Drawing upon the wisdom and experience of Church Fathers, Padre Quadrupani illustrates the difference between involuntarily experiencing temptations and voluntarily committing sin.
The holy abbot St. Antony was accustomed to say to the phantoms of his mind: “I see you, but I do not look at you: I see you because it does not depend upon me that my imagination places before my eyes things I would wish not to see; I do not look at you because with my will I repulse and reject you.”
St. Augustine taught: “It is so much the essence of sin to be voluntary, that if not voluntary, it is not sin.”
Padre Quadrupani observes: “The attraction of the feelings towards the object presented by the imagination is at times so strong that the will seems to have been carried away and overcome by a sort of fascination. This, however, is not the case. The will suffered, but did not consent; it was attacked and wounded, but not conquered. This state of things coincides with what St. Paul says of the revolt of the flesh against the spirit and of their unceasing warfare. The soul, indeed, experiences strange sensations, but as she does not consent to them, she passes through the ordeal unsullied, just as substances coated with oil may be immersed in water without absorbing a single drop of it.”
“It is not always in our power to restrain the imagination. St. Jerome had retired into the desert and still his fancy represented to him the dances of the Roman ladies. His body was benumbed, as it were, and his blood chilled by the severity of his mortifications, and yet the flames of concupiscence encompassed and tortured his heart. During these frightful conflicts the holy anchorite suffered, but he did not sin; he was tormented but was not guilty; on the contrary, his merits were augmented in the sight of God in proportion to the intensity of the temptations.”
Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).