The Spiritual Combat

Chapter 32:

The final assault and deception proposed above,
by which the demon tries to use acquired virtues as occasions for our ruin.

The 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 are nothing,
you know nothing,
you can do nothing,
and you have nothing
aside from sorrows and defects,
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 matter what 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.

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 years but 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 by 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 not.

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 opinions of others.

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 be a 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, "Why 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, unfortunately, 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 in 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 18.13)

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, full of 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 stones to advance its construction according to the measure in which we dig the 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 awareness, we possess every good; when we lack it, we are little more than nothing, even 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 heaven!

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 wicked 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, unfortunately, 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.

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"had God not restrained you with his merciful hand": Scupoli 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 phrasing.