Lecture XIII 16th February, 1940
In the last lecture I spoke to you about mortal sin and today I propose to give you a summary of the exercises of the first week and then to return to the subject of venial sin.
The first exercise contains the threefold meditation on the sin of the angels, on that of the first parents and on our own sin.
As I told you, it is followed by a colloquy which has the purpose of emphasising the Divine Presence.
It gives the exercises a different, and much more impressive, meaning when a Divine Being takes part in the m; and there is also the director, who is there to hear confessions and give all the help he is capable of to the individual meditators, so you see that everything is done to make a deep impression.
This is to prevent the individual from dreaming aimlessly, and to enable him to experience the exercises in his inmost depths.
The second exercise concerns the examen generale, that is, a general examination of one’s own sins.
This meditation is usually divided into parts:
I. The various sins which one has committed in the course of one’s life. These are imagined as realistically as possible, in the form of a court of law. One imagines ones elf on trial before a judge or judges, all the details and circumstances are investigated minutely.
II. Each sin is carefully weighed from the moral and all other possible standpoints, and also in relation to the Christian truths.
III. One’s own sinfulness and mankind’s in general are compared with the lives of the saints and als o with the innocence and purity of the angels. As a matter of fact there is no merit in the innocence of the angels for their nature makes it impossible for them to sin. They only sinned once and did it so thoroughly on that occasion that the whole numb er concerned fell into hell, and since then have done nothing but sin. A comparison with the purity of God follows and a realisation of one’s own atrociousness, one can only marvel that God has thus far endured one’s own sins and those of mankind. Another colloquy follows, but as usual only the meditator speaks, praises God for his compassion and makes good resolutions and promises to keep them.
We come now to the third exercise.
The colloquies used in the first two exercises are repeated and a further conversation with our Blessed Lady takes place and she is asked to intercede with her son.
The Blessed Virgin is the special advocate of all sinners, because according to the Church teaching her body was the first to rise from the dead and to ascend to Heaven.
The flesh is sanctified in her, for it was in her womb that God became man with a mortal body, and therefore she is the advocate par excellence of all sinners.
Therefore she must be asked to help the sinner to understand his own sins, to see in how far his life has been twisted by a wrong attitude and to help him to realise the vanity and evanescence of this world.
A conversation with Christ follows and then with God the Father himself.
It goes up in steps so to speak.
The fourth exercise consists of a repetition of the third, so you see how much sin is recapitulated and emphasis ed in the exercises.
A deep realisation of one’s own worthlessness and abominableness is demanded, so as to show that man is eo ip so lost, unless he can attain the grace of God.
The fifth exercise reaches the highest intensity with the meditation on Hell.
It must be imagined in fullest detail and most concretely.
One must even pray that God will grant an exceedingly keen perception of the quality of the punishments in Hell.
This meditation again is divided into parts:
I. One must see an extremely vivid and exact picture of the lake of fire and brimstone, and the different and manifold sufferings of the damned.
II. One must hear equally vividly the noise of the howls, shrieks and blasphemies of the damned.
III. The nose must smell the smoke and sulphur, the putrefaction, filth and decaying corpses.
IV. The tongue must be vividly aware of a bitter taste which represents the bitterness of a bad conscience. One must imagine the bitterness of being oneself in Hell and of looking back on the mistakes and sins which led to one’s own eternal damnation.
IV. The burning of the fire must be felt through the sense of touch, through which we can realise how this fire burns.
At the end of this exercise another colloquy takes place with Christ about the awful impression made on one by hell and eternal damnation; and also a thanksgiving that, in spite of richly deserving it, one is not yet condemned to this fate.
This is roughly the content of the first week but it would hardly be superfluous to say a little more about the general conditions attached.
As far as possible the meditators must concentrate on the material of the exercises without interruption from the moment they wake in the morning till they fall asleep at night.
All worldly thoughts must be suppressed and only thoughts relating to the examination must be allowed to come to consciousness. (This fulfils the Ignatian rule, which we met in the “Fundamentum”, that we should only choose those things which help us towards our goal.)
This is a training in concentration and in disciplining our instinctive, moody nature.
All prayers must be directed to the actual presence of the Divine Figure invoked and one must constantly keep in mind the fact that one is never alone, but always controlled by the ever Wakeful eye of God.
The director of the exercises also watches over each individual and obliges him to render an account of himself.
The meditations may be carried out at choice in various prescribed positions, standing, kneeling, sitting, lying down or walking up and down.
After each exercise a strict examination of how it was carried through must take place and all one’s shortcomings must be noted.
As darkness is a help to concentration, the meditation must take place in a darkened room.
Laughing is not allowed and, though one comes in contact with the other meditators, one must speak to them as little as possible and never look them in the face except to greet them.
In short everything possible is done to prevent worldly thoughts from creeping in.
The necessary penitence must be supported by self-mortification, fasting, induced sleeplessness and even through flagellation.
Flagellation is voluntary but it is sometimes practised.
A great many people, even priests, are physically unable to stand the big exercises.
I have met Catholic priests who have told me that they suffered from severe depressions and serious physical symptoms as a result of the exercises.
I can well understand this, they must be enormously exhausting.
In merely listening to a report you get very little idea how exhausting and moving these exercises are, when it is a matter of taking one’s own sins really seriously.
I have never taken part in these exercises but I have enough imagination to get an idea of what they are like.
And I have seen what such things mean when they are taken seriously and these people do take them very seriously, so it is clear that they must be moved to their very depths.
I hope that I have given you some idea of the extremely impressive way in which sinfulness is brought home to these people.
But I will translate you some passages about venial sin from Izquierdus’ meditation in order to make this still clearer.
Venial sin is understood as:
“The sins which are committed from carelessness, stupidity or insufficient attention. Even perfect people are not quite immune in this respect. Other peccata venialia are committed from real vice. I. You must realise deeply the severity with which God punishes venial sin. He keeps the terrible prison of Purgatory for the purpose of punishing it. II. What fear you should have of venial sin for it is not nearly as harmless as it appears. God punishes it very severely, not only with physical pain and persecution but also with spiritual penalties. The sinner is delivered over to temptation which assails him constantly, his conscience is uneasy, he feels forsaken, in darkness and drought, for he is deprived of the Grace of God. Ultimately he is robbed of that peace and quietness which are the fruits of a good conscience. The amount of vice there is in venial sin must be meditated up on, for, as it is committed more frequently than mortal sin, it leads to similar consequences. Therefore one must consider these consequences most deeply. It leads to a spiritual illness of the soul which has the same effect up on the soul as a physical illness has up on the body. It produces stupidity and lack of strength in practising virtue and resisting temptation. And a disgust also arises with regard to spiritual things, such as prayer and conversations with God and a weakness, inertia and disinclination to follow the way of the spirit” etc. “And so this spiritual illness of venial sin is a disposition towards the death of the soul, namely towards peccatum mortale [mortal sin).”
This is the chief danger of venial sin and the reason we must fear and avoid it: it leads to mortal sin.
I will translate a few passages in Izquierdus’ meditation on Hell.
He meditates in the concrete way which I described to you, imagining all the details precisely:
“One must imagine a great cavity lying in the centre of the world [presumably the earth) filled with fire and brimstone, in which the damned are plunged as the fishes in the depth of the sea. One must pray God to grant one a lively fear of falling down into that place, so that if love does not suffice to prevent such a fall then the fear itself may protect one. Above all the punishment of hell consists in the privatio gloriae, in being deprived of or removed from glory. (This is, of course, the gloria Dei, the glory of God.) The glory is the emanation of God, His fire or light, rich in grace, of which the damned are deprived. And as St. Thomas teaches this punishment is endless because they are deprived of the eternal good which is God. The blessed rejoice in the possession of this, and therefore St. Chrysostom says that a thousand fires of Hell, united at once, are not so bad as this punishment of the damned: the privatio dei, being removed from God, Who is the ‘centrum animae’ (the centre of the soul), that is, the innermost point. The soul, after this life, is much more· attracted by this centre than are other things by their centre. The limbs of the body, for instance, the arms , legs, and head, are less attracted to the body than the soul to its inward centre; and therefore the pain of tearing the soul from this centre is infinitely greater than that of tearing a limb from a living body.”
This point is very important. Izquierdus is particularly clear about Hell.
He lived in a time, at the beginning of the 17th century, when the Jesuit mission played a particularly great role; mainly, as I told you in the historical introduction, in the form of the small exercises which were preached to the people by itinerant preachers.
The big exercises were reserved for the priests or for particularly pious laymen.
Izquierdus says further in his meditation on Hell:
“The sense of sight is tormented by the wicked light of Hell, which does not reveal any consolation but which makes visible those things which are terrifying, namely demons in the form of lions, tigers, bears, snakes, dragons and other fiery beasts, the stinking bodies of the damned and the other horrible things which are to be found in that terrible prison. The sense of hearing is plagued by the continual noise of the hellish hammerer, by the furious shrieks, complaints, lamentations and screams of the damned and by their quarrels, blasphemies, curses and other terrible and unbelievable tones. The sense of smell is plagued by the unbearable stink of the smoke and steam of the fire and brimstone and by the awful smell of the bodies of the damned which is worse than the stink of as many decaying corpses of dogs . All this comes together in a place where there is no breath of air. The sense of taste is plagued by constant hunger, and furious thirst, to relieve which the damned are given absinth (that is vermouth) as food, and gall water as drink, which is also terribly bitter. The sense of touch, which stretches all over the body, is plagued by the fire and brimstone in which the damned are completely plunged. 0 deluded sinner, if you cannot even endure to hold one finger in the flame of a candle for a short time, how are you going to endure being covered from head to foot in the hellish flames for all eternity? The inner sense (sensus internus) is plagued by an acute perception of the pain and through phantasms of a tragic and terrible nature which must be continually imagined and thought about. The appetitus sensitivus, that is the intellectual aspirations and the desires of man, are a tumultuous sea of yearnings which are never fulfilled, of grief, fear and suffering. The intellect is full of errors, dull to all else, it is only able to perceive the greatness of the punishment of Hell. The will is obstinately fixed on evil, disturb ed by the good which it cannot attain and afraid of the evil which it cannot avoid. The memory is plagued by the constant recollections which it begets and hatches, which originate in that hungry worm conscience, which the Holy Scriptures ay will never die. As St. Gregory says: ‘The miserable and unhappy receive a death without death in Hell, an end without end, for death always lives and the end is always beginning. As the damned are eternal, so their prison is eternal, the fire is eternal, the slaughters are eternal and the sentence of God with regard to their eternal torment is irrevocable. 0 Eternity, who would not fear thee’.”
Before we enter up on the content of the second week, we should consider, from an historical and psychological distance, why the question of sin is given such overwhelming importance.
There are, perhaps in the first place, historical reasons for this.
We must remember that the exercises are not modern but belong to medieval psychology, when the Church had a good deal on its conscience; in Spain alone a great many heretics were burnt.
Those were cruel and barbarous times, and till recently we thought we had advanced far beyond them.
Thank God, we have made discoveries in this direction lately and very likely, if present conditions develop further, we shall make more.
But till recently we have looked back pityingly on the Middle Ages, and thought it was fortunate that such ignorant and unconscious people should, from time to time, hear someone heating up Hell and frightening them about their spiritual fate!
This form of meditation on Hell has naturally a medieval flavour and we are inclined to lay it aside as unimportant.
But I must emphasize that the most modern form of the exercises also lays an enormous stress on sin.
We must ask why? Are we then not convinced of our sinful nature?
There has been a great deal of reaction against it: how terrible to threaten children with burning in Hell for disobeying Papa, such ideas just give them an inferiority complex; we should rather
convince them of their innate goodness, etc., etc. “Tout est parfait sortant des mains de!’auteur des choses” said Rousseau.
Everyone is good really, the world is full of nice, kind, understanding people!
The only answer to this kind of argument is experience.
These ideas appeared with the French Revolution, Rousseau was very fond of them and they are still extremely popular.
Up to a point they have advantages, it is better to be as friendly as possible and to begin by treating other people as gentlemen.
A severe kick makes a bad beginning.
But we must ask if it is really the truth?
Lately we have seen that it is not true and that man has a very different background.
Everyone has a nice side, and under ordinary circumstances and treated properly can be very pleasant.
I once spent a very enjoyable evening with a primitive tribe in East Africa.
We sat by the fire and danced together.
I was with two other white men and we only had one revolver, but they thought us delightful people, and we thought much the same of them.
But two days afterwards an Englishman took those very same people from the wrong side and they killed him.
He certainly did not think them delightful people!
We hear absolutely opposite opinions about primitives, one man says they are untrustworthy dogs and another the most lovable children.
And children are similar, under good conditions delightful, but bring a child up in the wrong way, torture him and he becomes a devil and a torturer, for only the tortured torture.
This is simply a fact of nature, man is not only good, he is also bad.
If we want to know the truth ab out ours elves we must realise that we are capable of great virtue and also of the worst vice.
It is astonishing how people deceive themselves on this point.
They only seem to see themselves when they are friendly and kind.
But what about bombing open towns and killing women and children with machine guns?
The people who are doing that are not particularly wicked people, they are ordinary people like all of us.
They have only gone a bit beyond their own limits, just as someone who displays the highest virtue has gone beyond himself.
We are thus forced to realise that we have a background which reaches far further than our normal consciousness can know. ~Carl Jung, ETH Lectures, Pages 240-245.