Tag Archives: Theological Virtues

Treatise on the Love of God

Treatise on the Love of God

by St. Francis de Sales (1616; contemporary English edition, 2011)

Francis was the Bishop of Geneva and made it his life’s work to try to win back Catholics lost to the Protestant Reformation. He was hugely successful. St. Francis de Sales is known more for his earlier work, Introduction to the Devout Life, which he addressed to “Philothea”, as a stand-in for the soul (though it was written as a series of correspondence to an actual lady).  This work is addressed to “Theotimus”, due to some objections by men that they did not want to take advice addressed to a woman. De Sales decided to give equal time, though I suspect he would have preferred to keep the addressee feminine had there been no objections to the first book. It obviously bothered him at least a little, as he goes on about it in the preface. In the end, it turns out to be a minor thing. The end result is a great book. Or actually twelve books.

This is a modern abridged version that takes twelve books down to twelve chapters. Since this work, like The Cloud of Unknowing, is referenced by many other writers, it seemed like one with which I should familiarize myself.

I offer two excerpts from this one. First, from Chapter 6, “Contemplation and Meditation–Love in Prayer”:

This makes contemplation quite different than meditation, which nearly always takes a lot of effort on our part. Meditation is like eating. It is necessary to chew, turning spiritual meat this way and that between the teeth of consideration. Working on it, we grind it up to make it digestible. Contemplation is like drinking. There is no protracted labor by our teeth. We calmly swallow our drink with pleasure. There is even the possibility of sacred drunkenness. We can contemplate frequently and ardently enough to be completely out of ourselves and totally in God. This is quite different from inebriation of the flesh. It does not make us dull and stupid. Instead of lowering us to the level of animals, it lifts us to the level of angels. It allows us to live more in God than in ourselves.

To arrive at contemplation, we must hear the word of God, confer with others on spiritual matters, read, pray, sing, and conceive worthy thoughts.

– pg. 52

And from Chapter 11, “The Love of God Inspires Other Virtues”, in a section titled, “Fruit of the Spirit”:

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galations 5:22-23). Notice, Theotimus, that when Paul lists the various qualities of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, he counts them as one single fruit. He does not begin with the plural, “fruits.” He uses the singular. This is why: “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:5). Love is the only fruit of the Holy Spirit. This one fruit has an infinite number of excellent properties. Paul mentions a few of them as examples. When we state that the fruit of the vine is grapes, wine, brandy, the drink “to gladden the human heart” (Psalm 104:15 NRSV), the beverage that settles the stomach [1 Timothy 5:23], we do not mean all these different things grow on the vine. There is only one fruit, yet it has many different qualities depending on how it is used.

Paul simply means that the fruit of the Holy Spirit is love. This love can be joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, and gentle, and it can improve self-control. Divine love prompts all these things and more.

Love is the life of the spirit.

– pg.  127

 

 

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The Science of the Cross

The Science of the Cross

by Edith Stein (1983; original delayed publication in 1950; written 1942)

Edith Stein (a.k.a. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) wrote this shortly before she was taken to her death by the Nazis. She was a brilliant philosopher before she converted from atheism to Catholicism almost overnight, when she read the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila while staying at a friend’s home one night. The keen intellect of this Carmelite nun is on display in this work, which is no easy read, but not impossible. She takes the reader through the writings of John of the Cross, quoting him liberally, but doing it in an organized sequence, elucidating much that would escape the casual uninitiated reader of St. John.

Here is a substantial excerpt from Chapter 6, “Purgation through Hope”:

The perfect purgation of the soul is received passively from God. All the soul has to do is prepare herself to receive it: whatever the senses present “must not be stored in the memory…but she must leave them immediately and forget them, and put as much effort into this as one would to remember other things. No image of remembrance should remain in the memory, as though these things  had never existed. The memory should be left completely free and unhindered, and one must not seek to engage it in any meditation on heavenly or terrestrial things. . . . One should leave . . . these things and remain forgetful of them, counting them but a hindrance on the way.”

A spiritual person, on the contrary, who “still wishes to make use of natural knowledge and discursive reflection of the memory in the journey to God” will experience three kinds of harm. She will suffer from manifold miseries concerning things of the world, “for instance, falsehoods, imperfections, appetites, inclinations to criticize, waste of time, etc. . . . ” If one allows the memory to occupy itself with what has been perceived through the senses, one falls “into imperfections step by step. For some emotion will cling to these sensory objects, now of sorrow and fear, soon of hate and vain hopes of vainglory, which will remain in the soul. . . . all things that hinder the perfect purity of the soul and perfect union with God. . . . These imperfections are better overcome all at once through complete denial of the memory.” It is best “to learn to silence and quiet the faculties of the soul so that God may speak to her.” Then “a river of peace will descend on her . . . and . . . in this peace, God will remove all the misgivings, suspicions, disturbances, and darknesses which awakened in her the fear that she is already lost or is near to being lost.”

Further harm comes from the intervention of the devil. He “can add to the soul’s knowledge new impressions, ideas, and reasonings, and by means of them move her to pride, avarice, anger, envy, and so on, and thus seduce her to unjust hatred and vain love . . . By far, most of the great delusions and evils that the devil causes in the soul spring from the knowledge and thought processes of the memory. When therefore, this faculty is shrouded in the complete darkness of forgetfulness and its activity is halted, the gates remain locked against the diabolical influence . . . and this leads to great blessings for the soul.”

The third kind of harm to the soul consists in this: the natural content of the memory can be “an impediment to moral good and deprive one of spiritual good.” The moral good “consists in bridling the passions and curbing the inordinate appetites, and then in the soul’s resulting tranquility and peace, as well as in the moral virtues engendered in her.”

All confusion and disturbance in the soul is caused by the contents of the memory. The soul that lives in restlessness, and that gets no support from moral good, is “incapable of receiving any spiritual good, for the spiritual good can abide only in an even-tempered and peaceful soul.” Should the soul value the contents of the memory and turn to them, “it is impossible for her to be free to receive the Incomprehensible, Who is God.” If she wishes to go to God, she must “replace the mutable and comprehensible by the Immutable and Incomprehensible.”

Then in place of the harm so far described, the soul will gain the opposite advantages: rest and peace of spirit, purity of conscience and of soul, and therewith the best preparation “for the reception of human and divine wisdom and virtues.” She is preserved from many suggestions, temptations, and disturbances caused by the evil enemy, for whom those thoughts provided a handhold. The soul becomes receptive for the motivation by and inspirations of the Holy Spirit.”

– pp. 82-84

(NOTE: The soul is referred to in the feminine pronouns, but only in the same way that ships are, not because the author is female–in fact, most of these references are from John of the Cross–but only because all creatures, and indeed creation itself, are seen as feminine in relation to the Creator.)

If you are interested in a well done movie on the the life of Edith Stein, The Seventh Chamber, starring Maia Morgenstern (who played the mother of Jesus in The Passion of the Christ), is a worthwhile film. It is in Italian with English subtitles.

Love Set Free

Love Set Free: Meditations on the Passion According to St. John

by Martin L. Smith, SSJE (1998)

This is a short and reverent book, slightly larger than pocket size, approximately 70 pages. If the inside back cover didn’t tell you the author was Episcopalian, you might never guess.

The quote inside the front cover, from Chapter Three, “Intimacy”, will work here:

Through this simple pledging of Mary to the beloved disciple and of him to Mary at the foot of the cross, the evangelist takes the new commandment to love one another and places it directly in the vortex of death and self-offering. By doing so John squeezes every remaining drop of sentimentality out of our understanding of love. Love, love–the word is always ringing in our ears, but when is it not mixed up with something else? Love and the desire to possess, love and the need to control, love and the need to be needed, love and the lust to absorb, love and condescension, love and narcissism. In the Christian mystery love itself must be crucified, must die to be reborn as the grace of communion, as love set free. In a mysterious sign the evangelist points to the new home of the beloved disciple as the place where this has happened, the household from which the church’s authentic identity has its origin.

– pp. 38-39

No Man is an Island

No Man is an Island

by Thomas Merton (1955)

As mentioned earlier, this is a step back to cover concepts that were taken for granted in Seeds of Contemplation six years earlier. And the chapter titles alone testify to this: “Conscience, freedom, and prayer”, “Being and doing”, “Sincerity”, “Mercy”, “Silence”.

Do not let the simplicity of the chapter titles fool you. This is a challenging yet rewarding book to work your way through.

See the following excerpt from Chapter 11, “Mercy”, for a sample of one of the best passages:

Merton on Mercy

Back to Virtue

Back to Virtue: Traditional Moral Wisdom for Modern Moral Confusion

by Peter Kreeft (1992; originally as For Heaven’s Sake , 1986)

Dr. Kreeft (pronounced “crayft”) is a Boston College philosophy professor and C. S. Lewis enthusiast/scholar. And he is one heck of a writer. He has a talent for clearing up a confusion the reader was not aware they even had, until he cleared it up for them. That is quite an achievement. It takes somebody of both talent and advanced education to accomplish that, without making the reader feel inferior or without introducing yet another confusion in the process.

The strongest part of the book is the latter half where he pits the Seven Deadly Sins against the Beatitudes in a match-up whose outcome is clearly never in doubt, but also never lacking in interest to the reader.

Here are a couple excerpts from Chapter Seven, “Poor in Spirit vs. Proud in Heart”:

Pride is not the same as vanity. In fact vanity, though it is a sin, shows some humility. For if I think I need your admiration, then I do not feel wholly independent of you, above you. The truly proud person couldn’t care less of what others think of him.

– pp. 99-100

In The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis says that God appears to us like an uncle to a slum child playing with mudpies in the street, offering us a vacation at the seaside, but we stick to our mudpies. We are too easily content. Poverty of spirit is not mediocrity and cheap contentment; it is exactly the opposite; it is detachment from the mudpies for love of the sea. The Buddhist and the Stoic and the “peace of mind addict” teach detachment for the sake of tranquility or nirvana, but the Christian wants to be unclothed with the world and the goods of the body and the body itself only to be reclothed with Heaven and the resurrection body. Christ opposes selfish desire only to replace it with unselfish desire, not with emptiness. We are to be spiritually poor only for the sake of becoming spiritually rich, detached from what we can own so that we can be attached in a different way to what we cannot own, detached from consuming so that we can be consumed by God.

– pg. 106

God Wants You Happy: From Self-Help to God’s Help

God Wants You Happy: From Self-Help to God’s Help

by Father Jonathan Morris (2011)

Forget if you have an aversion to anyone known as a Fox News Analyst and whose book is recommended by the likes of Glenn Beck (fallen-away Catholic and convert to Mormonism), Bill O’Reilly (a loosely-defined pro-life Catholic), and Rick Warren (a mega-church Protestant pastor). This is a GOOD BOOK.

Fr. Morris embeds a lot of sound traditional Catholic theology and spirituality in what only appears to be a pop-psychology book.

Chapter 3, titled “Getting Unstuck”, which is basically about the insidious influence of the Devil and his lies, should remove all doubt.

His exposition on the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love further grounds this work in solid Catholic-Christian theology.

Saved in Hope: Spe Salvi

Saved in Hope: Spe Salvi

by Pope Benedict XVI (2008, in Latin 2007)

Pope Benedict’s second encyclical. Here is an excerpt:

[Paul] says to the Thessalonians: you must not “grieve as others do who have no hope” (Th 4:13). Here too we see as a distinguishing mark of Christians the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness. Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well. So now we can say: Christianity was not only “good news”–the communication of a hitherto unknown content. In our language we would say: the Christian message was not only “informative” but “performative”. That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known–it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.

– pp. 9-10

This is only about 100 pages. The final one-third of the encyclical, which provides a great illumination on the topic of Purgatory, is particularly strong.