THE SPIRITUAL LIFE
A TREATISE ON ASCETICAL AND MYSTICAL THEOLOGY
by the Very Reverend Adolphe Tanquerey, S.S., D.D.
CHAPTER II: Penance
We shall briefly state the necessity and the notion of penance;
then we shall explain: (1) The motives that should prompt us to
hate and avoid sin; (2) the motives and the means of atoning for
Necessity and Notion of Penance.
Art. I.--Hatred of sin: mortal and venial.
Art. II.--Atonement for sin: motives and means.
THE NECESSITY AND NOTION OF PENANCE1
#705. Penance is, after prayer, the most effective means for
cleansing the soul of past faults and even for guarding it against
(1) When Our Lord is about to begin His public ministry, He has
His Precursor proclaim the necessity of penance: "Do penance: for
the kingdom of heaven is at hand. "I He Himself declares He has
come to call sinners to repentance: "I came not to call the just, but
sinners to penance. " 2 This virtue is so necessary, that unless we
do penance we shall perish: "But except you do penance, you shall
all likewise perish."3 So well was this doctrine understood by the
Apostles, that from the very first they insisted on the necessity of
penance as a condition preparatory to Baptism: "Do penance: and
be baptized every one of you." 4
For the sinner penance is an act of justice; for having offended
God and violated God's rights, he is bound to make reparation for
the outrage. This he does through penance.
n1. St. THOM. III, q. 85; SUAREZ, "De Paenitentia," disp. I et VII;
BILLUART, "De Paenit.," disp. II; AD. TANQUEREY, "Synop. Theol.
Mor.," t. I, n. 3-14; BOSSUET, "Serm. sur la necessity de la
penitence," edit. Lebarcq, 1897, t. IV, 596, t. V, 419;
BOURDALOUE, "Careme pour le Lundi de la deuxieme Semaine;"
NEWMAN, "Disc. to Mixed Congregations," Neglect of Divine Calls;
FABER, "Growth in Holiness," C. XIX and XX; TISSOT, "Profiting by
Our Faults;" MANNING, "Sin and Its Consequences," "The Love of
Jesus for Penitent Sinners;" HEDLEY, "Retreat," C. VII; MEYER,
"Science of the Saints," C. XIII; ST. FRANCIS DE SALES, "Devout
Life," P. I, C. V-VIII.
n2. Matth., 111, 2.
n3. Luke, V, 32.
n4. 3 Luke, XIII, 5.
n5. Acts, 11, 38.
#706. (2) Penance is defined as a supernatural virtue, allied to
justice, which inclines the sinner to detest his sin because it is an
offense against God, and to form the firm resolve of avoiding sin in
the future, and of atoning for it.
Hence, it includes four chief acts, the origin and inter-relation of
which may be readily perceived. 1) In the light of reason and of
faith, we see that sin is an evil, the greatest evil, in truth the only
evil, and this because it offends God and deprives us of the most
precious gifts. This evil we hate with our whole soul: "I have
hated iniquity." 2) Moreover, conscious that this evil is ours since
we have sinned, and that, even once forgiven, its traces remain in
our soul, we conceive a lively sorrow, a sorrow that weighs upon
and crushes the soul, a sincere contrition, a deep sense of
humiliation. 3) To avoid in the future this heinous evil we form
the firm resolve or the firm purpose of avoiding it, by carefully
shunning dangerous occasions and by fortifying our will against
the allurements of sinful pleasures. 4) Lastly, realizing that sin
constitutes an act of injustice, we determine to atone for it, to
expiate it by sentiments and works of penance.
ART. I. MOTIVES FOR HATING AND AVOIDING SIN1
Before explaining these motives,2 we shall explain what mortal
sin is and what venial sin is.
n6. ST. THOMAS, Ia IIae, q. 85-89; SUAREZ, "De Peccatis," disp. I-III;
disp. VII-VIII; PHILIP. A S. TRINITATE, "Sum. theol. mysticae", Ia P.,
tr. II, discursus I- ANTON. A SPIRITU S., "Directorium mysticum,"
disp. I, sect. III; TH. DE VALLGORNERA, "Mystica theol.," q. II, disp.
I, a. III-IV, ALVAREZ DE PAZ, T. II P. I De Abjectione peccatorum;
BOURDALOUE, "Careme" mercredi de la 5e sen;., sur l'etat du
peche et l'etat de grace; TRONSON, "Ex. Part.," CLXX CLXXX;
MANNING, "Sin and its Consequences; MGR. D HULST "Carame
1892, Retraite;" P. JANVIER, "Carame 1903," Ie Conf.; "Careme
1908," entirely.--See other references, no. 705.
n7. We develop the treatment of these motives somewhat at
length, in order that the reader may be able to meditate on them.
Once a lively horror of sin is conceived progress in the spiritual
life is assured.
#707. Notion and Species of Sin. Sin is a willful transgression of
the law of God. Hence, it is an act of disobedience to God, an
offense against Him; for it is the choice of our own will in
preference to His, and thereby a violation of the sovereign right
God has to our submission.
#708. a) Mortal Sin. When, with full advertence and with full
consent we transgress in grave matter a law that is important,
necessary to the attainment of our end, the sin is mortal, because
it deprives us of habitual grace which is the supernatural life of
the soul (n. 105). This is why St. Thomas defines mortal sin as "an
act whereby we turn away from God, our last end, willingly
attaching ourselves in an inordinate manner to some created
good." By the loss of habitual grace, which unites us to God, we
turn away from Him.
#709. b) Venial Sin. When the law we violate is not necessary to
the attainment of our end, or when we violate such a law, but in a
slight matter, or if the law is grave in itself, but we transgress it
either without full advertence or without full consent, the sin is
but venial and does not deprive us of the state of grace. Our soul
still remains in union with God, since we want to do His will in all
things necessary, to abide in His friendship and attain our end.
Still, venial sin is truly a violation of God's law, constituting an
offense against the majesty of the Law-giver.
I. Mortal Sin1
#710. If we would pass sound judgment on grave sin, we must
consider: (1) What it is in the sight of God; (2) What it is in itself;
(3) What are its baneful effects. If through meditation we realize
thoroughly these teachings of faith we shall conceive an
invincible hatred of sin.
n1. ST. IGNATIUS, "Spiritual Exercises," 1st Week, 1st Exercise; See
also his numerous commentators.
1. What Mortal Sin is in the Sight of God
To form an idea of what mortal sin is in God's eyes, let us see
how He punishes it and how He condemns it in Holy Writ.
#711. (1) How God punishes mortal sin. A) In the rebel angels.
These committed but a single sin, an interior sin, a sin of pride;
and God, their Creator and Father, God, Who loved them, not only
as the work of His hands, but as His adopted children, punished
their rebellion by casting them into Hell, where through all
eternity they will remain separated from God and deprived of all
bliss. And withal, God is just and punishes no one beyond his
deserts; He is merciful even in His punishments, and tempers the
rigors of His justice with His goodness. Sin, then, must be
something abominable to merit such a terrible sanction.
#712. B) In our first parents. They had been endowed with all
manner of gifts, natural, preternatural and supernatural, n. 52-66,
but having likewise committed a sin of disobedience and pride,
they were directly despoiled, along with the life of grace, of all
the free gifts that had been bestowed upon them; were banished
from Paradise and left to bequeath their posterity that dismal
heritage of original sin, the sad consequences of which actually
weigh upon us all (n. 69-75). Still, God bore our first parents the
love of a father and allowed them the joy of intimacy with Him. If
an all just and all-merciful God visited such a severe punishment
upon them and their posterity, it is because sin is a frightful evil,
an evil which we can never sufficiently detest.
#713. C) In the person of His Son. In order not to let man perish
forever and in order to safeguard the rights both of justice and of
mercy, the Eternal Father sends His Son into the world, makes
Him the Head of the human race and lays upon Him the charge of
atoning for and expiating sin in our stead. And what is the price
of this redemption? Three and thirty years of humiliation and
pain, ending in the unspeakable torture of body and mind at
Gethsemane, before the Sanhedrin, in the Pretorium, upon
Calvary! If we would learn what sin is, let us follow the Savior of
the world, step by step, from the Stable to the Cross, through that
hidden life of obscurity, of submission, of poverty, of toil;
through His apostolic life of fatigues and failures, midst the ill-
will and persecutions He was made to endure; through His
suffering life, wherein He underwent such anguish of body and
soul from friend and foe, so that He could well be called the Man
of Sorrows. If we would know what sin is, let us face this truth:
"He was wounded for our iniquities: He was bruised for our sins."1
Then we shall not be at a loss to understand that sin is the
greatest of evils.
n1. Isaias, LIII, 5.
#714. (2) How God condemns sin. Holy Scripture describes sin
as the most odious and the most criminal thing in existence.
a) It is an act of disobedience to God, a transgression of His
orders, which is justly punished with the utmost severity, as we
witness in our first parents.1 In the people of Israel, God's chosen
portion, this disobedience is regarded as a revolt, a rebellion.2 b)
It is an act of ingratitude toward our greatest Benefactor, an
unnatural lack of filial piety toward the most loving of fathers: I
have brought up children and exalted them: but they have
despised me." 3 e) It is unfaithfulness, a species of adultery, since
God is the spouse of our souls and rightly demands inviolable
fidelity: "But thou hast prostituted thyself to many lovers."4 d) It is
an injustice, since by sin we openly violate the rights God has
over us: "Whosoever committeth sin committeth also iniquity. And
sin is iniquity.5
n1. Gen. II 17; III, 11-19.
n2. Jeremias, II, 4-8.
n3. Isaias, I, 2.
n4. Jeremias, III, 1.
n5. I John, III, 4.
II Mortal Sin in Itself
Mortal sin is an evil, the only real evil, since all other evils are
but its consequences or its punishment.
#715. (1) In relation to God, mortal sin is a crime against the
majesty of the Godhead; it is an assault upon all of God's
attributes, but chiefly an attempt against Him as our first
beginning, our last end, our Father, and our benefactor.
A) God, the first cause of our being is our Maker, from Whom we
hold all we are and all we have; He is thereby our Supreme Lord
and Master to Whom we owe an absolute obedience. By mortal sin
we disobey Him; we affront Him by preferring our own will to
His, by preferring a creature to the Creator! Nay more--we revolt
against Him, since by the fact of creation, we are subject to Him
as we can be to no earthly power. a) This rebellion is all the more
grave, since this Master is infinitely wise and infinitely good, and
commands nothing that is not conducive to our own happiness as
well as to His glory; whilst our will is weak, frail, liable to error.
In spite of this, we prefer it to that of God! b) This defiance is all
the more inexcusable, since we know well what we do; for from
the days of our childhood, we have been taught by Christian
parents and have a clear and precise knowledge of God's rights
over us and of the malice of sin. c) And why do we thus betray
Our Lord and Master? We do so for a vile pleasure that debases
us, from a stupid pride whereby we arrogate unto ourselves glory
that belongs to God alone, for paltry interests, for a transient
gain, to which we sacrifice a good that is eternal.
#716. B) God is also our last end. He created us, and created us
for Himself alone. He could not have done otherwise, for He is the
Supreme Good, and outside Himself we could neither realize our
perfection nor find our bliss. Besides, having come forth from
God, we should and we must return to Him; being the work of His
hand, we are His own and we must revere, praise, serve, and
glorify Him;1 being the object of His love we should love Him
with our whole soul--and it is in the love of Him and in the
worship of Him, that we find our perfection and our happiness.
Hence, He has a strict right that our whole life with all its
thoughts, all its longings, all its acts be directed unto Him, unto
By mortal sin, however, we turn away from God in order to take
our delight in some created thing; we do Him an injury when we
choose one of His creatures, or rather our own selfish satisfaction
in preference to Him, for at bottom, it is not so much the creature
which we seek as the pleasure we find therein. This is flagrant
injustice, since it constitutes an attempt to strip the Almighty of
His supreme rights over us, of that outward glory we are bound
to promote; it is a sort of idolatry, the setting up in the heart's
sanctuary of an idol over against the One True God; it is scorning
the fountain of living water, which alone can quench the soul's
thirst, to go, as Jeremias vigorously puts it, after the slimy waters
that reek within abandoned wells: "For my people have done two
evils: "They have forsaken me the fountain of living water, and
have digged to themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold
no water." 2
n1. This is the thought developed by St. Ignatius at the outset of
the "Spiritual Exercises," beginning with these words "Man was
created to this end, that he glorify and worship the Lord his God,
and that by serving Him he attain salvation."
n2. Jeremias, II, 13.
#717. C) God is to us also a Father, Who has adopted us as His
children and Who bestows on us the thoughtful care of a parent
(n. 94); He heaps upon us His choicest favors, endowing us with a
supernatural organism, in order that we may live a life like unto
His; He showers upon us abundant actual graces that we may
make good use of His gifts, and thus by good works increase our
spiritual life. Now, by mortal sin we scornfully fling aside those
gifts, nay we fling them back at the Giver, our Benefactor, our
Father; we spurn His grace at the very moment He overwhelms us
with His bounty. Is not this ingratitude? Ingratitude all the more
culpable because we have received so much, ingratitude that
cries out for vengeance!
#718. (2) In relation to Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, mortal sin is a
sort of deicide. a) It is sin that has caused the sufferings and
death of the Savior: "Christ suffered for us... "1 And washed us
from our sins in his own blood."2 That this thought make an
impression upon us, we must think of the personal share we have
had in Christ's bitter Passion. It is I who betrayed my Master with
a kiss, and at times, for even less than the thirty pieces of silver.
It is I who caused violent hands to be laid upon Him, and a
sentence of death to be passed on Him. I was with the rabble that
cried out: "Not this man, but Barabbas... Crucify him."3 I was with
the soldiers, lashing Him through my self-indulgence, crowning
His head with thorns through my interior sins of pride and
sensuality, laying the heavy beam upon His shoulders and nailing
Him to the Cross. As Father Olier so well explains it, "our
niggardliness crucified His all-embracing charity, our ill temper
His meekness, our intolerance His patience, our pride His
humility. Thus our vices rack and strangle, and quarter the Christ
that lives in us."4 What hatred should we bear a sin that has so
cruelly fastened Our Savior to the Cross!
b) Of course, we can no longer visit fresh tortures upon Him,
since He can suffer no more, but our present faults do offer Him
fresh insults; for when we willfully commit them, we scorn His
love and favors; as far as we are concerned, we render void the
Blood He shed in such profusion; we hold back from Him that
love, that gratitude, that obedience to which He is entitled. What
is this, if not repaying love with black ingratitude, and thereby
calling down upon our heads a dreadful punishment?
n1. Peter, II, 21.
n2. Apoc., I, 5.
n3. John, XVIII, 40, XIX, 6.
n4. Cat. for an Int. Life, P. I, lesson II.
III. The Effects of Mortal Sin
God has given the law a sanction; He has made happiness the
reward of virtue and suffering the wages of sin. Seeing then the
effects of sin in this life and in the next, we can in a measure
judge of its guilt.
#719. (1) To realize the dire effects of mortal sin in this life, let
us remember what a soul in the state of grace is. It is the
dwelling-place and the delight of the Most Blessed Trinity. The
Three Divine Persons adorn it with divine graces, divine virtues,
divine gifts. Under the influence of actual grace, the good acts
such a soul performs merit eternal life. Such a soul possesses the
holy liberty of the children of God, shares in His power and
virtue, and enjoys, especially at certain times, a happiness which
is a foretaste of celestial bliss. And what does mortal sin do?
a) It expels God from our soul, and because the possession of God
is already the beginning of heavenly joy, the loss of Him is, at it
were, a prelude to eternal loss for the loss of God is likewise the
loss of all the goods of which He is the source.
b) Losing God we lose sanctifying grace, whereby our soul lived a
life similar to that of the Godhead; hence, mortal sin is a sort of
spiritual suicide. Together with sanctifying grace we lose that
glorious galaxy of virtues and gifts that go with it. If in His
infinite mercy God leaves us in possession of Faith and Hope,
these virtues are no longer vivified by Love and now abide with
us merely to infuse a wholesome fear and inspire us with an
earnest desire of atoning and doing penance. In the meantime
they show us the sad plight of our soul and excite the pangs of
#720. c) The merits we have earned in the past with so much
effort are likewise lost by mortal sin; we can only regain them by
penance. Moreover, whilst we remain in the state of mortal sin,
we can acquire no merits for heaven. What a waste of the
d) To all this we must add the tyrannical yoke of servitude the
sinner must from now on bear. Instead of "the liberty of the
children of God,"1 behold him now in the slavery... of sin, of evil
passions now unloosed by the loss of grace, of habits soon
formed after repeated falls--falls so difficult to avoid! "Whosoever
committeth sin is the servant of sin."2 Little by little the moral
strength of the soul is sapped, actual graces become rarer,
discouragement and at times despair ensue. This poor soul is lost
unless God in His exceeding great mercy comes with His grace
and rescues it from the abyss.
n1. Rom, VIII, 21.
n2. John, VIII, 34; II Peter, II, 19.
#721. (2) If unfortunately the sinner remains obdurate to the end
in his resistance to grace, then follows hell with all its horrors. A)
First there is the well-deserved pain of loss. Grace had ever
pursued the culprit, but he willingly died in his sin, that is he
willingly died without God, and since his soul's dispositions can
no longer change, he remains forever separated from Him. As
long as he lived on earth absorbed in business or pleasure, he
gave no time, no thought to the horror of his plight. But now
there is neither business nor pleasure, and he faces constantly
the harrowing reality. By the very constitution of his nature, by
the cravings of his mind and of his heart, by the urge of his entire
being, he is now uncontrollably driven towards Him, Who is his
first beginning and last end, his one principle of perfection and
only source of bliss; drawn towards that loving Father, so worthy
of love, Who had adopted him as His offspring; toward the
Redeemer of his soul, Who had so loved him as to die upon the
Cross for him. Yet, a ruthless force beyond his power, the force of
sin, his own sin, hopelessly thrusts him back upon himself. Death
has forever stayed his spirit, irretrievably fixed his dispositions.
Having rejected God the very moment death overtook him, he
remains estranged from Him forever. Happiness and perfection
are everlastingly beyond his quest; he remains attached to his sin
and through sin to all that defiles and all that degrades: "Depart
from me, ye cursed."
#722. B) To this pain of loss, by far the most terrible, is added the
pain of sense. The body, a partner in sin, will share the torment of
the soul; the everlasting despair which will torture the reprobate
soul, will produce in the body an unquenchable thirst that
nothing can assuage. Besides, the damned will be tormented by a
real fire different indeed from our material fire, but the
instrument of divine justice to punish the flesh and the senses. In
fact, it is but just that wherein a man sins, therein also he be
punished: "By what things a man sinneth, by the same also he is
tormented; "1 and since the evildoer willed to take inordinate
delight in creatures these will prove the instruments of torture.
This fire enkindled and applied by a knowing hand will torture its
victims with that same measure of intensity with which they once
entered into their wicked delights.
n1. Wisdom, XI, 17.
#723. C) There will be no end of this double woe, and this
everlastingness is what fills the measure of the punishment of
the lost; for if a slight discomfort by its persistence becomes well
nigh unbearable, what shall we say of those pangs, of themselves
so racking, which outlast millions of ages only to begin afresh!
And withal, God is just, God is good even in the sanction He is
bound to inflict upon the damned. Mortal sin, then, must be an
abomination-to be thus punished! It must be the one real evil, the
only evil. Hence, better to die than be defiled by a single mortal
II. Deliberate Venial Sin
From the point of view of perfection there is a great difference
between venial faults of surprise and those committed with full
deliberation, with full consent of the will.
#724. Faults of surprise. The Saints themselves at times commit
such by allowing themselves to be momentarily betrayed though
thoughtlessness or weakness of will into some carelessness in
prayer, into imprudences, rash judgments, words against charity,
or little lies to cover up a fault. No doubt, these faults are to be
deplored, and fervent souls do deplore them sincerely; however,
such faults are not an obstacle to perfection. Almighty God, Who
knows our weakness, readily condones them. Besides, almost
invariably fervent souls make amends on the spot through acts of
contrition, of humility, of love--acts that endure longer and are
more voluntary than are their sins of frailty.
All we have to do as regards these faults is to lessen their number
and ward off discouragement. a) We diminish their number
through vigilance, by striving to reach and suppress their causes.
This we do without anxiety or overeagerness, relying more on the
grace of God than on our efforts. We must, above all, endeavor to
destroy all attachment to venial sin; for as St. Francis de Sales
remarks,1 "if the heart clings thereto devotion loses for us its
sweetness, and all devotion vanishes."
n1. "Devout Life," Bk. I, C. XXII.
#725. b) We must carefully avoid discouragement, the vexation of
those who "are angry for having been angry, and vexed to see
themselves vexed. "1 Such feelings proceed from self-love; one is
cast down and troubled at seeing oneself so imperfect. To
escape this defect, we must look upon our faults with the same
eye of tolerance with which we behold those of others; indeed,
we must detest our faults and our failings, but with a calm
hatred, highly conscious of our own weakness and misery, and
firmly determined to make them an occasion of giving glory to
God by bringing more love and more fidelity to the fulfillment of
our present duties.
It is otherwise with deliberate venial sins, which are a very great
hindrance to our spiritual progress, and which must be
n1. "Devout Life," Part III, C. IX.
I. The Malice of Deliberate Venial Sin
#726. Deliberate venial sin is a moral evil. In reality it is, mortal
sin excepted, the greatest evil. It does not actually turn us from
our end, but it checks our progress, robs us of time beyond price,
and constitutes an offense against God. It is in this that its malice
#727. It is an act of disobedience to God, in a slight matter it is
true, but willed after reflection. Regarded in the light of faith, it is
something truly hateful, since it challenges the infinite majesty
A) It is a wrong, an indignity offered to God; for placing God and
His glory over against our whims, our pleasure and our vanity,
we dare to choose the latter. What an outrage! A will infinitely
wise and righteous sacrificed to our own, the slave of error and
caprice! "It is," says St. Theresa,1 "as if we said: 'Lord, I know full
well this action displeases you, yet I shall do it none the less. I
am not unaware that your eyes see it, I know perfectly well you
do not want it, but I will rather follow my bent and fancy than
your will. Can this be of little consequence? As for myself, no
matter how slight the fault might be in itself, I find on the
contrary that it is grave and very grave.'"
n1. Way of Perfection, ch. XLI.
#728. B) Hence, there results through our own fault, a diminution
of God's external glory; for we have been created in order that by
a perfect and loving obedience to His law we may procure His
glory. Now, by refusing to obey, even in slight matter, we
withhold from Him a measure of that glory; instead of
proclaiming with Mary our readiness to exalt Him in all our acts,
"My soul doth magnify the Lord", we positively refuse to glorify
Him in this or that particular.
C) This, of itself, is an act of ingratitude. Loaded by God with
numberless favors, raised to friendship with Him and knowing
that in return He claims our love and gratitude, we begrudge Him
a small sacrifice. Instead of striving to please Him, we dare to
displease Him. Hence, inevitably, a certain coolness in God's
friendship towards us. God loves us without stint and asks us in
return that we love Him with all our soul: "Thou shalt love the
Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and -
with thy whole mind.1 Now, we do not make the entire gift of
ourselves to Him, we hold something back, and the while we want
to keep His friendship, we are niggardly with ours, offering Him
but a divided heart. This is evidently inconsiderate; it shows a
lack of generosity, a smallness that cannot but alter our intimate
relations with God.
n1. Matth., XXII, 37.
II. The Effects of Deliberate Venial Sin
#729. (1) In this life. Frequent deliberate venial sin deprives the
soul of many graces, gradually lessens its fervor, and predisposes
it to mortal sin.
A) Venial sin does not, indeed, take from the soul sanctifying
grace or divine love, but it deprives it of the new graces, the
increase of divine love and of the corresponding degree of glory
that it could have acquired and that God meant to give. Is not this
an enormous loss, the loss of a treasure worth far more than the
#730. B) It causes a diminution of fervor, that is to say, a waning
of that generosity whereby we give ourselves without reserve to
God. This generosity presupposes a high ideal and an unrelenting
effort to pursue it; but these two dispositions are incompatible
with habitual venial sin.
a) Nothing so lowers our ideal as attachment to sin: instead of
being ever ready to serve God in all things and to aspire to the
highest, we purposely halt half-way along the road to relish some
forbidden pleasure. We thus waste precious moments, turning
away our gaze from the lofty peaks to linger and gather a few
flowers that are soon to wither. We feel then the weariness of the
way, and heights of perfection that God wants us to reach seem
far too remote and too forbidding. We say to ourselves that it is
not necessary to aim so high; that we can obtain our salvation on
more reasonable terms- and the ideal which once shone before
our eyes no longer moves us. We say to ourselves that after all
this little self-complacency, these trifling sensual gratifications,
these sentimental friendships, these uncharitable words are
unavoidable. b) This lowering of our ideals necessarily paralyzes
effort towards perfection. Before, we marched joyously on,
sustained by the hope of reaching the goal; now, we begin to feel
the heat and the burden of the day, and when we want to resume
our ascent, our attachment to venial sin holds us back. Even as
the bird held by cords to the ground tries in vain to take its flight
and falls back bruised, so our souls, held by ties we will not
break, fall very soon, harmed in some degree by the fruitless
attempt to rise. At times, indeed, it seems as if we were to regain
our strength, but alas! other ties hold us and we lack the steady
purpose that would tear them asunder. Hence, there ensues a
cooling of charity that becomes alarming.
#731. C) The great danger that confronts us then is that of
gradually drifting into mortal sin. Our tendencies toward
forbidden pleasure gather strength, our will becomes weaker and
God's graces are reduced. Then a moment comes when any
surrender may be feared.
a) Our tendencies toward forbidden pleasures gather strength, the
more we yield to this treacherous and insatiable enemy, the more
Today sloth makes us shorten our meditation by a few brief
minutes; tomorrow it demands twice as many. Today sensuality
but asks for some slight gratifications, tomorrow it becomes bold
and asks for more. Where shall we stop on this downward grade?
We try to reassure ourselves by saying that such faults are only
venial, but alas, step by step they come nearer and nearer to
grievous sins; imprudences recur and stir the imagination and
the senses more deeply than before. This is the fire that lies
smoldering beneath the ashes and which may at any given
moment be the source of threatening flames; this is the reptile
that we warm in our bosom and which makes ready to bite and
poison us.--The danger is all the more imminent since familiarity
has partly dispelled our fear, we let fall one after the other the
barriers that guarded the stronghold of the heart and an hour
comes when with added fury in the assault, the enemy gains
entry into the citadel of the soul.
#732. b) This is the more to be dreaded, as God's graces are as a
rule reduced in proportion to our infidelities. 1) It is the law of
Divine Providence that graces are given us according to our own
dispositions and our own CO-operation. This is the sense of the
Gospel words: "For he that hath, to him shall be given, and he
shall abound: but to him that hath not, from him shall be taken
away that also which he hath."1 By our attachment to venial sin
we offer resistance to grace, we hamper its action in our soul and
therefore receive it in smaller measure. If, then, even with a
greater abundance of grace we failed to make a stand against the
disordered tendencies of our nature, shall we succeed in
restraining them now with less grace and less strength? 2)
Besides, a soul lacking recollection and generosity hardly feels
the promptings of the graces it receives; these are soon stifled by
the turmoil of awakening passions. 3) Lastly, grace cannot
sanctify us except through the sacrifices it demands of us, whilst
the habits of pleasure we have acquired by our attachment to
venial faults render such sacrifices all the more difficult.
n1. Matth., XIII, 12.
#773. We can, therefore, conclude with Father Lallemant:1 "The
multiplication of venial sins is the destruction of souls, causing
the diminution of those divine lights and inspirations, those
interior consolations, that fervor and courage, which are needed
to resist the assaults of the enemy. Hence follow blindness,
weakness, frequent falls, an acquired habit of insensibility of
heart; because, when once an affection to these faults is
contracted, we sin without feeling that we are sinning."
n1. "Spiritual Doctrine," Principle III, c. II, art. II.
#734. (2) The effects of venial sin in the next world1 show us how
much we should dread it. It is in order to expiate venial sin that
many souls spend a long time in purgatory.
A) There they endure the most unbearable of sufferings, the
privation of the vision of God. This torture, it is true, will not last
forever, differing in this from the pains of hell; nevertheless, for
a time measured by the number and seriousness of their faults,
these souls who love God and who, now removed from the
pleasures and distractions of earth, think of Him constantly and
long to see His face, are prevented from seeing and possessing
Him, and therefore suffer indescribable anguish. They now
realize that outside of God there is no solace and no bliss; and
still before them looms, like insurmountable barriers, that host of
venial sins they have not as yet sufficiently expiated. They are,
moreover, so alive to the necessity of the purity required to
contemplate the Almighty face to face, that their very shame
would not allow them to appear before Him as they are, nor
would they ever consent to enter Heaven as long as there remains
upon them the least stain of venial sin.2 They find themselves,
therefore, in a state of torture the more excruciating as they
realize that it is fully deserved.
n1. We do not speak of the temporal punishments of venial sin.
Holy Writ repeatedly makes mention of them. When it is question,
however, of determining whether a particular punishment is the
chastisement for a venial sin, one is reduced to conjectures.
n2. If the soul could discover another purgatory still more
terrible than that which it endures, urged on by its love for God,
it would eagerly plunge into it, the more speedily to be freed of
all that separates it from the sovereign Good." (ST. CATHERINE of
Genoa, "Purgatory," c. IX.)
#735. B) Moreover, according to the teaching of St.Thomas, a
subtle fire hinders their activity and makes them experience
physical sufferings whereby they may expiate the guilty
pleasures to which they gave consent. This trial, no doubt, they
most willingly accept as they realize the need of it in order to
effect their union with God.
"Seeing," says St. Catherine of Genoa,1 "that purgatory is designed
to cleanse them of their stains, souls throw themselves into it,
deeming it an unspeakable token of mercy that they are offered a
place wherein they can rid themselves of what prevents their
union with God."
Such willing acceptance, however, does not do away with their
great sufferings: "This resignation of the souls in purgatory does
not relieve them of one whit of their torments, far from it, love
pent up causes their woe, and their woe increases in proportion
to that perfection of love of which God has made them capable."2
And yet, God is not only just but merciful as well! He bears those
souls a love that is real, tender, fatherly; He longs to give Himself
to them for all eternity. If He does not do so, it is because there
can be no possible fellowship between His infinite holiness and
the least venial sin. Therefore, we can never hate venial sin too
much, we can never undergo enough in order to avoid it, we can
never endure enough to repair it.
n1. Op. cit., c. VIII.
n2. Op. cit., ch. XII. Read entire treatise.
ART. II. MOTIVES AND MEANS FOR EXPIATING SIN
1. Motives of Penance
Three principal reasons oblige us to do penance for our sins. The
first is a motive arising from a duty of justice toward God; the
second, a duty consequent upon our incorporation into Christ;
the last is a duty imposed by charity to ourselves and to our
(1) A DUTY OF JUSTICE TOWARD GOD
#731. Sin is a real injustice, since it deprives God of a portion of
that eternal glory which is His due. Sin, then, requires a
reparation which consists in rendering God, to the extent in
which we are able, that honor and that glory of which, through
our fault, we have defrauded Him. The offense, inasmuch as it is
offered to the Infinite Being, is in this respect at least infinite and
can never be adequately repaired. Therefore, our expiation of sin
must extend over the full span of our life; and this obligation is
the more far reaching, as we have been the recipients of more
favors and have been guilty of graver and more numerous faults.
Bossuet remarks on this point:1 "Have we not good reason to fear
that God's goodness so foully outraged be turned into implacable
wrath? If His just punishment of the Gentiles was so severe, will
not His anger be more dreadful towards us? Does not a father feel
more keenly the faithlessness of his children than the wickedness
of his servants?" We must then, he adds, take sides with God
against ourselves: "Thus if we side with divine justice as against
ourselves, we oblige divine mercy to take sides with us against
divine justice. The more we regret the plight wherein we have
fallen, the sooner we shall regain the good we have lost. God's
loving kindness will accept the sacrifice of the broken heart we
offer Him as satisfaction for our crimes; and looking not to the
inadequate reparation we offer, this good Father will but regard
the good will of the offerers. Besides, we can make our penance
more effective by uniting it to the atonement of Christ.
n1. "Premier Panegyrique de S. Fr. de Paul.
2 A DUTY CONSEQUENT UPON OUR INCORPORATION INTO
#737. Through Baptism we have been incorporated into Christ
(n. 143), and since we share His life we are to share His
sentiments. Although impeccable, Jesus has taken upon Himself,
as the head of a mystical body, the burden of our sins and, so to
speak, assumed responsibility for them: "And the Lord hath laid
on him the iniquity of us all."1 Behold the reason for His life of
suffering from the moment of His conception to His death on
Calvary. Knowing that the holocausts of the Ancient Law could
not propitiate the Father, He gives Himself as an offering in the
place of all victims. All His acts constitute an immolation through
obedience, and after a lifelong martyrdom, He dies on the Cross,
the victim of obedience and of love: "He was made obedient unto
death, even the death of the Cross." And He wills that His
members, in orders to be cleansed from their sins, be with Him
victims of expiation: "He willed to become a victim that He might
become the Savior of mankind but since His mystical body is one,
if the head be immolated, the members likewise become living
victims."2 It is evident that if Jesus, being innocent, atoned for
our sins through His passion and death, we the guilty must share
in His sacrifice, in proportion to our guilt.
n1. Isaias LIII, VI.
n2. BOSSUET, "Premier Sermon pour la Purification."
#738. To move us to comply with this duty, the atoning Christ
comes through His Divine Spirit, to live within us with all His
sentiments of victim.
"Thus in reading the Psalms" says Father Olier,1 "we must honor
that spirit of penance that was David's and revere in silent
adoration the interior dispositions of Christ's Spirit, the fountain-
head of penance, as diffused in David's soul. Humbly, insistently,
ardently and perseveringly we must ask the Holy Ghost to give us
this spirit of penance, trusting that He will grant our request. "We
may not be aware of the operations of the Holy Spirit, for He
often works in an imperceptible manner; but if we invoke Him
with humility, He will hear us and infuse into our hearts the
dispositions of the Heart of Jesus towards sin, and thus enable us
in union with Him to detest and expiate our sins. Then our
penance will become more efficacious since it is no longer we
alone who atone, but Christ atoning in us and with us. "All
exterior penance," says Father Olier,2 "that has not its source in
the Spirit of Jesus Christ, is not true and genuine penance. One
may inflict upon oneself rigors, even the most harsh, but if these
proceed not from the atoning Christ within us, they cannot be
acts of Christian penance. It is through Christ alone that we can
do penance. He initiated it here on earth in His own person and
He continues it in us, infusing into our soul sentiments of
abasement, of confusion, of sorrow, of detestation of self and of
fortitude, to fulfill in us the sufferings and the measure of that
satisfaction which God the Father wills to receive from Jesus
Christ in our flesh." This union with Jesus, then, does not exempt
us from the exercise of the spirit of penance nor from the works
thereof; its effect is that of conferring upon them a greater worth.
n1. "Introduction," ch. VII.
n2. Op. cit., c. VIII.
(3) A DUTY OF CHARITY
Penance is a duty of charity both to ourselves and to our
#739. A) A duty to ourselves. Sin leaves in the soul baneful
consequences against which it is necessary to react. a) Even when
the guilt or fault has been remitted, there generally remains a
temporal punishment varying according to the gravity and
number of our sins, and according to the fervor of our contrition
at the moment of our return to God. This punishment must be
undergone either in this life or in the next. By far the most
advantageous course is to make satisfaction in this life. The
sooner and the more perfectly we acquit ourselves of this debt,
the better fitted our soul becomes for union with God. Moreover,
expiation on earth is easier, since this is the acceptable time for
mercy; it is more fruitful, since the acts wherewith we make
satisfaction are also meritorious, a source of grace and greater
glory (n. 209). Therefore, personal interest and love for our own
soul are best served by a prompt and whole-hearted penance.
b) Moreover, by the fact that sin intensifies in us the disordered
love of pleasure and weakens our will, it bequeaths to us a
pernicious facility to commit fresh faults. Nothing so well
rectifies this disorder as the virtue of penance. By having us bear
with fortitude the afflictions sent by Providence, by inflaming our
desire for privations and austerities compatible with our health,
it gradually weakens within us the love of pleasure, and inspires
us with a fear of sin which exacts such amends. By inuring us to
the exercise of such acts of virtue as are opposed to our evil
habits, it helps us to correct them and thus gives us greater
security for the future.1 Hence, to do penance is charity towards
#740. B) Penance is also an act of charity toward the neighbor. a)
In virtue of our incorporation into Christ we are all brethren, all
members of the same body of Christ (n. 148). Since our works of
satisfaction can contribute to the welfare of others, will not our
charity prompt us to do penance not only for ourselves, but
likewise, in behalf of our brethren? Is not this the best means of
obtaining their conversion or, if they have turned to God, their
perseverance? Is not this the best service we could possibly
render them, a benefit worth infinitely more than all the temporal
goods we could confer upon them? Thus, to atone for our
neighbor's faults is but to carry out the will of God, Who having
adopted us as His children, commands us to love our neighbor as
we love ourselves.
n1. This is the teaching of the Council of Trent (Session XIV, C.
#741. b) This duty of reparation devolves more particularly upon
priests. For them it is a duty to offer sacrifices not only for
themselves but for the souls committed to their charge, "First for
his own sins, and therefore the people's."1 We do find, however,
outside the priestly state generous souls, who, in the cloister or in
the world, feel drawn to offer themselves as expiatory victims for
the sins of others. A high calling that associates them with
Christ's redeeming work! A call they should fearlessly answer,
taking counsel from a wise spiritual director as to the appropriate
works of reparation to which they should devote themselves.2
n1. Hebr,, VII, 27.
n2. P. PLUS, "The Ideal of Reparation," Book III; L. CAPELLE, "Les
#742. Let us say in conclusion that the spirit of penance is not a
duty imposed merely upon beginners and only for a short period
of time. Once we have understood what sin is, what an infinite
offense it gives to God, we are obliged to do penance all through
life, since a whole lifetime is but too short to make reparation for
an infinite offense. Hence, we must never cease to do penance.
This point is so important that Father Faber, after giving much
thought to the reason why so many souls make but little
progress, came to the conclusion that the cause was "the want of
abiding sorrow for sin."1 To this the example of the Saints bears
witness; they never ceased expiating the faults, at times very
slight, into which they had formerly lapsed. God's attitude toward
the souls whom He wants to raise to contemplation likewise
confirms it, after they have striven for a long time to purify
themselves through active exercises of penance, God sends them,
in order to complete their purification, those passive trials which
we shall describe in the unitive way; for only perfectly pure or
perfectly purified hearts can attain to the sweetness of the divine
anion: "Blessed are the clean of heart because they shall see God!"
n1. This he explains at length in "Growth in Holiness," C. XIX, and
he adds "Just as all worship breaks down, if it is not based on the
feelings due from a creature to his Creator. . . just as all penances
come to nought which do not rest on Christ, . . so in like manner
all holiness has lost its principle of growth if it is separated from
abiding sorrow for sin. For the principle of growth is not only
love, but forgiven love."
II. The Practice of Penance
The more perfectly to practice penance, we must unite ourselves
to the atoning Christ, and ask Him to dwell within us with His
dispositions of victim (n. 738); then, we must enter into His
sentiments and join in His acts of penance.
SENTIMENTS OF PENANCE
#743. These sentiments are most aptly expressed in the Psalms
and particularly in the "Miserere."
a) First comes abiding and sorrowful remembrance of our sins:
"My sin is always before me."1 No doubt, it is not expedient to
recall them to mind in detail; this might stir the imagination and
be a source of new temptations. Yet, we must always bear in
mind that we have sinned and above all we must entertain a
sense of sorrow and humiliation.
We have offended God in His sight: "I have done evil before Thee"2
before that God Who is holiness itself, and Who hates iniquity,
before that God Who is all love and Whom we have outraged by
dishonoring His gifts. Nothing is left to us but to appeal
frequently to His mercy and implore His forgiveness: "have mercy
on me, O Go, according to Thy great mercy."3 Indeed, we cherish
the hope of having been pardoned; still, longing for a more
complete forgiveness, we humbly beg God to cleanse us even
more in the Blood of His Son: "Wash me yet more from my
iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin."4 To effect a more intimate
union with Him, we want our sins wiped out and their traces
removed; we want our spirit and our heart renewed, and we want
the joy of a good conscience restored to us.5
n1. Ps. L.
n2. Ps. L, 6.
n3. Ps. L, 3.
n4. Ps. L, 4.
n5. Ps. L, 10-14.
#744. b) This sorrowful remembrance is accompanied by an
abiding sense of shame: "Shame hath covered thy face."1 We
stand in confusion before God like Christ Who bore before His
Father the infamy of our sins, especially at Gethsemane and on
Calvary. We carry our shame before men, seeing ourselves as
criminals in the assembly of the Saints. We bear the opprobrium
in our own hearts, and unable to stand the reproach, to suffer the
disgrace, we utter the sincere cry of the Prodigal: "Father I have
sinned against heaven and before thee;"2 we repeat with the
publican: "O God, be merciful to me a sinner."3
n1. Ps. LXVIII, 8.
n2. Luke, XV, 18.
n3. Luke, XVIII, 13.
#745. c) Of this a wholesome fear of sin is born, a horror for all
the occasions that might lead us into it; for despite our good will
we ever remain exposed to temptation and liable to fall.
Hence, a great distrust of self follows, whilst from our hearts we
are prompted to repeat the prayer of St. Philip Neri, "My God,
beware of Philip; otherwise he will betray Thee," or the
concluding petition of the Our Father, "Lead us not into
temptation." This distrust makes us foresee the dangerous
occasions that might bring a fall and the positive means that will
ensure our perseverance; it keeps us on our guard against the
least imprudence. Such diffidence, however harbors no faint-
heartedness. The more we are conscious of our weakness, the
more we place our confidence in God, convinced that through the
power of His grace we shall conquer.
III. Works of Penance
#746. No matter how painful these works may be, they will seem
of light account if we keep constantly in mind this thought: I am
a fugitive from hell, a fugitive from purgatory, and, were it not for
the mercy of God, I would be there now, undergoing the well-
merited punishment of my faults; therefore, I can consider
nothing as humiliating me overmuch or grieving me above
The chief works of penance we must perform are:
#747. (1) The submissive, willing, and joyful acceptance of all the
crosses Providence may see fit to send us. The Council of Trent
teaches us that it is a great token of God's love for us that He
deigns to accept as satisfaction for our sins1 the patient
endurance wherewith we suffer the temporal ills He visits upon
us. Therefore, should we have any physical or moral trials to
undergo, arising from the uncontrolled forces of nature or from
reverses of fortune, from failure or from humiliation, let us,
instead of breaking into bitter complaint as our tendencies would
suggest, accept all such suffering in a spirit of gentle resignation,
persuaded that they are the just wages of sin, and that patience
in adversity is one of the best means of atoning for it. This
acceptance, a mere resignation at first, will gradually grow into a
manful, nay, a joyous endurance of ordeals, as we see our woes
thereby assuaged and made fruitful. We should be glad thus to
shorten our purgatory, to become more like Our Crucified Master
and to glorify the God we have outraged. Then patience will bear
all its fruits and cleanse our soul because it will be a work of
love: "Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much."2
n1. Sess. XIV, C, IX.
n2. Luke, VII, 47.
#748. (2) To patience we shall add the faithful discharge of our
duties of state in a spirit of penance and reparation. The most
acceptable sacrifice we can offer God is obedience: "Obedience is
better than sacrifices."1 Now, the duties of our state are the
manifest expression of God's will in our regard. To fulfill them as
perfectly as we can is to offer God the most perfect sacrifice
within our giving, a perpetual holocaust, since this duty rests
upon us from morning until night. This is assuredly true for such
as live in community: faithful obedience to their rule, general or
particular, and the courageous accomplishment of the orders or
directions of their superiors multiply their acts of obedience, of
sacrifice and of love, and enable them to repeat with St. John
Berchmans: "My greatest penance is community life." Such perfect
discharge of the duties of state is likewise the best means of
doing penance for persons in the world. Fathers and mothers who
loyally observe all their obligations as husbands and wives and
as parents have many occasions of offering God sacrifices that
will work unto the purification of their souls. The one thing
necessary is that they acquit themselves resolutely of their duties
in a Christian manner, for God's sake, and in a spirit of expiation
n1. 1 Kings XV, 22.
#749. (3) There are other works of penance recommended in Holy
Writ, such as fasting and almsgiving.
A) Fasting was, in the Old Dispensation, one of the great means of
making atonement; it was called "to afflict the soul;"1 but to be
acceptable it had to be accompanied by sentiments of sorrow for
sin and mercy towards others.2 Under the New Law, fasting is an
earnest of grief and of penance. The Apostles do not fast as long
as the Bridegroom is with them, but they will fast when He is
gone.3 Our Lord, wishing to expiate our sins, fasted forty days
and forty nights, and taught His Apostles that certain evil spirits
cannot be cast out except by prayer and fasting.4 True to His
teachings, the-Church has established the Lenten Fast, that of the
Vigils and of the Ember Days to offer her children the opportunity
of making expiation for their faults. Many a sin takes its rise
directly or indirectly in the craving for pleasure, in excess in
eating and drinking, and nothing is so effective in making
atonement as mortification in eating, reaching as it does the very
root of the evil by mortifying the craving for sensual pleasure.
This is why the Saints have made a practice of fasting even
outside the seasons appointed by the Church. Generous Christian
souls imitate them and, if they cannot keep the strict fast, forego
some food at each meal in order thus to curb their sensuality.
n1. Leveticus, XVI, 29, 32; XXIII, 27, 32.
n2. Isa., LVIII, 3-7.
n3. Matth., IX, 14-15.
n4. Matth., XVII, 20.
750. B) Almsgiving, is both a work of mercy and a privation; from
this double title it derives great power of atoning for our sins:
"Redeem thou thy sins with alms. "1 When we deprive ourselves of
some good to give it to Jesus Christ in the person of the poor,
God does not allow Himself to be outdone in liberality, and He
willingly remits part of the punishment due to our sins. The more
generous we are, each according to his means, and the more
perfect our intention in almsgiving, the more fully are our
spiritual debts canceled What we say of almsgiving with regard to
the things that minister to the body holds true even more of
spiritual almsgiving, which is calculated to promote the welfare
of souls and thereby the glory of God. Thus it is one of the
penitential acts the Psalmist promises to perform in reparation
for his sin: "I will teach the unjust thy ways: and the wicked shall
be converted to thee."2
(4) Lastly, there come the voluntary privations and the acts of
mortification we impose upon ourselves in expiation for our
faults, particularly those that reach the heart of the evil, by
punishing the faculties that have had part in our sins. This we
shall treat in the following chapter on mortification. The priest
after absolving the penitent sums up in striking words the means
by which we can atone fully for our sins and cleanse our souls
from the remains of forgiven sins: "May whatever good you do
and whatever ill you bear be to you unto the remission of sins...."
n1. Dan., IV, 24.
n2. Ps. L, 15.