1. These beginners feel so fervent and diligent in their spiritual exercises and
undertakings that a certain kind of secret pride is generated in them that
begets a complacency with themselves and their accomplishments, even though holy
works do of their very nature cause humility. Then they develop a somewhat vain
- at times very vain - desire to speak of spiritual things in others' presence,
and sometimes even to instruct rather than be instructed; in their hearts they
condemn others who do not seem to have the kind of devotion they would like them
to have, and sometimes they give expression to this criticism like the pharisee
who despised the publican while he boasted and praised God for the good deeds he
himself accomplished [Lk. 18:11-12].
2. The devil, desiring the growth of pride and presumption in these beginners,
often increases their fervor and readiness to perform such works, and other
ones, too. For he is quite aware that all these works and virtues are not only
worthless for them, but even become vices. Some of these persons become so
evil-minded that they do not want anyone except themselves to appear holy; and
so by both word and deed they condemn and detract others whenever the occasion
arises, seeing the little splinter in their brother's eye and failing to
consider the wooden beam in their own eye [Mt. 7:3]; they strain at the other's
gnat and swallow their own camel [Mt. 23:24].
3. And when at times their spiritual directors, their confessors, or their
superiors disapprove their spirit and method of procedure, they feel that these
directors do not understand, or perhaps that this failure to approve derives
from a lack of holiness, since they want these directors to regard their conduct
with esteem and praise. So they quickly search for some other spiritual advisor
more to their liking, someone who will congratulate them and be impressed by
their deeds; and they flee, as they would death, those who attempt to place them
on the safe road by forbidding these things - and sometimes they even become
hostile toward such spiritual directors. Frequently, in their presumption, they
make many resolutions but accomplish very little. Sometimes they want others to
recognize their spirit and devotion, and as a result occasionally contrive to
make some manifestations of it, such as movements, sighs, and other ceremonies;
sometimes, with the assistance of the devil, they experience raptures, more
often in public than in private, and they are quite pleased, and often eager,
for others to take notice of these.
4. Many want to be the favorites of their confessors, and thus they are consumed
by a thousand envies and disquietudes. Embarrassment forbids them from relating
their sins clearly, lest their reputation diminish in their confessor's eyes.
They confess their sins in the most favorable light so as to appear better than
they actually are, and thus they approach the confessional to excuse themselves
rather than accuse themselves. Sometimes they confess the evil things they do to
a different confessor so that their own confessor might think they commit no
sins at all. Therefore, in their desire to appear holy, they enjoy relating
their good behavior to their confessor, and in such careful terms that these
good deeds appear greater than they actually are. It would be more humble of
them, as we will point out later, to make light of the good they do and to
wish that no one, neither their confessor nor anybody else, should consider it
of any importance at all.
5. Sometimes they minimize their faults, and at other times they become
discouraged by them, since they felt they were already saints, and they become
impatient and angry with themselves, which is yet another fault.
They are often
extremely anxious that God remove their faults and imperfections, but their
motive is personal peace rather than God. They fail to realize that were God to
remove their faults they might very well become more proud and presumptuous.
They dislike praising anyone else, but they love to receive praise, and
sometimes they even seek it. In this they resemble the foolish virgins who had
to seek oil from others when their own lamps were extinguished [Mt. 25:8].
6. The number of these imperfections is serious in some people and causes them a
good deal of harm. Some have fewer, some have more, and yet others have little
more than the first movements toward them. But there are scarcely any beginners
who at the time of their initial fervor do not fall victim to some of these
But souls who are advancing in perfection at this time act in an
entirely different manner and with a different quality of spirit. They
receive great benefit from their humility, by which they not only place little
importance on their deeds, but also take very little self-satisfaction from
them. They think everyone else is far better than they are, and usually possess
a holy envy of them and would like to emulate their service of God. Since they
are truly humble, their growing fervor and the increased number of their good
deeds and the gratification they receive from them only cause them to become
more aware of their debt to God and the inadequacy of their service to him, and
thus the more they do, the less satisfaction they derive from it. Their charity
and love makes them want to do so much for God that what they actually do
accomplish seems as nothing. This loving solicitude goads them, preoccupies
them, and absorbs them to such an extent that they never notice what others do
or do not accomplish, but if they should, they then think, as I say, that
everyone is better than they. They think they themselves are insignificant, and
want others to think this also and to belittle and slight their deeds. Moreover,
even though others do praise and value their works, these souls are unable to
believe them; such praises seem strange to them.
7. These souls humbly and tranquilly long to be taught by anyone who might be a
help to them. This desire is the exact opposite of that other desire we
mentioned above, of those who want to be themselves the teachers in everything.
When these others notice that someone is trying to give them some instruction,
they themselves take the words from their very mouths as though they already
Yet these humble souls, far from desiring to be anyone's
teacher, are ready to take a road different from the one they are following, if
told to do so. For they do not believe they could ever be right themselves. They
rejoice when others receive praise, and their only sorrow is that they do not
serve God as these others do.
Because they consider their deeds insignificant,
they do not want to make them known. They are even ashamed to speak of them to
their spiritual directors because they think these deeds are not worth
They are more eager to speak of their faults and sins, and reveal
these to others, than of their virtues. They have an inclination to seek
direction from one who will have less esteem for their spirit and deeds. Such is
the characteristic of a pure and simple and true spirit, one very pleasing to
God. Since the wise Spirit of God dwells within these humble souls, he moves
them to keep these treasures hidden, and to manifest only their faults. God
gives this grace to the humble, together with the other virtues, just as he
denies it to the proud.
8. These souls would give their life's blood to anyone who serves God, and they
will do whatever they can to help others serve him. When they see themselves
fall into imperfections, they suffer this with humility, with docility of
spirit, and with loving fear of God and hope in him.
Yet I believe very few souls are so perfect in the beginning. We would be
happy enough if they managed not to fall into these imperfections of pride. As
we will point out later, then, God places these souls in the dark night so as to
purify them of these imperfections and make them advance.