St John Vianney: We are nothing in ourselves


Temptation is necessary to us to make us realize that we are nothing in ourselves. St. Augustine tells us that we should thank God as much for the sins from which He has preserved us as for those which He has had the charity to forgive us. If we have the misfortune to fall so often into the snares of the Devil, we set ourselves up again too much on the strength of our own resolutions and promises and too little upon the strength of God. This is very true.

When we do nothing to be ashamed of, when everything is going along according to our wishes, we dare to believe that nothing could make us fall. We forget our own nothingness and our utter weakness. We make the most delightful protestations that we are ready to die rather than to allow ourselves to be conquered. We see a splendid example of this in St. Peter, who told our Lord that although all others might be scandalized in Him, yet he would never deny Him.

Alas! To show him how man, left to himself, is nothing at all, God made use, not of kings or princes or weapons, but simply of the voice of a maidservant, who even appeared to speak to him in a very indifferent sort of way. A moment ago, he was ready to die for Him, and now Peter protests that he does not even know Him, that he does not know about whom they are speaking. To assure them even more vehemently that he does not know Him, he swears an oath about it. Dear Lord, what we are capable of when we are left to ourselves! There are some who, in their own words, are envious of the saints who did great penances. They believe that they could do as well. When we read the lives of some of the martyrs, we would, we think, be ready to suffer all that they suffered for God; the moment is short-lived, we say, for an eternity of reward. But what does God do to teach us to know ourselves or, rather, to know that we are nothing? This is all He does: He allows the Devil to come a little closer to us. Look at this Christian who a moment ago was quite envious of the hermit who lived solely on roots and herbs and who made the stern resolution to treat his body as harshly. Alas! A slight headache, a prick of a pin, makes him, as big and strong is he is, sorry for himself. He is very upset. He cries with pain. A moment ago he would have been willing to do all the penances of the anchorites – and the merest trifle makes him despair! Look at this other one, who seems to want to give his whole life for God, whose ardor all the torments there are cannot damp. A tiny bit of scandal-mongering…. a word of calumny…. even a slightly cold reception or a small injustice done to him…. a kindness returned by ingratitude…. immediately gives birth in him to feelings of hatred, of revenge, of dislike, to the point, often, of his never wishing to see his neighbor again or at least of treating him coldly with an air which shows very plainly what is going on in his heart. And how many times is this his waking thought, just as it was the thought that almost prevented him from sleeping? Alas, my dear brethren, we are poor stuff, and we should count very little upon our good resolutions!

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15 Responses to St John Vianney: We are nothing in ourselves

  1. teresa says:

    Pride is the greatest sin, and to be proud in one’s goodness is even worse, didn’t Chesterton say it if I remember correctly?


  2. teresa says:

    Ah, I found this invaluable passage! In Chesterton’s Heretics:

    “And every generous person will equally agree that the one kind of pride which is wholly damnable is the pride of the man who has something to be proud of. The pride which, proportionally speaking, does not hurt the character, is the pride in things which reflect no credit on the person at all. Thus it does a man no harm to be proud of his country, and comparatively little harm to be proud of his remote ancestors. It does him more harm to be proud of having made money, because in that he has a little more reason for pride. It does him more harm still to be proud of what is nobler than money—intellect. And it does him most harm of all to value himself for the most valuable thing on earth—goodness. The man who is proud of what is really creditable to him is the Pharisee, the man whom Christ Himself could not forbear to strike.”


  3. toadspittle says:

    “And it does him most harm of all to value himself for the most valuable thing on earth—goodness.”

    :And to be proud of being a decent, God-fearing Catholic? Damnable, no doubt.

    (Cries of, “No, no, you’ve got it all wrong Toad! That’s not what Fat Boy Gil meant at all!”)


  4. kathleen says:

    Yes Toad, the atrocities that occurred during the Spanish Civil War are truly horrific. On both sides. And the Reds were the instigators of the tragedy.

    From Wiki: “The Red Terror in Spain (Spanish: Terror Rojo en España) is the name given by historians to various acts committed “by sections of nearly all the leftist groups” such as the killing of tens of thousands of people (including 6,832 members of the Catholic clergy, the vast majority in the summer of 1936 in the wake of the military rising), as well as attacks on landowners, industrialists, and politicians, and the desecration and burning of monasteries and churches. During the first months of the war, “the republican government proved completely unable to stop the killings,although it was profoundly disquieted by them.” News of the military coup unleashed a social revolutionary response and no republican region escaped revolutionary and anticlerical violence – though in the Basque Country this was minimal.”


  5. toadspittle says:

    “…the republican government proved completely unable to stop the killings,although it was profoundly disquieted by them.”

    Whereas Franco not only encouraged mass murder, including of innocents – he insisted on it and made it the law.
    That is the point.


  6. Brother Burrito says:

    What does Toad think should have happened, and what is to be done now?


  7. kathleen says:

    Many of those who were simply “Republicans” might not have taken part in massacres, but the Republican side was also made up of hardline Communists and Anarchists, murderers who were vicious, cruel and merciless.
    Franco ordered executions in retaliation – something, please note, I do not condone (especially after the war was over) – whereas the Reds took great pleasure in their acts of mass murder and destruction. (When I was working in Spain, just out of college, I heard some horrible personal stories of some of these atrocities from witnesses or descendants of some of their victims.)

    Spain nowadays is a completely different country. There are only a handful of people alive today who remember the Spanish Civil War. What that idiot Zapatero was doing when he was Prime Minister was stirring up old hatreds with his “Memoria Historica” as though the Republican side was the only victim. I believe the Christian “forgive and forget” should be the policy now – as neither side was blameless – with the people working together towards getting Spain out of its dire economic and unemployment straits.


  8. kathleen says:

    Your link you give is an article in “El Pais“, a leftwing anticlerical newspaper. Their slur against the Church is typically hostile. Practicing Catholics (clergy and laymen) were being massacred in Red zones of Spain; ancient beautiful churches and monasteries were being ransacked and burned to the ground, and the Republican Government was unable (or unwilling?) to put a stop to the continuous attacks of mass murder and destruction. The military coup was an absolute necessity in an attempt to defend the Church and her people.

    How do you think the Church (meaning her ministers) could do otherwise than side with those who were defending them? Franco’s Nationalists were not all of a Fascist mentality – another lie propounded by the anti-clericals. They were certainly all anit-Bolshevik though – thank goodness!

    So some of those under Franco (military men) also committed atrocities? Yes, no one can deny that, especially it seems after the official end of the war, in acts of wrongful vengeance. But to put the blame on the entire Church is the typical leftwing propaganda, that tries to discredit the whole Church.

    (P.S. How on earth did we get onto this contentious subject here? Nothing to do with the lovely article of St. Jean Marie Vianney!)


  9. teresa says:

    Toad, not to be proud of being a decent, God fearing Catholic is what we Catholics should do, but try to be a God fearing Catholic and strive to lead a life which is pleasant to God, we know that we often fail but we keep trying. It is true that there are a lot of Pharisees around and the aim of the article by St. John Vianney is to remind us of our sinfulness.

    Kathleen, thanks and well said.


  10. toadspittle says:

    “What does Toad think should have happened, and what is to be done now?”

    I think everyone should have behaved like reasonable human beings.
    Yeah, right.

    Now, I think, in spite of a long and concentrated effort by the PP to keep the lid nailed down on the whole sorry business, the many thousands of Republican dead should be exhumed wherever possible from the ditches in which they now lie and given the decent burial, in marked graves, in cemeteries which is what their surviving relatives want.
    As happened to the Nationalist dead, immediately after, and during, the conflict.

    (We got into this contentious subject because we like contentious subjects. Keeps us on our toes.)


  11. Not only are we, as individuals, nothing at all when left to ourselves, but whole countries, whole societies, are also in the end nothing at all when left to themselves, without God.


  12. kathleen says:

    Thanks Teresa.

    You make a good point: that everyone would wish their ancestors to be buried in marked graves in cemeteries. So many have disappeared in wars and acts of terrorism, and there is nowhere where their families can ‘visit’ their remains.
    Some, but by no means all, the Nationalists were given “decent burials” immediately after the Spanish conflict. Just one example: a few years ago, when an old house was demolished in a village (I think in the province of Murcia), a mass grave was discovered of a Guardia Civil with his wife, three or four little daughters, his parents and other members of his family. They had all been brutally murdered during the Civil War! This was a great embarrassment to the then Prime Minister, Mr. Zapatero, and his government who were prancing about as ‘innocent victims’, trying to make out that the only ‘murderers’ had been the Nationalists.
    Perhaps you remember the case?


  13. toadspittle says:


    No, Kathleen, but it is the kind of thing that does interest me, and would be grateful for more details.

    As to “… the then Prime Minister, Mr. Zapatero, and his government who were prancing about as ‘innocent victims’, trying to make out that the only ‘murderers’ had been the Nationalists.” in view of the massive, and merited, outrage generated by Paracuellos alone, that Zapatero, or anyone else not utterly insane – would attempt to suggest that only the nationalists had commited attrocities – is, to put it mildly – highly unlikely.
    Or so it seems to me.


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