French Archbishop François Fénelon (1651-1725) was still bothered by those who were not authentic for fear of rejection or ridicule. By doing so, they were trying to cover up their real selves. Therefore, people they loved didn’t get to know them on a factual basis. He knew that the longer this went on, the more miserable they would become and start avoiding personal or intimate contact with others. So, the Archbishop has a few more words of wisdom to give those caught in such a web.

He begins by saying that the first step to real integrity is for the soul to put away outward things and look within to know its fundamental interests. This is only a wise “self-love” that seeks to avoid the intoxication of the world.

In the next step, the soul must add contemplation of God, whom it fears, to self-inspection. It is a weak approach to natural wisdom, but the soul is still greatly self-absorbed. It is not satisfied with respecting God. Furthermore, it wants to be confident that it does fear Him but is afraid it might not reverence Him. This is going around in a perpetual circle of self-consciousness. All this restless dwelling in self is far from the peace and freedom of real love. The soul must go through a season of trial. That way, if it suddenly emerged into a period of tranquility, it would not know how to use it.

The first humans fell because of self-indulgence, and their descendants have to go through much the same course, gradually coming from out of self to seek God. For a while, then, it is well to let the penitent soul struggle with itself and its faults before attaining the freedom of the children of God. But when God begins to open the door to something higher and purer, it is time to respond to the workings of His Holy Spirit step by step until the soul attains true integrity.

The third step is that the soul begins to dwell upon God instead, while ceasing from a restless self-contemplation. By degrees, it forgets itself in Him. It becomes full of Him and ends feeding upon itself. Such a soul is not blinded to its faults or indifferent to its errors. On the contrary, it is more conscious of them than ever, and increased light shows them who they really are. But this self-knowledge comes from God, and therefore it is not restless or uneasy.

Much anxious contemplation of its faults hinders the soul’s progression, just as travelers are hindered by an excessive quantity of luggage that prevents their walking freely. Superstition and scruples, and even, contrary as it seems, at first sight, presumption, grow readily out of such self-consuming processes. Genuine Christian integrity is generous and upright, and forgets itself in unreserved resignation to God. If we mortals expect our earthly friends to be free and open-hearted with us, how much more will God, our best Friend, require a single-hearted, open, unreserved exchange of thoughts and feelings?

Such integrity is the perfection of God’s true children, the object at which we should all aim. The greatest hindrance to its attainment is the false wisdom of the world that is afraid to trust anything to God – that wants to achieve everything by its skill, settle everything its way, and indulge in ceaseless self-admiration. This is the wisdom of the world that the Apostle Paul tells us is foolishness with God.[1] Yet true wisdom, which lies in yielding one’s self up unreservedly to God’s Holy Spirit, is mere foolishness in the eyes of the world.

In the initial stages of conversion, we arc forced continually to urge wisdom upon Christians. When they are thoroughly converted, we have to be afraid that they will be “wise,” and we need to warn them to “think of themselves with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of them” as the Apostle Paul urges.[2] Then, when they finally desire a nearer approach to God, they must lose themselves to find themselves again in God.[3] They must lay aside that worldly wisdom that is so prevalent in self-reliant natures. They must drain the bitter cup of the “foolishness of the cross,”[4] which has often been the substitute for martyrdom for those not called on to shed their blood like the early Christians in Rome.

Once self-seeking and brooding are overcome, the soul acquires indescribable peace and freedom. We may write or read about it, but only experience can teach anyone what it is. The person who attains it is like a child at its mother’s breast, free from tears or longings, ready to be turned this way and that. It is indifferent as to what others may think. It is doing everything as well as possible, cheerfully, heartily, but not worried about success or failure. Such a person embodies the Apostle Paul’s words: “As for me, it matters very little how I might be evaluated by you or by any human authority. I don’t even trust my judgment on this point.”[5] [6]

[1] 1 Corinthians 3:19

[2] Romans 12:3

[3] Matthew 26:25

[4] 1 Corinthians 1:18

[5] Ibid. 4:3

[6] Fénelon, François: Paraclete Giants, The Complete Fénelon, Translated and Edited by Robert J. Edmonson, Paraclete Press, Brewster, Massachusetts, 2008, pp. 40-41; Vocabulary and grammar redacted by Dr. Robert R Seyda

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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