FOUNDATION AND TRUE NATURE OF THE VIRTUE OF ABANDONMENT,
TO EXPLAIN AND DEFEND
Father Caussade’s Doctrine.
There is no truth however clear which does not become error the moment it is lessened or exaggerated; and there is no food however salutary for the soul which may not, when ill-applied, become a fatal poison.
The virtue of abandonment does not escape this danger; the more holy and profitable it is in itself the more serious are the dangers we risk by misunderstanding its just limits.
These dangers, unfortunately, are not mere possibilities. The seventeenth century witnessed the birth of a heresy,—that of the Quietists,—which, while claiming to teach its followers perfect abandonment to God, led them into the most terrible disorders. For a time this sect wrought its ravages in the very capital of Catholicism, and put forth such specious sophistries that the pious Fénelon himself, while abhorring the practical consequences drawn from this teaching, was for a time misled by its false appearance of perfection.
To preserve Father Caussade’s readers from these dangers, we think it well to add to these writings a succinct exposition of the rules which should guide us in a matter so delicate. By the light of the principles jointly furnished us by reason and faith, we shall have no difficulty in determining the just limits which should mark our abandonment to divine Providence; and it will be easy for us afterwards to elucidate the points in our author’s doctrine which might be wrongly interpreted.
Father Caussade explains very clearly in his “Letters” the two principles which form the unalterable basis of the virtue of abandonment.
First principle: Nothing is done, nothing happens, either in the material or in the moral world, which God has not foreseen from all eternity, and which He has not willed, or at least permitted.
Second principle: God can will nothing, He can permit nothing, but in view of the end He proposed to Himself in creating the world; i.e., in view of His glory and the glory of the Man-God, Jesus Christ, His only Son.
To these two principles laid down by our author we shall add a third, which will complete the elucidation of this whole subject: As long as man lives upon earth, God desires to be glorified through the happiness of this privileged creature; and consequently in God’s designs the interest of man’s sanctification and happiness is inseparable from the interest of the divine glory.
If we do not lose sight of these principles, which no Christian can question, we shall understand that our confidence in the Providence of our Father in heaven cannot be too great, too absolute, too childlike. If nothing but what He permits happens, and if He can permit nothing but what is for our happiness, then we have nothing to fear, except not being sufficiently submissive to God. As long as we keep ourselves united with Him and we walk after His designs, were all creatures to turn against us they could not harm us. He who relies upon God becomes by this very reliance as powerful and as invincible as God, and created powers can no more prevail against him than against God Himself.
This confidence in the fatherly providence of God cannot, evidently, dispense us from doing all that is in our power to accomplish His designs; but after having done all that depends upon our efforts we will abandon ourselves completely to God for the rest.
This abandonment should extend, in fact, to everything—to the past, to the present, to the future; to the body and all its conditions; to the soul and all its miseries, as well as all its qualities; to blessings; to afflictions; to the good will of men, and to their malice; to the vicissitudes of the material, and the revolutions of the moral, world; to life and to death; to time and to eternity.
However, as these different orders of things do not enter in the same manner in the designs of divine Providence, neither should our abandonment in regard to these be practised in the same manner; and the rules which we should follow in the practice of this virtue should be founded on the nature itself of the objects which call it forth. We shall indicate the principal ones.
- Among all the dispositions to which our abandonment can be applied, there are first, those which depend solely upon God, where human liberty has no part either in producing or averting them. Such are, for example, certain scourges, and vicissitudes of the atmosphere; certain accidents impossible to foresee, certain natural defects of body or soul.
In regard to facts of this order, whether of the past, present, or future, it is evident that our abandonment cannot be too absolute.
There is nothing to do here but to passively and lovingly endure all that God sends us; to blindly accept in advance all that it may please Him to send us in the future. Resistance would be useless, and only serve to make us unhappy; a loving and frequently renewed acceptance, on the contrary, would make these inevitable sufferings very meritorious. And oh, the marvels of God’s goodness! Our abandonment will not only sanctify and fructify real trials; it will enable us to derive great merit from trials to which we shall never be subjected. For, if we lovingly accept these trials when they present themselves to our minds as probable, or simply possible, this willing acquiescence, this fiat uttered in the depths of the heart, cannot fail to please God, and be very useful to our souls. Therefore, in regard to this first order of events, the practice of abandonment cannot but be very sanctifying, as it changes into means of sanctification not only real but even purely imaginary trials.
- There are other sufferings which come to us through the malice of creatures: persecutions, calumnies, ill-treatment, neglect, injustice, and offences of every kind. What are we to do when we find ourselves exposed to vexatious things of this sort?
1st. We evidently cannot like the offence against God with which they are accompanied; we should, on the contrary, deplore and detest it, not because it wounds our self-love, but because it is an offence against the divine rights, and compromises the salvation of the offending souls.
2d. As for that which concerns us, on the contrary, we should regard as a blessing that which is in itself an evil; and to do this we need only recall the principles previously laid down: not to look only at the creature who is the immediate cause of our sufferings, but to raise our eyes higher and behold God, who has foreseen and permitted them from all eternity, and who in permitting them had only our happiness in view. This thought will be sufficient to dissipate the bitterness and trouble which would take possession of our hearts were we to look only at the injustice of which we are the victims.
3d. In regard to the effects of this injustice already consummated and irreparable, we have only to resign ourselves as lovingly as possible, and carefully gather their precious fruits. It is frequently not difficult to divine the spiritual fruits God destined for us in exposing us to temporal evils: to detach us from creatures; to deliver us from inordinate affections, from our pride, from our tepidity,—veritable maladies of the soul, frequently all the more dangerous that they are less perceptible, and of which the heavenly Physician wishes to cure us, using the malice of our neighbor as a sharp instrument. We do not hesitate to endure much greater sufferings to be delivered from corporal infirmities; then let us gratefully accept the spiritual health, infinitely more precious, which God offers us, however disagreeable the instrument through which He gives it to us.
4th. If it is in our power to avert the consequences of malice and injustice, and if in our true interest, and in the interest of the divine glory, we deem it necessary to take any measures to this end, let us do so without departing from the practice of the holy virtue of abandonment. Let us commit the success of our efforts to God, and be ready to accept failure if God judges it more suitable to His designs and more profitable to our souls. We are so blind that we always have reason to fear being deceived; but God cannot be deceived, and we may be certain, in advance, that what He determines will be best. Therefore we cannot do better than abandon with fullest confidence the result of our efforts to Him.
III. But should this abandonment extend equally to our acts of imprudence, to our faults, and all the annoyances of every kind in which they may result?
It is important to distinguish here two things which self-love tends to confound. In the fault itself we must distinguish what is culpable and what is humiliating. Likewise in its consequences we must distinguish what is detrimental to the divine glory and the confusion inflicted on our self-love. Evidently we cannot hate too much the fault, properly so called, nor regret too keenly the injury done to the divine glory. But as for our humiliation, and the confusion inflicted on our self-love, we should rejoice, and acquiesce in it with complete abandonment. This kind of sacrifice is undoubtedly the best fitted to destroy in us the most secret fibres of self-love, and to cause us to make rapid progress in virtue. To souls who have attained a certain degree of regularity and detachment, exterior humiliations are very little. When we have learned the vanity of human glory, we easily endure the sting of contempt; but we may still unite with this exterior detachment great attachment to our own esteem and approbation, and a wholly egotistical desire of perfection. In this case, self-love, by changing its object, would only become more subtle and more dangerous. To destroy it, there is no remedy more efficacious than the humiliation resulting from our faults; and we cannot, consequently, strive too earnestly to apply the practice of abandonment to this humiliation, endeavoring at the same time to correct the faults themselves.
And what we say of faults of the past applies equally to faults of the future. The practice of abandonment well understood should deliver us from that impatience which makes us wish to at once attain the summit of perfection, and which only serves to keep us from it by turning us from the only path which leads to perfection. This path is humility, and the impatience which we are censuring is only another form of pride. Let us make every effort to correct our faults; but let us be resigned to not seeing them all disappear in a day. Let us earnestly, and with the most filial confidence, ask God to grant us that decisive grace which will completely wrest us from ourselves, to make us live only in Him; but let us leave to Him, with an equally filial abandonment, the care of determining the day and hour in which this grace shall be given us.
With still greater reason should we abandon to God the determining of the degree of sanctity which we shall attain upon earth, the extraordinary graces which will accompany this sanctity here below, and the glory with which it will be crowned in heaven. In as far as it depends upon us, we should leave nothing undone to increase this sanctity and this glory, in order not to fall short of the degree God has marked for us; but if we must earnestly devote ourselves to realizing His designs, we must not desire to have them other than they are. If our love for God is what it should be, we will thank Him for having granted other souls favors that He has refused us, and we will praise Him no less for our poverty than for our riches.
- Should our abandonment go still farther? Should we, in view of the hypothesis—perfectly possible, alas!—of our damnation, resign ourselves thereto, and thus make to God the complete and absolute sacrifice of all our own interests?
To this point would Fénelon have carried the purity of love and the perfection of abandonment; and he did not lack plausible motives with which to support this doctrine. He drew from the example and the writings of the Saints arguments still more specious to prove that God frequently requires this complete sacrifice of elect souls; and that to obtain it He impresses them with an irresistible conviction of their eternal loss. According to this great prelate, divine love is only perfect in souls who have gone through this trial without faltering, and who by a sacrifice have renounced, at least hypothetically, all their own interest, even that of their eternal salvation.
But the Church has condemned this doctrine which, in proposing to man a perfection contrary to his nature, reverses the order of God’s designs. How, in fact, can perfection consist in destroying the most essential law of our moral nature, viz., that irresistible inclination which leads us to seek our happiness? How could love of God require that we rob God of one of His attributes—the one which makes Him the supreme object of our beatitude? How could one of the theological virtues be contrary to another, and charity exclude hope? What is eternal happiness if not the eternal reign of pure love? and how could the pure love of time consist in excluding, even hypothetically, from our desires the pure love of eternity?
That which perfect abandonment asks is that we observe in our desires the order of God’s designs. God created all things for His glory first; and secondly, but inseparably, for our happiness. Let us do as He does: let us never separate the interest of His glory from that of our happiness, but let us always make the second subordinate to the first. Let us love God as the object of our beatitude, but let us love Him above all for His infinite goodness. Let us desire and hope for our eternal happiness; but since this happiness, when we shall enjoy it, must result from the love of God for Himself, let us begin now to seek it as it must be when we realize it, and refer the desire of it, as we will one day refer its enjoyment, to the glory of this great God who desires to be all in all things.
Thus, at one and the same time, we can practise charity and hope, seek the glory of God and our own happiness, fill the designs of our Creator, and satisfy the deepest and most imperative needs of our nature.
The saints did not do otherwise; and Father Caussade, in one of his letters, proves very clearly that the formulas of apparent despair that they have sometimes used in the transports of their cruel sufferings contained in reality acts of the most meritorious confidence. Elsewhere he also shows most perfectly how ill-founded is this even hypothetic separation between God’s interests and our true interests; and he justly concludes therefrom that perfection cannot consist in supposing this separation and sacrificing the interest of our eternal happiness to that of the divine glory.
We have no reason, therefore, to fear that in reading Father Caussade’s treatise we are liable to confound, at least in this respect, the abandonment he recommends with the Quietism condemned in Fénelon.
Is our author equally irreproachable in all the other points of his doctrine? Might he not be accused of turning his readers from duties which require labor and effort to keep them in an indolent repose?
There would be ground for this reproach if Father Caussade promised to give his readers a complete treatise on Christian and religious perfection; but this he does not do. He addresses himself to souls already advanced in virtue and accustomed not only to faithfully fulfill the essential precepts of Christianity, but also to observe the prescriptions of religious discipline. Like the young man in the Gospel who from his youth had kept the commandments, and who begged our Saviour to show him a higher perfection, these souls ask Father Caussade what they must do to sanctify themselves after having accomplished all the duties imposed upon their free will. The man of God answers them like our Saviour: If you would be perfect, rid yourself of all that may still cling to you of attachment to your own interests, your own ideas, your own will, and abandon yourself completely to God. Practise the virtue of abandonment; practise it so habitually that it will become the constant state of your soul: thus you will cease to live to yourself, to live only in God.
This is a summary of the book we are re-editing to-day. To understand it we must bear in mind, as we read it, the situation of the author, and that of the souls to whom his counsels are addressed; viz., that it is not, as we have already said, a complete treatise of Christian perfection which he has claimed to write; his only object was to set forth the advantages of a special virtue and a particular state. It is true that this virtue is one of the most essential bases of sanctity, and that this state is sanctity itself as far as it is attainable on earth. But it is no less true that Father Caussade had no idea whatever of telling all Christians what they should do to save their souls. Therefore it would be a serious mistake to believe ourselves dispensed from all duties of which he makes no mention, in order to devote ourselves only to this great duty of abandonment, the importance of which he so justly and eloquently portrays.
To avoid this dangerous error, and reap all the profit of this true and very consoling doctrine of Father Caussade, it will be sufficient to cast a general glance over the divine economy in the salvation of souls, and to see what place abandonment to divine Providence occupies in this great work.
We all know that sanctification is a work both divine and human. It is divine through its immediate principle, the Holy Spirit; through its meritorious cause, the Incarnation and the death of the Son of God; through its end, the happiness of the Holy Trinity, in which holy souls are to participate for all eternity; finally, through its chief means, the teachings and the graces of Jesus Christ transmitted to men through the Church.
But this work is human also, since the graces of the Holy Spirit, the merits of the Son of God, the designs of the Holy Trinity, and all the efforts of Providence can bear fruit in a soul only as far as she freely co-operates with them.
This co-operation in our sanctification which God requires of us is composed of three parts.
It consists first of all in the destruction of everything in our corrupt nature which is an obstacle to the divine action: sins, vices, sensible inclinations, defects, imperfections. This first labor is what the masters of the spiritual life call the purgative way. It is accomplished by examinations of conscience, works of penance and mortification, and the various practices in use in the Church.
The second part of the labor which God imposes on the soul desirous to attain sanctity is less painful, and easier. It is what is called the illuminative way. The soul that God introduces therein exercises herself in producing the interior acts of virtue with which grace inspires her, and in practicing the good works to which this same grace impels her.
Finally, when the obstacles are removed and the soul’s preparation is completed, God unites Himself to her, fills her with His grace, inflames her with His love, and uses her as a docile instrument for the accomplishment of His designs: this is the unitive way.
But let us not misapprehend this condition. Even in this perfect state in which God is fully master of His reasonable creature, He does not act in her without her co-operation; He requires of her great fidelity in avoiding the smallest faults, great vigilance over her affections, great generosity in denying herself in all things, great fervor in prayer. So far from dispensing her from the works of the illuminative way by which she prepared herself for the divine union, He causes her to accomplish them with greater perfection and merit.
Among these works common to the two ways of which we have just spoken, there are some which are strictly of obligation, either because they are prescribed to all Christians by the commandments of God and the Church, or because they are imposed on each one by the special circumstances of his state. There are others which are simply of counsel, or even purely of supererogation, and which each one embraces according to his more or less ardent desire of sanctification. In the same way, among the works of penance which form the purgative way there are some from which no one can dispense himself; but there are others which, without being of absolute necessity, are more or less useful, or even relatively necessary to certain souls, because of their particular position, and the violence of the inclinations which impel them to evil.
Such is man’s threefold part in the beginning, progress, and consummation of the eminently divine work of sanctification—a part essentially active, and so necessary that without it God’s part would be hopelessly sterile. Father Caussade, however, says very little of it in his book. Does he doubt its immense importance and absolute necessity? Far from it. On the contrary, in many passages he is careful to warn us that the passiveness which he recommends to the soul in no way dispenses her from the very active accomplishment of all that is duty, whether general or special. He adds that the souls who walk in the ordinary ways should not dispense themselves from the practices of supererogation in use in the Church among pious persons, and from following the rules traced by the masters of the spiritual life. Even upon persons who have reached the passive state he imposes the obligation of actively following the inspirations of grace when they lead to action, and of doing all to which they are impelled by grace.
Why, then, after making these reservations in some parts of his work does he seem to forget them, to solely extol the advantages of abandonment to the divine action? We have already said why: because the souls to whom he addressed himself, long exercised in the practice of active virtue, had special need to perfect themselves in this passive abandonment.
How many such souls there are in religious communities, or even in the midst of the world, who have no need to be urged to activity in the pursuit of sanctity, but who, on the contrary, need above all things to learn to let God act in them! Father Caussade addresses himself specially to these souls. Had his book no other result than to enlighten them upon God’s real designs concerning them, to deliver them from their disquieting agitation in order to introduce them into a broad and peaceful path, and enable them to find powerful means of salvation in unfortuitous events which they regard as obstacles, we should still believe that in offering this work to them we are doing them an eminent service.
But the salutary teaching of this book is not limited to a special class of persons. Though written specially for souls who have already attained a high degree of perfection, the doctrine it develops is suited to all Christians. It makes it clear to all that if God does not dispense them from laboring actively for their salvation, He takes upon Himself the greatest part of this work; that He unceasingly labors thereon; that He employs all creatures and all events to further it; and that if they will only permit Him to do His will,—without doing any more than they are doing, without suffering any more than they are suffering, but only by recognizing and loving God’s action in things which He obliges them to do and suffer, they will amass infinite merits and attain great perfection.
Thus Father Caussade does not suppress our active co-operation in the work of our sanctification, but he teaches us to profit much better than we do of God’s part therein, by abandoning ourselves more to Him. In events where too frequently we see only misfortunes, because we regard them as more or less reprehensible effects of the malice or the imperfection of creatures, he teaches us to see the divine love using these same creatures as instruments either to correct our vices or to cause us to practise virtue. Therefore he changes the principal obstacles to the success of this great work into means of sanctification, and teaches us the art of changing creatures the most indifferent or the most hostile into powerful auxiliaries. With good reason does he desire to be able to inculcate this doctrine in men of all conditions; for there is no doubt that, if they understood it well, sanctity would seem to them much more attainable; and that, seeing God laboring unceasingly upon this work, they would fulfill with much greater courage the duties imposed upon their free will.
Copyright, 1887, by Benziger Brothers.