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In the first place, the teaching and the life of our Lord Jesus Christ impel a man to a poor life.
It might now be said, What is man in his selfhood, that he must deny, if he wisheth to follow after Christ? Man’s selfhood consisteth in four things. First, his frailty, and that he falleth into sins; and this he must needs set aside; he must die to his defects and sins, and mortify himself. Secondly, he is inclined to creatures. For man is inclined by nature to his like, and he must kill nature, and must withdraw from creatures, for God and creatures are opposites. And therefore he who wisheth to have God must leave creatures. For the soul is so narrow that God and the creature cannot dwell together in her; and therefore if God is to dwell in thy soul, the creature must remain without. The third point is, that man to part from selfhood should drop all sensual delight, for he must die to this and kill it in himself, it he wisheth to have God’s comfort. As St. Bernard saith, “The comfort of God is so noble that no one receiveth it who seeketh comfort elsewhere.”9292 Compare St. Bernard, De diligendo Deo, c. 4, No. 11 , and the Monk of Heilbronn, p. 65. The fourth thing a man must let go, if he wisheth to follow Christ, is spiritual natural comforts, which are generated in man, by detecting the distinction between spiritual and natural knowledge. Through his reason man turneth from natural things to spiritual images and forms, and shapes them so as to form a rational distinction, which giveth him great delight; this 156 pleasure is natural, but it surpasseth all fleshly lust. But whoever tarries by this natural rational delight, hinders himself from the supernatural delight which God in His grace imparteth to the soul. Man often hoMs this natural joy to be the working of grace, but is grievously deceived in taking that to be of grace which only cometh from nature. Now. although this pleasure of the soul doth not blind so much as bodily pleasure, it must nevertheless be abandoned, for it hindereth perfecting. This pleasure pushed the heathen to the knowledge of natural truth. Whosoever stoppeth in this is therefore like the heathen, and not like unto Christ, and is not by any means a poor man, who followeth Christ.
But it will here be asked, How shall man deny himself that these four things may be killed in him?
First, man should kill sin in himself through virtue; for just as man is removed from God by sin must he be brought nigh again unto God by virtue. St. Paul saith, “As ye gave up your members to serve sin in unrighteousness, so give ye up now also your members to serve virtue in righteousness.”9393 Rom vi. 19. Man hath from his nature a leaning to sin, therefore he must exercise himself in all virtues if he 157wisheth to conquer his defects; but let no one believe that he is free from sins, unless he hath taken unto himself all the virtues.
But who knoweth, wilt thou ask, if he have all virtues? I answer to this like John, who saith, “Whosoever is born of God cannot sin.”9494 1 John iii. 9. For in the same moment in which God the Father begetteth His Son in the soul, all sins and all unlikeness disappear, and all virtues are born in her in a likeness to God. In the same moment man standeth there without sins, in all virtues. Man also hath all virtues if he employs all the faculties he can use to virtue, so that he bringeth about virtue essentially in a perfect will, working no longer accidentally but essentially. But no one can do this save a pure, poor man, who hath stripped himself of all things for the sake of virtue, who cleaveth to God alone and worketh virtue in God.
Hath a man virtue in such fulness that he needeth no more? This must be understood differently and in two ways. First, if the outer man hath virtue, he can never have too much, so that he needeth no more in number, magnitude, and purity. He must practise continually more and more virtues, and as long as he liveth on earth always grow and 158advance. He must strive that his virtues may become always greater and greater, and also that they may become purer, which must be his endeavour even to the end. Secondly, if the inner man have all the virtues, he needeth then no more in number; for whoever possesseth one virtue perfectly, he hath them all; he embraceth in the unity of his will all the virtues, so that none are any more wanting to him. But his love for virtue must grow, it must be always greater and greater for each virtue, it must also increase in purity, that the virtue may be always purer and purer. Thus he groweth in virtues until death, and overcometh sin with them.
The second thing that man must shun is the love for creatures. Poverty of spirit is a going out of yourself and out of everything earthly. Thereby he despiseth creatures, is despised by them, and is thus set free. A truly poor man taketh nothing from creatures, but all from God, be it bodily or spiritual. God alone will be the Giver. And truly whoso receiveth something elsewhere than from God is no truly poor man, for a man can give nothing to a perfectly poor man, except it come as a gift from God, therefore is it also good, as God alone is the Giver, and a poor man can gladly leave all things in order that he may receive from God alone. His bodily friends withdraw their love from him, 159and the love that they still show him cometh from grace. Therefore the gift to a poor man hath such a great reward, for everything is given to him of grace; his life is, moreover, fruitful, as all who show him love reap a reward, and not only doth he come into heaven, but he leadeth also others with him. But whoso possesseth temporal things, to him all is given only out of natural love, and he is only loved from nature; if any one giveth to him it bringeth no reward, nor to him who taketh it, and the gift is lost for everlasting life, as no work of man is rewarding except only from grace. St. Augustine saith also, “Whoso giveth his gift, but not rightly, he sinneth.” But you give not rightly if your gift be given where it is not needed; therefore Jesus also said, “Sell all and give to the poor.” He doth not mean the rich.
The third selfhood that man must resign is fleshly lust. This is overcome by steady internal contemplation of the Passion of our Lord. If a man immerse himself in the Passion of our Lord, he is purified, and in this purity a light is kindled that burneth and killeth all luxury of the body. A spiritual divine rapture is begotten which surpasseth all bodily lust. Whoso wisheth to have this divine rapture, lei him lay his mouth at the wounds of our Lord and suck them in. Truly, if he always doeth this, he 160overfloweth with divine delight, so that he wondereth whence this great grace cometh. The wounds of our Lord are full of sweetness, and all men, if they knew it, would turn to the Passion of our Lord, and if a man did not this for the sake of God, he would do it on his own account, for all men desire comfort. But seek it where you list, nowhere shall you find it save in the Passion of our Lord. The men who do this have heaven here and there, on earth and above, and if God were not to give them heaven in any other way, He would have given them enough to reward them for all they have endured for God’s sake.
Many a man saith, I have no grace. Nothing is to be accused for this save that thou dost not seek it rightly. If thou seekest it rightly in the Passion of our Lord, thou wouldst always find grace and all comfort. Even though it be bitter to thee at first and giveth no delight, this is a sign that thou art still burthened with bodily luxury, which must be rooted out by bitterness. If this bodily pleasure is punished it passeth away, and a spiritual, divine pleasure is born, so that thou hast never felt so great rapture. But if thou fliest the first bitterness, thou wilt never be emptied of luxury. Man can therefore gladly suffer a short bitterness in order to be free from that bitterness which lasteth for ever.161
A man who earnestly considereth the Passion of our Lord, from him its fruit also will not be hid. For if he ascendeth the tree of the cross, the fruit thereof beckoneth him on, if he be willing to have it. All on the cross is full of fruit, and more than all tongues could in truth proclaim. Nay, angels’ tongues could not describe the overflowing grace that is there hidden in the Passion of our Lord. Blessed are those who have found this treasure, but unhappy they to whom this treasure is hidden, and who do not turn to it that the treasure may be revealed to them. And it is the living fruit of living Paradise. Whoso eat of this fruit shall never die. Had Adam eaten the lawful fruit and not that which was forbidden, he would have remained deathless. The same thing cometh to pass with us. If we eat the fruit of the cross, which is permitted us, and leave that which is forbidden, that is, all natural lust, then we shall become deathless. But if we neglect the fruit of life and take the fruit of death, we become in truth mortal, and shall be driven out of Paradise. Now they who have tasted this fruit desire always to eat more and more, and they are always hungering after it, and are never satisfied so long as they live in time, and in order to satisfy this their hunger they run with great desire to the Sacrament, and their hunger is so great that God could not satisfy them with all that He hath created, but only 162with Himself. Nor can they ever be satisfied so long as they live in time, for they desire always more.
Priests should have care for such a hungry soul, and should give her God’s Body, that she may not die of hunger. It is often said, He who suffereth a man to die of bodily hunger when he might well have helped the sufferer, would be guilty of the death of that man. Much more is a man guilty towards souls when he letteth them die of hunger. For just as the soul is much nobler than the body, so much more are you guilty if you allow the soul to suffer hunger. These men that thus hunger are often severely blamed, because they go often to receive the Body of our Lord, but in truth he who really saw their hunger would not blame them. The man who blameth them is not willing to see his own blindness, and his small degree of love. He doeth like a man who seeth another sitting on his own tree, from which hangeth a fulness of fruit, and who upbraideth him because he eateth his own fruit. For thus do also these divine men; they sit upon their own tree of the cross, which hath a fulness of the noblest fruit of the body of our Lord. For the Sacrament of the Body of our Lord is the fruit of the holy cross, and whoso would eat its fruit with profit must break it off from the cross by steadfast internal contemplation of the Passion of our Lord. And other men cannot 163endure, and they must needs judge it But their sins are guilty of this. But he who willeth to consider the Passion of our Lord in all earnestness, let him go joyfully to the Table of our Lord, for it is useful to him, and he will become rich in graces. Nay, if he could bring all men to it, they would all be saved and perfect. Thus man overcometh all bodily lusts in the Passion of our Lord, and not only bodily lusts, but all things that are not God. For there is nothing, however great it be, if it is brought into the Passion of our Lord it passeth away into nothingness. For it is a glowing fire in which all inequality vanisheth and is consumed. As Christ saith, “I am come to send fire upon earth.”9595 Luke xii. 49. Now the fire that our Lord sendeth, that is the heat of divine love, which He draweth from the wounds of His heart. And whosoever thirsteth let him hold his mouth to it, and he will take draughts such that he will never more thirst for temporal things.
This man doth not need much preaching, save to come here and stay here; for if he entereth thoroughly into the Passion of our Lord, he is so laid hold of that he can no more turn away from God. They who have come to this thank God greatly, for God hath chosen them from among men, like our Lord chose St. Peter, St. John, and St. James, and 164led them apart from the other disciples to a particular place, and revealed to them the secret of His Passion, and said, “My soul is troubled, even unto death.”9696 Matt. xxvi. 38. And that was a sign that He loved them above the other disciples. And so also the men who busy themselves with the Passion of our Lord are loved by God above other men. For they hold their mouth to the source whence divine love always floweth without interruption, and they will overflow in such wise that they can no longer please themselves; they give up all outward and inward things in order that they may be able to give in return a corresponding love to God.
And these are the right lovers of God, who love God with their whole heart. And they who love God with their whole heart give up all bodily things for the sake of God; and the heart is bodily; thus, when they turn away their heart from all bodily things to God, this is called loving with the whole heart. They also love with their whole soul; that is, when they give up their life for the sake of God; for the soul giveth life to the body, and this same life they give entirely to God. They further love God with all their strength; that is, they ordain all their powers according to the highest discretion, and they direct all of them to one end, and with this effort they penetrate into God. Arrived here all the powers keep silence and rest; this also 165is the highest work that the powers can perform, when they are inactive and let God only work. They also love God with all their mind; that is, when their mind soareth above all created things, and penetrates into the uncreated good, which is God, and then loseth itself in the secret darkness of the unknown God.9797 When the German Mystics speak of being lost in the darkness of God, they always have in view the contemplatio in caligine. This theme is most clearly treated by Sandaeus, Theol. Myst. p. 201. Mogunt. 1627. Therein it loseth itself and escapeth, so that it can no more come out. As a likeness, let us take that of a man who casteth a stone into the sea, where no bottom can be found: as the stone must continually sink, but would reach no ground, and it could not be fetched out again, unless it were lying still somewhere, which, however, is not the case, as it has no soundings, so also it happeneth with the mind which hath cast itself into the unfathomable Godhead, he sinketh alway, but findeth no ground. No one can draw him out again, and he hath no final ground where he can stand and remain. He hath broken away from the created, therefore also no creature can reach him, and thus he hovereth everlastingly in God; he can no more come out of the Godhead than the stone by its own force can come up again to the surface. Sensuous men cannot understand this, and say, So long as a man liveth in time he can always fall. This is quite true; but the men we spoke of do not live in time, for their “dwelling is in heaven,”9898 Phil. iii. 20. as St. Paul saith. Whosoever cometh to this dwelling must stay there. Take the following simile: If a man be bound by such strong bonds which he 166cannot rend, he could not, people will say, become free, and get loose unless he were helped. Thus is the mind bound by God; and if all creatures united their strength, they could not rend this bond. The mind hath become so powerless over itself that of itself it is not able to rend the bond.
To this it might be said, If this is so, the freedom of the will is taken away. I answer, the freedom of the will is not taken away but given to it, for then is the will quite free when it cannot bear anything save what God willeth. We say that a king is free who overcometh all his enemies and ruleth uncontrolled in his kingdom, and he is not called a free king who is conquered by his enemies and driven out of his kingdom. Thus also the will is a free king when it overcometh all its enemies and ruleth uncontrolled, that is, “in God, in whom he then can do all things,”9999 Phil. iv. 13. as St. Paul saith. And thus man overcometh all things in the Passion of our Lord, in which of necessity all besides must pass away into nothingness.
When now man is thus prepared with all virtues and with a poor life, and with the Passion of our Lord, he cometh to the third degree of perfection, in which he heareth, in 167a silent, secret speaking, the everlasting Word which God the Father speaketh in the ground of souls; and this speaking driveth out all created images, so that a man discardeth his selfhood in all spiritual, natural pleasures, which consist in attractive created images and forms, and he will only hear His eternal Word, in which he will know and love God in the most perfect manner. Therefore Christ said, “Whoso loveth Me heareth My word,”100100 John xiv. 23. that is, when God speaketh in him, and he suffereth it. And this is the highest work of man, that he suffereth God and hindereth Him not in His work.
It might be asked, What is God’s working? There are two kinds of work in God—a working within and a working outwardly.101101 According to the scholastic expression: Actio immanens, actio transiens. The working inward is God’s being and nature; the outward working is the creature. And after the fashion that the creature hath flowed out of God, so also must it flow into Him again; and therefore God worketh in souls that He may bring them to the first origin from which they have flowed, for by their works they cannot go in again. It is therefore absolutely necessary that man should come to this, that he can receive the work of God, in order that by this working he may return to God. Therefore Christ said, “One thing is needful, without which no man can come to God.”
Here some one might say, Since now man with his work cannot come to God, what use is there then in his working? To this I say, that man with his work much more hindereth than furthereth himself in coming to God. For all that man doeth of himself is defective, and with that he cannot come to God. For as the creature is faulty, it worketh faulty works; and therefore if man is to come to God, he must be empty of all work and let God work alone. Of this Christ spake, “What the Father doth not plant is cast out and perisheth.”102102 John xv. 6. Therefore it is quite the best thing for man that he should be empty of all work. For if he were empty of all work, he would be a mere instrument of God, so that God might work with him without all hindering. Now, all that God willeth to have from us is that we be inactive, and let Him be the working Master. If we were altogether inactive we should be perfect men. For all that is good is the work of God, and if God doth not work it, it is not good. Therefore said St. James, “The best and perfect gifts are from the Father of Lights.”103103 James i. 17.
Now, it will be asked, How is a man to know if his work is of himself or from God? Shortly be it said: there are three supernatural divine virtues, Faith, Hope, and Love or Charity; whatever increaseth these 169virtues is from God, but what diminisheth them is a sign that it is the work of man; whoso observeth these things internally knoweth that it is so. For what man worketh of himself, he applieth to himself and to time, and thus doth not increase the supernatural virtue; but what God worketh, draweth a man away from himself to eternity, and this increaseth Faith, Hope, ami Charity.
What is the divine work? It is twofold, what God worketh in the soul, one the work of grace, the other essential and divine. By the work of grace man is prepared for the essential. God worketh through His grace in man, when He draweth him away from sin and leadeth him on to virtue; if man leaveth sin and exerciseth virtue, this is a grace of God; by grace God maketh man well-pleasing, it driveth him away from all defective things on to virtue, so that with it he obtaineth all virtues; thus man attaineth to a perfect life, in which he knoweth the holiest will of God, and liveth entirely after it. The second work that God worketh in the soul is essential; when man cometh to this, that he hath obtained all accidental virtue, and so now arriveth at the essence of virtue, then God worketh all virtue in him in an essential way, namely: the Heavenly Father begetteth His Son in the soul, and this birth raiseth the spirit above all created 170things into God. Now is the spirit without grace, for grace is a creature, but the spirit is raised above all creatures. Nevertheless grace leaveth not the man, but it directeth and ordereth the forces of man and cherisheth the divine birth in the essence of the soul. Now what God so worketh is an essential work, a work raised above all grace and reason, a work in the light of glory;104104 Lumen gloriae. Compare § 144, Part I., and § 72, Part II. Denifle affirms that the Schoolmen never took the light of glory in this acceptation. By most of them it was regarded as equivalent with qualitas creata animae per modum habitus inhaerens, quae cum beatorum mente ad Dei visionem concurrit. Denifle admits, however, that the majority of theologians differ in determining how this concursus is effected. Comp. Joannes a St. Thoma. Curs. Theol. i. 275 and foil. ed. Lugd. 1663. Suarez, De attributis Dei negativis, c. 15 (opp. tom. i. p. 101 et. seq., ed. Par. 1856). the spirit of man hath now passed over to the Godhead. Then the essence seeth essentially, and essence giveth essence and the spirit worketh all things with God in an essential manner; his work is the work of God, and God’s work is his work. For when two are one they have also one working. This work the reason cannot grasp through imagery, therefore is it a work above human reason.
The reason recognises full well that this working is a work raised above all created things, the noblest work, whereby alone the spirit can be blessed and saved; it is always striving after this essential working, if possible to know and grasp it. But the reason will never seize hold on it in time, for if she would do so, this would give heaven, in time. And although she cannot comprehend it in time, she yet striveth continually after it, and standeth not still until death. By this act of hastening after the divine work, she empties herself of all created images, and 171with a supernatural light she presseth into the mystery of the hidden Godhead, and through this knowledge she can no longer know, and through this love she can no longer love, which means that she no longer knoweth after the fashion of a creature, but after a divine fashion, and that she loveth not with her own love, but according to the love of God, of which St. Paul spake when he said, “I live, yet not I, but Christ in me.”105105 Gal. ii. 20. The spirit is dead to earth, and henceforth liveth only godly. Whosoever therefore despiseth the reason doeth great wrong to her. For all things desire life, and when the reason recognises that all temporal things are deathly, and that God alone is life, she must needs turn herself to God, for she naturally desireth life. And it is much more natural for the reason to turn to God than to creatures. For all creatures cannot fill her but God only, and therefore is it more natural that she should turn to Him who giveth to her rather than to that which taketh away from her.
The reason is not guilty of this, that man chooseth the earthy and leaveth God, for if reason were present this would not happen. For what the creature chooseth instead of God, is done by sensuality and not by the reason, and therefore David saith, “Ye shall not be as the horses and mules, which have no reason;”106106 Ps. xxxii. 9. and whoso chooseth the creature 172instead of God, is not a rational man, but is as an irrational beast. If yet the reason sticketh to created things, images and forms, this happeneth because she recognises the eternal God in created things, as St. Paul saith, “In the visible things are the invisible* seen.”107107 Rom. i. 20. What preventeth the reason to reach God through created things, is the pleasure attaching to created images, which they generated in her; this is natural pleasure, which blindeth her so that she cannot recognise the divine truth; and this must be avoided. It is fancied, however, that this joy is of grace, and therefore many men tarry in it. These people are also yclept natural, rational men, and yet they have not true reason. For the right reason seeketh God, and removes from creatures whether they be bodily or spiritual, and whoso cometh to this reason is a right, rational man, whose reason is shone through with divine light, in which you know the Godhead and forget the earthy. And whosoever giveth himself into this, hath a foretaste and a delight of everlasting life. This rapture driveth the reason away from all natural pleasure to God. And there she receiveth her rapture, as Christ saith, “Whosoever eateth me hungereth not any more”108108 Compare John vi. 35. after creaturely pleasures. And this must be thus understood, how the spirit in this state is raised above grace and above reason, and above all pleasure in God, and standeth thus in naked poverty of all created things, and hath vision only of the divine essence, which 173is raised above all grace, and above all reason, and knoweth nothing of itself, nor of created things, but only of God. And man obtaineth this perfection, if he followeth the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The other thing that driveth a man to a poor life, is the perfection of virtue. For virtue is never filled up in full measure, nor followed in the highest, except a man strip himself of the love of all temporal possession, till he exerciseth himself in all virtue, and lose the image of all virtue, and cometh to the faculty of no longer being able to work any virtue outwardly, but only essentially and not accidentally. For thus is virtue brought to the highest. This causeth, that all things are small to such a man, and virtue alone great; he turneth easily all things to virtue; he exerciseth himself in all virtues till he can do no more, and becometh so poor and despised that no one desireth any more a virtue from him. Thus without any guilt he is emptied of all outward virtue; and then without any hindering he can turn to God, which was not the case before.
So long as a man hath he must give, and when he hath nothing more he is free. Freedom is much nobler than giving was before, for he giveth no more in accident but in 174essence, and giveth no more one gift but all gifts, and giveth no more to one man but to all men. And his gift is like unto the gift of God, therefore also a teacher saith, “It is good when a man imparts his property and cometh to the help of his fellow-men; but it is far better to give all and to follow Christ in a poor life.” And never will you have virtue in the most perfect degree save if you have given all things for the sake of virtue. I take the case of mercy. He who is entirely merciful keepeth nothing at all. And whoso keepeth something is not perfectly but only partially merciful, and in a fragmentary way. And whoso wisheth to be perfectly humble must exercise himself in all humble works that are required. Whoso doeth not this is not thoroughly humble. Thus let men take all virtues; whoso wisheth to have them in perfection must give himself up to them so long till he is poor of all creatures and possessions, so that no one asketh anything more of him. Therefore the perfection of virtue consisteth in poverty and in nothing else.
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