Uncover the path to spiritual growth and enlightenment through A Treatise on Perfection. Cardinal Arman Jean du Plessis imparts valuable wisdom for a more fulfilling soulful journey.

Five Saintly Counsels

These five spiritual counsels from A Treatise on Perfection contain wisdom to help the soul along the road to holiness. Written by Cardinal Arman Jean du Plessis, Duke of Richelieu, a saintly man himself, readers will find in these counsels profitable for the soul.

Counsel 1

Spiritual Practices Should Be Wisely Adapted To One’s Mode Of Life.

Each person ought to adapt his devotional practices to his own mode of life rather than adapting his mode of life to particular spiritual practices which may not accord with his vocation or status in the world. Different species of trees bear their own particular type of fruit, and one cannot expect to pick fruit that does not accord with the species or variety of the tree. In the same way, spiritual and devotional practices must accord with one’s own nature, status, and vocation.

There are certain virtues which befit bishops, certain virtues which befit princes, and certain virtues which befit private individuals. Unless a bishop carefully keeps watch over his flock and nourishes them with sound preaching and good example, he cannot hope to be pleasing to God. And similarly with a prince or leader, unless he rules his subjects, preserves peace and order, and punishes wrongdoers, he has failed to do what God has asked of him.

Religious and clergy who are dedicated to the apostolic or active life have fulfilled their duties if they devote a certain proportion of their time to prayer and contemplation, inspired by the example of monastics and contemplatives. But they err if they endeavor to emulate fully the prayer and devotional practices of monastics and contemplatives to the neglect of their other responsibilities.

Each person has his own particular vocation and should adapt his prayer and devotional practices to that. There are many who fall away by striving to attain or perform that which is alien to, and incongruous with, their state of life.

Counsel 2

The Fulfillment Of One’s Legitimate Duties And Responsibilities Should Be Given Primacy Above Any Other Works Of Piety Or Charity.

It is certain that no one will obtain any benefit or merit from performing works that are incongruous with his position and capacity or conflict with the proper responsibilities and duties of his station in life. Take, for example, a wife who gives away large amounts of money to the poor without her husband’s knowledge and permission. Although such an action may appear to be a work of charity, it is not, in fact, truly a good work at all. For without the knowledge and consent of her spouse, it is an illicit action.

In the same way, we may imagine a person who is intent upon performing works of charity and, for this purpose, obtains money by some dishonest or disreputable means. Such “charity” would not really be a good work at all since it amounts to theft and giving away the resources of others. By analogy, a clergyman, religious, or government official who—without permission—irresponsibly disperses resources entrusted to his care and stewardship, even if he does so in the name of charity or generosity, acts improperly. After all, these things belong not to him personally but to the Church or to the state.

Counsel 3

No Act Of Devotion Should Be Bone Which Is Contrary To The Demands Of Obedience Or Duty.

Any act of devotion, however holy it may seem, is a fault and sin if it is done contrary to the demands of obedience or proper duty. And there are very many people who fall from virtue and grace on account of their pursuit of apparent piety or charity while disregarding the legitimate and immediate demands of obedience and proper duty.

For example, there are many people who devote themselves to saying innumerable Rosaries and constantly visiting churches while neglecting the due and responsible care of their own household. There are wives who neglect their husbands for the sake of such “devotion” and sons who disobey their fathers to practice works of so-called piety.

No matter how avidly people may recite prayers or undertake fasting, these activities have no merit whatsoever if they cause them to overlook their natural and divinely and humanly ordained duties towards their children, parents, or spouse. And not only will such activities be counted as entirely lacking in merit, they may even be viewed as sins before the wise and omniscient judgment of God.

Counsel 4

True Devotion Ought To Bring Discipline And Moderation To The Body, Soul, And Spirit, And Nothing Should Be Undertaken Without Moderation.

Authentic devotion ought always to tend towards subduing the passions and caprices of the soul.

If any person decided, in order that he might fully overcome the senses of the body, to fast for an entire week but neglected to address the vice of pride, he has not done anything commendable or useful. The spirit, like the body, can indulge in its pleasures, caprices, perversities, and acts of excess. Temperance and moderation are equally necessary for the spirit and the body. Austerities and strictures are never an end in themselves but only useful as a means of achieving their own proper goal. Above all, they serve the purpose and have the objective of rendering the human spirit humble and submissive to the will of God.

Excessive physical austerity and self-denial generally stirs up and agitates the passions of the blood and the desires of the flesh more than subduing or calming them. There are many who consider themselves to have been greatly elevated because they practice harsh fasting or penitence yet who do not truly progress in any real spiritual or moral sense at all.

Counsel 5

The Overcoming Of Interior Pride Is More Important Than External Works Of Virtue.

Often people who view themselves as pious and holy and believe that they have overcome all vices and faults have not actually done so in the presence of God. For spiritual perfection consists not merely in believing oneself to be perfect, which is a form of pride, but rather, we are called to put off the sense of self entirely and to clothe ourselves instead with the example of Jesus Christ. If a person who is naturally subject to feelings of pride finds himself just as proud at the age of fifty as he was when he was twenty, he has not only not made any progress but rather grown even further away from true virtue.

The overcoming of vices and excessive passions is more pleasing to God than any particular work of virtue. Therefore, the one who wishes to progress in Christian life must diligently apply his efforts to the correction of himself. It is culpable to be aware of a fault within one’s character and not to attempt to remedy it. And we should never imagine that a virtue that we may possess can compensate for or balance any particular vice.

Each of us is born with a combination of natural good and bad traits in our character. Because we are often praised for our good traits, we can come to delight in these and cultivate them but neglect the correction of our weaknesses, which remain hidden. However, true virtue consists not simply in acting in accordance with our natural propensities but in using effort and reason to correct and improve ourselves.

This article is taken from a chapter in A Treatise on Perfection: Saintly Counsel on Obtaining Salvation by Cardinal Armand Jean du Plessis, Duke of Richelieu which is available from TAN Books



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