« Prev Chapter XV. Advice for the Direction of Holy Zeal. Next »



As zeal is an ardour and vehemence of love it stands in need of guidance; otherwise it would exceed the limits of moderation and discretion. Not indeed that divine love, however vehement, can be excessive in itself, or in the movements or inclinations which it gives to our spirit, but, inasmuch as it makes use of the understanding in the execution of its designs, ordering it to find out the means whereby they may be effected, and makes use of boldness or anger to surmount the difficulties which it meets with, the understanding often comes to propose and make us adopt courses too rough and violent, and anger or hardihood once aroused, and unable to contain itself within the limits of reason, carries away the heart into disorder, so that zeal is thus practised indiscreetly and inordinately; which makes it bad and blameworthy. David sent Joab with his army, against his disloyal and rebellious child, Absalom, whom he commanded them above all things not to injure, ordering that in all events they should take care to save him. But Joab being engaged, and being hot in the pursuit of the victory, with his own hand slew 452the poor Absalom, without regard to what the king had said to him. Even so, zeal employs anger against the evil, yet ever with express order, that in destroying wickedness and sin it should save, if possible, the sinner and the iniquitous: but it, once in its fury, like a hard-mouthed and wilful horse, runs away with its rider out of the lists, without stop or stay, while breath lasts.

That good man of the house whom our Saviour describes in the Gospel, knew well that hot and violent servants are wont to outrun their master's intention, for his servants presenting themselves unto him to go and weed his field in order to root out the cockle: No, said he, lest perhaps gathering up the cockle you root up the wheat also together with it.477477Matt. xiii. 29. It is true, Theotimus, that anger is a servant who, being strong, courageous and of great undertakings, does also at first a great deal of work, but withal he is so ardent, so hotheaded, inconsiderate and impetuous, that he ordinarily does no good things without at the same time doing many evil. It is not good husbandry, say our country-folk, to keep peacocks in the house; for though they hunt spiders and rid the house of them, yet they so spoil the furniture and the buildings themselves that their usefulness is not comparable to the harm they do. Anger was given by Nature as a help to reason, and is employed by grace in the service of zeal, to put in execution its designs; yet it is a dangerous help, and not greatly to be desired, for if it gets strength it becomes master, overturning the authority of reason; and while it does no more than zeal would perform all alone, it keeps one in a well-founded fear that waxing strong it may take possession of the heart and of zeal, making them slaves to its tyranny, like a carefully disposed fire, which in an instant embraces a building, and which no one can extinguish. It were an act of despair to put foreign auxiliaries into a fortress, who may make themselves the strongest.

Self-love often deceives us and leads us away, gratifying its own passions under the name of zeal. Zeal has once made use of anger, and now anger in its turn uses the name of zeal, in order to keep its shameful disorder covered under this. And 453mark that I say it makes use of the name of zeal; for it can make no use of zeal itself, since it is the property of all virtues, but especially of Charity, whereof zeal is a dependence, to be so good that none can abuse them.

A notorious sinner, once went and threw himself at the feet of a good and worthy priest, protesting with much submission, that he came to find a cure for his disease, that is, to receive the holy absolution of his faults. A certain monk called Demophilus, considering that, in his opinion, this poor penitent came too nigh the holy altar, fell into so violent a fit of anger, that throwing himself upon him, he kicked and pushed him thence with his feet, railing at the good priest in an outrageous sort, who according to his duty had mildly received this poor penitent. And then running up to the altar he took off the holy things which were there, and carried them away, lest, as he would have men think, the place should have been profaned by the sinner's approach. Now having finished this fair exploit of zeal, he stayed not yet there, but made a great rejoicing about the matter to the great S. Denis the Areopagite in a letter which he wrote about it, to which he received an excellent answer, worthy of the apostolical spirit wherewith that great disciple of S. Paul was animated. For he made him clearly see that his zeal had been at once indiscreet, imprudent and impudent; because though the zeal for the honour due unto holy things were good and laudable, yet was it practised against all reason, without any consideration or judgment, since he had employed kicks, outrages, railing and reproaches, in a place, under circumstances, and against persons, whom and which he ought to have honoured, loved and respected; so that the zeal could not be good, being practised with such great disorder. But in this same answer, that great saint recounts another admirable example of a great zeal, proceeding from a very good soul, which was however spoilt and vitiated by the excess of anger which it had stirred up.

A pagan had led astray and made return to idolatry a Christian of Candia, recently converted to the faith. Carpus, a man eminent for purity and sanctity of life, who, as is very probable, was the bishop of Candia, conceived such an anger at it as he had never before entertained, and let himself be so far carried 454away with this passion, that having risen at midnight to pray according to his custom, he concluded with himself that it was not reasonable that the wicked men should any longer live, with great indignation beseeching the divine justice to strike down at once with his thunderbolts these two sinners together, the pagan seducer and the Christian seduced. But hear, Theotimus, how God corrected the bitterness of the passion which carried the poor Carpus beyond himself. First he made him, as another S. Stephen, see the heavens open, and our Saviour Jesus Christ seated upon a great throne, surrounded with a multitude of angels, who attended him in human form; then he saw below, the earth gaping as a horrid and vast gulf; and the two erring ones, to whom he had wished so much evil, he saw upon the very brink of this precipice, trembling and well-nigh paralysed with fear, as being about to fall down it; on the one side they were drawn by a multitude of serpents, which rising out of the gulf, wrapped themselves about their legs, and with their tails gradually moved and provoked them to their fall; on the other side, certain men pushed and beat them to make them tumble in, so that they seemed on the point of being swallowed up in this abyss. Now consider, my Theotimus, the violence of the passion of Carpus: for as he himself afterwards recounted to S. Denis, he never thought of contemplating our Saviour and the angels, who showed themselves in the heavens, such pleasure did he take in seeing below them the frightful distress of those two miserable wretches. His only trouble was that they were so long perishing, and thereupon he endeavoured himself to precipitate them down; and seeing he could not do it quite at once he was angry, and began to curse them, until at length, lifting up his eyes to heaven, he saw the sweet and most pitiful Saviour, who, moved by an extreme pity and compassion at what was happening, arising from his throne and descending to the place where the two miserable beings were, stretched out to them his helping hand, while the angels also, some on one side some on another, caught hold of them to hinder them from falling into that dreadful gulf; and, at last the amiable and mild Jesus, turning himself to the wrathful Carpus:—Nay, Carpus, said he, henceforth wreak your anger on me: for I am ready to suffer once more to 455save men and it would be a joy to me to do so, if it could be without sin on man's part: at any rate, think which would be the better for thee, to be in that gulf with the serpents, or to live with angels who are such great friends of men. Theotimus, the holy man Carpus had just reason to enter into zeal concerning these two men, and his zeal had but rightly raised his anger against them, but anger being once moved left reason and zeal behind, transgressing all the terms and limits of holy love and consesequently of zeal, which is its fervour: anger had changed the hatred of sin into the hatred of the sinner, and most sweet charity into an outrageous cruelty.

Thus there are persons who think one cannot be very zealous unless one is very angry, thinking that unless they spoil all they can manage nothing, whereas on the contrary true zeal most rarely makes use of anger; for as we never apply the lancet to the sick save when it cannot possibly be helped, so holy zeal does not employ anger save in extreme necessities.


« Prev Chapter XV. Advice for the Direction of Holy Zeal. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection