The Spiritual Combat

Chapter 13:

The way to fight against sensual impulses
and the acts the will must perform
to acquire the habit of virtue.

Each time you feel your reasonable will battered on the one side by the sensual will, and on the other by the divine will, each seeking to carry the day, it is necessary that you exercise yourself in many ways so that the divine will may prevail within you.

First: When you are assailed and battered by the impulses of the senses, you must oppose them with an obstinate resistance so that the superior will may not consent to these impulses.

Second: Once they have ceased, excite them anew within yourself, so that you may beat them down with greater impetus and force. Afterwards, call them back to a third battle, in which you accustom yourself to driving them away with disdain and repugnance. These two incitements to battle must be done in each of our disordered appetites apart from them the carnal impulse, regarding which we will deal with in due course.

In the end you must perform acts contrary to your every impure passion. With the following example it will all become clearer to you.

Perhaps you are battered by the impulse to be impatient. If you remain attentive, upon entering within yourself you will feel that these impulses batter continually against the gate of the superior will, to make it bow and consent to them. As your first exercise, oppose yourself against each impulse, repeatedly doing as much as you can to prevent your will from giving consent. Never cease from this battle until you see that the enemy, exhausted and near, acknowledges he is beaten.

But daughter, observe here the demon's malice. When he realizes that we strongly oppose the impulses of some passion, not only does he cease to excite them within us, but, once they are excited, he tries to quiet them for the time being. He does this to prevent our exercise from helping us to acquire the habit of the virtue contrary to that passion, and further to make us fall into the traps of vainglory and of pride. Astutely, he convinces us that being excellent soldiers, we have beaten our enemies quickly. For this reason you must go on to the second battle, calling the impulse to mind and exciting within you those thoughts that produced your impatience. This way, you will feel your sensitive nature moved by them, and you can repress their impulses repeatedly and with a greater strength than before. Although we repress our enemies knowing we do well and please God, nevertheless without an utter hatred of them, we run the risk that they conquer us on a different occasion. For this reason you must set yourself against them with a third assault, and drive them far away from you, performing acts of not only repugnance but also of indignation, until you find these impulses become odious and abominable.

In the end, to decorate and perfect your spirit with the habits of virtue, you must produce interior acts directly contrary to your disordered passions. Take, for example, the desiring to acquire perfectly the habit of patience. If someone disdains you, he presents you with an occasion to be impatient. It is not enough to exercise yourself in those three manners of combat which I mentioned. Rather, you must in addition want and love the disdain you have received! You must desire to be insulted anew in the same way and by the same person, awaiting and pointing out to yourself that you may face even harsher things. The reason these contrary acts as necessary to perfect yourself in virtue is this: the other acts, even if they be many and strong, are insufficient to uproot those roots that produce the vice.

To keep the same example: therefore, although when we are disdained, we may not consent to the motions of impatience, even battling against them with the three methods indicated above, if we do not habituate ourselves with many frequent acts to love and rejoice in being disdained, we will nonetheless be unable ever to free ourselves from the vice of impatience which is founded on the abhorring of disdain, on account of our inclination to our own will. And as long as it remains alive, the impure root continues to bud in such manner as to make our virtue languish. Indeed it will suffocate it completely and hold us in constant danger of falling back into it on every occasion in which it presents itself. From these things it follows that without the aforesaid contrary acts, we cannot ever acquire the true habit of virtue.

In addition, one should take heed that these acts must be so frequent and in such number that they can destroy the impure habit completely. Inasmuch as the vice has taken possession of our heart through many impure acts, likewise by many contrary acts one must eradicate it to introduce the virtue. I further assert this: to acquire the virtuous habit requires good deeds more than acquiring the impure habit requires wicked ones. For in fact the good deeds are not helped by our nature, which is corrupted by sin, while our wicked deeds are.

Beyond what I have said up to this point, I add that if the virtue you then exercise requires it, you must also perform exterior acts conforming to the interior ones, as (remaining in the given example) using gentle and loving words and serving, if you can, the one who has been annoying and contrary to you in whatever way possible. And although these acts, as interior as they are exterior, may be, or may seem to be, accompanied by great weakness of spirit, so as to seem to you that you do them against your every will, on this account you must not abandon them in any way. As weak as they may seem, they keep you firm and safe in the battle and they make the road to victory easy for you.

Stay attentive and recollected within yourself to fight not only against great and efficacious wills, but also against the small and weak ones of every passion. For these open the road to the great ones, and so they generate every vice within us. From the little care than some have had to eradicate these little-wills from their hearts, after having conquered the great wills of the same passion, it has happened that when they least expected it, they have been assailed and conquered by the same enemies, more vigorously and ruinously than before.

I also remind you to look at times to mortifying and breaking your wills even of licit, unnecessary things. For many good things will follow from this, and you will make yourself better disposed and ready to conquer yourself in the others. You will make yourself strong and expert in the battle of the temptations; you will escape many traps of the demon, and you will do a thing that is very pleasing to God.

Daughter, I tell you clearly: if you continue in the way that I have spoken, in these sincere and holy exercises to reform and conquer yourself, I assure you that in little time you will advance greatly and you will become truly spiritual, and not spiritual in name alone. But in other manners and with other exercises, although they be, as you believe, excellent and delightful to your taste, so that you seem from them to stand completely united and in sweet conversations with the Lord, do not ever persuade yourself to have acquired virtue and true spirit. For (as I told you in the first chapter) this neither consists in, nor is born from, exercises that are pleasant and conformable to our nature, but from those that crucify it with all its acts: from which, renewed by means of the habits of evangelical virtues, they join it to its Crucified One and its Creator.

You must not doubt that since the vices come from many frequent occasions where the superior will gives in to the sensual appetites, likewise the evangelical virtues are acquired by making frequent acts conforming to the divine will. This sometimes calls us to one virtue, and sometimes to another. Even though our will be battered by the inferior part, and by vice, it cannot ever be impure and earthly unless it gives in and bows to it. Likewise, our will cannot ever become virtuous and joined to God, even though it be called in lively manner, and battered by the inspirations and divine grace, until it conforms itself to this grace as necessary with acts both interior and exterior.

Previous Chapter · Table of Contents · Next Chapter