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THAT SOLITARY OR HERMIT’S LIFE PASSES COMMON AND MIXED LIFE. AND HOW IT COMES TO FIRE OF LOVE: AND OF SWEETNESS OF SONG.
Some have been and peradventure are yet alive that alway set common life before solitary life; saying we ought to run to gatherings if we desire to come to high perfection. Against whom there is not mickle to dispute, because that life only they bear up with praise, the which they either covet to keep, or at the least know full little. Truly they praise not solitary life, for they know it not.
Truly there is a life which no man living in flesh can know, but he to whom it is given of God to have; and soothly no man deems truly of this thing, of which he is yet unsicker what, and in what manner, it works. Withouten doubt, I wot if they knew it more than another they would praise it.
Others err worse that cease not to reprove and slander solitary life, saying: Vae soli; that is to say: ‘Woe be to a man alone’; not expounding ‘alone’ as ‘without God’, but ‘without a fellow.’ He truly is alone with whom God is not; for when he falls into death he is taken alive to tormentry, and is sparred from the joyful sight of God and of His saints.
Forsooth he that chooses solitary life for God, and leads it in good manner, is not near woe but fair virtue; and the name of Jesu shall continually delight his mind; and the more they dread not to take that life without man’s solace, the more shall it be given them to be gladdened with God’s comforting.
Ghostly visitations forsooth ofttimes they receive; the which, set in company, they know not at all. Therefore it is said to a beloved soul: Ducam cam in solitudinem, et ibi loquar ad car ejus. That is to say: ‘I shall lead her into the wilderness, and there shall I speak unto her heart.’
Some truly are taught by God to desire the wilderness for Christ, and to hold a single purpose; the which forthwith, that they may more freely and devoutly serve God, forsaking the common clothing of the world, despise all transitory things, and cast away temporal things; and excelling in height of mind they desire only everlasting joy, and are only given to devotion and contemplation, and every effort of their life they cease not to give to the love of Christ. Of whom full many, although from men they dwell full far, yet they stumble not from heavenly desires, because their minds are full far from wicked conversation.
The righteous hermits have also a single purpose. They live in the charity of God and of their neighbour; they despise worldly praise; as mickle as they can they flee man’s sight; they hold ilk man more worthy than themselves; they continually give their minds to devotion; they hate idleness; they manly gainstand fleshly lusts; they savour and burningly seek heavenly; earthly they covet not, but forsake; in sweetness of prayer they are delighted. Truly some of them feel the sweetness of eternal refreshment; and with chaste heart and body, with the undefiled eye of the mind, truly behold God and the citizens of heaven. Because by the bitter drink of penance they have loved great labour, they are now set afire with the love of high contemplation, and alone are worthy to take heed to God, and to bide the kingdom of Christ.
Therefore great is the hermit’s life if it be greatly done. And truly the blessed Maglorius was full of miracles, and from his childhood gladdened by the sight of angels. When according to the prophecy of his former father, Saint Sampson, he was made archbishop, and had a long worthily governed God’s kirk, being warned by the visit of an angel, he left his archbishopric and chose a hermit’s life. And at the end of his life his passing was betokened to him. Saint Cuthbert also went from his bishopric to an anchorite’s life.
Therefore if such men have done thus for to have more meed, who of good mind will be hardy to set any state in holy kirk before solitary life? Truly in this they occupy themselves with no outward things, but only take heed to heavenly contemplation; and that they be continually warm in the love of Christ, and set worldly business perfectly behind.
Wherefore a heavenly noise sounds within them, and full sweet melody makes the solitary man merry; for clatterings distract them who are set among many, and but seldom suffer them to think or pray. Of which solitary the psalmist speaks in the Song of Love, saying: ‘I will go into the place of the marvellous tabernacle, into the house of God.’ And he describes the manner of going, in rejoicing and songs of praise, saying: In voce exultationis et confesionis; that is to say: ‘In voice of gladness and shrift.’ And that loneliness withouten noise and bodily song is needful to that—that man may receive that songful joy, and hold it in joying and singing—he openly shows in another place: Elongavi, inquit, fugiens; et mansi in solitudine. That is to say: ‘Fleeing by myself, I have withdrawn, and in the wilderness I have dwelt.’
In this life truly he is busy to burn in the fire of the Holy Ghost; and into the joy of love to be taken and, comforted by God, to be glad. For the perfect lonely man hugely burns in God’s love; and whiles in surpassing of mind he is rapt above himself by contemplation, he is lift up joying unto that sweet sound and heavenly noise. And such a one, forsooth, is likened to the seraphim, burning within himself anchorite without comparison and most steadfast, whose heart is figured to godly fire; and in full light and burning he is borne up into his love. And forsooth after this life he shall be suddenly taken up to the high seats of the heavenly citizens, that in the place of Lucifer he may full brightly be. For so great is the burning of love and more than can be shown to him that has sought only the glory of his Maker, and who, going meekly, has not raised himself above sinners.
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