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Of the Servitor’s spiritual daughter.
"FILIA confide,"—Be of good heart, daughter (Matt. ix. 22). The Servitor had at this time a spiritual daughter, of the Order of Friars Preachers, in an enclosed convent at Tosse.88 Thöss, near Winterthur, in Switzerland. Her name was Elizabeth Staglin, and she lived a very holy life exteriorly, and was of an angelic disposition within. The noble and energetic way in which she turned herself with her whole heart and soul to God set her free entirely from all those vain things which cause so many persons to neglect their eternal salvation. All her diligence was directed towards obtaining spiritual instruction, that she might thus be guided to a blessed and perfect life, the one end and object of all her wishes. She wrote down whatever she met with that pleased her, and seemed calculated to aid herself and others in the acquisition of divine virtues; and she acted in this like the industrious bees, which bring back sweet honey collected from many different flowers.
In the convent where she lived among the sisters as a mirror of every virtue, she composed, 158notwithstanding her bodily infirmities, a large book, containing, among other things, an account of the blessed lives which the deceased holy sisters had led, and the great marvels God had wrought in them. It is a book well suited to excite good-hearted persons to devotion.99 Henry Murer has extracted many of these lives from the Chronicles of the convent at Thoss, and inserted them in his Helvetia Sancta.
This blessed daughter came to hear of the Servitor of the Eternal Wisdom, and God inspired her with great devotion to his manner of life and teaching. She drew from him secretly the way in which he broke through created things to arrive at God, and she wrote it down, as has been already related.
At the first beginning of her conversion to God she came across a great many deep intellectual views regarding the pure Godhead, the nothingness of all things, detachment from self, abstraction of the mind from all sensible forms, and such-like high things; and they were clothed in beautiful language, and were very pleasant to reflect upon. But there lay concealed beneath them something hurtful to simple-minded beginners like her; for she was quite ignorant of the necessary distinctions 159which ought to be made, inasmuch as the words were capable of being taken in a spiritual or a natural sense, according to the disposition of those who used them. These doctrines were good in themselves; but they were insufficient for her instruction. She therefore wrote to the Servitor, asking him to help her, and guide her along the right path. Nevertheless, as she had already tasted of the pleasure which is to be found in these doctrines, she prayed him to pass over the common ordinary kind of instruction, and to write to her something about the abovementioned high subjects.
The Servitor answered her thus:—Good daughter, if thou askest me concerning high things through curiosity, in order to become acquainted with them, and to be able to talk well about spiritual matters, what I have to say to thee will need but a few words. Take not too much pleasure in them, for they may easily lead thee into dangerous errors. True bliss lies not in beautiful words, but in good works. If, however, thou askest about these things in order to put them in practice, my answer is, Let alone for the present these deep questions, and attend to those only which are suitable for thee. Thou seemest to me to be as yet a young unexercised 160sister, and therefore it will be more profitable to thee, and the like of thee, to hear about the first beginnings of the spiritual life, both how it ought to be begun and what exercises are appropriate to it; and also about good and holy examples, as, for instance, how this and that friend of God, who began in the same way, first of all exercised themselves in imitating Christ’s life and sufferings; what kind of things they had to suffer continually; how they bore themselves in their sufferings interiorly and exteriorly; whether God drew them onwards by sweetness or by severity; and when and how they were set free from sensible forms and images. This is the way in which a beginner is spurred on and guided to perfection; for, though it is true that God can give all this to a person in an instant, it is not His way to do so, but it is to be obtained ordinarily only by hard labour and many conflicts.
On receiving this letter, the daughter replied to him as follows:—What I long for is not wise words, but a holy life; and this I have the courage truly and honestly to strive after until I attain it, whatever pain it may entail upon me, and no matter what I may have to give up or suffer, or die to, or whatever else 161may be needful to bring me to perfection; for all this I must and will undergo. And fear not on account of the weakness of my nature; for whatever you have the courage to command me, which is painful to nature, I have the courage to accomplish, with the help of God’s might. Begin first with the lowest things, and guide me in them, just as a little school-child is first taught what is adapted to its childish years, and then afterwards receives more and more instruction, until it becomes at last a master in the art. One only prayer I make to you, and this you must grant me, for God’s sake, in order that I may not only be instructed by you, but may be also strengthened against all the trials which I may have to encounter. He asked what this request might be. She answered:—Sir, I have heard say that the pelican is of such a nature that it bites itself, and, from natural love, feeds with its own. blood its young offspring in the nest. Ah, sir, what I ask is, that you will act thus towards your needy child, and feed her with the spiritual food of your good teaching; and that you will not seek for this from afar, but take it from yourself; for the nearer it has been to you in the way of experience, the more deeply it will come home to my longing soul.162
The Servitor wrote thus to her in answer:—Thou showedst me a little while ago some high thoughts which thou hadst thyself culled from the sweet teaching of the holy Master Eckart, and which, as is just, thou valuedst highly; and I marvel much, that, after thou hast drunk of the noble drink of this high Master, thou declarest thyself so thirsty for the coarse drink of the lowly Servitor. Nevertheless, when I consider it well, I note with joy thy great wisdom in this matter; namely, that thou art so busy in thy questionings about what is the first beginning of a high and secure life, and what are the exercises which must be first practised in order to attain it.
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