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Treatise on the Love of God
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CHAPTER XIX.

THAT PENITENCE WITHOUT LOVE IS IMPERFECT.

Now all these motives are taught us by faith and the Christian religion, and therefore the repentance which results from them is very laudable though imperfect. Laudable certainly it is, for neither Holy Scripture nor the Church would stir us up by such motives if the penitence thence proceeding were not good, and we see manifestly that it is a most reasonable thing to repent of sin for these considerations, yea, that it is impossible that he who considers them attentively should not repent. Yet still it is an imperfect repentance, because divine love is not as yet found in it. Ah! do you not see, Theotimus, that all these repentances are made for the sake of our own soul, of its felicity, of its interior beauty, its honour, its dignity, and in a word for love of ourselves, although a lawful, just and well-ordered love.

And note, that I do not say that these repentances reject the love of God, but only that they do not include it; they do not repulse it, yet they do not contain it ; they are not contrary to it, but as yet are without it; it is not forbidden entrance, and yet it is not in. The will which simply embraces good is very good, yet if it so embrace this as to reject the better, it is truly ill-ordered, not in accepting the one but in repulsing the other. So the vow to give alms this day is good, yet the vow to give only this day is bad, because it would exclude the better, which is to give both to-day, to-morrow, and every day when we are able. Certainly it is good, and this cannot be denied, to repent of our sins in order to avoid the pains of hell and obtain heaven, but he that should make the resolution never to be willing to repent for any other motive, would wilfully shut out the better, which is to repent for the love of God, and would commit a great sin. And what father would not be ill pleased that his son was willing indeed to serve him, yet never with love, or by love?

The beginning of good things is good, the progress better, the end the best. At the same time, it is as a beginning that the beginning is good, and as progress that progress is good: and to wish to finish the work by its beginning or in its progress would be to invert the order of things. Infancy is good, but to desire to remain always a child would be bad; for the child of a hundred years old is despised. It is laudable to begin to learn, yet he that should begin with intention never to perfect himself would go against all reason. Fear, and those other motives of repentance of which I spoke, are good for the beginning of Christian wisdom, which consists in penitence; but he who deliberately willed not to attain to love which is the perfection of penitence, would greatly offend him who ordained all to his love, as to the end of all things.

To conclude: the repentance which excludes the love of God is infernal like to that of the damned. The repentance which does not reject the love of God, though as yet it be without it, is a good and desirable penitence, but imperfect, and it cannot give salvation until it attain love and is mingled therewith. So that as the great Apostle said that though he should deliver his body to be burned, and all his goods to the poor, wanting charity it would profit him nothing,1131131 Cor. xiii. 3. so we may truly say, that though our penitence were so great that it should cause our eyes to dissolve in tears, and our hearts to break with sorrow, yet if we have not the holy love of God, all this would profit nothing for eternal life.

 


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