Sunday, January 26, 2014

Bellarmine on Prayer (7)

St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J. (+1621), Jesuit, Cardinal, and Doctor of the Church, wrote Ars bene moriendi, the Art of Dying Well, in 1619AD. Today I continue my presentation of this work, as I plan each Sunday, which now brings us to Chapter 7, On Prayer.

St. Robert Bellarmine (+1621AD)



HITHERTO we have spoken on the precepts of dying well, taken from the three theological virtues, faith, hope, and charity; and also we have spoken on the three moral virtues, sobriety, justice, and piety, all of which the blessed apostle Paul recommends to us. I will now add another precept on the three good works, prayer, fasting, and almsdeeds, which we learn from the angel Raphael. We read in the book of Tobias, that the angel Raphael thus spoke: " Prayer is good with fasting and alms, more than to lay up treasures of gold." (chap. xii. 8.) These three good works are the fruit of the virtues of religion, mercy, and temperance, which have a great affinity with piety, justice, and sobriety.

For as piety regards God, justice our neighbour, and sobriety ourselves, so also prayer, which is an act of religion, regards God; almsdeeds, which is an act of mercy, regards our neighbour; and fasting, which is an act of abstinence, regards ourself. Of prayer may be written much, but according to the nature of our treatise, we will only dwell on three points: the necessity of prayer; the advantage of it; and the method of praying with advantage.

The necessity of prayer is so often insisted upon in the Holy Scripture, that nothing is more clearly commanded than this duty. For although the Almighty knoweth what we stand in need of, as our
Lord himself tells us in St. Matthew, yet He wishes that we should ask for what we require, and by prayer lay hold of it, as if by spiritual hands or some suitable instrument. Hear our Lord in St. Luke:
“That we ought always to pray, and not to faint;" and also, " Watch ye therefore, praying at all times."(chap. xviii. and xxi.) Hear the apostle: " Pray without ceasing,"and Ecclesiasticus, " Let nothing hinder thee from praying always." (xviii.)

These precepts do not signify that we should do nothing else, but only that we should never forget so wholesome an exercise, and should frequently make use of it. This is what our Lord and his apostles have taught us, for they did not always pray in such a manner as to neglect preaching to the people, and confirming their words by signs and wonders; and yet it might be said they always were praying, because they prayed very frequently. In this sense must be understood these words: "My eyes are ever towards the Lord ;" and also, " His praise shall always be in my mouth ;" and the words concerning the apostle, "And they were always in the temple, praising and blessing God."

But the " fruits" of prayer are three especial advantages; merit, satisfaction, and impetration. On the merit of prayer we have the testimony of Christ himself in the gospel: “And when ye pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, that love to stand and pray in the synagogues and corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But thou, when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the doors, pray to thy Father in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret .will repay thee." (St. Matthew, vi. 5, 6.) By these words our Lord does not forbid us praying in a public place, for He himself prayed publicly before he raised Lazarus, but He forbids public prayer when it is done that we may be seen praying by many, and this through vain-glory: other wise we may pray in the temple, and there find a " chamber" for our heart, and in it pray to God "in secret," The words "will repay thee," signify the merit; for, as He said of the Pharisee, " he has received his reward," that is, human praise; so of one who prays in the chamber of his heart, and who looks to God alone, we must understand that to him will be given a reward by his Father "who seeth in secret."

Respecting satisfaction for past sins, we all know the practice of the Church, by which when satisfaction is enjoined, prayer is united with fasting and almsdeeds; nay, very often almsdeeds and fasting are omitted, and prayer alone commanded.

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. 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 affirms. 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. 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 wavering." 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 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. 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."

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, he gives 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."


I shall be presenting this work at length, but in chapter-length installments each Sunday. If you simply can't wait for the next chapter, or want to read it all at once, you can find the full text here:

Live well.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Bellarmine on the Moral Virtues (6)

St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J. (+1621), Jesuit, Cardinal, and Doctor of the Church, wrote Ars bene moriendi, the Art of Dying Well, in 1619AD. Today I continue my presentation of this work, as I plan each Sunday, which now brings us to Chapter 6, In Which the Moral Virtues are Explained.

St. Robert Bellarmine (+1621AD)



ALTHOUGH the three theological virtues faith, hope, and charity include all the rules for living well, and therefore dying well; yet the Holy Spirit, the author of all the books of Scripture, for the better understanding of this most necessary art, has added three other virtues, which in a wonderful manner help men to live well and die well. These are, sobriety, justice, and piety of which the Apostle Paul speaks in his Epistle to Titus: "For the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ hath appeared to all men, instructing us that, denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live soberly, and justly, and godly in this world, looking for the blessed hope and coming of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ," (chap, ii.)

This, therefore, will be the sixth precept for living well and dying well: that, denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live soberly, and justly, and godly in this world." Here is an epitome of the whole of the divine law, reduced into one short sentence: “Decline from evil, and do good." (Psalm, xxxvi.) In evil there are two things; a turning away from God, and a turning to creatures, according to the prophet Jeremias: “My people have done two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and have digged to themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." (chap. ii. 13.) What must he therefore do, who wishes to decline from evil? He must "deny ungodliness and worldly desires." Ungodliness turns us away from God, and “worldly desires" turn us to creatures. As to doing good, we shall then fulfil the law when we live "soberly, justly, and piously"that is, when we are sober towards ourselves, just towards our neighbour, and pioustowards God.

But we will enter a little more into detail, in order to reduce more easily to practice this most salutary precept. What, then, is ungodliness? A vice contrary to piety. What is piety ? A virtue, or gift of the Holy Spirit, by which we regard God, and worship Him, and venerate Him as our Father. We are therefore commanded so to deny ungodliness, that we may "live piously in this world ;" or, what amounts to the same thing, so to live piously in this world, that we may deny all ungodliness. But why are these two mentioned, since one would be sufficient ? The Holy Spirit was thus pleased to speak, in order to make as understand that if we wish to please God, we must be so in love with piety as to admit of no impiety. For there are many Christians who seem pious by praying to God, by assisting at the adorable sacrifice, by hearing sermons, & c.; but, in the meanwhile, they either blaspheme God, or swear falsely, or break through their vows. And what else is this, but to pretend to be "pious" towards God, and yet be impious at the same time?

Wherefore, it behoveth those who desire to live well that they may die well, so to worship God as to deny all ungodliness .yea, even the very shadow of it. For it will be of little profit daily to hear mass, and to adore Christ in the holy mysteries, if, in the mean time, we impiously blaspheme God, or swear by His holy name. But we must also carefully remark, that the apostle does not say, " denying ungodliness” but "all ungodliness" that is, all kind of impiety; not only the more heinous sort, but even the slightest.
And this is said against those who hesitate not to swear without necessity; who in sacred places gaze at females in an unbecoming, though not lascivious manner; who talk during mass, and commit other offences, as if they believed God was not present, and did not observe even the slightest sins.
Our God is a jealous God, "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me: and showing mercy unto thousands to them that love me, and keep my commandments.” This the Son of God Himself has taught us by His own example, who, although meek and humble of heart, “when he was reviled, did not revile; when he suffered, hethreatened not ;" but when he saw in the temple "them that sold oxen, and sheep, and doves, and the changers of money sitters," being inflamed with great zeal, He made a scourge of little cords, and themoney of the changers he poured out, their tables he overthrew, saying: “My house is a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves” And this He did twice once in the first year of hispreaching, according to St. John; and again in the last year of his ministry, according to the testimony of three Evangelists.

Let us now proceed to the second virtue, which directs our actions towards our neighbours. This virtue is justice, of which the apostle speaks, that, " denying worldly desires, we live justly." Here that general sentence, "Decline from evil, and do good," is included; for there cannot be true justice towards our neighbours, where worldly desires prevail. But what do worldly desires mean but "the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life?" These are not from God, but of the world. Wherefore, as justice cannot be unjust, so also "worldly desires" cannot in any manner be united with true justice. A child of this world may indeed affect justice in words; but he cannot possibly do so in deed and in truth. The apostle then most wisely said, not only that we should live justly, but he premised "denying worldly desires," that he might make us understand the poisonous root of concupiscence must first be plucked up, before the good tree of justice can be planted in our heart.

No one can question what is meant by living "justly;"for we all know that justice commands us to
give each one his due; the apostle saith: " Render therefore to all men their dues. Tribute, to whom tribute is due: custom, to whom custom: fear, to whom fear: honour, to whom honour." (Epist. To Romans xiii. 7.) Tribute is due to a prince; honour to parents- fear to masters. Thus the apostle speaksby the prophet Malachy: "If then I be a father, where is my honour ? And if I be a master, where is my fear?" To the seller is due his just price, to the workman his just wages, and so of all otheremployments. And with much greater reason ought those to whom belongs the distribution of the public property, confer it on the most deserving, not being influenced by any exception of persons,however related or dear to him they may be. If, then, we wish to learn well the Art of dying well, let us hear the wise man crying out unto us: "Love justice, you that are the judges of the earth ;" hear St. James also lamenting in his Epistle: " Behold the hire of the labourers, who have reaped down your fields, which by fraud has been kept back by you, crieth: and the cry of them hath entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth." (chap. v. 4.)

There now remaineth the third virtue, which is called sobriety, to which " worldly desires" are no less contrary than to justice. And here we not only understand by sobriety the virtue contrary to drunkenness, but the virtue of temperance or moderation in general, which makes a man regulate what regards his body according to reason, not according to passion. Now this virtue is very rarely found among men; " worldly desires" seem to possess nearly all the rich of this world. But those who are wise should not follow the example of the foolish; although they arc almost innumerable, they should imitate only the wise. Solomon was certainly the wisest of men, and yet he besought God, saying-:“Two things I have asked of thee, deny them not before I die. Give me neither beggary nor riches, give me only the necessaries of life.”(chap. xxx. 7, 8.) The apostle Paul was wise, and he said: “For we brought nothing into this world, and certainly we can carry nothing out; but having food and where with to be covered, with these we are content." (Epist. to Tim. vi. 7.)

These words are very wise, for why should we be solicitous for superfluous riches, when we cannot take them with us to that place, towards which death is hurrying us. Christ our Lord was not only wiser than Solomon and St. Paul, but He was wisdom itself, and yet He also hath said, “Blessed are the poor, and woe to the rich;" and of Himself, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." (St. Luke ix. 58.). If then “in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall stand,” how much more shall every word be true in the mouth of three most wise men ? And if to this we add, that our unnecessary riches are not our own, but belong to the poor, (as is the common opinion of the holy fathers and scholastic writers,) are not those foolish men, who carefully hoard up that by which they will be condemned to hell?

If then we wish to learn the Art of dying and living well, let us not follow the crowd who only believe and value what is seen; but Christ and his apostles must we follow, who by word and deed have taught us that present things are to be despised, and " the hope and coming of the glory of the great God and the Saviour Jesus Christ," alone desired and expected. And truly, so great is that which we hope for at the glorious coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all the past glory, and riches, and joys of this world, will be esteemed as if they had not been; and those considered most unwise and unhappy, who in affairs of such importance, trusted rather to the foolish than to the wise.


I shall be presenting this work at length, but in chapter-length installments each Sunday. If you simply can't wait for the next chapter, or want to read it all at once, you can find the full text here:

Live well.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Lee-Jackson Day in Virginia

Today, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state holiday: Lee-Jackson Day.  This, in commemoration of two of the greatest men the Old Dominion has every produced: General Robert E. Lee and General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.

From the Code of Virginia:
"§ 2.2-3300. Legal holidays.
It is the policy of the Commonwealth to fix and set aside certain days in the calendar year as legal holidays for the people of Virginia. In each year, the following days are designated as legal holidays:

The Friday preceding the third Monday in January - Lee-Jackson Day to honor Robert Edward Lee (1807-1870) and Thomas Jonathan (Stonewall) Jackson (1824-1863), defenders of causes."

File:Robert E Lee in 1863.png

Robert E. Lee was born 19 January 1807 in Westmoreland County, Virginia.

His father a leader in the American Revolution, "Light Horse" Harry Lee, and his mother a member of the distinguished Carter family of Virginia, Lee certainly had notable bloodlines.

More than this, however, was his own talent and character.  Lee's remarkable military career is well known, with his great victories, such as that at Second Manassas and Chancellorsville.  He was loved by his men, feared and respected by his foes, gracious in victory and humble in defeat.

This speaks to his character.  Lee was a devout Episcopalian, who took his faith, and, in particular, his duties, very seriously.  Indeed, just as duty might be said to partly define what a gentleman is, so it defined Robert E. Lee.  There are any number of stories that attest to his great sense of duty and honor.

It was this sense of duty that caused him to remain loyal to his home state of Virginia with the coming of the war, despite the fact that he was no zealot for secession.  When offered command of the armed forces of the Commonwealth of Virginia, his speech to the Convention at Richmond on 23 April 1861 was brief, but very much in character:
"Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention: Deeply impressed with the solemnity of the occasion on which I appear before you, and profoundly grateful for the honour conferred upon me, I accept the position your partiality has assigned me, though I would greatly have preferred your choice should have fallen on one more capable.  Trusting to Almighty God, an approving conscience, and the aid of my fellow citizens, I will devote myself to the defense and service of my native State, in whose behalf alone would I have ever drawn my sword."

After the war, he would serve as President of Washington College, now Washington & Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia, where he is buried.

Here is a short biography of Lee:

On this anniversary of his taking command of the Army of Northern Virginia, you might be interested in "virtually" visiting a few of the sites associated with General Lee.

He was born at Stratford Hall, Westmoreland County, Virginia:

He lived for many years with his wife, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, (great-granddaughter of Martha Custis Washington by the first lady's first husband) at the Arlington House, in the county now named for it.  This home is on a magnificent bluff overlooking Washington, DC, and was, of course, seized by the federal government to be used as a cemetery, now Arlington National Cemetery.  The Lee family was later reimbursed for what was determined to be wrongful seizure.  The house itself is now designated as the Robert E. Lee Memorial:

Finally, Robert E. Lee is buried in the chapel of Washington & Lee University:

So much for the "Virginia Gentleman" and one of the most talented and honorable men ever produced by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Robert E. Lee's "right arm" and most trusted lieutenant during his campaigns was another Virginian, General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.

Jackson was born in Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia) on 21 January 1824, of humble bloodlines, and a father who was an attorney in what was a poorer part of the state.  He was accepted at West Point in 1842, though his weak schooling background meant that he had to make an extra effort with his studies -- he finished 17th out of a class of 59.

Stonewall Jackson served during the Mexican War, participating in the Veracruz campaign and the Battle of Chapultepec.  In 1851, he began a position as a professor at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia.  He was not a popular professor, however, dubbed "Tom fool" by his students.

Here is a link to the Stonewall Jackson House museum:

With the outbreak of the war, he would find himself commanding a Brigade of Virginia infantry from the Shenandoah Valley -- and his stand at the First Battle of Manassas, 21 July 1861, earned him his nickname of "Stonewall."  With the brigades of Generals Bee and Bartow shattered on Matthews Hill, Jackson met their fleeing forces, giving them a unit around which to rally.  It was in that context that General Bernard Bee of South Carolina said: "There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Rally behind the Virginians."  The name would stick for both the man and his brigade.

From that point, Stonewall Jackson would demonstrate his military genius with the dazzling Shenandoah Campaign of the Spring of 1862, and end up the "right arm" of Robert E. Lee, serving as a Corps commander in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia until his accidental wounding at the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863.  He would die of complications of his wounds on 10 May 1863.  His last words: "Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees."  He is buried in Lexington, Virginia.

Jackson was a notably pious man and not without his eccentricities.  Still, like Lee, he was a man of the highest personal morality and determined sense of duty and reverence for Almighty God.  He is noted for saying: "My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me. ... That is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave."

For more information, take a look at this splendid site maintained by the Virginia Military Institute:

Live well!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Bellarmine on the Errors of the Rich (5)

Happy Sunday!  Tomorrow I will present a bit more on the Baptism of Our Lord, and the conclusion of the Christmas season.

Today is also, of course, traditionally, the feast of the Holy Family, about which I posted yesterday.

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler by Hoffman.

St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J. (+1621), Jesuit, Cardinal, and Doctor of the Church, wrote Ars bene moriendi, the Art of Dying Well, in 1619AD. Today I continue my presentation of this work, as I plan each Sunday, which now brings us to Chapter 5, In Which the Deceitful Error of the Rich of the World is Exposed. This chapter is particularly challenging to those of us living in a materialistic society that is obsessed with wealth and tends to act as though the right to private property is absolute!

St. Robert Bellarmine (+1621AD)



IN addition to what has been already said, I must add the refutation of a certain error very prevalent among the rich of this world, and which greatly hinders them from living well and dying well. The error consists in this: the rich suppose that the wealth they possess is absolutely their own property, if justly acquired; and that therefore they may lawfully spend, give away, or squander their money, and that no one can say to them, "Why do you do so? Why dress so richly? Why feast so sumptuously? Why so prodigal in supporting your dogs and hawks? Why do you spend so much money in gaming, or other such-like pleasures?" They will answer: "What is it to you ? Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with my own ?"

Now, this error is doubtless most grievous and pernicious: for, granting that the "rich" are the masters of their own property with relation to other men; yet, with regard to God, they are not masters, but only administrators or stewards. This truth can be proved by many arguments. Hear the royal prophet: "The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof: the world and all they that dwell therein." (Psalm xxiii.) And again: " For all the beasts of the wood are mine: the cattle on the hills, and the oxen. If I should be hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fullness thereof." (Psalm xlix.)

And in the first book of Paralipomenon, when David had offered for the building of the temple three thousand talents of gold and seven thousand talents of silver, and Parian marble in the greatest abundance; and when, moved by the example of the king, the princes of the tribes had offered five thousand talents of gold, and ten thousand of silver, and eighteen thousand of brass, and a hundred thousand of iron, then David said to God: "Thine, O Lord, is magnificence, and power, and glory, and victory: and to thee is praise; for all that is in heaven or earth is thine: thine is the kingdom, Lord, and thon art above all princes. Thine are riches, and thine is glory, thou hast dominion over all: in thy and is power and might: in thy hand greatness and the empire of all things. Who am I, what is my people, that we should be able to promise thee all these things ? All things are thine; and we have given thee what we have received of thy hand." (chap. xxix. 11, &c.) To these may be added the testimony of God Himself, who by Aggæus the prophet saith: "Mine is silver, and mine is gold."

This the Lord spoke, that the people might understand that for the new building of the temple nothing would be wanting, since He himself would order its erection, to whom belonged all the gold and silver in the world. I shall add two more testimonies from the words of Christ, in the New Testament: " There was a certain rich man who had a steward: and the same was accused unto him, that he had wasted his goods. And he called him, and said to him: How is it I hear this of thee ? Give an account of thy stewardship: for now thou canst be steward no longer." (St. Luke xvi.) By the "rich man" is here meant God, who, as we have just said, crieth out by the prophet Aggæus: " Mine is silver, and mine is gold." By the "steward" is to be understood a rich man, as the holy Fathers teach, St. Chrysostom, St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, Venerable Bede, besides Theophylact, and Euthymius, and others on this passage.

If the Gospel, then, is to be credited, every rich man of this world must acknowledge that the riches he possesses, whether justly or unjustly acquired, are not his: that if they be justly acquired, he is only the steward of them; if unjustly, that he is nothing but a thief and a robber. And since the rich man is not the master of the wealth he possesses, it follows that, when accused of injustice before God, God removes him from his stewardship, either by death or by want: such do the words signify, "Give an account of thy stewardship, for now thou canst be steward no longer."

God will never be in want of ways to reduce the rich to poverty, and thus to remove them from their stewardship: such as by shipwrecks, robberies, hail-storms, cankers, too much rain, drought, and many other kinds of afflictions so many voices of God exclaiming to the rich: "Thou canst be steward no longer."

But when, towards the end of the parable, our Lord says: "Make unto you friends of the mammon of iniquity, that when you shall fail, they may receive you into everlasting dwellings," He does not mean that alms are to he given out of unjust riches, but of riches that are not riches, properly sospeaking, but only the shadows of them. This is evidently the meaning from another passage in the same Gospel of St. Luke: " If then you have not been faithful in the unjust mammon, who will trust you with that which is the true?"

The meaning of these words is: "If in the unjust mammon" that is, false riches "you have not been faithful"in giving liberally to the poor, "who will trust you" with true riches the riches of virtues,
which make men truly rich ? This is the explanation given by St. Cyprian, and also by St. Augustine
in the second book of his Evangelical Questions, where he says that mammon signifies "riches;" which the foolish and wicked alone consider to be riches, whilst wise and good men despise them,and assert that spiritual gifts are alone to be considered true riches.

There is another passage in the same Gospel of St. Luke, which may be considered as a kind of commentary on the unjust steward: "There was a certain rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and feasted sumptuously every day. And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, who lay at his gate, full of sores. Desiring to be filled with the crumbs that fell from the rich man s table, and no one did give him; moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham s bosom. And the rich man also died: and he was buried in hell." This Dives was certainly one of those who supposed he was master of his own money, and not a steward under God; and therefore he imagined not that he offended against God, when he was clothed in purple and linen, and feasted sumptuously every day, and had his dogs, and his buffoons, & c. For he perhaps said within himself: " I spend my own money, I do no injury to any one, I violate not the laws of God, I do not blaspheme nor swear, I observe the sabbath, I honour my parents, I do not kill, nor commit adultery, nor steal, nor bear false witness, nor do I covet my neighbour’s wife, or anything else." But if such was the case, why was he buried in hell ? why tormented in the fire ? We must then acknowledge that all those are deceived who suppose they are the “absolute" masters of their money; for if Dives had any more grievous sins to answer for, the Holy Scripture would certainly have mentioned them. But since nothing more has been added, we are given to understand that the superfluous adornment of his body with costly garments, and his daily magnificent banquets, and the multitude of his servants and dogs, whilst he had no compassion for the poor, was a sufficient cause of his condemnation to eternal torments.

Let it, therefore, be a fixed rule for living well and dying well, often to consider and seriously to ponder on the account that must be given to God of our luxury in palaces, in gardens, in chariots, in the multitude of servants, in the splendour of dress, in banquets, in hoarding up riches, in unnecessary expenses, which injure a great multitude of the poor and sick, who stand in need of our superfluities; and who now cry to God, and in the day of judgment will not cease crying out until we, together with the rich man, shall be condemned to eternal flames.


I shall be presenting this work at length, but in chapter-length installments each Sunday. If you simply can't wait for the next chapter, or want to read it all at once, you can find the full text here:

Live well.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Holy Family & Marriage

The Holy Family with the Little Bird, by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, c. 1650AD.

Tomorrow is traditionally the feast of the Holy Family -- the Sunday after Epiphany.  In the reformed calendar of 1970AD, the Feast falls on the Sunday during the Octave of Christmas.  Regardless, it seems, in these waning days of the Christmas season, an opportune moment to note something of this great model of family life.

"The special devotion which sets forth the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as the model of virtue for all Christian households began in the seventeenth century.  It commenced almost simultaneously in Canada and France: -- the Association of the Holy Family being founded in Montreal in 1663, and the Daughters of the Holy Family in Paris in 1674.  Numerous other congregations and associations under the Patronage of the Holy Family have been established since that time, and they are spread over the world.  The arch-confratenity was established by Bl. Pius IX in 1847.  In 1893 Leo XIII approved a Feast for Canada, and Pope Benedict XV extended the Feast of the Holy Family to the whole Church and ordered its celebration to take place on the Sunday after the Epiphany." [Baronius Press Missal, pg. 244]

It is well to recall the collect of the Feast:
"O Lord Jesus Christ, who, being subject to Mary and Joseph, didst sanctify home life with ineffable virtues; grat that , with the aid of both, we may be taught by the example of Thy Holy Family, and attain to eternal fellowship with them."

While the specific devotion to the Holy Family is of recent origin, certainly the members of the Holy Family, Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and St. Joseph well worthy of consideration as a family, and, indeed, give us a model of what family life should contain.

It is a wonder to ponder those words of the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke, Chapter 2: "51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was subject to them. And his mother kept all these words in her heart."

For more, you would do well to check out this page: Fisheaters: Feast of the Holy Family

A consideration of the Holy Family naturally leads to a consideration of family and the Sacrament of Matrimony.  You might consider:

Arcanum of Pope Leo XIII:

Casti Connubii of Pope Pius XI:

Familiaris Consortio of Pope John Paul II:

Of course, I should put in a mention of my own institution of employment, which proudly bear the title and patronage of the Holy Family:

Live well!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Bellarmine on the Evangelical Counsels (4)

Adoration of the Magi by Giotto.

Some celebrate today the Epiphany, which is traditionally marked on 6 January, but we shall defer our note of it here until tomorrow...

St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J. (+1621), Jesuit, Cardinal, and Doctor of the Church, wrote Ars bene moriendi, the Art of Dying Well, in 1619AD. Today I continue my presentation of this work, as I plan each Sunday, which now brings us to Chapter 4, On Three Evangelical Counsels.

St. Robert Bellarmine (+1621AD)



ALTHOUGH what we have said on faith, hope, and charity, may seem sufficient to enable us to live well and die well; yet, in order to effect these two objects more perfectly and more easily, our Lord Himself has deigned to give us three counsels in the Holy Scriptures: thus He speaks in St. Luke:
"Let your loins be girt, and lamps burning in your hands. And you yourselves like to men who wait for their lord, when he shall return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord, when he cometh, shall find watching." (chap. xii. 35, 36.)

This parable may be understood in two ways: of preparation for the coming of our Lord at the last day, and for His coming at the particular death of each one. This latter explanation which is that of St. Gregory on this gospel (Homily xiii) seems more adapted to our subject: for the expectation of the last day, will chiefly regard only those who will then be alive: our Lord seems to have intended it for the apostles, not for all Christians, although the apostles and their successors were many ages distant from this day.

Moreover, many signs will precede the last day, that will terrify men, according to the words of our
Lord:" And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars: and upon the earth distress of nations Men withering away for fear, and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world." But no certain signs will precede the particular death of each one: and such a coming do those words signify, which are so frequently repeated in the Holy Scripture, that the Lord will come like " a thief" that is, when He is least expected.

We will, therefore, briefly explain this parable, understanding by it that preparation for death, which above all things is so absolutely necessary for us. Our Lord commands us all to observe three things:

First, that we have "our loins girt;" Secondly, that we have "lamps burning in our hands;" Thirdly, that we "watch " in expectation of the coming of our Judge, being no less ignorant when He will come, than we are of the coming of thieves. Let us explain the words, “Let your loins be girt." The literal meaning of these words is, that we should be ready prepared to go forth and meet the Lord, when death shall call us to our particular judgment. The comparison of the garments being girt, is taken from the custom of Eastern nations that use long garments; and when they are about to go on a journey or to walk, they gather up their garments and gird their loins, lest their garments should be in their way. Hence it is said of the angel Raphael, who had come as a guide to the younger Tobias:
"Then going forth, found a beautiful young man, standing girded, and as it were ready to walk."
(Tobias v. 5.) And according to the same custom of the Orientals, St. Peter writes: “Wherefore, having the loins of your mind girt up, being sober, trust perfectly in the grace which is offered you,& c.” (1 Epist. i. 13.) And St. Paul in his Epistle to the Ephesians says: “Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth.” (i. 14.) Now, to have our "loins girt," signifies two things: First, the virtue of chastity; Secondly, a readiness to meet our Lord coming to judgment, whether it be the particular or the general judgment. The holy fathers, St. Basil, St. Augustine, and St. Gregory, give the first explanation. And truly, the concupiscence of the flesh, beyond all other passions, doth greatly hinder us from being ready to meet Christ; whilst, on the other hand, nothing makes us more fit to follow our Lord, than virginal chastity. We read in the Apocalypse how virgins follow the Lamb “whithersoever he goeth.”

And the apostle saith: “he that is without a wife is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please God. But he that is with a wife, is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife; and he is divided." (1 Epist. to Cor. vii. 32, 33.) But another explanation, which does not restrict the "the loins girt" to continence alone, but includes a ready obedience to Christ in all things, is that of St. Cyprian (Liber de Exhortat. Martyrii, cap. viii): we shall also follow the explanation which most commentators give of this passage. The meaning then of these words is, that the affairs of this life even the most necessary and important must not so occupy our mind as to hinder us from directing our first thoughts, by preparing to meet Christ when He shall call upon us at our death, to give an account of all our works, yea, of all our words and thoughts, even unto every idle word and frivolous thought.

What will they do then, when death cometh suddenly upon them, who are now wholly immersed in worldly cares, and who never think for one moment of the account they will have to give to God, of all their works, of all their words, of all their thoughts, of all their desires, and of all their omissions?
Will these be able to meet Christ, with their loins girt? Rather, will they not, being entangled and bound, fall in their sins into despair? For what can they answer, when the Judge shall say unto them:
“Why did you not attend to my words, with which I so often admonished you, saying: Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all other things shall be added unto you? And why also did you not consider those words, which you must have so often heard in the church, Martha, Martha, thou art careful, and art troubled about many things. But one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the better part, which shall not be taken away from her ? If I reprehended Martha, who was so anxious to serve me, can I be pleased with your anxiety to hoard up superfluous wealth, to attain dangerous honours, to satisfy your sinful passions; and, in the mean time, to forget the kingdom of God and His justice, which above all other things is so necessary for you?”

But we will now explain another duty of the diligent and faithful servant: "And lamps burning in your hand." It is not sufficient for the faithful servant to have his "loins girt," that so he may freelyand easily meet his Lord; a burning lamp is also required to show him the way, because at night he should be expecting the Lord, when He returneth from the nuptial banquet. In this place, "the lamp" signifies the law of God, which will point out the right path. David saith: " Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path."

The "law is a light” saith Solomon in the Book of Proverbs. But this lamp cannot illumine or point out the way, if it be left in our chamber or house, and therefore we must hold it in our hand, that it may show us the right way. Many there are well acquainted with divine and human laws, but they commit many sins, or omit many good and necessary works, because they have not a lamp in their hands that is, because their knowledge does not extend to works. How many most learned men are there, who commit very grievous sins, because when they act they consult not the law of the Lord, but their anger, their lust, or some other passion! If King David, when he saw Bethsabee naked, had remembered the command of God, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife," he would never have fallen into so great a crime; but, because he was delighted with the beauty of the woman, forgetting the divine law, this man, once so just and holy, committed adultery. Wherefore, we must always hold the lamp of the law, not hidden in our chamber, but in our hands, and obey those words of the Holy Spirit, who orders us to meditate on the law of the Lord " day and night," that so with the prophet we may say: "Thou hast commanded thy commandments to be kept most diligently. That my ways may be directed to keep thy justifications!”(Psalm cxviii.) He who always keeps before his eyes the lamp of the law, will always be ready to meet his Lord whenever He cometh.

The third and last duty of the faithful servant is "to watch” being uncertain when the Lord shall come: "Blessed are those servants whom, when the Lord shall come, he shall find watching." Our Creator does not wish that men should die at a certain known time, lest during all the period before this they should indulge in sin, and then endeavour to be converted to God a little before their death.

Divine Providence hath, therefore, so disposed things that nothing is more uncertain than the hour of death: some die in the womb, some when scarcely born, some in extreme old age, some in the flower of youth, whilst others languish a long time, or die suddenly, or recover from a severe sickness and almost incurable disease; others are only slightly affected, but when they seem secure from death, the disease comes on again, and takes them away. To this uncertainty our Lord alludes in the Gospel:
"And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. But this know ye, that if the householder did know at what hour the thief would come, he would surely watch, and would not suffer his house to be broken open. Be you then also ready: for at what hour you think not, the Son of Man will come." (St. Luke xii. 38,& c.) In order that we may be convinced how important it is for us to be persuaded of the uncertainty of the time inwhich the Lord shall come to judge whether it be at our death, or at the end of the world nothing is more frequently repeated in the Holy Scriptures than the word, "Watch," and also the comparison of the " Thief," who often cometh when he is least expected. The word, Watch," continually found in the Gospels of St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke; also in the Epistles of the Apostles, and in theApocalypse.

From these considerations it is evident, how great must be the negligence and ignorance, not to say the blindness and madness of the greater part of mankind, who, although so often warned by the Spirit of Truth itself, who cannot deceive, to prepare for death, that great and most difficult affair, on which eternal happiness or misery depends; yet few are there that are roused by the words, or rather by the thunder of the Holy Spirit.

But some one may reply: "What advice do you give to teach us to watch as we ought, and by watching to prepare for a good death?" Nothing more useful occurs to me, than for us frequently and seriously to examine our conscience, that so we may prepare for death. All Catholics, when every year they are about to confess their sins, fail not beforehand to examine their conscience. And,indeed, when they fall sick, according to the decree of Pope Pius V., the doctor is forbidden to visit them a second time, until, having examined their conscience, their sins have been expiated by anhumble confession. In fine, there are hardly any Catholics, who, when near death, do not confess their sins. But what shall we say of those who are snatched away by a sudden death? What of those who are afflicted with madness, or fall into delirium before confession? What of those who, being grievously afflicted by their disease, cannot even think of their sins ? What of those who sin whilst dying, or die in sin, as they do who engage in an unjust war, or in a duel, or are killed in the act of adultery?

Prudently to avoid these and other like misfortunes, nothing can be imagined more useful than for those who value their salvation, , twice every day, morning and night, diligently to examine their conscience; what they have done during the night, or the preceding day; what they have said, desired, or thought of, in which sin may have entered; and if they shall discover anything mortal, let them not defer seeking the remedy of true contrition, with a resolution to approach the sacrament of penance on the very first opportunity.

Wherefore, let them ask of God the gift of contrition, let them ponder on the enormity of sin, let them detest their sins from their heart, and seriously ask themselves who is the "offended and the offenders." Man, a worm, offends God the Almighty; a base slave, the Lord of heaven and earth!

Spare not then your tears, nor cease to strike your breast: in fine, make a firm resolution never more to offend God, never more to irritate the best of Fathers. If this examination be continued morning and night, or at least once in the day, it can scarcely happen that we shall die in sin, or mad, or delirious. Thus it will be, that every preparation being made for a good death, neither its uncertainty will trouble us, nor the happiness of eternal life fail us.


I shall be presenting this work at length, but in chapter-length installments each Sunday. If you simply can't wait for the next chapter, or want to read it all at once, you can find the full text here:

Live well!