Soon after this holy maiden died, and passed away happy from earth, even as her whole life had been conspicuous only for her virtues. After her death she appeared to her spiritual father in a vision. She was clothed in raiment whiter than snow; she shone with dazzling brightness, and was full of heavenly joy. She came near to him, and showed him in what an excellent fashion she had passed away into the simple Godhead. He saw and heard her with exceeding delight, and the vision filled his soul with heavenly consolations. When he returned to himself, he sighed most deeply, and thus pondered: O Almighty God, how blessed is he, who strives after Thee alone! He may well be content to bear affliction, whose sufferings Thou wilt thus reward! May the Almighty God grant that we likewise may be brought to the same joys as this blessed maiden!
A MEDITATION ON THE PASSION OF CHRIST
THEN said the Eternal Wisdom to the servitor, Attend and listen dutifully, while I tell thee what sufferings I lovingly endured for thy sake.
After I had finished My last Supper with My disciples, when I had offered Myself to My enemies on the mount, and had resigned Myself to bear a terrible death, and knew that it was approaching very near, so great was the oppression of My tender heart and all My body, that I sweated blood; then I was wickedly arrested, bound, and carried away. On the same night they treated Me with insult and contumely, beating Me, spitting upon Me, and covering My head. Before Caiaphas was I unjustly accused and condemned to death. What misery it was to see My mother seized with unspeakable sorrow of heart, from the time when she beheld Me threatened with such great dangers, till the time when I was hung upon the cross. They brought Me before Pilate with every kind of ignominy, they accused Me falsely, they adjudged Me worthy of death. Before Herod I, the Eternal Wisdom, was mocked in a bright robe. My fair body was miserably torn and rent by cruel scourgings. They surrounded My sacred head with a crown of thorns; My gracious face was covered with blood and spittings. When they had thus condemned Me to death, they led Me out with My cross to bear the last shameful punishment. Their terrible and savage cries could be heard afar off: "Crucify, crucify, the wicked man."
Servitor. Alas, Lord, if so bitter were the beginnings of Thy passion, what will be the end thereof? In truth, if I saw a brute beast so treated in my presence I could hardly bear it. What grief then should I feel in heart and soul at Thy Passion? And yet there is one thing at which I marvel greatly. For I long, O my most dear God, to know only Thy Godhead; and Thou tellest me of Thy humanity. I long to taste Thy sweetness, and Thou showest me Thy bitterness. What meaneth this, O my Lord God?
Wisdom. No man can come to the height of My Godhead, nor attain to that unknown sweetness, unless he be first led through the bitterness of My humanity. My humanity is the road by which men must travel. My Passion is the gate, through which they must enter. Away then with thy cowardice of heart, and come to Me prepared for a hard campaign. For it is not right for the servant to live softly and delicately, while his Lord is fighting bravely. Come, I will now put on thee My own armour. And so thou must thyself also experience the whole of My Passion, so far as thy strength permits. Take, therefore, the heart of a man; for be sure that thou wilt have to endure many deaths, before thou canst put thy nature under the yoke. I will sprinkle thy garden of spices with red flowers. Many are the afflictions which will come upon thee; till thou hast finished thy sad journey of bearing the cross, and hast renounced thine own will and disengaged thyself so completely from all creatures, in all things, which might hinder thine eternal salvation, as to be like one about to die, and no longer mixed up with the affairs of this life.
Servitor. Hard and grievous to bear are the things which Thou sayest, Lord. I tremble all over. How can I bear all these things? Suffer me, O Lord, to ask Thee something. Couldst Thou not devise any other way of saving my soul, and of testifying Thy love towards me, so as to spare Thyself such hard sufferings, and so that I need not suffer so bitterly with Thee?
Wisdom. The unfathomable Abyss of My secret counsels no man ought to seek to penetrate, for no one can comprehend it. And yet that which thou hast suggested, and many other things, might have been possible, which nevertheless never happen. Be assured, however, that as created things now are, no more fitting method could be found. The Author of Nature doth not think so much what He is able to do in the world, as what is most fitting for every creature; and this is the principle of His operations. And by what other means could the secrets of God have been made known to man, than by the assumption of humanity by Christ? By what other means could he who had deprived himself of joy by the inordinate pursuit of pleasure, be brought back more fittingly to the joys of eternity? And who would be willing to tread the path, avoided by all, of a hard and despised life, if God had not trodden it Himself? If thou wert condemned to death, how could any one show his love and fidelity to thee more convincingly, or provoke thee to love him in return more powerfully, than by taking thy sentence upon himself? If, then, there is any one who is not roused and moved to love Me from his heart by My immense love, My infinite pity, My exalted divinity, My pure humanity, My brotherly fidelity, My sweet friendship, is there anything that could soften that stony heart?
Servitor. The light begins to dawn upon me, and I seem to myself to see clearly that it is as Thou sayest, and that whoever is not altogether blind must admit that this is the best and most fitting of all ways. And yet the imitation of Thee is grievous to a slothful and corruptible body.
Wisdom. Shrink not because thou must follow the footsteps of My Passion. For he who loves God, and is inwardly united to Him, finds the cross itself light and easy to bear, and has nought to complain of. No one receives from Me more marvellous sweetness, than he who shares My bitterest labours. He only complains of the bitterness of the rind, who has not tasted the sweetness of the kernel. He who relies on Me as his protector and helper may be considered to have accomplished a large part of his task.
Servitor. Lord, by these consoling words I am so much encouraged, that I seem to myself to be able to do and suffer all things through Thee. I pray Thee, then, that Thou wilt unfold the treasure of Thy Passion to me more fully.
Wisdom. When I was hung aloft and fastened to the wood of the cross (which I bore for My great love to thee and all mankind), all the wonted appearance of My body was piteously changed. My bright eyes lost their light; My sacred ears were filled with mocking and blasphemy; My sweet mouth was hurt by the bitter drink. Nowhere was there any rest or refreshment for Me. My sacred head hung down in pain; My fair neck was cruelly bruised; My shining face was disfigured by festering wounds; My fresh colour was turned to pallor. In a word, the beauty of My whole body was so marred, that I appeared like a leper—I, the Divine Wisdom, who am fairer than the sun.
Servitor. O brightest mirror of grace, which the Angels desire to look into, in which they delight to fix their gaze, would that I might behold Thy beloved countenance in the throes of death just long enough to water it with the tears of my heart, and to satisfy my mind with lamentations over it.
Wisdom. No one more truly testifies his grief over My Passion, than he who in very deed passes through it with Me. Far more pleasing to Me is a heart disentangled from the love of all transitory things, and earnestly intent on gaining the highest perfection according to the example which I have set before him in My life, than one which continually weeps over My Passion, shedding as many tears as all the raindrops that ever fell. For this was what I most desired and looked for in My endurance of that cruel death—namely, that mankind might imitate Me; and yet pious tears are very dear to Me.
Servitor. Since then, O most gracious God, the imitation of Thy most gentle life and most loving Passion is so pleasing to Thee, I will henceforth labour more diligently to follow Thy Passion than to weep over it. But since both are pleasing to Thee, teach me, I pray Thee, how I ought to conform myself to Thy Passion.
Wisdom. Forbid thyself the pleasure of curious and lax seeing and hearing; let love make sweet to thee those things which formerly thou shrankest from; eschew bodily pleasures; rest in Me alone; bear sweetly and moderately the ills that come from others; desire to despise thyself; break thy appetites; crush out all thy pleasures and desires. These are the first elements in the school of Wisdom, which are read in the volume of the book of My crucified body. But consider whether anyone, do what he may, can make himself for My sake such as I made Myself for his.
Servitor. Come then, my soul, collect thyself from all external things, into the tranquil silence of the inner man. Woe is me! My heavenly Father had adopted my soul to be His bride; but I fled far from Him. Alas, I have lost my Father, I have lost my Lover. Alas, alas, and woe is me! What have I done, what have I lost? Shame on me, I have lost myself, and all the society of my heavenly country. All that could delight and cheer me has utterly forsaken me; I am left naked. My false lovers were only deceivers. They have stripped me of all the good things which my one true Lover gave me; they have despoiled me of all honour, joy, and consolation. O ye red roses and white lilies, behold me a vile weed, and see also how soon those flowers wither and die, which this world plucks. And yet, O most gracious God, none of my sufferings are of any account, compared with this, that I have grieved the eyes of my heavenly Father. This is indeed hell, and a cross more intolerable than all other pain. O heart of mine, harder than flint or adamant, why dost thou not break for grief? Once I was called the bride of the eternal King, now I deserve not to be called the meanest of his handmaids. Never again shall I dare to raise mine eyes, for shame. O that I could hide myself in some vast forest, with none to see or hear me, till I had wept to my heart's desire. O Sin, Sin, whither hast thou brought me? O deceitful World, woe to those who serve thee! Now I have thy reward, I receive thy wages—namely, that I am a burden to myself and the whole world, and always shall be.
Wisdom. Thou must by no means despair; it was for thy sins and those of others that I came into this world, that I might restore thee to Thy heavenly Father, and bring thee back to greater glory and honour than thou ever hadst before.
Servitor. Ah, what is this, which whispers such flattering things to a soul that is dead, abhorred, rejected?
Wisdom. Dost thou not know Me? Why art thou so despondent? Art thou beside thyself with excessive grief, My dearest son? Knowest thou not that I am Wisdom, most gentle and tender, in whom is the Abyss of infinite mercy, never yet explored perfectly even by all the saints, but none the less open to thee and all other sorrowing hearts. I am he who for thy sake willed to be poor and an exile, that I might recall thee to thy former honour. I am He who bore a bitter death, that I might restore thee to life. I am thy Brother; I am thy Bridegroom. I have put away all the wrong that thou ever didst against Me, even as if it had never been, only henceforth, thou must turn wholly to Me, and never again forsake Me. Wash away thy stains in My blood. Lift up thy head, open thine eyes, and take heart. In token of reconciliation, take this ring and put it on thy finger as My bride, put on this robe, and these shoes on thy feet, and receive this sweet and loving name, that thou mayst both be and be called for ever My bride. Thou has cost Me much labour and pain; for that cause, the Abyss of My mercy toward thee is unfathomable.
Servitor. O kindest Father, O sweetest Brother, O only joy of my heart, wilt Thou be so favourable to my unworthy soul? What is this grace? What is the Abyss of Thy clemency and mercy? From the bottom of my heart I thank Thee, O heavenly Father, and beseech Thee by Thy beloved Son, whom Thou hast willed to suffer a cruel death for love, to forget my impieties. . . .
Now, O Lord, I remember that most loving word, wherewith in the book of Ecclesiasticus Thou drawest us to Thyself. "Come to me, all ye who desire me, and be filled with my fruits. I am the mother of beautiful affection. My breath is sweeter than honey, and my inheritance above honey and the honeycomb." "Wine and music rejoice the heart, and above both is the love of Wisdom." Of a surety, O Lord, Thou showest Thyself so lovable and desirable, that it is no wonder that the hearts of all long for Thee, and are tormented by the desire of Thee. Thy words breathe love, and flow so sweetly, that in many hearts the love of temporal things has wholly dried up. Therefore, I greatly long to hear Thee speak of Thy lovableness. Come, O Lord, my only comfort, speak to the heart of Thy servant. For I sleep sweetly beneath Thy shadow, and my heart is awake.
Wisdom. Hear, My son, and see; incline thine ear, forgetting thyself and all other things. Lo, I in Myself am that ineffable Good, which is and ever was; which has never been expressed nor ever will be. For although I give Myself to be felt by men in their inmost hearts, yet no tongue can ever declare or explain in words what I am. For verily all the beauty, grace, and adornment which can be conceived by thee or by others, exists in me far more excellently, more pleasantly, more copiously, than any one could say in words. I am the most loving Word of the Father, begotten from the pure substance of the Father, and wondrously pleasing am I to His loving eyes in the sweet and burning love of the Holy Spirit. I am the throne of happiness, the crown of souls: most bright are Mine eyes, most delicate My mouth, My cheeks are red and white, and all My appearance is full of grace and loveliness. All the heavenly host gaze upon Me with wonder and admiration; their eyes are ever fixed upon Me, their hearts rest in Me, their minds turn to Me and turn again. O thrice and four times happy is he, to whom it shall be given to celebrate this play of love amid heavenly joys at My side, holding My tender hands in happiest security, for ever and ever to all eternity. Only the word that proceeds out of My sweet mouth surpasses the melodies of all the angels, the sweet harmony of all harps, and musical instruments of every kind....
Servitor. There are three things, O Lord, at which I marvel greatly. The first is, that although Thou art in Thyself so exceedingly loving, yet towards sin Thou art a most severe judge and avenger. Alas, Thy face in wrath is too terrible; the words which Thou speakest in anger pierce the heart and soul like fire. O holy and adorable God, save me from Thy wrathful countenance, and defer not till the future life my punishment.
Wisdom. I am the unchangeable Good, remaining always the same. The reason why I do not appear always the same, is on account of those who do not behold Me in the same way. By nature I am friendly; yet none the less I punish vice severely, so that I deserve to be feared. From My friends I require a pure and filial fear, and a friendly love, that fear may ever restrain them from sin, and that love may join them to Me in unbroken loyalty.
Servitor. What Thou sayest pleases me, O Lord, and it is as I would have it. But there is another thing at which I greatly marvel—how it is that when the soul is faint from desire of the sweetness of Thy presence, Thou art wholly mute, and dost not utter a single word that can be heard. And who, O Lord, would not be grieved, when Thou showest Thyself so strange, so silent, to the soul that loves Thee above all things?
Wisdom. And yet all the creatures speak of Me.
Servitor. But that is by no means enough for the soul that loves.
Wisdom. Also every word that is uttered about Me is a message of My love; all the voices of holy Scripture that are written about Me are letters of love, sweet as honey. They are to be received as if I had written them Myself. Ought not this to satisfy thee?
Servitor. Nay but, O most holy God, dearest Friend of all to me, Thou knowest well that a heart which is on fire with love is not satisfied with anything that is not the Beloved himself, in whom is its only comfort. Even though all the tongues of all the angelic spirits were to speak to me, none the less would my unquenchable love continue to yearn and strive for the one thing which it desires. The soul that loves Thee would choose Thee rather than the kingdom of heaven. Pardon me, O Lord: it would become Thee to show more kindness to those who love Thee so ardently, who sigh and look up to Thee and say: Return, return! Who anxiously debate with themselves: alas, thinkest thou that thou hast offended Him? That He has deserted thee? Thinkest thou that He will ever restore thee His most sweet presence, that thou wilt ever again embrace Him with the arms of Thy heart, and press Him to thy breast, that all thy grief and trouble may vanish? All this, O Lord, Thou hearest and knowest, and yet Thou art silent.
Wisdom. Certainly I know all this, and I watch it with great pleasure. But I would have thee also answer a few questions, since thy wonder, though veiled, is so great. What is it which gives the greatest joy to the highest of all created spirits?
Servitor. Ah, Lord, this question is beyond my range. I prithee, answer it Thyself.
Wisdom. I will do as thou desirest. The highest angelic spirit finds nothing more desirable or more delightful than to satisfy My will in all things; so much so, that if he knew that it would redound to My praise for him to root out nettles and tares, he would diligently fulfil this task in preference to all others.
Servitor. Of a truth, Lord, this answer of Thine touches me sharply. I perceive that it is Thy will that I should be resigned in the matter of receiving and feeling tokens of Thy love, and that I should seek Thy glory alone, in dryness and hardness as well as in sweetness.
Wisdom. No resignation is more perfect or more excellent, than to be resigned in dereliction.
Servitor. And yet, O Lord, the pain is very grievous.
Wisdom. Wherein is virtue proved, if not in adversity? But be assured, that I often come, and try whether the door into My house is open, but find Myself repulsed. Many times I am received like a stranger, harshly treated, and then driven out of doors. Nay, I not only come to the soul that loves me, but tarry with her like a friend; but that is done so secretly, that none know it save those who live quite detached and separated from men, and observe My ways, and care only to please and satisfy My grace. For according to My Divinity I am purest Spirit, and I am received spiritually in pure spirits.
Servitor. So far as I understand, Lord God, Thou art a very secret Lover. How glad would I be if Thou wouldest give me some signs, by which I might know Thee to be truly present.
Wisdom. By no other way canst thou know the certainty of My presence better, than when I hide Myself from thee, and withdraw what is Mine from thy soul. Then at last thou knowest by experience what I am, and what thou art. Of a surety I am everlasting Good, without whom no one can have anything good. When therefore I impart that immense Good, which is Myself, generously and lovingly, and scatter it abroad, all things to which I communicate Myself are clothed with a certain goodness, by which My presence can be as easily inferred, as that of the Sun, the actual ball of which cannot be seen, by its rays. If therefore thou ever feelest My presence, enter into thyself, and learn how to separate the roses from the thorns, the flowers from the weeds.
Servitor. Lord, I do search, and I find within myself a great diversity. When I am deserted by Thee, my soul is like a sick man, whose taste is spoiled. Nothing pleases me, but all things disgust me. My body is torpid, my mind oppressed; within is dryness, without is sadness. All that I see or hear, however good in reality, is distasteful and hateful to me. I am easily led into sins; I am weak to resist my enemies; I am cold or lukewarm towards all good. Whoever comes to me, finds my house empty. For the House-Father is away, who knows how to counsel for the best, and to inspire the whole household. On the other hand, when the day-star arises in my inmost heart, all the pain quickly vanishes, all the darkness is dispelled, and a great brightness arises and shines forth. My heart laughs, my mind is exalted, my soul becomes cheerful, all things around me are blithe and merry; whatever is around me and within me is turned to Thy praise. That which before seemed hard, difficult, irksome, impossible, becomes suddenly easy and pleasant. To give myself to fasting, watching, and prayer, to suffer or abstain or avoid, in a word all the hardnesses of life seem when compared with Thy presence to have no irksomeness at all. My soul is bathed in radiance, truth, and sweetness, so that all its labours are forgotten. My heart delights itself in abundant sweet meditations, my tongue learns to speak of high things, my body is brisk and ready for any undertaking; whoever comes to ask my advice, takes back with him high counsels such as he desired to hear. In short, I seem to myself to have transcended the limits of time and space, and to be standing on the threshold of eternal bliss. But who, O Lord, can secure for me, that I may be long in this state? Alas, in a moment it is withdrawn from me; and for a long space again I am left as naked and destitute as if I had never experienced anything of the kind; till at last, after many and deep sighings of heart, it is restored to me. Is this Thou, O Lord, or rather I myself? Or what is it?
Wisdom. Of thyself thou hast nothing except faults and defects. Therefore that about which thou askest is I Myself, and this is the play of love.
Servitor. What is the play of love?
Wisdom. So long as the loved one is present with the lover, the lover knoweth not how dear the loved one is to him; it is only separation which can teach him that.
Servitor. It is a very grievous game. But tell me, Lord, are there any who in this life no longer experience these vicissitudes of Thy presence?
Wisdom. You will find very few indeed. For never to be deprived of My presence belongs not to temporal but to eternal life.
APHORISMS AND MAXIMS
ACT according to the truth in simplicity; and, whatever happens, do not help thyself; for he who helps himself too much will not be helped by the Truth.
God wishes not to deprive us of pleasure; but He wishes to give us pleasure in its totality—that is, all pleasure.
Wilt thou be of use to all creatures? Then turn thyself away from all creatures.
If a man cannot comprehend a thing, let him remain quiet, and it will comprehend him.
Say to the creatures, I will not be to thee what thou art to me.
The power of abstaining from things gives us more power than the possession of them would.
Some men one meets who have been inwardly drawn by God, but have not followed Him. The inner man and the outer man in these cases are widely at variance, and in this way many fail.
He who has attained to the purgation of his senses in God performs all the operations of the senses all the better.
He who finds the inward in the outward goes deeper than he who only finds the inward in the inward.
He is on the right road who contemplates under the forms of things their eternal essence.
It is well with a man who has died to self and begun to live in Christ.
THE ADORNMENT OF THE SPIRITUAL NUPTIALS
"SEE the Bridegroom cometh: go forth to meet Him." St Matthew the evangelist wrote these words, and Christ said them to His disciples and to all men, in the Parable of the Ten Virgins. The Bridegroom is our Lord Jesus Christ, and human nature is the bride, whom God has made in His own image and likeness. He placed her at first in the most exalted, the most beautiful, the richest and most fertile place on earth—in paradise. He subjected to her all the creatures; He adorned her with graces; and He laid a prohibition upon her, in order that by obedience she might deserve to be established in an eternal union with her Bridegroom, and never more fall into any affliction, trouble, or guilt. Then came a deceiver—the infernal, envious foe, under the guise of a cunning serpent. He deceived the woman, and the two together deceived the man, who possessed the essence of human nature. So the enemy despoiled human nature, the bride of God, by his deceitful counsels, and she was driven into a strange country; poor and miserable, a prisoner and oppressed, persecuted by her enemies, as if she could never more return to her country and the grace of reconciliation. But when God saw that the time was come, and took pity on the sufferings of His beloved, He sent His only Son to earth, in a rich abode and a glorious temple—that is to say, in the body of the Virgin Mary. There he married His bride, our nature, and united it to His Person, by means of the pure blood of the noble Virgin. The priest who joined the Bride and Bridegroom was the Holy Spirit; the angel Gabriel announced the marriage, and the blessed Virgin gave her consent. So Christ, our faithful Bridegroom, united our nature to His, and visited us in a strange land, and taught us the manners of heaven and perfect fidelity. And He laboured and fought like a champion against our enemy, and He broke the prison and gained the victory, and His death slew our death, and His blood delivered us, and He set us free in baptism under the life-giving waters, and enriched us by His sacraments and gifts, that we might go forth, as He said, adorned with all virtues, and might meet Him in the abode of His glory, to enjoy Him throughout all eternity.
Now the Master of truth, Christ, saith: "See, the Bridegroom cometh, go forth to meet Him." In these words Jesus, our Lover, teaches us four things. In the first word He gives a command, for He says, "See." Those who remain blind, and those who resist this command are condemned without exception. In the next word He shows us what we shall see—that is to say, the coming of the Bridegroom, when He says, "The Bridegroom cometh." In the third place, He teaches us and commands us what we ought to do, when He says, "Go forth." In the fourth place, when He says, "to meet Him," He shows us the reward of all our works and of all our life, for that must be a loving "going forth," by which we meet our Bridegroom.
We shall explain and analyse these words in three ways, first, according to the ordinary mode of the beginner's life—that is to say, the active life, which is necessary to all who would be saved. In the second place, we shall analyse these words by applying them to the inner life, exalted and loving, to which many men arrive by the virtues and by the grace of God. Thirdly, we shall explain them by applying them to the superessential and contemplative life, to which few attain and which few can taste, because of the supreme sublimity of this life.
ON THE ACTIVE LIFE
CHRIST, the Wisdom of the Father, hath said from the time of Adam and still saith (inwardly, according to His Divinity), to all men, "See"; and this vision is necessary. Now let us observe attentively that for him who wishes to see materially or spiritually, three things are necessary. First, in order that a man may be able to see materially, he must have the external light of heaven, or another natural light, in order that the medium—that is to say, the air across which one sees, may be illuminated. In the second place, he must have the will, that the things which he will see may be reflected in his eyes. Thirdly, he must have the instruments, his eyes, healthy and without flaw, that the material objects may be exactly reflected in them. If a man lacks any one of these three things, his material vision disappears. We shall speak no more of this vision, but of another, spiritual and supernatural, wherein all our blessedness resides.
Three things are necessary for spiritual and supernatural vision. First, the light of the divine grace, then the free conversion of the will towards God, and lastly, a conscience pure from all mortal sin. Now observe: God being a God common to all, and His boundless love being common to all, He grants a double grace; both antecedent grace, and the grace by which one merits eternal life. All men, heathens and Jews, good and bad, have in common antecedent grace. In consequence of the common love of God towards all men, He has caused to be preached and published His name and the deliverance of human nature, even to the ends of the earth. He who wishes to be converted can be converted. For God wishes to save all men and to lose none. At the day of judgment none will be able to complain that enough was not done for him, if he had wished to be converted. So God is a common Light and Splendour which illumine heaven and earth, and men according to their merits and their needs. But though God is common, and though the sun shines on all trees, some trees remain without fruit, and others bear wild fruit useless to mankind. This is why we prune these trees and graft fertile branches upon them, that they may bear good fruit, sweet to taste and useful for men. The fertile branch which comes from the living paradise of the eternal kingdom, is the light of divine grace. No work can have savour, or be useful to man, unless it comes from this branch. This branch of divine grace, which makes man acceptable and by which we merit eternal life, is offered to all. But it is not grafted on all, for they will not purge away the wild branches of their trees—that is to say, unbelief or a perverse will, or disobedience to the commandments of God. But in order that this branch of divine grace may be planted in our soul, three things are necessary; the antecedent grace of God, the conversion of our free will, and the purification of the conscience. Antecedent grace touches all men; but all men do not attain to free conversion and purification of the conscience, and this is why the grace of God, by which they might merit eternal life, fails to touch them. The antecedent grace of God touches man from within or from without. From without, by sickness or loss of outward goods, of relations and friends, or by public shame; or perhaps a man is moved by preaching, or by the examples of saints and just men, by their words or works, till he comes to the knowledge of himself. This is how God touches us from without. Sometimes also a man is touched from within, by recalling the pains and sufferings of our Lord, and the good which God has done to him and to all men, or by the consideration of his sins, of the shortness of life, of the eternal pains of hell and the eternal joys of heaven, or because God has spared him in his sins and has waited for his conversion; or he observes the marvellous works of God in heaven, on earth, and in all creation. These are the works of antecedent divine grace, which touch man from within or from without, and in divers manners. And man has still a natural inclination towards God, proceeding from the spark of his soul or synteresis, [Footnote: See Introduction] and from the highest reason, which always desires the good and hates the evil. Now, in these three manners God touches every man according to his needs, so that the man is struck, warned, frightened, and stops to consider himself. All this is still antecedent grace and not merited; it thus prepares us to receive the other grace, by which we merit eternal life; when the mind is thus empty of bad wishes and bad deeds, warned, struck, in fear of what it ought to do, and considers God, and considers itself with its evil deeds. Thence come a natural sorrow for sin and a natural good will. This is the highest work of antecedent grace.
When man does what he can, and can go no further because of his weakness, it is the infinite goodness of God which must finish this work. Then comes a higher splendour of the grace of God, like a ray of the sun, and it is poured upon the soul, though it is as yet neither merited nor desired. In this light God gives Himself, by free will and by bounty, and no one can merit it before he has it. And it is in the soul an internal and mysterious operation of God, above time, and it moves the soul and all its faculties. Here then ends antecedent grace; and here begins the other—that is to say, supernatural light.
This light is the first necessary condition, and from it is born a second spiritual condition—that is to say, a free conversion of the will in a moment of time, and then love is born in the union of God and the soul. These two conditions are connected, so that one cannot be accomplished without the other. There, where God and the soul are united in the unity of love, God grants His light above time, and the sou! freely turns to God by the force of grace, in a moment of time, and charity is born in the soul, from God and the soul, for charity is a bond of love between God and the loving soul. From these two things, the grace of God, and the free conversion of the will illuminated by grace, is born charity—that is to say, divine love. And from divine love proceeds the third point, the purification of the conscience. And this is accomplished in the consideration of sin and of the flaws in the soul, and because man loves God, there enters into him a contempt for self and for all his works. This is the order of conversion. From it are born a true repentance and a perfect sorrow for the evil that we have done, and an ardent desire to sin no more and to serve God henceforward in humble obedience; from it are born a sincere confession, without reserves, without duplicity and without pretences, the desire to satisfy God and to undertake the practice of all the virtues and all good works. These three things, as you have just heard, are necessary for divine vision. If you possess them, Christ says to you, "See," and you become really seeing. This is the first of the four chief ways in which Christ, our Lord, says "See."
ON THE FIRST COMING OF CHRIST, IN THE FLESH
NEXT, He shows us what we shall see when He says, "The Bridegroom cometh." Christ, our Bridegroom, says this word in Latin: Venit. The word expresses two tenses, the past and the present, and yet here it indicates the future. And this is why we must consider three comings of our Bridegroom Jesus Christ. At His first coming He was made man for love of man. The second coming is daily and frequent in every loving soul, with new graces and new gifts, as man is able to receive them. In the third coming, He will come manifestly on the dreadful day of judgment or at the hour of each man's death. In all these comings we must observe three things, the cause, the interior mode, and the external work.
The cause of the creation of angels and men is the infinite goodness and nobleness of God; He wished that the wealth and blessedness, which are Himself, should be revealed to reasonable creatures, for them to enjoy in time, and in eternity above time. The reason why God became man, is His inconceivable love, and the distress of all men, lost since the fall in original sin, and unable to raise themselves again. But the reason why Christ, according to His divinity and His humanity, accomplished His works on earth, is fourfold—namely, His divine love, which is without measure; the created love, which is called charity, and which He had in His soul by the union of the Eternal Word and the perfect gift of His Father; the great distress of human nature; and the glory of His Father. These are the reasons for the coming of Christ, our Bridegroom, and for all His works, exterior and interior.
Now we must observe in Jesus Christ, if we wish to follow Him in His virtues according to our powers, the mode or condition which He had within, and the works which He wrought without, for they are virtues and the acts of virtues.
The mode which He had according to His divinity is inaccessible and incomprehensible to us, for it is after this mode that He is continually born of the Father, and that the Father in Him and by Him knows and creates and orders, and rules everything in heaven and on earth; for He is the Wisdom of the Father, and from them flows spiritually a Spirit—that is to say, a love, which is the bond between them and the bond of all the saints and just persons on earth and in heaven. We will speak no more of this mode but of the created mode which He had by these divine gifts and according to His humanity. These modes are singularly multiform; for Christ had as many modes as He had interior virtues, for each virtue has its special mode. These virtues and these modes were, in the mind of Christ, above the intelligence and above the comprehension of all creatures. But let us take three—namely, humility, charity, and interior or exterior suffering in patience. These are the three principal roots and origins of all virtues and all perfection.
ON THE TWOFOLD HUMILITY OF CHRIST
NOW understand: there are two kinds of humility in Jesus Christ, according to His divinity. First, He willed to become man; and this nature, which was accursed even to the depth of hell, He accepted according to His personality and was willing to unite Himself to it. So that every man, good or bad, may say, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is my brother. Secondly, He chose for mother a poor virgin, and not a king's daughter, so that this poor virgin became the mother of God, who is the only Lord of heaven and earth and all creatures. In consequence, of all the works of humility which Christ ever accomplished, one may say that God accomplished them. Now let us take the humility which was in Jesus Christ according to His humanity and by grace and divine gifts; according to His humility His soul inclined with all its power in respect and veneration before the power of the Father. For an inclined heart is a humble heart. This is why He did all His works to the praise and glory of the Father, and sought in nothing His own glory according to His humanity. He was humble, and submitted to the old law, and to the commandments, and often to the customs. He was circumcised, and carried to the Temple, and redeemed according to usages, and He paid taxes to Caesar like other Jews. And He submitted Himself humbly to His mother and to Joseph, and served them with a sincere deference according to their needs. He chose for friends—for apostles—the poor and the despised, in order to convert the world. In his intercourse with them and all others He was humble and modest. This is why He was at the disposal of all men, in whatever distress they were, within or without; He was, as it were, the servant of the whole world. This is what we find first in Jesus Christ, our Bridegroom.
ON THE LOVE OF CHRIST, ADORNED WITH ALL VIRTUES
NEXT comes charity, the beginning and source of all virtues. This charity maintained the supreme forces of His soul in tranquillity, and in the enjoyment of the same blessedness which He enjoys at present. And this same charity kept Him continually exalted towards His Father, with veneration, love, praise, respect, with internal prayers for the need of all men, and with the offering of all His works to the glory of God the Father. And this same charity made Christ still overflow with love and kindness towards all the material or spiritual needs of mankind. This is why He has given, by His life, the model after which all men should fashion their lives. He has given spiritual nourishment to all well-disposed men by real internal teachings, as well as by outward miracles. We cannot comprehend His charity to its full extent, for it flowed from the unfathomable fountains of the Holy Spirit, above all the creatures who have ever received charity, for He was God and man in one Person. This is the second point of charity.
ON THE PATIENCE OF CHRIST, EVEN UNTO DEATH
THE third point is to suffer in patience. We will examine this seriously, for it is this which adorned Christ, our Bridegroom, during all His life. He suffered when He was newly born, from poverty and cold. He was circumcised and shed his blood. He was obliged to fly into a foreign country. He served Joseph and His mother, He suffered from hunger and thirst, from shame and contempt and from the wicked words and deeds of the Jews. He fasted, He watched, and was tempted by the enemy. He was subject to all men, He went from district to district, from town to town, to preach the gospel painfully and zealously. Finally, He was taken by the Jews, who were His enemies and whom He loved. He was betrayed, mocked, insulted, scourged, struck, and condemned on false testimony. He carried His cross with great pain to the mount of Calvary. He was stripped naked as at His birth, and never was seen a body so beautiful, nor a mother so unhappy. He endured shame, pain, and cold before all the world, for He was naked, and it was cold, and He was exhausted by His wounds. He was nailed with large nails to the wood of the cross, and was so strained that His veins were burst. He was lifted up and shaken upon the cross, so as to make His wounds bleed, His head was crowned with thorns, and His ears heard the fierce Jews crying out, "Crucify Him! crucify Him!" and many other shameful words. His eyes saw the obstinacy and wickedness of the Jews, and the distress of His mother, and His eyes were extinguished under the bitterness of pain and death. His mouth and palate were hurt by the vinegar and gall, and all the sensitive parts of His body wounded by the scourge.
Behold then Christ, our Bridegroom, wounded to death, abandoned by God and the creatures, dying on the cross, hanging from a post, with no one to care much for Him except Mary, His unhappy mother, who nevertheless could not aid Him. And Christ suffered moreover spiritually, in His soul, from the hardness of the Jews' hearts and those who made Him die, for in spite of the prodigies and miracles which they saw, they remained in their wickedness; and He suffered by reason of their corruption and the vengeance which God was about to inflict upon them, in body and soul, for His death. He suffered moreover for the grief and misery of His mother and disciples, who were in great sadness. And He suffered because His death would be wasted for many men, and for the ingratitude of many, and for the blasphemies of those who would curse Him who died for love of us. And His nature and interior reason suffered because God withdrew from them the inflow of His gifts and consolations, and abandoned them to themselves in such distress. Therefore Christ complained and said, My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?
Behold then the interior virtues of Christ; humility, charity, and suffering in patience. These three virtues Jesus, our Bridegroom, practised throughout His life, and He died in them, and He paid our debt by satisfying justice, and opened His side in His bounty. And thence flow rivers of delight, and sacraments of blessedness. And He was exalted to His power, and sat at the right hand of the Father, and reigns eternally. This is the first coming of our Bridegroom, and it is completely past.
ON THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST, HOW HE EVERY DAY FLOWS INTO OUR HEARTS WITH NEW GRACE
THE second coming of Christ, our Bridegroom, takes place every day in just men. We do not wish to speak here of the first conversion of man, nor of the first grace which was given him when he was converted from sin to virtue. But we wish to speak of a daily increase of new gifts and new virtues, and of a more actual coming of Christ, our Bridegroom, into our soul. Now we must observe the cause, the mode, and the work, of this coming. The cause is fourfold; the mercy of God, our misery, the divine generosity, and our desire. These four causes make the virtues grow and increase.
Now understand. When the sun sends forth its bright rays into a deep valley between two high mountains, and while it is at the zenith, so that it can illuminate the depths of the valley, a triple phenomenon occurs; for the valley is lighted from the mountains, and it becomes warmer and more fertile than the plain. In the same way, when a just man sinks in his misery, and recognises that he has nothing, and is nothing, that he can neither halt nor go forward by his own strength; and when he perceives also that he fails often in virtues and good works, he thus confesses his poverty and distress, and forms the valley of humility. And because he is humble and in need, and because he confesses his need, he makes his plaint to the kindness and mercy of God. He is conscious of the sublimity of God, and of his own abasement.
Thus he becomes a deep valley. And Christ is the sun of justice and mercy, which burns at the meridian of the firmament—that is to say, at the right hand of the Father, and shines even to the bottom of humble hearts; for Christ is always moved by distress, when man humbly offers to Him complaints and prayers. Then the two mountains rise—that is to say, a double desire, in the first place a desire to serve and love God by his merits, in the second place to obtain excellent virtues. These two desires are higher than heaven, for they touch God without any intermediary, and desire His immense generosity. Then that generosity cannot be kept back, it must flow, for the soul is at this moment susceptible of receiving countless boons.
These are the causes of the second coming of Christ, with new virtues. Then the valley—that is to say, the humble heart, receives three things. It is enlightened the more, and illuminated by grace, and warmed by charity, and becomes more fertile in virtues and good works. Thus you have the cause, the mode, and the work, of this coming.
HOW WE MAY MAKE DAILY PROGRESS BY THE SACRAMENTS OF THE CHURCH
THERE is yet another coming of Christ, our Bridegroom, which takes place every day, in the growth of grace and in new gifts—that is to say, when a man receives some sacrament with a humble and well-prepared heart. He receives then new gifts and more ample graces, by reason of his humility, and by the internal and secret work of Christ in the sacrament. That which is contrary to the sacrament is in baptism the want of faith, in confession the want of contrition; it is to go to the sacrament of the altar in a state of mortal sin, or of bad will; and it is the same with the other sacraments.
ON THE THIRD COMING OF CHRIST, TO JUDGMENT
THE third coming, which is still future, will take place at the last judgment or at the hour of death. Christ, our Bridegroom and our Judge at this judgment, will recompense and avenge according to justice, for He will award to each according to his deserts. He gives to every just man, for every good work done in the spirit of the Lord, a reward without measure, which no creature can merit— namely, Himself. But as He co-operates in the creature, the creature deserves, through His merit, to have a reward. And by a necessary justice He gives eternal pains to those who have rejected an eternal good for a perishable.
ON THE THIRD SPIRITUAL GOING FORTH, TO ALL THE VIRTUES
NOW understand and observe. Christ says at the beginning of our text, "See"—that is to say, see by charity and pureness of conscience, as you have been told. Now, He has shown us what we shall see—namely, His three comings.
He orders us what we must do next, and says, "Go forth" if you have fulfilled the first necessary condition—that is to say, if you see in grace and in charity, and if you have well observed your model, Christ, in His "going forth"; there leaps up in you, from your love and loving observation of your Bridegroom, an ardour of justice— that is to say, a desire to follow Him in virtue. Then Christ says in you, "Go forth." This going forth must have three modes. We must go forth towards God, towards ourselves, and towards our neighbour by charity and justice; for charity always pushes upward, towards the kingdom of God, which is God Himself; for He is the source from which it flowed without any intermediary, and He remains always immanent in it. The justice which is born of charity wishes to perfect the manners and the virtues which are suitable to the kingdom of God—that is to say, to the soul. These two things, charity and justice, establish a solid foundation in the kingdom of the soul where God may dwell, and this foundation is humility. These three virtues support all the weight and all the edifice of all the virtues and all sublimity; for charity maintains man in presence of the unfathomable good things of God from whence it flows, so that it perseveres in God, and increases in all the virtues and in true humility; and justice maintains man in presence of the eternal truth of God, so that truth may be discovered by him, and that he may be illuminated, and may accomplish all the virtues without error. But humility maintains man always before the supreme power of God, so that he remains always abased and little, and abandons himself to God, and holds no longer by himself. This is the way in which a man must bear himself before God, that he may grow alway in new virtues.
HOW HUMILITY IS THE FOUNDATION OF ALL THE VIRTUES
NOW understand; for having made humility the base of everything, we must speak first of it. Humility is the desire of abasement or of depth—that is to say, an inclination or internal desire for abasement of heart and conscience before the sublimity of God. The justice of God exacts this submission, and, thanks to charity, the loving heart cannot abandon it. When the loving and humble man considers that God has served him so humbly, so lovingly, and so faithfully, and then that God is so high, so powerful, and so noble, and that man is so poor, little, and base, there is born from all this, in the humble heart, an immense respect and reverence towards God; for to reverence God in all works, within and without, is the first and most delightful work of humility, the sweetest work of charity, and the most suitable work of justice. For the humble and loving heart cannot pay honours to God and His noble humanity, nor abase himself so deeply as to satisfy his desire. That is why it seems to the humble man that he always does too little in honour of God and in his humble service. And he is humble, and venerates Holy Church and the sacraments, and he is temperate in meat and drink, in his words, and in all relations of life. He is content with poor raiment, with menial employment, and his face is naturally humble, without pretence. And he is hunible in his practices, within and without, before God and before men, that none may be offended by reason of him. Thus he tames and removes far from him all pride, which is the cause and origin of all sins. Humility breaks the snares of sin, the world, and the Devil. And man is ordered within himself, and established in the very place of virtue. Heaven is open to him, and God is inclined to hear his prayer, and he is loaded with graces. And Christ, the solid stone, is his support, and he who builds his virtues upon humility cannot go wrong.
FROM this humility is born obedience, for only the humble man can be inwardly obedient. Obedience is a submission and pliant disposition, and a good will ready for all that is good. Obedience subjects a man to orders, to prohibitions, and to the will of God, and it subjects the soul and sensual force to the highest reason, in such a way that the man lives suitably and reasonably. And it makes men submissive and obedient to Holy Church and to the sacraments, and to all the good practices of holy Christianity. It prepares man, and makes him ready for the service of all, in works, in bodily and spiritual care, according to the needs of each, and prudence. Also, it drives far away disobedience, which is the daughter of pride, and which we ought to flee from more than from poison. Obedience in will and work adorns, extends, and manifests the humility of man. It gives peace to cloisters, and if it exists in the prelate, as it ought to exist, it attracts those who are under his orders. It maintains peace and equality among equals. And he who observes it is beloved by those who are above him, and the gifts of God, which are eternal, elevate and enrich him.
ON THE ABDICATION OF OUR OWN WILL
FROM this obedience is born the abdication of our own will. By this abdication the substance and occasion of pride are repulsed, and the greatest humility is accomplished. And God rules the man as He wills; and the will of the man is so well united to that of God that he can neither wish nor desire anything otherwise. He has put off the old man, and has put on the new man, renewed and perfect according to the divine will. It is of such an one that Christ said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit," that is, those who have renounced their will—"for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
FROM the abandonment of the will is born patience; for no one can be perfectly patient in everything, except he who has submitted his will to the will of God, and to all men in things useful and convenient. Patience is a tranquil endurance of all that can happen to a man, whether sent by God or by men. Nothing can trouble the patient man, neither the loss of earthly goods, nor the loss of friends or relations, nor sickness, nor disgrace, nor life, nor death, nor purgatory, nor the devil, nor hell. For he has abandoned himself to the will of God in true love. And, provided that mortal sin does not touch him, all that God orders for him in time or eternity seems light. This patience adorns a man, and arms him against anger and sudden rage, and against impatience of suffering, which often deceives a man within and without, and exposes him to manifold temptations.
FROM this patience are born gentleness and kindness, for no one can be gentle under adversity if not the patient man. Gentleness creates in man peace and repose from everything; for the gentle man endures insulting words and gestures, and bad faces and bad deeds, and all manner of injustice towards his friends and himself, and he is content with all, for gentleness is suffering in repose. Thanks to gentleness, the force of anger remains immovable in its tranquillity, the force of desire lifts itself up towards the virtues, and the reason rejoices, and the conscience dwells in peace, for the other mortal sins, such as anger and rage, are removed far from her. For the Spirit of God reposes in a gentle and humble heart, as Christ saith, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth"—that is to say, their own nature and the things of earth in meekness, and, after this life, the things of eternity.
FROM the same source as gentleness comes kindness, for the gentle spirit alone can possess kindness. This kindness causes a man to oppose a loving face and friendly words, and all the works of pity, to those who are angry with him, and he hopes that they will return to themselves and amend. Thanks to mercy and kindness, charity remains lively and fruitful in a man; for the heart full of kindness is like a lamp full of precious oil; and the oil of kindness lightens the wandering sinner by its good example, and soothes and heals by consoling words and deeds those whose heart is wounded, saddened, or irritated. And it inflames and illumines those who are in charity, and no jealousy or envy can touch it.
FROM kindness is born compassion, by which we sympathise with every one, for no one can suffer with all men, except he who has kindness. Compassion is an inward movement of the heart, aroused by pity for the bodily or spiritual distress of all men. This compassion makes a man partaker in Christ's sufferings, when he considers the reason of these sufferings, the resignation and love of Christ, His wounds, His tortures, His shame, His nobleness, His misery, the shame which He endured, the crown, the nails, and the death in patience. These unheard of and manifold pains of Christ, our Redeemer and Bridegroom, move to pity anyone who is capable of feeling pity. Compassion makes a man observe and note his faults, his want of power to do any good thing, and weakness in all that pertains to the glory of God; his lukewarmness and slowness, the multitude of his faults, the waste of his time, and his positive shortcomings in virtue and good conduct. All this makes a man truly sorry for himself. Then his compassion for himself makes him consider his errors and wanderings, the small care which he has of God and of his eternal salvation, his ingratitude for all the good that God has done him, and for all that He has suffered for man. And he considers also that he is a stranger to the virtues, that he neither knows them nor practises them, while he is clever and crafty in all that is bad and unjust; he sees how attentive he is to the loss or gain of worldly goods, how inattentive and indifferent towards God, the things of eternity, and his own salvation. This consideration makes the just man feel a great compassion towards the salvation of all men. The man will also observe with pity the bodily needs of his neighbour and the manifold pains of nature, when he sees the hunger which men suffer, the thirst, cold, nakedness, poverty, contempt, and oppression; the sadness which they feel at the loss of relations, friends, goods, honour, and repose; and the innumerable afflictions to which flesh is heir. All this rouses the just man to compassion, and he suffers with all men; but his greatest suffering arises when he sees the impatience of others under their own sufferings, by which they lose their reward and often deserve hell. This is the work of compassion and pity.
This work of compassion and love for all men overcomes and removes the third mortal sin—namely, hatred and envy; for compassion is a wound of the heart, which makes us love all men, and can only work healing in so far as some suffering lives in men; for God has ordained that mourning and pain must precede all the other virtues. This is why Christ said, "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted"—that is to say, when they shall reap in joy what they now sow in compassion and sorrow.
FROM this compassion is born generosity, for no one can be supernaturally generous, with faith in all men, and with love, except the merciful man; though one many give to a particular individual without charity, and without supernatural generosity.
Generosity is the copious outflow of a heart moved with charity and pity. When a man considers with compassion the sufferings and pains of Christ, from this compassion is born generosity, which excites us to praise and thank Christ for His pains and for His love, at the same time that it causes to be born in us respect and veneration, and a joyous and humble submission of heart and soul, in time and in eternity. When a man observes and pities himself, and considers the good that God has done to him and his own weakness, he cannot help flowing out into the liberality of God, taking refuge in His pity and fidelity, and abandoning himself to God, with a free and perfect wish to serve Him for ever. The generous man, who observes the errors, the wanderings, and the injustice of men, desires and implores the outflow of the divine gifts and the exercise of their generosity on all men, that they may return to themselves and be converted to the truth. The generous man considers also with compassion the material needs of all men; he helps them, gives, lends, consoles to the best of his power. By means of this generosity, men practise the seven works of mercy, the rich by their services and the bestowal of their goods, the poor by good will and the desire to do good if they can, and thus the virtue of generosity is perfected. Generosity in the depth of the heart multiplies all the virtues, and illuminates the forces of the soul. For the generous, man is always of joyful spirit, he is without anxiety; he is full of sympathy, and is ready to do kindnesses to all men in the works of virtue. He who is generous, and loves not the things of earth, however poor he may be, is like unto God, for all that he has, and all the thoughts of his heart flow out of him in largess. And so he is delivered from the fourth of the deadly sins, avarice. Jesus Christ saith to these: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy"; in the day when they shall hear this word spoken unto them: "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."
ON ZEAL AND DILIGENCE
FROM this generosity are born supernatural zeal and diligence in all the virtues. None can exhibit this zeal, save the generous and diligent man. This is an internal and eager impulse towards all the virtues, and towards the imitation of Christ and the saints. In this zeal, a man desires to expend in the honour of God the united powers of his heart and senses, his soul and body, all that he is, and all that he may receive. This zeal makes a man watchful in reason and discrimination, and makes him practise the virtues in justice. Thanks to this supernatural zeal, all the forces of his soul are open to God, and prepared for all the virtues. His conscience is refreshed, and divine grace is increased, virtue is practised with joy, and his external works are adorned. He who has received this lively zeal from God is removed far from the fifth deadly sin—lukewarmness and gloominess towards the virtues necessary for salvation. [Footnote: The best account in English of the deadly sin of acedia, too much neglected in modern religious teaching, is to be found in Bishop Paget's Spirit of Discipline.] And sometimes this lively zeal disperses heaviness and sluggishness of the bodily temperament. It is on this subject that Jesus Christ says: "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled." This will be, when the glory of God shall be manifested, and shall fill every man in proportion to his love and justice.
ON TEMPERANCE AND SOBRIETY
FROM zeal are born temperance and sobriety within and without; for none can maintain true moderation in sobriety, if he is not thoroughly diligent and zealous to preserve his body and soul in justice. Sobriety separates the higher faculties from the animal faculties, and preserves a man from excesses. Sobriety wishes not to taste nor know those things which are not permitted.
The incomprehensible and sublime nature of God surpasses all the creatures in heaven and earth, for whatever the creature conceives is creature. But God is above every creature, and within and without every creature, and all created comprehension is too strait to comprehend Him. In order that the creature may conceive and comprehend God, it must be drawn up into God from above; it is only by God that it can comprehend God. Those then who wish to know what God is, and to study Him, let them know that it is forbidden. They would become mad. All created light must fail here. What God is, passes the comprehension of every creature. But Holy Scripture, nature, and all the creatures show us that He is. We shall believe the articles of faith without trying to penetrate them, for that is impossible while we are here: this is sobriety. The difficult and subtle teachings of the inspired writings we shall only explain in accordance with the life of Christ and His saints. Man will study nature and the Scriptures, and every creature; and will seek to learn from them only what may be to his own advantage. This is sobriety of spirit.
A man will maintain sobriety of the senses, and he will subdue by reason his animal faculties, that the animal pleasure in food and drink may not delight him too much, but that he may eat and drink as a sick man takes a potion, because it is his duty to preserve his strength for the service of God. This is sobriety of body. A man will preserve moderation in words and actions, in silence and speech, in eating and drinking, in what he does and abstains from doing, as Holy Church enjoins and the saints give the example.
By moderation and sobriety of spirit within, a man maintains constancy and perseverance in the faith, that purity of intelligence and calmness of reason which are necessary to understand the truth, readiness to bend to the will of God with regard to every virtue, peace of heart and serenity of conscience. Thanks to this virtue, he possesses assured peace in God and in himself.
By moderation and sobriety in the use of the bodily faculties, he often preserves health and contentment of the bodily nature, his honour in external relations, and his good name. And thus he is at peace with himself and with his neighbour. For he attracts and rejoices all men of good will, by his moderation and sobriety. And he escapes the sixth deadly sin, which is want of temperance, and gluttony. It is of this that Christ said: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God." For being like unto the Son, who has made peace in all creatures who desire it, and who make peace in their turn, by moderation and sobriety, the Son will divide among them the heritage of His Father, and they will possess this heritage with Him throughout eternity.
FROM this sobriety are born purity of soul and body, for none can be absolutely pure in body and soul, save he who follows after sobriety in body and soul. Purity of spirit consists in this—that a man cleaves to no creature with any passionate desire, but attaches himself to God only; for one may use all the creatures while rejoicing in God only. Purity of spirit makes a man attach himself to God above intelligence and above the senses, and above all the gifts which God may bestow upon the soul; for all that the creature receives in its intelligence or in its senses purity desires to transcend, and to repose in God only. We should approach the sacrament of the altar not for the sake of the delights, the pleasure, the peace, or the sweetness which we find there, but for the glory of God only, and that we may grow in all the virtues. This is purity of spirit.
Purity of heart signifies that a man turns towards God without hesitation in every bodily temptation and every disturbance of nature, in the freedom of his will abandoning himself to Him with a new confidence and a firm resolve to abide always with God. For to consent to sin, or to the animal desires of the bodily nature, is a separation from God.
Purity of body means that a man abstains from impure actions of every kind, when his conscience assures him that they are impure and contrary to the commandments, to the glory, and to the will of God.
Thanks to these three kinds of purity, the seventh deadly sin, that of wantonness, is conquered and driven away. Wantonness is a voluptuous inclination of the spirit, leading away from God towards a created thing; it is the impure act of the flesh outside what Holy Church permits, and the carnal occupation of the heart in some taste or desire for a creature. I do not here refer to those sudden stirrings of love or desire which none can escape.
You now know that purity of spirit preserves men in the likeness of God, without care for the creatures, inclined towards God and united to Him. The chastity of the body is compared to the whiteness of the lily and to the purity of the angels. In its resistance to temptation, it is compared to the redness of the rose, and to the nobility of the martyrs. If it is preserved for love of God and in His honour, it is then perfect, and it is compared to the heliotrope, for it is one of the highest adornments of nature.
Purity of heart renews and increases the grace of God. In purity of heart all the virtues are inspired, practised, and preserved. It keeps and preserves the outer senses, it subdues and binds the animal desires within, and it is the ornament of all the inner life. It is the exclusion of the heart from things of earth and from all lies, and its inclusion among the things of heaven and all truth. And this is why Christ has said: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." This is the vision in which consists our eternal joy, and all our reward, and our entrance into bliss. This is why a man will be sober and moderate in everything, and will keep himself from every occasion which might tarnish the purity of his soul and body.
ON THE THREE ENEMIES WHO ARE TO BE CONQUERED BY JUSTICE
IF we wish to possess this virtue and to repulse these enemies, we must have justice, and we must practise it, and preserve it even until our death, in purity of heart, for we have three powerful enemies who try to attack us at all times, in all states, and in many different ways. If we make our peace with any one of them and follow him, we are vanquished, for they are in league with each other in all wickedness and injustice. These three enemies are the devil, the world, and our own flesh, which is the nearest to us, and is often the worst and most mischievous of our foes. For our animal desires are the weapons with which our enemies fight against us. Idleness, and indifference to virtue and the glory of God are the cause and occasion of war and combat. But the weakness of our natures, our negligence and ignorance of truth are the sword by which our enemies wound us and sometimes conquer us.
And this is why we must be divided in ourselves. The lower part of ourselves, which is animal and contrary to the virtues, we ought to hate and persecute and cause it to suffer by means of penitence and austerities, so that it may be always crushed down and submissive to reason, and that justice, with purity of heart, may always keep the upper hand in all virtuous actions. And all the pains, sorrows, and persecutions which God makes us suffer at the hands of those who are enemies to virtue, we shall endure with joy, in honour of God and for the glory of virtue, and in the hope of obtaining and possessing justice in purity of heart; for Christ said: "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." For righteousness preserved in virtue and in virtuous actions is a coin of the same weight and value as the kingdom of heaven, and it is by it that we may purchase and obtain eternal life. By these virtues a man goes forth towards God and towards himself, in good conduct, virtue, and justice.
ON THE KINGDOM OF THE SOUL
HE who wishes to obtain and preserve these virtues, will adorn, occupy, and order his soul like a kingdom. Free will is the king of the soul. It is free by nature, and more free still by grace. It will be crowned with a crown or diadem named Charity. We shall receive this crown and this kingdom from the Emperor, who is the Lord, the sovereign and king of kings, and we shall possess, rule, and preserve this kingdom in His name. This king, free will, will dwell in the highest town in the kingdom—that is to say, in the concupiscent faculty of the soul. He will be adorned and clad with a robe in two parts. The right side of his robe will be a virtue called strength, that he may be strong and powerful to overcome all obstacles and sojourn in the heaven, in the palace of the supreme Emperor, and to bend with love and ardent self-surrender his crowned head before the supreme monarch. This is the proper work of charity. By it we receive the crown, by it we adorn the crown, and by it we keep and possess the kingdom throughout eternity. The left side of the robe will be a cardinal virtue, called moral courage. Thanks to it, free will, the king, will subdue all immorality, will accomplish all virtue, and will have the power to keep his kingdom even until death. The king will choose councillors in his country, the wisest in the land. They will be two divine virtues, knowledge and discretion, illuminated by divine grace. They will dwell near the king, in a palace called the reasonable force of the soul. They will be crowned and adorned with a moral virtue called temperance, that the king may always act and refrain from acting according to their advice. By knowledge we shall purge our conscience from all its faults and adorn it with all virtues; and, thanks to discretion, we shall give and take, do and not do, speak and be silent, fast and eat, listen and answer, and act in all ways according to knowledge and discretion clad in their moral virtue, which is called temperance or moderation.
This king, free will, will also establish in his kingdom a judge, who will be justice, which is a divine virtue when it is born from love. And it is one of the highest moral virtues. This judge will dwell in the conscience, in the middle of the kingdom in the irascible faculty. And he will be adorned with a moral virtue called prudence. For justice without prudence cannot be perfect. This judge, justice, will traverse the kingdom with royal powers, accompanied by wise counsel and his own prudence. He will promote and dismiss, he will judge and condemn, will condemn to death and acquit, will mutilate, blind, and restore to sight, will exalt and abase and organise, will punish and chastise according to justice, and will destroy all vices. The people of the kingdom—that is to say, all the faculties of the soul, will be supported by humility and the fear of God, submitting to Him in all the virtues, each after its own manner. He who has thus occupied, preserved, and ordered the kingdom of his soul, has gone forth, by love and the virtues, towards God, towards himself, and towards his neighbour. This is the third of the four principal points which Christ speaks of when He says, Go forth.
ON THE THREEFOLD MEETING OF THE SOUL
WHEN a man has, by the grace of God, eyes to see, and a pure conscience, and when he has considered the three comings of Christ, our Bridegroom, and lastly when he has gone forth by the virtues, then takes place the meeting with our Bridegroom, and this is the fourth and last point. In this meeting consist all our blessedness, and the beginning and the end of all the virtues, and without this meeting no virtue can be practised.
He who wishes to meet Christ as his well-beloved Bridegroom, and to possess in Him and with Him eternal life, must meet Christ, now in time, in three points or in three manners. First, he must love God in everything wherein we shall merit eternal life. Secondly, he must attach himself to nothing which he might love as much as or more than God. Thirdly, he must repose in God with all his might, above all creatures and above all the gifts of God, and above all acts of virtue and above all the sensible graces which God might spread abroad in his soul and body.
Now understand: he who has God for his end must have Him present to himself, by some divine reason. That is to say, he must have in view Him who is the Lord of heaven, and of earth, and of every creature, Him who died for him, and who can and will give him eternal salvation. In whatever mode and under whatever name he represents God, as Lord of every creature, it is well. If he takes some divine Person, and in Him sees the essence and power of the divine nature, it is well. If he regards God as saviour, redeemer, creator, governor, as blessedness, power, wisdom, truth, goodness, it is well. Though the names which we ascribe to God are numerous, the sublime nature of God is simple and unnameable by the creatures. But we give Him all these names by reason of His nobleness and incomprehensible sublimity, and because we cannot name or proclaim Him completely. See now under what mode and by what knowledge God will be present to our intention. For to have God for our aim is to see spiritually. To this quest belong also affection and love, for to know God and be without love aids and advances us not a whit, and has no savour. This is why a man, in all his actions, must bend lovingly towards God, whom he seeks and loves above everything. This, then, is the meeting with God by means of intention and love.
In order that the sinner may turn from his sins in a meritorious penitence, he must meet God by contrition, free conversion, and a sincere intention to serve God for ever, and to sin no more. Then, at this meeting, he receives from the mercy of God the assured hope of eternal salvation and the pardon of his sins, and he receives the foundation of all the virtues, faith, hope, and charity, and the good will to practise all the virtues. If this man advances in the light of faith, and observes all the works of Christ, all His sufferings and all His promises, and all that He has done for us and will do to the day of judgment and through eternity; if he examines all this for his soul's health, he must needs meet with Christ; and Christ must needs be present to his soul, so grateful and full of thankfulness. So his faith is fortified, and he is impelled more inwardly and powerfully towards all the virtues. If he still progresses in the works of virtue, he must again meet with Christ, by the annihilation of self. Let him not seek his own things; let him set before him no extraneous ends; let him be discreet in his actions; let him set God always before him, and the praise and glory of God; and let him so continue till his death; then his reason will be enlightened and his charity increased, and he will become more pious and apt for all the virtues. We shall set God before us in every good work; in bad works we cannot set Him before us. We shall not have two intentions—that is to say, we shall not seek God at the same time as something else, but all our intention must be subordinated to God and not contrary to Him, but of one and the same kind, so that it may help us and give us an impulse which may lead us more easily to God. Then and then only is a man in the right road. Moreover, we shall rest rather upon Him who is our aim and our goal and the object of our love, than upon the messengers whom He sends us—that is to say, His gifts. The soul will rest constantly upon God, above all the adornments and presents which His messengers may bring. The messengers sent by the soul are intention, love, and desire. They carry to God all our good works and virtues. Above all these, the soul will rest on God, its Beloved, above all multiplicity. This is the manner in which we shall meet Christ all through our life, in all our actions and virtues, by right intention, that we may meet Him at the hour of our death in the light of glory.
This mode, as you have learnt, is called the active life. It is necessary to all men; or at least they must not live in a manner contrary to any virtue, though they may not attain the degree of perfection in all the virtues which I have described. For to live contrary to the virtues is to live in sin, as Christ has said: "He that is not with me is against me." He who is not humble is proud, and he who is proud belongs not to God. We must always possess a virtue and be in a state of grace, or possess what is contrary to that virtue and be in a state of sin. May every man examine and prove himself, and order his life as I have here described.
ON THE DESIRE TO KNOW GOD AS HE IS, IN THE NATURE OF HIS GODHEAD
THE man who thus lives, in this perfection, as I have here described it, and who devotes all his life and actions to the honour and glory of God, and who seeks and loves God above all things, is often seized by the desire to see and know Christ, this Bridegroom who was made man for love of him, who laboured in love even till death, who drove away from him sin and the enemy, who gave him His grace, who gave him Himself, who left him His sacraments and promised him His kingdom. When a man considers all this, he is exceedingly desirous to see Christ his Bridegroom, and to know what He is in Himself While He only knows Him in His works he is not satisfied. So he will do like Zacchasus, the publican, who desired to see Jesus Christ. He will go in front of the crowd—that is to say, the multitude of the creatures, for they make us so little and short, that we cannot perceive God. And he will climb the tree of faith, which grows from above downwards, for its roots are in the Godhead. This tree has twelve branches, which are the twelve articles of faith. The lower branches speak of the humanity of Christ, and of the things which concern the salvation of our body and soul. The higher part of the tree speaks of the Godhead, of the Trinity of the Divine Persons and the Unity of the Divine Nature. A man will strive to reach the unity at the top of the tree, for it is there that Jesus must pass with all His gifts. Here Jesus comes, and sees the man, and tells Him in the light of faith that He is, according to His Godhead, immeasurable and incomprehensible, inaccessible and abysmal, and that He surpasses all created light and all finite comprehension. This is the highest knowledge acquired in the active life, to recognise thus, in the light of faith, that God is inconceivable and unknowable. In this light Christ saith to the desire of a man: "Come down quickly, for I must lodge at thy house to-day." This rapid descent to which God invites him is nothing else but a descent, by desire and love, into the abyss of the Godhead, to which no intelligence can attain in crested light. But where intelligence remains outside, love and desire enter. The soul thus bending towards God, by the intention of love, above all that the intellect can comprehend, rests and abides in God, and God abides in her. Then mounting by desire, above the multitude of the creatures, above the work of the senses, above the light of nature, she meets Christ in the light of faith, and is enlightened, and recognises that God is unknowable and inconceivable. Finally, bending by her desires towards this inconceivable God, she meets Christ and is loaded with His gifts; by living and resting upon Him, above all His gifts, above herself and above all the creatures, she dwells in God and God in her.
This is how you will meet Christ at the summit of the active life, if you have as your foundations justice, charity, and humility; and if you have built a house above—that is to say, the virtues here described, and if you have met Christ by faith—that is to say, by faith and the intention of love, you dwell in God and God dwells in you, and you possess the active life.
This is the first explanation of the word of Jesus Christ our Bridegroom, when He said, "See, the Bridegroom cometh; go forth to meet Him."
THE SUBJECTS OF THE SECOND BOOK
THE prudent virgin—that is to say, the pure soul, who has renounced the things of earth, and lives henceforth for God in virtue, has taken in the vessel of her heart the oil of charity and of divine works by means of the lamp of an unstained conscience. But when Christ, her Bridegroom, withdraws His consolations and the fresh outpouring of His gifts, the soul becomes heavy and torpid.
At midnight—that is to say, when it is least expected, a spiritual cry resounds in the soul: "See, the Bridegroom cometh, go forth to meet Him." We shall now speak of this seeing, and of the inward coming of Christ, and of the spiritual going forth of the man to meet Jesus, and we shall explain these four conditions of an inward life, exalted and full of desire, to which all men attain not, but many reach it by means of the virtues and their inward courage.
In these words, Christ teaches us four things. In the first, He requires that our intelligence shall be enlightened with a supernatural light. This is what we observe in the word, "See." In the next words He shows us what we ought to see—that is to say, the inward coming of our Bridegroom of eternal truth. This is His meaning when He says: "The Bridegroom cometh." In the third place, in the words "go forth," He bids us go forth in inward actions according to righteousness. In the fourth place, He shows us the end and motive of all our works, the meeting with our Bridegroom Jesus Christ in the joyous unity of His adorable Godhead.