CHAPTER XI X. THE LAW OF JUSTICE, OF LOVE, AND OF CHARITY
1. NATURAL RIGHTS AND JUSTICE -- 2. RIGHT OF PROPERTY; ROBBERY -- 3. CHARITY;LOVE OF THE NEIGHBOUR -- 4. MATERNAL AND FILIAL AFFECTION.
Natural Rights and Justice.
873. Is the sentiment of justice natural, or the result of acquired ideas?
"It is so natural that your feeling spontaneously revolts at the idea of an injustice. Moral progress undoubtedly develops this sentiment, but it does not create it. God has placed it in the heart of man, and for this reason you often find, among simple and primitive people, notions of justice more exact than those of others who are possessed of a larger amount of knowledge."
874. If justice be a law of nature, how is it that men understand it so differently, and that the same thing appears just to one, and unjust to another?
"It is because your passions often mingle with this sentiment and debase it, as they do with the greater part of the natural sentiments, causing you to see things from a false point of view.
875. How should justice be defined?
"Justice consists in respect for the rights of others."
-- What determines those rights?
"Two things: human law and natural law. Men having made laws in harmony with their character and habits, those laws have established rights that have varied with the progress of enlightenment. Your laws, at this day, though still far from perfect, no longer consecrate what were considered as rights in the Middle Ages; those rights, which appear to you monstrous, appeared just and natural at that epoch. The rights established by men are not, therefore, always conformable with justice; moreover, they only regulate certain social relations, while in private life there are an immense number of acts that are submitted only to the tribunal of conscience."
876. Independently of the right established by human law, what is the basis of justice according to natural law?
"Christ has told you: 'Do unto others whatsoever you would that others should do unto you.' God has placed in the heart of man, as the true rule of all justice, the desire which each of you feels to see his own rights respected. When uncertain as to what he should do in regard to his fellow-creature in any given conjuncture, let each man ask himself what he would wish to have done to himself under the same circumstances; God could not give him a safer guide than his own conscience."The true criterion of justice is, in fact, to desire for others what one would desire for one's self; not merely to desire for one's self what one would desire for others, which is not precisely the same thing. As it is not natural to desire harm for one's self, we are sure, in taking our personal desires as the type of our conduct towards our neighbors, never to desire anything but good for them. In ail ages and in all beliefs, man has always sought to enforce his personal rights; the sublime peculiarity of the Christian religion is its taking of personal right as the basis of the right of the neighbor.
877. Does the necessity of living in society impose any special obligations on mankind?
"Yes, and the first of these is to respect the rights of others; he who respects those rights will always be just. In your world, where so many neglect to practice the law of justice, you have recourse to reprisals, and this causes trouble and confusion in human society. Social life gives rights and imposes corresponding duties."
878. It is possible for a man to be under an illusion as to the extent of his rights; what is there that can show him their true limit?
"The limit of the right which he would recognize on the part of his neighbor towards himself under similar circumstances, and vice versa."
-- But if each attributes to himself the rights of his fellow-creatures, what becomes of subordination to superiors? Would not such a principle be anarchical and destructive of all power?
"Natural rights are the same for all men, from the smallest to the greatest; God has not fashioned some men from a finer clay than others, and all are equals in His sight. Natural rights are eternal; the rights which man has established perish with his institutions. But each man feels distinctly his strength or his weakness, and will always be conscious of a sort of deference towards him whose wisdom or virtue entitles him to respect. It is important to mention this, in order that those who think themselves superior may know what are the duties that will give them a right to deference. There will be no insubordination when authority shall be attributed only to superior wisdom."
879. What would be the character of the man who should practice justice in all its purity?
"He would be truly righteous, after the example of Jesus; for he would practice the love of the neighbor and charity, without which there can be no real justice."
Right of Property -- Robbery.
880. Which is the first of all the natural rights of man?
"The right to live, and therefore no one has the right to take the life of his fellow-creature, or to do anything that may compromise his personal existence."
881. Does the right to live give to man the right to amass the means of living, in order that he may repose when no longer able to work?
"Yes, but he should do this in concert with his family, like the bee, by honest labor, and not by amassing in solitary selfishness. Certain animals, even, set man an example of this kind of foresight."
882. Has man the right to defend what he has amassed by his labors?
"Has not God said, 'Thou shalt not steal?' and did not Jesus say: 'Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's?'"What a man has amassed by honest labor is a legitimate property that he has a right to defend; for possession of the property which is the fruit of labor is a natural right as sacred as the right to labor or to live.
883. Is the desire to posses natural to man?
"Yes; but when it is simply for himself, and for his personal satisfaction, it is selfishness."
-- But is not the desire to possess a legitimate one, since he who has enough to live upon is not a burden to others?
"Some men are insatiable and accumulate without benefit to any one, merely to satisfy their passions. Do you suppose that this can be pleasing to God? He, on the contrary, who amasses through his labor, in order to have the means of assisting his fellow-creatures, practices the law of love and of charity, and his labor receives the blessing of God."
884. What is the characteristic of legitimate property?
"No property is legitimate unless acquired without injury to others." (808.) The law of love and of justice, forbidding us to do to others what we would not that others should do to us, implicitly condemns every means of acquiring which would be contrary to that law.
885. Is the right of property unlimited?
"Everything that has been legitimately acquired is undoubtedly a property; but, as we have said, human legislation, being imperfect, frequently sets up conventional rights opposed to natural justice. For this reason, men reform their laws in proportion as progress is accomplished, and as they obtain a better notion of justice. What appears right in one century appears barbarous in another." (795.).
Charity and Love of the Neighbor.
886. What is the true meaning of the word charity as employed by Jesus?
"Benevolence for every one, indulgence for the imperfections of others, forgiveness of injuries."Love and charity are the complement of the law of justice; for, to love our neighbor is to do him all the, good in our power, all that we should wish to have done to ourselves.
Charity, according to Jesus, is not restricted to alms-giving, but embraces all our relations with our fellow-men whether our inferiors, our equals, or our superiors. It prescribes indulgence on our part, because we need the same ourselves; it forbids us to humiliate the unfortunate, as is too often done. How many, who are ready to lavish respect and attentions on the rich, appear to think it not worth their while to be civil to the poor; and yet, the more pitiable the situation of the latter, the more scrupulously should we refrain from adding humiliation to misfortune. He who is really kind endeavors to raise his inferior in his own estimation, by diminishing the distance between them.
887. Jesus has also said: "Love your enemies." But would it not be contrary to our natural tendencies to love our enemies, and does not unfriendliness proceed from a want of sympathy between spirits?
"It would certainly be impossible for a man to feel tender and ardent affection for his enemies; and Jesus did not intend to prescribe anything of the kind. To 'love your enemies' means to forgive them, and to return good for evil. By so doing, you become their superior; by vengeance, you place yourselves beneath them."
888. What is to be thought of alms-giving?
"To be reduced to beg degrades a man morally as well as physically; it brutifies him. In a state of society based on the law of God and justice, provision would be made for assisting the weak without humiliating them; the means of living would be insured to all who are unable to work, so as not to leave their life at the mercy of chance and of individual good-will."
-- Do you blame alms-giving?
"No; it is not the giving of alms that is reprehensible, but the way in which it is too often done. He who comprehends charity as inculcated by Jesus seeks out the needy, without waiting for the latter to hold out his hand.
"True charity is always gentle as well as benevolent, for it consists as much in the manner of doing a kindness as in the deed itself. A service, if delicately rendered, has a double value; but if rendered with haughtiness, though want may compel its acceptance, the recipient's heart is not touched by it.
"Remember, also, that ostentation destroys, in the sight of God, the merit of beneficence. Jesus has said: 'Let not your left hand know what your right hand does;' teaching you, by this injunction, not to tarnish charity by pride and vanity.
"You must distinguish between alms-giving, properly so-called, and beneficence. The most necessitous is not always he who begs by the wayside. Many, who are really poor, are restrained from begging by the dread of humiliation, and suffer silently and in secret: he who is really humane seeks out this hidden misery, and relieves it without ostentation.
"'Love one another;' such is the divine law by which God governs all the worlds of the universe. Love is the law of attraction for living and organized beings; attraction is the law of love for inorganic matter.
"Never lose sight of the fact, that every spirit, whatever his degree of advancement, or his situation in reincarnation or in erraticity, is always placed between a superior who guides and improves him, and an inferior towards whom he has the same duties to fulfill. Be therefore charitable; not merely by the cold bestowal of a coin on the mendicant who ventures to beg it of you, but by seeking out the poverty that hides itself from view. Be indulgent for the defects of those about you; instead of despising the ignorant and the vicious, instruct them, and make them better; be gentle and benevolent to your inferiors; be the same for the humblest creatures of the lower reigns; and you will have obeyed the law of God."
SAINT VINCENT DE PAUL
889. Are there not men who are reduced to beggary through their own fault?
"Undoubtedly there are; but if a sound moral education had taught them to practice the law of God, they would not have fallen into the excesses which have caused their ruin. It is mainly through the generalization of such education that the improvement of your globe will be ultimately accomplished." (707.)
Maternal and Filial Affection.
890. Is maternal affection a virtue, or is it an instinctive feeling common to men and to animals?
"It is both. Nature has endowed the mother with the love of her offspring in order to ensure their preservation. Among the animals, maternal affection is limited to the supply of their material needs; it ceases when this care is no longer needed. In the human race, it lasts throughout life, and assumes a character of unselfish devotion that raises it to the rank of a virtue; it even survives death, and follows the career of the child from beyond the grave. You see, therefore, that there is in this affection, as it exists in man, something more than as it exists among the animals." (205-385.)
891. Since maternal affection is a natural sentiment, why is it that mothers often hate their children, and even, in some cases, before their birth?
"The absence of maternal affection is sometimes a trial chosen by the spirit of the child, or an expiation for him if he has been a bad father, a bad mother, or a bad son, in some previous existence. In all cases, a bad mother can only be the incarnation of a bad spirit, who seeks to throw obstacles in the path of the child, in order to make him succumb in the trial he has chosen. But such a violation of the laws of nature will not remain unpunished, and the spirit of the child will be rewarded for surmounting the obstacles thus thrown in his way."
892. When parents have children who cause them sorrow, are they not excusable for not feeling for them the same tenderness they would have felt had their conduct been different?
"No; for the training of their children is a task that has been confided to them, and their mission is to make every possible effort to bring them back into the right road. (582, 583.). Besides, the sorrows of parents are often the consequence of the bad habits they have allowed their children to contract from the cradle; a reaping of the evil harvest of which they themselves have sown the seeds."
CHAPTER XII MORAL PERFECTION
1. VIRTUES AND VICES -- 2. THE PASSION -- 3. SELFISHNESS -- 4. CHARACTERISTICS OF THE VIRTUOUS MAN -- SELF-KNOWLEDGE.
Virtues and Vices.
893. Which is the most meritorious of all the virtues?
"All virtues are meritorious, for all of them are signs of progress on the upward road. There is virtue in every act of voluntary resistance to the seductive influence of evil tendencies; but the sublimity of virtue consists in the sacrifice of self-interest to the good of others. The highest of all virtues is that which takes the form of the widest and most disinterested kindness."
894. There are persons who do good from a spontaneous impulse, without having to overcome any opposite feeling; is there as much merit in their action as in that of others who, in doing good, have to struggle with their own nature, and to surmount an opposing impulse?
"Those who have no longer to struggle against selfishness are those who have already accomplished a certain amount of progress. They have struggled and triumphed in the past, and their generosity, therefore, no longer costs them any effort. To do good seems to them to be perfectly natural, because they have acquired the habit of kindness. They should be honored as veterans, who have won their grades on the field of battle."
"As you are still far from perfection, such persons strike you with astonishment, because their action contrasts so strongly with that of the rest of mankind, and you admire it in proportion to its rarity; but you must know that what is the exception in your world is the rule in worlds of more advanced degree. In those worlds goodness is everywhere spontaneous, because they are inhabited only by good spirits, among whom even an evil intention would be considered as an exceptional monstrosity. It is this general prevalence of goodness that constitutes the happiness of those worlds; it will be the same in your earth when the human race shall have been transformed, and shall rightly comprehend and practice the law of charity."
895. Besides the defects and vices in regard to which no one can be mistaken, what is the most characteristic sign of imperfection?
"Selfishness. Virtuous appearances are too often like gilding upon copper, that cannot stand the application of the touchstone. A man may possess good qualities which make him pass in the eyes of the world for virtuous, but those qualities, though proving him to have made a certain amount of progress, may not be capable of standing trial, and the slightest disturbance of his self-love may suffice to show his real character. Absolute disinterestedness is indeed so rare a thing in your earth, that you may well regard it with wonder, as something phenomenal.
"Attachment to material things is a sign of inferiority, because the more a man cares for the things of this world, the less does he understand his destiny; his disinterestedness, on the contrary, proves that he has arrived at a wider and clearer view of the future."
896. There are persons who are generous, but without discernment, and who lavish their money without doing any real good, from the want of a reasonable plan for its employment; is there any merit in their action?
"Such persons have the merit of disinterestedness, but they have not that of the good they might do. If disinterestedness be a virtue, thoughtless prodigality is always, to say the least of it, a want of judgment. Fortune is no more given to some persons to be thrown away than to others to be locked up in a safe; it is a deposit of which they will have to render an account, for they will have to answer for all the good they might have done, but failed to do, for all the tears they might have dried with the money they have wasted on those who had no need of it."
897. Is he to blame who does good, not with a view to obtaining any reward upon the earth, but in the hope that he will be rewarded for it in the other life, and that his situation there will be the better for having done it? and will such a calculation act unfavorably on his advancement?
"You should do good from charity, that is to say, disinterestedly. -- But it is very natural that we should desire to advance, in order to emerge from so painful a state as our present life; spirits themselves tell us that we should practice rectitude in order to attain this end. Is it wrong, then, to hope that, through doing good, we way be better off than we are upon the earth?
"Certainly not; but he who does good spontaneously, without even thinking of its result; for himself, and simply for the sake of pleasing God and relieving his suffering neighbor, has already reached a higher degree of advancement, and is nearer to the summit of happiness, than his brother who, more selfish, does good from calculation, instead of being impelled to it solely by the sentiment of charity already naturalized in his heart." (894.) -- Should not a distinction be made between the good we do to our neighbor and the care we give to correcting our own defects? We can understand that there is but little merit in doing good with the idea that it will be counted to us in the other life; but is it also a sign of inferiority to amend ourselves, to conquer our passions, to correct whatever is faulty in our disposition, in the hope of bringing ourselves nearer to spirits of higher degree, and of raising ourselves to a higher position in the spirit-world?
"No, no; by 'doing good' we merely meant being charitable. He who calculates, in every charitable deed he does, how much interest it will pay him, in the present life or in the next one, acts selfishly; but there is no selfishness in working out one's own improvement in the hope of bringing one's self nearer to God, which should be the aim of every effort."
898. The corporeal life being only a temporary sojourn in a lower state of existence, and our future life being therefore what we should mainly care for, is there any use in trying to acquire scientific knowledge that only bears upon the objects and wants of corporeal life?
"Undoubtedly there is, for such knowledge enables you to benefit your brethren; and besides, your spirit, if it have already progressed in intelligence, will ascend more rapidly in the other life, and will learn in an hour what it would take you years to learn upon the earth. No kind of knowledge is useless; all knowledge contributes more or less to your advancement, because the perfected spirit must know everything, and because progress has to be made in every direction, so that all acquired ideas help forward his development."
899. Of two men, equally rich, and both of whom employ their wealth solely for their personal satisfaction, but one of whom was born in opulence and has never known want, while the other owes his fortune to his labor, which is the more culpable?
"He who has known what it is to want, for he has felt the suffering which he does not relieve."
900. Can he who constantly accumulates, without doing good to any one, find an excuse in the fact that he will thus leave a larger fortune to his heirs?
"Such an excuse would only be a compromise with a bad conscience.
901. Of two miserly men, one denies himself the necessities of life, and dies of want in the midst of his treasure; the other is stingy in regard to others, but is lavish in his outlay for himself, and, while he recoils from making the smallest sacrifice to render a service to his neighbor, or to subserve a noble cause, is regard less of expense in the gratification of his tastes or passions. If a kindness is asked of him, he is always short of funds; but, for the satisfying of any fancy of his own, he has always plenty of money. Which of them is the more guilty of the two, and which of them will be the worse off in the spirit-word?
"He who spends on his own enjoyment, for he is more selfish than miserly. The other is already undergoing a part of his punishment."
902. Is it wrong to desire riches as a means of doing good?
"Such a desire is laudable when it is pure; but is it always quite disinterested, and does it, never cover any secret thought of self? Is not the first person to whom one wishes to do good too often one's self?"
903. Is it wrong to study other people's defects?
"To do so merely for the sake of criticizing or divulging them is very wrong, for it is a want of charity. To do so with a view to your own benefit, through your consequent avoidance of those defects in your own person, may sometimes be useful; but you must not forget that indulgence for the faults of others is one of the elements of charity. Before reproaching others with their imperfections, you should see whether others might not reproach you with the same defects. The only way to profit by such a critical examination of your neighbor's faults is by endeavoring to acquire the opposite virtues. Is he miserly? Be generous. Is he proud? Be humble and modest. Is he harsh? Be gentle. Is he shabby and petty? Be great in all you do. In a word, act in such a way as that it may not be said of you, in the words of Jesus, that you 'see the mote in your brother's eye, but do not see the beam in your own eye.'"
904. Is it wrong to probe the sores of society for the purpose of rendering them evident?
"That depends on the motive from which it is done. If a writer's only object be to create a scandal, it is a procuring of a personal satisfaction for himself by the presentation of pictures that are corrupting rather than instructive. The mind necessarily perceives the evils of society, but the observer who takes pleasure in portraying evil for its own sake will be punished for doing so."
-- How can we judge, in such a case, of the purity of intention and the sincerity of an author?
"It is not always necessary to do so. If he writes good things, profit by them; if bad ones, it is a question of conscience that concerns himself. But if he desires to prove his sincerity, he must do so by the excellence of his own example."
905. There are books that are very fine, full of moral teachings from which, though they have aided the progress of the human race, their authors have not derived much moral profit. Will the good those authors have done by their writings be counted to them as spirits?
"The principles of morality, without a corresponding practice, are the seed without the sowing. Of what use is the seed, if you do not make it fructify and feed you? Such men are all the more guilty, because they possess the intelligence which enables them to comprehend. By not practicing the virtues they recommend to others, they fail to secure the harvest they might have reaped for themselves."
906. Is it wrong for him who does good to be conscious of the goodness of his deed, and to acknowledge that goodness to himself?
"Since a man is conscious of the evil he does, he must also be conscious of the good he accomplishes; it is only by this testimony of his conscience that he can know whether he has done ill or well. It is by weighing all his actions in the scales of God's law, and especially of the law of justice, love, and charity, that he can decide whether they are good or bad, and can thus approve or disapprove of them. It cannot, therefore, be wrong in him to recognize the fact that he has triumphed over his evil tendencies, and to rejoice in having done so, provided he does not make this recognition a subject of vanity, for, in that case, he would be giving way to a tendency as reprehensible as any of those over which he has triumph." (919.)
907. As our passions have their roots in nature, are they evil in themselves?
"No; it is only their excess that is evil, for excess implies a perversion of the will. But the principle of all his passions has been given to man for his good, and they may all spur him on to the accomplishment of great things. It is only their abuse that does harm."
908. How can we define the limit at which the passions cease to be good or bad?
"The passions are like a horse that is useful when under control, but dangerous when it obtains the mastery. A passion becomes pernicious the moment when you cease to govern it, and when it causes an injury to yourselves or to others."The passions are levers that increase man's powers tenfold, and aid him in the accomplishment of the designs of Providence; but if, instead of ruling them, he allows himself to be ruled by them, he falls into every sort of excess, and the same force which, held well in hand, would have been useful to him, falls upon and crushes him.
All the passions have their source in a natural sentiment or a natural want. They are therefore not evil in themselves, since they constitute one of the providentially-appointed conditions of our existence, what is usually meant by "passion" is the exaggeration of a need or a sentiment.
But this exaggeration is the excessive action of a motive-power, and not the power itself; it is this excessive action which becomes an evil, and leads to evil consequences of every kind.
Every passion that brings man nearer to the nature of the animals takes him further from the spiritual nature.
Every sentiment that raises man above the nature of the animals is evidence of the predominance of his spiritual nature over his animal nature and brings him nearer to perfection.
909. Would a man's own efforts always suffice to enable him to vanquish his evil tendencies?
"Yes, very slight ones are often all that is needed; it is the will that is wanting. Alas! how few of you make any serious efforts to vanquish those tendencies!"
910. Can a man obtain efficacious help from spirits in overcoming his passions?
"If he addresses a sincere prayer for such help to God and to his good Genius, good spirits will certainly come to his aid, for it is their mission to do so." (459.)
911. Is not the action of the passions sometimes so violent that the will is powerless to withstand them?
"There are many who say 'I will,' but whose willing is only on their lips, and who are not sorry that what they declare themselves to will does not take place. When a man is unable to vanquish his passions, it is because, through the backwardness of his spirit, he takes pleasure in yielding to them. He who controls his passions comprehends his spiritual nature; he knows that every victory over them is a triumph of his spirit over matter."
912. What is the most efficacious means of combating the predominance of the corporeal nature?
"The practice of abnegation."
913. Which, among the vices, may be regarded as the root of the others?
"Selfishness, as we have repeatedly told you; for it is from selfishness that everything evil proceeds. Study all the vices, and you will see that selfishness is at the bottom of them all. Combat them as you will, you will never succeed in extirpating them until, attacking the evil in its root, you have destroyed the selfishness which is their cause. Let all your efforts tend to this end; for selfishness is the veritable social gangrene. Whoever would make, even in his earthly life, some approach towards moral excellence, must root out every selfish feeling from his heart, for selfishness is incompatible with justice, love, and charity; it neutralizes every good quality."
914. Selfishness having its root in the sentiment of personal interest, it would seem that, to extirpate it entirely from the human heart, must be a very difficult matter. Is it possible to do so?
"In proportion as men become enlightened in regard to spiritual things, they attach less value to material things; and as they emancipate themselves from the thralldom of matter, they reform the human institutions by which selfishness is fostered and excited. Such should be the aim of education."
915. Selfishness being inherent in the human race, will it not always constitute an obstacle to the reign of perfect goodness upon the earth?
"It is certain that selfishness is your greatest evil; but it belongs to the inferiority of the spirits incarnated upon the earth, and not to the human race as such, and consequently, those spirits, in purifying themselves by successive incarnations, get rid of their selfishness as they do of their other impurities. Have you, upon the earth, none who have divested themselves of selfishness, and who practice charity? There are more of such than you think, but they are little known, for virtue does not seek to display itself in the glare of popularity. If there is one such among you, why should there not be ten? If there are ten, why should there not be a thousand? and so on."
916. Selfishness, so far from diminishing, increases with the civilization that seems to strengthen and intensify it; how can the effect be destroyed by the cause?
"The greater the development of an evil, the more hideous is it seen to be. It was necessary for selfishness to do a vast amount of harm, in order that you might see the necessity of extirpating it. When men shall have divested themselves of selfishness, they will live like brothers, doing each other no harm, but mutually aiding each other from a sentiment of solidarity. The strong will then be the support, and not the oppressor, of the weak; and none will lack the necessities of life, because the law of justice will be obeyed by all. It is of this reign of justice that spirits are now charged to prepare the advent."
917. By what means can selfishness be destroyed?
"Of all human imperfections, the most difficult to root out is selfishness, because it is connected with the influence of matter, from which man, still too near his origin, has not yet been able to enfranchise himself, and which his laws, his social organization, his education, all tend to maintain. Selfishness will be gradually weakened as your moral life obtains predominance ever your material life, through the knowledge which Spiritism gives you of the reality of your future state, stripped of allegoric fables. Spiritism, when it comes to be rightly understood, and identified with the beliefs and habits of the human race, will transform all your customs, usages, and social relations. Selfishness is based on the importance you attribute to your own personality; Spiritism, on the contrary, when rightly understood, causes you to look at everything from a point of view so elevated that the sentiment of personality is lost, so to say, in the contemplation of immensity. In destroying the sentiment of self-importance, by showing its real nature, Spiritism necessarily combats selfishness.
"Man is often rendered selfish by his experience of the selfishness of others, which makes him feel the need of defending himself against them. Seeing that others think of themselves and not of him, he is led to think of himself rather than of others. But let the principle of charity and fraternity become the basis of social institutions, of the legal relations between nation and nation and between man and man, and each individual will think less of his own personal interests, because he will see that these have been thought of by others; he will experience the moralizing influence of example and of contact. Amidst the present overflow of selfishness, much virtue is needed to enable a man to sacrifice his own interests for the sake of others, who often feel but little gratitude for such abnegation; but it is above all to those who possess this virtue that the Kingdom of Heaven is opened, and the happiness of the elect assured: while, at the day of judgment, whoever has thought only of himself will be set aside, and left to suffer from his loneliness." (785.) (FÉNÉLON.)Laudable efforts are made to help forward the progress of the human race; the generous sentiments are encouraged, stimulated, honored, more than has been the case at any former epoch, and yet the devouring worm of selfishness is still the pest and torment of society. It is a social disease that affects every one, and of which every one is more or less the victim; it should therefore be combated as we combat any other epidemic. To this end we must proceed as does the physician, and begin by tracing the malady to its source. We should seek out, in every department of the social fabric, from the relationships of the family to those of nations, from the cottage to the palace, all the causes, all the influences, patent or secret, that maintain and develop selfishness. The causes of the malady being discovered, the remedy will spontaneously present itself, and through the efforts of all, directed to a common end, the virus will gradually be extirpated. The cure may be slow, for the causes of the malady are many, but it is not impossible. It can only be effected, however, by going to the root of the evil, that is to say, by generalizing education; not the education which merely advances men in knowledge, but that witch improves them morally. Education, rightly understood, is the key of moral progress, when the art of training the moral nature shall be understood as is the art of training the intellect, it will be possible to straighten a crooked nature as we straighten a crooked sapling. But this art demands much tact, much experience, and profound observation; it is a great mistake to suppose that the possession of scientific knowledge suffices to enable the teacher to exercise it with success. Whoever observes the life of a child, whether rich or poor, and notes all the pernicious influences that act upon its weakness from the moment of its birth, the ignorance and negligence of those who have charge of it, and the mischievous tendency of many of the means employed with a view to moralize it, will not wonder that the world should be so full of crooked sticks. But let the same skill and care be given to the training of the moral nature as to that of the intellect, and it will be seen that, even should some natures prove refractory, the greater number only need to be suitably cultivated in order to yield good fruit. (872.) Man desires to be happy, and this desire, implanted in him by nature, prompts him to labor unceasingly to improve his condition upon the earth, and to seek out causes of the evils that afflict him, in order to remove them. When he thoroughly comprehends that selfishness is one of those causes, that it engenders the pride, ambition, cupidity, envy, hatred, jealousy, by which he is continually annoyed, that it brings trouble into all the social relations, provokes dissensions, destroys confidence, converts friends into foes, and obliges each individual to remain constantly on the defensive against his neighbor, he will see that this vice is incompatible, not only with his own felicity, but even with his own security; and the more he has suffered from it, the more keenly will he feel the necessity of fighting against it, as he fights against pestilence, dangerous animals, and every other source of disaster, for he will be compelled to do so in view of his own interest. (784.) Selfishness is the source of all the vices, as charity is the source of all the virtues. To destroy the one, to develop the other, should be the aim of all who desire to insure their own happiness, in the present life, as in the future.
Characteristics of the Virtuous Man.
918. By what signs can we recognize a man as having accomplished the progress that will raise him in the spirit-hierarchy?
"The elevation of an incarnated spirit is proved by the conformity of all the acts of his corporeal life with the law of God, and by his comprehension of spiritual life."The truly virtuous man is he who practices the law of justice, love, and charity, in its greatest purity. If he interrogates his conscience in regard to the acts accomplished by him, he will ask himself whether he has done nothing wrong, whether he has done all the good in his power, whether no one has cause to complain of him, and whether he has done to others all that he would wish others to do to him. Being filled with the sentiment of charity and kindness for all, he does good for its own sake, without hope of reward, and sacrifices his own interest to justice.
He is kind, benevolent, humane, for all, because he sees a brother in every man, whatever his race or his belief.
If God has given him power and riches, he considers them as A TRUST confided to him for the general good; he is not vain of them, for he knows that God, who has given them to him, can take them from him. If the constitution of society has made other men dependent on him, he treats them with kindness and benevolence, as being his equals in the sight of God; he uses his authority to raise them morally, and not to crush them by his pride.
He is indulgent for the weaknesses of others, knowing that he too needs indulgence, and remembering the words of Christ, "Let him that is without sin cast the first stone."
He is not vindictive, but remembers only benefits; following the example of Jesus, he forgives all offences, for he knows that he will only obtain forgiveness in proportion as he has forgiven.
He respects the rights of others, as established by the law of nature, as scrupulously as he desires those rights to be respected in his own case.
Self - Knowledge.
919. What is the most efficacious method of ensuring one's own moral improvement in the present life, and resisting the attraction of evil?
"One of the sages of antiquity has told you: 'Know thyself.' "
-- We fully admit the wisdom of the maxim; but this self-knowledge is just what it is most difficult to acquire. By what means can we acquire it?
"Do what I myself used to do during my life upon the earth. At the close of each day I examined my conscience, reviewed all that I had done, and asked myself whether I had not failed in some duty, whether some one might not have reason to complain of me. It was in this way that I succeeded in obtaining a knowledge of myself, and in ascertaining what there was in me that needed reforming. He who, every evening, should thus recall all the actions of the day, asking himself whether he has done ill or well, and praying God and his guardian angel to enlighten him would acquire great strength for self-improvement, for, believe me, God would assist him. Ask yourself these questions; inquire of yourself what you have done, and what was your aim in such and such a manner; whether you have done anything that you would blame in another; whether you have done anything that you would be ashamed to avow. Ask yourself also this question:--'If it pleased God to call me back, at this moment, into the other life, should I, on returning into the world of spirits, in which nothing is hidden, have to dread the sight of any one?' Examine what you may have done, first, against God; next, against your neighbor; and lastly, against yourself. The answers to these questions will either give repose to your conscience, or show you some moral malady of which you will have to cure yourself." "Self-knowledge is, therefore, the key to individual improvement; but, you will ask, 'How is one to judge one's self? Is not each man subject to the illusions of self-love, which diminish his faults in his own eyes and find excuses for them? The miser thinks himself to be merely practicing economy and foresight; the proud man thinks his pride to be only dignity.' This is true, but you have a means of ascertainment that cannot deceive you. When you are in doubt as to the quality of any one of your actions, ask yourself what would be your judgment in regard to it if it were done by another? If you would blame it in another, it cannot be less blamable when done by you, for God's justice has neither two weights nor two measures. Endeavor also to learn what is thought of it by others; and do not overlook the opinion of your enemies, for they have no interest in disguising the truth, and God often places them beside you as a mirror, to warn you more frankly than would be done by a friend. Let him, then, who is firmly resolved on self-improvement examine his conscience in order to root out his evil tendencies, as he roots out the weeds from his garden; let him every night, cast up his moral accounts for the day, as the tradesman counts up his profit and loss; he may be sure that the former will be a more profitable operation than the latter. He who, after this footing up of his day's doings, can say that the balance of the account; is in his favor, may sleep in peace, and fearlessly await the moment of his awaking in the other life.
"Let the questions you address to us be clear and precise, and do not hesitate to multiply them; you may well devote a few minutes to the securing of a happiness that will last forever. Do you not labor every day with a view to insuring repose for your old age? Is not this repose the object of your desires, the aim that prompts your endurance of the fatigues and privations of the moment? But what comparison is there between a few days of rest, impaired by the infirmities of the body, and the endless rest that awaits the virtuous? and is not this latter worth the making of a few efforts? I know that many will say, 'The present is certain, and the future uncertain;' but this is precisely the error we are charged to remove from your minds, by showing you your future in such a way as to leave no doubt in your minds concerning it. This is why, having begun by producing phenomena calculated to arrest your attention through their appeal to your senses, we now give you the moral teachings that each of you is charged to spread abroad in his turn. It is to this end that we have dictated The Spirit's Book."