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V. AN EPISTLE OF PRAYER
HERE AFTER FOLLOWETH A DEVOUT TREATISE CALLED THE EPISTLE OF PRAYER
GHOSTLY friend in God, as touching thine asking of me, how thou shalt rule thine heart in the time of thy prayer, I answer unto thee thus feebly as I can. And I say that me thinketh that it should be full speedful unto thee at the first beginning of thy prayer, what prayer so ever it be, long or short, for to make it full known unto thine heart, without any feigning, that thou shalt die at the end of thy prayer.185185The MSS. add: "And bot if thou spede thee the rather or thou come to the ende of thy prayer." And wete thou well that this is no feigned thought that I tell thee, and see why; for truly there is no man living in this life that dare take upon him to say the contrary: that is to say, that thou shalt live longer than thy prayer is in doing. And, therefore, thou mayst think it safely, and I counsel thee to do it. For, if thou do it, thou shalt see that, what for the general sight that thou hast of thy wretchedness, and this special sight of the shortness of time of amendment, it shall bring in to thine heart a very working of dread.
And this working shalt thou feel186186Pepwell reads: "find." verily folden in thine heart, but if it so be (the which God forbid) that thou flatter and fage187187Coax, beguile. thy false fleshly blind heart with leasings188188Falsehoods. and feigned behightings, that thou shalt longer live.189189The MSS. read: "behetynges of lenger leuyng." For though it may be sooth in thee in deed that thou shalt live longer, yet it is ever in thee a false leasing for to think it before, and for to behight190190Promise. it to thine heart. For why, the soothfastness of this thing is only in God, and in thee is but a blind abiding of His will, without certainty of one moment, the which is as little or less than a twinkling of an eye. And, therefore, if thou wilt pray wisely as the prophet biddeth when he saith in the psalm: Psallite sapienter;191191Ps. xlvi. 8 (Vulgate), xlvii. 7 (A.V.): "Sing ye praises with understanding." look that thou get thee in the beginning this very working of dread. For, as the same prophet saith in another psalm: Initium sapientiae timor Domini;192192Ps. cxi. 10 (cx. 10 Vulgate). that is: "The beginning of wisdom is the dread of our Lord God." But for that there is no full sikerness standing193193So Pepwell; Harl. MS. 674 reads: "Bot forthi that there is no sekir stonding." upon dread only, for fear of sinking in to over much heaviness, therefore shalt thou knit to thy first thought this other thought that followeth.
79Thou shalt think steadfastly that if thou may, through the grace of God, distinctly pronounce the words of that prayer, and win to the end thereof, or if thou die before thou come to the end, so that thou do that in thee is, that then it shall be accepted of thee unto God, as a full aseeth194194Pepwell adds in explanation: "or amends"; i.e. satisfaction. Cf. Langland, Piers the Plowman, B. xvii. 237: "And if it suffice noughte for assetz"; and Wyclif, Pistil on Cristemasse Day (Select English Works, ed. T. Arnold, ii. p. 237): "And thus, sith aseeth muste be maad for Adams synne." of all thy recklessness from the beginning of thy life unto that moment. I mean thus: standing that thou hast before time, after thy conning and thy conscience, lawfully amended thee after the common ordinance of holy Church in confession; this short prayer, so little as it is, shall be accepted of thee unto God for thy full salvation, if thou then didst die, and to the great increase of thy perfection, if thou didst live longer. This is the goodness of God, the which, as the prophet saith, forsaketh none that truly trusteth in Him with will of amendment;195195Ps. xxxiv. 22 (Vulgate xxxiii. 23). and sith that all amendment standeth in two--that is, in leaving of evil and doing of good--means to get these two are none readier than the ghostly working of these two thoughts touched before. For what reaveth from a soul196196The MSS. read: "fro a lyf." more readily the affection of sinning, than doth a true working of dread of death? And what moveth a
80soul197197The MSS. read: "a lyf." more fervently to working of good, than doth a certain hope in the mercy and the goodness of God, the which is brought in by this second thought? For why, the ghostly feeling of this second thought, when it is thus truly joined to the first, shall be to thee a sure staff of hope to hold thee by in all thy good doings. And by this staff thou mayst sikerly climb in to the high mount of perfection, that is to say, to the perfect love of God; though all this beginning be imperfect, as thou shalt hear after. For, what for the general sight that thou hast of the mercy and of the goodness of God, and this special experience that thou feelest of His mercy and His goodness in this acceptation of this little short service for so long recklessness, as it were in a full aseeth of so much recklessness (as it is said before), it may not be but that thou shalt feel a great stirring of love unto Him that is so good and so merciful unto thee--as the steps of thy staff, hope, plainly sheweth unto thee in the time of thy prayer, if thou do it duly as I have told thee before.198198So Harl. MS. 674. Pepwell reads: "Also the steps of thy staff Hope plainly will shew unto thee if thou do it duly, as I have told thee before, or not." The ghostly experience of the proof of this working standeth all in a reverent affection that a man hath to God in the time of his prayer, caused of this dread in the ground of this work, and of this stirring of love, the
81which is brought in by the ghostly steps of this staff
hope, touched before. For why, reverence is nought else but dread
and love medled together with a staff of certain hope,
Me thinketh that the proof of this working is devotion; for devotion is nought else, as saint Thomas the doctor saith, but a readiness of man's will to do those things that longeth to the service of God.199199Summa Theologica, II.-ii. Q. 82, A. I: "Devotio nihil aliud esse videtur, quam voluntas quaedam prompte tradendi se ad ea, quae pertinent ad Dei famulatum." Each man prove in himself, for he that doth God's service in this manner, he feeleth how ready that his will is thereto. Me thinketh that saint Bernard accordeth to this working, where he saith that all things should be done swiftly and gladly. And see why: swiftly for dread, and gladly for hope, and lovely trust in His mercy. [And what more? Sikerly, I had lever have his meed that lasteth in such doing, though all he never did bodily penance in this life, but only that that is enjoined to him of holy Church, than of all the penance-doers that have been in this life from the beginning of the world unto this day without this manner of doing. I say not that the naked thinking of these two thoughts is so meedful; but that reverent affection, to the which bringing in these two thoughts are sovereign means on man's party, that is it that is so meedful as I say.200200The whole passage included in square brackets is omitted in Pepwell, but is identical in the two MSS. ] And this is only it by itself, without any other
82manner of doing (as is fasting, waking, sharp wearing, and all these other), the which only by itself pleaseth almighty God, and deserveth to have meed of Him. And it were impossible any soul to have meed of God without this, and all after the quantity of this shall stand the quantity of meed; for whoso hath much of this, much meed shall he have, and whoso hath less of this, less meed shall he have. And all these other things, as is fasting, waking, sharp wearing, and all these other, they are needful201201So Harl. MS. 2373; Harl. MS. 674 reads: "medeful." in as much as they are helply to get this, so that without this they are nought. And this without them is sometime sufficient at the full by itself, and it is often times full worthily had and come to of full many without any of the others. All this I say for that I would by this knowing that thou charged and commended each thing after that it is: the more, "the more," and the less, "the less"; for oft times unknowing is cause of much error. And oft times unknowing maketh men to charge more and commend more bodily exercise (as is fasting, waking, sharp wearing, and all these others) than they do ghostly exercise in virtues or in this reverent affection touched before. And, therefore, in more declaration of the meed and the worthiness of this reverent affection, I shall say a little more than I yet have said, so that, by such declaring, thou mayst be better learned in this working than thou yet art.
All this manner of working beforesaid of this reverent affection, when it is brought in by these two thoughts of dread and of hope coming before, may well be likened to a tree that were full of fruit; of the which tree, dread is that party that is within in the earth, that is, the root. And hope is that party that is above the earth, that is, the body202202The trunk. with the boughs. In that that hope is certain and stable, it is the body; in that it stirreth men to works of love, it is the boughs; but this reverent affection is evermore the fruit, and then, evermore as long as the fruit is fastened to the tree,203203Pepwell inserts: "it is but churl's meat, for." it hath in party a green smell of the tree; but when it hath been a certain time departed from the tree and is full ripe, then it hath lost all the taste of the tree, and is king's meat [that was before but knave's meat].204204Not in Pepwell. In this time it is that this reverent affection is so meedful as I said. And, therefore, shape thee for to depart this fruit from the tree, and for to offer it up by itself to the high King of heaven; and then shalt thou be cleped God's own child, loving Him with a chaste love for Himself, and not for His goods.205205Pepwell reads: "and for nothing else." I mean thus: though all that the innumerable good deeds, the which almighty God of His gracious goodness hath shewed to each soul in this life, be sufficient causes
84at the full and more, to each soul to love Him for, with
all his mind, with all his wit, and with all his will; yet if it
might be, that may no wise be, that a soul were as mighty, as
worthy, and as witty as all the saints and angels that are in
heaven gathered in one, and had never taken this worthiness of
God,206206Had never received it from Him.
or to whom that God
had never shewed kindness in this life; yet this soul, seeing the
loveliness of God in Himself, and the abundance thereof, should be
ravished over his might for to love God, till the heart brast; so
lovely and so liking, so good and so glorious He is in Himself.
O how wonderful a thing and how high a thing is the love of God for to speak of, of the which no man may speak perfectly to the understanding of the least party thereof, but by impossible ensamples, and passing the understanding of man! And thus it is that I mean when I say loving Him with a chaste love for Himself, and not for His goods;207207Pure Love, or Charity, which "attains to God Himself, that it may abide in Him, not that any advantage may accrue to us from Him" (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II.-ii. Q. 23, A. 6). For the whole doctrine of "Pure Love or Disinterested Religion," cf. F. von Hügel, The Mystical Element of Religion, ii. pp. 152-181. not as if I said (though all I well said) much for His goods, but without comparison more for Himself. For, if I shall more highly speak in declaring of my meaning of the perfection and of the meed of this
85reverent affection, I say that a soul touched in affection by the sensible presence of Gods as He is in Himself, and in a perfect soul illumined in the reason, by the clear beam of everlasting light, the which is God, for to see and for to feel the loveliness208208So both MSS.; Pepwell reads: "blessedness." of God in Himself, hath for that time and for that moment lost all the mind of any good deed or of any kindness that ever God did to him in this life--so that cause for to love God for feeleth he or seeth he none in that time, other than is God Himself. So that though all it may be said in speaking of the common perfection, that the great goodness and the great kindness that God hath shewed to us in this life are high and worthy causes for to love God for; yet having beholding to the point and the prick of perfection (to the which I purpose to draw thee in my meaning, and in the manner of this writing), a perfect lover of God, for dread of letting209209Hindering or marring. of his perfection, seeketh now, that is to say, in the point of perfection, none other cause for to love God for, but God Himself; so that by this meaning I say, that chaste love is to love God for Himself and not for His goods. And therefore, following the rule of mine ensample, shape thee to depart the fruit from the tree, and for to offer it up by itself unto the King of heaven, that thy love be chaste; for evermore as long as thou offrest Him this fruit green and hanging on the
86tree, thou mayst well be likened to a woman that is not
chaste, for she loveth a man more for his goods than for himself.
And see why that I liken thee thus; for it seemeth that dread of
thy death and shortness of time, with hope of forgiveness of all
thy recklessness, maketh thee to be in God's service so reverent as
thou art. And if it so be, soothly then hath thy fruit a green
smell of the tree; and though all it pleaseth God in party,
nevertheless, yet it pleaseth Him not perfectly, and that is for
thy love is not yet chaste.
Chaste love is that when thou askest of God neither releasing of pain, nor increasing of meed, nor yet sweetness in His love in this life; but if it be any certain time that thou covetest sweetness as for a refreshing of thy ghostly mights, that they fail not in the way; but thou askest of God nought but Himself, and neither thou reckest nor lookest after whether thou shalt be in pain or in bliss, so that thou have Him that thou lovest--this is chaste love, this is perfect love.210210Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II.-ii. Q. 27, A. 3; and F. von Hügel, op. cit., ii. p. 167. And therefore shape thee for to depart the fruit from the tree; that is to say, this reverent affection from the thoughts of dread and of hope coming before; so that thou mayst offer it ripe and chaste unto God by itself, not caused of any thing beneath Him, or medled with Him211211In the Divine Essence. (yea, though all it
87be the chief),212212So Harl. MS. 674, I take "it" as the beatitude of man which is God Himself. but only of Him, by Himself; and then it is so meedful as I say that it is. For it is plainly known without any doubt unto all those that are expert in the science of divinity and of God's love, that as often as a man's affection is stirred unto God without mean (that is, without messenger of any thought in special causing that stirring), as oft it deserveth everlasting life. And for that that a soul that is thus disposed (that is to say, that offreth the fruit ripe, and departed from the tree) may innumerable times in one hour be raised in to God suddenly without mean, therefore more than I can say it deserveth, through the grace of God, the which is the chief worker, to be raised in to joy. And therefore shape thee for to offer the fruit ripe and departed from the tree. Nevertheless, the fruit upon the tree, continually offered as man's frailty will suffer, deserveth salvation; but the fruit ripe and departed from the tree, suddenly offered unto God without mean, that is perfection. And here mayst thou see that the tree is good, though all that I bid thee depart the fruit therefrom, for more perfection; and therefore I set it in thy garden; for I would that thou should gather the fruit thereof, and keep it to thy Lord. And for that that I would that thou knew what manner of working it is that knitteth man's soul to God, and that maketh it one with Him in
88love and accordance of will,213213Cf. Dante, Par. xxxiii, 143-145:--"Ma già volgeva il mio disiro e il velle, Sì come rota ch' egualmente è mossa, L'Amor che move il sole
e l'altre stelle." "But already my desire and will, even as a wheel that is equally moved, were being turned by the Love that
moves the sun and the other stars."
after the word of saint Paul saying thus: Qui
adhaeret Duo unus spiritus est cum illo;2142141 Cor. vi. 17.
to say: "Who so draweth near to God," as it is by such a reverent
affection touched before, "he is one spirit with God." That is,
though all that God and he be two and sere215215Pepwell adds: "or sundry."
in kind, nevertheless yet in grace they are so
knit together that they are but one in spirit;216216So Pepwell and Harl. MS. 2373; Harl. MS, 674 reads: "they ben one spirit."
and all this is for onehead of love and
accordance of will; and in this onehead is the marriage made
between God and the soul, the which shall never be broken, though
all that the heat and the fervour of this work cease for a time,
but by a deadly sin.
In the ghostly feeling of this onehead may a loving soul both say and sing (if it list) this holy word that is written in the book of songs in the Bible: Dilectus meus mihi et ego illi;217217Cant. ii. 16. that is: "My loved unto me and I unto Him"; understanden that God shall be knitted with the ghostly glue of grace on His party, and the lovely consent in gladness of spirit on thy party.
And therefore climb up by this tree, as I said in the beginning; and when thou comest to the fruit (that is, to the reverent affection, the which ever will be in thee if thou think heartily the other two thoughts before, and fage218218Harl. MS. 674 reads: "glose." Pepwell adds: "or flatter." not thyself with no lie, as I said), then shalt thou take good keep219219Heed. of that working that is made in thy soul that time, and shape thee, in as much as thou mayst through grace, for to meek thee under the height of thy God, so that thou mayst use thee in that working other times by itself, without any climbing thereto by any thought. And, sikerly, this is it the which is so meedful as I said, and ever the longer that it is kept from the tree (that is to say, from any thought), and ever the ofter that it is done suddenly, lustily, and likingly, without mean, the sweeter it smelleth, and the better it pleaseth the high King of heaven. And ever when thou feelest sweetness and comfort in thy doing, then He breaketh this fruit and giveth thee part of thine own present. And that that thou feelest is so hard, and so straitly stressing thine heart without comfort in the first beginning, that bemeaneth220220Pepwell adds: "or betokeneth." Cf. Langland, Piers the Plowman, A. i. 1: "What this mountein bemeneth." that the greenness of the fruit hanging on the tree, or else newly pulled, setteth thy teeth on edge. Nevertheless yet it is speedful to thee. For it is no
90reason that thou eat the sweet kernel, but if thou crack
first the hard shell and bite of the bitter bark.
Nevertheless, if it so be that thy teeth be weak (that is to say, thy ghostly mights), then it is my counsel that thou seek slights, for better is list than lither strength.221221Cf. above, p. 28 note.
Another skill there is why that I set this tree in thy garden, for to climb up thereby. For though all it be so that God may do what He will, yet, to mine understanding, it is impossible any man to attain to the perfection of this working without these two means, or else other two that are according to them coming before. And yet is the perfection of this work sudden, without any mean. And, therefore, I rede222222Pepwell adds: "or counsel." thee that these be thine, not thine in propriety, for that is nought but sin,223223Of thyself thou hast nought but sin. but thine given graciously of God, and sent by me as a messenger though I be unworthy; for wete thou right well that every thought that stirreth thee to the good,224224So the MSS.: Pepwell has: "to God." whether it come from within by thine angel messenger, or from without by any man messenger, it is but an instrument of grace given, sent and chosen of God Himself for to work within in thy soul. And this is the skill why that I counsel thee to take these two thoughts before all others. For as man is a mingled thing of two substances,
91a bodily and a ghostly, so it needeth for to have two sere225225Pepwell changes to "divers." means to come by to perfection;226226Cf. Dante, De Monarchia, iii. 16: "Man alone of beings holds a mid-place between corruptible and incorruptible; wherefore he is rightly likened by the philosophers to the horizon which is between two hemispheres. For man, if considered after either essential part, to wit soul and body is corruptible if considered only after the one, to wit the body, but if after the other, to wit the soul, he is incorruptible. . . . If man then, is a kind of mean between corruptible and incorruptible things, since every mean savours of the nature of the extremes, it is necessary that man should savour of either nature. And since every nature is ordained to a certain end, it follows that there must be a twofold end of man, so that like as he alone amongst all beings partakes of corruptibility and incorruptibilty, so he alone amongst all beings should be ordained for two final goals of which the one should be his goal as a corruptible being, and the other as an incorruptible" (P. H. Wicksteed's translation). sith it so is that both these substances shall be oned in undeadliness at the uprising in the last day; so that either substance be raised to perfection in this life, by a mean accordant thereto. And that is dread to bodily substance, and hope to the ghostly. And thus it is full seemly and according to be, as me thinketh; for as there is nothing that so soon will ravish the body from all affection of earthly things, as will a sensible dread of the death; so there is nothing that so soon nor so fervently will raise the affection of a sinner's soul, unto the love of God, as will a certain hope of forgiveness of all his recklessness. And therefore have I ordained thy climbing by these
92two thoughts; but if it so be that thy good angel teach
thee within thy ghostly conceit, or any other man, any other two
that are more according to thy disposition than thee thinketh these
two be, thou mayst take them, and leave these safely without any
blame. Nevertheless to my conceit (till I wete more) me thinketh
that these should be full helply unto thee, and not much
unaccording to thy disposition, after that I feel in thee. And
therefore, if thou think that they do thee good, then thank God
heartily, and for God's love pray for me. Do then so, for I am a
wretch, and thou wotest not how it standeth with me.
No more at this time, but God's blessing have thou and mine.
Read often, and forget it not; set thee sharply to the proof; and flee all letting and occasion of letting, in the name of our Lord Jesu Christ. AMEN.
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