Of ungodly fear of evil

July 25, 2021 • 6 min

From Introduction to the Devout Life, page 238
By St. Francis de Sales

Of Inquietude.

As inquietude is not a single temptation, but a source from whence many temptations flow upon us, it is very necessary that I should say something concerning it.

Inquietude or sadness, then, is nothing else but that grief of mind which we conceive for some evil which we suffer from against our will, whether it be exterior, as poverty, sickness, contempt; or interior, as ignorance, dryness of heart, repugnance to what is good, and temptation.

When the soul, then, perceives that she has some evil, she becomes sad, is displeased, and with good reason extremely anxious to rid herself of it; for everyone naturally desires to embrace good, and fly from what he apprehends to be evil.

If the soul, for the love of God, wishes to be freed from her evil, she will seek the means of her deliverance with patience, meekness, humility, and tranquillity, expecting it more from the providence of God than from her own industry or diligence; but if she seeks her deliverance from self-love, she will fatigue herself in quest of these means, as if the success depended more on herself than on God. I do not say that she thinks so, but that she hurries herself as if she thought so.

Now, if she does not succeed immediately according to her wishes, she falls into disquietude, which, instead of removing, aggravates the evil, and involves her in such extreme anguish and distress, with so great a loss of courage and strength, as to imagine her evil to be beyond remedy. Behold, then, how the sadness, which in the beginning is just, begets inquietude, and inquietude increases the sadness, until it becomes extremely dangerous.

Inquietude is the greatest evil which can befall the soul, sin alone excepted. For as the seditions and internal commotions of any commonwealth prevent it from being able to resist a foreign invasion, so our heart, being troubled within itself, loses the strength to maintain the virtues it had acquired, and the means to resist the temptations of the enemy, who then uses his utmost efforts to fish, as it is said, in troubled waters.

Inquietude proceeds from an inordinate desire of being delivered from the evil we feel, or of acquiring the good we hope for: and yet there is nothing which more increases the evil, and which removes the good further off, than an unquiet mind. Birds remain prisoners in nets, because, finding themselves prisoners, they eagerly flutter and beat about to get loose again, and by that means entangle themselves the more.

Whenever, then, you are pressed with a desire to be freed from some evil, or to attain to some good, be careful both to settle your mind in repose and tranquillity, and to compose your judgment and will; and then follow the movements of your desire, using quietly the means which may be most convenient. When I say quietly, I do not mean negligently, but without hurry, trouble, or inquietude; otherwise, instead of obtaining the effect of your desire, you will mar all and embarrass yourself the more.

“My soul is always in my hands, O Lord, and I have not forgotten thy law,” said David (Psalm cxvili. 109). Examine frequently in the day, or at least in the morning or evening, whether you have your soul in your hands, or whether some passion or inquietude has not robbed you of it. Consider whether you have your heart at command, or whether it has not escaped out of your hands, to engage itself in some disorderly affection of love, hatred, envy, covetousness, fear, uneasiness, or joy; and if it should have gone astray, seek for it before you do anything else, and bring it quietly back to the presence of God, subjecting all your affections and desires to the obedience and direction of his divine will; for as they who are afraid of losing anything which is precious, hold it fast in their hands, so, in imitation of this great king, we should always say: O my God, my soul is in danger, and therefore I carry it always in my hand, and in this manner I have not forgotten thy holy law.

Permit not your desires, be they ever so trivial, to disquiet you, lest afterwards those that are of greater importance should find your heart involved in trouble and disorder. When you perceive inquietude to take possession of your mind, recommend yourself to God, and resolve to do nothing until it is restored to tranquillity, unless it be something that cannot be deferred, and then tempering and moderating the current of your desire as much as possible, do that which is to be done, not according to your desire, but according to your reason.

If you can make known the cause of your inquietude to your spiritual director, or at least to some faithful and devout friend, you shall without doubt presently find ease; for the communicating of the griefs of the heart works the same effect in the soul, as the letting of blood does in the body of him that is in a continual fever; and this is the remedy of remedies. Accordingly, the holy king St. Louis gave this counsel to his son: “If you have any uneasiness in your heart, tell it presently to your confessor, or to some good person, and then you shall be enabled to bear the evil very easy, by the comfort he will give you.”

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