"God has no need of men."

St Philip Neri

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"It is vanity to be concerned with the present only and not to make provision for things to come."

Thomas á Kempis

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"The essence of perfection is to embrace the will of God in all things, prosperous or adverse. In prosperity, even sinners find it easy to unite themselves to the divine will; but it takes saints to unite themselves to God's will when things go wrong and are painful to self-love. Our conduct in such instances is the measure of our love of God."

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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PART 5 - The Unitive Way of the Perfect



We call attention to a good work by Father Gabriel of St. Magdalen, C.D., which appeared in the Acta Academiae Romanae S. Thomae (1939):- "De indole psychologica theologiae spiritualis." This article, we believe, contains the most exact statement that has been made on this subject following two recent controversies: that between Father Stolz, O.S.B., and M. Penido on whether the psychological consideration of the facts of the interior life belongs to the domain of spiritual theology; and that between Jacques Maritain and Father T. Deman on the relation of spiritual theology with theology as such.

Father Gabriel answers these two questions as follows:

I. In reality spiritual theology as it exists today implies a psychological study of the facts of the interior life, but a study made in a manner notably different from that of St. Teresa, who is almost solely descriptive, and from that of St. John of the Cross, who interprets these facts theologically in order to show what the evolution of the life of grace in a completely faithful soul is and ought to be.

2. This psychological study may be scientific, and it becomes so when it establishes universal psychological laws, for example, on the relations of purifying aridity and union with God.

3. This study becomes theological when these laws find their superior basis in fixed theological principles. Such is the character of the psychological consideration of the spiritual life in the work of St. John of the Cross, in particular when he establishes the necessity of the passive purification of the senses and then that of the spirit to attain the intimate and perfect union with God, which is the culminating point of the evolution of the life of grace in perfect souls. (Thus fixed theological conclusions are reached.)

4. The psychological study of the facts of the life of the soul, although necessary even to moral theology in the tracts on human acts, the passions, the virtues in general and in particular, and the gifts of the Holy Ghost, is particularly requisite for spiritual theology, which considers the development of the interior life and its different phases even to perfect union. Consequently spiritual theology preserves the same concepts of grace, faith, confidence, charity, contemplation, and so on, as does moral theology, such as St. Thomas considers it. Nevertheless in spiritual theology these concepts are in closer relation with the concrete development of the interior life: for example, the concept of infused contemplation with the successive phases of the night of the senses, the night of the spirit, and perfect union. As a result we are led, not to admit a specific distinction between theology as conceived by St. Thomas and spiritual theology, but to see in the latter a function of theology, which, without being a science subordinated to theology, depends essentially on its principles.

Father Gabriel thus admits, as we do, that spiritual theology is an application of theology which determines the nature of the intimate union of the soul with God and the means (the acts, trials, graces) which lead to this union. It thus establishes, according to fixed theological principles, juxtaposed with the experience of the saints, the superior laws of the life of grace.

This is the point of view we took in the introduction and in the course of this work. Spiritual theology is, we said - designedly using a very general term - an application of theology, an application which is still in the domain of the universal, and on which depend the art of direction and the prudence of the director, which is the particular, contingent, and final application to a given person rather than to another.(1)

We also stated that spiritual theology is a branch of theology, or one of its integral parts (ratione materiae); (2) but although it has a less extended domain than moral theology as conceived by St. Thomas, it is the highest of its applications or its branches, for its end is to lead souls to intimate union with God. By it theology returns to its point of departure, to its eminent source, to divine revelation contained in Scripture and tradition. Spiritual theology, as a matter of fact, studies what should be the infused contemplation of revealed mysteries and the divine union resulting from this contemplation. In a word, it shows what the normal prelude of eternal life should be. Thereby the cycle of sacred science is completed.

From this point of view, spiritual theology presumes a thoroughly profound knowledge of dogmatic theology and of moral theology, which are the two parts of a single science that is eminently speculative and practical, like "the impression of the science of God in us." (3) Thereby the superior unity of theology is maintained, and we see ever better how it realizes what the Vatican Council says: "Reason also, illumined by faith, when it seeks zealously, piously, and soberly, attains through the gift of God some understanding of the mysteries, and that a most fruitful one, now from the analogy of those which it knows naturally, now from the interrelation of those mysteries with the ultimate end of man." (4)

(To be read from the bottom up)
Unitive life of the perfect
full extraordinary, e.g., with the vision of the Blessed Trinity
eminent contemplative form
apostolic form
initial not very continual union, often interrupted
Illuminative life of proficients
full infused contemplation
extraordinary or accompanied by visions, revelations
clearly contemplative form
active form, or form ordained to action, e.g., gift of wisdom under practical form
weak transitory acts of infused contemplation (d. The Dark Night, Bk. I, chap. 9)
initial passive purification of the senses more or less well borne (initial infused contemplation)
Purgative life of beginners
full or generous fervent souls pious and devout souls
weak tepid or retarded souls, not without relapses
initial first conversion or justification




1. In the works of great spiritual writers, there are eminent parts which are theologically established; they alone belong to spiritual theology in statu scientiae. Other parts belong only to the art of direction, which must not be confounded with the prudence of the director. This prudence makes use of this art when the director has sufficient knowledge of it; the gift of counsel and certain graces of state may also supply for the knowledge of this art when the director has not gone deeply enough into it.

2. Thus many Thomists say, in a higher domain: predestination is an objective part of Providence, and it attains what is most elevated in the object of Providence.

3. Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 1, a. 3.

4.  Sess. III, chap. 4.