Reason, faith and the spiritual life

The following is another excerpt from the preface to The Interior Life:

Piety is well represented by the image of a flower. It has a root, which is reason ; a rod, which is faith ; and a flower, which is the spiritual life. Without the root, there will be no rod ; without the rod, no flower. The flower rises from the rod, and the rod from the root. The mysterious sap fructifying the root, rises in the rod, and bursts into bloom in the flower. Thus, under the mysterious action of the divine sap which is called grace, reason, which is the root, is fructified ; on it rises the rod of faith ; and on this rod of faith expands the wonderful flower of the spiritual life.  Thus the spiritual life is the flower of faith and reason, it rises as a whole from reason and faith ; and all spiritual life which has not this rod and this root, or to speak plainly, all spiritual life which, in its foundations, is not theological and rational, is not the flower upon which rests the Spirit of God.

This is why we here address the reason in the first place, and very little will be found herein for the feelings    Today so many books exaggerate in the matter of sentiment, that we may here be excused for giving it a very small place.  Besides, wishing to go to the foundation and the root, we must go to the reason. In this way a simple syllogism, founded on a rational idea, will suffice to lead us to the ultimate conclusions of the most perfect holiness.

Reason, no doubt, will be enlightened by faith; the root will not be separated from the rod in producing its flower; but it is no less true that this flower of piety appears as the full and perfect blossom of the reason by means of faith.  We shall see this in the explanations which follow ; we shall see that, in order to be a saint in the strict sense of the term, it would suffice, by God’s grace, I do not say, to possess right reason, but to act in accordance with reason ; so that, if man has been defined as a rational animal, it must be added that he spends his life irrationally.  Piety is the exquisite power of faith and reason ; neither reason nor faith find their full bloom except in piety.

No one, I think, will misunderstand the bearing of the demands here set forth in favour of reason ; it is easy to be convinced that they are in no way detrimental to faith or grace, but only to sentimentalism (I was about to say, to animalism, for the two are so nearly related). Sentiment has taken an importance in the guidance of life which does not belong to it either by nature or by grace, and in this way it diminishes both nature and grace.
The intellect is the master-faculty in man, it is this that ought to direct us. It is the intellect which prepares the paths of faith, and it is in the former faculty that dwells this great virtue.  When the directive functions of the intellect have been supplanted, not only nature, but faith suffers from it and the spiritual life is vitiated. This is just what is happening today.  Sensibility, which holds the second rank in man’s faculties, takes the first place; it even aspires to direct our piety. Thus it is that life becomes a matter of feeling, and faith an impression.  Everything becomes animal and material; everything, even the highest of all, declines and sinks ; everything tends to become external and empty; everything totters and falls, stagnates and wastes away.

Why?  Because the tree no longer has any roots, the building has no foundation, the mountain has moved from its basis, the body no longer has a soul.

This disorder must be remedied, and we must overthrow the usurpation of sensibility, and restore to the reason its role of being the first handmaid of faith. Hence, what we so energetically call for on behalf of the reason is still more called for in the interest of faith and piety. We aim at restoring to both their basis and root, so that they may grow in strength and truth.

Three great ideas sum up this little work: the end, the way, and the means.    What is the end of every supernatural life ? what is the way ? and what are the means ? the end towards which it must tend; the way it has to go ; the means it should use.    To show the one unique and highest end, the way that leads to this end, and the means of walking in this way: such is the three-fold object of this work, which is thus divided into three parts.
This is a fundamental division. Most people’s interest today is concentrated too much upon questions of means. Our ears are incessantly dinned with a multitude of considerations, recommendations, and exhortations, which would lead us to suppose that external practices were the fundamental part of religion.  Devotions, confraternities, and sacraments; soon we shall hear nothing else spoken of so far as religion is concerned.    All these things are good and, indeed, very good ; they are holy and, indeed, very holy; but in their role and place.  All these things are means, and means are of use only in the way, and the way is useful only towards the end.  Questions of means are only questions of the third order in true religion.  Questions as to the way come before them and explain them ; and questions of the end come first and explain all else, both the way and the means.    Without this end, we can understand nothing about the way ; and without the way, nothing about the means. The means will pass away, the way will pass away, the end alone will abide.

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