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OF THREE KINDS OF MOST INWARD PRACTICES
This most inward life is practised in three ways.
At times, the inward man performs his introspection simply, according to the fruitive tendency, above all activity and above all virtues, through a simple inward gazing in the fruition of love. And here he meets God without intermediary. And from out the Divine Unity, there shines into him a simple light and this light shows him Darkness and Nakedness and Nothingness.6464 This is that “contemplation in caligine” celebrated by all Christian mystics of the Dionysian tradition. It introduces consciousness into a universe which seems dark, bare, and nought to the intellect, because it transcends all the conceptions with which that intellect is able to deal; being indeed “dark with excess of light.” Thus Dionysius says: “We pray that we may enter the Radiant Darkness, and through blindness and ignorance may see and know that this blindness and ignorance is itself above sight and knowledge” (Mystic Theology, cap. 1); and again, “The Divine Dark is the inaccessible Light in which God is said to dwell. Into this dark, invisible because of its surpassing brightness and unsearchable because of the abundance of its supernatural torrents of light, all enter who are deemed worthy to know and see God: and by the very fact of not seeing or knowing, are truly in Him Who is above all sight and knowledge.” (Letter to Dorothy the Deacon.) So, too, the author of The Cloud of Unknowing—“Let be this everywhere and this aught, in comparison of this nowhere and this nought. Reck thee never if thy wits cannot reason of this nought; for surely I love it much the better. It is so worthy a thing in itself that they cannot reason thereupon. this nought may better be felt than seen: for it is full blind and full dark to them that have but little while looked thereupon. Nevertheless, if I shall soothlier say, a soul is more blinded in feeling of it for abundance of ghostly light, than for any darkness or wanting of bodily light.” (The Cloud of Unknowing, cap. 68.) In the Darkness, he is enwrapped and falls into somewhat which is in no wise, even as one who has lost his way. In the Nakedness, he loses the perception and discernment of all things, and is transfigured and penetrated by a simple light. In the Nothingness, all his activity fails him, for he is vanquished by the working of God’s abysmal love, and in the fruitive inclination of his spirit he vanquishes God, and becomes one spirit with him. And in this oneness with the Spirit of God, he enters into a fruitive tasting and possesses the Being of God. And he is filled, according to the measure in which he has sunk himself in his essential being with the abysmal delights and riches of God. And from these riches an envelopment and a plenitude of sensible love flow forth into the unity of the higher powers. And from this plenitude of sensible love, a savoury and penetrating satisfaction flows forth into the heart and the bodily powers. And through this inflow the man becomes immovable within, and helpless as regards himself and all his works. And in the deeps of his ground he knows and feels nothing, in soul or in body, but a singular radiance with a sensible well-being and an all-pervading saviour. This is the first way, and it is the way of emptiness; for it makes a man empty of all things, and lifts him up above activity and above all the virtues. And it unites the man with God, and brings about a firm perseverance in the most interior practices which he can cultivate. When, however, any restlessness, or working of the virtues, puts intermediaries, or images, between the inward man and the naked introversion which he desires, then he is hindered in this exercise; for this way consists in a going out, beyond all things, into the Emptiness. This is the first form of the most inward exercise.
At times such an inward man turns towards God with ardent desire and activity; that he may glorify and honour Him, and offer up and annihilate in the love of God, his selfhood and all that he is able to do. And here he meets God through an intermediary. This intermediary is the gift of Savouring Wisdom, the ground and origin of all virtues; which enkindles and moves all good men according to the measure of their love, and at times so greatly stirs and enkindles the inward man through love, that all the gifts of God, and all that God may give, except the gift of Himself, seem too little to him, and cannot satisfy him, but rather increase his impatience. For he has an inward perception or feeling in his ground; where all the virtues begin and end, where love dwells, and where with ardent desire he offers up all his virtues to God. And here the hunger and thirst of love become so great that he perpetually surrenders himself, and gives up his own works, and empties himself, and is noughted in love, for he is hungry and thirsty for the taste of God; and, at each irradiation of God,6565 The Flemish “inblicke Gods” suggests the sudden flashing glance of Divine enlightenment: keen, vivid, but transitory, like lightning in the sky. he is seized by God, and more than ever before is newly touched by love. Living he dies, and dying he lives again. And in this way the desirous hunger and thirst of love are renewed in him every hour.
This is the second way, which is the way of longing, in which love dwells in the Divine likeness, and longs and craves to unite itself with God. This way is more profitable and honourable to us than the first, for it is the source of the first; for none can enter into the rest which is above all works save the man who has loved love with desire and with activity. And this is why the grace of God and our active love must both go before and follow after; that is to say, they must be practised both before and after. For without acts of love we cannot merit anything, neither achieve God, nor keep the possession of that which we have acquired through the works of love. And for this reason no one who has power over himself, and can practise love, should be idle. When, however, a good man lingers in any gift of God, or any creature, he will be hindered in this most inward exercise; for this exercise is a hunger which nothing can still, save God alone.
From these two ways the third way arises; and this is an inward life according to justice. Now understand this: God comes to us without ceasing both with means and without means, and demands of us both action and fruition, in such a way that the one never impedes, but always strengthens, the other. And therefore the most inward man lives his life in these two ways: namely, in work and in rest.6666 This conception of the dual life which man possesses in the likeness of God appears to be derived from Dionysius, who says: “That which is established above both every rest and every movement, and moves each thing according to the law of its own being in its own movement, is both the Rest and the Movement of all.” (Divine Names, cap. 1.) And in each he is whole and undivided; for he is wholly in God because he rests in fruition, and he is wholly in himself because he loves in activity: and he is perpetually called and urged by God to renew both the rest and the work. And the justice of the spirit desires to pay every hour that which is demanded of it by God. And therefore, at each irradiation of God, the spirit turns inward, in action and in fruition; and thus it is renewed in every virtue, and is more deeply immersed in fruitive rest. For God gives, in one gift, Himself and His gifts; and the spirit gives, at each introversion, itself and all its works. For by means of the simple irradiation of God and the fruitive tendency and melting away of love, the spirit has been united with God, and is incessantly transported into rest. And through the gifts of Understanding and Savouring Wisdom, it is touched in an active way, and perpetually enlightened and enkindled in love. And there is shown and presented to it in the spirit all that one may desire. It is hungry and thirsty, for it beholds the food of the angels and the heavenly drink. It works diligently in love, for it beholds its rest. It is a pilgrim; and it sees its country. In love it strives for victory; for it sees its crown. Consolation, peace, joy, beauty and riches, and all that can delight it, are shown without measure in ghostly images to the reason which is enlightened in God. And through this showing and the touch of God, love remains active. For this just man has established a true life in the spirit, in rest and in work, which shall endure eternally; but, after this life, it shall be changed into a higher state. Thus the man is just; and he goes towards God with fervent love in eternal activity; and he goes in God with fruitive inclination in eternal rest. And he dwells in God, and yet goes forth towards all creatures in universal love, in virtue, and in justice. And this is the supreme summit of the inward life. All those men who do not possess both rest and work in one and the same exercise, have not yet attained this justice. This just man cannot be hindered in his introversion, for he turns inward both in fruition and in work; but he is like to a double mirror, which receives images on both sides. For in his higher part, the man receives God with all His gifts; and, in his lower part, he receives bodily images through the senses. Now he can enter into himself at will, and can practise justice without hindrance. But man is unstable in this life, and that is why he often turns outwards, and works in the senses, without need and without the command of the enlightened reason; and thus he falls into venial sins. But in the loving introversion of the just man all venial sins are like to drops of water in a glowing furnace.
And with this I leave the inward life.
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