CH. XXXIV. VIRTUES ARE TO BE GRADUALLY ACQUIRED BY EXERCISING OURSELVES IN THEIR VARIOUS DEGREES, AND GIVING OUR ATTENTION FIRST TO ONE AND THEN TO ANOTHER.
ALTHOUGH the true servant of Christ who aspires to perfection should set no limit to his advancement, there are some kinds of spiritual fervor which require to be restrained with a certain discretion, lest, being embraced too ardently at first, they should give way and leave us in the midst of our course. Hence, besides what has been said as to moderation in exterior exercises, we have to learn, moreover, that even interior virtues are best acquired gradually, and in their due order; for thus what is small in the beginning soon becomes great and permanent. Thus, for instance, we should not ordinarily attempt to rejoice in afflictions, and to desire them, till we have first passed through the lower degrees of the virtue of patience.
Neither would I have you give your chief attention to all or to many virtues at once, but first to one and then to the others; for thus will the virtuous habit be more easily and firmly planted in the soul. For by the constant exercise of a single virtue the memory recurs to it more promptly on all occasions, the intellect grows quicker to discern new methods and reasons for attaining it, and the will inclines more readily and fervently to its pursuit, than if occupied with many virtues at one and the same time.
And, by means of the uniformity of the exercise, the acts which relate to any single virtue are produced with less effort from the conformity between them. The one calls forth and aids his fellow; and by their mutual resemblance they make a deeper impression upon the heart, which is prepared and disposed for the reception of new seed by having already brought forth similar fruits.
These reasons have the greater force, as we know assuredly that whoever exercises himself well in one virtue learns at the same time how to exercise himself in another; and thus, by the inseparable connection between them, all grow together with the increase of one, as rays proceeding from one and the same Divine light.
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