The Devils of Loudun Page 28

In Lallemant’s scheme of ascesis purification of the heart was to be accompanied and completed by constant docility to the leadings of the Holy Ghost. One of the seven Gifts of the Spirit is Intelligence, and the vice opposed to Intelligence is “coarseness in regard to spiritual things.” This coarseness is the ordinary state of the unregenerate, who are more or less completely blind to the inner light and more or less completely deaf to inspiration. By mortifying his self-regarding impulses, by setting up a witness to his thoughts and “a little sentinel to keep an eye on the movements of the heart,” a man can sharpen his perceptions to the point where he becomes aware of the messages coming up from the obscure depths of the mind—messages in the form of intuitive knowledge, of direct commands, of symbolic dreams and phantasies. The heart that is constantly watched and guarded becomes capable of all the graces and in the end is truly “possessed and governed by the Holy Spirit.”

But on the way to this consummation there may be possessions of a very different kind. For by no means all inspirations are divine, or even moral, even relevant. How are we to distinguish between the leadings of the not-I who is the Holy Spirit and of that other not-I who is sometimes an imbecile, sometimes a lunatic and sometimes a malevolent criminal? Bayle cites the case of a pious young Anabaptist who felt inspired one day to cut off his brother’s head. The predestined victim had read his Bible, knew that this sort of thing had happened before, recognized the divine origin of the inspiration and, in the presence of a large assemblage of the faithful, permitted himself, like a second Isaac, to be decapitated. Such teleological suspensions of morality, as Kierkegaard elegantly calls them, are all very well in the Book of Genesis, but not in real life. In real life we have to guard against the gruesome pranks of the maniac within. Lallemant was very well aware that many of our inspirations are most certainly not from God, and was careful to take due precautions against illusion. To those of his colleagues who objected that his doctrine of docility to the Holy Ghost was suspiciously like the Calvinist doctrine of the inner spirit, he answered: first, that, it was an article of faith that no good work could be accomplished without a leading of the Holy Spirit in the form of an inspiration and, second, that divine inspiration presupposed the Catholic Faith, the traditions of the Church and the obedience due to ecclesiastical superiors. If an inspiration prompted a man to go against the faith or the Church, it could not possibly be divine.

This is one way—and a very effective way—of guarding against the extravagances of the indwelling maniac. The Quakers had another. Persons who felt a concern to do something unusual or momentous were advised to consult with a number of “weighty Friends” and to abide by their opinion as to the nature of the inspiration. Lallemant advocates the same procedure. Indeed, he asserts that the Holy Ghost actually “prompts us to consult with judicious persons and to conform our conduct to the opinion of others.”

No good work can be accomplished without an inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This, Lallemant could point out to his critics, is an article of the Catholic faith. To those of his colleagues who “complained that they did not have this kind of leading by the Holy Spirit and that they were unable to experience it,” he answered that, if they were in a state of grace, such inspirations were never wanting, even though they might be unaware of them. And he added that they would certainly become aware of divine inspiration if they behaved themselves as they ought. But instead of that, “they chose to live outside themselves, hardly ever coming home to look into their own souls, making the examination of conscience (to which they were bound by their vows) in a very superficial way and taking into consideration only such faults as are obvious to outsiders, without trying to seek out their inner roots in the passions and in dominant habits, and without examining the state and tendency of the soul and the feelings of the heart.” That such persons could not experience the leading of the Holy Ghost was hardly surprising. “How could they know it? They do not even know their inward sins, which are their own acts freely performed by themselves. But as soon as they choose to create within themselves the appropriate conditions for such knowledge, they will infallibly have it.”

All this explains why most would-be good works are ineffective to the point of being almost bad. If hell is paved with good intentions, it is because most people, being self-blinded to the inner light, are actually incapable of having a purely good intention. For this reason, says Lallemant, action must always be in direct proportion to contemplation. “The more inward we are, the more we may undertake outward activities; the less inward, the more we should refrain from trying to do good.” Again, “one busies oneself with works of zeal and charity; but is it from a pure motive of zeal and charity? Is it not, perhaps, because one finds a personal satisfaction in this kind of thing, because one does not care for prayer or study, because one cannot bear to stay in one’s room, cannot stomach seclusion and recollectedness?” A priest may have a large and devoted congregation; but his words and works will bear fruit “only in proportion to his union with God and his detachment from his own interests.” The appearances of doing good are often profoundly deceptive. Souls are saved by the holy, not by the busy. “Action must never be allowed to be an obstacle to our union with God, but must serve rather to bind us more closely and lovingly to Him.” For “just as there are certain humours which, when they are too abundant, cause the death of the body, so in the religious life, when action predominates to excess and is not tempered by prayer and meditation, it infallibly stifles the spirit.” Hence the fruitlessness of so many lives, seemingly so meritorious, so brilliant and so productive. Without the selfless inwardness which is the condition of inspiration, talent is fruitless, zeal and hard work produce nothing of spiritual value. “A man of prayer can do more in a single year than another can accomplish in a whole lifetime.” Exclusively outward work may be effective in changing outward circumstances; but the worker who wishes to change men’s reactions to circumstances—and one can react destructively and suicidally to even the best environment—must begin by purifying his own soul and making it capable of inspiration. A merely outward man may work like a Trojan and talk like Demosthenes; but “an inward man will make more impression on hearts and minds by a single word animated by the spirit of God” than the other can do by all his efforts, all his cleverness and learning.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies