The Spiritual Combat

Fr. Lorenzo Scupoli


ALTHOUGH in this combat we may be said to have within us two wills, the one of the reason which is called rational and superior, the other of the senses, called sensual and inferior, and commonly described by the words appetite, flesh, sense, and passion; yet, as it is the reason which constitutes us men, we cannot be said to will any thing which is willed by the senses unless we be also inclined thereto by the superior will. And herein does our spiritual conflict principally consist. The reasonable will being placed, as it were, midway between the Divine will, which is above it _ and the inferior will, or will of the senses, which is beneath it, is continually assaulted by both; each seeking in turn to attract and subdue, and bring it into obedience.

Much hard toil and trouble must, however, be undergone by the unpracticed, especially at the outset, when they resolve to amend their evil lives, and, renouncing the world and the flesh, to give themselves up to the love and service of Jesus Christ. For the opposition encountered by the superior will, from the continual warfare between the Divine and sensual will, is sharp and severe, and accompanied by acute suffering.

It is not so with those who are well practiced in the way of virtue or of vice; they pursue without difficulty the path on which they have entered; the virtuous yielding readily to the Divine will, and the vicious yielding without resistance to the will of the senses.

But let no one imagine it possible to persevere in the exercise of true Christian virtues, or to serve God as He ought to be served, unless he will in good earnest do violence to himself, and endure the pain of parting with all pleasant things whatsoever, whether great or small, around which his earthly affections are entwined.

Hence it is that so few attain to perfection; for after having with much toil overcome the greater vices, they will not persevere in doing violence to themselves by struggling against the promptings of selfwill, and an infinity of lesser desires. They grow weary of so unremitting a struggle; they suffer these insignificant enemies to prevail against them, and so to acquire an absolute mastery over their hearts.

To this class belong men who, if they do not take what belongs to others, cleave with inordinate affection to that which is lawfully their own. If they do not obtain honors by unlawful means, yet they do not, as they should, shun them; but, on the contrary, cease not to desire, and sometimes even to seek, them in various ways. If they observe fasts of obligation, yet they do not mortify their palate in the matter of superfluous eating, or the indulgence in delicate morsels. If they live continently, yet they do not renounce many indulgences which much impede union with God and the growth of the spiritual life; and which, as they are very dangerous even to the holiest persons, and most dangerous to those who fear them least, should be as much as possible avoided by all.

Hence all their good works are performed in a lukewarm spirit, and accompanied by much self seeking, by many lurking imperfections, by a certain kind of selfesteem, and by a desire to be praised and valued by the world.

Such persons not only fail to make any progress in the way of salvation, but rather go back; and are therefore in danger of relapsing into their former sins, because they have no love of true holiness, and show little gratitude to their Lord, who rescued them from the tyranny of the devil. They are moreover too blind and ignorant to see the peril in which they stand; and so falsely persuade themselves of their own security.

And here we discover a delusion, which is the more dangerous because it is little apprehended. Many who aspire to the spiritual life, unconsciously love themselves far more than they ought to do; and therefore practice for the most part those exercises which suit their taste, and neglect others, which touch to the quick those natural inclinations and sensual appetites against which they ought in all reason to direct the full strength of the battle.

Therefore I exhort and counsel you to be in love with pain and difficulty; for they will bring with them that which is the end and object of the whole struggle _ victory over self. The more deeply you shall be in love with the difficulties encountered by beginners in virtue and in war, the surer and the speedier shall be the victory; and if your love be to the difficulty and the toilsome struggle, rather than to the victory and the virtue to be attained, you shall the more speedily obtain all you desire.

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