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OF THE PRAISE AND MIGHT OF CHARITY: AND OF FORSAKING THE WORLD: AND OF THE WAY OF PENANCE TO BE TAKEN
Charity is the queen of virtues; the fairest star; the beauty of the soul that does all these things in the soul: that is to say, it wounds her; makes her languish; moistens, melts and makes fair; it gladdens and enflames; whose ordinate deed is full fair habit. It behoves without doubt that all virtue, if it be truly called virtue, be rooted in charity. No virtue can be truly held that has not been set in God’s love. Soothly he who multiplies virtues and good deeds without God’s love, casts as it were precious stones into a bottomless privy. Shown it is and known that all deeds that men do help not in the end to get health, if they be not done in the charity of God and of their neighbour. Wherefore, since it is charity only that makes us blessed, we ought to desire rather to lose our life than in mind, or mouth, or deed, defile charity. In this the strivers with sin joy; in this the overcomers are crowned.
Truly ilk Christian is imperfect that cleaves with love to earthly riches, or is joined to any worldly solace; for he forsakes not all that he has, without which no man can come to perfection. When any man truly desires to love God perfectly, he studies to do away all things, inward as well as outward, that are contrary to God’s love and let from His love. And that a man may do that truly he has great business, for he shall suffer great strifes in doing it; afterwards truly he shall find sweetest rest in that that he seeks.
We have heard truly that the way is strait that leads to life. This is the way of penance that few find, the which therefore is called strait; for by it, and it be right, the flesh is stripped from unlawful solace of the world, and the soul is restrained from shrewd pleasure and unclean thoughts, and is only dressed to the love of God. But this is seldom found in men, for nearly none savour that which belongs to God: but they seek earthly joy and in that they are delighted, wherefore following their bodily appetite, and despising their ghostly, they forsake all the ways that are healthful to their soul, and they abhor them as strait, sharp, and unable to be borne by their lust.
Nevertheless every mortal man ought to consider that he will never come to the heavenly kingdom by the way of riches and fleshly liking and lust, since, forsooth, it is written of Christ: Quod oportuit Christum pati, et ita intrare in gloriam suam; that is to say: ‘that Christ behoved to suffer and so enter His joy.’ If we be members of our Head, Jesu Christ, we shall follow Him; and if we love Christ, it behoves us go as He has gone; else are we not His members, for from the Head we are divided.
Truly if we be sundered from Him, it is greatly to be dreaded, for then are we joined to the fiend, and in the last doom Christ is to say: ‘I have not known you.’ He, truly, by a noyous gate and strait way entered to heaven; how should we, that are wretches and sinners, be made rich by the poor, and feed our lust with unlawful things and flatteries of this world, and all vanity and softness of flesh and desire for delight, and nevertheless reign with Christ in the life to come?
Christ when He was rich for us became poor; and when we are poor there is nothing that we so mickle covet as to be or seem plenteous. Christ when He was Lord of all is become the Servant of all: and we, whiles we are unprofitable and unworthy servants, yet would we be lords of all. He, when He was great God, is become a meek Man; and we, when we are sick and simple men, because of pride we raise ourselves in as mickle as if we were gods. He was conversant with men that He might raise us to the heavens; and we through all our life desire earthly things.
Therefore it is shown that we love Him not, for we will not meek our will to His; nor busy we to fulfill what ilk day we ask, saying: Fiat voluntas tua sicut in coelo et in terra; ’Thy will be done as in heaven and in earth.’ In vain forsooth such men trow to receive the heritage with them that are chosen; for they are not partners of Christ’s gainbuying, the which, by their wicked and unclean works, despise the blood by which we are gainbought, and freely yield themselves to the bondage of the fiend.
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