Excerpts from the essay The Science of the Saints, by St. Alphonsus.
“Hence it is that if a brute were ever to act according to reason, we should say that such a brute acted like a man; so we say that a man who acts upon sensual appetites and contrary to reason acts like a brute.”
There are two kinds of sciences upon earth – one heavenly, the other worldly. The heavenly is that which leads us to please God, and makes us great in heaven. The worldly is that which moves us to please ourselves, and to become great in the world. But this worldly science is folly and madness in the sight of God. The wisdom of the world is foolishness with God, [1 Cor. 3:19]. It is folly, for it makes fools of those who cultivate it; it makes them fools, and like the brutes, for it teaches them to satisfy their carnal appetites like the beasts.
St. John Chrysostom wrote, “We call him a man who preserves complete the image of a man; and what is the image of a man? - to be rational.” Hence it is that if a brute were ever to act according to reason, we should say that such a brute acted like a man; so we say that a man who acts upon sensual appetites and contrary to reason acts like a brute.
Blessed is he who has received from God the science of the saints. The science of the saints is to know the love of God. How many in the world are well versed in literature, in mathematics, in foreign and ancient languages! But what will this profit them if they know not the love of God? Blessed is he, said St. Augustine, who knows God, even if he knows nothing else. He that knows God and loves him, though he be ignorant of what others know, is more learned than the learned who know not how to love God. Let us not, then, envy those who know many things; let us only envy those who know how to love Jesus Christ; and let us imitate St. Paul, who said that he desired to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.
But the evil is that the knowledge of the world puffs us up, and makes us proud and prone to despise others – a pernicious fault, for, as St. James says, God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble, [Ja. 4:6.] Oh, that they would be wise and understand, and know the latter end, [Deut. 32:29]. Oh, if men would act by reason and the divine law, and thus would learn to provide, not so much for temporal existence, which speedily ends, as for eternity, they would assuredly not occupy themselves in the attainment of any knowledge, except such as aids them in obtaining eternal happiness and avoiding eternal pains.
St. John Chrysostom advises us to walk among the tombs of the dead, in order to learn the knowledge of salvation. Oh, what a school of truth are the sepulchers for learning the vanity of the world! “Let us go to the tombs; there,” said the saint, “there I see nothing but corruption, bones and worms.” From all these skeletons, I cannot tell which belonged to the ignorant and which to the learned; I only see that with death all the glories of the world were finished for them. What remained to a Cicero, a Demosthenes, an Ulpian? They have slept their sleep, and have found nothing in their hands, [Ps. 75;6].
“Let the unlearned arise and seize upon heaven!” cried out St. Augustine. How learned were St. Francis of Assisi, St. Paschal, St. John of God? - ignorant in worldly knowledge, but well-skilled in that which is divine. Thou hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to babes, [Matt. 11:25]. By the wise, we are here to understand the worldly-wise, who labor for the possessions and glories of the world, and think little of eternal joys. And by babes, we are to understand simple souls (like those of children), who know little of worldly wisdom, and devote all their care to pleasing God.
Happy are we if we attain to the knowledge of the love which Jesus crucified had for us, and from this book of love attain to the love of him. O thou, who art my true and perfect lover, where shall I find one who has so loved me as Thou hast? I perceive that Thou callest me to Thy holy love. I give myself wholly to Thee; accept me; give me help to be faithful to Thee; I desire to be no longer my own, but all, all Thine. O mother of God! Do thou also help me with thy prayers.
Edited excerpts from “The Science of the Saints” in The Way of Salvation and of Perfection, by St. Alphonsus de Liguori, pp. 187-190.
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