Painting: Christ Crucified (1632) by Diego Velázquez.
A fourth reason obliging us to mortification or abnegation is the necessity of imitating Jesus crucified. He Himself tells us: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily” (Lk. 9:23). St. Paul adds:
For whosoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. . . . And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God, and joint-heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified with Him. For I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:14, 17ff).
Evidently this spirit of detachment is so much the more imposed on us as we are called to a higher, more abundant, and more radiating interior life, in which we ought to follow more closely the example of Christ, who came, not as a philosopher or a sociologist, but as the Savior, and who out of love willed to die on the cross in order to redeem us. He came to accomplish, not a human work of philanthropy but a divine work of charity, even to complete sacrifice, which is the great proof of love. Without a doubt this is what St. Paul means.
The Apostle of the Gentiles completely lived what he taught. Consequently, while describing his life of hardship and suffering, he could write:
But we have this treasure (the light of life of the gospel) in earthen vessels, that the excellency (of the gospel) may be of the power of God and not of us. In all things we suffer tribulation, but are not distressed; we are straitened, but are not destitute; we suffer persecution, but are not forsaken (by God); we are cast down, but we perish not: always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies. . . . So then death worketh in us, but life in you” (II Cor. 4:7-10, 12).
In his commentary on II Cor. 4: 7, St. Thomas says:
If the apostles were rich, powerful, noble according to the flesh, everything great that they accomplished would be attributed to them and not to God. But because they were poor and despised, what was sublime in their ministry is attributed to God. This explains why our Lord willed that they should be exposed to tribulations and to contempt. . . . And because they trusted in God and hoped in Jesus Christ, they were not crushed. . . . They bore affliction and the dangers of death patiently that they might thus attain to the life of glory as the Savior did: ‘Always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies.’
St. Paul says further:
For I think that God hath set forth us apostles, the last. . . . We are reviled; and we bless. We are persecuted; and we suffer it. We are blasphemed; and we entreat. We are made as the refuse of this world, the offscouring of all, even until now (I Cor. 4:9, 12ff).
St. Paul here describes the life of the apostles from Pentecost until their martyrdom. Thus we read in the Acts of the Apostles that, after they had been scourged, “they indeed went from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus” (Acts 5:41). They truly carried their cross and were thus stamped in the image of Christ that they might continue the work of the redemption by the same means as the Savior Himself had employed.
This spirit of detachment through imitation of Jesus crucified was singularly striking during the first three centuries of persecution which followed the founding of the Church. The letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch and the acts of the martyrs make this clear.
This same spirit of detachment and of configuration to Christ is found in all the saints, both ancient and modern: in St. Benedict, St. Bernard, St. Dominic, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa, St. John of the Cross, and, nearer our day, St. Benedict Joseph Labre, the Cure of Ars, and, among the most recently canonized, St. John Bosco, and St. Joseph Cotolengo.
The spirit of detachment, of abnegation, is the condition of a close union with God, whence supernatural life overflows in a manner ever new, and at times stupendous, for the eternal welfare of souls. This is evidenced by the lives of all the saints without exception, and we ought to nourish our souls daily with the examples of these great servants of God. The world is not so much in need of philosophers and sociologists, as of saints who are the living image of the Savior among us.
According to St. Paul, the following reasons show the necessity of mortification or abnegation: (1) the consequences of original sin which incline us to evil; (2) the results of our personal sins; (3) the infinite loftiness of our supernatural end; (4) the necessity of imitating Jesus crucified. These are precisely the four motives disregarded by practical naturalism which reappeared some years ago in Americanism and Modernism.
These four motives of mortification can be reduced to two: hatred of sin and love of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ. Such is the spirit of holy realism, and basically of Christian optimism, which ought to inspire exterior and interior mortification. These remain to be treated more in detail. The true answer to practical naturalism is the love of Jesus crucified, which leads us to resemble Him and to save souls with Him by the same means as He used.
Mortification or abnegation thus understood, far from destroying nature, liberates it, restores it, heals it. It opens up to us the profound meaning of the maxim: To serve God, is to reign: that is, to reign over our passions, over the spirit of the world, its false principles and its example, over the devil and his perversity; to reign with God by sharing increasingly in His intimate life, in virtue of this great law, namely, that if life does not descend, it ascends.
Man cannot live without love, and if he renounces every inferior love which leads to death, he opens his soul ever wider to the love of God and of souls in God. The Savior Himself declares: “If any man thirst, let him come to Me, and drink. . . . Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” for the eternal good of souls.
From Three Ages of the Interior Life.
Original French edition © The Dominican Province, France.
English translation © Baronius Press Ltd
Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP (1877–1964) was a professor of metaphysics and theology at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome from 1909 until 1960. A faithful Thomist, standing squarely within the Dominican tradition of Thomist commentary, he penned many articles and books through the course of his very active career. Although best known for his masterpiece in spiritual theology, The Three Ages of the Interior Life, he wrote extensive commentaries on St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa theologiae, a massive two-volume work devoted to the topic of apologetic theology, multiple philosophical texts defending Thomistic metaphysics and epistemology, and a number of studies dedicated to particular theological topics such as Providence, Predestination, and the problem of theological modernism. Through his many years of activity, he defended the truths of the faith, as well as the theological positions of the Thomist school, doing so with a charitable but firm tone. A man of apostolic zeal, when not teaching and writing, he dedicated much time to the vocation of preaching that is eponymous for his religious order, in particular in the form of retreats for religious and laity alike. Through this teaching and writing, he influenced countless souls and left a mark upon Thomism which remains to this day and, in fact, is finding new appreciation among readers seeking to understand the great principles of Thomist thought. English translations of his works can be found at St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and Cluny Media. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange is one of the many figures in our modern epoch that is promoted at OnePeterFive as a spiritual father to whom we must pay homage and heed for wisdom in our times.