A Commandment testifies a most entire and absolute will in him who gives it, but counsel only represents a will of desire: a commandment obliges us, counsel only invites us; a commandment makes the transgressors thereof culpable; counsel only makes such as do not follow it less worthy of praise; those who violate commandments deserve damnation, those who neglect counsels deserve only to be less glorified. There is a difference between commanding and recommending: in commanding we use authority to oblige, but in recommending we use friendliness to induce and incite: a commandment imposes necessity, counsel and recommendation induce to what is of greater utility: commandments correspond to obedience, counsels to credence: we follow counsel with intention to please, and commandments lest we should displease. And thence it is that the love of complacency which obliges us to please the beloved, consequently urges us to follow his counsels, and the love of benevolence, which desires that all wills and affections should be subjected unto him, causes that we not only will what he ordains, but also what he counsels and exhorts to: as the love and respect which a good child bears to his father make him resolve to live not only according to the commandments which his father imposes, but also according to the desires and inclinations which he manifests.
A counsel is indeed given for the benefit of him who receives it, to the end that he may become perfect: If thou wilt be perfect, said our Saviour, go sell all that thou hast, give it to the poor, and come, follow me. But the loving heart does not receive a counsel for its utility, but to conform itself to the desire of him who gives the counsel, and to render him the homage due to his will. And therefore it receives not counsels but in such sort as God desires, nor does God desire that every one should observe all counsels, but such only as are suitable, according to the diversity of persons, times, occasions, strengths, as charity requires: for she it is who, as queen of all the virtues, of all the commandments, of all the counsels, and, in short, of all Christian laws and works, gives to all of them their rank, order, season and worth.
If your assistance be truly necessary to your father or mother to enable them to live, it is no time then to practise the counsel of retiring into a monastery, for charity ordains that you presently put into execution its command of honouring, serving, aiding and succouring your father or your mother. You are perhaps a prince, by whose posterity the subjects of your crown are to be preserved in peace, and assured against tyranny, sedition, civil wars: the effecting, therefore, of so great a good, obliges you to beget lawful successors in a holy marriage. It is either not to lose chastity, or at least to lose it chastely, when for love of charity it is sacrificed to the public good. Are you weak and uncertain in your health, and does it require great support? Do not then voluntarily undertake actual poverty, for this is forbidden you by charity. Charity not only forbids fathers of families to sell all and give it to the poor, but also commands them honestly to gather together what is requisite for the support and education of wife, children and servants: as also it commands kings and princes to lay up treasures, which, being acquired by a laudible frugality, and not by tyrannical measures, serve as wholesome defences against visible enemies. Does not S. Paul counsel such as are married, that, the time of prayer being ended, they should return to the well-ordered course of their married life?
The counsels are all given for the perfection of the Christian people, but not for that of each Christian in particular. There are circumstances which make them sometimes impossible, sometimes unprofitable, sometimes perilous, sometimes hurtful to some men, which is one of the reasons why Our Saviour said of one of the counsels, what he would have to be understood of them all: He that can receive it, let him receive it: as though he had said, according to S. Jerome's exposition: he that can win and bear away the honour of chastity as a prize of renown, let him take it, for it is proposed to such as shall run valiantly. Not every one then is able, that is, it is not expedient for every one, to observe always all the counsels, for as they are granted in favour of charity, so is this the rule and measure by which they are put in practice.
When, therefore, charity so orders, monks and religious are drawn out of their cloisters to be made cardinals, prelates, parish-priests, yea sometimes they are even joined in matrimony for a kingdom's repose, as I have already said. And if charity make those leave their cloister that bad bound themselves thereto by solemn vow, -- for better reason, and upon less occasion, one may by the authority of the same charity, counsel many to live at home, to keep their means, to marry, yea to turn soldiers and go to war, which is so perilous a profession.
Now when charity draws some to poverty and withdraws others from it, when she directs some to marriage and others to continence, when she shuts one up in a cloister and makes another quit it, she is not bound to give account thereof to any one: for she has the plenitude of power in Christian laws, as it is written: charity can do all things; she has the perfection of prudence, according to that: charity does nothing wrongly. And if any would contest, and demand why she so does, she will boldly make answer: The Lord hath need of it. All is made for charity, and charity for God. All must serve her and she none: no, she serves not her well-beloved, whose servant she is not, but his spouse, whom she does not serve, but love: for which cause we are to take our orders from her how to exercise counsels. To some she will appoint chastity without poverty, to others obedience and not chastity, to others fasting but not alms-deeds, to others alms-deeds and fasting, to others solitude and not the pastoral charge, to others intercourse with men and not solitude. In fine she is a sacred water, by which the garden of the church is fertilized, and though she herself have no colour that can be called colour, yet the flowers which she makes spring have each one its particular colour. She makes Martyrs redder than the rose, Virgins whiter than the lily; some she dyes with the fine violet of mortification, others with the yellow of marriage-cares, variously employing the counsels, for the perfection of the souls who are so happy as to live under her conduct.