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[§ 99.] Complaint of the soul banished from God. My sinful soul is not content, O Lord, is not content with trusting that its sins are removed out of the abundance of Thy unspeakable mercy; it would fain have the grief removed which it suffers from the withholding of Thy Countenance, by at least giving vent to its complaint in Thy Presence. For it is absent from Thee, its Lord, and that on account of its iniquities.
I begin my meditation, then, by proposing that my sorrow be consoled; and, lo, the very gaining of the comfort is a fresh aggravation of the sorrow. For the very quest after consolation awakens in my mind a fresh consciousness of sorrow. I should not seek for consolation were I not conscious of my grief; for the search after the soothing repose of consolation is prompted by the consciousness of grief; and yet that very search does but quicken and enhance the consciousness. And thus the oftener the picture of my grief is set before the mind, the more vividly is it aggravated and increased. 267What, then, am I doing? Is it really so that the exhibition of one’s grief ever yields by way of return some solace, however little?
Let me unfold, O Lord, before the eye of Thy mercy the bitternesses of my soul, all the bitternesses that spring from its accumulated iniquities, and hedge it round about; for, but for those iniquities, it would not have to endure, as it does, its estrangement from Thy all-lovely Face. ’Tis hence that comes the utmost of my grief, O Lord; the know ledge that Thy clemency has been so grievously offended by my iniquity, and that by that very iniquity my heart’s eye is blinded so that it cannot see the light of Thy desirable splendours. Thou madest me to rejoice in Thee; but I have made myself so base that I blush to appear in Thy Presence. For ‘my iniquities are gone over my head, and as a heavy burden are become heavy upon me’ (Ps. xxxvii. 5): my mind is bewildered with the stupefying gall of wickedness; my soul is stained with vices and uncleanness; my heart is filled with the corruption of injustice; my soul is ensnared in sinful toils, and all my whole being burdened with a mountain of crimes. Who, then, will succour me, plunged as I am in such a deep of miseries? Who will stretch out a hand to help me? What! 268have I, and I alone—alas, ’tis too true—exasperated my God so grievously, that neither He nor any of His creatures needs notice me any more? Woe is me! Why, why did I stay in the world even for an hour after I was born, that I should do so great injury against my God? Why is life so long allowed me that I should only squander it in vicious affections?
And yet why do I deplore the lengthening out of life, when I see that that very lengthening is God’s invitation to me to repent? ‘Knowest thou not,’ says the Apostle, ‘that the benignity of God leadeth thee to penance?’ ‘But according to thy hardness and impenitent heart, thou treasurest up to thyself wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the just judgment of God’ (Rom. ii. 4, 5). Life, in short, is allowed me that I may amend it. And why, then, is it not amended? And if life is prolonged for penance, why is that penance so in sincere? If God has mercy on my soul, standing aloof for a little space, why, why has it not mercy on itself by setting aside its sins? O senseless hardness of this heart of mine! Death is delayed, that life may be reformed; and yet, as life is lengthened out, a death more dire is laid up in store for me. Trouble, trouble either way. While 269I am in the body, I am absent from the Lord (2 Cor. v. 6); and I dread the while, lest for my sins it should be worse with me out of the body, to leave the body. I grieve that I am defrauded of God’s Presence; and I dread to encounter a removal from this body of corruption, although no otherwise can I be inducted to that Presence.
What is it, what is it, O Lord, that this poor sinner’s heart beholds, and yet knows not how to syllable? Indeed, O good Jesus, to be dissolved and to be with Thee is by far the very best of is sues. Why, then, is not that desired which is surely known to be the best? To be dissolved and to be with Christ (Phil. i. 23) is bliss; to be pinioned with the body and kept away from Christ is misery. Why, then, fear to be rid of the misery, and not desire to possess the bliss? No; this, this is the reason why we do not desire to be dissolved from the body, this is it; that we are doubtful whether, after the dissolution, it will be granted unto us to be with Christ.
[§ 100. The soul’s absence from God.] And thus it comes about that our lodging in the flesh is judged a profitable thing; for so long as we live in it, amendment of life is looked forward 270to with hope. O the sins of men! For by their merit human life, misery that it is, is yet accounted profitable. Is it not so, that all this present life is misery? And this misery, albeit it is profitable in some instances even to the just, that they may augment their merit, proves to be the last of all necessities for the wicked, that they may provide themselves the medicine of penance. But note the difference; this one and the self-same misery challenges the grief of good minds, whilst by the unwise it is all too dangerously loved. For persisting in love of it, they move from this very misery on to misery everlasting; and their passage through a course of misery on to misery is effected in miserable sort: since this present misery is spent in the labour that their lusts impose, and the misery that is to be immediately after, and that shall never end, is endured in never-ending sorrow. Nay, indeed, that same misery will be all the sharper punishment as this life’s misery shall have been lengthened with a view to repentance. O Father, Thou who truly ART, since Thou in highest sense art—for ‘Thou art always the Self-same, and Thy years shall not fail’ (Ps. ci. 28)—come and succour one oppressed with misery. For if the misery which, by the disposition of Thy mercy, 271I endure for the avoiding of a greater misery—and avoided it may be by the pursuit of penance—be protracted, why yet is this misery so much loved? Why do I love what I must needs forego so soon, and not desire what might secure beatitude when the misery of this present life is ended? If I am not able to love, as it were well that I should, the bliss which Thou dost promise to those that love Thee, why do I not at any rate dread the punishments Thou threatenest to them that despise Thee, one of whom—O grief—I am? For if I dreaded them, surely I should amend my ways, in some degree at least; and so would it be brought to pass that, through Thy mercy’s gift, I should attain sometime to the goal of love by the way of fear and chastisement.
But why do I not fear Thy judgments, unless it be. that I am so remiss in meditating on them? And, lest I should be able to think about them as frequently as I ought, my faults stand ever in my way, flattering and cajoling me with pleasures and allurements fraught with death. O Lord, O Lord, behold, ‘I am Thy servant, and the son of Thy handmaid’ (Ps. cxv. 16); for, although a sinner, yet the son of Thy holy Church. But what have I said! How could I dare to use the words, ‘Thy 272servant,’ when I know full well that I am the servant of sins? for ‘whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin’ (St. John viii. 34); and I fail not to sin incessantly; I am the servant, then, of sin; how, then, could I dare to say ‘Thy servant’? No, no; I would not have said the word, were it not that, presuming on Thy unspeakable compassion, I could even dare to say it; for servant though I be of sin by the infirmity I am enduring, yet I am Thy servant by the desire which, I rejoice to know, has been granted me by Thy adorable goodness. I am, then, Thy servant, O Lord; if not in act and habit, yet at least in affection and will. But herein am I in wretched and most deplorable plight; that, though I own myself Thy servant, yet I do not strive to render Thee the honour due unto my Lord, as it were well I should. For if I did, nothing, nothing could ever allure me from the thought of Thee, and from the desire of understanding Thee, or from the blissful sweetness of Thy love. O my Lord, O my Lord, why, since Thou art my Lord, do I not live as servant of Thine ought to live? I own Thee for my God, and I desire to be Thy servant; why fail I, then, in practice to lead a life worthy of Thy servant?273
[§ 101. Complaint of the soul banished from God.] But why should I not seek for the cause of this very misery, since I cannot doubt that it has been merited by my iniquity?
Ah me! Why do I live? Why do I live so long, who live so ill? To live is granted me that death may be avoided; and that very
living is found to be even worse than death. O, all-wise Maker of mankind and me, Thou givest me opportunity of endeavouring
to prepare for the contemplation of Thy beauty; and I fail not day by day to show myself vile and viler still. What, O my
God, more lovely than Thy unspeakable glory? and what more vile than my iniquity? O deepest heart of mine, feast thee upon
sighs; so making sorrow thy pursuit shalt thou be illuminated with fresh beauty, and thine inward eye the easier lifted to
behold the glory of the Light Supreme. O inmost soul of mine, away now with all thy foolish flights, set thyself to gaze only
on the Divine Effulgence, and for desire of It shed plentiful showers of tears; so shall thy countless filthy stains be washed
out by their flooding tide, and the pristine beauty lavished on thee by the bountiful Framer of all things be restored to
thee again, by the providence of His mercy. And you, O my inward parts, strain all your powers, ply all your 274best endeavours, in quest of that pure, that simple, that eternal, that sole blessed Good, Whose light shall banish all your
gloom, Whose limpid flood shall wash out all your stains, Whose freedom shall loosen all the bonds that bind you down enslaved
to vice, Whose strength shall inform all your weakness, Whose wisdom chase away your folly, Whose life save you from eternal
death, and make you sharers of His immortality. O Good surpassing all goods—for from Thee and in Thee all goods are, forasmuch
as all goods art Thou—I confess that my ills are all too great, for too many and grievous are my sins,
and my faults increased past measurement; for hitherto my mind has—O how miserably!—been intently set upon them. O ills of
mine, why have you so cruelly overridden me, and estranged me from the All-Good? O sins of mine, why hold you me so mercilessly
entangled in your meshes, and suffer me not to enter into holy freedom? O faults of mine, why do you make my heart cling to
the anteater’s tongue1212 [The Benedictines read, ‘sicut gliris hastulam suam tenacitate infectam vincere solet.’
Migne’s ‘bastulam,’ probably a misprint, is
hopeless. I propose, as an emendation, ‘sicut gliris hastula suâ tenacitate insecta
vincere solet.’ If this be the right reading, the corruption is easy
to trace. ‘Sicut gliris
hastulā suā tenacitate insectā vincere solet;’ thence
‘sicut gliris hastulam suam tenacitate infectam vincere
The glires of science are a very varied collection of animals, and are said to comprise nearly a third part of the mammalia; but the anteater is the only one of the glires which seems to correspond with the description in the text. Its tongue could scarcely be described better than as a ‘hastula tenacitate suâ vincens;’ for, it is an offensive weapon covered with a secretion which is simply irresistible by insects, such is its tenacity.
That ‘hastula’ not ‘glis’ is the subject of the clause lends probability to the emendation; for, since making the correction, I have learnt that, when employed in catching insects, the natural weapon of the anteater ‘coils and twists about as if it possessed a separate vitality of its own;’ its shape is that of a large red earth-worm, hence a certain suitability in the word ‘hastula.’’
I am inclined to think that the passage is, after all, an interpolation; that, inserted by a strange hand in the margin of a MS., it was introduced into the text of the work by a copyist, who, not familiar with the character, read hastulā, suā and insectā for hastula, sua and insecta. The passage thus corrupted, ‘insectam’ would soon become ‘infectam.’ TR.] 275is wont to enthrall insects by its own sheer tenacity,—and allow me not to escape from you? Be troubled, O my mind; faint, faint, my heart; shrink with horror, O my soul; and you, my eyes, grow dim with weeping. For what is to be found more wretched every way than I am? All things ever keep inviolate their appointed order; but as to mine, I violate it daily.
[§ 102. The soul’s return to God.] But He 276who bears so long with the sinner, will He refuse to receive the penitent? I will go therefore to my Father, though I be a worthless child; I will go to Him, the innocence He gave me squandered all; I will go, famished with long, long hunger that I endure unfed with His heavenly converse; I. will go, and I will say to ‘Him,’ ‘Father, I am not now worthy to be called Thy SON’ (St. Luke xv. 19); I do not venture to strive with Thy children for place of dignity; I only ask for mercy among Thy servants; ‘make me,’ therefore, ‘as one of Thy hired servants.’ Thus, merciful Father, shall Thy compassion be told abroad; and Thy riches will be none the less if Thou run to meet me as I desire to return to Thee, and if Thou fold me in the arms of Thy mercy, and bid me be adorned with the ring of faith and the robe of justice, and deign to say of me to Thy angels, ‘This My son was dead, and is come to life again; he was lost, and is found’ (ib. 24). But who, O all-good and admirable Father, shall give me to eat with worthy sentiments of faith and holiness of that fatted calf, given by Thee and immolated for my redemption on the altar of the Cross? For who is that mystic Calf, so meek in the death of sacrifice, so health-giving when partaken of as 277food; who but that Thine own only-begotten Son, whom Thou didst not spare but didst deliver up for us all? (Rom. viii. 32.) ’Tis He, O Lord, ’tis He with whose sweetness my heart pants to be refreshed; and this is He whom my mind longs to love before all things. ’Tis He by whose absence from her my soul complains with many sighs that she should be so estranged from Him.
But if I desire the Son do I in this neglect the Father? Far be it from me. Nay, how can it be possible? For the Father who begot is not other (by nature) than the Son who was begotten; and again, what the Son is that the Father is, albeit the Father is not the same Person with the’ Son. And how can I desire the Father and the Son, that Love of Father and of Son removed, who is not other (by nature) than what Father and Son is, and yet is another Person than Father and than Son? No, it cannot be.
Say therefore, O my soul, to thy Maker, to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, one God, ‘I have sought Thy Face; Thy Face, O Lord, will I seek out’ (Ps. xxvi. 8). See, O Lord; see, I seek, I ask, I knock; when am I to find, when am I to have, when is the door to open to me? To Thee, O Lord, lie open all the secrets of my heart. Thou 278seest that the Presence of Thy Face is my sole hope of consolation. Ah me! How far am I, what a distant outcast am I, from that unspeakable joy that His Presence gives! How, then, shall I be comforted? How indeed, unless the beauty of that Thy Face beam upon me, whereon hangs all my hope of consolation? So then, O my God, let my eyes fail for Thy word, saying, When wilt Thou comfort me? (Ps. cxviii. 82.) Have regard, then, O my God, to the one only desire of my soul; have regard to the sigh of my heart, and ‘set my tears in Thy sight’ (Ps. lv. 9), tears which I shed for very grief, while my soul faints from the withholding of Thy Face; for ‘my life is wasted with grief, and my years in sighs’ (Ps. xxx. 11).
Have mercy on me, O Lord, have mercy on me. In season, out of season, will I cry to Thee, and never let Thee rest until Thou gladden me with the Presence of Thy Face; and refuse myself all comfort; and punish myself with simply mourning over the absence of Thy Face. O Face of God, all glory! O Countenance, all light! So long as I see Thee not, so long shall my soul re main in gloom. But how long, O cruel bitter absence of God’s Face, how long wilt thou torture me? O wearisome life in this vain world, how 279long wilt thou hold shut up as it were in prison, bound by the bonds of thy vanities, my soul, so woful by its dwelling here in thee? O my soul, what is it that charms thee in this mortal life? Why dost thou not speed thee to the blissful vision of God, whence thou art held aloof by the merit of thy fault? Why dost thou not loathe this exile from the Face of God, and thy enthralment in the chains of this garish life? Why dost thou not yearn with utmost desire to have share in the joys of that blissful life, and be far away from the filth of this grovelling existence? Why dost thou not fly from the one, and hie thee to the other? If this life is given thee as a breathing time, with peace in possibility, why dost thou dally? Why not offer God such penance as that He may for give thee thy sins, and in mercy take thee to Himself? Ay, let my turning be to Thee that Thy mercy regard me kindly, and Thy compassion confirm me in my longing for Thy Face, and give me the gift of perseverance; for I believe that I shall not be severed from Thy bliss if only I grow not weary in my desires after Thee. Let my soul ever yearn for the glory of Thy Face; my mind love it; my thoughts be intent upon it; my whole heart’s affection sigh after it; my tongue speak of 280it; my whole being be held in thrall with love of it. Only let Thy mercy, while I carry about this mortal body, and wear the fardels of my pilgrim age, bid me be established in Thy fear, enlarged in Thy love, taught in Thy law, devout in Thy precepts, and filled with fires of longing for Thy promises; that, treading vices under foot, and practising all virtues, I may, adorned with these, both please Thee evermore, and soon, soon attain to reach Thee in Thy heaven of bliss, where is given to Thee unending praise, unbounded glory, and honour through eternity. Amen.281
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