WHY AND IN WHAT MATTERS WE SHOULD ABANDON OURSELVES TO PROVIDENCE
Taken from PROVIDENCE, Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.
Nihil Obstat, Imprimatur and Imprimi Potest, 1937
The doctrine of self-abandonment to Divine providence is a doctrine obviously founded on the Gospel, but it has been falsely construed by the Quietists, who gave themselves up to a spiritual sloth, more or less renounced the struggle necessary for the attainment of perfection, and seriously depreciated the value and necessity of hope or confidence in God, of which true self-abandonment is a higher form.
But it is possible also to depart from the Gospel teaching on this point in a sense entirely opposite to that of the Quietists with their idle repose, by going to the other extreme of a useless disquiet and agitation. Here as elsewhere the truth is the culminating point lying between and transcending these two extreme conflicting errors. It behooves us therefore to determine exactly the meaning and import of the true doctrine of self-abandonment to the will of God if we are to be saved from these sophistries, which have no more than a false appearance of Christian perfection.
We shall first see why it is we should practice this self-abandonment to Providence, and then in what matters. After that we shall see what form it should take and what is the attitude of Providence toward those who abandon themselves completely to it.
We shall get our inspiration from the teaching of St. Francis de Sales, 1 Bossuet, 2 Père Piny, O.P., 3 and Père de Caussade, S.J. 4
Why we should abandon ourselves to Divine providence
The answer of every Christian will be that the reason lies in the wisdom and goodness of Providence. This is very true; nevertheless, if we are to have a proper understanding of the subject, if we are to avoid the error of the Quietists in renouncing more or less the virtue of hope and the struggle necessary for salvation, if we are to avoid also the other extreme of disquiet, precipitation, and a feverish, fruitless agitation, it is expedient for us to lay down four principles already somewhat accessible to natural reason and clearly set forth in revelation as found in Scripture. These principles underlying the true doctrine of self-abandonment, also bring out the motive inspiring it.
The first of these principles is that everything which comes to pass has been foreseen by God from all eternity, and has been willed or at least permitted by Him.
Nothing comes to pass either in the material or in the spiritual world, but God has foreseen it from all eternity; because with Him there is no passing from ignorance to knowledge as with us, and He has nothing to learn from events as they occur. Not only has God foreseen everything that is happening now or will happen in the future, but whatever reality and goodness there is in these things He has willed; and whatever evil or moral disorder is in them, He has merely permitted. Holy Scripture is explicit on this point, and, as the councils have declared, no room is left for doubt in the matter.
The second principle is that nothing can be willed or permitted by God that does not contribute to the end He purposed in creating, which is the manifestation of His goodness and infinite perfections, and the glory of the God-man Jesus Christ, His only Son. As St. Paul says (1 Cor. 2: 23), "All are yours. And you are Christ's. And Christ is God's."
In addition to these two principles, there is a third, which St. Paul states thus (Rom. 8: 28): "We know that to them that love God all things work together unto good: to such as, according to His purpose, are called to be Saints" and persevere in His love. God sees to it that everything contributes to their spiritual welfare, not only the grace He bestows on them, not only those natural qualities He endows them with, but sickness too, and contradictions and reverses; as St. Augustine tells us, even their very sins, which God only permits in order to lead them on to a truer humility and thereby to a purer love. It was thus He permitted the three-fold denial of St. Peter, to make the great Apostle more humble, more mistrustful of self, and by this very means become stronger and trust more in the Divine mercy.
These first three principles may therefore be summed up in this way: Nothing comes to pass but God has foreseen it, willed it or at least permitted it. He wills nothing, permits nothing, unless for the manifestation of His goodness and infinite perfections, for the glory of His Son, and the welfare of those that love Him. In view of these three principles, it is evident that our trust in Providence cannot be too childlike, too steadfast. Indeed, we may go further and say that this trust in Providence should be blind as is our faith, the object of which is those mysteries that are non-evident and unseen(fides est de non visis) for we are certain beforehand that Providence is directing all things infallibly to a good purpose, and we are more convinced of the rectitude of His designs than we are of the best of our own intentions. Therefore, in abandoning ourselves to God, all we have to fear is that our submission will not be wholehearted enough. 5
In view of Quietism, however, this last sentence obliges us to lay down a fourth principle no less certain than the principles that have preceded. The principle is, that obviously self-abandonment does not dispense us from doing everything in our power to fulfill God's will as made known in the commandments and counsels, and in the events of life; but so long as we have the sincere desire to carry out His will thus made known from day to day, we can and indeed we must abandon ourselves for the rest to the Divine will of good pleasure, no matter how mysterious it may be, and thus avoid a useless disquiet and mere agitation. 6
This fourth principle is expressed in equivalent terms by the Council of Trent (Sess. VI, cap. 13), when it declares that we must all have firm hope in God's assistance and put our trust in Him, being careful at the same time to keep His commandments. As the well-known proverb has it: "Do what you ought, come what may."
All theologians explain what is meant by the Divine will as expressed: expressed, that is, in the commandments, in the spirit underlying the counsels, and in the events of life. 7 They add that, while conforming ourselves to His expressed will, 8 we must abandon ourselves to His Divine will of good pleasure, however mysterious it may be, for we are certain beforehand that in its holiness it wills nothing, permits nothing, unless for a good purpose.
We must take special note here of these words in the Gospel of St. Luke (16: 10): "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in that which is greater." If every day we do what we can to be faithful to God in the ordinary routine of life, we may be confident that He will give us grace to remain faithful in whatever extremity we may find ourselves through His permission; and if we have to suffer for Him, He will give us the grace to die a heroic death rather than be ashamed of Him and betray Him.
These are the principles underlying the doctrine of trusting self-abandonment. Accepted as they are by all theologians, they express what is of Christian faith in this matter. The golden mean is thus above and between the two errors mentioned at the beginning of this section. By constant fidelity to duty, we avoid the false and idle repose of the Quietist, and on the other hand by a trustful self-abandonment we are saved from a useless disquiet and a fruitless agitation. Self-abandonment would be sloth did it not presuppose this daily fidelity, which indeed is a sort of springboard from which we may safely launch ourselves into the unknown. Daily fidelity to the Divine will as expressed gives us a sort of right to abandon ourselves completely to the Divine will of good pleasure as yet not made known to us.
A faithful soul will often recall to mind these words of our Lord: "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me" (John 4: 34). The soul finds its constant nourishment in the Divine will as expressed, abandoning itself to the Divine will as yet not made known, much as a swimmer supports himself on the passing wave and surrenders himself to the oncoming wave, to that ocean that might engulf him but that actually sustains him. So the soul must strike out toward the open sea, into the infinite ocean of being, says St. John Damascence, borne up by the Divine will as made known there and then and abandoning itself to that Divine will upon which all successive moments of the future depend. The future is with God, future events are in His hands. If the merchants to whom Joseph was sold by his brethren had passed by one hour sooner, he would not have gone into Egypt, and the whole course of his life would have been changed. Our lives also are dependent on events controlled by God. Daily fidelity and trusting self-abandonment thus give the spiritual life its balance, its stability and harmony. In this way we live our lives in almost continuous recollection, in an ever-increasing self-abnegation, and these are the conditions normally required for contemplation and union with God. This, then, is the reason why our life should be one of self-abandonment to the Divine will as yet unknown to us and at the same time supported every moment by that will as already made known to us.
In this union of fidelity and self-abandonment we have some idea of the way in which asceticism, insisting on fidelity or conformity to the Divine will, should be united with mysticism, which emphasizes self-abandonment.
In what matters we should abandon ourselves to Divine Providence
Once we have complied with the principles just laid down, when we have done all that the law of God and Christian prudence demand, our self-abandonment should then embrace everything. What does this involve? In the first place, our whole future, what our circumstances will be tomorrow, in twenty years and more. We must also abandon ourselves to God in all that concerns the present, in the midst of the difficulties we may be experiencing right now; even our past life, our past actions with all their consequences should be abandoned to the Divine mercy.
We must likewise abandon ourselves to God in all that affects the body, in health and sickness, as well as in all that affects the soul, whether it be joy or tribulation, of long or brief duration. We must abandon ourselves to God in all that concerns the good will or malice of men. 9 Says St. Paul: 10
If God be for us, who is against us? He.that spared not His Own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how hath He not also, with Him, given us all things? ...Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulations? Or distress? Or famine? Or nakedness? Or danger? Or persecutions? Or the sword? ... I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor Angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Could there be a more perfect self-abandonment in the spirit of faith, hope, and love? This is an abandonment embracing all the vicissitudes of this world, all the upheavals that may convulse it, embracing life and death, the hour of death, and the circumstances, peaceful or violent, in which we breathe forth our last sigh.
The same thought has been expressed in the Psalms: "Fear the Lord ... for there is no want to them that fear Him. The rich have wanted, and have suffered hunger: but they that seek the Lord shall not be deprived of any good (Ps. 33: 10); "O how great is the multitude of Thy sweetness, O Lord, which Thou hast hidden for them that fear Thee! Which Thou hast wrought for them that hope in Thee. ... Thou shalt hide them in the secret of Thy face from the disturbance of men. Thou shalt protect them in Thy tabernacle from the contradiction of tongues" (Ps. 30: 20-21).
And again Job: "I have not sinned: and my eye abideth in bitterness. Deliver me, O Lord, and set me beside Thee and let any man's hand fight against me" (17: 3).
Thus, as recorded in the Book of Daniel (13: 42), the daughter of Helcias, the worthy Susanna, abandoned herself to God under the vile calumnies of the two ancients. "O eternal God," she cries, "Who knowest hidden things, Who knowest all things before they come to pass, Thou knowest that they have borne false witness against me: and behold I must die, whereas I have done none of these things which these men have maliciously forged against me." It is recorded in the prophecy how the Lord heard the prayer of this noble woman: "And when she was led to be put to death, the Lord raised up the holy spirit of a young boy whose name was Daniel. And he cried out with a loud voice: I am clear of the blood of this woman. Then all the people, turning themselves toward him, said: What meaneth this word that thou hast spoken?" Inspired by God, the young Daniel then showed how her two accusers had borne false witness. Separating them one from the other, he questioned them apart in the presence of the people, and thus all unintentionally they showed by their contradictory statements that they had lied.
What is our practical conclusion to be? It is this, that in doing our utmost to carry out our daily duties we must for the rest abandon ourselves to Divine providence, and that with the most childlike confidence. And if we are really striving to be faithful in little things, in the practice of humility, gentleness, and patience, in the daily routine of our lives, God on His part will give us grace to be faithful in greater and more difficult things, should He perchance ask them of us; then, in those exceptional circumstances, He will give to those that seek Him exceptional graces.
In Psalm 54: 23 we are told: "Cast thy care upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee: He shall not suffer the just to waver forever. ... But I will trust Thee, Lord."
Imbued with these same sentiments, St. Paul writes to the Philippians (4: 4): "Rejoice in the Lord always: again, I say, rejoice. Let your modesty be known to all men. The Lord is nigh. Be nothing solicitous: but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."
Again, in order to exhort us to have confidence, St. Peter tells us in his First Epistle (5: 5):
Be ye humbled therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in the time of visitation: casting all your care upon Him, for He hath care of you. Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour. Whom resist ye, strong in faith: knowing that the same affliction befalls your brethren who are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us into His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little, will Himself perfect you and confirm you and establish you.
"Blessed are they that trust in Him" (Ps. 2: 13). "They that hope in the Lord," says Isaias, "shall renew their strength. ...They shall walk and not faint" (40: 31).
We have a perfect model of this abandonment to Divine providence in St. Joseph, in the many difficulties that beset him at the moment of our Lord's birth at Bethlehem, and again when he heard the mournful prophecy of the aged Simeon, and during all the time that elapsed from the flight away from Herod into Egypt until the return to Nazareth.
Following his example, let us live our lives in that same spirit, fulfilling our daily duties, and the grace of God will never be wanting. By His grace we shall be equal to any- thing He asks of us, no matter how difficult it may sometimes be.
1 Treatise on the Love of God, tr. by Mackey, O.S.B., Bk. VIII, chap. 3: "How we are to conform ourselves to the Divine will which is called the signified will." Again, chaps. 4-7 ,and chap. 14: "A short method to know God's will"; Bk. IX, chap. I: "Of the union of our will with that Divine will which is called the will of good pleasure." Again, chaps. 2-6 and chap. 15. See also Spiritual Conferences, tr. by Mackey, O.S.B., Conference II, "On Confidence," and Conference XV, "On the Will of God."
2 Discours sur l'acte d'abandon a Dieu; also Etats d'oraison, Bk. VIII, chap. 9.
3 Le plus parfait, ou Des voies interieures la plus glorifiante pour Dieu et la plus sanctifiante pour l'dme, published in 1683, new edition with notes by Père Noble, O.P. The author shows how this interior way involves the practice of the liveliest faith, the most confident hope, and the purest love; he shows, too, that it is a way which is suited to every interior soul.
4 Abandonment to Divine Providence, new edition, including the letters of the author and revised with the addition of appendices by Père H. Ramiere, 2 vols. Abridged ed., 1 vol. English translation by E. J. Strickland.
5 By the gift of fear, hope is prevented from turning to presumption, as magnanimity is prevented by humility from degenerating into pride. Cf. St. Thomas, IIaIIae, q.19, a.9, 10; q.160, a.2; q.161, a.1; q.129, a.3 ad 4um. They are complementary virtues which, by their interconnection, balance and strengthen one another, and thus they increase together.
6 Cf. St. Francis de Sales, The Love of God, Bk. VIII, chap. 5: "Of the conformity of our will with that will of God which is made known to us by His commandments"; Bk. IX, chap. I: "Of the union of our will with that Divine will which is called the will of good pleasure." So also chaps. 2-6.
Bossuet, Etats d'oraison, Bk. VIII, chap. 9, says: "Christian indifference being out of the question where the expressed will of God is concerned, we must restrict it, as St. Francis de Sales does, to certain events controlled by His will of good pleasure, whose sovereign commands determine the daily occurrences in the course of life."
Dom Vital Lehodey, Holy Abandonment, tr. by Luddy, O. Cist., p. 123, says: "In short, the good pleasure of God is the domain of abandonment, His expressed will, of obedience."
7 Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q.19, a.11, 12: "On the will of expression in God." Certain events, such as the death of another, have great significance. As St. Thomas points out (ibid.), sins also are permitted by God - personal sins, like the threefold denial in St. Peter's life, which God permitted so as to make him more humble; sins also that others commit against us, acts of injustice which God permits that we may derive spiritual profit from them, as He permitted the persecutions against the Church.
8 Cf. St. Thomas, IaIlae, q.19, a.10: "Whether it is necessary for the human will, in order to be good, to be conformed to the Divine will, as regard. the things willed?"
9 Père de Caussade, L 'abandon, Vol. II, App. I, p. 279.
10 Rom. 8: 31-39.
BACK TO LAGRANGE DIRECTORY