The Hidden Sin of Spiritual Lust

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SPIRITUAL LUST

The third hidden sin in religious persons is the sin of lust. John addresses two forms of spiritual lust. First he discusses the lustful feelings and thoughts that can occur in the early stages of contemplation. In essence, as a person begins to experience the consolations of God (the pleasant spiritual visits of God) their lower lustful parts can be stimulated; as by overflow. A person can be appalled at the forceful thoughts, feelings, images, imaginations, impressions and bodily responses that can flare up in the most inappropriate ways as they feel God drawing close.

Second, he addresses the intrusion of lust into spiritual relationships between humans. That is, a spiritual relationship between two people can be polluted by lust. This is called spiritual lust, and is a hidden sin, because at first the people are unaware of their lower feelings for the other person. Tragically, as we know from the long track record of fallen evangelists, pastors and priests, this lust can manifest eventually in actual carnal lustful behavior and outward sin. Nevertheless at first it is a hidden sin. John helps us recognize the impurity of lust while it is still in the early stages.

Here is chapter 4 of “The Dark Night”.

CHAPTER IV

Of other imperfections which these beginners are apt to have with respect to the third sin, which is spiritual lust

 

ONE TYPE SPIRITUAL LUST:

 

Many of these beginners have many other imperfections than those which I am describing with respect to each of the deadly sins, but these I set aside, in order to avoid prolixity, touching upon a few of the most important, which are, as it were, the origin and cause of the rest. And thus, with respect to this sin of lust (leaving apart the falling of spiritual persons into a carnal form of this sin, since my intent is to treat of the imperfections which have to be purged by the dark night), they have many imperfections which might be described as spiritual lust, not because the lust is spiritual, but because the imperfections proceed from spiritual things. For it often comes to pass that, in their very spiritual exercises, when they are powerless to prevent it, there arise and assert themselves in the sensual part of the soul impure acts and motions, and sometimes this happens even when the spirit is deep in prayer, or engaged in the Sacrament of Penance or in the Eucharist. These things are not, as I say, in their power; they proceed from one of three causes.

1. The first cause from which they often proceed is the pleasure which human nature takes in spiritual things. For when the spirit and the sense are pleased, every part of a man is moved by that pleasureto delight according to its proportion and nature. For then the spirit, which is the higher part, is moved to pleasureand delight in God; and the sensual nature, which is the lower part, is moved to pleasure and delight of the senses, because it cannot possess and lay hold upon aught else, and it therefore lays hold upon that which comes nearest to itself, which is the impure and sensual. Thus it comes to pass that the soul is in deep prayer with God according to the spirit, and, on the other hand, according to sense it is passively conscious, not without great displeasure, of rebellions and motions and acts of the senses, which often happens in Communion, for when the soul receives joy and comfort in this act of love, because this Lord bestows it (since it is to that end that He gives Himself), the sensual nature takes that which is its own likewise, as we have said, after its manner. Now as, after all, these two parts are combined in one individual, they ordinarily both participate in that which one of them receives, each after its manner; for, as the philosopher says, everything that is received is in the recipient after the manner of the same recipient. And thus, in these beginnings, and even when the soul has made some progress, its sensual part, being imperfect, oftentimes receives the Spirit of God with the same imperfection. Now when this sensual part is renewed by the purgation of the dark night which we shall describe, it no longer has these weaknesses; for it is no longer this part that receives aught, but rather it is itself received into the Spirit. And thus it then has everything after the manner of the Spirit.

2. The second cause whence these rebellions sometimes proceed is the devil, who, in order to disquiet and disturb the soul, at times when it is at prayer or is striving to pray, contrives to stir up these motions of impurity in its nature; and if the soul gives heed to any of these, they cause it great harm. For through fear of these not only do persons become lax in prayer—which is the aim of the devil when he begins to strive with them—but some give up prayer altogether, because they think that these things attack them more during that exercise than apart from it, which is true, since the devil attacks them then more than at other times, so that they may give up spiritual exercises. And not only so, but he succeeds in portraying to them very vividly things that are most foul and impure, and at times are very closely related to certain spiritual things and persons that are of profit to their souls, in order to terrify them and make them fearful; so that those who are affected by this dare not even look at anything or meditate upon anything, because they immediately encounter this temptation. And upon those who are inclined to melancholy this acts with such effect that they become greatly to be pitied since they are suffering so sadly; for this trial reaches such a point in certain persons, when they have this evil humor, that they believe it to be clear that the devil is ever present with them and that they have no power to prevent this, although some of these persons can prevent his attack by dint of great effort and labor. When these impurities attack such souls through the medium of melancholy, they are not as a rule freed from them until they have been cured of that kind of humor, unless the dark night has entered the soul, and rids them of all impurities, one after another.

3. The third source whence these impure motions are apt to proceed in order to make war upon the soul is often the fear which some persons experience when they have these impure representations and motions. Something that they see or say or think brings unclean memories to their mind, and this makes them afraid, which adds to the unclean motions, so that they suffer from them, though through no fault of their own.

 There are also certain souls of so tender and frail a nature that, when there comes to them some spiritual consolation or some grace in prayer, the spirit of lust is with them immediately, inebriating and delighting their sensual nature in such manner that it is as if they were plunged into the enjoyment and pleasure of this sin; and the enjoyment remains, together with the consolation, passively, and sometimes they are able to see that certain impure and unruly acts have taken place in their body. The reason for this is that, since these natures are, as I say, frail and tender, their humors are stirred up and their blood is excited at the least disturbance. And hence come these motions; and the same thing happens to such souls when they are enkindled with anger or suffer any disturbance or grief.

 Sometimes, again, there arises within these spiritual persons, whether they be speaking or performing spiritual actions, a certain vigor and bravado, through their having regard to persons who are present, and before these persons they display a certain kind of vain gratification. This also arises from lust of spirit, after the manner wherein we here understand it, which is, in this case, usually accompanied by complacency in the will.

ANOTHER TYPE OF SPIRITUAL LUST:

In addition to the above, lust can enter into spiritual relationships. Some people make friendships of a spiritual kind with others, which oftentimes arise from lust and not from spirituality; this may be known to be the case when the remembrance of that friendship causes not the remembrance and love of God to grow, but occasions remorse of conscience. For, when the friendship is purely spiritual, the love of God grows with it; and the more the soul remembers it, the more it remembers the love of God, and the greater the desire it has for God; so that, as the one grows, the other grows also. For the spirit of God has this property, that it increases good by adding to it more good, inasmuch as there is likeness and conformity between them. But, when this love arises from the vice of sensuality aforementioned, it produces the contrary effects; for the more the one grows, the more the other decreases, and the remembrance of it likewise. If that sensual love grows, it will at once be observed that the soul’s love of God is becoming colder, and that it is forgetting Him as it remembers that love; there comes to it, too, a certain remorse of conscience. And, on the other hand, if the love of God grows in the soul, that other love becomes cold and is forgotten; for, as the two are contrary to one another, not only does the one not aid the other, but the one which predominates quenches and confounds the other, and becomes strengthened in itself, as the philosophers say. Wherefore Our Saviour said in the Gospel: ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.’ That is to say, the love which is born of sensuality ends in sensuality, and that which is of the spirit ends in the spirit of God and causes it to grow. This is the difference that exists between these two kinds of love, whereby we may know them.

 When the soul enters the dark night, it brings these kinds of love under control. It strengthens and purifies the one, namely that which is according to God; and the other it removes and brings to an end; and in the beginning it causes both to be lost sight of, as we shall say hereafter.

We look next at the sin of spiritual anger.