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OF THE ACTIVE LIFE
Since the time of Adam, Christ, the Wisdom of the Father, has said to all men, and He says so still, inwardly according to His Divinity: Behold. And this beholding is needful. Now mark this well: that for anyone who wishes to see, either in a bodily or a ghostly manner, three things are necessary.
The first thing is that, if a man will see bodily and outwardly, he must have the outward light of heaven, or some other material light, to illuminate the medium, that is, the air, through which he will see. The second thing is, that he must permit the things which he wishes to see to be reflected in his eyes. And the third thing is that the organs, the eyes, must be sound and flawless, so that gross bodily things can be subtly reflected in them. If a man lack any of these three things his bodily sight is wanting. Of this sight, however, we shall say nothing more; but we shall speak of a ghostly and supernatural sight, in which all our bliss abides.
For all who wish to see in a ghostly and supernatural manner three things also are needful. The first is the light of Divine grace; the second is a free turning of the will to God, the third is a conscience clean from any mortal sin.
Now mark this: God being a common good, and His boundless love being common to all, He gives His grace in two ways: prevenient grace, and the grace by which one merits eternal life. Prevenient grace is common to all men, Pagan and Jew, good and evil. By reason of His common love, which God has towards all men, He has caused His name and the redemption of human nature to be preached and revealed to the uttermost parts of the earth. Whosoever wishes to turn to Him can turn to Him. All the sacraments, baptism and every other sacrament are made ready for all men who wish to receive them according to the needs of each; for God wishes to save all men and to lose not one. At the day of Judgment, no one shall be able to complain that, had he wished to be converted, but little was done for him. Thus God is a common light and a common splendour enlightening heaven and earth, and every man, each according to his need and worth.3838 “Light” is the second of the Divine Names which Dionysius the Areopagite attributes to the Godhead, being placed by him between “Goodness” and “Beauty”; and his influence may be traced in Ruysbroeck’s frequent use of it. Thus he says, “Let us now extol the spiritual name of Light, under which we contemplate the Good; and declare that He is called spiritual Light because He fills every supercelestial mind with spiritual light, expelling ignorance and error from all souls in which they may be . . . the Good is therefore called spiritual Light above all other light: as fontal Ray and overflowing Stream of light, shining out of its fulness upon every mind above, around, and in the world, renewing all their powers, and embracing them in its span. (Divine Names, cap. 4.)
But although, even as God is common to all, the sun shines upon all trees, yet many a tree remains without fruits, and many a tree brings forth wild fruits of little use to men. And for this reason such trees are pruned, and shoots of fruitful trees are grafted into them, so that they may bear good fruits, savoury and useful to man.
The light of Divine grace is a fruit-bearing shoot, coming forth from the living paradise of the eternal kingdom; and no deed can bring refreshment or profit to man if it be not born of this shoot. This shoot of Divine grace, which makes man pleasing to God, and through which he merits eternal life, is offered to all men. But it is not grafted into all, because some will not cut away the wild branches of their trees; that is, unbelief, and a perverse and disobedient will opposed to the commandments of God.
But if this shoot of God’s grace is to be grafted into our souls, there must be of necessity three things: the prevenient grace of God, the conversion of one’s own free will, and the purification of conscience. The prevenient grace touches all men, God bestowing it upon all men. But not all men give on their part the conversion of the will and the purification of conscience; and that is why so many lack the grace of God, through which they should merit eternal life.
The prevenient grace of God touches a man from without and from within. From without through sickness; or through the loss of external goods, of kinsmen, and of friends; or through public disgrace. Or he may be stirred by a sermon, or by the examples of the saints or of good men, their words, or their deeds; so that he learns to recognize himself as he is. This is how God touches a man from without.
Sometimes a man is touched also from within, through remembering the sorrows and the sufferings of our Lord, and the good which God has bestowed upon him and upon all other men; or by considering his sins, the shortness of life, the fear of death and the fear of hell, the eternal torments of hell and the eternal joy of heaven, and how God has spared him in his sins and has awaited his conversion. Or he may ponder the marvellous works of God in heaven and in earth, and in all creatures. Such are the workings of the prevenient grace of God, stirring men from without and from within, in many ways. And besides this, man has a natural tendency towards God, because of the spark of the soul, and because of that highest reason, which always desires the good and hates the evil. In all these ways God touches all men, each one according to his need; so that at times a man is smitten, reproved, alarmed, and stands still within himself to consider himself. And all this is still prevenient grace, and not yet efficacious grace. Thus does prevenient grace prepare the soul for the reception of the other grace, through which eternal life is merited. For when the soul has thus got rid of evil willing and evil doing, it is perplexed and smitten with fear of what it should do, considering itself, its wicked works, and God. And from this there arise a natural repentance of its sins and a natural good-will. Such is the highest work of prevenient grace.
If a man does all he can, and cannot do more because of his feebleness, it rests with the infinite goodness of God to finish the work. Then, straight as a sunbeam, there comes a higher light of Divine grace, and it is shed into the soul according to its worth, though neither merited nor desired. For in this light God gives Himself out of free goodness and generosity, the which never creature can merit before it has received it. And this is an inward and mysterious working of God in the soul, above time; and it moves the soul and all its powers. Therewith ends prevenient grace and begins the other grace, that is to say, the supernatural light.
This light is the first point necessary, and from it there arises a second point, and that on the part of the soul; namely, the free conversion of the will, in a single moment of time. And here it is that charity is born of the union of God with the soul. These two points hang together, so that the one cannot be fulfilled without the other. Where God and the soul come together in the union of love, then God, above time, gives His light; and the soul, in a single moment of time, gives, by virtue of the grace received, its free conversion to Him. And there charity is born of God and of the soul in the soul, for charity is a bond of love, tying God to the loving soul.
Of these two things—that is to say, the grace of God and the free conversion of the will enlightened by grace—charity, that is, Divine love, is born. And from this Divine love the third point arises; that is, the purification of conscience. And these three points belong together in such a way that one cannot exist long without the others; for whosoever has Divine love has also perfect contrition for his sins.
Yet here we must take heed to the order of Divine and creaturely things as they are here shown. For God gives His light, and by this light man gives his willing and perfect conversion: and of these two is born a perfect love towards God. And from this love there come forth perfect contrition and purification of conscience. And these arise from the consideration of misdeeds and all that may defile the soul: for when a man loves God he despises himself and all his works. This is the order of every conversion. From it there come true repentance, a perfect sorrow for every evil thing which one has done, and an ardent desire never to sin again and evermore to serve God in humble obedience. Hence too an open confession, without reserve, ambiguity, or excuse; a perfect satisfaction according to the counsel of a prudent priest; and the beginning of virtue and of all good works.
These three things, as you have heard, are needful to a spiritual or godly sight. If you have them, Christ is saying within you: Behold, and you are beholding in truth. And this is the first of the four chief points; namely, that in which Christ our Lord says: Behold.
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