The Book of Divine Consolations of Blessed Angela of Foligno
WHAT is the secret and so potent attraction of the Saints? Renan says somewhere that he would have given everything he had to have seen St. Mary of Egypt pacing the desert in ecstasy, half-starved and turned to the semblance of Nebuchadnezzar. And Renan liberally discounted the value, not only of Theology, but also of the particular virtue, the loss of which had driven that Saint to such an unusual mode of life. The interest in sanctity evidently survives theological and ethical pre-occupations. Indeed, to-day, the Saint is perhaps an object of higher intrinsic interest to " unbelievers" than to the faithful. For to the faithful he is primarily useful, either as being efficacious in various troubles of life or, on a higher plane, as a sort of spiritual agent, obtaining graces for his clients. o admirabile commercium! But, like everything else, this celestial intercourse suffers from the defects of its qualities. I do not wish to be understood as making light of superstition. The humblest blossom of that luxuriant garden is of infinite value, nor do the roots of our most highly rationalised opinions grow outside it. Nevertheless the important position of the Saint in the Catholic economy does tend to conceal his real personality from his worshippers.' He inevitably tends to be considered more as a means to an end, than as an object intrinsically worthy of contemplation. In these circumstances the actual historical value of his personality is apt to be obscured by legend and fancy. Legend, of course, if at all contemporaneous, is of the highest value as illustrating his effect on those with whom he came in contact. We could ill spare in the life of St. Francis the Wolf of Gubbio. Modern devotional fancy is less illuminative. It throws no light upon the character of St. Anthony of Padua to learn that centuries after his death he recovered some papers lost by that devout man King Charles II. What then is it that constitutes the intrinsic interest of the Saint when his supernatural value has gone? One reason, I think, for this interest is that the Saint represents, in a quite unique manner, the satisfaction of a desire which all men more or less obscurely feel. Ever since man emerged from amid the labyrinth of irrational forces, which, until his appearance, determined the evolution of life on the planet, he has sought for power. Power at first over the hostile or indifferent nature which surrounded him, over the stream, the spark of fire, the wild bear: then over his fellow-men, and, at length, when he began to turn his gaze inwards, over himself. It is noticeable that all the really primitive myths divinised various aspects of power, celebrated the triumph of force. As the social arts began to develop, and, among them, of sheer necessity, morality, men began to attribute moral qualities to the force which they felt around them, above them, and within them. "N'ayant pas pu faire que Ie juste soit fort, nous avons fait que Ie fort soit juste," says Pascal. This attribution, however, no less than morality itself, was an afterthought unconsciously conceived in the interest of his self-preservation-for, without morality of some sort, man would soon have disappeared before the wolf and the bear. And, by giving the ultimate sanction of force to his social rule of thumb, he naively betrayed his intuition that that ultimate force was the more fundamental reality.
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