From The Three Ages, Ch. 19 (available thru ITOPL):
"PRACTICAL NATURALISM: OF ACTION AND OF INACTION
Practical naturalism, which is the negation of the spirit of faith in the conduct of life, tends to revive under more or less accentuated forms, as it did some years ago in Americanism and Modernism. In several works that appeared during that period, mortification and the vows of religion were disparaged; they were considered not a deliverance which favors the upward flight of the interior life, but a hindrance to the apostolate. We were asked: Why speak so much of mortification, if Christianity is a doctrine of life; of renunciation, if Christianity ought to assimilate all human activity instead of destroying it; of obedience, if Christianity is a doctrine of liberty? These passive virtues, they said, have such importance only for negative spirits that are incapable of undertaking anything and that possess only the force of inertia.
Why, they added, depreciate our natural activity? Is our nature not good, does it not come from God, is it not inclined to love Him above all else? Our passions themselves, the movements of our sensible appetites (desire or aversion, joy or sadness) are neither good nor bad; they become so according to the intention of our will. They are forces to be utilized; they must not be mortified but regulated and modulated. They said that such is the teaching of St. Thomas, very different from that of so many spiritual writers, quite different, too, from Book III, chap. 54, of The Imitation on "The Different Motions of Nature and Grace." In thus opposing the author of The Imitation, they forget the words of our Savior: "Unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, itself remaineth alone. But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world, keepeth it unto life eternal" (1)
They asked, moreover, why one should so greatly combat private judgment, self-will. To do so is to place oneself in a state of servitude which destroys all initiative and makes a person lose contact with the world, which one ought not to scorn, but to ameliorate. Holding this opinion, would one not lose sight of what all true spiritual men have meant by "self-will," or a will not conformed to the will of God?
In this objection formulated by Americanism and taken up again by Modernism,(2) the true is cleverly mingled with the false. Even the authority of St. Thomas is invoked, and the following principle of the great doctor is often repeated: "Grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it." The movements of nature are not as inordinate, they say, as the author of The Imitation maintains; we must have the full development of nature under grace.
And as they lack the true spirit of faith, they designedly pervert the principle of St. Thomas which they invoke. He speaks of nature as such, in the philosophical sense of the word, of nature with its essential and also its good elements; of the work of God, and not of wounded, fallen nature, as it actually is in consequence of original sin and of our personal sins, more or less deformed by an often unconscious egoism, our covetousness, our pride. Likewise, St. Thomas speaks of the passions or emotions as such, and not as inordinate, when he says that they are forces to be utilized; but to utilize them one must mortify whatever is inordinate in them. Their inordinateness must not simply be veiled or moderated, but put to death.
All these equivocations were not long in manifesting their consequences. The tree is judged by its fruit. With too strong a desire to please the world, these Modernists, apostles of a new type, let themselves be converted by the world, instead of converting it.
They disregarded the consequences of original sin; to hear them, one would judge that man was born good, as the Pelagians, and later Jean Jacques Rousseau, declared. They forgot the gravity of mortal sin as an offense against God; and they considered it merely an evil which harms man. Therefore they failed particularly to recognize the gravity of the intellectual sins: incredulity, presumption, pride. The most serious offense seemed to them to be abstention from social works; consequently the purely contemplative life was considered quite useless, or the lot of the incapable. God Himself willed to reply to this objection by the canonization of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus and by the extraordinary radiation of that contemplative soul.
They also failed to recognize the infinite elevation of our supernatural end: God, the Author of grace. Instead of speaking of eternal life, of the beatific vision, they talked about a vague moral ideal tinted with religion, in which the radical opposition between heaven and hell disappeared. Finally, they forgot that the great means taken by Christ to save the world was the cross.
By all its consequences, the new doctrine gave proof of its principle: practical naturalism, not the spirit of God but the spirit of nature, the negation of the supernatural, if not in theory, at least in the conduct of life. During the period of Modernism this negation was occasionally formulated by declaring that mortification does not belong to the essence of Christianity. But we reply: Is mortification anything else than penance, and is not penance necessary for the Christian? How could St. Paul have written: "Always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies"? (3)
Under another form, practical naturalism appeared among the quietists, especially at the time of Molinos, in the seventeenth century. This naturalism was not that of action, as it is in Americanism, but that of inaction. Molinos held that "to wish to act offends God, who wishes to be the only one to act in us." (4) By no longer acting, he said, the soul annihilates itself and returns to its principle; then God alone lives and reigns in it.(5) Practical naturalism is thus reached by a way contrary to that of Americanism, which exalts natural activity.
Molinos deduced from his principle that the soul should no longer produce acts of knowledge or of love of God,(6) nor should it think any more of heaven or of hell, nor any longer reflect on its acts or on its defects; (7) the examination of conscience was thus suppressed. Molinos added that the soul should no longer desire its own perfection or its salvation,(8) nor should it ask God for anything positive,(9) but it ought to abandon itself to Him so that He may work His divine will in it, without its cooperation. Finally, he said: "The soul no longer needs to offer positive resistance to temptations, of which it no longer has to take account;(10) the voluntary cross of mortification is a heavy and useless burden which one must get rid of." (11)
He recommended that in prayer one should remain in obscure faith, in a repose in which one forgets every distinct thought relating to the humanity of Christ, or even to the divine perfections or to the Blessed Trinity, and that one should remain in this repose without producing any act. "That," he said, "is acquired contemplation, in which one must remain all one's life if God does not raise the soul to infused contemplation." (12)
In reality the contemplation thus acquired by the cessation of every act was only a pious somnolence, far more somnolent than pious. Certain quietists did not deign to leave it even to kneel at the elevation during Mass. They remained seated in their would-be union with God, which they confounded with an august form of nothingness. Their state reminds one more of the nirvana of the Buddhists than of the transforming and radiant union of the saints.
This shows that the acquired contemplation, which Molinos advised for all, was not an infused passivity, but one acquired at will by the cessation of every operation. He thus attributed to this would-be acquired contemplation what is true only of infused contemplation, and with one stroke of the pen he suppressed all asceticism and the practice of the virtues, considered by tradition as the true disposition for infused contemplation and intimate union with God. Moreover, he claimed that "the distinction between the three ways, purgative, illuminative, and unitive, is the greatest absurdity that has been expressed in mysticism, since," he says, "there is only one way for all, the interior way." (13)
This suppression of mortification led to the worst disorders. Molinos finally reached the point of declaring that the temptations of the devil are always useful, even when they lead to immodest acts; that it is not necessary then to make acts of the contrary virtues, but that one must resign oneself, for such weakness reveals our nothingness.(14) But Molinos, instead of thus reaching contempt of self by the recognition of our culpability, claimed to reach impeccability(15) and mystical death; strange impeccability, reconcilable with all disorders.(16)
This lamentable doctrine is, of course, a caricature of traditional mysticism, which is thus radically perverted in all its principles. And under the pretext of avoiding natural activity, which naturalism of action exalts, one falls here into the practical naturalism of sloth and inaction. Under another form, this doctrine amounted to the suppression of asceticism, of the exercise of the virtues, and of mortification.(17)
The errors of the quietists show that there are two types of naturalism: the practical naturalism of those who have lost the interior life, and the quite different naturalism of those who have never found it.
At the opposite extreme from practical naturalism, there is occasionally the proud austerity of a false supernaturalism, such as we find in Jansenism and, earlier, in different forms of fanaticism, such as that of the Montanists in the second century and of the flagellants in the twelfth century. All these sects lost sight of the spirit of Christian mortification, which is not a spirit of pride, but of love of God.
In the seventeenth century the Jansenists fell into a pessimism which is an alteration of the Christian doctrine of penance. Like the first Protestants, they exaggerated the results of original sin to the point of saying that man no longer has free will, the liberty of indifference, but only spontaneity, and that all the acts of infidels are sins.(18) They taught that "all his life long, a man must do penance for original sin." (19) As a result, they retained souls during a whole lifetime in the purgative way, and kept them away from Holy Communion, saying that we are not worthy of such a union with our Lord. According to their doctrine, only those should be admitted to Holy Communion who have a pure, unalloyed love of God.(20) They forgot that this very pure love of God is precisely the effect of Communion, when it is accompanied by a generous struggle against all that is inordinate in us. Jansenism never attained to deliverance and peace.(21)
Here as elsewhere, two opposing errors must be avoided: practical naturalism and proud austerity. The truth is to be found between these two extremes and above them as a summit. We can see it if we consider, on the one hand, the elevation of our last end and of charity, and, on the other hand, the gravity of mortal sin and of its consequences."
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