Christian Self-Mastery. (Book Review).
This book is indispensable to anyone seeking the knowledge that matters most: self-knowledge. Basil Maturin was a clergyman in the Church of England before converting to Catholicism at age 51. He perished along with many others in 1915 when the Germans sank the Lusitania. His body washed ashore without a life jacket. Maisie Ward wrote that it's believed he refused one because there were not enough to go around.
Through the use of scripture and metaphor, Maturin helps the reader discover what true self-knowledge is--it's not the same as self-analysis--how to combat the evil within, control our thoughts, discipline the body, and achieve harmony at the core of our spiritual life. He succeeds superbly in his purpose and will leave you wondering where this book has been all your life.
The spiritual life, according to Maturin, begins from one or the other of two points of departure: knowledge of self or knowledge of God. Two apostles epitomize these two methods, St. Paul and St. John. From the latter, we learn of the love of God. From St. Paul we gain insight into the mysteries of our human nature. The book focuses on what St. Paul has to teach us.
According to him, our interior life is governed by four laws: the law of our members, the law of sin, the law of the mind and the law of the spirit of life. The law of our members prepares us for the dominion of sin, and the law of the mind prepares us for the law of the spirit of life, which is, in fact, not a law, but a Person who acts according to law.
Another conflict stirring deep within the soul of every one of us is the bitter divorce between knowledge and love. Originally intended to inform each other, so that "our love would be reasonable and our reason glow with love," they now vie for dominance, and the result is insincerity and untruth.
Two other opposites contend within us for hegemony: independence and dependence, or duty to self and our duty to others. These also must be restored to the balance that existed between them before the Fall.
Finally, joy and sorrow, love and hate, and memory and imagination--each of these latter ones demanding autonomy--add to the conflicting currents in the soul.
With all these opposing forces raging inside us, we need a strategy, if we're to make any progress in the spiritual life. Here, too, Maturin does not disappoint us. Knowledge of the laws that govern our lives is merely the beginning. Without a knowledge of the remedies and how to apply them, our inside knowledge of ourselves remains useless.
The first thing to recognize is that all our faculties are good. There is no "faculty, power or substance" within us that needs to be destroyed. We need not crush our powers, but discover their true use. St. Augustine's intellect was the same power before as well as after his conversion. What changed? His intellect became the servant of truth, not error. The peevish anger of a vain woman and the righteous indignation of the saint differ only in this: the latter is using an essential element of human nature as God intended, the former is not.
With this simple truth so vividly illustrated, the author goes on to describe the principles of controlling our thoughts and our body, the proper use of mortification (it's a means to an end, not an end in itself), and how to preserve the golden mean between extremes.
In addition to the author's analysis of St. Paul's letters, every page is replete with imagery, the effect being to make the reader see clearly and simply an abstract principle. In explaining that random efforts to root out a vice will avail nothing, but method is required, he writes that "the law does not fear the outbreak of an angry mob ....It...fears...organized revolt, law against law, organization against organization." We need to make use of another law of our nature, the law of the mind, to combat another evil one. We don't first expel the air from a glass in order to fill it with water. In other words, simply let good thoughts displace bad ones.
This book will reward your reading and rereading of it. Its insight into and compassion for the human condition will encourage and inspire you in the acquisition of self-knowledge.