The Spiritual Combat

Chapter 12:

In human beings there exist many wills.
The war they make on each other.

One can say that, in this combat, there exist two wills within us. One is of reason, and so called reasonable and superior. The other is of the senses, called inferior and sensual, and we can refer to it with the names of appetite, flesh, sense and passion. Nevertheless even if we say that we want something only because of the senses, this doesn't mean we truly want it, as long as we don't incline ourselves to desire it with the superior will. For we are human beings on account of reason. This is why our entire spiritual battle consists principally in the fact that this reasonable will, placed between the divine will which excels it and the inferior will of the senses, feels itself continually battered by one and the other: each of these tries to pull it towards itself and render it subject and obedient to itself. But those who are prisoners of bad habits feel great pain and exhaustion. This is especially true when they first decide to improve their corrupt life and, freeing themselves from the world and from the flesh, give themselves to the love and service of Jesus Christ.

This is because the divine and sensual wills are always battling about the superior will; the hits it sustains are powerfully strong; they make themselves well-felt, and not without great pain. This does not happen to those who intend to continue in the path in which they are already accustomed, be it virtues or vice, since the virtuous consent easily to the divine will, while the impure bow themselves to the sensual will without dispute.

But no one presumes to be able to follow the true Christian virtues, nor to serve God as one ought, if first one does not truly wish to do oneself violence and to suffer the pain that one feels in leaving not only the greater pleasures but even the small ones, to which one was formerly attached with earthly affection. And the consequences of this is that very few reach the scope of perfection: after having gotten past the greater vices with effort, they no longer wish to do themselves violence by continuing to suffer the punctures and travails that one feels in resisting an almost infinite number of little-wills and little-passions of little value. Prevailing on them in every hour, these latter vices come to acquire dominion and lordship over their hearts.

Among the victims we find some who -- while they do not rob the goods of others -- become excessively enamored of those they legitimately possess. Others, while not acquiring honors by illicit means, neither abhor them as they should, nor cease to desire them and sometimes to seek them by different paths. Still others, though they observe the required fasts, do not mortify their belly, as they eat and desire delicate foods they do not need. Still others who are living in chastity do not separate themselves from certain enjoyable friendships which carry great obstacles to union with God and the spiritual life. These friendships are very dangerous in any person, even a holy one, and more in those who fear them less; we ought to fly from them as much as possible.
    From these small vices follow the lukewarm spirit  in which these people perform their good works. These works are accompanied by many hidden interests and imperfections, from a sort of esteem of oneself, and from the desire to be praised and appreciated by the world. Not only do such people fail to progress in the way of salvation, but they go backwards! They run the risk of falling back into their prior evils, into a state in which they do not love true virtue. They prove themselves ungrateful to their Lord, who removed them from the tyranny of the demon. In addition, they are ignorant, and blinded from seeing the danger in which they find themselves, while they persuade themselves to be in a secure location.
    Here we discover a far more damaging deception, which is equally less cautioned: many who tend to the spiritual life love themselves more than they ought (although in truth they know not how to love themselves). For the most part they practice those exercises more conforming to their tastes; they do not take up the others, that irritate their sensual appetites, even though reason would want them to turn their energies against them.

And so, my beloved daughter, I advise and exhort you: fall in love with the difficulty and the pain that consist in conquering oneself: this is everything! The victory will be as equally certain and prompt as your love of this difficulty, which proves to the beginner both the virtue and the war. If you love the difficulty and the painful combat more than the victories and the virtues, you will acquire everything more quickly.

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impure (vicious): Scupoli frequently uses the Italian adjective vizioso to describe the passions we ought to fight. This adjective has less strong a connotation here than the English connotation of the word vicious: he merely intends something inclined towards vice, that is, something impure. Scupoli's point is precisely that it is not enough "not to be a bad person"; there ought to be no vices (vizi) in us; we ought to be pure. So I have chosen impure here precisely to preserve his point. I will try to remember to link each occasion with a copy of this footnote, because unfortunately the parallel is lost in English if I use "vice" and "impure" instead of "vice and vicious".