The Spiritual Combat

Chapter 1:

In what Christian Perfection consists.
To acquire it, one must do battle.
Four things necessary for the battle.

Most beloved daughter in Christ: you desire to seek the height of perfection. Drawing near to your God, you wish to become one same spirit with him (1 Cor 6.17). As this is the greatest and noblest undertaking that one can speak of or imagine, you must first know in what the true spiritual life consists.

Indeed many people, without reflecting on it much, have believed it involves a rigorous life of mortifying the flesh: in hair shirts, in flagellation, in long vigils, in fasting and in other similar harsh and tiresome bodily acts.

Others, and in particular women, believe themselves to have progressed greatly if they recite many vocal prayers, if they hear many masses and long Psalmodies; if they frequently attend church and have recourse to the eucharistic banquet.

Many others (among whom we find those who, dressed in a religious habit, live in community) have persuaded themselves that perfection depends above all else on frequenting choir, on silence, on solitude and on regulated discipline: and so they believe that in these and in other actions perfection has its foundation.

Not so! Inasmuch as said actions are initially a means of acquiring spirit and later the fruit of the spirit, it cannot be said that only in these does Christian perfection and the true spirit consist.

Beyond a doubt, they are a most powerful means of acquiring the spirit for those who use them well and with discretion. They may be used in the acquisition of vigor and strength against one's own malice and fragility; to arm oneself against the assaults and deceptions of our communal enemy; to provide oneself with those spiritual helps that are necessary to all God's servants and especially to beginners.

They are later the fruit of the spirit of truly spiritual people, who castigate their flesh because it has offended its Creator, and to hold it submissive and humble in his service. They remain quiet and live alone to fly from whatever offense they might give the Lord and to converse with the heavens (Phil. 3.20 Vulg). They attend to divine worship and works of piety; they pray and meditate on the life and passion of our Lord -- not for curiosity and good feelings, but to know better their own malice and the merciful goodness of God. By this knowledge they inflame themselves all the more with divine love and self-hatred, following the Son of God by denying themselves and taking up their cross. They frequent the most holy sacraments for the glory of his divine Majesty, to join themselves more closely with God and to take new strength [to use] against their enemies.

But to others who place all their foundation in the aforesaid external works, they can become instead the occasion for more ruin than would an openly-committed sin. This is not due to some defect in the works themselves (for they are all most holy) but to the defect in the one who makes use of them. While they are obsessed only with these external works, they abandon their hearts to the hands of their inclinations and to the hidden demon. This latter, seeing that these people are already off the right path, not only allows them to continue with delight in the aforesaid exercises: he also encourages their vain thought to roam among the delights of paradise, where they persuade themselves to have found rest among the angelic choirs, and to hear God inside themselves. They find themselves completely absorbed in certain meditations full of high, curious and delightful ideas and, almost forgetting the world and its creatures, they imagine themselves to be rapt into the third heaven.

One can easily comprehend from their habits how numerous are the errors in which they entangle themselves, and how far they are from the perfection we seek. Indeed, they want to be preferred to others, and given advantage above others, in every activity, both great and small. They are stubborn in their personal opinions and obstinate in their will. Blind to themselves, they are instead solicitous and diligent observers and gossips of the sayings and actions of others. They hold to a vain reputation and enjoy being held to that reputation by others. If you should touch it in even the smallest way, and take away from those devotions that they use passively, they change completely, and become very angry. Even if God should send them difficulties and illness, or allow some persecution to befall them -- for such things never come against his will, but either by his desiring them or allowing them in order to make people truly aware of themselves and of the road of perfection, and are the sure measure of comparison with his true servants -- then they discover their false foundation and the internal corruption and wreckage caused by their pride. In fact in every happening, be it sad or happy, they do not want to resign and humble themselves under the hand of God, contenting themselves in God's ever just -- if secret -- judgments (Rom 11.33). Nor do they follow the example of his Son, who humbled himself and wished to suffer (Phil. 2.8), by submitting themselves to all creatures, considering their persecutors to be their very friends, effectively the instruments of divine goodness, cooperating in their own mortification, perfection and salvation.

Thus it is a certainty that such people are in grave danger: their inner eye darkened, they use it to marvel at external actions that are good, and attribute to themselves many degrees of perfection. Thus made proud, they judge others; but none can convert them, apart from some extraordinary help from God. For these reasons does a public sinner convert himself and become good far more easily than the sinner whose sin is hidden and covered by the mantle of apparent virtue.

So you see very clearly, my daughter, that, as I have said, the spiritual life does not consist in the aforesaid things.

You must know that the spiritual life consists in nothing other than this:
This is the law of love impressed by the hand of the same Lord onto the hearts of his faithful servants. This is the denial of our very selves, which he seeks from us (Luke 9.23). This is the gentle yoke and the light burden (Matt 11.30). This is obedience, to which our Redeemer and Master calls us, by example and by word.

And because, aspiring to the the height of every perfection, you must continue to do violence to yourself to take by storm and annihilate every self-will, be it great or small, you must necessarily prepare yourself for this battle with every readiness of spirit. Indeed, the crown goes only to those who fight valorously.

As this battle is more difficult than any other (as we fight against ourselves, we are likewise assaulted by ourselves), so is the victory won more glorious than any other, and more dear to God.

If you take care to trample and murder all your disordered appetites, desires and wishes -- even the smallest -- you will render greater pleasure and service to God than if, willingly keeping some of these alive, you should whip yourself to the point of drawing blood, and if you should fast more than the ancient hermits and anchorites, or if you should convert thousands of souls to doing good.

Although, in and of itself, the Lord loves the conversion of a soul more than the mortification of a small will: nonetheless you must not desire or work for anything unless the very same Lord seeks and wants it of you. And beyond any doubt, it pleases him more that you tire yourself and look to the mortification of your passions than if you should be aware & willing to leave even one alive in you and attempt to serve him in any other thing, be it even great or highly important.

Now, daughter, that you see in what Christian perfection consists, and that to acquire it you must undertake a continual and very harsh war against yourself, you must provide yourself with four things, as though they were secure and necessary weapons, to win back the palm of peace and to rest as the conquerer in this spiritual battle. These four things are:
With divine help and easy brevity, we will discuss each of these things.

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"in particular women": The reader should not misread this. Scupoli doesn't mean to single out women as particularly given to bad thinking; indeed, the original audience was a religious order of women for whom he was a spiritual director. As a good spiritual director, he was obliged to point out errors he observed among those he directed. Indeed, his next paragraph proceeds to discuss those in religious orders.

"converse with the heavens": this phrase is present in the Latin Vulgate (nostra autem conversatio in caelis est), while the NIV seems to have chosen to phrase the Greek as "our citizenship is with the heavens". The King James Version agrees with the Vulgate, while most other modern translations correspond to the NIV. The word in dispute appears to be πολίτευμα -- I don't know Greek, so I can't comment.