Picture to yourself a young princess beloved of her husband, to
whom some evil wretch should send a messenger to tempt her to
infidelity. First, the messenger would bring forth his
propositions. Secondly, the princess would either accept or reject
the overtures. Thirdly, she would consent to them or refuse them.
Even so, when Satan, the world, and the flesh look upon a soul
espoused to the Son of God, they set temptations and suggestions
before that soul, whereby--1. Sin is proposed to it. 2. Which
proposals are either pleasing or displeasing to the soul. 3. The
soul either consents, or rejects them.
In other words, the three downward steps of temptation,
delectation, and consent. And although the three steps may not
always be so clearly defined as in this illustration, they are to
be plainly traced in all great and serious sins.
If we should undergo the temptation to every sin whatsoever
during our whole life, that would not damage us in the Sight of
God's Majesty, provided we took no pleasure in it, and did not
consent to it; and that because in temptation we do not act, we
only suffer, and inasmuch as we take no delight in it, we can be
liable to no blame.
S. Paul bore long time with temptations of the flesh, but so
far from displeasing God thereby, He was glorified in them. The
blessed Angela di Foligni underwent terrible carnal temptations,
which move us to pity as we read of them. S. Francis and S.
Benedict both experienced grievous temptations, so that the one
cast himself amid thorns, the other into the snow, to quench them,
but so far from losing anything of God's Grace thereby, they
greatly increased it.
Be then very courageous amid temptation, and never imagine
yourself conquered so long as it is displeasing to you, ever
bearing in mind the difference between experiencing and consenting
to temptation, (1) --that difference being, that whereas they may
be experienced while most displeasing to us, we can never consent
to them without taking pleasure in them, inasmuch as pleasure felt
in a temptation is usually the first step towards consent.
So let the enemies of our salvation spread as many snares and
wiles in our way as they will, let them besiege the door of our
heart perpetually, let them ply us with endless proposals to
sin,--so long as we abide in our firm resolution to take no
pleasure therein, we cannot offend God any more than the husband
of the princess in my illustration could be displeased with her
because of the overtures made to her, so long as she was in no way
gratified by them.
Of course, there is one great difference between my imaginary
princess and the soul, namely, that the former has it in her power
to drive away the messenger of evil and never hear him more, while
the latter cannot always refuse to experience temptation, although
it be always in its power to refuse consent. But how long soever
the temptation may persist, it cannot harm us so long as it is
unwelcome to us.
But again, as to the pleasure which may be taken in temptation
(technically called delectation), inasmuch as our souls have two
parts, one inferior, the other superior, and the inferior does not
always choose to be led by the superior, but takes its own
line,--it not unfrequently happens that the inferior part takes
pleasure in a temptation not only without consent from, but
absolutely in contradiction to the superior will. It is this
contest which S. Paul describes when he speaks of the "law in my
members, warring against the law of my mind," (2) and of the
"flesh lusting against the spirit." (3)
Have you ever watched a great burning furnace heaped up with
ashes? Look at it some ten or twelve hours afterwards, and there
will scarce be any living fire there, or only a little smouldering
in the very heart thereof. Nevertheless, if you can find that tiny
lingering spark, it will suffice to rekindle the extinguished
So it is with love, which is the true spiritual life amid our
greatest, most active temptations. Temptation, flinging its
delectation into the inferior part of the soul, covers it wholly
with ashes, and leaves but a little spark of God's Love, which can
be found nowhere save hidden far down in the heart or mind, and
even that is hard to find. But nevertheless it is there, since
however troubled we may have been in body and mind, we firmly
resolved not to consent to sin or the temptation thereto, and that
delectation of the exterior man was rejected by the interior
Thus though our will may have been thoroughly beset by the
temptation, it was not conquered, and so we are certain that all
such delectation was involuntary, and consequently not sinful.