THE PREDOMINANT PASSION
St. James exhorts us to treat the body and its lusts as we would treat a horse. We put a bridle in the mouth of a horse, and we bring him wherever we please. We put bits in the mouths of horses, that they may obey us, and we turn about their whole body (James iii. 3). Hence, as soon as we feel the cravings of any bad passion, we must restrain it with the bridle of reason; for, if we yield to its demands, it will bring us down to the level of brute animals that obey not the dictates of reason but the impulse of their appetites. And man, when he was in honour, did not understand: he is compared to senseless beasts, and is become like to them (Ps. xlviii. 13). “It is worse,” says St. John Chrysostom, “to become like a senseless beast than to be born one, for, to be naturally without reason is tolerable.” The Saint says that to want reason by nature is not disgraceful; but, to be born with the gift of reason and afterwards to live like a beast, obeying the lusts of the flesh, is degrading to man, and makes him worse than a senseless brute. What would you say if you saw a man who would of his own accord live in a stable with horses, feed with them on the same food, and sleep on the same bedding? The man who submits to the tyranny of a passion does what is far worse in the eyes of God.
It was thus the Gentiles lived, who, because the darkness of their understanding prevented them from discerning between good and evil, went wherever their sensual appetite led them. That you walk not, says St. Paul, as also the Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having their understanding darkened (Ephes. iv. 17, 18). Hence they were abandoned to their vices — impurity and avarice, and blindly obeyed the commands of their passions. Who, despairing, have given themselves up to lasciviousness, unto the working of all uncleanness, unto covetousness (Ephes. iv. 19). To this miserable state are all Christians reduced who, despising reason and God, follow the dictates of passion. In punishment of their sins God abandons them, as He abandoned the Gentiles, to their own wicked desires. Wherefore God gave them up to the desires of their own heart (Rom. i. 24). This is the greatest of all chastisements.
St. Augustine writes that two cities may be built up in the heart of a Christian: one by the love of God, the other by self-love. Thus, if the love of God reign within us, we shall despise ourselves: if self-love reign, we shall despise God. But, in conquering self-love consists the victory to which will be given a crown of eternal glory. This was the great maxim St. Francis Xavier always inculcated upon his disciples: “Conquer yourself! Conquer yourself!” All the thoughts and feelings of a man, says the Scripture, are inclined to evil from his youth. The imagination and thought of man’s heart are prone to evil from his youth (Gen. viii. 21). Hence we must, during our whole life, zealously combat and conquer the evil inclinations which continually rise within us, as noxious weeds spring up in our gardens. Some will ask how they can free themselves from bad passions, and how prevent them from springing up within them. St. Gregory gives the answer: It is one thing to look at these beasts in the fields and another to lodge them within the heart. It is one thing, says the Saint, to look at these beasts, or bad passions, when they are outside, and another to harbour them in the heart. As long as they are outside they can do us no harm; but if we admit them into the soul they devour us.
All bad passions spring from self-love. This is, as Jesus Christ teaches all who wish to follow Him, the principal enemy we have to contend with; and this enemy we must conquer by self-denial. If any one shall come after me, let him deny himself (Matt. xvi. 24). “Unless we banish self-love from the heart the love of God cannot enter,” says Thomas a Kempis. Blessed Angela of Foligno used to say that she was more afraid of self-love than of the devil, because self-love has greater power than the devil to draw us into sin. St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi used to say the same, as we read in her Life: “Self-love is the greatest traitor we have to guard against. Like Judas, it betrays us with a kiss. He who conquers it conquers all enemies; he who does not conquer it is lost.” The, Saint then adds: “If you cannot kill it with a single stroke, give it poison.” She meant that, since we are not able to destroy this accursed enemy, which, according to St. Francis de Sales, dies only with our latest breath, we must at least labour to weaken it as much as possible; for if it grow strong, it kills us. Death, says St. Basil, is the reward which self-love gives its followers. The wages of self-love is death; it is the beginning of every evil. Self-love seeks not what is just and honourable, but what is agreeable to the senses. Hence Jesus Christ has said: He that loveth his life — that is, his sensual appetite or self-will — shall lose it (Jo. xii. 25). He who truly loves himself, and wishes to save his soul, should refuse to the senses whatever God has forbidden; otherwise he shall lose his God and himself.
There are two principal passions which reign within us: — the concupiscible and irascible appetites — that is, love and hatred. I have said two principal passions; for each of them, when vicious, draws in its train many other bad passions. The concupiscible appetite brings with it temerity, ambition, greediness, avarice, jealousy, scandal. The irascible brings with it revenge, injustice, slander, envy. St. Augustine advises us, in our combat with the passions, not to endeavour to beat them all down in a single conflict. We must trample on the passion which we have cast to the ground, so that it may be no longer able to contend with us, and then we must endeavour to subdue the other passions which resist our efforts.