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That he who intends to become a Spiritual Man must first use much Bodily Exercise in Penance, and in Destroying of sin
DEAR BROTHER IN CHRIST, —There be in the holy Church two kinds of life, by the which Christian souls do serve and please God, and procure their own salvation. The one is corporal, the other spiritual.
Corporal working appertaineth principally to the men and women of the world, who for the nature of their estate do lawfully use worldly goods, and intermeddle and deal with worldly businesses and affairs. This life also belongeth to all young beginners in spirituality who be but newly converted from sensual and worldly sins to the service of God; and this life is to dispose and enable such persons for spiritual working, by taming the body by corporal works and exercises, and thereby bringing it into obedience and subjection to the spirit, whereby it may become supple and ready, and not much contrarious to the spirit in her spiritual exercisings; for as St Paul saith, that woman was made for man, and not man for woman. Even so corporal working was ordained for spiritual, and not spiritual working for corporal. Corporal working is to go before, and spiritual working cometh after, as the same St Paul saith in these words: That is not first which is spiritual, but that which is sensible (or corporal), afterwards cometh that which is spiritual. And the reason why it should be so is this, that we are born in sin and in corruption of the flesh, by the which we are in souls so blinded and so overlaid that we neither have the spiritual sight or knowing of God by light of understanding, nor the spiritual tasting or feeling of Him by a clean desire of loving; and therefore we cannot suddenly start out of the dark night of this fleshly corruption into the spiritual light; for we are not as yet able to endure such spiritual light, by reason of the sickness of our souls, any more than we can with our bodily eyes, when they are sore, behold and look upon the light of the sun; and for that cause we must expect and work by degrees and process of time. First, by corporal works diligently, till we be discharged, or much lightened, or eased from this heavy burden of sin and sensuality, that hindereth us from spiritual working; and till our souls be somewhat cleansed from great outward sins, and enabled for spiritual workings.
By the corporal working that I speak of, thou must understand that I mean all manner of good works or deeds that thy soul doth by the senses or the members of thy body, either upon or towards thyself, as in fasting, watching, or in restraining thy fleshly or sensual desires, by penance-doing, or other acts of mortification. Or upon, or towards thy Christian brother, in performance of the works of mercy, spiritual or corporal. Or to, or towards God Himself, by suffering (for the love of Him and His justice) all manner of bodily pains and afflictions that shall occur for thee to undergo, either as immediately from His own hands, or by the means and from the hands of other creatures of His. All these kind of works done in faith and out of charity (without which they are of no worth) do please God. Therefore whoso desireth to become a spiritual man, it will be securest and profitable for him that he be first, for a long time, well exercised in these corporal workings, for these corporal deeds are practices and tokens of moral virtues, without which a soul is not able to work spiritually. Break down first pride within thee by bodily sufferings and bearings, and also by thinking in thy mind of something that will help to humble thee; and, moreover, by eschewing and avoiding all ostentations, boastings, or praising of thyself, either privately by thyself in thy mind, or by thy words or external deeds, or carriage towards, or with others; by this means casting away and mortifying within thee all vainglory and complacence in thyself for any talent, gift, or thing corporal or spiritual that God hath bestowed on thee. Also mortify and destroy within thee, so soon as thou art able, all envy and anger towards thy Christian brethren; whether they be rich or poor, good or bad, hate them not, nor disdain them, nor willingly offend them by words or by deeds. Likewise destroy and mortify in thee all coveting of worldly goods, and see that neither for the getting, or holding, nor saving of them, thou do not offend thy conscience, nor break verity with God, or thy Christian brother, for the love of any earthly thing; but what thou gettest, or hast, keep it without inordinate love or affection to it, and spend it as reasonable occasions shall require, for the honour of God, and the succour of thy Christian brother. Mortify also, and destroy as much as thou canst, all yielding to bodily sloth, and unnecessary bodily ease, and the sensual vices of gluttony and luxury, with the inordinations that rise out of them. And after that thou hast been well exercised and tried in all such kind of corporal works, thou mayest then by the grace of God, ordain thee and apply thee to spiritual working.
The grace and goodness of our Lord Jesus Christ, that He hath showed to thee, in withdrawing of thine heart from the love and liking of worldly vanity, and from the use of fleshly and sensual sins, and in turning of thy will entirely to His service, bringeth into mine heart much matter to love Him in His mercy; and also it greatly moveth and urgeth me to strengthen thee in thy good purpose, and in the work which thou hast begun between thee and God, so that it may be brought to a good end. And so far as may be in my power to help thee in it, my best endeavours in it I shall most willingly afford thee, first and principally for the service and honour of God, and next in requital of thy tender affection of love thou bearest to me, though I be a wretch, and unworthy of thy love or favour. I know well the desire of thy heart, as how that thou greatly covetest to serve our Lord both in soul and body, fully and wholly, without intermeddling or troubling thyself in worldly businesses, that so thou mayest, by the grace of God, attain to more knowledge, and spiritual feeling of God, and of spiritual things. Such desire of thine is (as I hope) good, and from God, for it is set upon Him in charity spiritually. Nevertheless, as in regard of external matters and workings in them, such desire of thine is to be moderated and ruled with discretion, according to the nature and quality of thy estate, which thou art to regard in thy spiritual intentions; for charity unruled, that is, not rightly ordered, turneth sometimes into a fault or vice. And therefore it is said of our Lord by a holy soul in the holy Scripture: He hath ordered charity in me;11Cant. 2:4. that is to say, our Lord giveth to me charity, hath set it in order and good rule within me, whereby it might not err in its exercise, nor be lost through my indiscreet doings. Even so the said desire and charity which our Lord hath wrought in thee, out of His goodness and mercy, must be so ruled and moderated, that in the exercises of it, it do regard the nature of thy estate and condition of life, and the manner of living, which in former time thou hast held, and the measure and quantity of virtues that now are in thee. Thou must not altogether follow thy said desire in giving over or neglecting those businesses and cares of the world that are necessary, and do belong to thee, either for thee upholding of thy own person in his degree, or in the ruling or ordering of other persons or things that pertain to thy charge, and give thee wholly to retiredness, spiritual devotions and holy meditations, as if thou wert a Friar or Monk, or another man that were not bound (as thou art) to the world by children or servants; for it is not for thee to do so, and if thou dost, then keepest thou not the order of charity. Also if thou wouldst altogether leave and forbear all spiritual exercises (especially now after the grace and calling that God hath given thee for them) and give thyself wholly to the businesses of the world, in fulfilling of the works of the active life, as fully as do other men, that never felt such devotions nor had such grace or calling as thou hast, thou dost then leave the order of charity; for thy state requireth of thee to attend to each of them in divers times. Thou shalt mingle the works of active life with the spiritual works of the contemplative life, and then thou dost well; for thou shalt sometimes be busy, with Martha, for to order and govern thine household, thy children, thy servants, thy neighbours and thy tenants. If they do well, comfort and help them therein; if they do amiss, then tell and teach them for their amendment, and chastise them as there shall be cause. Thou shalt also wisely look after and know thy things and thy worldly goods, as that they be well and duly used or preserved by thy servants, well ordered and reasonably spent, whereby thou mayest the more plenteously, out of thy temporal means, fulfil the deeds of mercy and charity towards thy Christian brethren. Also thou shalt sometimes, with Mary, leave or lay aside the businesses of the world, and shalt sit down at the feet of our Lord with humility, in prayers and holy thoughts, and in Contemplation of Him, according to the grace that He shall give thee for it, and so thou shalt go from that one to that other, profitably and fruitfully, and fulfil them both; and so doing thou observest well the order of charity.
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