The three ways of the spiritual life 1 chapter 1 : the life of grace and the importance of the first conversion 1

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The necessity of the interior life. 1

The principle of the interior life. 2

The beginning of eternal life. 5

The importance of true conversion. 8

The three periods of the spiritual life. 11


The second conversion of the Apostles. 14

What our second conversion ought to be. The defects which render it necessary. 16

The motives which must inspire the second conversion, and the fruits that derive therefrom. 18


The Descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles. 21

The effects of the descent of the Holy Ghost. 22

The purification of the spirit necessary for Christian perfection. 25

Create A Clean Heart In Me, O Lord. [] 25

The necessity of the purification of the spirit. 25

How does God purify the soul in this third conversion ? 26




Statement of the Problem. 29

Proposed Division of the Three Stages of The Spiritual Life. 31

The transition from one stage to another in the Spiritual Life. 33


Beginners. 35

Proficients or progressives 38

The Perfect. 40


The divine awakening. 41

The Living Flame. 42

Pax in veritate. 44



BY Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange


THE interior life is for all the one thing necessary. It ought to be constantly developing in our souls; more so than what we call our intellectual life, more so than our scientific, artistic or literary life. The interior life is lived in the depths of the soul; it is the life of the whole man, not merely of one or other of his faculties. And our intellectual life would gain immeasurably by appreciating this; it would receive an inestimable advantage if, instead of attempting to supplant the spiritual life, it recognized its necessity and importance, and welcomed its beneficial influence -- the influence of the theological virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost. How deeply important our subject is may be seen in the very words we have used: Intellectuality and Spirituality. And it is important to us not only as individuals, but also in our social relations, for it is evident that we can exert no real or profound influence upon our fellow-men unless we live a truly interior life ourselves.

The necessity of the interior life.

The pressing need of devoting ourselves to the consideration of the one thing necessary is especially manifest in these days of general chaos and unrest, when so many men and nations, neglecting their true destiny, give themselves up entirely to acquiring earthly possessions, failing to realize how inferior these are to the everlasting riches of the spirit.

And yet St. Augustine's saying is so clearly true, that ' material goods, unlike those of the spirit, cannot belong wholly and simultaneously to more than one person. ' [1] The same house, the same land, cannot belong completely to several people at once, nor the same territory to several nations. And herein lies the reason of that unhappy conflict of interests which arises from the feverish quest of these earthly possessions.
On the other hand, as St. Augustine often reminds us, the same spiritual treasure can belong in its entirety to all men, and at the same time to each, without any disturbance of peace between them. Indeed, the more there are to enjoy them in common the more completely do we possess them. The same truth, the same virtue, the same God, can belong to us all in like manner, and yet none of us embarrasses his fellow-possessors. Such are the inexhaustible riches of the spirit that they can be the property of all and yet satisfy the desires of each. Indeed, only then do we possess a truth completely when we teach it to others, when we make others share our contemplation; only then do we truly love a virtue when we wish others to love it also; only then do we wholly love God when we desire to make Him loved by all. Give money away, or spend it, and it is no longer yours. But give God to others, and you possess Him more fully for yourself. We may go even further and say that, if we desired only one soul to be deprived of Him, if we excluded only one soul -- even the soul of one who persecutes and calumniates us -- from our own love, then God Himself would be lost to us.
This truth, so simple and yet so sublime, gives rise to an illuminating principle: it is that whereas material goods, the more they are sought for their own sake, tend to cause disunion among men, spiritual goods unite men more closely in proportion as they are more greatly loved. This principle helps us to appreciate how necessary is the interior life; and, incidentally, it virtually contains the solution of the social question and of the economic crisis which afflicts the world to-day. The Gospel puts it very simply: ' Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. ' If the world to-day is on its death-bed, it is because it has lost sight of a fundamental truth which for every Christian is elementary.
The profoundest truths of all, and the most vital, are in fact those elementary verities which, through long meditation and deep thought, have become the norm of our lives; those truths, in other words, which are the object of our habitual contemplation.
God is now showing men what a great mistake they make when they try to do without Him, when they regard earthly enjoyment as their highest good, and thus reverse the whole scale of values, or, as the ancient philosophers put it, the subordination of ends. As though in the hope of compensating for the poor quality of earthly goods, men are striving to increase their quantity; they are trying to produce as much as possible in the order of material enjoyment. They are constructing machinery with the object of increasing production at a greater profit. This is the ultimate objective. But what is the consequence ? The surplus cannot be disposed of; it is wasted, and unemployment is the result. The worker starves in enforced idleness while others die of surfeit. The present state of the world is called a crisis. But in fact it is more than a crisis; it is a condition of affairs which, if men only had eyes to see, ought to be revealing, it ought to show men that they have sought their last end where it is not to be found, in earthly enjoyment -- instead of God. They are seeking happiness in an abundance of material possessions which are incapable of giving it; possessions which sow discord among those that seek them, and a greater discord according as they are sought with greater avidity.
Do what you will with these material goods: share them out equally, make them the common property of all. It will be no remedy for the evil; for, so long as earthly possessions retain their nature and man retains the nature which is his, he will never find his happiness in them. The remedy is this, and this only: to consider the one thing necessary, and to ask God to give us saints who live only on this thought, saints who will give the world the spirit that it needs. God has always sent us saints in troubled times. We need them especially to-day.

The principle of the interior life.

It is all the more important to recall the necessity and the true nature of the interior life, because the true conception of it, as given to us in the Gospel, in the Epistles of St. Paul and in the whole of Tradition, has been partially obscured by many false ideas. In particular it is evident that the notion of the interior life is radically corrupted in the Lutheran theory of justification or conversion. According to this theory the mortal sins of the convert are not positively blotted out by the infusion of the new life of grace and charity; they are simply covered over, veiled by faith in the Redeemer, and they cease to be imputed to the person who has committed them. There is no intrinsic justification, no interior renewal of the soul; a man is reputed just merely by the extrinsic imputation of the justice of Christ. According to this view, in order to be just in the eyes of God it is not necessary to possess that infused charity by which we love God supernaturally and our fellowmen for God's sake. Actually, according to this conception, however firmly the just man may believe in Christ the Redeemer, he remains in his sin, in his corruption or spiritual death. [2]

This grave misconception concerning our supernatural life, reducing it essentially to faith in Christ and excluding sanctifying grace, charity and meritorious works, was destined to lead gradually to Naturalism; it was to result finally in considering as ' just ' the man who, whatever his beliefs, valued and practised those natural virtues which were known even to the pagan philosophers who lived before Christ. [3]
In such an outlook, the question which is actually of the first importance does not even arise: Is man capable in his present state, without divine grace, of observing all the precepts of the natural law, including those that relate to God ? Is he able without grace to love God the sovereign Good, the author of our nature, and to love Him, not with a merely inoperative affection, but with a truly efficacious love, more than he loves himself and more than he loves anything else ? The early Protestants would have answered in the negative, as Catholic theologians have always done. [4] Liberal Protestantism, the offspring of Luther's theology, does not even ask the question; because it does not admit the necessity of grace, the necessity of an infused supernatural life.
Nevertheless, the question still recurs under a more general form: Is man able, without some help from on high, to get beyond himself, and truly and efficaciously to love Truth and Goodness more than he loves himself ?
Clearly, these problems are essentially connected with that of the nature of our interior life; for our interior life is nothing else than a knowledge of the True and a love of the Good; or better, a knowledge and love of God.
In order fully to appreciate the lofty conception which the Scriptures, and especially the Gospels, give us of the interior life, it would be necessary to study a theological treatise on justification and sanctifying grace. Nevertheless, we may here emphasize a fundamental truth of the Christian spiritual life, or of Christian mysticism, which has always been taught by the Catholic Church.
In the first place it is clear that according to the Scriptures the justification or conversion of the sinner does not merely cover his sins as with a mantle; it blots them out by the infusion of a new life. ' Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great mercy, ' so the Psalmist implores; ' and according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my iniquity. Wash me yet more from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.... Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop and I shall be cleansed; thou shalt wash me and I shall be made whiter than snow.... Blot out all my iniquities. Create a clean heart in me, O God; and renew a right spirit within my bowels. Cast me not away from thy face, and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and strengthen me with a perfect spirit. ' [5]
The Prophets use similar language. Thus God says, through the prophet Isaias: ' I am he that blot out thy iniquities for my own sake. ' [6] And the same expression recurs throughout the Bible: God is not content merely to cover our sins; He blots them out, He takes them away. And therefore, when John the Baptist sees Jesus coming towards him, he says: ' Behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who taketh away the sin of the world ! ' We find the same idea in St. John's first Epistle: [7] 'The blood of Jesus Christ... cleanseth us from all sin. ' St. Paul writes, similarly, in his first Epistle to the Corinthians :[8] ' Not the effeminate nor the impure nor thieves nor covetous nor drunkards nor railers nor extortioners shall possess the kingdom of God. And such some of you were. But you are washed; but you are sanctified; but you are justified; in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God. '
If it were true that by conversion sins were only veiled, and not blotted out, it would follow that a man is at once both just and ungodly, both justified, and yet still in the state of sin. God would love the sinner as His friend, despite the corruption of his soul, which He is apparently incapable of healing. The Saviour would not have taken away the sins of the world if He had not delivered the just man from the servitude of sin. Again, for the Christian these truths are elementary; the profound understanding of them, the continual and quasi-experimental living of them, is what we call the contemplation of the saints.
The blotting out and remission of sins thus described by the Scriptures can be effected only by the infusion of sanctifying grace and charity -- which is the supernatural love of God and of men for God's sake. Ezechiel, speaking in the name of God, tells us that this is so: ' I will pour upon you clean water, and you shall be cleansed from all your filthiness; and I will cleanse you from all your idols. And I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit in the midst of you; and I will cause you to walk in my commandments. ' [9]
This pure water which regenerates is the water of grace, of which it is said in the Gospel of St. John: [10] ' Of his fulness we have all received; and grace for grace. ' ' By (our Lord Jesus Christ) we have received grace, ' we read in the Epistle to the Romans ;[11]... ‘the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost who is given to us ' ;[12] and in the Epistle to the Ephesians: ' To every one of us is given grace, according to the measure of the giving of Christ. ' [13]
If it were otherwise, God's uncreated love for the man whom He converts would be merely an idle affection, and not an effective and operative love. But God's uncreated love for us, as St. Thomas shows, is a love which, far from presupposing in us any lovableness, actually produces that lovableness within us. His creative love gives and preserves in us our nature and our existence; but his life-giving love gives and preserves in us the life of grace which makes us lovable in His eyes, and lovable not merely as His servants but as His sons. (I, Q. xx, art. 2).
Sanctifying grace, the principle of our interior life, makes us truly the children of God because it makes us partakers of His nature. We cannot be sons of God by nature, as the Word is; but we are truly sons of God by grace and by adoption. And whereas a man who adopts a child brings about no interior change in him, but simply declares him his heir, God, when He loves us as adoptive sons, transforms us inwardly, giving us a share in His own intimate divine life.
Hence we read in the Gospel of St. John: [14] ' (The Word) came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them he gave the power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name. Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. ' And our Lord Himself said to Nicodemus [15] ' Amen, amen, I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Wonder not that I said to thee: You must be born again. '
St. John himself, moreover, writes in his first Epistle [16] ' Whosoever is born of God committeth not sin; for God's seed abideth in him. And he cannot sin because he is born of God. ' In other words, the seed of God, which is grace -- accompanied by charity, or the love of God -- cannot exist together with mortal sin which turns a man away from God; and, though it can exist together with venial sin, of which St. John had spoken earlier, [17] yet grace is not the source of venial sins; on the contrary, it makes them gradually disappear.
Still clearer, if possible, is the language of St. Peter, who writes :[18] ' By (Christ) he hath given us most great and precious promises, that by these you may be made partakers of the divine nature '; and St. James [19] thus expresses the same idea: ' Every best gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no change nor shadow of alteration. For of his own will hath he begotten us by the word of truth, that we might be some beginning of his creature. '
Truly sanctifying grace is a real and formal participation of the divine nature, for it is the principle of operations which are specifically divine. When in heaven it has reached its full development, and can no longer be lost, it will be the source of operations which will have absolutely the same formal object as the eternal and uncreated operations of God's own inner life; it will make us able to see Him immediately as He sees Himself, and to love Him as He loves Himself: ' Dearly beloved, ' says St. John, [20] ' we are now the sons of God; and it hath not yet appeared what we shall be. We know that when it shall appear we shall be like to him, for we shall see him as he is. '
This is what shows us, better than anything else, in what the true nature of sanctifying grace, the true nature of our interior life, consists. We cannot emphasize it too much. It is one of the most consoling truths of our faith; it is one of those vital truths which serve best to encourage us in the midst of the trials of our life on earth.

The beginning of eternal life.

To understand what our interior life is in itself and in its various phases, we must consider it not merely in its seed, but in its full and complete development. Now, if we ask the Gospel what our interior life is, it tells us that the life of grace, given to us in Baptism and nourished by the Eucharist, is the seed or germ of eternal life.

According to St. Matthew's account of the Sermon on the Mount, preached by Christ at the beginning of His ministry, our Lord says to His hearers (and it is the burden of the whole of His discourse): ' Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. ' He does not say: ' Be ye as perfect as the angels, ' but ' as your heavenly Father is perfect. ' [21] It follows, therefore, that Christ brings to men a principle of life which is a participation of the very life of God. Immeasurably above the various kingdoms of nature: the mineral kingdom, the vegetable, the animal kingdom, and even above the kingdom of man and above the natural activity of the angels, is the life of the kingdom of God. And this life in its full development is called, not the future life -- of which even the better among the pre-Christian philosophers spoke-but eternal life; a life measured, like that of God, not by future time, but by the one instant of motionless eternity.
The future life of which the philosophers speak is a natural life, similar almost to the life of the angels; whereas eternal life, of which the Gospel speaks, is essentially supernatural, as much for the angels as for us. It is not merely superhuman, it is superangelic, truly divine. It consists in seeing God immediately as He sees Himself, and in loving Him as He loves Himself. This is the reason why our Lord can say to you: ' Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect '; because you have received a participation in His inner life.
While the Old Testament speaks of eternal life only in figure, under the symbol of the Promised Land, the New Testament, and especially the Gospel of St. John, speaks of it continually; and from that time forth it has become almost impossible to conclude a sermon without mentioning eternal life, as that supreme beatitude to which we are called and destined.
But the Gospels, and especially the Gospel of St. John, tell us more about grace; we are told that grace is eternal life already begun.
In the fourth Gospel our Lord is recorded as saying no fewer than six times: ' He that believeth in me hath eternal life. ' [22] And it is not only in the future that he will have it, if he perseveres; in a sense he possesses it already: ' He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life, and I will raise him up in the last day. '[23] What is the meaning of these words ? Our Lord explains them later: ' Amen, amen, I say to you: If any man keep my word he shall not see death for ever. The Jews therefore said: Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest: If any man keep my word he shall not taste death for ever.... Whom dost thou make thyself ? ' It was then that Jesus said: ' Before Abraham was, I am. '[24]
What, then, does our Lord mean when He says: ' He that believeth in me hath eternal life ' ? He means: He that believes in Me with a living faith, that is, with a faith which is united with charity, with the love of God and the love of his neighbour, possesses eternal life already begun. In other words: He who believes in Me has within himself in germ a supernatural life which is fundamentally the same as eternal life. Our spiritual progress cannot tend in the direction of the life of eternity unless it presupposes the seed of it already existing in us, a seed of the same nature as the life towards which we are tending. In the natural order, the germ which is contained in the acorn could never grow into an oak tree unless it were of the same nature as the oak, if it did not contain the life of the oak in a latent state. The little child, likewise, could never become a man if it had not a rational soul, if reason were not already latent within it. In the same way, a Christian on earth could never become one of the blessed in heaven unless he had already received the divine life in Baptism.
And just as it is impossible to know the nature of the germ enclosed within the acorn unless we study it in its perfect state in the oak tree, so we cannot know the life of grace unless we consider it in its ultimate development, in that glory which is the consummation of grace. ' Grace, ' says the whole of Tradition, ' is the seed of glory. '
Fundamentally, it is always the same supernatural life, the same sanctifying grace and the same charity, but with two differences. Here on earth we know God supernaturally, but not in the clearness of vision; we know Him in the obscurity of faith. Moreover, while we hope one day to possess Him finally and definitively, here on earth it is always possible for us to lose Him by a mortal sin. But, in spite of these two differences, relating to faith and hope, it is the same life, the same sanctifying grace, and the same charity. And so our Lord said to the Samaritan woman: ' If thou didst know the gift of God and who he is that saith to thee: Give me to drink; thou perhaps wouldst have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.... He that shall drink of the water that I will give him shall not thirst for ever. But the water that I will give him shall become in him a fountain of water springing up into life everlasting. ' [25] And in the Temple, on the last day of the feast of Tabernacles, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, not merely for the benefit of privileged souls, but for all: ' If any man thirst let him come to me and drink He that believeth in me... out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. ' [26] ' Now this he said, ' adds St. John, ' of the Spirit which they should receive who believed in him. ' And in fact the Holy Ghost is called fons vivus fons vitae: the living fountain, the fountain of life.
Again Jesus says: ' If any one love me he will keep my word (faith alone, then, is not enough), and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and will make our abode with him. ' [27] Who will come ? Not only grace, God's created gift, but the divine Persons will come: the Father and the Son, and also the promised Holy Spirit. Thus the Holy Trinity dwells in us, in the obscurity of faith, in very much the same way as It dwells in the souls of the saints in heaven who see It face to face. ' He that abideth in charity abideth in God, and God in him. '[28]
It is much more wonderful than any miracle, this supernatural life. A miracle is an exercise of the divine omnipotence by which God signifies that one of His servants speaks in His name, or that he is of eminent sanctity. But even the raising of the dead to life, the miracle by which a corpse is reanimated with its natural life, is almost nothing in comparison with the resurrection of a soul, which has been lying spiritually dead in sin and has now been raised to the essentially supernatural life of grace.
Grace, then, is eternal life already begun within us, and this is why Christ says: ' The kingdom of God cometh not with observation. Neither shall they say: Behold here or behold there. For lo, the kingdom of God is within you. '[29] It is there, hidden within you, like the grain of mustard seed, like the leaven which will cause the whole of the meal to rise, like the treasure hidden in a field, like the source from which gushes a river of water that will never fail. ' We know, ' says St. John, ' that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren '; [30] and ' these things I write to you that you may know that you have eternal life, you that believe in the name of the Son of God. ’[31] And Christ, His beloved master, had said: ' This is eternal life: that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. '[32]
St. Thomas expresses this doctrine in the brief statement: ' Gratia nihil aliud est quam quaedam inchoatio gloriae in nobis ': Grace is nothing else but a certain beginning of glory within us. ' [33] And Bossuet says the same thing: ' Eternal life in its beginnings consists in knowing God by faith (united with charity); in its consummation eternal life consists in seeing God face to face, unveiled. Jesus Christ gives us both the one and the other, because He has merited it for us and because He is the source of it in all the members to which He gives life. ' [34]
And therefore the Liturgy tells us, in the Preface used for the Mass of the Dead. ' Tuis enim fidelibus, Domine, vita mutatur, non tollitur ': ' From them that believe in thee, O Lord, life is not taken away; it is changed and transformed. '

The importance of true conversion.

We are thus able to appreciate something of the importance of true conversion, by which a man passes from the state of mortal sin to the state of grace. In the former state his energies were dissipated and he was indifferent in regard to God; now he loves God more than he loves himself, more than he loves anything else; at any rate he esteems God beyond all earthly things, even though his love of God may not be free from all selfish motives. The state of sin was a state of spiritual death; a state in which, more or less consciously, he made himself the centre of all his activities and the end of all his desires; in which he was actually the slave of everything, the slave of his passions, of the spirit of the world, of the spirit of evil. The state of grace, on the other hand, is a state of life in which man begins seriously to tend beyond himself and to make God the centre of his activities, loving God more than himself. The state of grace is entrance into the kingdom of God, where the docile soul begins to reign with God over its own passions, over the spirit of the world and the spirit of evil.

We may well understand, therefore, how St. Thomas could write: ' Bonum gratiae unius majus est quam bonum naturae totius universi' The lowest degree of grace in a soul, for example in that of a small child after its baptism, is of greater value than the natural goodness of the whole universe. This grace alone is worth more than all created natures together, including even the angelic natures. For the angels, too, stood in need, not of redemption, but of the gratuitous gift of grace in order to tend to the supernatural beatitude to which God called them. St. Augustine says that when God created the nature of the angels He also gave them the gift of grace: ' Simul in eis condens naturam et largiens gratiam ';[35] and he maintains that ' the justification of the ungodly is something greater than the creation of heaven and earth, greater even than the creation of the angels. ' [36]
St. Thomas adds. ' The justification of the sinner is proportionately more precious than the glorification of the just; because the gift of grace more greatly transcends the state of the sinner, who is deserving of punishment, than the gift of glory transcends the state of the just man, who, by reason of his justification, is worthy of the gift of glory. ' [37] There is a much greater distance between the nature of man, or even between the nature of the highest of the angels, and grace, than there is between grace itself and glory. No created nature, however perfect, is the germ of grace, whereas grace is indeed the germ or the seed of eternal life, semen gloriae. Hence when a sinner is absolved in the confessional, an event occurs which is proportionately of greater importance than the entrance of a just soul into heaven.
This doctrine is expressed by Pascal in one of the finest pages of his Pensees, a page which summarises the teaching of St. Augustine and St. Thomas on this point: ' The infinite distance which separates bodies from spirits is a symbol of the infinitely more infinite distance which separates spirits from charity, for charity is supernatural. [38] The whole of the material creation together, the firmament, the stars, the earth and its kingdoms, is inferior to the least of the spirits; for he knows all this and he knows himself, whereas bodies know nothing. All bodies together, and all spirits together, and all that they can produce, are of less value than the smallest act of charity, because this is of an infinitely higher order. From all bodies together it would be impossible to extract a single thought, because a thought is of a higher order than they. From all bodies and all spirits together it would be impossible to extract one single act of true charity, because an act of charity is of the supernatural order. ' [39]
Luther erred fundamentally, therefore, when he tried to explain justification, not by the infusion of a grace and charity which remit sin, but merely by faith in Christ, without works and without love; making it consist simply in the extrinsic imputation of the merits of Christ, an imputation which covers sins without destroying them, and thus leaves the sinner in his filth and corruption. According to his view there was no regeneration of the will by the supernatural love of God and men. We have seen, on the contrary, what is the teaching of the Scriptures and of Tradition. Faith and the extrinsic imputation of the justice of Christ are not sufficient for the justification or conversion of the sinner. He must be willing, in addition, to observe the commandments, above all the two great commandments of the love of God and the love of one's neighbour: ' If any one love me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him. ' [40] ' He that abideth in charity abideth in God, and God in him. ' [41]
According to the true teaching of Christ we are in an order far transcending natural morality. Our unaided reason tells us that it is our duty to love God, the author of our nature, and to love Him effectively, that is, by observing His commandments. But even this natural duty we are unable to fulfil without the help of God's grace, so weakened are our wills in consequence of original sin. Still less are we able by our natural powers alone to love God, the author of grace; for this love is of an essentially supernatural order, as supernatural for the angels as it is for us.
Such is the supernatural life which we received in Baptism; and this is what constitutes our interior life.
This beginning of eternal life, as we have called it, is a complete spiritual organism, which has to grow and develop until we enter heaven. The root principle of this undying organism is sanctifying grace, received in the very essence of the soul; and this grace would last for ever, were it not that sin, a radical disorder in the soul, sometimes destroys it. [42] From sanctifying grace, which is the germ of glory, proceed the infused virtues. First, the theological virtues, the greatest of which, charity, is destined to last for ever- ' Charity never falleth away, ' says St. Paul, ... ' Now there remain faith, hope and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. '[43] Charity will remain for ever, after faith has disappeared to make room for vision; after hope has been displaced by the everlasting possession of God, seen face to face.
In addition to the theological virtues there are also the infused moral virtues, which perfect man in his use of the means of salvation, just as the former dispose him rightly in regard to his end. The infused moral virtues are like so many functions admirably adapted one to another, infinitely surpassing in perfection those of our physical organism; they are called- prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance... together with the other virtues which are associated with them.
Finally, in order to supply the deficiencies of these virtues which, in the twilight of faith and under the direction of prudence, still act in too human a fashion, we are given the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, who dwells in us. These are like the sails on a ship; they dispose us to receive obediently and promptly the breathing that comes from on high, the special inspirations of God; inspirations which enable us to act, no longer in merely human fashion, but divinely, with that alacrity which we need in order to run in the way of God, undismayed by any obstacles.
All these infused virtues and gifts grow with sanctifying grace and charity, says St. Thomas ;[44] they increase together just as the five fingers of the hand, or the organs of our body, develop simultaneously. Thus it is inconceivable that a soul should possess a high degree of charity without possessing at the same time a proportionate degree of the gift of wisdom; whether this exist under a definitely contemplative form, or in a practical guise, more directly adapted to action. The wisdom of a St. Vincent de Paul is unlike that of a St. Augustine; but the one and the other are equally infused.
In this way the whole of the spiritual organism develops simultaneously, though it may manifest its activity under various forms. And, from this point of view, since the infused contemplation of the mysteries of faith is an act of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, an act which disposes the soul to the beatific vision, must we not admit that such contemplation is in the normal way of sanctity ?. -- We merely mention the question here, without insisting further upon it. [45]
Let us now examine more closely the full development of our eternal life in heaven, in order that we may better appreciate the value of that sanctifying grace which is its beginning. In particular let us compare it with what would have been our beatitude and our reward if we had been created in a purely natural state.
If we had been created in a state of pure nature, with a spiritual and immortal soul, but without the life of grace, even then our intellect would have been made for the knowledge of the True and our will for the love of the Good. Our end would have been to know God, the Sovereign Good, the author of our nature, and to love Him above all things. But we should have known Him only in the reflection of His goodness in creatures, in the same way as the greatest among the pagan philosophers knew Him, though our knowledge would have been more certain than theirs, and free from any admixture of error. God would have been for us the First Cause and the Supreme Intelligence that orders all the things of creation.
We should have loved Him as the author of our nature, with that love which a subject has for his superior. It would not have been a love of friendship, but rather a sentiment compounded of admiration, respect and gratitude, yet lacking that happy and simple familiarity which rejoices the hearts of the children of God. We should have been God's servants, but not His children.
This natural end is already a sublime destiny. It could never bring satiety, just as the eye never tires of contemplating the blue vault of heaven. Moreover, it is a spiritual end, and therefore, unlike material goods, can be possessed at once by all and by each, without possession on the part of one being prejudicial to possession on the part of another, and thus without causing jealousy or discord.
But this abstract and mediate knowledge of God would have left many obscurities in the human mind, especially as regards the mutual compatibility of the divine perfections. We should forever have remained at the stage of counting singly and enumerating these absolute perfections; we should forever have wondered how it was possible to reconcile the almighty goodness of God with His permission that evil should exist; an evil, too, which is sometimes so great as to disconcert the human mind. We should have asked ourselves, moreover, how His infinite mercy could be truly consistent with His infinite justice. Even though we enjoyed this natural beatitude, we should still be urged to say: ' If only I could see this God, who is the source of all truth and goodness; if I could see Him as He sees Himself ! '
What the most brilliant of human minds, what even the intelligence of the angels could never have discovered, divine Revelation has disclosed to us. Revelation tells us that our last end is essentially supernatural and that it consists in seeing God immediately, face to face, as He is: sicuti est ' (God) has predestinated (us) to be made conformable to the image of his Son; that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. ' [46] ' Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him. [47]
We are destined to see God, not merely in the mirror of creatures, however perfect these may be, but to see Him immediately, without the intermediary of any creature, and even without the medium of any created idea; for no created idea, however perfect, could ever represent as He really is One who is Thought itself, infinite Truth, the eternally subsistent brightness of intelligence and the living flame of measureless Love.
We are destined to see all the divine perfections concentrated and intimately united in their common source: Deity. We are destined to see how the tenderest Mercy and the most inexorable Justice proceed from the one Love which is infinitely generous and infinitely holy; how this Love, even in its freest choice, is identically one with pure Wisdom, how there is nothing in the divine Love which is not wise, nothing in the divine Wisdom which is not synonymous with Love. We are destined to contemplate the eminent simplicity of God, His absolute purity and sanctity; to see the infinite fecundity of the divine nature in the procession of the Three Persons: to contemplate the eternal generation of the Word, the ' brightness of (the Father's) glory and the figure of his substance, ' [48] to see the ineffable breathing of the Holy Spirit, the issue of the common Love of the Father and the Son, which unites them in the most complete outpouring of themselves. The Good tends naturally to diffuse itself, and the greater the Good the more abundant and intimate is its self-giving.
None can tell the joy and the love which this vision will produce in us, a love of God so pure and so strong that nothing will ever be able to destroy or in the slightest degree to diminish it.
In no way, therefore, can we express more clearly the preciousness of sanctifying grace, or of the true interior life, than by saying that it is a beginning of eternal life. Here on earth we know God only by faith, and, while we hope one day to possess Him, we are able, unfortunately, to lose Him by sin. But, apart from these two differences, it is fundamentally the same life, the same sanctifying grace and the same charity, which is to last through all eternity.
This is the fundamental truth of Christian spirituality. Consequently our interior life must be a life of humility, for we must remember always that the principle of that life, sanctifying grace, is a gratuitous gift, and that we need an actual grace for the slightest salutary act, for the shortest step forward in the way of salvation. It must be also a life of mortification; as St. Paul says, we must be ' always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies '; [49] that is to say: we must daily more and more die to sin and to the relics that sin leaves in us, so that God may reign more completely in us, even to the depth of the soul. But, above all, our interior life must be a life of faith, hope, charity, and union with God by unceasing prayer; it is above all the life of the three theological virtues and of the gifts of the Holy Ghost which accompany them: the gifts of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, piety, counsel, fortitude and fear of the Lord. In this way we shall enter into the mysteries of faith and relish them more and more. In other words, our whole interior life tends towards the supernatural contemplation of the mysteries of the inner life of God and of the Incarnation and Redemption; it tends, above all, towards a more intimate union with God, a preliminary to that union with Him, ever actual and perpetual, which will be the consummation of eternal life.

The three periods of the spiritual life.

If such is the life of grace, if such is the spiritual organism of the infused virtues and the gifts, it is not surprising to find that the development of the interior life has often been compared to the three periods or stages of physical life: childhood, youth, and manhood. St. Thomas himself has indicated this analogy: and it is an analogy which is worth pursuing, particular attention being paid to the transition from one period to the other.

It is generally admitted that childhood lasts until the age of puberty, about fourteen; though early childhood, or infancy, ceases at the dawn of reason, about the age of seven. Youth, or adolescence, lasts from the age of fourteen to twenty. Then follows manhood, in which we may distinguish the period which precedes full maturity, about the age of thirty-five, and that which follows it, before the decline of old age sets in.
A man's mentality changes with the development of the organism: the activity of the child, it has been said, is not that of a man in miniature, or of a fatigued adult; the dominant element in childhood is different. The child has as yet no discernment, it is unable to organize in a rational manner; it follows the lead of the imagination and the impulses of sense. And even when its reason begins to awaken it still remains to a great extent dependent upon the senses. So, for example, a child asked me one day: ' What are you lecturing on this year ? ' ' On man, ' I replied.
'On what man?' was the next inquiry. The child's intelligence was as yet unable to grasp the abstract and universal idea of man as such.
Most important to be noticed, for the purposes of our present subject, is the transition from childhood to adolescence and from youth to manhood.
The period of puberty, which is the end of childhood, about the age of fourteen, is characterized by a transformation which is not only organic but also psychological, intellectual and moral. The youth is no longer content to follow his imagination, as the child was; he begins 10 reflect on the things of human life, on the need to prepare himself for some career or occupation in the future. He has no longer the child's attitude towards family, social and religious matters; his moral personality begins to take shape, and he acquires the sense of honour and of good repute. Or else, on the contrary, if he passes unsuccessfully through this difficult period, he deteriorates and follows evil courses. The law of nature so ordains that the transition from childhood to youth must follow a normal development; otherwise the subject will assume a positive bias to evil, or else he will remain a half-wit, perhaps even a complete idiot, for the rest of his life. ' He who makes no progress loses ground. '
It is at this point that the analogy becomes illuminating for the spiritual life. We shall see that the beginner who fails to become a proficient, either turns to sin or else presents an example of arrested spiritual development. Here, too, it is true that ' he who makes no progress loses ground, ' as the Fathers of the Church have so often pointed out.

Let us pursue the analogy further. If the physical and moral crisis of puberty is a difficult transition, the same is to be said of another crisis, which we may call the crisis of the first freedom, and which occurs at the stage where the youth enters manhood, about the age of twenty. The young man, having now reached his complete physical development, has to begin to take his place in social life. It will soon be time for him to marry and to become an educator in his turn, unless he has received from God a higher vocation still. Many fail to surmount this crisis of the first freedom, and, like the prodigal son, depart from their father's house and confuse liberty with licence. Here again the law ordains that the transition must be made normally; otherwise the young man either takes the wrong road, or else his development is arrested and he becomes one of those of whom it is said: ' He will be a child for the whole of his life. '

The true adult is not merely a young man grown a little older. He has a new mentality; he is preoccupied with wider questions, questions to which the youth does not yet advert. He understands the younger generation, but the younger generation does not understand him; conversation between them on certain subjects, except of a very superficial kind, is impossible.
There is a somewhat similar relation, in the spiritual life, between the proficient and the perfect. He who is perfect understands the earlier stages through which he has himself already passed; but he cannot expect to be understood by those who are still passing through them.
The important thing to be noticed is that, just as there is the crisis of puberty, more or less manifest and more or less successfully surpassed, between childhood and adolescence, so in the spiritual life there is an analogous crisis for the transition from the purgative life of beginners to the illuminative life of proficients. This crisis has been described by several great spiritual writers, in particular by Tauler [50] and especially by St. John of the Cross, under the name of the passive purgation of the senses, [51] and by Pere Lallemant, S. J., [52] and several others under the name of the second conversion.
Moreover, just as the youth has to pass through a second crisis, that of the first freedom, in order to reach manhood, so in the transition from the illuminative way of the proficients to the true life of union, there is a second spiritual crisis, mentioned by Tauler, [53] and described by St. John of the Cross under the name of the passive purgation of the spirit. [54] This, likewise, may be called a third conversion, or better, a transformation of the soul.
None has better described these crises which mark the transition from one spiritual period to another than St. John of the Cross. It will be noticed that they correspond to the two parts of the human soul, the sensitive and the spiritual. they correspond also to the nature of the divine seed, sanctifying grace, that germ of eternal life which must ever more and more animate all our faculties and inspire all our actions, until the depth of the soul is purged of all egoism and surrendered entirely to God.
St. John of the Cross, it is true, describes spiritual progress as it appears especially in contemplatives, and in the most generous among contemplatives, who are striving to reach union with God by the most direct way possible. He therefore shows us what are the higher laws of the spiritual life at their maximum of sublimity. But these laws apply in a lesser degree also to many other souls who do not reach so high a state of perfection, but are nevertheless making devoted progress, and not looking back.
In the chapters which follow it will be our object to show that, according to the traditional teaching, beginners in the spiritual life must, after a certain period, undergo a second conversion, similar to the second conversion of the Apostles at the end of our Lord's Passion, and that, still later, before entering upon the life of perfect union, there must be a third conversion or transformation of the soul, similar to that which took place in the souls of the Apostles on the day of Pentecost.
This distinction between the three periods or stages of the spiritual life is clearly of great importance, as those who are charged with the direction of souls well know. An old and experienced director who has himself reached the age of the perfect may have read but little of the writings of the mystics, and yet he will be able to answer well and readily the most delicate questions on the most sublime subjects, and he will answer in the words of the Scriptures, perhaps by quoting a passage from the Gospel of the day, without even suspecting for a moment how truly profound his answers are. On the other hand a young and inexperienced priest, himself only at the age of a beginner, will have little more than a book-knowledge and a verbal acquaintance with the spiritual life.
The question with which we are concerned is thus in the highest sense a vital question; and it is important that we should consider it from the traditional point of view. If we do so consider it, we shall see how true is the saying of the ancients, that ' in the way of God he who makes no progress loses ground '; and it will appear also that our interior life must, already here on earth, become the normal prelude to the beatific vision. In this deep sense our interior life is, as we have said, eternal life already begun: ' inchoatio vitae aeternae. ' [55] 'Amen, amen I say to you, he that believeth in me hath eternal life, and I will raise him up in the last day. ' [56]

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