Taken from: HOLY ABANDONMENT
Rt. Rev. Dom Vitalis Lehodey, O.C.R.
Original Pub. 1934, Dublin
NATURE OF HOLY ABANDONMENT
THE SIGNIFIED WILL OF GOD
THE Divine will manifests itself to us as regulative and as operative. As regulative, it is the supreme rule of goodness, variously signified to us; and, as has been said, we ought to follow it faithfully, because all that it wills is good and nothing is good except what it wills. As operative, it is the universal principle of being, of life, and of action. Everything is done according to its behests, 1 nothing happens independently of its decrees; there is no effect but proceeds from it as from its first cause, nor any motion which it does not originate as prime mover. And consequently there is no event, whether small or great, which does not reveal some volition of the Divine good-pleasure whereto we are obliged to submit, since God has a perfect right to dispose of us as seems good to Him.
God therefore manifests His will to us in two ways: by the rules He has made for us and by the various events which He causes to occur in our lives. In the former we have the signified will of God, in the latter His will of good-pleasure.
By His signified will "God proposes to us clearly and in advance the truths He would have us believe, the rewards He would have us hope for, the penalties He would have us fear, the good He would have us love, the commandments He would have us observe, the counsels He would have us follow. This is called the signified will, because by it God indicates and makes known to us what He has ordained and intends should be the objects of our faith, of our hope, of our fear, of our love, and of our practice. We are therefore conformed to the signified will when our wills embrace whatever the Divine goodness indicates to be an object of its intention, when we believe according to its teaching, hope according to its promises, fear according to its menaces, love and live according to its ordinances and admonitions." 2
"The signified will comprises a fourfold object: the commandments of God and of His Church, the evangelical counsels, Divine inspirations, our particular rules and constitutions.
"Obedience to the commandments, both Divine and ecclesiastical, is of obligation for all, because there is question here of the absolute will of God, Who has made submission to these ordinances a condition of salvation. With regard to the counsels, He certainly would like us to observe them also, yet He rather desires this than wills it absolutely. Hence we do not forfeit His friendship by failing in courage to undertake the practice of the counsels, provided we do not treat them with contempt. We are not even permitted to take upon us the observance of them all, but of such of them only as are conformable to our state of life, some of the counsels being opposed to others. . . . As they have been given us to promote the interests of charity, it is for charity to regulate the mode and measure of their practice. . . . The counsels which we as religious are under obligation to observe are those which are comprehended in our rule." 3 For us, our vows, our monastic laws and regulations, the commands and counsels of our superiors, are all the expression of the Divine will prescribing to us the duties of our state. Surely we have reason to bless our good Master, Who with such loving solicitude manifests His will with regard to the community and its individual members, even as concerns the minutest details of conduct.
By means of His inspirations God manifests His will for each of us in a more personal manner. Inspiration came to St. Mary of Egypt from looking at an image of Our Lady, to St. Antony from hearing the Gospel read at Mass, to the Duke of Gandia (St. Francis Borgia) from contemplating the corpse of an empress, to St. Pacomius from observing an example of charity, to St. Augustine from listening to incidents in the life of St. Antony, to St. Ignatius of Loyola from reading the lives of the Saints. In short, inspirations reach us through very different channels. Some can be considered extraordinary only in so far as they send us to our accustomed exercises with unusual fervour. Others are called extraordinary because they urge us to the performance of actions contrary to the laws, rules, or established practices of Holy Church, which by consequence are rather to be admired than imitated. The pious Bishop of Geneva (St. Francis de Sales) tells us by what signs we can recognise authentic Divine inspirations and how we ought to use them, concluding with the words: "God signifies His will to us by means of His inspirations. But He does not ordain that we should always be able of ourselves to decide whether a particular inspiration is truly from Him, still less that we should follow inspirations at random. In such cases of doubt we must not expect Him to enlighten us Himself or to send one of His Angels to do so; but if the matter be important He wants us to have recourse to those whom He has charged with our direction." 4
Let us add, in fine, that the examples of Our Lord and the Saints, the theory and practice of the virtues, all belong to the signified will of God. It is easy to assign them to one or other of the four categories referred to above.
"We now understand how God manifests to us what is called His signified will. But there is also His will of good-pleasure which we must look for in all events. I mean to say, in everything that befalls us: in sickness, in death, in affliction, in consolation, in adversity and prosperity; briefly, in all unforeseen occurrences." 5 The Divine will can be seen without difficulty in the events which come directly from God as their Author. It is the same with such as originate from necessary causes, for these causes can only act under God's impulse, and they offer no resistance to His influence. But it is in tribulations especially we must recognise the will of God; not that He loves these for their own sake, but He employs them as an effective means of vindicating right order, of remedying our failings, of healing and sanctifying our souls. Furthermore, we have to see His will, yet only a permissive will, even in our own sins and in those of our neighbour. God, of course, does not concur in the formal element of sin which constitutes its malice; rather He hates it with an infinite hatred, He does all that depends on Him to deter us therefrom, He condemns it and visits it with His chastisement. But since we cannot perform any action without His concurrence, in order not to impede the exercise of the liberty wherewith He has endowed us, He gives that concurrence for the material act of sin, which belongs in truth to the natural use of our faculties. Moreover, He wills to draw good out of evil, and, with that object in view, to make our own and our neighbour's shortcomings serve for the sanctification of souls through the practice of penitence, patience, humility, mutual support and forbearance, etc. He wills also that we should sustain our neighbour even whilst fulfilling in his regard the duty of fraternal correction, and that we should obey him as our rule requires, seeing in his necessities and his faults the instruments God makes use of to exercise us in virtue. On this account, St. Francis de Sales does not hesitate to declare that it is chiefly through our neighbour we learn what God demands of us. The signified will of God differs profoundly from His will of good-pleasure in three respects:
Firstly, the signified will is always made known to us in advance, and as a rule very clearly, by the usual expressions of thought, viz., speech and writing. Thus we have the Gospels, the laws of the Church, our holy rule; we can at our convenience read therein the will of God, commit it to memory, and make it the subject of our meditation. Divine inspirations and the commands of superiors are only apparent exceptions, inasmuch as they have for object the maintenance of the written law, either the common Christian law or the monastic. On the other hand, we hardly ever know God's will of good-pleasure otherwise than through the sequence of events. The qualified expression-----hardly ever-----is employed, because to this rule there are real exceptions. Thus we can be certain beforehand as to what God intends to do in the future, if He has been pleased to inform us. One may also acquire this knowledge by presentiment, by conjecture, or surmise, either from the actual trend of affairs, or from wise precautions taken, or from imprudences committed. But in general the Divine good-pleasure is only revealed by the course of events which ordinarily lie beyond our prevision. Even during the actual occurrence of events God's will for us may remain obscure. For instance, He sends us sickness, spiritual aridity, or some other such trial. This, we know, is His present good-pleasure. But for how long? And what is to be the issue? We know not.
Secondly, it is always in our power either by obedience to conform to the signified will or to withdraw ourselves therefrom by disobedience. For by this will God ordains to place in our hands life and death, and leaves us to choose, until the day of judgment, between submission to His law and transgression. By His will of good-pleasure, on the contrary, He disposes of us as our Sovereign Master. Without consulting us, often even against our wishes, He puts us in the position He has chosen, and under the obligation of discharging the duties thereof. It remains in our power indeed to satisfy this obligation or not, to conform ourselves to the Divine good-pleasure or to revolt against it; but whether we like it or not, we have no choice save to submit to the sequence of events, the course of which can be arrested by no earthly power. Thus, as Supreme Ruler and Judge, God restores order and punishes sin; as Father and Saviour, He reminds us of our dependence, and endeavours to recall us to the paths of duty as often as we wander out of them and lose our way.
Thirdly, from what has been said it follows that God demands obedience to His signified will as an effect of our own free choice and determination. In order to observe a commandment or a point of rule, to produce acts of the theological or moral virtues, we require no doubt a secret grace which forestalls and assists us, a grace which we can always obtain by prayer and fidelity. But the will of God being clearly indicated, when the moment for its fulfillment arrives, we have to act by our own free determination; there is no need to wait for a sensible movement of grace or for a special motion of the Holy Spirit, whatever the Semi-Quietists, ancient or modern, may say to the contrary effect. On the other hand, if there is question of the will of good-pleasure, we must wait until God declares it by the course of events. Before this is done, we cannot tell what He requires of us. But then we understand what that is clearly enough: submission to His good-pleasure in the first place, and next the discharge of the duties appertaining to such or such a position chosen for us by Him.
In relation to this point, St. Francis de Sales makes a very true remark: "There are some cases," he writes, "where we have to unite the signified will of God to the will of His good-pleasure." As an example, he brings forward the case of a sick person. Besides submission to Divine Providence, such a one has to fulfill the special duties incumbent on the sick, viz., he must practise patience and abnegation, and obey with constant fidelity all the prescriptions of the signified will, apart from the exceptions and dispensations which his malady justifies.
The holy Doctor insists much upon this point, because in such circumstances, "so long as the Divine good-pleasure remains unknown to us, we should attach ourselves with all our strength to the signified will, accomplishing with the greatest care whatever belongs to its object. But the moment the will of good-pleasure becomes apparent we must render to it at once our loving obedience, always prepared to submit in things pleasant or otherwise, in life or in death, in everything, in short, that is not manifestly opposed to God's signified will, for this takes the precedence." 6
This doctrine may seem somewhat dry. Nevertheless, the reader should understand it thoroughly and bear it well in mind, because it will help to illustrate the questions which are to follow.
1. We shall explain further on how man, even by the sinful abuse of his liberty, so far from frustrating the the designs of God, really concurs to their realization.
2. St. Francis de Sales, Amour de Dieu, I, viii, c. iii.
3. Idem, Entret., xv, et Amour de Dieu, I, v à ix.
4. Amour de Dieu, I, viii, c. x à xiii; et Entret., xv.
5. Idem, Entret., xv.
6. Amour de Dieu, I, ix, c. vi; Entret., ii et xv passim. [Of course, God's good-pleasure cannot be really opposed to His signified will. Where we find what appears to be such opposition wecan be sure that one or other will has been misinterpreted.-----Translator.]