Spiritual Works, The Ascent of the Carmel
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Of the damages caused to the soul when its will goes with joy to the earthly goods !
Chapter XXI Spiritual works, The Ascent of the Carmel,
St-Jean de la Croix, Doctor of the Church, page 381-386
Many of the damages and profits to which I am refering to here in these various kinds of joys ,
totalling six , are common to all : however , because they come directly from the
adhesion or the renouncement of the joy which belongs to one or the other of these kinds , what I
will expose of each one of them will also apply to the others because of their mutual connection.
But my main goal is to expose the particular damages or profits which come to the soul when
delighting or not in the natural goods. I call them particular because they come firstly and
immediately from such kind of joy , but secondarily and mediately from such another.
Here is one example. The tepidity of the spirit is a damage that comes directly from all the kinds of
joy and of each one in particular ; and so it is common to the six kinds of joy ; but sensuality is
a special damage which comes directly only from the joy that one puts in the natural and corporal
goods about which we speak.
Now the spiritual and corporal damages caused directly and effectively to the soul when one
places his joy in the natural goods come down to six main damages.
The first is vain glory , presumption , pride and contempt for the neighbour.
And , indeed , one cannot give an exaggerated esteem to an object , without refusing it to the others.
From this flows , at least in a real and implicit manner , a contempt for all the others ; for it is
plain that if one carries his esteem to one object , the heart withdraws from the others to go to
the one it prefers ; and from this real contempt , it is very easy to get to a formal and voluntary
contempt of some one of these other things in particular or in general ; this provision exists not
only in the heart , but it results in words and one says : Such thing or such a person is not like
such or such another ... Back « «
The second damage consists in inflaming the senses ; it inclines to sensual
complacencies and to lust.
The third damage is to carry to adulation and to vain praises which are filled with
lies and illusions , as mentions Isaiah :
«« My people , the one who flatters you misleads
you »». The reason is that , if sometimes one speaks the truth by praising elegance and
the beauty of the body , it is quite rare that some disadvantage does not result from it ;
either we make our neighbour fall into vain complacency or frivolous joy , or we carry some attachment
and imperfect intentions into it.
The fourth damage is general ; it consists in blunting the reason and also the
direction of the mind , as happens when one gets delighted by the temporal goods , and even here
the damage is much more serious. The natural goods , being much more intimate to us than the
temporal ones , the joy that one feels from it is also more effective and more prompt ; it leaves
a deeper trace in the senses and fascinates the mind more strongly.
The reason and the judgment lose their freedom ; they are as in darkness due to this affection of
joy which is so intimate to them.
From there arises the fifth damage which is a distraction of the memory , I mean
a divagation of the mind towards the creatures from which flow and proceed tepidity and spiritual
It is here the sixth damage which , also , is general. It usually gets to such a
point that it generates a great weariness and a deep sadness for the things of God , even leading
to having them in horror. When one has this joy for the natural goods , he infallibly loses the purity
of mind , at least at the beginning. If some movement of fervour is felt , it will only be a very
sensitive and unpolished one , far from spiritual , not very interior nor collected ; it will rather
consist in the enjoyment of the senses than in the strength of the soul. The soul is so low and so
weak , that it does not choke the practice of this joy ; it is enough , not to have the purity of
mind , for it to have this imperfect habit , even while in some occasions it would not agree to
certain complacencies. But its fervour lies to some extent rather in the weakness of the senses
than in the strength of the mind. This is what perfection and strength will express on occasion.
I do not deny that there can be high virtues besides numerous imperfections ; but when these joys
for the natural goods are not repressed , the interior spirit is neither pure nor tasty ; for here
reigns to a point flesh which militates against the spirit , and though the latter does not realize
the damage which results from it , it is at least the victim of a secret dissipation.
But let us return to the second damage , which contains others in large numbers ;
one could not describe with the feather nor express with words a thing which is neither veiled nor
secret , up to what point arrives this damage and how great is the misfortune which comes from the
complacency that one puts in charm and natural beauty. How many murders don't we count , every day ,
for this reason ? how many lost reputations ! how many insults ! how many dissipated fortunes !
jealousies ! disputes! adulterers , shameful crimes , or fornications ! and finally how many fallen
saints ! Their number is compared to that third part of the stars of the sky which were thrown
down on the earth by the tail of the snake as is related in the book of Revelation.
And Jeremiah tells us : " How did gold tarnish , and how did it lose its glare and beauty ?
How did the priceless stones of the sanctuary get dispersed to the corner of every street ?
How is it that the children of Sion , so famous and so noble, who were covered by the purest gold ,
were treated like clay vases broken like shards ? "
Up to what point does it not get , the poison coming from the fourth damage ? Who is
the one who more or less brings his lips near this gilded chalice of the woman of Babylon about which
the Book of Revelation tells us , who is seated on the beast with seven heads and ten horns ?
These words give us to understand that it is hardly if , among the great or small ones , saints or
sinners , there is even one to whom she does not give to drink of her wine , by gaining his heart
somewhat , since , as relates this text , she has elated all the kings of the earth of the wine of
her prostitution. She attacks all walks of life ; she does not even spare the supreme and illustrious
one of the sanctuary and divine priesthood ; and, as says Daniel , she places her abominable cup in
the Holy place. Hardly is there any small fort to which she does not give more or less to drink of
the wine of this chalice , that is to say , of this frivolous joy in the natural goods that we are
refering to. For this reason , according to this text , all the kings of the earth were elated of
this wine ; and , indeed there are very few , even among the holiest , who were not somewhat fascinated
and deluded by this wine of joy and pleasure that offers the natural beauty and charms.
So must we mark these words : " «« they got elated »» ". For as soon as the wine
of this joy is drunk , the heart gets fascinated and charmed ; on the other hand , the reason gets
clouded as though it was elated with wine. The elation is such that if some antidote is not taken
in earnest to promptly reject this poison , the very life of the soul is in jeopardy.
When , indeed , the spritual weakness increases , the state of the soul falls in a state as deplorable
as that of Samson when he had his eyes pierced and his hairs cut which were making his first strength.
Therefore , the soul is constrained to turn the grinding stone of the mill ; She is held captive in the
middle of her enemies , and perhaps will she die of the second death , the spiritual one , as Samson died
of the temporal death with his enemies. The cause of all these misfortunes is that the heart has gotten
elated with this joy ; it produces in the spiritual order what it produced in Samson in the temporal
order , and what it keeps producing today in a great number. Perhaps the enemies of the soul will come
and say to her , as the Philistines said to Samson to cover him with confusion : Is it not you who broke
these triple bonds of your chains ? Is it not you who tore the lions into pieces ? Is it not you who
killed Philistines by the thousands ? who removed from their hinges the gates of the city , and escaped
to all your enemies ?
Lastly , to conclude , let us indicate the necessary remedy against this mortal poison.
Here it is ! As soon as the heart feels moved by this frivolous joy for the natural goods ,
he must remember how useless it is to delight in anything apart from God , and how much this
is dangerous and pernicious. He must consider what a catastrophy it was for the angels to delight
and to take pleasure in their natural beauty and charms , since for this fault they were thrown into
the horrors of the abbys. Let him still think at these numberless evils that this same vanity causes
man each day. So must he take courage by taking in time the remedy advised by the poet to those who
start to feel in themselves some affection for the natural goods : Hasten now and from the start ,
take the remedy , because if you let time for evil to grow into the heart , it will be too late to
bring the cure. Besides , the Wise Man said: " do not pay attention to the wine when its color is
pink and when it shines in the cup , for it is drunk with pleasure , but at the end it bites like the
viper and it distils its venom like the basil. "
Chapter XXI Spiritual works, the Ascent of the Carmel
St-Jean de la Croix , Doctor of the Church , page 381-386