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In the fourth place, the perfection of a contemplative life should impel a man to a poor life.
Here it might be asked, If it be possible that rich people be united by this bond of 187divine love, and if they could be partakers of a contemplative life? I answer, So long as man cleaves to creatures and to time, he hath not divine love, for the tie of divine love breaketh every tie with creatures, and whoso is still bound by these creaturely ties showeth that he is not yet enveloped with the divine tie, as St. Austin saith, “If the heart is seized hold of by divine love, in that case the vanity of creatures finds no place in it.” Further, genuine love is a foil owing of the beloved; what he ordereth and counselleth, true love cloeth it all, it omitteth nothing, but it accomplisheth all. But the rich do not follow the counsel of our Lord, therefore also they have not the right love. They may indeed show works of love, but these do not spring up from the ground of divine love; for if they did spring from it they could easily work one and all works of love, as St. Austin saith, “To the God-loving man nothing is too difficult, for he can do all in Him who strengtheneth him,.” But as they are not capable of all works of love, they have not the divine love. Divine love is such a source that whoso holdeth his mouth to this source overfloweth with love, must avoid all creatures, and cleave to God only. St. Austin saith, “To a soul that loveth God all creatures are too narrow, so that they can no longer tarry in any of them.” Yea, it is the nature of divine love to give up creatures and cleave to God. St. Paul122122 Probably by mistaken transcription for St. Peter.—Translator. wished to prove that he loved God when he said, “Behold, Lord, we have left all things and followed after Thee.”123123 Luke xviii. 28. Otherwise he could not testify his love. This also must, we have if we wish to love God, namely, we must give up the earthly and cleave to God. Whoso leaveth the earthly the most, he loveth God the most. Whoso doeth it not at all, he cannot say that he loveth God. All can testify this who love God, if they are thoroughly inflamed by the fire of divine love, so that this faith destroyeth all that is not God.
Some say that you can retain temporal things if a man doth not let his selfhood (his ego) cleave to them, and cleaveth to the will of God and not his own will. This is a statement in which there is not much truth. Whoso loveth the will of God right well, he loveth it not according to his own head but according to the teaching of Jesus Christ, who certainly knew the will best. If we therefore wish to fulfil the will of God we must follow the teaching of Jesus. But His teaching was to leave all and follow Him; whoever doeth not this hath not struck root in the ground of divine love, as Christ saith, “Whoso loveth Me, he keepeth the words which I have taught him.”124124 In John xiv. 23 Christ only saith: Si quis diligit me, sermonem meum servabit. A true lover accomplisheth the counsel of his beloved rather than his commandment; the indifferent lover halteth at the commandment, but suffereth the counsel to go over him.189
Some may say indeed, If our Lord Himself were on earth He would not require a man to leave all externally. I say, Ii He were on earth He would say the same thing that He spake to His disciples, and no one would be excepted. He said, “If thou wouldst be perfect, sell all and follow Me.” No one is excluded or excepted from this commandment, and he who doeth it not must not lay claim to any perfection. Divine love is a force which raiseth a man above all things to the highest degree of perfection, and who standeth on this highest degree he hath the true love. But no one can arrive at this if he have not passed through the lowest degrees. The very lowest degree of divine love is to despise all temporal things, the second to despise himself, the third to deny and give up all, whether bodily or spiritual, which disturbs union between God and man. Thus only doth man arrive at right perfection. Whoever hath not climbed the first degree can arrive at none of the others.
What work of love then do rich people exercise if they [have] not divine love? This love is of two kinds, natural, which hath no reward, or the love of grace, which indeed hath a reward, but is not perfect, as it can increase and decrease; on the other hand, perfect love always groweth and never falleth off. But 190only they who are emptied of all earthly possess this love; temporal things are changeable, whoever cleaveth to them is also changeable with them in this changeableness, therefore it is no perfection, therefore also they can have no perfect love. If they have not this they also cannot live a contemplative life, for a perfect love is only begotten in a pure contemplation of the Divine Being; whatever fails a man in this contemplation he lacketh also in true love, for it hath nowhere else its origin than in the Father or the Son. If the eye of the reason is pure, and directed away from all that is not God, then it can perfectly contemplate the Divine Being; but if this eye is impure, troubled through temporal things, it cannot contemplate it, for “the light is unbearable to a sick eye,” as St. Augustine saith.125125 St. Augustine, Confess. 7. 16: Oculis aegris odiosa lux, quae puris amabilis. Whoso is overburdened with temporal things can lead no contemplative life, for his eye is impure and sick. But whoso wisheth to arrive at the life in which lieth the best must strip himself of all external possession and lead a purely poor life; thus he attaineth to the highest degree of perfection. Whoso withdraweth himself from a poor life also neglects the God-contemplating life, for contemplation and poverty stand on the same degree. Among all things there are only two, God and the creature; he who is poor in creatures is rich in God, but these riches are the immediate contemplation of God; our whole blessedness lieth in this, that we know and love God immediately.191
If now a man ought to give up all things to arrive at a contemplative life, what use doth it then bring? An unspeakable use, as St. Paul saith, “I have seen such things as it is not lawful to speak of.”126126 2 Cor. xii. 4. Among others, I will mention eight kinds of uses. First, you do all works without much labour; labour only occasioneth an overlading with earthly things; whoso is free from them is also emancipated from trouble. As now a truly contemplative man is freed from all that is earthly, he is also emancipated from this labour. Secondly, what other men work accidentally these men work in essential divine truth; in this he worketh all works. But they who are burdened with the creature work in natural accidents. Thirdly, what others work partially a thoroughly internal man worketh entirely. He accomplished all works in one and one work in all, because he is united with God; thus he hath one working with Him, and as God accomplisheth all in one work and one work in all so doeth likewise such a man. All good works are proper to him as if he himself had worked them, for Christ saith, “All that I have received from My Father I have given unto you.”127127 The passage in St. John is: “Verba, quae dedisti mihi, dedi eis,” but the author mixes up the previous verse with it. But His receiving and His giving are all equally good. Fourthly, what other men first get from an active life these have already a foretaste of in time; but as their spirit is raised above time and all earthly things the delight and rapture 192of things eternal is manifested to it; this spreads so in the spirit that it passeth over to the body, and thus it hath a foretaste of everlasting life, as Christ saith, “From your body will flow living water, flowing into everlasting life.” Fifthly, whoever attaineth to a true contemplative life, him God draweth to Himself, revealing unto him His divine being; He confirmeth him so that he shall no more fall off from Him. If Lucifer had been thus drawn into his being, so that he had rightly known God, he would not have fallen, for the being of God is so rapturous that whoever knoweth it rightly in the light of glory would not possibly be able to turn away from God. But God also giveth it only to him who will dwell eternally with Him. Whoso falleth into sins hath never known God in His light, therefore also Jesus said to St. John, “I will that he remain so,”128128 John xxi. 22. and to Mary Magdalene, “She hath chosen the better part, which shall never be taken from her.”129129 Luke x. 42. To whom the best part is given it remaineth eternally, for it is no accidental but an essential gift that abideth alway with man. Sixthly, it bringeth to man an everlasting entrance into divine truth and an essential increase in divine love, for the being of God is unfathomable, and no creature can fathom it. Whoso hath been drawn into it sinketh eternally, and can come to no ground or soundings; the spirit hovereth in God as the fish in the sea and the bird in the air. Seventhly, new wonders, rapture, delight, and new truth are continually discovered to man, 193for God alone satisfieth the spirit. The more he contemplates Him the more he longeth for Him, and the more he beholdeth God with the eye of his reason the purer he becometh, and the more clearly doth he know God. Eighthly, if the spirit is raised above all things in essential truth all inequality escapeth from it; it is placed in an equality, and in this it entereth into God, so that it knoweth nothing more than God, and is embraced by God; the spirit loseth its name, so that it is called rather God than spirit; not that it is God, but only divine, therefore is it more called God than spirit. David also said, “I have said, ye are gods and sons of the Highest.”130130 Ps. lxxxii. 6. Gods, he saith, not God, by which he proverb, that we are not God by nature, but divine through grace. Through His speaking we are sons of the Most High, for as the Father looketh to His nature so He begetteth the Son by nature. Thus is it also where God speaketh His word in the soul, for thus He begetteth His Son through grace, and thus we are gods and sons of God, and whoso prepareth himself for this birth, which God the Father begetteth in the soul, he is mostly God’s son through grace.
If poverty of spirit is a preparation for a contemplative life, it might be asked, if all men have such a life, who give themselves up to poverty? Certainly he who hath perfectly seized true poverty is a true, internal, 194and contemplative man. Yea, poverty is nothing else than a lack of all that is not God; if we are freed from this and all means of that sort are lacking, then are you in the presence of God; and in this presence man contemplateth Him. God is present in all things; if that external deception, sensuality, be removed, God only is found; and therefore poverty and contemplation stand on one point. But not all those who adopt a poor life are poor men and hence they are not contemplative men, as Christ saith, “Not every one who saith, Lord, Lord, cometh into the kingdom of heaven, but he who doeth the will of My Father who is in heaven.”131131 Matt. vii. 21. So also is it with each man: not every one who saith, I am a poor man, or who seemeth a poor man, is a poor man, but he who doeth the work of a poor man, he is a poor man, and is also a contemplative man.
It might now be said, Poverty and contemplation have no works, for they subsist both in emptiness of all works in a pure suffering of God’s influence. I answer, That is true. But in the beginning and progress of a poor and contemplative life, you must have works, which prepare man and set him free, so that he can comprehend true poverty. And whoso embraceth the right work also cometh to a poor life. But whoso taketh the wrong work, which happeneth 195often, never cometh to true poverty nor to a contemplative life. A simile: If a man on a journey, wishing to reach his goal, taketh the wrong way, he goeth astray and cometh not where he listeth; so is it here. Many believe that they have a truly poor life, but they take the wrong road, and thereby they go astray so that they never come to the right goal of a poor, contemplative life, in which man attaineth to the highest degree of perfection.
Which now are the right roads, wilt thou ask, to a poor life? In the first place, there are four of them.
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