The Book Of Confidence - Fr. Thomas de Saint-Laurent -
Chapter 2 -
Nature and Characteristics of Confidence
Confidence Is a Firm Hope
With words that bear the mark of his genius, Saint Thomas Aquinas defines confidence with this conciseness that bears the mark of his genius as “a hope fortified by solid conviction.”1 We will devote this chapter to the explanation of these profound words.
Let us attentively consider the terms employed by the Angelic Doctor.
“Confidence,” he writes, “is a hope.” It is not that ordinary hope common to all the faithful; a precise qualifier distinguishes it: it is “a fortified hope.”
However, note well, there is no difference in nature, only in degree. The faint glimmer of the dawn and the dazzling light of the sun at its zenith form part of the same day. So hope and confidence pertain to the same virtue; one is the complete blossoming of the other.
Ordinary hope is lost by despair. It can tolerate, however, a certain amount of anxiety. But, when it reaches that perfection which merits for it the name of Confidence, then it becomes more delicate and more sensitive.
It can no longer bear hesitation, however insignificant it may be; the slightest doubt would lessen it and so reduce it to the level of mere hope.
The Royal Prophet David selects his words most precisely when he calls confidence “a super hope.”2 It is, indeed, a question of a virtue carried to the very highest degree attainable. And Father Saint-Jure, one of the most esteemed spiritual writers of the seventeenth century, justly terms it an “extraordinary and heroic hope.”3
Confidence is not, then, a common flower. It grows on the crests; it does not permit itself to be picked except by magnanimous souls.
Confidence Is Fortified by Faith
Let us take this study further.
What sovereign strength fortifies hope to the point of rendering it unshakable in the face of the assault of adversity? Faith!
The confident soul remains mindful of the promises of her Heavenly Father; she meditates upon them profoundly. She knows that God’s word cannot fail, and from this she draws her certainty. Danger may threaten, surround, and even strike her, but she always preserves her serenity. In spite of the imminent danger, she repeats the words of the Psalmist: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the protector of my life: Of whom shall I be afraid?”4
There is the closest affinity between faith and confidence; the two are most intimately related. A contemporary theologian tells us that confidence has its “source and root”5 in faith. Hence the more profound our faith, the stronger and more deeply rooted will be our confidence. In the Scriptures, we find that the sacred writers designated these two virtues by the same word: fides.
Confidence Is Unshakable
The preceding considerations may appear to be excessively abstract. It was necessary for us, however, to establish our foundation upon these considerations. From them we shall deduce the characteristics of true confidence.
“Confidence,” writes Father Saint-Jure, “is firm, stable, and constant to such an eminent degree that it cannot be shaken – I no longer say just overthrown – by anything in the world.”6
Neither the most afflicting temporal misfortunes nor the greatest spiritual difficulties will disturb the peace of the confident soul. Unforeseen calamities may lay her happiness in ruins around her; this soul, more master of herself than the ancient wise man, will remain calm: “Impavidum ferient ruinae.”7
She will simply turn to the Lord. She will lean on Him with a certainty that increases in proportion to the degree that she feels herself deprived of human help. She will pray with greater fervour and, in the darkness of the trial, continue on her path, waiting in silence for the hour of God.
Such confidence, no doubt, is rare. But, unless it attains this minimum of perfection, it does not merit the name of confidence.
We find sublime examples of this degree of confidence in the Scriptures and in the lives of the saints.
Such was the confidence of Job. Stricken with every possible misfortune – the loss of his wealth, the death of his children, the ruin of his health – he was reduced to direst poverty and afflicted with a dreadful disease. As he sat on a dunghill, his friends, even his wife, increased his pain by the cruelty of their words. But he did not allow himself to be discouraged; no murmuring was mixed with his groaning. He kept his mind fixed on thoughts of faith. “Although He [the Lord] should kill me,” he said, “I will trust in Him.”8
This was an admirable confidence that God rewarded magnificently. The trial ceased; Job recovered his health, gained a considerable fortune again, and enjoyed a life more prosperous than the one he had before the trial.
On one of his journeys, Saint Martin fell into the hands of highwaymen.
The bandits stripped him and were going to kill him. Suddenly, however, touched by the grace of repentance or moved by a mysterious fear, they turned him loose and, against all expectations, freed him. Later, the illustrious bishop was asked if, during that pressing danger, he had not felt some fear.
“None,” he responded. “I knew that as human help became more improbable, the divine intervention was all the more certain.”
Unfortunately, most Christians do not imitate such examples.
Never do they approach God so seldom as in the hour of trial. Indeed, many do not even send forth that cry for help which God awaits in order to come to their assistance. What a fatal negligence! “Providence,” Louis of Granada used to say, “wishes to give the solution to the extraordinary difficulties of life directly, while it leaves to secondary causes the resolving of ordinary difficulties.”9 But it is always necessary to cry out for divine help.
That help God gives us with pleasure. “Far from bothering the nurse who suckles him, the baby brings her relief.”10
Other Christians pray rervently, but they do not persevere in prayer. If they are not answered immediately, they quickly fall from exalted hope into a state of unreasonable discouragement. They do not understand the ways of grace. God treats us like children; He plays deaf at times because He likes to hear us invoking Him. Why should we become discouraged so quickly when, on the contrary, it would be convenient for us to cry out with greater insistence?
This is the doctrine taught by Saint Francis de Sales: “Providence only delays in coming to our aid in order to excite us to confidence. If our Heavenly Father does not always grant us what we ask, it is because He desires to keep us at His feet and to provide us with an occasion to insist with loving violence in our petitions to Him. He showed this clearly to the two disciples at Emmaus, with whom He did not consent to remain until the close of the day, and even after they had pressed Him.” 11
Confidence Counts on Nothing but God
Unshakable firmness is, then, the first characteristic of confidence.
The second quality of this virtue is even more perfect. It leads a man not to count on the help of creatures, whether such help be drawn from himself, from his own intelligence, from his judgement, from his knowledge, from his skill, from his riches, from his friends, from his relatives, or from any other thing of his; or whether it be assistance that he might perhaps hope to receive from someone else: kings, princes, or any creature in general, because he senses and knows the weaknesses of all human help. He considers human helps to be what they really are. How right Saint Teresa was in calling them “dry branches that break under the first pressure.”12
But, some will say, does not this theory proceed from false mysticism? Will it not lead to fatalism or, at least, to perilous passivity? Why should we multiply our efforts in trying to overcome difficulties if all human support must crumble in our hands? Let us simply cross our arms and await divine intervention!
No, God does not wish us to sleep; He demands that we imitate Him. His perfect activity has no limits. He is pure act.
We must act, then, but from Him alone must we expect the efficacy of our action. “Help thyself that heaven may help thee.” Behold the economy of the providential plan.
To your posts then! Let us work with our spirit and heart turned on high. “It is vain for you to rise before light,”13 says the Scripture; if the Lord does not aid thee, thou shalt attain nothing.
Indeed, our impotence is radical. “Without Me you can do nothing,” says Our Saviour.14 In the supernatural order, this impotence is absolute. Heed well the teachings of the theologians.
Without grace, man cannot observe the commandments of God for a long time or in their totality. Without grace, he cannot resist all the temptations, sometimes so violent, that assault him.
Without grace, we cannot have a good thought; we cannot even make the shortest prayer; without it, we cannot even invoke with piety the holy name of Jesus.
Everything that we do in the supernatural order comes to us from God alone.15 Even in the natural order, it is still God who gives us victory.
Saint Peter had worked the whole night; he had endured in his labours; he had a profound knowledge of the secrets of his difficult occupation. Nevertheless, his movements over the gentle waves of the lake had been in vain; he had caught nothing. Then he receives the Master into his boat; upon casting his net in the name of the Saviour, he attains an undeniably miraculous catch; the nets break, such is the number of fish.
Following the example of the Apostle, let us cast our nets with untiring patience; but let us hope only in Our Lord for the miraculous catch.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola used to say: “In everything you do, behold the rule of rules to follow: Trust in God, acting, nevertheless, as if success in everything depended entirely on you and not at all on God; but, employing your efforts to attain this good result, do not count on them, but proceed as if everything were done by God alone and nothing by you.”16
Confidence Rejoices Even at Being Deprived of Human Help
Do not be discouraged when the mirage of human assistance fades away. To count on nothing but the help of heaven, is this not already a most high virtue?
Even so, the vigorous wings of true confidence rise to even more sublime regions. It reaches them by a kind of refinement of heroism. Then it attains the highest degree of its perfection. This degree consists in the soul rejoicing when it finds itself stripped of all human support, abandoned by its relatives, its friends, and all the creatures who do not wish to or cannot help it, who cannot give it counsel or assist it with their talents or credits, who have no means left to come to its aid.17
What a profound wisdom this joy denotes in such cruel circumstances!
To intone the Canticle of Alleluia under blows which are, naturally speaking, sufficient to break our courage, one must know the Heart of Our Lord to Its depth; one must believe blindly in His merciful and fatherly love and His omnipotent goodness; one must have absolute certainty that He selects for His intervention the hour of the desperate situations.
After his conversion, Saint Francis of Assisi despised the dreams of glory that had dazzled him previously. He fled from human gatherings, withdrew into the forest in order to surrender himself to a long period of prayer, and gave generous alms. This change displeased his father, who, dragging his son before the diocesan authority, accused him of dissipating his goods. Then, in the presence of the marvelling bishop, Francis renounced his paternal inheritance, removed the clothing that had come to him from his family, and stripped himself of everything! Then, vibrant with supernatural happiness, he exclaimed: “Now, yes, O my God, I can call Thee more truly than ever, ‘Our Father, Who art in heaven’!” Behold how the saints act.
You souls wounded by misfortune, do not murmur over the abandonment in which you find yourselves reduced. God does not ask of you a sensible joy, impossible to your weakness. Just rekindle your faith, have courage, and, according to the expression dear to Saint Francis de Sales, in the “innermost point of your soul,” try to have joy.
Providence will eventually give you the right sign by which you shall recognise Its hour; It deprived you of all support. Now is the moment to Resist the distress of nature. You have reached that hour in the office of the interior of the soul in which you should sing the Magnificat and put incense to burn. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice… The Lord is nigh!”18 Follow this counsel, you will feel the benefit of it.
If the Divine Master did not allow Himself to be touched by such confidence, He would not be the same Person shown by the Gospel to be so compassionate, the One who trembled with painful emotion at the sight of our suffering.
Our Lord once said to a saintly religious, who died in the odour of sanctity: “If I am good to all, I am very good to those who confide in Me. Dost thou know which souls take the greatest advantage of my goodness? They are those who hope the most. Confident souls steal my graces!”19
1. “Est enim fiducia spes roborata ex aliqua firma opinione.” Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologica, IIa IIae., quest. 129, art. 6, ad. 3.
2. “In verba tua supersperavi.” Ps. 118:74.
3. Saint-Jure, De la connaissance et de l’armour de Jésus Christ, vol. 3, p. 3.
4. “Dominus illuminatio mea et salus mea; quern timebo? Dominus protector vitae meae; a quo trepidabo?” Ps. 26:1.
5. “Itaque quatenus fides est causa et radix hujus fiduciae, potest accipi fides pro fiducia causaliter, ut quando S. Jacobus ait: Postulet in fide nihil haesitans (I.6). Ibi enim et aliis similibus locis fides aut simpliciter ponitur pro fiducia aut intelligitur quidem fides dogmatica, sed in quantum roborat spem.” Pesch, Praelectiones dogmaticae, vol. 7, p. 51, note 2.
6. Saint-Jure, op. cit., vol. 3, p. 3.
7. Horace, Ode 3 of Book 3.
8. “Etiamsi occiderit me, in ipso sperabo.” Job 13:15.
9. Louis of Granada, First Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany.
11. Petits Bollandistes, vol. 14, p. 542.
12. Saint-Jure, op. cit., vol. 3, p. 3.
13. “Vanum est vobis ante lucem surgere.” Ps. 126:2.
14. “Sine me nihil potestis facere.” John 15:5.
15. “Sufficientia nostra ex Deo est.” 2 Cor. 3:5.
16. Fr. Xavier de Franciosi, L’Esprit de Saint Ignace, p. 5.
17. Saint-Jure, op. cit., vol. 3, p. 4.
18. “Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico gaudete… Dominus prope est.” Phil. 4:4-5.
19. Soeur Benigne Consolata Ferrero, Roudil, Lyons, pp. 95-96. This biography appeared in 1920, with the imprimatur of the archbishop and the declarations prescribed by the decrees of Urban VIII.
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