The Spiritual Combat

Source: District of Asia

THE authorship of the Spiritual Combat is not definitely established. This book was sometimes published under the name of the Spanish Benedictine, John of Castagniza. Several writers of the Society of Jesus have attributed it to the Jesuit Achille Gagliardi. There are doubtless traces in the work of Spanish asceticism and Ignatian spirituality. But the imprint of the Italian School is so evident that it is impossible to place the author of the famous work elsewhere than among the Clerks Regular, especially among the Theatines. We know that in the opinion of the greater number of critics this author was the Theatine Laurence Scupoli.

At the beginning of the Spiritual Combat is found the idea of Christian perfection. The spiritual life "does not consist in external practices."

"It consists in nothing else but the knowledge of the goodness and the greatness of God, and of our nothingness and inclination to evil; in the love of him and the hatred of ourselves, in subjection, not to him alone, but to all his creatures for love of him, in entire renunciation of all will of our own and absolute resignation to all his divine pleasure; furthermore, in willing and doing all this purely for the glory of God and solely to please him, and because he so wills and merits thus to be loved and served."

Christian perfection is wholly internal. It results from the combined effect of the virtues which cause us to die to ourselves in order to be fully subjected to God through love. Here we find the inward mortification which the school of the Clerks Regular pushed so far.

Note also in the Spiritual Combat the clear insistence on the need of pure love in those who wish to attain to perfection. According there to we cannot tend towards the perfect Christian life unless we serve God solely for his glory and "with a view to pleasing him." Our own interest ought never to count, and we must as far as possible exclude it. There are motives for being virtuous which are good in themselves, such as that of escaping hell and reaching heaven. Perfection demands that we act unto the sole glory of God.

"The summit of perfection" is attained by the fight against self, by this combat so much spoken of by the Clerks Regular. In reading the Combatimento we seem to be assisting at a course on spiritual strategy. We there learn how to struggle victoriously against "all the evil affections" of the heart, however slight they seem to us.

Four arms, without which victory is impossible, are recommended to us: Distrust of ourselves, for reduced to our own strength we can do nothing; trust in God with whom we can do all things; the good use of the faculties of soul and body; finally, the exercise of prayer.

The three practices specially commended are: prayer or meditation, communion, and examination of conscience. The influence of the Spanish School is plainly seen, but the Italian writer simplifies the exercises.

He recommends two forms of prayer: short prayers-i.e., ejaculatory prayers-which should be used often, above all in the midst of the battle; and the longer form of prayer combined with meditation.

The first is "a raising of the soul to God, in which we ask him for those things which we desire." We may ask for them verbally by using mental words, or tacitly by showing our needs to God without speech, or finally by "a simple look of the soul towards God," which is a tacit reminder of the grace already asked for.

To the already mentioned longer form of prayer lasting "half an hour, an hour, or longer," must be "added meditation on the life and Passion of Jesus Christ." Our Saviour's Passion, according to the Spiritual Combat, is the great subject for meditation:

"Jesus crucified-there is the book which I give thee to read, that from it thou mayest copy the true picture of every virtue. For it is the real book of life, which not only instructs the understanding by words, but enkindles the will by its living example."

It is in this book that patterns of every virtue and the most urgent motives for practising them must be sought.

It is also good to meditate on the Blessed Virgin Mary, for whom the author of the Spiritual Combat has a very trustful devotion. He desires us to have daily recourse to her. We should also take as our "chief advocate and protector, St Joseph, Mary's spouse.' Also, "in our prayers, we may make use of the help and protection of the angels and saints."

Holy Communion is the most effective means of over- coming our adversaries. With our other weapons we struggle against our enemies through the virtue of Jesus Christ; with this we battle with them in company with Jesus Christ, and it is Jesus Christ who fights with us against them." Moreover, it is through the Eucharist that our hearts are inflamed with the fire of divine love. It is thus needful to communicate, whenever we have permission, as frequently as possible, and to make good preparation.

Such are the main points of the spirituality of the Combatimento.