To peace and sweetness of heart is inseparably joined most holy humility. But I do not term humility, that ceremonious profusion of words, gestures, and kissings of the ground, obeisances, inclinations, -- when they are made, as often happens, without any inward sense of our own abjection and of just esteem of our neighbour: for all this is but a vain occupation of weak brains, and is rather to be termed a phantom of humility, than humility.
I speak of a noble, real, productive and solid humility, which makes us supple to correction, pliable and prompt to obedience. While the incomparable Simeon Stylites was yet a novice at Teleda, he made himself indocile to the advice of his superiors, who wished to hinder him from practising so many strange austerities, which he did with an inordinate cruelty to himself; so that at length he was on this account turned out of the monastery, as being too little capable of the mortification of the heart, and too much addicted to that of the body. But having entered into himself and become more devout, and more prudent in the spiritual life, he behaved quite differently, as he showed in the following action. When the hermits who were dispersed through the deserts near Antioch knew the extraordinary life which he led upon the pillar, in which he seemed to be either an earthly angel or a heavenly man, they despatched a messenger whom they ordered to speak thus to him from them: Why dost thou, Simeon, leaving the highway trodden by so many great and holy predecessors, follow another, unknown of men, and so different from all that has been seen or heard to this day? Simeon, quit this pillar, and come amongst other men to live, after the manner of life and way of serving God used by the good Fathers who have gone before us. In case Simeon, yielding to their advice and giving in to their will, should show himself ready to descend, they had charged the deputy to leave him free to persevere in the manner of life he had begun, because by his obedience, said those good Fathers, it could well be known that he had undertaken this kind of life by the divine inspiration: but in case he should resist, and, despising their exhortations, follow his own will, it would be necessary to withdraw him thence by violence, and force him to forsake his pillar. The deputy then, being come to the pillar, had no sooner delivered his message, than the great Simeon, without delay, without reservation, without any reply, began to descend with an obedience and humility worthy of his rare sanctity. Which when the deputy saw: stay, said he, O Simeon! remain there, persevere with constancy, take courage, pursue thy enterprise valiantly; thy abiding upon this pillar is from God.
But mark, I pray you, Theotimus, how these ancient and holy anchorites in their general meeting, found no surer mark of a heavenly inspiration in so extraordinary a matter as was the life of this holy Stylite, than to find him simple, gentle, and tractable, under the laws of holy obedience; and God, blessing the submission of this great man, gave him the grace to persevere thirty whole years upon the top of a pillar thirty-six cubits high, having previously passed seven years upon others of six, twelve, and twenty feet, and having before that been ten years on the peak of a little rock in the place called the Mandra. Thus this bird of paradise, living above in air, and not touching earth, was a spectacle of love to the angels, and of admiration to mortals. In obedience all is secure, out of it all is to be suspected.
When God puts inspirations into a heart, the first he gives is obedience. Was there ever a more illustrious and unmistakable inspiration than that which was given to the glorious S. Paul? And the principal point of it was, that he should repair to the city, where he should learn from the mouth of Ananias what he was to do, and this Ananias, a very famous man, was, as S. Dorotheus says, the Bishop of Damascus. Whosoever says he is inspired, and yet refuses to obey his superiors and follow their counsel, is an impostor. All the Prophets and Preachers that ever were inspired by God, always loved the Church, always adhered to her doctrine, always were approved by her, nor did they ever announce anything so distinctly as this truth, that the lips of the priest shall keep wisdom, and they shall seek the law at his mouth. So that extraordinary missions are diabolical illusions, not heavenly inspirations, unless they be acknowledged and approved by the pastors who have the ordinary mission. For thus Moses and the prophets are reconciled. S. Francis, S. Dominic, and the other Fathers of Religious Orders, were called to the service of souls by an extraordinary inspiration, but they did so much the more humbly and heartily submit themselves to the sacred Hierarchy of the Church. In conclusion, the three best and most assured marks of lawful inspirations, are perseverance, against inconstancy and levity; peace and gentleness of heart, against disquiet and solicitude; humble obedience, against obstinacy and extravagance.
And to conclude all that we have said touching the union of our will with that will of God which is called signified; -- almost all the herbs which bear yellow flowers, yea, the chicory also which bears blue ones, ever turn them towards the sun, and thus follow its course: but the sunflower turns not only its flowers but also all its leaves, after the movements of this great luminary. In the same way all the elect turn the flower of their heart, which is obedience to the commandments, towards the Divine will, but souls entirely taken with holy love not only look towards this Divine goodness by obedience to the commandments, but also by the union of all their affections, following this heavenly sun in his round, in all that he commands, counsels and inspires, without reserve or exception whatever; whence they can say with the sacred Psalmist: Lord, I am become as a beast before thee: and I am always with thee. Thou hast held me by my right hand; and by thy will thou hast conducted me, and with thy glory thou hast received me. For as a well-broken horse is easily, gently and exactly managed by his rider, in any way that is required, so the loving soul is so pliable to God's will that he does with her what he pleases.