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Temptations and their Remedies
All the passages below are taken from St Francis De Sales’ book “Introduction to the Devout Life.” It was first published in French in 1608 and the 3rd edition in 1610 (400 hundred years ago). Present English translation is done by Allan Ross in 1924.
1. Nature of Temptations (257-258)
Imagine to yourself, Philothea, a young princess greatly beloved of her husband; and that some wicked man, in order to seduce her and defile her marriage bed, sends her some infamous messenger of love to treat with her about his wicked proposal. First, this messenger makes known to the princess the intention of his master; secondly, the princess either approves or disapproves of the proposal and the message; thirdly, she either consents or she refuses. Even so, Satan, the world and the flesh, seeing a soul espoused to the Son of God, send her temptations and suggestions by which: (1) Sin is proposed to her; (2) she is pleased or displeased with the suggestion; (3) finally she consents or she refuses; which are, in short, the three steps of descent to iniquity: temptation, delectation and consent; and though these three actions are not so clearly discerned in all other kinds of sins, yet they are clearly seen in great and enormous sins.
Though the temptation, to any sin whatsoever, should last all our life, it cannot render us displeasing to the divine Majesty, provided that we do not take pleasure in it and that we do not consent to it; the reason is that in temptation we are not active but passive; and since we take no pleasure in it we cannot be in any way blamed for it. St Paul suffered for a long time temptations of the flesh, and so far was he from being displeasing to God on that account, that on the contrary God was glorified thereby; the blessed Angela of Foligno suffered such cruel temptations of the flesh that she moves us to compassion when she relates them; St Francis and St Benedict also suffered great temptations, when the one cast himself into the thorns and the other into the snow to moderate them; and nevertheless they lost nothing of the grace of God for all that, but gained a great increase of it thereby.
2. Difference between Temptations and Consent (258-259)
You must be very courageous, therefore, Philothea, in the midst of temptations, and never account yourself vanquished so long as they are displeasing to you; noting carefully this difference between feeling temptations and consenting to them, which is, that we may feel them even though they displease us, but we cannot consent to them unless we take pleasure in them, because pleasure ordinarily serves as a step towards consent. Therefore let the enemies of our salvation set before us, as much as they like, baits and enticements, let them wait always at the door of our heart to enter, let them make as many proposals to us as they like; but so long as we are resolved to take no pleasure at all in all that, it is no more possible for God to be offended with us than for the prince, the husband of the princess of whom I have spoken, to be displeased with her on account of the message which was sent to her, if she has taken no sort of pleasure in it. There is, however, this difference between the soul and the princess in this matter: that the princess when she has heard the dishonourable proposal, can, if she chooses, drive away the messenger and hear him no more; but it is not always in the power of the soul not to feel the temptation, although it is always in her power not to consent to it; and therefore, though the temptation may last and persevere a long time, it cannot do us any harm so long as it is displeasing to us.
For example (260-261):
The story of the conflict of St Catherine of Siena on a like occasion is altogether admirable: the substance of it is as follows: The wicked spirit had the permission of God to assail the chastity of this holy virgin with the greatest fury of which he was capable, provided that he did not touch her at all. He made therefore all kinds of unchaste suggestions to her heart; and in order to move her still more, coming with his companions in the form of men and women, he committed thousands of carnal and lascivious actions in her sight, uttering also most unchaste words and invitations; and though all these things were exterior, yet by means of the senses they penetrated deeply into the heart of the virgin, which, as she herself confessed, was filled with them, and her superior will alone remained unshaken by tempest of obscenity and carnal delectation. And this lasted for a very long time, until one day our Lord appeared to her, and she said to Him: “Where wert thou, my sweet Saviour, when my heart was filled with such darkness and filthiness?” And He answered: “I was within thy heart, my daughter.” “And how,” she replied, “couldst thou have been within my heart, within which were so many obscenities? Dost thou then abide in such unclean places?” And our Lord said to her: “Tell me, did these unclean thoughts of thy heart cause thee pleasure or sadness, bitterness or delectation?” And she said: “Extreme bitterness and sadness.” And He answered her: “Who was it that put this great bitterness and sadness within thy heart, but myself, who remained hidden within the depth of thy soul? Believe me, my daughter, had I not been present, these thoughts, which surrounded thy will but were not able to take it by assault, would doubtless have prevailed against it, would have entered in, would have been received with pleasure by thy free choice, and would thus have brought death to thy soul. But because I was within, I put this displeasure and this resistance in thy heart, by which it resisted the temptation with all its power; and not being able to resist as much as it would, it conceived a still greater displeasure and hatred against the temptation and against itself; and so these troubles were a source of great merit and of great profit to thee, and greatly increased thy virtue and thy strength.”
3. REMEDIES AGAINST GREAT TEMPTATIONS (265-267)
As soon as you find yourself in any temptations, do as little children do when they see a wolf or a bear in the country; for straightway they run to the arms of their father or of their mother, or at all events they call them to their help and assistance. Have recourse in like manner to God, imploring His mercy and His assistance it is the remedy which our Lord teaches: Pray, that ye enter not into temptation.(Matthew 26:41)
If you find that, notwithstanding, the temptation perseveres or grows stronger, run in spirit to embrace the holy Cross, as if you saw Jesus Christ crucified before you; protest that you will not consent to the temptation, and ask Him for help against it, and so long as the temptation lasts, cease not to protest that you do not wish to consent to it.
But whilst you are making these protestations and these refusals to consent, do not look the temptation in the face, but look only at our Lord, for if you look at the temptation, especially when it is strong, it might shake your courage.
Divert your mind from it by means of good and praiseworthy occupations; for these occupations, entering into your heart and taking possession of it, will drive away the evil temptations and suggestions.
The sovereign remedy against all temptations, great or small, is to open the heart, and to communicate the suggestions, feelings and affections which we have, to our director; for note that the first condition that the evil one makes with a soul which he wishes to seduce is silence, as do those who wish to seduce women and girls, for the very first thing they do is to forbid them to communicate their proposals to their fathers or to their husbands; whilst, on the contrary, God, in His inspirations, requires above everything else that we should make them known to our superiors and directors.
But if, after all this, the temptation still continues obstinately to trouble and harass us, we have nothing to do but to be obstinate on our part in protesting that we do not wish to consent to it; for, as girls cannot be married so long as they say “no”, so also the soul, though harassed, can never be injured so long as she says “no”.
Do not dispute with your enemy, but give him no answer at all save that which our Lord gave him: Begone, Satan, the Lord thy God thou shalt adore, and him only shalt thou serve (Matthew 4:10). And as a chaste wife should not answer one single word, nor look at the scoundrel who makes an unchaste proposal to her, but, leaving him at once, should at the same instant turn her heart towards her husband, and renew the promise of fidelity which she made to him, without wasting any time in words, so the devout soul, finding herself assailed by some temptation, should waste no time in disputing or replying, but should quite simply turn towards Jesus Christ her Spouse and renew her protestation of fidelity, and of wishing to be for ever altogether His.
4. RESISTING SMALL TEMPTATIONS (267-268)
Although we must fight against great temptations with invincible courage, and although the victory which we gain over them is very profitable to us, yet perhaps we may be able to gain greater profit in fighting well against small temptations; for just as the great temptations surpass the small ones in quality, so the small ones surpass the great ones so much in number, that the victory over these may be comparable to that over the greater ones. Wolves and bears are certainly more dangerous than flies, but they do not cause us so much annoyance, nor do they exercise our patience so much. It is easy to refrain from murder, but it is difficult to avoid those little outbursts of anger, whereof the occasions present themselves every moment. It is easy for a man or a woman to refrain from adultery, but it is not so easy to refrain from amorous glances, from giving or receiving love, from seeking little favours, from saying and receiving words of flattery. It is easy to admit of no rival to the husband or to the wife, as far as the body is concerned, but it is not so easy to do the same in regard to the heart; very easy not to defile the marriage bed, but very difficult to refrain from everything that may be injurious to married love; easy not to steal the goods of others, but difficult to retrain from envy and covetousness; easy not to bear false witness in a court of law, but difficult never to lie in conversation; easy never to get drunk, but difficult always to be temperate; easy never to desire the death of another, but difficult never to wish ill to him; easy never to defame him, but difficult never to despise him.
In a word, these little temptations to anger, suspicion, jealousy, envy, flirtation, vanity, frivolity, duplicity, affectation, artifice, impure thoughts, continually exercise those very persons who are most devout and resolute; and therefore, my dear Philothea, we must prepare ourselves for this combat with great care and diligence; and rest assured that for every victory which we gain over these little enemies, a precious stone will be set in the crown of glory which God is preparing for us in heaven. It is for this reason that I say, that whilst we must be ready to fight well and valiantly against great temptations, should they come, we must defend ourselves well and diligently against these little and weak assaults.
5. REMEDIES AGAINST SMALL TEMPTATIONS (268-269)
Now, as to these small temptations to vanity, suspicion, peevishness, jealousy, envy, flirtation, and such-like follies; which, like flies and midges, hover before our eyes, and sometimes sting us on the cheek, sometimes on the nose, because it is impossible to be altogether free from their importunity the best way of resisting them is not to allow ourselves to be worried by them; for they cannot hurt us, although they can annoy us, provided that we are firmly resolved to serve God.
Despise, then, these little attacks, and do not so much as think of what they suggest, but let them buzz about your ears as much as they like, and fly here and there about you, just as we do with flies; and when they are about to sting you, and you see them settling on your heart, do nothing more than quite quietly drive them away, not fighting against them, nor answering them, but performing acts contrary to them, whatever they may be, and especially acts of the love of God. For if you will believe me, you will not persist in wishing to oppose to the temptation which you feel the virtue which is contrary to it, because that would be, as it were, to have a mind to dispute with it; but after having performed an act of the contrary virtue, if you have had the leisure to recognize the quality of the temptation, you will turn your heart simply towards Jesus Christ crucified, and by an act of love of Him, you will kiss His sacred feet. It is the best way to overcome the enemy both in small and great temptations, for the love of God, containing in itself all the perfections of all the virtues, and more excellently than the virtues themselves, is also a sovereign remedy against all vices; and your soul, accustoming herself in all temptations to resort to this general rendezvous, will not be obliged to consider and examine what temptations she has had; but on feeling herself troubled, she will without more ado seek calm in this great remedy, which is, moreover, so terrifying to the evil spirit, that, when he sees that these temptations stir us up to this divine love, he ceases to trouble us with them.
So much for the little and frequent temptations; and whosoever would occupy himself with them in detail would waste his time and accomplish nothing.
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