The Spiritual Combat

The Spiritual Combat, Chapter 13: Of the way to resist the impulses of sense, and of the acts to be performed by the will in order to acquire Habits of Virtue
(text below) (click for full book)

“True holiness and spirituality consists
not in exercises which are pleasing to us
and conformable to our nature, nor is it produced by these,
but by such only as nail that nature,
with all its works, to the cross.”
– The Spiritual Combat, 13.

Nailing the old nature to the Cross, to be united to our Crucified Saviour!  WOW!  This was the method of growing in holiness in the 16th century?  Would that it make a return in our 21st century USA!

“And even when you were dead in transgressions
and the uncircumcision  of your flesh,
he brought you to life along with him,
having forgiven us all our transgressions;
obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims,
which was opposed to us, he also removed it from our midst,
nailing it to the cross;
despoiling the principalities and the powers,
he made a public spectacle of them,
leading them away in triumph by it”
Colossians 2:13-15.

Jesus nailed our sins to the cross once and for all.  And now we must choose to put on the new man.

“That you should put away the old man
of your former way of life,
corrupted through deceitful desires,
and be renewed in the spirit of your minds,
and put on the new man,
created in God’s way of righteousness
and holiness of truth”
Ephesians 4:22-24.

This ‘task’ of ours, nailing that nature to the Cross, is a daily task.  We must respond to God’s grace each day.  This response isn’t always easy.   Dom Scupoli teaches us that we must not simply ‘deny ourselves and take up our cross’ once, but we must actually destroy the weeds of the old man, which will try to creep into our lives.  His method is aggressive, and smart.  How many times in the movies are we led to believe that the foe is dead or out of the picture, but the hero didn’t finish the job.  The villain is knocked out and the hero goes on the way, only to have to face the villain again, and in a more drastic battle.  In this chapter we learn: Knock out your villain (whatever temptation this might be); revive the villain and try to get him to fight again, and knock him out again; and then bring him up once again and utterly kill him.

Our guide also teaches us to learn how to renounce our seemingly insatiable desire to have a good reputation.  Our pain at being offended, or belittled in whatever way, leads to all sorts of problems for us.  We must learn to accept, even love, the mockery and scorn that might come our way.  We can see in this our union with Jesus, who was mocked and scorned.

Scupoli also mentions that it is important to sometimes choose to abstain from things that are fine for us to choose.  If we learn how to avoid even those things that are fine for us, it helps us to avoid those things that are bad for us.  Self-mastery.

“Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win.
Every athlete exercises discipline in every way.  They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.
Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing.
No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.”
1 Corinthians 9:24-27.

Chapter 13 text:

Whenever your reasonable will is attacked by the will of sense on the one hand, and the Divine will on the other, each seeking to obtain the mastery over it, you must make use of various exercises, in order that the Divine will may always govern you.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)First _ Whenever you are assailed and buffeted by the impulses of sense, oppose a valiant resistance to them, so that the superior will may not consent.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)Secondly _ When the assaults have ceased, excite them anew, in order to repress them with greater force and vigor. Then challenge them again to a third conflict, wherein you may accustom yourself to repulse them with contempt and abhorrence.

These two challenges to battle should be made to every disorderly appetite, except in the case of temptations of the flesh, concerning which we shall speak in their place.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)Lastly _ Make acts contrary to each evil passion which is to be resisted.

This will be made clear by the following example.

Suppose you are assailed by feelings of impatience. Look carefully into yourself, and you will find that these feelings are constantly directed against the superior will, in order to win its consent.

Now, then, begin the first exercise; and by repeated acts of the will, do all in your power to stifle each feeling as it arises, that your will may not consent to it. And never desist from this till, wearied unto death, your enemy yield himself vanquished.

But see here the malice of the devil. When he perceives that we resist the first movements of any passion, not only does he desist from exciting them, but when excited, he endeavors for the time to allay them, lest, by the exercise of resistance to the passion, we should acquire the habit of the opposite virtue. He would fain also betray us into the snares of pride and vainglory, by subtly insinuating to us that, like valiant soldiers, we have quickly trampled down our enemies.

Proceed, therefore, to the second conflict, recalling and exciting within yourself those thoughts which tempted you to impatience, until they sensibly affect you. Then set yourself to repress every such feeling with a stronger will and more earnest endeavor than before.

And because, however strenuously we have resisted our enemies, from a sense of duty and a desire to please God, we are still in danger, unless we hold them in perfect detestation, of being one day overcome, attack them again even a third time; and repel them, not with repugnance only, but with indignation, until they have become hateful and abominable in your sight.

Lastly _ to adorn and perfect your soul in the habit of all the virtues, exercise yourself in the inward sets directly opposed to all your disorderly passions.

Would you attain, for instance, to the perfection of patience? On receiving any insult which tempts you to impatience, it will not be enough to exercise yourself in the three modes of warfare above described, you must do more _ even willingly accept and love the indignity you have endured; desiring to submit to it again, from the same person, and in the same manner; expecting and disposing yourself to bear still harder things.

These contrary acts are needful to our perfection in all the virtues, because the exercises of which we have been speaking _ manifold and efficacious as they are _ will not suffice to eradicate the roots of sin.

Hence (to pursue the same example) although, when we receive an insult, we do not yield to the impulse of impatience, but, on the contrary, resist it by the three methods above described, yet, unless we accustom ourselves by many and repeated acts of the will to love contempt, and rejoice to be despised, we shall never overcome the sin of impatience, which springs from a regard for our own reputation and a shrinking from contempt.

And if the vicious root be left alive, it is ever springing up afresh; causing virtue to languish, and sometimes to perish utterly, and keeping us in continual danger of relapse upon the first opportunity which may present itself. Without these contrary acts, therefore, we shall never acquire a true habit of virtue.

And bear in mind also, that these acts should be so frequent and so numerous, as utterly to destroy the vicious habit, which, as it had obtained possession of our heart by repeated acts of sin, so by contrary acts must it be dislodged, to make way for the habit of virtue.

Again, a greater number of virtuous acts is requisite to form the habit of virtue than of evil ones to form the habit of vice; because the former are not, like the latter, assisted by our corrupt nature.

I would add to all that has been said, that if the virtue in which you are exercising yourself so require, you must also practice exterior acts conformable to the interior; as, for instance, words of love and meekness, and lowly services rendered to those who have in any way thwarted or slighted you.

And though all these acts, whether interior or exterior, should be, or should seem to you to be, feebly and faintly done, and, as it were, against your will, yet you must not on any account neglect them; for feeble as they may be, they will keep you safe and steadfast in the fight, and smooth before you the path to victory.

And stand always prepared and on your guard to resist the assaults of every passion, not only such as are violent and imperious, but the slightest and the gentlest; for these but open the way to the greater, by which habits of vice are gradually formed within us.

It has often happened, in consequence of the little care taken by some men to eradicate these lesser desires from their hearts, after they have overcome the more violent assaults of the same passion, that, when they have least expected it, their old enemies have fallen upon them again, and they have sustained a more complete and fatal defeat than had ever befallen them before.

Remember, again, to mortify and thwart your own wishes from time to time in lawful but not necessary things; for many benefits follow such discipline; it will prepare and dispose you more and more for self-mastery in other things; you will thus become expert and strong in the struggle with temptation; you will escape many a snare of the devil, and accomplish a work well pleasing to the Lord.

I speak plainly to you; if, in the way I have taught you, you will persevere faithfully in these holy exercises for self-reformation and self-mastery, I promise you that in a short time you will make great progress, and will become spiritual, not in name only, but in truth. But in no other manner do I bid you hope to attain to true holiness and spirituality, nor by any other exercises, however excellent in your estimation, though you should seem to be wholly absorbed in them, and to hold sweet colloquies with our Lord.

For, as I told you in the first chapter, true holiness and spirituality consists not in exercises which are pleasing to us and conformable to our nature, nor is it produced by these, but by such only as nail that nature, with all its works, to the cross, and, renewing the whole man by the practice of the evangelical virtues, unite him to his crucified Savior and Creator.

There can be no question that as habits of vice are formed by many and frequent acts of the superior will yielding itself to the sway of the sensual appetites, so, on the contrary, habits of evangelical virtue are acquired by the performance of frequent and repeated acts of conformity to the Divine Will, Which calls upon us to exercise ourselves now in one virtue, now in another.

For as our will, however fiercely assailed by sin or by the suggestions of our lower nature, can never become sinful or earthly unless it yield or incline itself to the temptation, so you will never attain to holiness and union with God, however powerfully called and mightily assailed by Divine grace and heavenly inspirations, unless by inward, and, if need be, by outward acts, your will be made conformable to His.


Chapter 14: What must be done when the superior-will seems to be wholly stifled and overcome by the interim-will and by other enemies.


Add yours

    1. Hey b,
      Thanks for the note. This book I’ve been posting a commentary on, The Spiritual Combat, is really interesting. First of all, even though the writing style gives its 16th century composition away, it’s stunningly accurate and incisive regarding human psychology, which obviously hasn’t changed too much since that time. Secondly, this work, written by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli, became the daily reading and meditation of a guy named Francis de Sales, who ended up being one of the most famous men of the entire 16th century, and is heavily read even up to this day in Christian spirituality. So, I’m stoked that someone introduced this work to me a few months ago. 66 short chapters, and each one is worth a second read and a few minutes of chewing. Peace!

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