The Church has been so blessed to have seen the rise of great defenders of the Faith just when needed.
Bellarmine is untangling many of the false ideas of Protestantism in his works and clarifying simple, as well as complex teachings, which had fallen into confusion.
We have seen his comments on the Theological Virtues, and we saw his comments on the Evangelical Counsels, , that is, his advice on an examination of conscience which helps one achieve those counsels.
Now, he moves to the Four Cardinal Virtues, and emphasizes three virtues which had become misunderstood in the wake of the Protestant Revolt. However, I want to emphasize his section on prayer, as here one clearly sees the movement from purgation to perfection. I shall make comments in blue.
In fine, that prayer can obtain many gifts, St. John Chrysostom beautifully teaches us in his " two
books" on Prayer, in which he employs the comparison of the human hands. For as man is born
naked and helpless, and in want of all things, and vet cannot complain of his Creator, because He has
given him hands, which are the organ of organs, and by which he is enabled to provide for himself
food, garments, house, &c.; so also the spiritual man can do nothing without the divine .assistance;
but he possesses the power of prayer, the organ of all spiritual organs, whereby he can easily provide
for himself all things.
Besides these three primary advantages of prayer, there are also many others. For, in the first place,
prayer enlightens the mind; man cannot directly fix the eye of his soul upon God, who is the light, without being enlightened by Him. “Come ye to him and be enlightened” saith David.
This enlightenment can come both in the purgation state and, obviously, in the state of illumination, when one has infused knowledge about Scripture and God. One of the problems with modern Catholics is that they do not leave enough time for prayer. One hour a day in prayer, plus one hour a day in reading Scripture, that is, the lectio divina, should bring about enlightenment with regard to one's sins and failings.
Secondly, prayer nourishes
our hope and confidence; for the oftener we speak with another, the more confidently do we approach to him.
Thirdly, it inflames our charity, and makes our soul more capable of receiving greater gifts, as St. Augustine
Fourthly, it increases humility and chaste fear, for he who goes to prayer, acknowledges that he is a
beggar before God, and therefore humbles himself before Him, and is most careful not to offend Him, of whose
assistance he stands in need in everything.
One can see in these steps, the necessity for prayer on the way to perfection. In fact, much purgation takes place directly in prayer, especially before the Eucharist in Adoration. Adoration is a great gift to modern Catholics on the road through purgation to illumination.
Fifthly, prayer produces in our mind a contempt of all earthly goods;
for all temporal objects must appear mean and contemptible in the eyes of him who continually meditates on
things spiritual and eternal.(See St. Augustine, (Lib. ix. Confess))
Sixthly, prayer gives us incredible delight,since by it we begin to taste how sweet is the Lord. And how great this sweetness is, we may understand from this circumstance alone, that some I have known pass not only nights, but even whole days and nights in prayer, without any trouble or inconvenience. In fine, besides the utility and the pleasure, prayer also adds
dignity and honour to us. For even the angels themselves honour that soul which they see is so often and so familiarly admitted, to speak with the divine Majesty.
We will now speak on the method of praying well, in which chiefly consists the Art of living well,
and consequently the Art of dying well. For what our Lord says, “Ask and it shall be given to you,
for every one that asketh, receiveth;" St. James, in his epistle, declares it to be understood with the condition, if we ask properly. “You ask and receive not, because you ask amiss." (chap, iv.) We may reason then as follows: he who properly asks for the gift of living well, will doubtless receive it; and he who properly asks for perseverance in a good life until death, and by this a happy death also, will certainly obtain it. We will, therefore, briefly explain the conditions of prayer, that so we may learn how to pray well, live well, and die well.
The first condition is faith, according to the words of the apostle, " How then shall they call upon
him, in whom they have not believed?” and with this St. James agrees, " Let him ask in faith, nothing
But this necessity of faith is not so to be understood, as if it were necessary to believe that God would
certainly grant what we ask, for thus our faith would often prove false, and we should therefore
obtain nothing. We must believe, then, that God is most powerful, most wise, most High, and most
faithful; and therefore that He knows, and that He can and is prepared to do what we beg, of Him, if
He shall think proper, and it be expedient for us to receive what we ask. This faith Christ required of
the two blind men who desired to be cured; "Do you believe, that I can do this unto you?" With the
same faith did David pray for his sick son; for his words prove, that he believed not for certain that God would grant his request, but only that He could grant it; "Who knoweth whether the Lord may not give him to me, and the child may live?"
It cannot be doubted but that with the same faith the apostle Paul prayed to be delivered from the “sting of the flesh," since he prayed with faith, and his faith would have been false if he believed that God would certainly grant what at that time he asked; for he did not then obtain his request.
And with the same faith does the Church pray, that all heretics, pagans, schismatics, and bad Christians may be converted to penance; and yet it is certain
they are not all converted. Concerning which matter consult St. Prosper in his books " On the
Vocation of the Gentiles."
Another condition of prayer, and that a very necessary one, is hope or confidence. For although we
must not by faith, which is a work of the understanding, imagine that God will certainly grant our
requests, yet by hope, which is an act of the will, we may firmly rely upon the divine goodness, and
certainly hope that God will give us what we ask for. This condition our Lord required of the
paralytic, to whom He said, " Be of good heart, son, thy sins are forgiven thee." The same the apostle
requires of all, when he says, “Let us go therefore with confidence to the throne of grace ;" and long
before him, the prophet thus introduces God, saying, " Because he hath hoped in me, I will deliver
him." But because hope springs from perfect faith, therefore when the Scripture requires faith in the
great things, it adds something regarding hope; hence we read in St. Mark, "Amen I say to you, that
whosoever shall say to this mountain, Be thou removed and be cast into the sea, and shall not
stagger in his heart, but believe that whatsoever he saith shall be done; it shall be done unto him: "
of which faith producing confidence, are to be understood the words of the apostle; " If I should have
all faith, so that I could remove mountains, & c
Hence, John Cassian writes in his Treatise on Prayer, that it is a certain sign of our request being
granted, when in prayer we hope that God will certainly give us what we ask; and when in our
petitions we do not in any way hesitate, but pour forth in prayers with spiritual joy.
A third condition is charity or justice, by which we are delivered from our sins; for none but the
friends of God obtain the gifts of God. Thus David speaks in the Psalms: " The eyes of the Lord are
upon the just; and his ears unto their prayers: " and in another place, " If I have looked at iniquity in
my heart, the Lord will not hear me.”
And in the New Testament our Lord himself says: " If you abide in me, and my words (precepts)
abide in you, - you shall ask whatsoever you will, and it shall be done unto you." And the beloved
disciple saith: "Dearly beloved, if our heart do not reprehend us, we have confidence towards God:
and whatsoever we shall ask, we shall receive of him; because we keep his commandments, and do
those things which are pleasing in his sight." (1 Epist. of St. John iii. 21, 22.) This is not contrary to the doctrine, that when the publican asked of God the forgiveness of his sins, he returned home
"justified;" for a penitent sinner does not obtain his request as a sinner, but as a penitent; for as a
sinner he is the enemy of God; as a penitent, the friend of God. He that commits sin, does what is not
pleasing unto God; but he who repents of his sins, does what is most pleasing to Him.
A fourth condition is humility, by which he that prays, confides not in his own justice, but in the
goodness of God: "But to whom shall I have respect, but to him that is poor and little, and of a
contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my words?" (Isaias lxvi. 2.) And Ecclesiasticus adds: "The
prayer of him that humbleth himself, shall pierce the clouds: and till it come nigh he will not be
comforted: and he will not depart till the Most High behold." (xxxv. 21.)
A fifth condition is devotion, by which we pray not negligently, as many are accustomed to do, but
with attention, earnestness, diligence, and fervour: our Lord severely blames those who pray with
their lips only; thus He speaks by Isaiah: "This people draw near me with their mouth, and with their
lips glorify me; but their heart is far from me." (xxix. 13.) This virtue springs from a lively faith, and consists not in habit alone, but in deed. For he who attentively and with a firm faith considers how great is the Majesty of God, how great our nothingness, and how important those things are we ask for, cannot possibly help praying with the greatest humility, reverence, devotion, and fervour.
We shall here add powerful testimonies from two of the holy fathers. St. Jerome in his Dialogues
against the Luciferians, says: "I commence prayer: I should not pray, if I did not believe; but if I had
true faith, this heart, which God sees, I would cleanse; I would strike my breast: I would water my
cheeks with my tears: I would neglect all attention to my body and become pale; I would throw
myself at the feet of my Lord, and wash them with my weeping, and wipe them with my hair: I
would clasp the cross, and not depart before I had obtained mercy. Now most frequently during my
prayers, I am walking either along the porticos, or am counting my usury; or being carried away by evil thought; I entertain those things which it is shameful to speak of. Where is our faith ? Do we suppose that Jonas prayed thus? The three children? Daniel in the lions den? Or the good thief on the cross?"
St. Bernard, in his Sermon on the Four Methods of Praying, thus writes "It especially behoves us, during the time of prayer, to enter the heavenly chamber that chamber I mean, in which the King of kings sitteth on his royal throne, surrounded by an innumerable and glorious army of blessed spirits.
We have lost the ability to be humble in the West. Part of this has been the culture of entitlement and the lack of disciplining children. Without discipline, a person grow up with a will which has not been bent to obedience and humility. One sees this daily.
With what reverence then, with what fear, with what humility, ought dust and ashes to approach,
we who are nothing but vile creeping insects! With what trembling, earnestness, care, and solicitude,
ought miserable man to stand before the divine Majesty, in presence of the angels, in the assembly of
the just? In all our actions then, we have much need of vigilance, especially in prayer."
Vigilance in prayer means intellectual engagement. "Paying attention"....
The sixth condition is perseverance, which our Lord in two parables has recommended in St. Luke;
the first is concerning him who went in the night to a friend to ask for the loan of two loaves; who
being refused because of the unseasonable hour, yet by perseverance obtained his request. (St. Luke
xi.) The second is concerning the widow who besought the judge to free her from her adversary; and
the judge, although a very bad man, and one that feared neither God nor man, yet being overcome by the perseverance and importunity of the woman, he delivered her from her adversary. From these
examples our Lord concludes, that much more ought we to persevere in prayer to God, because He is
just and merciful. And, as St. James adds: "He giveth to all abundantly, and upbraideth not ;" that is,
hegives liberally to all who ask His gifts; and He " upbraideth not" their importunity, should they be
too troublesome in their importunities; for God has no measure in His riches nor in His mercy. St.
Augustine, in his explanation of the last verse of Psalm lxv. adds these words: " If thou shalt see that thy prayer is not rejected, thou art secure, because his mercy is not removed from thee."
A mystery begins to unfold. The more one prays, the more one wants to pray. The more one prays, the more God reveal Himself to the person. The more God reveals Himself, the more one desires God. One moves from the purgation of sins and imperfections, to illuminations, and finally to unity.
It is obvious that, like the other Doctors of the Church, Bellarmine experienced these steps in order to share with us the way to perfection.
To be continued...