The Spiritual Combat

Fr. Lorenzo Scupoli


To avoid falling into the miserable bondage of sloth, which would not only hinder your progress towards perfection, but also deliver you into the hands of your enemies, you must observe the following rules :

1. Shun all curiosity concerning worldly things and all attachment to them, and also every kind of occupation which belongs not to your state of life.

2. Endeavor earnestly to respond immediately to every inspiration from above, and to every command of your superiors; doing every thing at the time and in the manner which is pleasing to them.

3. Never allow yourself in one moment's delay; for that one little delay will soon be followed by another, and that by a third, and this again by others; and to the last the senses will yield and give way more easily than to the first, having been already fascinated and enslaved by the pleasure they have tasted therein.

Hence the duty to be performed is either begun too late, or sometimes laid aside altogether, as too irksome to be endured.

Thus, by degrees, a habit of sloth is acquired, which, as we cannot disguise it from ourselves, we seek to excuse by vain purposes of future diligence and activity, while we are all the time held in bondage by it.

The poison of sloth overspreads the whole man; not only infecting the will, by making exertion hateful to it, but also blinding the understanding, so that it is unable to see how vain and baseless are its intentions to do promptly and diligently at some future season what should be done at once, but is either willfully neglected altogether or deferred to another time.

Nor is it enough that we perform our appointed work quickly; we must, in order to bring it to its highest possible perfection, do it at the very time required by its nature and quality, and with all suitable diligence.

For that is not diligence, but the subtlest form of sloth, which leads us to do our work before its time; not seeking to do it well, but dispatching it hastily, that we may afterwards indulge in the sluggish repose on which our thoughts have been dwelling while we were hurrying over our business.

All this great evil proceeds from the want of duly considering the value of a good work performed at its right time, and with a spirit determined to brave the toil and difficulty put in the way of untried soldiers by the sin of sloth.

Call to mind, then, frequently, that a single elevation of the heart to God, a single genuflection in His honor, is worth more than all the treasures of the world; and that, as often as we do violence to ourselves and our sinful passions, a glorious crown of victory is prepared for us by angels' hands in the kingdom of heaven.

Remember also, on the other hand, that God gradually draws from the slothful the grace which He had once bestowed upon them; while He increases that of the diligent, permitting them at last to enter into His joy.

If you are unequal at first to a bold encounter with toil and hardship, disguise them from yourself, that they may not seem so formidable as sloth would represent them.

The exercise before you is perhaps to acquire some virtue by many repeated acts, by many days of toil; and the enemies to be overcome seem to you many and strong. Begin these acts, then, as if you had but a few of them to perform, but a few days' conflict to endure. Fight only against one adversary, as if there were no more to be resisted, and in full confidence that with the help of God, you will be stronger than they. By this means sloth will begin to grow feeble, and will make way at last for the gradual entrance of the contrary virtue.

I would say the same of prayer. An hour prayer perhaps is needful for you; and this seems a hard matter to sloth; but apply yourself to it, as if intending to pray but for the eighth part of an hour, you will then easily pass on to another eighth; and so on to the whole.

But if in the second, or any other of these divisions you should feel too violent a repugnance and difficulty, leave the exercise awhile, lest you become weary; but return to, it shortly.

You should pursue the same method with respect to manual labors, when you are called upon to do things which to sloth appear many in number and difficult of performance, and so cause you much disturbance of mind. Begin, therefore, quietly and courageously with one, as if you had no more to do; and when you have diligently accomplished this, you will be able to perform all the others with far less labor than sloth would have you believe possible.

But if you do not pursue this method, and encounter resolutely the toil and hardships which lie in your way, the vice of sloth will so gain the mastery over you, that you will be for ever harassed and annoyed, not only by the present toil and difficulty, which will always attend the first exercises of virtue, but even by the distant prospect of them. You will be for ever in fear of being tried and assailed by enemies, or laden with some fresh burden; so that even in the time of peace you will live in perpetual disquiet.

Know, also, that this vice of sloth will not only consume by its secret poison the first and feeble roots, which would in time have produced habits of virtue, but even the roots of habits already acquired. Like a worm in the wood, it will go on insensibly corroding and eating away the marrow of the spiritual life. By these means does the devil seek to ensnare and delude all men; but especially spiritual persons.

Watch, therefore, and pray, and labor diligently, and delay not to weave the web of your weddinggarment, that you may be found ready adorned to meet the Bridegroom.

And remember daily, that He who gives you the morning does not promise you the evening; and though He gives the evening, yet promises not the morrow.

Spend, therefore, every moment of every hour according to God's will, as if it were your last; and so much the more carefully, as for every moment you will have to give the strictest account.

Finally, I warn you to account that day lost though it may have been full of busy action, in which you shall neither have gained some victory over your evil inclinations and your selfwill, nor returned thanks to your Lord for His mercies, and especially for His bitter passion endured for you; and for His sweet and fatherly correction, when He has made you worthy to receive at His hand the inestimable treasure of suffering.

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