by Micah Murphy
My family and I went yesterday to the cinematic re-release of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. As I remembered back to the first time I saw it in a now defunct theater in Omaha, Nebraska, I recalled that my father and I had conveniently missed most of the opening on account of our dire need for concessions. This time, I saw the ornate stained-glass motif and couldn’t miss the meaningful Latin phrase, what I assume was the family motto of the beast’s own kin: vincit qui se vincit – he conquers who conquers himself.
It was too late for the movie. The gears in my mind were turning and there was no looking back. What does our faith have to say about this motto? The Catechism has a fair amount on the topic of self-mastery in regard to chastity. From there, we can extrapolate general Christian attitudes about the topic:
“Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.” -Catechism of the Catholic Church 2339
Throughout Beauty and the Beast, the Beast is told to control his anger. The passions, which include anger, are emotional urges all men must put up with. The Christian response is simple: rule or be ruled.
“‘Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint. Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end.’
“Whoever wants to remain faithful to his baptismal promises and resist temptations [in pursuit of self-mastery] will want to adopt the means for doing so.” -CCC 2339-2340
The following are the means the Catechism lists for pursuing self-mastery (my thoughts are in italics).
- Self-Knowledge – Know thyself. Know thy vices, know thy virtues. To fight any battle, we must know our enemy, and in the battle of self-mastery, your enemy is you. The Church has given us various ways of knowing ourselves, from any number of examinations of conscience to the four temperaments to retreats like the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.
- Ascesis – Ascesis (religious self-discipline), penance, and sacrifice are all about detachment from passing things in favor of the one Eternal God. By practicing the detachment of ascesis, man grows to disregard the things that lead him to sin. The devil can no longer use those desires to hold him captive.
- Obedience – Obedience, specifically the obedience of faith, by which we trust in God and His Church, teaches above all else the virtue of humility. From dust we were made, and to dust we will return. The proud man will not bow low when entering heaven’s little gate, but the humble man will walk through it with ease. By living the faith by the virtue of faith, following the doctrines and moral teachings of the Church, you and I can become humble servants.
- Virtue – From the Latin ‘virtus’ (manhood), virtue is the practice of living a moral life. There are different kinds of virtue. The four cardinal virtues are justice, temperance, courage, and prudence or wisdom. The theological virtues are faith, hope, and love. I recommend Peter Kreeft’s book on the subject, Back to Virtue.
- Prayer – How could any army conquer without communicating with its general, or any student learn without listening to his teacher? Together with self-knowledge, ascesis, obedience, and virtue, prayer is necessary for self-mastery. There are many ways to pray, more than can be discussed here. Find good spiritual writing, get into the habit of frequenting the sacraments, pray the rosary, find a spiritual director. Seek the wisdom of God to tame the beast within.
“Self-mastery is a long and exacting work. One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life.” -CCC 2342
Well, it looks like I’ve got a lot of work to do!
Remember: he conquers who conquers himself.