Alexei Ilyich Osipov. "The Basics of Spiritual Life, Based on the Writings of St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov)".
5. Untimely dispassion is dangerous
Let us turn out attention to yet another important law of spiritual life. It consists in “the like interrelationship of virtues and of vices” or, to put it another way, in the strict consequentiality and mutual conditioning of the acquisition of virtues as well as the action of passions. Saint Ignatius writes, “Because of this like relationship, voluntary submission to one good thought leads to the natural submission to another good thought; acquisition of one virtue leads another virtue into the soul which is like unto and inseparable from the first. The reverse is also true: voluntary submission to one sinful thought brings involuntarily submission to another; acquisition of one sinful passion leads another passion related to it into the soul; the voluntary committing of one sin leads to the involuntary fall into another sin born of the first. Evil, as the fathers say, cannot bear to dwell unmarried in the heart” (5:351).
This is a serious warning! How often do Christians, not knowing this law, carelessly regard the so-called “minor” sins, committing them voluntarily—that is, without being forced into them by passion. And then they are perplexed when they painfully and desperately, like slaves, involuntarily fall into serious sins which lead to serious sorrows and tragedies in life.
Just how necessary it is in spiritual life to strictly observe the law of consequentiality is shown by the following words of a most experienced instructor of spiritual life, Saint Isaac the Syrian (Homily 72), and cited by Saint Ignatius: “It is the good will of the most wise Lord that we reap our spiritual bread in the sweat of our brow. He established this law not out of spite, but rather so that we would not suffer from indigestion and die. Every virtue is the mother of the one following it. If you leave the mother who gives birth to the virtue and seek after her daughter, without having first acquired the mother, then these virtues become as vipers in the soul. If you do not turn them away, you will soon die” (2:57–58). Saint Ignatius warns sternly in connection with this, “Untimely dispassion is dangerous! It is dangerous to enjoy Divine grace before the time! Supernatural gifts can destroy the ascetic who has not learned of his own infirmity” (1:532).
These are remarkable words! To someone who is spiritually inexperienced the very thought that a virtue can be untimely, never mind deadly to the soul, “like a viper,” would seem strange and almost blasphemous. But such is the very reality of spiritual life; such is one of its strictest laws, which was revealed by the vast experience of the saints. In the fifth volume of his Works, which Saint Ignatius called An Offering to Contemporary Monasticism, in the tenth chapter entitled, “On caution in the reading of books on monastic life,” he states openly, “The fallen angel strives to deceive monks and draw them to destruction, offering them not only sin in its various forms, but also lofty virtues that are not natural to them” (5:54).