St Vincent Ferrer: Treatise on the Spiritual Life

St Vincent Ferrer: Treatise on the Spiritual Life, An extract from his writings

Remedies against spiritual temptations and false revelations

Chapter XII: Remedies against certain spiritual temptations

I shall teach you, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the remedies against certain spiritual temptations which are very common in these times, and which God permits for the purpose of purifying and testing His elect. And although they do not appear to attack faith directly, yet they who carefully examine them cannot fail to see that-they destroy the chief dogmas of religion, and set up the throne of Antichrist. I shall not explain what these temptations are, so as not to be an occasion of sin or scandal to any one; but I will show with what prudence you should act, in order not to be overcome by them.

These temptations, then, are of two kinds: the first is the suggestion of the devil, who causes man to fall and to estrange himself from God and the things that have reference to Him; the second is the corrupt teaching of certain persons, and the pernicious example of those who have already yielded to such temptations. I shall teach you how to comport yourself towards God and in all that relates to Him, that you may be secured against these temptations.

I shall afterwards show you how you should act in regard to men, touching their doctrine and manner of life.The first remedy against the spiritual temptations which the devil plants in the hearts of many persons in these unhappy times, is to have no desire to procure by prayer, meditation, or any other good work, what are called revelations, or spiritual experiences, beyond what happens in the ordinary course of things; such a desire of things which surpass the common order can have no other root or foundation but pride, presumption, a vain curiosity in what regards the things of God, and, in short, an exceedingly weak faith. It is to punish this evil desire that God abandons the soul, and permits it to fall into the illusions and temptations of the devil, who seduces it, and represents to it false visions and delusive revelations.

Here we have the source of most of the spiritual temptations that prevail at the present time; temptations which the spirit of evil roots in the souls of those who may be called the precursors of Antichrist, as we shall see by what follows.

Be thoroughly persuaded, then, that true revelations, and the extraordinary means by which God’s secrets are known, are not the result of the desire of which we have spoken, nor of any diligence or effort on the part of the soul itself; but that they are solely the effects of the pure goodness of God communicating itself to a soul filled with humility, who respectfully seeks for Him and sighs after Him with all its strength.

Nor ought we even to exercise ourselves in acts of humility, and in the fear of God, with a view to being favoured with visions, revelations, and extraordinary sensations; for this would be to fall into the very sins to which such desires lead.

The second remedy is to dispossess the soul when at prayer, of consolation, small though it be, if perchance you perceive that it engenders in your heart sentiments of presumption or of self-esteem. This would insensibly lead you to abuse what is termed honour and reputation, and would induce you to believe that you merit to be honoured and applauded in this world, and to have a share in the glory of heaven. The soul that attaches itself to these false consolations falls into very dangerous errors; for God justly permits the devil to have power to augment in it these kinds of spiritual tastes, to repeat them frequently, and to inspire it with sentiments that are false, dangerous, and full of illusions, but which the misguided soul imagines to be true.

Alas! how many souls have been seduced by these deceitful consolations? The majority of raptures and ecstacies [sic], or, to call them by their proper name, the frenzies of these forerunners of Antichrist spring from this cause. Hence, the only consolation you should admit into your soul in time of prayer, is that which is produced by the consciousness of your nothingness and misery; a consciousness which will preserve you in humility, and inspire you with profound reverence for the grandeur and majesty of God, and the desire that he may be honoured and glorified. Consolations such as these cannot mislead you.

The third remedy is to have – a horror of every thought and sentiment, however elevated they may be, which gives indications of a desire to penetrate into the secrets of God when you perceive that they are capable of wounding any article of faith or morals, especially if they are contrary to humility and purity, for, doubtless, such can come only from the devil.

Pay no attention, therefore, to visions that afford no certainty that they are from God, or that they lead you to what is pleasing to Him.

The fourth remedy is not to attach yourself to any person, notwithstanding the apparent sanctity of his life, or the capabilities he possesses, when you have reason to doubt that his advice is not according to God, that it is not regulated by real prudence, that is not in harmony with what the law of God prescribes, or with what is proposed to us for imitation in the life of Jesus Christ and His saints, or taught us by the Holy Scriptures and the Fathers.

Fear not to sin by pride or presumption when you despise such counsel, for such is due to zeal and to the love of truth.The fifth remedy is to shun all intercourse and familiarity with those who sow broadcast, so to speak, the temptations of which I have spoken; with those who uphold or commend them. Neither listen to their words, nor be desirous to witness what they do; for the devil will avail himself of that curiosity to captivate you by the sublimity of their speech, and by their outward show of perfection, that you may thence be led to adopt their evil principles.

Chapter XIII: Remedies against false revelations

I shall further instruct you in the remedies to be adopted in regard to those who propagate, by their lives and teaching, the temptations to which I have referred above.

First, then, take little account of their visions, their extraordinary sensations, their ecstacies and raptures, and should they assert anything contrary to faith, Holy Scripture, and morals, despise their visions, look upon them as pure follies, and treat the ecstacies and raptures of such people as the results of a diseased imagination. If, however, their sentiments and language are in perfect accord with the dogma of religion, with what we are taught in the sacred writings, and there is nothing in them that is offensive to morality, then we must not despise them, for this would be to despise the things of God; yet it will be well not to entirely rely on them, since it frequently happens, and especially in spiritual temptations, that falsehood is concealed under the appearance of what is good and virtuous.

Often does the devil avail himself of these appearances in order to deceive, and diffuse more easily his fatal poison, when there is less reason to suspect him. I am of opinion that, on such occasions, it will be more pleasing to God not to pass judgment on these extraordinary matters, despite the appearance of truth with which they are clothed, and to leave them for what they are worth, unless they occur to persons whose probity, prudence, and humility, are so far beyond the reach of suspicion. that we have every reason to suppose that they can neither fall into illusion, nor be misled by the spirit of the devil. Even then, though we may approve of the visions and supernatural sentiments of such persons, it is not absolutely necessary to credit them on account of all these qualities which distinguish them, but only because of the conformity of these facts with Catholic faith, morals, the words, and teachings of the saints.

2. Let us suppose that you are interiorly led by some revelation or feeling, whatever it may be, to enter upon an important undertaking in which you have had no experience, and that you are uncertain as to whether or not it is pleasing to God; on the contrary, you have good reason for doubting it; in that case, take time to examine the act, weigh well all its circumstances; above all, see what its end is, in order to discover if it be agreeable to God.

I do not, however, say that you may judge of it yourself; but apply to it, as far as is possible, the rules that are given to Christians in the Holy Scriptures, and in the lives of the saints whom you can imitate. I say, whom you can Imitate; for, according to the opinion of St. Gregory, there are saints some of whose examples should not be imitated, although they were good in relation to them, and which we must regard with respect and veneration. But, if you are unable of yourself to discover whether or not the thing you desire is pleasing to God, consult persons of approved learning and piety, who cannot be doubted; their advice will enable you to discover the truth.

3. If you are exempt from the temptations to which I have alluded, either because you have never experienced them, or because, having been tempted, you have happily been delivered from them, be careful to raise your heart and soul to God, and not to attribute to your own strength, your wisdom, your merits, and the regularity of your life what you owe simply to the grace and pure goodness of God, to Whom you ought continually to render humble acts of thanksgiving. Do not imagine that you were delivered from these temptations by mere chance. According to the teaching of the saints, it is chiefly with a view to punish such thoughts that God withdraws His grace from man, and permits him to yield to the temptations of the devil, and to be miserably deceived by the spirit of lies.

4. Never be influenced by your own will to take in hand any important matter to which you are unaccustomed, while you are actually under these sort of temptations, which place you in doubt; but repress the desires of your heart, waiting with humility, fear, and respect, till God shall enlighten you by His divine light. For acts begun under such circumstances could hardly be expected to lead to any good result. I speak here only of such acts as are of importance, and out of the common run, which should never be undertaken while we are in a state of temptation and doubt.

5. If, on the other hand, you have begun some good work before being assailed by this temptation, let it not prevent you from fulfilling it; especially omit not prayer, confession, communion, the fasts and acts of humility which you are wont to perform, although you may find neither sweetness nor consolation in them.

6. When troubled with these temptations, raise up your heart and soul to God, humbly beseeching Him to turn them to His greater glory, and to your salvation, supporting the temptations as long as it shall please Him, and imploring Him to grant you grace never to offend Him.