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CHAPTER XIII: How a Soul through the opening of the spiritual Eye receiveth a gracious Love enabling to understand the Holy Scriptures, and how Jesus, that is hid in the Holy Scriptures, showeth Himself to His Lovers
WHEN a soul thus feeleth Jesus in prayer, he thinketh that he shall never feel otherwise. Nevertheless it happeneth that sometimes grace putteth vocal prayer to silence, and stirreth the soul to see and to feel Jesus in another manner. And that manner is first to see Jesus in the holy Scriptures; for Jesus, who is all truth, is hid and covered therein, folded in a soft Syndon, under fair words, that He cannot be known nor felt but of a clean heart. For why? Truth will not show itself to enemies, but to friends, that love and desire it with an humble heart. For Truth and Humility are full true sisters, fastened together in love and charity, and there is no distance of counsel betwixt them two. Humility presumeth upon Truth, and not at all on itself; and Truth esteemeth well of Humility, so they accord well together. Then forasmuch as the soul of a lover is made humble through inspiration of grace by opening of the spiritual eye, and seeth that it is nought of itself, but only hangeth on the mercy and the goodness of Jesus perpetually, being borne up by the favour and help of Him only, and truly desiring His presence, therefore seeth it Jesus; for it seeth the truth of holy Scriptures wonderfully showed and opened above study and industry and reason of man’s natural wit. And that may well be called the feeling and the perceiving of Jesus. For Jesus is the fountain of Wisdom, and by pouring down of His Wisdom into a clean soul, by little and little, He maketh the soul wise enough for to understand all holy Scripture; not all at once in special beholding, but through that grace the soul receiveth a new ability and a gracious habit to understand it, particularly when it cometh to mind. This opening and this cleanness of understanding is made by the spiritual presence of Jesus: for right as the Gospel saith of the two Disciples going to Emmaus, burning in desire and speaking of our Lord Jesus, our Lord appeared to them presently as a pilgrim, and taught them the prophecies of Himself. And as the Gospel saith: Aperuit illis sensum, &c.—He opened their wits that they might understand the Scriptures.328328 St Luke 24. Right so the spiritual presence of Jesus openeth the wit of His lover, that it burneth in desire to Him and bringeth to His mind by ministration of Angels, the words and sentences of holy Writ unsought and unconsidered one after another and expoundeth them readily, be they never so hard nor so secret. The harder they be, and farther from man’s understanding by reason, the more delectable is the true showing of them. When Jesus is the teacher, it is expounded and declared literally, morally, mystically, and heavenly, if the matter will bear it. By the literal (which is the easiest and plainest) corporal nature is comforted. By the moral, the soul is informed concerning vices and virtues, to be able wisely to distinguish the one from the other. By the mystical it is enlightened to see the works of Jesus in holy Church, readily to apply the words of holy Writ to Christ our head, and to holy Church, which is His mystical body. The fourth, which is heavenly, belongeth only to the working of love, and that is, when all truth in holy Writ is applied to love. And because this is most like to heavenly feeling, therefore I call it heavenly.
The lover of Jesus is His friend, not for that he deserveth it, but because Jesus of His merciful goodness maketh him His friend by true accord. And therefore to him He showeth His secrets, as to a true friend that pleaseth Him by love, not serveth Him through fear in slavery. Thus He saith Himself to His Apostles: Jam vos dixi amicos quia quaecumque audivi a Patre meo nota feci vobis.—Now have I called you friends, for I have made known unto you all that I have heard of the Father.329329 St John 15. To a clean soul whose palate is purified from filth of fleshly love, holy Writ is lively food and sustenance delectable, It savoureth wonderful sweetly when it is well chewed by spiritual understanding. For why? The spirit of life is hid therein, that quickeneth all the powers of the soul, and filleth them full of sweetness of heavenly savour and spiritual delight. But verily he must have white teeth, and sharp, and well picked, that can bite of this spiritual bread; for fleshly lovers and heretics may not touch the inward flour of it. Their teeth are bloody, and full of filth, therefore must they be fasting from feeling of this bread. By teeth I understand the inward senses of the soul, which in fleshly lovers and heretics are bloody, full of sin and worldly vanities. They would, but they cannot come through curiosity to the truth in knowing of holy Writ; for their senses are corrupted by original and actual sin, and are not yet healed through grace. And therefore they do but gnaw upon the outward bark, speak they never so much thereof. The inner savour within they taste not of. They be not humble, they be not pure for to see it. They be not friends to Jesus, and therefore He showeth them not His counsel. The mystery of holy Writ is closed under a key, and sealed with a signet of Jesus’ finger, which is the Holy Ghost, and therefore without His love and His leave may none come in. He alone hath the key of skill330330 Cunning. in His keeping, as holy Writ saith,331331 Is. 22. and He Himself is the key: and He letteth in whom He will by inspiration of His grace, and breaketh not the seal.
And this doth Jesus to His lovers, but not to all alike, but to them that are specially inspired for to seek Truth in holy Writ, with great devotion in praying, and with much business in studying going before. These may come to the finding of it, when our Lord will be pleased to show it. See now, then, how grace openeth the spiritual eye, and Heareth the senses of the soul wonderfully above the frailty of corrupt nature. It giveth the soul a new ability whether it will read holy Writ, or hear it, or meditate in it, for to understand truly and savourly the truth of it in the manner aforesaid; and also for to turn readily all reasons and words that are literally spoken in spiritual understanding. And that is no great wonder, for the same Spirit that made the Scriptures, expoundeth it and declareth it to a clean soul for its comfort—namely, the Holy Ghost.
And this grace may be, and is, as well in laymen as in the learned, as to the substance and true feeling of the verity and spiritual savour of it in general, though they see not so many reasons in special; for that needeth not. And when the soul is thus enabled, and enlightened through grace, then he chooseth to be alone sometimes, out of the letting and meddling with all creatures, that he may freely exercise his instrument, which I call his reason of beholding of verity which is contained in holy Scriptures. And then will there fall into his mind words and reasons and senses enough to busy him, and that full orderly and full seriously. And what comfort and spiritual delight, what savour and sweetness a soul can then feel in that spiritual exercise through divers illuminations, inward perceivings, secret knowings and sudden touchings of the Holy Ghost, a soul can only know by experience, and not otherwise. And I hope that he shall not err, if so be his teeth, that is his inward senses, be kept white and clean from spiritual pride, and from curiosity of his natural wit. I believe David felt full great delight in this manner of working, when he said thus: Quam dulci faucibus meis eloquia Tua, &c.—How sweet are Thy words unto my taste! sweeter than honey to my mouth.332332 Ps. 118. That is, Lord Jesus, Thy holy words endited in holy Writ, brought to my mind by grace, are sweeter to my taste, that is the affections of my soul, than honey is to my mouth. Verily this is a fair work without painful travail for to see Jesus thus. This is one manner of sight of Jesus, as I said before; not as He is, but clothed under the likeness of works and of words, per speculum, in aenigmate.—In a glass, and by a likeness,333333 1 Cor. 13. as the Apostle saith. Jesus is endless might, wisdom and goodness, righteousness, truth, holiness and mercy. And what this Jesus is in Himself can no soul see nor hear; but by the effects of His working may be seen through the light of grace. As thus, His might is seen by making of all creatures of nothing; His wisdom in orderly disposing of them; His goodness in saving of them; His mercy in forgiveness of sins; His holiness in gifts of grace; His righteousness in severely punishing of sin; His gentleness in true rewarding of good works. And all this is expressed in holy Writ, and this a soul seeth there with all other attributes that pertain thereto. And be thou well assured, that such gracious knowings in holy Writ, or in other writings, which are made by the assistance of God’s grace, are nought else but sweet letters sent and made betwixt a loving soul and Jesus the beloved. Or else, that I may speak trulier, betwixt Jesus the true lover and the souls beloved of Him. He hath full great tenderness of love to all his chosen children, that are here closed in clay of this bodily life. And therefore, though He be absent from them, high, hid above in the bosom of the Father, filled with the delights of the Blessed Godhead, yet notwithstanding He thinketh upon them, and visiteth them full oft through His gracious spiritual presence, and comforteth them by His letters of holy Writ, and driveth out of their hearts heaviness and wearisomeness, doubts and fears, and maketh them truly glad and merry in Him, believing in all His promises, and humbly continuing fulfilling His will.
St Paul saith thus: Quaecumque scripta sunt, &c.—Whatsoever things are written, are written for our instruction, that we might have hope through the comfort of the Scriptures. And this is another work of Contemplation, to see Jesus in the Scriptures after the opening of the spiritual eye. The cleaner the sight is in beholding, the more comforted is the affection in tasting. A full little savour felt in a clean soul of holy Writ in this manner abovesaid, should make the soul set little price by knowing of all the seven liberal arts, or of all the world, or all worldly wisdom; for the end of this knowing is the salvation of a man’s soul in everlasting life; and the end of that other knowledge, as to himself, is but vanity and a fading delight, unless by grace it be turned to this end.
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