The Spiritual Combat by Dom Scupoli is a spiritual classic that was greatly lauded by Saint Francis de Sales: “You see my Director in this book, which, from my earliest youth, has, with the help of God, taught me and been my master in spiritual matters and in the interior life.” Saint Francis read from it daily and recommended it to all under his spiritual direction. This volume consists of short, practical chapters that are particularly useful as we seek to overcome the sin, wounds, and vices we all suffer from.
Scupoli begins by outlining the four weapons essential to spiritual combat. These weapons are distrust of self, total confidence in God, proper use of the faculties, and the duty of prayer. This primer is focused on how to develop a distrust of self and total confidence in God.
The fostering of a complete and thorough distrust of self is indispensable in the unseen war over our souls.
“Distrust of self is so absolutely requisite in the spiritual combat, that without this virtue we cannot expect to defeat our weakest passions, much less gain a complete victory. This important truth should be deeply embedded in our hearts; for, although in ourselves we are nothing, we are too apt to overestimate our own abilities and to conclude falsely that we are of some importance.”
In order to foster this distrust of self, Scupoli lays out four methods:
- We should meditate frequently on our own weakness, remembering that we cannot make even the smallest good act or take the tiniest step towards perfect love of God without His grace. Accomplishing the good is impossible without Divine Assistance. We should become acutely aware of this truth by calling it to mind often.
- We must plead with God daily to grant us this great virtue of self-distrust. We should ask Him frequently and fervently to help us see our total powerlessness apart from His grace.
- We should reflect on the number and strength of our enemies. Demons, being angelic in nature, possess an intelligence far superior to the greatest human geniuses. They plan for our destruction without rest and lie ceaselessly in wait to destroy us at the first opportunity. We are not stronger, faster, or smarter than the least of demons.
- We must examine ourselves each time we commit a sin. In this way, we might uncover our weak points. Every sin is an opportunity to grow in self-knowledge. The result of this self-knowledge should be a greater awareness of our weakness and wretchedness. Faced with the truth of our state, we cannot help but to distrust ourselves and turn to God in all matters.
Distrust of self alone is not sufficient as a weapon in spiritual combat. It must be coupled with total confidence in God, or else it runs the risk of being ineffective.
“Although distrust of self is absolutely necessary as we have shown it to be in the spiritual combat, nevertheless, if this is all we have to rely on, we will soon be routed, plundered, and subdued by the enemy. Unless we would be put to flight, or remain helpless and vanquished in the hands of our enemies, we must add to it perfect trust in God, and expect from Him alone succor and victory. For as we, who are nothing, can look for nothing from ourselves but falls, and therefore should utterly distrust ourselves; so from our Lord may we assuredly expect complete victory in every conflict.”
In order to arm ourselves with this trust in God, four approaches will be useful for us:
- We should humbly ask for the grace of increased trust in God every day. This prayer should constantly be on our lips. Trust in God is fostered by making acts of confidence throughout our day in addition to petitioning Him for this grace. Faith is strengthened through frequent exercise, as all virtues are. This might take the form of a brief prayer of surrender or a mortification involving surrender to His Will.
- We should meditate frequently on the omnipotence of God, recalling each day the infinitude of His goodness, love, and strength. God asks us for one thing, namely, to turn to Him in total surrender and confidence in all matters and to work for the accomplishment of His Will instead of our own. Perfect love is to do the Will of our Father.
- We should reflect daily on the promises we have from Sacred Scripture, our mother the Church, and the countless Saints that go as witnesses before us. God promises us that if we trust in Him we will never be defeated.
- We should pause before any good action and meditate briefly on our own weakness in contrast to God’s infinite goodness, love, and power. From this repeated meditation, we will find courage as we weigh our weakness against the hope we have in God.
It is important that we employ these methods on a daily basis to continually increase our distrust of self and confidence in God.
“But if we neglect this method, though we may flatter ourselves that we are actuated by a principle of confidence in God, we will usually be deceived. Presumption is so natural to man that, without notice, it insinuates itself into the confidence he imagines he has in God and the distrust he fancies he has of himself. Consequently, in order to destroy all presumption and to sanctify every action and the two virtues opposite to this vice, the consideration of one’s own weakness must precede that of the Divine Power. Both of these must precede all undertakings.”
It is a simple task to discern whether or not we have a true distrust of self and total confidence in God.
“The presumptuous man is convinced that he has acquired a distrust of himself and confidence in God, but his mistake is never more apparent than when some fault is committed. For, if he yields to anger and despairs of advancing in the way of virtue, it is evident that he has placed his confidence in himself and not in God. The greater the anxiety and despondence, the greater is the certainty of his guilt.
The man who has a deep distrust of himself and places great confidence in God is not at all surprised if he commits a fault. He does not abandon himself to confused despair; he correctly attributes what has happened to his own weakness and lack of confidence in God. Thus he learns to distrust himself more, and he places all his hopes in the assistance of the Almighty. He detests beyond all things the sin into which he has fallen; he condemns the passion or criminal habit that occasioned his fall; he conceives a deep sorrow for his offense against God. But his sorrow, accompanied by peace of mind, does not interrupt the method he has laid down, nor does it prevent the pursuit of his enemies to their final destruction.”
Even when we’re surrounded on all sides by our enemies, with our weaknesses leading to frequent sins and great defeats, we must take heart and abandon ourselves to God in perfect confidence.
“Consequently, although a soul is overwhelmed by sins, although it has labored in vain to tear away from vice and follow virtue, although it should find its inclination to evil increasing daily instead of diminishing in favor of virtue, yet it must not fail to place its confidence in God; it must not be discouraged or abandon its spiritual works. On the contrary, it must arouse itself to new fervor and redouble its efforts against the enemy.
In this kind of battle, the victory will be won by him who has the courage not to throw down his arms or put aside his confidence in God. His assistance is always present for those who fight His battles, though He may sometimes permit them to be wounded. Persevere to the end. Victory depends on this. There is a swift and effective remedy for the wounds of anyone who fights for God’s cause and who places his entire trust in Him. When he least expects it, he will see his enemy at his feet.”