|« Prev||Secondly, of the work and knowledge of grace.||Next »|
Secondly, of the work and knowledge of grace.
Next have we to speak of the knowledge which is by grace. This signifies that to man in that state is given the power of distinguishing the Holy Scriptures, so that he comprehend them in full truth, and that in bearing and reading he should understand them in the best and most profitable way. And this knowledge is by grace and not from nature; for by mere nature you cannot come to a true knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. For the Holy Scriptures are from the Holy Ghost, and therefore whoso wisheth to understand them properly he must be enlightened with the grace of the Holy Ghost. An objection might be made, that many understand the Holy Scriptures who have not much grace, nor walk in a holy life. That is true; but they only understand them according to the sense, and not rightly according to the foundation and groundwork thereof. For whoso wisheth to understand them on their right ground, that must issue from the life and from the divine grace. Hence it is that Holy Writ is understood in the light of grace, and not in the light of nature. For genuine poverty is full of grace, and therefore is Holy Writ understood by a genuinely poor man. Wherefore Christ said, “To the poor the Gospel,”4949 Matt. xi. 5. Pauperes evangelizantur. for they alone understand it rightly. And this is found in the Apostles, who preached the Gospel and converted the people, and did 49not do this by cleverness of natural knowledge. Rather did they it in the power of poverty, for therewith they overcame all things, and in it they understood all things. Doubtless grace is a flowing out from God, and it floweth into the soul, but into one that is empty and poor in all things that are not God. Then if Holy Writ is only to be understood by grace, and if a poor man is alone receptive of the grace of God, then a poor man only understandeth Holy Writ properly. Not that a poor man understandeth Holy Writ in all the ways in which it can be understood, but he understands it in its essence, and he understands the naked truth for which all Holy Writ hath been written. For a poor man hath understood the essence of all truth. Wherefore it is not needful for him to take the truth according to accidents, and that he should understand all figures of speech which are in Holy Writ. As Christ said to His disciples, “To you it is given to know the mystery of God, but to others it must be given in parables.”5050 Matt. xiii. 11-13. He who understandeth the naked truth needeth not a parable. Therefore because a poor man is empty of all things that are not like the truth he thence understandeth the naked truth, and therewith he has enough.
The knowledge of grace is also in him the distinction of virtue and vice. For it is 50scarcely possible to leave vice and bring in virtue unless you understand them. And, therefore, it is of grace that man should understand virtue and vice thoroughly. Natural masters have written about virtues, but they never come to the true foundation of virtue. They write of virtues, how much pleasanter and sweeter they are in their nature, for virtues are undoubtedly and naturally a greater source of delight than vice. And in this way they sought their pleasure in virtue and nothing else; but they never get into virtue properly; for virtue consists in the denial of all natural lust, and they never possessed virtue thoroughly, because they sought themselves in it. Now, whosoever wisheth to have virtue in a hearty denial of himself, this must be of grace and not of nature; and virtue is quite at home there. For, whensoever a man has himself in view in virtue, that is not right virtue, it is natural virtue, but not of grace, for sinners have it also; but virtue in genuine self-denial they cannot have. When, therefore, a poor man stands in thorough denial of all natural lust, then he understandeth virtue quite in its groundwork. But the masters of nature could not come with vices to natural truth, and therefore they left vices through the power of natural knowledge. For no man can come to natural truth who is too heavily laden with the coarseness of sins. Hence these philosophers left vice through nature, and not by grace. For the virtue by grace is only for the sake of God, and not 51from natural knowledge, and therefore they did not come to the right knowledge of virtue; and this knowledge is of grace.
This is also of grace, that a man should acknowledge his faults; as St. Gregory saith, “It is a great perfection that a man should know his imperfection, for sin blindeth a man, so that he may not understand his faults.” When then a man feeleth displeasure of sins, a light springeth up in him, showing him his defects, so that he knoweth what a sin is, and thus he leaveth his sins and turneth to virtue. And this understanding is of grace. When then a poor man feels a thorough disgust at all sins, he thereby has a divine light, showing him all sins,—and not only sins, but also the causes of sins,—and not only gross sins, but also spiritual and intellectual sins,—which occur in the reason and in the will. And a man must have very much light who understandeth all sins; and this knowledge can no one have save a singly and purely poor man, who stands there in denial of himself and of all things. He alone understandeth perfectly all sins, whether spiritual or bodily. For this reason is perfection placed in poverty, for in poverty alone is all truth understood, all good, all evil, without any doubt. In thorough poverty no one can be deceived, for deception is in a manner a cleaving to and taking possession, whether it be of a spiritual or temporal 52good, or what seemeth a good. And it is in this point that we are liable to be deceived; but in true detachment and in genuine self-denial, and in essential truth, no one can be really deceived. When then a poor man hath given himself up to God, and has thoroughly denied himself, and he doth not take truth according to appearance, or show, or splendour, but in its essence, which is undisguisedly God or godlike, without all this or that (appendages), in this state he cannot be deceived, either in himself or in other men. A teacher saith, “That all men can be deceived, except he alone cannot be deceived in whom the heavenly Father begetteth His eternal Word.” And this is only in the man who has given himself up entirely to God, and is thoroughly self-denying, and has gone out entirely from himself, and who has taken the being of things according to their essence and not according to appearance. And no deception can be hid in this, all is manifest, so that the man knows what is evil; and in this state he leaveth the evil and chooseth the good.
This also is of grace, that man recognises what injury lies in sin. Such injury lies in it that no one can speak of it; for it robs man of all good, not only of natural good, but also of spiritual good. For sin degrades nature from its nobility and debases it to the ignoble, which all creatures hate; nay, even the devil 53hates it, and yet he can never be clear of it, and that is his hell. People say it is human to sin but it is not human, but devilish; for sin maketh of man a devil. For those who live conscious of it, in mortal sin, these are not men but devils, and are even more wicked than devils. For if the devil could come back he would not remain in sins; but these men, though they came back, they would do the same evil, therefore are they worse than devils. An inclination to sin is indeed human,5151 C. Schmidt (Tauler, p. 103) finds in the doctrine developed here, a departure from the strict Augustinian view, according to which he affirms that sins are the unavoidable consequence of an eternal predestination:—“Works that come to pass slavishly in the service of Satan” (p. 106), as if St. Augustine and Calvin were identical. Schmidt continues “that Tauler in this book says that we sin, not from necessity, but always only from free will; that the sin of man is against nature,” &c. (104). Compare also Bohringer, Deutsche Mystiker, p. 81. An opposite view is taken by J. Ernst, Die werke und Tugenden der ungläubigen nach St. Augustin, Freiburg 1871. for man has this from Adam’s fall. But his actual sinning he does from an evil will, and is not from nature, for it is rather against nature. For nature is destroyed thereby, and degraded from its nobility. Whosoever wishes to come to a proper nature, must do it through virtues, and not through vices. For nature desires good and not evil, and whenever evil happens, it is a suffering to nature. In fact, nature is created for good and not for evil, and therefore it hateth all evil. As now sin is evil, sin is hated by nature. That men should love sin is not of nature, but it is of devilish wickedness, and it is worse than the devil. For the devil hateth sin naturally, and yet the fact of his loving it unnaturally, this maketh him a devil. Sin does alike; it maketh all who love it into devils.
Several persons blame nature sorely, and these do not know what nature is; for nature 54is noble, and does what is right. Men should blame evil and not nature; for God loveth human nature so dearly, that He hath created all things for its service, and hath suffered even death in human nature, as in His death human nature is raised above the angels. Mention is made of natural men as if they were hurtful men, but I say that a thoroughly natural man is a pure man; for everything is to be taken according to its best. Now nature is good; but what is good is also pure, and is without any sinful accident. Thus, then, when a man stands in his genuine natural nobility, he is without any sinful accident, and that which is without any sinful accident is pure. Hence finally a thoroughly natural man is a pure man. That which maketh nature impure is a faulty accident of nature, and is not the essence of nature. Now just as accidental virtue regulates nature and leads to its true source and to its genuine essence, so in like manner vice destroyeth nature, and displaces it from its source, so that it never cometh to its true essence. And it is much more according to nature to work virtue than vice; for virtue places nature firmly and supports it, while vice displaces it.
And this is found in the heathen, who, prompted by genuine nature, left vice and worked virtue. For they knew from nature that vice keeps man from happiness; as Seneca said: “Even if it were true that the 55gods did not know my sins, and did not avenge them on me, I would still leave sin and the soiling of sin.”5252 Si scirem deos ignoscituros et homines ignoscituros, adhuc peccare dedignarer. But where natural men are to be blamed, is where they keep to themselves selfishly, and possess themselves in their own property and ease. And these are very hurtful men, for they change their human nature into a devilish nature. Lucifer, when he stood in his natural nobility when God had created him, was a pure, noble creature. But when he kept to self, and possessed himself as a property with his natural nobility, he fell, and became instead of an angel a devil. So also is it with man. If he cometh to the summit of his nature and stands empty of all accidents, his nature is very noble. But if he remaineth in himself and possesseth himself of his natural nobility as a property, he falleth, and becomes instead of a man a devil. And therefore is sin wicked, as it maketh out of an angel a devil, and maketh a man devilish.
If those who lived in sin only knew in what good they are wanting, yea, even natural good, they would suffer the greatest pain to be inflicted on them before they would commit a mortal sin. For sin is so bad that it robbeth man of all good. They who live in riches and in sin fancy it is right well with them, but they know not what woe it is to them. The devil prompts to the sins, and especially those of unchastity; but when you are unchaste, he 56flieth and will not have seen it, through the thorough wickedness and soiling there is in it. For though he is the root of all wickedness, yet for its very uncleanness he hateth this sin naturally. Therefore it is a great gain to know the injury of sin. Now no one can properly know this injury, save those who have been in sins, and have left sins and have come to grace; for it would be a torment of hell for them to fall in sins again. For they have more delight and joy in one day than all sinners have ever gained. Their labour is pleasanter than the rest of a sinner, who can really have none; they labour always and rest never, and yet their labour is unfruitful. But good men rest alway; not that they sit idly, but their labour is rest. For “they have in all things rest,” as Solomon saith.5353 In the margin Solomon. Compare Eccl. xxiv. 11. But the sinner hath disquiet, unrest, in all things. Let him eat, or drink, or sleep, or wake, all is painful; let him do what he will, his heart will never be joyful. He showeth indeed a certain joy outwardly, so that people might fancy he were cheerful. But no joy is there; for the ground of joy, out of which joy springeth, is broken up, and he can have no joy. He indulges himself sometime, but that doeth also a dog.
This is also of grace, that a man know each sin, according to its degree. One is called a fault, and another a debt, and another a sin, 57and one kind is called a venial sin and another a mortal sin, and one a capital sin, and another a sin against God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.
In the first place, it is a fault for a man to know the good and for him to adhere negligently to what is less good; as when a man has a useless thought, or speaketh a useless word, or doeth a useless work, though he knows well there is a better one, and he doth not attend to it; now this is a fault.
Again, it is a debt, a measure of guilt, if you dwell with pleasure on a thing that is bad; as when an evil thought occurs to a man and he lingers on it rather too long and with pleasure. This pleasure is guilty, and he must suffer pain for it. Further, if he speaketh voluptuously improper words, and doeth works of this kind, this is guilt.
In the third place, it is a sin if we do consciously a thing that is bad; as uttering a lie, which yet doth not injure any one; this is venial sin; or uttering abandoned words and indulging in abandoned gestures, so that people are rendered angry by it.58
Fourthly, it is a mortal sin, if man with evil and obstinate will doeth that which is forbidden; as he, for example, who breaketh the ten commandments, in which the seven deadly sins are forbidden. Thus, in the first commandment, “Thou shalt believe in the Lord thy God,” which condemns unbelief, for unbelief is a mortal sin. Then, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, and thy neighbour; “in this envy and hatred are condemned. “Thou shalt observe high days and holidays; “in this indolence is condemned. “Thou shalt not covet any man’s wife,” in which unchastity is condemned. “Thou shalt not covet any man’s property,” in which greed and avarice are condemned. “Thou shalt not worship idols,” where gluttony is chastised. “Thou shalt not kill any man,” where anger is proscribed.5454 Deut. v. 6, 21. Furthermore, to break maliciously the commands which Holy Christianity hath set up, is also a mortal sin.
Fifthly, it is a capital sin if you do what is unnatural and inhuman—as to kill, rob, and burn father and mother, and other sins that are against nature.59
Sixthly, you sin in God; and first, in God the Father. This occurs if a man is tempted, and in the resistance he is so rigid that he sinneth through sickness. This sin is in the Father. Again, a man sinneth in the Son, when a man sinneth unwittingly. Thirdly, you sin in the Holy Ghost, in five ways. First, if a man sinneth against God’s mercy; again, if a man having sinned, despairs in God’s compassion; thirdly, if a man entirely resists the counsel of the Holy Ghost, and destroyeth it in himself; fourthly, if a man attributes to himself the good that he hath from God, whether spiritual or bodily, and thinketh he hath it from his own worthiness, and doth not thank God for His goodness as he ought; fifthly, when the Holy Ghost wishes to do His work and man turneth away from Him, and will not make place for Him, and cumbers his heart about other things that are against God, and driveth out the Holy Ghost. And this is meant by sinning in the Holy Ghost, and is scarcely forgiven.
It is therefore a great grace that man may know each sin, in its degree; for when he knows it, he can more easily guard against it and keep himself pure. Since, then, a poor man is full of grace, he has the light of grace, which shows him all faults, so that he can well guard himself against all defects, and 60thus he remains pure; and therefore is poverty a pure working, for no impurity can hide itself in it.
It is also of grace that a man knoweth the distinction of spirits. There are four kinds of spirits that speak in man, and he must have very much light who wisheth to know them.
First, the evil spirit speaketh in man, and his speaking is in one direction to sin, and in another direction to virtue; the third way is to perfection.
First, he adviseth sins. That is, if a man finds himself inclined to bodily pleasure, he presenteth to his mind the sin with great sweetness and voluptuousness, so that the man thinketh that great delight and joy lie in the sin. And the body is inclined to luxury, and if the spirit inclineth to the body and the body to luxury, the man cometh to his fall and falleth into mortal sin; but if the spirit turneth from the body and the body remaineth in its inclination, and yet the spirit will not concede it to do any deadly sin, then the evil spirit counselleth the man 61to great venial sins, and thus he falleth into daily venial sins. But if it come to pass that the spirit of a man turneth from the body and the body wisheth to follow the spirit and do no sin, either mortal or venial, then the evil spirit attacketh the man in his belief; and thus it must happen that a man should have fighting and spiritual combat.
If, in this condition, a man resist sturdily and invoketh God that He may help him to overcome the evil spirit, if he should then overcome the evil, this spirit of iniquity maketh himself like unto a good angel and counselleth to the man virtue. But this virtue ib above the power of nature, and the evil one overdoeth this in order to destroy nature, and that man should come into a state of sickness, so as to lose his senses. For the virtue which the evil one counselleth is irregular and without measure; and the end of the virtue is evil, for it teacheth not the mean and stretcheth over it to grasp the end.5555 “Irregular and without measure.” Here, according to Denifle, we have only the Aristotelian-Thomistic conception of virtue: Nic. Eth. 1106. b. 36: “Ἔστιν ἄρα ἡ ἁρετὴ ἔξις προαιρετική ἐν μεσότητι οῦσα τῆ προς ἠμᾶς ὠρισμενη λόγῳ καὶ ὡς ἄν ὁ φρόνιμος ὁρισειεν μεσότης δἐ δύο κακιῶν τῆς μὲν καθ᾽ ὐπερβολὴν τῆς δέ κατ᾽ ἑλλειψιν. St. Thom. I. 2. qu. 64. a. I. 2. For example, fasting and watching without measure, and other such severe exercises, which result in a man getting ill, all this is neither useful to God nor to himself, nor any one, and has for its result that he must intermit in the performance of many good works. And this is what the evil one proposeth by his counsel, that a man should utterly perish.62
But in case a man entereth into himself and vieweth each virtue in its proper measure and worketh virtue according to it, he beginneth to go into perfection. And when man thus goeth from virtues to virtues he is purified from all faults; for the virtues purify a man. And in purity springeth up a light, and the light enlightened man in. distinguishing manifold truths; and in this distinction the evil one plunges to deceive him. For when man understandeth much truth, he cometh at last to a truth that he cannot well understand, and he would gladly understand it, and yet he is not able to understand it. Then cometh the evil spirit and presenteth a false image to him, and this image is against faith. Now if it happen that the man takes this image for a truth, as often occurreth, he is deceived by the evil spirit, and he maketh in that case a spiritual fall, which is very hurtful, for he knoweth it not; and if man is to be warned against this, it must come to pass through God without any other mediation.
If now man hath been warned by God, so that it is given to him to know that the image is false, he then turneth away and perceiveth what is best and cleaveth to it. And thus when the man stands in perfection, so that he taketh all to be good that God willeth 63to have from him, then the evil one cometh again and works up pride in him, and makes the man think that all other men err and go astray, and that he alone liveth to the truth and understands it. If now man should resist this and overcome the evil one, and perceive what he is in himself, and that he is capable of nothing good without God, then he giveth to God the honour, and maketh himself poor, or empty of all truth.
And with poverty he cometh to the ground and foundation of humility, and then the evil spirit can do him no harm, for he cannot come to him on the ground of humility, and therefore he cannot injure him. For true humility is a firm fastness which no one can capture; men attack it indeed and seek to storm it, but it is not to be taken. So also is it with true humility; in it man cannot be overcome. The evil spirit attacks him indeed in many ways, but he cannot injure the man of true humility. But if man stands on any other ground than true humility and detachment and poverty then the evil spirit can injure him, and can cast down his house, for the foundations are not laid deep enough. But true humility hath deep foundations, on which stands firm all that is built upon them; and without humility every building must fall. Then whoso wisheth to conquer the evil spirit let him place himself on the ground of humility, 64where no one can do him any harm. But now true poverty is true humility, and therefore you can do no harm to a poor man. He may be helped indeed, but he cannot be injured. For all things further him to God, yea, the evil spirit himself is even of use and no injury to him, as St. Paul saith, that he wrestled with him and tempted him grievously,5656 2 Cor. xii. 7; Eph. vi. 12. and the temptation placed him in true humility, as he himself said, “Strength is made perfect in weakness.”5757 2 Cor. xii. 9. Virtus in infirmitate perficitur.
The other spirit that speaketh in man is natural, and its speech is in images and forms, and thereby he seeketh the distinction of created things. And if man’s spirit understands all created things, and he is empty of all accidental faults, he is in the highest nobility of mere nature. But if he keeps to himself, and considereth his nobility with satisfaction in himself, he cannot remain in the highest nobility of his nature, and falls into an ignoble state, and clothes himself with mortality and with manifold defects, for no nature can subsist long without accidents, whether these be from sin or grace. But if it come to pass that when the natural spirit hath attained the highest summit of its nature, it should then turn of itself to God, and contemplate the nobleness of God, then the natural nobility of this man is clothed upon with 65the divine nobility, and his nature is united to the divine nature, his nature becometh immortal and light and life and truth flow into him, and these God begetteth in him alway.
When the spirit of Adam stood on the highest summit of his nature he understood all created things, and that was his delight. And so is it still: when the spirit of man is stripped of faulty accidents, he understandeth much natural truth, and the truth begetteth much delight in him. And delight is of nature, whereas man fancies often it is of grace. Thus nature is often taken for grace. Now just as to the spirit, which is raised above itself and above all things in God, divine light and life and truth flow into it, so also flow into the natural spirit, that standeth on its mere nature, natural and supernatural truth.
It may be asked, What distinction is there between natural truth and divine truth? Natural truth consists in this, that a man knoweth the distinction of manifold things in such wise that the understanding creates images of each and every thing, which images approach most nearly to the truth, and that it understands each thing from its image or representation. Now, if the images are evil they are. from the evil spirit; if they are 66neither good nor evil they are from nature; if they are good, then are they from the angels. Again, these images are evil if they be turned to sins or to the source of sin. They are neither good nor bad, if they do not procure man eternal happiness, and if they are turned to the mere work of knowing everything generally; by this knowledge a man is not blessed or saved, but by knowing God, which is eternal life. Hence this knowledge is not to be called good, as it doth not obtain eternal life for man; nor is it evil, as sin is not committed with it. But these images of the understanding are good when they direct man to virtue, for by them life everlasting is obtained. Thus we see. that natural knowledge consisteth in the distinction of manifold things, that are neither good nor evil. But divine truth is a pure distinction of things everlasting, which man recognises in himself without all images, that is, by an internal consciousness and feeling showing him what God and creatures are, time and eternity, sin and virtue, manifold and simple, useful and hurtful, evil and good. It may be asked, “Can this be known without images?” I answer, Yes, in the truth; those men who are internally touched by God, these know all without natural images, for the truth reveals itself to them, without all images, in a pure consciousness. For the man who hath left creatures and turned himself to God, he findeth in himself, without all intervening images, the sweetness of God and the bitterness of 67creatures. It is not necessary to say anything to him in images or in manifold forms, for the divine image and the divine, simple form inform him, and open up to him all things. And this knowledge is in unity and not in the manifold, therefore it is called divine, for it is like unto God. And as God understandeth all things in Himself without all created images, in a simple survey or insight in Himself, so also a divine man understandeth all things in God by a pure indwelling in God. For whoso understandeth God understandeth all things. And to understand is nothing else than that man understands the work of God and its fruit. And by this work and fruit which man finds in Him he values and examines all other works and fruits that are not from God. For God’s work is delightful, and its fruit is sweet, but the work of creatures is without delight, unpleasant, and its fruit is bitter. Just as with a man who eateth a sweet and a sour apple; after doing so he knoweth the sweet from the sour. So also is it when man tasteth God, after which he recognises that all other things are bitter, and he values them accordingly. As Christ saith, “By their fruit ye shall know them” (Matt. vii. 44). And this is the distinction between natural and divine truth.
And as the natural spirit taketh its object in images and forms that are created, when 68a poor man is empty of all fallible accident he has no impediment in his natural perception. For all that hindereth a man in understanding, whether natural or divine, is a fallible accident, and when a man is empty of this he hath a pure understanding of all truths, whether natural or divine, and from this position he can take out the best in each.
An objection might be made that there are many pure poor men who yet do not understand or find such truth. I say that where there is a pure poor man all truth is opened up in the interior of his soul. And if he doth not understand the truth in images and forms yet he understandeth it in its essence. And if he doth not find the truth in the powers or forces (of nature) he yet findeth it in essence.
The third spirit that speaketh to a man is the angel, and his speaking is for virtue, which leadeth the man to God. The highest angel draws his image from God; this image is multiplied in him, and he giveth it over to a second angel; this one again giveth it to the lowest angel, and this lowest angel at length giveth it to the soul, which obtains thereby the power of distinguishing how she has to seize and hold the truth, and how she shall practise each virtue in proper order and measure, 69and according to necessity. And this clear distinction which man obtains is given him by the angel, who also lets him see crime, that he may guard against it. When man knoweth crime he also knoweth virtue, just as through the colour black you can recognise white. And if man denies crime he draweth nigh unto virtue, but if he departs from virtue crime returneth to him; and the man who turneth away from virtue must of necessity arrive at all crimes.
Some one might now say, If a man feeleth remorse at his sins God forgiveth him, so that he hath no more sins upon him, and yet he doth not possess all virtues. To this I answer, that a true repentance includes in itself the forgiveness of sins and the gaining of all virtues. And if virtue be lacking to the man in fact, yet must he have it at least in the will, and if sin is not to find any place in him he must carry out his will in works, as far as this is possible. And through the firm will that man hath, no more to sin and to obtain all virtue, God forgiveth him his sins. But he must overcome every crime by a special virtue, for the root of sins must be extirpated by virtues. But if the man be empty of virtues and of good works, then within him there still abide the roots and the impulse to sin, and if he be attacked he falleth easily. Just as the tree that hath not deep roots falleth 70easily if the wind sweeps violently against it; so man, if he wish to stand firm and not to fall, must let the virtues strike deep roots in his heart. He must therefore have all virtues if he will not fall. Virtue guardeth a man from sin; if he is empty of virtues he hath also no support, and crime taketh up a place in him.
It may be objected; if a man hath a right repentance of his sins God forgiveth them him, so that he immediately hath no more sins upon him? To this I say, this is done by a true repentance; but there are many men who guard themselves against sin, but yet have not all virtue. I say also that a true, downright avoiding of all sins is a true possession of all virtue. If also some men guard themselves against sin, yet by no means possess virtue, they only guard against it outwardly in their works, and they often do this on account of disgrace, as they are afraid of dishonour before the world; but they do it not for the sake of God, and do not inwardly avoid sin. If also they avoid mortal sins in their works and will, they do so from fear of hell; but they do not avoid venial sins, for they commit these very often; thus sin is not avoided in the right way. If these men, while guarding against sins, be they mortal or venial, do not at the same time possess all virtue, being aware of this, it must needs 71be that, though unconsciously, they commit many sins. Anil in this case this unconsciousness itself is a sin. And in sooth a man who wisheth to guard himself against sins must have all virtue; therefore the angel counselleth also to man virtue, that he may be free from vice. The more a man recognises virtue in himself the freer he seeth himself from vice, and he who cannot find any virtue in himself, let him know that he is full of vices.
But it might be urged: a child is pure and without any sins, and yet he doth not possess all virtue. I reply against this, that a child possesseth purity in the lowest degree, which is a mere necessity or necessary first condition for heaven. Therefore the child hath virtue also only in the lowest degree. As it possesseth purity only in an unmerited way, so also hath it virtue without merit, and all its virtues are imperfect, for both qualities may come to naught. It is therefore certain, that true purity is a vessel full of all virtues, and just as much as a man faileth in virtue, he faileth also in purity; therefore the absence of all sins is the possession of all virtues.
Thus the angel persuadeth the soul to virtue, and determines her to fly from vice. 72His speech is also in images and forms, but his images are useful and good; they lead man along the path of truth, and without these images no one can practise genuine virtue. If a man needeth these images he should not avoid them, for if he were to reject them he would lack the order of virtuous exercises, and he could scarcely carry into effect a good work in proper order and with discretion. These images come from grace, and do not hinder a man from what is best but further him to it. Just as a man, who seeth clearly, leadeth a blind man, so that he fall not into a ditch, in like manner images lead man, so that he lapse in no sin; and he who hath most ideas or images in himself, can best keep himself in proper order, both outwardly and inwardly. Some avoid images but know not what they avoid, and God often imparteth to them the grace to deny them to themselves. But these that help a man to divine truth, we ought gladly to receive.
There is a great difference between natural, angelic, and devilish images. The natural images direct man to the preservation of nature, they refer all things to man’s nature, and all men have these images. Every man is by nature more directed to himself than to others; and what man loves in nature, he loves on account of himself, from the pleasure it giveth his nature, and were it not agreeable 73to it, he would never love it. The angelic images lead man from himself and all things to God, refer all to God, and few have such images, save a perfect, poor man. For the most of men are more considerate of themselves than of others, whether in spiritual or bodily things; for every man seeketh his own.
People inquire further, if perhaps a poor man have too many natural images in himself. I maintain that a truly poor man is free from all natural images, for he is stationed in a perfect denial of himself and of all things, and therefore the images that are in a poor man proceed from the angel and not from nature, for he refers nothing to himself but all things to God. A poor man hath indeed also more knowledge than another; but he directeth his knowledge to virtue, and thus it is not hurtful but useful. They who have principally natural images in themselves are also mostly thoughtful of themselves and cleave too much to temporal things, for temporal things are to them a maintenance of their nature; now those who are most thoughtful about maintaining temporal things and their nature, are the most natural or immersed in nature, and have mostly natural images in themselves. They are too natural, because they cleave too much to bodily things, and wish thereby to attain to the best. They 74wish to have temporal and eternal things at the same time, which however is impossible, for two things, that are unequal, cannot subsist in the same being. They wish indeed to be poor in spirit, but yet to be rich in the body; they wish to eat the pure grain, before they have removed the husk; they wish to have God and the creature at the same time. And such men are natural and have the greatest number of natural images in themselves. Now these are not natural, spiritual images, but bodily, but for that reason they are more defective than if they were spiritual. But a truly poor man surrenders temporal and eternal things, outwardly and inwardly; therefore his images are not natural but angelic; and as the man with his image is only directed to the holiest will of God, his image is also like unto that of the angel, that is, it is angelic and not natural.
But how doth it come to pass that natural images are often like unto angelic images; for a man thus frequently taketh a natural to be an angelic image? The likeness is in the forms; they have both a like form in a spiritual way; they are, however, very unlike in their aim. Natural images are directed to nature, and such images hath nature since the fall of Adam; but the image of the angel is directed away from nature to God, and we have this image from Christ. Before Christ 75every one was thoughtful about his own selfhood (Ego), and every one wished only to possess, no one wished to be poor, all strained after riches. But when Christ came, He brought the angelic image with Himself, which we had lost since the fall of Adam. This is the true poverty, both outwardly and inwardly, in which the angelic image lieth, which Christ hath brought with Him. No one, therefore, is free from this natural image which we have from Adam, except a truly poor man, who is free both outwardly and inwardly from all temporal things, and who followeth the image of Christ by a genuine poor life. He hath the image of the angel, for he standeth in true denial of himself and of all things, therefore is he like unto the angels and not to Adam. Whosoever abideth with external accidents, he is like unto Adam, but whoso entereth with self-complacency only into himself, he is like unto Lucifer. For Lucifer sinned spiritually but Adam only bodily, therefore also his fall was greater than that of Adam. In like manner the fall of him, who refers all only to himself (his Ego), is greater than his, who cleaveth outwardly to accidents. But the men who are empty, outwardly and inwardly, are like unto Christ according to the angelic image, which Christ hath brought to us from heaven. When nature is blamed, this is because of its likeness with Adam and Lucifer, but when it is praised, this is because of its likeness with the angelic. Therefore nature itself is quite noble, and 76such a nature is quite adapted to a truly poor man. Thus is the distinction between natural and angelic images to be understood. Natural images are directed to the delight of nature, but the angelic lead from the delight of nature to God and virtue.
But the devilish images have a likeness with the natural and the angelic. If man directs the images to his own nature, and seeketh delight thereby, then cometh the devil, and presenteth a sensual object to man, that promiseth great delight. If now the man should follow this, and seek delight, the natural is then turned into a devilish image. But if man turneth away from them, and remaineth in an abandonment of all delight of nature, then this his image becometh angelic. But the evil spirit forms himself like unto this image and counselleth to man abandonment of all natural lust; but his counsel surpasseth the forces of nature, and he doeth it to this end, that these may come to nought and destroy themselves. It is in this wise that an image of the devil hath a likeness with the natural and angelic images.
But when a poor man hath denied all bodily lust and delight, and holdeth all 77things in proper order, neither natural nor devilish images have place with him. They may doubtless occur to him, but he doth not tarry with them, but holdeth on only to those of the angel, which lead him through the virtues to God.
Some one might here say, “A man truly poor in spirit is raised above all creatures in God, whether they be angels, or whatever creatures they may be. If now a man be raised above them, he is then also raised above their images; how can he then abide by the images of the angel or of another creature?” To this I make answer, that the elevation of a poor man is to be taken according to the highest forces of the soul, according to the likeness of God, which is stamped upon the soul. Thereby is the poor man raised above all creatures and their images, whatever the creatures may be. But according to his lowest powers, man must have images, to the end that he may order things according to measure. These images must be angelic, in order that he be able to accomplish all things orderly. When it is said that man must be emptied of all images, this is to be understood according to the highest power of his spirit; but this cannot be in the lowest powers of the soul; these must have either good or bad images. And if a man wisheth to practise his work in images, after the likeness 78of the angelic, that is, in entire abandonment, the work is then perfect and ordered as the best. But if man accomplishes the work so that he is truly emptied of all personality in all works, he must also be free from this image, whether it be angelic or natural, and must leave God alone to work without any images. God worketh not in images, but in essence, therefore He also must be free from nil images.
Lastly, the fourth spirit that speaketh in man is .the Divine Spirit, and its speech is nothing else than a real revelation of divine truth. By it man is raised out of sensuality above all images and forces, and attaineth unto the divine essence. Now, the spirit knoweth its nobility, and its nobility is now compassed around with the godlike. By this entrance the spirit is united with the Divine Spirit, as St. Paul saith, “Whoso cleaveth to God becometh one spirit with Him” (1 Cor. vi. 17). But this cleaving is nothing else than that the spirit goeth out of itself, out of time, and entereth into a pure nothingness. And that which is and forms his being is the divine, likeness, which abideth in man and can never be destroyed. This likeness God taketh and uniteth it with Himself, and thus the spirit of man becometh one spirit with God according to the divine likeness. Man’s spirit is also one spirit with God, when he worketh 79and bringeth forth all in essence that God worketh. But what doth God work and beget? God hath begotten all things out of love, and because God begat them were they also good. Thus also the spirit ought to work all things from pure love, and what it thus produceth is also good and is the work of God. In the divine love all things are good, as St. Augustine saith, “Have divine charity, and do all things.”5858 The noted “Ama et fac quod vis.”
The Spirit of God speaketh in man that man may speak again all things through the Divine Spirit in God. But the spirit speaketh again all in God, when it purposes in all its works the honour of God, and when, whatever happens or clashes with him, he remains always pure, and never holdeth on to any accident, if thus he always finds himself in a pure state to receive God, and listeneth to Him whenever God willeth to speak to him. In thus hearing he giveth back all to God again, and this hearing is so joyful and delightful for him, that he setteth aside all things, and listeneth only to His words. This hearing is also called giving back all things to God, and thus the spirit speaketh back again all things in God. Thus man becometh one thing with God when he giveth back all things to God as God had given them to him, and by this return he maketh himself the 80friend of God. But where there is friendship there is union; for “a friend is another myself,” as Aristotle saith,5959 In the margin stands Aristoteles. Comp. Nic. Eth. 1166. a. 31. “Ἔστι γὰρ ὁ φίλος ἀλλος αὐτός. and the spirit is united with God when it hath obtained God as its friend. Jesus said also to His disciples: “Now call I you no longer servants, but friends” (John xv. 15). He used this term “Now “when they had left all things to follow Him; now were they no longer servants, but friends. Therefore whosoever wisheth to be a true friend of God must leave all things and follow God; but he who is attached to things and doth not follow God, he is not a friend, but a servant. And he who is not a friend is also not one spirit with God, for friendship worketh union, and not servitude.
What doth a friend furnish? Three things. First, likeness, for “like cherisheth like.” God is empty of all temporal things; now, he who wisheth to be like unto Him must dispense with all that is temporal, and thus can he become like unto Him. Where likeness prevails there is also friendship; where friendship prevails there also doth union. God is the giver of all gifts, therefore man must give back all gifts to God. God loveth all virtue, therefore man must love and practise all virtue.81
Secondly, the same willing and not willing maketh a friend. As Aristotle saith, “True friends have the same willing and not willing.”6060 In the margin of the MS. stands Aristotle. Allusion is made in this passage to the ὁμόνοια in Nic. Eth. 1167. 6, which receives a much fuller treatment by Eudaemus in his Ethics, 1241. 7. Therefore whoso wisheth to be the friend of God must will what He willeth, and hate what God hateth. But what doth God will? God willeth that man should be holy. As St. Paul saith, “God’s will is our sanctification” (1 Thess. iv. 3). Man must also will this. What, then, is holiness? To be holy is to be free of the earthly; therefore he who wisheth to be holy must be emptied of all earthly things. This is the will of God, and man must also will this, if he will be a true friend (of God).
Some men indeed often say, If I only knew what is the dearest will of God I would gladly do it. But they speak very much untruth, for they know it full well, but do it not. Christ hath often announced to us the will of God, and whoso followeth His teaching fulfilleth the dearest will of God. He hath also taught us that we should leave all things and follow Him. In so far as we do this we follow His will, and as oft as we omit it we say an untruth when we give out that we live according to His will.6161 This passage signifies, that we will follow His will and live. The negation makes the sense obscure; nor is it found in Sudermann. Whoso wisheth to fulfil the will of God, he must live according to His 82teaching. But His teaching is no other than that we should give all to the poor if we anyhow wish to come to a perfect life, as in this consists the will of God.
But some one might now say, But do I know that God willeth exactly that of me? Yes, God willeth it, but do thou see and observe if thou art willing to have it! God will give thee all gifts, but what wiliest thou to accept from Him? If any of His gifts is despised, the fault lieth only in thee. But thou wilt perhaps say, God hath certainly ordained all things; therefore perhaps He hath put me in a condition that I should contract marriage, and have children, for whom I must procure temporal goods, that they may not suffer necessity. God hath ordained all things for the best, and if it be otherwise, it is no longer the order of God; man often ordereth it for himself, and then considers it still to be God’s decree. Perhaps you continue: Well, but granted that I hold it to be God’s will and order that I should come to perfection, perhaps I am not meet for it, to find myself well in it, as a purely poor life, and this perfection, are not intended for me, and I am not equal to act in what doth not belong to me, as a sick man is not fitted to cope in fight with a strong man. But I say the best belongeth to every man, and God will give it us if thou wilt take it, and it we 83are not worthy, we ought to strive to become worthy. Thus if we stand in the high place of life, we should make ourselves humble, and thus seize on lowliness in highness. But if we do not find it easy to attain to this, we should strive after all the ways that lead to it. If we are too weak and sick, we should call on God to help us, unite our weakness with His strength, and then what we cannot do. He fulfilleth in us. That is therefore the will of God, that we should thus hold His teaching; this also must be thy will, it thou wishest to be a friend of God and one spirit with God. If now a poor man hold the teaching of our Lord, and live after it, he then fulfilleth the dearest will of God; this maketh of him a true friend of God and one spirit with God.
The man who wisheth to be a friend of God, he must also hate what his Friend hateth. But what doth God hate in us? Sin, and this must we hate if we wish to be the friends of God. But it might be now insinuated: God is Love; this is not accidental but essential, therefore no accident can enter into God. But to hate is an accident; how then can a man say that God hatelh sin? This is to be understood in the following way. God is a pure being, unified in Himself with essential love, and no accident is possible with Him. God hath also made man alter His image, as 84St. Austin saith, “Lord, Thou hast made us after Thy likeness, and my heart is in unrest till it resteth in Thee.” If now man is laden with faulty accidents, he cannot come to God. That man in this way turneth away from God is what rouseth His wrath, but not in God as in man, but only anger or displeasure that the image which He hath stamped upon the soul and created after His likeness, is now moved away from Him, and not formed out as He wished. It is the disorder that man stirs up against God’s order that causeth His wrath, but not a wrath from accident or hatred, but it is His divine justice which is not shut out by His love. For real hatred is only in man and not in God, and God willeth it not Therefore the man who wisheth to be God’s friend must also not will what God willeth not. This is faulty accident from which man ought to be free, if he wisheth to be a friend of God and one spirit with God. If, then, a poor man is free from all faulty accidents, he is this in fact.
Thirdly, gifts procure a friend, as a teacher saith, “Giving maketh a man well-pleasing to God,” and Christ saith, “Give alms, and behold all things are pure to you” (Luke xi. 41). Purity is likeness to God, and where God findeth His like, there must He also love, therefore giving maketh man a friend of God.85
But what gifts will God have from men that can make him a friend? The noblest gift which man can give is this, that he give himself; and with himself he giveth God all things, for man is himself all things, therefore lie need give nothing more than himself, as David also saith (Ps. xliv. 8), “I blame thee not because of thy offerings, for I eat no flesh; if I am hungry I say it not to thee. Give God the praise and the desire, this offering God willeth to have from thee.”6262 Psalm xlix. 8 in the Vulgate. In the older English version of James I., 1. 8: I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices; 13. Will I eat flesh of bulls? 14. Offer unto God thanksgiving, and pay thy vows unto the Most High. (Ps. 1. 8, 12-14). The same thing is described by God of thee in the words of Solomon, who saith, “My son, give me thy heart” (Prov. xxiii. 26).
If then the greatest offering consisteth in this, that man offer himself, of what use is it, people may say, that man should give other things for the sake of God? The use is threefold.
First, man is created for time and for eternity. But time and eternity cannot be united or made one. Whoso, therefore, wisheth to possess eternity must put aside time and all temporals. Therefore it is needful that the man who holdeth many temporal things, so part with them to others for the 86sake of God, in order that he may not immerse himself in them, for were this the case, he would go away from the eternal; it is only by going out and away from temporal things there is an entrance into the eternal. You ought to be free also from temporal things, because very many accidents adhere to them. Therefore he who wisheth to be free from all faulty adherence must be freed from the love of temporal things. The man who is too much laden with the temporal can never arrive at true peace of heart. Time itself is fluctuating, therefore he cannot obtain peace who has an influence from time and temporal things. Further, man must be free from temporals, as the temporal hindereth man in the knowledge of the truth, and the fire of divine love is extinguished, as St. Austin saith, “These things we ought to value freely as a poison, which killeth not only the reason of man, but his soul, if he practises them and gives himself up to them.” Another teacher saith, “Just as impossible as to kindle fire in water is it for the heart of man to be enkindled with divine love in bodily delights.”
Secondly, the giving away of temporal things is useful, as Christ Himself hath taught it with the words, “Give alms, and behold all things are pure to you” (Luke xi. 41). A man may have made himself impure in manifold ways by the use of temporal things. If, 87now, he wish to purify himself from them, this must take place by his denying himself temporal things. Through the lack of temporal things the wounds are healed which man hath inflicted on himself by the possession of them; as a teacher saith, “I know nothing more useful to heal the wounds of the sinner than that the man should give alms out of love.” It is also a commandment that a man should help another in his necessity, wherefore Jesus also said, “All that ye wish that others should do to you, that do ye to another, that the old and new covenant may be fulfilled” (Matt. vii. 12).
From temporal things we should also depart, if divine love demands it; as St. John saith, “Whoso hath temporal things and seeth his brother suffering necessity, and closeth his heart against him, how can divine love be in such a one?” (1 John iii. 17). Where divine love is, it expresseth itself outwardly; as St. Gregory saith, “Where great love is, it worketh great works, and if it doth not work these, it is no divine love at all.”6363 Nunquam est Dei amor otiosus, operatur etenim magna si est, si vero operari renuit, amor non est. Hom. 20 in Evang. No. 2. A heart full of love and a bag full of gold cannot subsist with one another; for love is a fire by which all that is temporal is consumed; but where true love ruleth, there can only be a free heart, or it maketh it free. Whoso is burthened with temporal things, he showeth that the fire of divine love doth not burn properly in his 88heart. It is the nature of fire that it destroyeth all that it seizeth with its flame. Even so the divine fire destroyeth all things. This fire burnt in St. Paul when he said, “I have reckoned all things as dung.”1
The question might now be put, If it were not possible that the fire of divine love should burn in man and destroy all temporals only inwardly, while the outward man might preserve what is necessary? I answer, If a man keep himself pure, always watcheth his interior, exercise himself with holy contemplations, especially with the contemplation of the Passion of our Lord—for this maketh a man pure—then in his purity cometh up a light which burneth, and this internal burning showeth itself outwardly. If it be great, it consumeth in man all things, outwardly and inwardly; but if it be weak, man doth indeed despise internally these thing6464 Phil. iii. 8. Omnia . . . arbitror ut stercora., but outwardly he retaineth his necessary possessions. But it is of necessity, in order to reach heaven, that a man be empty of all things internally. Now, these people who do this are indeed good men, but not perfect like those in whom the fire of divine love hath consumed all things inwardly and outwardly; these alone stand on the degree of all perfection, of whom the Gospel also speaketh “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. v. 3). Some one 89might here object at my speaking of the fire of love, and giving it strength and weakness, and say it is neither great nor small, for it cannot be divided; and what hath no parts hath also not these qualities, but is a simple being in. itself. The divine fire of love is neither great nor little, hot nor cold, in itself, but it is so in its working, for it worketh in every man according to his power of receiving, according to his earnestness and desire for God. If this earnestness and desire be great, this flame ia also greater; but if his earnestness and desire are small, then the flame also is small. If, now, a man hath a will free from all temporal things, the divine fire cometh and consumeth in him all things, outwardly and inwardly. Speaking of this, St. Paul said, “God is a Fire that consumeth all things” (Heb. xii. 29);6565 Heb. xii. 29. Deus noster ignis consumens est. this fire springeth up in him who willeth to and resign and deny all things. So with him who will not do this, in him nothing is consumed. In fact, if a soul be empty and poor through love, its body must also outwardly be empty and poor, as far as he can strip away from it all save the barest necessity. And even this he must only retain in the mode most despised by the world, namely, in a truly poor life, according to the teaching of Jesus Christ. For the soul commandeth the body, and not the body the soul. To whom orders are given, it behoveth him to be obedient and do the will of his bidder. As a. lord commandeth his servants, and his servants do what he commandeth, and if they do not 90this he dismisseth them, so also is the body the servant of the soul, and what the soul commandeth, that the body ought to do. It now the soul be completely sundered from all temporal things, this same condition she giveth to the body. When a lord getteth into a dispute, his servant must stand by him and help him in the strife. Thus also is it with the soul; while she is in the body she must contend and fight against her foes, and the body must help her, for without the body she could not conquer; and hence she giveth to the body the same weapons that she hath. If she be detached from temporal things, the same thing happens with the body. For if the body wisheth to have reward, it must also work with her, to help her to overcome all things that are not God. Soul and body are only one person, and what the soul receiveth from God she giveth directly to the body; and the same sweetness that the soul feeleth from God the body feeleth from the soul. If, now, the body wisheth to enjoy this blessedness, it must also work with her. If this be the case, and the spirit is emptied in the most perfect manner, the body must also strip itself as far as it is possible.
But St. Paul saith, “The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh” (Gal. v. 17). People will say, Where 91there are unlike desires, there are unlike results. How can man come to this, that the flesh be subject to the spirit? Man is created for time and for eternity for time in his body, for eternity according to his spirit. Everything strives towards its origin; as now the body is made of earth and for time, it inclineth to earthly and temporal things, and seeketh its delight in them; but the spirit has sprung from God and is created for eternity, therefore it inclineth to God and eternity. This contradicting inclination of both formeth this opposite lusting or desire. Soul and body are one; those which are united have mutual faithfulness; thus the soul is devoted to the body and the body to the soul. If now the soul, from blindness of its knowledge, chooseth a sham good for a real good, she turneth to sensuality and the senses turn to this good, which can be seized by them, and choose it, and the soul followeth them. But this arises from ignorance. Yet she findeth no rest in it; she desireth something else but cannot grasp it, as the body hindereth and her knowledge is blinded. Thus the soul followeth and taketh the likeness of the body—that is, mortality—for the body is mortal; she therefore becometh also spiritually dead; she ought to live, but she dieth, as already St. John said, “Thou hast the name that thou livest, but art dead” (Rev. iii. 1). But if the soul cometh to the knowledge of the truth, seeth the true distinction of everything, recognises that all bodily things are passing and faulty, 92but also recognises in the light of faith that she herself is eternal, she is then frightened at all mortality, she turneth from the body to God, from the temporal to the eternal. In this longing for God, the soul draweth the sensual desires up into herself and unites them with herself, so that the senses can desire nothing save what the soul willeth. Now, the body must follow the soul and be subject to it. Whither the soul turneth itself, the body followeth her. What God hath lent her that she imparts to the body, and this is a greater comfort to the body than all that is bodily; this comfort maketh it then so strong that it suffereth all things for the sake of God. When the soul has resigned all bodily things, she desires this also of the body, which, no doubt, according to its nature giveth it woe, and this woe is the striving against the spirit; yet now the body followeth the spirit. Just as the soul followeth the body when she inclineth to it, so also the body followeth the spirit when the spirit inclineth to God. And just as it was contrary to the spirit to incline to the body, and yet she did so in her blindness, so it is also burdensome to the body which yieldeth to the spirit, but yet it doeth it. Lastly, when man’s mind is united with his spirit and the spirit with God, no more combat taketh place, but a pure peace, a single will, as two spouses mutually follow one another, and what one wills the other willeth. This is the holiest will of God, and this they wish both to fulfil, 93and each doeth what it can that the will of God may be fulfilled. This union bringeth to complete resignation, so that each standeth in denial and abandonment, so that the body abandons itself to the spirit and the spirit cleaveth to God. If the body do not abandon all temporals as far as is possible, a real union of body and spirit can never take place, nor of the spirit with God; a real peace could never be, but a perpetual contest and fight. Whoso now wisheth to be a friend that he may be one spirit with God, he must leave all things out of love, and unite his love with God alone; in this manner giving maketh friendship and union.
But it may be said: What doth Christ mean when He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” if you cannot be perfect except you are also poor in body? For He saith Himself, “If thou wilt be perfect, sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor!” (Matt. xix. 21). To this I answer, If two things are united in one you should always look to the best. As now soul and body are one, but the soul is the noblest, happiness should be chosen with the view to the soul, and not on account of the body; for the soul is receptive of happiness and not the body, therefore Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” If He had said, Blessed are the poor in body, a sinner might also be blessed and all rich people would be condemned. Therefore 94blessedness lies situated in poverty of spirit, for no sinner possesseth poverty of spirit; he may have, indeed, poverty of body, but through this poverty he cannot be saved. The man who holdeth his bodily necessity in a right way, can guard himself so well that he may be saved. But this happiness is not in the most perfect degree, such as the beatitude of those who leave all things, outwardly and inwardly, and only follow God. Therefore Jesus also said, “If thou wiliest to be perfect, sell all that thou hast and give it to the poor, and come follow me.” But what doth Christ mean when He saith, “Give it to the poor?” and what doth Peter mean by “We have left all things?” (Matt. xix. 27). Could not then a man leave his things unsold and yet be perfect? This must be understood thus. If a man be rich so that he hath much possession, and selleth it, he ought to distribute it to the poor and not to the rich, for the poor have need of it; and it is a great virtue that he should come to the help of his fellow-men, for the poor cannot give him anything in return and repay him, but God must repay the giver in their stead; but what God giveth him is a perfect gift, and also maketh him perfect. Moreover, rich people do not need this gift, therefore it is no virtue if he giveth to them; for they can give him in return and repay him, and this giving doth not make perfect. What he giveth to rich people, God will not give back to him; therefore Jesus said, “Sell all that thou hast, and give it to the poor.” And what thou 95hast not, this thou must abandon even if thou wouldst have gained it. As St. Peter was poor and had nothing, save what he gained by handiwork, he said, “We have left all” (Matt. xix. 27); and this he was obliged to leave, and could not sell it. Therefore a man who possesseth temporal things ought not to go away arid leave them thus; he ought to sell them and give them away and then follow God, and what he hath not and might perhaps gain he should leave for the sake of God. This consists quite well with perfection.
Secondly, the words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” should be also thus understood. Where there is perfect poverty of spirit there is also poverty of body. The highest contains in itself the lower, and what the highest doeth the lower must also do. Now, if the spirit, which is the highest, is poor, then the body, which is the lower, must also be poor. Just as the servant must do what his lord biddeth, so also the body must do what the soul willeth, and not the soul what the body wishes. Therefore it was not necessary for Christ to say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit and in body,” as poverty of spirit includes poverty of body, for where there is true poverty in the mind, there must also be poverty of body. Thus poverty of spirit consisteth with perfection, which belongeth to a poor life. And whoso accepteth 96poverty of spirit in another sense than that spoken of here, hath it only as far as is necessary for salvation; but for the perfection of which Christ speaketh you must have poverty both of spirit and of body, and otherwise it cannot be.
|« Prev||Secondly, of the work and knowledge of grace.||Next »|
►Proofing disabled for this book
► Printer-friendly version