THE SPIRITUAL LIFE
A TREATISE ON ASCETICAL AND MYSTICAL THEOLOGY
by the Very Reverend Adolphe Tanquerey, S.S., D.D.
The Purification of the Soul or the Purgative Way
#635. The characteristic of the purgative way, or the state of beginners,
is the purifying of the soul in view of attaining to intimate union with
We shall therefore explain (1) what is meant by beginners, and (2) the end
these must strive to attain.
n1. A. SAUDREAU, "The Degrees" of the Spiritual Life, the Purgative Way, I-
II; SCHRYVERS, "Les principes," IIe Part., ch. 11.
I WHO ARE CALLED BEGINNERS?
#636. (1) Essential Characteristics. In the spiritual life, beginners are
those that habitually live in the state of grace and have a certain desire
for perfection, but who have still attachments to venial sin and are
exposed to fall now and then into grievous faults. We shall explain these
a) Beginners live habitually in the state of grace: hence, they generally
struggle successfully against grave temptations. We therefore rule out of
the class of beginners those that frequently commit mortal sin and do not
avoid its occasions who would no doubt wish to be converted, but lack the
necessary firm and efficacious purpose. Such are not on the way to
perfection. They are sinners, worldlings, who must first of all be helped
to sever their attachment to mortal sin and to part with the occasions of
b) They have a certain desire for perfection or for progress, even if this
desire be as yet feeble and imperfect. Thus we exclude from the category of
beginners those worldlings all too numerous--alas! whose highest purpose is
to escape mortal sin, but who have no earnest desire of advancing further.
As we have shown above, n. 414, the desire for perfection is the first step
on the way.
c) They have, however, some attachment to deliberate venial sin and,
therefore, they frequently fall. This distinguishes them from souls already
advancing along the way of perfection, who although they may from time to
time commit some willful venial sins, yet earnestly strive to avoid them.
The existence of these attachments is due to the fact that their passions
are not as yet subdued; hence, they yield to temptations of sensuality,
pride, vanity, anger, envy, jealousy, and uncharitableness in word and
deed. How many persons called devout retain attachments of this kind, which
cause them to commit deliberate, venial sins which expose them to fall from
time to time into grievous faults!
n1. No doubt there are authors who with FR. MARCHETTE, (Rev. d'Ascetique et
de Mystique," Jan. 1920, P. 36-47), are of the opinion that sinners must
be included in the purgative way in order to convert them yet he admits
that in this he does not follow the common teaching. The conversion of
sinners and the means to be suggested to them that they may persevere in
the state of grace belong rather to the province of Moral than of Ascetic
theology. We may say, however, that the motives we shall soon propose as
deterrents from mortal sin will be a confirmation of those given by Moral
#637. (2) Different Categories. There are different categories of
a) Innocents souls desiring to grow in the spiritual life-- children, young
men and young women who, not content with the mere avoidance of mortal sin,
wish to do something more for God and want to become perfect. The number of
these would be greater were priests active in arousing this desire for
perfection in Sunday school, at the meetings of Sodalities and parochial
organizations. (cf. 409-430.)
b) Converts from sin, who after having transgressed grievously, return to
God with all sincerity and who, in order to withdraw further from the brink
of the abyss, want to press forward in the ways of perfection. Here again
we may say that these would be far more numerous if confessors would take
heed to remind their penitents that in order not to fall back they must
advance, and that the safest means of avoiding mortal sins is to tend to
perfection. (cf. 354-361).
c) The lukewarm, those who after having given themselves once to God and
having advanced in the way of perfection have fallen into a state of
remissness and tepidity. These, even if they had once reached the
illuminative way, need to return to the austere practices of the purgative
way and begin once more the work of perfection. To aid their efforts, one
must carefully put them on their guard against the dangers of carelessness
and lukewarmness and teach them to combat their causes, which are generally
frivolity or fickleness. listlessness and a sort of sluggishness.
#638. (3) Two classes of beginners. Some show greater generosity, others
less. Hence the two classes into which they are divided by St. Teresa.
a) In the first mansion or the Castle of the Soul, she gives a description
of those souls that have good desires, are faithful to recite some prayers,
but who are taken up with the world and have their minds filled with a
thousand and one things which absorb their thought The while they retain
these many attachments, they strive from time to time to free themselves
from them. Through such efforts they gain an entrance into the first and
lower halls of the Castle with them however? enter a multitude of
mischievous animals (their own passions) which will hinder them from gazing
at the beauty of the castle and abiding peacefully therein. To have entered
this mansion, although it is the lowest, is already a singular good-
fortune; nevertheless the machinations and subterfuges employed by the
devil in order to prevent such souls from advancing are ruthless. The
world, likewise, wherein the are yet immersed, allures them with its
pleasures and honors, hence they are easily conquered, even though they
want to avoid sin and do perform good works.1 In other words, these souls
strive to harmonize piety and worldliness. Their faith is not sufficiently
enlightened, their will is not strong enough, not generous enough to
determine them to renounce not merely sin, but sundry dangerous occasions,
they have little realized the need of frequent prayer, of rigorous penance,
or mortification; still, they want not only to work out their salvation,
but also to grow m the love of God by making some sacrifices.
n1. "Interior Castle," First Mansion.
#639. b) The other class of beginners is described by the Saint in her
second mansion. They are souls already initiated in the practice of mental
prayer, who understand the necessity of sacrifice as a means of perfection,
but who through lack of courage retreat at times to the first mansion,
exposing themselves once more to the occasions of sin They love as yet the
pleasures of the world and its allurements, and occasionally fall into some
grave fault; but hearkening to God's call to penance, presently rise again.
In spite of the appeals made to them by the world and the devil, they
meditate on the emptiness of the world's false goods and on death that
shall soon take these away They grow apace m the love of Him from Whom they
receive so many proofs of love; they realize that apart from Him they shall
find neither peace nor safety, and wish to avoid the wanderings of the
Prodigal Son, then, is a state of struggle in which such souls have much to
suffer from the manifold temptations that assail them, but wherein also God
deigns to comfort and fortify them. By acting in conformity with God's holy
will, which is the great means of perfection, they will finally emerge from
the mansions wherein creep such venomous creatures and they will pass to
the other mansions beyond the reach of their poisonous sting.1
n1. "Interior Castle," Second Mansion.
640. We shall not treat separately of these two classes, because the means
to be suggested to each are practically the same. Let the spiritual
director however bear this division in mind when giving advice. Let him
draw the attention of souls of the first class to the consequences of sin,
the necessity of avoiding its occasions, and awaken in them a longing for
prayer, penance and mortification. Souls of the second class he will advise
to give more time to meditation, and to take the offensive against the
capital vices, those deep-seated tendencies which are the source of all our
II. THE END TO PURSUE
#641. We have stated (n. 3O9) that perfection consists essentially in union
with God through love. But because God is holiness itself, we cannot be
united to Him unless we are clean of heart--a state implying a twofold
condition: atonement for the past and detachment from sin and the occasions
of sin for the future.
The first task, then, of beginners is purification of the soul.
We may add that the union of the soul with God will be the more intimate as
the soul grows in purity and detachment. The purification is more or less
perfect according to the motives that inspire it and according to the
effects produced by it.
A) The purification remains imperfect, if it is inspired chiefly by motives
of fear and hope--fear of hell, and hope of heaven and heavenly gifts. The
results of such a purification are incomplete. The soul, indeed, renounces
mortal sin, which would deprive it of heaven, but it does not renounce
venial faults, even deliberate ones, since these do not deprive it of its
B) There is, then, a more perfect purification, which, though not excluding
fear and hope, has for its ruling motive the love of God, the desire to
please Him and hence to avoid whatever would constitute even a slight
offense. Here is verified the word of the Savior to the sinful woman: "
Many sins are forgiven her because she hath loved much ."1
It is at this second purification that souls should aim; still, the
spiritual director must remember that for many a beginner it is not
possible to rise thereto at the outset, and whilst speaking to such of the
love of God, he will not forget to offer them the motives of hope and of
fear which make a stronger impression.
n1. "Luke," VII, 47.
DIVISION OF THE FIRST BOOK
#642. Once we know the end, we must determine the means necessary for its
attainment. Fundamentally, they may be reduced to two: prayer, through
which grace is obtained, and mortification through which we correspond to
grace. Mortification assumes different names according to the point of view
from which we consider it. It is called penance when it prompts us to atone
for our past faults; mortification properly so called, when it sets upon
the love of pleasure in order to reduce the number of faults in the present
and obviate their recurrence in the future; it is called warfare against
the capital sins, when it combats those deep-rooted tendencies that incline
us toward sin, and warfare against temptation, when practiced by way of
resistance to the onslaughts of our spiritual enemies. Hence the five
Chapter I. --The Prayer of Beginners
Chapter II. --Penance, to atone for the past
Chapter III.--Mortification, to safeguard the future
Chapter IV.--Warfare against the capital sins
Chapter V. --The Warfare against temptation
All these means clearly presuppose the practice in some degree of the
theological and the moral virtues. No one can pray, no one can do penance
and mortify himself without a firm belief in revealed truth, without the
expectation of a heavenly reward, without love of God, without the exercise
of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. We shall speak of these
virtues when we treat of the illuminative way wherein they attain their