"The more you know and the better you understand, the more severely will you be judged, unless your life is also the more holy. Do not be proud, therefore, because of your learning or skill. Rather, fear because of the talent given you."

Thomas á Kempis

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"Obedience is the true holocaust which we sacrifice to God on the altar of our hearts."

St Philip Neri

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"God has no need of men."

St Philip Neri

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Venerable Louis of Granada, OP  (1504-1588)

 
 

THE SINNER'S GUIDE

   

By Venerable Louis of Granada, OP

 

Motives for Practising Virtue

 

Ch 18. The Seventh Privilege of Virtue: The True Liberty Of the Just


From the privileges we have been considering, but particularly from the graces of the Holy Spirit and His divine consolations, there arises a seventh, though no less marvelous, privilege, which is true liberty of the soul. The Son of God brought this gift to men; hence He is called the Redeemer, or Deliverer, for He freed mankind from the slavery of sin, and restored them to the true liberty of the children of God. This is one of the greatest of God's favors, one of the most signal benefits of the Gospel, and one of the principal effects of the Holy Ghost. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." (2Cor. 3:17). This liberty is one of the most magnificent rewards which God has promised to His servants in this life: "If you continue in my word, you shall be my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

To this the Jews answered, "We are the seed of Abraham, and we have never been slaves to any man; how sayest thou: You shall be free?" Jesus answered them, "Amen, amen I say unto you, that whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. Now the servant abideth not in the house for ever; but the son abideth for ever. If, therefore, the son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed." (Jn. 8:31-37).

Our Saviour teaches us by these words that there are two kinds of liberty. The first is the liberty of those who are doubtless free in body, but whose souls are enslaved by sin, as Alexander the Great, who, though master of the world, was a slave to his own vices. The second is that true liberty which is the portion of those whose souls are free from the bondage of sin, though their bodies may be held in chains. Witness the great Apostle, whose mind, despite his fetters, soared to Heaven, and whose preaching and doctrine freed the world. To such a condition we unhesitantly give the glorious name of liberty. For the noblest part of man is the soul; in a measure it constitutes man. The body is merely matter vivified by the soul. Hence, only he whose soul is at liberty is truly free, and he whose soul is in bondage, however free his body may be, possesses only the semblance of liberty.

Now, the sinner is in bondage under sin, the most cruel of tyrants. The torments of Hell are but the effects of sin; consider, then, how horrible sin itself must be. It is to this cruel tyrant that the wicked are enslaved, for Our Saviour tells us, "Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin." (Jn. 8:34). Nor is the sinner a slave to sin only, but to all that incites him to sin – that is, to the world, the devil, and the flesh with all its disorderly appetites. These three powers are the sources of all sin, and, therefore, are called the three enemies of the soul, because they imprison her and surrender her to a most pitiless master.

The first two powers make use of the flesh, as Satan made use of Eve, to tempt and incite us to every kind of iniquity. Therefore, the Apostle calls flesh "sin," giving the name of the effect to the cause, for there is no evil to which man is not incited by the flesh. (Rom. 7:25). For this reason theologians term it fomes peccati – that is, the germ and fuel of sin; for, like wool and oil, it serves to feed the fire of sin. It is more commonly called sensuality, or concupiscence, which, to speak more plainly, is our sensual appetite. Hence, St. Basil tells us that our desires are the principal arms with which the devil makes war upon us; for, carried away by the immoderate desires of the flesh, we seek to gratify them by any means in our power, regardless of God's law. From this disorder all sins arise.

This appetite of the flesh is one of the greatest tyrants to whom, in the language of the Apostle, the sinner has made himself a slave. By this we do not mean that the sinner loses his free will, for free will is never lost, however great the multitude of his crimes. But sin so weakens the will, and so strengthens the appetites of the flesh, that the stronger naturally prevails over the weaker. What is there more painful than the consequences of such a victory?

Man possesses a soul made to the image of God, a mind capable of rising above creatures to the contemplation of God; yet he despises all these privileges and places himself in subjection to the base appetites of a flesh corrupted by sin and incited and directed by the devil. What can man expect from such a guidance, or rather from such a bondage, but innumerable falls and incomparable misfortunes?
Our souls may be considered as consisting of two parts, which theologians call the superior and the inferior parts. The first is the seat of the will and of reason, the natural light with which God endowed us at creation. This noble and beautiful gift of reason makes man the image of God and capable of enjoying God, and raises him to a companionship with the angels. The inferior part of the soul is the seat of the sensual appetites, which have been given to us to aid us in procuring the necessities of life and in preserving the human race. But these appetites are blind – they must follow the guidance of reason. They are unfitted to command, and, therefore, like good stewards, they should act only in obedience to their master. Alas! How often do we see this order reversed! How often do we behold the servant become the master!

How many men are so enslaved by their appetites that they will outrage every law of justice and reason to gratify the sensual desires of their hearts! They carry their folly still further, and make the noble faculty of reason wait upon their base appetites and furnish them with means to attain their unlawful desires. For when man devotes the powers of his mind to the invention of new fashions in dress, new pleasures in eating; when he strives to excel his fellow men in wealth and voluptuous luxuries, does he not turn his soul from the noble and spiritual duties suited to her nature, and make her the slave of the flesh? When he devotes his genius to the composition of odes and sonnets to the object of a sinful love, does he not debase his reason beneath this vile passion? Seneca, though a pagan, blushed at such degradation, saying, "I was born for nobler things than to be a slave to ( the flesh." (Epist. 65). Notwithstanding the folly and enormity of this disorder, it is so common among us that we give it little attention. As St. Bernard says, "We are insensible to the odor of our crimes because they are so numerous." In the country of the Moors no one feels affronted if called black, because it is the color of all the inhabitants. So where the vice of drunkenness prevails no one thinks it disgraceful to drink to excess, notwithstanding the degrading nature of this sin.

Yes, the bondage of the flesh is so general that few realize its enormity. How complete, therefore, is this servitude, and how great must be the punishment reserved for one who delivers so noble a creature as reason into the hands of so cruel a tyrant! It is from this slavery that the Wise Man prays to be delivered when he asks that the inordinate desires of the flesh be taken from him, and that he be not given over to a shameless and foolish mind. (Cf. Ecclus. 23:6).

If you would know the power of this tyranny you have only to consider the evils it has wrought since the beginning of the world. I will not set before you the inventions of the poets on this subject, or the example of their famous hero, Hercules, who, after destroying or subduing all the monsters of the world, was himself so enslaved by the love of an impure woman that he abandoned his club for a distaff, and all future feats of valor, to sit and spin among the maidens of his haughty mistress. It is a wise invention of the poets to show the arbitrary power this passion exercises over its victims. Nor will I quote from Holy Scripture the example of Solomon, the wisest of men, enslaved by sensual affections, and so far forgetting the true God as to build temples to the idols of his sinful companions. But I will give you an illustration which, alas, is not an uncommon occurrence.

Consider, for instance, all that a married woman risks by abandoning herself to an unlawful love. We choose this passion from among the rest to show you the strength of the others. She cannot but know that should her husband discover her crime he may kill her in his anger, and thus in one moment she will lose her reputation, her children, her life, her soul, and all that she can desire in this life or the next. She knows, moreover, that her disgrace will fall upon her children, her parents, her brothers, her sisters, and all her race; yet so great is the strength of this passion, or rather the power of this tyrant, that she tramples all these considerations underfoot to obey its dictates. Was there ever a master more cruel in his exactions? Can you imagine a more miserable, a more absolute servitude?

Yet such is the bondage in which the wicked live. They are seated "in darkness and the shadow of death," says the prophet, "hungry and bound with chains." (Ps. 106:10). What is the darkness, if not the deplorable blindness of the wicked, who neither know themselves nor their Maker, nor the end for which they were created? They see not the vanity of the things upon which they have set their hearts, and they are insensible to the bondage in which they live.

What are the chains which bind them so cruelly, if not the ties of their disorderly affections? And is not this hunger which consumes them the insatiable desire for things which they can never obtain?

Not unfrequently the gratification of man's inordinate desires, so far from satisfying him, only creates other more violent passions, as we learn from the example of Amnon, the wicked son of David, who could neither eat nor rest because of his love for Thamar; but he no sooner obtained possession of her than he hated her even more intensely than he had loved her. (Cf. 2Kg. 13:1-16).

Such is the condition of all who are enslaved by this vice. They cease to be masters of themselves; it allows them no rest; they can neither think nor speak of anything else; it fills their dreams at night; and nothing, not even the fear of God, the interests of their souls, the loss of their honor, or life itself, can turn them from their course or break the guilty chains which bind them. Consider also the jealousy and suspicions with which they are tormented, and the dangers of body and soul which they willingly risk for these base pleasures. Was there ever a master who exercised such cruelty towards a slave as this tyrant inflicts upon the heart of his victims? Hence we read that "wine and women make wise men fall off." (Ecclus. 19:2). Most fitly are these two passions classed together, for the vice of impurity renders a man as little master of himself, and unfits him for the duties of life, as completely as if robbed of the use of his senses by wine.

The great Latin poet admirably paints the power of this passion in the example of Dido, Queen of Carthage. She no sooner falls in love with Æneas than she abandons the care of public affairs; the walls and fortifications of the city are left unfinished; public works are suspended; the youth are no longer exercised in the noble profession of arms; the harbors are left defenceless, and the city unprotected. Enslaved by this tyrannical passion, Dido is unfitted for the duties of her position; all the powers of her great genius are concentrated upon the object of her love. Oh! Fatal passion! Oh! Pestilential vice, destroying families and overthrowing kingdoms! It is the poison of souls, the death of genius, the folly of old age, the madness of youth, and the bane of mankind.

But this is not the only vice which reduces man to slavery. Study one who is a victim to pride or ambition, and see how eagerly he grasps at honors, how he makes them the end of all his actions. His house, his servants, his table, his dress, his gait, his bearing, his principles are all fashioned to excite the applause of the world; his words and actions are but baits to win admiration. If we wonder at the folly of the Emperor Domitian, armed with a bodkin and spending his leisure in the pursuit of flies, how much more astonishing and pitiable it is to see a man devote not only his leisure but a lifetime to the pursuit of worldly vanities which cannot but end in smoke! Behold how he enslaves himself! He cannot do his own will; he cannot dress to please himself; he cannot go where he chooses; nay, many times he dares not enter a church or converse with virtuous souls, lest his master, the world, should ridicule him.

To satisfy his ambition he imposes upon himself innumerable privations; he lives above his income; he squanders his means; he robs his children of their inheritance, and leaves them only the burden of his debts and the evil example of his follies. What punishment is more fitting for such madness than that which we are told a certain king inflicted upon an ambitious man, whom he condemned to be executed by having smoke poured into his nostrils till he expired, saying to the unhappy victim that as he had lived for smoke, so it was fit that he should die by smoke?

What shall we say of the avaricious man whose money is his master and his god? Is it not in this idol that he finds his comfort and his glory? Is it not the end of all his labors, the object of his hopes? For it does he hesitate to neglect body and soul, to deny himself the necessities of life? Is he restrained even by the fear of God? Can such a man be said to be master of his treasures? On the contrary, is he not their slave as completely as if he were created for his money, and not his money for him?

Can there be a more terrible slavery? We call a man a captive who is placed in prison and bound with chains, but his bondage does not equal that of a man whose soul is the slave of an inordinate affection. Such a man vainly thinks himself free, but no power of his soul enjoys true liberty; his free will, weakened by sin, is the only possession which remains to him. It matters little what fetters bind man, if the nobler part of his soul be captive. Nor does the fact that he has voluntarily assumed these chains make his bondage less real or less ignominious. The sweetness of a poison by no means diminishes its fatal effects.

A man who is the slave of a passion is unceasingly tormented by desires which he cannot satisfy and will not curb. So strong is the bondage of the unhappy victim that when he endeavors to regain his liberty he meets with such resistance that frequently he despairs of succeeding and returns to his chains.

If these miserable captives were held by one chain only, there would be more hope of their deliverance. But how numerous are the fetters which bind them! Man is subject to many necessities, each of which excites some desire; therefore, the greater the number of our inordinate desires, the more numerous our chains. This bondage is stronger in some than in others: there are men of such tenacious disposition that it is only with difficulty they reject what has once taken possession of their imaginations. Others are of a melancholy temperament and cling with gloomy obstinacy to their desires. Many are so narrow-minded that the most insignificant object cannot escape their covetousness. This accords with the saying of Seneca, that to small souls trifles assume vast proportions. Others, again, are naturally vehement in all their desires; this is generally the character of women, who, as a philosopher observes, must either love or hate, for it is difficult for them to observe a just medium.

If the misery of serving one arbitrary master be so great, what must be the suffering of the unhappy man who is enslaved by as many masters as there are ungoverned affections in his heart? If the dignity of man depend upon his reason and free will, what can there be more fatal to this dignity than passion, which obscures the reason and enslaves the will? Without these powers he descends to the level of the brute.

From this miserable slavery the Son of God has delivered us. By the superabundant grace of God we have been redeemed; by the sacrifice of the cross we have been purchased. Hence the Apostle tells us that "our old man [our sensual appetite] is crucified with Christ." (Rom. 6:6). By the merits of His crucifixion, we have been strengthened to subdue and crucify our enemies, inflicting upon them the suffering which they caused us to endure, and reducing to slavery the tyrants whom we formerly served. Thus do we verify the words of Isaias: "They shall make them captives that had taken them, and shall subdue their oppressors." (Is. 14:2). Before the reign of grace, the flesh ruled the spirit and made it the slave of the most depraved desires. But strengthened by grace, the spirit rules the flesh and makes it the docile instrument of the noblest deeds.

We find a forcible illustration of this defeat of the power of darkness and the triumph of truth in the example of King Adonibezec, whom the children of Israel put to death after cutting off his fingers and toes. In the midst of his suffering the unhappy king exclaimed, "Seventy kings having their fingers and their toes cut off, gathered up the leavings of the meat under my table; as I have done, so God hath requitted me." (Jud. 1:7). This cruel tyrant is a figure of the prince of this world, who has disabled the children of God by robbing them of the use of their noblest faculties, .thus rendering them powerless to do any good. They being reduced to so helpless a condition, he throws to them, from the store of his vile pleasures, what are fitly called crumbs, for the gratifications which sin brings are never able to satisfy the appetites of the wicked. See, then, that even of the brutal pleasures for which they bargained with Satan, their cruel master will not give them sufficient.

Christ came and by His Passion overcame this enemy and compelled him to endure the same sufferings which he had inflicted on others. He cut off his members-that is, He deprived him of his power and bound him hand and foot. Adonibezec, the Holy Scriptures tell us, suffered death in Jerusalem. In the same city Our Saviour died to destroy the tyrant sin. It was after this great Sacrifice that men learned to conquer the world, the flesh, and the devil. Strengthened by the grace which Christ has purchased for us, neither the pleasures of the world nor the power of Satan can force them to commit a mortal sin.

You will ask, perhaps, what is the source of this liberty and the glorious victory which it enables us to gain. After God, its source is grace, which, by means of the virtues it nourishes in us, subdues our passions and compels them to submit to the empire of reason. Certain men are said to charm serpents to such a degree that, without injuring them or lessening their venom, the snakes are rendered perfectly harmless. In like manner, grace so charms our passions-the venomous reptiles of the flesh – that, though they continue to exist in our nature, they can no longer harm us or infect us with their poison.
St. Paul expresses this truth with great clearness. After speaking at some length of the tyranny of our sensual appetites, he concludes with the memorable words, "Unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" And he answers, "The grace of God by Jesus Christ our Lord." (Rom. 7: 24,25). The body of death here mentioned by St. Paul is not the natural death of the body which all must undergo, but "the body of sin" (Rom. 6:6) – our sensual appetites, the fruitful source of all our miseries. These are the tyrants from which the grace of God delivers us.

A second source of this liberty is the joy of a good conscience and the spiritual consolations experienced by the just. These so satisfy man's thirst for happiness that he can easily resist the grosser pleasures of the flesh. Having found the fountain of all happiness, he desires no other pleasures. As Our Saviour Himself declared: Whoever will drink of the water that He will give him shall thirst no more. (Cf. Jn. 4:13).

St. Gregory thus develops this text: He who has experienced the sweetness of the spiritual life rejects the objects of his sensual love. He generously disposes of his treasures. His heart is inflamed with a desire for heavenly things. He sees but deformity in the beauty which formerly allured him. His heart is filled with the water of life, and, therefore, he has no thirst for the fleeting pleasures of the world. He finds the Lord of all things, and thus, in a measure, he becomes the master of all things, for in this one Good every other good is contained.

Besides these two divine favors, there is another means by which the liberty of the just is regained. This is the vigilant care with which the virtuous man unceasingly labors to bring the flesh under the dominion of reason. The passions are thereby gradually moderated, and lose that violence with which they formerly attacked the soul. Habit does much to cause this happy change, but when aided and confirmed by grace its effects are truly wonderful. Accustomed to the influence of reason, our passions seem to change their nature. They are no longer the fierce assailants of our virtue, but rather its submissive servants.
Hence it is that they who serve God very often find more pleasure, even sensible pleasure, in recollection, silence, pious reading, meditation, prayer, and other devout exercises, than in any worldly amusement. In this happy state the work of subduing the flesh is rendered very easy. Weakened as it is, the attacks it makes on us serve only as occasions of new conquests and new merits. Nevertheless, the ease with which we win these victories should not disarm our prudence or render us less vigilant in guarding the senses as long as we are on earth, however perfectly the flesh may be mortified.

These are the principal sources of that marvelous liberty enjoyed by the just. This liberty inspires us with a new knowledge of God and confirms us in the practice of virtue. This we learn from the prophet: "They shall know that I am the Lord when I shall have broken the bonds of their yoke, and shall have delivered them out of the hand of those that rule over them." (Ezech. 34:27). St. Augustine, who experienced the power of this yoke, says, "I was bound by no other fetters than my own iron will , which was in the possession of the enemy. With this he held me fast. From it sprang evil desires, and in satisfying these evil desires I contracted a vicious habit. This habit was not resisted, and, increasing in strength as time passed, finally became a necessity, which reduced me to the most cruel servitude." (Conf. 8,5).

When a man who has long been oppressed by the bondage under which St. Augustine groaned turns to God, and sees his chains fall from him, his passions quelled, and the yoke which oppressed him lying at his feet, he cannot but recognize in his deliverance the power of God's grace. Filled with gratitude, he will cry out with the prophet, "Thou hast broken my bonds, O Lord! I will sacrifice to thee a sacrifice of praise, and I will call upon the name of the Lord." (Ps. 115:7).