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THE MYSTICISM OF RICHARD ROLLE
BY EVELYN UNDERHILL
The four great English mystics of the fourteenth century—Richard Rolle, Walter Hilton, Julian of Norwich and the anonymous author of “The Cloud of Unknowing”—though in doctrine as in time they are closely related to one another, yet exhibit in their surviving works strongly marked and deeply interesting diversities of temperament.11 Richard Rolle was probably born about 1290 and died in 1349: “The Cloud of Unknowing” was written in the second half of the fourteenth century: Walter Hilton died about 1396: Julian of Norwich was born in 1343, and was still living in 1413. Rolle, the romantic and impassioned hermit; his great successor, that nameless contemplative, acute psychologist, and humorous critic of manners, who wrote “The Cloud of Unknowing” and its companion works; Hilton, the gentle and spiritual Canon of Throgmorton; and Julian, the exquisitely human yet profoundly meditative anchoress, whose “Revelations of Divine Love” are perhaps the finest flower of English religious literature—these form a singularly picturesque group in the history of European mysticism.
Richard Rolle of Hampole, the first of them in time, and often called with justice “The father of English Mysticism,” is in some aspects the most interesting and individual of the four. Possessed of great literary power, and the author of numerous poems and prose treatises, his strong influence may be felt in all the mystical and ascetic writers who succeeded him; and some knowledge of his works is essential to a proper understanding of the currents of religious thought in this country during the two centuries which preceded the Reformation. Sometimes known as the “English Bonaventura,” he might have been named with far greater exactitude the “English Francis”: for his life and temperament—though we dare not claim for him the unmatched gaiety, sweetness, and spiritual beauty of his Italian predecessor—yet present many parallels with those of the “little poor man” of Assisi. Both Francesco Bernadone and Richard Rolle were born romantics. Each represents the revolt of the unsatisfied heart and intuitive mind of the natural mystic from the comfortable, the prudent, and the commonplace: its tendency to seek in the spiritual world the ultimate beauty and the ultimate love. Both saw in poverty, simplicity, self-stripping, the only real freedom; in “carnal use and wont” the only real servitude. Moreover, both were natural artists, who found in music and poetry the fittest means of expression for their impassioned and all-dominating love of God. Francis held that the servants of the Lord were nothing else than His minstrels. He taught his friars to imitate the humility and gladness of that holy little bird the lark; and when sweet melody of spirit boiled up within him, would sing troubadour-like in French to the Lord Jesus Christ. For Rolle, too, the glad and eager life of birds was a school of Christian virtue. At the beginning of his conversion, he took as his model the nightingale, which to song and melody all night is given, that she may please him to whom she is joined. For him the life of contemplation was essentially a musical state, and song, rightly understood, embraced every aspect of the soul’s communion with Reality. Sudden outbursts of lyrical speech and direct appeals to musical imagery abound in his writings, as in those of no other mystic; and perhaps constitute their outstanding literary characteristic.
Further, both these impassioned minnesingers of the Holy Ghost made the transition from the comfortable life of normal men to the ardours and deprivations of the mystic way at the same age, and with the same startling and dramatic thoroughness. They share the same horror of property and possessions, “the I, the me, the mine.” In each, personal religion finds its focus in an intense and beautiful devotion to the Name of Jesus. Francis was “drunken with the love and compassion of Christ.” “The mind of Jesu” was to Rolle “as melody of music at a feast.” For each, love, joy, and humility govern the attitude of the self to God. Each, too, adopted substantially the same career: that of a roving lay-missionary, going, as Rolle tells us in “The Fire of Love,” from place to place, dependent upon charity for food and lodging, and trying in the teeth of all obstacles to win other men to a clearer view of Divine Reality a life surrendered to the will of God. Each knew the support of a woman’s friendship and sympathy. What St. Clare was to St. Francis, that Margaret Kirkby the recluse of Anderby was to Rolle. Seeking only spiritual things, both these mystics have yet left their mark upon the history of literature. Rolle was a prolific writer in Latin and Middle English, in prose and in verse, and his vernacular works occupy an important place in the evolution of English as a literary tongue: whilst the Canticles of St. Francis are amongst the earliest of Italian poems.
True, Francis had the gayer, sunnier and more social nature. Once the first, essential act of renunciation was accomplished, he quickly gathered about him a group of disciples and lived in their company by choice. Rolle, temperamentally more intense and ascetic, loved solitude; and only in the lonely hermitage “from worldly business in mind and body departed,” does he seem to have achieved that detachment and singleness of mind through which he entered into the fullness of his spiritual heritage. To him Divine Love was “as it were a shameful lover, that his leman before men embraces not”: but “in the wilderness more clearly they meet,” where “true lovers accord, and merry solace of lovely touching is, unable to be told.” Yet the enormous influence which he exercised upon the religious life of the fourteenth century, the definitely missionary character of many of his writings, is a sufficient answer to those who would condemn him on these grounds as a “selfish recluse.” Francis upon La Verna, Rolle in his hermit’s cell, were caught up to the ultimate encounter of love: but each felt that such heavenly communion was no end in itself, that it entailed obligations towards the race. For both, contemplation and action, love and work, went ever hand in hand. “Love,” says Rolle, “cannot be lazy”: and his life is there to endorse the truth of those golden words. True contemplatives, he says again—and we cannot doubt that he here describes the ideal at which he aimed—are like the topaz “in which two colours are,” one “pure as gold” and “t’other clear as heaven when it is bright.” “To gold they are like a passing heat of charity, and to heaven for clearness of heavenly conversation”: exhibiting, in fact, that balanced character of active love to man and fruitive love to God—the double movement of the perfect soul—which is the peculiar hallmark of true Christian mysticism.
As with St. Francis, so with Rolle, the craving for reality, the passionate longing for fullness of life, did not at first turn to the religious channel. The life of chivalry, the troubadour-spirit, first attracted Francis; the life of intellect first attracted Rolle. Already noticed as a boy of unusual ability, he had been sent to Oxford by the help of the Archdeacon of Durham. But the achievement of manhood found him unsatisfied. He was already conscious of some instinct within him which demanded as its objective a deeper Reality: of a spiritual vocation which theological study alone could never fulfill. At the crucial age of eighteen, when the genius for God so often asserts itself, St. Francis definitely abjured all that he had seemed to love, and embraced Poverty with a dramatic thoroughness; abandoning home, family, prospects, and stripping off his very clothes in the public square of Assisi. At the same age Richard Rolle, sacrificing his scholastic career—and the high literary merit of his writings shows us what that career might have been—suddenly returned from Oxford to the North, his soul “lifted from low things,” his mind set on fire with love for the austere and solitary life of contemplation. There, with that impulse towards concrete heroic sacrifice, decisive symbolic action, which so often appears in the childhood and youth of the mystical saints, he begged from his sister two gowns, one white, one grey, together with his father’s old rain-hood; retired into the forest; and with these manufactured as best he might a hermit’s dress in which to “flee from the world.” His family thought him mad: the inevitable conclusion of the domestic mind in all ages, when confronted with the violent other-worldliness of the emerging mystical consciousness. But Rolle knew already that he obeyed a primal necessity of his nature: that singular living, solitude, some escape from the torrent of use and wont, was imperative for him if he were to fulfill his destiny and order his disordered loves. “No marvel if I fled that that me confused . . . well I knew of Whom I look.” The way in which he realized this need may seem to us, like the self-stripping of St. Francis, crude and naive: yet as an index of character, an augury of future greatness, it must surely take precedence of that milder and more prudent change of heart which involves no bodily discomforts. There is in both these stories the same engaging mixture of singleminded response to an interior vocation, boyish romanticism, and personal courage. Francis and Richard ran away to God, as other lads have run away to sea: sure that their only happiness lay in total self-giving to the one great adventure of life.
It was primarily the life of solitude which Rolle needed and sought, that his latent powers might have room to grow. “Great liking I had in wilderness to sit, that I far from noise sweetlier might sing, and with quickness of heart likingest praising I might feel; the which doubtless of His gift I have taken, Whom above all thing wonderfully I have loved.” Yet the first result of his quest of loneliness was the discovery of a friend. Going one evening to a church—probably that of Topcliffe near Thirsk—and sitting down in the seat of Lady Dalton, he was recognized by her sons, who had been his fellow-students at Oxford: with the immediate result that their father, Sir John Dalton, impressed by his saintly enthusiasm, gave him a hermit’s cell and dress, and provided for his daily needs, in order that he might devote himself without hindrance to the contemplative life.
Rolle has described in “The Fire of Love”—which is, with the possible exception of the Melum, the most autobiographical of his writings—something at least of the interior stages through which he now passed, in the course of the purification and enlightenment of his soul. One of the most subjective of the mystics, he is intensely interested in his own spiritual adventures; and a strong personal element may be detected even in his most didactic works. As with all who deliberately give themselves to the spiritual life, his first period of growth was predominantly ascetic. With his fellow mystics he underwent the trials and disciplines of the “purgative way”: and for this, complete separation from the world was essential. “The process truly if I will show, solitary life behooves me preach.” The essence of this purification, as he describes it in the “Mending of Life,” lies not so much in the endurance of bodily austerities—as in “Contrition of thought, and pulling out of desires that belong not to loving or worship of God”:—self-simplification in fact. The object of such a process is always the same: the purging of the will, and unification of the whole life about the higher centres of humility and love; the cutting out, as St. Catherine of Siena has it, of “the rooting of self-love with the knife of self-hatred.” In the old old language of Christian mysticism, Rolle speaks of the action of Divine Love as a refiner’s fire, “fiery making our souls, and purging them from all degrees of sin, making them light and burning.” We gather from various references in the Incendium that the trials of this purgation included in his own case not only interior contrition for past sin and bodily penance. It also involved the contempt, if not the actual persecution of other men, and the inimical attitude with “with wordys of bakbyttingis” of old friends, who viewed his eccentric conduct with a natural and prudent disgust: a form of suffering, intensely painful to his sensitive nature, which he recognizes as specially valuable in its power of killing self-esteem, and encouraging the mystical type of character, governed by true mortification and total dependence on God. “This have I known, that the more men have tried with words of backbiting against me, so muckle the more in ghostly profit I have grown.”. . . .“After the tempest, God sheds in brightness of holy desires.”
The period of pain and struggle—the difficult remaking of character—lasted from his conversion for about two years and eight months. It was brought to an end, as with so many of the greater mystics, by an abrupt shifting of consciousness to levels of peace and joy: a sudden and overwhelming revelation of Spiritual Reality—“the opening of the heavenly door, that Thy face showed.” Rolle than passed to that affirmative state of high illumination and adoring love which he extols in the “Fire”: the state which includes the three degrees, or spiritual moods of Calor, Dulcor, Canor—“Heat, Sweetness and Song.” At the end of a year, “the door biding open,” he experienced the first of these special graces: the Heat of Love Everlasting, or “Fire” which gave its name to the Incendium Amoris. “I sat forsooth in a chapel and whilst with sweetness of prayer or meditation muckle I was delighted, suddenly in me I felt a merry heat and unknown.”
Now, when we ask ourselves what Rolle really meant by this image of heat or fire, we stand at the beginning of a long quest. This is one of those phrases, half metaphors, yet metaphors so apt that we might also call them descriptions of experience, which are natural to mystical literature. Immemorially old, yet eternally fresh, they appear again and again; nor need we always attribute such reappearances to conscious borrowing. The fire of love is a term which goes back at least to the fourth century of our era; it is used by St. Macarius of Egypt to describe the action of the Divine Energy upon the soul which it is leading to perfection. Its literary origins are of course scriptural—the fusion of the Johannine “God is love” with the fire imagery of the Hebrew prophets. “Behold! the Lord will come with fire!” “His word was in my heart as a burning fire.” “He is like a refiner’s fire.”
But, examining the passages in which Rolle speaks of that “Heat” which the “Fire of Love” induced in his purified and heavenward turning heart, we see that this denotes a sensual as well as a spiritual experience. Those interior states or moods to which, by the natural method of comparison that governs all descriptive speech, the self gives such sense-names as these of “Heat, Sweetness, and Song,” react in many mystics upon the bodily state. Psycho-sensorial parallelisms are set up. The well-known phenomenon of stigmatization, occurring in certain hypersensitive temperaments as the result of deep meditation upon the Passion of Christ, is perhaps the best clue by which we can come to understand how such a term as “the fire of love” has attained a double significance for mystical psychology. It is first a poetic metaphor of singular aptness; describing a spiritual state which is, as Rolle says himself in “The Form of Perfect Living,” “So burning and gladdening, that he or she who is in this degree can as well feel the fire of love burning in their soul as thou canst feel thy finger burn if thou puttest it in the fire.” Secondly, it represents, or may represent in certain temperaments, an induced sense-automatism, which may vary from the slightest of suggestions to an intense hallucination: as the equivalent automatic process which issues in “visions” or “voices” may vary from that “sense of a presence” or consciousness of a message received, which is the purest form in which our surface consciousness objectivizes communion with God, to the vivid picture seen, the voice clearly heard, by many visionaries and auditives.
The “first state” of burning love to which Rolle attained when his purification was at an end, does seem to have produced in him such a psycho-physical hallucination. He makes it plain in the prologue of the Incendium that he felt, in a physical sense, the spiritual fire, truly, not imaginingly; as St. Teresa—to take a well-known historical example—felt the transverberation of the seraph’s spear which pierced her heart. This form of automatism, though not perhaps very common, is well known in the history of religious experience; and many ascetic writers discuss it. Thus in that classic of spiritual common sense, “The Cloud of Unknowing,” we find amongst the many delusions which may beset “young presumptuous contemplatives,” “Many quaint heats and burnings in their bodily breasts”—which may sometimes indeed be the work of good angels (i.e., the physical reflection of true spiritual ardour) yet should ever be had suspect, as possible devices of the devil. Again, Walter Hilton includes in his list of mystical automatisms, and views with the same suspicion, “sensible heat, as it were fire, glowing and warming the breast.” In the seventeenth century Augustine Baker, in his authoritative work on the prayer of contemplation mentions “warmth about the heart” as one of the “sensible graces,” or physical sensations of religious origin, known to those who aspire to union with God. In our own day, the Carmelite nun Soeur Thérèse de l’Enfant-Jésus describes an experience in which she “felt herself suddenly pierced by a dart of fire.” “I cannot,” she says, “explain this transport, nor can any comparison express the intensity of this flame. It seemed to me that an invisible force immersed me completely in fire.” Allowing for the strong probability that the form of Soeur Thérèse’s transport was influenced by her knowledge of the life of her great namesake, we have no grounds for doubting the honesty of her report; the fact that she felt in a literal sense, though in a way hard for less ardent temperaments to understand, the burning of the divine fire. Her simple account—glossing, as it were, the declarations of the historian and the psychologist—surely gives us a hint as to the way in which we ought to read the statements of other mystics, concerning their knowledge of the “fire of love.”
Rolle’s second stage, to which he gives the name of “sweetness”, is easier of comprehension than the first. It represents the natural movement of consciousness from passion to peace, from initiation to possession, as the contemplative learns to live and move in this new atmosphere of Reality: the exquisite joy which characterizes one phase of the soul’s communion with God. He calls it a “heavenly savour”; a “sweet mystery”; a “marvellous honey.” “With great labor it is got; but with joy untold it is possessed.” It is of such sweetness that the author of “The Cloud of Unknowing”—that stern critic of all those so called mystical experiences which come in by the windows of the wits—writes in terms which almost seem to be inspired by a personal experience.
“Sometimes He will inflame the body of devout servants of His here in this life: not once or twice, but peradventure right oft and as Him liketh, with full wonderful sweetness and comforts. Of the which, some be not coming from without into the body by the windows of our wits, but from within; rising and springing of abundance of ghostly gladness, and of true devotion in the spirit. Such a comfort and such a sweetness shall not be had suspect: and shortly to say, I trow that he that feeleth it may not have it suspect.”
That intimate and joyful apprehension of the supersensuous which Rolle calls “sweetness” is not rigidly separated either from the burning ardour which preceded it, or the “third” state of exultant harmony, of adoring contemplation—prayer pouring itself forth in wild yet measured loveliness—which he calls “song”; and which is the most characteristic form of his communion with the Divine Love. All three, in fact, as we see in the beautiful eighth chapter of “The Form of Perfect Living,” are fluctuating expressions of the “Third Degree of Love, highest and most wondrous to win.” They co-exist in the soul which has attained to it: now one and now the other taking command. “The soul that is in the third degree is all burning fire, and like the nightingale that loves song and melody, and fails for great love: so that the soul is only comforted in praising and loving God . . . and this manner of song have none unless they be in the third degree of love: to the which degree it is impossible to come, but in a great multitude of love.”
This true lover, he says again in the Incendium, “has sweetness, heat and ghostly song, of which before I have oft touched, and by this he serves God, and Him loving without parting to Him draws . . . Sometime certain more he feels of heat and sweetness, and with difficulty he sings, sometime truly with great sweetness and busyness he is ravished, when heat is felt the less; oft also into ghostly song with great mirth he flees and passes, and also he knows the heat and sweetness of love with him are. Nevertheless heat is never without sweetness, although sometime it be without ghostly song.”
Rolle’s own first experience of this state of song, like the oncoming of the “Fire,” seems to have had a marked psycho-sensorial character. His passion of love and praise translated itself into the “Song of Angels”; and the celestial melody was first heard by him with the outward as well as with the inward ear. “In the night before supper, as I mine Salves I sung, as it were the noise of readers or rather singers about me I beheld. Whilst also praying to heaven with all desire I took heed, on what manner I wot not suddenly in me noise of song I felt; and likingest heavenly melody I took, with me dwelling in mind.”
We gather from the writings of other mystics of the medieval period that such an experience was a well understood accompaniment of the contemplative life. Like the “burning of the fire” it was one amongst those “sensible comforts”—or, as we should now say, automatisms—which were never accepted at their face value as certain marks of divine favour, but were studied and analyzed with the robust common sense that characterizes true spirituality. Walter Hilton, in a tract on the “Song of Angels” which is certainly inspired by, and was long attributed to Rolle himself, says of it: “When the soul is lifted and ravished out of the sensuality, and out of mind of any earthly things, then in great fervour of love and light (if our Lord vouchsafe) the soul may hear and feel heavenly sound, made by the presence of angels in loving of God . . . Methinketh that there may no soul feel verily angel’s song nor heavenly sound, but he be in perfect charity; though all that are in perfect charity have not felt it, but only that soul that is so purified in the fire of love that all earthly savour is brent out of it, and all mean letting between the soul and the cleanness of angels is broken and put away from it. Then soothly may he sing a new song, and soothly he may hear a blest heavenly sound, and angel’s song without deceit or feigning.”
Such “Song”—where it really represents the soul’s consciousness of supernal harmonies, and is not merely the hallucination of one who “by indiscreet travailing turneth the brains in his head” so that “for feebleness of the brain, him thinketh that he heareth wonderful sounds and songs”—does for the temperament which inclines to translate its intuitions into music, that which the experience of vision does for those whose apprehensions of reality more easily crystallize into a pictorial form. One seems to see, another seems to hear, that Perfect Beauty which is the source and inspiration of all our fragmentary arts. For Rolle, by nature a poet and a musician, the language of music possessed a special attraction and appropriateness: and not only its language but its practice too. Like Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Genoa, Teresa, Rose of Lima, and many other saints, he was driven to lyrical and musical expression by his own rapture of love and joy. “Oh Good Jesu! my heart Thou hast bound in thought of Thy Name, and now I cannot but sing it.”
All mystics are potential poets. Rolle was an actual poet too. Hence by the Canor, which was the third form by which his rapture of love was expressed, we must understand not only the “Celestial Melody” in which he participated in ecstatic moments, not only those exultant moods of “great plenty of inward joy” when the spiritual song “swelled to his mouth” and he sang his prayers “with a ghostly symphony,” as St. Catherine of Genoa “sang all day for joy”; but also the genuine poetic inspiration to which his writings give ample testimony. All these are varying expressions of one life and one love: for the great mystic, living in contact with Eternity, is seldom careful to note the exact boundary which marks off “inward” from “outward” or earth from heaven. To Rolle, contemplation was the song of the soul: song was contemplation expressed. Some, he observes in “The Mending of Life,” think that contemplation is the knowledge of deep mysteries: others that it is the state of total concentration on spiritual things: others again that it is an elevation of mind which makes the self dead to all fleshy desires. All these no doubt are true in their measure: but “to me it seems that contemplation is joyful song of God’s love.” It is love and joy “with great voice out-breaking” as the ascending spirit stretches towards the Only Fair. Rolle’s mysticism is fundamentally of the “outgoing” type. He seldom uses the language of introversion, or speaks of God as found within the heart; but pictures the soul’s quest of Reality as a journey, a flight from self, an encounter “in the wilderness” with Love. “Love truly suffers not a loving soul to bide in itself, but ravishes it out to the lover, that the soul is more there where it loves, than where the body is that lives and feels it.” When the Canor seizes him, his spirit seems to rush forth on the wings of its own music, that “music that to me is come by burning love, in which I sing before Jesu”: for indeed his “song”, whether silent melody or articulate, is love in action; the glad and humble passion of adoration taking poetic form.
We see then at last that Heat, Sweetness, and Song are each and all names for, and psycho-physical expressions of, one thing—that many-coloured, many-graded miracle of Love which is the substance of all mysticism, and alone has power to catch man into the divine atmosphere, initiate him into the friendship of God. “O dear Charity . . . Thou enterest boldly the bedchamber of the King Everlasting: thou only art not ashamed Christ to take. He it is that thou hast sought and loved. Christ is thine: hold Him, for He may not but take thee, to whom thou only desirest to obey.”
Here we find, fused together, the highest flights of mystical passion for the Ineffable God, and the intense devotion to the Person of Christ: the special quality which marked all that was best in English religion of the medieval period. In such passages—and his works abound in them—Rolle sets the pattern to which all the great English mystics who followed him conformed. Were we asked, indeed, to state their peculiar characteristic, I think that we must find it here: in the combination of loftiest transcendentalism with the loving and intimate worship of the Holy Name. Thus it is that they solve the eternal mystic paradox of an unconditioned yet a personal God. “The Scale of Perfection,” “The Cloud of Unknowing,” “The Revelations of Divine Love,” all turn on this point: and those who discount their strongly Christian and personal quality, gravely misunderstand the nature of the vision by which their writers were inspired.
Of the two works of Richard Rolle which Miss Comper here presents in a modernized form, “The Fire of Love” represents his subjective manner—“The Mending of Life” an attempt towards the orderly presentation of his ascetic doctrine. The whole system of his teaching, in so far as a system was possible to so poetic and “inspired” a temperament, aims at the induction of other men to that state in which they can fulfill the supreme vocation of humanity: take part in “angels’ song,” the music of adoration which all created spirits sing to God. He knows that the “ghostly song” of highest contemplation is a special gift, a grace shed into the soul, and does not hesitate to proclaim his own peculiar possession of it: yet he is sure that the heavenly melodies may be evoked, in a certain measure, in all who are surrendered to divine love. The method by which he would educate the soul to the point at which it can participate in the life of Reality, is that method of asceticism—profound contrition, mortification and prayer—which he has followed himself: here conforming to the doctrine of the three great masters of the spiritual life whose writings had influenced him most, St. Bernard, Richard of St. Victor, and St. Bonaventura. Though he often seems in his more didactic works to echo the teaching of these doctors, and in some passages repeats their very words—as for instance in his description of the Three Degrees of Love, and in his doctrine of Ecstasy—yet all that he says has been actualized by him in his own personal experience. His most “dogmatic” utterances burn with passion: he uses the maps of his great predecessors because he has tested them and found them true. It is commonly said that the Incendium Amoris—that most personal and unconventional of works—is an imitation of St. Bonaventura’s Stimulus Amoris. Apart from the fact that the Stimulus Amoris is no longer accepted as an authentic work of St. Bonaventura, but was probably composed by James of Milan, the two books—as any may see who take the trouble to compare them—have hardly a character in common. True, both are largely concerned with the Love of God; but so are all the works of Christian mysticism. The subjective element which occupies so large a place in the Incendium is wholly absent from the Stimulus. There we find no autobiography, rather an orderly didactic treatise, miles asunder from the Yorkshire hermit’s fervid rhapsodies. The Incendium is not an artificial composition, but a work of original genius. It is the rhapsody and confession of a “God-intoxicated” poet, who longed to tell his love, yet knew that all his powers of expression could not communicate one little point of the vision and the ecstasy to which he had been raised: “Would God of that melody a man I might find author, the which though not in word, yet in writing my joy he should sing.”
Passionate feeling taking artistic form: this perhaps is the ruling character of all Rolle’s mystical writings. He has been accused of laying undue emphasis upon emotional experience. Yet a stern system of ethics—as we may see from his life as well as from his works—underlies this exultant participation in the music of the spheres. Though some may be repelled by his love of that solitude in which heart speaks to heart, or amused by his quaint praise of the virtues of “sitting”—the attitude which he found most conductive to contemplation—surely none can fail to be impressed by the heroic self-denials, the devoted missionary labours, which ran side by side with this intense interior life. His love was essentially dynamic; it invaded and transmuted all departments of his nature, and impelled him as well to acts of service as to songs of joy. He was no spiritual egotist, no mere seeker for transcendental satisfaction; but one of those for whom the divine goodness and beauty are coupled together in insoluble union, even as “the souls of the lover and the loved.”
NOTE: My quotations from “The Fire of Love” and “The Mending of Life” are made direct from Richard Misyn’s fifteenth century English translation, as printed by the Early English Text Society: save only for modernization of the spelling. They may not therefore agree in all particulars with Miss Comper’s version. I have used Miss Geraldine Hodgson’s edition of “The Form of Perfect Living” (1910); my own of “The Cloud of Unknowing” (1912), and the text of “The Song of Angels” which is printed from Pepwell by Mr. Edmund Gardner in “The Cell of Self-knowledge” (New Medieval Library, 1910).
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