Conformity of the Human Will to the Divine

"The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away . . . blessed be the name of the Lord."
Job 1: 21


Book Three:

Chapter One: How Great Tranquility of Mind Conformity
of the Human Will to the Divine Produces

I HAVE pointed out how we may recognize the Divine Will, and in what way we can unite our own to it. And now I must proceed to show what advantage follows if the human will is ever most closely united to the Divine.

1. So bountiful is God in riches and gifts, that not only has He decreed to bless us with never-ending felicity, but as though anticipating the day of Eternity, and in order to make us more ready and eager, He sends from His Own table a cup of the Heavenly Feast, and bids us taste a drop, at least, of eternal happiness. And so not even in the foul hospital of this mortal flesh is there wanting a foretaste, as it were, of that great and eternal banquet. Even in this lower world there is a certain kind of rest: even here there are consolations sent from Heaven. Nor is there need of any great outlay to attain them: the only thing required is a will conformed to the Divine. S. Peter had scarcely tasted a drop of Heavenly happiness on Mount Tabor when straightway he exclaims, -----"It is good for us to be here." He might have been thought already to be inebriated with this nectar, for "he knew not what he said." (Mark IX. 4, 5) It is too soon, O Peter, to expect this Heavenly Food and Drink: in a better place they will be given to you, but not yet.

S. John, in the Apocalypse, says:-----"There was silence in Heaven, as it were for half an hour." (Apoc. VIII. 1) And here that kind of repose is signified, according to the interpretation of S. Gregory, which they attain in this world who desire to fulfill the Divine Will as it is done in Heaven; and on this account live, as it were, in the very entrance-hall of Heaven. David, panting for this, says,-----"Who will give me wings like a dove: and I will fly, and be at rest." (Ps. LIV. 7) And whither will he fly? To the most sweet contemplation of the Divine Will, which, when any one has reached, he at last begins to breathe freely, and to rest calmly. For nothing does he seek with such ardent prayers as this one thing,-----"Thy Will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven." Among the things which procure the greatest peace and tranquillity of mind this certainly is reckoned first, viz. to strive and aspire in all our desires towards constant obedience to the Divine Will. And so that excellent writer, Thomas a Kempis (Imit. Christ. III. 23), gives this precept,-----"Desire always and pray that the will of God may be entirely fulfilled in thee. Behold, such an one entereth within the borders of peace and rest." Whosoever, therefore, desires with that holy King to flyaway and be at rest, may at once be borne on high with these wings and achieve wonderful things.

2. A writer of undoubted credit makes mention of a certain Religious whose clothes, if they were merely touched, restored many to health, so that he began to be held in veneration by the sick, and in admiration by his brethren; but all the while no single virtue seemed to shine conspicuously in him, for he spent his life in a Monastery, like the rest, and did not afflict himself with any extraordinary austerities. About this one thing alone he was accustomed to show the utmost solicitude, never to will anything but that which God willed. And so when he very often cured people without the aid of drugs, and was asked by the Superior what was the reason of it, he used to reply that he himself was surprised, and was filled with shame, because he scarcely equalled others in fasting and prayer, much less surpassed them. "It is as you say," replied the Superior, "we know that you are a man of cheerful disposition, and that in other things you are not better than the rest of us." At the same time he began to make minute inquiries, and to ask many questions, and to try to unlock the secret chamber of his soul. And then the Religious said,-----" I have good reason to think that this favour is shown to me by God, because I have so conformed myself to the Divine Will that I should never wish to make a single movement in opposition to that Will. And not only do I not fear that things will ever be in such perplexity as that I should willingly lose my confidence or complain, but no amount of prosperity will, as I think, so far beguile me as that I should on that account allow myself to be filled with immoderate joy. For I accept all things, without distinction, from the Hand of God; nor do I desire that what happens should be done according to my own will: but I desire that all things should be done as they are done. And so nothing affects me with pleasure or pain, nothing disturbs me, nor does anything make me happy, except this single thing-----the one and only Will of God. Therefore, in all my prayers, this one thing I ask, that the Divine Will may always be most perfectly fulfilled in me, and in all created things." The Superior was exceedingly astonished at this reply, and said,-----"Tell me, I pray, what sort of feeling you lately experienced, and whether you did not take it to heart as much as the rest of us, when a miscreant set fire to our House, and when the stalls, and the barn, and so much corn, and so many cattle, were burnt-----an almost irreparable loss?" To which the Monk replied,-----"I would wish you to know, reverend Father, that I felt no grief on that account:, for it is my fixed habit to thank God for such things; since I am perfectly certain that whatever happens is done through the Permission of Divine Providence, and that it is entirely for our advantage. Therefore I feel no anxiety as to whether we have little or much for sustaining life. I trust in God, Who can as well support anyone of us on a crust of bread as with a whole loaf. And so I live happily and cheerfully." Upon this the Superior tried to raise various objections, and to press the Monk with all kinds of questions, in order that he might thus disclose, in an agreeable way, the hidden feelings of his soul. After many such attempts the Monk replied:-----"Through the daily oblation of myself to the Divine Will I have come to such a state of feeling, that if I knew beforehand that I was to be cast down to Hell by an immutable Decree of God, I would yet not so much as desire to resist it, if it were only permitted me at the same time to know that it thus seemed good to God, and that He so willed. Nay more, if it were in my power to rescind that Divine Decree by saying the Lord's Prayer once only, I would not dare to do it, but would rather offer up these two prayers to God-----That He would continue to fulfill in me His most Just and Holy Will; and that He would grant me this one grace,-----that for all Eternity I might be restrained from thinking anything contrary to the Divine Will." The Superior was horrified at these words, and almost turned to stone. A silence ensued on both sides. At length he said,-----"Go, good Father, go, and remain as firm as you can in your purpose. You have found a Heaven this side of Heaven; and on this account you can exemplify to us a grace granted but to a very few. It is a marvellous state of freedom to be capable of being disturbed by no one, and of being injured by no one! He who absolutely conforms himself to the Divine Will dwells in a fortress of perfect repose." 

3. And so the Superior dismissed the Monk, being buried all the while in profound astonishment, and thus began to reason with himself:-----"Now I see clearly how it is that, this man, whom people were wont to esteem an object of ridicule, has this gift of healing. This wonderful union with the Divine Will carries him up to such an amazing height. And how could God condemn a man like this to eternal flames? It is utterly repugnant to Infinite Goodness. And in truth I am constrained to acknowledge that it is neither a long nor a difficult journey to this height of most enduring tranquillity. For there is no need here of extraordinary austerity of life, nor is the struggle to be maintained with long fastings and watchings. That one noble determination TO WILL accomplishes all this." But this resolution TO WILL must be renewed every day, and there must be a firm resolve not to allow anything which is contrary to the Divine Will. "And so," says S. Chrysostom (Serm. de Zach.), "to will makes to be able, just as not to will makes not to be able. Great is the force of the will which makes us able to do that which we will, and not to be able to do that which we will not."

But if in the morning a man commends himself to God in this way,-----"O my Lord, and my God, I offer myself to Thee to fulfill all Thy Good-pleasure; this day I will knowingly and purposely do nothing contrary to Thy Will,"-----and yet this same man, on the very same day, either yields to forbidden acts of profligacy, or rashly puts himself in the way of other occasions to sin, then he must be thought to be making a mock of God, and to hold out in one hand bread, but in the other a scorpion: and so to promise that he will be perfectly obedient to the Divine Will, and yet all the while be meditating designs against the money, or reputation and good-name of others, willingly to admit envy into his soul, not to restrain himself from anger, but deliberately to court it-this is to trifle with God, and to spur on vices when they move too slowly, and to open the door to them when they have scarcely yet asked to be admitted. And what sort of mark of love is this? It is just like,-----"I love you, but take this blow from me." Or,-----"I cannot endure to be separated from you, and yet, when opportunity serves, on a narrow mountain path, I will hurl down with my hand into the abyss beneath the very same person whom just before I flattered with my words." But we are wont to excuse our conduct with words of such utter indolence as,-----''I could not help it." But S. Chrysostom (Serm. de Zach.) says in reply:-----"No one will be able to be excused, as if he willed, but was not able; since it is plain that he was not able, because he was not willing; so that the unwilling may be condemned by the example of the willing, and the willing be rewarded, because he performed what he willed."

4. That conversation, then, between the two Religious is not hard to be understood, and we are constrained to confess that the way to such a height of tranquillity is not barred against anyone, and that the door to this paradise is not shut against anyone; he who is capable of this one thing,-----to will that which God wills,-----has entered it already. None are repelled, of whatever rank, or sex, or age. But there are two points specially in the conversation which has been related, full of such wonderful instruction, that to have fairly mastered them is already to have gained the palm of victory; First, to be most thoroughly convinced that whatever happens is done by Divine Providence, which disposes all things to its own end and happiness, as it has from all eternity pleased the most secret Judgment of God.

Secondly, to do what is in one's power to ascribe all things to Divine Providence with the fullest confidence, to live contented with one's own condition, not to inquire about another person's state, and not to envy another his happier lot. These are the qualities which lead us into a fortress of invincible tranquillity; this is the panoply of all virtues. But they never put this armour on who love the fleeting things of this life, as if they were their own, and were perpetual; or who wish to be looked up to on their account, and who do not trust enough in Divine Providence. Such as these collapse at the touch of the lightest injuries; they lie and mourn when false and fleeting pleasures desert their minds, which are vain and childish, and ignorant of all solid pleasure. But the man who does not allow himself to be inflated by prosperity, nor depressed by adversity, but trusts most fully in Divine Providence, retains a soul of well-tried firmness, which is invincible against either condition, and is defended with the panoply of all virtues. In a single word-----he wills that which God wills.