Indecision, a Disease of the Will

Thirty Minutes with Fr. de Chivré

Indecision is not proper to a nation, to a family, to a race, nor to this man or that woman; we are dealing with a congenital disease of the race, tainted by this infirmity since the Fall. We have two feet to walk through the night in the darkness, and through the desert in the day, but we are incapable of making a decision.

We have two sovereign faculties: the intellect and the will, without which we are not men–the intellect for knowing, the will for daring.

And yet the vast majority of men march in place–when they are not retreating–and the vast majority of leaders, in every domain, camouflage their indecision by half measures. We call it diplomacy, we call it eloquence: we talk as much as we can to keep from having to make a decision.

It is an ingrained condition of the race, in our conscience, in our mind, and in our heart. We talk as much as we can with a great deal of virtue as a way of sidestepping a decision. The result is that we forget that decision is the one real virtue, for it imitates God in the clarity of His intellect and the precision of His will. "Let there be light!" and the light is. St. Paul got a taste of it on the road to Damascus. When St. Paul asked Him, trembling: "But who are you? What do you want of me?" the Lord made no speeches: "Get back on your horse, go to Damascus, find the man I will show to you, and start to be an apostle of the truth."

Even God's patience arises from His power of decision: God does not punish on purpose, does not strike a people, a world, a nation, a man, as long as His thought holds the possibility of deciding their salvation. His patience arises from a tremendous mercy, determined upon man's salvation. His interventions always bear the mark of a decision with no regret; for Him, it is always the precise moment of the decision to benefit from light, from grace. He is goodness itself, exquisite, without wishful thinking, without cowardice, without indecision.

His grace is just like Him: it leaves no room for indecision. Its regret is a specific regret. Its enthusiasm is toward a specific goal. Its light illumines without a possible doubt. Its call is toward a specific ideal. Its love is nourished on specific proofs.

Poor creatures that we are, cast into darkness by our original infirmity, by the weakening of the will. What a rectification of the faculties is required to become a son of God! What a trampling underfoot of modern educational methods, of worldly ways of being, of diplomacies in every domain!

The primary prudence of every one of the sanctified is to draw away from the indecisive formalities all around him, in order to obey the decisions of grace, to listen within himself, to understand within himself, to think for himself. We must firmly settle our souls, our consciences, our lives, once and for all inside that decision which causes order–and order is life.

To free ourselves from stepping in place, from looking backwards, from scruples, from a "wait-and-see" mindset, from liberalism, from cheating with duty, with avowal, with gift of self and with candor; to free ourselves from our half-Catholicism, eager to assume the dispensation of good parishioners and good communists at the same time.

Impose the decision to refuse the petty Catholicism of dispensations without struggles, without crosses, without resurrections–the opposite of Christ.

Indecisiveness prevents us from being entirely free within ourselves. Let's look a little closer at the problem.

Reason, by its nature, appeals to proof by argument. Reason proves creation by science (reflection) in order to arrive at a certainty. Such is the normal process of the intellect. This is why the dabbler sins against reason, because a dabbler never makes a decision. He believes that reason consists in believing everything, tasting everything, in order to possess everything. A man who is a dabbler is no longer a man. You are someone from the moment you discover within yourself the reasons to reveal yourself the man of the hour, capable of deciding for yourself.

The Faith, on the other hand, raises man above proof by argument by appealing to supernatural certainties which arise from the mind's being so united with God that it leaves no room for doubt. Man touches the divine self-evidence by the certainties which lead him there and which are, so to speak, the shadow of self-evidence, just as the shadow of the house tells you that a bright sun is right behind it.

Consequently, in the domain of thought, voluntary doubt is a sin against the mind of God. In the domain of action, vice–today promoted to the rank of natural virtue–is a veritable slap in the face of the divine will which made us for the true good.

You can see the inhuman influence of lack of decision in modern life. Today people get together to discuss, but not to defend; to discuss according to modern ideas, but not according to the Faith nor according to reason.

The first service you can render to your conscience is to will to decide. Consider your situation without any preconceived ideas in order to be able to found your judgment on the rock of decision, without dodging the courage of looking over the battlefield with the field glass of prayer, with an independence proper to God. To pray is to participate in the mentality of God who decides to be capable of entering into your life with the life of God. You have already decided before a decision is made if you accept to look at all things in truth. When you start to consider your personal choices every time with this interior gaze, refusing to dodge the truth, a gaze of simplicity: "What is, is; what is not, is not"–then you are saved. You become, necessarily, a man of reason and faith.

You need to realize that decisiveness is attained by an interior judgment. It is compromised when you stay on the level of exterior judgments: human respect, opinions, self-interest.

There are plenty of Catholics, yet we have no believers capable of forming an interior judgment. How do you expect Catholics to be capable of such an interior judgment? They know nothing; they look to the exterior for everything. How do you expect them to become believers since the Faith begins in the interior, in the substance of a being, to set him in motion above himself, whereas there is nothing inside of them calling for anything higher. Men have become incapable of understanding Jesus Christ. The proof? They look for anything they can find that is better than Jesus Christ.

What more abominable example from history can I give you of a judgment founded on externals than that of Pilate before Jesus? Pilate spent his time stalling, drawing elements of judgment from the exterior, shifting from his own judgment to that of others, by human respect, by self-interest. He had authority, he was the leader, yet he acted as a bureaucrat, and Jesus was the victim of the indecision of a leader.

And you, fathers and mothers of families, before your children, are you capable of deciding? For the Faith? For the good? Whether they like it or not? You play the part of the world just as Pilate played it before the crowds of Jerusalem.

"Are you going to make up your mind?" Psychologically speaking, what does this phrase mean? Are you going to step beyond the sensible mechanism influenced by an exterior that is foreign to reason and faith? Impulsiveness, passions, scruples, laxism, pretensions, self-interest–all of these elements cloud over the objective goal, the goal of the rational reason, the goal of the Faith believing to the point of an ultimate yes.

The first sin of the will is to dodge the goal. How can you fight against it? By a great virtue: obedience, which consists in going in the direction set out by the quality of an intelligence, walking in front of us saying: "That is the way you have to go."

Accustom the will of your children to understanding that they know nothing, or nearly nothing, not by their fault but on account of their age. May they have the grace to know that they are incapable, all alone, of turning into men.

Obeying is learning how to command yourself; it is forming a will that is free to choose a goal. Whoever wants to be a leader has to begin by obeying; in obedience he will find the reasons to command according to reason and according to the Faith.

Let us take a closer look at the sterility of indecision. There is indecision that comes from the understanding: acting without knowing. The hunter sees moving branches, he shoots, and kills a poacher. There is also indecision that comes from the will: knowing without daring to will. We know we should but we don't dare to risk it.

In moral theology, there can be three different cases: an act without a known goal is not a moral act, a human act; a dangerous act without a goal which qualifies it in spite of the obligatory risk is sinful; an indecisive act abandoned to the hazards of chance ("heads or tails") is immoral in its cause.

In all three cases, neither faith nor reason are satisfied: a goal is lacking. Stepping into the domain of the passions: a good act reinforced by a passion in service of the goodness of the act turns that passion into a marvelous springboard. Passion used in a moral way gives us the courage to take goodness to its absolute limit; it ought to help us conquer our indecision. For example: the child watching a film about the Passion of Christ, who jumps up to crash into the screen where Judas is betraying Christ with a kiss. Another example would be the heroic actions of the saints: St. Catherine of Siena drinking the pus coming out of an ulcer she was bandaging in order to conquer her disgust at the sight of wounds.

The sterility of our faith comes from our lack of courage. We are constantly repeating: "Don't make waves!" We are Catholics, but we are not believers. Witness our inertia in face of the pollution of the souls of our children by sexual information.

Christ wanted a Church capable of the most fabulous adventure imaginable: breaking out of indecision in face of sin, evil, error, hell, by force of risks, preferences, fidelities, and interior and exterior decisions.

Where are the believers? Look at the trembling of so-called Catholic souls before the chivalrous gestures of faith; the sterility of indecisive Catholics; the victory of modernism in neutralizing believers by acclimatizing Catholics to false ideas. How can we re-become believers?

Nourish your interior judgment on a faith lived in secret: meditation, adoration, prayer, memories of grace, generosity in sacrifice–all realities that mobilize in your heart the splendid capacities for feeling all of a sudden that you are facing life head on, with the courage to show the path to those who are looking for it, risking the decision of a Creed lived in a time granted to God before the time granted to the exterior; risking a choice of which the martyrs would be proud; risking fidelity to objective ideas, traditional and doctrinal; binding future to past without the slightest fracture of indecision.

Become actualized by the Creed, every day, for ever, in us, around us, without fear of the indecisions of our nature. You see the manner in which you have to prove your capacity to love, the kind of capacity God wants to give back to an age that is no longer capable of loving.

Indecision in the Conscience

My ambition and my desire is to give you the profound conviction that our lives belong to God and to Him alone. Consequently, our lives only have meaning in families, communities, and countries to the extent of our fidelity to God. If you step outside of that fidelity, God has the right to condemn you.

God alone is capable of planting seed in the soil, as He wishes. Ever since the Fall–He said it to Adam–the earth only produces brambles and thorns, especially the earth inside of us. Grace sets out to weed our conscience. And that is where all the difficulties begin.

The reasons are extremely varied: ignorance of the supernatural, fear of the divine seed, terror at the thought of God's taking over, sadness at not knowing how to overcome our helplessness. All of these things prevent our lives from belonging to God.

Hence a feeling of failure, of starting over again indefinitely; a feeling of sadness, in spite of tremendous natural qualities. We feel that between our life and its absolute fecundity, everything is blocked by a state of indecision. Listen to this poem by Marie Noël.1 She entitled it My Weakness:


My weakness,

When I do wrong, I am never sure that it is wrong.

When I do good, I am never sure that it is good.

When I speak, when I affirm, I am never sure that it is true.

I only have confidence in suffering.

Suffering, enduring, accepting, alone reassures me by a strength that comes from beyond and imposes itself upon me.

May Your will be done, not my own,

For I have no will of my own, nothing but an unquiet oscillation between true and false, between good and evil.

But suffering settles me in peace. Because You have chosen for me.


Yes, but on the condition of adding one theological detail: you have to realize that this original infirmity which prevents the soul from deciding is used by grace to sow the seed that will produce virtues springing up to eternal life. It is the revenge of love against the stain of original evil. For with God, all creation, natural and supernatural, is always full of energy and dynamism.

Listen to what Jesus says: "All you (you: the whole world) who labor and are weary (the infirmity of original sin), come to Me!" not to others, not to the professor first, to the doctor, to the government, "come to Me, and I will remake you." Jesus does not say: I am going to remove the difficulty, He says, "I will remake you," making use of it. It is an invitation to the poor human race to come and rediscover hope.

The indecision of the conscience is a constant weight inflicting a state of heaviness. Jesus says, "Come to Me, My yoke is sweet," but it remains a yoke. "My burden is light," but Jesus does not say: I am taking away the burden. He is going to teach us how we can change a yoke into sweetness and a burden into lightness. From this discovery flow all of the great victories within oneself. Make the yoke serve, make the burden serve, with sweetness, with lightness. The Lord does not announce the suppression of our indecision; He is going to lighten it.

How is He going to do so? Indeed, how can you give the contrary of weight to heaviness itself? The natural law of heaviness forces your progress to a halt. "I am exhausted, I set my pack on the side of the road." And yet, have you noticed that in physics they use heaviness to increase speed? You have only to look at the wheels of a locomotive: there you have a weight that is intended to increase the speed. Indecision in the conscience is the most terrible weight, forcing to a halt the best use that can be made of a weight.

So what are the causes of indecision, first of all?

They are legion: hereditary or developed by a faulty education, too severe or too lax. Sometimes the causes are indefinable: scruple, pride, fear, self-interest, ambition.

The consequences? They are all to the benefit of ease. We do not want to fight. We avoid grappling with interior struggles. We end in a formalistic spirituality, without courage, without a will to commit ourselves with confidence and precision.

At this point, the indecisive realize that every year they are a little more weary of their initial fidelity, and a moment comes when the night only grows darker. Indecision has become a state, a state making them no longer worthy of their baptism.

How is it possible to heal this kind of a conscience? Above all, you have to prove to them that indecision is the first enemy of the soul. To accept it is to run the risk of accepting, in the end, a fictitious sort of peace: "I am at peace." You know very well it is not true–you have dodged the real problem, you have cheated with life, which is the worst thing that can happen to the life of the conscience.

Rediscover the principle of a genuine peace. Objective reasoning, with the help of counsels and confidences, preserves the freedom of our reason. The Faith reasons with what characterizes the contrary of indecision: certainties–certainties to the point of a prayer that asks: "You who know all things, You who are light itself, You who have never deceived anyone, You who have always said: 'I am the Life, I am the Truth, I am the Way,' won't You draw me to Yourself?"

In a word, become a conscience enlightened by reason and by faith, which is the first resurrection of the will, the first resurrection of a faith that is truly acting.

Brighten the night of indecision in this way–not by full sunlight, because it is not possible since the stain of original sin remains–but, as Corneille says, by "that obscure brightness falling from the stars," the nebulous brightness which gives enough light to allow the will, the decision, to move forward. Souls who are in a state of indecision are not even in this brightness, they are in the night, with all the blackness of the night. That is to say, they have made it impossible to advance or choose. They are not happy, they do not feel oriented toward a night which ends in dawn. When you manage to tell a soul, "There is no night without a dawn," you save it from despair. You also have to teach him that he must, personally, accept to enter that brightness by his efforts and his fidelity. It is precisely what characterizes the indecisive: they do not walk, their steps are no longer oriented toward a decision coming from God, coming from a reason enlightened by faith, coming from acts of belief capable of transforming the night into a night brightened by stars. "Then come to Me, I will build you a path, in spite of the night, because of the night."

Here is the first conclusion: as long as a soul is capable of walking forward, he is victorious over himself. I can give you no more marvelous example of the will to walk forward than that of the pilgrims of Emmaus, in the Gospel of St. John. Let's try to analyze what happens between these two men:

Evening falls. Overwhelmed by the events of the last few days, they no longer know what to believe. They are undecided. Where are they going? Toward the night. A stranger comes along, someone they do not know. He joins them. Notice, He does not invite them to sit down on the side of the road. He starts walking next to them. He is going to direct their walking. Night falls, but He already draws forth a certain dawn: "Why are you afraid? Don't you believe anymore?" "But we were told... But we were promised... And now everything is over." And yet they feel the presence of this Man next to them and they say to Him: "Stay with us." And then all of a sudden there is the dawn of the breaking of the bread. Night is made day by the dawn of a consecration. The breaking of the bread enlightens the men, so much so that when they leave to go back they say to each other: "There was something aflame in our heart." We found hope again, we found charity, we found the Faith, and as He walked at our side, we came back to life!

The truth of God is not a problem of sensibility, but of a truth which walks forward, which walks in spite of indecision, because God needs to put you in a position to produce virtues of patience, humility, hope, confidence, courage, and affirmation of yourself, which you would have been incapable of producing if you had been someone who is decisive. It is the revenge of the love of God on the wound of evil, used by love to force it to produce what by reason alone it cannot produce.

Rationalism is the great criminal in our indecision of conscience. It goes without saying: indecision comes from a reason deprived of elements capable of making it produce an argument. Indecision compares without concluding, reason is not sown with the seeds of supernatural virtues. "I am the one who will heal you"–not psychoanalysis but the Faith. A people deprived of faith is a people demolished, as regards salvific options of life.

Let us pass now to the practical domain.

First of all, for a specific indecision or a specific virtue, where can we find it? That is for each one of us to discern. With intelligence, with reflection, practice the virtue recognized as primary in the leading of your life, the primary effort which is going to dig up the whole garden and sow the seed in spite of itself. All indecision is healed by the practicing of a specific virtue. You know the phrase of Marshal Foch: "What is at stake?" Man is capable of using his indecision to develop capacities of decision, of firmness, of permanence in effort, from which society will be the first to benefit. You parents who are listening to me now, don't you see that this is one of the primary aspects of education? Accustoming the child to decide in view of his conscience, in view of his duty, in view of his family, in view of his education?

Next, have faith. "Give us this day our daily bread": the efforts, the dispositions, the acts of trust, the confidences oriented toward that virtue which I need most. Do not endure life; love, wherever there is a struggle to love.

Indecisions are nights waiting for their stars when the wind of decision, of the Faith, finally sweeps away the clouds of self-love. So many souls lose their taste for the spiritual life by dint of voluntaristic efforts: useless, tiring, and only meant, in their mind, to rid them of their indecision by personal fiats erected into programs. On the contrary, the "original night" only exists for the stars it will produce, admirable stars of heroic patience with oneself, brightening others with our smiles and with a force that recalls the catacombs.

Directing souls has never meant ridding them of their original night by dint of programs, but teaching them on the contrary to plunge into their night, to embrace it, in order to make it yield a new kind of light. "O beata nox." He is risen in my indecision by the light of virtues of faith animating my renewed will.

The method is divine and sure. We begin with fatigue: we are paralyzed, and we end by cherishing our night that produces a glorious Easter day.

But you must not be the accomplice of your indecision, the refusal to know, the fear to present your problem, ignorance of conscience. The Holy Ghost is always ill at ease in a night we prolong on purpose. He cannot send the wind of confidence blowing through it. And when the wind has not chased away the clouds, we cannot see the stars and we become discouraged.

The handsome cry of Marie Noël in her private diary:

Such repose, ah! such a breath of air, in a conflict, when you suddenly realize you were wrong! Everything is suddenly at peace. I was the one who was wrong. Everything comes back into place! Whereas, if you had to depend on someone else for your peace...

Two more ideas:

The obligation of the indecisive is to pray, to reflect in order to thin the clouds of indecision. Then be ready to obey. Obedience is that stone dug into the ground by someone else, to give the earth that solidity which sustains the walk forward. Is it not what Jesus said to good St. Peter: "Get out of the boat, come!" And there is St. Peter walking on water. Everything is fine, it is holding him up, until the moment when he draws near to God and he turns his head: "And what if I sank!" And he sinks... "Man of little faith! That will teach you to doubt. You are right next to Me, I reach out My hand, and you doubt..." The number of men who sink into the bottomless ocean and who once were called... "Come, walk, but according to Me, not according to you; according to the Faith, not according to your feelings; according to My commandments, not according to your personal whims. Go on, try, and you will see that close to Me the ground has become solid."

You can see what this attitude of confidence and decision would bring you. Whatever the year, whatever tomorrow brings, walk forward. The moment you begin walking according to Christ, you are guaranteed of going all the way.


An unpublished conference from the private archives of the Association du R. P. de Chivré. Fr. Bernard-Marie de Chivré, O.P. (say: Sheave-ray´) was ordained in 1930. He was an ardent Thomist, student of Scripture, retreat master, and friend of Archbishop Lefebvre. He died in 1984.



1 Pen-name of Marie Rouget (1883-1967), Catholic poet and writer.