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CHAPTER XVII.

THAT WE HAVE NOT NATURALLY THE POWER TO LOVE GOD ABOVE ALL THINGS.

Eagles have a great heart, and much strength of flight, yet they have incomparably more sight than flight, and extend their vision much quicker and further than their wings. So our souls animated with a holy natural inclination towards the divinity, have far more light in the understanding to see how lovable it is than force in the will to love it. Sin has much more weakened man's will than darkened his intellect, and the rebellion of the sensual appetite, which we call concupiscence, does indeed disturb the understanding, but still it is against the will that it 56principally stirs up sedition and revolt: so that the poor will, already quite infirm, being shaken with the continual assaults which concupiscence directs against it, cannot make so great progress in divine love as reason and natural inclination suggest to it that it should do.

Alas! Theotimus, what fine testimonies not only of a great knowledge of God, but also of a strong inclination towards him, have been left by those great philosophers, Socrates, Plato, Trismegistus, Aristotle, Hippocrates, Seneca, Epictetus? Socrates, the most highly praised amongst them, came to the clear knowledge of the unity of God, and felt in himself such an inclination to love him, that as S. Augustine testifies, many were of opinion that he never had any other aim in teaching moral philosophy than to purify minds that they might better contemplate the sovereign good, which is the simple unity of the Divinity. And as for Plato, he sufficiently declares himself in his definition of philosophy and of a philosopher; saying that to do the part of a philosopher is nothing else but to love God, and that a philosopher is no other thing than a lover of God. What shall I say of the great Aristotle, who so efficaciously proves the unity of God and has spoken so honourably of it in so many places?

But, O eternal God! those great spirits which had so great an inclination to love it, were all wanting in force and courage to love it well. By visible creatures they have known the invisible things of God, yea even his eternal power also and divinity, says the Apostle, so that they are inexcusable. Because that, when they knew God, they have not glorified him as God, or given thanks.4747Rom. i. 20. They glorified him indeed in some sort, attributing to him sovereign titles of honour, yet they did not glorify him as they ought, that is, they did not glorify him above all things; not having the courage to destroy idolatry, but communicating with idolators, detaining the truth which they knew in injustice, prisoner in their hearts, and preferring the honour and vain repose of their lives before the honour due unto God, they grew vain in their knowledge.

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Is it not a great pity, Theotimus, to see Socrates, as Plato reports, speak upon his deathbed concerning the gods as though there had been many, he knowing so well that there was but one only? Is it not a thing to be deplored that Plato who understood so clearly the truth of the divine unity should ordain that sacrifice should be offered to many gods? And is it not a lamentable thing that Mercury Trismegistus should so basely lament and grieve over the abolition of idolatry, who on so many occasions had spoken so worthily of the divinity? But above all I wonder at the poor good man Epictetus, whose words and sentences are so sweet in our tongue, in the translation which the learned and agreeable pen of the R. F. D. John of S. Francis, Provincial of the Congregation of the Feuillants in the Gauls, has recently put before us. For what a pity it is, I pray you, to see this excellent philosopher speak of God sometimes with such relish, feeling, and zeal that one would have taken him for a Christian coming from some holy and profound meditation, and yet again from time to time talking of gods after the Pagan manner! Alas! this good man, who knew so well the unity of God, and had so much delight in his goodness, why had he not the holy jealousy of the divine honour, so as not to stumble or dissemble in a matter of so great consequence?

In a word, Theotimus, our wretched nature spoilt by sin, is like palm-trees in this land of ours, which indeed make some imperfect productions and as it were experiments of fruits, but to bear entire, ripe and seasoned dates—that is, reserved for hotter climates. For so our human heart naturally produces certain beginnings of God's love, but to proceed so far as to love him above all things, which is the true ripeness of the love due unto this supreme goodness,—this belongs only to hearts animated and assisted with heavenly grace, and which are in the state of holy charity. This little imperfect love of which nature by itself feels the stirrings, is but a will without will, a will that would but wills not, a sterile will, which does not produce true effects, a will sick of the palsy, which sees the healthful pond of holy love, but has not the strength to throw itself into it. To conclude, this will is an abortion of good will, which has not the life of generous strength necessary to effectually 61prefer God before all things. Whereupon the Apostle speaking in the person of the sinner, cries out: To will good is present with me, but to accomplish that which is good I find not.4848Rom. vii. 18.

 


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