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 Two: Whether or No  It Can Be That One Should Never be Sad, and Whether this State
Is to be Brought About in the Same Way in Which We Conform Our Will to the Divine

SOLOMON, a very ocean and prodigy of human wisdom, fearlessly declared,-----"Whatsoever shall befall the just man, it shall not make him sad." (Prov. XII. 21.) That wisest of kings is speaking of casual things which befall a person of upright mind contrary to his will, just as if he said,-----"Voluntary evils, such as sins and injuries, make a man anxious, however good he may be, and afflict him with grief; but those freaks of fortune, such as loss of wealth or honour, failure of health, and death of those who are dear, do not so much afflict and torment an upright man, as to prevent him from very often reckoning such things to be benefits, and not consider them evils, but believe them to be for the exercise of his patience, and give God thanks for them, as is right. For to an upright mind every calamity is an occasion of virtue."

And that a just man may receive external evils of any kind with steadfast and cheerful mind S. Paul gives the most abundant testimony:-----"I am filled with comfort, I exceedingly abound with joy in all our tribulation." (2 Cor. VII. 4.) Not merely in hunger or thirst, not only in bonds or stripes, but in all troubles and difficulties,-----"In ALL our tribulation." Nor am I affected with merely a passing joy, he would say, but-----"I am filled with comfort, I exceedingly abound with joy!" even when I am beaten with rods, when I am stoned, when I suffer shipwreck. S. Martin, Bishop of Tours, was never seen, during a period of many years, by Severus Sulpicius either to be angry or sorrowful, but always calm and self-possessed. And thus in truth "whatsoever shall befall the just man, it shall not make him sad." S. Chrysostom (In 2 Cor. Hom. I) entirely confirms this when he says,-----"There is nothing miserable, save the offending against God; but this apart, neither afflictions, nor conspiracies, nor any other thing has power to grieve the right-minded soul; but like as a little spark, if you cast it into a mighty deep you presently put it out, so does even a total and excessive sorrow, if it light on a good conscience, easily die away and disappear." And the same Doctor of the Golden-mouth, in order to bring the matter more clearly before our eyes, compares the mind to the sky, and says,-----"The sky is higher than showers and storms. It is obscured, indeed, with clouds, and is thought to suffer, but it suffers nothing at all. And in the same way we too, even though we are thought to suffer, suffer nothing; that is to say, we are thought to be obscured with sadness, as if with clouds, but we are not made sad." S. Ambrose (D.. Off. III. 5) also says,-----"Granted, that in such things, that is to say, in labours, there is some degree of bitterness. Yet what grief does not virtue hide? For I should not deny that the sea is deep, because its shore is shallow; nor that the sky is bright, because it is sometimes covered with clouds; nor that the earth is fruitful, because in some places there is only barren gravel; nor that crops are abundant, because they occasionally have wild oats intermingled with them. And in the same way believe that the harvest of a good conscience is sometimes interrupted by a bitter grief; but yet if any adversity or sorrow befall the sheaves of a blessed life, it is hidden, like the wild oats; or like the bitterness of the darnel is overcome by the sweetness of the good corn." Therefore "whatsoever shall befall the just man, it shall not make him sad." He will feel sadness, but will not yield to it. The sky will be covered with clouds, but will not be disturbed in its serenity. Darnel will mingle with the wheat, but will not harm it. To be insensible to one's own evils is not the part of any man; to be unable to bear them is not the part of a good man.

1. But it is not only Christian wisdom that receives this, for even to the ancients such vigour of soul was not unknown. Truly enough did the Bard of Venusium sing (HOR. Carm. III. Ode 3):-----"A man who is just and firm of purpose neither the frenzy of citizens inciting him to wrong, nor the look of a threatening tyrant, shakes from his steadfast resolution. If the crumbling world totters to its fall, the ruins will beat against a fearless man." Yes, let all things be thrown into utter confusion, let the sky itself fall, and beneath this crumbling mass the heart which trusts in God will not fear. And most abundant are the promises which may fortify such a heart beforehand. "Touch ye not My anointed" (Ps. CIV. 15), exclaims God, those, that is to say, whom I have anointed with the oil of My Grace. And truly is it said,-----"The souls of the just are in the Hand of God, the torment of death shall not touch them." (Wisd. III. 1) And again,-----"He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of My eye." (Zach. 11.8.) And S. John bears record (1 Ep. V. 18),-----"We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not (that is to say, not violating charity by deadly sin); but the generation of God preserveth him, and the wicked one toucheth him not," with such power, that is to say, as to be able to overcome him.

Sennacherib, King of Assyria, besieged all the cities of Juda, but he was not able to take Jerusalem; nay, he did not even lay siege to it, or see it. Isaias distinctly declares:-----"Thus saith the Lord concerning the king of the Assyrians, He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow into it, nor come before it with shield, nor cast a trench about it." (Isaias XXXVII. 33) And so the just man, whose law is the Will of God, is perfectly impregnable:-----"Whatsoever shall befall the just man, it shall not make him sad." Even though pain racks all his limbs, although poverty pinches him, although a thousand troubles press upon him, yet with erect and lofty soul he binds himself closely to God, and even then conforms himself entirely to the Divine Will. And why should he not be able to do this? He has the arms of love free-----arms which can never be bound by any fetters, if he wills that they should oot be bound, arms which will cleave to the Divine Will with an eternal embrace, if he only desires it.

It is related of a man of great learning and piety, that, when he was in the utmost difficulties, he was accustomed to say------"Hail, thou most bitter sorrow! Hail, thou that art full of grace and blessing !" And what is tRis but with Socrates the philosopher to drink the hemlock even with a smile? Or let me rather say, what is it but with the Apostle Andrew to embrace the cross, saluting it even at a distance? In this way, in truth, we salute the hedge (as the saying is) on account of the garden; and for the sake of the fruit we love thetree also.

2. But you may object that this is the way we talk in the schools, but that we live differently at home. Hunger, you say, disgrace, loss of goods, and painful diseases please no one, since they assail him so fiercely; and the man must be made of iron whose cheerfulness such battering-rams as these do not break down.

But if you will allow me to say so, you seem to be akin to the friends of Job, to whose faces he said,-----"You are all troublesome comforters; my eye poureth out tears to God." (Job XVI. 2. 21) It pours out tears; I deny it not; and this is not pleasure: but it pours them out to God; and this is solid joy. "God will  not cast away the simple nor reach out His hand to the evildoer: until thy mouth be filled with laughter, and thy lips with rejoicing." (Job VIII. 20, 21) "Have pity on me, have pity on me, at least you my friends, because the Hand of the Lord hath touched me." (Job XIX. 21) To be smitten by this Hand is more blessed than to be caressed by any other. This Hand of the Lord works a thorough cure, even by the touch alone. When it smites it brings not disease, but health, not death, but life. This was Job's reply to his friends, and this is what I say to you. Why do we not, then, award to God at least the same amount of praise which we bestow on a surgeon, when he has skilfully opened a tumour with the knife, and we say,-----"Well done, my good sir, from this wound which you have made I look for health." We praise a physician also when, with most beneficial effect, he mixes a viper with his antidote to snake's poison. And why do we find fault with God if He mingles with His medicines human mischieJ and injuries? Let us be assured that He has a reason for what He does; even though there is no evidence of it to us. But meanwhile, we who are so full of complaints, murmur secretly against God,-----"O Lord, how sharply does thy Hand strike me! Thy Arms are too strong to beat me I" But do not charge God, my Christian friend, that He is too strong to chastise you. It is you who are too delicate to endure punishment. Only if it pleases you, must the wind be bitter; if anyone approaches you to let out some putrid matter, you immediately think that you are going to be killed. "The just is as an everlasting foundation. The just shall never be moved." (Prov. x. 2.5, 30) He stands at length in that place whence nothing can drive him away, and where nothing can alarm him:-----"Whatsoever shall befall the just man, it shall not make him sad."

3. Let the soul, then, carry itself high over all difficulties to God; resting on the Divine Will' in such a way as that things which casually happen neither elevate nor crush it, and so that its true pleasure may be the contempt of pleasure. And the soul which is thus I unfettered, which is fearless and firm, which is independent of ignoble fear, blind lust, or foul desires, to which God and the Divine Will is its one good, and its one evil declension from God and the Divine Will, such a soul as this, I say, shall not be made sad. When it is thus firmly fixed there must of necessity follow, whether it wills or not, perpetual cheerfulness, and a joy which itself is deep, and which springs from the deep. Other kinds of joy are either base or insecure, and altogether independent of man. And those with which the multitude are beguiled have but a slight and! superficial pleasure. Whatever joy is of foreign growth wants solid foundation. But far otherwise is it with the joy of a just man, for that springs from himself, and is trustworthy and sure, and is contin"' I ually increasing, and remains even to the end, observe,-----remains even to the end. And this is evident even to reason itself, for virtue alone bestows joy, which is PERPETUAL and unshaken; since even if any difficulty arises it only comes in its way like clouds, which are borne rapidly along beneath, and never entirely hide the daylight. It may be said with truth that the soul which is firmly fixed on the Divine Will resembles the condition of the Universe beyond the moon-----"Broken in its perpetual calm by no cloud" (LUCAN), since that higher and serener part of creation is neither swept by clouds, nor driven to tempest, nor lashed into whirlwinds, but is free from every disturbing element. And in the same way the soul which is constantly fixed on the Divine Will is tranquil, and from being placed in a calm retreat, is equable and composed; nothing that happens will sadden it. Not, however, that the just man will be perpetually in the excitement of Society, or the distractions of the world; his joy is calm and secret, and is joined with gravity, and even with severity: for it consists in nothing but internal repose, and peace, and concord of soul, and greatness of mind combined with meekness. But such qualities as these are wanting to the wicked and to fools; for with them their very lusts rage and fight together; and in their souls there always are whole legions and encampments, as it were, of foul and bitter thoughts.

4. Thus, then, although the just man feels afflictions (for no amount of virtue deprives a man of the sense of feeling), yet he does not dread them, but looks down from a lofty height upon his sorrows, being altogether unconquered by them. The Roman philosopher (SENECA, de Prov. 2) says most truthfully,-----"No evil can happen to a good man;"-----just as if he were an swering an objector;-adversity, I grant you, may befall him, but evil never. Here, therefore, you are mistaken. For just as so many rivers which flow into the sea do not alter the taste of its water, nor indeed make any sensible change in it, so the violent assault of adversity does not affect the mind of a brave man. He remains firmly fixed in his position, and, happen what will, he colours it according to his taste; for he is beyond the control of all external things: nay, more than this, he is not even conscious of their power, but masters them, and raises himself up so as quietly and calmly, to meet the difficulties which advance in his path. All adverse things he regards as discipline. And such a man in truth was Job; such was King David. "For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death," he says, "I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me." (Ps. XXII. 4.) "If God be for us, who is against us?" (Rom. VIII. 31) "If God is for me," Paulinus used to say, "then even a spider's web will be to me like a triple wall; but if He is against me, then this same web, so slender as it is, will be able to restrain me better than any wall." Of a truth,-----"The just cried, and the Lord heard them, and delivered them out of all their troubles." (Ps. XXXIII. 18) David proclaimed to the world:-----"I sought the Lord, and He heard me: and He delivered me from all my troubles." (Ps. XXXIII. 5) Therefore,-----"Blessed be God, Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we also may be able to comfort them who are in all distress, by the exhortation wherewith we also are exhorted by God." (2 Cor. I. 3, 4) Whatever, in fine, happens, it will not make the just sad. For as no one could touch the apple of Christ's eye, but he by whom Christ willed that it should be touched, so it is a most certain truth, that not so much as a hair can be taken away from the , just man unless God so wills it. But if he knows what is pleasing to God, he immediately exclaims,-----" 'Thy will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven!' Whatever befalls me according to the Divine Will will not make me sad." And therefore Isaias the prophet sends out messengers, as it were, to all men of upright mind, and bids them say to them,-----"Say to the just man that it is well." (Isaias III. 10) But tell me, I pray you, O prophet, suppose that this man's beloved wife has died; nevertheless, he replies, say to him, "it is well." But suppose his house is burnt down; still say, "it is well." But he has lost his office and all his interest: "it is well." Or he has experienced a great falling away of honour: "it is well." He has already witnessed the death of all his children: still say to him, "it is well." Or he has lost an immense sum of money: "it is well," -----for he himself would have been lost if his money had not been lost before him.

Jacob slept in the open air; the earth was his couch, and a stone his pillow. It was a rugged sleep, I ween. But he saw Angels ascending and descending, and the Lord Himself standing above the ladder. (Gen. XXVIII. 10-13) And so to many people all things seem stony enough; but they know that Angels, who never slumber, are watching around them, and they behold God the constant spectator of their afflictions, so thatnothing which happens to them makes them sad: -----"The just are bold as a lion." (Prov. XXVIII. 1) Alphonsus, the celebrated King of Naples and Aragon, when he was quite an old man, used to read Livy and Caesar every day, and translated the Epistles of Seneca into the Spanish tongue, and (lest you should think, good reader, that he was versed in profane writers alone) also read the whole Bible, Old and New Testament, together with commentaries on it, fourteen times, and this not in a hurried way either, but line by line. This king, I say, so justly famed for his piety and learning, has left the following Divine memorial to posterity, among many other sayings. Once upon a time he was asked whom he should call happy in this world, and he replied,-----"I judge that man to be perfectly happy in this life who commits himself with entire devotion and affection to the Lord his God, and approves and receives whatever befalls him in no other way than as what is done by God." And may we not say that this is an oracle, and that it is a voice which comes to us from Heaven? An Angel could not have spoken more truly or devoutly.

5. Heraclides of Alexandria (Paradisus, I.) relates that he went to see S. Dorotheus, who, for sixty years, had lived a life of the greatest sanctity in a cave. Having been sent by him to a fountain to draw some water, he saw an aspic swimming in the pool, and instantly returned with the pitcher empty. Dorotheus smiled, and after looking at him for some time, said, as he gently shook his head,-----"If God were to allow the devil to throw aspics into every well, would you, then, abstain altogether from drink ?" Presently he came out of his cave and went to the fountain, where he drew some water, and having made the sign of the Cross over it, he said, while drinking the health of Heraclides,-----"Where the Cross is, there the devices of Satan are powerless." The just is bold as a lion, and will be free from terror. "Whatsoever shall befall the just man, it shall not make him sad."

But in order that what is here related in words may be exemplified in act, S. Chrysostom (Hom. v. ad. Pop.) furnishes us with two pieces of advice. First of all,-----"When pains of different kinds are experienced in the body, it generally happens that one is less acutely felt than the other. For example, if a person has a finger which has been injured and is festering, and at the same time is suffering violent pain in his stomach or head, he says nothing about his finger, but complains of the pain he feels in his stomach or head. And in the same way," says S. Chrysostom, "if loss of money or of honour and reputation, or any other calamity, encourages you to grieve, then excite in yourself contrition for your sins, and begin to mourn over them. Meditate upon the unspeakable insults and pains under- gone by Christ when scourged at the pillar, dragged along through the streets, and fastened on the Cross, and then recognize the punishment due to your sins. This sorrow will prevent the other from being felt, or will certainly mitigate it if it is felt." And so Christ says,-----"Fear ye not them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him That can destroy both body and soul into Hell." (Matt. X. 28.) Our Lord desires that fear should be vanquished by fear, and that the one should be consumed by the other, so that "whatsoever shall befall the just man, it shall not make him sad."

Secondly, a plaster must be applied to a part which is injured and not to a sound limb, nor to a part for which it is not adapted. Eye-salve is good for the eyes, but not. for the arms. A pill is meant to be swallowed, and not to be used as a bandage for the foot. A cataplasm is to be applied to a sore, and not to the sound flesh near it. And precisely in the same way sorrow does not cure loss of money, or honour, or disease, or any ill of this kind. Wear yourself out, if you choose, with grief, do nothing but weep, and you will not be one whit the better; you will not bring back your money, or honour, or health by weeping, but you will increase your loss and pain. And the reason is this. Sorrow is the proper remedy for sin. By this antidote is that plague to be cured. Apply this cataplasm to that sore. Grieve that you have sinned, not that you have lost your money. And with great wisdom does S. Chrysostom (Hom. v. ad. Pop.) admonish us of this when he says,-----"Has anyone lost his money? He is overpowered with grief, but has not thereby repaired his loss. Has another lost his child? He has mourned, but has not brought the dead to life again. Has another been scourged? He has grieved, but has not done away with the disgrace. Has another been attacked with a most painful disease? He has lamented, and yet has not removed the disease, but has only made it the harder to cure. Do you perceive that sorrow profits none of these? But has anyone sinned? He has grieved, and has blotted out his sin, and has discharged his debt." Most plainly does S. Paul say,-----"You were made sorrowful according to God, that you might suffer damage by us in nothing. For the sorrow that is according to God worketh penance steadfast unto salvation; but the sorrow of the world worketh death." (2 Cor. VII. 9, 10) Sorrow, therefore, is both a medicine and a poison, according to the way in which you use it. Ten thousand times, then, do I repeat,-----"Whatsoever shall befall the just man, it shall not make him sad."