Friday, 19 January 2018

The Catholic Church Alone. The One True Church of Christ. Part 250.


Gian Lorenzo Bernini: Anima dannata (Damned Soul), circa 1619

What can this extreme hunger and thirst be, but the inordinate desire of the things of this world the wicked are inflamed with? This appetite of theirs is such, that the more they give it, the greedier it grows, the more it drinks, the drier it is, and the more wood they lay on, the more violent it burns. O unhappy creatures, what can be the cause of your being parched up with such a burning thirst as this, " but your having forsaken the fountain of living water, and running to drink out of broken cisterns, which can hold none ?" Jer. ii. 13. You have mistaken the stream of true happiness, and for this reason you run up and down, till you lose yourselves, through wild and desert places, in search of the muddy pond and lakes of the perishable goods of this world, in hopes they will quench your thirst. This was cruel Holofernes' policy, when he besieged Bethulia; for as soon as ever he sat down before the city, he commanded his men to cut off all the pipes and channels that conveyed water to the town, so that the poor besieged had but a few little springs left, just by the walls, where they used to drink now and then by stealth, rather wetting their lips than quenching their thirst. Is not this your case, you, who are always seeking after pleasures, you, who are perpetually in pursuit of honour, and who are such friends to every thing that pleases the appetite, for having missed of the fountain of living waters? What else do you but run to the little springs of creatures, that come in your way, and rather serve to wet your lips and increase your thirst than to quench it ? O unfortunate man! " Why will you go into Egypt to drink troubled water? " Jer. ii. 18. What water can be more troubled than sensual pleasure, which is not to be drank without perceiving an ungrateful taste and smell ? For what worse smell than the stench of sin, and what more unpalatable than the remorse of conscience occasioned by it, which, as we are told, even by a philosopher, are both the inseparable companions of carnal pleasures ?

Besides, this appetite being blind, and unable to distinguish between what it can obtain and what it cannot, and the eagerness of desire making that appear very easy which is in itself most difficult, those things are often coveted that cannot be obtained; for there is nothing worth coveting, but what is much sought after and defended by many lovers. Now the appetite being deprived of what it longs for, being hungry and wanting whereon to feed, often stretching out its arms, and yet grasping nothing but the air, and using all endeavours without any success, therefore, it frets inwardly, wastes and consumes to see itself so far from what it desires. For those two chief faculties of our souls, the irascible and concupiscible, being so closely united together as never to be wanting to one another, it is certain that whatever the concupiscible is frustrated of its desire, the irascible comes in immediately to relieve it, raging and exposing itself to all accidents and dangers, that it may give the other satisfaction. From this confusion of desires proceeds the inward disturbance we are now speaking of, which St. James calls a war when he says, "From whence come wars and differences among you ? Come they not hence even of your lusts, that war in your members ? Ye lust and have not." Jam. iv. i, 2. The natural contradiction that is between the flesh and spirit, and between the desires of each, has given the Apostle a great deal of reason to call it a war.

There is still another thing of this nature much to be lamented, which is, that very often men obtain all that seemed to suffice to put them into the state of satisfaction they aimed at, and when they are in such a condition that, if they pleased, they might live happy, they then conceit they ought to aspire to some other honor, preferment, dignity, or the like, which if they fail of, they are more perplexed for the miss of that nothing they want, than pleased with the enjoyment of all they possess. Thus they pass their lives with this thorn perpetually pricking, or rather with this scourge continually chastising them, which palls all their happiness, and turns their pleasure into smoke and vapor. This is what I call nailing up the cannon^ as enemies do in time of war; for a little nail driven into the biggest piece of artillery is enough to make it unfit for service. The cannon is still as big and as sound as it was before, and yet such a little thing makes it lose all its force.

God deals after the same manner with the wicked. They might see plainly, if they would but open their eyes, that joy of heart is a free gift of Almighty God, who bestows it on whom he pleases and when he pleases, without making any preparation beforehand as we do, and that he can take it away again whenever he thinks fit, only by nailing up the cannon, that is, by permitting some unhappy turn or change of their prosperity and fortune. And then this single misfortune, though unknown to any one, is sufficient to make them as uneasy and melancholy as if they had nothing in this world to live on, though, at the same time, they may be very rich and happy in all appearance. God himself tells us as much, when, speaking by the prophet Isaias, against the pride and power of the king of Assyria, he says, " That he will weaken his greatest force, and put fire under his glory, for to burn it up" (Isa. x. 6), to show us that God can sink a vessel when it sails with the fairest wind, can weaken the greatest strength, and make a man miserable in the midst of his prosperity. The same is signified to us again in the book of Job (xxvi. 5), where it is said, "The giants groan under the waters," to let us know that God has his deep places and his punishments for the great as well as for the little ones, though these seem to lie more open to the misfortunes and injuries of the world. But Solomon has expressed the same thing much plainer; when counting up all the notable miseries in the world, he reckons this one of the greatest of them: "There is another evil also," says he, " which I have seen under the sun, and which is common amongst men : a man to whom God has given wealth, riches and honor, so that he wanted nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof, but a stranger eateth it;" Eccl. vi. 1, 2. What does he mean by these words, " God giveth him not power to eat thereof," but that he shall not enjoy even what is his own, nor take the satisfaction and pleasure which his possessions might give him, because God has ordained that his happiness shall be disturbed and ruined? And here we are given to understand, that as true wisdom is not to be learned by dead letters, but that it is God who teaches it, so neither does true content depend on the goods of this world, but on God alone.