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States of Christian Life and Vocation, According to the Doctors and Theologians of the Church/Part 2/Section 1/Chapter 3

< States of Christian Life and Vocation, According to the Doctors and Theologians of the Church


" MY son, do nothing without counsel, and thou shalt not repent when thou hast done." (Ecclus. xxxii, 24.) " The Holy Ghost," says a Lapide commenting on these words, " has here in view works that are difficult and of some importance. To undertake them, we need, particularly in youth, to consult prudent men." This is what Tobias recommended to his son: " Seek counsel always of a wise man." (Tobias iv, 19.) Whatever is done according to right and wise counsel is well done, and gives no cause for repentance. If, after having taken advice, we do not succeed, we can solace ourselves with the thought that we did not follow our own views, but abided by those whose counsel it was fitting to take. " Lean not on thine own prudence," says the Holy Ghost. (Prov. iii, 5.) " Woe to you that are wise in your own eyes, and prudent in your own conceits." (Isa. v, 21.) It is very much to be feared that this malediction falls on those who without advice rashly take upon themselves the responsibility of choosing a state of life.

As it is of the highest importance to take advice before coming to any irrevocable decision, so it is equally important not to select bad counsellors. " Advise not with fools, for they cannot love but such things as please them." (Ecclus. viii, 20.) On this text the learned a Lapide again says: " The foolish and the wicked counsel what is in the line of their passions and interests, not what is profitable to others. We must not, therefore, apply to men who do not fear God as they should. 'Treat not with a man without religion concerning holiness, nor with an unjust man concerning justice.' (Ecclus. xxxvii, 12.) 'Consult not with him that layeth a snare for thee.' (Ibid. 7.) 'Let one of a thousand be thy counsellor.' (Ibid, vi, 6.) The same distinguished commentator speaks thus on this passage : " We should consult only a few rare and choice men ; for there are not many prudent, few have experience, and fewer still are discreet and faithful."[1] But it is chiefly when we aspire to a perfect life, that we should avoid a multitude of counsellors. Were we to take the advice of many, who does not see what difficulties would arise ? Because carnal men, who are always in the majority, hinder rather than promote the desire of perfection, as St. Thomas observes.[2] "Choose, then, as advisers only such as are prudent and well-minded," adds St. Bernard. "In the vast crowd of mankind it is hard for every one to find even one man uniting these two qualities in a high degree. It is no easy matter to meet a love of what is really good in a prudent man, or prudence in a man fond of good. The number of those who possess neither quality is very great."[3] St. Ambrose speaks in similar terms: " When you ask advice," says he, "you should go to a man noted for the probity of his life, for his virtues, for an unflinching love of good, and for the great moderation of his conduct. Who goes to seek a spring of clear water in a puddle, or drinks dirty water? In like manner, who expects to draw anything useful from the confusion of vice ? Can a man who does not know how to order his own life, regulate the life of another? How can I consider as my superior in prudence a man whom I see so far below me in his morals? Can I look upon as able to give me counsel, one who is unable to counsel himself? Or am I to suppose that he who neglects his own interests, will take care of mine? "[4]

" Be continually with a holy man, whomsoever thou shalt know to observe the fear of God ; whose soul is according to thine own soul, and who, when thou shalt stumble in the dark, will be sorry for thee." (Ecclus. xxxvii, 15, 16.) This faithful counsellor is a man of God, an enlightened confessor, to whom you disclose your faults, all your evil tendencies, the dangers through which you have passed, and those which you apprehend in the future. A general confession that will lay before him the wounds and secrets of your soul, will help him in giving salutary advice. It is chiefly for the religious vocation that Suarez requires us to have recourse to counsellors who are virtuous, free from all human ties to the one that consults them, and who have right and correct ideas about a holy and religious life : " Probi et liberi ab omni humano affectu, quique de vita sane t a et religiosa recte sentiant "[5] Therefore these counsellors should not forget that, in the state of perfection, there are, as St. Thomas and Suarez teach, fewer occasions of sin, more abundant means of salvation, and facility for perseverance in grace ; that, in order to enter that state, there is no necessity of a previously virtuous life, since it is suited to repentant sinners, and even to those who have recently embraced the faith.[6] " Among the things chiefly to be attended to in taking advice upon entrance into religion " (it is still Suarez who speaks), "the first is to consult those who can help, instead of hindering, our purpose : 'Ab hispetatur qui possunt prodesse et non obesse.' Furthermore, it is judicious to consult, as far as possible, men who have some experimental knowledge of the religious state : 'et, si fieri possit, aliquod experimentum illins kabeant.' The second point to be attended to is, that the consultation be prudent and serious indeed, as the grave nature of the subject requires it to be ; but not too protracted. Long delays are not necessary : often they are an obstacle to a divine vocation, and the source of a multitude of dangers."[7]

When there is question of entering the married state, we should, as the catechism of the Council of Trent bids, zealously exhort children to "pay it as a tribute of respect due to their parents, or to those under whose guardianship and authority they are placed, not to engage in marriage with out their knowledge, still less in defiance of their express wishes."[8]

"Father Pinamonti says with good reason," observes St. Liguori, " that, to choose the religious state, it is neither necessary nor proper that children should await the counsel of their parents, not only because these latter have no experience on the subject, but also because, blinded by self-interest, they turn into enemies."[9] We do not wish to repeat here what we spoke of at so much length in the first part of this work.[10] Yet we cannot leave unnoticed the comment of a Lapide on the words of the Holy Ghost, that we have cited. Here it is: " They go against the rules of prudence given them by Holy Writ, who, being called to serve God and to do him honor in the religious state, take counsel of seculars, of relatives, or of parents. St. Bernard cries out eloquently on this subject : How many lose a vocation through the accursed influence of worldly wisdom, which quenches in them the holy fire that God sought to kindle in their hearts! This treacherous wisdom says: Be very much on your guard against over-haste; reflect long on the matter ; look prudently into everything. You set before yourself a great undertaking : you should think much on it. Try your strength, consult your friends, so that, later, you may never have reason to repent of your step. This wisdom of the world is earthy, animal, diabolical, the enemy of salvation. It chokes life and breeds lukewarmness. Be careful, it tells you. And why would you be careful? When the Angel of the great counsel calls, what need have you to wait for other counsels ? Let him consult his friends who has not heard these words of Christ : 'A man's enemies shall be they of his own household.' (Matt, x, 36.) Why does he profess to believe the Gospel who does not obey it? "[11]

Lessius, speaking as a theologian, is not less explicit. " The fathers of the Church," he says, " have always been of opinion that, to be enlightened on vocation, we must never seek advice from men of the world. Dazzled by the false glitter of earthly things, they do not know the worth of invisible goods. In their eyes voluntary poverty is a wretched state, they look on chastity as an effect of a sour temper, and they hold obedience to be a mere slavery. A simple and coarse dress is for them contemptible, a convent is a prison, and all the exercises of a religious life pass for a silly occupation. On the other hand, they make the greatest account of wealth, honors, and splendid marriages. Now, it is impossible that men over whom the world has so much sway should inspire with holy resolves those who seek their advice about the religious life: for every one judges and counsels according to his peculiar views."[12]


  1. Corn, in hoc, cap. vi.
  2. Opusc. 17, c. i.
  3. Apud Corn, in Ecclus. viii, 20.
  4. Amb., Offic., lib. 2, c. xii.
  5. Suar., lib. 5, c. viii, n. 2.
  6. Div. Th.; opusc. 17.
  7. Suar., lib. 5, c. viii, n. 2.
  8. De matrim., n. 37.
  9. St. Lig., Theol. Mor., lib. 4, n. 68.
  10. Sect. 2, c. xi.
  11. See 21 Lapide on Ecclus. xxxvii, 12.
  12. Lessius, q. 4, n. 38.