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VI. AN EPISTLE OF DISCRETION
HERE FOLLOWETH ALSO A VERY NECESSARY EPISTLE OF DISCRETION IN STIRRINGS OF THE SOUL
GHOSTLY friend in God, that same grace and joy that I will to myself, will I to thee at God's will. Thou askest me counsel of silence and of speaking, of common dieting and of singular fasting, of dwelling in company and only woning227227Pepwell modernises this throughout to "dwelling alone." by thyself. And thou sayest thou art in great were228228Pepwell substitutes "doubt." Cf. Chaucer, Legend of Good Women, 2686: "Thryes doun she fil in swiche a were." what thou shalt do; for, as thou sayest, on the one party thou art greatly tarried with speaking, with common eating, as other folk do, and with common woning in company. And, on the other party, thou dreadest to be straitly still,229229Pepwell adds: "in keeping of silence." singular in fasting, and only in woning, for deeming of more holiness in thee than thou hast,230230Harl. MS. 674 reads: "more holiness than thou art worthy." and for many other perils; for oft times now these days they are deemed for most holy, and fall in to many perils, that most are in silence, in singular fasting,
96and in only woning. And sooth it is that they are most holy, if grace only be the cause of that silence, of that singular fasting, and of that only woning, the kind231231Nature. but suffering and only consenting; and if it be otherwise, then that is but peril on all sides, for it is full perilous to strain the kind to any such work of devotion, as is silence or speaking, common dieting or singular fasting, woning in company or in onliness.232232Solitude. I mean, passing the course and the common custom of kind and degree, but if it be led thereto by grace; and, namely, to such works the which in themself are indifferent, that is to say, now good, and now evil, now with thee, now against thee, now helping, and now letting. For it might befall that, if thou followed thy singular stirring, straitly straining thee to silence, to singular fasting, or to only woning, that thou shouldest oft times be still when time were to speak, oft times fast when time were to eat, oft times be only when time were to be in company. Or if thou give thee to speaking always when thee list, to common eating, or to companious woning,233233Pepwell has: "company." then peradventure thou shouldest sometime speak when time234234Pepwell reads: "better." were to be still, sometime eat when time were to fast, sometime be in company when time were to be only; and thus mightest thou lightly fall in to error, in great confusion, not only of thine own soul but also of others. And, therefore, in
97eschewing of such errors, thou askest of me (as I have
perceived by thy letters) two things: the first is my conceit of
thee, and thy stirring; and the other is my counsel in this case,
and in all such others when they come.
As to the first, I answer and I say that I dread full much in this matter and such others to put forth my rude conceit, such as it is, for two skills.235235Causes. And one is this: I dare not lean to my conceit, affirming it for fast and true. The other is thine inward disposition, and thine ableness that thou hast unto all these things that thou speakest of in thy letter, which be not yet so fully known unto me, as it were speedful that they were, if I should give full counsel in this case. For it is said of the Apostle: Nemo novit quae sunt hominis, nisi spiritus hominis qui in ipso est; "No man knoweth which are the privy dispositions of man, but the spirit of the same man, the which is in himself";2362361 Cor. ii. 11. and, peradventure, thou knowest not yet thine own inward disposition thyself, so fully as thou shalt do hereafter, when God will let thee feel it by the proof, among many failings and risings. For I knew never yet no sinner that might come to the perfect knowing of himself and of his inward disposition, but if he were learned of it before in the school of God, by experience of many temptations, and by many failings and risings; for right as among the waves and the floods and the
98storms of the sea, on the one party, and the peaceable wind and the calms and the soft weathers of the air on the other party, the sely237237Simple. ship at the last attains to the land and the haven; right so, among the diversity of temptations and tribulations that falleth to a soul in this ebbing and flowing life (the which are ensampled by the storms and the floods of the sea) on the one party, and among the grace and the goodness of the Holy Ghost, the manyfold visitation, sweetness and comfort of spirit (the which are ensampled by the peaceable wind and the soft weathers of the air) on the other party, the sely soul, at the likeness of a ship, attaineth at the last to the land of stableness, and to the haven of health; the which is the clear and the soothfast knowing of himself, and of all his inward dispositions, through the which knowing he sitteth quietly in himself, as a king crowned in his royalme, mightily, wisely, and goodly governing himself and all his thoughts and stirrings, both in body and in soul. Of such a man it is that the wise man saith thus: Beatus vir qui suffert tentationem, quoniam cum probatus fuerit, accipiet coronam vitae, quam repromisit Deus diligentibus se: "He is a blissful man that sufferingly beareth temptation; for, from he have been proved, he shall take the crown of life, the which God hath hight to all those that love Him."238238Jas. i. 12. The crown of life may be said on two manners. One for ghostly wisdom, for full discretion,
99and for perfection of virtue: these three knitted
together may be cleped239239The MSS. usually read "cleped" for "called."
crown of life, the which by grace may be come to here in this life.
On another manner the crown of life may be said, that it is the
endless joy that each true soul shall have, after this life, in the
bliss of heaven, and, sikerly, neither of these two crowns may a
man take, but if he before have been well proved in suffering of
noye240240Pepwell modernizes to "trouble."
and of temptation, as
this text saith: Quoniam cum probatus fuerit, accipiet coronam
vitae; that is: "From that he have been proved, then shall he
take the crown of life";241241Jas. i. 12.
who saith (according to mine understanding touched before): But if
a sinner have been proved before in divers temptations, now rising,
now falling, falling by frailty, rising by grace, he shall never
else take of God in this life ghostly wisdom in clear knowing of
himself and of his inward dispositions, nor full discretion in
counselling and teaching of others, nor yet the third, the which is
the perfection of virtue in loving of his God and of his brethren.
All these three--wisdom, discretion, and perfection of virtue-are
but one, and they may be cleped the crown of life.
In a crown are three things: gold is the first; precious stones are the second; and the turrets of the flower-de-luce, raised up above the head, those are the third. By gold, wisdom; by the precious stones, discretion; and
100by the turrets of the flower-de-luce I understand the perfection of virtue. Gold environeth the head, and by wisdom we govern our ghostly work on every side; precious stones giveth light in beholding of men, and by discretion we teach and counsel our brethren; the turrets of the flower-de-luce giveth two side branches spreading one to the right side and another to the left, and one even up above the head, and by perfection of virtues (the which is charity) we give two side branches of love, the which are spreading, one to the right side to our friends, and one to the left side to our enemies, and one even up unto God, above man's understanding, the which is the head of the soul. This is the crown of life the which by grace may be gotten here in this life; and, therefore, bear thee low in thy battle, and suffer meekly thy temptations till thou have been proved. For then shalt thou take either the one crown, or the other, or both, this here, and the other there; for who so hath this here, he may be full siker of the other there; and full many there are that are full graciously proved here, and yet come never to this that may be had here in this life. The which (if they meekly continue and patiently abide the will of our Lord) shall full worthily and abundantly receive the other there, in the high bliss of heaven. Thee thinketh this crown fair that may be had here; yea, bear thee as meekly as thou mayst by grace, for in comparison of the other there, it is but as one noble to a
101world full of gold. All this I say to give thee comfort
and evidence of strength in thy ghostly battle, the which thou hast
taken on hand in the trust of our Lord, and all this I say to let
thee see how far thou art yet from the true knowing of thine inward
disposition, and thereafter to give thee warning, not over soon to
give stead242242To give place to.
nor to follow
the singular stirrings of thy young heart, for dread of deceit.
All this I say for to show unto thee my conceit that I have of thee and of thy stirrings, as thou hast asked of me; for I conceive of thee that thou art full able and full greatly disposed to such sudden stirrings of singular doings,243243Such impulses to exceptional practices. and full fast to cleave unto them when they be received; and that is full perilous. I say not that this ableness and this greedy disposition in thee, or in any other that is disposed as thou art, though all it be perilous, that it is therefore evil in itself; nay, so say I not, God forbid that thou take it so; but I say that it is full good in itself, and a full great ableness to full great perfection, yea, and to the greatest perfection that may be in this life; I mean, if that a soul that is so disposed will busily, night and day, meek it244244Humble itself. to God and to good counsel, and strongly rise and martyr itself, with casting down of the own wit and the own will in all such sudden and singular
102stirrings, and say sharply that it will not follow such
stirrings, seem they never so liking,245245Pleasant.
so high nor so holy, but if it have thereto the
witness246246Pepwell reads: "wits."
and the consents of
some ghostly teachers--I mean such as have been of long time expert
in singular living. Such a soul, for ghostly continuance thus in
this meekness, may deserve, through grace and the experience of
this ghostly battle thus with itself, for to take the crown of life
touched before. And as great an ableness to good as is this manner
of disposition in a soul that is thus meeked as I say, as perilous
it is in another soul, such one that will suddenly, without
advisement of counsel, follow the stirrings of the greedy heart, by
the own wit and the own will; and therefore, for God's love, beware
with this ableness and with this manner of disposition (that I
speak of), if it be in thee as I say. And meek thee continually to
prayer and to counsel. Break down thine own wit and thy will in all
such sudden and singular stirrings, and follow them not over
lightly, till thou wete whence they come, and whether they be
according for thee or not.
And as touching these stirrings of the which thou askest my conceit and my counsel, I say to thee that I conceive of them suspiciously, that is, that247247Lest. they should be conceived on the ape's manner. Men say commonly that the ape doth as he seeth others do; forgive me if I err in my suspicion, I pray thee. Nevertheless, the love that
103I have to thy soul stirreth me by evidence that I have of a ghostly brother of thine and of mine, touched with those same stirrings of full great248248Pepwell reads: "strait." silence, of full singular fasting, and of full only woning, on ape's manner, as he granted unto me after long communing with me, and when he had proved himself and his stirrings. For, as he said, he had seen a man in your country, the which man, as it is well known, is evermore in great silence, in singular fasting, and in only dwelling; and certes, as I suppose fully, they are full true stirrings those that that man hath, caused all only of grace, that he feeleth by experience within, and not of any sight or heard say that he hath of any other man's silence without-the which cause if it were, it should be cleped apely, as I say in my simple meaning. And therefore beware, and prove well thy stirrings, and whence they come; for how so thou art stirred, whether from within by grace, or from without on ape's manner, God wote, and I not. Nevertheless this may I say thee in eschewing of perils like unto this: look that thou be no ape, that is to say, look that thy stirrings to silence or to speaking, to fasting or to eating, to onliness or to company, whether they be come from within of abundance of love and of devotion in the spirit and not from without by the windows of thy bodily wits, as thine ears, and thine eyes. For, as Jeremiah saith plainly, by such windows cometh in death: Mors intrat
104per fenestras.249249Jer. ix. 21: "Quia ascendit mors per fenestras nostras" (Vulgate). Pepwell reads: "as saint Jerome saith"! Cf. Walter Hilton, The Ladder of Perfection, I. pt. iii. cap 9: "Lift up thy lanthorn, and thou shalt see in this image five windows, by which sin cometh into thy soul,
as the Prophet saith: Death cometh in by our windows. These are the five senses by which thy soul goeth out of herself, and fetcheth her delight and seeketh her feeding in earthly
things, contrary to the nobility of her own nature. As by the eye to see curious and fair things and so of the other senses.
By the unskilful using of these senses willingly to vanities, thy soul is much letted from the sweetness of the spiritual
senses within; and therefore it behoveth thee to stop these windows, and shut them, but only when need requireth to open them"
(ed. Dalgairns, p. 115).
And this sufficeth,
as little as it is, for answer to the first, where thou askest of
me, what is my conceit of thee, and of these stirrings that thou
speakest of to me in thy letter.
And touching the second thing, where thou askest of me my counsel in this case, and in such other when they fall, I beseech almighty Jesu (as He is cleped the angel of great counsel) that He of His mercy be thy counsellor and thy comforter in all thy noye and thy nede, and order me with His wisdom to fulfil in party by my teaching, so simple as it is, the trust of thine heart, the which thou hast unto me before many others--a simple lewd250250Ignorant. wretch as I am, unworthy to teach thee or any other, for littleness of grace and for lacking of conning. Nevertheless, though I be lewd, yet shall I somewhat say, answering to
105thy desire at my simple conning, with a trust in God that His grace shall be learner and leader when conning of kind and of clergy defaileth.251251Where natural and acquired knowledge alike fall shorts. Thou wotest right well thyself that silence in itself nor speaking, also singular fasting nor common dieting, onliness nor company, all these nor yet any of them be not the true end of our desire; but to some men (and not to all) they are means helping to the end, if they be done lawfully and with discretion, and else are they more letting than furthering. And therefore plainly252252Fully. to speak, nor plainly to be still, plainly to eat, nor plainly to fast, plainly to be in company, or plainly to be only, think I not to counsel thee at this time; for why, perfection standeth not in them. But this counsel may I give thee generally, to hold thee by in these stirrings, and in all other like unto these; evermore where thou findest two contraries, as are these--silence and speaking, fasting and eating, onliness and company, common clothing of Christian religion and singular habits of divers and devised brotherhoods, with all such other what so they be, the which in themself are but works of kind253253Nature. and of men. For thou hast it by kind and by statute of thine outer man now for to speak and now for to be still, now for to eat and now for to fast, now for to be in company and now to be only, now to be common in clothing and now to be in singular habit,
106ever when thee list, and when thou seest254254Pepwell has: "when thou dost feel."
that any of them should be speedful and
helply to thee in nourishing of the heavenly grace working within
in thy soul; but if it be so (which God forbid), that thou or any
other be so lewd and so blinded in the sorrowful temptations of the
midday devil, that ye bind you by any crooked avow to any such
singularities, as it were under colour of holiness feigned under
such an holy thraldom,255255Pepwell inserts: "I mean except the solemn vows of holy religion."
full and final destroying of the freedom of Christ, the which is
the ghostly habit of the sovereign holiness that may be in this
life, or in the other, by the witness of saint Paul saying thus:
Ubi spiritus Domini, ibi libertas: "There where the spirit of God
is, there is freedom."2562562 Cor. iii. 17.
thereto when thou seest that all such works in their use may be
both good and evil; I pray thee leave them both, for that is the
most ease for thee for to do, if thou wilt be meek, and leave the
curious beholding and seeking in thy wits to look whether is
better. But do thou thus: set the one on the one hand, and the
other on the other, and choose thee a thing the which is hid
between them; the which thing, when it is had, giveth thee leave in
freedom of spirit to begin and to cease in holding any of the
others at thine own full list, without any blame.
But now thou askest me, what is that thing. I shall
107tell thee what I mean that it is: It is God; for whom thou shouldest be still, if thou shouldest be still; and for whom thou shouldest speak if thou shouldest speak; and for whom thou shouldest fast, if thou shouldest fast; and for whom thou shouldest eat, if thou shouldest eat; and for whom thou shouldest be only, if thou shouldest be only; and for whom thou shouldest be in company, if thou shouldest be in company. And so forth of all the remenant, what so they be. For silence is not God, nor speaking is not God; fasting is not God, nor eating is not God; onliness is not God, nor company is not God; nor yet any of all the other such two contraries. He is hid between them, and may not be found by any work of thy soul, but all only by love of thine heart. He may not be known by reason, He may not be gotten by thought, nor concluded by understanding; but He may be loved and chosen with the true lovely will of thine heart.257257Cf. St. Catherine of Siena, Letter 308 (ed. Gigli): "Love harmonises the three powers of our soul, and binds them together. The will moves the understanding to see, when it wishes to love; when the understanding perceives that the will would fain love, if it is a rational will, it places before it as object the ineffable love of the eternal Father, who has given us the Word, His own son, and the obedience and humility of the son, who endured torments, inuries, mockeries, and insults with meekness and with such great love. And thus the will, with ineffable love, follows what the eye of the understanding has beheld; and with its strong hand, it stores up in the memory the treasure that it draws from this love." Choose thee Him, and thou art silently speaking,
108and speakingly silent, fastingly eating, and eatingly fasting, and so forth of all the remenant. Such a lovely choosing of God, thus wisely lesinge258258Losing. and seeking Him out with the true will of a clean heart, between all such two leaving them both, when they come and proffer them to be the point and the prick of our ghostly beholding, is the worthiest tracing and seeking of God that may be gotten or learned in this life. I mean for a soul that will be contemplative; yea, though all that a soul that thus seeketh see nothing that may be conceived with the ghostly eye of reason; for if God be thy love and thy meaning, the choice and the point of thine heart, it sufficeth to thee in this life (though all thou see never more of Him with the eyes of thy reason all thy life time). Such a blind shot with the sharp dart of longing love may never fail of the prick, the which is God, as Himself saith in the book of love, where He speaketh to a languishing soul and a loving, saying thus: Vulnerasti cor meum, soror mea, amica mea, et sponsa mea, vulnerasti cor meum, in uno oculorum tuorum: "Thou hast wounded mine heart, my sister, my leman, and my spouse, thou hast wounded mine heart in one of thine eyes."259259Cant. iv. 9. Eyes of the soul they are two: Reason and Love. By reason we may trace how mighty, how wise, and how good He is in His creatures, but not in Himself; but ever when reason defaileth, then list, love, live and learn, to play,260260To exercise love.
109for by love we may feel Him, find Him, and hit Him, even
in Himself. It is a wonderful eye, this love, for of a loving soul
it is only said of our Lord: "Thou hast wounded mine heart in one
of thine eyes"; that is to say, in love that is blind to many
things, and seeth but that one thing that it seeketh, and therefore
it findeth and feeleth, hitteth and woundeth the point and the
prick that it shooteth at, well sooner than it should if the sight
were sundry in beholding of many things, as it is when the reason
ransacketh and seeketh among all such sere261261Divers.
things as are these: silence and speaking,
singular fasting and common eating, onliness or company, and all
such other; to look whether is better.
Let be this manner of doing, I pray thee, and let as thou wist not that there were any such means (I mean ordained for to get God by); for truly no more there is, if thou wilt be very contemplative and soon sped of thy purpose. And, therefore, I pray thee and other like unto thee, with the Apostle saying thus: Videte vocationem vestram, et in ea vocatione qua vocati estis state:2622621 Cor. i. 26, vii. 20; Eph. iv. 1. "See your calling, and, in that calling that ye be called, stand stiffly and abide in the name of Jesu." Thy calling is to be very contemplative, ensampled by Mary Magdalene. Do then as Mary did, set the point of thine heart upon one thing: Porro unum est necessarium: "For
110one thing is necessary,"263263Luke x. 42.
the which is God. Him wouldest thou have, Him
seekest thou, Him list thee to love, Him list thee to feel,264264Pepwell inserts "Him list thee to see, and."
Him list thee hold thee by, and
neither by silence nor by speaking, by singular fasting nor by
common eating, by onliness nor by companious woning, by hard
wearing nor by easy; for sometime silence is good, but that same
time speaking were better; and againward sometime speaking is good,
but that same time silence were better; and so forth of all the
remenant, as is fasting, eating, onliness, and company; for
sometime the one is good, but the other is better, but neither of
them is at any time the best. And, therefore, let be good all that
is good, and better all that is better,265265Pepwell reads: "Let be good and all that is good, and better with all that is better."
for both they will defail and have an end; and
choose thee the best with Mary, thy mirror, that never will defail:
Maria (inquit optimam) optimam partem elegit, quae non auferetur
ab ea.266266Luke x. 42.
The best is almighty Jesu, and He said
that Mary, in ensample of all contemplatives, had chosen the best,
the which should never be taken from her; and therefore, I pray
thee, with Mary leave the good and the better, and choose thee the
Let them be, all such things as are these: silence and speaking, fasting and eating, onliness and company, and
111all such other, and take no keep to them; thou wotest not what they mean, and, I pray thee, covet not to wit; and if thou shall at any time think or speak of them, think then and say that they are so high and so worthy things of perfection, for to conne267267To know how to speak, etc. speak, or for to conne be still, for to conne fast, and for to conne eat, for to conne be only, and to conne be in company, that it were but a folly and a foul presumption to such a frail wretch as thou art, for to meddle thee of so great perfection. For why, for to speak, and for to be still, for to eat, and for to fast, for to be only, and for to be in company, ever when we will, may we have by kind; but for to conne do all these, we may not but by grace. And, without doubt, such grace is never gotten by any mean of such strait silence, of such singular fasting, or of such only dwelling that thou speakest of, the which is caused from without by occasion of hearing and of seeing of any other man's such singular doings. But if ever this grace shall be gotten, it behoveth to be learned of God from within, unto whom thou hast listily leaned many a day before with all the love of thine heart, utterly voiding from thy ghostly beholding268268Banishing from thy soul's vision. all manner of sight of any thing beneath Him; though all that some of those things that I bid thee thus void, should seem in the sight of some men a full worthy mean to get God by. Yea, say what
112men say will, but do thou as I say thee, and let the proof witness. For to him that will be soon sped of his purpose ghostly, it sufficeth to him for a mean, and him needeth no more, but the actual mind of good God only, with a reverent stirring of lasting love; so that mean unto God gettest thou none but God. If thou keep whole thy stirring of love that thou mayst feel by grace in thine heart, and scatter not thy ghostly beholding therefrom then that same that thou feelest shall well conne269269Be able to. tell thee when thou shalt speak and when thou shalt be still, and it shall govern thee discreetly in all thy living without any error, and teach thee mistily270270Pepwell reads: "privily." Cf. Wyclif (Select English Works, ed. cit., i. p. 149): "And after seith Crist to his apostles, that thes thingis he seide bifore to hem in proverbis and mystily." how thou shalt begin and cease in all such doing of kind with a great and sovereign discretion. For if thou mayst by grace keep it in custom and in continual working, then, if it be needful or speedful to thee for to speak, for to commonly eat, or for to bide in company, or for to do any such other thing that longeth to the common true custom of Christian men, and of kind, it shall first stir thee full softly to speak or to do that other common thing of kind, what so it be. And then, if thou do it not, it shall strike as sore as a prick on thine heart and pain thee full sore, and let thee have no peace271271Pepwell reads: "rest." but if thou do it. And, on the same
113manner, if thou be in speaking, or in any such other work that is common to the course of kind, if it be needful and speedful to thee to be still, and for to set thee to the contrary, as is onliness to company, fasting to eating, and all such other the which are works of singular holiness, it will stir thee to them; so that thus, by experience of such a blind stirring of love unto God, a contemplative soul cometh sooner to that grace of discretion for to conne speak, and for to conne be still, for to conne eat, and for to conne fast, for to conne be in company, and for to conne be only,272272Pepwell modernises "conne" to "learn to" throughout this passage. and all such other, than by any such singularities as thou speakest of, taken by the stirrings of man's own wit and his will within in himself, or yet by the ensample of any other man's doing without, what so it be. For why, such strained doings under the stirrings of kind, without touching273273Harl. MS. 674 reads: "stirring"; the other MS, as Pepwell. of grace, is a passing pain without any profit; but if it be to them that are religious, or that have them by enjoining of penance, where profit riseth only because of obedience, and not by any such straitness of doing without; the which is painful to all that it proveth. But lovely and listily to will to love274274Harl. MS. 674 reads: "have." God is great and passing ease, true ghostly peace, and
114earnest of the endless rest. And, therefore, speak when thee list, and leave when thee list, eat when thee list, and fast when thee list, be in company when thee list, and be by thyself when thee list, so that275275Pepwell reads: "else." God and grace be thy leader. Let fast who fast will, and be only who will, and let hold silence who so will, but hold thee by God that doth beguile no man; for silence and speaking, onliness and company, fasting and eating, all may beguile thee. And if thou hear of any man that speaketh, or of any that is still, of any that eateth or of any that fasteth, or of any that is in company or else by himself, think thou, and say, if thee list, that they conne do as they should do, but if the contrary shew in apert.276276Manifestly, i.e. unless they clearly show that they do not know how to act as they should. Pepwell has: "in a part." But look that thou do not as they do (I mean for that they do so) on ape's manner; for neither thou canst, nor peradventure thou art not disposed as they are. And, therefore, leave to work after other men's dispositions and work after thine own, if thou mayst know what it is. And unto the time that thou mayst know what it is, work after those men's counsel that know their own disposition, but not after their disposition;277277i.e. take their advice, but do not simply imitate them. I follow the MSS. in preference to Pepwell, who reads: "Work after no men's counsel, but sith that know well their own disposition; for such men should," etc. for such men should
115give counsel in such cases, and else none. And this sufficeth for an answer to all thy letter, as me thinketh; the grace of God be ever more with thee, in the name of Jesu. AMEN.
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