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CHAPTER XI: How thou shalt know whether the Showing or Apparition to the bodily Senses and Feelings be good or evil

IF it be so that thou see any manner of light or brightness with thy bodily eye or in imagination, other than every man seeth; or if thou hear any pleasant, wonderful sounding with thy ear, or in thy mouth any sweet sudden savour, other than what thou knowest to be natural, or any heat in thy breast like fire, or any manner of delight in any part of thy body, or if a spirit appear bodily to thee, as it were an angel to comfort thee or teach thee; or if any such feeling, which thou knowest well that it cometh not of thyself, nor from any bodily creature, beware in that time, or soon after, and wisely consider the stirrings of thy heart; for if by occasion of the pleasure and liking thou takest in the said feeling or vision, thou feelest thy heart drawn from the minding and beholding of Jesus Christ, and from spiritual exercises, as from prayer, and thinking of thyself and thy defects, or from the inward desire of virtues, and of spiritual knowing and feeling of God, for to set the sight of thy heart and thy affection, thy delight and thy rest, principally on the said feelings or visions, supposing that to be a part of heavenly joy or angels’ bliss, and thereupon comest to think that thou shouldst neither pray nor think of anything else, but wholly attend thereto, for to keep it and delight thyself therein: then is this feeling very suspicious to come from the enemy; and therefore, though it be never so liking and wonderful, refuse it and assent not thereto, for this is a sleight of the enemy. When he seeth a soul that would entirely give itself to spiritual exercises, he is wonderfully wroth; for he hateth nothing more than to see a soul in this body of sin to feel verily the savour of spiritual knowledge and the love of God, which he himself, without the body of sin, lost wilfully. And therefore, if he cannot hinder him by open sinning, he will let and beguile him by such vanity of bodily savours or sweetness in the senses, to bring a soul into spiritual pride and into a false security of himself, weening that he had thereby a feeling of heavenly joy, and that he is half in paradise, by reason of the delight he feeleth about him, when indeed he is near to hell gates; and so by pride and presumption he might fall into errors or heresies, or phantasies, or other bodily or spiritual mischiefs.

But if it be so that this manner of feeling let not thy heart from spiritual exercises, but maketh thee more devout, and more fervent to pray, more wise to think ghostly thoughts, and though it be so that it astonish thee in the beginning, nevertheless afterward it turneth and quickeneth thy heart to more desire of virtues, and increaseth thy love more to God and to thy neighbour, also it maketh thee more humble in thy own eyes—by these tokens mayest thou know that it is of God, wrought by the presence and working of a good angel, and cometh from the goodness of God, either for the comfort of simple devout souls, for to increase their trust and desire towards God, to seek thereby the knowing and loving of God more perfectly by means of such comforts. Or else if they be perfect that feel such delight, it seemeth to them to be an earnest and as it were a shadow of the glorifying of the body, which it shall have in the bliss of heaven; but I wot 5454    Know. not whether there be any such man living on earth. This privilege had Mary Magdalen (as it seemeth to me) in the time when she was alone in the cave thirty years, and every day was borne up with angels, and was fed both body and soul by their presence, as we read in her story.

Of this way of discerning the working of spirits speaketh St John in his Epistle, thus: Omnis spiritus qui solvit Jesum, hic non est ex Deo—Every spirit that loosed or unknitteth Jesus, he is not of God.5555    1 St John 4:3. These words, I confess, may be understood in many manners, nevertheless, one way I may understand them to this purpose, as I have said. This knitting and fastening of Jesus to a man’s soul is wrought by a good will and a great desire to Him, only to have Him and see Him in His bliss spiritually. The greater this desire is, the faster is Jesus knit to the soul; and the less this desire is, the looser is He knit; whatsoever spirit, therefore, or feeling it is which lesseneth this desire and would draw it down from the stedfast minding of Jesus Christ and from the kindly breathing or aspiring up to Him, this spirit will unknit Jesus from the soul, and therefore is not of God, but is the working of the enemy. But if a spirit, or a feeling, or a revelation make this desire more, knitting the knots of love and devotion faster to Jesus, opening the eye of the soul into spiritual knowing more clearly, and maketh it more humble in itself, this spirit is of God.

And hereby you may learn that you are not to suffer your heart willingly to rest nor to delight wholly in any such bodily feelings of such manner of comforts or sweetness, though they were good; but rather hold them in your sight naught, or little in comparison of spiritual desire and stedfast thinking on Jesus; nor shall you fasten the thought of your heart over much on them.


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