The Spiritual Combat

Chapter 2:

Mistrust of Oneself

Daughter: mistrust of oneself is so necessary in this battle, that without it, you must be certain that not only can you not attain the desired victory, neither can you conquer even a small passion. You should fix this in your mind, as we are most unfortunately inclined easily by our fallen nature to a a false esteem of ourselves. We are in reality little more than nothing; nevertheless, we convince ourselves that we are worth something, and without reason we vainly presume as to our own forces. This a very difficult defect to notice, and it is very unpleasant to God's eyes, who loves us and wants in us a loyal recognition of this highly certain truth: every grace and virtue found in us derive from him alone, the source of every good, and that nothing pleasing to him can come from ourselves alone, not even one good thought. (2 Cor. 3.5)

And even though this important mistrust may also be the work of his divine hand, which sometimes he gives to his dear friends by holy inspiration, at other times by harsh flagellations and by violent and nearly irresistible temptations, and by other means unperceived by ourselves -- nevertheless, he desires that we should do our part. So I propose four ways by which you can attain this mistrust, helped principally by his divine favor.

The first is that you consider and recognize your vileness and nothingness, and that no good by which you can merit entrance into the heavenly kingdom can come from you.

The second is that with fervent and humble prayer you ask it often of the Lord, because it is his own gift. And to obtain it, first you must look not only at your lack of this mistrust, but above all at how impotent you are to acquire it on your own. So present yourself before the divine Majesty many times, with a certainty of faith that he will grant you this concession on account of his goodness. Await it with perseverance however long his providence has determined necessary; there is no doubt that you will obtain it.

The third way is that you accustom yourself to fearing yourself, your judgment, your powerful inclination to sin, the innumerable enemies to whom you haven't the force to make even the smallest resistance; their experience in the combat, their strategies, their transformation into angels of light; their innumerable arts and snares, which they set and hide along the very path of virtue.

The fourth way is for when you happen to fall into some defect: go within yourself and consider your great weakness more vigorously. Indeed, to this end has God permitted your fall, so that you might be advised by his inspiration with a clearer light than before, and knowing yourself better, you learn to despise yourself as a thing unfortunately vile and as such you wish even to be held vile by others, and likewise despised. You must know that without this wish there can be no virtuous mistrust of self, which has its foundation in true humility and in the understanding given by experience.

This much is clear: for anyone who wishes to join oneself to the supreme light and to the uncreated truth, it is necessary to have the knowledge of oneself that divine mercy ordinarily gives to the proud and presumptuous by means of their falls: this he rightly allows them to come across in some lack from which they persuade themselves they are safe, to the point that coming to know themselves that way, they learn to distrust themselves completely.

However, the Lord does not usually resort to such miserable means unless the kinder ones -- of which we spoke above -- have not brought the benefit intended by his goodness. He allows a person to fall to the degree appropriate for his pride and reputation. He desires to find not even the smallest presumption, so that we would not have the smallest fall, just as it was with the Virgin Mary. Thus when you fall, if you do not wish to fall anew -- and sometimes into more serious ruin -- carry your thoughts quickly to a humble knowledge of yourself and beg the Lord with insistent prayer (Luke 11.5-13) to give you the true light to know yourself, and to give you total mistrust of yourself.

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