Mystical City of God - Virgin Mary

By Sor Maria of Agreda

Virgin Mary Mystical City of God - Book 2 chapter 12 verses 583-598THE VIRTUE OF TEMPERANCE AS PRACTICED BY THE MOST HOLY MARY.

  INDEX   Book 2  Chapter  12    Verses:  583-598

583. In regard to good and evil man possesses two tendencies: namely that of striving after the good and of repelling the evil; the latter is regulated by fortitude, which, as already demonstrated, serves to strengthen the will against the immoderate exercise of the irascible faculties and inspires it with bold daring rather to suffer all possible afflictions of the senses than to desist from the attainment of the good. The other tendency, founded on the concupiscible faculties, is regulated by temperance, and this is the last and the least of the cardinal virtues; for the good which it procures is not so universal as that attained by the practice of other virtues, since temperance directly is concerned only with the particular advantage of its possessor. The doctors and teachers treat of temperance in another aspect: namely in so far as it can regulate the action of all the natural appetites of man ; in this respect temperance is a general and universal virtue which comprises within its scope the proper exercise of all the virtues according to reason. We do not at present speak of this general virtue of temperance, but only of that temperance which serves to regulate the concupiscence of touch and other pleasurable concupiscences indirectly related to the touch, but not presenting such powerful attractions as the concupiscence of the flesh.
584. In this regard temperance holds the last place among the virtues, its aim being less noble than that of others ; yet in other regards it may be said to have greater excellence, namely in as far as it preserves man from viler and more contemptible transgressions, namely from the immoderate indulgence of those pleasures which are common to men and the irrational brutes. Referring to this David says that man has become like unto the beast (Psalm 48, 13, 21), allowing himself to be carried away by the pleasure of the senses. Intemperance is rightly called a puerile vice ; for, just as a child is not guided by reason, but by the spur of fancy, and does not restrain itself, except through fear of chastisement, so also concupiscence cannot otherwise be checked in the indulgence of its desires. From this dishonor and vileness man is freed by the virtue of temperance, which teaches him to govern himself not by his desires, but by reason. There fore a certain decorous honorableness and comeliness distinguish this virtue, by which the reason is enabled to preserve its rule, although the indomitable passions are hardly ever inclined to listen or yield to it willingly. On the other hand, the subjection of man to beastly pleasures is a great dishonor, degrading him to the position of an irrational animal or of an unreasoning child.
585. Temperance includes the two virtues of abstinence and sobriety ; the former being opposed to gluttony and the latter to drunkenness. Abstinence also includes fasting. These virtues take the first place in treating of temperance; for nourishment, being necessary for the preservation of life, is among the principal objects coveted by the appetites. After these follow others which regulate the use of the faculties for reproduction of the species, such as chastity and susceptibility to shame, with their concomitant virginity and continence, opposed to the vices of lust and incontinence and their species. Be sides these virtues, which are the principal ones belonging to temperance, there are others that regulate the appetite in the less important desires. Those that regulate the sensations of smell, hearing and sight, may be classed under those referring to the proper use of the sense of touch. But there are still other kinds of virtues which resemble some of the above, though their object is entirely different, such as clemency and meekness, which are set to govern anger and wrath in the administration of punishment, lest they turn into bestial and inhuman cruelty. Then there is modesty, which includes four virtues; the first one is humility, which keeps down pride, lest man seek in a disorderly manner his own exaltation and honor before men; the second is studiousness, by which one preserves the proper measure in seeking information, being opposed to vain curiosity. The third is moderation or frugality, by which one avoids superfluous expense and ostentation in regard to clothing and exterior living; the fourth is the restraint of overindulgence in pleasurable entertainment, such as playing, bodily exercise, dancing, jesting and the like. Although this virtue seems to have no special name, it is of the greatest importance. It goes under the generic name of modesty or temperance.
586. It always seems to me when I describe the excellence of these and of the other virtues when applied to the corresponding virtues of the Queen of heaven, that the terms at my disposal and commonly used in order to describe these virtues in other creatures, fall far below the truth. The graces and gifts of the most holy Mary were in closer correspondence with those of the divine perfections, than all the virtues and the holiness of the saints are with those of the sovereign Queen of virtues. Thence it no doubt happens that whatever we can say of her virtues by using the terms fit for describing the virtues of the saints, seems to fall far short of the truth; for the latter, as great as they may have been, existed in persons disordered and subject to imperfections and the distempers of sin. When therefore Ecclesiasticus says (Eccli. 26, 20), that we can have no true conception of the excellence of the continent man, what shall we say of the virtue of temperance in the Mistress of all virtues, and what of the beauty of that soul which contained the perfection of all virtues? All the domestics of this strong Woman were doubly clothed (Prov. 31, 21) because all her faculties were clothed in two vestments or perfections of incomparable beauty and strength; the one, that of original justice, which subjected all the appetites to reason and grace; the other that of the infused habits, which supplied new beauty and strength for the attainment of highest perfection in her works.
587. All the saints that have signalized themselves in the beauty of temperance, obtained the full conquest over the indomitable concupiscences by subjecting them in such a manner to the rule of reason, as not to allow their desires to reach out after anything that might afterwards occasion them sorrow for having desired it. They advanced so far, that they denied themselves all indulgence in those concupiscences, which could be withdrawn with out destroying human nature. Nevertheless in all these exercises of the virtue of temperance they felt a certain opposition within themselves, which retarded the perfect assent of the will, or at least a certain resistance preventing them from reaching the plenitude of perfection in their actions. They complained with the Apostle of the unhappy burden of this body of sin (Rom. 7, 24). In most holy Mary no such dissonance could be traced ; for without a murmur of the appetites and without a shadow of repugnance of the dictates of her will, all her powers acted in such harmony and concert that, like armies marching in well ordered squadrons (Cant. 6, 3), they moved on in heavenly unison. As She had no rebellious passions to overcome, She exercised such great temperance in all her actions, that not even the suggestion of disorder ever entered her mind. On the contrary her activity so closely imitated the divine operations that they seemed originated and drawn directly from this supreme Source, turning toward it as the only rule and ultimate end of all her perfections.
588. The abstinence and sobriety of most holy Mary was the admiration of the angels; for though being the Queen of all creation and experiencing the natural affections of hunger and thirst, She never sought after the delicacies that would have suited her high estate, nor ever indulged in nourishment merely for the sake of the pleasures of taste, but only in order to supply her natural wants. Even these She satisfied with such moderation as never to exceed, or ever being capable of exceeding, the exact measure necessary to preserve the radical humors of life. Moreover She partook of nourishment in such a way as to allow room for hunger and thirst and so as to make allowance for the effects of grace on the natural process of bodily nourishment. She never experienced the changes of corruption arising from superfluous eating or drinking; nor did her needs in this regard grow greater on one day than on others; nor was She more subject to these changes on account of the want of food; for if at any time She detracted from the food necessary to keep up the natural warmth, She was supplemented in her activity by divine grace, in which the creature lives, not in bread alone (Matth. 4, 4). The Lord could have sustained Her without food or drink, but He did not do it ; for it was not right that She should lose the merit of virtuously using these things, thus affording us the benefit of her example and merits. As to the kind of food and the time in which She partook of it, we will mention these circumstances in different parts of this history (Part II, 196, 424, 898). Of Her own choice She never ate meat, nor did She eat more than once a day, except when She lived with her husband Joseph, or when She accompanied her most holy Son in his travels; for in such circumstances, in order to con form Herself to others, She imitated the mode of living followed by the Lord, although at all times She was wonderful in her temperance.
589. Of the virginal purity and modesty of this Virgin of virgins not even the seraphim could speak worthily, for in this virtue, though to them it is co-natural, they were inferior to their Queen and Mistress. By the privilege and power of the Most High She was more free from the contrary vice than the angels themselves, who by their very nature could not be touched by impurity. Mortals will never in this life be able to form a proper idea of this virtue as it existed in the Queen of heaven; for we are much weighed down by the earthliness, and the pure and crystalline light of chastity is much obscured in our souls. Our great Queen possessed this virtue in such a degree that She might justly have preferred it even to the dignity of being the Mother of God, if this dignity had not been the very source of her great purity. Measuring this virginal purity of Mary by the esteem in which She held it, and by the dignity to which it raised Her, we can partly estimate how great was that virtue in her virginal body and soul. She re solved upon this purity from the moment of her Immaculate Conception, She vowed it at her nativity, and She guarded it in such a manner that She never offended against it, or against the utmost modesty in any of her actions or movements, nor in any attitude of her body or soul. Accordingly She never spoke to any man except at the command of God ; nor did She ever look into the face of a man, and not even in the face of a woman ; and this not on account of any danger to Her, but for the sake of gaining merit, and for our example, and in order to exercise the superabundance of her heavenly prudence, wisdom and charity.
590. Of her clemency and meekness Solomon says that the law of clemency is on her tongue (Prov. 31, 26). She never moved it except in order to let flow the grace poured out on her lips (Psalm 44, 3). Meekness regulates wrath, and clemency moderates punishment. There was no anger in our most mild Queen, nor did She use the faculty of it except, as we have said above, in order to lend fortitude to her activity against sin and the devil or the like. But against men and the angels She made no use of anger for the purpose of punishing them, nor was She moved to anger by any event, nor did She ever on any account interrupt her most perfect practice of meekness, preserving inimitable and imperturbable equanimity both interiorly and exteriorly ; neither did She ever show out ward signs of inward anger in her countenance, in her voice or in her movements. Her mildness and clemency the Lord made use of as/ an instrument peculiarly his own, and through it He wished to scatter all his benefits of his ancient and everlasting mercies; on this account it was necessary that the clemency of Mary should imitate so closely his own as to make it a fit channel for the over flow of his divine clemency toward the creatures. When we consider attentively and once have understood well the works of the divine mercy toward sinners and when we see that the most holy Mary was a fit instrument of their distribution and application, we will then partly understand the clemency of this Lady. All her corrections were undertaken more by pleading, teaching and admonishing than by chastisement; She herself besought the Lord, and He ordained that this be her course of action ; for this incomparable Creature was to be the fountain of clemency and the depositary of the law of clemency, of which his Majesty should avail Himself, and from which mortals should draw this virtue as well as all the others.
591. To discourse worthily of the other virtues, especially of the humility and of the frugality and of the poverty of most holy Mary, many books and the tongues of angels would be required. Of these ineffable virtues of Mary this history is replete, for in all the actions of the Queen of heaven her incomparable humility shines forth beyond everything else. I fear extremely to understate the greatness of this singular virtue in the blessed Virgin by trying to encompass in the limited terms at my disposal, that ocean of humility which was able to contain and embrace the Incomprehensible and the Immense him self. All that the angels and the saints themselves could comprehend and practice of the virtue of humility, cannot equal even the least part of that which our Queen attained therein. Which of the saints or angels could ever merit the title of Mother of God? And who, beside Mary and the eternal Father, could ever address the incarnate Word as Son? If then She, who in this regard attained to a dignity like that of the eternal Father and possessed the graces and gifts befitting such a state, reputed Herself as the last of all creatures and all the rest as her superiors, what fragrance and odor of virtue did this humble spike nard exhale for the delight of God, while She bore in her womb the King of kings ? ( Cant. 1 , 11).
592. That the pillars of heaven, the angels (Job 26,II), should quake and tremble in the presence of the in accessible light of the infinite Majesty, is not to be wondered at; for they had before their eyes the ruin of their companions, while they themselves were confirmed in the advantages and favors common to all. That the most valiant and invincible of the saints should humiliate them selves, embracing contempt and reproach, and acknowledging themselves unworthy of the least favors of grace, and even of the service and succor of the creatures out side themselves; all this was most just and only according to the natural order of things. For all of us have sinned and infringe on the glory of God (Rom. 3, 23) ; and no one is so holy that he cannot increase in sanctity ; nor so perfect that some virtue is not wanting in him; nor so innocent, that the eyes of God find nothing to reprehend. And if any one should be of consummate perfection, he nevertheless would still remain within the sphere of the common graces and benefits, since no one is superior to all in all things.
593. But just on this account the humility of the most pure Mary was without example and without equal. For though She was the dawn of grace, the pure beginning of all creatures, the superior over them all, the prodigy of the divine perfections, the centre of his love, the sphere of the omnipotence of God, who called God her Son and was called by Him his Mother, She nevertheless humbled Her self to the lowest place in all creation. She, who enjoyed the highest position, exalted above all the works of God, so that no higher position was left for a mere creature, humiliated Herself so far as to judge Herself unworthy of the least estimation, distinction or honor, not even of such as would befit the most insignificant of the rational creatures. Not only did She deem Herself unworthy of the dignity of being the Mother of God and of all the graces connected therewith, but She did not esteem Her self deserving of the air She breathed, of the support the earth gave to her footsteps, of the sustenance derived from it, or of any service or kindness at the hands of creatures ; of all things She considered Herself unworthy and She gave thanks for all, as if She were really so un deserving. In order to say all in a few words: that a creature should not seek the honor which does not belong to it or which for some reason it does not merit, is not such a great humility, although the Most High in his in finite kindness accepts it and considers Himself under obligation to one who practices it in that way. But She, most admirably exceeding all this, while deserving all exaltation and majesty, humiliated Herself more than all other creatures and sought neither honor nor exaltation. Thus Mary, holding worthily the dignity of Mother of God, annihilated Herself, and by this very humility de served anew and in justice to be raised to the dominion and sovereignty of all creation.
594. In proportion to this incomparable humility most holy Mary possessed also all the other virtues, which be long to modesty. The desire of knowing more than is necessary, ordinarily arises from the want of humility and charity. This is a fault not only of no use, but of great hindrance in the advancement of virtue, as happened with Dina (Gen. 24, 1), who, going out to see what was no benefit to her, suffered such great damage to her honor. From the same root of proud presumption usually also springs superfluous ostentation and finery in outward dress, and also the disorderly behavior in gesture and carriage, which serves sensuality and vanity, testifying to the levity of the heart according to the saying of Ecclesiasticus (19, 27) : "The attire of the body and the laughter of the teeth, and the gait of the man, show what he is." All the virtues opposed to these vices were in most holy Mary in their entirety, void of all disinclination or feebleness in the exercise of them. They were like companions of her profound humility, charity and purity, that revealed the certain tokens of a nature more heavenly than earthly.
595. She was most studious without being curious; for though She was replete with a wisdom far above that of the cherubim, She studied and allowed Herself to be taught as if ignorant of all things. Whenever She made use of her divine science or sought to learn the will of God, She was so prudent and attended so carefully and exactly to all circumstances that her efforts always wounded the heart of God and drew and inclined Him to fulfill her most well-ordered wishes. In poverty and frugality She was most admirable ; for being the Mistress of all creation and having full right to dispose of it, She yielded all right of possession to the Lord in imitation of her most holy Son; namely, just as the Father gave all things into the hands of the incarnate Word, so the Word put all into the hands of his Mother, and She, similarly offered all things, as well in desire as in fact, for the glory of her Son and Lord. Of the modesty of her behavior and sweetness of her intercourse, and of all her exterior actions, it is sufficient to repeat what is asserted by the wise man of Athens, saint Dionysius, that She would have deserved to be looked upon as more than human, if faith did not teach that She is a mere creature.

Instruction vouchsafed by the Queen of Heaven.
596. My daughter, thou hast said something of the virtue of temperance and of my practice of it, so far as thou hast understood its dignity and excellence. Yet thou hast omitted much that belongs to a full understanding of the necessity of temperance in human actions. It was a punishment of the first sin that man lost the perfect use of reason, and that the passions should rise in rebellion against him, because he rose up against God in contempt of his most just command. In order to repair this dam age, temperance became necessary; by it man restrains his concupiscences within proper bounds ; he perceives the perfect medium in that which is desirable and he is taught to follow once more the dictates of reason, bringing him near to the Divinity and declining to follow his concupiscences like irrational beasts. Without this virtue it is not possible for man to divest himself of the spoiled human nature, nor to dispose himself for the graces and wisdom of God; for they will not enter into a soul subject to the body of sin (Wisdom 1, 4). He that knows how to moderate his passions by denying them their immoderate and bestial desires, will be able to say and experience in truth, what is said of the Canticles (2, 4) : that the King has introduced him into the cellars of his delicious wine, and into the treasure house of his wisdom and spiritual gifts; for this virtue is a storehouse of most beautiful and fragrant virtues for the delight of the Al mighty.
597. Although of course I wish thee to labor much in acquiring all virtues pertaining to temperance, I desire nevertheless that thou consider especially the beauty and fragrance of chastity, the strength which abstinence and sobriety in eating and drinking will give, the sweet influence of modesty in words and actions, the exalted nobility of poverty in the use of created things. With the help of these virtues, thou wilt attain the divine enlightenment, the peace and tranquillity of thy soul, the serenity of thy faculties, the right government of thy inclinations ; thou wilt be entirely illumined with the splendors of the divine graces and gifts; from an animal and sensual way of living thou wilt be raised to a heavenly intercourse and an angelic life ; and that is what I seek in thee and what thou thyself by divine assistance art striving after. Be careful therefore, my dearest, and watch for the divine light in all thy actions, and let not any of thy powers be induced to activity merely by pleasure and inclination; but always act according to reason and for the glory of the Most High in all things necessary for the conduct of thy life; in eating, in sleeping, in dressing, in speaking, in hearing, in desiring, in correcting, in commanding, in speaking : let all be governed in thee by the light and the pleasure of the Lord God, and not by thy own.
598. And in order that thou mayest so much the more be captivated by the beauty and loveliness of the virtue of temperance, consider the vileness of its contrary vices and let thyself be deeply impressed according to the divine light given thee; consider assiduously how ugly, abominable, horrible and monstrous the world is in the sight of God and the saints on account of the enormous abominations, which men commit against this lovable virtue. Look how some follow like brutes after the horrors of sensuality, how gluttony degrades others, how some follow after pleasures of play and vanity, how others are dominated by pride and presumption, how many are en tangled in avarice and the desire of gain, how they all follow the impulse of passions, seeking in this life only pleasure, while in the life to come they pile up for them selves eternal torments and incur the loss of the beatific vision of their God and Lord.
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