Things About the Will ~ Fr. Edward Barrett


Painting by Gregory Frank Harris

Can you imagine if we put all our “force of the will” into becoming more zealous in the practicing of our faith, in the learning of the truths of it, in living the liturgy in our home, what things we could accomplish!? Let us pray for this zeal…of willing to make these our first priority…

Strength of Will by Rev. Edward John Boyd Barrett, 1915, Nihil Obstat, Imprimatur

My Note: Definition of Conation:

  • The aspect of mental processes or behavior directed toward action or change and including impulse, desire, volition, and striving.
  • An endeavor or attempt.


We know little about the will. We are aware of its spiritual nature, and we can trace it roughly in some of its activities. We are familiar with some of the phenomena which accompany willing, but that is all.

Compared with the knowledge we have of the memory, what we know of the will is as nothing. We are unable to measure it, to distinguish its various types, or to juggle with it in experimentation as in the case of the memory. It is elusive. It baffles us and escapes from observation.

We make plans whereby to catch a glimpse of it in its working and our plans fail. We know we have wills and that we will. We are conscious that willing is not thinking nor imagining. Most of us know little more.

The method by which we seek to study the will is the introspective method. We look into ourselves and try to see what happens. We have a choice to make. The will decides for one or other of the alternatives.

We carefully follow the movements of the will. The play of motives and of impulses interests us. Hesitation perhaps takes place and we follow its growth and development. The choice-process proceeds, develops, is completed and the choice is made.

But although we know that the will has made its appearance and has acted the essential role, we have not been able to distinguish it!

Yet, whatever of importance we do know about the will is known through introspection. Patience and practice and skill in introspection eventually result in our being able to observe the will somewhat, and to distinguish the characteristics of good willing.

It is fascinating work, that of studying the will, but it is difficult and delicate. It is not hard to affirm that there is a will-feeling which is quite different from other feelings or emotional states, but it is not easy to analyze and distinguish the ingredients of the will-feeling.

It is easy to see that consent is different from resolution, but it is not so easy to point out the precise difference, in psychological elements, between these two acts of the will. Yet it is by introspection alone that this can be done.

The mind must watch and follow and scrutinize the various phases of volitional activity. The mind has this power, and it is a power worthy of exercise.

Many words and phrases denote volitional activities. “To make up one’s mind,” to resolve, to consent, to desire, to strive, to choose, to make an effort—these infinitives point to will acts.

Conation, intention, willing, inhibiting, controlling, permitting, preventing, and many such words are also used of the will.

When a man of character, at some crisis of his life, makes up his mind to adopt a certain course, and says, “I will do so and so. I am determined to do it. It is my firm intention to do it”—he is speaking of a certain state of soul that we call willing.

This state is radically different from all other states. It is about action. It is emotional. It concerns self and is very personal. It is a law and a line of conduct. It binds and controls. It is creative and arbitrary. It means self-determination.

Self rules self. It is about the future. It is about reality. It is something almost sacred. The will has been defined as “the faculty of inclining towards or striving after some object intellectually apprehended as good.”

We know that there is an active side in us—a “doing” side as well as a mere recipient or passive side. We tend outwards, we attack or carry out at one time; at another we submit, undergo and suffer.

Now the former state, the “ad” state, is that of willing. But we must tend towards something. The something towards which we tend by nature is “the good.”

The intellect sees and knows something useful or perfect. Our interest is aroused. We are attracted by this something. At first a mere fancy or a vague wish is experienced. Then a stronger wish grows into a desire. With the desire a certain tending towards is awakened. The will is now at work. We are striving, or seeking for the good.

This develops into conation and deliberate effort to attain the good. The striving for the good is a force—a vis appetitiva—it is the function of the will. It may be more or less strong. It grows or wanes. It may be deep in our nature or shallow and light.

If very weak and transient it will not entail long protracted work and effort. At most it will entail an impulsive effort. Or it may entail no active effort, but may only provoke a hesitation and dilatoriness of mind. Now the art of rendering this vis appetitiva deep and strong and lasting is the art of strengthening the will.

With the man of strong will, the vis appetitiva is so powerful that it overcomes all obstacles, faces all difficulties, and outlives all delays. From this it is perhaps clear that the will is “the faculty of inclining towards or striving after some object intellectually apprehended as good.”

It may be well to give a concrete example. Let us suppose that a boy of fifteen accompanies his father, who is a keen mountain-climber, to Switzerland. The boy overhears his father speak of a grand climb up a difficult summit.

The boy’s interest is aroused. His mind pictures the pleasure and honor to be gained by climbing this mountain. The achievement appears to him a bonum. His mind apprehends it as such. He begins to wish to do it. The wish grows. He desires. Finally he resolves to climb the mountain.

He is delayed and perhaps prevented for a time. He desires and resolves all the more. Day by day his resolution grows stronger. He strives to find a good opportunity. He makes plans. He saves up to pay for guides. He makes every possible preparation.

He is most energetic about this and quite naturally, for his will is bent on it. Everything which is calculated to help on his plans becomes desirable, becomes a bonum. He takes a keen pleasure in his resolution.

At last an opportunity presents itself, and at once, almost without an effort, he is at work climbing. In the actual fulfillment of his resolution he finds pleasure. When he succeeds and reaches the top he experiences a deep feeling of satisfaction. “The object” intellectually apprehended as good has been won!

All his acts leading up to the attainment of his end were directed by his will. The vis appetitiva carried him over all obstacles, and controlled all his movements until the bonum was gained.

We have used the expression “to will will” more than once. A word of explanation may now be offered.

It often happens that we see before us some task or work of considerable difficulty that we are inclined to shirk. We realize that it would cost us a big effort and we feel very disinclined for such an effort. Still we are intimately aware that should we set our minds to it, we could accomplish it. If we did resolve to achieve the task we could achieve it.

But we refrain from willing. We refuse to set our wills to the task. Then, a second state of mind springs up, in the form of a question, “Shall we set our will to work? Shall we put our will in motion? Shall we will to will?”

Here the will is confronted with the duty of driving itself, of putting itself to work. If we now answer the question affirmatively and say, “Yes! We shall put our wills in motion,” then we really and truly will to will.

This act is par excellence the work of the will, and the best exercise for the will. Here the will determines itself. Here the will acts most directly and most surely along the lines of good willing.

The will wills—the will wills to will!

🌸💞I want to be able to lay my head down at night knowing I have connected with those things that matter most…..
So that when my life is at its close it can be said, “You have run the race, you have fought the good fight.” and I will be remembered, not for what I have accomplished, but for HAVING LOVED WELL….. -Finer Femininity

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