On Moderation in Mortification
Rome, July 20, 1556
Stefano Casanova1 was a scholastic teaching in Tivoli. He was intent on the spiritual progress of his soul and, thus, practiced great mortification. The increasing physical weakness that he was beginning to feel, he attributed to the constant repression of his sensuality. Ignatius had been in correspondence with him but only this present letter has survived. Ignatius tells him that mortification would not be the sole cause of his increasing debility, and that there could be another, namely, intellectual over-work. This was true in Stefano's case, for there were some 120 students at the college in Tivoli and there was only one other teacher there besides Stefano. Ignatius tells him to follow the instructions he had given him in an earlier letter, and recalls that sensual motions that lead to sin must be repressed even if bodily weakness results. However, sensual motions toward something licit, and therefore not sinful, may be repressed out of love for the cross. But this second type of repression "is neither good for all, nor should it be used at all times." In fact, Ignatius goes on to say, it is sometimes more meritorious to take some honest bodily recreation so that the individual can work longer in God's service. Stefano is to continue repressing his sensuality if sin is in question, but not if it be of the second category. In writing to this young scholastic, less than two weeks before his own death, Ignatius is undoubtedly thinking of the penances that he himself had injudiciously practiced in the early days of his conversion and of the deleterious effect they had on him. This letter is one of spiritual insight and reveals the humaneness that was characteristic of Ignatius. The letter is in Italian [Ep. 12:151-152].
Dear Master Stefano:
The peace of Christ.
I received your letter, in which you put it down as a certainty that it is the repression of your sensuality which is robbing you of your strength and that you are determined to attend to the principal business of your soul. First, though it could easily be that this weakness of yours comes partly from such repression, I do not believe it to be the sole cause. There are also mental exercises, especially those undertaken immoderately and out of time, which also play a part. Continue to observe what I have previously told you, until you write again and permission is given you to bring about a change in that order.
This repression, however, can be done in two ways. One, when the reason enlightened by God becomes aware of a movement of sensuality or of the sensitive part of nature against God's will, yielding to which would be a sin, you repress it through the fear and love of God. This is well done, even though some weakness should ensue or some bodily ill, since sin should not be committed for this or any other reason. There is another way of repressing this sensuality. You may be looking for some recreation, or anything else that is perfectly lawful, in which there is no sin, but out of a desire for mortification or love of the cross you deny yourself what is sought. This second way of repression is neither good for all, nor should it be used at all times. Rather, at times there will be more merit in taking some honest bodily recreation in order to be able to remain active for a long period in God's service than in repressing oneself. From this you will understand that the first kind of repression is good for you, and that the second is not, even when you are eager to travel by the more perfect way and one that is more pleasing to God.
In every other detail I refer you to your confessor, to whom you will show this letter. I commend myself to your prayers.
From Rome, July 20, 1556.