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Silence: A Means to Recollection


This state is at once the effect of and the condition needed for prayer. Silence is a necessary and indispensable means to prayer.

"In silence and quiet the devout soul goeth forward and learneth the secrets of the Scripture." — Imit. I. 20. 6.


# 1.  The Decline in Spiritual Life.

The most painful experience in the spiritual life is that of the vicissitudes to which it is subject.  At times all goes well with us; borne along by the strong current of grace, all the obstacles of nature and temperament yield before us.  Acts of virtue are accomplished without difficulty and even joyously; prayer is of astonishing ease; sacrifice is a pleasure, and the service of God a service of deep happiness.  The soul is filled with buoyancy and with a joyous eager anticipation, for sanctity and the unbroken union with God which is its result, seem within easy reach.  And suddenly, for no apparent reason, something as it were snaps; devotion and the fine sense of the supernatural disappear, and we are left in the hard biting chilling atmosphere of unregenerate nature; faults and imperfections multiply, the exercise of virtue becomes extremely arduous, and the yielding to our own temperament, with all the laxity and absence of spirituality that belongs to this surrender, seems inevitable.  The fair form of sanctity which spurred us on to effort and which we thought we were on the point of embracing, eludes our grasp and fades like a mirage of the desert; we thought that we were quite close to God, and we find that He is as far off from us as ever.  The pain of keen disappointment attends the experience.  The soul, ignorant of itself, while attributing this failure either to an intrinsic impossibility in the realization of the ideal it had set before it, or at least to an incompatibility between that ideal and itself, will be tempted to renounce the enterprise it has engaged on as hopeless, and its object as unattainable.

For souls that are of a heroic mold and that are somewhat advanced in the ways of God, this subtraction of fervor and the insipidity that is found in spiritual things after the withdrawal, is a trial that serves for the increase of their merits and for their greater perfection.  But for ordinary souls it is to be traced back to the infidelities into which they have allowed themselves to drift — at least in most cases.  The divine life in us is of extreme delicacy, because it is a participation of the life of God Himself — a very little thing can affect its vigor and diminish its glow:  "we have this treasure in earthen vessels."[1]  It can be easily struck at by forces hostile to it and when not actually destroyed, have its vitality diminished.  The least breath of nature (i.e.  egoism) can weaken it.  It cannot retain its strength and perfection except every deliberate and conscious activity of the soul is under the inspiration of grace.  When, owing to carelessness or want of spiritual discernment, or both combined, the soul allows itself to follow the promptings of nature or of temperament, the life of charity instantly loses its fervor, and there is a lowering of supernatural vitality; this lowering of vitality carries with it an inability to elicit readily and promptly or at least a great difficulty in eliciting readily and promptly acts of the supernatural life.  This diminution of purely supernatural activity is intensified by the decrease in the number of actual graces accorded the soul, by reason of its infidelities, rendering itself unworthy to receive them.  Every supernatural vital movement that the soul, in the exercise of the divine life in it, tends to elicit, appeals for — and that by the very nature of things — the actual grace that is required in order that the act produced may be worthy of and commensurate with the principle of life from which it issues.  That is, the soul striving to act supernaturally needs and receives the actual grace needed to carry this striving into effect.  On the other hand if the soul stirs into movement under the impulse of nature, its act has not any exigency of supernatural help, and ordinarily, in consequence, this is not accorded.  When such a condition of things becomes habitual, it is evident that much of the activity of the soul issues forth at the prompting of nature, and uninfluenced by grace.  It is not then astonishing that acts inspired and motived by charity become rare and difficult.

There is nothing which so quickly causes this decline in fervor as the failure to maintain proper reserve in the use of the tongue.  It is surprising, but nevertheless true, that we more easily fail in speech than in any other form of doing.  There is comparatively little difficulty in focusing plenty of attention on the action we accomplish either in obedience to rule or at the call of duty; but to carry on a conversation and maintain oneself in one's words in a spirit of faith for a considerable length of time is within the power of comparatively few.  Only those who have attained to a certain measure of sanctity succeed in this.  If there is in us any passion, which has not been perfectly subdued, that passion will, very frequently, in any conversation that is somewhat prolonged, begin to exercise its influence on thoughts and judgments and speech and betray us into the fault to which that passion inclines us.

Control of the tongue might seem only one element in the ascetic discipline that the pursuit of perfection demands.  One might easily imagine that after the use of speech has been brought under the control of reason and faith there would remain much to accomplish.  This is not so, for it is hardly possible that perfectly regulated speech exists until all the senses are brought well under control.  This is the truth conveyed in St. James' words:  "If any man offend not in word, that same is a perfect man." He had just said, "For in many things we all offend."[2]  The sequence of thought implies, therefore, that if a man does not offend in words, he has reached a point of perfection when he offends in nothing, that is to say that he is in the habitual exercise of all the virtues.  There is profound psychological insight in this, as will be shown later.

# 2.  Silence one of the Church's Traditional Antidotes to Spiritual Decline.

The practice of silence has been recognized from all times as the sole means of arriving at this government of the tongue, without which saintliness of life is impossible.  The Apostle insists that "if any man think himself to be religious, not bridling his tongue, but deceiving his own heart, this man's religion is vain."[3]  The early solitaries fled from the intercourse of men and even from intercourse with one another, depriving themselves for long years of the use of the faculty of speech, so alive were they to the havoc caused to the interior life by the immoderation into which the use of the tongue so often degenerates.  And even when they began to group themselves together in Monasteries, the solitude of their lives was scarcely interfered with.  They restricted their intercourse to what was barely necessary.  In this they felt they were following in the footsteps of Our Divine Lord Himself Who, for our example and instruction, showed such a marked preference for silence and retirement, and a habitual restraint in the use of words.  In the Holy House of Nazareth, the spoken words must have been but few.  Our Lord's time had not come for manifesting Himself.  His Parents had to use their supernatural discernment to grasp the significance of His hidden Life.  He vouchsafed no information.  Mary and Joseph spoke little but pondered much in the depths of their souls on the mystery which daily developed before their eyes.  Words would have been an intrusion and would have but disturbed the course of thought, which in each, under the illumination of the Holy Ghost, discovered new and profounder meanings in the prophecies which they knew so well and the realization of which they saw taking place under their own roof.

This life of silence, broken only by words that come from souls occupied habitually with the thought of God, was the ideal that the Founders of the great Contemplative Orders had before them as they framed the rules of their Institutes.  They realized clearly that perfection could not be practiced in their monasteries unless the intercourse of the religious with one another, or with strangers, should be reduced to what should be demanded by necessity or Charity.  Conversation was strictly forbidden during the hours of work and of prayer — it was forbidden at all times except at recreation.  And even then it was enjoined that the subjects treated of should be such as could prove of general interest, should tend to elevate whilst recreating the mind and should also impart edification.

In order that this calm tranquillity of the houses should be at all times undisturbed, talking was prohibited not only in the oratories but in almost all parts of the interior of the religious houses.  It was understood that conversation in the corridors, cells or refectories, even during the hours of recreation, would banish the atmosphere of undisturbed quiet, which, as was recognized, it was necessary to maintain in all those places where souls were encouraged to commune with God.  Silence consecrated not only the hours of work and prayer, but even the very quarters which the religious habitually frequented.  And when the day's task drew to a close this silence deepened and became more impenetrable — nothing but matters of the greatest necessity was allowed to break in upon the stillness that descended on the monastery and wrapped it round, as it were, in a thick mantle, from the end of Vespers until the conclusion of the Mass and Office of the following morning.  All modern religious societies have followed the earlier ones in this respect; the time from night prayers until the termination of the Morning Office is called in all Institutes, the time of "great silence." When the rule in this matter of silence is well observed fervor flourishes and the peace of God reigns.  It has been said with truth that all that is needed to reform a house that has fallen into lukewarmness, is that the rule of silence begin to be perfectly observed.  The same is true of the individual soul that is eager for its advancement in the spiritual life; if it pays strict attention to due restraint of speech flagging devotion will revive.

# 3.  The Power of the Tongue for Good or Evil.

There appears something paradoxical in this attitude of the Masters of perfection towards the exercise of the faculty of speech.  They seem to judge that the best use of the tongue is to use it as little as possible.  Yet speech is our noblest prerogative; it exalts us above the animals.  The tongue serves to manifest the thoughts of our minds and the determinations of our wills.  The faculty of articulate utterance has been given us by God Himself to sound His praises, to proclaim His glory and to establish useful and friendly intercourse with one another.  It can procure immense good in the natural as well as in the supernatural order.  Who can measure the good effects of a kind word, or set limits to its power to bring consolation to weary spirit or wounded heart?  It is the words of wisdom that fell from Our Divine Lord's lips that have reformed the world.  What would the world be like if He had not spoken?  And had not these words been lovingly treasured by His followers, and found fresh utterance on their lips, His message would not have reached the ears of mankind — would not have passed beyond the narrow confines of His own land.  It is to their bold speech that we owe the priceless gift of Faith.  "Faith cometh by hearing; and hearing by the word of Christ. But I say; have they not heard?  Yes, verily; their sound hath gone forth unto all the earth:  and their words unto the ends of the whole world."[4]  It is by words pronounced by human lips that the substance of bread is changed into the Body of Our Lord, and Jesus is made present with us.  The priest speaks and as his voice dies away, the tide of absolution flows on the sinner's soul, washing away the darkest stains; and when God's minister pronounces the formula of Baptism, the slave of Satan is elevated from his servile state to the exalted condition of a child of God.  And day by day the whole earth resounds with the praises of its Creator, as from countless choirs ascend to heaven in human accents the inspired utterances of the Holy Spirit.  The great work of the Church is the Divine Office, and it needs human lips and human voices for its accomplishment.  It would seem strange then, seeing that speech is the source of so much good in the natural and supernatural order, that the discipline of perfection should apparently demand its suppression.

There is no contradiction involved; for silence is not the cult of dumbness nor of a morose taciturnity.  It is a discipline undertaken in order to use the faculty of speech in such a way as shall profit and not prove harmful to the soul.  It is only by silence that the use of the tongue is brought into order and made to subserve the purpose for which it was given to us by God.  This purpose was twofold.  We are given articulate speech to speak the praises of God and to promote His glory — according to the words of St. Paul:  "Be ye filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual canticles, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things, in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to God and the Father."[5]  The other purpose aimed at by God in this gift of speech was that it should be a means of promoting harmonious, recreative, friendly, charitable and informative intercourse between men living in social relations with one another.

The tongue like the other sensible faculties needs to pass through a rigid mortification before its exercise can be made subject to reason.  And as the tongue is more difficult to control its discipline must be harder and more stern than that which is needed for the other faculties.  "The tongue is a fire," says St. James, "a world of iniquity."[6]  And where there is much talk, sin will not be wanting, as we are told in the Book of Proverbs.[7]  How few there are who have not experienced at some time or other how a single conversation can cause to disappear the good effects wrought in the soul by a fervent meditation! To understand how this is so it is necessary to study the motives that prompt us to speak.  If we exclude the circumstances in which the amenities of social life compel us to draw on our minds or memories in order to contribute our share to making the time pass agreeably and in an interesting manner, if we leave out of count the occasions when necessity or duty oblige us to speak to those with whom we have to deal, we shall find that almost invariably it is a motive springing from the egoism of our unregenerate nature that prompts us to utterance.

It is true that Man is by nature communicative and not solitary.  Nothing belongs so intimately to nature, says Maximus,[8]  as to share the thoughts of our mind one with another, and God has attached to the exercise of the power of communicating our thoughts a satisfaction which we should consider as the gift of His kindness.  In this, as in the exercise of the other human faculties, there is a temptation to subordinate the use to the enjoyment.  There is in fallen man a tendency to seek satisfaction for satisfaction's sake.  This tendency is very pronounced in the case of the use of the tongue.  The habitual talker, the man who has not been disciplined by silence, tends to talk for the mere gratification he finds therein irrespective of any good or legitimate end to be achieved thereby.  There can be a disordered self-satisfaction in imparting information when not utility or charity but one's own egoism is served by the giving of the information.  The unmortified seek this gratification with avidity.  The "exteriorised" soul — the extroverted — to use a term used by early English mystical writers, is ever eager to impart news.  He desires to experience the sense of superiority that springs from the consciousness of the possession of knowledge not held by those to whom he is making his communication.  The uncontrolled person is easily tempted to break through rule or cast aside restraint in order to taste this pleasure which is purely egotistical.  And if, as may happen, though rarely, communicativeness is inspired by a desire to confer a benefit on another, even in this case it may be, in part at least, vitiated by a satisfaction administered to our inordinate desire of superiority.

It is not only sensible satisfaction that is sought in the exercise of the faculty of speech.  Pride, very frequently, is at the root of the inordinate use of the tongue.  It is a great power to be able to call ideas into being in the mind of another.  The listener becomes in a certain sense the subject of him by whose speech his mind is gripped and set in activity in a new direction.  The influence exercised by the gift of persuasive words is real and lasting.  There is in each one of us the ardor of the propagandist —
even concerning indifferent things.  It is pride more often than the zeal for truth that urges us to bring those with whom we converse to see things as we see them.  Impatient of opposition and eager to persuade, we try to monopolize the conversation, and find difficulty in confining our remarks to the times that call for speech.  We are hurried by our unmortified eagerness to leave aside restraint, and to pour out arguments, as soon as they form themselves in our imagination, into the ears of those we desire to persuade.  It is almost invariably want of restraint over natural impetuosity, absence of control of the imagination, and a craving to satisfy our egoistic tendencies in one way or another that prompts immediate and useless speaking.  Seeing then that speech occurs at the very moment that purely natural and, at the best, imperfect tendencies are seeking satisfaction, and since the stirring into activity of these tendencies is the occasion of speech, it is only of rigid consequence that men in their words should be betrayed into numberless faults.

There is a close and intimate connection between speech and the imagination.  Idle and vain words call up idle and vain images in the imagination.[9]  These images summon others of a kindred sort, in virtue of what is called the law of the association of ideas.  In this way a train of flattering, useless and egoistic images is started.  Thought follows imagination and participates in its self-gratifying tendencies.  Speech follows thoughts and words flow that do not bear on subjects that have a tendency to supernaturalise the soul either of speaker of listener.  In conversation words are interchanged and multiplied; corresponding images are called up; and though follows all the time the direction set by the vocal and mental images.  hence in profane conversation our mind is caught up and carried along in the stream of natural activity, which becomes more and more contaminated the further it is removed from the source; for in its course it is ever gathering up material of a more and more dubious nature.

When the conversations are very intimated and take place between those drawn together by some natural sympathy, the evil is intensified.  An egoism of a far worse nature than mere vanity, or sense of gratification, or the desire to excel, or the eagerness to exercise power, comes into play when not charity or justice but mere selfish liking draws people together in intercourse:  in this case the conversation will almost invariably take a certain wrong direction.  Things that will be said will proceed from the desire to give free play to the expression of one's sympathies or one's antipathies — and more frequently the latter than the former.  All the passions of our sensitive nature are rooted in and spring from our loves or our hates — or perhaps our likings or our dislikings if we are incapable of such strong emotions as love or hate.  If we are not accustomed to control both likes and dislikes; if we are wont to have our actions swayed and determined by these emotions; if we are not mortified enough to oppose constantly our inordinate inclinations; if we make no effort to meet on friendly terms those we dislike or to avoid the company of those to whom we have a leaning, it is impossible that our words will remain for any length of time on an indifferent or an elevated topic.  Uncharitableness and murmuring will presently make their appearance.

Our words and the words of those who share our views will fan to intensity the passions which perhaps in the beginning of the conversations were not very active; our likes and dislikes will become sharpened and with this will be awakened all the other evil passions which are rooted in our sympathies and antipathies, namely, jealousy, anger, envy and the rest. So that in one conversation it will become possible to commit faults against a large number of virtues.  "And the tongue," says St. James, "is a fire and inflameth the wheel of our nativity, being set on fire by hell.''[10]  This is perfectly accurate, for when our words are set going by the stimulus of a base motive, each passion, one after the other, is set alight in the course of the conversation.  One can imagine a series of lamps each springing into flame in its turn at the application of the devil's torch.  The uncontrolled use of the tongue or a use dictated by egoism will drag us into sins against charity, justice, truthfulness, forbearance, reverence, kindness, etc.  And it is possible for a single conversation, taking its rise in a movement of nature, to issue in faults of all these various kinds — not only is it possible but, if the talk is prolonged enough, it almost invariably happens.

# 4.  How to Control the Tongue.

To keep in check, then, the passions, which in their activity destroy the bonds of union, uproot charity and make common life unbearable, it is necessary to exercise a rigid control over the tongue.  In the beginning, to acquire this control we must cut down our words more than will be found necessary in a later stage of development.  Silence must be kept with scrupulous exactitude.  Occasionally such a rigid adherence to silence may seem insincere.  When we feel a tumult within us with all the passions raging and clamoring for expression it will seem that we are so wicked that it would be just as well to speak out our mind.  It seems that when we feel so bad there is nothing to be gained by not expressing our badness.  This is a mistake.  If a person for a continuous period strongly checks every impulse to express his emotions, these emotions gradually lose their force and vivacity.  Every passion, somehow, becomes unnerved when it cannot express itself.  Expression seems to be the fuel that sustains it; deprived of this fuel it dies down like a fire on which logs cease to be thrown.  Control of the tongue is, therefore, indirectly, a stern discipline and mortification of all the vices, especially those which are contrary to Charity.

As has been said so often the first tendency of every faculty we have from nature is egocentric by reason of the Fall.  This tendency of course is to a certain extent remedied by grace — but it remains all the same.  Egocentrism is another word for concupiscence taken in its universal sense.  To bring a faculty into order and to direct its activity towards God — or in other words, to cause it to exercise its activity in accordance with right order — it seems a law (the law of mortification that weighs on us) that we must first practice absolute renouncement in its regard.  To exercise the faculty of vision as God wants us to, we must first purify that vision by rigidly denying it every useless satisfaction it seeks after.  So it is with the faculty of speech.  It has been given to us to express the truth of the natural order which our minds should reflect, to set forth the truth of the supernatural order of which our spirit should be possessed, to promote social intercourse amongst men, and to express the praise of God which should be drawn from us at the contemplation of His works in the natural and supernatural order.  The tongue is given to us to glorify God, but it tends to glorify self.  It must therefore be denied every gratification in this direction.  It is more unruly, more difficult to curb than any of the other faculties — hence silence practiced constantly, unremittingly, seems to be the only resource.  "For," says St. Gregory, "a man given to talk will never make any great progress in virtue," and he has but repeated what has been said in a certain passage — "a talkative man shall miss his way upon earth."

The rigid practice of silence has an added advantage.  As has been pointed out there is a close connection between speech and imagination.  The starting of one involves to a great extent the starting of the other.  The more the imagination is emptied of images which serve to flatter self, the more free it is to receive those which aid the mind to raise itself to God — the more open is it to receive images pertaining to things of the supernatural order.  The principal source of the natural images having been dried up, the supernatural will readily take their place and give rise to holy thoughts in the mind.[11]  And when 'the imagination has been filled and stored and is readily stirred by what is supernatural, it is these images of the order of grace that will suggest the matter for speech and will moreover illuminate and elevate the themes of the natural order that may be selected for conversation.  The man that is trained and exercised in the way described will speak easily of divine things or will speak divinely of human things.  His conversation will not be a stumbling block for himself and will be a source of enlightenment and edification for his hearers.

We are silent in order to be able to speak as we ought.  For this silence that is inculcated is not dumbness.  It is the cutting off of activity in one direction, in order to allow it freedom of development in another.  The mere negative abstention from words as such is not good — the dumb never speak and yet they are not necessarily more silent than others.  The Christian virtue is the cutting off of intercourse with men in order to converse more freely with God, or about God and the things of God.  Silence is not anti-social because when trained in this converse with the Lord, we can speak with greater effect and greater utility for our neighbors.

# 5.  Silence Indispensable for Recollection.

Silence is not inaction, but a means to a higher form of activity of our imagination and intellect:  "It imports," says St. Thomas, "not a cessation from act, but a cessation from distracting disorder and from disturbing images in the imaginative faculty." Therefore the mere yielding to a disordered and distracting train of imaginings may be in itself considered to be a rupture of silence, even when there is no expression given them in speech.  We can in effect violate the spirit of silence by giving free reign to our thoughts, if these turn upon common, trivial or dangerous objects.  The spirit of silence is also disturbed by impetuosity in our movements or by undue eagerness in the accomplishment of work.  It is injured, too, by an uncontrolled use of the eyes leading to the infiltration of images of all kinds into the imagination.

Considered in this way, silence is closely akin to recollection.  The mere material cessation from the use of the tongue is not silence but simply the prerequisite disposition to it.  To be silent is to be recollected.  The effect of this recollection is that the soul having withdrawn its powers from without inwards, can fix them on God.  The mind that is fixed on God esteems all earthly and transient objects as valueless in comparison and despising them as refuse is not tempted to waste time in contemplating them.[12]  This state is at once the effect of and the condition needed for prayer.  Silence is a necessary and indispensable means to prayer.  Prayer is nothing else than attention to God with a view to be instructed by Him, and to obtain His grace.  If the mind of the pupil is intent and follows diligently the words of the Master, he can profit by the instruction given.  The pupil is truly silent when his mind is fully alert to the matter taught and fully withdrawn from alien matters.  On the other hand, if the pupil allows his mind to wander on topics foreign to the matter on hand even though he does not converse with those about him, he may be said to have violated the silence that the class demands.  In the loud tumult of his wandering imaginations and of his wandering thoughts he is deaf to what is said.  In this speechless violation of silence he does not heed the instruction addressed to him even though the sounds of the teacher's words fall on his ears.  So it is with us and God:  we must shut off the sounds of earth, in order that His voice may reach us.  That is, we must gather in (the literal sense of the word, recollect) our exterior senses and our interior sensitive faculties, prevent them from straying after mere natural satisfaction and bring them under the control of the will, operating through charity.  This we must do if we wish to catch the voice of God.  We cultivate silence in order to be able to speak with and to hear God easily.

Those who cultivate silence in the spiritual sense and who have acquired the habit of recollection are easily distinguished.  They speak few words, but what they say carries extraordinary weight — even when the words have reference to the ordinary concerns of life.  Their utterances do not flow without consideration Their words, carrying all the force of the inner life of thoughts, are not uttered at random; neither are they mere flashes struck off the surface of the soul and varying with the nature of the sense impressions got from contact with external reality.  They are not mere reactions to external stimulI. Recollected persons see straight and true and just, and a look of calm wisdom shines in their eyes.  The balance of their judgment is not easily upset, "for an internal man quickly recollects himself, because he never pours forth his whole self upon outward things."[13]  This habit of reserve which is not the thing called secrecy, gives him power and influence over others — to whom he must always remain somewhat of a mystery.  Given to internal converse with God, he never reveals himself wholly to creatures.  Even in external activity, even in his very words, the silence is unbroken; for there is rupture of silence only when the interior attention flows out wholly into the exterior material occupation in which one is engaged:  silence is lost if one loses oneself in one's work.  Exterior occupations and the conversations with others which they carry with them, would seem to make the observation of silence impossible.  This is not so.  It is quite possible to pass the greater part of the day in speaking, and yet maintain unbroken silence — provided a golden rule is observed.  The rule is, never to speak merely for one's own sake or for one's own gratification, or to satisfy some impulse, but solely for the glory of God, for the right accomplishment of duty, for the promotion of truth, for the exercise of charity, for the comfort of the sorrowful and for the purpose of brightening the life of one's fellows.

One who aims at a truly interior life must cultivate a pure and simple soul that aims at reuniting in God all its interior powers and exterior occupations by recollection and retirement.  "The spirit of God, which is pleased to dwell in a silent and peaceful heart, never comes into a soul that is in agitation or frequently troubled by the noise and disorder caused by its passions and strong feelings.  It dwelleth not in a dissipated soul that loves to chatter idly and to communicate every passing thought in conversations that are the enemy of recollection."[14]  "But in silence the devout soul goeth forward and learneth the secret of the Scriptures."[15]  Our silence is perfect when we shall be talking constantly to God — and have ceased talking to men, for the mere pleasure to be found in such talk, irrespective of any good to be wrought by it.

Perfect and holy silence is animated conversation with God.  Talking is, at least, in normal cases, the direct outcome of attention to persons and objects or both that are around about us.  It is the surrender of our attention to, and our absorption in, external things or inward imaginings that have no bearing on the real good of life, that constitute the violation of the spirit of silence.  For attention to, and interest in, things that cannot be referred in any way to God inhibit free intercourse with the Almighty.  A person may talk a great deal and yet be silent, if silence be understood in the sense we have explained:  silence is observed if our interest and attention do not stray from what is real.  It is broken if activities of mind and imagination are wasted on what is unreal.  St. Thomas spoke and dictated a great deal, yet he cannot be said to have violated silence in his life — for his words never proceeded from or were drawn from him by purely human or natural interests.  Silence is meaningless unless it issues from or is intended to promote the control over our interior — control over our imagination and over our feelings.

The moment we allow anything outside, any external interest or object, to absorb our attention and distract that attention from that to which God desires us to attend, then we infringe silence.  Silence is recollection as applied to the faculty of speech.  It means the restriction of all unnecessary converse with men in order to allow our mind to converse more uninterruptedly with God.  It makes prayer easy and is a safeguard which preserves devotion and spiritual sweetness from being dissipated.  It makes the soul sensitive to the slightest whisper of the Holy Spirit.  Recollection is absolutely necessary for the soul that aims at progress in the interior life.  "Whoever," says the author of the "Imitation," "aims at attaining to things internal and spiritual, must with Jesus, go aside from the crowd.''[16]  Whoever cultivates the spirit of silence acquires wisdom and attains to peace of heart.  In the individual soul silence develops strength and power.  In groups of persons joined together, whether naturally as in the family, or by vocation as in religion, where this spirit of silence is observed, fervor reigns, peace resides, all bitterness and uncharitableness disappear, and the works done are fruitful and blessed by God.


  1. 2 Cor. iv. 7.
  2. St. James iii. 2.
  3. St. James I. 26.
  4. Rom. x. 17, 18.
  5. Eph. v. 18-20.
  6. St. James iii. 6.
  7. Prov. x. 19.
  8. Catena Aurea, in Luc. Evan. x.
  9. "Every idle word men shall speak, they shall render an account of it in the day of judgment." St. Matt. xii. 36.
  10. St. James iii. 6.
  11. Other sources of natural images are our unmortified thoughts and unrestrained use of the senses.
  12. St. Paul, Phil. iii. 8. Our despising earthly things is given by St. Thomas as one of the signs that we are in the state of Grace.  I. II. 112.  5.
  13. "Imit." Book II. ch. 1.
  14. Bossuet.
  15. "Imit." Bk. 1.; ch. xx. 6.
  16. Bk. I. ch. xx.


Father Edward Leen, C.S.SP. "Silence: A Means to Recollection." chapter 17 from Progress Through Mental Prayer (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1937) 255-276.

Progress Through Mental Prayer is in the public domain.


The Author

Father Edward Leen, C.S.SP. was born in Ireland in 1885 and entered the Holy Ghost Fathers being ordained in 1914. He was president of Blackrock College in Ireland from 1925 to 1931 and then became professor of philosophy at Kimmage Manor, Dublin. During this time he gave many retreats and conferences, especially to religious communities and he became widely known as a master of spiritual matters. His conference and lecture notes became the basis for his many books on prayer and the spiritual life. He visited the United States once in 1939. He died in 1944 in Dublin. He is the author of Progress Through Mental Prayer, The Holy Spirit, Why the Cross?, In the Likeness of Christ, The Voice of a Priest, and In the Likeness of Christ.

Copyright © Father Edward Leen, C.S.SP.
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