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A LETTER AND
CERTAIN NOTABLE SAYINGS OF
A Letter from Florentius to one of the Canons regular at Windesbeim
MY MOST BELOVED,
WHY dost thou trouble me thus? Are not mine own miseries enough for me? Yet overcome by weariness and yielding to thine importunity I am constrained to write to thee of matters that concern me not. Firstly, for all these necessities of thine I bid thee be thus importunate before God, in knocking continually at His door, and He shall straightway open to thee and give thee light far clearer than any man could give, although thou didst persist without ceasing in asking him questions, knocking at his door and making supplication to him, and he spent a whole lifetime in writing to thee.
Secondly, I urge thee above all things to submit thyself humbly to all men. It is expedient for thee to do this in thought, word and deed.
Continually remember, as the Blessed Bernard said to the Brothers on the Mount of God, that there is sunshine everywhere save in thy conscience, 151and a clear sky everywhere save in thy heart.
This humility doth come by constant use and by considering thine own worthlessness in both body and soul, not by dwelling upon the faults of other men or making excuses for thyself. Above all things be careful when thou dost reprove another, not to exalt thyself. The Blessed Jerome commenting upon St. Mark, saith, “The blind man who was restored to light by the Lord saw men as trees walking.” In like manner (saith he) a sinner should think that all men are higher than himself. So do thou look upon all the Brothers as being trees for loftiness compared with thyself. In thy work take upon thee the baser and menial tasks, and from time to time think upon thine own vileness, or else meditate of death, punishment, judgement, or any other thing that may abase thee or kindle thy love for God and thy neighbour. For the object of such meditation should be either to acquire this love, or to root out thy vices, or to attain virtue.
(2) Thirdly, as St. Bernard saith to the Brothers on the Mount of God, once daily compare to-day with yesterday, that thou mayest judge thy progress in virtue, or thy backsliding.
Learn to sit in judgement upon thyself once or twice every day, to set thy life in order, to regulate thy conduct, to accuse, condemn, or exact punishment from thyself. I counsel thee to keep to hand “The Mirror for Monks” or “The Mirror of Saint Bernard,” that thou mayest order thy doings thereby. The contents of this book thou shouldest repeat because in whatsoever thou art engaged these will readily suggest how thou shouldest behave thyself, and that wherein thy 152conduct hath been amiss. Likewise prevent all thy doings with meditation and brief prayer as to the manner in which thou shouldest act, and this will be easy to thee when by continued use thou canst repeat the contents of the book.
(3) Fourthly, early in the day and after the morning meal put before thine eyes thy evil habits, and the chiefest of thy vices, and also the virtues after which thou wouldest strive, and thus ever renew in thy heart the struggle with thy foes—the world, the flesh, and the devil; do this nothing doubting, for they that are with us are more than they that are against us. So wilt thou fulfil the precept of St. Bernard: “In the morning reckon with thyself for the night that is past, and take heed to thyself for the coming day how thou wouldest order thy conduct throughout its course.” The same also saith: “For every hour write down the exercises thou shouldest perform therein. Spiritual exercises for the hours of prayer, bodily exercises for the hours of labour, so that at Vespers when thou dost reckon up thy several deeds if thou dost find any duty ill done, as to the manner, or the place, or time in which it was done, it may not go unpunished or unpaid.”
Seek the common good and keep thy heart ever lifted up.
Pray for me, my Brother, for I have always been negligent in this, and fare thee well.
Before the morning meal meditate upon our Lord’s Passion: afterward of death, judgement, and the pains of Hell: after supper think on thy vices and thy sins.153
Certain notable Sayings of Master Florentius the Priest
BEFORE all things know thy vices and thy passions.
Be watchful against temptation and the promptings of the passions. If thou dost feel these and instantly reject them they do not harm thee. If thou dost dally therewith it is evil; if in addition to such dalliance thou dost think with pleasure thereupon it is worse.
Reply humbly to them that ask of thee.
Avoid women, and beware of looking upon them. It is an ill example to the world to keep no guard over the eyes.
Tell thy sins with shame and sorrow, and a full intention to put them from thee, in the presence of God and thy confessor.
Tell thy faults one by one saying: “This have I done.” Mark well in what thy fault doth lie, and tell this in simple words.
Thou oughtest not to speak evil of any, unless it can profit thee or him.
When thou dost accuse another be pitiful as to a weak Brother.
When thou doest nothing save that which accordeth with Holy Scripture, and understandest the same according to the interpretation of the Saints—not relying upon thine own interpretation—then is thy conscience good, and thy reason right.
It were good for a spiritually minded man to deal with his temporal concerns at an appointed 154time, and afterwards to return to his spiritual duties forgetting all else.
(2) I think that the thoughts and promptings which come into our hearts are not under our own control,—but it is in our power to plant good in the heart by reading, prayer, and meditation until these promptings to what is unlawful are overcome and yield, and by the grace of God do cease.
The pride of some is such that they must always rule over others, or else altogether fall away and return to the world—for they know not how to put themselves on an equality with others, nor how to submit.
Oftentime the whole body is affected by the passions which do rule a man, though he know not the cause of his emotion. There was one that in the summer could not sleep, nor eat well, and at first he could not discover the cause thereof, but he afterward found that it was through melancholy. Thus do our passions conceal themselves within us.
The weak should not judge the acts of their Superiors; for such judgements are often wrong.
Keep nothing secret, whether it be a material thing or a thought, but reveal all.
Speak seldom with a man of the world, but when thou dost, direct him to that which is good, according to his condition.
(3) Avoid worldlings, great folks and revellers. If thou art about any lowly or menial work before other men, revile it not; to do so showeth pride, as if such work were not meet for thee.
Learn to understand thy prayers, and thus wandering thoughts shall be driven away.
Loud singing doth disturb the brain and the senses, and doth put out devotion.155
In praying thou oughtest to desire the grace and mercy of God rather than any great outward gifts—Mary thought herself unworthy of the salutation of the Angel, and being filled with the Holy Ghost went up into the hill country and ministered to Elizabeth. Any one that hath aught to say to a great king, would make to himself friends of them that are near to the king. So should one do in regard to Mary, who is in a special degree very near to God.
All things would become pleasant to one who should exercise himself well by meditating upon our Lord’s Passion.
We ought to raise our heart to heaven without ceasing, and to return again and again to Holy Scripture, and to sigh that we are so carnal and sluggish in seeking the good that is eternal. By too great haste is devotion lost. Therefore avoid mere repetitions, and do all things with attention and thought, not from habit only.
(4) When thou art bidden to do something that is hurtful to the body remember that thy body is not thine own, but His to Whose obedience thou hast surrendered thyself.
In whatsoever degree a man hath given his goods, whether of the body or of the soul to the Community, in that same degree hath he part in the goods of the others.
Love equally in the Lord all who are converted; the absent alike with those that are present with thee. Avoid doing aught to which honour is attached, and aught of which thou mayest vainly boast, if it may be done equally well by another; and if anything may be so done by another or in some other place, love to have it so, and praise it more than if it were done by thee.156
Be not envious that another is holier than thou, or hath higher fame, but love the gifts of God in him and they shall be thine own.
Nothing doth quench the sins of the flesh so well as earnest study; get the habit of remaining in thy cell and reading thy book; compel thyself to do so until it doth become pleasant to thee, and to go out seemeth a hardship, to come in a delight. Flee to thy cell as to a friend, for thou art safe therein.
Whensoever a man talketh with his fellows, he ought to strive to impress lowliness upon them.
Worldly knowledge is very alluring; therefore let a man beware that he be not too much attracted thereto; let him earnestly desire to pass over to God by means of such knowledge, and not be satisfied therewith as an end in itself.
(5) The devout and venerable Father often said to his friends and Brothers: “How good it is for you, and how stably do ye stand in that ye are able to live under obedience!” If he had known this before, he would not, he said, for anything in the world have begun by ruling over others unless he had himself first lived under obedience—and unless it were that bodily weakness hindered him he would wish still to be under some strict Master who would altogether break down his will.
Also if he were under obedience he would never be perplexed, for every man ought to put the burden of his doubt upon the back of another: he ought to humble himself beneath all who are converted, even beneath the young, for he knoweth not how much grace God may have given to them.
No one can ever attain true humility unless he is despised by others and is not regarded in anything. It were better to be trodden under foot than to consent to the praise of others.157
When any of the Brothers doth ask counsel of thee, thou oughtest humbly to tell him the precepts thou hast read, for it is better always to follow the direction of others than thine own, unless thou seest that some better course is revealed to thee by the humility of thy questioner; but in such case never ascribe the revelation to thine own merits. If a man hath phantasies, then ought he to lift his voice in prayer.
(6) A man ought to direct all his exercises and studies to the conquest of his passions and weaknesses, for otherwise he doth profit little thereby.
In the hours of common labour stand ever on thy guard, and be careful of much speaking; think of that which thou hast read in thine hours of study.
There is no spiritual disease so great that it may not be cured by true obedience if a man hath wholly resigned himself he ought not to be more self-reliant, nor more despondent, than his Superior tells him to be. A man ought often, and day by day, to resign himself to God and his Superior; to bow the knees of his heart for pardon and to obey with his understanding. I am amazed that one who is under obedience can feel doubts in place of being content. When thou doest any good act be careful that thou do it wholly for God’s sake, and that thou desire no other thing save His Honour and the edification of thy neighbour.
When thou art among the Brothers thou shouldest think: “Oh! that I might so behave that none should be offended through me!”
Thou shouldest seek the common good, for if thou dost begin by seeking thine own good in that which is least, thou wilt soon proceed to do so in greater things.158
(7) Whatever is for the common good, this ought we to strive to guard with care, as for instance, the Holy Vessels of the Altar. The books of Holy Scripture should be guarded as the truest treasures of the Church. In writing we ought not to seek to show our own skill only, as for instance by writing a good hand, but also the good of all—e.g., that the books may be correct, well punctuated and clear, for one cannot study to advantage in bad or unfaithful copies.
Woe to him who living in a Community doth seek his own, or say that anything is his.
Woe to him who so living doth murmur about aught, or cause dissension in the Community: or trouble it in any manner.
(8) If we are one in will, in savour, and in custom in the Lord, then do we truly dwell together in unity.
Let every man study to conform himself to the Community in all his work and conduct; whether it be in reading, chanting, eating or fasting, let him not be singular. Nothing doth make a man so peaceful as the rule of never presuming to do anything of himself, but rather submitting altogether to the counsel of good men; and let a man always believe that it is more wholesome that such should consult for him.
Be earnest humbly to fulfil what is commanded thee, for if thou dost desire to question a command thou shalt hardly be truly obedient.
Seek devotion with all thy heart by diligent prayer. Wandering thoughts quench devotion as water quencheth fire.
Though thou art poor in virtue, and weak, thou oughtest not to be cast down thereby, but rather to humble thyself and think: “Since I have no 159great gifts I will make the little that I have an offering to God, as Mary offered a pair of turtle doves and not a lamb. He is truly a Brother and friend who doth hate the vices of another and help him to overcome them.
Thou oughtest always to strive to occupy thyself with some good thing, and to pay no heed at all to phantasies.
(9) It is very dangerous to converse often or associate with men of the world who have authority and dignity, as Councillors, Priests, Canons, and other wealthy men. The reason is that since one is naturally in awe of them he doth often applaud them, and give assent to their words.
Beware of much speaking, specially before worldlings, for a man seldom speaketh much without afterward repenting of some rash word.
Likewise abstain from jesting and loud laughter, for whatsoever men see thee to be outwardly, such do they judge thee to be inwardly, though thou art not really so.
Much study is of little profit unless it be directed to the amending of one’s life and to ordering oneself diligently in right conduct, for the Devil knoweth many things about the Scripture and yet is his knowledge of no profit to Him.
If one is slow and sluggish in spirit in the morning, yet should he not be despondent, for God is able to give him the grace of devotion at whatever time it may please him.
Preface thy labour with some short prayer.
(10) The servant of Christ ought to speak briefly and in a low tone, and to be careful not to speak when ‘tis riot needful. If necessity compel, let him go apart to some private place that is open to him, and consider whether it is expedient to speak.160
Thou oughtest always to strive to edify thy hearers by thy words, and to draw them nearer to the service of Christ: since nothing is more pleasing to God than labour for the conversion of souls.
Likewise we can do nothing more hurtful to Him than by making another to offend by our bad example, or loosing him from His service, for this is worse than to have crucified Christ in the flesh as did the Jews.
Before thou doest anything thou oughtest to strive for purity of heart, and to apply thyself to pious meditation, because from this doth spring Charity, prayer and devotion; and all the other virtues are strengthened thereby.
Never be idle, but be busied with some occupation, especially some holy one, directing all thy motives and thy work to the service of God.
(11) A portion of the Spirit is better than much knowledge without devotion: for to acquire the trick of beautiful language is easy, but to find the way to good works is hard.
Whatever a man may have done, let him know that he hath gained nothing if he doth not feel himself to be made thereby the humbler; when thou doest aught that is good, do it in simplicity and purity of mind to the honour of God, and seek not to advantage thyself in any way.
From heedlessness in word come troubles, offences, and slanders. Look therefore to what thou doest, why thou doest it, and in what manner.
That by which God is angered and thy neighbour offended is no slight matter.
Before thou dost begin any work, set before thee how thou wouldest behave thyself therein, and do not lightly break this rule.161
Hasten to thy cell and thou shalt recover the devotion thou hast lost.
(12) When two or three converse together let each one see to it that their talking go not forward to what is profitless, but if this should happen thou oughtest to say charitably and humbly, but without shamefacedness, “Brother, it is not expedient for us to talk any more; let us go to our cell and do something better.” The servant should strive, so far as in him lies, to turn his heart away from the creature and from all earthly longings; the more one doth progress in this, the more doth the desire for the love of God increase.
(13) If any would make good progress, let him study to do violence to himself, that is, let him strive to overcome his vices; for example, if he formerly desired lofty things he should now seek lowliness; and so forth in the case of other vices.
One that is truly obedient ought never to think slightingly of a command, even though it may seem a small matter. When the Devil seeth us lowly and one in heart, then verily doth he flee from us, because he is the father of pride, and of discord.
We ought not to pay heed to our neighbour for his beauty or his wealth, but for that he is redeemed by the Blood of Christ.
The servant of God should strive to keep peace and concord with the Brothers; for this do the angels love more than aught else and this do they more gladly see in us, namely, that we are each and all peacemakers and one in heart.
(14) The servant of Christ should never feel safe, whatever good he may do, but be ever fearful about himself, lest perchance he may be found a reprobate before our Lord Jesus.162
Before all things he should strive to think all other men holier and better than himself.
Devotion is nothing else than the desire of the soul toward God.
If a man earnestly endeavour to act humbly, however little he may follow our custom, yet shall it be counted to him for obedience. But if he neglect this and care not for it I fear that he shall be punished severely.
(15) One that doth desire to make progress in humility must often set before him hard and menial tasks, chide himself, judge and condemn, and in his secret thoughts ponder over his own worthlessness so as to be able patiently to bear contempt when humiliations come upon him.
When thou dost feel envy, or suspicion, or vainglory arising in thy heart, reply inwardly thereto and say: “Fie upon thee that thou art still so wretched and weak and that thou dost go forward less than other men, and dost become continually worse.”
Thus humble and confound thyself inwardly and the temptations of the Devil shall flee from thee, for it is he that doth inspire these evil passions. We ought to expend great labour in striving against carnal things if we wish to conquer them.
We seldom or never eat but the Devil lieth in wait for us.
Wherefore let us ever watch and pray, because the Adversary never sleepeth, but doth assault us on every side.163
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