Chapter 7: Of Spiritual Exercises, and first of the Exercise of the Understanding, which must be kept guarded against ignorance and curiosity
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Having spoken of the first two weapons – 1) distrust of self, and 2) trust in God, the 3rd of 4 weapons is considered – Spiritual Exercises.
This term is not well known in common speech, which alone says a lot. We are very accustomed to physical exercises; in fact, exercise and workouts are advertised very heavily in the United States. This is a result of over-eating, unhealthy eating, and/or laziness.We are less accustomed to the term mental exercises, even though we use other words such as study or research.
We are even less accustomed to the term spiritual exercises. Spiritual exercises make use of the mind and the will. As physical exercises are for the body, spiritual exercises are for the soul.
The first exercise Scupoli comments on is understanding. We must come to understand those things which are worth understanding in the sight of God, in the way that God understands them. In other words, if many people would suggest many things that seem worthy of understanding, we must not simply accept that those things are in fact worth understanding, or even knowing. After we have established those things which are worth knowing and understanding, we must not simply accept the way that many people might understand them. We must come to understand the truth of those things.
As always, Scupoli gives us a Biblical worldview, a God-revealed way of finding out what is worth our time and how to evaluate something’s true worth.
When I come to realize that there is an inside inside of me, that I have an interior more than organs, a spiritual reality which completes me, I can begin to make decisions about what is more important. Scupoli points out two ways to come to understand the importance of things in a hierarchical way: 1) Pray to the Holy Spirit, and 2) consider things with the light of the Holy Spirit.
What is fascinating is what happens to us when we come to understand that we have inside of us an interior kingdom. This kingdom is in need of governance, in need of a king to conquer and reign, in need of everything that a living society needs. There is, inside of us, an entire world for us to explore and discover. And, once we have begun to discover, we find all sorts of beauties to behold. We also find many untamed beasts and illusory charms. This is precisely why Scupoli has instructed us to pray to the Holy Spirit so that we can come to understand ourselves and the exterior world according to the truth of God’s revelation.
Chapter 7 text:
If in this warfare we are provided with no weapons except self-distrust and trust in God, needful as both these are, we shall not only fail to gain the victory over ourselves, but shall fall into many evils. To these, therefore, we must add the use of Spiritual Exercises, the third weapon named above.
And these relate chiefly to the Understanding and the Will.
As regards the Understanding, we must guard against two things which are apt to obscure it.
One is ignorance, which darkens it and impedes it in acquiring the knowledge of truth, the proper object of the understanding. Therefore it must be made clear and bright by exercise, that so it may be able to see and discern plainly all that is needful to purify the soul from disorderly passions, and to adorn it with saintly virtues.
This light may be obtained in two ways. The first and most important is prayer, imploring the Holy Ghost to pour it into our hearts. This He will not fail to do, if we in truth seek God alone and the fulfillment of His holy will, and if in all things we submit our Judgment to that of our spiritual father.
The other is, to exercise ourselves continually in a true and deep consideration of all things, to discover whether they be good or evil, according to the teaching of the Holy Ghost, and not according to their outward appearance, as they impress the senses or are judged of by the world.
This consideration, if rightly exercised will teach us to regard as falsehood and vanity all which the blind and corrupt world in so many various ways loves, desires, and seeks after. It will show us plainly that the honors and pleasures of earth are but vanity and vexation of spirit; that injury and infamy inflicted on us by the world bring true glory, and tribulations contentment; that to pardon our enemies and to do them good is true magnanimity, and an act which likens us most nearly to God; that to despise the world is better than to rule it; that voluntary obedience for the love of God to the meanest of His creatures is greater and nobler than to command mighty princes; and that the mortification and subjugation of our most trifling appetite is more glorious than the reduction of strong cities, the defeat of mighty armies, the working of miracles, or the raising of the dead.
Chapter 8: Of the hindrances to a Right Discernment of Things…