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

The interior life, which presupposes the state of grace, consists, as we have seen, in a generous tendency of the soul toward God, in which little by little each one's intimate conversation with himself is elevated, is transformed, and becomes an intimate conversation of the soul with God. It is, we said, eternal life begun in the obscurity of faith before reaching its full development in the clarity of that vision which cannot be lost.

Better to comprehend what this seed of eternal life, semen gloriae, is in us, we must ponder the fact that from sanctifying grace spring forth in our faculties the infused virtues, both theological and moral, and also the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost; virtues and gifts which are like the subordinated functions of one and the same organism, a spiritual organism, which ought to develop until our entrance into heaven.


We must distinguish clearly in our soul what belongs to its very nature and what is an entirely gratuitous gift of God. The same distinction must be made for the angels who also have a nature which, though entirely spiritual, is very inferior to the gift of grace.

If we carefully consider the human soul in its nature, we see two quite different regions in it: one belongs to the sensible order, the other to the suprasensible or intellectual order. The sensitive part of the soul is that which is common to men and animals; it includes the external senses and the internal senses, comprising the imagination, the sensible memory, and also sensibility, or the sensitive appetite, whence spring the yarious passions or emotions, which we call sensible love and hatred, desire and aversion, sensible joy and sadness, hope and despair, audacity and fear, and anger. All this sensitive life exists in the animal, whether its passions are mild like those of the dove or lamb, or whether they are strong like those of the wolf and the lion.

Above this sensitive part common to men and animals, our nature likewise possesses an intellectual part, which is common to men and angels, although it is far more vigorous and beautiful in the angel. By this intellectual part our soul towers above our body; this is why we say that the soul is spiritual, that it does not intrinsically depend on the body and will thus be able to survive the body after death.

From the essence of the soul in this elevated region spring our two higher faculties, the intellect and the will.(1) The intellect knows not only sensible qualities, colors, and sounds, but also being, the intelligible reality, of necessary and universal truths, such as the following: "Nothing happens without a cause, and, in the last analysis, without a supreme cause. We must do good and avoid evil. Do what you ought to, come what may." An animal will never attain to the knowledge of these principles; even if its imagination were continually growing in perfection, it would never attain to the intellectual order of necessary and universal truths. Its imagination does not pass beyond the order of sensible qualities, known here or there in their contingent singularity.

Since the intellect knows the good in a universal manner, and not only the delectable or useful good but the upright and reasonable good (for example: Die rather than become a traitor), it follows that the will can love this good, will it, and accomplish it. Thereby the intellect immensely dominates the sensitive part or the emotions common to men and animals. By his intellect and his will, man resembles the angel; although his intellect, in contrast to the angelic intellect, depends in this present life on the senses, which propose to it the first objects that it knows.

The two higher faculties, the intellect and the will, can develop greatly as we see in men of genius and superior men of action. These faculties could, however, develop forever without ever knowing and loving the intimate life of God, which is of another order, entirely supernatural, and supernatural alike for angels and men. Man and the angel can indeed know God naturally from without, by the reflection of His perfections in creatures; but no created and creatable intellect can by its natural powers attain, even confusedly and obscurely, the essential and formal object of the divine intellect.(2) To hold that it could be done would be to maintain that this created intellect is of the same nature as God, since it would be specified by the same formal object.(3) As St. Paul says: "For what man knoweth the things of a man, but the spirit of a man that is in him? So the things also that are of God no man knoweth, but the Spirit of God." (4) This order is essentially supernatural.

Sanctifying grace, the seed of glory, introduces us into this higher order of truth and life. It is an essentially supernatural life, a participation in the intimate life of God, in the divine nature, since it even now prepares us to see God some day as He sees Himself and to love Him as He loves Himself. St. Paul has declared to us: "That eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love Him. But to us God hath revealed them by His Spirit. For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God." (5)

Sanctifying grace, which makes us begin to live in this higher, supra-angelic order of the intimate life of God, is like a divine graft received in the very essence of the soul to elevate its vitality and to make it bear no longer merely natural fruits but supernatural ones, meritorious acts that merit eternal life for us.

This divine graft of sanctifying grace is, therefore, in us an essentially supernatural life, immensely superior to a sensible miracle and above the natural life of our spiritual and immortal sou1.(6)

Even now this life of grace develops in us under the form of the infused virtues and of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost. As in the natural order, our intellectual and sensitive faculties spring from the very essence of our soul, so in the supernatural order, from sanctifying grace, received in the essence of the soul, spring, in our superior and inferior faculties, the infused virtues and the gifts which constitute, with the root from which they proceed, our spiritual or supernatural organism.(7) It was given to us in baptism, and is restored to us by absolution if we have the misfortune to lose it.

The spiritual organism may be expressed in the following table of the virtues and the gifts.

 Charity -->
 Faith -->
 Hope -->
Gift of Wisdom
Gift of Understanding
Gift of Knowledge
Gift of Counsel
Gift of Piety
Gift of Fortitude
Gift of Fear
 Prudence -->
- Religion -->
- Penance
- Obedience
 Fortitude -->
- Patience
- Humility
- Meekness
- Chasity

In connection with this table it would be well to consult St Thomas' treatise on each of the virtues, where he speaks of the corresponding gift.(8) The gift of fear corresponds both to temperance and to hope,(9) but this latter virtue is also aided by the gift of knowledge, which shows us the emptiness of created things and thereby makes us desire God and depend on Him.(10)


The theological virtues are infused virtues which have for their object God Himself, our supernatural last end. This is why they are called theological. By contrast, the moral virtues have for their object the supernatural means proportioned to our last end. Thus prudence directs our acts to this end; religion makes us render to God the worship that is due Him; justice makes us give to everyone what we owe him; fortitude and temperance regulate the sensible part of our soul to prevent it from going astray and to make it cooperate, according to its manner, in our progress toward God.(1)

Among the theological virtues, infused faith, which makes us believe all that God has revealed because He is Truth itself, is like a higher spiritual sense which allows us to hear a divine harmony that is inaccessible to every other means of knowing. Infused faith is like a higher sense of hearing for the audition of a spiritual symphony which has God for its composer. This explains why there is an immense difference between the purely historical study of the Gospel and of the miracles which confirm it and the supernatural act of faith by which we believe in the Gospel as in the word of God. A very learned man who seeks the truth sincerely can make a historical and critical study of the Gospel and of the miracles which confirm it without as yet coming to the point where he believes. He will believe supernaturally only after receiving the grace of faith, which will introduce him into a higher world, superior even to the natural life ofthe angels. "Faith...  is the gift of God," says St. Paul.(2) It is the basis of justification, for it makes us know the supernatural end toward which we must tend.(3) The Church has defined against the Semi-Pelagians that even the beginning of faith is a gift of grace.(4) All the great theologians have shown that infused faith is essentially supernatural, of a supernatural character very superior to that of the sensible miracle and also to that of prophecy which announces a contingent future in the natural order, such as the end of a war. Faith makes us, in fact, adhere supernaturally and infallibly to what God reveals to us about His intimate life, according as the Church, which is charged with preserving revelation, proposes it to us.

Infused faith belongs thus to an order immensely superior to the historical and critical study of the Gospel. As Lacordaire rightly sayS: "A scholar may study Catholic doctrine, not reject it bitterly, and may even say repeatedly: 'You are blessed to have faith; I should like to have it, but I cannot believe.' And he tells the truth:he wishes and he cannot (as yet), for study and good faith do not always conquer the truth, so that it may be clear that rational certitude is not the first certitude on which Catholic doctrine rests. This scholar therefore knows Catholic doctrine; he admits its facts; he feels its power; he agrees that there existed a man named Jesus Christ, who lived and died in a prodigious manner. He is touched by the blood of the martyrs, by the constitution of the Church; he will willingly say that it is the greatest phenomenon that has passed over the world. He will almost say that it is true. And yet he does not conclude; he feels himself oppressed by truth, as one is in a dream where one sees without seeing. The day comes, however, when this scholar drops on his knees; feeling the wretchedness of man, he lifts his hands to heaven and exclaims: 'Out of the depths I have cried to Thee, a Lord!' At this moment something takes place in him, scales drop from his eyes, a mystery is accomplished, and he is changed. He is a man, meek and humble of heart; he can die, he has conquered the truth." (6)

If acquired faith, born of the historical examination of the Gospel and of the miracles which confirm it, were sufficient to attain the formal motive of Christian faith, infused faith would be useless, as would likewise infused hope and infused charity. Natural good will, spoken of by the Pelagians, would suffice. In the opinion of the Pelagians, grace and the infused virtues were not absolutely necessary for salvation, but only for the easier accomplishment of the acts of Christian life.(7)

Infused faith is like a faculty of supernatural audition, like a higher musical sense, which permits us to hear the spiritual harmonies of the kingdom of heaven, to hear, in a way, the voice of God through the prophets and His Son before we are admitted to see Him face to face. Between the unbeliever, who studies the Gospel, and the believer, there is a difference similar to that which exists between two persons who are listening to a Beethoven symphony, one of whom has a musical ear and the other has not. Both hear all the notes of the symphony, but one alone grasps its meaning and its soul. Similarly, only the believer adheres supernaturally to the Gospel as to the supernatural word of God; and he adheres to it even though untutored, while the learned man with all his means of criticism cannot, without infused faith, adhere to it in this manner. "He that believeth in the Son of God, hath the testimony of God in himself." (8)
This is what prompted Lacordaire to say: "What takes place in us when we believe is a phenomenon of intimate and superhuman light. I do not say that exterior things do not act on us as rational motives of certitude; but the very act of this supreme certitude, which I speak of, affects us directly like a luminous phenomenon (infused light of faith); I would even add, like a transluminous phenomenon. . . . We are affected by a transluminous light. . . . Otherwise how could there be proportion between our adherence, which would be natural and rational, and an object that surpasses nature and reason? . . . (9) Similarly sympathetic intuition between two men accomplishes in a single moment what logic could not have, brought about in many years. Just so, a sudden illumination sometimes enlightens the genius.

"A convert will tell you: 'I read, reasoned, wished, and I did not arrive. Then one day, I don't know how, on the street corner or at my fireside, I don't know, but I was no longer the same; I believed. . . . What took place in me at the moment of final conviction is of a totally different nature from what preceded. Remember the two disciples who were going to Emmaus.' " (10)

Fifty years ago, a man who did not yet know radio would have been surprised to hear it said that the day would come when a symphony that was being played in Vienna could be heard in Rome. By infused faith we hear a spiritual symphony which originates in heaven. The perfect chords of this symphony are called the mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the redemption, the Mass, and eternal life. By this superior sense of hearing man is guided toward eternity; he ought ever to advance toward the summit from which this harmony comes.

To tend effectively toward this supernatural end and to reach it, man has received two helps, hope and charity, which are like two wings. Without them he could make progress only in the direction indicated by reason; with them he flies in the direction pointed out by faith.

Just as our intellect cannot know our supernatural end without the infused light of faith, so our will cannot tend toward it unless its powers are augmented, increased more than tenfold, raised to a higher order. For this the will needs a supernatural love and a new impulse.

By hope we desire to possess God, and in order to attain Him we rely, not on our natural powers but on the help that He promised us. We rely on God Himself who always comes to the assistance of those who invoke Him.

Charity is a superior and more disinterested love of God. It makes us love God, not only in order to possess Him some day, but for Himself and more than ourselves, because of His infinite goodness, which is more lovable in itself than all the benefits we receive from it.(11) This virtue makes us love God above all else as a friend who has first loved us. It ordains to Him the acts of all the other virtues, which it vivifies and renders meritorious. Charity is our great supernatural force, the power of love which through centuries of persecution has surmounted all obstacles, even in weak children, such as St. Agnes and St. Lucy.

A man illumined by faith thus advances toward God by the two wings of hope and love. As soon as he sins mortally, however, he loses sanctifying grace and charity, since he turns away from God, whom he ceases to love more than himself. But divine mercy preserves infused faith and infused hope in him as long as he does not sin mortally against these virtues. He still preserves the light which indicates the road to be followed and he can still entrust himself to infinite mercy in order to ask of it the grace of conversion.

Of these three theological virtues, charity is the'highest, and together with sanctifying grace, it ought to endure forever. "Charity," says St. Paul, "never falleth away. . . . Now there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity." (12) It will last forever, eternally, when faith will have disappeared to give place to vision, and when hope will be succeeded by the inamissible possession of God clearly known.

Such are the superior functions of the spiritual organism: the three theological virtues which grow together, and with them the infused moral virtues that accompany them.



1. To know and to will, the human soul and the angel need two faculties; in this respect both differ from God. God, who is Being itself, Thought, Wisdom, and Love, does not need faculties to know and to love. On the contrary, since the angel and the soul are not being itself, they have only a nature or an essence capable of receiving existence. Moreover, in them restricted existence, which is proper to them, is distinct from acts of knowledge and of will which have an object that is not limited; as a result the essence of the soul or of the angel, which receives the existence that is proper to them, is distinct from the faculties or powers capable of producing, not the permanent act of existence, but the successive acts of knowledge and of will. Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 54, a. 1-3.

2 Thus a peasant who only very confusedly grasps intelligible reality, which is the object of philosophy, has, nevertheless, an intellect of the same nature as that of the philosopher; but neither one nor the other can by the sole natural powers of his reason know the intimate life of God.

3. Summa, Ia, q. 12, a.4.

4. See I Cor. 1:11.

5. Ibid.,2:9f.

6 The sensible miracle of the resurrection of a body restores natural life to the body in a supernatural manner; whereas sanctifying grace, which resuscitates a soul, is an essentially supernatural life. The miraculous effect of the corporal resurrection is not supernatural in itself but only by the mode of its production, "non quoad essentiam, sed quoad modum productionis suae." This is why a miracle, although supernatural by reason of its cause, is naturally knowable, whereas the essentially supernatural life of grace could not be known naturally. To mark this difference a miracle is often said to be preternatural rather than supernatural, and the latter word is reserved to designate the supernatural life.

7 See Ia IIae, q.63, a.3.

8. Summa, IIa IIae.

9. See ibid., q. 141, a.1 ad 3um: "Temperance also has a corresponding gift, namely, fear, whereby man is withheld from the pleasures of the flesh, according to Ps. 118: 120: 'Pierce Thou my flesh with Thy fear.' . . . It also corresponds to the virtue of hope."

10. See ibid., q.9, a.4.

1. See Ia IIae, q.62, a.1 f.

2. Eph. 2:8.

3. Rom. 4: 1-25. Abraham was justified by faith in God, "it was reputed to him unto justice." We ourselves will obtain salvation only by faith, which is a gift of God, by faith in Jesus Christ.

4. Cf. Denzinger, Enchiridion, no. 178.

5. St. Thomas, IIa IIae, q.6, a. I, 2. As the virtues are specified by their objeect and their formal motive, this essentially supernatural character of infused faith depends on its first object and on its formal motive, which are inaccessible to all natural knowledge. The first object of faith is, in fact, God Himself in His intimate life, and the formal motive of infused faith is the authority of God revealing. Now we can by reason alone know the authority of God the Author of nature, and even the, Author of the sensible miracle; but we cannot by reason alone adhere to the authority of God the Author of grace. It is as the Author of grace that God intervenes when He reveals to us the essentially supernatural mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the redemption, the Eucharist, and eternal life. We have treated this important point at length in De revelatione, I, chap. 14, pp' 458-514, and in Christian Perfection and Contemplation, pp. 61-80.

6. H. Lacordaire, Conferences a Notre-Dame de Paris, 17th conference.

7. Cf. Denzinger, Enchiridion, no. 179. Acquired faith exists in the demons who have lost infused faith, but who believe as it were reluctantly because of the evidence of miracles and other signs of revelation. Cf. St. Thomas, IIa IIae, q.5, a.2; De veritate, q. 14, a.9 ad 4um.

8. See I John 5: 10.

9. St. Thomas says the same thing in De veritate, q.I4, a.2: "Eternal life consists in the full knowledge of God. Hence there should be in us some beginning of this supernatural knowledge; and this is through faith, which from an infused light believes things that exceed natural reason."

Summa, IIa IIae, q.6, a.1, 2: Doubtless the light of faith is still obscure, but it is transluminiously obscure, that is, superior and not inferior to the evidences of reason.

10. Lacordaire, loco cit.

11. See Ia IIae, q.62, a.4

12. See I Cor. 13:8,13