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THAT LOVERS OF GOD SHALL DEEM WITH HIM: AND OF THE LOVE OF KNOWLEDGE GOTTEN BY LABOUR, AND OF GOD: AND THAT A TRUE LOVER ERRS NOT, NOR IS BEGUILED NEITHER WITH FASTING NOR ABSTINENCE, COUNSEL NOR PRESUMPTION
Man’s soul is the taker of God only; anything less than God cannot fulfill it: wherefore earthly lovers never are fulfilled. The rest therefore of Christ’s lovers is when their hearts are fastened by desire and thought in the love of God; and loving, burning and singing, contemplate Him.
Sweetest forsooth is the rest which the spirit takes whiles sweet godly sound comes down, in which it is delighted, and in most sweet and playful songs the mind is ravished to sing the delights of everlasting love. Now forsooth the praise of God sounds again in the mouth, and of the blest Maiden, in whom it joys more than may be trowed. And no marvel that this happens, whiles the heart of the singer is utterly burnt with heavenly fire and is figured into His likeness, in the which is all sweet and merry song, moistening our affections with heavenly savour. And therefore he abounds with inward delights, and in song and thought joys in the burning of love.
This truly is untrowable to all mortals; and he that has this trows not that anything so sweet and full of sweetness can be perceived by man, being yet in body that will rot, and being grieved with the fetters of mortality. The haver marvels also, but is gladdened, because of the goodness, unable to be told, of God, that gives His goods plenteously and upbraids not; of whom he receives all that he feels.
Forsooth when that great thing wants—and truly it is called great formerly to mortals it is nearly unknown—he never trows himself to be in prosperity, but alway languishes in love; whiles he wakes he continually sings, or thinks, of love and of his lover: and if he be alone the more sweetly he sings.
Truly from the time that any man has received this, never afterwards shall he fully go from it; but evermore shall heat, sweetness, or singing—if all these be not near—bide. But all these truly bide together, unless they be repressed by full great sickness of the head, or of the breast, or of the side; or by great hunger or thirst by the which the flesh is broken; or with too mickle cold or heat or with travel, they be let.
Therefore it behoves him that will sing in God’s love, and in singing will rejoice and burn, to be in the wilderness, and not to live in too mickle abstinence; nor to be given in any wise to superfluity or waste. Nevertheless it were better for him in little things to pass measure unknowingly, whiles he does it with good intent to sustain nature, than if for too mickle fasting he began to fail, and for feebleness of body he could not sing. But withouten doubt he that is chosen to this neither in eating nor in abstinence is overcome by falsehood of the fiend. Truly the true lover of Christ, and taught of Christ, with no less study is ware of too mickle than of too little. Withouten comparison truly shall he be worthy of more meed, that with songful joy, praying, contemplating, reading and meditating, and eating well but discreetly; than if he, withouten this, should fast evermore, or should eat bread alone or herbs, and should continually pray and read.
Eaten have I and drunken of this that seemed best, not because I loved pleasantness, but because nature must be sustained in the service of God and in the praise of Jesu Christ; conforming myself in good manners to them with whom I dwelt for Christ; and that I should not feign holiness where none is, nor that men should praise me too mickle where I was full little to be praised. From divers, also, I have gone, not because they fed me commonly or in hard measure, but because we have not accorded in manners, or for some other reasonable cause. Nevertheless I dare say, with blessed Job: ‘Fools have despised me; and when I have gone from them they have backbitten me; nevertheless they shall be ashamed when they see me that have said that I would not abide but where I might be delicately fed.’ It is better truly to see what I may despise, than to desire what I may not see.
No marvel that fasting is full good to cast down the desires of the flesh, and to make tame wild wantonness of mind. Truly fleshly desires lie as it were slaked in him who goes to the height of contemplation by song and the burning of love. For the death of ill affections belongs to him that takes heed to contemplation; whose soul is also turned within into another joy and another form. He lives now not to himself, but Christ truly lives in him; wherefore he melts in His love, and languishes within himself, and nearly fails for sweetness: he scarcely lives for love. His soul is it that says: Nunciate dilecto quia amore langueo: that is to say: ‘Show to my Beloved, that I languish for love.’ I desire to die: I covet to be loosed: full greatly I yearn to go. Behold for love I die! Lord, come down! Come, my Beloved, lift me from heaviness. Behold I love: I sing: I am full hot: I burn within myself. Have mercy upon me, wretched; bidding me be brought before Thee.
He that has this joy, and in this life is thus gladdened, is inspired of the Holy Ghost: he cannot err, whatever he do it is lawful. No mortal man can give him counsel so good as that is that he has in himself of God Immortal. If others truly would give counsel to him, withouten doubt they shall err because they have not known him: and if he would give assent to their skills he shall not be suffered of God that constrains him to His will, that he pass it not. Wherefore of such is said: Spiritualis omnia judicat, et a nemine judicatur; that is to say: ‘The ghostly man deems all things, and is deemed of no man.’
But no man may be of so great presumption that he suppose himself to be such a one; although he has perfectly forsaken all the world, and though he has led a solitary life, unable to be reproved, and though he has gone up to the contemplation of heavenly things. For this grace truly is not granted to all contemplatives, but seldom, and to most few: the which, taking great rest of body and of mind, are only chosen to the work by the strength of God’s love. Full hard soothly it is to find such a man; and because they are few, full dear are they held, desirable, and beloved before God and man; and angels also joy in their passing from this world, whom angels company becomes.
Many forsooth there are that oft, in great devotion and sweetness, offer their prayers to God, and praying and meditating they can feel sweetness of contemplation; the which also run not about but bide in rest.
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