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CHAPTER VIII: That Souls reformed need ever to fight and strive against the Motions of sin while they live here. And how a Soul may know when she assenteth to these Motions and when not
THIS reforming in Faith is easily gotten, but it is not so easily held. And, therefore, that man or woman that is reformed to the likeness of God in Faith, must use much labour and diligence, if they will keep this image whole and clean, that it fall not down again through weakness of will to the image of sin. He may not be idle or careless; for the image of sin is so near fastened unto him, and so continually presseth upon him by divers stirrings of sin, that unless he be very wary, he shall very easily through consent fall again thereto. And, therefore, he needeth to be ever striving and fighting against the wicked stirring of this image of sin, and that he make no accord with them, nor have friendship with them, to be pliable to their unlawful biddings, for in so doing he beguileth himself. But verily if he strive with them, he need not be much afraid of consenting; for striving breaketh peace and false accord. It is good indeed that a man have peace with all things, save with the fiend and this image of sin, for against them ought he ever to fight in his thoughts and in his deeds, till he hath gotten the mastery, which will never be fully in this life, as long as he beareth and feeleth this image. I say not but that a soul may, through grace, have the upper hand of this image, so far that he will not follow nor assent to the inordinate motions of it, but to be clean delivered from it, so that he shall feel no suggestions nor jangling of fleshly affections or of vain thoughts at any time, that can no man come to in this life.
I trow that a soul that is reformed in feeling, by ravishing of love in contemplation of God, may be far from the sensuality and from vain imaginations, and so far drawn out and parted from the fleshly motions for a time, that she shall feel nothing but God; but such a case lasteth not always. And, therefore, I say, that every man ought to strive against this image of sin, and namely he that is reformed in faith only, who may so easily be deceived by the same. In the person of which men St Paul saith: The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh.167167 Gal. 5. That is, a soul reformed to the likeness of God fighteth against the sensual motions of the image of sin, and also this image of sin fighteth against the will of the spirit.
This kind of fighting between these two several images St Paul knew and felt, when he said thus: I find a law in my members fighting against the law of my mind, and leading me captive to the law of sin.168168 Rom. 8. By these two laws in a soul I understand this double image: by the law of the spirit I understand the reason of the soul, when it is reformed to the image of God; by the law of the flesh I understand the sensuality, which I call the image of sin. In these two laws a soul reformed leads his life; as Paul saith in these words: With my mind I serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.
Nevertheless, that a soul reformed should not despair though she serve the law of sin by feeling of the vicious sensuality against the will of the spirit, because of the corruption of corporal nature, St Paul excuseth it, saying thus of his own person: For not that good that I would, do I, but the evil that I hate that I do; but if I do the evil that I hate, it is not I that worketh it, but sin that dwelleth in me. That is, I would feel no fleshly stirrings, but that do I not, but the sinful stirrings of my flesh I hate, and yet I feel them. Nevertheless, since it is so that I have the wicked stirrings of my flesh, and yet I feel them and oft delight in them against my will, they shall not be laid to my charge to my condemnation, as if I had done them. And why? For the corruption of this image of sin doth them, and not I.
Lo St Paul in his own person comforteth all souls that through grace are reformed in Faith, that they should not too much dread the burthen of this image with the inordinate motions thereof, if it be so that they do not willingly and deliberately yield thereto. Yet in this point, many souls that are reformed in truth, are ofttimes much tormented and troubled in vain, as thus: When they have felt fleshly motion of pride, or of envy, of covetousness or luxury, or of any other chief sin, they know not whether they consent thereto or no, and it is no great wonder; for in time of temptation frail man’s thoughts are so troubled and so overlaid that he hath no clear sight nor freedom of himself, but is overtaken often with liking unwarily, and so that liking passeth perhaps a good while within him ere he will perceive it, and, therefore, falleth sometime in doubt and dread whether they sinned in time of temptation or no.
As to this point I say, as methinketh, that a soul may discern by this means whether he consent or no. If it be so that he is moved or tempted to any kind of sin, and the liking of it is so great in his fleshly feeling that it troubleth his reason, and, as it were, with mastery possesseth the affection of his soul, and yet he restraineth himself, that he performeth not the sin in deed, nay, nor would not if he might, but is rather pained to feel the liking of that sin, and fain would put it away if he could; and when that stirring is over, is glad and well repaid that he is delivered from it; by this may he gather, that were the liking never so great in his fleshly feeling, yet he consented nor sinned, not especially mortally in the business.
Nevertheless, a good and secure remedy it ere for such simple souls being in such a case, and cannot help it, that they be not too bold in themselves utterly weening that such fleshly stirrings with liking are no sins at all, for so they may fall into carelessness and a false security. Neither on the other side that they be too fearful, or foolish, as to deem them all as deadly sins, or as great venials; for neither is true, but that he hold them all as sins and wretchedness, and that he have sorrow for them, and be not too busy in judging them either deadly or venial. But if his conscience be greatly grieved, that he go speedily, and show to his Confessor in general or in special such stirrings, and, namely, every stirring that beginneth to fasten any root in the heart, and most possesseth it, for to draw it down to sin and worldly vanity. And when he hath thus confessed in general or in particular, let him assuredly believe that they be forgiven, and dispute no more about them that are passed and forgiven, whether they were mortal or venial. But let him be the more careful to carry himself better against such as shall afterwards arise. And if he do so, then may he come to have quiet in his conscience. But some are so unwise and so gross that they would feel or see, or hear the forgiveness of their sins, as clearly and palpably as they might see or feel a bodily thing; and because they cannot, therefore they fall oft into such fears and doubts of themselves, and never come to rest; and in that they are unwise, for Faith goeth before feeling.
Our Lord, when He healed a man sick of the palsy, said thus to him: Trust (my son) that thy sins are forgiven thee; that is, believe steadfastly. He said not to him, See, feel, how that thy sins are forgiven (for the forgiveness of sins is done spiritually and invisibly, through the grace of the Holy Ghost) but believe it. On the same manner, every one that desireth to have peace of conscience, it behoveth him (having done what lay in his power) to believe without spiritual feeling and forgiveness of his sins. And if at first he believe it, he shall afterward, through grace, feel it and understand it that it is so. Thus said the Apostle: Unless ye believe, ye shall not understand. Faith goeth before, and understanding cometh after, and this understanding (which I call the light of grace that cometh from God) a soul cannot have but through great cleanness, as our Lord saith: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.169169 St Matt. 5. Not with their fleshly eye, but their inward eye, that is, their understanding, cleaned and enlightened through grace of the Holy Ghost, to see the truth; the which cleanness a soul cannot feel, unless she have firm faith and belief going before, as the Apostle saith: By faith, purifying the heart; that is, our Lord through faith cleanseth the hearts of His chosen. It is necessary, therefore, that a soul first believe in the reforming of himself made through the Sacrament of Penance, though she see it not; and that he dispose himself fully to live righteously and virtuously, as his Faith requireth; so that afterward he may come to sight, and to the reforming in feeling.
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