Friday, 8 May 2009

The Science of the Saints

There are two kinds of sciences upon earth, one heavenly, the other worldly. The heavenly is that which leads us to please God, and makes us great in heaven. The worldly is that which moves us to please ourselves, and to become great in the world. But this worldly science is folly and madness in the sight of God. The wisdom of the world is foolishness with God.1 It is folly, for it makes fools of those who cultivate it; it makes them fools, and like the brutes, for it teaches them to gratify their carnal appetites like the beasts. St. John Chrysostom wrote, “We call him a man who preserves complete the image of a man; and what is the image of a man? to be rational.”2 Hence it is that if a brute were ever to act according to reason, we should say that such a brute acted like a man; so we say that a man who acts upon sensual appetites and contrary to reason acts like a brute.

But to return to the human and natural knowledge of earthly things, what do men know of all things which they have studied? What are we but so many blind moles, who, besides the truths which we know by faith, know only by means of our senses, or by conjecture; so that everything is uncertain and fallible. What writers on such subjects, however applauded by many, have escaped the criticism of others? But the evil is that the knowledge of the world puffs us up,3 and makes us proud and prone to despise others a pernicious fault, for, as St. James says, God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble.4

Oh that they would be wise and understand, and know the latter end!5 Oh, if men would act by reason and the divine law, and thus would learn to provide, not so much for a temporal existence, which speedily ends, as for eternity, they would assuredly not occupy themselves in the attainment of any knowledge, except such as aids them in the obtaining eternal happiness and avoiding eternal pains.

St. John Chrysostom advises us to walk among the tombs of the dead, in order to learn the knowledge of salvation. Oh, what a school of truth are the sepulchres for learning the vanity of the world! “Let us go to the tombs; there,” said the saint, there I see nothing but corruption, bones, and worms.”6 From all these skeletons which I see, I cannot tell which belonged to the ignorant and which to the learned; I only see that with death all the glories of the world were finished for them. What remained to a Cicero, a Demosthenes, an Ulpian? They have slept their sleep, and have found nothing in their hands.7

Blessed is he who has received from God the science of the saints.8 The science of the saints is to know the love of God. How many in the world are well versed in literature, in mathematics, in foreign and ancient languages! But what will all this profit them, if they know not the love of God? Blessed is he, said St. Augustine, who knows God, even if he knows nothing else.9 He that knows God and loves him, though he be ignorant of what others know, is more learned than the learned who know not how to love God.

“Let the unlearned arise, and seize upon heaven!”10 cried the same Augustine. How learned were St. Francis of Assisi, St. Pascal, St. John of God! ignorant in worldly knowledge, but well skilled in that which is divine. Thou hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to babes.11 By the wise, we are here to understand the worldly-wise, who labor for the possessions and glories of the world, and think little of eternal joys. And by babes we are to under stand simple souls (like those of children), who know little of worldly wisdom, but devote all their care to pleasing God.

Let us not, then, envy those who know many things; let us only envy those who know how to love Jesus Christ; and let us imitate St. Paul, who said that he desired to know nothing but Jesus Christ, and him crucified. Happy are we if we attain to the knowledge of the love which Jesus crucified had for us, and from this book of love attain to the love of him. O Thou who art my true and perfect lover, where shall I find one who has so loved me as Thou hast! During my life that is past, I have lost my time in attaining the knowledge of many things which have profited my soul nothing, and I have thought nothing of knowing how to love Thee. I see that my life has been lost. I perceive that Thou callest me to Thy holy love; behold, I leave all; from this day forth, my one thought shall be to please Thee, my highest good. I give myself wholly to Thee; accept me; give me help to be faithful to Thee; I desire to be no longer my own, but all, all Thine. O mother of God! do thou also help me with thy prayers.

* Permit me here to express the great consolation which I derived a few days since from information connected with the subject of the preceding considerations the science of the saints. I have been assured that, after having received so much applause from all Europe for his poetic compositions, which are as noxious as they are beautiful (I mean those only which treat of profane love), for the more tender his expressions, the more they are calculated to kindle in the breasts of young persons the pernicious flames of impure affections, the celebrated Signore Peter Metastasio has published a little book in prose, in which he expresses his detestation of his writings on profane love, and declares that, were it in his power, he would retract them and make them disappear from the world, even at the cost of his blood. And I am informed that his poetic compositions are now confined to some pieces on moral or spiritual subjects, which he writes in order to comply with his obligation as poet to the imperial court. He lives retired in his own house, leading a life of prayer. This information has given me unspeakable consolation; because his public declaration and his most laudable example will help to undeceive many young persons who seek to acquire a great name by similar compositions on profane love. It is certain that, by his retraction, Signore Metastasio has deserved more encomiums than he would by the publication of a thousand poetic works; for these he might be praised by men, but now he is praised by God. Hence, as I formerly detested his vanity in prizing himself for such compositions (I do not speak of his sacred pieces, which are excellent and deserving of all praise), so now I shall never cease to praise him; and were I permitted, I would kiss his feet, seeing that he has voluntarily become the censor of his own works, and that he now desires to see them banished from the whole world, at the expense, as he says, even of his own blood.

1“Sapientia enim hujus mundi stultitia est apud Deum.” -- 1 Cor. iii. 19.

2“Hominem illum dicimus, qui imaginem hominis salvam retinet; quæ autem est imago hominis? rationalem esse.” Hom. 23 in Gen.

3“Scientia inflat.” -- I Cor. viii. 1.

4“Deus superbis resistit, humilibus autem dat gratiam.” -- James, iv. 6.

5“Utinam saperent, et intelligerent, ac novissima providerent.” -- Deut. xxxii. 29.

6“Proficiscamur ad sepulcra. Nihil video nisi putredinem, ossa, et vermes.” -- Hom. 77 in Matt.

7“Dormierunt somnum suum, et nihil invenerunt . . . in manibus suis.” -- Ps. Ixxv. 6.

8“Et dedit illi scientiam sanctorum.” -- Wis. x. 10.

9Conf. b. 5, c. 4.

10“Surgunt indocti, et cœlum rapiunt.” -- Conf. b. 8, c. 8.

11“Abscondisti hæc a sapientibus et prudentibus, et revelasti ea parvulis.” -- Matt. xi. 25.


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