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 Five:

Chapter Seven: How Great the Providence of God is in Reference
to the Necessities of Life

ALL things, it is true, are in the Hand of God, and yet a certain person has not said amiss that He has three keys in His Own keeping, which He entrusts to no one. One key is that which lets out rain, wind, snow, and such-like influences of the sky. Another is that which opens the graves, and calls the dead to life again. The third is that which belongs to food and everything necessary to the support of life. But if God were to close these receptacles whence our supplies are derived, who could open them? Therefore He is the Storekeeper and Dispenser of all things; and whatever is needful for the support of life must be sought from Him.

 1. Mark the Anchorite used to say,-----"If a man trusts not in God in these transitory things, how much less will he trust in Him in those things which relate to eternity!" And the first argument which our Lord uses to shame our want of Trust in Him, is,-----"Is not the life more than the meat, and the body more than the raiment?" [Matt. VI. 25] Here, then, by the most cogent arguments, He removes from the mind that pernicious solicitude about food and clothing, and teaches us that we should trust alone in the benign Providence of God. For if God is so provident and bountiful in those things which seem to be more weighty, why do we charge Him with forgetfulness, or want of care, in other things which are of lesser moment? If He gave us the body, why should he refuse us clothing? If He bestows on us a horse, why should He withhold the bridle? Is not the life itself more precious than that by which it is supported? And is not the body of more consequence than that with which it is covered? Most undoubtedly. He, therefore, Who gave life and a body to us, without any solicitude on our part, or rather when as yet we had no existence at all, will without doubt also give things for the support of the life and body, especially since He Himself wills that our life and body shall stand in need of such things. If then He of His Own free will gave that which is greater, He proclaimed that He was both able and willing also to give that which is less. He will not, however, give to us while we are in a state of idleness, since He did not create us for this; but He will give to us when we are free from anxious care, for He wills that this should be cast on Himself. God when challenging Job, inquires,-----"Who provideth food for the raven, when her young ones cry to God, wandering about, because they have no meat?" [Job XXXVIII. 41] And this same argument derived from birds our Lord enforces when He says,-----"Consider the ravens: for they sow not, neither do they reap; neither have they storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much are you more valuable than they?" [Luke XII. 24] And often inculcating the same truth, our Divine Master says,-----"Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore, better are you than many sparrows." [Matt. X. 29-31] And in order to make this as clear as possible He does not bring forward the children of Israel, who were fed in the wilderness for forty years, neither does He commend to us Elias, who was sustained by ravens, nor yet does He set before us lions, or bears, or elephants, or any large beasts of that kind, although these also are fed by Divine Providence, but the most insignificant of living things, those little birds which, since they are chiefly occupied in singing, and only take their food in the intervals, seem to be most especially free from all anxious care. And should man, who is of more value than countless birds, and who acknowledges God not only as his Lord, but as his Father, be thus distracted in mind?

And after pointing out the Providence of God in the case of birds, and the hairs of our head, our Lord proceeds to set forth how it is shown in the case of flowers. "Consider," He says, "the lilies of the field, how they grow; they labour not, neither do they spin: but I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these. And if the grass of the field, which is today, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, God doth so clothe; how much more you, O ye of little faith?" [Matt: VI. 28-30] See, then, how entirely free from anxiety are the flowers of the field about that clothing in which they glory, for all their beauty they acknowledge to be received from God alone, openly declaring that they owe nothing to human care. Now the nature of things, which is derived from the Providence of God, the industry and skill of man may imitate, but cannot rival; and so the robe of Solomon, which was exquisite in fabric, and ornamented even to a miracle, did yet in no way equal the elegance of the most insignificant flower. And do you now judge, if God clothes with such beauty the commonest flowers, which will be cut down and thrown into the fire, how much more will He clothe you who were formed by Him for immortality, and provide what is necessary not merely for covering the body, but also, if need be, for adorning it.

And to these arguments our Lord joins also a third one:
-----"Which of you, by taking thought, can add to his stature one cubit?" [Luke XII. 25] Nay, rather he will diminish it by anxiety, for here the diligence of no one will profit him: "If then ye be not able to do so much as the least thing why take ye thought for the rest?" [Luke XII. 26] If the greatest anxiety you can show does not advance so trifling a thing as that the stature of your body should increase, how will an abundance of corn and riches heaped together be able to preserve your body in life, unless the Providence of God grants a blessing? Empty and fruitless is all your labour unless God prospers it. To Him, therefore, commit the care of nourishing your body, to Him, too, the care of causing it to grow, for this He will do most fittingly and sweetly, without any assistance from your anxiety. He openeth His Hand, and filleth all living things with blessing. [Ps. CXLIV. 16]

2. Since God, therefore, provides for all things which are necessary to support life, for "He hath equally care of all," [Wisd. VI. 8] how comes it that there is so great a number of people in every place who suffer from the extremity of want? Truly does S. Chrysostom [Orat. S. de Div. et Paup.] say,
-----"Not only do poor men stand in need of the rich, but the rich need the poor, and more so than the poor need the rich." And let us imagine two cities, in one of which rich men alone live, and in the other only poor: there can be no dealings between them; for in the former there will be no mechanics or tradesmen, no tailor, baker, smith, woollen-draper, or labourer. For such callings as these the rich are not adapted. There will be no menservants or maids here; and what sort of city, then, will it be if deprived of external help? In the other there will be an abundance of those who mend shoes, make clothes, and cultivate the fields; plenty of people, in a word, who are satisfied with moderate means. But if the necessaries of life were supplied to all in abundance, what would follow? The destruction of all trades, mechanics' works and crafts of all kinds. Building, navigation, bird-catching, fishing, and trading of all sorts would go to ruin; and who would be masters, if there were none who would offer themselves as servants? Poverty, therefore, preserves the human race, and adorns it. Poverty makes men diligent and industrious. Poverty stimulates the arts. Let Poverty be banished from the world, and at the same time good manners, and nearly all virtues will be banished with it. To eat, drink, sport, act the glutton, or the wanton, and more than act the wanton, will be the chief busines of life; riot will attend upon extravagance, vice upon riches. Where there is abundance of all things, there is generally no lack of vices also. Years of plenty prove this, in which the taverns are full of drunkards and overflow with all kinds of filthiness and infamy. The Deluge is an evidence of this; its beginnings were ease and luxury; and so the life of all men was lost to every feeling of shame, and was brimming over with lusts. See, then, how great is the Providence of God, which by means of poverty draws men from wantonness to toil. Labour stimulates the best of men. Whatever object of beauty we anywhere behold was laboriously fashioned by those who were ill supplied with money, and who therefore were obliged to sell their labours. With how great Providence, moreover, does God come to our aid in poverty! "The Lord will not afflict the soul of the just with famine." [Prov. X. 3] S. Francis, when standing before the Bishop of Assisi, with nothing but a common piece of linen wrapped round him, exclaimed-----"Now can I say with perfect freedom, 'Our Father Who art in Heaven.' " He used also to give to his followers, as provision for their journey, those words of the Psalmist,-----"Cast thy care upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee." [Ps. LIV. 23] When the Roman pontiff also was inquiring about their means of support, he replied,-----"We have a poor Mother indeed, Religion, but a very rich Father." And so it is, this Father embraces His Children with such care and Providence that, when human aid fails, He ministers Divine.

S. Dominic, when founding his order, sent out two of his followers to preach. One evening they were tired, and hungry, and were sorrowfully complaining that they were among strangers, and had descended to the lowest depths of poverty in a place where no help could be expected, whereupon a certain person met them, and discovering the cause of their sorrow, addressed them as follows:
-----"You have forsaken all for the love of God, and so have showed great trust in Him, and are you now full of fear, as if you were bereft of all hope? God feeds the cattle, and will He suffer His children to perish with hunger?" Having said this he left them. They then entered a city, and after they had said their prayers in the church they were invited to supper by the curate. But another person also came up and showed great eagerness that they should become his guests; whereupon a friendly contest began between the two; and this was put an end to by a third person, a man high in authority in that place, who carried them off with him to his house as well as the curate and the other who was offering hospitality, and entertained them all sumptuously. And so our Lord says to His Own people, when they have toiled all the night,-----"Come and dine." [John XXI. 12] And yet there are times when these examples do not root out our want of Trust in God. Whatever He supplies we still fear want; in the very midst of water we are apprehensive of drought, and, unless a great abundance of everything surrounds us, we believe that much is wanting. And so the wicked thought ever and anon disturbs us,-----Where is that which you hope for? To which S. Augustine well replies,-----"Hope is not yet come to its fulfillment. An egg is something, but it is not yet a chicken."

 4. The story goes that there was once upon a time a beggar, who, when he saw his wallet full, and completely stuffed out with bread, used to say,
-----"Now I hope!" And we are very like this beggar, for we, in sooth, hope when we believe that there is a prospect of our living sumptuously for many a year to come. We, in fact, conceive hope in exact proportion to our possessions at the time.

S. Amatus was a noble mirror for all such to look into as either show impatience against Divine Providence, or silently accuse it. After he had spent thirty years in a monastery he passed a life of perfect contentment on a solitary rock, for Berinus, who was assigned as a companion to him by the brotherhood, only brought him every third day a barley loaf and a pitcher of water. This was the rule both of his food and obedience. But the evil spirit was exasperated by his abstinence. And so upon a favourable occasion, vhen the holy man was on his knees, wrestling in prayer with God, a raven flew to him, and upset the pitcher and carried off the bread; and so all the three days' stock of provisions was lost. And what did Amatus then do? Perhaps he was enraged against the raven, and cursed the greedy bird with direful imprecations, and gave vent to fierce complaints about the Providence of God, and cursed these devices of the devil? He did nothing of the kind. This is our accustomed way of talking. Raising his hands and his soul towards Heaven, he said,
-----"I give Thee thanks, O Lord JESU, because it is pleasing to Thy most Holy Will to discipline me with a longer fast. I know that this will be good for me, since nothing happens in the world without Thy Providence." Listen to this, ye querulous and unbelieving ones! Nothing is done in the world without Divine Providence, apart from which not even a leaf falls from a tree. And do you imagine that houses are burnt lown, ships sunk, fortunes lost, good names blasted, while this Providence is lulled to sleep?

Theodoret relates that S. Mresimas had two barrels, one full of wheat, and the other of oil. From these he used to give very liberally to the poor, and yet the tubs did not become empty. And God likewise has two barrels, the one full of corn and all things needful to support life, the other brimful and running over with mercy, liberality, and providence; and neither oi them can be exhausted. To these two depositories must we run when our little vessels begin to be dry. Only let us thoroughly learn this one thing, TO TRUST IN GOD, and to commend ourselves afresh to His most Holy Will.

There is an old saying among the Germans, that if we did what we ought, God would do what we wished.

Wann wir thaten was wir solten, So that Gott was wit wolten.