The Interior Life and the Mystery of Christ

By Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, 1951. The meaning of biblical, patristic Christology vs. speculative, merely academic versions.

Our Savior and His Love For Us: Catholic Doctrine on the Interior Life of Christ as it relates to our own.

For to me, to live is Christ.”
Phil. 1:21.

We are “not the Center of the Universe”

IN ORDER first of all to understand the importance of the mystery of Christ for each one of us at every stage of our interior life, even the lowest, let us inquire what is meant by the interior life in the more general meaning of the term, and then in the more specific and deeper sense.

The Intimate Conversation of Every Man with Himself and the Basic Tendencies of the Will

The words “interior life” at once call forth a mental picture of a state of relatively profound recollection that may seem inaccessible to most of us who live in the world, engrossed in our affairs from which at times we seek recreation in amusements of one sort or another. This commonplace impression contains both truth and error.

The interior life, as its name indicates, presupposes a certain recollection in God, but this recollection is not as out of reach as may at first appear.

Every man, whether good or evil, holds a more or less serious conversation with himself at certain hours of the day whenever he is alone and often enough even amid the throngs of a bustling city.

On his way home from work in the streetcar a laborer, when he is not joking or talking with his fellow workers, may appear pensive: he is holding an interior conversation with himself.

What is he thinking of? Perhaps that within a week he will be out of a job. How, then, will he provide for his wife and his children? The tenor of his interior conversation varies with his age. When he is young, he thinks of the future. When he is old, he carries within himself the accumulated experience of some sixty years which tends to be translated into an over-all judgment on life, and this judgment will vary widely, depending on whether a man’s life has been good or bad and on whether he is or is not a Christian.

The interior life is an elevated form of the interior conversation of every man, when this conversation becomes or tends to become a conversation with God.

In this intimate discourse which each man has with himself, the life of the senses, of the imagination, of the sense memory, and of the emotions all take part, as is the case with animals. In addition, there is participation by the mind, the intelligence, which passes judgment on life. There is also a more or less latent act of the will, which is created to love and to desire what is good.

In this interior state there is a fundamental love, a basic tendency of the will, that differs widely among men.¹ A man will judge differently about the ultimate goal to be pursued, according as the basic tendency of his will is or is not rectified, good or evil.

All men seek happiness. Some seek it where it is to be found, in the true good; others seek it where it is not, in satisfying their sensuality or their pride. Many persons, without being willing to acknowledge it, love themselves above all else, and more or less consciously make everything converge upon themselves as if they were the center of the universe

Along with this self-love, and as it were on the side, they also have a somewhat ineffectual love for their family or their country. Such men do not have an interior life, for their interior conversation with themselves is of death rather than of life. Instead of elevating them, it
lowers them.

According to the Gospel, these souls are in a state of spiritual death or of grave sin. The basic tendency of their will is turned away from the true good, away from the Sovereign Good which is the principle of all others. What they are really seeking is not truth and the true good of man, of their family, of their children, of their country. On the contrary, they are seeking perpetual pleasure and the money needed to procure it.

Attempting to Escape, by Immersion

What they discover deep within themselves is death; and hence they seek to escape from themselves, externalize themselves in study, in science, in art, or in social and political activity, or to live by their imagination and their senses and thus forget their sad evaluation of life which would lead them to discouragement and pessimism.

According to Christian philosophy they live by the quest of pleasurable good and of the useful, without rising to really desire moral good conceived by right reason as the object of virtue. Their fundamental will is directed toward death, not toward life. They have no interior life.

In this regard Pascal says that the man who would escape from himself by taking up hunting, for instance, prefers the pursuit of the hare to the hare, and in a more elevated order of activity prefers the search for truth to truth itself. He is ever in need of something new.

This is the reverse of changeless contemplation of attained truth. Such a man seeks to escape from himself to avoid boredom, emptiness, discouragement.

But sometimes the hour of discouragement can become by the grace of God the moment of conversion. This has happened many times: a despairing man about to seek death remembers the name of God, invokes it, and, perceiving the grandeur of the mystery of Christ and of our Redemption, is converted and thenceforth gives himself wholly to the service of God and to the salvation of souls.

In his commentary on St. Matthew, St. Thomas remarks: The rock on which we must build signifies Christ Himself: as St.Paul tells us, the spiritual rock is Christ. 10 …

But there are those who listen to
Christ’s message only in order to know it (without putting it into practice); they build on the intelligence only and that is to build upon the sand. Others listen to His message in order to put it into practice and to love God and their neighbor; these build on rock…

These words, written by a man of learning like St. Thomas, are significant. For to St. Thomas, to live was not only to study. To live was Christ, to whom he had consecrated all his labors and his entire life.

Certainly, both intellectual and exterior activity are necessary. But the Christian must love his work not only for the natural satisfaction and the profit he derives from it, but for Christ who must be known and loved, “that a man may live not to himself, but to God.” In this way his powers are increased tenfold, even a hundredfold. He is no longer giving only himself, he is giving Christ for the salvation of souls. To live more and more by Christ we must die to ourselves, that is, to the life of egoism, sensuality, and pride.

We Are Not the Center of the Universe

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

We must stop making ourselves the center
of existence, and unconsciously relating everything to ourselves. On the contrary, we must relate everything to God. This is the precious fruit of the spirit of sacrifice, which progressively causes to die within us all that is disorderly. The spirit of sacrifice gives us peace and the tranquillity of order by making us give first place in our souls to charity, to the love of God and of souls, a love that is ultimately victorious over all egoism and all disorderly love of self.

(Phil. 1:21. Matt. 7:24 f. “In Epistolam ad Philipp.,10 I Cor. 10:4.)

— From Our Savior and His Love For Us: Catholic Doctrine on the Interior Life of Christ as it relates to our own Interior Life by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, 1951.


* Tauler has stressed this point emphatically. He brings it up again and again. Cf. Sermons de Tauler, translated by Hugueny-Théry (editions de La vie spirituelle, 1927). Cf. ibid., Vol. I, Introduction, pp. 79-82.
2 St. Thomas often states this principle in the form given it by Aristotle (Ethics, Bk. III,chap. 5): Depending on whether a man is virtuous or not, he will judge differently as to the ultimate goal to be pursued, for according to his interior disposition the true good appears to him as fitting or not so. Cf. Cajetan’s commentary on the latter passage. This principle, the portion of truth in the philosophy of action, we have stressed elsewhere: Le réalisme du principe de finalité, Part II, chap. 6. Cf. St. Thomas, Ia IIae, q.9, a. 2; Ia IIae, q.58, a.55

But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of his suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for every one.”— Heb. 2:9.

 Strive for … the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”— Heb. 12:14