The Spiritual Combat

Fr. Lorenzo Scupoli


These sins must be resisted in a way peculiar to themselves, and different from the method used against any other temptation.

In order, therefore, to a successful resistance, three periods must be observed.

I. Before the temptation.

II. During the temptation.

III. After the temptation.

I. Before the temptation the struggle must be against those things which generally occasion it.

First, you must combat the vice, but never confront it; on the contrary, avoid to the utmost of your power every occasion and every person where you may incur the slightest danger. And if at times compelled to converse with such, let it be briefly, with a grave and modest demeanor, and with worlds of severity rather than of excessive tenderness and affability.

Neither be confident in yourself if you are free, and during many years of such exercises have continued free from temptations of the flesh; for this accursed vice makes its advances secretly, often doing in an hour what in many years it had failed to effect; and it hurts the more grievously, and wounds the more fatally, the more friendly the form it assumes, and the less ground of suspicion it seems to give.

And there is often great danger, as experience has shown and still shows, in intercourse which is indulged in under fair and lawful pretexts, such as kindred, relations of duty, or, again, great virtue in the person beloved. For the poisonous pleasure of sense insinuates itself into this overfrequent and imprudent intercourse, instilling its venom gradually, until it penetrates into the marrow of the soul and darkens the reason more and more, till at last no account is made of things which are really dangerous, such as mutual glances of tenderness, loving words, and the enjoyment of conversation: and so, a change creeping over both, they fall at last into destruction, or into some temptation most hard and toilsome to overcome.

Once more I say to you, Fly! for you are as stubble. Trust not to being bathed and filled with the water of a good and strong purpose, and resolved and ready to die rather than offend God; for, inflamed by frequent stirring the heat of the fire will gradually dry up the water of thy good resolve, and when you are least on your guard, it will so enkindle you that you will respect neither friends nor kindred, nor fear God, nor regard life or honor nor all the pains of hell. Therefore fly, fly unless you would be overtaken, captured, and slain.

Secondly, avoid idleness, and be awake and vigilant, and busied with the thoughts and deeds which befit your state of life.

Thirdly, never resist the will of your superiors; but show them a ready obedience, fulfilling promptly all their commands, and most willingly such as humble you most, and are most opposed to your natural will and inclination.

Fourthly, beware of forming rash judgments of your neighbor, especially with regard to this vice; and if he have manifestly fallen, have pity on him: be not bitter against him, nor hold him in contempt; but rather gather from his fall the fruit of humility and self-knowledge, confessing yourself to be but dust and ashes, drawing nearer unto God in prayer, and shunning more carefully than ever all intercourse wherein there may be even the shadow of danger.

For if you are forward to judge and despise others, God will correct you to your cost, and suffer you to fall into the same fault in order to convince you of your weakness, that by such a humiliation both sins may be cured.

And even if you should escape this sin yet, unless you lay aside your uncharitable judgment of others, your state will be very insecure.

Fifthly and lastly, beware, lest, finding yourself favored with some enjoyment of spiritual delights, you feel a certain vain complacency therein, and imagine yourself to be something, and that your enemies are now no longer able to assault you, because you seem to yourself to regard them with disgust, horror, and detestation. If you are incautious in this matter, you will easily fall.

II. During the temptation, consider whether it proceeds from internal or external causes.

By external, I mean curiosity of the eyes or ears, oversoftness in dress, habits, and conversations, which excite to this sin.

The remedies in this case are purity, modesty, the refraining from seeing or hearing any thing which excites to this vice, and, as I said before, flight.

The internal are either the rebellion of the flesh, or thoughts of the mind proceeding from our own evil habits or from the suggestion of the devil.

The rebellion of the flesh must be mortified by fasts, disciplines, hairshirts, vigils, and other similar austerities, as discretion and obedience may direct.

Against evil thoughts, from whatever source arising, the remedies are as follows :

1. Occupation in the various duties proper to our state of life.

2. Prayer and meditation.

Prayer should be made in the following manner:

When first conscious of the presence of these evil thoughts, or even of such as may betoken their approach, fly for refuge at once to the crucifix, saying: "My Jesus! my sweet Jesus! help me speedily, that I may not fall into the hands of this enemy."

And sometimes, embracing the cross on which your Lord is extended, and kissing repeatedly the wounds of His sacred feet, say lovingly: "O beauteous wounds! chaste wounds! holy wounds! wound now this miserable impure heart of mine, and free it from all that offends Thee."

At the moment when temptations to carnal pleasures assail you, I do not advise you to meditate upon certain points recommended in many books as remedies against these temptations, such as the vileness of this vice, its insatiable craving, the bitterness and loathing, the peril and ruin of estate, life, honor, etc. which follow in its train.

This is not always a certain method of overcoming the temptation; for if the mind repels these thoughts on the one hand, on the other they afford an opportunity, and expose us to the danger of taking pleasure in, and consenting to, them. Therefore the true remedy in all these cases is flight, not from these thoughts alone, but from every thing, however contrary to them, which may bring them before us.

Let your meditation, then, for this end be on the Life and Passion of our crucified Redeemer.

And should the same thoughts again intrude themselves against your will, and molest you more than ever, as will very probably happen, be not discouraged on this account, nor leave off your meditation, but continue it with all possible intensity; not even turning from it to repel such thoughts, but giving yourself no more concern about them than if they in no way belonged to you. There is no better method than this of resisting them, how incessant soever may be their attacks.

You will then conclude your meditation with this or some similar supplication: "Deliver me, O my Creator and Redeemer, from mine enemies, to the honor of Thy Passion and of Thine unspeakable goodness." Suffer not your thoughts to recur again to the subject; for the bare recollection of it is not without danger.

Neither stay at any time to reason with such temptations, to find out whether you have consented to them or not; for this is a device of the devil, who seeks, under the semblance of good, to disquiet you, and make you distrustful and fainthearted, or hopes, by entangling you in such discussions, to draw you into some sin.

Therefore, in this temptation, when the consent is not evident, it is sufficient that you confess the whole briefly to your spiritual father, and then rest satisfied with his opinion, without thinking of it more.

But be sure faithfully to reveal every thought to him; and neither be restrained from so doing by shame or any other consideration.

For if, in dealing with all our enemies, we need the grace of humility to enable us to subdue them, in this case more than in any other we are bound to humble ourselves; this vice being almost always the punishment of pride.

III. When the temptation is over, however free, however perfectly secure you may feel yourself from danger, keep far from all those objects which gave rise to the temptation, even though you should be induced to do otherwise for some apparently good and useful end. For this is a deception of our evil nature, and a snare of our cunning adversary, who transforms himself into an angel of light to bring us into darkness.

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