DIRECTORY FOR THE FIRST BOOK
I. WHOEVER desires to gather for himself the whole fruit of this work, must rightly understand the aim of each Book, properly apply the means proposed, and diligently strive to surmount the obstacles to the attainment of this aim. Wherefore, in relation to these things, we shall briefly and clearly lay down before every Book that which may serve to direct you with safety.
2. The aim of the first Book is, to teach you how to free the heart, first, from the stains of sin, after- wards from. the love of a corrupt world, and lastly, from the inordinate affection for self. And this may be understood in three ways, and reached through as many degrees.
And first, it is required that you free your soul from every mortal sin, and from the love of the world and every ill-regulated affection for yourself, so far as actually to prefer God, your Creator and Saviour, before all things; and consequently, to be unwilling, for anything whatsoever, to offend mortally the Divine Majesty.
Secondly, that you cleanse your heart from every deliberate vernal sin, and from the love of the world and the ill-regulated affection for self, so that not even to obtain all things created, nor even to preserve life itself, you would commit any deliberate venial sin.
Thirdly, that you purify yourself from those imperfections which a great fidelity to Divine grace may enable you to avoid; and that you so dispose yourself as to abhor the world, and to detest every inordinate affection for self.
Whence it follows that all, they that begin, they that are advanced, yea the perfect themselves, may profitably make use of this book and go over it again and again. For, "Believe me," says St. Bernard, "things cut off sprout forth again, what is driven off returns, what is put out is again enkindled, and what lies slumbering is again awakened. It is therefore but little to have pruned once, the pruning-knife should be applied, yea, if possible, always; if you are in earnest, you will always find something which needs pruning."
Here it must carefully be observed, that a perfect cleansing of the heart is a matter of the utmost importance, whereon almost everything in the spiritual life depends. The chief reason why there are so few who find the path of virtue easy and pleasant; so few who continue to advance readily and perseveringly; so few who attain to the Divine union; so few, in fine, who even in this life enjoy the good things which the Lord has here promised to the clean of heart,-----is, because so few do perfectly cleanse their interior. Many there are who labor much and make little progress: they are often obliged to begin anew; they scarcely, or almost never, taste the sweetness of virtue. They carry the cross, but do not experience its unction. And, although they may at last be saved, yet for all eternity, they deprive God of a great glory, and themselves of an immense bliss, which they could easily have merited, had they cleansed themselves perfectly. Wherefore, there is hardly anything which the demon strives more to hinder than a complete cleansing of the heart. He suffers us quietly enough to practice virtues, and even to apply ourselves to perfection, provided we neglect purity of heart. For he knows, that in this way we will fall into delusions, and never acquire genuine and solid virtues, much less true perfection. Now, this is the common illusion, against which souls, that are not yet well purified, should especially be on their guard: They desire namely, after a superficial cleansing of the heart, forthwith to deal on terms of intimacy in the interior life with Jesus, to be entertained with Him amid the flowers of virtues, and to taste the most delicious fruits: or, which is still more dangerous, neglecting perfect purity of heart, they aspire to the enjoyment of internal union with Jesus, so full of love and sweetness. There are other illusions, to which souls that enter upon the spiritual life are exposed; for example: they practice external
mortification even to excess; they wish,-----with a mind in some manner interiorly stubborn, and through a certain violence,-----to be freed from something that is irksome to them, or to acquire that for which they long; they keep up fear, even unto down-heartedness. But these things, although dangerous, are not so common nor baneful, as that whereby a person is induced to overlook interior purity.
3. To this, therefore, you must direct all your endeavors. First, having well understood that you are called to true bliss everlasting, learn, as perfectly as possible, all the malice and all the evil of sin, and feel in some manner, in your soul all the deformity caused in you by sin; secondly, acquire as perfect a knowledge as possible of the vanity and wickedness of the world, and comprehend most intimately the lamentable fate of those that suffer themselves, of their own accord, to be forever utterly destroyed by the world; thirdly, have a true knowledge of your own self,-----what you have made yourself through your offenses, how miserable you are of yourself, and to what you tend of
To attain to all this, it is not enough to read the Book in a hasty manner, but you should meditate with attention and diligence on what is said, and reduce it to practice. For, in this work things are not so much unfolded as pointed out: first, in order that you may reflect thereon, and endeavor to develop and apply the same to yourself; secondly, that you may stir up the affections of your heart, and ask of the Lord whatever you may need, according to the state of your soul; lastly, that you may secure an inward relish and gather more abundant fruit. For, by thus meditating, by pious desires, by earnest prayer, you shall understand the matter more clearly, and apply it with more profit; and, in return, the Lord, according to the generosity of His Heart, will reward your endeavors, and bless them with His grace. All which is to be understood as referring not to the first Book only, but to the others likewise.
4. There are two methods of using this first Book: each of which is perfectly safe and easy, as is proved by the experience of very many, even uneducated persons, who are wont to spend whole hours in meditation, without weariness and with much fruit.
The first method is mainly suitable for beginners, who, not yet accustomed to mental prayer, cannot keep up a continuous reasoning; nothing, however, hinders others from employing this same method, particularly when they do not feel themselves properly disposed to make deeper reflections.
First, therefore, recite a preparatory prayer, which may always be the same, and as follows: "Gather unto Thee, Lord Jesus, all my senses; cleanse my heart from all evil and unbecoming thoughts; enlighten my understanding, inflame my heart, that, during this prayer, I may employ attentively and devoutly the senses of my body and the powers of my soul, for Thy glory and my salvation; and that, through Thy most Sacred Heart, I may deserve to be heard in the sight of Thy Divine Majesty. Amen. Lord Jesus, in unison with that Divine intention of Thy Heart, whereby Thou didst pay to God the tribute of Thy praise, I offer to Thee this prayer."
After which, place yourself before the Lord, in some appropriate mystery, or as dwelling in the holy Tabernacle.
Finally, beg fervently of Him the fruit of the prayer which you are about to make. These three things constitute the beginning or introduction of the meditation, in whichsoever manner it is made.
Next, if you make use of the first method of prayer, first, read slowly and attentively one or more verses, according as you may find it necessary or useful; secondly, consider how true that is which you have just now read; how true all the Saints deemed it, as well as all they that were anxious to deliver their souls from everlasting perdition, and to save them for eternity; how true you yourself will think it at the moment of death; thirdly, examine yourself, endeavoring to discover what has hitherto been, in practice, your conduct concerning it; if good, return thanks to the Lord, and ascribe to Him all the glory, and do not neglect to beg for grace to be enabled to persevere in well-doing, yea, to act even better and more perfectly; if, on the contrary, evil, grieve, excite an act of contrition, ask pardon; fourthly, form a good resolution of correcting yourself, or making progress for the better: select means adapted to this purpose, and ask for grace to execute your resolve. This being done, if the allotted time for meditation is not elapsed, pass over to other verses, following the same order.
But if you make use of the second method of meditation, after the aforesaid introduction, 1, exercise your memory, either by reading or recalling to mind the matter of the meditation; 2, exercise the understanding, first, by reasoning on the subject of the meditation, proceeding through causes and effects; secondly, by investigating what practical applications can be drawn therefrom; thirdly, what reasons or incitements urge you to this; fourthly, how you have acted till now; fifthly, what is to be done for the future; sixthly, what obstacles should be removed; seventhly, what means must be chosen; 3, exercise the will, first, by stirring up pious and appropriate affections and making internal acts; secondly, by forming good specific resolutions, adapted to the present state of your soul; thirdly, by earnestly imploring grace for yourself and for others.
Lastly, 1, a colloquy is made with Jesus by an outpouring of heart; 2, the concluding prayer is recited after this manner: "Lord Jesus Christ, Who didst deign, by a new favor to Thy Church, to disclose the unspeakable riches of Thy Heart, grant, I beseech Thee, that I may be able to correspond to the love of this most Sacred Heart, make atonement by worthy homage for the insults offered by thankless men to Thy most afflicted Heart, and be inspired in all things with the sentiments of the same Heart; who livest and reignest with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God world without end. Amen"; 3, finish by recommending yourself to the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, to your Angel Guardian and your holy Patrons. These three things form the end or close of every kind of meditation.
Since experience proves that the examples of the Saints exercise a wonderful and saving influence, on the hearts of sinners as well as of the just, they are frequently brought forward. But, to meditate on these with more fruit, you should consider some particular Saint or Saints, whom you choose for Patron, or to whom you entertain a special devotion, For different persons are edified and moved by different examples: thus a religious is wont to know better, and to study more, the lives of the Saints of his Order; and they that live in the world and strive to serve God, feel more devotion to those Saints whose example seems better adapted to themselves. When, therefore, the Saints are said to have done something after the example of the Heart of Jesus, or to have been distinguished in some specialty, you ought to select in your mind some particular Saint, and see what he did, and how he acted; implore his intercession with God, and recommend yourself to him. And if no Saint occurs to you at the time, you can always recall the example of the most Blessed Virgin Mary, and beg her intercession and protection.
5. Then, in order to guard against, or overcome the obstacles which the enemy of your everlasting happiness throws in your way, and which are wont to relate to conscience; you should, first, rightly understand what is meant by conscience. Now, conscience is the dictate presented through reason, which inwardly warns, or shows us, in particular cases, what is to be done or omitted, and this either under pain of sin, because it is a matter of precept; or, on account of an increase of merit, or the greater good-pleasure of God, because it is only a matter of counsel. It is called a dictate presented through reason; because it is a practical conclusion deduced from principles, known to reason, either by the light of nature, or of grace or faith. For example: My conscience tells me, that
today (Sunday) I am obliged to hear Mass. This is deduced from these implied premises: On Sundays there is an obligation of hearing Mass: but today is a Sunday; therefore, today there is an obligation of hearing Mass. But it must be remarked that an inference of this kind is secretly drawn, and presented to man, even in spite of himself: as is made manifest in those who are unwilling to listen to the voice of conscience, lest they be deterred from things wherein they unlawfully indulge, or lest they be disturbed in them. For it is altogether against their will that they hear, that conscience forbids something and condemns them. Hence it appears that conscience, when really such, is independent of man and superior to him.
He that is too prone to timidity or scrupulousness, should here carefully observe and learn, that conscience is not an agitation of the nerves, nor a representation of the fancy, nor a vague fear, nor, finally, the possibility of a case. On the other hand, he that is too inclined to laxity or to rashness, should observe, that a desire of the will, the propensity or aversion of nature, that some passion, or, lastly, some subtle artifice, is not conscience. But let them both remember, that conscience is the dictate presented through reason, or the voice of the Spirit of God, Who speaks to us inwardly by reason, as an interior organ, and makes known to us, in particular cases, His Will that commands, or His good-pleasure that counsels.
Conscience is true or right. A right conscience is that one, which shows things as they are in reality; as commanded or obliging, what is commanded; as dangerous, what is dangerous; as counseled or better, what belongs to counselor perfection. This conscience, if we follow it in such a manner that, from a holy fear of God,-----whereby like good children we dread to offend God,-----we avoid sins which destroy His friendship, or His paternal good-will towards us, is called a fair conscience. But, if we are so faithful that, at its bidding, we guard against every voluntary' defect, and are obedient to the same in all things, it is called a delicate conscience.
Again, conscience may be false or erroneous. Such is that one which shows things falsely or differently from what they are in truth. This happens, for the most part, through the fault of man, who vitiates the instrument of which the Spirit of God makes use, so that it does not transmit the Divine voice. Ignorance, the habit of sin, every inordinate passion, spoils it more or less. Or, to speak more plainly, ignorance, the habit of sin, every inordinate passion, have, each by itself, the effect of causing something false or trifling, to be assumed as one of the principles from which a practical inference, or conscience, is deduced. Whence it happens, that such a conscience is the voice, not of the Spirit of God; but of another spirit, that uses passion, or any of those other causes, to speak to man's interior.
If conscience errs by our voluntary fault, it is styled vincibly erroneous, and makes us guilty of the errors. Now, it is vincibly erroneous, through our voluntary fault, if, when we put an act, or the cause of an act, a knowledge or a doubt of an error occurs to the mind, and the obligation of a voiding the error is noticed, and when, over and above, ordinary diligence to know the truth is neglected. But, if conscience errs without such a fault on our part, it is called invincibly erroneous, and does not make us guilty in the sight of God.
To erroneous conscience belong likewise, both the scrupulous and the lax conscience, being the opposite extremes. A scrupulous conscience is that which believes it sees, and even when corrected, persists in believing, that it sees, sin where there is no sin; it errs for the most part, because a soul gives in to the imagination, to the obstinacy of her own judgment, or some passion which fetters the heart; whence, being inwardly agitated and perplexed, she sees objects differently from what they really are, or confounds one thing with another, precepts with counsels, things probable with possible, sin and its danger with the appearance or semblance of sin and danger.
A lax conscience, on the other hand, is the conscience of a soul that persuades herself that she does not see-----and, even when warned, continues to persuade herself that she does not see-----sin, or the danger of sin, where it really exists. An individual falls into this error because he has a mind which labors under culpable ignorance, or a sin to which he is habitually addicted; or because he indulges a passion by which he covets or abhors something inordinately. Whence it happens, that he who has such a conscience is blamable: because he can guard against errors by removing their cause; which he must certainly do when he sufficiently perceives the obligation of removing the same.
We should guard, with the greatest care, as well against a scrupulous, as against a lax, conscience. Both are not only dangerous, but destructive: the one, as well as the other, hinders perfection, and renders it impossible: and, what is more to be dreaded, both are wont to expose salvation itself to the danger of perdition. Wherefore, let every one be careful to have a right conscience.
But, to commit a formal sin, or a sin by which God is offended and man becomes guilty, it is necessary, first, that the act, whether internal or external, by which sin is committed, either through commission or omission, be evil or unlawful, or is considered as evil or unlawful by conscience; secondly, that his mind, when he does the act, or puts the cause of the act, advert to the moral evil of the act, or see that the act is unlawful; thirdly, that the will, whilst he possesses the internal liberty of choosing between consent and dissent, knowing that the act is evil or unlawful, freely consent thereto. For, if he does an internal or external act, the moral evil of which he does not notice, either when he does the act, or puts the cause of the act; he indeed wills or can will the act, but not as morally evil, while he does not see that the same is unlawful. For nothing is willed that is not known. Wherefore, by willing, or doing, such an act, he commits only a material sin, which is nothing else than an error of a conscience, invincibly erroneous whereby God is not offended and man not rendered guilty.
To commit a mortal sin, it is required, as not only the theologians, but the Saints also teach, first, that the internal or external act be grievously evil, or deemed grievously evil by conscience; secondly, that, when he does the act or puts the cause of the act, the mind does fully advert to the grievous evil of the act; thirdly, that the will, knowingly and freely, give its consent. If one of these three things be wanting, the sin, which would otherwise be mortal, is venial.
No one commits a formal sin in spite of his will: for man cannot sin, formally, except by his own free will. He can, however, if he so wills, through an abuse of his free will, think evil or that which is unlawful; propose or imagine it to himself, give his consent thereto, and commit sin. Moreover, the demon can, with the Divine permission, and really does, cause in him thoughts and imaginations, evil ones too, that he may entice him to give the consent of the will; but he can never force him to consent. Finally, God Himself, His good and blessed Sprits are wont to suggest thoughts, and to propose objects, but always to induce man to good: they assist his will to do good, but they never force him.
Whence it appears, that in man there is a triple kind of thoughts and emotions; the first, springing from the free will of man himself; the second, thrown in from without by the demon, the evil spirit; the third, also suggested from without, but by the good Spirit. Now then, "By their reasonings we shall know them: and the suggestion itself will make known which spirit it is that speaks" (St. Bern.)-----The following rules, which the Saints lay down for the discernment of Spirits, will help you to understand this matter:
I. To them that easily sin mortally, the evil spirit is commonly wont to suggest, or propose the
seeming delights of the flesh, sensual pleasures; that thereby he may hold them more securely in
his service, and plunge them deeper into sins and vices.
Towards such persons the good Spirit pursues the opposite course: he continually stings and disturbs their conscience; that he may render them conscious of the unhappy state of their soul, may deter them from sin, and convert them.
II. By deceitful counsel and cunning, the evil spirit endeavors to lead man to an inordinate love and greediness for riches, or the superfluity of possessions, that, afterwards, he may cause him to fall more easily into sin.
But the good Spirit whispers, that the heart should be kept free from the inordinate love and
eagerness for earthly possessions, lest it be entangled by them.
III. The evil spirit allures, presses, persists, in order to induce man to aspire to vain honors.
The good Spirit places before him, and teaches, generous humility, the true and safe glory of
IV. To them that perceive the heedfullness of their devoting themselves to their everlasting salvation, and who begin seriously to think of securing the same, the evil spirit is wont to suggest a certain shame. or human respect, that he may check these good beginnings.
The good Spirit encourages and stimulates them, that, spurning all human considerations, they may bravely go forward.
V. To those who are sincerely careful to cleanse themselves from faults and vices, and who advance more and more in the desire of serving God, the evil spirit suggests molestations, scruples, sadness, false reasonings, and other annoyances of this kind, that thereby he may hinder their progress.
The good Spirit, on the contrary, is wont to supply strength and courage to those that act rightly or endeavor to do well, to enlighten their mind, to pour in consolation, to give peace and tranquillity, that they may ever the more readily and cheerfully by means of good works, continue to make further progress.
VI. With al! his might does the evil spirit strive that the soul, which he desires to deceive and to lead to ruin, do keep secret his wily suggestions. He exerts himself, as much as he is able, that his attempts be not made known to a spiritual director; since he knows that, in this event, he fails in them.
But the good Spirit loves light and order, because He acts fairly, and His works are good.
VII. The evil spirit is accustomed to conduct himself like a commander in war. For as this only examines the arrangements, and reconnoitres the strength of the citadel which he desires to take, and assails it on the weakest side; so the evil spirit explores our disposition and all our virtues, both theological and moral, and at whatever point he finds is weaker, there he is wont to attack and try to take us by storm.
VIII. The evil spirit, the tempter, is wont to lose, altogether, his courage and strength, whenever he sees his spiritual antagonist, struggling with a bold front and unterrified heart against temptations but, on the contrary, if he perceives that he trembles, and, as it were, loses courage, there is no wild beast on earth more fierce or headstrong against man than this same enemy, in order to accomplish the desire of his wicked and perverse mind. -----------ST. IGNAT., ST. THOM., ST. TERES.