Conformity of the Human Will to the Divine

"The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away . . . blessed be the name of the Lord."
Job 1: 21


Book Three:

Chapter Six: That Conformity of the Human Will
to the Divine is Heaven Out of Heaven, and True Happiness

"BLESSED art thou, and it shall be well with thee" (Ps. CXXVII. 2), whoever thou art, that hast perfectly attained to this conformity of thine own will with the Divine, and hast eagerly embraced everything as from the Hand of God. This will be thy happiness in this lower world; thou wilt experience a perpetual joy, and a gladness known only to a few; for this happiness they enjoy who are united to God in the closest friendship. "Blessed art thou, and it shall be well with thee," for sure is that saying of S. Paul,-----"The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but justice and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in this serveth Christ pleaseth God, and is approved of men." (Rom. XIV. 17, 18) For as in Heaven there is no change, and no yesterday or today (if I may so speak), but a continual and equable inflowing of eternal pleasure, which is itself unvarying, and yet not wholly enjoyed at one and the same time, "for a thousand years in Thy sight are as yesterday, which is past" (Ps. LXXXIX. 4); so, in like manner, those also who have attained to this union of their own will with the Divine are now well-nigh unchangeable, and whatever sorrowful vicissitude befalls them they restrain by the empire of reason. All their meat, and drink, and delight, is the Good-pleasure of God; and so restlessness and anxiety depart, or else from these there would daily spring first one kind of trouble and then another without number. Their will is so sweetly lulled into repose by the Will of God, that, since they see that all things proceed from Him, and that His most Holy Will is fulfilled in all things, even their very troubles and sorrows bring with them a portion of joy, for in these troubles and sorrows they discover the Divine Will, and more surely so than in the greatest prosperity. And so if haply there is anything which assails their deep tranquillity, there is certainly nothing which can overthrow it. "They that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Sion: he shall not be moved for ever." (Ps. CXXIV. 1)

1. And this was the ground of that unruffled peace with which the ancient Fathers were sustained, and, as it were, beatified. They were not exempt indeed from an accumulation of various troubles. Diseases very often harassed their bodies, and anxieties assailed their minds; for in proportion as each one became more saintly, the sorer was he for the most part afflicted. Whence, then, did they derive such unvarying serenity of mind? Whence such great firmness and cheerfulness of exterior? How was it that they kept such a perpetual paschal feast, sabbath, as it were, after sabbath? From no other cause, in truth, than from the most perfect oblation of self to the Divine Will. It was with vain and edgeless attack that calamity of every kind rushed upon him whom the Divine Will had thus forearmed:-----"Whatsoever shall befall the just man, it shall not make him sad." (Prov. XII. 21) These saintly men, therefore, were both happy and blessed, for in all things they recognized and worshipped the Will of God, and so on this alone they reposed, and by it were gladdened and sustained. It chanced that two persons were conversing upon this subject, when one of them said,-----"If it really is the case that all things which happen proceed from the Divine Will, and in such a way that not even a single sparrow falls to the ground, as Christ testifies, without God having foreknown it from all eternity, and willed it, we shall be happy, and shall be incapable of ever being unhappy, if we receive this." "Yes, perfectly happy shall we be," said the other, "and shall even now almost dwell in Heaven; but few are able to receive this in all its fullness; not because it is hard of reception, but because they do not apply their minds." This also may doubtless be a reason, viz., because this truth is so seldom and so obscurely laid down in sermons. Oftentimes learned subjects, and those which are pleasing to the ear, are discoursed of; but such topics are comparatively useless, and to be acquainted with them is scarcely any help at all towards Heaven. This must be taught and enforced, this must be constantly inculcated, viz., the way in which each person may best devote himself, and all that belongs to him, to the Divine Will, and may become possessed of a Heaven this side of Heaven.

S. Catherine of Siena, a virgin remarkable for her sanctity, was wont to say that men of upright minds were as like as possible to our Saviour, for as He never lost His tranquillity of soul, even in His utmost agony, so neither did they lose it, since it consists in the conformity of their own will to the Divine. Nor does it hinder this tranquil happiness that their sufferings are great, for such things oftentimes increase it. Job was none the less united to God when suffering the bitterest afflictions than he was when surrounded with pleasure; nay, I would even go so far as to affirm that Job when in want, and covered with sores on a dunghill, was far more closely united to God than he was when living in splendour. The calmness of a mind united to the Divine Will cannot be obscured by any clouds of sorrow. The leaves of the Heliotrope never fade, according to Pliny; and so concerning such a man, you may say,-----"His leaf shall not fall off: and all whatsoever he shall do shall prosper." (Ps. I. 3)

2. Once upon a time one of the Persians, boasting to the Greeks about the multitude of his own people, said,-----"Tomorrow we shall hide the sun with our arrows." To whom the Greek playfully replied,-----"I am glad to hear it, for we shall fight the better in the shade." And so the man who is truly devoted to the Divine Will exclaims,-----"Let the whole power of Hell assail me, let enemies advance, and let them hide the sun with their darts, yet shall not my heart fail me, for I shall fight all the better under this shade." "Nevertheless, as it shall be the will of God in heaven so be it done." (I Mach. III. 60)

Cassian (Coll. XII. 13) relates that a man of Alexandria, who was of a great age, was surrounded by idolaters, like a lamb by wolves. They all united in pinching, and pushing, and driving him hither and thither; heaping on him a thousand curses and a thousand injuries, and treating him like a ball which is tossed from hand to hand. At length one of them asked him in mockery what miracles his Christ, Whom he vaunted so much, had shown? Whereupon the old man calmly replied,-----"He wrought this miracle, that I should endure the injuries which you heap upon me. without losing my tranquillity of mind, and should be ready to endure even greater injuries for love of Him, if you were to proceed to inflict them." And this is in truth a great miracle, and one which even now is daily performed by those who surrender themselves entirely to the Divine Will. Such as these know how to stand fearless in the midst of whirlwinds and tempests, and erect among ruins; and to look down upon all human things as beneath their feet. The old miracles are revived; the bush which Moses saw and which burnt with fire, but was not consumed; the three Hebrew Children who fell down bound in the flames at Babylon, and yet remained uninjured and untouched. And so, no doubt, many sorrowful things befall good men; and here it is not that they lack the sense of feeling, but impatience. Every kind of adversity they view as a trial of themselves, and refer it all to the Divine Will. And so they do not dread hardships and difficulties, nor do they murmur at all about God and the Divine Permissions. Whatever happens they believe it to be for their good, and turn it to a good account, and refer everything to the Divine Will and Providence.

They say that Mount Olympus in Macedonia is of such a wonderful height that neither wind, nor rain, nor snow, ever reach its summit. "Olympus rises above the clouds." (LUCAN, Pharsal. 2) There the sky is clear and bright, beyond all the fierce conflicts of tempests. But this spot allows no birds or other living creatures to rest upon it, for the exceeding rarity of the atmosphere prevents respiration. The knowledge of this fact was arrived at as follows: There were certain people who attempted the ascent every year, and who used to carry with them wet sponges fastened to their nostrils, which made the air denser, and thus promoted respiration; and when they had ascended the peak of the mountain they wrote certain letters on the dust, and after the lapse of a year they found that they had not been disturbed, but were just as if they had been recently written; and this was a convincing proof that neither rain nor wind ever visited that spot. And such is the condition of the man who has reached this most exalted height of union with the Divine Will. He is a Mountain, an Olympus, higher than the clouds, above storms, out of the reach of wild beasts, unapproachable by winds. Here the clouds of sorrow are hurried along beneath him. Here is profound and most delicious repose in the sole Will of God. "In peace," says S. Augustine, "is perfection, where there is nothing which opposes; and therefore the sons of God are men of peace, since there is nothing in them which strives against God. And this is the peace which is given on earth to men of good will: this is the life of a complete and perfectly wise man." Admirably has Dorotheus (Serm. de Obed.) said, that the man who in all things endeavours to follow the Divine Will is borne along in a chariot, together with all the crosses which otherwise would have been borne by him; while others, who do not understand this short and easy way of traveling, follow behind on foot, and either drag along heavy crosses in a gloomy way, or carry them with pain and difficulty.

3. That this perfect union with the Divine Will is the supreme happiness out of Heaven Philo (De Sacerd. Muner.) testifies, when he says,-----"While the question is about offering gifts to God, regard is had to the benefit of those who offer. For as long as they are accustomed to cut off a part of their daily food for God, they never fall into forgetfulness of Him: and nothing in this world can happen more fortunately for a man than this." And to this sentiment a Theologian and preacher of our own day subscribes. "I have sometimes thought," he says, "whether any art could be devised by which a man might be perfectly happy out of the heavenly condition of the Blessed; and I am persuaded that there is this one way-----if he surrenders himself entirely to his Creator and His most Holy Will, keeping back no part of himself."

And great assistance in making this truth known does the god Cynocephalus render; who is a beast in the formation of its hands and feet, but like a man in the rest of the body. It is the peculiarity of this creature that it is governed by the moon through some secret influence. For when the moon grows old the eyes of the Cynocephalus fail so much that when it has come to its last quarter, and has disappeared, the eyes of the beast stare wide open, without any power of sight, and in a similar way all the functions of its body fail. But when the moon is young, and readjusts its golden orb, the eyes of the animal expand, and its whole body regains its strength, so that, being recreated, as it were, and restored to its former condition, it raises itself up on its hinder-feet, and with a wonderful prostration of body, and with hands raised up in veneration to the ring of the moon, it worships that heavenly body with suppliant gesture. And by this worship the animal protests and proclaims that it ascribes all its happiness to the moon, since it owes all that it possesses to the liberality of that heavenly body. And so it happens, that, when the moon reaches the full, a ring shines round the head of the Cynocephalus like a crown. A very wonderful union between a planet and a brute, that the animal knows how to return thanks to its nourisher with such great signs of submission, and with such an humble form of worship, and to offer itself as a slave! And what are we doing, Christian friends, if we are either less wise, or inferior to an animal void of reason? God. is most perfect Light; yet, as far as we are concerned, that Light either waxes or wanes according as we prepare ourselves to receive it. When it fades within us our eyes become dim; we pine away, and fall to the ground, and faint, and perish: but when it increases we are illuminated, and grow, and are strong and healthy. Let us, therefore, submit ourselves as perfectly as possible to this Lord, and to His most Holy Will, being ready to obey its every indication. This procures for us a crown, and not only that of eternal glory, but an illustrious one even in this fleeting life. We are transformed into God, when our will is transformed into the Divine.

And how I wish, Christian friends, how I wish, that day and night you would do nothing else, and care for nothing else, than that your will should in all things be the Will of God, than that the Divine Will should transfuse itself into yours! It is the worthiest of tasks for you to strain every nerve that you may only will or not will that which God wills or wills not. Believe me, it is good for us thus to cleave to God; it is good for us thus to be joined to the Divine Will, and to place our trust in the Lord God. This is true blessedness. This is HEAVEN OUT OF HEAVEN.