final assault and deception proposed above,
by which the demon tries to use acquired virtues as occasions for our
astute and malign serpent will not miss the opportunity to tempt us
with his deceptions, even using those virtues that we have acquired.
Opportunities to ruin us lie within them whenever we raise ourselves up
and take pleasure in
them and in ourselves. We will only fall afterwards in the vice of
pride and vainglory.
To guard yourself from this danger, always fight by sitting quietly and
assuredly in the field. Be truly and profoundly aware of the fact that
you can do nothing,
and you have nothing
aside from sorrows
nor do you deserve anything apart from eternal damnation.
Remaining still and firm within the boundaries of this truth, do not
allow yourself ever to wander even the smallest bit away. It does not
thought or thing may come to you; never doubt that these are all your
enemies. Were you to fall into their hands, you would end up either
dead or wounded.
To exercise yourself well in the above-mentioned field of true
knowledge of your
nothingness, use this rule. However many times you reconsider yourself
and your works, compare yourself always to those things that pertain to
you, and not to those things that pertain to God and his grace. Then,
esteem yourself according to that comparison:
It is perfectly clear that in this natural
existence, comparing yourself to that which pertains to you, that you
have no reason to esteem yourself, or to desire others' esteem.
- For example, consider the
time before your existence. Observe that
throughout that eternal abyss, you
nothing; you accomplished
nothing; nor were you able to accomplish anything until you came into
- Now that you exist, you
exist only through the goodness of God. Assigning
to him that which pertains to him, which is the continual care in
which he preserves every moment, what else are you, along with
everything that is yours, if not absolutely nothing?
- In fact, there can
be no doubt that you would instantly return to your prior nothingness,
from which God's omnipotent hand drew you out, if he were to abandon
you for the smallest moment.
As regards the benefits due to grace and good works, what good and
meritorious thing could your nature accomplish on its own without
divine assistance? On the other hand, consider your numerous past
errors, and even the other evils
that surely would have proceeded out of you, had God
not restrained you with his merciful hand.
You will find that your
iniquities would add up to a nearly
infinite number, through the multiplication not only of days and
even of acts and wicked habits —
since one vice calls and draws behind
it another. You would surely
have become another hellish Lucifer. For this reason, you must consider
yourself worse each and every day; otherwise you could not remain ever
with your Lord, but would become a thief of God's goodness.
Ascertain that this judgment you pass on your self is accompanied
justice. Otherwise, it will do you no small damage. Although you
surpass by the awareness of your wickedness anyone who through
blindness reckons himself to be somebody, you lose much and, in the
acts of your will, make
yourself worse than he is if you try to gain a reputation among men,
and seek to betreated as something that you know you are
If you desire that this awareness of your malice and vileness
keep your enemies far from you and render you dear to God, act so that
you not only disdain yourself as unworthy of every good and meriting
every evil, but so that you prefer to be disdained even by others,
abhorring honors, enjoying their vituperations and making yourself
avilable to perform all those tasks that others disdain. To avoid
abandoning this holy practice, you must not value the opinions of
others. I assume of course that you do this for the sole aim of
lowering yourself for this exercise, rather than through
a certain presumption of spirit and an unknown pride, for which
you may beneath a good pretext hold little or no regard for the
It may happen at times
that others love and praise you as good, on account of some good that
God has granted you. Remain recollected
within yourself, and do not distance yourself for any reason from the
truth and justice mentioned above. Turn first to God, saying to him
with your heart, "Lord, may I never
thief of your honor and of your graces. May praise and glory come to
you, and confusion come to me."
Turn then to him who praises you and speak interiorly in this fashion,
do you consider me good, while instead God alone and his acts are good?"
(see Mark 10.18) Acting in this way, and rendering to
the Lord what is
his, you will keep your enemies away and make yourself available to
receive greater gifts and favors from God.
If it should happen that the
memory of these good works places you in the danger of falling into
vanity, then marvel at them immediately, not as if they
belonged to you, but as if they belonged to God. You could almost say
to them in your spirit, "I know not
how you have
appeared and have begun to exist in my mind. I am not your origin;
rather, the good God created you, nourished you, and preserved you. He
alone therefore do I wish to recognize as the true and principal
Father, him do I wish to thank and to him I will give all praise.
(see 2 Mac 7.22-30)
Consider, then, the following: all the works you have performed have
borne only a poor resemblance to the light and grace given you to know
and perform them. In addition, they are very imperfect and,
distant from that pure intention, from the fervor due and the diligence
with which they should have been accompanied and accomplished.
Thus, if you think of it carefully, you had rather take shame
in them than take vain pleasure. It is sadly true that those graces
which we receive purely and perfectly from God become stained by our
imperfections in their realization.
In addition, compare your works with those of the saints and of the
other servants of God. In the light of such a comparison, you will see
clearly that your better and greater works are of a much lower
character, and of much scarcer value.
Afterwards, compare them with those that Christ performed for you in
the mysteries of his life and of his constant cross. Even if you
consider them as the acts of a man who was not divine, but solely in
themselves, as if done with both the affection and the purity of love
which they were performed, you will realize that all your works are for
this reason effectively nothing.
In the end, if you raise your mind to the divinity and to the immense
Majesty of your God and to the service he deserves, you will see
clearly that your every work should inspire you not with vanity but
with great fear. Through all the paths in all your works, regardless of
its sanctity, you must say to your Lord with all your heart, "O Lord, have mercy on
me, a sinner." (see Luke
I warn you further, do not desire to discover easily the gifts you have
received from God. This always displeases your Lord, as he clearly
declares with the following teaching. On one occasion, assuming the
semblance of a child and a pure creature, he appeared to one of his
devout daughters. With sincere simplicity, she invited him to recite
the angelic salutation. He
readily began, saying, "Hail, Mary,
grace, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women,"
and then he stopped. Why? He did not wish to praise himself with those
words that followed. When the woman implored him to continue, he hid
himself and left his servant in consolation, manifesting by his own
example that celestial teaching.
Beloved daughter, you also should learn to lower yourself, being aware
of that nothingness that you and all your works comprise. This is the
foundation of all the other virtues. Before we existed, God created us
from nothing. Now that we exist through him, it is necessary to build
the foundation of the spiritual home on this awareness of our
nothingness. The deeper we build this foundation in God, the higher the
structure will rise, and the divine architect will place many firm
to advance its construction according to the measure in which we dig
dirt out from our miseries. Do not convince yourself, beloved daughter,
that you can lower yourself enough. Rather, esteem yourself in this
way: if ever there could be an infinite quantity in a created thing,
such would be your vileness. While we remain well rooted in this
possess every good; when we lack it, we are little more than nothing,
if we were to accomplish the works of all the saints and if we were
always occupied in God.
O blessed awareness, that makes us happy on earth and glorious in
O light that, emerging from the shadows, makes souls lucid and clear!
O joy unknown, that shines amid our filth!
O nothingness that, once known, makes us masters of all!
I will never tire of speaking to you of this. If you desire to praise
God, accuse yourself and desire that others accuse you. Humble yourself
with all and beneath all, if you wish to exalt him in you and yourself
in him. Lower yourself again and again whenever you can; he will
come find you and embrace you. The more that you make yourself
vile in your own sight, and the more you take pleasure in being
humiliated by all and rejected as an abominable thing, the more will he
gather you up and and draw
you more tenderly to himself with love.
Consider yourself unworthy of such a gift that your God, dishonored for
your sake, moves to unite you to himself. Do not fail to thank him
often, and to hold yourself obliged to the one who has given you
opportunity, and even more to those who have offended you, or even who
think that you support it unwillingly and of ill will. Even if it be
such, you must keep it hidden.
It may happen that the astuteness of the demon, our ignorance, and our
inclination should prevail in us, so that thoughts of
self-exaltation do not cease to disturb us and to make impressions in
our hearts, notwithstanding so many considerations that are,
true. All the same, that is the time to humble ourselves all the
more in our eyes, according to the small measure that we see ourselves
profiting from the trial in this oath of the spirit and in the loyal
awareness of ourselves. After all, we cannot free ourselves from these
molestations whose roots lie in our vain pride.
In this way can we extract honey from poison, and health from wounds.
not restrained you with his merciful hand":
is keen on the fact that we would commit more evils than we already do,
but God's hand stays us constantly. See for example Chapter 26
"a nearly infinite number":
As a mathematician, I have also found such phrases a little illogical.
That said, it's clear what Scupoli means to say, and there is no
question that he is correct.
"the angelic salutation":
Catholics will (or should) recognize this as the "Hail Mary," so I have
translated it this way, although a more appropriate translation into modern English
would have a slightly different