A description of the soul's journey to full union with God

The sources of the interior life and its end (cont)


Ch 3: The Spiritual Organism (cont)


Since we have treated this question of the superhuman mode of the gifts of the Holy Ghost in other works, (1) we shall briefly recall the exact meaning of what we have previously written on this point and add some new and exact statements.


We have several times recalled this incontestable truth, namely, that one habitus can have acts whose formal object is distinct from that of the habitus, and we have admitted that in the specifying object of the habitus two different modes of acting may be found, as, for example, in the case of the infused virtues and the gifts, their mode of acting here on earth and their mode in heaven. But we have emphasized the fact that one and the same habitus cannot be the principle of acts that have distinct modes, such as that of earth and that of heaven, unless the first mode is ordained to the second and thus falls under one and the same formal object.

A recent work offering an entirely contrary opinion (2) states that the gifts of the Holy Ghost would, according to St. Thomas, have even here on earth two specifically distinct modes, the one ordinary, the other essentially extraordinary; the latter would be required for the infused contemplation of the mysteries of faith. Consequently contemplation would not be in the normal way of sanctity.

We replied to this opinion.(3) The essence of our reply, which should not be overlooked, was as follows: "If there were here on earth two specifically distinct modes for the gifts of the Holy Ghost, one of which would be ordinary, and the other not only eminent, but intrinsically and extrinsically extraordinary, the act characterized by the human mode would not be ordained to the act characterized by a superhuman and essentially extraordinary mode. (It would not be ordained to it any more than to the acts which suppose graces gratis datae, such as prophecy.) On the contrary, the act of the gifts exercised on earth is essentially ordained to that of heaven. They are, as St. Thomas insisted in the Quaestiones disputatae, 'in eadem serie motus,' in the same series of operations, and the last must be placed, otherwise all that precede fail to attain their end.

"This text from the Quaestiones disputatae (4), in no way contradicts what we have said. It does not state that the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost have on earth two specifically distinct acts, one ordinary, the other essentially extraordinary. It states quite the contrary; for it demands that for one and the same habitus the less perfect act should be ordained to the second, just as the foundation of a building is to the superstructure, as Christian life on earth is to that of heaven." We even underlined (ibid., p. 76) in the text of St. Thomas invoked against our opinion, the word ordinetur, which the writer had neglected to consider.

R. Dalbiez, writing in the Etudes Carmelitaines, April, 1933 (pp. 250 ff.), made the same observation that we did. He placed in parallel columns the integral text of St. Thomas and the quotation that Father Chrysogonous had taken from it, although the latter failed to cite these significant words: "Si autem non accipiatur unum in ordine ad aliud, tunc non erunt eaedem virtutes, nec secundum actum nec secundum habitum." (5) Father Dalbiez adds (ibid.): "The passage which I have underlined and which Father Chrysogonous did not quote is quite unfavorable to his thesis. . . . The idea of finding in this so-called definitive text the slightest support for the thesis of the two modes, human and superhuman, of the terrestrial acts of the gifts of the Holy Ghost must be abandoned."

P. Perinelle, in the Revue des sciences philosophiques et theologiques, November, 1932 (p. 692), makes a like observation on the central argument of the thesis. He adds that Father Chrysogonous was mistaken in saying that according to St. Thomas there are three infused intellectual virtues (understanding, knowledge, and wisdom) parallel to the gifts of the Holy Ghost, and that it is only since the Fall that the gifts are necessary.

What most interests us here is that the author did not at all succeed in proving the principal point that he wished to establish: namely, that the gifts have here below two specifically distinct modes of operating, one ordinary, the other essentially extraordinary, which would characterize infused contemplation.


We have often affirmed that ordinarily the superhuman mode of the gifts is at first quite hidden, that is, in the ascetical life, and that this mode becomes more manifest in the mystical life, at least for an experienced director.(6) We may express this teaching more exactly by stating that in the ascetical life the influence of the gifts is either latent and quite frequent (it makes one think of the breeze which only facilitates the work of the rowers), or manifest but rare (in certain striking circumstances), whereas, on the contrary, in the mystical life the influence of the gifts is both frequent and manifest. It is not, however, always striking, as in the case of the great contemplatives, but occasionally diffuse, very real nevertheless, as is the case in saints who have an active vocation, such as St. Vincent de Paul. (7)

Some may object: "The operation belonging to the superhuman mode could not remain hidden; the soul necessarily perceives it from the very fact that this operation deviates from the natural mode of the subject." This assertion springs from the preceding one which, we have seen, has not been proved. It would be true if the gifts had here on earth two specifically distinct modes, and if the superhuman mode were extraordinary to the point of requiring infused ideas or a manifestly supernatural arrangement of our acquired ideas. But this is not so. Even in the case of prophecy, which is an extraordinary grace, there may be, says St. Thomas, a prophetic instinct hidden even from him who receives it; by it he can, like Caiphas, prophesy without knowing it. "The prophet's mind is instructed by God in two ways: in one way by an express revelation, in another way by a most mysterious instinct 'to which the human mind is subjected without knowing it,' as Augustine says (Gen. ad lit., II, 17)." (8)

Since this is true for prophecy, which is an essentially extra ordinary grace, with even greater reason is it true of the special inspiration of the Holy Ghost, to which the gifts, present in all the just, should render them docile. All spiritual writers admit that this special inspiration, which resembles the breeze that comes up at the right moment, is ordinarily latent and almost imperceptible at first, and that, if it is not resisted, it generally becomes stronger and more urgent. Innumerable passages from Scripture, from the fathers, from St. Thomas, and St. John of the Cross could be quoted on this point. They make this statement in particular when commenting on Christ's words: "The Spirit breatheth where He will, and thou hearest His voice; but thou knowest not whence He cometh and whither He goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit." (9) The inspiration, at first latent and obscure, becomes more manifest, luminous, and compelling if one is faithful.

St. John of the Cross expresses the same idea in The Ascent of Mount Carmel: "It is indispensable to possess this knowledge proper to contemplation before leaving discursive meditation. But it is to be remembered that this general knowledge. . . is at times so subtle and delicate, particularly when most pure, simple, perfect, spiritual, and interior, that the soul, though in the practice thereof, is not observant or conscious of it." (10)

The special inspiration which we should receive with docility through the gifts of the Holy Ghost is undoubtedly often quite hidden. According to spiritual writers, we must establish ourselves in silence that we may be attentive to this inspiration, hear it, and then distinguish between it and one that might lead us astray. This is the whole question of the discernment of spirits. This admonition is frequently expressed in The Imitation of Christ: "Consider these things, 0 my soul, and close up the doors of thy sensual desires; that thou mayest hear what the Lord thy God speaketh within thee." (11) Moreover, there are certainly many degrees of docility to the Holy Ghost, from our first response to the attraction of our vocation up to the last moment when we give up our souls to God.


Is detachment from creatures the same for the greatest saints and for souls that have reached a lesser perfection? To formulate the question is to solve it; we have never had the slightest doubt on this point.

One must be possessed of a certain juvenile daring to write: "Detachment from creatures ought to be the same for all perfect souls: that is, total, absolute, universal. It is impossible to find a mean between having and not having defects. Now perfection by its nature excludes all defects, whether directly or indirectly voluntary. The interior fervor exercised in detaching oneself from everything will vary in the subject according to the degree of the grace received, which is the seed of more or less striking victories; but objectively speaking, the renunciation of everything, no matter how small, which is opposed to the divine will, must be total and witnout any exception."

The logical formalism which halts at the formula: "It is impossible to find a mean between having and not having defects," ought not to make us forget the concrete order of things, or the great difference that exists among perfect souls, from the least elevated up to the holy soul of Christ. In concrete reality, renunciation, even objectively considered, progresses together with the fervor of will of the subject in which it exists. In fact, an already perfect soul can undeniably still progress, and in that soul detachment from creatures increases with union with God. These are two aspects of the progress of the life of grace, which continues in the unitive way. Thus many indirectly voluntary defects, the result of a practically unheeded negligence, are progressively eliminated in proportion as the depth of the soul is purified and more intimately and continually united to God.

Moreover, it is certain that a just man, even though perfect, cannot continually avoid all venial sins, although he can avoid each venal sin in particular. As he grows in charity, he avoids them more and more, so that in the transforming union, as St. Teresa explains,(12) the soul is practically freed from the trouble of the passions; as long as it is under the actual grace of the transforming union, it does not commit deliberate venial sins. Outside of these moments, it may still commit some venial fault, which is quickly atoned for. Though some perfect souls are confirmed in good, this is not true of all of them.

Finally, we must not forget that detachment from creatures was far greater in the Blessed Virgin than in the greatest saints, since she never committed the slightest venial sin. It was even greater still in the holy soul of Christ, who not only never actually sinned, but who was, even here on earth, absolutely impeccable. Therefore it is truly an exaggeration of simplicity to say: "It is impossible to find a mean between having and not having defects." What is true, is that there is no mean between being or not being absolutely impeccable, between continually avoiding or not avoiding every venial sin, between wishing or not wishing to strive henceforth to avoid them more and more. According to St. Thomas, "man (poenitens) needs to have the purpose of taking steps to commit fewer venial sins." (13) According as this will is more or less intense or fervent, he will actually avoid them more or less. Detachment from creatures will increase with the progress of charity or of attachment to God. Father Chardon strongly insisted on this point in his beautiful book, La croix de Jesus.

From all evidence, there are many degrees in what St. Thomas expresses in this manner: "Perfection can be had in this life. . . by the removal from man's affections not only of whatever is contrary to charity, but also of whatever hinders the mind's affections from tending wholly to God." (14) In this detachment there are many degrees even in regard to the exclusion of venial sins: "Those who are perfect in this life are said to offend in many things with regard to venial sins, which result from a weakness of the present life." (15) This statement is not exaggerated in its simplicity; it is rather the simple expression of Christian good sense.(16)


Our opponent writes in one of his replies: "We think that the defects pointed out by St. John of the Cross in The Dark Night under the name of capital sins, are all voluntary and that consequently the soul can, with the help of ordinary grace, free itself from them. Does Father Garrigou-Lagrange believe that the soul cannot purify itself of spiritual gluttony, spiritual laziness, spiritual pride, and other defects of this type. . . by the exercise of asceticism? We repeat here what we wrote elsewhere: that, if it could not free itself from them, these defects would no longer be voluntary and consequently would not hinder perfection."

We answer that St. Thomas avoids this excessively simple and superficial manner of considering things, when he teaches the necessity of the gifts of the Holy Ghost and of the corresponding inspirations for salvation and perfection.(17) We have seen in the course of this study that he by no means admits that the gifts would have here on earth two specifically distinct modes, one ordinary, the other essentially extraordinary, such as that of graces gratis datae.

The soul can free itself of certain moral defects only by docility to the special inspirations of the Holy Ghost. It would be entirely false to say that if the soul cannot deliver itself from them without these special inspirations, "these defects are no longer voluntary and therefore do not hinder perfection." The gifts of the Holy Ghost are given to all the just precisely to enable them to receive with docility these special inspirations, whose superhuman mode, that is at first latent, grows progressively more manifest if the soul is docile. St. Thomas says in fitting terms: "Whether we consider human reason as perfected in its natural perfection, or as perfected by the theological virtues, it does not know all things, or all possible things. Consequently it is unable to avoid folly and other like things mentioned in the objection. God, however, to whose knowledge and power all things are subject, by His motion safeguards us from all folly, ignorance, dullness of mind, and hardness of heart, and the rest. Consequently the gifts of the Holy Ghost, which make us amenable to His promptings, are said to be given as remedies for these defects." (18)

We hold, therefore, that the special inspirations of the Holy
Ghost are necessary that the soul may be purified of a certain rudeness or harshness, of dullness, of spiritual folly, and other similar defects, which are not only opposed to a certain psychological purity, but to moral purity. Without progressive docility to these special inspirations of the Holy Ghost, the depth of the soul will not be purified of its more or less unconscious egoism which mingles, under the form of indirectly voluntary negligence, in many of our acts and in many more or less culpable omissions.

To say that the passive purifications are not necessary to perfect moral purity would be to deny the necessity of the passive purification of the will, which frees the acts of hope and charity from all human alloy.(19) In this connection we may profitably recall what St. Teresa wrote in her Life: "For instance, they read that we must not be troubled when men speak ill of us, that we are to be then more pleased than when they speak well of us; that we must despise our own good name, be detached from our kindred, . . . with many other things of the same kind. The disposition to practice this must be, in my opinion, the gift of God; for it seems to me a supernatural good." (20) The meaning which the saint gives to this last expression is well known. Moreover, she remarks more than once that the progress of the virtues normally accompanies that of prayer, and that profound humility is ordinarily the fruit of the infused contemplation of the infinite grandeur of God and of our own wretchedness. This growth in virtue is not something accidental; it is the normal development of the interior life.

St. John of the Cross clearly holds that the passive purifications are necessary for the profound purity of the will. It will suffice to recall what he says of the defects that necessitate the passive purification of the senses and that of the spirit. In The Dark Night of the Soul (Bk. I, chaps. 2-9, and Bk. II, chaps. I f.) he speaks, especially in the last two chapters named, of the "stains of the old man" which still remain in the spirit, like rust which will disappear only under the action of an intense fire. Among the defects of proficients which require "the strong lye of the night of the spirit," he mentions rudeness, impatience, secret pride, unconscious egoism which causes some souls to use spiritual goods in anything but a detached manner, with the result that they fall into illusions. Evidently they lack not only psychological but moral purity. Finally, in the opinion of St. John of the Cross, these passive purifications (which belong to the mystical order) and infused contemplation of the mysteries of faith are indubitably in the normal way of sanctity since he wrote the two following propositions, which are of primary importance in his work: "The passive purification of the senses is common, it takes place in the greater number of beginners"; being passive, it belongs not to the ascetical but to the mystical order.(21) "The soul began to set out on the way of the spirit, the way of proficients, which is also called the illuminative way, or the way of infused contemplation, wherein God Himself teaches and refreshes the soul" (22) St. John of the Cross most certainly wished to note here not something accidental, but something that is produced normally in the way of sanctity when a soul that is truly docile to the Holy Ghost does not recoil in the face of trial.

We maintain, therefore, what we have always taught on this point. Moreover, the Carmelite theologians have taught the same doctrine. Philip of the Blessed Trinity (23) and Anthony of the Holy Ghost (24) state very clearly: "All ought to aspire to supernatural contemplation. All, and especially souls consecrated to God, ought to aspire and to tend to the actual union of enjoyment with God." (These theologians assign the same meaning to the words "supernatural" and "infused" when they apply them to contemplation.)

Finally, as we have more than once remarked, Joseph of the Holy Ghost wrote: "If infused contemplation is taken in the sense of rapture, ecstasy, or similar favors, we cannot apply ourselves to it, or ask it of God, or desire it; but as for infused contemplation in itself, as an act of contemplation (abstraction being made of ecstasy which may accidentally accompany it), we can aspire to it, desire it ardently, and humbly ask it of God, although we cannot certainly endeavor to have it by our own industry or our own activity." (25) Joseph of the Holy Ghost even says: "God usually raises to infused contemplation the soul that exercises itself fervently in acquired contemplation. This is the common teaching." (26)

We have never taught anything else. This is truly the teaching of St. John of the Cross, and it conforms fully to that left us by St. Thomas on the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, which are connected with charity and which, as infused habits, grow with charity. The full perfection of Christian life is inconceivable without them and without the special inspirations to which they render us docile.



1. Cf. Christian Perfection and Contemplation, pp. 272-77, 324 ff.

2. P. Chrysogonous, O.C.D., La perfection et la mystique selon les principes de saint Thomas, Bruges, 1931.

3. Cf. La Vie spirituelle, November, 1931, suppl., pp. [77] ff.

4. Quaestio unica de virtutibus cardinalibus, a.4: "Utrum virtutes cardinales maneant in patria."

5. Quaestio unica de virtutibus cardinalibus, a.4, in corp

6. Cf: Christian Perfection and Contemplation, pp. 282-85; 324 ff.; 328.

7. bId., pp. 320 ff.

8. See IIa IIae, q.171, a.5. Cf. ibid., q.I73, a.4, where St. Thomas gives the example of Caiphas, who prophesied without knowing that he did so.

9. John 3:8.

10 Bk. II, chap. 14.

11 Bk. III, chap. I; ibid., chaps. 2 f.

12. The Interior Castle, seventh mansion, chap. 2

I3. Summa, IIIa, q.87, a.1 ad 1um.

14 See IIa IIae, q. 184, a.2.

15. Ibid., ad 1um.

16. These last texts quoted from St. Thomas demonstrate, in spite of what may have been occasionally said on the subject, that he would by no means condemn the teaching of spiritual writers in regard to the mortification of activity that is called "natural," that is, not sanctified, which develops to the detriment of the life of grace. St. Thomas insists here that in order to reach perfection one should will to exclude "whatever hinders the mind's affections from tending wholly to God." If a person does not oblige himself by vow to practice the three evangelical counsels, he ought at least to have the spirit of these counsels in order to be perfect (IIa IIae, q. 184, a. 3) To attain this end, it is thus recommended that a person should not be too much concerned with earthly things, but should use the goods of this world as though not using them. In this renunciation there is evidently a progress even in those who are already perfect.

17 See Ia IIae, q.68, a.2.

18. Ibid., ad 3um.

19. We treated this subject at considerable length in L'amour de Dieu et la croix de Jesus, II, 597-632; "The Passive Purification of Hope and of Charity."

20. Life, chap. 31, ยง 21.

21. The Dark Night of the Soul, Bk. I, chap. 8.

22. Ibid., Bk. II, chap. 14.

23. Summa theol. myst. (ed. 1874), II, 299; III, 43.

24. Directorium mysticum (ed. 1733), tr. III, disp. III, sect. IV; tr. IV, disp. I, sect. VI.

25. Cursus theol. scol. myst., II, II Praed., disp. XI, q. 11, nos. 18, 23.

26. Ibid., disp. VIII.