HOW DISCRETION AND CONTEMPLATION RISE IN THE REASON
Thus it seemeth that the virtue of discretion needeth to be had, with the which
all others may be governed; for without it all virtues are turned in to vices.
This is Joseph, that is the late born child, but yet his father loveth him more
than them all. For why, without discretion may neither goodness be gotten nor
kept, and therefore no wonder though that virtue be singularly loved, without
which no virtue may be had nor governed. But what wonder though this virtue be
late gotten, when we may not win to the perfection of discretion without much
custom and many travails of these other affections coming before? For first
behoveth us to be used in each virtue by itself, and get the proof
of them all serely, ere we may have full
knowing of them all, or else can deem sufficiently of them all. And when we use
us busily in these feelings and beholdings before said, oft times we fall and
oft times we rise. Then, by our oft falling, may we learn how much wariness us
behoveth have in the getting and keeping of these virtues. And thus sometime,
by long use, a soul is led into full discretion, and then it may joy in the
birth of Joseph. And before this virtue be conceived in a man's soul, all that
these other virtues do, it is without discretion. And therefore, in as much as
a man presumeth and enforceth him in any of these feelings beforesaid, over his
might and out of measure, in so much the fouler he falleth and faileth of his
purpose. And therefore it is that, after them all and last, is Dinah born; for
often, after a foul fall and a failing, cometh soon shame. And thus after many
failings and failings, and shames following, a man learneth by the proof that
there is nothing better than to be ruled after counsel, the which is the
readiest getting of discretion. For why, he that doth all things with counsel,
he shall never forthink it; for better is
a sly man than a strong man; yea, and better is list than lither strength, and a sly man speaketh of
victories. And here is the open skill why that neither Leah nor Zilpah nor
Bilhah might bear such a child, but only Rachel; for, as it is said before,
that of reason springeth right counsel, the which is very discretion,
understanden by Joseph, the first son of Rachel; and then at the first bring we
forth Joseph in our reason when all that we are stirred to do, we do it with
counsel. This Joseph shall not only know what sins we are most stirred unto,
but also he shall know the weakness of our kind, and after that either asketh,
so shall he do remedy, and seek counsel at wiser than he, and do after them, or
else he is not Joseph, Jacob's son born of Rachel. And also by this foresaid Joseph a man is not only learned to
eschew the deceits of his enemies, but also oft a man is led by him to the
perfect knowing of himself; and all after that a man knoweth himself,
thereafter he profiteth in the knowing of God, of whom he is the image and the
likeness. And therefore it is that after Joseph is Benjamin born. For as by
Joseph discretion, so by Benjamin we understand contemplation. And both are
they born of one mother, and gotten of one father. For through the grace of God
lightening our reason, come we to the perfect knowing of ourself and of God,
that is to say, after that it may be in this life. But long after Joseph is
Benjamin born. For why, truly but if it so be that we use us busily and long in
ghostly travails, with the which we are learned to know ourself, we
may not be raised in to the knowing and contemplation of God. He doth for
nought that lifteth up his eye to the sight of God, that is not yet able to see
himself. For first I would that a man learned him to know the unseeable things of his own spirit, ere he presume
to know the unseeable things of the spirit of God; and he that knoweth not yet
himself and weeneth that he hath gotten somedeal knowing of the unseeable
things of God, I doubt it not but that he is deceived; and therefore I rede
that a man seek first busily for to know himself, the which is made to the
image and the likeness of God as in soul. And wete thou well that he that
desireth for to see God, him behoveth to cleanse his soul, the which is as a
mirror in the which all things are clearly seen, when it is clean; and when the
mirror is foul, then mayst thou see nothing clearly therein; and right so it is
of thy soul, when it is foul, neither thou knowest thyself nor God. As when the
candle brenneth, thou mayst then see the self candle by the light thereof, and other things also; right so,
when thy soul brenneth in the love of God, that is, when thou feelest
continually thine heart desire after the love of God, then, by the light of His
grace that He sendeth in thy reason, thou mayst see both thine own unworthiness
and His great goodness. And therefore cleanse thy mirror and
proffer thy candle to the fire; and then, when thy mirror is cleansed and thy
candle brenning, and it so be that thou wittily behold thereto, then beginneth
there a manner of clarity of the light of God for to shine in thy soul, and a
manner of sunbeam that is ghostly to appear before thy ghostly sight, through
the which the eye of thy soul is opened to behold God and godly things, heaven
and heavenly things, and all manner of ghostly things. But this sight is but by
times, when God will vouchsafe for to give it to a working soul, the whiles it is in the battle of this deadly
life; but after this life it shall be everlasting. This light shone in the soul
of David, when he said thus in the psalm: "Lord, the light of Thy face is
marked upon us; Thou hast given gladness within mine heart." The light of God's face is the shining of His grace,
that reformeth in us His image that hath been disfigured with the darkness of
sin; and therefore a soul that brenneth in desire of His sight, if it hope for to have that that it desireth, wete it
well it hath conceived Benjamin. And, therefore, what is more healfull than the sweetness of this sight, or what
softer thing may be felt? Sikerly, none; and that woteth Rachel full well. For
why, reason saith that, in comparison of this sweetness, all other sweetness is
sorrow, and bitter as gall before honey. Nevertheless, yet may a
man never come to such a grace by his own slight. For why, it is the gift of God without desert of man.
But without doubt, though it be not the desert of man, yet no man may take such
grace without great study and brenning desires coming before; and that woteth
Rachel full well, and therefore she multiplieth her study, and whetteth her
desires, seeking desire upon desire; so
that at the last, in great abundance of brenning desires and sorrow of the
delaying of her desire, Benjamin is born, and his mother Rachel dieth; for why, in what time that a soul is
ravished above itself by abundance of desires and a great multitude of love, so
that it is inflamed with the light of the Godhead, sikerly then dieth all man's
And therefore, what so thou be that
covetest to come to contemplation of God, that is to say, to bring forth such a
child that men clepen in the story Benjamin (that is to say, sight of God),
then shalt thou use thee in this manner. Thou shalt call together thy thoughts
and thy desires, and make thee of them a church, and learn thee therein for to
love only this good word Jesu, so that all thy desires and all thy
thoughts are only set for to love Jesu, and that unceasingly as it may be here;
so that thou fulfill that is said in the psalm: "Lord, I shall
bless Thee in churches"; that is, in
thoughts and desires of the love of Jesu. And then, in this church of thoughts
and desires, and in this onehead of studies and of wills, look that all thy
thoughts, and all thy desires, and all thy studies, and all thy wills be only
set in the love and the praising of this Lord Jesu, without forgetting, as far
forth as thou mayst by grace, and as thy frailty will suffer; evermore meeking
thee to prayer and to counsel, patiently abiding the will of our Lord, unto the
time that thy mind be ravished above itself, to be fed with the fair food of
angels in the beholding of God and ghostly things: so that it be fulfilled in thee that is written in the
psalm: Ibi Benjamin adolesentulus in mentis excessu; that is: "There is Benjamin, the young child, in
ravishing of mind." The grace of Jesu keep thee evermore. Amen
 In particular. Pepwell has: "surely."
 Better is art than evil strength. A
proverbial expression. Cf. Layamons Brut, 17210 (ed Madden, ii. p. 297);
Ancren Riwle (ed. Morton), p. 268 (where it is rendered: "Skilful
prudence is better than rude force"). Cf. Prov. xxi. 22.
 The MSS. have: "ilke."
 So Pepwell and Harl. MS. 674. Harl.
MS. 1022, ed. Horstman, reads: "see thiself and the candell."
 Pepwell reads: "waking."
 Ps. iv. 6-7.
 Harl. MS. 674 reads: "light."
 So Pepwell. Harl. MS. 674 reads: "each
desire on desire." Harl. MS. 1022, ed. Horstman, has: "hekand desire unto
 Gen. xxxv. 18.
 Ps. xxvi. (Vulgate xxv.) 12.
 So Harl. MSS. 1022 and 2373; Pepwell
and harl. MS. 674 read: "godly."
 Ps. lxviii. 27 (Vulgate lxvii. 28).
 So Harl. MS. 2373; omitted in Harl.
MS. 674. Pepwell has instead: "To the which us bring our blessed Benjamin,
Christ Jesu, Amen." Harl. MS. 1022 ends: "Jesus Jesu, Mercy, Jesu, grant Mercy,
Jesu." The whole of this concluding paragraph, which is an addition of the
translator, differs considerably in Pepwell.