St. Vincent Ferrer -- Treatise on the Spiritual Life cc. 1-3
Vincent's treatise On the Spiritual Life is... based on a work of Venturino da Bergamo. It is very concise andVincent deliberately omits the parade of scriptural and traditional "authorities" common in scholastic treatises. In the section on poverty he insists that this means seeking nothing but necessities in food and clothing and excludes the collecting of books, since the common library of a convent should suffice. Next he insists on the practice of silence except when the good of the neighbor requires speech but that speech should have been premeditated in silence if it is to do much good. Next, he speaks of purity of heart, which is not merely putting aside sexual thoughts, but is the desire "to think of nothing except of God or for God." -- Benedict Ashley, O.P.
CHAPTER I On poverty
HE who aspires to be the director of others is bound to despise all earthly goods as so much dross, to accept of nothing but what a rigid necessity allows, and to suffer some inconvenience for the sake of poverty. A certain author observes: "To be poor is a thing which in itself merits no praise; but what renders it meritorious is the fact of loving poverty, and of suffering with joy, for Christ's sake, whatever wants poverty entails on us."
Unhappily, there are many who glory only in the name of poverty, who embrace it merely on the condition that they shall want for nothing. They desire to pass for the friends of poverty, but strenuously shun its daily accomplishments, viz. hunger and thirst, contempt and humiliation. Such is not the example given by Him Who, being sovereignly rich, became poor for our sakes. Such is not what we discover in the acts and instructions of the Apostles; neither is it the model that we find in the life of our Father St. Dominic: this requires no proof.
Ask nothing of any one, except when absolute necessity obliges you; neither accept the presents which people offer you, unless it be to distribute them among the poor. By acting thus, both they whose gifts you refuse, and they who hear of your disinterestedness, will be edified; thus will you the more easily lead them to despise the world and to relieve the poor.
All that is implied in the term necessity, may be reduced to a frugal diet and plain clothing, without caring to provide for the future, but having only what is needful for the wants of each day. I do not include among necessaries a goodly store of books; since, under this pretext, avarice not infrequently lurks. The books of the community, and those that may be borrowed, are sufficient to instruct you. He who would qualify himself in study, ought first of all to practice, with a humble heart, the lessons that have been taught him. If contrariwise, he contradicts these by a spirit of pride, he will never acquire the light of intelligence. Jesus Christ, who has taught us humility by His own example, conceals His truth from the proud, and reveals it only to the humble.
CHAPTER II On silence
HAVING laid the solid foundation of poverty inculcated by Jesus Christ Himself when, seated on the mountain, he said: "Blessed are the poor in spirit;" it behooves us to strive vigorously to repress the tongue. This organ ought only to be employed in useful speech, and never to become the instrument of vain and idle words. In order the better to restrain the tongue, accustom yourself to reply rather than to express an opinion, and then only in answer to some useful and necessary question; all frivolous questions will be best answered by silence. Yet, if you should sometimes indulge in a little pleasantry, by way of recreation, regulate your tone and manner in such a way as not to wound the sensibility of others. Avoid everything that would lead people to regard you as singular, severe, or as one who exceeds the bounds of piety. Should they complain of you, or blame your behavior, it will then be needful to redouble your prayers for such persons, that God in His goodness may chase from their hearts all that is an occasion of trouble or annoyance to them. Nevertheless, speak whenever a pressing necessity invites you, such as charity to your neighbor, or the obedience which you have promised to your Superior. In such cases, think beforehand what you ought to say, and express yourself in few words, and in a gentle and respectful tone, which will indicate the humility of your heart. You should also observe the same rule when any one questions you. If you remain silent for a time, it should be done with a view to edify your neighbor, and to foresee what may be conveniently said when the moment for speaking shall arrive. Beseech God to supply your silence, and to interiorly make known to others that the obligation you are under of subduing the tongue prohibits you from speaking to them.
CHAPTER III On purity of heart
WHEN by voluntary poverty and silence you have banished from your heart the useless cares and vain alarms which prevent virtue from taking root and fructifying therein, as in a fertile soil, it remains for you to establish in your soul the virtues that are necessary to enable you to attain the degree of purity spoken of by our Lord in His gospel, that degree by which you will be interiorly enlightened, and enabled to contemplate the things of God. It is by this divine contemplation that you will acquire tranquillity and peace, and that He, who makes His habitation in peace, will Himself deign to dwell within you. You will clearly perceive that I purpose not to speak here of that purity which excludes from the heart those criminal thoughts that are interdicted to all; but of that strict purity which separates man, as far as it is possible in this mortal life, from all frivolous thoughts, and allows him to think only of God, or what will lead him to Him. But, in order to obtain this gift of celestial purity, worthy of being styled Divine, since he who attaches himself to God becomes one and the same spirit with Him, hearken to what appears to me to be absolutely necessary.
First, it behooves you to deny yourself, according to Our Lord's precept: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself' (Mt 16:24). The meaning of these words is, that it is necessary to mortify oneself in every particular, to trample under foot, so to speak, our own will, and to contradict it in everything, by sweetly submitting oneself to that of others, provided that what they exact of us is just, permissible, and within the rules of decorum. But a general rule in all things temporal, and which have reference to the wants of the body, is that of never following our own will when we perceive it to be in opposition to that of others. Suffer every kind of inconvenience to preserve an interior tranquillity of soul, too frequently disturbed by these contradictions, when, by adhering to your own judgment and conceits, you engage in useless disputes.
It is not only in temporal matters that it is fitting not to follow our own will; but even in things spiritual, or what is akin thereto, it is more advantageous to rule oneself by the will of another, provided it be good, although our own judgment may appear better and more perfect; for contentions and disputes cause us to lose much more, by weakening humility, tranquillity, and peace of heart, than we should be able to gain by the most perfect exercises of virtue, when in this we pursue our own will in opposition to the will of another. I speak here of those persons who, united with you in the exercises of virtue, are aspiring like yourself to perfection, and not of those who call evil good, and good evil, and who show greater diligence in examining and condemning the words and actions of other people, than in correcting their own unruly ways. I do not counsel you to be guided by the judgment of every sort of person in spiritual matters; but in temporal concerns, it is different: here it will be always more to your advantage to submit to the will of another, than to follow your own. But should you meet with opposition in the performance of good works, whether for your own advancement, for God's glory, or the benefit of your neighbor, or even should you be absolutely hindered therefrom, be this on the part of your superiors, your equals, or inferiors, do not dispute with them about it; but hold your peace, and attaching yourself more closely to God, say to Him, "Lord, I suffer violence, answer Thou for me." Grieve not, for in the end this will infallibly turn to your own and others' advantage. I say more: that which you see not now, will one day be visible to you; that which appears an obstacle to your designs, will be the very means that will lead to their final accomplishment. I might instance here examples gathered from the fruitful field of Holy Scripture, as that of Joseph, and many others, but I wish not to swerve from my purpose of avoiding quotations. My own experience itself affords sure testimony of the accuracy of my words.
When you are prevented from laboring for God's glory, either by reason of bodily infirmity, or from some other cause which marks His Divine pleasure, be not grieved; but cast yourself with confidence into the arms of Him who knows what is most to your advantage, and who draws you to Himself in proportion as you abandon yourself without reserve to His direction. Let your chief concern, under these circumstances, be to preserve peace and tranquillity of heart. Be afflicted only on account of your sins, and the sins of others, and whatever is calculated to lead you into sin. I repeat once more, be not distressed at the accidents that befall you; neither allow yourself to be influenced nor surprised by movements of indignation at the faults of others; but show affection and pity to all, ever bearing in mind that, unless Jesus Christ sustained you by His grace, you would doubtless be guilty of greater excesses than they. Be ready to suffer opprobrium, harsh and disagreeable things, and every sort of contradiction for Christ's sake; for without this you can never be His disciple.
Should vain desires or lofty ideas spring up in your heart, under whatsoever pretext of charity this may be, stifle them at their birth, crush with the Cross of Christ this head of the infernal dragon. To this end, call to mind the deep humiliation and the excessive sufferings of the Man-God. Treasure up this thought always: Jesus despised the honors of royalty, and chose voluntarily the punishment of the Cross, by despising the ignominy and shame attached thereto.
Fly with care the praises of men, hold them in abhorrence as you would a mortal poison; but rejoice when you are slighted, being convinced in the depth of your heart that you are worthy of being despised and trampled under foot by all. Never lose sight of your sins and defects. Endeavor, as much as possible, to penetrate their enormity. Be not afraid of making them appear greater than they perhaps are. But as for the shortcomings of others, strive not to see them, and to cast them, so to speak, behind you. If you cannot avoid seeing them, endeavor at least to lessen them, and to excuse them as much as you are able, and, thus filled with compassion and indulgence for your neighbor, do all in your power to help him. Turn away your eyes and thoughts from the sight of others, that you may the more attentively consider yourself. Examine into your own acts, and judge yourself without indulgence. In all your thoughts and words, and in your spiritual reading, strive to rebuke and correct what is amiss in you, and to discover in yourself subjects of sorrow and compunction; calling to mind that the good you do is very defective, that it is never performed with the fervor that God requires, and that consequently it is corrupted by an infinity of faults and negligences, so that it might be justly compared to the most defiled thing in this world. Be careful, then, to rebuke yourself severely before God, not only for the faults and negligences, which creep into your words and actions, but also for the thoughts that are not only bad, but useless: reputing yourself more vile and miserable than all other sinners, whatever may be their sins; being persuaded that if God dealt with you according to His justice, instead of His mercy, you would merit the severest punishment, and to be excluded from the joys of eternal life; since having bestowed on you many more graces than He has given to multitudes of others, He finds nothing in you but ingratitude.
Again, call often to mind, with fear and trembling, that whatever disposition you have for good, whatever grace and desire to acquire virtue, it is Jesus Christ Who, in His mercy, gives it to you; that this in no way comes from yourself, and that it was in His power, had He chosen, to bestow the same grace on the most criminal of mankind, while He might have left you in an abyss of filth and misery.
Be always more and more strongly persuaded that there never was a person burdened with crime, who did not serve God better than yourself, and who would not have been more thankful for His benefits, had he received from Him the same graces which, by a gratuitous mercy, He has heaped upon you, in which your own merits have no share. You will, then, without delusion, be able to consider yourself the most miserable of men, and to dread, with reason, being rejected from the presence of Jesus Christ, on account of your ingratitude and sins. Still I do not say that this sentiment ought to induce you to believe that you are without God's grace, and in a state of mortal sin, or that there may not be an infinity of sinners who commit numberless sins. But, in examining others, we frequently pass an uncertain and mistaken judgment, both, because there are many things which are hidden from us, and because God may have at any moment touched our brother's heart, and given him the grace of true contrition.
When you humble yourself in this sort before God, by contrasting yourself with other sinners, it is not fitting that you should enter in detail into their sins. It is sufficient to consider them in general, in order to compare them with your own ingratitude. If, however, you closely inspect the sins of others, you will be able, in some measure, to appropriate them, and to reproach yourself with them. This person, you will say, is a murderer: am not I one also -- I, who have so often brought death to my soul? That other is impure, an adulterer: what more am I -- I, who have scarcely done anything else but daily commit spiritual adultery, by turning my back upon God, and yielding myself to the suggestions of the devil? You will be able in like manner to survey every other sin. But, should you perceive that, by these reflections, the devil tempts you to despair, then occupy yourself no longer with them; reanimate yourself with the confidence you have in God, reflect on His goodness and great mercy, which have already prevented you by so many benefits, and be assured that He will accomplish in you the work which you have begun. Ordinarily speaking, no one who has made any progress in the spiritual life, and who is at all acquainted with the ways of God, need have any fear of falling into despair.
These few reflections with which I have supplied you, will form in you this excellent virtue, which must be regarded as the source, the mother and guardian of all others: I mean humility; a virtue which, purifying the heart from all vain and useless thoughts, opens the eyes of the soul, and adapts them to the contemplation of the Majesty of God. For, when a person enters into himself with a view to discover his corruption, to despise himself, and bewail his miseries - when he attentively examines the workings of his own heart - he lights upon so much that intimately concerns himself, that he can no longer think of anything else. Thus, forgetting and driving far from him every image of what he has seen and heard, and even of the exterior acts that he has performed, he begins to enter into a state of recollection, to come nearer to the innocence of childhood, and to participate in the purity of the blessed spirits. Thus, totally occupied with reflections on himself, his eyes are opened to view the things of God; while he gradually disposes his heart to rise to the contemplation of what is most sublime, whether it be in the angels, or in God Himself. The soul is by this means inflamed with a love of celestial goods, and looks upon those of the earth as of no account. Then, perfect charity begins to burn in the heart, and its divine heat consumes therein all the rust of sin. But when charity is thus in possession of the soul, vanity no longer finds access to it. All its thoughts, words, and acts are produced by the movements of charity. It can then instruct others without the fear of vainglory.
For, I have already said that vainglory can never gain entrance to a heart that is under the complete dominion of charity. Could it tempt, with the bait of temporal gain, him, who despises it as dirt? Could the desire of praise move him, who, before God, esteems himself far beneath the vilest thing, a most unworthy, miserable sinner, liable to fall at any moment into the grossest crimes, unless the helping hand of his Creator continually sustains him? How can he be puffed up at the thought of his good works, when he clearly perceives his inability to perform the smallest good, without being incited, and, as it were, pushed on every moment by the grace of an Omnipotent God? How can he take credit to himself for his good works, who has a thousand times experienced the inability to do any good, great or small, by his own power, even when he desires it; and who on the other hand, when he has no such inclination, when he gives himself no concern about it, and is intent upon something else, is suddenly roused by the help of God to perform what his own fruitless efforts had previously attempted? God, indeed, permits that these impossibilities in man to do good should endure for a long period, in order to teach him to humble himself, to abstain from seeking his own glory, and to refer all that he does to Himself, not through mere habit, but with all the affection of his heart: it is then he perceives without a shadow of doubt, that not only can he not perform any act, but that he is even incapable of pronouncing the Name of Jesus except by the Holy Spirit, and unless He, who has said: "Without Me you can do nothing," (Jn 15:5) gives him the power. It behooves him to testify his thankfulness to God, and to say, "Lord, thou wilt give us peace: for thou hast wrought all our works for us" (Is 26:12). And let him further exclaim with the royal prophet: "Not to us, O Lord, not to us; but to thy name give glory" (Ps 113:1). They, then, who are intent upon God's glory and the salvation of souls, have nothing to fear on the part of vainglory.
I have expressed in few words the dispositions that are requisite in him who would lead a perfect life, and whose only aim is to labor for the salvation of his soul. What I have said will suffice for him who has acquired a knowledge of the things of God, and who has long habituated himself to the exercises of the spiritual life; for all the practices of perfection may be reduced to the principles which I have laid down in an abridged form. When he has faithfully observed the three rules which I have given, viz. poverty, silence, and the interior exercises which lead to purity of heart, he will easily judge in what manner he ought to perform his outward actions. But as all are not equally capable of understanding what is said in few words, we shall examine somewhat further in detail the particular acts of virtue.
St. Vincent Ferrer: Treatise on the Spiritual Life
Translation of the Article THE FRIARS PREACHERS from the Dictionnaire de Spiritualité:
The end of the 14th century was dominated by the great figure of Saint Vincent FERRER (+1419) whose missionary activity extended to almost the whole of Europe. In the collection of St. Vincent's writings we find, together with a tract of controversy against the Jews (Oeuvres.., ed. H.-D. Fages, vol. 1, Paris, 1909), sermons and spiritual treatises among which the De vita spirituali is outstanding. This work, short but rich in doctrine, is a worthy prelude to the Imitation of Jesus Christ. In the prologue, the saint presents some salutary teachings "ex dictis doctorum extracta." These authors are St. Bernard, St. Bonaventure, Ludolph the Carthusian and Venturino of Bergamo. But the treatise is much more than a simple collection: Vincent Justinian Antist (+1599), biographer of the saint (Vida.., Valencia, 1575) relates in his Adnotationes in opuscula sancti Vincentii (ed. Valencia, 1953) that, according to the opinion of St. Louis Bertrand, nowhere else can one find a more lifelike portrait of Vincent Ferrer, "non ex aliorum scriptis, sed ex suismet actionibus (prologue)." However austere the method of life he proposed may seem, he had already practiced it himself. Doubtless, that was one of the reasons which contributed most to the success of the De vita spirituali,a little treatise which was his glory and set him among the ranks of the great spiritual leaders of the future.
For More see:http://www.domcentral.org/study/ashley/ds04espa.htm#beginnings