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.

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