WHEN our cunning adversary perceives that we are walking right onward in the path of holiness with fervent yet wellregulated desires, being unable to draw us aside by open allurements, he transforms himself into an angel of light; and by suggestions of seeming friendship, sentences from Scripture, and examples of saints, importunately urges us to aspire indiscreetly to the height of perfection, that so he may cause us to fall headlong from thence. To this end he encourages us to chastise the body with great severity, by fasts, disciplines, hairshirts, and other similar mortifications, that he may either tempt us to pride by the thought that we are doing great things, which is a temptation that especially besets women, or that we may fall sick, and so be disabled from the exercise of good works; or else that from pain and overweariness we may take a disgust and abhorrence to spiritual exercises, and thus by degrees grow cold in the way of godliness, and at last give ourselves up with greater avidity than before to worldly pleasures and amusements. This has been the end of many, who, following presumptuously the impulse of an indiscreet zeal, have in their excessive outward austerities gone beyond the measure of their interior virtue; and so have perished in their own inventions, and become the sport of malicious fiends. This would not have befallen them had they well considered what we have been saying, and remembered that these acts of painful selfdiscipline, praiseworthy as they are and profitable to such as have corresponding strength of body and humility of spirit, must yet be proportioned to each man's state and condition.
And those who are unequal to labor with the saints in similar austerities, may find other opportunities of imitating their lives by strong and effectual desires and fervent prayers, aspiring after the most glorious crown of Christ's true soldier by despising the whole world and themselves also; by giving themselves up to solitude and silence; by meekness and humility towards all men; by patience under wrongs; by doing good to those most opposed to them; and by avoiding every fault, however trivial it may be; things far more acceptable to God than painful bodily exercises. With regard to these, I would have you to be rather discreetly sparing, in order to be able, if necessary, to increase them, than by certain excesses of zeal to run the risk of having to relinquish them altogether. I say this to you, being well assured you are not likely to fall into the error of those who, though they pass for spiritual, are enticed and deluded by deceitful nature into an overanxious care for the preservation of their bodily health. So jealous are they, and fearful of the slightest thing which might affect it, that they live in constant doubt and fear of losing it. There is nothing of which they better love to think and speak than of the ordering of their lives in this respect. Hence they are ever solicitous to have food suited rather to their palate than their stomach, which is often weakened by overdelicacy. And though all this is done on the pretext of gaining strength the better to serve God, it is in fact but a vain attempt to conciliate two mortal enemies, the spirit and the flesh: an attempt which injures both instead of benefiting either; for this same overcarefulness impairs the health of the one and the devotion of the other.
A certain degree of freedom in our way of life is therefore safer and more profitable; accompanied, however, by the discretion of which I have spoken, having regard to different constitutions and states of life, which cannot all be brought under the same rule.
In the pursuit of interior holiness, as well as of exterior devotion, we should proceed with moderation, as has been shown before on the subject of the gradual acquisition of virtues.
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