To Another Holy Virgin of the Convent of S. Mary of Troyes
He dissuades her from the rash and imprudent design which she had in her mind of retiring into some solitude.
1. I am told that you are wishing to leave your convent, impelled by a longing for a more ascetic life, and that after spending all their efforts to dissuade and prevent you, seeing that you paid no heed to them, your spiritual mother or your sisters, determined at length to seek my advice on the matter, so that whatever course I approved, that you might feel it your duty to adopt. You ought, of course, to have chosen some more learned man as an adviser; yet since it is my advice you desire to have, I do not conceal from you what I think the better course. Ever since I learnt your wish, though I have been turning the matter over in my mind, I cannot easily venture to decide what temper of mind suggested it. For you may in this thing have a zeal towards God, so that your purpose may be excusable. But how such a wish as yours can be fulfilled consistently with prudence I entirely fail to see. |Why so?| you ask. |Is it not wise for me to flee from wealth and the throng of cities, and from the good cheer and pleasure of life? Shall I not keep my purity more safely in the desert, where I can live in peace with just a few, or even alone, and please Him alone to whom I have pledged myself?| By no means. If one would live in an evil manner, the desert brings abundant opportunity: the wood a protecting shade, and solitude silence. The evil that no one sees, no one reproves. Where no critic is feared, there the tempter gains easier access, there wickedness is more readily committed. It is otherwise in a convent. If you do anything good no one prevents you, but if you would do evil you are hindered by many obstacles. If you yield to temptation, it is at once known to many, and is reproved and corrected. So, on the other hand, when you are seen to do anything good, all admire, revere, and copy it. You see, then, my daughter, that in a convent a larger renown awaits your good deeds, and a more speedy rebuke your faults, because there are others there to whom you may set an example by good deeds and whom you will offend by evil.
2. But I will take away from you every excuse for your error, by that alternative in the parable we read in the Gospel. Either you are one of the foolish virgins, if, indeed, you are a virgin, or one of the wise (S. Matt. xxv.1-12). If you are one of the foolish, the convent is necessary to you; if of the wise, you are necessary to the convent. For if you are wise and well-approved, without doubt the reform which, though newly introduced into that place, has already won universal praise, will be greatly discredited, and, I fear, be weakened by your departure. It will not fail to be said that, being good yourself, you would not desert a house where the Rule was well carried out. If you have been known to be foolish, and you go away, we shall say that since you are not suffered to live an evil life among good companions, you could not endure longer the society of holy women, and are seeking a dwelling where you may live in your own way. And we shall be quite right. For before the reform of the Rule you never, I am told, were wont to talk of this plan; but no sooner did observances become stricter, than you, too, became suddenly holier, and in hot haste to think of the desert. I see, my daughter, I see in this, and I would you also saw as I do, the serpent's venom, the guile of the crafty one, and the trickery of his changing skin. The wolf dwells in the wood. If a poor little sheep like you should enter the shades of the wood alone you would be simply seeking to be his prey. But listen to me, my daughter; listen to my faithful warning. Whether sinner or saint, do not separate yourself from the flock, lest the enemy seize upon you, and there be none to deliver you. Are you a saint? Strive by your example to gain associates in sanctity. A sinner? Do not add sin to sin, but do penance where you are, lest by departing, not without danger, as I have shown, to yourself, you bring scandal upon your sisters, and provoke the tongues of may scoffers against you.