The soul is often grieved and troubled in the body, even so far as to desert many of its members, which remain deprived of motion and feeling, while it never forsakes the heart, wherein it fully remains till the very end of life. So charity is sometimes weakened and depressed in the affections till it seems to be scarcely in exercise at all, and yet it remains entire in the supreme region of the soul. This happens when, under the multitude of venial sins as under ashes, the fire of holy love remains covered, and its flame smothered, though it is not dead or extinguished. For as the presence of the diamond hinders the exercise and action of that property which the adamant has of drawing iron, and yet does not take it away, as it acts immediately this obstacle is removed, so the presence of venial sins in no sort deprives charity of its force and power to work, yet as it were benumbs it and deprives it of the use of its activity, so that charity remains without action, sterile and unfruitful. It is true that neither venial sin, nor even the affection to it, is contrary to the essential resolution of charity, which is to prefer God before all things; because by this sin we love something outside reason but not against reason, we defer a little too much, and more than is fit, to creatures, yet we do not prefer them before the Creator, we occupy ourselves more than we ought in earthly things, yet do we not for all that forsake heavenly things. In fine, this kind of sin impedes us in the way of charity, but does not put us out of it, and therefore venial sin, not being contrary to charity, never destroys charity either wholly or partially.
God signified to the Bishop of Ephesus that he had forsaken his first charity, where he does not say that he was without charity, but only that it was not such as in the beginning; that is, that it was not now prompt, fervent, growing in love, or fruitful: as we are wont to say of him who from being bright, cheerful and blithe, becomes sad, heavy and sullen, that he is not now the same man he was; for our meaning is not that he is not the same in substance, but only in his actions and exercises. And thus Our Saviour says that in the latter days the charity of many shall grow cold, that is, it shall not be so active and courageous, by reason of fear and sadness which shall oppress men's hearts. Certain it is that when concupiscence hath conceived it bringeth forth sin. The sin however, though sin indeed, does not always beget the death of the soul, but then only when it is complete in malice, and when it is consummate and accomplished, as S. James says. And he here establishes so clearly the difference between mortal and venial sin, that it is strange that some in our age have had the temerity to deny it.
However, venial sin is sin, and consequently troubles charity, not as a thing that is contrary to charity itself, but contrary to its operations and progress, and even to its intention. For as this intention is that we should direct all our actions to God, it is violated by venial sin, which directs the actions by which we commit it, not indeed against God yet outside God and his will. And as we say of a tree rudely visited and stripped by a tempest that nothing is left, because though the tree be entire yet it is left without fruit, so when our charity is shaken by the affection we have to venial sin, we say it is diminished and weakened; not because the habit of love is not entire in our hearts, but because it is without the works which are its fruits.
The affection to great sins did so make truth prisoner to injustice amongst the pagan philosophers, that, as the great Apostle says: Knowing God they honoured him not according to that knowledge; so that though this affection did not banish natural light, yet it made it profitless. So the affection to venial sin does not abolish charity, but it holds it as a slave, tied hand and foot, hindering its freedom and action. This affection, attaching us too closely to the enjoyment of creatures, deprives us of the spiritual intimacy between God and us, to which charity, as true friendship, excites us; consequently this affection makes us lose the interior helps and assistances which are as it were the vital and animating spirits of the soul, in default of which there follows a certain spiritual palsy, which in the end, if it be not remedied, brings us to death. For, after all, charity being an active quality cannot be long without either acting or dying: it is, say our Ancients, of the nature of Rachel, who also represented it. Give me, said she to her husband, children, otherwise I shall die; and charity urges the heart which she has espoused to make her fertile of good works; otherwise she will perish.
We are rarely in this mortal life without many temptations. Now low and slothful hearts, and such as are given to exterior pleasures, not being accustomed to fight nor exercised in spiritual warfare, never preserve charity long, but let themselves ordinarily be surprised by mortal sin, which happens the more easily because the soul is more disposed by venial sin to mortal. For as that man of old, having continued to carry every day the same calf, bore him also when he was grown to be a great ox, custom having by little and little made insensible the increase of so heavy a burden; so he that accustoms himself to play for pence will in the end play for crowns, pistoles and horses, and after his stud all his estate. He that gives the reins to little angers becomes in the end furious and unbearable; he that addicts himself to lying in jest, is in great peril of lying with calumny.
In fine, Theotimus, we are wont to say that such as have a very weakly constitution have no life, that they have not an ounce, or not a handful of it, because that which is quickly to have an end seems indeed already not to be. And those good-for-nothing souls who are addicted to pleasure and set upon transitory things, may well say that they no longer have charity, for if they have it they are in the way soon to lose it.