« Prev Chapter XVI. That the Example of Certain Saints… Next »



It is true, indeed, my friend Theotimus, that Moses, Phinees, Elias, Mathathias and many great servants of God made use of anger in the exercise of their zeal, on many remarkable occasions, yet note also, I pray you, that those were great souls, who could well handle their passions and regulate their anger; like that brave captain of the Gospel who said to his soldiers: go, and they went, come, and they came:478478Matt. viii. 9. but we, who are, all of us, but common little people, have no such power over our movements; our horse is not so well broken in, that we can make him gallop or stop at our pleasure. Wise and well trained hounds run afield or 456come back according to the huntsman's call, but untrained young hounds break away and are disobedient. Great saints who have made their passions tractable, mortifying them by the exercise of virtue, can also turn about their anger as they like, send it out and draw it back as seems good to them; but we, who have unbridled passions, quite young, or at least mistaught, cannot let our anger go save at peril of great disorder, for being once loose we can no longer restrain or regulate it.

S. Denis speaking to this Demophilus who would have given the name of zeal to his rage and fury: "He that would correct others," said he, "must first have a care that anger do not turn reason out of the empire and dominion which God has given it in the soul, and that it do not stir up a revolt, sedition and confusion within ourselves; hence we in no sort approve your impetuosities (to which an indiscreet zeal urged you), though you should a thousand times recall Phinees and Elias; for similar words did not please Jesus Christ, when said to him by his disciples, who were not yet made partakers of that sweet and benign Spirit." Phinees, Theotimus, seeing a certain unhappy Israelite offend God with a Madianitess, slew them both: Elias foretold the death of Ochozias, who, indignant at this prediction, sent two captains one after another, each with fifty men, to take him: and the man of God made fire descend from heaven which devoured them.4794794 Kings i. 12. Now one day that our Lord was journeying in Samaria, he sent into a town to take his lodging, but the inhabitants knowing that our Lord was a Jew by nation, and that he was going to Jerusalem, would not lodge him; which S. John and S. James seeing, they said unto our Saviour: Wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them? And our Lord turning rebuked them, saying: you know not of what spirit you are. The Son of man came not to destroy souls but to save them.480480Luke ix.54. This it is then, Theotimus, that S. Denis would say to Demophilus, who alleged the example of Phinees and Elias: for S. John and S. James, who would have imitated Phinees and Elias in making fire descend from heaven upon men, were reprehended by our Lord, who gave them to 457know that his spirit and his zeal were sweet, mild and gracious, making use of indignation or wrath but very rarely, when there was no longer hope of doing good any other way. S. Thomas Aquinas, that great star of theology, being sick of the disease of which he died, at the Monastery of Fossanuova, of the order of Citeaux, the religious besought him to make them a short exposition of the Canticle of Canticles in imitation of S. Bernard, and he answered them: My dear fathers, give me S. Bernard's spirit and I will interpret this divine Canticle like S. Bernard. So verily, if it were said to one of us petty, miserable, imperfect and wretched Christians:—use anger and indignation in your zeal, as did Phinees, Elias, Mathathias, S. Peter and S. Paul: we ought to reply: give us the spirit of perfection and pure zeal, with the interior light which those great saints had, and we will arm ourselves with anger as they did. It is not the fortune of every one to know how to be angry when and as he ought.

Those great saints were immediately inspired by God, and therefore might boldly employ their anger without peril; for the same Spirit which animated them to these great acts also held the reins of their just wrath lest they might transgress the prescribed bounds. Anger which is inspired or excited by the Holy Ghost is no longer the anger of man, and it is man's wrath that we are to beware of, because, as S. James says: The anger of man worketh not the justice of God.481481James i. 20. And indeed, when those great servants of God made use of anger, it was on occurrences so solemn and for crimes so excessive, that there was no danger that the punishment would exceed the fault.

Are we, do you think, to take the liberty of abusing sinners, of blaming nations, of taking to task and censuring our directors and prelates, because S. Paul once calls the Galatians senseless, represents to the Candiots their bad inclinations, and withstands to the face the glorious S. Peter his superior? Verily every one is not a S. Paul, to know how to do these things suitably: but bitter, harsh, presumptuous and reviling spirits, following their own inclinations, humours, aversions and arrogance, would throw the mantle of zeal over their iniquity; and under the name of 458this sacred fire every man permits himself to be burnt up with his own passions. It is zeal for the salvation of souls which makes the prelateship desired, if you will believe the ambitious man; which makes the monk, who is destined for the choir, run hither and thither, as the restless soul himself will tell you; which causes all those censures and murmurings against the prelates of the Church and temporal princes, if you will give ear to that arrogant man. You will hear from him of nothing but zeal, and you will see no zeal, but only opprobrious and railing speeches, anger, hatred and rancour, disquiet of spirit and of tongue.

Zeal may be practised in three ways. First in performing great actions of justice to repel evil; and this belongs only to those who have the public offices of correcting, censuring, and reprehending in quality of superiors, such as princes, prelates, magistrates, preachers: but since this office is honourable, every one undertakes it, every one will have to do with it. Secondly, one may use zeal by doing actions of great virtue in order to give good example, by suggesting remedies for evils, and exhorting men to apply them, by effecting the good that is opposite to the evil which we desire to banish. This belongs to every one, and yet few will to do it. Finally, the most excellent use of zeal lies in suffering and enduring much to hinder or divert evil, and scarce any will have this sort of zeal. A specious zeal is all our ambition; upon that, each one willingly spends his talent, never attending to the fact that it is not zeal indeed which is thereby sought but glory, the satisfaction of our pride, anger, annoyance and other passions.

Certainly our Saviour's zeal principally appeared in his death upon the cross to destroy death and sin in men: in which he was sovereignly imitated by that admirable vessel of election and dilection, as the great S. Gregory Nazianzen, in golden words, represents him; for speaking of this holy Apostle he says: "He fights for all, he prays for all, he is passionately jealous about all, he is inflamed for all, yea he has dared yet more for his brethren according to the flesh, so that if I may dare also to say it, he desires through charity that they may have his own place near Our Saviour. O excellence of courage and incredible fervour of 459spirit! He imitates Jesus Christ, who for us was made a curse,482482Gal. iii. 13. who took on himself our infirmities and carried our diseases.483483Matt. viii. 17. Or, that I may speak a little more soberly, he was the first after our Saviour who refused not to suffer and to be reputed wicked for their sake." Even so then, Theotimus, as our Saviour was whipped, condemned, crucified, as a man devoted, destined and set apart to bear and support all the reproaches, ignominies and punishments due to all the sinners in the world, and to be a general sacrifice for sin,—as he was made an anathema, was cast off and abandoned by his eternal Father, so, according to the true doctrine of this great Nazianzen, the glorious Apostle S. Paul desired to be filled with ignominy, to be crucified, cast off, abandoned and sacrificed for the sin of the Jews, that the curse and punishment which they deserved might fall upon him; and as our Saviour took upon him the sins of the world, and was made a curse, sacrificed for sin and forsaken by his Father in such sense that he ceased not ever to be the well-beloved Son in whom his Father was well pleased,—so the holy Apostle desired indeed to be a curse, and to be separated from his master, to be left to the mercy of the reproaches and punishments due unto the Jews, yet he never desired to be deprived of charity and the grace of his Lord, from which, moreover, nothing could ever separate him; that is to say, he desired to be treated as a man cast off by God, but he did not desire actually to be cast off and deprived of his grace, for this cannot be holily desired. So the heavenly spouse declares, that though love is strong as death, which makes a separation between the body and soul, zeal, which is an ardent love, is yet stronger, for it resembles hell, which separates the soul from the sight of Our Lord; but it is never said, nor can be said, that love or zeal was like to sin, which alone separates from the grace of God. And indeed how could the ardour of love possibly make one desire to be separated from grace, since love is grace itself, or at least cannot be without grace. And the zeal of the great S. Paul was in some sort practised by the little S. Paul, I mean S. Paulinus, who to deliver a slave out of bondage became himself a slave, sacrificing his own liberty to bestow it upon his neighbour.


"O how happy is he," says S. Ambrose, who knows how to discipline zeal!" "The devil will easily," says S. Bernard, "delude thy zeal, if thou neglect knowledge; therefore let thy zeal be inflamed with charity, adorned with knowledge, established in constancy." True zeal is the child of charity as being its ardour; wherefore, like to charity, it is patient, is kind, envieth not, dealeth not perversely, seeketh not her own, is not provoked to anger, rejoiceth in the truth.4844841 Cor. xiii. The ardour of true zeal resembles that of the huntsman, being diligent, careful, active, industrious, eager in pursuit, but without passion, anger or disquiet, for if the huntsman's work were done in anger, bad temper and vexation, it would not be so much loved and desired. Zeal in like manner has ardours which are extreme, but constant, solid, sweet, industrious, equally agreeable and untiring; whereas on the contrary, false zeal is turbulent, troubled, insolent, arrogant, choleric, transient, equally impetuous and inconstant.


« Prev Chapter XVI. That the Example of Certain Saints… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection