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Chapter 20

Agnes speaks: ”Daughter, stand firm and do not relapse, for a serpent lies at your heels ready to bite. Yet, do not rush unduly ahead either, for the tip of a sharp lance is in front of you, and if you advance at the wrong speed, you will be wounded. What does a relapse mean if not letting trials lead to regrets about having taken on a more austere and wholesome way of life and to a desire of returning to old habits and delighting the mind with dirty thoughts? Such thoughts, even if they give some pleasure to the mind, only obscure every good thing and by degrees lead away from all goodness. Nor should you rush unduly ahead, that is, punish yourself beyond your strength or imitate the good works of others beyond your capacity. God has ordained from eternity that heaven should be opened to sinners through works of love and humility, yet by preserving moderation and discretion in every way. Now, then, the envious devil persuades the imperfect man to fast beyond his strength, to promise to do unaccustomed things that he cannot manage, to desire to imitate more perfect models without considering his own strengths and weaknesses. The devil does this either in order that, when the man's strength fails him, he should continue with his badly begun vows out of human embarrassment rather than for the sake of God, or in order that he should quickly give up the struggle because of his indiscretion and weakness.

For this reason, use as your measure your own self, that is, your strengths and weaknesses, since some people are stronger by nature, others weaker, some more fervent by the grace of God, others keener due to good habits. Hence, regulate your life in agreement with the advice of God-fearing men, so that the serpent does not sting you due to your thoughtlessness, and so that the poisonous tip of the sword, that is, the poisonous suggestion of the devil, does not delude your mind so as to make you want to seem more than you are or long to become something beyond your strength and powers.
There are, indeed, some people who believe they can reach heaven by their own merits, and God spares them from the devil's temptations due to his hidden plan. There are others who think they can make reparation to God for their transgressions with their own works. The error of all of these is altogether damning, for even if a person were to kill his body a hundred times over, he could not make up a thousandth of the account he owes to God, because it is God who gives us the ability and the will, seasons and health, who fills us with a desire for the good, who gives us riches and honor, who kills and gives life, raises up and lays low. All things are in his hand. Hence to him alone should all honor be given, and no one deserves to be counted for anything before God.
Since you are wondering about the lady who came for indulgences but was corrupted, I answer you: There are some women who have the virtue of continence but do not love it. They experience neither a great longing for pleasure nor violent temptation. If honorable proposals of marriage were made to them, they would accept. However, since no great offers are made to them, they look down on lesser offers. In this way, continence sometimes gives rise to pride and presumption, which, by divine permission, leads to a fall, such as you have now heard. If a woman were so minded as not to want to be stained even once, not even if the whole world were offered her, it would be impossible for such a woman to be left to shame. If, however, in his secret justice, God permitted such a one to fall, it would rather lead to her reward than to sin, provided that she fell against her will.
Know, then, that God is like an eagle that from on high views everything down below. If an eagle should see anything rising up from the ground, it immediately swoops down and snatches it. If it catches sight of something poisonous coming against it, it would pierce it like an arrow. If something unclean is dropped on it from above, it gets rid of it with a great shake just like a goose does. God acts like that as well. If he sees human hearts rising against him due to the weakness of the flesh or the devil's temptations against the will of the spirit, he immediately swoops down through an inspiration of contrition and penance and brings it to naught, making the person return to God and come to himself again. If the poison of carnal desire or greed enters the heart, God quickly pierces the mind with the arrow of his love, so that the person does not persevere in sin and get separated from God.

If some impurity of pride or the dirt of lust defiles the spirit, he shakes it quickly off, just like a goose, through constant faith and hope, so that the spirit does not become hardened in vice or the soul that is joined to God become stained unto damnation.

Therefore, my daughter, in all your feelings and actions, consider God's justice and mercy, and always keep the end in sight.”

The bride's words to God concerning his virtue and splendor, and the Virgin's consoling answer to the daughter, and about how God's good servants should not stop preaching and admonishing people, whether the people convert or not; the Virgin shows this by means of a comparison.

      1. Chapter 21

“Blessed are you, my God, who are three and one: three persons in one nature. You are goodness and wisdom itself; you are beauty and power itself; you are justice and truth itself. All things live and subsist through you. You are like a flower that grows alone in a field. All those who draw near to it receive sweetness for their palate, an uplift for their spirits, a delight for their eyes and strength in every other limb. Likewise, all who come near to you become more beautiful by leaving sin behind, more wise by following your will rather than the flesh, more righteous by seeking the advantage of the soul and the glory of God. Therefore, most kind God, grant me to love that which pleases you, to resist temptations bravely, to scorn all worldly things and to keep you constantly in my memory.”

The Mother answers: ”This salutation came to you through the merits of good Jerome, who left false wisdom and found true wisdom, who scorned earthly honor and was rewarded with God himself. Happy is such a Jerome, happy those who imitate his life and doctrine. He was a lover of widows, a mirror for those advancing toward perfection, a teacher of all truth and purity. But tell me, my daughter, what is troubling you in your heart?” She said:

”A thought occurred to me that said, 'If you are good, your goodness is enough for you. Why judge and admonish and teach your betters, something that belongs neither to your state nor position?' This thought so hardens the spirit that it even neglects its own progress and grows completely cold to God's love.”

The Mother answers: ”This thought has also held back many advanced souls from God. The devil hinders good people from speaking to the wicked so that they may not be brought to feel compunction. He also hinders them from speaking to the good so that they will not be raised to a higher rank, for, when good people hear good doctrine, they are raised to a greater reward and a higher rank. For example, the eunuch who was reading Isaiah would have received one of the lesser punishments in hell, but Philip met him and taught him a shortcut to heaven and so raised him up to a level of happiness. Likewise, Peter was sent to Cornelius. If Cornelius had died beforehand, he would indeed have come to a place of rest because of his faith, but then came Peter and led him to the gateway to life. Similarly, Paul came to Denis and led him to the reward of blessedness. For this reason, the friends of God should not grow tired in God's service but should labor on in order that the wicked may be made better and the good may attain a greater perfection.
Anyone with the will to whisper in the ears of every passerby that Jesus Christ truly is the Son of God, and who struggles as far as he or she can for the conversion of others, even though no one or only a few convert, will still obtain the same reward as if all of them had converted. I will show you this by means of a comparison. If, on the order of their lord, two mercenaries dig through the hard rock of a mountain, and one of them were to find choice gold there, but the other none, both of them would be deserving of the same wages because of their work and their intention. In the same way, Paul, who converted many people, and the other apostles, who converted fewer, were nevertheless all united in their intention. God's dispensation, however, remains hidden. One should therefore never give up, not even if only a few or none at all are open to God's words. As the thorn protects the rose and the donkey carries his master, so too the devil, like a thorn of sin, is as useful to the elect through the tribulations he causes as thorns are to roses. In this way, they are not stupidly overcome by the presumption of their hearts. Thus, just like a donkey, he conveys them to God's consolation and a greater reward.”

About how human malice in modern times surpasses the cunning of the devil, and about how people are now quicker to sin than the devil is to tempt, and about the sentence pronounced against such people, and how God's friends should labor with courage and haste in their preaching; also, concerning the infusion of knowledge in God's friends.

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