THE SPIRITUAL LIFE
A TREATISE ON ASCETICAL AND MYSTICAL THEOLOGY
by the Very Reverend Adolphe Tanquerey, S.S., D.D.
CHAP. III.--THE PERFECTION OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
#295. All life must perfect itself. This is true, above all, of the
Christian life. It is by its very nature a progressive life, its completion
being achieved only in Heaven. We must examine, then, in what its
perfection consists, in order that we direct our steps more surely along
its way. Since there exist erroneous conceptions and more or less
incomplete ideas on this fundamental point, we shall begin by eliminating
the false notions of Christian perfection, and then explain its true
I. False notions held by : Unbelievers, Worldlings, & Devout Souls
II. The true notion: Consists in love, Presupposes sacrifice here on earth,
Blends harmoniously this twofold element, Includes both the precepts and
the counsels, Has degrees and limits
n1. "Introd. to a Devout Life," P. I, C. I-II; "Spiritual Combat," C. I;
FABER, "Growth in Holiness," C, XXII-XXV; MEYER, "Science of the Saints,"
Vol. I, C. XIX.
ART. I. FALSE NOTIONS CONCERNING PERFECTION.
These false notions are met with among unbelievers worldlings, and even
among devout souls.
#296 (1) In the eyes of unbelievers, Christian perfection is no more than a
subjective phenomenon without any corresponding reality.
A) Many of them study what they call mystical phenomena, only with
malicious prejudices and without distinguishing the true from false
mystics. Such are, Max Nordau, J. H. Leuba, E. Murisier.1 According to
them, the so-called perfection of the mystics is nothing more than a morbid
phenomenon, a species of psycho-neurosis, a sort of exaltation based on
religious feeling or even a special form of sexual love. This, they say, is
shown by the terms spousals, spiritual marriage, kisses, embraces and
divine caresses so frequently found in the writings of mystics.
It is evident that these authors, hardly acquainted with any but sensual
love, have not the slightest conception of divine love; they are among
those to whom the words of Our Lord can be aptly applied: "Neither cast ye
your pearls before swine."2 No wonder then that other psychologists, such
as William James, have pointed out that sexual instinct has nothing to do
with sanctity; that the true mystics have practiced heroic chastity, some
having never experienced, or hardly so, the weaknesses of the flesh, others
having overcome violent temptations by heroic means, for instance, throwing
themselves among thorns. If they have, therefore, employed the language of
human love, it is because every other falls short of terms to express the
tenderness of divine love.3 They have further shown by the whole tenor of
their conduct, by the greatness of the works they have undertaken and
brought to a successful end, that they were full of wisdom and poise and
that at any rate we cannot but bless the neuroses that have given to the
world an Aquinas and a Bonaventure, an Ignatius Loyola and a Xavier, a
Teresa of Jesus and a John of the Cross, a Francis de Sales and a Jeanne de
Chantal, a Vincent de Paul, a Mademoiselle Legras, a Berulle, an Olier, an
Alphonsus Liguori, a Paul of the Cross.
n1. MAX NORDAU, "Degenerescence, t. I, p. 115; J. H. LEUBA, "Psychological
Study of Religion;" E. MURISIER, "Les maladies du sentiment religieux."
n2. "Matth.," VII, 6.
n3. W. JAMES, "The Varieties of Religious Experience," p. 9-12.
#297. B) Other unbelievers, such as William James and Maxime de
Montmorand,1 whilst doing justice to our mystics, yet doubt the objective
reality of the phenomena they described. They acknowledge the marvelous
effects caused in souls by the religious sentiment, an indomitable impulse
toward good, an absolute devotedness to others. They recognize their
supposed egotism to be in reality charity of the highest social character
and productive of the most wholesome influence, that their thirst for
sufferings does not hinder them from enjoying unspeakable delights nor from
radiating a measure of happiness to their surroundings.--Yet, they ask
themselves the question: are not mystics the victims of auto-suggestion and
To this we answer that such salutary effects can only proceed from a
proportionate cause; that no real and lasting good can come from aught but
what is true; and that if Christian mystics have produced useful social
works, it is because contemplation and the love of God, which have inspired
such works, are not hallucinations but actual, living and working
realities: "By their fruits you shall know them."2
n1. W. JAMES, op. cit,; M. DE MONTMORAND, "Psychologie des Mystiques,"
n2. "Matth.," VII, 20.
#298. (2) Worldlings, even when they have the faith, often entertain very
false ideas concerning perfection or, as they call it, devotion.
A) Some look upon devout souls as hypocrites, who under the cover of
religion, hide odious vices or political designs and ambitions, such as the
desire to lord it over consciences and thus to control the world. This is
the fallacy that identifies the thing with its abuse. The course of the
present study will show us that frankness, honesty and humility are the
true characteristics of piety.
#299. B) Others see in piety a sort of exaltation of feeling, and
imagination, a kind of vehemence of emotion good at best for women and
children, but unworthy of men who want to be guided by reason and will.
And, yet, how many men whose names appear in the catalogue of the Saints
have been distinguished by proverbial good sense, an uncommon degree of
intelligence, an energetic and persevering will! Here again a caricature is
mistaken for the portrait.
#300. C) Lastly, there are those will maintain that perfection is a Utopia
beyond realization and hence fraught with danger, that it suffices to keep
the Commandments without wasting time in punctilious practices or in the
quest of extraordinary virtues.
The perusal of the lives of the Saints suffices to rectify such an
erroneous view: perfection has been realized here on earth, and the
practice of the counsels, far from working to the detriment of the
precepts, simply renders their observance all the easier.
#301. (3) Even among devout souls there are those who err as to the true
nature of perfection, and who describe it, each according to the caprice of
his own bias and fancy.1
A) Many, mistaking devotions for devotion, imagine perfection to consist in
reciting a great number of prayers In joining sundry religious societies,
even if such practices entail the occasional neglect of their duties of
state or of the charity due to the other members of the household. This is
a substitution of non-essentials for the necessary, a sacrifice of the end
to the means.
n1. Thus remarks St. FRANCIS DE SALES, "Introduction to a Devout Life,"
Part. I, C. I which should be read in its entirety.
#302. B) Others give themselves to fastings and austerities to the
exhaustion of the body, and thus become unfit for the discharge of their
duties of state and consider themselves dispensed therefore from the law of
charity toward their neighbor. They dare not permit themselves any little
dainties, yet they do not hesitate " to drench their lips with the life-
blood of their fellow-men through calumny and slander.1 "Here again one
forgets the essentials of perfection and neglects the fundamental duty of
charity in favor of practices good indeed but far less important.-- The
like mistake is made by those who give generously to charity, but refuse to
forgive their enemies, or those who, whilst forgiving them, think not of
paying their debts.
n2. "Devout Life," ib.
#303. C) Some, taking spiritual consolations for fervor, think they have
arrived at perfection if they are filled with joy and can pray with ease,
and they consider themselves lukewarm when they are seized by aridity and
distractions. Such persons forget that what counts before God is the
generous, oft-renewed effort despite apparent failures.
#304. D) Others, taken up by a life of action and external activities,
neglect the interior life to give themselves more entirely to works of
zeal. They forget that the life and soul of all zeal is habitual prayer
which draws down the grace of God and gives fruitfulness to action.
#305. E) Others, having read mystical works or the lives of the Saints in
which ecstasies and visions are described, fancy perfection to consist in
these extraordinary phenomena and strain their minds and imaginations to
obtain them. They have never understood that such phenomena are, as the
mystics themselves testify, but incidental; that they do not constitute the
essence of sanctity and that it is foolhardy to covet them; that conformity
to the will of God is by far the safer and more practical way.
Having thus cleared the ground, we shall be able to understand more easily
in what perfection essentially consists.
ART. II. TRUE NOTION OF PERFECTION1
#306. The State of the Question. (1) Any being is perfect (perfectum) in
the natural order when it is finished, completed, hence, when it has
attained its end: "Each is said to be perfect in so far as it attains its
own end, which is the highest perfection of anything."2 This constitutes
absolute perfection. However, there is also a relative and progressive
perfection which consists in the approach toward that end by the
development of all one's faculties and the carrying out in practice of all
duties, in accordance with the dictates of the natural law as manifested by
n1. ST. THOM., IIa IIae, q. 184, a. I-3; "Opuscul. de perfectione vitae
spiritualis," ALVAREZ DE PAZ, op. cit., I, III; LE GAUDIER, op. cit., P.
Ia; SCHRAM, "Instit. Theol. ascetique," Introduction; GARRIGOU-LAGRANCE,
dans la "Vie spirit.," oct. et nov. 1920.
n2. "Sum. theol., IIa IIae, q. 184, a. I. See also works referred to above,
#307. (2) The end of man, even in the natural order, is God: 1) Created by
Him, we are of necessity created for Him since He is the fullness of Being.
On the other hand to create for an imperfect end would be unworthy of Him.
2) Besides, God being infinite perfection and thereby the origin of all
perfection, man is the more perfect as he approaches closer to God and
shares in His divine perfections. This is the reason why man cannot find in
creatures anything that can fully satisfy his legitimate aspirations: "The
ultimate end of man is uncreated good, that is to say, God, Who alone is
capable, by His infinite goodness, of satisfying completely the human
will."1 All our actions then must be referred to God--to know, love and
serve Him and thereby glorify Him, this is the end of life, the source of
ST. THOM., Ia IIae, q. III, a. I. Cfr. TANQUEREY, "Synopsis Theol.
moralis," Tr. de Ultimo fine, n. 2-18.
#308. (3) In the supernatural order this is so all the more. Raised by God
to a state that surpasses all our needs and all our capabilities, destined
one day to contemplate Him through the Beatific Vision, possessing Him even
now through grace, and endowed as we are with a supernatural organism that
we may unite with Him by the practice of the Christian virtues, we cannot
evidently perfect ourselves unless we unceasingly draw closer to Him. This,
however, we cannot effect except by uniting ourselves to Jesus--the One
indispensable way to go to the Father. Hence, our perfection will consist
in living for God in union with Jesus Christ: "To live wholly unto God in
Christ Jesus."1 This we do when we practice the Christian virtues,
theological and moral. The end of all these is to unite us to God more or
less directly by making us imitate our Lord Jesus Christ.
n2. FATHER OLIER, "Pietas Seminarii," n. I.
#309. (4) Here the question arises whether there is among these virtues any
one which summarizes and embodies all the others, thus constituting the
essence of perfection. Summing up the doctrine of Holy Writ and of the
Fathers, St. Thomas answers that perfection essentially consists in the
love of God and of the neighbor for God's sake: "Essentially the perfection
of the Christian life consists in charity, first and foremost in the love
of God, then in the love of neighbor."1 But in this life the love of God
cannot be practiced without renouncing inordinate self-love, that is, the
threefold concupiscence; therefore, in practice, sacrifice must be joined
to love. This we are to explain by showing: 1) how the love of God and of
the neighbor constitutes the essence of perfection; 2) why this love must
go to the point of sacrifice; 3) how these two elements must be combined;
4) how perfection includes both precepts and counsels; 5) what are the
degrees of perfection and how far perfection can be attained here on earth.
n1. "Sum, theol.," IIa IIae, q. 184, a. 3; Opusculum, "De perfectione vitae
spiritualis," cap. I, n. 56, 7.
I. The Essence of Perfection consists in Charity
#310. First of all we shall explain the sense of this proposition. The love
of God and of neighbor here in question is supernatural by reason of its
object as well as by reason of its motive and its principle.
The God we love is the God made known to us by revelation, the Triune God.
We love Him because our faith shows Him to us infinitely good and
infinitely loving. We love Him through the will perfected through the
virtue of charity and aided by actual grace. This love then is not a mere
sentiment. Man is indeed a composite being made up of body and soul and,
doubtless, some feeling often enters into his affections even the noblest.
At times, however, this sentiment which is wholly accidental, is utterly
lacking. The essence of love itself is devotedness. It is a firm
determination of the will to give itself up to God, and, if need be, to
make the entire sacrifice of self to Him and His glory, preferring His good
pleasure to that of self and others.
#311. The same is to be said, with due proportion, of the love of neighbor.
It is God Whom we love in him, a likeness, a reflection of God's
perfections. The motive of this love is then the divine goodness as
manifested, expressed and reflected in our neighbor. To speak more
concretely, we see and love in our brethren a soul inhabited by the Holy
Ghost, beautified by divine grace, redeemed at the price of Christ's blood.
In loving him, we wish his supernatural perfection, his eternal salvation.
Thus there are not two distinct virtues of charity, the one towards God and
the other towards the neighbor. There is but one, comprising at once God
loved for His own sake, and the neighbor loved for God's sake.
With these notions in mind, we shall easily understand that perfection does
really consist in this one virtue of charity. But what degree of charity is
required for perfection? That the charity which necessarily accompanies the
state of grace and which coexists with the habit of venial sin and
unmortified passions cannot be sufficient for perfection, every one will
agree. On the other hand charity causing us to love God as much as He
deserves to be loved, or charity causing us to avoid all venial sins and
imperfections, is not required, for as will be seen further (N. 344-348),
such charity is not within our power here on earth. Charity required for
perfection may then be defined: Charity so well established in the soul as
to make us strive earnestly and constantly to avoid even the smallest sin
and to do God's holy will in all things out of love for Him.
Proofs of this Thesis
#312. (1) Let us see what Holy Writ tells us. A) Both in the Old and the
New Testaments, the dominating principle wherein the whole law is summed up
is the Great Commandment of love--the love of God and the love of neighbor.
Thus when a certain lawyer asked our Lord what was to be done in order to
gain everlasting life, the divine Master made the simple reply: "What
.saith the law?" And the lawyer without hesitation recalled the sacred text
in Deuteronomy: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and
with thy whole soul and with all thy strength and with all thy mind: and
thy neighbor as thyself." Our Lord approved it, saying: "This do: and thou
shalt live"1 He adds elsewhere that in this twofold precept of the love of
God and of the neighbor are contained all the Law and the prophets.2 St.
Paul declares the same when after having enumerated the principal precepts
of the Decalogue he adds: " Love therefore if the fulfilling of the Law."3
Thus the love of God and of the neighbor is at one and the same time both
the summary and the plenitude of the Law. Now Christian perfection cannot
be anything else but the perfect and complete fulfillment of the Law, for
the Law is the will of God, than which there can be nothing more perfect.
n1. "Luke," X, 25-29; cfr. "Deut." VI, 5-7.
n2. "Matth.," XXII, 39-40.
n3. "Rom.," XIII, 10.
#313. B) Another proof is the one drawn from St. Paul's doctrine on charity
in the thirteenth chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians. There,
in lyric language he describes the excellence of love, its primacy over the
charisms or freely given graces, and over the other theological virtues of
faith and hope. He shows that it embodies and possesses all virtues in the
highest degree; so much so, that love is itself the aggregate of all those
virtues: "Charity is patient, is kind; charity envieth not, dealeth not
perversely, is not puffed up, is not ambitious, seeketh not her own, is not
provoked to anger, thinketh no evil. " He ends by affirming that the
charismata shall pass, but that charity abideth eternally. This means not
only that love is the queen and the soul of all the virtues, but that its
worth is such that it suffices to make man perfect by imparting to him all
#314. C) St. John, the Apostle of divine love, gives us the fundamental
reason for this doctrine. God, says he, is love. This is, so to speak, what
characterizes Him. If we, therefore, wish to be like unto Him, to be
perfect like Our Heavenly Father, we must love Him as He loves us, "
because He hath first loved us."1 But since we cannot love Him if we love
not our neighbor, we are to love our brethren even to the point of
sacrifice: "We also must lay down our lives for the brethren." "Dearly
beloved, let us love one another: for charity is of God. And every one that
loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God;
for God is charity... In this is charity: not as though we had loved God,
but because He hath first loved us, and sent His Son to be a propitiation
for our sins. My dearest, if God hath so loved us, we also ought to love
one another... God is charity and he that abideth in charity abideth in
God, and God in him."2 It cannot be stated in clearer terms that all
perfection consists in the love of God and of the neighbor for God's sake.
n1. "John," IV, 10.
n2. "I John," IV, 7-16. The whole Epistle should be read.
#315. (2) When we seek an answer to this question from reason enlightened
by faith, we arrive at the same conclusion, whether we consider the nature
of perfection or the nature of love.
A) We have said that the perfection of any being consists in attaining its
end or in approaching it as closely as possible (N. 306). Now, man's end in
the supernatural order is the eternal possession of God through the
Beatific Vision and the love resulting therefrom. Here upon earth we
approach the realization of this end by living already intimately united to
the Most Blessed Trinity dwelling in us, and to Jesus the indispensable
Mediator with the Father. The more closely we are united to God, our last
end and the source of our life, the more perfect we are.
#316. Among the Christian virtues, the most unifying the one which unites
the whole soul to God is divine charity. The other virtues indeed prepare
us for that union or initiate us into it, but cannot effect it. The moral
virtues of prudence, fortitude, temperance, and justice do not unite us
directly to God, but limit themselves to removing or reducing the obstacles
that estrange us from Him, and to bringing us closer to Him through
conformity to His order. Thus temperance by restraining the immoderate use
of pleasure, weakens one of the most potent obstacles to the love of God;
humility by putting off pride and self-love predisposes us to the practice
of divine charity. Besides these virtues, by making us observe order or
right measure, subordinate the will to that of God. As to the theological
virtues other than charity, they do indeed unite us to God, but in an
incomplete fashion. Faith unites us to God, infallible Truth, and makes us
see all things in the divine light, yet it is compatible with mortal sin
which separates us from God. Hope raises us to God inasmuch as He is good
to us and makes us desire the joys of Heaven, but it can exist along with
grave faults that turn us away from our end.
#317. Love alone unites us fully to God. It presupposes faith and hope, but
it surpasses them. It lays hold of our entire soul, intellect, heart, will,
activity, and delivers all unreservedly to God. It excludes mortal sin,
God's enemy and makes us enjoy the divine friendship: " If any one love
me...my Father will love him."1 Now, friendship is the union, the blending
of two souls into one: One heart and one soul... the same likes and
dislikes, " (Cor unum et anima una: unum velle, unun nolle). Thus our
friendship with God is a perfect union of all our faculties with Him a
union of our mind that patterns our thoughts after those of God; a union of
our will that causes us to embrace the divine will as our very own, a union
of heart that prompts us to live ourselves to God as he has given Himself
to us "My beloved to me and I to Him, " 2 a union of activities in virtue
of which God places His divine power at the service of our weakness to
enable us to carry out our good desires. Charity then unites us to God, our
end,--to God, infinitely perfect, and thus constitutes the essential
element of our perfection.
n1. "John," XIV, 23.
n2. "Cant.," II, 16.
#318. B) If we inquire into the nature of charity we arrive at the same
conclusion. St. Francis de Sales shows that charity includes all the
virtues and even lends them a perfection all its own.1
a) It comprises all the virtues. Perfection evidently consists in the
acquisition of virtues. If we possess all, not simply in an initial stage,
but to a high degree, we are perfect. But whoever has the virtue of charity
in the degree described in n. 311, has all other virtues and has them in
all their perfection, without which it is impossible to know and love God's
infinite loveliness; he has hope, which by inspiring trust leads to love;
he has all the moral virtues, such as prudence without which charity could
neither last nor grow, fortitude which triumphs over the obstacles impeding
the practice of charity, temperance which curbs sensuality, that relentless
enemy of divine love. Nay more, adds St. Francis de Sales, " the great
Apostle does not simply say that charity bestows on us patience and
kindness, and steadfastness and simplicity, but he says that charity is
itself patient and kind, and steadfast, " because it embodies the
perfection of all virtues.
1. "Treatise on the Love of God," Book XI, C. 8.
#319. b) Charity, moreover, gives to other virtues a special perfection and
worth. It is, according to St. Thomas,1 the form, the soul, of all the
virtues. "All the virtues when separated from charity fall very short of
perfection, since they cannot in default of this virtue fulfill their own
end, which is to render man happy. I do not say that, without it, they
cannot be born and even develop; but they are dependent on charity for
their perfection, for their completeness to draw therefrom the strength to
will in God and to receive from His mercy the manna of true merit and of
the sanctification of those hearts wherein they are found. Charity is among
the virtues as the sun among the stars--it gives to all their brightness
and their beauty. Faith, hope, fear, sorrow ordinarily precede charity into
the soul, there to prepare its abode, but once love arrives they obey and
minister to it like all other virtues; charity, by its presence, animates,
beautifies and vivifies them all. "2 In other words, charity by directing
our soul immediately toward God, the supreme perfection and the last end,
gives the selfsame direction and hence the same worth to all the other
virtues under its sway. Thus an act of obedience or of humility, besides
having its own proper value, derives from love a far greater worth, when
done in order to please God. It becomes then an act of charity, an act of
the most perfect of all virtues. Let us add that such an act becomes easier
and more attractive. To obey and to undergo humiliation is a bitter thing
to our proud nature, but this becomes easier once we are conscious that by
the performance of such acts we actually practice the love of God and
procure His glory.
Thus charity is not only the synthesis but the very soul of all virtues, it
unites us to God in a manner more perfect and more direct than any of the
others. Hence it is love that constitutes the very essence of perfection.
n1. "Sum. theol.," IIa IIae, q. 23, a. 8.
n2. St. Francis de Sales, 1, c., c. 9.
#320. Since the essence of perfection consists in the love of God, it
follows that the short-cut thereto is to love with a great love, with a
generous heart, with intensity and above all with a pure and disinterested
love. Now we truly love God not only when we give expression with our lips
to an act of charity, but even each time we do His will or perform the
least duty with the intention of pleasing Him. Each of our actions then,
however commonplace, can be transformed into an act of love and become a
help to our advancement in perfection. Our progress will be all the more
real and rapid as our love becomes more intense and generous and our effort
accordingly more strenuous and steadfast, for that which has value in the
eyes of God is the will, the effort, apart from all sensible emotion.
Lastly, because the supernatural love of the neighbor is likewise an act of
the love of God, all the services we render our brethren, while seeing in
them reflections of the divine perfection, or, what is the same, seeing
Jesus Christ in them, become acts of love that make us advance toward
II. Love on Earth Requires Sacrifice
#321. In Heaven we shall love without any need of self-immolation. Here on
earth it is quite otherwise. In our present state of fallen nature, it is
impossible for us to love God truly and effectively without sacrificing
ourselves for Him.
This follows from what we have said above (n. 74-75) regarding the
tendencies of fallen nature which remain in regenerated man. We cannot love
God without fighting and curbing those tendencies. This is a struggle that
begins with the dawn of reason and ends only with our last breath.
Assuredly there are moments of respite when the struggle is not so intense,
but even then, we cannot afford to rest upon our oars except at the risk of
another sally on the part of the enemy. To this Holy Writ bears witness.
(1) Holy Writ clearly states the absolute necessity of sacrifice and self-
renunciation in order to love God and the neighbor.
#322. A) Our Lord addresses the following invitation to all His disciples:
"If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross
and follow me."1 In order to follow and to love Jesus, there is an
indispensable condition, that of renouncing self, that is to say,
renouncing the evil inclinations of our nature: selfishness, pride,
ambition, sensuality, lust, inordinate love of ease and riches. There is
the condition of carrying one's cross, of accepting the sufferings, the
privations, the humiliations, the evil turns of fortune, labor, sickness,
in a word, those crosses with which the hand of God's Providence puts us to
the test, strengthens our virtue and makes easy the expiation of our
faults. Then, and only then, can one be Christ's disciple and walk the way
of love and perfection.
Our Lord confirms this lesson by His example. Having come from Heaven with
the express purpose of showing us the way of perfection, He followed no
other way than that of the Cross: "Christ's whole life was a Cross and a
martyrdom."2 From Bethlehem to Calvary His life is a long series of
privations and humiliations, of fatigue and apostolic labors, all crowned
by the anguish and the tortures of His bitter Passion. It is the most
eloquent commentary on His words: "If any man will come after me." Were
there a surer road, He would have shown it to us. But He knew there was no
other and He followed it to draw us after Him." And I, if I be lifted up
from the earth, will draw all things to myself"3 Thus it was understood by
the Apostles who repeat to us with St. Peter, that if Christ suffered for
us it was that we might walk in his steps: "Because Christ also suffered
for us leaving you an example that you should follow His steps."4
n1. "Matth.," XVI, 24; cfr. "Luke," IX, 23.--Read the commentary of Blessed
Grignion de Montfort in his "Circular letter to the friends of the Cross."
n2. "Imitation," Book II, C. XII, n. 7.
n3. "John," XII, 32.
n4. "I Peter," II, 21.
#323. B) This is also the teaching of St. Paul. For him Christian
perfection consists in divesting oneself of the old man to invest oneself
with the new: "Stripping yourselves of the old man with his deeds and
putting on the new."1 Now the old Adam is but the sum-total of the evil
tendencies we have inherited from the first man. It is that threefold
concupiscence we are to fight and to muzzle by the practice of
mortification. "They that are Christ's," says he, "have crucified their
flesh with the vices and concupiscences."2 This is the essential condition;
so much so that St. Paul himself feels obliged to punish his body: "But I
chastise my body and bring it into subjection, lest perhaps, when I have
preached to others, I myself should become a castaway."3
n1. "Coloss.," III, 9.
n2. "Galat.," V, 24.
3. "I Cor.," IX, 27.
#324. C) The Apostle of Love, St. John, is no less emphatic. He teaches
that in order to love God we must keep the Commandments and fight the
threefold concupiscence which holds the world under its sway. He adds that
if one loves the world and the things that are in the world one cannot
possess the love of God: "If any man love the world, the charity of the
Father is not in him. "1 But in order to hate the world and its
allurements, it is clear that one must practice the spirit of sacrifice by
foregoing dangerous and evil pleasures.
n1. "I John," II, 15.
#325. (2) This need of sacrifice is a consequence of the condition of our
fallen nature as described in n. 74, and of the threefold concupiscence, n.
193. As a matter of fact, it is impossible to love God and the neighbor
without sacrificing whatever goes counter to that love. The threefold
concupiscence, as we have shown, does go counter to the love of God and of
the neighbor; hence, if we wish to advance in the way of charity, we must
relentlessly fight against our bad tendencies.
#326. Let us consider a few instances. Our exterior senses eagerly tend
toward whatever flatters them, thus putting at hazard our virtue. What is
to be done to avoid this danger? Our Lord tells us very forcibly: " If thy
right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee. For it is
expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than thy
whole body be cast into hell."1 This means that we must learn by
mortification to deprive our eyes, our ears, all our senses, of whatever
constitutes for us an occasion of sin. Without this there is neither
perfection nor salvation.
The same holds true of our interior senses, particularly, of our
imagination and our memory. Who does not know from experience the risk we
run, unless we repress their vagaries from the outset?
Even our higher faculties, intellect and will, are liable to go astray
through curiosity, independence or pride. What efforts must be made, what
combat sustained, in order to place them under the yoke of Faith, in humble
submission to the will of God and to His representatives!
We must confess then, that if we want to love God and our neighbor for
God's sake, we must learn to mortify our selfishness, our sensuality, our
pride, our love for riches. Thus sacrifice is the essential condition of
loving God in this life.
This seems to be the mind of St. Augustine when he says: " Two loves have
built two cities: the love of self carried unto the contempt of God has
built the city of this earth, the love of God carried unto the contempt of
self has built the heavenly city."2 In other words, we cannot truly love
God except through repression of our evil tendencies.
n1. "Matth.," V, 29.
n2. "Ce Civitate Dei," XIV, 28.
#327. The conclusion that necessarily follows is that, in order to be
perfect, we must not only multiply acts of love, but also acts of
sacrifice, for in this life love cannot be without self-immolation. Of
course, it can be truly said of all our good works that inasmuch as they
detach us from self and from creatures they are acts of sacrifice, and,
inasmuch as they unite us to God they are acts of love. It remains for us
to see how love and sacrifice can be combined.
III. The Part of Love and the Part of Sacrifice in the Christian Life
#328. Since both love and sacrifice must have a part in the Christian life,
what shall be the role of each? On this subject there are points on which
all agree, and there are others on which a difference of opinion is
manifest. Practically, however, the present authors of the various schools
arrive at conclusions that are nearly the same.
#329. (1) All admit that objectively and in the order of excellence, love
holds the first place. It is the end and the essential element of
perfection, as we have proved in our first thesis, N. 312. It is love,
then, that we must look to above all, it is love that we must seek without
respite, it is love that calls for sacrifice and gives it its chief value.
Hence, it is essential that even with beginners, the spiritual director
should insist on the love of God; but he should make clear to them that
while love renders sacrifice easier, it can never dispense with it.
#330. (2) As regards the chronological order, all admit that both elements
are inseparable and must be cultivated at one and the same time, nay more,
that they must blend one with the other. This, because there is no true
love here on earth without sacrifice, and because sacrifice made for God is
one of the best signs of love.
The whole question resolves itself into this: Taking the chronological
order, which of these two elements must be emphasized, love or sacrifice?
Here we come upon two distinct schools and trends of thought.
#331. A) St. Francis de Sales, resting upon the authority of many
representatives of the Benedictine and the Dominican schools, and relying
upon the resources which regenerated human nature has to offer, insists
first on the love of God, in order the better to make us accept and
practice sacrifice. But far from excluding the latter, he demands of
Philothea much self-renunciation and self-sacrifice. If he does so with
great caution and suavity of manner, it is to attain his purpose all the
better. This becomes evident from the first chapter of the "Introduction to
the Devout Life":1 "True devotion presupposes not a partial, but a thorough
love of God... As devotion then consists in a certain excellent degree of
charity, it not only makes us active and diligent in the observance in
God's commandments, but it also excites us to the performance of every good
work with an affectionate alacrity, even though it be not of precept but
only of counsel." But to keep the commandments, to follow the counsels and
the inspirations of grace, is to practice mortification to a high degree.
Besides, the Saint asks that Philothea begin by purifying herself not only
from mortal sins, but also from venial faults and from the affection for
vain and dangerous things, as well as from evil tendencies. When he deals
with the virtues, he does not forget their austere side; although he is
ever concerned that all be pervaded by the love of God and that of the
n1. St. Francis de Sales, "Introduction to the Devout Life," C. 1.
#332. B) On the other side, we have the school of St. Ignatius and the
French School of the Seventeenth Century. Without forgetting that the love
of God is the end to be attained and that it must vivify all our acts, they
place to the fore, especially for beginners, renouncement, the love of the
Cross, the mortification of our passions, as the surest means of arriving
at real effective love. The representatives of these schools seem to fear
that unless this be insisted on at the beginning, many souls would fall
victims to illusions, think themselves already far advanced in the love of
God, whilst, in fact, their virtue is more sentimental and apparent than
real. Hence those lamentable falls when grave temptations come or when
spiritual dryness sets in. Besides, sacrifice courageously accepted for the
love of God leads to a charity that is more generous and more constant, and
the habitual practice of this charity gradually comes to complete the
#333. Practical conclusion. Without any desire to settle this controversy,
we shall simply propose some conclusions admitted by the most prudent of
A) There are two excesses to be avoided: a) that of wishing to lead souls
prematurely into the so-called way of love whilst failing to train them to
the stern discipline of daily self-denial. It is in this way that illusions
are fostered and at times the ground made ready for regrettable falls. How
many souls experiencing those sensible consolations God dispenses to
beginners, and thinking themselves well-grounded in virtue, expose
themselves to occasions of sin and fall into grievous faults! A little more
mortification, true humility, distrust of self, and a more determined fight
against their passions, would have preserved them from such lapses.
b) The other excess is to speak constantly of renouncement and
mortification without making it clear that these are but means of arriving
at the love of God, or manifestations of that love. Thus some persons
possessed of good will, but as yet of little courage are disheartened. They
would take more heart and be filled with greater strength, if they were
shown how such sacrifices become so much easier if done for the love of
God: " Where there is love, there is no labor."
#334. B) Once these excesses are avoided, the spiritual director must know
what path to point out to each penitent according to his character and the
promptings of grace.
a) There are affectionate souls who have no taste for mortification until
they have for some time practiced the love of God. It is true that this
love is ofttimes imperfect, more sentimental than generous and lasting.
However, if one takes advantage of these first flights to show that real
love cannot endure without sacrifice, if one succeeds in inducing such
souls to exercise themselves in some acts of penance for the love of God,
in some acts of reparation, of mortification, such acts as are more
indispensable to the avoidance of sin, then their will will be gradually
strengthened, and the moment will come when they will understand that
sacrifice and the love of God must go hand in hand.
b) On the other hand, if one has to deal with energetic characters,
accustomed to act from a sense of duty, one may from the outset insist on
renouncement as the touchstone of charity, and cause them to exercise
themselves in penance, humility and mortification, while infusing into
these austere virtues the motive of the love of God or zeal for souls.
Thus love and sacrifice will ever be united, and it will become evident
that these two elements blend and perfect each other.
IV. Does Perfection consist in the Commandments or in the Counsels?
#335. (1) The State of the Question. We have seen that perfection consists
essentially in the love of God and of the neighbor carried unto sacrifice.
But the love of God and sacrifice include both commandments and counsels;
commandments that oblige under pain of sin, counsels that invite us to do
for God over and above what is demanded; failure in this case would not
involve sin but willful imperfection and resistance to grace. It is this
distinction of precept and counsel that Our Lord alluded to when He
declared to the rich young man: "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the
commandments. If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast and give to
the poor and thou shalt have a treasure in heaven."1 Thus, to observe the
laws of justice and charity in what concerns ownership suffices for
entrance into heaven, but if one would be perfect, one must sell his
possessions, give their price to the poor and so practice voluntary
poverty. St. Paul points out to us likewise that virginity is a counsel and
not a commandment--that to marry is good, but that to be a virgin is
n1. "Matth.," XIX, 17-21.
n2. "I Cor.," VII, 25-40.
#336. (2) The Solution. Some authors have reached the conclusion that the
Christian life consists in the observance of the commandments, and
perfection in that of the counsels. This explanation is a little too
simple, and if wrongly understood, would end in fatal results. In reality,
perfection requires, in the first place, the keeping of the commandments
and, in the second, the observance of a certain number of counsels.
This is the teaching of St. Thomas.1 After proving that perfection is
nothing else but the love of God and of the neighbor, he concludes that, in
practice, it consists essentially in the commandments, the chief of which
is that of love; secondarily, in the counsels all of which are directed
toward charity, for they remove the obstacles that hinder its practice. We
shall explain this doctrine.
n1. "Sum. theol.," IIa IIae, q. 184, a. 3.
#337. A) Perfection demands peremptorily and in the first place the keeping
of the commandments. It is important to impress this notion strongly upon
certain persons, who, for example, in order to practice some devotions,
forget their duties of state, or who under the pretext of almsgiving, defer
indefinitely the payment of their debts; in a word, on all those who,
aiming at a perfection of a higher order, neglect some precept of the Law
of God. It is evident that the infraction of a grave precept, like that of
the payment of debts, destroys charity in us, and that the pretext of
giving alms cannot justify this violation of the natural law. In like
manner, the willful violation of a commandment in light matter is a venial
sin which, though not destroying charity in us, impedes to a greater or
lesser extent its exercise, offends Almighty God, and interferes with our
intimacy with Him. This is especially true of frequent deliberate venial
sins which create in us attachments, and retard our advance towards
perfection. To be perfect, therefore, we must, above all, observe the
#338. B) To this, however, we must join the observance of the counsels--of
a few at least--chiefly of those related to our duties of state. a) Thus,
religious, having bound themselves by vow to practice the three great
evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience, cannot evidently
sanctify themselves without fidelity to their vows. Besides, this fidelity
renders singularly easy the exercise of the love of God by detaching the
soul from the chief obstacles which stand in the way of divine charity.
Poverty, by uprooting disordered love for wealth, sets the heart free to
reach out to God and heavenly things. Chastity, by spurning the pleasures
of the flesh, even those the holy state of marriage would sanction, fosters
an undivided love of God. Obedience, by fighting pride and the spirit of
independence, subjects the will to that of God. This obedience is, in
reality, a genuine act of love.
#338. b) Those who are not bound by vows must, in order to be perfect,
observe the spirit of these vows, each according to his condition in life,
the inspirations of grace, and the guidance of a prudent spiritual adviser.
Thus they will exercise themselves in the spirit of poverty by depriving
themselves of many useless things, and so will spare money for almsgiving
and for works of charity or zeal; in the Spirit of chastity, even if they
be married, by using with moderation or restraint the rights to the lawful
pleasures of their state, and, above all, by scrupulously avoiding whatever
is forbidden or dangerous; in the spirit of obedience, by submitting
themselves with docility to their superiors in whom they will see the image
of God, and by a like submission to the inspirations of grace, under the
guidance of a wise spiritual director.
Hence to love God and the neighbor for God's sake, to know how to sacrifice
oneself in order to fulfill the better this twofold commandment and the
counsels related thereto, this is true perfection.
V. The Different Degrees of Perfection
Perfection here on earth has degrees and limits. Hence two questions: (1)
What are the principal degrees of perfection? (2) What are its limits here
I. The Different Degrees of Perfection I
#340. The degrees by which one is raised to perfection are numerous. The
question here is not to enumerate all of them, but only to note the chief
stages. According to the common doctrine, explained by St. Thomas, there
are three principal stages or, as they are commonly called, three ways:
that of beginners--the purgative way, that of souls already advanced--the
illuminative way, and that of the perfect--the unitive way.
n1. ST. THOMAS, "Sum. theol.," 2a 2ae, q. 183, a. 4; "Catholic Encycl.
States; Cursus Asceticus," I, p. 19-29.
#341. a) The chief care of beginners is that of preserving charity. Their
efforts, then, are directed toward the avoidance of sin, above all, mortal
sin, and toward the conquest of evil inclinations of the passions, and of
all that could make them lose the love of God.1 This is the purgative way,
the end of which is the purification of the soul.
n1. "Sum. theol.," 2a 2ae, q. 24, 1. 9.
#342. b) The chief concern of those already advanced, the "proficientes,"
is progress in the positive exercise of the virtues and growth in charity.
The heart, already purified, is all the more open to divine light and to
the love of God. The soul wishes to follow Jesus and to imitate His
virtues, and since by following Him one walks in the Light, this is called
the illuminative way.1 Here the soul strives to avoid not only mortal, but
even venial sin.
n1. "L. cit."
#343. c) Perfect souls have but one concern -- to cling to God and to take
their delight in Him. Ever seeking to unite themselves to God, they are in
the unitive way. Sin fills them with horror, for they fear to displease God
and to offend Him. The virtues that most attract them are the theological
virtues, which unite them to God. Hence, the earth seems to them an exile,
and, like St. Paul, they long to die to be joined to Christ.1
These are only brief indications. Later on we shall resume them again and
develop them in the Second Part of this work. There we shall take the soul
from the first stage, that of the purification, to the transforming union
that prepares it for the Beatific Vision.
n1. "L. cit."
II. The Limits of Perfection here on Earth
344. When reading the lives of the Saints, and especially those of the
great contemplatives, one marvels at the sublime heights to which a soul
can rise that refuses nothing to God. There are, however, limits to our
perfection here on earth. Beyond these we must not wish to go lest we fall
back into a lower degree, or even lapse into sin.
#345. (1) It is certain that we cannot love God as He deserves to be loved.
He is infinitely lovable, and, our hearts being finite, can never love Him,
even in Heaven, except with a finite love. We can, therefore, always strive
to love Him more. According to St. Bernard, the measure wherewith to love
God is to love Him without measure. Let us not forget, however, that real
love consists less in pious sentiments than in acts of the will, and that
the best way to love God is to make the will conform to His. This we shall
explain further on, when treating of conformity to the divine Will.
#346. (2) On earth one cannot love God uninterruptedly nor unfailingly. One
can, no doubt, with the aid of choice graces granted to souls of good-will,
avoid all deliberate venal sin, but not all faults of frailty. No one ever
becomes impeccable, as the Church has declared on many occasions.
A) In the Middle Ages, the Beghards1 pretended "that man is capable in this
present life of reaching such a degree of perfection that he becomes
altogether impeccable and can no more grow in grace." They concluded from
this that those who have attained this degree of perfection should neither
fast nor pray, for in this state sensuality has been so completely
subjected to the spirit and to reason that a man may grant his body
whatever he pleases; he is no longer obliged to observe the commandments of
the Church nor to obey men, nor even to exercise himself in acts of the
virtues, such things being only for the imperfect. These are dangerous
doctrines leading to immorality. Once a person believes himself impeccable
and no longer strives to practice virtue, he soon becomes a prey to the
vilest passions. This happened to the Beghards, whom the Oecumenical
Council of Vienne rightly condemned in 1311.
n1. DENZ-BANN., n. 471-178. Cfr. P. POURRAT, "Christian Spirituality," t.
II; "Cath. Encyclop.," BEGHARDS, Beguines.
#347. B) In the Seventeenth Century, Molinos1 revived this error by
teaching that " through acquired contemplation one arrives at such a degree
of perfection that one no longer commits any sins, either mortal or venial.
" He showed only too well, by his example, that with maxims that seem so
exalted, one is greatly exposed to fall into scandalous disorders. He was
justly condemned by Innocent XI on November 19, 1687. Upon reading the
propositions he had dared maintain, one is horrified at the frightful
consequences to which this pretension to impeccability could and did lead.2
Let us be more modest then and ever seek to correct our deliberate faults
and to diminish the number of those of frailty.
n1. "Catholic Encyclop.," MOLINOS
n2. DENZ.-BANN., n. 1228-1288
348. (3) Contrary to what Fenelon maintained,1 we cannot on earth love God
with a constant, nor yet habitual love, which is at the same time perfectly
pure and disinterested. No matter to what degree of perfection we may
attain, we are obliged from time to time to make acts of hope. We,
therefore, cannot remain altogether indifferent to our own salvation. It is
true that there have been Saints, who, in the midst of passive trials, have
momentarily acquiesced to their reprobation, but on the supposition that it
were so willed by God, whilst at the same time firmly declaring their
unwillingness, were this the case, to desist from loving Him. These are
only suppositions that must be thrust aside since the fact is that God
wills the salvation of all men.
From time to time, though, we can elicit acts of pure love with no thought
of self whatever, and therefore without actually hoping or wishing for
Heaven. Such is the following act of love of St. Theresa:2 "If I love Thee,
Lord, it is not because of Heaven which Thou hast promised me. If I fear to
offend Thee, it is not because of Hell that threatens me. What draws me
unto Thee, Lord, is Thyself alone--it is the sight of Thee, nailed to the
Cross, Thy body bruised mid the pangs of death. Thy love doth so hold my
heart that were there no Heaven, I would love Thee still; were there no
Hell, I would fear Thee yet. I need not thy gifts to make me love Thee, for
although I should have no hope of all I do hope for, I would love Thee
still with the selfsame love."
n1. DENZ.-BANN., n. 1327-1349.
n2. "The Bollandists, History of St. Theresa," vol. II, c. 31.
#349. Ordinarily, our love of God is a mixture of pure and interested love;
that is to say, we love God both for His own sake, because He is infinitely
good, and also because He is the source of our happiness. These two motives
are not exclusive of each other, since it is the will of God that we find
our happiness in loving and glorifying Him. Let us not, therefore, be
alarmed at this admixture of motives in our love of God. Let us simply say
to ourselves when thinking of Heaven, that our happiness will consist in
the possession and the vision of God, in loving and glorifying Him. Then
even when we are influenced by the desire and the hope of Heaven, the
predominant motive in our actions will truly be the love of God.
#350. Behold, then, the whole of Christian perfection: --love and
sacrifice. Who cannot, with God's grace, fulfill this twofold condition? Is
it, indeed, so difficult to love Him Who is infinitely lovable and
infinitely loving? The love that He asks of us is nothing extraordinary; it
is the devotedness of love -- the gift of oneself -- consisting chiefly in
conformity to the divine will. To want to love is to love. To keep the
commandments for God's sake is to love. To pray is to love. To fulfill our
duties of state in view of pleasing God, this is likewise to love. Nay
more, to recreate ourselves, to take our meals with the like intention is
to love. To serve our neighbor for God's sake is to love. Nothing then is
easier, God's grace helping, than the constant exercise of divine love and
through this, steady advance toward perfection.
#351. As for sacrifice, doubtless it seems hard. But we are not asked to
love it for its own sake. It is enough if we love it for God's sake, or, in
other words if we realize that here on earth one cannot love God without
renouncing whatever is an obstacle to His love. Then sacrifice becomes
first tolerable and soon even lovable. Does not a mother passing long,
sleepless nights at the bedside of her son joyously undergo fatigue when
she entertains the hope and more especially, when she has the certainty of
thereby saving his life? Now, when we accept for the sake of God the
sacrifices He demands, we have not only the hope, but the certainty itself,
of pleasing Him, of giving Him glory and of working out the salvation of
our own souls. In this have we not for our encouragement the example and
the help of the God-Man? Has He not suffered as much as and even more than
we ourselves suffer, for the glory of His Father and the salvation of our
souls? Shall we, His disciples, incorporated into Him in Baptism, nourished
with His Body and Blood, shall we hesitate when we are to suffer together
with Him, for His love and for His intentions? Is it not true that in the
Cross there is gain, especially for loving hearts? "In the Cross" says the
author of the Imitation,1 "is salvation; in the Cross is life; in the Cross
is protection from enemies. In the Cross is infusion of heavenly
sweetness." We shall conclude with the words of Saint Augustine: "There are
no labors too great for loving hearts. In fact, one finds pleasure therein,
as we observe in the case of the fisherman fishing, the hunter at the
chase, the merchant at the mart. For where there is love, there is no
labor, or if there be labor, it is a labor of love."2 Let us then hasten
toward perfection by this path of love and sacrifice.
n1. "Imitation," Bk. II, C. 12, v. 2.
n2. St. AUGUST., "De bono Viduitatis," c. 21, P. L. XL, 448.