IV. OF THE SONG OF ANGELS
HERE FOLLOWETH A DEVOUT TREATISE COMPILED BY MASTER WALTER HYLTON
OF THE SONG OF ANGELS
DEAR brother in Christ, I have understanding by thine own speech, and also by
telling of another man, that thou yearnest and desirest greatly for to have
more knowledge and understanding than thou hast of angel's song and heavenly
sound; what it is, and on what wise it is perceived and felt in a man's soul,
and how a man may be siker that it is true and not feigned; and how it is made
by the presence of the good angel, and not by the inputting of the evil angel.
These things thou wouldest wete of me; but, soothly, I cannot tell thee for a
surety the soothfastness of this matter; nevertheless somewhat, as me thinketh,
I shall shew thee in a short word.
well that the end and the sovereignty of perfection standeth in very onehead of God and of a man's soul by perfect
charity. This onehead, then, is verily made when the mights of the soul are
reformed by grace to the dignity and the state of the first condition; that is,
when the mind is stabled sadly, without
changing and vagation, in God
and ghostly things, and when the reason is cleared from all worldly and fleshly
beholdings, and from all bodily imaginations, figures, and fantasies of
creatures, and is illumined by grace to behold God and ghostly things, and when
the will and the affection is purified and cleansed from all fleshly, kindly,
and worldly love, and is inflamed with brenning love of the Holy Ghost. This
wonderful onehead may not be fulfilled
perfectly, continually, and wholly in this life, for the corruption of the
flesh, but only in the bliss of heaven. Nevertheless, the nearer that a soul in
this present life may come to this onehead, the more perfect it is. For the
more that it is reformed by grace to the image and the likeness of its Creator
here on this wise; the more joy and bliss shall it have in heaven. Our Lord God
is an endless being without changing, almighty without failing, sovereign
wisdom, light, soothness without error or darkness; sovereign goodness, love,
peace, and sweetness. Then the more that a soul is united, fastened, conformed,
and joined to our Lord, the more stable and mighty it is, the more wise and
clear, good and peaceable, loving and more virtuous it is, and so it is more
perfect. For a soul that hath by the grace of Jesu, and long travail of bodily
and ghostly exercise, overcome and destroyed concupiscences, and
passions, and unskilful stirrings
within itself, and without in the sensuality, and is clothed all in virtues, as
in meekness and mildness, in patience and softness, in ghostly strength and
righteousness, in continence, in wisdom, in truth, hope and charity; then it is
made perfect, as it may be in this life. Much comfort it receiveth of our Lord,
not only inwardly in its own privy substance, by virtue of the onehead to our Lord that lieth in
knowing and loving of God, in light and ghostly brenning of Him, in
transforming of the soul in to the Godhead; but also many other comforts,
savours, sweetnesses, and wonderful feelings on sere or sundry manners, after that our Lord vouchethsafe to
visit His creatures here in earth, and after that the soul profiteth and waxeth
in charity. Some soul, by virtue of charity that God giveth it, is so cleansed,
that all creatures, and all that he heareth, or seeth, or feeleth by any of his
wits, turneth him to comfort and gladness; and the sensuality receiveth new
savour and sweetness in all creatures.
And right as beforetime the likings in the sensuality were fleshly,
vain, and vicious, for the pain of the original sin; right so now they are made
ghostly and clean, without bitterness and biting of conscience. And this is the
goodness of our Lord, that sith the soul is punished in the sensuality, and the
flesh is partner of the pain, that afterward the soul be comforted in the
sensuality, and the flesh be fellow of joy and comfort with the soul, not
fleshly, but ghostly, as he was fellow in tribulation and pain. This is the
freedom and the lordship, the dignity, and the worship that a man hath over all creatures, the which
dignity he may so recover by grace here, that every creature savour to him as
it is. And that is, when by grace he seeth, he heareth, he feeleth only God in
all creatures. On this manner of wise a soul is made ghostly in the sensuality
by abundance of charity, that is, in the substance of the soul. Also, our Lord
comforteth a soul by angel's song. What that song is, it may not be described
by no bodily likeness, for it is ghostly, and above all manner of imagination
and reason. It may be felt and perceived in a soul, but it may not be shewed.
Nevertheless, I shall speak thereof to thee as me thinketh. When a soul is
purified by the love of God, illumined by wisdom, stabled by the might of God,
then is the eye of the soul opened to behold ghostly things, as virtues and
angels and holy souls, and heavenly things. Then is the soul able because of cleanness to
feel the touching, the speaking of good angels. This touching and speaking, it
is ghostly and not bodily. For when the
soul is lifted and ravished out of the sensuality, and out of mind of any
earthly things, then in great fervour of love and light (if our Lord vouchsafe)
the soul may hear and feel heavenly sound, made by the presence of angels in
loving of God. Not that this song of angels is the sovereign joy of the soul;
but for the difference that is between a man's soul in flesh and an angel,
because of uncleanness, a soul may not hear it, but by ravishing in love, and
needeth for to be purified well clean, and fulfilled of much charity, or it were able for to hear heavenly sound.
For the sovereign and the essential joy is in the love of God by Himself and
for Himself, and the secondary is in communing and beholding of angels and
ghostly creatures. For right as a soul, in understanding of ghostly things, is
often times touched and moved through bodily imagination by working of angels;
as Ezekiel the prophet did see in bodily imagination the soothfastness of God's
privities; right so, in the love of
God, a soul by the presence of angels is ravished out of mind of all earthly
and fleshly things in to an heavenly joy, to hear angel's song and heavenly
sound, after that the charity is more or less. Now, then, me thinketh that there may no soul feel
verily angel's song nor heavenly sound, but he be in perfect charity; though
all that are in perfect charity have not felt it, but only that soul that is so
purified in the fire of love that all earthly savour is brent out of it, and
all mean letting between the soul and
the cleanness of angels is broken and put away from it. Then soothly may he
sing a new song, and soothly he may hear a blessed heavenly sound, and angel's
song without deceit or feigning. Our Lord woteth there that soul is that, for
abundance of brenning love, is worthy to hear angel's song. Who so then will
hear angel's song, and not be deceived by feigning of himself, nor by
imagination, nor by the illusion of the enemy, him behoveth for to have perfect
charity; and that is when all vain love and dread, vain joy and sorrow, is cast
out of the heart, so that it love nothing but God, nor dread nothing but God,
nor joyeth, nor sorroweth nothing but in God, or for God. Who so might by the
grace of God go this way, he should not err. Nevertheless, some men are
deceived by their own imagination, or by the illusion of the enemy in this
manner. Some man, when he hath long
travailed bodily and ghostily in destroying of sins and getting of virtues, and
peradventure hath gotten by grace a somedeal rest, and a clarity in conscience, anon he leaveth
prayers, readings of holy scriptures, and meditations of the passion of Christ,
and the mind of his wretchedness; and, or he be called of God, he gathereth his own visits by
violence to seek and to behold heavenly things, or his eye be made ghostly by
grace, and overtravaileth by imaginations his wits, and by indiscreet
travailing turneth the brains in his head, and forbreaketh the mights and the wits of the soul and of the body.
And then, for feebleness of the brain, him thinketh that he heareth wonderful
sounds and songs; and that is nothing else but a fantasy, caused of troubling
of the brain; as a man that is in a frenzy him thinketh that he heareth and
seeth that none other man doth; and all is but vanity and fantasies of the
head, or else it is by working of the wicked enemy that feigneth such sounds in
For if a man have any presumption in his
fantasies and in his workings, and thereby falleth in to indiscreet
imagination, as it were in a frenzy, and is not ordered nor ruled of grace, nor
comforted by ghostly strength, the devil entereth in, and by his false
illuminations, and by his false sounds, and by his false sweetnesses, he
deceiveth a man's soul.
And of this false ground springeth errors, and
heresies, false prophecies, presumptions, and false reasonings,
blasphemings, and slanderings, and many other mischiefs. And, therefore, if
thou see any man ghostly occupied fall in any of these sins and these deceits,
or in frenzies, wete thou well that he never heard nor felt angel's song nor
heavenly sound. For, soothly, he that heareth verily angel's song, he is made
so wise that he shall never err by fantasy, nor by indiscretion, nor by no
slight of working of the devil.
Also, some men feel in their hearts as it were a
ghostly sound, and sweet songs in divers manners; and this is commonly good,
and sometime it may turn to deceit. This sound is felt on this wise. Some man
setteth the thought of his heart only in the name of Jesu, and steadfastly
holdeth it thereto, and in short time him thinketh that that name turneth him
to great comfort and sweetness, and him thinketh that the name soundeth in his
heart delectably, as it were a song; and the virtue of this liking is so
mighty, that it draweth in all the wits of the soul thereto. Who so may feel
this sound and this sweetness verily in his heart, wete thou well that it is of
God, and, as long as he is meek, he
shall not be deceived. But this is not angel's song; but it is a song of the
soul by virtue of the name and by touching of the good angel. For when a soul offereth him to Jesu truly
and meekly, putting all his trust and his desire in Him, and busily keepeth Him
in his mind, our Lord Jesu, when He will, pureth the affection of the soul, and filleth it, and feedeth
it with sweetness of Himself, and maketh His name in the feeling of the soul as honey, and as song, and as any thing
that is delectable; so that it liketh the soul evermore for to cry Jesu, Jesu.
And not only he hath comfort in this, but also in psalms and hymns, and anthems
of holy Church, that the heart singeth them sweetly, devoutly, and freely,
without any travail of the soul, or bitterness in the same time, and notes that holy Church useth. This is
good, and of the gift of God, for the substance of this feeling lies in the
love of Jesu, which is fed and lightened by such manner of songs. Nevertheless, in this manner
of feeling, a soul may be deceived by vain glory; not in that time that the
affection singeth to Jesu, and loveth Jesu in sweetness of Him, but afterward,
when it ceaseth and the heart keeleth
of the love of Jesu, then entereth in vain glory. Also some man is deceived on
this wise: he heareth well say that it is good to have Jesu in his
mind, or any other good word of God; then he straineth his heart mightily to
that name, and by a custom he hath it nearhand alway in his mind; and,
nevertheless, he feeleth not thereby in his affection sweetness, nor light of
knowing in his reason, but only a naked mind of God, or of Jesu, or of Mary, or of any other good word. Here
may be deceit, not for it is evil for to have Jesu in mind on this wish but if
he this feeling and this mind, that is only his own working by custom, hold it
a special visitation of our Lord, and
think it more than it is. For wete thou well that a naked mind or a naked
imagination of Jesu, or of any ghostly thing, without sweetness of love in the
affection, or without light of knowing in reason, it is but a blindness, and a
way to deceit, if a man hold it in his own sight more than it is. Therefore I
hold it siker that he be meek in his
own feeling, and hold this mind in regard nought, till he may, by custom and
using of this mind, feel the fire of love in his affection, and the light of
knowing in his reason. Lo, I have told thee in this matter a little, as me
thinketh; not affirming that this sufficeth, nor that this is the soothfastness
in this matter. But if thou think it otherwise, or else any other man
savour by grace the contrary hereto, I leave this saying, and give stead to
him; it sufficeth to me for to live in truth principally, and not in feeling.
In true union.
So Horstman. Pepwell reads: "With this
wonderful onehede ne may none be fuifilled."
Secret nature. Cf. Mother Juliana,
Revelations of Divine Love, xiv. cap. 46: "And our kindly substance is
now blessedfully in God."
Cf. De Imitatione Christi, ii.
4: "If thine heart were right, then every creature would be a mirror of life,
and a book of holy doctrine. There is no creature so small and vile, as not to
represent the goodness of God."
Horstman reads: "a mans saule."
So Horstman: Pepwell reads: "as virtues
in angels and in holy souls and in heavenly things."
Pepwell omits the "not."
The truth of God's hidden mysteries.
According to the measure of its love.
All intervening hindrance.
Horstman reads: "matter."
Horstman reads: "wete he wele."
This passage is defective in Pepwell.
MS. Dd. v. 55, ed. Horstman, has:
Pepwell has: "in feeling of the
MS. Dd. v. 55, ed. Horstman, reads:
"toune" (i.e. tone).
Cools down grows cold. Also construed
with "from." Cf. Richard Rolle Psalter (ed. H. R. Bramley, p. 156): "He
gars sa many kele fra godis luf."
A mere abstract thought of God.
Construe: "But if he hold this feeling
and this mind (that is only his own working by custom) to be a special
Pepwell adds "and in faith."