Contra doctrinam retrahentium a religione

Thomas Aquinas

translated as
John Procter, O.P.
London: Sands & Co., 1902

English updated, some corrections made, and html-edited by Joseph Kenny, O.P.


  1. Object of the Author in Undertaking this Work
  2. Arguments Used by Those Who Maintain That None Should be Admitted to the Religious Life Who Are Not Practised in the Exercise of the Commandments
  3. The Foregoing Arguments Do Not Hold Good in the Case of Children
  4. The Opinion Held by Vigilantius and His Followers Does Not Apply to Recent Converts to the Faith
  5. This Argument is Equally Fallacious As Applied to Penitent Sinners
  6. The Fundamental Error of These Opinions Exposed
  7. The Arguments of Our Opponents Are Conclusively Refuted
  8. Arguments Used to Prove That Before Entering Religious Life A Man Ought to Deliberate for A Long Time, and Take Counsel of Many
  9. Answers to the Foregoing Arguments
  10. Answer to the Objections Raised Against the Foregoing Arguments
  11. Arguments Used by Those Who Maintain That Men Should Not Bind Themselves by Vow to Embrace the Religious Life
  12. Refutation of the Error Contained in the Last Chapter, Together with An Exposition of the Truth That Good Works, Done Under Vow, Are More Meritorious Than Those Performed Without Any Such Obligation
  13. Refutation of the Arguments Adduced in the Last Chapter
  14. Arguments Against the Perfection of Religious Whose Possessions Are Not in Common
  15. Refutation of the Errors Quoted in the Last Chapter
  16. An Answer to the Arguments Which Are Brought Forward Against the Propositions Contained in the Preceding Chapter


Object of the Author in Undertaking this Work

THE religion of Christ appears to aim chiefly it diverting the attention of mankind from material things, in order to concentrate their thoughts on the spiritual. Therefore Jesus, “the Author and finisher of our faith,” at His coming into this world, proposed to His faithful followers the contempt of earthly things. He taught this lesson both by His life and by His words.He taught it by His life.

To quote St. Augustine (De catechizandis rudibus), “the Lord Jesus, when He became man, despised the good things of earth, in order to show that they are contemptible. He likewise endured all those earthly trials which He has commanded us to bear, so that, from the chances of this world, we may neither expect happiness, nor fear unhappiness. He rejected all appearance of noble birth; for, although at the time of his conception the virginity of His Mother was intact and although she remained for ever inviolate, yet was she espoused to a carpenter. He did not will that any should glory in the splendour of an earthly city; therefore was He born in Bethlehem, the least of the cities of Judah. He to whom all things belong, and by whom all things are made, became poor that so none of those who would believe in Him might dare to be lifted up by earthly wealth. He came to point out the way of humility; therefore He refused to be chosen King by men. He who gives food to all, Himself hungered. He by whom all manner of drink was created, was thirsty. He who has made Himself our road to Heaven, was weary and wayworn. He who set an end to our sufferings, Himself was crucified. He died, who raised the dead.”

The same lesson He inculcated by His words. For, at the very beginning of His preaching, He promised to those who repented, not an earthly Kingdom, such as in the Old Testament they had looked for, but the Kingdom of Heaven. Not only did He teach His disciples that the first Beatitude consists in poverty of spirit, but He further pointed out that it is in this same poverty that all perfection consists. To the young man seeking the Kingdom of Heaven He said (Mt 19: 21), “If you would be perfect, go sell all that you have, give it to the poor, and follow Me.”

His disciples followed in this road of poverty. Owning nothing temporally, by spiritual virtue they possessed all things; and having only what to eat and what to put on, they were content. But Satan, in his jealousy of our salvation, has never, since the earliest ages, ceased from hindering men in the holy and salutary exercise of poverty. For this purpose he has made use of carnal men, enemies of the Cross of Christ, and savouring of the things of this world. St. Augustine, in his work De Agone Christiano, says: “Men and women of all ages and every rank are attracted to the beauty of eternal life. Some, to the neglect of their temporal interests, give themselves wholly to divine things. Others yield the palm to the virtue of those that act in this wise, and praise the deeds which they themselves lack courage to imitate. But some few there are who, at the sight of such deeds, murmur and fret in impotent rage. These can scarcely be called Catholics; they are rather self-seekers, trying to serve their own interests by means of the Church; or else they are heretics, striving to glorify themselves in the name of Christ.”

Among this number, in former years, two men arose, in different places indeed, but infected by the same folly. Jovinian appeared in Rome, and Vigilantius in Gaul—both of which places had hitherto been free from the pestilence of error. Jovinian dared to set matrimony on a level with virginity. Vigilantius asserted that wealth was as meritorious as poverty.

By this manifest perfidy, they stultified, as far as they were able, the evangelical and apostolic counsels. For, if wealth is equal to poverty, and matrimony to virginity, it was futile for our Lord to have given us the counsel to observe poverty, or for the Apostle to have recommended us to preserve virginity. By this argument, the great doctor St. Jerome has effectually refuted both the false teachers whom we have named.

But, just as one of the heads of the beast mentioned in the Apocalypse was, “as it were, slain to death, and his death-wound was healed,” so in Gaul followers of Valentian have reappeared who, by means of ingenuity and cunning, deter men from the observance of the counsels. Their first axiom is that no one ought, by entering the religious life, to undertake to practice the counsels, unless he is already exercised in the observance of the commandments. This regulation would exclude from the way of perfection all children, all sinners and all recent converts to the Faith.

Their next dictum is that no one should undertake the observance of the counsels without first seeking advice form many persons. We see at once that this rule would be a great obstacle in the way of those who desire to embrace perfection, since the advice of carnal men (who form the majority of mankind) tends rather to deter souls from spirituality than to draw them to it. Further, these followers of Vigilantius try to hinder men from laying themselves under an obligation to embrace religious life, though such an obligation strengthens the soul to embrace a life of perfection. Finally, they do not hesitate to take every means to diminish in men’s hearts the love of poverty.

These criminal efforts are prefigured in the words of Pharaoh, who, as we read in Exodus (5:4), when chiding Moses and Aaron for trying to lead the people of God out of Egypt, said to them, “Why do you, Moses and Aaron, draw off the people from their work? Origen in his Gloss comments on this passage as follows: “Today likewise should Moses and Aaron, that is to say, a prophetic and priestly word, call a soul to serve God and, leaving the world and renouncing all possessions, to devote itself to the law of God and the hearing of His word, you will hear the friends of Pharaoh saying: ‘See how men are seduced, and young man led astray.’” Origen adds in another place: “These were the words of Pharaoh; and in like manner do his friends speak today.” Such are the maxims whereby they seek to hinder those who aim at perfection. But, to quote the proverb of Solomon, “There is no counsel against the Lord.” Trusting, therefore, in the help of spiritual arms, which are the power of God, we will endeavour to refute the opinions which we, have quoted, and to overthrow the presumption of those who exalt themselves against the Divine Wisdom.

we will treat of each of the foregoing propositions in the following manner. First, we will state on what foundation they are based. Then we will examine in what particulars, and in what manner, each of the aforesaid propositions is repugnant to truth, which is in harmony with piety. And, thirdly, we will demonstrate that the arguments used in support of these propositions are empty and frivolous.


Arguments Used by Those Who Maintain That None Should be Admitted to the Religious Life Who Are Not Practised in the Exercise of the Commandments

THE followers of Vigilantius strive, by sundry arguments, to prove that none should undertake to follow the Counsels, unless they are already exercised in obedience to the Commandments. First, they remind us that Our Saviour when He gave the Counsel of poverty, told the young man that if he desired to enter into life, he must keep the Commandments, and only when the youth professed to have kept the Commandments, did Christ give him the Counsel concerning poverty. This shows, they say, that obedience to the Commandments ought to precede observance of the Counsels. Again they bring forward, in defence of their opinion, the words of Jesus Christ (Mt 28:20), “ teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” They also quote the following commentary of Bede upon this Text: “The order herein commanded to be observed is equitable. For, first, a hearer must be taught; he must then be initiated into the mysteries of the Faith; and, finally, he must be instructed in the keeping of the Commandments.” From these words the conclusion is drawn that obedience to the Commandments must go before the praetice of the Counsels.

They further allege in favour of their views the verse of Psalm 108, “By your commandments I have had understanding.” They cite too the words of the Gloss, “I do not say that I have understood your Commandments themselves, but that by them I have had understanding; for, by keeping the Comm ndments, David attained to sublime wisdom.” The verse of Ps. 30 is also, quoted in the same sense, “As a weaned child to his mother,” with the following commentary upon this text, which occurs in the Gloss, “As in physical so also in spiritual procreation and nourishment five periods occur. First we are conceived in the womb; we are nourished therein until we see the light; we are then carried in the arms of our mother and suckled with her milk until, being weaned, we are seated at the table of our father.” The Gloss then adds: “Holy Church likewise observes these five periods.” For the child of the Church is, so to speak, conceived on the Wednesday of the fourth week [of Lent]. He is, by exorcism and catechism, initiated in the rudiments of the Christian Faith. He is nourished in the womb of the Church until, on Holy Saturday, he is by baptism born into spiritual light. Then, until Pentecost, he may be said to be carried in the arm of the Church and fostered at her breast; for during this season nothing laborious is enjoined, neither rising by night nor fasting. But after he has been confirmed by the Holy Spirit, the Christian is weaned, and begins to fast and to observe other toilsome practices. But (say the followers of Vigilantius) many reverse this order. Such are heretics and schismatics, who prematurely forsake their mother’s milk, and therefore come to nought. As it is more difficult to practise the Counsels than to keep the Commandments, it is reversing the right order of things for a man who is not exercised in obedience to the Commandments to undertake to observe the Counsels. Such an error may end in heresy or schism.

They strive, further, to strengthen this argument by the order observed by our Saviour in the miracles whereby He fed the multitudes. For, first, as we read in Mat xiv, He fed five thousand men with five loaves and two fishes; and then in Mat 15 we see that He fed four thousand men with seven loaves and seven little fish. By the five thousand men are meant those who, living a secular life, know how to make good use of material possessions; but the four thousand fed by seven loaves, signify those who renounce the world completely, and are nourished on evangelical perfection and spiritual grace. Hence we are to learn that men must first be sustained by obedience to the commandments, and afterwards led to the perfection of the Counsels.

Another argument, brought forward by those who follow Vigilantius, is contained in the words of St. Jerome on the beginning of the Gospel of St. Matthew. “The Holy Gospel,” he says, “is composed of four elements, namely, precepts, commandments, testimonies, examples. Justice appears in the precepts, charity in the commandments, faith in the testimonies, perfection in the examples.” From this passage they conclude that it is from the justice of the precepts that we are to attain to the perfection of the examples, which perfection would seem to consist in the Counsels.

They further bring forward the following passage of St. Gregory (VI Moral.): “It was after the embrace of Lia that Jacob came to Rachel; for the perfect man is first engaged in the fruitfulness of active life and afterwards attains to the repose of contemplation:” Now the religious state, which professes the practice of the Counsels, belongs to the contemplative life. But the Commandments lead us to the active life. The Gloss says, concerning the passage in Matthew 12, where the Commandments of the Law are enumerated: “Behold the active life.” But when it comments on those words of our Lord in the same chapter, “If you would be perfect” etc., the Gloss adds: “Behold the contemplative life.” Therefore, it is not fitting that a man should embrace the religious life, unless, by keeping the Commandments, he has first been exercised in the active life.

Another argument, adduced by the disciples of Vigilantius in the defence of their cause, is contained in the commentary of St. Gregory on Ezekiel: “ No one becomes perfect at once. In true conversion a man must begin with the least things, in order that he may attain to great things.” Now the Commandments of the Decalogue would appear to be the lesser things, but the Counsels, which pertain to perfection, the greater. For St. Augustine, in his book De sermone Domini in Monte, says: “The things commanded by the Law are lesser; those which Christ was to command, were greater.” Let no man, therefore, proceed to the observance of the greater things, namely, the practice of the Counsels, unless he is first exercised in the lesser, that is to say, in keeping the Commandments. Again, St. Gregory says (Decretis, dist. 48, cap. Sicut): “While walls are still new and damp, we know that they cannot bear weight; and if a roof be placed upon them before they be dry, the whole building will fall to the ground.” Again, among the sayings of St. Gregory, we find the following: “He courts a fall who, despising steps, attempts to climb a height by a steep ascent.” Whence they conclude that it is dangerous for anyone to presume to attain to the high perfection of the counsels, unless he be first exercised in lesser things that is to say in the Commandments.

Those who hold this opinion, further observe that the Commandments, even in the order of nature, precede the counsels, for they are more common and more in harmony with nature. The Commandments can be kept together with the Counsels, but the Counsels cannot be practised apart from the Commandments. Hence it cannot be well ordered to aspire to the Counsels, unless the observance of the Commandments has gone first. Those who are of this opinion further add that if it were right that the Counsels should take precedence over the Commandments, those who did not practise the Counsels could not be saved, for they would not be keeping the Commandments.

These are the chief arguments used by those who hold that religious life should not be attempted by any, save those who are exercised in obedience to the Commandments.


The Foregoing Arguments Do Not Hold Good in the Case of Children

SINCE this question regards morals, our first consideration must be whether what has been said, is congruous with good works. We must prove, first of all that the doctrine of the followers of Vigilantius is directly opposed to such works. For there are three classes of mankind who have had no practice in keeping the Commandments. The first class is composed of children who have not had time to be exercised in keeping them. The second class includes recent converts to the Faith who, before their conversion, had no opportunity of observing the Commandments, “for all that is not of faith is sin” (Rom 14:23), and “without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:6). The third class of men who have not been in the habit of keeping the Commandments are those who have led a sinful life.

Now we shall show, in the case of each of these classes, the fallacy of the arguments which we have undertaken to refute.

If it were necessary that the observance of the Commandments should precede the practice of the Counsels and the entrance into the religious life, it would not be right, nor would the Church suffer parents to place their young children in religious houses, there to be educated in the exercise of the Counsels before they have kept the Commandments. But we know that such is her custom, a usage supported by grave authority, and confirmed by many passages of Scripture. St. Gregory says (XX, quaestione I, cap. Addidistis): “Is it lawful for a father or mother who have placed an infant son or daughter in a monastery to be there educated in regular discipline, to withdraw such a child when it has attained the age of puberty, and to give it in marriage? This question we will not discuss.” The question as to how far the obligation to regular observance is perpetually binding is not of great importance; for, if the practice of keeping the Commandments were a necessary introduction to the observance of the Counsels, no one could be educated in the regular observance of the Counsels who was not exercised in obedience to the Commandments. But the custom of dedicating children to the religious life is proved, not merely by many ecclesiastical statutes, but by the examples of the Saints. St. Gregory relates (II Dialog.) that “noble and religious men of the City of Rome flocked to blessed Benedict, to offer him their children to be trained for Almighty God. Then Euticius and Patricius Tertullus gave him their promising sons, Maurus and Placidus, of whom Maurus, the younger, being distinguished by his virtues, became assistant to the master, while Placidus was still, in disposition, a child.” And, as St. Gregory narrates in the same book, Blessed Benedict himself, while still a child, being desirous to please none but God, turned his back on worldly learning and, leaving his parents’ house, sought the usages of holy conversation.

This custom took its rise from the Apostles themselves. Dionysius, in the end of his book Eccles. Hierarch., says, “children, brought up to sublime things and kept from sin and error, will acquire the habit of holy living. This was the opinion of our blessed masters, and it seemed good to them to receive children.” Dionysius, it is true, is here only alluding to the admission of children to Baptism, but his argument bears out our assertion, viz. that it is expedient to educate children in the principles which they are hereafter to practise, in order that they may acquire the habit of them. We must add, further that this rule is authorised by our Lord Himself. For we read in St. Matt. xix. 13, “Then were little children presented to Him, that He should impose hands upon them and pray. And the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said to them: ‘Allow the little children, and do not forbid them to come to me, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” St. Chrysostom, commenting on these words, says, “Who shall deserve to draw near to Christ, if innocent childhood is driven from Him? If these children are to be saints, why should they not approach their Father? If they are to be sinners, why should you pronounce sentence of condemnation upon them before their crimes are committed?” Now we know that it is by the way of the Counsels that man approaches most closely to Christ, for He said to the young man, “ Sell all that you have, give to the poor and follow me” (Mt 19:21). Therefore children are by no means to be hindered from drawing near to Him by the way of the Counsels. But, as Origen says, on the same passage: “Some there are who, before they have learnt the doctrine of justice, rebuke those who, by simple teaching, offer to Christ infants and children, that is to say the unlearned. Our Lord exhorted His disciples, who were then grown men, to condescend to the service of children and to be, so to speak, children with children that so they might gain children, for ‘of such,’ He said, ‘is the Kingdom of Heaven.’ And He Himself, when He was in the form of God, became a child. We ought to bear this in mind, lest, in our esteem for our own superior wisdom, we should despise the little ones of the Church, forbidding the children to go to Jesus.”

We may remember, again, how in Luke 1:80 it is written of St. John the Baptist, “And the child grew and was strengthened in spirit, and was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.” Bede comments on this text in the following words: “He who was to be the preacher of penance passed his early years in the desert. He acted thus in order more easily to draw his hearers, by means of his instructions, from the vanities of the world. He would not, as St. Gregory of Nyssa says, allow himself to become accustomed to the allurements of the senses, lest he should be misled or perplexed in his judgment concerning the true good. And, because he was pure, and because, from the beginning of his life to the end, he offered to the divine regard desires free from every passion, therefore he was raised to such a height of grace that he received gifts surpassing those of the prophets.” Therefore, not only is it lawful but even most expedient in order to obtain greater grace that some men, leaving the world, even in their childhood, should live in the solitude of the religious life.

We read in Lamentations 3:27, “It is good for a man, when he has borne the yoke from his youth.” The reason given for these words being, “he shall sit solitary and hold his peace, because he has taken it up upon himself.” By this we are given to understand that they who bear the yoke of religious life from their youth upwards, arise above themselves and are rendered more fit for religious observance, which consists in silence and freedom from worldly care and disturbance. In the Book of Proverbs 22:6 the words occur, “A young man according to his way, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Hence St. Anselm in his book De Similitudinibus compares those who have been brought up in monasteries to angels, while those who have been converted from an imperfect life he likens to men. This mode of thinking is not only confirmed by the authority of Holy Scripture, it is shared even by philosophers; for Aristotle in his Second Book of Ethics says, “It is by no means a matter of small moment whether from our youth we are accustomed to such or such a manner of life, but, on the contrary, it is of supreme importance that certain men should, from childhood, be instructed in those things which they must observe during the course of their life.” Again, in the Eighth book of his Politics, the same philosopher writes: “The chief concern of a legislator ought to be for the education of the young who should be trained in every good quality.”

We see likewise how this opinion is practically borne out by society, for men are, from their very childhood, brought up to those professions and offices for which they are destined. Those who are intended for clerics must, from their tender years, be educated in the clerical life; soldiers, as Vegetius says in book De re militari, must, in early years, be subject to military discipline; and, carpenters must, from childhood, learn their handicraft. Why then should the only exception to this rule be made with regard to the religious life? Why should not the young be formed to it from their youth? Surely the more arduous a profession may be, the more necessary it is that men should be early trained to it. Hence we see that the argument that it is necessary to be practised in keeping the Commandments before we observe the Counsels, does not hold good with regard to children.


The Opinion Held by Vigilantius and His Followers Does Not Apply to Recent Converts to the Faith

VERY few words will suffice to show the absurdity of refusing the religious habit to recent converts on the ground that they are not exercised in the observance of the Commandments. The first followers of Christ, who formed His college, and who gave an example of perfection, far surpassing that of any religious order, were received by our Lord immediately after their conversion. St. Paul, who was the last by conversion, but the foremost in preaching, embraced evangelical perfection as soon as he was converted to the faith. This we know by his own words to the Galatians: “But when it pleased Him, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and exalted me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, immediately I did not condescended to flesh and blood” (Gal 1:15). Christ teaches us the same lesson by His own example. We read in St. Matthew 4:1 that after His baptism, He “was led by the Spirit into the desert.” “Thus,” says the Gloss, “did He teach those that have been baptised to leave the world after their baptism to devote themselves to God in solitude.”

This teaching is confirmed by the praiseworthy practice of many who, being once converted from unbelief, immediately assume the religious habit. Who would be so ill-advised as to counsel these men rather to stay in the world than to withdraw into the Religious life, there to endeavour to preserve the Baptismal Grace which they have received? What right-minded man would dissuade them from putting on Christ by perfect imitation, when by baptism they have already been clothed with Him? The argument that no one ought to be admitted to the religious life who has not kept the Commandments is thus an absurdity in the case of recent converts to the Faith.


This Argument is Equally Fallacious As Applied to Penitent Sinners

FINALLY, let us see whether penitent sinners, who are not yet exercised in observing the Commandments, are to be excluded from religious life. The example of St. Matthew is germane to our question. Our Lord called him from the profits of a custom collection to be His follower; and Matthew, although not at once admitted to the number of the Apostles, immediately embraced the perfection of the counsels, for, “leaving all things he rose up and followed him” (Luke v. 28). “He who had robbed others abandoned his own possessions,” says St. Ambrose. From this example, it is abundantly evident that penitents may, even after most heinous sins, enter on the observance of the Counsels. In fact, we may go further, and say that it is fitting that such repentant sinners should embrace a life of perfection; for, as St. Gregory says in his comment on the words of Luke iii., “Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of penance”: “He who has committed no unlawful act may rightfully be granted the enjoyment of lawful things. But he who has fallen into sin, ought to deprive himself of lawful goods, in proportion as he is conscious of having committed unlawful deeds.” Again, he says: “It is fitting that if a man has impoverished himself by sin, he should so much the more eagerly seek by penance the riches of good works.” Since then in the religious life men abstain even from lawful things, and seek the treasure of perfection, it is reasonable that they who abandon sin (whereby they have been exercised, not in the practice, but in the transgression of the Commandments) should walk in the way of the Counsels, by entering religion, which is the state of true penance. Again we find, in quaest. XXXIII. cap. II. Admonere, that Pope Stephen, addressing a certain Astulphus, who had been guilty of great sins, says: “May our advice be pleasing to you. Go into a monastery: humble yourself to the Abbot; and, helped by the prayers of many brethren, perform in simplicity of heart whatever may be enjoined upon you.” “But,” he continues: “if you prefer to remain in your house or in the world and there to do public penance (which will be far more onerous and painful for you), we will tell you how you are to act.” The Pope then imposes severe penances upon him, telling him at the same time that it would be better and more advantageous for him to go into religion.

Thus we see that those who are practised, not in keeping the Commandments but in sinning against them, are advised to embrace religious life. Such penitent, sinners are, however, deterred from so doing by the admirable wisdom of certain advisers, whose counsel St. Paul thus refutes: “I speak a human thing because of the infirmity of your flesh, for, as you have yielded your members to serve uncleanness and iniquity unto iniquity, so now yield your members to serve justice unto sanctification” (Rom 6:19). “I speak a human thing,” comments the Gloss, “because you owe more service to justice than to sin.” And Baruch (4:28) says, “As it was your mind to go astray from God; so, when you return again, you shall seek him ten times as much.” For after sinning and thus forsaking God and disobeying His commands, a man ought to strive after the highest virtue, and not be content with half measures.

This teaching is borne out by the example of numerous saints. For many of both sexes, after leading lives of crime, have embraced the practice of the Counsels, and although they had formed no habit of keeping the Commandments, have devoted themselves to the observance of the strictest religious rule. Their conduct is approved even by philosophers. In the Second book of Ethics Aristotle writes: “When we withdraw from great sin, we shall come to the uniform line, even as they do who plane away the knots from wood.” For those who are knotted by sin, must be brought back to righteousness by practising the more perfect works of virtue.

Thus we have made it clear that the opinion of those who maintain that none should practise the Counsels who have not kept the Commandments, cannot be approved, with regard to any class of men.


The Fundamental Error of These Opinions Exposed

IN order to refute this error, once and for all, we must examine the fallacy on which it is based. Now the premises on which the followers of Vigilantius construct their argument are erroneous, and for this reason. They assume that perfection consists, chiefly, in the observance of the Counsels; and that the Commandments, compared to the Counsels, are as the imperfect compared to the perfect. Therefore, they say, we must go from Commandments to Counsels, as from imperfection to perfection. But this proposition is false. We know from the very words of our Lord (Mt 22:37) that the first and chief commandment of the Law is the love of God and of our fellow-men. “The first commandment is, you shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and with your whole soul, and with your whole mind. And the second is like it: you shall love your neighbour as yourself.” The perfection of Christian life consists essentially, in obeying these two precepts, Hence the Apostle says to the Colossians (3:14), “ But above all these things, have charity, which is the bond of perfection.” On this passage the Gloss observes that charity makes other things perfect, in so far, that is to say, as they are ordered in charity. For charity binds all things together. Again, when our Lord had been giving the precepts of brotherly love (Mt 5:48), He added, “Be therefore perfect as also your Heavenly Father is perfect.”

St. Jerome says, commenting on the words in St. Matthew 19:27, “Behold, we have left all things and have followed you”: “Whereas it does not suffice to have left all things, he (Peter) adds ‘and have followed you.’ For the Apostles followed the Lord not so much in bodily presence, as in affections of the heart.” Again, St. Ambrose, alluding to the words, “follow me” (Luke 5), says: “Christ commands him (Levi) to follow Him, not with his feet, but with the desires of his mind.” It is thus abundantly evident that the perfection of the Christian life consists in charity towards God. And there is a very solid reason for this conclusion. The perfection of anything consists, as we know, in its attainment of its end. Now the end of the Christian life is that charity, to which all things must be ordered, and which, as St. Paul says (1 Tim 1:5), is “the end of the commandment,” or, as the Gloss says, in its comment on this text, “is the perfection of the precept, that is to say, of all precepts, for the love of God and of our neighbour is the fulfilment of all.”

We must distinguish between an end and the means to an end. In considering the means to an end, we must fix some certain measure by which the means may be proportioned to the end. But in what regards the end itself, there is no question of measure, but each one prosecutes his end to the best of his ability. A physician tempers his remedies, lest they should be in excess. He has no fear of excess in the health which he wishes to restore by those remedies, but he desires that such health should be as perfect as possible. In like manner, the commandment to love God, which is the end of the Christian life, knows no limits. No one can say that this degree or that of the love of God is enjoined by this precept, or that where the love of God exceeds the Commandment it becomes a Counsel. Every man is bound to love God as much as he can. This truth is embodied in the very words of the precept: “Love the Lord your God with your whole heart.” Every one must obey this commandment according to his ability, some with greater and some with less perfection. He totally fails to observe it who does not, in his affections, prefer God before all things. He who loves Him as His last End, above all other things, fulfils the precept more or less perfectly, according as he is more or less impeded by his aftection for created things. St. Augustine says (LXXXIII Quaest.): “The poison of charity is the hope of acquiring or retaining temporal things. That is to say, if such things are looked on as a last end. The food of charity is the lessening of cupidity. Its perfection consists in the extinction of earthly desire.”

But there is another perfect manner of observing this precept, which cannot be achieved in this life. For, as St. Augustine says in De perfectione justitiae, “In that fulness of charity which will reign it our heavenly country, the precept of charity ‘Love the Lord your God with your whole heart’ etc. will be perfectly obeyed.” “Why,” he continues, should not this perfection be anticipated by man, although, in this life he may not attain to it? He does not run aright, who does no know where he is running to. But how can he know, if he is not taught by any precepts Therefore, to this, as to their end, are directed the commandments of love of God and of our neighbour, together with all other counsels and commands. Hence St. Augustine says in Ench.: “God gives us certain commandments, such as: ‘Do not commit adultery’, while other things, such as ‘It is good for a man not to touch a woman,’ are not enjoined on us by precept, but set before us as a spiritual counsel. Such things are rightly done when they are referred to the love of God and to the love of our neighbour, for His sake.”

Nevertheless, the manner in which the precept of Charity is to be fulfilled by certain precepts of the Law is different to that in which it is to be accomplished by the Counsels. For some things are so designed to a particular end that the end cannot be attained without them. Such is the case with food and the maintenance of life. Other things, again, serve to attain an end with peculiar certainty and completeness. Thus, though food is necessary for the continuance of physical life? medicine serves for the more easy and certain preservation of health. Now some of the commandments are given for the first of these two reasons, namely as a necessary means of attaining to charity. For instance, no one can fulfil the precept of charity who worships false gods, and thus withdraws from the love of God, or who commits murder or theft, which are contrary to the love of our neighbour. But the Counsels are given to us in order that we may fulfil the precept of charity, in the second way of which we have spoken. Hence the Apostle, “king of the Counsel of virginity, expressly says that its object is to enable us to love God. “He who is without a wife is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please God. But he who is with a wife is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife” (1 Cor 7:32).

Again, we see from St. Matthew 19 that our Lord gave the Counsel of poverty as a means whereby He was to be followed; and following Him, as we have shown, consists in charity. Now charity is lessened by cupidity, but cupidity and love of money is diminished, or wholly eradicated, by the renunciation of earthly possemons. St. Augustine, in his Epistle to Paulinus and Therasia, says that “our love for the goods that we have acquired is much stronger than our desires for those that we do not possess. It is one thing, indeed, to have no will to gain those things that are lacking to us, but quite another to divest ourselves of those that we already possess.” Both these Counsels are also intended to facilitate charity towards our neighbour. All that our Lord lays down in St. Matthew 5 about brotherly love ought to be the abiding disposition of the soul. And it is clear that His precepts on this head will be most easily obeyed by the man who is not hampered by self-interest. He who has no will to possess anything will be better prepared to part with his coat and his cloak, than he who desires possessions.

Since charity is not only the end, but also the foundation of all virtues and of all the precepts given us for the attainment of virtue, it follows that as by means of the Counsels man advances towards more perfect love of God and of his neighbour, so likewise the more perfect observance of the Counsels is furthered by obedience to those Commandments which are necessary to charity. He who has the intention of practising continence or poverty for the love of Christ is a long way from committing adultery or theft. The various exercises of the religious life, such as watching, fasting and retirement from worldly affairs, tend furthermore to preserve man from vice, and to facilitate his practice of perfect virtue. Thus the observance of the Counsels leads to the observance of the other Commandments. Of course, we do not mean that keeping the Commandments is the end proposed by those who practise the Counsels. No one, for instance, embraces virginity in order that he may abstain from adultery, or leads a life of poverty as a safeguard against theft; but the Counsels are practised as a means of advancing in the love of God and of our neighbour. For greater things are not made for lesser ones as their end. From all this it becomes clear that the Counsels pertain to perfection of life, not because perfection necessarily consists in their observance, but because they are the way or means to perfection. St. Augustine bears this out in De moribus ecclesiae, where he says of the life of religious: “Let all our endeavour be to restrain concupiscence, and to preserve brotherly love.” Again, in the same work, he writes, “Charity is there (in religious life) chiefly cultivated: virtue, words, manner, countenance, all are agreeable to charity.”

Again, in the Collatio patrum, the Abbot Moses says, “For this (i.e. for the sake of purity of heart and charity), we do and suffer all things, and on this account we renounced kinsfolk, country, honours, riches and all manner of earthly joy. To gain these virtues we undertake fasting, watching, labour and nakedness, and for these we practise reading and all other virtues. For we desire to prepare our hearts and to keep them pare from defiling thoughts, and by these means to rise to the perfection of charity.” Hence we learn that obedience to the Commandments may be either perfect or imperfect, according as we practise a more or less perfect means of keeping them. For we may, as we have shown, practise by means of the Counsels perfect obedience to the Commandments; or we may, by living in the world without the Counsels, keep them imperfectly.

Therefore, to teach that a man must first be exercised in keeping the Commandments before he passes to the Counsels, is tantamount to saying that he must first obey the Commandments imperfectly, rather than at once strive to keep them perfectly. This is, of course, an absurdity, whether we consider the Commandments themselves or the mode of observing them. For who could be so foolish as to dissuade a man from loving God and his neighbour perfectly by telling him first to love them imperfectly? Is not such a fallacy condemned by the divine precept of charity: “Love the Lord your God with your whole heart”? Or need we fear lest we should learn to love God so quickly that we shall love Him beyond due measure? “Bless the Lord (says Sirach xliii. 30), exalt Him as much so you can, for He is above all praise.” And St. Paul says, “So run that you may obtain” (1 Cor. ix. 24). Again, “Let us hasten, therefore, to enter into that rest” (Heb. iv. 11). For with whatever energy a man enters on the road of perfection, he will still have much progress to make before he arrives at final perfection in his Heavenly home. The argument is equally absurd if we consider the means used for attaining to perfection. Who would tell a man who aspired to virginity or continence that it would be best for him first to live chastely in wedlock? Or who would tell a man who wished to practise poverty first to live justly in the enjoyment of riches, as if wealth were a preparation for poverty rather than an impediment to it? The young man who did not accept from our Lord the Counsel of poverty (Mt 19) went away sad, because of his possessions.

We have up to now been observing the connection between the Counsels and the precepts of charity, but our arguments hold equally good with regard to the other precepts of the Law. For, if the practice of the Counsels and the exercises of the Religious life are a safeguard against breaking the Commandments, is it not clear that some men may need them in order, by their means, to avoid the occasions of sin? Should we advise a young man to live among women and bad companions, in order that by practising chastity in the world he might afterwards observe it in the cloister? Is this virtue easier in the world than in the religious life? The same reasoning applies to other virtues and vices.

Those who hold the opposite opinion resemble generals, who would like to expose their raw recruits to the heat of battle. Those who live in the world and keep the Commandments can make greater progress in virtue if they become religious. For we must remember that if, on the one hand, a secular life spent in obedience to the Commandments is a good preparation for the practice of the Counsels, yet, on the other hand, a life in the world presents a great obstacle to the observance of the Counsels. Hence St. Gregory says in the beginning of his Morals: “When my conscience was urging me to leave the world, many secular cares began to press upon me, as if I were to be detained in the world, not from love of its beauty, but by that which was more serious, viz. anxiety of mind. But at length, escaping eagerly from all such cares, I sought the monastery gate.”


The Arguments of Our Opponents Are Conclusively Refuted

THE arguments adduced in the foregoing chapters facilitate the complete refutation of our adversaries’ opinion. Their first contention, namely that our Lord gave the Counsel of poverty to one who had already practised the keeping of the Commandments, is pulverised by St. Jerome. This father, commenting on the words in St. Matthew 19, “All these things have I kept from my youth,” says: “This young man spoke untruly. For, if he had by his deeds fulfilled the command, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself, why should he have gone away sad when Christ said to him: ‘Go, sell what you have and give to the poor’?” Origen also, writing on the Gospel of St. Matthew, says, “ It is related in the Hebrew version of the Gospel that when the Lord said to him (the rich young man), ‘Go, sell what you have,’ the youth began to hesitate. Then Jesus said to him, ‘How then can you say that you have observed the Law and the prophets? It is written in the Law: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’; and see how many of your brethren, the sons of Abraham, are clothed in dung and perish with hunger. Your house is filled with plenty, but none of it goes forth to your brethren.’ Then, rebuking him, the Lord said: ‘If you would be perfect’ etc. For it is impossible to fulfil the commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves if we are rich and abounding in possessions.” This remark refers, of course, to the perfect observance of the precept of charity; and there is no reason why the rich young man may not have kept the Commandments imperfectly, and thus not have spoken untruly in his answer to the Lore. This is the opinion of St. Chrysostom and of other writers. But the fact that Christ gave the Counsel of poverty to one who was, even to a certain extent, practised in obedience to the Commandments, is no proof that such obedience is a necessary preliminary, or the sole preparation, for the exercise of the Counsels. St. Matthew was called from habits of sin to the practice of the Counsels, thereby showing us that the way of perfection is open both to sinners and to innocent souls.

In the second place, our opponents say that a catechumen must be taught to keep the Commandments after he has received the Sacraments of the Church. This argument is irrelevant to the point in question; for instruction in the Commandments, as well as the doctrine and Sacraments of the Faith, is necessary for all men, whether they remain in the world or embrace the perfect life of religious; for these things are common to both classes.

Their third argument, viz. that by keeping the Commandments man attains the fulness of wisdom, means nothing more than that obedience to the Commandments is rewarded by the knowledge of the things of God. Our opponents further quote the words given in one version of Sirach 1:26: “if you desire wisdom, keep the Commandments, and the Lord will give her to you.” This text, however, as is evident, has no bearing on the question.

Their fourth argument, founded on the Gloss on the verse in Psalm 130, “As a weaned child” etc., to which reference has already been made, we will carefully discuss. For, although in itself frivolous, it is considered by our adversaries to be very weighty. If we examine this passage in the Gloss, we shall see that it refers to the spiritual nourishment of recent converts to the Faith. It sets forth that “after Baptism we are instructed in good works and nourished by the milk of simple teaching until, being somewhat grown, we are admitted to our Father’s table.” This means to say that we progress from the more simple doctrine “The Word was made Flesh,” to the Word of the Father is in the beginning with God.” Now these words of the Gloss, evidently refer to the order to be observed in instruction.

Our opponents next adduce, as an argument, that the Church observes five seasons in the spiritual generation of her converts. They are first initiated, by exorcism and catechism, into the rudiments of the Faith. Then they are nourished in the womb of the Church until Holy Saturday when, by Baptism, they are born into light. After Baptism until Pentecost they are carried in the arms of the Church and nourished with her milk; for during that season neither fasting nor rising at night nor any other penitential practice is observed. After Pentecost, when they have been confirmed by the Holy Spirit, catechumens are, so to speak, weaned, and begin to fast and perform other laborious exercises. Now this example of the five seasons appears to support our adversaries’ argument, but it is fallacious in three respects.

There is a difference between the case of recent converts to the Faith who, like babes, require to be nourished, and that of penitent sinners who, like sick men, need to be healed. Those newly converted to the Faith need not necessarily, in the beginning, have difficult tasks laid upon them; they may be first exercised in easier things, and then be led on to those that are more laborious. Such men resemble children who are fed first on milk, and afterwards on stronger food; and it is to those who the Gloss refers. But if recent converts should, of their own accord, stretch forth their hands to higher things, who shall dare withhold them? In the smile used by the Gloss, we see that just as after the solemn Baptism on Easter Eve, the Church, for the sake of the sick, grants a certain rest from laborious works, so likewise after the solemn Baptism which precedes Pentecost, she immediately enjoins fasting, thus signifying that some who have in fervour of spirit been received to Baptism, subject themselves at once to a stricter life. But with penitent sinners the case is otherwise. Severe penance is imposed on them at first. This, by degrees, is mitigated; for they are like sick persons who, in the beginning of their illness are restricted to a strict diet which, when convalescence has set in, is somewhat relaxed. Thus, the Church im poses on innocent souls, from the very beginning, the burden of the Commandments, which must of necessity be kept. She does not lay the Counsels upon them as a necessity, but she does not forbid them to undertake their observance, if they have the will so to do. Stricter obligations are, however, imposed upon penitents, according to the statutes of the Canons of the Early Church.

The second fallacy into which our opponents fall, in the application of their argument, is that of saying that in every office or profession, transition is made from what is easier to what is more difficult. Now it is not necessary that everyone who undertakes an important post, should first have served in an inferior capacity. Neither is it essential that a man, desiring to practise a trade, should already have worked at another trade; but he must ascend from the less to the more difficult branches of the trade in which he wishes to become proficient. In like manner, it is not essential that they who wish to become religious should already have kept the Commandments in the world. What is necessary is that, when they enter religious life, the easier observances should be imposed upon them at first. Again, those who wish to become clerics need not first have led the life of laymen, nor need they who wish to live continently, have observed continence in married life.

The third error into which our adversaries fall, arises from the fact that there is a twofold difficulty in the work of practising the Counsels. The first difficulty arises from the greatness of the work itself, which, because it needs the perfection of virtue, is not imposed upon the imperfect. The second difficulty lies in the restraints imposed. And the more imperfect the persons, the more restraint they need. Thus children need closer watching while they are under the custody of their tutors, than when they have arrived at perfection, Now the religious life, as we have seen, is a certain course of discipline restraining men from sin and leading them on to perfection. Therefore, they who are the most imperfect, not being practised in the observance of the Commandments, stand in the greatest need of the safeguards of religious life, which render it more easy for them to abstain from sin than if they lived freely in the world. The words in the Gloss, “But many, such as heretics and schismatics, pervert this order,” are clearly shown, by the context, to refer to order of doctrine. For the Gloss continues: “This man says indeed that he has kept the Commandments, thus laying himself under a curse as if he were humble, not merely in other matters, but also in knowledge. For he says, I thought humbly, being at first nourished by milk, which is the ‘Word was made flesh,’ in order that I might grow to the Bread of Angels, that is, ‘the Word which in the beginning was with God.’” And thus he returns to what he said at first. By this passage we see that words, intended as a means, have been used as an example.

The next argument brought forward against us is so frivolous that it requires no answer. It concerns the five thousand men whom Christ fed with five loaves and the four thousand among whom seven loaves were distributed. It is not necessary that the order of things typified should correspond with the order of their types, for we often see that later things are prefigured by earlier ones, and e converso. Neither can any valid argument be drawn from symbolical things of this nature, as St. Augustine says in his Epistle against the Donatists. Dionysius likewise writes in his Epistle to Titus that allegorical theology is not argumentative. We will, notwithstanding, observe that by this order of miracles is typified the order of precepts and counsels, in so far as regards the whole human race. The Counsels were given not in the old Law but in the new; for, the Law brought nothing to perfection. The Gloss points this out by saying that the five loaves signify the legal precepts, and that the seven loaves are symbolical of evangelical perfection. But this is no reason why the same men should be exercised first in the precepts of the Law, and then in the Counsels in the religious life; for we do not read that the same individuals were first among the seven thousand, and that they then formed part of the four thousand who were miraculously fed by Jesus Christ.

Again, the point brought forward by our opponents, as to the four things of which the Gospel is composed, is not relevant to the question we are discussing. For the perfection proposed as an example does not refer to the Counsels, but to virtuous acts or the perfect way of keeping the Commandments as Christ kept them. Hence the Gloss goes on to quote other examples, e.g., “Learn of Me, for I am meek” etc., and elsewhere, “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” “I have given you an example” etc.

We must examine with greater care the seventh argument, as it is one that our opponents are fond of using. It concerns the order to be observed between the active and the contemplative life. It is perfectly true that the active ought to precede the contemplative life, but the meaning of the active life is not always understood. It is sometimes thought that the active life consists merely in the management of temporal affairs; and therefore, as religious possess nothing, either individually or in common, they are believed to be incapable of sharing in the active life. St. Gregory, in the second part of the second homily on Ezekiel, points out that this view is a mistaken one. “The active life,” he says, “consists in giving bread the hungry, instructing the ignorant, correcting those who err, recalling the proud to humility, caring for the sick, distributing to each one what is needful to him, and in seeing how each one may be maintained by those things that an entrusted to us.” Thus we see that the active life regards not merely temporal matters, but also the guidance and correction of others in spiritual concerns, and that for such duties those men are the best fitted who own no worldly possessions. Consequently, when our Lord appointed the Apostles to be the teachers of the whole earth, He stripped them of their property (Matt. 10).

We may further enquire whether the exercise of the moral virtues pertains to the active life. Aristotle (X Ethic.) answers this question in the affirmative, and adds that the intellectual virtues belong to the contemplative life. St. Augustine confirms this opinion in XII De Trinit., where he ascribes the inferior reason, which is exercised about temporal matters concerning either ourselves or others, to action, and the superior reason, which is occupied with eternal interests, to contemplation. In accordance with this view, it is quite reasonable to hold that the active must precede the contemplative life. For, unless a man has, by the exercise of the moral virtues, freed his soul from passion (which it is the business of the active life to do), he will not be fit for the contemplation of divine truth. “Blessed are the clean of heart,” says Christ, “for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). They shall see Him here by imperfect contemplation, and hereafter by what is perfect. Thus the exercise of the active life pertains not only to laymen, but to religious also.

Three reasons go to prove that this is the case. First, because by the exercise of the moral virtues the passions are restrained. Secondly, because religious can show mercy to others by teaching and correcting, or by visiting the sick and comforting the sorrowful, be they seculars or religious of their own monastery. Thus they can verify the words of St. James (1:27), “Religion clean and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit the fatherless and the widow in their tribulation, and to keep one’s self unspotted from this world.” The third reason why religious share with seculars in the active life is because, at their entry into religion, they distributed their worldly possessions to the poor. It is not, therefore, because the precepts belong only to the active life that the Gloss says that the Commandments are the duty of the active, and the Counsels of the contemplative life. St. Gregory writes: “To live a contemplative life is to bear in mind with all diligence, charity to God and to our neighbour, which are the great precepts of the Law. The Counsels dispose the soul more particularly to the contemplative life. For without them, the mere observance of the Precepts will not suffice for contemplation, which requires greater perfection.” No one need remain in the world for the sake of leading an active life; for in religion he can have quite as much exercise in the active life as is necessary to dispose him for the contemplative.

The eighth argument, viz. that “no one arrives at once at the highest point,” is not much to the purpose, although great stress is laid upon it. For we may consider the highest and the lowest either as referring to the same condition and to the same man, or to different conditions and different men. If we consider these degrees as referring to the same condition and the same man, it is quite evident that no one arrives at once at the highest point; for every virtuous man is, during the whole course of his life, making progress towards perfection. But if these degrees are considered with regard to different conditions, there is no reason why a man should not fill the highest post without having served in an inferior capacity. It is not necessary for a cleric to have lived as a layman; for some men are admitted in their boyhood into the ranks of the clergy. Neither is the saying that no one reaches the highest point at once true, if we consider it as referring to different people; for one man may start from a degree of holiness far higher than that to which another will attain throughout the whole course of his life. St. Gregory says (Dialog. 11): “in order that all his contemporaries and all succeeding generations might know to what a height of perfection the child Benedict had arrived, when he received the grace of conversion.”

The ninth argument, viz. that “damp walls cannot bear a roof,” and the tenth that “he courts a fall who tries to climb a steep ascent without steps,” are both irrelevant to our subject. The authorities from whom these passages are drawn use these examples in speaking of the dignity of the episcopal state, which requires mature virtue and is, therefore, not to be conferred on those who are imperfect. But the Counsels are aids to perfection and safeguards from sin. Hence we may speak of them as serving to dry the moisture from newly erected walls, and as sure steps whereby the summit of perfection may be reached.

The eleventh argument used against us deals with the natural priority of the Commandments to the Counsels. Reference to what we have already said will show how much weight such an argument carries. If we speak of the final precepts, viz. the love of God and of our neighbour, it is clear that the Counsels are directed towards these precepts as to their end. The relation between the Counsels and these precepts is that which exists between things ordained for a certain end, and the end for which they are ordained. Now an end is the first thing, if we consider it with reference to the intention; but it is the last if we consider it with regard to the prosecution or consummation. If then the Counsels were so ordained with reference to the Commandments that unless the Counsels were practised the Commandments could not be observed, it would follow that man is bound to observe the Counsels before loving God or his neighbour. Such, of course, is not the case. But if the relations between the Counsels and the Precepts be in such wise that by means of the Counsels, the Precepts can be more easily and more perfectly kept, it follows that by means of the Counsels we can attain to the perfect love of God and of our neighbour. Hence we see that, although in intention this precept precedes the counsels, yet in prosecution the counsels precede this precept.

If we consider the relations between the Counsels and the other Precepts which are given as means to the love of God and our neighbour, we shall see that these relations are of a twofold nature. For, as the Counsels cannot be observed without the Precepts, and as the Precepts are kept by many without the Counsels, the Counsels can be compared to the Precepts if they be considered generally. Thus the relations between the Counsels and the Precepts would be that of particular to general. The particular will precede the general, not necessarily in order of time, but in order of nature. Therefore it is not essential to be exercised in obedience to the Precepts before passing to the observance of the Counsels. But another relation may be observed between the Counsels and the Precepts, which can be observed without the counsels. In this relation the counsels may be compared to the precepts as a perfect to an imperfect species, e.g. as a rational to an irrational animal. In this relation, the Counsels precede the precepts in the order of nature, for in every genus the perfect is naturally first. As Boethius says, “nature begins from the perfect.” It does not matter that in this relation the precepts precede the counsels in point of time, for a thing of an imperfect species may, in point of time, be prior to the thing of a perfect species to which it passes. What is essential is that an imperfect thing should pass to a perfect one of its own species.

The last argument, viz. that there can be no salvation without the Counsels if the Counsels precede the Precepts, is manifestly based on a misunderstanding of what I have been saying. For we do not affirm that the Counsels are so related to the Precepts that the latter cannot be kept without the former. What we assert is that by means of the Counsels the Precepts can be more perfectly obeyed.


Arguments Used to Prove That Before Entering Religious Life A Man Ought to Deliberate for A Long Time, and Take Counsel of Many

WE will proceed to consider whether it is necessary for one who desires to become a religious to take the advice of many counsellors. It is urged that advice should be sought from many persons before taking a difficult step affecting one’s whole life; and, as nothing can be conceived more difficult than to renounce oneself, leave the world, and spend one’s whole life in religion, it must be necessary to take much advice and to spend a long time in reflection. This argument is based on the definition of a vow. A vow is said to be the promise of a better good, made with grave deliberation. The stringency of the vow depends upon the deliberation. No vow is so binding as the religious vows, which nothing can annul. Therefore, the religious vows require the gravest deliberation.

Those who hold this opinion seek to confirm it by these words, “Do not believe every spirit, but try the spirits to see whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1). This text applies to entrance into religion. St. Benedict, in his Rule, and Pope Innocent, in his Decretal, quote it in this sense. But the “ trying,” of which St. John speaks, requires careful examination, and this examination (they conclude) is best made in consultation with many. Therefore, he who desires to enter religion should take counsel of many.

Those who think thus, further add that counsel is most needed before taking a step wherein there is the greatest danger of being deceived. There is great danger of deception on entering religious life, since “Satan transforms himself into an angel of light” (2 Cor. ix. 14) and, under an appearance of good, misleads the unwary. Therefore it is only after grave deliberation that a man should enter on the religious life. Again, it is alleged that peculiarly diligent examination is required before undertaking anything that may come to a bad end. Now as we see in the case of apostates and despairing souls, entrance into religious life has often ended badly. Consequently, this step requires grave consideration. A last argument remains, and it is considered a very weighty one. In the Acts of the Apostles (v. 39) the following words occur: “If this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought,” Now the counsel of entering religion has often come to nought by apostasy. Therefore, it was not from God. Hence much deliberation with many people is necessary before taking such a step.

These are the chief arguments, adduced by those who impress upon candidates for religious life the necessity for grave deliberation with many counsellors, in the hope that some obstacle may be placed in their way by one or other of their numerous advisers.


Answers to the Foregoing Arguments

IN order to demonstrate the fallacy of the foregoing arguments, we will first consider the case of St. Peter and St. Andrew, who, as soon as our Lord called them, “leaving their nets, followed him” (Matt. 4). St. Chrysostom pronounces the following eulogium of them: “They were in the midst of their business; but, at His bidding, they made no delay, they did not return home saying: ‘let us consult our friends, but, leaving all things, they followed, Him, as Elisha followed Elijah. A similar unhesitating and instant obedience does Christ require of us.” Then, we have the example of St. James and St. John who, being called by God, immediately left their nets and their father and followed Him. St. Hilary, in his Commentary on St. Matthew’s Gospel, says: “ we are taught by their example in abandoning their trade and their father’s house, to follow Jesus and to be withheld neither by worldly anxieties nor by the ties of domestic life.”

Again, we read of St. Matthew (Mt 9) that, at the call of the Lord he “arose and followed Him.” St. Chrysostom comments: “See the obedience of this man thus called. He neither refuses to obey, nor begs that he may go home to acquaint his kinsfolk of his departure.” And Remigius also observes of St. Matthew that he made no account of the dangers which he might incur from the anger of the magistrates, when he left their business unfinished. Thus, it becomes plain that nothing human ought to deter us from the service of God. We read in the Gospel of St. Matthew (8:21), and again in that of Luke (9:59) that “one of His disciples said to Him: ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him: ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.’” St. Chrysostom, writing on these words, says: “Christ spoke thus, not as contemning the love which we owe to our parents, but to show us that nothing ought to seem more necessary to us than the affairs of the Kingdom of Heaven. He would teach us that with our whole heart, we ought to attach ourselves to them, letting nothing, however important or attractive, to be an obstacle in our way. What would seem more necessary than to bury one’s father? What more easy? It would not have taken much time. But the devil is always on the alert to find some unguarded door, and if he perceive a slight negligence, he will cause it to become great cowardice. Therefore the wise man says: Defer not, from day to day. By these words he warns us not to waste a moment of time and, although numberless affairs may be pressing upon us, to prefer spiritual interests to all other things, even to such as are necessary.” St. Augustine says in De verbis Domini: “Your father is to be honoured, yes, but God must be obeyed. Christ says, ‘I call you to preach the Gospel. You are necessary to me for my task. My work is greater than is that which you desire to perform. There are others who can bury the dead. The first thing must not give place to the last. Love your parents, but prefer God to them.’” If then our Lord refused to grant His disciple a short time in which to perform so necessary a duty, how great is the presumption of those who teach that lengthy deliberation is necessary before embracing the Counsels?

Luke (9:61) tells us that “ another said: I will follow you, Lord, but let me first take my leave of those who are at my house.” St. Cyril, the great Greek doctor, comments: “This man’s promise is admirable and worthy of imitation. But by his desire of going to take leave of those who were in his house, he showed that he was somewhat wavering in his attachment to the Lord, although in his mind he had determined to follow him. The fact of his wishing to take counsel of his kinsfolk, who would not approve of his intention, shows that he was somewhat unstable; and therefore Christ rebuked him saying: ‘No man putting his hand to the plough and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God.’ He had put his hand to the plough by his eagerness to follow our Lord, but he looked back, seeking an occasion of delay by visiting his home and conversing with his kinsmen. Not thus did the holy Apostles act, who at once left their boats and their father, and followed Christ. Neither did St. Paul condescend to flesh and blood. Such ought to be the conduct of those who desire to follow our Lord.”

St. Augustine, in De verbis Domini, has this passage: “The Orient calls you; will you wait for the West?” Now by the Orient is meant Christ, as we know from the words in Zach. 6:12: “Behold a man, the Orient is his name.” By the West is signified man declining to the grave and liable to fall into the darkness of sin and ignorance. He, therefore, does an injury to Christ, in whom are contained all the treasures and the wisdom of God” (Col 2:3), who, having heard His call, thinks it necessary to take counsel with mortal man. Our opponents try to evade this argument by an equivocation. They say that the passages quoted by us only refer to the audible call of the Lord, and, of course, in that case no delay must be made nor human counsel asked. But if a man is interiorly called to enter religion, he needs long deliberation and many advisers, in order to find out whether his vocation is from God. This is begging the question; for we are to take the words of Christ, written in Scripture, as coming from His own mouth. For He Himself says: “What I say to you, I say unto all, Watch” (Mark 13:37). And in the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans 15:4, we find “For whatever was written, was written for our instruction.” As St. Chrysostom says: “If these things had only been said for them, they would not have been written, but they were said for them, and written for us.” And St. Paul brings forward the authority of the Old Testament in his Epistle to the Hebrews (xii. 5), “And you have forgotten the consolation which speaks to you as children: My son, do not neglect the discipline of the Lord.” From which it is clear that the words of Holy Scripture were spoken not only to those who heard them, but to future generations.

We, will especially examine whether the counsel given by Christ to the young man (Matt. 19:21): “If you would be perfect, go, sell all that you have, and give to the poor” was addressed to that youth only, or to all men. We can best consider this passage by referring to its context, where Peter says: “See, we have left all things and have followed You.” And our Lord promises the reward to all men saying, “Everyone who has left house or brethren etc. for my name’s sake... shall receive a hundredfold and shall possess life everlasting.” Thus we see that this counsel is no less to be followed by all men than if it had been given to each individually. Hence St. Jerome, writing to the presbyter Paulinus, says: “You have heard our Saviour’s words: ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and come, follow me.’ Put these words then into practice. Strip yourself of all, and thus, following the Cross of poverty, you will more speedily and more easily ascend Jacob’s ladder.” And, although our Lord addressed the counsel of poverty individually to the rich young man, He nevertheless gave the same advice to all mankind (Mt 16:24): “If anyone will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” St. Chrysostom, commenting on this text, says, “He addresses this teaching to the whole world, saying, ‘If anyone’—be it man or woman, king, free man, or serf.” Now self-denial, according to St. Basil, means complete forgetfulness of past things and the abnegation of our own will. In it, therefore, is included the disposal of the property which we possess of our own will. Therefore the counsel given to the young man is to be understood as given to all.

But another point remains to be considered. We have already said that the words of our Lord quoted in Holy Scripture, carry the same weight as if spoken by His own lips. But there is another way whereby God speaks interiorly to men, viz. the way alluded to in Ps. 84:9: “I will hear what the Lord God will speak in me.” Now this interior voice is to be preferred to any external speech. St. Gregory says (Homil. Pentecostes), “The Creator does not speak to the understanding of a man, unless He speak to that same man by the unction of the Holy Spirit. Before Cain slew his brother he heard a voice saying, “You have sinned; stop.” But as, on account of his sin, he was admonished by a voice alone, and not by the unction of the Spirit, he was indeed able to hear the word of God, but refused to obey it.” If then we are bound to obey immediately the audible voice of our Creator, how much more ought we not, unhesitatingly and unresistingly, to obey the interior whisper, whereby the Holy Spirit changes the heart of man. Hence, in Is 50:5, it is said by the mouth of the Prophet, or rather of Christ Himself: “The Lord God has opened my ear (i.e. by interior inspiration), and I do not resist. I have not gone back.” “Forgetting the things that are behind, and stretching forth myself to those that are before,” as we read in the Epistle to the Philippians (3:13). St. Paul, again, says (Rom 8:14), “Whoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” The Gloss of St. Augustine has the following comment: “Such men do not perform anything, but act under the impulse of grace.” But he who resists or hesitates, does not act by the impulse of the Holy Spirit.

It is then the distinguishing mark of the Sons of to be carried forward by grace to better things, without waiting for counsel. This impulse of grace is alluded to in the Prophet Isaiah (59:59), “When he comes as a violent stream, which the spirit of the Lord drives on.” St. Paul teaches us that this impulse of grace is to be obeyed: “Walk in the Spirit” (Gal 5:16), and again (5:25), “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” St. Stephen thus reproached certain men, “You always resist the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51). St. Paul says (1 Thes 5:19), “Do not extinguish the Spirit.” On which words, the Gloss comments: “If the Holy Spirit should at any time reveal something to a certain man, do not forbid him to make known what he has heard.” Now, the Holy Spirit gives His revelations not only by teaching man what he ought to speak, but by suggesting to him what he ought to do (John 14). When, therefore, a man is inspired by this Holy Spirit to enter religious life, it is his duty to follow the inspiration at once, without waiting to take counsel of human advisers. This is shown us by the words of the Prophet Ezekiel (1:20), “Wherever the spirit went, they went, and the wheels rose along with them.”

We have further authority for our teaching, not merely in passages of Scripture, but in the examples of the Saints. St. Augustine, in the Eighth Book of his Confessions, tells us of two soldiers, one of whom, having read the life of St. Anthony, was so filled with Divine love, that he said to his, comrade: “I have determined to serve God, I begin at this hour and in this spot. If it is irksome for you to imitate me, at least do not withstand me.” But his comrade answered that he would stand by him in a combat which would bring so great reward.” Thus (O Lord) did both these servants of yours build up a tower at a befitting cost, by leaving all things and following you.” In the same book, St. Augustine reproaches himself with having delayed his conversion: “When I was convinced of the truth, I could not reply except in slow and drowsy words: ‘I am coming now; let me be a while longer.’ But my promised time had no limit, and my ‘little while’ was long protracted.” Again in the same book he says, “I was filled with shame for listening to the babble of worldly and carnal concerns, and hung wavering.” Thus, we see that, far from being praiseworthy, it is most reprehensible to hesitate or take counsel, as if we were in doubt, when we have heard an interior or exterior call, be it some word or some passage in Scripture.

Interior inspiration has efficacy to enable those to whom it is given to accomplish great deeds. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that when the disciples were gathered together, the Holy Spirit came upon them and made them speak of the wonders of God. The Gloss says on this passage: “The grace of the Holy Spirit of God knows no obstacles.” Again, the Book of Sirach (11:23) has these words: “It is easy in the eyes of God suddenly to make a poor man rich.” St. Augustine speaks of the efficacy of internal inspiration in his book De praedestinatione Sanctorum. He quotes the words recorded in St. John (6), “Everyone who has heard of the Father and has learned, comes to Me.” On these words he says, “This school where the Father is heard and teaches, in order that men may come to the Son, is far removed from the senses; for in it we hear not with ears of flesh, but with the hearing of the heart.” Again he says: “The grace which, by the Divine munificence, is secretly bestowed is not rejected by any hard heart; for it is given in order that hardness may be entirely taken away.” St. Gregory, in his Homilia Pentecostes, treats of the efficacy of interior inspiration: “Oh, how cunning a workman is this Spirit. He makes no delay in teaching what He wishes. As soon as He touches the heart, He teaches it. His touch is teaching. He changes the human mind as soon as He enlightens it; and the man taught by Him at once forsakes what he was, in order to show what he was not.” He who hesitates to obey the impulse of the Holy Spirit for the sake of taking counsel either knows not this impulse, or else resists it.

Philosophers, no less than sacred writers, condemn the error of acting thus. Aristotle, in a chapter of the Eudemian Ethics on good fortune, says, “If we seek to know what is the principle of movement in the soul corresponding to God in the universe, we shall see that reason cannot be the principle of reason; that principle must be something better. But what, save God, can be better than knowledge and understanding?” He continues, in another place: “Those who are moved by God do not need to be counselled; for they have a principle surpassing counsel and understanding.” Shame then on him who, calling himself a Catholic, would send men inspired by God, to take advice of human counsellors, of whom even a heathen philosopher tells us they have no need.

But, let us further examine for what cause, those called by God to religious life can require counsel. First, it is sacrilegious to doubt whether the life counselled by Christ is the most perfect. Again, none but a soul enslaved by human love would hesitate as to whether it is right to abandon the intention of entering religious life for fear of grieving friends or incurring temporal loss. St. Jerome writes in his epistle to Heliodorus: “Even should your infant son hang round your neck, or your mother, with unkempt hair and dishevelled dress, show you the breasts that suckled you, or your father cast himself along your threshold, pass on. Shed no tear; tread your father underfoot and hasten to the standard of the Cross. In this case, cruelty is the only piety.” Elsewhere he adds, “My enemy, with drawn sword, is about to slay me, and shall I think of my mother’s tears? Shall I forsake the combat for love of my father, when I ought not to leave Christ even to bury my parents? In several places he writes in the same strain.

But perhaps some may think it necessary to take counsel, lest they should not be able to fulfil what is implied in entering religious life. The same doubt occurred to St. Augustine, as he tells us in the Eighth Book of his Confessions. He feared to undertake to observe the counsel of continence; and, speaking of himself, he uses these words: “On the side to which I turned my face, and where I feared to go, I saw the chaste dignity of continence. She was serene and cheerful, without wantonness. She beckoned me to approach her fearlessly, holding out to embrace me and uphold me, her gentle hands full of numberless good examples. With her were many youths and maidens, staid widows and venerable virgins.” He adds later on: “And she smiled at me, mocking, as if to say, ‘What these have done, can you not likewise do? Have these acted by their own might, and not by the power of their God? The Lord their God has given me to them. Why then do you stand on your own, without a foothold? Cast yourself on Him. Fear not. He will not draw away to let you fall. Cast yourself on Him with confidence. He will receive you and heal you.”

There are, nevertheless, two points on which those may take counsel who have the intention of entering religious life. Of these, one is the mode of becoming a religious; and the other is the existence of any obstacle to religious life, such as matrimony or the state of slavery. But advice should not be sought from kinsfolk. The book of Proverbs (25:9) says indeed, “Treat your cause with your friend, and discover not the secret to a stranger.” But, in the matter of entering religion, relations are not friends, but rather enemies. “A man’s enemies are those of his own household,” says Micah (7:6), and our Lord quotes his words (Mt 10:36). Therefore, with regard to this matter, the advice of our kinsmen is to be particularly avoided.

St. Jerome, in his epistle to Heliodorus, thus enumerates the obstacles which family ties may raise to entrance into religious life. “Your widowed sister will encircle you with her arms. The domestic slaves, among whom you grew up, will cry to you, ‘To whose service do you leave us?’ The aged nurse and the foster-father, who in fondness has been a second father to you, after your own, will call out: ‘Stay a little; we shall soon be dead; wait and bury us.’” St. Gregory likewise says (III Moral.): “Our crafty enemy, seeing himself banished from the hearts of good men, seeks out those by whom they are loved. He speaks by means of their caressing words, knowing that they are more loved than others. He hopes that as the violence of love overcomes their heart, he may easily destroy the fortifications of their virtue by means of the sword of persuasion.” For this reason it was that the Blessed Benedict, as St. Gregory tells us (II Dialog.), secretly fled from his nurse, and sought retirement in a desert place, but opened his mind to the monk Romanus, who kept his secret, and gave him assistance. Carnal men, to whom the wisdom of God is folly, are therefore not to be consulted. The following advice is given us in the Book of Sirach (37:12), “Do not consult a man without religion concerning holiness, nor with an unjust man concerning justice.” The same inspired writer adds: “Give no heed to these in any matter of counsel. But be continually with a holy man,” from whom. counsel may be sought if any should be needed.


Answer to the Objections Raised Against the Foregoing Arguments

IT is easy to answer the objections which may be raised against our arguments. It is true, in the first place that advice should be sought in difficult and serious undertakings, when the way is not clear. When, however, the right path has been shown us by some higher counsellor, it is unwise to open the question again and to seek further advice.

The second argument adduced, that a vow is confirmed by the deliberation of the mind, is irrelevant to the matter in hand. For the deliberation spoken of consists in that choice, whereby a man elects the greater good to which he intends to devote himself. Now all that is done from choice, is done by deliberation or counsel; for choice is the desire for a thing commended to us, as Aristotle says (III Ethic.). The same Holy Spirit who is the spirit of strength and piety, and who moves men to a determination of embracing the religious life, is likewise the spirit of counsel and of knowledge, and directs their interior deliberation.

The third objection brought against us is equally irrelevant. “Try the spirits whether they be of God,” (1 John 4:1) we are told. But probation is only necessary where certainty does not exist. The Gloss comments on the words of St. John, which we have quoted: “Things that are certain need no discussion.” Nevertheless, those whose duty it is to admit others into religious life may be uncertain of the motive which may lead a candidate to present himself. For he may be inspired by desire for spiritual perfection; or he may be influenced by curiosity, or by a wish to do some harm. Again, uncertainty may exist as to the fitness of postulants for religious life. Therefore, the Church ordains, and religious rules require, that candidates should pass through a period of probation. But the postulants themselves cannot be in doubt as to the motive which leads them to seek the religious habit. Therefore, they do not need deliberation, especially if they are not doubtful about their health, which the year of probation is intended to put to a test.

The statement that “Satan transforms himself into an angel of light” and inspires good desires with the intention of deceiving us, is very true. But, as the Gloss says, when the devil deceives the bodily senses, he does not withdraw the mind from a praiseworthy and holy intention; for whoever leads a faithful life is in no danger. Even should Satan, pretending to be good, do or say things befitting the holy angels, and should he delude a man into believing him, the error would not be dangerous or harmful. But, when, by means of his pretence of good, he begins to draw men away to his own work, they need the greatest watchfulness, lest they should be led astray by him. Granted, then that the devil instigates someone to enter religious life, this undertaking is a good one, worthy of the holy angels, and a man who consents to it will run no risk. But he must be on his guard to resist temptations to pride or other vices. God makes use of the malice of the devil for the profit of the just, for whom, if they overcome, He prepares crowns; and thus the evil spirits are duped by the saints. But it must be understood that a suggestion to enter religious life proceeding either from man or from Satan has no efficacy, unless it be accompanied by the interior attraction of God. St. Augustine in his book De praedestinatione Sanctorum says “that all the saints are taught by God, not because all come to Christ, but because no one comes to him by any other means. Thus the desire to enter religion, from whomever such a suggestion may proceed, comes from God.”

The fifth argument, namely that advice is needed before going into religion, because the undertaking may end badly, needs some discrimination. The bad end of any undertaking may be the fault either of the enterprise itself, or of him who makes the attempt. If the undertaking itself is dangerous and frequently productive of ill effects, great deliberation would be needed before attempting it; or it might be better to abandon it entirely. But if danger from the enterprise accrue but to very few, much deliberation would not be required about the step itself. Great care and vigilance, however, would be necessary on the part of him who undertakes it, lest he should by any chance fall into danger. Otherwise he would make his enterprise a pretext for neglecting all human efforts. This is enforced by the words of Sirach (11:4). “He who observes the wind shall not sow; and he who considers the clouds shall never reap,” and those other words of Proverbs (26:13), “The slothful man says, ‘There is a lion in the way and a lioness on the roads.’” On this text the Gloss observes: “There are many who, when hey hear words of exhortation, say that they would never want to enter the way of justice, but are held back by Satan from making progress.”

It sometimes happens, however, that an undertaking, certainly good in itself, may come to an unfortunate termination. This failure is due to instability of purpose on the part of the person engaged in the affair. But the fact that some men who have become religious have changed for the worse, and have apostatised is no reason for delaying to enter religious life, on the plea of requiring longer deliberation. The same pretext might be used as an excuse for not embracing the Faith or approaching the Sacraments, for as we are told by St. Peter (2 Pet 2: 21), “It would have been better for them not to have known the way of justice, than after they had known it to turn back.” St. Paul also says (Heb. 10:29), “He deserves worse punishments who has esteemed the blood of the Testament unclean, and has offered an affront to the spirit of grace.” Neither would he return to works of justice, since we find it written (Sirach 26:27[19]), “He who passes over from justice to sin, God has prepared him for the sword.”

The sixth argument used against our proposition is one that must be carefully examined, both on account of the frequency with which it is adduced, and on account of the heresy which lurks under its cover. We are told that “a work that is of God cannot come to nought.” Two heresies have sprung up in our time through misunderstanding these words. The first error is that since the body becomes corrupted, it cannot be the work of God. The second is that any grace or charity received from God cannot be lost. We might as well say that because Satan sinned, he was not created by God; or that because Judas fell away from the Apostolic College, his calling was not from God; or that because Simon Magus lapsed into heresy after Baptism, it was not the will of God that Philip should have baptised him.

We may add one other argument, as weighty as the preceding, which is commonly used by our adversaries: If a man, they say, goes into religion and leaves his monastery, his vocation was not from God, nor did the advice given him by his counsellors proceed from Heaven. In refutation of this opinion, we may quote the words wherewith St. Augustine (I Contra Julianum) replies to those who held that no root of evil can exist in that which is the gift of God. St. Augustine argues: “ Manicheus will conquer, unless both he and you be resisted. Therefore, the truth of the Catholic Faith overcomes Manicheus, because it overcomes you.” In order, then that our opponents may be worsted, together with the Manicheans, let us say that the counsel of God is never brought to nought. To quote the words of Isaiah (46:10): “My counsel shall stand, and all my will shall be done.” Now in God’s unchangeable counsel, He sometimes, as St. Augustine says, in De Perseverantia, gives temporal justice to those to whom He does not give the gift of perseverance; just as He gives temporal existence to corruptible things, on which He does not bestow eternal life. And thus the Manicheans are answered. For corruptible things are created by the immutable counsel of God, in order that they may enjoy temporal existence. Our opponents are likewise silenced, since, in the eternal wisdom of God, He gives the resolution of entering the religious life to those on whom He does not bestow the grace of perseverance.


Arguments Used by Those Who Maintain That Men Should Not Bind Themselves by Vow to Embrace the Religious Life

WE must next examine the views held by those who endeavour to prevent men from binding themselves by vow to become religious. Some there are who seek to detract from the merit of any vows, contending that it is better to perform good works without being bound by any obligation. They support their opinion by the following words of Prosper (II De vita contemplativa): “We ought to fast and abstain, not as being bound thereto by necessity, lest, if we do these works unwillingly, we should be acting not through devotion, but from constraint.” Now he who makes a vow to fast, subjects himself to the necessity of fasting; and this is the case with all other good works. Therefore, it would not seem expedient to make a vow to fast, or to enter religion, or to perform any other pious action. Those who hold this view maintain, likewise that a good work loses in merit in proportion to the necessity for its performance. Now as a man who has vowed to enter religion, or to perform any other virtuous action, is bound to fulfil what he has promised to God, it is better and more praiseworthy if he executes such a good work without the obligation of a vow, rather than do it because he had taken a vow. Those who argue thus, endeavour likewise, in an especial manner, to prove that people should not be persuaded to enter religion on account of the obligation laid upon them by any vow or oath.

They support their opinion by the statute of the Council of Toledo, where (Dist. XLV, cap. De Judaeis) we find hese words: “Not unwilling, but willing souls, will be saved. For justice must be preserved intact. Man, of his own choice, obeyed the will of the serpent and perished. Therefore, each man must be saved by the response of his own soul in believing, when the grace of God calls him to do so. Therefore men are to be converted, not by force, but by their own free will and choice. Now these words apply far more forcibly to entrance into religious life, which is less necessary to salvation than is faith in the Christian religion. But those who enter religion on account of a vow or an oath do so not freely, but under constraint. Therefore such an obligation is not to be commended. The decree of Pope Urban (XIX, quaest. II, cap. Duae sunt) is considered au argument in support of this opinion. The Pope says that they who enter religious life are led by a private law, which is the law of the Holy Spirit. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). Now necessity, which constrains men by the obligation of a vow or oath, is opposed to liberty. Therefore, it is not seemly that men should be obliged to embrace religious life, on account of any oath or vow.

Another argument is drawn from the fall of those, who, having entered religion under the constraint of some obligation, have not persevered therein, but have returned to the world and abandoned themselves, in despair, to vice of every kind. In them is fulfilled what our Lord said to the Pharisees (Mt 23:15): “You go round about the sea and the land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, you make him the child of hell twofold more than yourselves.”

It is further maintained that some men who were under vow to go into religion, have not fulfilled their obligation, and have nevertheless become good bishops er archdeacons. Had they kept their vow, these good results would not have been obtained. It is also urged that men must not be persuaded to embrace the religious state for the sake of any temporal advantages, such as gifts. The decree of Pope Boniface (I, quest. II, cap. Quam pio) is quoted in confirmation of this proposition, for the Pope says: “Nowhere do we read that the disciples of the Lord or their followers were converted to the worship of God by gifts.”

It is further alleged that it leads men into unfaithfulness to be bound, while still inexperienced, to the laborious obligations of religious life, such as the long morning office, trying vigils, fasts and disciplines. They are led like cattle to the slaughterhouse; and, as they do not fulfil what they have vowed to perform, these religious exercises are for them snares which entangle them in eternal death. Such obligations, it is urged, are unlawful, as being contrary to the statute of Innocent IV, which provides a year of probation for candidates to religious life, and forbids anyone to be bound before the age of fourteen years. This decree is in harmony with the rule of St. Benedict, which also, appoints a year of probation for those who enter the order. It is declared, furthermore, to be peculiarly unlawful for youths under the age of puberty to be bound to go into religion, for how can a youth accept obligations which may lawfully be made void by another? If any youths of tender years have bound themselves to become religious, they may be withheld from so doing by their parents or guardians. This is laid down in XX quaest. 2, where it is declared that “if a maiden, under the age of twelve years has taken the veil, her engagements may be annulled at the will of her parents or guardians.” Thus it is unlawful to bind, either by oath or vow, children under the age of puberty to the religious life.

It is further laid down that none, under this age, can be bound to religious life, even though he or she should be capable of fraud. St. Bernard, in the preparation of regulars and of those who embrace the religious state, comments on the decree Postulasti of Pope Innocent III: “If you desire to know what to expect of them when they are under the age of thirteen or fourteen years, you may be in doubt, for they are capable of craft, and may make up in cunning what they lack in age.” This has been proved in marriage, as we see in Extra de Despon. impub. cap. A nobis, and cap. Tuae, and, as they have been able to bind themselves to the devil, they may also be able to bind themselves to God. But the Pope replies that children under fourteen may, after they have been received, serve in the Church, but they may not be bound under obligations. He who is capable of fraud, the Pope continues in his reply to Hugh, is bound to good, and if he has become a monk he is under the obligations of the monastic life, since he was able to bind himself to the devil. Innocent III was of the same opinion, for in this same decretal he replies that entrance into religious life is a solemn engagement, “if age is supplied by malice.” This is also laid down in the old decretal, but it is of small import in our days.

These who argue against the propriety of persons being under an obligation to go into religion, quote the Summae of Raymund and Goffin. They also maintain (XXII, Quaest. V, cap. Pueri and cap. Honestum) that children under fourteen years of age oughtnot to be bound by oath; neither, by the same reasoning, can they be bound by vow to enter religious life. They say further that, as the word religion signifies either re-binding or re-electing, according to St. Augustine (X De Civit. Dei), therefore children, who are not bound and have made no choice, cannot be re-bound, nor can they repeat their choice. From an these arguments they conclude that children who embrace, or are constrained to embrace religious life, are much to be pitied for their folly.


Refutation of the Error Contained in the Last Chapter, Together with An Exposition of the Truth That Good Works, Done Under Vow, Are More Meritorious Than Those Performed Without Any Such Obligation

IN order that the truth may be made manifest with regard to each of the premises contained in the last chapter, we will investigate them one by one, beginning with those that concern common things, and proceeding to those who are more spiritual. We will first, examine whether it be true that good works, done under vow, are less meritorious than those performed without such obligation. And, although a great deal has been said on this subject in our little book on Perfection, we will nevertheless not hesitate to go over the ground again.

We must first remember that although the praiseworthiness of an action depends radically on the will, the work itself becomes outwardly more praiseworthy in proportion to the excellence of the will. Now one condition of a good will is that it be firm and stable. Proverbs (13: 4) reproaches the slothful in these words: “The sluggard wills and wills not.” Therefore an exterior work becomes praiseworthy and meritorious, in proportion to the stability of the will in good. Hence St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15:58), says: “Be steadfast and immoveable.” And Aristotle teaches that for the perfection of virtue, stability and constancy in operation are necessary. Lawyers also define justice as firmness and steadfastness of will. On the other hand, we know that the heinousness of sin depends upon the obstinacy in evil shown by the sinner. In fact, this obstinacy is itself called a sin against the Holy Spirit. Now it is clear that the will to do anything is strengthened by an oath. “ I have sworn,” says the Psalmist, “and am determined to keep the judgments of your Justice” (Ps 118:106). The will is likewise confirmed by a vow, since a vow is a promise, and he who promises to do a thing strengthens his determination to do it. Therefore, as we see in our experience of human life, a virtuous action is more meritorious and more praiseworthy, if it is performed when the will is strengthened by a vow.

So inconstant is the human will that it has become customary not to believe what men say they will do for one another, unless they confirm their words by promise, and further ratify those promises by lawful safeguards. Now we owe more to ourselves, especially in the affairs of our spiritual wellbeing, than we owe to other people. This we are taught by the words of Sirach 30:24 [23], “Have pity on your own soul, pleasing God.” Now by reason of the inconstancy of his will, a man may neglect to perform something that he intended for the temporal advantage of his neighbour; he therefore provides against this possible omission by confirming his promise by some oath or pledge. How much more fittingly then may he not bind, himself by oath or vow to carry out some good resolution which he has made? Hence St. Augustine says, in his epistle to Paulina and Armentarius, “Having made a vow, you have bound yourself, and cannot act otherwise.” And he further adds: “Never regret your vow, but rather rejoice that it is now no longer lawful for you to do what, to your detriment, you were able to do before.”

It is further to be remembered that a work of lesser intrinsic worth is rendered more meritorious, if it is inspired by some motive of superior virtue. Thus, abstinence is more meritorious if it is practised from charity, and the merit is further increased if the motive be latria, which is of greater value than abstinence. Now a vow is an act of latria. It is a promise made to God, concerning those things which relate to His worship. Hence Isaiah says (19:21), “The Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day, and shall worship Him with sacrifices and offerings, and they shall make vows to the Lord, and perform them.” Thus we see that fasting will be more meritorious and more praiseworthy, if it is performed under vow. A counsel or command concerning this matter is given us in the words of Ps 75:12: “Vow, and pay to the Lord your God!” This command or exhortation would be futile, were not a good work done under vow more meritorious than one done without such an obligation.

These facts being premised, we must now consider whether it be justifiable or not for a man to bind himself to enter the religious life. If it be true that it is a virtuous action to embrace the religious state, and that virtuous actions become more meritorious if they be done in fulffiment of a vow, those men must be acting in a praiseworthy manner when, being unable to become religious at once, bind themselves by vow to do so at a future time. This argument must be patent to all. save to those who, with Vigilantius, hold that the secular state is equal in merit to the religious life, or who have the still grosser folly to outdo the heresy of Vigilantius by presuming to assert that the religious state, which enjoys the approbation of the Church, is not a state of salvation.

This audacious teaching does not only stultify the counsels of Christ, but is distinctly schismatical, as it contravenes the ordinances of the Church. But if, on the contrary, those who oblige themselves by vow to embrace the religious life, are inspired to do so by the Spirit of God and act in a praiseworthy manner, they also are to be commended who, working together with the Holy Spirit, endeavour by their exterior ministry to persuade their neighbours to do what the Spirit of God interiorly moves them to do. For, as St. Paul says (1 Cor 3:9), “We are God’s coadjutors,” that is, by our external ministry.

The foregoing remarks only apply to adults. We must now consider the question as to whether children, be they boys or girls, may lawfully bind themselves by vow to become religious. A distinction must be made between two kinds of vows: simple vows, and solemn vows. A simple vow consists in a mere promise. A solemn vow is a promise accompanied by some exterior manifestation, whereby a man actually offers himself to God. Thus the reception of Holy Order, the profession of a definite religious life made in the hands of a prelate, or the reception of the habit of professed religious, which is considered equivalent to religious profession, all solemnize a vow. Simple and solemn vows have different effects upon matrimony. A solemn vow is an obstacle to marriage, and annuls a contract of marriage already made. A simple vow does not annul a marriage, but is an impediment in the way of any contract of marriage after the vow is made.

Simple and solemn vows have, likewise different effects upon religious life. A solemn vow, made either by explicit or implicit profession, causes a man to become a monk or a brother in some religious order. A simple vow does not make a him a monk, for it leaves him with the ownership of his property, and does not annul his marriage, should he marry after taking such a vow. Now as a simple vow consists solely in a promise made to God, proceeding from the interior deliberation of the mind, such a vow possesses an efficacy of which no human law can deprive it. There are, nevertheless, two conditions under which a simple vow may be invalidated. First, if such due deliberation as would ratify a promise, have been wanting; thus a vow taken by a mad or delirious man would not be binding, as is laid down in extra de regul. et transeuntibus ad relig. Sicut tenor. Neither would any obligation attach to the vow of a child as yet incapable of fraud, or who had not attained to the use of reason, which in children is developed at such different ages that no certain rule can be laid down coacerning it.

The other condition which would invalidate a simple vow is, in the event of a person vowing something to which he has not the power to give. Thus, if a slave makes a vow to go into religion, he (supposing him to have attained the use of reason) would be certainly bound to keep his vow, if his master permitted him to do so. But if his master would not ratify the vow, the slave could, without sin, revoke it. This is laid,down in the Decreta, dist. 44, Si servus, where it is said that “if a slave have, unknown to his master, been ordained, the master is entitled within a year of the ordination to prove that the slave is his property and to take him back.” And since a boy or girl is, during childhood, in the power of the father, the father may, if he so will, acknowledge the vow made by a child as an effect of divine inspiration. We read in the Book of Numbers (30:4), “If a woman vows anything, and binds herself by an oath, being in her father’s house, and but yet a girl in age: if her father knew the vow that she has promised, and the oath wherewith she has bound her soul, and held his peace, she shall be bound by the vow: whatsoever she promised and swore, she shall fulfil in deed. But if her father, as soon as he heard it, overruled it, both her vows and her oaths shall be void; neither shall she be bound to what she promised, because her father has overruled it.” From this passage it appears that boys or girls, under the age of puberty, are bound, as far as in them lies, to keep vows that they have made, unless their reason is defective. Nevertheless, as they are under the authority of their father, he can annul their vows. This is also made clear by the context of the passage in Numbers, which we have quoted, which speaks of the right of a husband to annul a vow made by his wife.

We cannot positively determine the age at which individuals reach the use of reason; but the period at which the subjection of one person to another ceases, can be distinctly defined. This time is for a girl the age of twelve years: for a boy the age of fourteen. This age is generally reckoned the time of puberty, as we see in XX quaest. 2, cap. Puella, cap. Si in qualibet. Thus with regard to a simple vow to enter religion, a person may be bound, in so far as it depends upon himself, by such a vow even before he has arrived at the age of puberty, provided that he is capable of fraud, and has attained the use of reason, so that he understands what he is doing. But this vow may be revoked by a father or a guardian who holds the place of a father. A solemn vow, on the other hand, made either explicitly or implicitly, requires certain exterior rites ordained by the Church. The Church exacts that both for the reception of Holy Orders, and for the making of a solemn vow, the candidate must have attained the age of puberty, which for a boy is fourteen years and for a girl twelve. Therefore a profession made by anyone under this age, even though the person is capable of fraud, does not render him a monk or brother of any religious order. This is the commonly accepted teaching of the Church, though Innocent III is said to have spoken otherwise.


Refutation of the Arguments Adduced in the Last Chapter

OUR last chapter consisted in an exposition of the arguments brought forward to prove that a vow did not add to the merit of a good work. Our present task is to answer these arguments. This we can easily do.

The words of Prosper, “We ought to fast, not out of necessity,” refer to a forced fast, in contradistinction to a voluntary one. This is proved by the context, “lest we should, by not fasting voluntarily, show ourselves unwilling rather than devout.” These words do not refer to the necessity imposed by a vow, for by a vow devotion, is increased. This appears from the very etymology of the word.

The second argument, viz. that which is done out of necessity is less meritorious than that which is done freely, must be understood of the necessity imposed on a man against his own will. But when a man lays upon himself the necessity of doing good, his action is thereby rendered more praiseworthy, since he who performs it is “a servant of justice,” which St. Paul exhorts us all to become (Rom 6:18). Hence St. Augustine, in his epistle to Paulina and Armentarius, exclaims, “Blessed necessity which constrains us to better things.”

The third argument, which refers to the conversion of the Jews of their own free will, does not appear relevant to our subject. For the will may be confirmed in good without any violation of its liberty; otherwise neither God nor the blessed in Heaven would enjoy free will. But coercion, proceeding either from violence or fear, is repugnant to liberty. Therefore, the Canon De Judaeis expressly condemns it, saying, “The holy Synod henceforth forbids violence to be used towards anyone to make them believe.” But neither a vow nor an oath do violence to a man; they merely serve to confirm his will in good. Therefore, neither a vow nor an oath render a man unwilling, but rather cause him to will more strongly, and to begin, in so far as may lie in his power, to execute what he has bound himself to. No one in his senses will say that it is unlawful to persuade Jews to bind themselves by vow or oath to be baptized.

The fourth contention of our opponents is that sometimes those who have bound themselves by oath or vow to go into religion lapse, and falling into despair, abandon themselves to all manner of iniquity; and thus they become the children of hell, twofold more than they who led them to become religious. This objection is answered by St. Paul, “Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” (Rom 3:3). From which words we are to conclude that the fact that some men abuse grace is not detrimental to the perseverance of others in good. The Gloss says on this passage that the refusal of certain Jews to believe in no wise hinders others of their nation from accepting what God has promised to His faithful. In the same way, the fact that certain men, after taking a vow or an oath to embrace the religious life, change their minds and become worse than they were before, is no hindrance to others who, having taken a vow, persevere in its accomplishment. Therefore, they who persuade men to make a vow to become religious do not, so far as they are concerned, make them children of hell, but rather children of the Kingdom; since the number of those who persevere is greater than that of those who fall away.

It is nevertheless possible (though God forbid it!) that they may, as appears by the exposition of St. Jerome and St. Chrysostom, by their bad example lead those whom they influence into sin. Our argument seems to be supported by the words of St. Paul (1 Tim 5:11), “But the younger widows avoid,” an exhortation for which he gives the following reason: “Having damnation, because they have made void their first faith,” whereby, that is, they pledged themselves before God to continence. But, as St. Jerome says in his epistle De monogamia ad Agerunchiam, on account of those who have committed fornication against Christ their Spouse, the Apostle desires them to marry again, preferring a second marriage to fomication. For it is much better to be a wife for a second time, than to have commerce with a debauchee or with many adulterers. But St. Paul does not, on this account, forbid young widows to make a simple vow of continency—In fact, he rather commends such a practice, saying, “it is good for them if they so continue,” i.e. in their widowhood (1 Cor 7:8)—but he forbids widows who are living in wantonness to be assisted by the alms of the Church. “But the younger widow avoid, for when they have grown wanton in Christ they will marry” (1 Tim 5:11).

As for the sixth argument, namely that some men who have made vows to go into religion have, nevertheless, remained in the world and beeome good bishops, it is patently contrary to fact. In the decree of Innocent, which treats of vows and their accomplishmeuts, we find the following passage, “You state in your letters to us that you made a solemn vow in the church of Grenoble to assume the religious habit, and that you further promised, in the hands of the Bishop of the same church, to fulfil this vow within the period of two months on your return from the Apostolic See. Nevertheless, heedless that the time for accomplishing your promise has expired, although unfaithful to a vow, you have been called to the government of the Church of Geneva. We counsel you then that if you desire to give peace to your conscience, you should renounce the see, and shouldest pay to the Most High your vows.” Hence it is plain that a man who has vowed to go into religion cannot, with a good conscience, retain a bishopric or an archdeaconate; and should he retain it, he would not be a good bishop or archdeacon, but a traitor to his vow.

The next contention, viz. that men should not be bribed to enter religion, is answered by the very chapter quoted in support of it. For it declares that “unless someone has the intention of feeding the poor, no one of any profession whatsoever is to be refused maintenance.” Hence it appears that the practice of burses for poor scholars, and of supporting them during their studies in order that they may be more fit to enter religion, is by no means to be condemned. Neither is it unlawful to bestow some material benefit upon a man, in order that he may be encouraged, by such a favour, to do better; but it would be unlawful to enter into a compact or agreement with him. Hence in the same chapter, it is laid down that all compacts and agreements must be avoided. Were it unlawful to encourage persons to spiritual good by means of material assistance, the custom, prevalent in certain churches, of giving a largesse to those who assist at the divine office, would be unjustifiable.

The eighth argument, viz. that it leads to unfaithfulness to persuade young persons to adopt such painful practices as fasting, watching, and the like, contains a fallacy which may easily be detected. For those who are received to the religious life, or who are bound by vow to enter it, are, from the very outset, shown its hardships. It does not lead men to unfaithfulness if, in order to persuade them to embrace a life whose sufferings are manifest, we, after the example of Christ, hold out to them the prospect of spiritual consolations. “Take my yoke upon you,” said our Lord, “and learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you shall find rest for your soul” (Mt 11:29). In these words, physical labour is symbolised by the “yoke,” and spiritual consolation by the “rest” promised to those that bear it. Hence St. Augustine, in De verbis Domini, says, “They who bravely submit to the yoke of the Lord, undergo such dangers and difficulties that they appear to be called, not from labour to rest, but from rest to labour. But the Holy Spirit who is with them by the abundance of heavenly delights and the hope of future blessedness, sweetens all present bitterness and lightens all present loads.” Therefore, they who judge that men deceive themselves by undertaking hardships for Christ’s sake, merely show that they have had no experience of heavenly delights.

The ninth argument is quite irrelevant to the matter in hand. The statute of Pope Innocent, which is quoted, refers to solemn vows made at professions, not to simple vows whereby people bind themselves out of devotion to go intoreligion.

The tenth objection, viz,that parents can annul the vows of children not yet arrived at the age of puberty, carries no weight. For the fact that an engagement may be broken does not make such an engagement sinful. It would be equally reasonable to say that whatever minors, that is persons under twenty-five years of age, may do to the detriment of their own interest is unlawful, because anything that they lose can be completely restored to them. Hence children commit no sin by taking a vow to go into religion, or by assuming the religious habit without their parents’ permission, even though such vows can be annulled. Were they to commit sin by taking such vows, the fact would be noted by the Canons, which grant faculties to parents to dissolve the vows of children.

The eleventh argument, which rests upon quotations from the decretals de apparatu, and from the Summae of the jurists Raymund and Goffin, does not bear upon our point. The passages quoted refer to the solemn vow which makes a person a religious or a professed member of some order. Doctors of Canon law held different opinions about their vow, although it would seem inconsistent and ridiculous for professors of sacred learning to quote as authorities the little glosses of jurists, or to make them a basis of argument.

The twelfth objection, that which concerns oaths, is likewise irrelevant, for the Canons do not forbid children to take oaths; they only prohibit their being obliged to do so.

The fallacy contained in the thirteenth argument is easily detected. Children are bound by that profession of Christian faith which they have chosen in the Sacrament of Baptism. Therefore, they may be bound anew, and can make a further choice of the state of perfection. This, however, is not a very correct way of speaking, since in Baptism children receive the Christian religion and are bound again to God, making afresh their choice of Him from whom the sin of our first parents had separated them.

Finally, the profane conclusion whereby these objeetions end, and which accuses children of folly, is an affront to pious ears. Who would presume to blame the holy child St. Benedict because, in his desire to please God alone, he left his father’s house, and sought for holy conversation and a solitary dwelling? Who but a heretic would blaspheme against St. John the Baptist, of whom we are told (Luke 1:80) that “the child grew and was strengthened in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel”? Such presumptuous words show that they who speak them are carnal men, who reckon as folly what is of the spirit of God. St. Ambrose says, in his commentary on the Gospel of Luke, “The Holy Spirit is not limited to age, nor extinguished by death, nor shut out by the womb.” St. Gregory, in his Homilia Pentecostes, likewise says, “He fills the harp-playing youth, and makes of him a Psalmist; He fills the herdsman who was uprooting a fig tree, and makes of him a Prophet: He fills the abstemious youth, and makes of him a venerable judge: He fills the fisherman, and makes of him a preacher: He fills the persecutor, and makes of him a teacher of the nations; He fills the publican, and makes of him an Evangelist.” I will further quote the words of St. Paul (1 Cor 3:18), “If any man among you seems to be wise in this world, let him become a fool that he may become wise.” For he who is a fool in the wisdom of this world (which is folly in the sight of God) is no fool in the wisdom of God. The book of Proverbs (1:22), speaking to children, says, “O children, how long will you love childishness? Give heed to my reproof. I will utter my words [Vul: spirit] to you.”


Arguments Against the Perfection of Religious Whose Possessions Are Not in Common

WE must now examine how the adversaries of the religious life seek to withhold men from embracing it by decrying the perfection of this state, and especially the perfection of those religious whose possessions are not in common. In order to uphold their opinion they quote the following words from Prosper in his book, De vita contemplativa (XII. quaest. I), “We should possess the goods of the Church and, for the love of poverty, spurn our own possessions. The property of the Church is not private, but common. Therefore, anyone who has relinquished or sold his own belongings despises private property; but, when he is set over a Church, he becomes the administrator of all the possessions of that Church. St. Paulinus, as is well known, sold his large property and gave the effects to the poor; but, when he became Bishop, far from despising the possessions of his Church, he administered them with the utmost fidelity. This fact is sufficient evidence that we ought to relinquish our private belongings, on account of the imperfection attaching to them, but that it is quite possible (without any detriment to poverty), to possess ecclesiastical property, which is common.” Hence, our adversaries draw the conclusion that it is imperfect not to hold common property.

They maintain their opinion by quoting the example of several Saints. Thus Gregory, with his money, built one monastery within the walls of Rome and six in Sicily. St. Benedict, that perfect guide of religious, accepted large donations for his monastery; and many other men, who have been zealous for evangelical perfection, have acted like manner. These great men, who were zealous seekers after evangelical perfection, would certainly not have pursued such a course, had the possession of goods in common been in any degree inconsistent with Apostolic and Evangelical perfection. Our opponents draw from this argument the further conclusion that those who possess nothing are not, therefore, the most perfect; and they add that the Apostles, whom our Lord commanded to possess nothing and to take nothing with them on their way, did nevertheless hold certain possessions in time of necessity. Hence, commenting on the words of Luke, “But now, he who has a purse let him take it, and likewise a bag,” the Gloss says that “now, when the hour of death was at hand, and the whole nation were in pursuit of the shepherd and the flock, Christ gave a rule befitting the occasion, allowing them to take what was necessary for the support of life.”

It is also argued that Christ Himself instituted the order of His disciples, whose successors, the bishops, and clerics, have property. Religious orders, on the other hand, whose members live in poverty without possessions, were formed by men. Now what Christ has instituted must be most perfect. Therefore it is more perfect to hold goods in common than to live without property. Our opponents likewise (incredible though it may appear) contend that the perfection taught by Christ has been in abeyance from the Apostolic times until now; and that it is in our days that certain orders have begun to live without possessing anything in common. The conclusion drawn from this proposition is that the absence of common property does not pertain to Evangelical perfection.

Another argument, brought forward by the enemies of the religious life, is that those who, after the time of the Apostles, held no goods in common, lived as did the Fathers of the desert, by the work of their hands. Therefore, they say, those who neither possess common property, nor live by their manual labour do not practise Evangelical perfection. They likewise hold that the counsel of renouncing wealth was given as a means whereby to free our minds from worldly care, as we learn from Luke 12:22, “Be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat,” and from St. Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians (7:32), “But I would have you be without solicitude.” Now they who have not sufficient property to provide them with the necessities of life are more disturbed by anxiety than those who hold certain possessions in common. Therefore the absence of common property is an obstacle to Evangelical perfection. It is further maintained that religious who possess nothing are compelled to busy themselves in the affairs of those who supply their necessities, and that this solicitude about temporal matters militates against Evangelical perfection. Therefore they who possess nothing are beset by impediments in the way of perfection. Finally, the adversaries of religious poverty say that it is impossible for anyone to possess nothing in common; for all must have food and clothing, which they could not obtain if they had no property. These are the arguments brought against the perfection of those who own no common property.


Refutation of the Errors Quoted in the Last Chapter

WE must remember that the enemies of poverty impugn, not only the teaching, but the life of our Lord. Christ has taught us both by word and example to observe poverty in all things. St. Paul tells us (2 Cor 8:9), “that being rich, He became poor for our sakes.” The Gloss, commenting on these words, says that “He took poverty upon Himself, although He did not lose His riches. Interiorly He was rich, exteriorly He was poor. He concealed the treasure of His Godhead, and revealed the poverty of His Manhood.” Hence those who follow Christ in poverty acquire great dignity, as we shall presently show. “Therefore (the Gloss concludes) let no one despise Him who, though poor in His dwelling, was rich in conscience. If we consider His life, from His first entry into the world, we shall see that He chose a poor maiden for His Mother, and willed to be needy and in want, and to have for His birthplace the poorest of poor cities. The stable is a monument of His poverty, as we are reminded in a certain address delivered at one of the synods of the Council of Ephesus.” “See (we quote part of this address) the most humble dwelling of Him who enriches Heaven. A crib suffices Him who sits above the Cherubim; and He who has joined the sea to the dry land is Himself swathed in swaddling bands. Mark His poverty here below; consider the abundance of His riches above.” But if Christ, as St. Paul says, had not become poor for our sakes, not for His own, could He not have chosen a wealthy mother and might He not have been born in His own house? If the abnegation of earthly possessions is of no account in Christian perfection, why should our Lord have deprived Himself even of a home? Therefore, let the enemies of poverty blush and be silent, while the glory of this virtue radiates from the crib of Christ.

But, lest we may imagine that in his more mature years our Lord abandoned the povert y which He bore in childhood, let us consider His own words. “The Son of man,” He said, “has nowhere to lay His head (Mt 8:20). St. Jerome makes the following comment on this text: “Christ spoke thus, as if to say, ‘Why should you desire to follow me for the sake of gaining worldly pomp and riches, since my poverty is so extreme that I have no dwelling of mine own, and since the roof under which I sleep belongs not to me?” And St. Chrysostom, writing on the same subject, says, “Observe how our Lord exemplifies in His deeds the poverty which He taught by His words. He had neither table nor lantern nor house nor any such thing,” And this poverty which He preached both by word and deed belongs to perfection. Thus we see that the entire abnegation of all earthly possessions forms part of the perfection of the Christian life.

We find a further proof of the poverty practised by our Lord in the words which He spoke to St. Peter concerning the tribute money, “Go to the sea, and cast in a hook: and the fish which shall first come up, take; and when you open its mouth you shall find a coin; take it and give it to them for me and for you” (Mt 17:26). In his exposition of this text, St. Jerome says: “These words, understood simply, edify the hearer, showing as they do that the Lord was so poor that He had not nothing with which to pay tribute for Himself and His Apostle.”

But, someone may object, how then could Judas carry money in his purse? We answer that our Lord considered it criminal to use the money intended for the poor for His own purposes and that, in this, He has left us an example. But it is clear, and cannot be called in question by any Christian, that Christ practised the most sublime perfection in the tenor of His life, and therefore He taught the perfection of poverty. “If you would be perfect, go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and come, follow me.” These words, according to St. Jerome, contain the highest rule of perfection. Therefore it is the perfection of poverty for men, after the example of Christ, to be destitute of all possessions and only to reserve something for the poor, especially for those dependent upon them, Thus our Lord took care of His disciples who had made themselves poor for His sake, reserving for their sustenance something from the things which were given Him.

But among all that Christ did and suffered during His mortal life, the example of His most holy Cross is, above all other things, proposed to Christians for their imitation. He Himself says, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24). St. Paul also, speaking as though crucified with Christ, and exulting only in His Cross, says (Gal 6:17), “I bear the marks of the Lord Jesus in my body,” being a diligent follower of the example of the Cross. Now among all that is conspicuous in the Cross, poverty is everywhere apparent. So utter, indeed, was the destitution of our Lord upon the Cross that He suffered even bodily nakedness and exclaims in the person of the Psalmist (21:19), “ They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture they cast lots.” Now men imitate this nakedness of the Cross by voluntary poverty, especially when they renounce the revenues of their possessions. Thus St. Jerome, writing to the priest Paulinus, says, “Now that you have heard the counsel of our Saviour: ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell all that you have and give to the poor and come, follow Me,’ put His words into practice and, stripped of all things, follow the nakedness of the Cross. So shall you more easily and more speedily scale Jacob’s ladder.” A little further on, he adds, “It is no great thing for a man to wear a sad and pallid countenance, to make a display of fasting, and to wear a beggarly cloak if, at the same time, he draws a princely income from his property.” Hence we see how truly those are enemies of the Cross of Christ who impugn poverty and, savouring earthly things, deem that material possessions tend to Christian perfection, and that the abnegation of such possessions detracts from such perfection.

Now that we have considered certain points in the life of Christ, in His birth, in His manhood, and in His death upon the Cross, let us proceed to reflect upon His teaching. In the instruction which He gave both to His disciples and to the multitudes, He began with poverty as a foundation, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Mt 5:3). St Jerome explains these words as follows: “By the poor in spirit are to be understood they who, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, have the will to be poor.” As St. Ambrose says, on the Gospel of Luke, “Both Evangelists mention the beatitude of poverty in the first place. And indeed poverty is the first in order of virtues, and the mother and producer of all others. For he who spurns earthly riches shall merit such as are eternal, neither can he deserve to receive the reward of the Kingdom of Heaven, who is possessed by the spirit of covetousness.”

St. Basil further shows us in these words what is specially meant by poverty of spirit: “Blessed is he who is poor as a true disciple of Christ, who bore poverty for us. For the Lord Himself accomplished every work that leads to perfection, giving Himself as an example to those who will learn of Him,” Now we never read that Christ owned any possessions. Therefore poverty is no hindrance to the perfection of those who desire to renounce what they possess, for the love of Christ; on the contrary such povtrty greatly increases their perfection. Hence, when our Lord was sending forth His twelve chosen Apostles to preach, and when He had given them the power to perform miracles, He impressed upon them, as their first rule of life, the exercise of poverty, saying, “Do not possess gold nor silver, nor money in your purses, nor bag for your journey” (Mt 10:9). Thus, as Eusebius of Caesaraea says, “He forbade them the present use of gold, silver or brass, and also solicitude for their future needs. For he know that they who were to be healed by the Apostles and delivered by them from the violence of their passions would share their goods with them.” Eusebius further adds that “our Lord judged it fitting that they who were attracted by heavenly riches should despise earthly junk and should possess neither gold, nor silver nor any other property valued by men, but should esteem the heavenly treasures they were endowed with, as worth more then all such things. Therefore He made them soldiers of the Kingdom of Heaven, and told them to cherish poverty.”

“No soldier of God who desires to please Him entangles himself in the affairs of this life.” St. Jerome, commenting on the Gospel of St. Matthew, says, “He who, in the foregoing words, had forbidden the Apostles to possess riches, now almost prohibits them from providing themselves with the necessities of life, in order that they, the teachers of true religion, who were trained to believe that all things were ordered by the Providence of God, should show that they themselves took no thought for the morrow.” Again, St. Chrysostom, writing on the Gospel of St. Matthew, observes, “Our Lord, by this precept, first frees his disciples from bondage to riches; secondly, He delivers them from all solicitude, in order that they may give their entire attention to the word of God; thirdly, He teaches them His virtue. Thus then the precepts of the Gospel point out to us what manner of man he ought to be who preaches the Kingdom of God. He ought to be one who seeks not the support of material assistance, but, relying entirely on his Faith, reflects that the less he strives after these material things, the more God can supply him with them.” St. Ambrose speaks, in his commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke, has this to say: “It is evident that if the Apostles had accepted property, they would have been not less, but far more open to suspicion than if they had owned gold and silver; for it would have been thought that they preached for the sake of what they could gain. They would likewise have been far more occupied with anxiety about the cultivation of their fields. For land or vineyards are a far greater source of material profit than are moveable chattels.”

It is evident then from these expositions that the Apostles were forbidden to possess lands, vineyards or any other fixed property. But who, save a heretic, would say that the first instruction of the disciples, given them by Christ Himself, was contrary to the principles of evangelical perfection? They therefore who say that it is less perfect for religious orders to be destitute of common property are falsifying the doctrineof the Faith.

But we must finally consider in what manner these precepts of our Lord were observed by the Apostles. For, as St. Augustine says in his book Contra mendacium: “Holy Scripture contains not only the divine precepts, but also the life and conduct of the just; in order that if, by any chance, we may be uncertain how some commandment is to be understood, we may be enlightened by studying the example of holy men.” Now we know that before the Passion the Apostles possessed nothing and carried no provision ou their journeys. Luke (22: 35) reports that our Lord said to them, “When I sent you without purse, or bag or shoes, did you want anything? They said, ‘nothing’.” Immediately afterwards, however, “Then said He unto them, ‘But now he who has a purse, let him take it, and likewise a bag.” It might appear as if Christ, in these words, entirely rescinded His former precept; but the dispensation was only a temporary one, granted on account of impending persecution. Venerable Bede says, “He does not govern His disciples by the same rule in the time of persecution and in the time of peace. When He sent them to preach, He forbad them to take anything with them on the way; for it was His ordinance that those who preach the Gospel should live by the Gospel. When, however, the danger of death was imminent, and the whole nation was persecuting the Shepherd and the flock, He gave His disciples a rule befitting the time, allowing them to provide themselves with the necessities of life, until such time as the fury of their persecutors should be appeased, and a convenient season for preaching the Gospel should return. Hereby He also teaches us that for certain just causes, we may, without sin, somewhat relax the severity of our customary exercises.” We also see that absolute renunciation of earthly possessions forms part of the rigour of evangelical discipline.

If we enquire as to the manner in which, after the Passion, the Apostles observed this precept, and how they taught their successors to keep it, we shall find information in the fourth Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, where we read, “And the multitude of belibvers had but one heart and one soul: neither did any one say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but all things were common to them.” It cannot be held that they possessed common property, such as lands or vineyards or anything of the kind, for in the same chapter of the Acts we read, “For as many as were owners of lands or houses, sold them, and brought he price of the things they sold, and laid it down at the feet of the Apostles.” It is thus made clear that the rule of the evangelical life was that the necessities of life were possessed in common, and that property was absolutely resigned by its owners. St. Augustine points out in De doctrina christiana that this practice is conducive to the highest perfection. “The believers among the Jewish nation,” he says; “who formed the first Church, that of Jerusalem, proved most abundantly how advantageous it was for them to have grown up under the school master, viz., the Law. For they were so evidently under the influence of the Holy Spirit that they sold all their possessions, and laid the price at the feet of the Apostles to be distributed among the poor. We do not (he continues) find the same fact noted of any Church of the Gentiles; for they who had worshipped false gods, made by hands, were not found so open to the Holy Spirit.”

Pope Melchiades, however, assigns a different reason for the same fact. In XII, quaest. 1 he says, “The Apostles, foreseeing that the future Church would be founded among the Gentiles, did not acquire much property from the Jews, but only money for the sustenance of the needy. Now however, amidst much storm and stress, the Church gradually acquired a footing in the world, and it came to pass that not only entire nations, but even the Roman emperors, the rulers of the whole earth, flocked to profess the Faith of Christ and to receive Baptism. Constantine, that most religious prince, was the first to give permission not only for his subjects to become Christians, but also for Churches to be erected; and he ordained that certain land should be given up to this purpose.” In the following chapter, Pope Urban says, “The High Priests and Levites and others and the rest of the faithful saw that it would be more profitable if the bishops were to make over to the churches which they governed te lands and other property which was customarily sold. By means of the charges on these estates, the Bishops would be able, both at the present time and in the future, to provide more abundantly and conveniently for the needs of the faithful, living a common life, than they could have done by the sums realised from the sale of the property. Therefore they began to assign to the mother churches the landed property which they had hitherto sold; and they lived on the income derived from it.”

Hence we see that it is better to have land in common, rather than chattels which can be sold to procure the necessities of life. Land was sold in the primitive Church, not because the Apostles esteemed that to be the best course, but because they foresaw that the Church would have no permanence among the Jews, partly on account of their infidelity, and partly because of the ruin which was to overwhelm their nation. The apparent inconsistency of these arrangements disappears, when we attentively consider the state of the case. For, in the early days of the Chutch, all her members were as holy as the most perfect of her children in later days. Therefore the Church had, in the order both of nature and of grace, to lay her foundations among the perfect; and consequently the Apostles ordained a mode of life consonant with perfection. St. Jerome, in his book De illustribus viris, says, “It seems as if at first the Church of believers had been of the standard that monks now endeavour and strive to reach. Nothing was the private property of anyone; among them were no rich nor poor; patrimonies were divided among the needy; and men devoted themselves to prayer, to perfect doctrine, and to continence.” This perfect mode of life was practised among the primitive believers not only in Judaea under the Apostle, but also in Egypt under St. Mark the Evangelist. This we learn from St. Jerome and also from Book II of the Ecclesiastical History.

In process of time, however, many were to enter the Church who would not live up to this standard of perfection. This was not to the case before the dispersion of the Jews, but afterwards, when the Church was disseminated among the Gentiles. When this state of things came to pass, the prelates of the Churches judged that landed property might advantageously be bestowed upon the churches, and this not as before, for the sake of the perfect, but on account of the weaker brethren who could not attain to the perfection of the earlier Christians. But there were, nevertheless, both at that time and later, certain men who were zealous for primitive perfection and who, like the monks of Egypt, gathered themselves into congregations and renounced all possessions. St. Gregory (III Dial.) mentions a certain holy Isaac who, coming from Syria into Italy, practised in the West the perfection which he had learned in the East. His disciples would frequently humbly beseech him to accept, for the use of the monastery, the property offered to him; but, anxious to preserve his property inviolate, he made the decisive reply that “a monk seeking earthly possessions is no monk.” This saying cannot be understood to refer to private property, since we are told that what was offered to Isaac, was pressed on him for the use of his monastery. Neither is it to be inferred that all monks who hold possessions in common are deficient in religious perfection. The words of Isaac were instigated by his fear of his failing in the virtue of poverty, a danger which threatens many religious who own property in common. For, as St. Jerome says in his epitaph on Nepotian to the Bishop Hehodorus, “Some men are richer as religious than they were as laymen. Now that they belong to Christ the Poor, they own wealth which they never possessed when they belonged to Satan the opulent; and the Church mourns over the riches of those whom the world formerly regarded as beggars.” Hence St. Gregory, speaking of St. Isaac, says, “He feared to lose the treasure of his poverty, just as a miser fears to lose his hoard of perishable wealth, and the Lord, to manifest his holiness, has glorified him.” For, as St. Gregory tells us farther on, “he became known far and wide for his spirit of prophecy and his great gift of miracles.” Hence it is evident that the absence of any possessions, either common or private, is for some men the path to sublime perfection.

We shall understand this more clearly, if we examine the motive underlying the counsels pertaining to evangelical perfection. These counsels are given in order that by their means men may be delivered from earthly solicitude, and thus be more free to serve God. St. Paul tells us as much, when he gives the council concerning virginity, “He who is without a wife is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please God. But he who is with a wife is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided” (1 Cor 7:32). Hence we we that the more any course of action delivers us from worldly anxiety, so much the more does it pertain to evangelical perfection. Now it is clear that the possession of wealth and property distracts the soul from divine things, for, to use our Lord’s, simile, “He who received the seed among thorns is he who hears the word, and the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches chokes up the word and he becomes fruitless” (Mt 13:18). St. Jerome’s commentary on these words runs as follows: “Riches ate flatterers, promising one thing and doing another. Their possession is most uncertain: for when they are carried here and there and seem likely to endure, they desert their owners or rejoice those who previously possessed them not.”

The same thing is taught us in the parable of the supper (Luke 14:18), where one of the invited guests is represented as excusing himself from attendance by the words, “I have bought a farm, and I must go out and see it.” “What,” asks St, Gregory, “are we to understand by this farm except material possessions? That man then goes out to we his farm who thinks of nothing but exterior things.” At the end of the parable the master of the supper says to his servants, “Bring in here the poor and the feeble.” Commenting on which, St. Ambrose observes that “he who lacks the enjoyments of sin, sins more rarely; and he who has no worldly pleasures is more easily converted to God.” Thus we see that the entire absence of property and wealth of any kind leads to evangelical perfection. St. Augustine likewise says in his book De verbis Domini, “The little ones of Christ are those who have renounced all things and have followed Him, All that they had, they have given to the poor, in order to serve God free from any earthly tie. Being thus delivered from the burdens of the world, they soar upwards as if on wings. They are little because they are humble; but weigh them, and you will find them very heavy.” Now no sane person can say that the care of common property is not a worldly care. Therefore, it adds to their perfection when men serve God freed from such shackles.

Hence we see that those who teach that the renunciation of common property for the love of Christ does not pertain to perfection, are inculcating a most dangerous error, and spreading an opinion completely at variance with Christian doctrine. The Gloss on the verse of Psalm 6, “Let them be turned back, and shamed very speedily,” says, “This fate does not befall the sinner in this world where, on the contrary, the workers of iniquity mock and put to the blush the little ones of Christ who have renounced all things for his sake.” Rather do the following words of Psalm 13:6 seem to apply to them: “You have confounded the counsel of the poor man, but the Lord is his hope.” The Gloss thus comments on this verse, “The needy is a member of Christ; and you have acted thus towards him because the Lord is his hope.” That very reason which ought to make you revere him only causes you so much the more to despise him. For what else do these men do save endeavour to contemn those who follow in its perfection the counsel of Christian poverty? And why do they despise them, except because their hope is established not in possessions, but in God?


An Answer to the Arguments Which Are Brought Forward Against the Propositions Contained in the Preceding Chapter

AFTER what has been already premised, it will be easy to answer the objections of those who maintain an opinion contrary to ours, and who hold that it is expedient to own property in common. It is certainly well to do so, for the sake of those who are not capable of that height of perfection practised by the faithful of the early Church, among whom, however, the imperfect were not wholly neglected. Thus, although they who followed sublime perfection did not own any property, yet even our Lord, to whom the angels ministered, kept a purse for the necessities of others, and because His Church was to possess funds, as St. Augustine says in his commentary on St. John’s Gospel. Therefore, if there is any congregation of which every member aspires to the highest perfection, it is expedient for such a congregation to own no possessions.

When, in the next place, it is stated that St. Benedict received ample possessions during his lifetime, this only proves that the possession of common property does not make monastic perfection absolutely impossible. It is no proof whatsoever that it is not more perfect to renounce possessions altogether, especially as St. Benedict declares in his Rule, that he had, in condescension to the weakness of the monks of his time, mitigated in certain particulars the rigour of the monastic life as it was ordained by earlier Fathers. The same remark applies to St. Gregory, who built monasteries, according to the rule drawn up by St. Benedict.

The third argument, viz, that our Lord allowed His apostles to take with them in time of persecution purse and bag, tells rather against our opponents than for them. If, in the time of persecution the rule Was suspended, it proves that the ordinary rule was that the apostles should take with them neither purse nor bag. We do not read that in time of persecution the Apostles procured for themselves any possessions in common. Thus the argument of their conduct during persecution is irrelevant to our subject.

The fourth assertion, viz. that our Lord did not establish an order of men possessing nothing, but an order of prelates who owned certain property, is a distinct falsehood. For when our Lord taught His disciples to possess neither gold nor silver, lest their hearts should be weighed down by temporal anxieties; and when He promised to those who, for His sake should renounce lands and houses, a reward not only in the next world but in this life also, so that they should resemble the Apostles in “having nothing yet possessing all things,” He made it clear that all who should hereafter follow this rule would be obeying His ordinance. Those who follow the saints who have founded various orders are, in reality, imitating not those holy founders, but Christ, whose precepts they preach. Our adversaries are either deceived on another point, or else they try to mislead us. Christ did not establish an order of bishops, or other clerics who were to own property, either in common or individually. He established such an order, indeed, but established it in perfect poverty. Later on, however, possessions were accepted by the Church in order, as we have seen, to be distributed by her.

As for the fifth assertion, viz. that Christian perfection has been in abeyance from the time of the Apostles until our own days, it is certain, on the contrary that far from being in abeyance, Christian perfection has flourished vigorously, both in Egypt and in other parts of the world. No man can set limits to God, or say that He is to draw all men to Himself at the same time, or in the same place; rather, according to the wisdom whereby He disposes all things sweetly, He provides at divers seasons the aids to man’s salvation peculiarly befitting those times. Has Christian teaching failed from the days of the masters and the doctors, Athanasius, Basil, Ambrose, Augustine, and the rest, until our times, in which men are even better instructed than they formerly were in Christian doctrine? Is it, according to the views of out opponents, unlawful to set again in motion any good work which for a while has been interrupted? If such be the case, it would be unlawful to suffer martyrdom or to work miracles, since both these good works have, for a time, been in abeyance.

The sixth argument, viz. that those who possessed no common property used to live by the work of their hands, is a calumny against others as well against religious; for the Apostle who preached the Gospel maintained himself by manual labour. Is it a sin, then, for Bishops, Archdeacons and all who are officially bound to preach the Gospel not to live by the work of their hands? If they are not bound thus to maintain themselves, because Stl Paul laboured not out of necessity, but as a work of supererogation, why should that work be enforced upon religious, which was onlly supererogatory with the holy Fathers? No one can fulfil all works of supererogation; for one thing is superfluous in one man, and another in another man. But, granted that it is not supererogatory, but necessary that they who own no common property should live by the work of their hands, that necessity only extends to such labour as may prevent idleness. But idleness is prevented, not only by manual labour, but far more,by the study of Holy Scripture; such idleness performs a great work, as St. Augustine says. And the Gloss on the words of Ps 48, “My eyes have failed” etc., says, “He is not idle who only studies the word of God; neither does he accomplish more who performs external work than he who exercises himself in the knowledge of divinity. For wisdom is of all works the greatest.”

Idleness is also prevented by the warfare which we wage against the enemies of the Faith, according to St. Paul’s injunction: “Labour like a good soldier of Jesus Christ (2 Tim 2:3). This the Gloss interprets to mean the preaching of the Gospel against the enemies of the Faith. This I acknowledge to be a necessary work, for those who have not otherwise a means of subsistence. For it is lawful for all preachers of the Gospel, even Monks, to live by the Gospel and by their ministry at the Altar. St. Augustine in De opere monachorum asks whether it is permissible for Monks to have any common property, save what they gain by their own labour. Is it not ridiculous to say that religious may receive large possessions as alms, and yet may not accept donations to provide for their simple daily needs? Therefore no necessity constrains those who do not possess common property to labour with their hands. We have, however, elsewhere spoken more fully on this point.

The seventh argument deserves ridicule, rather than reply. For, who does not see that the task of heaping up riches—a task which seculars can barely achieve—involves far more anxiety of mind than that of merely procuring from the charity of the faithful and the mercy of God a simple, daily provision for the necessities of life.

As for the eighth argument, viz. that religious must occupy themselves about the affairs of those who minister to them, I acknowledge that this is true. But the affairs about which they must be busied are such as concern the spiritual welfare of their benefactors, or their consolation when they are in trouble. Such solicitude is a work of charity by no means incompatible with religion. For, as St. James says, “Religion pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the orphan and the widow in their tribulation” (1:27).

The last argument is absolutely worthless. For the things used by religious for their support are not absolutely their own property or under their own control, but are ministered to them for their necessities by those who have the management of such things.

This is all that occurs to me at present to write against the pernicious end erroneous teaching which deters some men from entering religious life. If any man desires to contradict my words, let him not do so by chattering before boys but let him write and publish his writings, so that intelligent persons may judge what is true, and may be able to confute what is false by the authority of the Truth,