In What Mortification Consists, and the Need in Which We Stand of It

by admin on January 23, 2011

TO go to the root of the matter we must presuppose in the first place that in our soul there are two chief parts, which theologians call the upper and the lower por­tions, or, in other and clearer words, reason and sensitive appetite. Before sin, in that blessed state of innocence and original justice in which God created man, this inferior por­tion was perfectly subject to the superior, appetite to rea­son, as the less noble to the more noble and the born slave to his master. I found that God made man well ordered and right (Eccles. vii. 30). God did not create man in that disordered condition in which we now are; but without any difficulty or contradiction, with much ease and facility, appetite obeyed reason, and man proceeded to love his Creator and employ himself wholly in His service with nothing to hinder or disturb him.   The sensitive appetite was then so subject and submissive to reason that no reaction or temptation of the flesh could arise—unless the man himself freely sought it.   We were not then tempted to anger, nor to envy, nor to gluttony, nor to lust, nor to any other evil desire unless we of our own will chose to entertain it.   But as by sin man’s reason rebelled against God, so also his sensitive appetite rebelled against reason.  I do not the good that I would do, but the evil that I would not that I do, says the Apostle Paul   (Rom. vii. 19).    Entirely against your will, and for all your dislike of it, there arise in your sensitive appetite motions and impulses contrary to reason.

And further, if man had not sinned, the body would have been disposed for any work that the soul chose to carry on, without feeling in itself any let or hindrance. But now this body that is corrupt weighs down the soul (Wisdom ix. 15). Of many things of which the soul feels herself capable and desirous, the body gets in the way. As when we go on a journey mounted on a sorry hack, that shakes our bones as we ride it, continually stumbles, gets tired, is unmanage­able at times, starts at a shadow, and even takes to lying down unexpectedly, such at present is our body.

“This is the penalty of disobedience,” says St. Augustine, “recoiling upon man himself, that whereas he has disobeyed God, now in turn he is not obeyed by himself.”

Theologians say with Bede that by original sin man was “stripped of the gifts of grace, and wounded in those of nature”—spoliatus gratuitis et vulneratus in naturalibus. He was wounded and vitiated in his nature, inasmuch as his understanding was darkened for understanding the things of God; his free will weakened; his inclination for good enfeebled; his appetite headstrong for evil; his mem­ory wild and wandering; his imagination restless and unquiet, so that we can scarcely recite one Our Father with our thought fixed on God, but at once, almost before we are aware of it, it steals off and wanders from home and ranges without stopping all the world over. Our senses, again, are envious, our flesh filthy and ill-inclined; finally, our whole nature is so wounded and corrupted by sin that it does not take the course which it took before, nor can do now what it could before. He who before his sin loved God more than himself, now since his sin loves himself more than God; he is ever in love with himself, desirous of doing his own will, inclined to gratify his appetites and to let his passions and evil desires run away with him, even though they be against reason and against God.

Further, we must observe that, though by baptism we are delivered from original sin, which was the cause of this upset, nevertheless we are not delivered from this loss of control of our appetite and its rebellion against reason and against God, which theologians and saints call fames peccati, the food and incentive to sin. God our Lord by His just and high judgment and arrangement has been pleased to leave in us this rebellion and contradiction to repress our pride, and in punishment for it, that we might always walk in humility, seeing our misery and vile condition. “When man was in honor he did not understand but was likened to brute animals and made similar to them (Psalm xlviii. 21). God created man in great honor and dignity, adorned him and beautified him with many supernatural gifts and graces, and he would not recognize what he had received nor be grateful for it. In consequence he deserved that God should despoil and deprive him of it and he should be left like the beasts, feeling in himself bestial desires and appe­tites, that he might know himself and be humbled and have no occasion for pride, as indeed we have none if we only know ourselves, but much ever to confound and humble us.

Secondly, we must lay down another main foundation in the matter, which follows from the first. It is that this appetite of ours, so irregular and disorderly—this evil and perverse inclination of our flesh—is the greatest obstacle and hindrance to our making progress in the way of virtue. This is what we commonly say, that our flesh is our great­est enemy since thence arise all our temptations and falls, as the Apostle St. James says: Whence are these wars and quarrels amongst you?   Is it not from the lusts that war in your members? (James iv. 1).  This our sensuality and concupiscence, this disorderly self-love that we bear to our­selves, is the cause of all our wars, of all our sins, and of all the faults and imperfections that we fall into.   And also this is the greatest difficulty that we find in the way of vir­tue.   Even philosophers know this by the light of natural reason.   Aristotle says that the whole difficulty of being a good and virtuous man lies in curbing and moderating pleasures and repugnances.   Epictetus reduces the whole of philosophy to these two short words, Endure and refrain. And this is the experience of all; for no man sins except to escape some difficulty and hardship, or to gain some pleas­ure and delight instead of refraining from it.   One man sins by love and desire of riches, another by greedy ambi­tion of honor, another for the attainment of some fleshly and sensual pleasure, another to escape the difficulty and hardship there is in keeping the commandments of God and the Church, because he finds it very hard to love his enemy, to fast, to confess his shameful and secret sins.   All sins spring from this source; and not only sins, but all faults and imperfections in the way of virtue.

Hereby it will be readily understood in what mortifica­tion consists; it consists in regulating what was irregular, in ordering and moderating our passions and evil inclina­tions and our disorderly self-love. In the words of Christ our Redeemer: If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me (Matt, xvi. 24). St. Jerome says: “He denies himself and takes up his cross who before was unchaste and becomes now chaste and pure, who before was intemperate and becomes now very abstemious, who was before timid and weak and becomes now strong and constant.” That is to deny one­self, to make oneself other than one was before. And this is the need that we have of mortification. St. Basil adds: “Observe, He first says, let him deny himself, and then, and follow me.” If you do not first this duty of denying and breaking in your own will and mortifying your evil inclinations and passions, you will find many occasions and obstacles to hinder you from following Christ; you must first smooth and level the road by mortification. Therefore mortification is laid down as the foundation, not only of perfection, but of Christian life. This is the cross that we must always take up on our shoulders, if we wish to follow Christ—ever bearing in our body the mortification of Jesus (II Cor. iv. 10). This is what Job said: Man’s life is a war­fare on earth (Job vii. 1), because, as St. Paul says, the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, for these two are contrary to one another (Gal. v. 17).

This those glorious Fathers and doctors of the Church, Gregory and Ambrose, say is the true fortitude of the serv­ants of God. It consists not in strength of the arms of the body, but in the virtue of the soul, in overcoming one’s flesh, in contradicting one’s appetites and desires, in despis­ing the delights and satisfactions of this life, and in bear­ing well the hardships and adversities that occur. It is more to govern oneself and be master of one’s passions and senses than to rule and subject others to oneself. Better is the patient man than the strong, and better he that is master of his own mind than he that stormeth cities (Prov. xvi. 32), for our own evil inclinations and passions are more serious foes than external enemies, as St. Ambrose says. And, speaking of the great power which Joseph attained, who says that he was great and did more in governing and being master of himself, not consenting to commit adultery with the lady of the house where he served (Gen. xxxix. 9), than afterwards in ruling and governing the whole kingdom of Egypt. And St. Chrysostom says that David, in conquering and overcoming himself and not seeking to revenge himself on Saul (I Kings xviii. 6; xxiv. 7), whom he might have killed in the cave, did more than in overcoming the giant Goliath. The spoils of this victory he deposited, not in the city of the earthly Jerusalem, but in that Jerusalem above that is in heaven; and there came forth to meet him, sing­ing his praises, not the women of Israel, as when he over­came Goliath, but the host of angels, rejoicing on high and marveling at his virtue and fortitude.

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