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THE FIRST BOOK
Ecce sponsus venit,
exile obviam ei.
Behold, the Bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him. These words were written by St Matthew the Evangelist, and Christ spoke them to His disciples and to all other men in the parable of the virgins. This Bridegroom is Christ, and human nature is the bride; the which God has made in His own image and after His likeness. And in the beginning He had set her in the highest and most beautiful, the richest and most fertile place in all the earth: that is, in Paradise. And He had given her dominion over all creatures; and He had adorned her with graces; and had given her a commandment, so that by obedience she might have merited to be confirmed and established with her Bridegroom in an eternal troth, and never to fall into any grief, or any sin.
Then came a beguiler, the hellish fiend, full of envy, in the shape of a subtle serpent, and he beguiled the woman; and they both beguiled the man, in whom above all the whole of our nature consists. And the fiend seduced that nature, the bride of God, with false counsel; and she was driven into a strange country, poor and miserable and captive and oppressed, and beset by her enemies; so that it seemed as though she might never attain reconciliation and return again to her native land.
But when God thought the time had come, and had mercy on the suffering of His beloved, He sent His Only Begotten Son to earth, in a fair chamber, in a glorious temple; that is, in the body of the Virgin Mary. There He was married to this bride, our nature, and He united her with His own person through the most pure blood of this noble Virgin. The priest who married the bride was the Holy Ghost; the angel Gabriel brought the offer; the glorious Virgin gave her consent. Thus Christ, our faithful Bridegroom, united our nature with His person; and He has sought us in strange countries, and taught us heavenly customs and perfect faithfulness, and has laboured for us and fought as our champion against the adversary. And He has broken open our prison, and won the victory, and by His death slain our death; and He has redeemed us by His blood, and made us free through His living waters of baptism, and enriched us with His sacraments and with His gifts: that we might go out (as He says) with all the virtues, to meet Him in the house of glory and to enjoy Him without end in eternity.
Now Christ, the Master of Truth, says: Behold the Bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet Him. In these words, Christ our Lover teaches us four things. First, He gives us a command, in that He says: Behold. Those who neglect this command and remain blind are all damned. Secondly, He shows us what we shall see, that is, the coming of the Bridegroom; for He says, The Bridegroom cometh. In the third place, He teaches and commands us what we shall do, for He says: Go ye out. And in the fourth place, by saying: To meet Him, He shows us the use and the purpose of our labour and of all our life; that is to say, the loving meeting with our Bridegroom.
These words we shall now declare and set forth in three ways. First, according to the common way relating to the life of beginners, which is called the Active Life, and which is necessary for all men who wish to be saved. Secondly, we will explain these same words in their relation to the interior, exalted, and God-desiring life, at which many men may arrive by their virtues and by the grace of God. Thirdly, we will expound them in respect of a superessential, God-seeing life, which few men can attain or taste, by reason of the sublimity and high nobility of that life.
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