Book Talk Tuesday, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 4, Chapter 3

Book Talk Tuesday, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 4, Chapter 3

CHAPTER III. Of Temptations, and the difference between experiencing them and
consenting to them.

PICTURE to yourself a young princess beloved of her husband, to whom
some evil wretch should send a messenger to tempt her to infidelity.
First, the messenger would bring forth his propositions. Secondly, the
princess would either accept or reject the overtures. Thirdly, she
would consent to them or refuse them. Even so, when Satan, the world,
and the flesh look upon a soul espoused to the Son of God, they set
temptations and suggestions before that soul, whereby–1. Sin is
proposed to it. 2. Which proposals are either pleasing or displeasing
to the soul. 3. The soul either consents, or rejects them. In other
words, the three downward steps of temptation, delectation, and
consent. And although the three steps may not always be so clearly
defined as in this illustration, they are to be plainly traced in all
great and serious sins.

If we should undergo the temptation to every sin whatsoever during our
whole life, that would not damage us in the Sight of God’s Majesty,
provided we took no pleasure in it, and did not consent to it; and that
because in temptation we do not act, we only suffer, and inasmuch as we
take no delight in it, we can be liable to no blame. S. Paul bore long
time with temptations of the flesh, but so far from displeasing God
thereby, He was glorified in them. The blessed Angela di Foligni
underwent terrible carnal temptations, which move us to pity as we read
of them. S. Francis and S. Benedict both experienced grievous
temptations, so that the one cast himself amid thorns, the other into
the snow, to quench them, but so far from losing anything of God’s
Grace thereby, they greatly increased it.

Be then very courageous amid temptation, and never imagine yourself
conquered so long as it is displeasing to you, ever bearing in mind the
difference between experiencing and consenting to temptation, [181]
–that difference being, that whereas they may be experienced while
most displeasing to us, we can never consent to them without taking
pleasure in them, inasmuch as pleasure felt in a temptation is usually
the first step towards consent. So let the enemies of our salvation
spread as many snares and wiles in our way as they will, let them
besiege the door of our heart perpetually, let them ply us with endless
proposals to sin,–so long as we abide in our firm resolution to take
no pleasure therein, we cannot offend God any more than the husband of
the princess in my illustration could be displeased with her because of
the overtures made to her, so long as she was in no way gratified by
them. Of course, there is one great difference between my imaginary
princess and the soul, namely, that the former has it in her power to
drive away the messenger of evil and never hear him more, while the
latter cannot always refuse to experience temptation, although it be
always in its power to refuse consent. But how long soever the
temptation may persist, it cannot harm us so long as it is unwelcome to

But again, as to the pleasure which may be taken in temptation
(technically called delectation), inasmuch as our souls have two parts,
one inferior, the other superior, and the inferior does not always
choose to be led by the superior, but takes its own line,–it not
unfrequently happens that the inferior part takes pleasure in a
temptation not only without consent from, but absolutely in
contradiction to the superior will. It is this contest which S. Paul
describes when he speaks of the “law in my members, warring against the
law of my mind,” [182] and of the “flesh lusting against the spirit.”

Have you ever watched a great burning furnace heaped up with ashes?
Look at it some ten or twelve hours afterwards, and there will scarce
be any living fire there, or only a little smouldering in the very
heart thereof. Nevertheless, if you can find that tiny lingering spark,
it will suffice to rekindle the extinguished flames. So it is with
love, which is the true spiritual life amid our greatest, most active
temptations. Temptation, flinging its delectation into the inferior
part of the soul, covers it wholly with ashes, and leaves but a little
spark of God’s Love, which can be found nowhere save hidden far down in
the heart or mind, and even that is hard to find. But nevertheless it
is there, since however troubled we may have been in body and mind, we
firmly resolved not to consent to sin or the temptation thereto, and
that delectation of the exterior man was rejected by the interior
spirit. Thus though our will may have been thoroughly beset by the
temptation, it was not conquered, and so we are certain that all such
delectation was involuntary, and consequently not sinful.

[181] The English language does not contain the precise relative terms
equivalent to “sentir et con-sentir.”

[182] Rom. vii. 23.

[183] Gal. v. 17.