Virtues are to be Acquired One at a Time and By Degrees

Although a true servant of Jesus Christ, aspiring to the heights of perfection, should set no limits to his spiritual advancement, he should nevertheless exercise prudence as regards those excesses of fervor to which he is prone, and which at first seem feasible. For first fervor is apt to cool and may be entirely extinguished. It must be seen then, that besides the methods we have advocated with regard to exterior exercises, interior virtues too cannot be acquired but by degrees. For the foundations of a solid and lasting piety must be laid painstakingly, after which in a short time we may expect to make considerable progress.

For example, you must not attempt to acquire patience by immediately seeking crosses in which to delight; rather seek first the lowest degrees of this great virtue. Similarly, do not aim at all sorts of virtue— nor even many—simultaneously, but cultivate one firmly, then another, if you wish such habits to take deep root in your soul with greater facility. For in the acquisition of a particular virtue, and in the focusing of thought upon its cultivation, the memory will be exercised more in this one line of endeavor; your understanding, enlightened by divine assistance, will find new means and stronger motives for attaining it, and the will itself will be invigorated with fresh ardor in the pursuit. Such concentrated power of action is not possible when the three faculties are divided, as it were, by different objects.

Also, the acts necessary for the formation of the virtuous habit, mutually assisting each other to the same end, will be attended with much less difficulty as the latter acts make a deep impression on the heart, already suitably predisposed by the former ones. The cogency of these reasons will appeal to you more forcibly if you reflect that anyone strenuously engaged in the pursuit of any one virtue, unconsciously advances in the practice of the rest. Moreover, the attainment of anyone to an eminent degree inevitably introduces a great perfection to the others as they are, like the rays of the sun, almost inseparably united.

This article is taken from a chapter in The Spiritual Combat and a Treatise on Peace of Soul by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli, which is available from TAN Books.



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