The Spiritual Combat

Chapter 21:

Governing the exterior senses,
and how to pass from those to the contemplation of divinity

We need a great deal of prudence and continual exercise if we are to control and regulate well our exterior senses, because the appetite, which serves as the captain of our corrupt nature, is excessively inclined to look for pleasures and consolations. The soul cannot acquire ideas on its own by extracting and pulling them towards itself, so it makes use of the senses as if they were its own soldiers and the most natural instruments for stamping these ideas onto the soul. Pleasure springs from this, and through the affinity between the soul and the flesh, pleasure circulates through all those sentiments possessing the capacity for delight, from which the soul submits no less than the body to a common contagion that corrupts the whole.

You see the damage: look to the remedy. Be very careful not to allow your senses to roam freely wherever they please, and do not make use of them if your only purpose in doing so is pleasure, rather than some good end, or else utility or necessity. If your senses have advanced too far ahead before you have noticed these things, you must call them back, or regulate them in such a way that, where before they made themselves prisoners to vain consolations, now they take from every object worthy prey and carry it back into the soul. This latter, collected within itself, can unfold its wings towards the heavens and contemplate God in the following manner.

Whenever any object presents itself to your exterior senses, have your mind separate the spirit in the object from the created thing, and consider that this item has absolutely nothing of what lies within the grasp of your senses. Rather, think of how everything is the work of God, who by his invisible spirit gives to that being the goodness or the beauty or whatever other good you find within it. Then rejoice that your Lord alone is the cause and principle of so many various perfections in things, that he contains them all within himself most eminently, for these things reach no higher than the smallest level of his perfections.

When you realize that you are occupied in admiring things of a noble essence, use your thoughts to reduce that creature to nothing. Fix your mind's eye on the supreme Creator present within it, who gave it that essence. Take delight in him alone, saying, "O divine essence, supremely desirable! How it pleases me that you alone are the infinite principle of every created thing!" In this manner, consider with your intellect that the lives of trees, grasses, and similar things have their origins not in themselves, but in the spirit that you do not see, which alone gives them life. At this you will exclaim, "Here is true life: from it, in it, and through it all things live and grow! O lively joy of my heart!" In this manner, lift your mind from the sight of brute animals to the God who gives them sense and motion, saying, "O first mover: moving all things, you remain unmoved in yourself: how I rejoice in your stability and firmness!"

When you feel yourself enticed by the beauty of created things, separate that which you see from the spirit which you do not see. Consider that everything that is beautiful in its outward appearance comes only from the invisible spirit which produces that exterior beauty. Say with gladness, "Here we see the streams of the uncreated fountain; now we behold the small drops of the infinite sea of everything good. Oh! How my innermost heart delights to think of that immense and eternal beauty, the origin and cause of every created beauty!"

When you notice in other things goodness, wisdom, justice, and other virtues, say to your God after making these distinctions, "My most precious treasure of virtue! How it pleases me that every good is derived solely from you and through you, that all things are nothing in comparison to your divine perfections! I thank you, Lord, for this and for every other blessing you have given to my neighbor: remember, Lord, that I need the virtue of N⎯."

Afterwards, as you prepare yourself for activity, consider that God is the first cause of that activity, that you are nothing more than his living instrument. At this, lift your thoughts to him, and speak in this manner: "Supreme Lord of all, what joy I feel within myself, that I can do nothing without you (see also John 15.5); rather, I rejoice that you are the first and foremost craftsman of all things!"

When tasting food or drink, consider that it is God who gives them their flavor. Delighting in him alone, you can say, "Rejoice, my soul: since there is no true joy outside your God, in every object you can only take joy in him." (see also Phil 4.4)

If you take pleasure while smelling something pleasing to your senses, do not stop at that pleasure, but pass with your thoughts to the Lord from whom it has its smell, and feeling interior consolation say, "Grant, Lord, that just as I rejoice that every sweetness proceeds from you, so may my soul, stripped bare of every earthly pleasure, arise to you and present a pleasing aroma to your divine nostrils."

When you hear some harmony of sounds and songs, turn with your mind to God and say, "How I rejoice, my Lord and my God, in your infinite perfections that, taken together, not only release a divine harmony, but within angels, heavens and all created things present a marvelous concert!"

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"N⎯": Insert here your neighbor's Name.

"craftsman": The Italian word artefice is constructed from the Latin words facere (to make) arte (by/with art).

"release": Literally, sprigionare: "let out from prison."

"divine": Literally, sovraceleste: "above the heavens." Hudon uses "supernatural".