The Trials Connected with the State of Abandonment, by Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade

Section I – Unwise Interference

The first trial: the obloquy and unreasonable exactions of persons with a reputation for wisdom and piety.

There is no way more secure than that of abandonment, and none more easy, sweet, clear, and less subject to illusion and error. In it God is loved and all Christian duties fulfilled; the Sacraments are frequented, and all the exterior acts of religion which are binding to all are performed. Superiors are obeyed, and the duties of the state of life are discharged; temptations of the flesh, the world, and the devil are continually resisted; for none are more on guard, or more vigilant in acquitting themselves of all their obligations, than those who follow this way.

If this is the case, why is it that they should be subject to so many contradictions? The most usual of these is, that when they, like other Christians, have accomplished all that the most strict theologian could exact, they are expected also to be bound to inconvenient practices to which the Church by no means obliges them; and if they do not comply they are charged with labouring under illusion. But I ask, can a Christian who confines himself to the observance of God’s commandments, and those of the Church, and who, besides, without practising meditation, contemplation, or spiritual reading, and without being attached to any particular form of devotion, yet attends to worldly business, and to other affairs of private life – can he be wrong? One cannot presume to accuse, or even to suspect him of error. One must admit this to oneself, and while leaving the Christian of whom I am speaking in peace, it is but justice not to trouble a soul that not only fulfils the precepts at least as well as one does oneself, but whom in addition, practises exterior acts of piety that are even unknown to others, or, if known, are treated with indifference. Prejudice goes so far as to affirm that this soul deceives itself, and deludes itself because, after having submitted to all that the Church prescribes, it holds itself free to be in the condition to give itself without hindrance to the interior operations of God, and to attend to the impressions of His grace at times when no other duty intervenes to expressly compel them. In a word they are condemned because they employ that time which others give to amusements and temporal affairs, in loving God. Is not this a crying injustice? This cannot be too strongly insisted upon. If anyone keeps the ordinary course, goes to confession once a year, nothing is said about it, he is left in peace with an occasional injunction, not pressed with too much importunity, nor making it an obligation, to do a little more. If he should change his ways and try to improve them, then he is overwhelmed with counsels for his conduct, and with different methods; and if he does not follow these pious rules diligently, then he is done for, he is a subject of suspicion, and nothing is too bad to predict of him.

Are they not aware that these practices, however good and holy they may be, are, after all, only a way leading to divine union? Is it necessary, then, to be always on the road when one has already arrived at the goal.

Nevertheless, it is this that is exacted of a soul which is supposed to be labouring under illusion. This soul has made its way, like others, at the beginning; like them it knew what to do, and did it faithfully; it would be vain now, to attempt to keep it bound to the same practices. Since God, moved by the efforts it has made to advance with these helps, has taken it on Himself to lead it to this happy union, from the time it arrived at the state of abandonment, and by love possessed God; in fine, from the time that the God of all goodness, relieving it of all its trouble and industry, made Himself the principle of its operations, these first methods lost all their value and were but the road it had traversed. To insist upon these methods being resumed and constantly followed, would be to make the soul forsake the end at which it had arrived to re-enter the way which led to it. But, if this soul has any experience, their time and trouble will be thrown away. In vain will they pursue it with noisy clamours; turning a deaf ear it will remain untroubled and unmoved in that intimate peace in which it so advantageously exercises its love. This is the centre in which it reposes, or, if you prefer it, it is the straight line traced by the hand of God. It will continue to walk therein, for all its duties are plainly marked out in it and by following this line it fulfils them without confusion or haste as they present themselves. For all else it holds itself in perfect liberty, always ready to obey every movement of grace directly it perceives it, and to abandon itself to the care of Providence. God makes known to this soul that He intends to be its Master, and to direct it by His grace; and makes it understand that it cannot, without attacking the sovereign rights of its Creator, allow its own liberty to be fettered. It feels that, if it tied itself down, to the rules of those who live by their own efforts and industry, instead of acting according to the attraction of grace, it would be deprived of many things necessary in order to be able to fulfil future duties. But, as no one knows this, it is judged and condemned for its simplicity, and, though it does not find fault with others but approves of every state, and well knows how to discern every degree of progress, it is despised by pretended wiseacres who cannot appreciate this sweet and hearty submission to divine Providence.

Worldly wisdom cannot understand the perpetual wanderings of the Apostles, who did not settle anywhere. Ordinary spirituality also cannot endure that souls should depend for their action on divine Providence. There are but few in this state who approve of them, but God, who instructs men by means of their fellow creatures, never fails to make such souls encounter those who abandon themselves to Him with simplicity and fidelity. Besides, these latter require less direction than others in consequence of having attained to this state with the help of very good directors. If they find that they are occasionally left to themselves, it is because divine Providence removes by death, or banishes by some event, the guides who have led them in this way. Even then, they are always willing to be guided, and only wait in peace the moment arranged by Providence. During the time of privation also, they meet from time to time persons in whom they feel they can repose a confidence inspired by God, although they know nothing about them. This is a sign that He makes use of them to communicate certain lights, even if these are only temporary. These souls ask advice, therefore, and when it is given they follow it with the greatest docility. In default of such assistance however, they have recourse to the maxims supplied to them by their first directors. Thus they are always very well directed, either by the old principles formerly received, or by the advice of those directors they encounter, and they make use of all until God sends them persons in whom they can confide, and who will show them His Will.

Section II – Unjust Judgments

Second trial of the state of abandonment. The apparent uselessness and exterior defects allowed by God in the souls He wills to raise to this state.

The second trial of souls conducted by God in this way is the result of their apparent uselessness, and of their exterior defects. There can be neither honour nor reward in a service hidden, often enough, under the most utter incapacity and uselessness, as far as the world is concerned. Doubtless those who are given more important posts, are not, on this account, necessarily precluded from the state of abandonment. Less still is this state incompatible with striking virtue, and that sanctity which attracts universal veneration. Nevertheless there is a far greater number of souls raised to this sublime state whose virtue is known only to God. By their state these souls are free from nearly every outward obligation. They are little suited for worldly business or affairs, for complicated concerns, or for putting their mind into the conducting of industries. It seems as though they were quite useless; nothing is noticeable in them but feebleness of body, mind, imagination and passions. They take no notice of anything. They are, so to say, quite stupid, and possess nothing of that culture, study, or reflexion which go to the making of a man. They are like children of nature before they are placed in the hands of masters to be formed. They have noticeable faults which, without rendering them more guilty than children, cause more offence. God takes away everything but innocence in order that they should have nothing to rely upon but Him alone. The world, being in ignorance of this mystery can only judge by appearance, and can find nothing in them to its taste, nor anything that it values. It, therefore, rejects and despises them, and they seem to be exposed to censure from all. The more closely they are observed, the less is thought of them and the more opposition do they encounter; no one knows what to make of them. Although some hidden voice seems to speak in their favour, yet people prefer to adhere to their own malignant prepossessions rather than to follow this instinct, or at least to suspend their judgment. Their actions are pried into to find out their opinions, and like the Pharisees who could not endure the actions of Jesus, they are regarded with such prejudice that everything they do appears either ridiculous or criminal.

Section III – Self-Contempt

The third trial: interior humiliations.

Contemptible as they are in the eyes of others, the souls raised by God to this state are far more contemptible in their own. There is nothing either in what they do, or in what they suffer that is not altogether paltry and humiliating; there is nothing striking in anything about them, all is quite ordinary, nothing but troubles and afflictions interiorly, and contradictions and disappointments exteriorly. With a feeble body requiring many alleviations and comforts, the very reverse one would think of that spirit of poverty and austerity so much admired in the saints. Neither heroic undertakings, nor fasts, large alms, nor ardent and far-reaching zeal can be discerned in them; but united to God by faith and love they behold in themselves nothing but disorder. They despise themselves still more by comparison with those who pass for saints, and who, besides adapting themselves with facility to rules and methods show nothing irregular either in their persons or actions. Therefore their own short-comings in this respect fill them with confusion, and are unbearable to them. It is on this account that they give way to sighs and tears, marking the grief with which they are oppressed. Let us remember that Jesus Christ was both God and man; as man He was destroyed, and as God He remained full of glory. These souls have no participation in His glory, but they share in the sadness and misery of His sufferings. Men regard them in the same way as Herod and his court regarded Jesus Christ. These poor souls, therefore, are nourished as to their senses and mind, with a most disgusting food, in which they can find no pleasure. They aspire to something quite different, but all the avenues leading to the sanctity they so much desire, remain closed to them. They must live on this bread of suffering, on this bread mingled with ashes, with a continual shrinking both exterior and interior. They have formed an idea of saintliness which gives them constant and irremediable torment. The will hungers for it, but is powerless to practise it. Why should this be, except to mortify the soul in that which is its most spiritual and intimate part, which, finding no satisfaction or pleasure in anything that happens to it, must needs place all its affection in God who conducts it this way for the express purpose of preventing it taking pleasure in anything but Him alone.

It seems to me that it is easy to conclude from all this that souls abandoned to God cannot occupy themselves, as others do, with desires, examinations, cares, or attachments to certain persons. Neither can they form plans, nor lay down methodical rules for their actions, or for reading. This would imply that they still had power to dispose of themselves, which would entirely exclude the state of abandonment in which they are placed. In this state they give up to God all their rights over themselves, over their words, actions, thoughts, and proceedings; over the employment of their time and everything connected with it. There remains only one desire, to satisfy the Master they have chosen, to listen unceasingly to the expression of His will in order to execute it immediately. No condition can better represent this state than that of a servant who obeys every order he receives, and does not occupy his time in attending to his own affairs; these he neglects in order to serve His Master at every moment. These souls then should not be distressed at their powerlessness; they are able to do much in being able to give themselves entirely to a Master who is all-powerful, and able to work wonders with the feeblest of instruments if they offer no resistance.

Let us, then, endure without annoyance the humiliations entailed on us in our own eyes, and in the eyes of others, by what shows outwardly in our lives; or rather, let us conceal ourselves behind these outward appearances and enjoy God who is all ours. Let us profit by this apparent failure, by these requirements, by this care-taking and the necessity of constant nourishment, and of comfort; of our ill-success, of the contempt of others, of these fears, uncertainties, troubles, etc., to find all our wealth and happiness in God, who, by these means, gives Himself entirely to us as our only good. God wishes to be ours in a poor way, without all those accessories of sanctity which make others to be admired, and this is because God would have Himself to be the sole food of our souls, the only object of our desires. We are so weak that if we displayed the virtues of zeal, almsgiving, poverty, and austerity, we should make them subjects for vainglory. But as it is, everything is disagreeable in order that God may be our whole sanctification, our whole support, so that the world despises us, and leaves us to enjoy our treasure in peace. God desires to be the principle of all that is holy in us, and therefore what depends on ourselves and on our active fidelity is very small, and appears quite contrary to sanctity. There cannot be anything great in us in the sight of God except our passive endurance. Therefore let us think of it no more, let us leave the care of our sanctification to God who well knows how to effect it. It all depends on the watchful care, and particular operation of divine Providence, and is accomplished in a great measure without our knowledge, and even in a way that is unexpected, and disagreeable to us. Let us fulfil peacefully the little duties of our active fidelity, without aspiring to those that are greater, because God does not give Himself to us by reason of our own efforts. We shall become saints of God, of His grace, and of His special providence. He knows what rank to give us, let us leave it to Him, and without forming to ourselves false ideas, and empty systems of sanctity, let us content ourselves with loving Him unceasingly, and in pursuing with simplicity the path He has marked out for us, where all is so mean and paltry in our eyes, and in the estimation of the world.

Section IV – Distrust of Self

The fourth trial of souls in the state of abandonment: the obscurity of their state, and their apparent opposition to the will of God.

For a soul that desires nothing else but the will of God, what could be more miserable than the impossibility of being certain of loving Him? Formerly it was mentally enlightened to perceive in what consisted the plan for its perfection, but it is no longer able to do so in its present state. Perfection is given to it contrary to all preconceived ideas, to all light, to all feeling. It is given by all the crosses sent by Providence, by the action of present duties, by certain attractions, which have in them no good beyond that of not leading to sin; but seem very far from the dazzling sublimity of sanctity, and all that is unusual in virtue. God and His grace are given in a hidden and strange manner, for the soul feels too weak to bear the weight of its crosses, and disgusted with its obligations. Its attractions are only for quite ordinary exercises. The ideal it has formed of sanctity reproaches it interiorly for its mean and contemptible disposition. All books treating of the lives of the saints condemn it, it can find nothing in vindication of its conduct; it beholds a brilliant sanctity which renders it disconsolate because it has not strength sufficient to attain to it, and it does not see that its weakness is divinely ordered, but looks upon it as cowardice. Those whom it knows to be distinguished for striking virtue, of sublime contemplation regard it only with contempt. “What a strange saint,” say they; and the soul, believing this, and confused by its countless useless efforts to raise itself from this low condition, is overwhelmed with opprobrium, and has nothing to advance in its own favour either to itself or to others. The soul in this state feels as if it were lost. Its reflexions afford it no help for its guidance, or enlightenment, and divine grace seems to have failed it. It is, however, through this loss that it finds again that same grace substituted under a different form, and restoring a hundredfold more than it took away by the purity of its hidden impressions.

This is, without doubt, a death-blow to the soul, for it loses sight of the divine will which, so to speak, withdraws itself from observation to stand behind it and push it on, becoming thus its invisible principle, and no longer its clearly defined object. Experience proves that nothing kindles the desire more than this apparent loss; therefore the soul vehemently desires to be united to the divine will, and gives vent to the most profound sighs, finding no possible consolation anywhere. A heart that has no other wish but to possess God must attract Him to itself; and this secret of love is a very great one since by this way alone are established in the soul sure faith and firm hope. It is then that we believe what we cannot see, and expect to possess what we cannot feel. Oh! how much does this incomprehensible conduct of an action, of which one is both subject and instrument, tend to one’s perfection without any visible sign of appearance. Everything that one does seems done by chance, or natural inclination, and is very humiliating to the soul. When inspired to speak, it seems as if one spoke only from oneself. One never sees by what spirit one is impelled; the most divine inspiration is a terror, and whatever one does or feels is a source of constant self-contempt, as though it were all faulty and imperfect. Others are always admired, and one feels very inferior to them, while their whole way of acting causes confusion. The soul distrusts its own judgment, and cannot be certain about any of its thoughts; it pays excessive submission to the least advice given by a respectable authority, and the divine action in thus keeping it apart from striking virtue seems to plunge it into deeper humiliation. This humiliation has no appearance of virtue to the soul; according to its own idea it is pure justice. The most admirable thing about it is, that in the eyes of others whom God does not enlighten, and even in its own eyes, the soul appears actuated by feelings absolutely contrary to virtue, such as pure obstinacy, disobedience, troublesomeness, contempt, and indignation, for which there seems no remedy. The more earnestly the soul strives to overcome these defects the more do they increase, because they form part of the design of God as being the most suitable means of detaching the soul from itself to prepare it for the divine union.

It is from this sad trial that the principal merit of the state of abandonment is gained. Now all is of a nature to withdraw the soul from its narrow path of love and simple obedience and it requires heroic virtue and courage to keep firm in plain active fidelity, and to sing its part in a song that seems to express in its tones that the soul is mistaken and lost; while grace sings a second. It does not hear this, however, and if it has courage to let the thunder roll, the lightning flash, and the tempest roar, and to walk with a firm tread in the path of love and obedience, of duty, and of the present attraction, it can be compared to the soul of Jesus during His passion, when our divine Saviour walked steadfastly in the fulfiling of the will of His Father, and in His love which imposed upon Him a task apparently quite inconsistent with the dignity of a soul of such sanctity as His.

The hearts of Jesus and Mary, bearing the fury of that darkest of nights, let the clouds gather, and the storm rage. A multitude of things in appearance most opposed to the designs of God and of His order, overwhelmed their faculties; but though deprived of all sensible support they walked without faltering in the path of love and obedience. Their eyes were fixed only on what they had to do, and leaving God to act as He pleased with all that concerned them, they endured the whole weight of that divine action. They groaned under the burden, but not for a single instant did they waver or pause. They believed that all would be well, provided that they kept on their way and let God act.

Section V – The Life of Faith

The fruit of these trials. The conduct of the submissive soul.

It results from all that has just been described that, in the path of pure faith, all that takes place spiritually, physically, and temporarily, has the aspect of death. This is not to be wondered at. What else could be expected? It is natural to this state. God has His plans for souls, and under this disguise He carries them out very successfully. Under the name of “disguise” I include ill-success, corporal infirmities, and spiritual weakness. All succeeds, and turns to good in the hands of God. It is by those things that are a trouble to nature that He prepares for the accomplishment of His greatest designs. “All things work together unto good to such as according to His purpose are called to be saints.” (Romans 8:28). He brings life out of the shadow of death; therefore, when nature is afraid, faith, which takes everything in a good sense, is full of courage and confidence. To live by faith is to live by joy, confidence, and certainty about all that has to be done or suffered at each moment according to the designs of God. It is in order to animate and to maintain this life of faith that God allows the soul to be plunged into and carried away by the rough waters of so many pains, troubles, difficulties, fatigues and overthrows; for it requires faith to find God in all these things. The divine life is given at every moment in a hidden but very sure manner, under different appearances such as, the death of the body, the supposed loss of the soul, and the confusion of all earthly affairs. In all these, faith finds its food and support. It pierces through all, and clings to the hand of God, the giver of life. Through all that does not partake of the nature of sin, the faithful soul should proceed with confidence, taking it all as a veil, or disguise of God whose immediate presence alarms and at the same time reassures the faculties of the soul. In fact this great God who consoles the humble, gives the soul in the midst of its greatest desolation an interior assurance that it has nothing to fear, provided it allows Him to act, and abandons itself entirely to Him. It is grieved because it has lost its Well-beloved, and yet something assures it that it possesses Him. It is troubled and disturbed, yet nevertheless has in its depths I know not what important grounds for attaching itself steadfastly to God. “Truly,” said Jacob, “God is in this place, and I knew it not” (Genesis 28:16). You seek God and He is everywhere; everything proclaims Him, everything gives Him to you. He walks by your side, is around you and within you: there He lives, and yet you seek Him. You seek your own idea of God while all the time you possess Him substantially. You seek perfection, and it is in everything that presents itself to you. Your sufferings, your actions, your attractions are the species under which God gives Himself to you, while you are vainly striving after sublime ideas which He by no means assumes in order to dwell in you.

Martha tried to please Jesus by cooking nice dishes, but Mary was content to be with Jesus in any way that He wished to give Himself to her; but when Mary sought Him in the garden according to the idea she had formed of Him, He eluded her by presenting Himself in the form of a gardener. The Apostles saw Jesus, but mistook Him for a phantom. God disguises Himself, therefore, to raise the soul to the state of pure faith, to teach it to find Him under every kind of appearance; for, when it has discovered this secret of God, it is in vain for Him to disguise Himself; it says, “He is there, behind the wall, He is looking through the lattice, looking from the windows” (Canticle 2:9). Oh! divine Love, hide yourself, proceed from one trial to another, bind by attractions; blend, confuse, or break like threads all the ideas and methods of the soul. May it stray hither and thither for want of light, and be unable to see or understand in what path it should walk; formerly it found You dwelling in Your ordinary guise, in the peaceful repose of solitude and prayer, or in suffering; even in the consolations You give to others, in the course of conversation, or in business; but now after having tried every method known to please you, it has to stand aside not seeing You in any of these things as in former times. May the uselessness of its efforts teach it to seek You henceforth in Yourself, which means to seek You everywhere, in all things without distinction and without reflexion; for, oh divine Love! what a mistake it is, not to find you in all that is good, and in every creature. Why then seek You in any other way than that by which You desire to give Yourself? Why, divine Love, seek You under any other species than those which You have chosen for Your Sacrament? The less there is to be seen or felt so much the more scope for faith and obedience. Do You not give fecundity to the root hidden underground, and can You not, if You so will, make this darkness in which You are pleased to keep me, fruitful? Live then, little root of my heart, in the deep, invisible heart of God; and by its power, send forth branches, leaves, flowers and fruits, which, although invisible to yourself, are a pure joy and nourishment to others. Without consulting your own taste, give of your shade, flowers, and fruit to others. May all that is grafted on you receive that indeterminate sap which will be known only by the growth and appearance of those same grafts. Become all to all, but as to yourself remain abandoned and indifferent. Remain in the dark and narrow prison of your miserable cocoon, little worm, until the warmth of grace forms you, and sets you free. Then feed upon whatever leaves it offers you, and do not regret, in the activity of abandonment, the peace you have lost. Stop directly the divine action would have you stop, and be content to lose, in the alternations of repose and activity, in incomprehensible changes, all your old formulas, methods and ways, to take upon you those designed for you by the divine action. Thus you will spin your silk in secret, doing what you can neither see nor feel. You will condemn in yourself a secret envy of your companions who are apparently dead and motionless, because they have not yet arrived at the point that you have attained; you continue to admire them although you have surpassed them. May your affliction in your abandonment continue while you spin a silk in which the princes of the Church and of the world and all sorts of souls will glory to be attired.

After that what will become of you, little worm? by what outlet will you come forth? Oh! marvel of grace by which souls are moulded in so many different shapes! Who can guess in what direction grace will guide it? And who could guess either, what nature does with a silkworm if he had not seen it working? It is only necessary to provide it with leaves, and nature does the rest.

Therefore no soul can tell from whence it came, nor whither it is going; neither from what thought of God the divine wisdom drew it, nor to what end it tends. Nothing is left but an entire passive abandonment, and to allow this divine Wisdom to act without interfering by our own reflexions, examples and methods. We must act when the time to act comes, and cease when it is time to stop; if necessary letting all be lost, and thus, acting or remaining passive according to attraction and abandonment we, insensibly, do, or leave undone without knowing what will be the result; and after many changes the formed soul receives wings and flies up to Heaven, leaving a plentiful harvest on earth for other souls to gather.