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SECTION I: Of Meditation
THOU must understand that in meditation no certain rule can be set for every one to observe, for they are in the free gift of our Lord, according to divers dispositions of chosen souls, and according as we thrive in that state and in virtues, so God increaseth our meditations, both in spiritual knowing and loving of Him. For whoso is always alike, and at a stand in knowing of God and spiritual things, it seemeth that he profiteth and groweth but little in the love of God, which may be proved by the example of the apostles, who, when at Pentecost they were filled with burning love of the Holy Ghost, became thereby neither fools nor dolts, but became wonderful wise, both in knowing and speaking of God and spiritual things, as much as men could in mortal bodies. For thus saith the Scripture: They were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak the wonders of God;7777 Acts 2. all which knowledge they got by ravishing in love, through the working of the Holy Ghost within them. Divers sorts of meditations there be which our Lord putteth in a man’s heart. Some of them shall I tell thee of that thou mayest exercise thyself in them. In the beginning of the conversion of such a man as hath been much defiled with worldly or fleshly sins, commonly his thoughts are much upon his sins with great compunction and sorrow of heart, with great weeping and many tears humbly and busily asking mercy and forgiveness of God for them. And if he be deeply touched in conscience for them (for then our Lord will soon cleanse him from them), his sins will seem ever to be in his sight, and that so foul and so horrible, that hardly can he be able to brook or endure himself for them; and though he confess himself never so clearly of them, yet will he find difficulty and a fretting and biting in his conscience about them, thinking that he hath not confessed right. And scarce can he take any rest, or be quiet, insomuch that his body were not able to undergo such vexation and pain, were it not that our Lord of His mercy sometimes comforteth him by the consideration of His Passion, and devotion wrought in him thereto; or by some other means as He seeth good. After this manner worketh He in some men’s hearts more or less, as He will, and this is through His great mercy, that not only will He forgive the sin or the trespass, but will both forgive the trespass and the pain due for it in Purgatory, for such a little pain here felt in the remorse and biting of conscience. Also, to make a man rightly to receive any special gift or degree of the love of God, it behoveth that he first be scoured and cleansed by such a fire of compunction for all his great sins before done. Of this kind of exercise of compunction often David speaks in the Psalter, but especially in the psalm, Miserere mei, Deus—Have mercy on me, O God. 7878 Ps. 1.
And then sometime after this travail and exercise, and sometimes together with it, such a man that hath been so defiled with sins, or else another who, by the grace of God, hath been kept in innocence, our Lord bestoweth on him the meditation of His humanity, or of His birth, or of His Passion, and of the compassion of our Lady, St Mary. When this meditation is made by the help of the Holy Ghost, then it is right profitable and gracious, and thou shalt know it by this token: when thou art stirred to a meditation in God, and thy thoughts are suddenly drawn out from all worldly and fleshly things, and thou thinkest that thou seest in thy soul the Lord Jesus in a bodily likeness as He was on earth, and how He was taken by the Jews and bound as a thief, beaten and despised, scourged and judged to death, how lowly He bore the cross upon His back, and how cruelly He was nailed thereon; also of the crown of thorns upon His head, and of the sharp spear that sticked Him to the heart; and thou in this spiritual sight feelest thy heart stirred to so great compassion and pity of thy Lord Jesus, that thou mournest and weepest, and criest with all thy might of body and soul, wondering at the goodness, the love, the patience, the meekness of thy Lord Jesus, that He would, for so sinful a caitiff as thou art, suffer so much pain; and, nevertheless, thou seest so much goodness and mercy to be in Him that thy heart riseth up into a love and a joy and a gladness in Him, with many sweet tears, having great trust of the forgiveness of thy sins and the salvation of thy soul by the virtue of this precious Passion; so that when the meditation of Christ’s Passion, or any part of His humanity is thus wrought in thy heart by such a spiritual sight, with devout affection answerable thereunto, know well that it is not of thy own working, nor the feigning or working of any evil spirit, but by the grace of the Holy Ghost. For it is an opening of the spiritual eye into the humanity of Christ, and may be called the fleshly love of God, as St Bernard saith, inasmuch as it is set upon the fleshly nature of Christ, and it is right good, and a great help for the destroying of great sins, and a good way to come to virtues, and so after to the Contemplation of the Godhead. For a man shall not come to the spiritual light in Contemplation of Christ’s Godhead, unless first he be exercised in imagination with bitterness and compassion, and in stedfast thinking of His humanity. Thus St Paul did, and therefore first he saith: I desired to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.7979 1 Cor. 2. As if he had said: My knowing and my faith is only in the Passion of Christ; and therefore he saith thus also: God forbid I should rejoice in anything, save in the cross of Christ. Nevertheless afterward he saith: We preach unto you Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God. As who should say: First I preached of the humanity and Passion of Christ; now I preach to you of the Godhead, that Christ is the power of God, and the endless wisdom of God.
But this manner of meditation a man hath not always when he would, but only when our Lord will give it. Unto some He giveth it all their lifetime by fits, when He visiteth them; some men being so tender in their affections that, when they hear men speak or think themselves of this precious Passion, their hearts melt into devotion, and are fed and comforted thereby against all manner of temptations of the enemy, and this is a great gift of God. To some men He giveth it plentifully at the first, and afterwards withdraws it for divers causes, either if a man grow proud of it in his own eyes, or for some other sin by which he disableth himself to receive the grace; or else our Lord withdraweth it, and all other devotions sometimes, because He will suffer him to be tried with temptations of the enemy, and thereby will dispose a man to understand and feel our Lord more spiritually, for so He saith to His disciples: It is expedient for you that I go away from you [in my body], for except I go the Holy Ghost will not come.8080 St John 16. As long as He was with them they loved Him much, but it was fleshly according to His humanity, and therefore it was necessary that He should withdraw His bodily presence, that the Holy Ghost might come to them and teach them how to love Him and know Him more spiritually, as He did at Pentecost. Right so, it is expedient for some that our Lord withdraw a little the fleshly and bodily image from the eye of their soul, that their heart may be set and fixed more busily in spiritual desire and seeking of His divinity.
SECTION II: Of divers Temptations of the Enemy, and the Remedies against them
NEVERTHELESS it behoveth a man to suffer many temptations first, which shall befall some men often after that their comfort is withdrawn, and that sundry ways by the malice of the enemy. As thus: when the devil perceiveth devotion much withdrawn, that the soul is left, as it were, naked for a time, then sendeth he to some temptations of lust, of gluttony, and these so hot and burning that they shall think they never felt so grievous ones in all their life before, even when they gave themselves most to such sins. Insomuch as they think it impossible to stand out long from falling without help. And, therefore, have they then much sorrow for lack of comfort and devotion which formerly they have had, and much dread also of falling from God by such open sins. All this the devil worketh (by God’s permission) to make them repent of their good purposes, and turn back to their former courses of sinning. But whoso will abide, and suffer a little pain, and not turn again to sin for anything, the hand of our Lord is full near, and will help them right soon, for He hath much care of that man that is in such a case, though he knoweth it not; for so saith David in the person of our Lord: I am with him in trouble, I will deliver him, and he shall glorify Me.8181 Ps. 90. The devil tempteth others maliciously to spiritual sins, as to doubt of the articles of faith, or of the Sacrament of our Lord’s blessed Body. Also to despair, or blaspheme of God or any of His saints, or to a wearisomeness of their own life, or to bitterness against others, or foolish melancholy and sadness, or too much fear of themselves, of doing hurt to their healths by giving themselves so much to serving of God. Some others, and namely solitary folks, he frighteth with dreads and ugly shapes appearing to their eyes or to their imaginations, causing often thereby great shakings and quakings in their bodies, either sleeping or waking, and so troubleth them that they can hardly take any rest. And also many other ways he tempteth, more than I can or may say.
The remedies for such may be these. First: that they put all their trust in our Lord Jesus Christ, and often call to mind His Passion and the pains that He suffered for us, and that they then believe stedfastly that all sorrows and travail which they suffer in such temptations, which to unskilful men may seem a forsaking by God, are indeed no such leavings or forsakings, but trials for their good, either for cleansing of their former sins or for the great increasing of their reward and the disposing of them for more grace, if they will but suffer awhile and stand fast, that they turn not again willingly to sin.
Another remedy is that they fear not, nor esteem these malicious stirrings for sins, nor lay to heart that despair or blasphemy, or doubtings of sacrament, or any such other, though never so ugly to hear; for the feeling of these temptations defile the soul no more than if they heard a hound bark or felt the biting of a flea. They vex the soul indeed, but do not harm it, if so be a man despise them and set them at nought, for it is not good to strive with them, as if thou wouldst cast them out by mastery and violence, for the more they strive with them the more they cleave to them. And therefore they shall do well to divert their thoughts from them as much as they can, and set them upon some business. And if they will still hang upon them, then it is good for them that they be not angry nor heavy through feeling of them; but with a good trust in God bear them (like a bodily sickness and scourge of our Lord for the cleansing of their sins as long as He pleaseth) out of love to Him, even as He was willing to be scourged and bear His cross for the love of them. Moreover, it is good for them to open their minds to some wise man in the beginning, before these temptations get rooting in their heart, and that they forsake their own wit and judgement and follow the counsel of another. But that they show them not unadvisedly or lightly to any unskilful or worldly man, who never felt such temptations, for such may happily by their unskilfulness bring a simple soul into despair.
Of this manner of temptations by which a man seemeth forsaken of God, and is not, the help and comfort is this: The Lord saith by His prophet, For a little space have I left thee, but in great mercy will I gather thee. For a moment of indignation have I hid my face a little while from thee, and in mercy everlasting will I have mercy on thee.8282 Is. 54:7-8. As if He had said, I suffered thee to be troubled a little while, and in a point of My wrath I smote thee; that is to say, the penance and the pain that thou sufferest here is but a point or little prick of My wrath, in regard of the pain of hell or of purgatory. Yet in My manifold mercies I shall gather thee; when thou thinkest thyself forsaken, then will I of My great mercy gather thee again to Me; for when thou esteemest thyself, as it were, lost, then shall our Lord help thee, as Job saith: When thou shalt think thyself consumed, thou shalt arise as the daystar, and thou shalt have confidence.8383 Job 11. That is to say, when thou art brought so low by travail into temptation that thou despairest of help or comfort, like a forlorn man, yet stand stiffly in hope and pray to God, and verily thou shalt suddenly spring up as the day-star, in gladness of heart, and have a sure trust in God.
Moreover, for the comfort of such men, that they may not despair in temptation, the wise man saith thus of our Lord: In temptation He walketh with him, and bringeth fear and dread upon him, and torments him with His discipline, till He try him in his cogitations, and may trust His soul: And He will establish him, and make a direct way unto him, and make him glad, and will disclose His secrets to him, and will heap upon him as treasures knowledge of understanding and justice.8484 Ecclus. 4:18. The wise man, because he would have not despair in temptation, to comfort them saith thus: In temptation our Lord forsaketh not a man, but goeth with him from the beginning to the end. For he saith first, He chooseth him, and that is, when He draweth a man to Him by comfort of devotion, and afterward bringeth upon him sorrow and dread and trials, and that is when He withdraweth devotion and suffereth him to be tempted. And he saith that He tormenteth him in tribulation until He hath well tried him in his thoughts, and until a man will put all his trust in Him fully, and then He bringeth him out into the right way, and fasteneth him to Him, and gladdeneth him, and sheweth him His secrets, and giveth him His treasure of knowing and understanding of righteousness.
By these words may you see that these temptations or any other, be they never so ugly, are expedient and profitable to a man that by grace is in full will to forsake sin, if he will be willing to suffer and abide God’s will, and not turn again to sin which he hath forsaken, for any sorrow, or pain, or dread of such temptations; but ever stand still in travail and in prayer with good hope. Our Lord of His endless goodness having pity and mercy of all His creatures, when He seeth time, will put to His hand and smite down the devil and all his power, and ease him of his travail, and put away all dreads and sorrows and darkness out of his heart, and brings into his soul the light of grace, opening the eye thereof to see, that all the travail that he hath had was expedient for him, giving him also fresh spiritual might to withstand all the suggestions of the fiend and all deadly sins without great difficulty, and leadeth him into a stability and settledness of virtue and good living; in which, if he keepeth himself humble to the end, then will He take him wholly to himself. Thus much have I said, that thou mightest not be troubled or letted with any such temptation, or too much afraid; but do as I have said, and better if thou canst, and I hope through the grace of Jesus Christ thou shalt never be overcome by thine enemy.
But after thou hast escaped these temptations, or else if our Lord hath so kept thee (as He doth many by His mercy) that thou hast not been troubled much with any such, then it is good for thee that thou beware of turning thy rest into idleness; for there is many a man that taketh rest upon him too soon, as if he were ripe for rest in Contemplation. But if thou wilt do well, begin a new game and a new travail, and that is, by meditation, to enter within into thy own soul, for to know what it is, and by the knowing thereof to come to the spiritual knowledge of God. For St Austin saith, By the knowing of myself I shall get the knowledge of God. I say not that such exercise is absolutely necessary, and thy bounden duty, unless thou feel thyself stirred up by grace, and as it were called thereto. For our Lord giveth divers gifts where He pleaseth, not all to one man, nor one to every man, save the gift of charity, which is common to all.
Therefore, if a man have received a gift from God, as devotion in prayer, or in the Passion of Christ, or any other, be it never so little, let him not leave it quickly for any other, unless he assuredly find and feel a better, but hold that which he hath, and exercise himself therein seriously, ever desiring a better when God will give it. Nevertheless, if that be withdrawn somewhat, and he seeth a better, and feeleth his heart stirred thereto, then seemeth it to be a calling of our Lord to the better, and then is it time that he follow after it, to get it, and fall to practise it as speedily as he may.
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