselm: "Faith, seeking understanding." Thus we avoid that
hypercritical attitude that attenuates and minimizes our dogmas
under pretense of explaining them. We submit our judgment not
only to the truths of faith but to the directions of the Holy See.
With regard to such questions as are open to discussion, we give
others the same freedom as we claim for ourselves and refrain
from taking an attitude of contempt for the opinions of others.
Thus, minds are at peace.
2) In the discussions we hold with others, we must seek, not
the satisfaction of our pride and the triumph of our ideas, but
the truth. It seldom happens that there is not in the contrary
opinions a kernel of truth that has so far escaped our notice. The
best means of drawing close to the truth, as well as of
observing the laws of humility and charity, is to listen
attentively and without prejudice to the reasons adduced by our
opponents and to admit whatever is true in their remarks.
To sum up, in order to discipline the mind we must study what is
most necessary and pursue this study with method, with
perseverance and with supernatural motives, that is to say, with
the desire to know and to love the truth and to live by it.
n1. DINZING., n. 1796.
II. The Training of the Will
#811. (1) Necessity. The will is in man the governing faculty.
Being free, the will imparts its freedom, not only to the acts it
performs itself, but to those acts it bids the other faculties
perform; it gives them their merit or their demerit. The discipline
of the will means the discipline of the entire man, and a well-
disciplined will is one that is strong enough to govern the lower
faculties and docile enough to submit itself to God. These are the
two functions of the will.
Both are difficult. Ofttimes the lower faculties rebel against the
will and submit only when one has learned to add tact to
firmness; for the will does not exercise an absolute power over
our sense faculties, but a kind of moral influence, a power of
persuasion that leads them to compliance (n. 56).
Hence, it is only with difficulty and through oft-renewed efforts
that we succeed in bringing the sense faculties and the passions
under the sway of the will. Likewise, it is not easy to yield full
submission of the will to God, because we aspire to a certain
independence, and because God's will, in order to sanctify us,
often demands sacrifices from which we naturally shrink. We
often prefer our own tastes, our own whims, to the holy will of
God. Here again, mortification becomes a necessity.
#812. (2) Practical means. In order to effect the right education of
the will, we must render it supple enough to obey God in all
things and strong enough to control the body and the sensitive
appetites. To attain this end, obstacles must be removed and
positive means employed.
A) The chief obstacles are: a) from within: 1) lack of reflection: we
do not reflect before acting and follow the impulse of the
moment, passion, routine, caprice. We must take thought before
acting and ask ourselves what God demands of us. 2)
Overeagerness, which, producing too great a strain, depletes the
energies of body and soul to no purpose, and often causes us to
stray in the direction of evil. We need self-possession and self-
restraint even in doing good, so that we may start up a lasting
fire rather than a darting flame. 3) Indifference, indecision, sloth,
lack of moral stamina, which paralyze or atrophy our will-power.
We must, then, strengthen our convictions and build up our
energies. 4) The fear of failure, or lack of confidence, an attitude
which notably weakens our power. We must, therefore, remind
ourselves that, with God's help, we are sure of attaining good
#813. b) To these interior obstacles are added others coming
from without: 1) human respect, which makes us slaves of other
men and causes us to stand in fear of their criticisms or their
mockery. This is combated by realizing that what matters is not
man's judgment, always liable to error, but the ever-wise and
infallible judgment of God, 2) bad example, which draws us all
the more easily as it is in accord with the tendency of our nature.
We must remember that the only model we are to imitate is Jesus
Christ, Our Master and Our Head (n. 136 and foll.), and that the
ways of the Christian must go counter to the ways of the world
#814. B) The positive means consist in a harmonious combination
of the work of the mind, the will and grace.
a) It is the province of the mind to furnish those deep-seated
convictions that are at once a guide and a stimulus to the will.
These convictions are those calculated to determine the will in
the choice of what is in conformity with the will of God. They are
thus summed up: God is my one end and Jesus Christ is the way
which I must take to reach Him; I must, then, do all things for
God, in union with Jesus Christ. Only one obstacle sin, can come
in the way of the attainment of my end. I must, then, flee from
sin and should I have the misfortune of falling into it I must
immediately atone for it. Only one means is necessary and
suffices to avoid sin, always to do the will of God. I must, then,
ever strive to know His will and conform my conduct to it. In
order to succeed in this, I shall frequently repeat the words of St.
Paul at the moment of his conversion: "Lord, what wilt thou have
me to do?"1 In the evening, in my examination of conscience, I
shall reproach myself for the least failing.
n1. Acts, IX, 6.
#815. b) Such convictions exert a powerful influence upon the
will, which, in turn, must act with decision, firmness, and
constancy. 1) Decision is necessary. Once we have reflected and
prayed, according to the importance of the action we are about to
perform, we must make an immediate decision, in spite of the
amount of hesitation we may feel. Life is too short to lose time in
such long deliberations. We take sides with what seems to be
more in accordance with the divine will, and God Who sees our
good dispositions will bless our action. 2) We must be firm in this
decision. It is not enough to say: I should like, I wish; these are
but yearnings. We must say: I will, and I will at all costs, and then
set ourselves to the task without waiting for the morrow or for
some grand opportunity. It is firmness in small things that
secures fidelity in the greater. 3) This firmness, however, is not
synonymous with violence; it is calm, for it must endure; and in
order to give it constancy, we must often renew our efforts
without ever allowing ourselves to be discouraged by failure; we
are never vanquished except when we give up. In spite of a few
failures, in spite even of a few wounds, we must consider
ourselves the victors, because supported by God's grace, we are
in reality invincible. If we have the misfortune of falling, we rise
immediately. For the Divine Healer of souls there is no incurable
wound, no incurable illness.
#816. c) In the last analysis it is upon the grace of God that we
must learn to rely. If we beg for it with humility and confidence,
it will never be refused to us, and with it we are invincible. We
must, then, often renew, especially before every important
action, our convictions regarding the absolute necessity of grace;
we must ask for it with insistence, in union with Our Lord so as to
make its bestowal more certain. We must remind ourselves that
Jesus Christ is not only our model but our co-worker, and lean
confidently upon Him, assured that in Him we are powerful to
undertake and to bring to completion all things pertaining to
salvation: "I can do all things in Him who strengtheneth me."1
Then, our will is strong, since it shares in the very strength of
God: "The Lord is my strength;"2 It is free, for true liberty does not
consist in yielding to our passions, but in securing the triumph of
reason and will over instinct and sensuality.
n1. Phil., IV, 13.
n2. Ps. CXVII, 14.
#817. Conclusion. Thus will be accomplished the purpose we
have assigned to mortification--to bring our senses and our lower
faculties under subjection to the will and the will to God.
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