THERE is one work more very needful and expedient to travail, in which I esteem also to be the plain highway in our working (as much as may be) to Contemplation: and that is, for a man to enter into himself, to know his own soul and the powers thereof.
By this inward sight thou shalt come to see the nobility and dignity that naturally it had in its first creation; and thou shalt also see the wretchedness and the mischief which thou art fallen into by sin. From this sight will arise a desire with great longing in thine heart to recover again that dignity and nobleness which thou hast lost. Also thou shalt feel a loathing and detestation of thyself, with a great will and desire to destroy and beat down thyself and all things that let thee from that dignity and that joy. This is a spiritual work, hard and sharp in the beginning, for those that will go speedily and seriously about it. For it is an exercise in the soul against the ground of all sins, little and great, which ground is nought else but a false mistrusted love of man to himself. Out of this love, as St Austin saith, springeth all manner of sin, deadly and venial.
Verily until this ground be well ransacked and deep digged, and as it were dried up by casting out of all fleshly and worldly loves and fears, a soul can never spiritually feel the burning love of Jesus Christ nor have the homeliness of His gracious presence, nor have a clear sight of spiritual things by light in the understanding. This then must be the travail and labour of a man, to draw his heart and mind from the fleshly love and liking of all earthly creatures, from vain thoughts and from fleshly imaginations and from the love and vicious feeling of himself, so that the soul shall or may find or take no rest in any fleshly thoughts or worldly affections. Then inasmuch as the soul cannot as yet find her spiritual rest and satisfaction in the sight and love of Jesus, therefore it must needs be that in the meanwhile she must find and feel some pain and wearisomeness.
This pain and travail is somewhat straight and narrow, nevertheless I hope it is the way which Christ teacheth to them that would be His perfect lovers in the Gospel, saying: Strive to enter in at the strait gate, for strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leadeth to life, and few men find it. How strait this way is, He telleth us in another place: Whoso will come after me, let him forsake himself and hate his own soul.90 That is to say, forsake all fleshly love and hate his own carnal life and vain liking of all his bodily senses for love of Me; and take the cross, that is suffer the pain of this awhile and then follow Me; that is to say, in Contemplation of My Humanity and of My Divinity. This is a strait and narrow way that no bodily thing can pass through it, for it is a slaying of all sin, as St Paul saith: Mortify your members that are upon earth,91 not the members of our body but of our soul, as uncleanness, lust, evil concupiscence, avarice, fond love to ourselves and earthly things. Therefore as thy endeavour has been heretofore to resist bodily sins and open temptations of the enemy, and that in matters as it were from without; right so it behoveth thee now, in this spiritual work within thyself, to batter down and destroy the ground of sin in thyself as much as thou canst. Which that thou mayest be better able to perform, I shall give thee the best counsel I can.
THE soul of a man is a life consisting of three powers, Memory, Understanding and Will, after the image and likeness of the Blessed Trinity; inasmuch as the Memory was made strong and stedfast by the power of the Father to hold and retain God in perpetual remembrance, without forgetting, distracting or letting of any creature, and so it hath the likeness of the Father. The Understanding was made bright and clear, without error or darkness, as perfectly as a soul in a body unglorified could have, and so it hath the likeness and image of the Son, who is infinite wisdom. The Will and affections were made pure and clean, burning in love towards God, without sensual love of the flesh or of any creature by the sovereign goodness of God the Holy Ghost, and so it hath the likeness of the Holy Ghost, which is blessed love. Whereby you may see that man's soul (which may be called a created Trinity) was in its natural estate replenished in its three powers with the remembrance, sight and love of the most blessed uncreated Trinity, which is God.
This was the dignity and worth of man's soul by nature at his first creation, which thou hadst in Adam before the first sin. But when Adam sinned, choosing love and delight in himself and in the creatures, he lost all his excellency and dignity, and thou, also, in him, and fell from that Blessed Trinity into a foul, dark, wretched trinity; that is to say, into forgetting of God and ignorance of himself, and into a beastly love and liking of himself, and all this he did wittingly and willingly. For, as David saith in the Psalter: Man being in honour understood it not, and, therefore, he lost it, and became like a beast.
See then the wretchedness of thy soul, for as the Memory was something established and fixed upon God, so now it hath forgotten Him and seeketh its rest in the creatures, now in one creature and then in another, and never can find full rest, having lost Him in whom is full rest. So it is with the Understanding and the Will and affections, both which were pure in spiritual favour and sweetness but now is turned into a foul, beastly lust and liking in itself and in the creatures and in fleshly favours, both in the senses as in gluttony and lechery; and in the imagination, as in pride, vain-glory and covetousness, insomuch that thou canst do no good deed but it is defiled with vain-glory; nor canst thou easily make use of any of thy five senses cleanly upon anything that is pleasant, but thy heart will be taken and enflamed with a vain lust and liking of it, which putteth out the love of God from thy heart, so that no feeling of love or spiritual favour may come into it.
Every man that liveth in spirit understandeth well all this. This is the soul's wretchedness and our mischief for the first man's sin besides all other wretchedness and sins which thou hast wilfully added thereto. And know thou well that hadst thou never committed any sin with is thy body, either mortal or venial, but only this which is called original (for that is the first sin, and is nothing else but the losing of our righteousness which we were created in), thou shouldst never have been saved, had not our Lord Jesus Christ by His precious Passion delivered thee, and restored thee again.
And, therefore, if thou think I have herein spoken too high, because thou canst neither understand it well, nor practise it according as I have delivered, I will now descend to thee, and fall as low as thou canst desire, both for thy profit and my own. Then say thus: though thou be never so much a wretch, and hast committed never so great sins, do but forsake thyself and all thy works done, both good and bad, and cry God mercy, and ask salvation only by virtue of this precious Passion, and that with a good trust, and without doubt thou shalt have it. And as for original sin, and all other thou shalt be safe, yea, as safe as an anchoret that is enclosed. And not only thou, but all Christian souls that trust upon His Passion and humble themselves, acknowledging their wretchedness, asking mercy and forgiveness, and the fruit of this precious Passion only, and submitting themselves to the Sacraments of holy Church, though it be so that they have been encumbered with sin all their lifetime, and never had feeling of spiritual favour or sweetness, or ghostly knowledge of God, yet shall they in this faith, and in their good will, by virtue of this precious Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ be safe, and come to the bliss of Heaven.
All this thou knowest well, but yet it delights me to recite and speak of it, that thou mayest see the endless mercy of our Lord, how low He falleth to thee and to me and to all sinful caitiffs; ask mercy therefore, and have it. Thus saith the Prophet in the person of our Lord: Every one that calleth upon the Name of our Lord shall be saved; that is to say, asketh salvation by Jesus and His Passion.
This courtesy of our Lord some men understand aright, and are saved thereby, and others in trust of this mercy and this courtesy lie still in their sins, and think to have the benefit of it when they list, but they are mistaken, for they are taken ere they are aware, and so damn themselves.
But thou wilt object: If this be true that thou sayest, I wonder greatly at that which I find in some holy men's books, for some say (as I understand them) that he that cannot love this blessed Name Jesus nor find and feel in it spiritual joy and delight with sweetness, shall be a stranger to the bliss of Heaven, and never come there. Verily when I read these words, they astonished me, making me afraid. For I hope (as you have said) that through the mercy of our Lord they shall be safe, by keeping of the commandments and by true repentance for their former evil life, who never felt any such spiritual sweetness, in the Name of Jesus, and therefore I marvel the more, to find them say (as me thinketh) the contrary hereto.
To this I answer that (in my opinion) their saying (if it be well understood) is true, and no whit contrary to what I have said, for this Name Jesus is nothing else in English but healer or health. Now every man that liveth in this wretched life is spiritually sick, for there is no man that liveth without sin, which is a spiritual sickness, as St John saith of himself, and of other perfect men thus: If we say we have no sin, we beguile ourselves, and there is as no truth in us. Therefore he can never come to the joy of Heaven, till he be first healed of this ghostly sickness. But this spiritual healing may no man have (that hath the use of reason) except he desire it, and love it, and have delight therein, inasmuch as he hopeth to get it. Now the Name of Jesus is nothing else but this spiritual health; wherefore it is true that they say, that no man can be safe, unless he love and like the Name of Jesus; for no man can be spiritually healed, until he love and desire spiritual health; just as if a man were bodily sick, there could no earthly thing be so dear, nor so needful to him, nor so much would he desire it, as bodily health; for though thou shouldst give him all the dignities and riches of this world, and not make him whole (if thou couldst), thou pleaseth him not. Right so it is to a man that is sick spiritually, and feeleth the pain thereof; nothing is so dear, nor so needful, nor so much coveted by him, as is ghostly health, and that is Jesus, without whom all the joys of Heaven cannot please him. And this is the reason (as I take it) why our Lord when He took man's nature upon Him for our salvation, would not be called by a name betokening His infinite essence, or His wisdom, or His justice, but only by that which betokened the cause of His coming, namely, the salvation of man's soul, which salvation this name Jesus betokened. Hereby, then, it appeareth that none can be saved unless he love salvation, to have it through the mercy of our Lord Jesus only, by the merits of His passion; which love he may have that liveth and dieth in the very lowest degree of charity.
Also I may affirm on the other side, that he that cannot love this blessed name Jesus with a spiritual joy, nor increase in it with heavenly melody here, shall never have nor feel in Heaven the fulness of sovereign joy, which he that could so love it in this life by abundance of perfect charity in Jesus shall then have and feel in Heaven, and so may their saying be understood.
Nevertheless he shall be saved, and have great reward in Heaven from God, whosoever in this life is in the lowest degree of charity by keeping God's commandments. For our Lord saith: In My Father's house are sundry mansions.94 Some are perfect souls, who in this life are filled with charity and graces of the Holy Spirit, and sing most sweetly and lovingly to God in Contemplation of Him, with wonderful sweetness and heavenly savour. These because they have most charity and grace of the Holy Ghost shall have the highest reward in the bliss of heaven, for these are called God's darlings. Others there be, not disposed or enabled to Contemplation, nor having the perfection of charity (as the apostles and martyrs had in the beginning of the holy Church), these shall have a lower reward in the bliss of Heaven, for these are called God's friends, for thus doth our Lord call them: Eat, O My friends, and be inebriated, O My darlings.95 As if He had said: Ye that are My friends, because ye have kept My commandments, and preferred My love before the love of the world, and loved me more than any earthly thing, ye shall be fed with the spiritual food of the Bread of life. But ye that are more than My friends, that not only kept My commandments, but also of your own free will fulfilled My counsels, and loved Me entirely with all the powers of your souls, and burned in My love with spiritual delight (as especially did the apostles and martyrs and all other souls that through grace came to the gift of perfection) ye shall be made drunken with the noblest and freshest wine in My cellar, which is the supreme joy of love in heaven.
NEVERTHELESS, though this that I have said be true, through the endless mercy of God to thee and to me and to all mankind we are not, therefore, in confidence hereof to be more careless, or wilfully negligent in our living; but the more busy to please Him, and the rather, because now we are restored again in hope by the passion of our Lord, to the dignity and bliss which we had lost by Adam's sin. Though we should prove not to be able to recover it fully here in this life, yet should we desire and endeavour to recover the image and likeness of the dignity we had, so that our soul might be reformed, as it were in a shadow, by grace to the image of the Trinity which we had by nature, and hereafter shall have fully in bliss. For that is the life which is truly contemplative to begin here, in that feeling of love and spiritual knowing of God, by opening of the spiritual eye, which shall never be lost nor taken away, but shall be perfected in a far higher manner in heaven. Thus did our Lord promise to St Mary Magdalen (that was a true Contemplative) when He told her that she had chosen the better part (which was the love of God in Contemplation) that should never be taken from her.96
I do not say that in this life thou canst recover so whole and so perfect a cleanness and innocency, knowing and loving of God, as thou hadst at first, and shalt have hereafter, neither mayest escape all the wretchedness and pains of sin; nor that thou living in mortal flesh canst wholly destroy and kill within thee all false vain loves, nor eschew all venial sins, but that they will (unless they be stopped by great fervour of charity) spring out of thy heart, as water doth out of a stinking well. But I wish that if thou canst not fully quench it, yet thou mayest somewhat slack it, and come as near as thou canst to cleanness of soul. For our Lord promised to the children of Israel, when He led them into the land of Promise, and in them by a figure to all Christians, saying: All the land which thy foot shall tread upon shall be thine.97 That is to say, so much land as thou canst tread upon with thy foot of true desire, so much shalt thou have in the land of Promise, namely, in the bliss of Heaven, when thou comest thither.
SEEK, then, that which thou hast lost, that thou mayest find it; for well I wot, whosoever once hath an inward sight, but a little of that dignity and that spiritual fairness which a soul hath by creation, and shall have again by grace, he will loathe in his heart all the bliss, the liking and the fairness of this world, as the stink of carrion; and he will never have any will or mind to do other deed, night or day (save what mere need of nature requireth) but desire, mourn, seek, and pray how he may come again thereto.
Nevertheless inasmuch as thou hast not as yet seen what it is fully, for thy spiritual eye is not yet opened, I shall tell thee one word for all, in the which thou shalt seek, desire and find it; for in that one word is all that thou hast lost. This word is Jesus: I mean not this word Jesus painted upon the wall, as written in letters on the book, or formed by lips in sound of the mouth, or framed in thy mind by imagination, for in this wise may a man that is void of charity find Him; but I mean Jesus Christ, that blessed Person, God and Man, Son of the Virgin Mary, whom this name betokeneth; that is all goodness, endless wisdom, love and sweetness, thy joy, thy glory, and thy everlasting bliss, thy God, thy Lord, and thy salvation.
If, then, thou feelest a great desire in thy heart to Jesus, either by calling to mind this name Jesus, or by minding, or thinking, or saying of any other word; or in Prayer, or Meditation, or any other deed which thou dost; which desire is so much, that it putteth out, as it were, by force all other thoughts and desires of the world, and of the flesh, that they rest not in thy heart; then seekest thou well thy Lord Jesus. And when thou feelest this desire to God, or to Jesus (for it is all one), holpen and comforted by a ghostly might, insomuch that it is turned into love, affection, and spiritual savour and sweetness, into light and knowing of truth, so that for the time, the point of thy thought is set upon no other created thing, nor feeleth any stirring of vainglory, nor of self-love, nor any other evil affection (for they cannot appear at that time), but this thy desire is only enclosed, rested, softened, suppled, and anointed in Jesus, then hast thou found somewhat of Jesus; I mean not Him as He is, but a shadow of Him; for the better that thou findest Him, the more shalt thou desire Him. Then observe by what manner of prayer, or meditation, or exercise of devotion thou findest greatest and purest desire stirred up in thee to Him, and most feeling of Him, by that kind of prayer, exercise or work seekest thou Him best, and shalt best find Him. Therefore if it come into thy mind, asking as it were of thyself: What has thou lost, and what seekest thou? lift up thy mind and the desire of thy heart to Jesus Christ, though thou be blind, and canst see nought of His Godhead, and say that: Him hast thou lost, and Him wouldst thou have, and nothing but Him, to be with Him where His is. No other joy, no other bliss in Heaven or in earth, but Him.
And though it be so, that thou feelest Him in devotion, or in knowing, or by any other gift or grace, rest not there, as though thou hadst fully found Jesus; but forget that which thou hast found, and always be desiring after Jesus more and more, to find Him better, as though thou hadst right nought found in Him. For wot thou well, that what thou feelest of Him, be it never so much, yea, though thou wert ravished with St Paul into the third heaven, yet hast thou not found Jesus as He is in His joy, know thou, or feel thou never so much of Him, He is still above it. And therefore, if thou wilt fully find Him, as He is in His joy, do thou never cease from spiritual desiring and loving of Him, whilst thou livest.
Verily I had rather feel and have a true an; clean desire in my heart to my Lord Jesus Christ, though I see little of Him With my spiritual eye, than to have without this desire all the bodily penance of all men living, all visions, all revelations of Angels appearing, all songs and sounding to the ear, all tastes and smellings, fervours or any delights, or bodily feelings, and (to be brief) all the joys of heaven and earth which are possible to be had, without this desire to my Lord Jesus. David the Prophet felt (as I conceive) this desire in himself, when he said thus: What have I in Heaven but Thee, and what can I desire on earth besides Thee? As if he had said, Lord Jesus, what heavenly joy is liking to me without desire of Thee, whilst I am on earth, or without love of Thee when I come to Heaven? As who should say, right none. If, then, thou wilt feel anything of Him, bodily or spiritually, covet nothing but only to feel in truth within thee a desire of His grace and of His merciful presence, so that thou mayest think that it is not possible for thy heart to find any rest in anything but in Him. Thus coveted David, when he said thus: My soul hath coveted, or longed after, the desire of thy righteousness at all times.99 Seek, then, as David did, desire by desire. And if thou feelest, by thy desire in prayers and in meditations, the familiar presence of Jesus Christ in thy soul, bind thy heart fast thereto, that it fall not from it; and if thou shouldst stumble, that thou mayest soon find Him again.
Seek, then, Jesus, whom thou hast lost, for He would be sought, and is desirous to be found, for He Himself saith: Every one that seeketh findeth.100 The seeking is painful, but the finding is joyful; do, therefore, after the counsel of the wise man, if thou wilt find Him: If thou shalt seek wisdom (that is Jesus) like silver, and as treasures shalt dig her up, then shalt thou understand the fear of our Lord, and shalt find the knowledge of God.101 It behoveth thee to delve deep in thy heart, for therein Jesus is hid, and cast out perfectly all loves and likings, sorrows and fears of all earthly things, and so shalt thou find wisdom, that is Jesus.
Be thou, then, like the woman in the Gospel, of whom our Lord saith: What woman is there, that hath lost her groat and doth not light a candle, and turn her house upside down, and seek till she finds it? As who should say, there is none but would do so. And when she hath found it, she calleth to her friends, and saith to them thus: Make mirth with me and melody, for I have found my groat which I had lost. This groat is Jesus which thou hast lost, and if thou wilt find Him, light up a lanthorn, that is God's Word, as David saith: Thy Word is a lanthorn to my feet.103 By this lanthorn shalt thou see where He is, and how to find Him. And if thou wilt, thou mayest together with this, light up another lanthorn, that is the reason of thy soul. For as our Lord saith: The lanthorn (or light) of thy body is thy bodily eye.104 Right so may it be said, that the lanthorn of thy soul is reason, by the which thy soul may see all spiritual things. By this lanthorn mayest thou find Jesus, that is if thou hold up this lanthorn from underneath the bushel, as our Lord saith: No man lighteth a (candle or) lanthorn to set it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick.105 That is to say, thy reason must not be overlaid with earthly business, or vain thoughts, and earthly affections, but always upwards, above all vain thoughts and earthly things as much as thou canst. If thou do so, thou shalt see all the dust, all the filth and small motes in thy house (for He is light itself), that is to say, all fleshly loves and fears in thy soul. I mean not perfectly all; for as David saith: Who knoweth all his trespasses? As who should say, no man. And thou shalt cast out of thy heart all such sins, and sweep thy soul clean with the besom of the fear of God, and wash it with thy tears, and so shalt thou find thy groat, Jesus; He is thy groat, thy penny, thy heritage.
This groat will not be found so easily as 'tis thought, for this work is not of one hour nor of one day, but many days and years, with much sweat and labour of body and travail of soul. And if thou cease not, but seek busily, sigh and sorrow deeply, mourn stilly, and stoop low, till thine eyes water for anguish and for pain, for that thou hast lost thy treasure Jesus, at the last (when His will is) well shalt thou find thy groat Jesus. When thou hast found Him, as I have said, that is when in purity of conscience feelest the familiar and peaceful presence of that blessed man Jesus Christ, at least a shadow or glimmering of Him; thou mayest, if thou wilt, call all thy friends to thee to make mirth with thee and melody, for that thou hast found thy groat Jesus.
See then the mercy and courtesy of Jesus. Thou hast lost Him, but where? Soothly in thy house, that is to say, in thy soul, that if thou hadst lost all thy reason of thy soul by its first sin, thou shouldst never have found Him again; but He left thee thy reason, and so He is still in thy soul, and never is quite lost out of it.
Nevertheless thou art never the nearer Him till thou hast found Him. He is in thee, though He be lost from thee; but thou art not in Him till thou hast found Him. This is His mercy also, that He would suffer Himself to be lost only there, where He may be found, so that thou needest not run to Rome, nor to Jerusalem to seek Him there, but turn thy thoughts into thy own soul where He is hid, as the Prophet saith: Truly thou art the hidden God,110 hid in thy soul, and seek Him there. Thus saith He Himself in the Gospel: The Kingdom of Heaven is likened to a treasure hid in the field, the which when a man findeth, for joy thereof, he goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.111 Jesus is a treasure hid in the soul. Then if thou couldst find Him in thy soul, and thy soul in Him, I am sure for joy thereof thou wouldst part with the liking of all earthly things to have Him. Jesus sleepeth in thy heart spiritually, as He did sometime bodily when He was in the ship with His disciples; but they, for fear of perishing, wakened Him, and soon after He saved them from a tempest. Do thou so, stir Him up by prayer, and waken Him with great crying of desire, and He will soon rise and help thee.
Nevertheless I believe thou sleepest oftener to Him than He doth to thee; for He calleth thee full oft with His sweet, secret voice, and stirreth thy heart full stilly, that thou shouldst leave all other jangling of other vanities in thy soul, and hearken only to Him. Thus saith David in the person of our Lord: Hear, O daughter, and consider; incline thine ear, and forget thy own people and thy father's house.112 That is, forget the people of thy worldly thoughts, and the house of thy fleshly and natural affections. Here thou seest how our Lord calleth thee, and all others that will hearken to Him. And what hindereth thee that thou canst neither see nor hear Him? Soothly there is so much din and noise in thy heart of vain thoughts and fleshly desires, that thou canst neither hear Him nor see Him? Therefore put away those unquiet noises, and destroy the love of sin and vanity, and bring into thy heart the love of virtues and full charity, and then shalt thou hear thy Lord speak to thee.
As long as Jesus findeth not His image reformed in thee, He is strange, and the farther from thee; therefore frame and shape thyself to be arrayed in His likeness, that is in humility and charity, which are His liveries, and then will He know thee, and familiarly come to thee, and acquaint thee with His secrets. Thus saith He to His disciples: Whoso loveth Me, he shall be loved of My Father, and I will manifest Myself unto him.113 There is not any virtue nor any good work that can make thee like to our Lord without humility and charity, for these two above all others are most acceptable to Him, which appeareth plainly in the gospel, where our Lord speaketh of humility thus: Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble in heart.114 He saith not, Learn of me to go barefoot, or to go into the desert, and there to fast forty days, nor yet to choose to yourselves disciples (as I did), but learn of Me meekness, for I am meek and lowly in heart. Also of charity He saith thus: This is My commandment, that ye love one another as I loved you, for by that men shall know you for My disciples.115 Not that you work miracles, or cast out devils, or preach, or teach, but that each one of you love one another in charity. If therefore thou wilt be like Him, have humility and charity, Now thou knowest what charity is, namely, To love thy neighbour as thyself.
THOU hast heard already what thy soul is, and what dignity and beauty it had, and how it lost it, and also how it may by grace and busy travail be somewhat recovered again, in feeling, in part in this life. Now I shall tell thee (according to my feeble ability) how thou mayest enter into thyself to see the ground of sin, and destroy it as much as thou canst, and so recover a part of thy soul's dignity.
To do this thou shalt cease for a time from all bodily works, and from all outward business as much as thou canst, then shalt thou draw thy whole thought into thyself from all thy bodily senses, which thou must hold in and restrain from wandering forth, so that thou take no heed of anything thou seest or hearest or feelest, and after this draw in thy thoughts nearer from all imaginations of any bodily deeds done before by thee, or of any other men's deeds; and this is not difficult to be done at that time when thou hast devotion, but thou must do it also when thou hast no such devotion, and then it will be somewhat difficult. And set thy intent and full purpose, as if thou wouldst not seek nor find anything but only the grace and spiritual presence of Jesus.
This will be painful; for vain thoughts will press into thy heart very thick, to draw thy mind down to them. And in doing thus thou shalt find somewhat, but not Jesus whom thou seekest, but only a naked remembrance of His name. But what then shalt thou find. Surely this: a dark and ill-favoured image of thy own soul, which hath neither light of knowledge nor feeling of love of God. This image, if thou behold it heedfully, is all inwrapped and clothed with black stinking rags of sin, as pride, envy, anger, covetousness, gluttony, sloth and luxury. This is not the image of Jesus, but the image of sin, which St Paul calleth a body of sin and of death.116 This image and this black shadow thou bearest about with thee wheresoever thou goest; out of this spring many great streams of sin, and small ones also. Just as out of the image of Jesus, if it be reformed in the beams of spiritual light will spring and ascend up towards heaven burning desires, pure affections, wise thoughts and all comeliness of virtues. Even so out of this image spring stirrings of pride, of envy and such other, which cast thee down from the comeliness of a man into a beast's likeness.
Peradventure now thou beginnest to think with thyself what this image is like, and that thou shouldst not study much upon it, I will tell thee. It is like no bodily thing. What is it then, sayest thou? Verily it is nought, or no real thing, as thou shalt find, if thou try by doing as I have spoken; that is, draw in thy thoughts into thyself from all bodily things, and then shalt thou find right nought wherein thy soul may rest.
This nothing is nought else but darkness of conscience, and a lacking of the love of God and of light; as sin is nought but a want of good, if it were so that the ground of sin was much abated and dried up in thee, and thy soul was reformed right to the image of Jesus; then if thou didst draw into thyself thy heart, thou shouldst not find this nought, but thou shouldst find Jesus; not only the naked remembrance of this name, but Jesus Christ in thy soul readily teaching thee; thou shouldst there find light of understanding and no darkness of ignorance, a love and liking of Him, and no pain of bitterness, heaviness or tediousness of Him. But because thou art not reformed, therefore when thy soul draweth into herself from all bodily things and delights, thou findest nothing but emptiness, darkness and heaviness; so that thou thinkest it an hundred years till thou be out again to some bodily delight or vain thoughts, and it is no wonder; for he that cometh home to his house, and findeth nothing but stink and smoke, and a chiding wife, he will quickly run out of it. Even so thy soul, finding no comfort in itself, but black smoke of spiritual blindness, or great chiding of guilty or fleshly thoughts, crying upon thee that thou canst not be in peace, verily it will quickly be weary of being alone and recollected, until it be out again. And this is the darkness of conscience.
Nevertheless, in this dark conscience it behoves him to labour and sweat; that is to say, it behoveth thee to draw thy thoughts into thyself from all bodily things as much as thou canst, and then when thou findest right nought but sorrow and pain, and blindness in this darkness, if thou wilt find Jesus, thou must suffer the pain of this dark conscience, and abide awhile therein. And here also thou must beware that thou take Jesus Christ into thy thoughts against this darkness in thy mind, by busy prayer and fervent desire to God, not setting the point of thy thoughts on that aforesaid nought, but on Jesus Christ whom thou desirest. Think stiffly on His Passion and on His humility, and through His might thou shalt arise. Do as if thou wouldst beat down this dark image, and go through-stitch with it. Thou shalt hate and loathe this darkness, and this nought, just as the devil, and thou shalt despise and all to break it. For within this nought is Jesus hid in His joy, whom thou shalt not find with all thy seeking, unless thou pass this darkness of conscience.
This is the ghostly travail I spake of, and the cause of all this writing is to stir thee thereto, if thou have grace. This darkness of conscience and this nought is the image of the first Adam. St Paul knew it well, for he said thus of it: As we have before borne the image of the earthly man, that is the first Adam, right so that we might now bear the image of the heavenly man, which is Jesus, the second Adam. St Paul bore this image oft full heavily, for it was so cumbersome to him that he cried out of it, saying thus: O who shall Deliver me from this body and this image of death? And then he comforted himself and others also thus: The grace of God through Jesus Christ.
I HAVE already told thee of this image, that it is nought, Nevertheless, if thou canst not understand how this should be an image, seeing nought can be nothing else but nought, and so for all my telling thou canst make nothing of it, I shall therefore tell thee more plainly of this image as methinketh.
This image is a false inordinate love of thyself. Out of this there come all manner of sins by seven rivers, Which are these: pride, envy, anger, sloth, covetousness, gluttony and lechery. Lo, this is somewhat that thou mayest understand. By some one of these rivers runneth out all manner of sin, and putteth thee out of the state of charity, if it be a deadly sin; or letteth the fervour of thy charity if it be venial. Now mayest thou grope at least that this image is not altogether nought; but it is much of bad, for it is a great spring of love unto thyself, with such rivers as I have said.
But now, sayest thou, how can this be true? For I have forsaken the world, and am shut up in a monastery; I meddle with no man, I chide not, I strive not, I neither buy nor sell, I have no worldly business, but by the mercy of God keep myself chaste, and withhold me from delights. And, besides this, I pray, I watch, I labour bodily and ghostly, as well as I can; how should this image then be so much in me as thou speakest of?
To this I answer, granting thee that I hope thou dost all these works and more; and yet may it be true as I say. Thou art busy to thy power to stop these rivers without, but the spring within perhaps thou leavest whole. Thou art like to a man which had in his yard a stinking well, with many runnings from it, who went and stopped the runnings, and left the spring whole, and thought all was well; but the water sprang up at the ground of the well, and stood still insomuch that it corrupted all the fairness of his garden, and yet did no water run out. Right so may it be with thee, if it be so that thou hast by grace stopped the rivers of this image without, so far that all is done well, but beware of the spring within; surely unless thou stop and cleanse that as much as thou canst, it will corrupt all the flowers of the garden of thy soul, show they never so fair outwardly in sight of men.
But now, sayest thou, whereby shall I know that the ground is stopped, if I go about it? As to this I shall tell thee, how by trying and experience thou shalt know this image if it be in thee, and how much it is in thee, and thereby shalt thou know how much it is stopped in thee, and how little also. And inasmuch as pride is the principal river, I shall begin with it.
But thou sayest that thou canst not eschew such stirrings of pride, for oft thou feelest them against thy will, and therefore thou holdest them no sin; or, if they be sin, they be nought but venial.
As to this, I answer that the feeling of these stirrings of pride, or of any other sin, which spring either out of the corruption of this foul image or by incasting or suggestion of the enemy, is no sin so far as to the feeling of them. Nevertheless, when by negligence and thy own blindness this feeling is received unwarily in thy thoughts, and turned into love and liking, then is there sin in it more or less according to the measure of this love, sometime venial and sometime deadly.
This is a grace and privilege by virtue of Christ's passion granted to all Christians baptized in water and the Holy Ghost. For verily to Jews and Saracens, who believe not in Jesus Christ, all such stirrings are deadly sins. For St Paul saith: Whatsoever is done without faith in Christ is sin. But we Christians have this privilege through His mercy, that such feelings are no sins, but the pain of original sin.
But when it is venial and when it is deadly I cannot fully tell thee; nevertheless, a little I shall say, as methinketh. When the stirrings of pride are received and turned into liking, so far that the heart chooseth them for a full rest and a full delight, and seeketh no other end, but only the liking therein, then is this pride deadly sin; for he maketh and chooseth this delight as his god, without any opposing of his reason or will, and therefore it is deadly sin.
But now, sayest thou, who is such a fool as to choose pride for his God? No man living, sure, will do so. To this I answer that I cannot tell thee in special who sinneth deadly in pride. But in general I shall say that there be two sorts of pride, one bodily and the other spiritual. Bodily pride is of fleshly living men; spiritual is of hypocrites and heretics. These three sin deadly in pride; I mean such fleshly living men as St Paul speaks of: If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die.121
But now thou wilt say: Who doth choose the love of his worship, credit or honour, instead of his God; I answer, that he that loveth his worship, as for to seem better and greater of estate than any other, and travaileth about it as much as he can; if he love it so much that for the getting, or keeping, or the saving of it, he breaketh the commandment of God, or breaketh love and charity to his neighbour, or is ready, or in full will to break it rather than he would forbear his worship, or lose anything of it, either in his name, or in his estate, or of fulfilling his will; soothly he sinneth deadly, for he loveth his worship, and chooseth it more than the love of God and of his neighbour. And nevertheless, the man that sinneth thus deadly will say with his mouth that he will not choose pride for his god, but he beguileth himself, for he chooseth it for his god in his deeds.
Nevertheless, another worldly man that loveth his own worship and pursueth after it, if he love it not so much, that he would not for the getting or the saving of it do a deadly sin, or break charity to his neighbour, he sinneth not deadly but venially, more or less according to the measure of his love and of his liking, with other circumstances.
But a man or woman that disposeth himself or herself, to live contemplatively, if it be so that he forsake himself as to his own will, and offer up himself wholly to God with a full general will, that he will not sin in pride wittingly, nor have any joy in himself wilfully, but only in God, as far as he can, and may; and notwithstanding after this full will offered up to God, feeleth many stirrings of vain-glory, and delighteth in them for the time (because at the first he did not so well perceive them), this liking is but venial sin, and, namely, if it be so, that when he cometh to himself he reproveth himself, and withstandeth this stirring with displeasure of his will, and asketh mercy and help of God; then the liking which before was some sin, our Lord of his mercy soon forgiveth it; and moreover he shall have reward for his good travail in withstanding it.
And this is a courtesy of our Lord, granted to all those who are specially His servants and domestics of His court, as are all those that for His love forsake, with a good true will, all worldly and all fleshly sin, and give themselves wholly both body and soul unto His service, with all their might and cunning, as do truly Anchorites enclosed, and all truly religious persons, who for the love of God and salvation of their own souls enter into any religious order approved by holy Church. Or else, if it be so, that they enter first for worldly respects, or for their bodily sustenance, or some other such; if they repent them and turn it into a spiritual respect, as for the service of God; these as long as they keep this will and pursue it as well as their frailty will permit, are true religious persons.
Also, what man or woman soever he be; in what degree soever he liveth in holy Church, priest, clerk or layman, widow, maid or wife that will for the love of God and salvation of his, or her, own soul forsake all the worships and likings of this world, in the world, in his or her heart truly and fully betwixt God and themselves, and all unnecessary business and earthly things, even to what they have bare need of, and offer up their will entirely to be His servants, in the constant exercise of devout prayers and holy thoughts, with other good deeds that they may do bodily and ghostly, and keep their will whole to God stedfastly, all such are God's special servants in holy Church. And for this good will and good purpose that they have by the gift of God, they shall increase in grace and in charity here all their life long; and they shall have for this special will a special reward in the bliss of heaven above other chosen souls, who offered not wholly their will and their body to God's service, neither openly nor privately as they did. All these, whom I call God's servants, and of His court more specially, if they, through frailty and ignorance, when they feel such stirrings of vainglory, for the time delight therein, and perceive not that they do so, for that their reason and senses are letted through that liking which they feel, so that they cannot so well see those stirrings, they sin not deadly in this liking of vainglory. For that will that they have in general set in their heart before, to please God, and to forsake all manner of sin, if they knew it, keepeth them here, that they sin not deadly in such stirrings, and in all other that come of frailty, and will keep them still as long as the ground of that will is kept whole.
I say moreover for thy comfort, and for the comfort of all others who live in the state of Anchorets enclosed, and also by God's grace, for the comfort of all them that enter into any religious order approved in holy Church, that all those who through the mercy of God among them shall be saved, shall have a special reward, and a singular worship in the bliss of heaven; for their state of living before other souls that had not that state in holy Church, though they were never so holy; which worship is better than all the worship of this world without comparison; for if thou couldst see what it is, thou wouldst not for the worship of this world, if thou mightest have it without sin, change thy state either of Anchoret or of religious, neither lose that singular reward in heaven, which reward is called the Accidental Reward.
Nevertheless, that other men may not mistake this that I say, therefore I shall say it more plainly. Thou shalt understand that there be two rewards in the bliss of heaven, which our Lord giveth to chosen souls. The one is Sovereign and Principal, and is called the Essential Reward, and that is the knowing and loving of God according to the measure of charity given by God to the soul while she lived here in mortal body. This reward is best and Sovereign, for it is God Himself, and is common to all the souls that shall be saved, in what state or degree soever they live in holy Church, more or less according to the quantity and the muchness of their charity in this life, what degree soever they live in. For he that loveth God by charity most shall have most reward in the bliss of heaven for he shall there love God and know Him most and that is the Sovereign, or Essential reward, and according to this reward it may and shall fall out, that some manner of man or woman, as a lord or a lady, knight or esquire, merchant or ploughman, or what degree he be, in man or Yeoman may and shall have more reward than some priest or friar, monk or canon, or Anchoret enclosed. And why so? Soothly, because he loved God more in charity.
Another reward there is that is Secondary, or Accidental, which our Lord giveth for special good deeds, which a man doth voluntarily, over that he is bound to do. Of these deeds three principal ones the Doctors of holy Church do make mention of, namely, Martyrdom, Preaching and Virginity.124 These works, inasmuch as they pass all others in excellency, shall have a special reward, which is called an Aureola, which is nought else but a singular worship and a special token ordained by God for reward of that special deed they did above others, over and above that Sovereign or Essential reward of the love of God which is common to him and to all others. Right so it is of all other special good deeds, which, if they be done sincerely, are specially acceptable in the sight of God, and in the judgement of holy Church are very excellent, as are the enclosing of Anchorets, done by the authority of holy Church, also entering into religion approved, and the stricter that the religion is, the more excellent is the deed in the judgement of holy Church.
Also after these, and beneath these, are the taking of the order of Priest, either for cure of men's souls, and to minister the Sacraments of holy Church, or else for singular Devotion to please God, and profit our neighbour, by the sacrifice of the precious body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Soothly these are special deeds, and declared to be excellent by the judgement of holy Church, and in the sight of our Lord. When they are done truly for God, they are excellent, and shall have special reward, each man in his degree, in the bliss of Heaven. The state of Bishop and Prelate is above all these deeds, as to the Accidental reward. That this is so, appeareth out of holy Writ, where it saith thus in the Prophet Daniel: But go thou until the time prefixed, and thou shalt rest and stand in thy lot until the end of the days; which is to say thus much: The Angel when he had showed Daniel the secrets of God, he said to him thus: Go thou to the rest of this bodily death, and thou shalt stand in thy lot as a prophet at the last day. And verily as Daniel shall stand as a prophet at the last day of doom, and have the worship and excellency of a prophet above the Sovereign blessed reward of the love and sight of God, right so shalt thou stand as an Anchoret in that lot, and a Religious in the lot of the Religious, and so shall it be with other excellent deeds, and have a singular worship, passing other men at the day of doom.
AN heretic sinneth deadly in pride, for he chooseth his rest and delight in his own opinion, and in his own sayings, for he imagineth them to be true; which opinion or sayings are against God and holy Church, and, therefore, he sinneth mortally in pride, for he loveth himself and his own will and wit so much, that though it be plainly against the ordinance of holy Church, he will not leave it, but resteth thereon, as upon the truth, and so maketh he it his god; but he beguileth himself, for God and holy Church are so united and accorded together that whoso doth against the one doth against both. And, therefore, he that saith he loveth God, and keepeth His biddings, and despiseth holy Church, and setteth at nought the laws and ordinances thereof, made by the head and supreme thereof appointed to govern all Christians, he lieth, for he chooseth not God, but chooseth the love of himself, contrary to the love of God, and so sinneth mortally. And wherein he imagineth most to please God, he most displeaseth Him; for he is blind, and will not see.
Of this blindness and this false resting of an heretic in his own feeling, speaketh the wise man thus: There is a way that seemeth right to a man, and the last end of it bringeth him to endless death.126 This way specially is called heresy: for other fleshly sinners that sin mortally and lie therein, commonly condemn themselves, and feel biting in conscience, because they go not the right way; but an heretic supposeth that he doth well, and teacheth well, yea, and that no man doth and teacheth so well as he, and so judgeth his way to be right, and, therefore, feeleth he no biting of conscience nor humility in heart. And, soothly, if God of His great mercy sendeth him not humility at the last end, he goeth to hell. And, nevertheless, yet weeneth he to have done well and that he shall get the bliss of Heaven for his teaching.
The hypocrite also sinneth deadly in pride. He is an hypocrite that chooseth vain joy in himself, as the rest and full delight of his heart in this manner.
When a man doth many good deeds bodily and ghostly, and then is put into his mind by the suggestion of the enemy, the beholding of himself and those good deeds, how good, how holy he is, how worthy in men's deem, and how high in God's sight, above other men, he perceiveth this stirring, and receiveth it willingly, for he judgeth it to be good, and from God, forasmuch as it is true (for he doth these good deeds better than other menu). And when it is received thus by consent of his will, there ariseth from it in his heart so great a love and delight in himself, that he hath so much grace, that for the time it ravisheth his mind out of all other thoughts, both corporal and spiritual, and setteth it upon vain joy in himself, as on a rest of his heart. This ravishing in spiritual pride is delectable, and, therefore, he keepeth it, holdeth it, and nourisheth it as much as he can. For this love and delight he prayeth, watcheth, weareth haircloth, and doth other afflictions, and all these trouble him but little. He pretends to love God, and thanketh Him sometimes with his mouth; sometimes wringeth a tear out of his eye, and then he thinketh all safe enough. But soothly, all this is for love of himself which he chooseth, and mistaketh for love and joy in God, and therein lies all his sin. Not that he willingly chooseth sin, as it is sin, but chooseth this delight and joy that he takes for good, as the rest and repose of his soul. Which, because he doth without any striving against it, or displeasure at it in his will, therefore is it sin; for he judgeth it to be a joy in God, and it is not so, and, therefore, sinneth he mortally. Job saith thus of an hypocrite: The joy of an hypocrite is as it were for a moment. If his pride rise up even to the heavens, and his head touch the clouds, at the last end he shall be cast out as a dung-heap.127 The joy of an hypocrite is but a point, for if he worship himself never so much, and joy in himself never so much, all his lifetime, and bepaint himself with all his good deeds, in the sight and praisings of the world, at the last it will prove right nought but sorrow and pain.
But thou wilt say: Sure there be few or none such that are so blind as to hold and choose vain joy in themselves for joy in God.
As to this I cannot answer, nor will, though I could; only I will tell thee this one thing, that there be many hypocrites, and, nevertheless, they think themselves to be none, and that there be many that dread and fear themselves to be hypocrites, and soothly are none; who is the one, and who is the other, God knows, and none but He. Whoso will humbly dread, shall not be beguiled; and whoso thinketh himself secure, he may lightly fall. For St Paul saith: Whose esteemeth himself to be something, whereas indeed he is nothing, he beguileth himself.128
Now by what hath been said, thou mayest (if thou wilt understand them) conceive comfort for thy degree of living, and also matter of humility. For though it be true, that (in case thou come to Heaven) thou shalt there receive so much reward in special, for thy state of life; nevertheless it may be that there is many a wife, and many a woman, living at large in the world, that shall be nearer God than thou, and shall love God more, and know Him better than thou, for all thy religious state, and that ought to be a shame to thee. Yet if thou labour to get love and charity as fully and as perfectly as those that live in the world (for thou mayest have it by the gift of God, as much as they that live in worldly business), then shalt thou have as much of the Sovereign or Essential reward as they; and, moreover, shalt also have another singular and accidental reward and worship, for thy state of Religion which the others shall not have. If then thou wilt do well, be humble, and forget thy state, as if it were right nought; for in sooth it is so, that is, right nought in itself. And let thy desire and business be to destroy sin, and to get charity, and humility, and other ghostly virtues, for therein lieth all.
I have well-nigh forgotten that image I spake of, but now I turn again thereto. If thou wilt know how much pride is therein, thou mayest try it thus: Look to it wisely, and flatter not thyself; if loving, praising or worshipping, or human favours of worldly men or others, be pleasing to thy heart, and thou turnest them into vain gladness, and well paying of thyself, thinking secretly in thy heart, that men ought to praise thy life, and reward thy speeches more than other men's; and also on the contrary, if it be so, that when men reprove thee, and set thee at nought, hold thee for a fool, or an hypocrite, or slander thee, or speak evil of thee falsely, and in any other way disease thee unreasonably, and for this thou feelest in thy heart a grievous heaviness against them, and a great rising in thy heart, with an unwillingness to suffer any shame or disgrace in the sight of the world; if, I say, it be thus with thee, it is a token that there is much pride in this dark image, seem thou never so holy in the sight of men. For though these stirrings be but little and venial, nevertheless they show well that there is much pride hid in the ground of thy heart, as the fox dareth in his den. These stirrings, with many more, spring so fast out of this image that thou scarcely canst do any good deed but it will be mingled with some pride or vain delight in thyself, and so with thy pride thou defileth all thy good deeds, and makest them loathesome in the sight of thy Lord. I say not that they are lost because they are mingled with this pride. But I say that those good deeds are not so pleasant to thy Lord as they would be if they were simple and truly rooted in the virtue of humility. And, therefore, if thou wilt have cleanness of heart, to come to the love of God, it behoveth thee not only to fly the rest and repose of thy heart in vain-glory, by willingly consenting to pride, and also the wretchless liking therein out of frailty against thy will, but also the very feeling itself of pride, as well as thou canst, which will not be done unless thou be full quick and diligent about the keeping of thy heart, as I shall tell thee hereafter.
TURN this image upside down, and look well therein, and thou shalt find two members or limbs of envy and anger fastened thereto, with several branches springing out of them, which hinder the love and charity which thou oughtest to have toward thy neighbour. The branches of these two sins are these: Hatred, evil suspicion, false and rash or unskilful judging, melancholy, risings of heart against them, despising, unkindness, and backbiting, or other ill-speaking of them, misliking, unskilful or causeless blaming of them, misconstruing their words or deeds, anguish and heaviness against those that despise us, or speak any evil of us, or speak against us, a joy or gladness at their pain, a selfness or bitterness against sinful men and others that will not do as we think they should do, with great desire and eagerness of heart (under colour of charity and justice), that they were well punished and chastised for their sin.
Such motions and stirrings as these seem good; nevertheless, if thou ransack it well, thou shalt find it more fleshly and sensual sometimes against the person than spiritual against the sin; for thou shouldst love the man, be he never so sinful, and hate the sin in every man whatever he be. Many are beguiled in this, for they set the bitter instead of the sweet and take darkness instead of light, contrary to the prophet, saying: Wo to you who call evil good, and good evil; putting darkness for light, and light for darkness; putting bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.130 Thus do all they who, when they should hate the sin of their neighbour and love his person, hate the person instead of the sin, and imagine that they hate the sin. Wherefore it is a special craft and art by itself whoso can do it well.
And, therefore, for the learning of this hard lesson, thou must understand and consider that a good man for the love of God fasteth, watcheth, goeth on pilgrimage and forsaketh all the pleasures of the world sincerely in his heart, without feigning, and he hath his reward in heaven; and an hypocrite doth the same deeds out of vain-glory and for love of himself, and receiveth his reward here. Also, a true preacher of God's Word, filled with charity and humility, sent of God and received and approved by the Church, if he preach and teach God's Word, shall have a special reward of God; that is the aureola for his preaching. And an hypocrite or an heretic that hath no humility or charity, nor is sent of God nor yet of holy Church, if they preach, they have their reward here. Also a good man living in the world for the love of God buildeth many churches, chapels, abbeys, hospitals and doth other many good deeds of mercy, and he shall have his reward in the bliss of heaven, not for the deed in itself, but for the good will and the charity that he hath in him by the gift of God for to do these good deeds. Another man out of vanity of himself and worship and pleasing of the world and for his own name doth the same good deeds, and hath his reward here. The cause in all these is that the one hath charity and the other none; but which is the one and which is the other, our Lord knoweth, and none but He.
From this, therefore, we are to learn these two lessons. First, that we should love and worship all men in our hearts, and approve and think well of and receive all their deeds that have the likeness of goodness, though the doers be bad in the sight of God, except they be the deeds of known and open heretics, or of open cursed (or excommunicated) men; for of these two we are specially to fly and eschew their company and coming amongst them. And we are also to reprove and refuse their deeds, seem they never so good, as long as they are rebels to God and holy Church. And if a worldly, cursed (or excommunicated) man build a church, or feed poor men, thou mayest safely hold and judge such his doings to be noughts and deem them as they are. Also if an open heretic, who is a rebel to holy Church, preach and teach, though he convert a hundred thousand souls, thou mayest hold the deed, as to himself, right nought; for these men are openly out of charity, without which all is nought that a man doth.
Secondly, that it is a great mastery for a man to know how and to be able to love his neighbour in charity; all which may be plainly proved by St Paul's words, thus: If I speak with the tongues of men and angels, if I have not charity, I am right nought; and if I have so great faith that I can overturn hills and bear them away, and have not charity, I am right nought. And also, though I had all manner of knowledge of all mysteries, and if I give all that I have to the poor, and my body to be burnt, and have not charity, it profiteth me right nought.
Here it seemeth by St Paul's words that a man may do all good deeds bodily without charity, and that charity is nought else but to love God and his neighbour as himself. How should, then, any wretched caitiff upon earth, whatever he be, have any delight or trust or security in himself for anything he doth or is able to do with all his bodily powers or natural wit, sith all this is nought worth without love and charity to his neighbour? And this charity cannot be gotten by his own working, for it is the free gift of God, sent only into an humble soul, as St Paul saith. Who then dare be so bold as to say: I have Christ, or I am charity? Verily no man can say it securely, or of a certainty, but he that is perfectly and truly humble; other men may trow of themselves, and hope that they be in charity by tokens; but he that is perfectly humble feeleth it, and therefore may say it securely. Thus humble was St Paul, and therefore said he thus of himself: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or anguish, or distress,134 etc.? And he answereth himself, and saith: I am persuaded that no creature shall be able to separate me from the charity of God in Christ Jesus. Many men do deeds of charity, and have no charity, as I have said. To reprove a sinner for his sin to his amendment, in a convenient time, is a deed of charity; but to hate the sinner instead of the sin, is against charity. He that is verily humble can part the one from the other, and none but he. For though a man had all moral virtues of all the philosophers, he could not do this; he could be able to hate sin in other men (for he hateth it in himself), but he could not be able to love the man in charity, with all his philosophy. Also, if a man had the knowledge of all books and divinity, and be not withal truly humble, he shall lightly stumble and err in this point, and take the one for the other. But humility is worthy to receive a gift from God, which cannot be gotten or learned by cunning of man, and therefore he that is humble can hate the sin and truly love the man.
But now peradventure thou beginnest to be afraid for that which I have said, that charity cannot be gotten by any work that thou canst do; how shalt thou then do
To this I answer, that there is nothing so hard to get as charity; this is truth, as to the getting of it by our own travail and labour. And, on the contrary, I say that there is no gift of God that may so lightly or easily be had as charity, for our Lord giveth no gift so freely, nor so gladly, nor so commonly, as He doth it. How shalt thou, then, have it, sayest thou? Be meek and lowly in spirit and thou shalt have it; and what is lighter to be done than to be humble? Soothingly nothing. Then it followeth that there is nothing so lightly to be had as charity, and, therefore, thou need not be much afraid; be humble, and have it. Thus saith St James: Our Lord resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble. Which grace is properly charity; for according to the measure of thy humility, so shalt thou have charity. If thou have humility imperfectly only in will, not in affection, then hast thou imperfect charity, which indeed is good, for it sufficeth for salvation, as David saith: Lord, with the eyes of mercy thou seest my imperfection.135 But if thou have humility perfectly, then shalt thou have perfect charity, and this is best. The other we must necessarily have if we will be saved. This we should ever desire and labour for. If thou ask me now who is perfectly humble, I shall tell thee no more concerning humility at this time but this: He is humble that truly knoweth himself as he is.
Now turn we again to this image. If thou wilt, try how much anger and envy is hid in thy heart, which thou feelest and perceivest not. Look well and behold thyself wisely when such stirrings of anger and envy against thy neighbour spring out of thy heart. The more that thou art stirred by melancholy or wicked will against him, the more is this image in thee. For the more thou grudgest by impatience, either against God for any tribulation or sickness, or other bodily disease sent by Him, or against thy neighbour, for aught that he doth against thee, the less is the image of Jesus reformed in thee. I say not that such grudgings or fleshly angriness are deadly sins; but I say that they hinder the cleanness of heart and peace of conscience, that thou canst not have perfect charity, by the which thou shouldst come to life Contemplative. For that end is the purpose of all my saying, that thou shouldst not only cleanse thy heart from deadly sins, but also from venial as much as thou canst; and that the ground of sin might by grace of Jesus Christ be somewhat shaked in thee.
For though it be so that thou feelest no evil against thy neighbour for a time, yet art thou not secure that the ground of anger is quenched in thee; neither yet art thou lord and master of the virtue of charity. For let him but touch thee a little angrily, or by a shrewd word, and thou shalt see presently whether thy heart be yet made whole by perfect charity. The more thou art stirred and evil-willed against his person, the further art thou from charity. And if thou be nothing stirred against his person, neither by any angry carriage or gesture outwardly, nor by any privy hate in thy heart, either to despise or judge him, or undervalue, or set him at nought; but the more shame or villainy he doth to thee by word or deed, the more pity and compassion thou hast of him, as thou wouldst have of a man that were out of his wits, and thinkest that thou canst not find in thy heart to hate him (because love is so good in itself) but pray for him and help him and desire his amendment, not only with thy mouth, as hypocrites can do, but with affection of love in thy heart; then hast thou perfect charity to thy neighbour.
This charity had St Stephen perfectly when he prayed for them that stoned him to death. This charity counselled Christ to those that would be His perfect followers when He said thus: Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, pray for them that persecute you.136 And, therefore, if thou wilt be one of Christ's followers, be like Him in this craft. Learn to love thine enemies and sinful men, for all these are thy neighbours. Look and bethink thee how Christ loved Judas, who was both His deadly enemy and a sinful caitiff; how goodly Christ was to him, how benign, how courteous, and how lowly to him whom He knew to be damnable. And nevertheless He chose him to be His apostle, and sent him to preach with His other apostles. He gave him power to work miracles; He showed the same good cheer to him in word and deed as He did to other apostles. He washed his feet, and fed him with His precious Blood, and preached to him as He did to His other apostles. He bewrayed him not openly (for He did it privily); He miscalled him not, despised him not, never spake evil of him; notwithstanding if He had done all these things, He had said nothing but truth. Moreover, when Judas took Him, He kissed him, and called him His friend. All this charity showed Christ unto Judas, whom He knew to be damnable; and this He did in no way of counterfeiting or flattering, but in reality and truth of good love and clean charity. For though it was true that Judas was not worthy to have any gift from God, or any sign of love for his wickedness; nevertheless, it was worthy and seemly that our Lord should show Himself to be that which He is, and that is love and goodness to all His creatures, as He was to Judas. I say not that He loved him for his sin, nor that He loved him as one of His chosen, as He did St Peter; but He loved him inasmuch as he was His creature, and showed him tokens of love, if he would have been mended thereby. Follow thou His example somewhat as much as thou canst; for though thou art shut up in a house as to thy body, nevertheless in thy heart (where the seat of love is) thou mayest have part in such love to thy neighbour, as I have spoken of.
Whoso thinkest himself to be in his life a perfect lover and follower of Christ's teaching (as some men perhaps esteem themselves to be, because they preach and teach, and are poor in worldly goods, as Christ was) and cannot follow Christ in this love and charity, to love their neighbours, even every man, both good and bad, friend and foe, without feigning or flattery, or despising him in his heart, without angriness or malicious reproving, soothly he beguileth himself. The nearer he thinketh himself to be to Christ's example, the further is he off; for Christ said to them that would be His disciples, thus: This is My bidding, that you should love one another as I have loved you.137 For if ye love as I have loved, then are ye My disciples.
But now thou wilt say: How shall I love him that is bad as well and truly as him that is good?
To this I say thus: That thou shalt love both good and bad in charity, but not for the same cause as I shall tell how. Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Now, thou shalt love thyself only in God, or else for God. In God thou lovest thyself, when thou art righteous and virtuous through grace, and lovest not thyself but only for that righteousness and virtues that God giveth thee, then lovest thou thyself in God, for thou lovest not thyself, but God. Also, thou lovest thyself for God, when being in deadly sin thou desirest to be made righteous and virtuous, for then thou lovest not thyself as thou art (for thou art unrighteous), but as thou wouldst be. Right so shalt thou love thy neighbour. If he be good and righteous thou shalt love him by charity in God only; in that he is good and righteous; for then lovest thou God (who is goodness and righteousness) in him, and so thou lovest him more than if he were bad or in deadly sin. As, for example, thy enemies who hate thee, or any other of whom thou hast full evidence they are not in grace; yet notwithstanding shalt thou love them, not as they are, nor as good and righteous men (for they are bad and unrighteous), but thou shalt love them for God, that they may be good and righteous. And so shalt thou hate nothing in them, but that thing which is contrary to righteousness, and that is sin. This is as I understand the doctrine of St Augustine, for to distinguish the love of the man from the hatred of his sin, and the love of thy neighbour. He that is humble, or desires truly to be humble, can thus love his neighbour, and none but he.
HEAVE up this image, and look well about it, and into it, and then shalt thou see covetousness and love of earthly things possess a great part of this image, though it seem little of it. Thou hast forsaken riches and the having much of this world, and art shut up in a cell, but hast thou cleanly forsaken the love of all this? I fear not yet, for it is less mastery to forsake worldly goods than to forsake the love of them. Peradventure thou hast not forsaken thy covetousness, but only hast changed it from great things unto small; from a pound unto a penny, and from a silver dish unto a dish of a halfpenny. This is but a simple change; thou art no good merchant. These examples are childish, nevertheless they signify much more. If thou believe not what I say, put thyself upon the trial. If thou have love and delight in the having and holding of anything that thou hast, how mean soever it may be, with the which love thou feedest thy heart for a time, or if thou have a desire and yearning for to have something that thou hast not, with the which desire thy heart is disquieted and stumbled through unreasonable thinking of the thing, that the pure desire of virtue and of God cannot rest therein; this is a sign that there is covetousness in this image. And if thou wilt put thyself further to the trial, look if anything that thou hast be taken away from thee by violence, or by borrowing, or any other way, so that thou canst not get it again, and for this thou art disquieted, angered, and troubled in thine heart, both for the loss of that thing which thou wouldst have again, and canst not; and also art stirred against him that hath it, to strive and chide with him that may restore it, and will not, this is a token that thou lovest worldly goods. For thus do worldly men when their goods and riches are taken from them; they are heavy, sorry and angry, chiding and striving with them that have them, openly, both by word and deed. But thou dost all this in thy heart privily, where God seeth, and therein thou art in more default than a worldly man; for thou hast forsaken in appearance the love of worldly things, but a worldly man hath not so, and therefore he is excused, though he strive and pursue for his goods by lawful means, for to have them again.
But now sayest thou, that it behoveth thee to have thy necessaries of such things as belong unto thee, as well as a worldly man. I grant well thereto; but thou shouldst not love it for itself, nor have liking in the holding nor in the keeping, nor feel sorrow and heaviness in the losing, or in the withdrawing of it. For as St Gregory saith: As much sorrow as thou hast in losing of a thing, so much love hast thou in the keeping of it. And therefore if so be thy heart made whole, and thou hadst truly felt a desire of spiritual things, and therewith hadst a true sight of the least spiritual thing that is, thou wouldst set at nought all the love and liking of any earthly thing, it would not cleave to thee.
For to love and have more than thou reasonably needest, only for lust and liking, is a great fault. Also, to fix thy love upon the thing which thou needest, for the thing itself, is a fault also, but not so great. But to have and use that thing that thou needest without love of it, more than nature and need requireth, without which the thing cannot be used, is no fault.
Soothly in this point I fear that many who have taken upon them the state and likeness of poverty are much letted and hindered in their pursuit of the love of God; I accuse no man, nor reprove any state, for in each state there be some good, and some otherwise; but one thing I say to every man or woman that hath taken the state of voluntary poverty, whether he be religious or secular, or what degree he be in, as long as his love and his affection is bounden and fastened, and as it were glued with the love of any earthly thing, which he hath, or would have, he cannot have nor feel soothfastly the clean love, and the clear sight of spiritual things. For St Austin said to our Lord thus: Lord, he loveth Thee but little, that loveth anything with Thee, which he loveth not for Thee. For the more love and covetousness of any earthly thing is with thee, the less is the love of God in thy heart. For though it be so, that this love of earthly things putteth them not out of charity; but if it be so much that it strangleth the love of God and of their neighbour, verily it hindereth and letteth them from the fervour of charity, and also from that special reward which they should have in the bliss of heaven for perfect poverty, and that is a great loss if thou couldst see it. For who so could understand the spiritual reward, how good, how precious and how worthy it is (for it is everlasting), he would not for the love of all earthly joy, or having all earthly things (though he might have them without sin) hinder, no, nor lessen the least reward of the bliss of heaven, which he might have if that he would; but God knows I speak more than I do myself. But I pray thee do thus as I say, by the grace of God, if thou canst, or any other man that will, for it would be a comfort to my heart (though I have it not in myself that which I say) that I might have it in thee, or in any other creature, which hath received more plenty of His grace than I.
But see, now then, since covetousness, in the naked ground of it, letteth a man or woman so much from the spiritual feeling of the love of God, how much more, then, doth it let and cumber worldly men and women, who by all their wits and bodily business night and day, study and travail how they may get riches and plenty of worldly goods? They can have no other delight but in worldly things; nay, they will not, for they seek it not. I say no more of them at this time; for in this writing I spake not to them. But this I say, that if they would see, or could see what they do, they would not do so.
STILL mayest thou see more in this image, though it be dark, namely, sensual love to thyself, in gluttony, sloth and lechery. These fleshly likings make a man full beastly, and far from the inward savour of the love of God and from the clear sight of spiritual things. But thou wilt say that thou must needs eat and drink and sleep, which thou canst not do without liking, therefore thou thinkest this liking is no sin.
As unto this I say: That if in eating, drinking and other takings of necessaries for thy body, thou observe and keep measure; which is that thou do but what is needful for nature, and thou receivest or admittest no further pleasure or delight in the taking, than the nature of the thing doth needs bring with it; and all this thou dost not of purpose to please thy sensuality, but for ghostly delight which thou feelest in thy soul, and the upholding of thy body in the service of God, I grant that for a truth thou then sinnest right nought therein, but mayest well eat and sleep in that manner as thou hast mentioned.
Soothly and without doubt I am full far from knowing how to do better in this point, and further from doing of it, for to eat I have by kind or nature, but to skill how to eat, I cannot but by the grace of God. St Paul had this cunning by the grace of God, as he saith himself thus: I am cunning in all things, through Him that strengtheneth me; for I can hunger, and I can eat, I can with plenty, and I can with poverty, I can do all things. St. Austin saith thus to our Lord: Lord, thou hast taught me that I should take meat as a medicine: hunger is a sickness of my nature, and meat is a medicine thereof. Therefore the liking and delight that cometh therewith, and accompanieth eating, inasmuch as it is natural, and followeth of necessity, it is no sin; but when it passeth into lust, and into a voluntary and sought or intended pleasure, then it is sin.
Therefore here lieth all the mastery and skill to be able to distinguish wisely need from lust and voluntary liking, being so knit together that the one cometh with the other. So that it is hard to take the one (which is the meat or drink) as need requireth, and to reject or not to admit the other, namely, the voluntary and willingly admitted lust and liking, which often cometh under the colour of need.
Nevertheless, sith it is so, that need is the ground of this, and that need is no sin; for be a man never so holy, it behoveth him to eat, and drink and sleep; therefore the lust and liking that cometh under the colour of this need, and often exceedeth this need, is the less sin. For it is true that he who chooseth lust and the liking of his flesh, and delight in welfare of meat or drink, as the full rest of his heart that he would never have any other life nor other bliss, but live ever in such lust of his flesh, if he might, it is no doubt but he sinneth deadly; for he loveth his flesh more than God. But he that lieth in deadly sin of pride or envy, or such other, he is so blinded by the devil, that for the time he hath no power of his free will, and therefore he cannot well withstand fleshly likings when they come, but falleth down willingly to them, as a beast doth to carrion; and inasmuch as he hath no general will before to God principally, because that he is in deadly sin, therefore the lust of gluttony into which he falleth easily, is to him deadly sin, for he maketh no resistance either general or special. But another man or woman, who being in grace or charity, hath alway a good general will to God in his soul, whether he sleep or wake, eat or drink, or whatsoever good deed he doth, so that it be not evil in itself; by the which will and desire he chooseth God above all things, and had rather forbear all things in the world, than anger his God for love of Him. This will, though it be but general, is of so great virtue through the grace of our Lord Jesus, that if he fall by frailty in lust and in liking of meat and of drink, or of such other infirmity, either by exercise, in eating too much, or too often, or too greedily, or too lusty and delicately, or too often before the set times of eating, it saveth and keepeth him from deadly sin. And this is truth, as long as he is in charity in his other works, and keepeth his general will in all that he doth; and especially if anon after such his miscarriage he acknowledge his own wretchedness and cry for mercy, and be in purpose specially to withstand such fleshly lusts for the time to come. For our Lord is good and merciful, and forgiveth right soon these venial sins and miscarriages, or excesses about meat and drink (by reason that the occasions of them are hardest to eschew, because of the necessity there is of seeking and taking of them for the upholding of our corporal lives and healths) unto an humble soul.
And these stirrings and likings of gluttony, among all other sins, are most excusable and least perilous. And therefore thou shalt not rise against the ground of this sin as thou shalt against the ground of all other sin, for the ground of this sin is only natural need and necessity, the which thou canst not eschew, unless thou shouldst do worse, namely, slay this need (as many unwise persons do, by destroying their bodies or healths), whereas they should only slay the thief and spare the true man. That is to say, slay unreasonable lust and sensual voluntary liking, and spare and keep natural liking and corporal ability, and they do not so. But against all other sins thou shalt arise to destroy, not only deadly sins and the greater venials, but also against the ground of them by suppressing the stirrings and motions of them, and also avoiding the occasions and motives and incentives to them as much as thou canst; but this thou canst not do here with all thy skill, for thou canst not live without meat and drink, but thou mayest live without lechery or carnal pleasure if thou wilt, and never better than when without it. And therefore thou shalt not fly only the deeds of it (namely, the doing of any external thing against chastity) but also thou shalt suppress and destroy within thee all mere inward and mental desires against the virtue of chastity (the which mental desires or thoughts are sometimes only venial sins, and sometimes mortal); but also thou shalt labour against the ground of the said sin, and seek to destroy the feeling and the rising of fleshly stirrings.
But this travail and labour against the ground of lechery must be spiritual, by prayers and spiritual virtues, and not by bodily penance only; for wot thou well, that if thou fast and watch and scourge thyself, and do all that thou canst, thou shalt never have cleanness and chastity without the gift of God, and without the grace or virtue of humility. Thou shalt sooner kill thyself, than kill fleshly stirrings and feelings of lust and lechery, either in thy heart or in thy flesh, by any bodily penances; but by the grace of Jesus, in an humble soul, the ground may be much stopped and destroyed, and the spring may be much dried, the which will cause true chastity in body and in soul.
The same may be said of pride and of covetousness, and of such other, for thou mayest live though thou wert not proud at all, nor covetous, nor luxurious, and therefore thou shalt labour to destroy the very feelings of them as much as thou canst, and so seek to cleanse and take away the very ground of those sins. But in gluttony it is otherwise, because the ground thereof, which is natural appetite and need, must remain as long as thou livest, therefore must thou only arise and fight against the unreasonable desires of thy natural appetite therein, the which do creep in under pretense, and by occasion of the said just and reasonable need; smite these unreasonable stirrings, and keep the ground whole.
AND therefore he that riseth against the feeling of fleshly liking in meat and drink, more fully and more sharply than against those of pride, or covetousness, or lechery, or envy (the which because they be more spiritual and less perceivable, seem perhaps less evil, and are less reprehended). I say that he is half-blind, for he seeth not his spiritual uncleannesses (as of pride and envy), how foul they are in God's sight, for, I believe that if a man could see with his spiritual eye how foul pride and covetousness are in God's sight, and how contrary they are to Him, he would more loathe a stirring of pride, and the vain liking of it; and also he would more abhor and rise against that evil will of envy, or anger to his neighbour than many a stirring or liking either of gluttony or of lechery. Nevertheless, all men do not think so, for commonly men are more shy or troubled to feel a stirring of fleshly sin, and have for it more sorrow and heaviness than for great likings in vain-glory or in other ghostly sins. But they are not wise; for if they would understand the holy Scriptures and sayings of doctors they should find it as I say, which I neither may nor will rehearse now.
I will not excuse them that fall in the likings and delights of gluttony and lechery, as if they sinned not; for I wot well that all the kinds of them are sins more or less, according to the measure of the lust and misbehaviour in the sin, and other likings, with consideration of how far voluntary it was with other circumstances. But my desire is, that thou mightest know and esteem all sins according as they are, indeed, the greater to be the greater, as are spiritual sins; and the less to be the less, as are fleshly or sensual sins; and yet nevertheless would I have thee to hate and fly all, both bodily and spiritual, with all thy might. For know thou well, that fleshly desires and unreasonable likings in meat and drink, or any likings that belong to the body, exceeding reasonable needs, though they be not always great sins to him that is in charity. Nevertheless, to a soul that desireth cleanness and purity of heart, and a spiritual feeling of God, they are full heavy, painful and bitter, and greatly to be eschewed; for the spirit cannot feel his kindly savour within, till the flesh hath lost his beastly savour without.
And, therefore, if thou wilt come to cleanness of heart, thou must strive against the unreasonable stirrings of fleshly desires, but against the ground of them thou shalt not rise; for the ground of it is Need, as natural hunger, which thou must necessarily feel, and must attend thereto, and satisfy it in fitting time and manner, and help thyself against it by medicine of meat, as thou wouldst help thyself in a reasonable manner against a bodily sickness, that thou mayest more freely serve God both bodily and spiritually. For know thou well, that what man or woman that shall be occupied spiritually in thoughts, great pain or hunger wilfully undertaken or bodily sickness or pain in the stomach, or in the head, or in other parts of the body for want of good ruling of themselves in too much fasting, or in any other way, will much let the spirit, and much hinder him from the knowing and beholding of spiritual things, unless he have much grace, and be arrived to great abilities in the Contemplative life. For though it be true, that bodily pain either of penance, or of sickness, or of bodily occupation, sometime letteth not the fervour of love to God in devotion, but oft increaseth it, yet I believe that they let the fervour of love in Contemplation, the which may not be had nor felt fully, but in rest and freedom of body and soul from all the aforesaid corporal pains, wants, employments and solicitudes.
THEREFORE, thou shalt behave thyself discreetly about thy body, yielding it necessaries reasonably, and then let God send thee what He pleaseth, either health or sickness; take it gladly, and grudge not willingly against Him.
Do as I say, take thy meat as it cometh, or provide it according to reason, and take it gladly, as a thing that thou needest; but be well aware of lusts that cometh with need, eschew too much as well as too little. And having done, if after it there arise in thee a remorse or biting of conscience, that thou hast eaten too much, and thereupon thou becomest sad and heavy with overmuch bitterness against thyself, lift up the desire of thy heart to thy good Lord Jesus, and acknowledge thyself a wretch, and a beast, and ask Him forgiveness, and say that thou wilt amend it, and pray that he will forgive thee. Leave off then, and think no further of it, nor strive so much with the vice, as if thou wouldst destroy it utterly, for it is not worth the doing so, neither shalt thou be ever able to bring it about that way; but set thyself about some other business bodily or ghostly, according as thou findest thyself best disposed, that thereby thou mayest profit more in other virtues, as in humility and charity. For wot thou well, that he that hath in his desire and in his endeavours no other respect to no other thing but Humility and Charity, always crying after them, how he may have them, he shall through such desire and manner of working profit and increase, not only in those two virtues, but also in all other virtues together with them, as in chastity, abstinence and such other (though he have but a little regard to them in comparison of the other, namely, Humility and Charity) more in one year than he should, without the said desire and manner of working, profit in seven years, though he strive against gluttony, lechery and such other continually, and beat himself with scourges each day from morning to even-song time.
Set thyself, therefore, about Humility and Charity, and using all thy diligence and industry to come by them, yet shalt thou have enough to do in getting of them. And if thou canst get them, they will direct thee, and measure thee privily and secretly, how thou shalt eat, and how thou shalt drink, and succour all thy bodily needs, that there shall no man know of it, unless thou thyself do tell it him, and that thou shalt not be in perplexity, scruples, vexation, anguishment, or heaviness, nor with any lust or adhering to the delights and likings of sensuality, but shalt do all in peace of a glad conscience with all quietness and satisfaction. I have spoken more than I thought to have done in this matter, but nevertheless do (as far as thou canst) as I say, and I hope God shall make all well.
By this that I have said, thou mayest in some measure see into this image of sin, and perceive how much it hinders thee. The Gospel saith, how that Abraham spake to the rich man that was buried in hell, on this wise: There is betwixt us and you a great chaos; that is to say, a thick darkness betwixt thee and us, that we cannot come to thee, nor thou to us. This dark image in thy soul and mine may be in like manner called a chaos, that is, a great darkness, for it letteth us that we cannot come to Abraham, which is Jesus, and it letteth Him, that He will not come to us.
LIFT up thy lanthorn, and thou shalt see in this image five windows, by which sin cometh into thy soul, as the Prophet saith: Death cometh in by our windows.139 These are the five senses by which thy soul goeth out of herself, and fetcheth her delight, and seeketh her feeding in earthly things, contrary to the nobility of her own nature. As by the eye to see curious and fair things, and so of the other senses. By the unskilful using of these senses willingly to vanities, thy soul is much letted from the sweetness of the spiritual senses within; and therefore it behoveth thee to stop these windows, and shut them, but only when need requireth to open them.
And this would be little mastery or difficulty for thee to do, if thou didst once see thy own soul by clear understanding what it is, and how fair it is in its own nature, and so is still, were it not so overlaid with a black mantle of this foul image. But because thou knowest it not, therefore leavest thou the inward sight of thyself, and seekest thy food without, abroad, like a brute beast. Thus saith our Lord in a threatening way to a chosen soul in holy Writ: Thou fairest among women, if thou knowest not thyself, go out, and walk after the steps of the flock of thy fellows, and feed thy kids. And it is as much as to say: Thou soul, fair by nature, made after the likeness of God, frail in thy body as a woman, by reason of the first sin, that thou knowest not thyself, nor how that angels' food should be thy delights within, therefore goest thou out by thy bodily senses, and seekest thy meat and thy liking as a beast of the flock, that is as one outcast and rejected, and therewith thou feedest thy thoughts and thine affections, which are unclean as goats. It is a shame for thee to do so.
And, therefore, turn home again into thyself and hold thee within, and beg no more without, namely, swines' meat. For if thou wilt needs be a beggar, ask and crave within of thy Lord Jesus, for He is rich enough, and gladlier would give thee than thou canst ask, and run no more out as a beast of the flock, that is a worldly man or woman, that hath no delight but in his bodily senses. And if thou do thus, thy Lord Jesus will give thee all that thou needest, for He will lead thee into His wine cellar, and make thee to taste and try His wines, which liketh thee best for he hath many tuns. Thus a chosen soul, joying in our Lord, saith of Him in holy Writ: The King brought me into His wine cellar.142 That is to say: Inasmuch as I forsook the drunkenness of fleshly lusts and worldly likings, which are bitter as wormwood, therefore the King of bliss, the Lord Jesus, led me in; that is, first into myself for to behold and know myself, and after He led me into His cellar; that is to say, above myself by ascending and passing into Him alone, and gave me a taste of His wine; that is for to taste a certainty of spiritual sweetness and heavenly joy. These are not the words of me, a wretched caitiff, living in sin, but they are the words of the spouse of our Lord in holy Writ; and these words I say to thee, to the end that thou mightest draw in thy soul from without, and follow on further as well as thou canst.
I will show thee furthermore (for thy desire draweth more out of my heart than I thought to have said in the beginning) when the use of thy senses be deadly sin, and when venial. Thus, therefore, our Lord saith in the Gospel: A man made a great supper, and called many thereto, and sent his servant at supper-time, after them that were bidden. The first excused himself, and said on this wise, that he could not come, for he had bought a farm. The other also excused himself, that he could not come, for he had bought five yoke of oxen, and went to try them. The third, for that he had married a wife. I forbear to speak of the first and of the last, and will tell ye of the middlemost of them, that had bought the oxen, for he is to our purpose. Five yoke of oxen betoken the five senses, which are beastly as an ox. Now this man that was called to the supper was not rejected because he bought the oxen, but because he went to try them, and so he would not come. Right so say I to thee; for to have thy senses, and to use them in need, it is no sin, but if thou go voluntarily to try them by vain delights in creatures, then it is sin. And if thou choose that delight as a final rest of thy soul, and as a full liking, that thou carest not to have any other bliss but such worldly vanities, then is it deadly, for thou choosest it as thy God, and so shalt thou be put from thy supper; for St Paul forbids us to use our senses in that manner when he said thus: Thou shalt not go after thy lusts, nor voluntarily try thy likings. A man or a woman that is encumbered with deadly sin shall hardly escape deadly sin in this business, though he perceiveth it not; but I hope this toucheth not thee.
Nevertheless, if thou through frailty delight thee in thy senses, and in such vanities, but yet keepest thyself in charity and the grace of God as to other things, and choosest not this delight for a full rest of thy soul, but always settest up God above all things in thy desire, this sin in thee is venial; and that more or less according to its circumstances; nor shalt thou for these venial sins be put from the supper in the bliss of heaven, but thou shalt want the tasting and the assaying of that delicate supper, whilst thou livest here on earth, unless thou be busy with all thy might to withstand and conquer such venial sins, for though it be so that venial sins break not charity, yet soothly they let the fervour and the ghostly feeling of charity.
But thou wilt say again, that thou canst not keep from hearing of vanities, for divers, both those that live in the world and others, come oft to speak with thee, and tell thee some tales of vanity.
As unto this I say thus, that thy communing with thy neighbour is not much hurt to thee, but helpeth thee sometimes, if thou order thy business wisely; for that thou mayest try and find out thereby the measure of thy charity to thy neighbour, whether it be much or little. Thou art bounden (as all other men and women are) to love thy neighbour principally in thy heart, and also in deeds to show him tokens of charity, as reason asketh, according to thy might and knowledge. And since it is so that thou oughtest not to go out of thy house to seek occasion how thou mightest profit thy neighbour by deeds of charity, because thou art enclosed; nevertheless thou art bound to love all men in thy heart, and to show some tokens of true love to them that come to thee. And therefore, whoso will speak with thee, whatsoever he be, or of what degree soever, though thou knowest not what he is, nor why he cometh, yet be thou soon ready with a good will to ask what his will is, be not dainty, nor suffer him long to wait for thee, but look how ready and how glad thou wouldst be if an angel of heaven should come and speak with thee, so ready and so buxom be thou in will for to speak with thy neighbour when he cometh to thee, for thou knowest not what he is, nor why he cometh, nor what need he hath of thee, or thou of him, till thou hast tried. And though thou be at prayer, or at thy devotions, that thou thinkest loth to break off, for that thou thinkest that thou oughtest not leave God for to speak with anyone, I think not so in this case, for if thou be wise thou shalt not leave God, but thou shalt find Him, and have Him, and see Him, in thy neighbour, as well as in prayer, only in another manner.
If thou canst love thy neighbour well, to speak with thy neighbour with discretion shall be no hindrance to thee. Discretion shalt thou have on this manner as me thinketh; Whoso cometh to thee, ask him meekly what he would have; and if he come to tell thee his disease or trouble and to be comforted by thy speech, hear him gladly, and suffer him to say what he will, for ease of his own heart; and when he hath done, comfort him if thou canst, gladly, gently and charitably, and soon break off. And then, after that, if he will fall into idle tales, or vanities of the world, or of other men's actions, answer him but little, and feed not his speech, and he will soon be weary, and quickly take his leave.
If it be another man that cometh to teach thee, as some Churchman, etc., hear him humbly, and with reverence to his order; and if his speeches comfort thee, ask of him more what thou needest, and take not upon thee to teach him, for it falleth not to thy share to teach a priest, but in case of necessity. If his speech comfort thee or profit thee not, answer little, and he will soon take his leave.
If it be another man that cometh to give thee his alms, or else for to hear thee speak, or to be taught by thee, speak gently and humbly to them all, reprove no man for his faults, for that belongeth not to thee, unless he be the more homely or familiar with thee, that thou knowest that he will take it well from thee. And to be short in this matter of thy telling of another of his faults, I say, that when thou conceivest that it will do him good (namely, in his soul) thou mayest tell him thy mind, if thou hast opportunity, and if he is likely to take it well. And above all other things, in this matter of conversing with thy neighbour, keep silence as much as thou canst, and then shalt thou see that by so doing thou shalt in short time be troubled with little press or company that would come to hinder thy devotions. This is my opinion herein; do thou better if thou canst.
BUT thou wilt say that thou hast done all this, namely, stopped the windows of thy five senses, so that thou seest no worldly things, nor hearest them, nor hast any use of thy senses, more than need requireth; and for that end thou art enclosed. And to this I answer: If thou do thus, as I hope thou dost, then hast thou stopped a great window of this image, but yet art thou not secure; for that thou hast not stopped the privy holes of the imaginations of thy heart. For though thou seest me not with thy bodily eye, yet mayest thou see me at the same time in thy soul by imagination; and so mayest thou do of all bodily things. If, then, thou feedest thy soul willingly and wittingly by imaginations of vanities of the world, and desiring of worldly things; as a comfort or pleasure and ease; verily though thy soul be kept within as to thy bodily senses, it is notwithstanding far without by such vain imaginations.
But now thou wilt ask me whether it be any great sin for a soul to busy itself in such vanities, either by the outward senses or by the inward imaginations and thoughts. As unto this I say; that I would never have thee ask any man this question; for he that will truly love God, he asketh not commonly, whether this or that be the greater sin? For he will think that whatsoever letteth him from the love of God is a great sin, and will think nothing sin but that thing which is not good, and letteth him from the love of God. What is sin but a wanting or a forbearing of good? I say not that it will or ought to grieve him so much as a mortal sin would, or a venial sin should, neither say I but that he knoweth and distinguisheth a mortal sin from a venial, and fleeth it more than the other.
BY this that I have said mayest thou see a little the darkness of this image of sin, not that I have described it fully to thee as it is, for I cannot; nevertheless by this little thou mayest see more if thou look well.
But thou wilt say, how know you that I bear about me such an image as you speak of? To which I answer, that I may take to me a word said by the prophet, which is this: Inveni idolum mihi -- I have found an idol in myself; that is, a false image, which some call an idol, very foul, disfigured and misshapen with wretchedness of all those sins which I have spoken of, by the which I am cast down into fleshly or sensual pleasures and worldly vanities, from cleanness of heart, and feeling of spiritual virtues, more than I can or may say: and such fall of mine much grieveth me, and I cry God mercy for it. By this wretchedness which I feel in my own self, more than I have said, may I the better tell thee of thy image, for we all came of Adam and Eve, clothed with clothes of beasts' skins, as the Scripture saith: Our Lord made to Adam and his wife clothes of a beast's hide.145 In token that by sin they were come to be misshapen like to a beast, in which beastly clothes we all are born, and wrapped, and disfigured from our kingly shape.
This then is an ugly image to look upon; whose head is pride; for pride is the first and principal sin, as the wise man saith: The beginning of all manner of sin is pride. The back and hinder part of it is covetousness, as St Paul saith: I forget that which is behind (vizi, all worldly things) and I stretch forward to that which is before.147 The breast (in which is the heart) is Envy; for it is no fleshly sin, but it is a devil's sin, as the wise man saith: By envy of the devil death came into the world,148 for all those that are of his party follow him therein. The arms of it are wrath, inasmuch as a man wreaketh or revengeth himself by his arms, contrary to Christ's bidding in the Gospel: If a man smite thee upon one cheek, thou shalt not smite him again, but offer him the other.149 The belly of this image is gluttony, as St Paul saith: Meat serveth for the belly, and the belly for meat, but God shall destroy them both; namely, at the last day, when shall be the full reforming of his chosen, and damning of the reprobate, The members of it are lechery, of the which St Paul saith thus: Yield not your members to be instruments of iniquity unto sin; especially to this sin of lechery. The feet of it are sloth; therefore the wise man said to the slow and lazy person (to stir him up to do good deeds), Run, make haste, raise thy friend,151 that is to say, run quickly about to good works, and make haste, for the time passeth, and raise up thy friend, which is Jesus, by devout Prayer and Meditation. Here hast thou heard the members of this image.
THIS is not the image of Jesus, but it is liker an image of the Devil, for the image of Jesus is made of virtues, with humility and perfect love and charity; but this is made of false fleshly love to thyself, with all those members, spoken of in the former chapter, fastened thereto. This image bearest thou, and every man whatsoever he be, until by grace of Jesus it be somewhat destroyed and broken down. Thus David seemeth to say in the Psalter: Man passeth away as an image, and is troubled in vain.152 Which is as if he had said: Though it be so that man in the beginning was made after the image of God, stable and stedfast; nevertheless because of sin, he proceedeth far in this image of sin, living in this world, by the which he is unstable and troubled in vain. Also St Paul speaketh of this Image thus: As we have heretofore borne the image of the earthly man, the first Adam, that is, the image of sin, Right so now (if we will come to the love of God) let us bear the image of the heavenly man Jesus,153 which is the image of virtues.
What shalt thou do with this image? I answer thee by a word that the Jews said to Pilate of Christ -- Crucify Him. Take thou this body of sin, and do Him on the Cross; that is to say, break down this image, and slay the false love of sin in thyself; as Christ's body was slain for our sins and trespasses; right so it behoveth thee, if thou wilt be like Christ, slay thy bodily liking and fleshly lusts in thyself. Thus said St Paul: Those that are Christ's followers have crucified and slain their flesh (that is, the image of sin) with all the lusts,154 and the unreasonable desires and appetites of it. Slay then and break down Pride, and set up Humility; also break down Anger and Envy, and raise up Love and Charity to thy neighbour. Also instead of Covetousness, poverty of Spirit; instead of Sloth, fervour in devotion with cheerful readiness to all good deeds; and instead of Gluttony and Lechery, Sobriety and Charity in body and soul. This considered St Paul, when he said thus: Putting off the old man with all his members, which is rotten according to the desires of error, ye shall shape you and clothe you in the new man, which is the image of God by holiness and righteousness and perfection of virtues. Who shall help thee to break down this image? Verily thy Lord Jesus. In the virtue and in the Name of Him shalt thou break down this mawment (or idol) of sin, pray to Him earnestly, and desire it, and He shall help thee.
Gather then thy heart together, and do after the counsel of the wise man, when he saith thus: With all diligence keep thine heart, for out of it cometh life,156 and that is when it is well kept, for then wise thoughts, clean affections and burning desires of virtues and of charity, and of the bliss of Heaven come out of it, making the soul to live a blessed life. But on the contrary, if it be not kept, then as our Lord saith in the Gospel, evil thoughts and unclean affections come out of the heart which defile the man. They either benumb and kill the life of the soul by mortal sin, or else they enfeeble the soul and make it sick, if they be venial. For what is a man but his thoughts and his loves? These alone make a man good or bad. So much as thou lovest God and thy neighbour, and knowest Him, so much is thy soul, and if thou love Him little, little is thy soul, and if thou love Him not at all, nothing at all is thy soul. It is nothing as to good, but it is much as to sin. And if thou wilt know what thou lovest, look and observe what thou thinkest upon most, for where our love is, there is our eye; and where our liking is, upon that our heart is thinking most. If thou love God much, thou likest to think much upon Him, and if thou love Him little, then little dost thou think upon Him. Rule well thy thoughts and thine affections, and then art thou virtuous.
Undertake then the breaking down of this image, when thou hast first well bethought thee of thyself, and of thy wretchedness, inwardly, as I have said, how proud, how vain, how envious, how melancholy (or froward), how covetous, how fleshly, and how full of corruption. Also how little knowing, feeling or savour thou hast of God and of spiritual things, how wise, how quick and how much savour thou hast in earthly things. And (that I may say all in one word) how thou art as full of sin as an hide or skin is full of flesh, yet be not thou too much dejected, though thou thinkest thus of thyself. And when thou hast done thus, lift up then the desire of thy heart to thy Lord Jesus, and pray for His help, cry to Him with great desires and sighings that He will help thee to bear this great burthen of this image, or else that He will break it. Think also what a shame it is for thee to be fed with swines' meat of fleshly savours, that oughtest to feel a spiritual savour of heavenly joy.
If thou dost thus, then beginnest thou to rise against the whole ground of sin in thee, as I have said. And it may be that thou shalt feel pain and sorrow, for thou must know that no soul can live without pain, heaviness and sadness, unless that she take delight or have her rest either in her Creator or in some creature. And, therefore, when thou risest against thyself by a fervent desire for to attain to the feeling of thy Lord Jesus within thee, and for to draw away thy love from all bodily things, and from rest in all bodily feelings, insomuch that thou art even a burthen to thyself, and it seems to thee that all creatures are risen up against thee, and all the things, which heretofore thou tookest delight in, do now turn thee to pain and heaviness. And when thou hast thus forsaken thyself, and canst not likely, for all that, as yet find comfort in God, needs must thy soul feel and suffer pain in this case. Nevertheless, I hope that he that will suffer this pain awhile, stedfastly, cleaving to the desire and naked mind after Jesus Christ, and to that his desire, that he will have nothing but his Lord, and will not lightly depart therefrom, nor seek any other comfort from without for a time (for it lasteth not long), our Lord is nigh to him, and soon shall ease his heart, for He will help him to bear his body or sensuality, which is full of corruption; and will, with His merciful power of His gracious presence, break down this false image of love in him; not all at once, but by little and little, till he be in some measure reformed to His likeness.
After such a total rising and resolution made by thee against thyself, when it is passed thou shalt more soberly, more gently and more easily rule thyself, and more charily keep and guard thy thoughts and thine affections, and shalt note and discern them, whether they be good or bad. And thereupon if afterwards thou feel (I put this for an example) a stirring of pride in any manner or spice of it, be then presently well aware, as well and as soon as thou canst, and suffer it not to escape away lightly, but take it in mind, and there rent it, break it and despise it, and do all the shame thou canst unto it; look thou spare it not, nor believe it, though it speak never so fair, for it is false, though it seem to be truth; as the Prophet saith: My people, they who call thee blessed, do deceive thee (by their so saying) and would bring thee into error.157
And if thou be diligent to do thus, thou shalt, by the grace of Jesus, within short time, stop much of the spring of Pride and much abate the vain delight thereof, so that thou shalt very early feel any such motion in thee. And when thou feelest it, it shall be so weak and, as it were, half dead, that it shall not much trouble thee. And then shalt thou have a spiritual sight of the virtue of Humility, and see how good and how fair it is, and thou shalt desire it and love it for its goodness, so that it shall please thee both to behold and see thyself as thou art indeed, and also to be esteemed and held by others to be such a one, that is full of corruption, and (if need be) to suffer gladly despite and reproof for love of righteousness.
In like manner when thou feelest any stirrings of wrath, or anger, or of melancholic risings of heart, or any other evil will against thy neighbour, for any manner of cause, though it seem reasonable, and not to be against charity, beware of it, and be ready with thy thought to restrain it, that it turn not into a further liking or consent; resist it as much as thou canst, and follow it not neither by word nor deed, but as it riseth, smite it down again, and so shalt thou slay it with the sword of the fear of God, that it shall not trouble thee, for know well in all these stirrings of pride, vain-glory, envy, or any other, that as soon as thou perceiveth it, and resistest it with displeasure of thy will and of thy reason, thou slayest it. Though it be so, that it cleave still upon thy heart against thy will, and will not lightly pass away, fear it not, for though it letteth thy soul from peace, yet doth it not defile her.
Right so in like manner shalt thou do against all evil stirrings of Covetousness, Sloth, Gluttony and Lechery; that thou be always ready with thy reason and thy will to reprove them and despise them.
And this mayest thou do the better, and the more readily, if thou be diligent and careful to set thy heart most upon one thing, and that is nought else but a spiritual desire after God, how to please Him, love Him and know Him, to see Him and to enjoy Him by grace here in a little feeling, and in the bliss of Heaven in a full being. This desire, if thou keep it, it will tell thee what is sin, and what is not; and what thing is good and what better; and if thou wilt but fasten thy thoughts to the same desire, it shall teach thee all that thou needest, and it shall procure thee all that thou wantest. And, therefore, whensoever thou risest against the ground of sin in general, or against the ground of any particular sin, hang fast upon this desire, and set the point of thy thoughts more upon God whom thou desirest than upon the sin which thou abhorrest. And if thou do so, then God fighteth for thee, and will destroy sin in thee. And thou shalt much sooner come to thy purpose if thou doest thus, than if thou shouldst leave thy humble desire principally after God, and set thy heart only against the stirrings of sin, as though thou wouldst destroy it by thy own mastering of it, but thou shalt never so bring it about.
Do as I have said, and better if thou canst, and I hope by the grace of Jesus thou shalt make the devil ashamed, and shalt break down all such wicked stirrings, that they shall not much trouble thee. And by this course may the image of sin be broken down in thee and destroyed, by the which thou art misshapen from the kindly shape of Christ's image; and thou shalt be reformed and shapen again to the image of the Humanity of Jesus, by humility and charity, and afterwards shalt thou become full shapen to the image itself of the Godhead, whilst thou livest here, as it were in a shadow of it in contemplation, and hereafter in verity and full reality in the bliss of Heaven.
Of this shaping to the likeness of Christ St Paul speaks thus: My little children whom I travail with again (as a woman that were with child with you) until Christ be shapen again in you.158 Thou hast conceived Christ within thee by faith, and He liveth in thy soul by grace, inasmuch as thou hast a good will and a desire to serve Him and please Him; but He is not yet fully shapen in thee, nor thou in Him by perfection of charity. And therefore St Paul bare thee and me and others also with travail, as a woman beareth a child, until the time that Christ hath His full shape in us, and we in Him. Of this treateth the second book.
WHOSO thinkest to attain to the working and to the full use of contemplation and not by this way, that is by perfection of virtues, and taking full heed thereto, cometh not in by the door, and therefore as a thief he shall be cast out. I say not but that a man may have by the gift of God, at by times, a tasting and a glimmering of the contemplative life; some I say at the beginning of their conversion. But the solid feeling of it shall he not have, until he have gotten in him some perfection of virtues. For Christ is the door, and is also the porter, and without His leave and His liberty no man may come in; as He Himself saith: No man cometh to the Father but by Me.159 That is to say, no man can come to the contemplation of the Godhead but he that is first reformed by perfection of humility and charity, to the likeness of Jesus in His Humanity.
Lo, then, have I told thee a little, as methinketh, first of Contemplative life, what it is; and then of the ways which, by the grace of God, lead thereunto. Not as if I had it myself in feeling and in working, as I have it in talking. Nevertheless, I would by this writing of mine (such as it is) first stir up my own negligence to do better than I have done; and also my purpose is, to stir thee, or any other man or woman that hath taken the state of life Contemplative, to travail more diligently and more humbly in that manner of life, by such simple words as God hath given me grace for to say. And therefore if there be any word therein that stirreth thee or comforteth thee more to the love of God, thank God, for it is His gift and not of the words written. And if it comforteth thee not, and thou understandest it not readily, study not too long about it, but lay it aside till another time, and go to thy prayers or some other business; take it as it will come, and not all at once.
Also these words which I write, take them not too strictly, but when thou thinkest, upon good consideration, that I write too short, either for lack of English or lack of reason, I pray thee amend it only where need is. Also these words which I write to thee, belong not all of them to one that is of an active life, but to thee or to any other which hath the state of life contemplative.
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with thee.
The fairness and the foulness of it.
St Luke 13.
90St Matt. 16, St John 12.
1 St John 1.
94St John 14.
100St Matt. 8.
St Luke 15.
104St Matt. 6.
105St Luke 8.
111St Matt. 13.
113St John 14.
114St Matt. 11.
115St John 13.
1 Cor. 13.
136S. Matt. 5.
137St John 13.
St Luke 16.
St Luke 14.
149St Matthew 5.
1 Cor. 4.
1531 Cor. 15.
159St John 14.