Treatise of the Spiritual Life
Translated from the Latin of Msgr. Charles Joseph Morozzo by Rev. D. A. Conovan O. Cist.
§2. — Of the Order, Manner and Signs of Conversion.
1. For true conversion is required, first, a knowledge of past guilt, so that the sinner moved by God’s grace may realize the filthiness and cruel tyranny of his crimes. Next, a great fear is to be conceived on account of the severity of divine justice, on account of our own frailty, the uncertainty of life, the strictness of the last judgment, the severity of punishments, the loss of heavenly joys, the most bitter privation of the beatific vision, and the offence of a most loving Father and generous Benefactor. The soul struck with this fear will burst into tears, at least of the spirit, and as the Lord knocks at the heart will be affected with inmost grief and detest its sins from love of God alone; then lest it despair, it will be sustained by the surest hope — that hope which raises the sinner’s mind, awe-stricken and covered with the darkness of confusion, to the consideration of the bowels of divine mercy, rescuing him from the danger of despair, into which he would rush headlong if suffered to be agitated by excessive fear. Next comes an efficacious resolution of amendment, and sacramental confession, the second plank after shipwreck, accompanied by satisfaction through works of penance, to which are also added confidence in Christ and fear of the future Judge, hope in his blood, and grief and sorrow for having cruelly crucified in ourselves the Son of God, finally love of so good a Redeemer, and an ardent desire of obeying him in all things, of following his footsteps and embracing his Cross without any concern for the world and the flesh.
2. Any one attaining this stage of conversion will easily persuade himself that he is dear and acceptable to God; still he will not be quite certain of this, because it is ordained by the Lord that it should remain hidden, in order that men, however upright and holy, may be kept in continual vigilance and humility, for it is written (Prov. xxviii, 14): “Blessed is the man who is always fearful,” and elsewhere (Ps. ii, 11): “Serve ye the Lord with fear, and rejoice unto him with trembling.” But if there be room for conjectures in a subject so difficult, there are not wanting for the consolation of penitents certain signs and indications of true conversion, from which each one may infer in what state he is, and as it were probe himself to some extent. Thus, if any one perceive in himself an affection like that of David, by which he said (cxviii, 163): “I have hated and abhorred iniquity;” if he lift up the body from earthly pleasures, so that the soul is no longer carried away by irregular desires, but rather rules the body and takes it whither it would not; if he detest all iniquity as well in himself as in others, saying with the Prophet (Ibid. 158): “I beheld the transgressors, and I pined away;” if forgetting the things that are behind, he stretch forth himself to those that are before, with a desire and resolution of advancing. It also points to true conversion, after reconciliation with God and sacramental satisfaction, to persevere in the practice of penance for the remainder of life, both because of the continual recurrence of venial sins that besets us, and that we may lessen the penalty due to mortal sins already forgiven, and finally to conquer the frowardness of the senses and flesh, that they may not drag the soul with them to perdition. But the works of penance are as follows: to lie on sackcloth and ashes, to scourge the body, to humble the soul with grief, to nurture prayer by fasting, to sob, to weep, and night and day to cry aloud to God, to prostrate before the priests and religious, and solicit the prayers of all the brethren in one’s behalf. “The Prison of Penitents,” written by Saint John Climachus, also the strictness of the ancient Canons, and the rigor of the early Church towards sinners confirm what I here advance.
§3. —Of Bringing Forth Fruits Worthy of Penance.
1. A sinner’s conversion to God is the work of divine grace, which interiorly strikes and moves man to enter into himself and be perfectly restored to his Creator. This grace does, by terrifying with dangers, inciting with miracles, giving understanding, inspiring counsel, enlightening the heart itself and imbuing it with sentiments of faith. But he, who prevented by divine mercy, and fortified by the splendor of heavenly grace, shall have detested and duly confessed his sins to the priest, ought to hear the voice of one crying in the desert and saying (Luke iii, 8): “Bring forth fruits worthy of penance.” Past faults demand that the sinner bring forth fruits worthy of penance, that he recount all his years in the bitterness of his soul, that he always grieve and rejoice in the sorrow, and say with the Prophet (Ps. 1, 5): “My sin is always before ,e.” And this is indeed the first fruit of penance, namely, habitual sorrow or the habit of grieving for sins, so that at the mere perception of anything bad, whether in reading, conversing, or by any other means or way, it at once produce displeasure and sorrow, in such manner that at the sole thought of even a lighter fault all the faculties of the soul are shocked and horrified. This fruit is most precious and far-reaching, and by it the devil’s approach is cut off, and numerous acts of great merit are elicited; whereas, on the contrary he, who is not thus affected, but perceives a not unwelcome feeling stealthily glide over him when the image of sin is presented, ought to judge that he has not yet a fully purified mind, and that in it are still preserved, as in a lurking place, some seeds and relics of sin.
2. The second fruit of penance is the continual remembrance of sins, which gives a clear view of the violence and enormity of the injury, whereby man has provoked God; begets shame and confusion, convincing of crime committed against God, the best of fathers; excites and fosters love towards the same Creator and most merciful Redeemer, who has with such lavish bounty forgiven us a debt of so many transgressions. But this same fruit is very profitable to man, not only for a while after conversion, but even for a long time afterwards, according to the Apostle Paul’s example, who often mentions his sins, committed through ignorance and already remitted, always mindful of them for the preservation of humility. But those sins that involve danger of evil delectation ought to be recalled to mind only for the purpose of confession: for the imperfect can scarcely reflect on these without their mind contracting some stain.
3. The third fruit is satisfaction, and that twofold: one, that some penalty unwelcome to the body may be undergone, the other more excellent, that we may cultivate those virtues which we have heretofore violated; so that wherein we have the more displeased God, we may the more honor Him thenceforth.
4. The fourth is compunction and weeping resulting from sorrow and love. But this fruit should be very great. For if all the tears that any mortals ever shed for the loss of dearest things, or for any other cause whatever, were united, and besides to these were added all the mournings of the saints, all the sighs of penitents; yea, if a person could pour forth such a quantity of tears, as would exceed the waters of all springs and rivers, and of the immense ocean itself, they would be inadequate duly to grieve for one mortal sin. For nothing finite is commensurate with an infinite God. Therefore, our unworthy and diminutive tears, be they what they may, must be mingled with the abundant and most precious streams that flowed from the eyes of the Blessed Virgin and the other saints; then they are to be offered to Christ our Lord, that he may present them to his Father with His own, which are of infinite value, since it is from His that ours borrow their virtue, and by their efficacy our sins are blotted out.
5. The fifth is fear and circumspection lest we sin again. For we have known many stronger than we who returned to the vomit, and we ourselves have often inadvertently wallowed in the same mire. Our chief hope indeed is to be placed in the protection of divine grace, but we must not, therefore, cease to be vigilant, because neither have we changed our nature nor are the germs of evil cut out.
6. The sixth is solicitude and watchfulness in avoiding occasions of sin, and in shunning the friendship and intercourse of those who have drawn us into sin, for (Eccl. iii, 27): “He that loveth danger shall perish in it.”
7. The seventh is diligent care in plucking up the roots of sins. Husbandmen, to clear their fields, not content to mow down noxious weeds, endeavor thoroughly to tear up their roots also, lest they sprout again. We must do the same. For after our sins are blotted out, their roots still remain in us; namely, ignorance, covetousness, concupiscence, self-love, attachment to our own judgment, self-will, evil inclinations, bad habits, sinful customs, numerous allurements to sin, agitations, objects of the senses, inconstancy, negligence and human respect. With these are linked many provocations to evil from creatures, the more acute temptations of demons, and the examples and evil counsels of wicked men. God himself sometimes withdraws interior consolations and sensible joy of heart, and suffers us to be affected with troubles, annoyed with scruples and racked with desolation, that he may display in us the richness of his goodness, that our merits may increase and our crown be doubled, and an opportunity be afforded us of exercising virtue, which languishes without an adversary and droops without culture. But though our sins are forgiven and grace infused, we are still infirm and weak, like those recovering from violent fever; still we know that our Redeemer is most benign, and will make with temptation issue, that we may be able to bear it. Therefore our courage must be roused for the contest, a prudent use made of earthly things, resistance offered to the demons, all that allures the senses magnanimously controlled, and all the roots of evil plucked up with the hoe of consideration.
8. The eighth is a most lowly opinion and contempt of self, so that each consider himself as a loathsome carcass, and be not anxious for his own praises, comforts, reputation, sleep, food, drink and attendance. For he, who seriously reflects that he has offended the divine majesty, is vile in his own eyes, and he, who esteems himself vile, treats himself even with negligence, and desires to be despised and held of no account by others also.
9. The ninth is suavity and gentleness of manners, that one show himself meek and agreeable towards his brethren, docile and obedient to his superiors, and allow himself to be fashioned, and inclined in every direction, that, as he spurned the divine law, he refuse not, for its sake, to be subject to all.
10. The tenth is a firm resolution of amendment and eagerness to improve; for he is perfectly converted, who, regretting what he has done amiss, no more repeats what he may again regret.
11. The eleventh is zeal for souls, that the sinner may thenceforth edify the neighbor whom he had offended, as the already penitent David said (Ps. 1, 15): “I will teach the unjust thy ways.”
12. Finally, the twelfth fruit is the love of God, that is, perfect conversion to God and aversion from all sin. For a great love of God absorbs all a man’s sins, and he who ever glows and burns with the fire of charity, always lives without sin. These are the twelve fruits, which true penance, like the tree of life that was planted in the midst of Paradise, brings forth and offers; which if a penitent wish to gather and cease not to relish, nourished thereby, he shall grow into a perfect man, receiving a daily increase of christian perfection.