VII. OF DISCERNING OF SPIRITS
HERE FOLLOWETH A DEVOUT TREATISE OF DISCERNING OF SPIRITS, VERY
NECESSARY FOR GHOSTLY LIVERS
FOR because that there be divers kinds of spirits, therefore it is needful to
us discreet knowing of them; sith it so is that we be taught of the apostle
saint John not to believe to all spirits. For it might seem to some that are but little in
conning, and namely of ghostly things, that each thought that soundeth in man's
heart should be the speech of none other spirit but only of man's own spirit.
And that it is not so, both belief and witness of holy scripture proveth
apertly; for "I shall hear," saith the prophet David, "not what I speak myself,
but what my Lord God speaketh in me";
and another prophet saith, that an angel spake in him. And also we be taught in the psalm that the wicked
spirits sendeth evil thoughts in to men; and over this, that there is a spirit
of the flesh not good, the apostle Paul sheweth apertly, where he saith, that
some men are full blown or inflate with the spirit of their flesh. And also that there is the spirit of the world, he declareth plainly, where he maketh joy in God, not only
for himself, but also for his disciples, that they had not taken that spirit of
the world, but that that is sent of God, the which is the Holy Ghost. And these two spirits of the flesh and
also of the world are, as it were, servants or sergeants of that cursed spirit,
the foul fiend of hell; so that the spirit of wickedness is lord of the spirit
of the flesh, and also of the spirit of the world. And which of these three
spirits that speaketh to our spirit, we should not believe them. For why, they
speak never but that anon, by their speaking, they lead to the loss both of
body and of soul. And which spirit it is that speaketh to our spirit, the
speech of that same spirit that speaketh shall fully declare; for ever more the
spirit of the flesh speaketh soft things and easy to the body; the spirit of
the world vain things and covetise of
worship; and the spirit of malice of the fiend speaketh fell things and
Wherefore, as oft times as any thought
smiteth on our hearts of meat, of drink, and of sleep, of soft clothing, of
lechery, and of all other such things the which longeth to the business of the
flesh, and maketh our heart for to brenne as it were in a longing desire after all such things;
be we full siker that it is the spirit of the flesh that speaketh
it. And therefore put we him away, in as much as we goodly may by grace, for he
is our adversary. As oft times as any thought smiteth on our hearts of vain joy
of this world, kindling in us a desire to be holden fair, and to be favoured,
to be holden of great kin and of great conning, to be holden wise and worthy,
or else to have great degree and high office in this life--such thoughts and
all other the which would make a man to seem high and worshipful, not only in
the sight of others, but also in the sight of himself--no doubt but it is the
spirit of the world that speaketh all these, a far more perilous enemy than is
the spirit of the flesh, and with much more business he should be put off. And
oft times it befalleth that these two servants and sergeants of the foul fiend,
the spirit and prince of wrath and of
wickedness, are either by grace and by ghostly slight of a soul stiffly put
down and trodden down under foot; or else, by quaintise of their malicious master, the foul fiend of hell, they
are quaintly withdrawn, for he thinketh himself for to rise with great malice
and wrath, as a lion running felly to assail the sickness of our sely souls;
and this befalleth as oft as the thought of our heart stirreth us, not to the
lust of our flesh, nor yet to the vain joy of this world, but it stirreth us to
murmuring, to grutching, to grievance,
and to bitterness of soul, to pain and to impatience, to wrath, to
melancholy, and to evil will, to hate, to envy, and to all such sorrows. It
maketh us to bear us heavily, if ought be done or said unto us, not so lovely,
nor so wisely as we would it were; it
raiseth in us all evil suspicion, if ought be shewed in sign, in countenance,
in word, or in work, that might by any manner be turned to malice or to
heaviness of heart; it maketh us as fast to take it to us.
To these thoughts, and to all such that would put
us out of peace and restfulness of heart, we should none otherwise
againstand, but as we would the self
fiend of hell, and as much we should flee therefrom as from the loss of our
soul. No doubt but both the other two thoughts, of the spirit of the flesh and
also of the spirit of the world, work and travail in all that they can to the
loss of our soul, but most perilously the spirit of malice; for why, he is by
himself, but they not without him. For if a man's soul be never so clean of
fleshly lust, and of vain joy of this world, and if it be defouled with this
spirit of malice, of wrath, and of wickedness, not againstanding all the other
cleanness before, yet it is losable. And if a soul be never so much defouled
with the lust of the flesh, and vain joy of the world, and it may by grace keep
it in peace and in restfulness of heart unto the even Christian, though all it be full hard for to do
(lasting the custom of the other two),
yet it is less losable, not againstanding all the other filth of the flesh and
of the world touched before. And, therefore, though all that our lusty thoughts of our flesh be evil, for they
reave from the soul the life of devotion, and though all that the vain joy of
the world be worse, for it reaveth us from the true joy that we should have in
contemplation of heavenly things, ministered and taught to us by the angels of
heaven. For who so lustily desireth to be worshipped, favoured, and served of
men here in earth, they deserve to forego the worship, the favour, and service
of angel in ghostly contemplation of heaven and of heavenly things, all their
lifetime; the which contemplation is better and more worthy in itself than is
the lust and the liking of devotion. And for this bitterness I clepe the spirit
of malice, of wrath, and of wickedness the worst spirit of them all; and why?
Certes, for it reaveth us the best thing of all, and that is charity, the which
is God. For who so lacketh peace and restfulness of heart, him lacketh the
lively presence of the lovely sight of the high peace of heaven, good gracious
God His own dear self. This witnesseth David in the psalm, where he
saith, that the place of God is made in peace, and His dwelling place in
Sion. Sion is as much to say as the
sight of peace; the sight of the soul is the thought of that same soul; and,
certes, in that soul that most is occupied in thoughts of peace hath God made
His dwelling place. And thus saith
Himself by the prophet, when he saith: "Upon whom shall my spirit rest, but
upon the meek and the restful." And,
therefore, who so will have God continually dwelling in him, and live in love
and in sight of the high peace of the Godhead, the which is the highest and the
best party of contemplation that may be had in this life, be he busy night and
day to put down, when they come, the spirit of the flesh and the spirit of the
world, but most busily the spirit of malice, of wrath, and of wickedness, for
he is the foulest and the worst filth
of all. And it is full needful and speedful to know his quaintise, and not for
to unknow his doleful deceits. For sometime he will, that wicked cursed wight,
change his likeness in to an angel of light, that he may under colour of virtue
do more dere; but yet then,
if we look more redely, it is but seed
of bitterness and of discord that that he sheweth, seem it never so holy nor
never so fair at the first shewing. Full many he stirreth unto singular
holiness passing the common statute and custom of their degree, as is fasting,
sharp wearing, and many other devout observances and outward doings, in open
reproving of other men's defaults, the which they have not of office for to do.
All such and many other he stirreth them for to do, and all under colour of
devotion and of charity; not for he is delighted in any deed of devotion and of
charity, but for he loveth dissension and slander, the which is evermore caused
by such unseemly singularities; for where so ever that any one or two are in
any devout congregation, the which any one or two useth any such outward
singularities, then in the sight of fools all the remenant are slandered by
them; but, in the sight of the wise man, they slander themselves. But for
because that fools are more than wise men, therefore for favour of fools such
singular doers ween that they be wise, when (if it were wisely determined) they
and all their fautors should be seen
apert fools, and darts shot of the devil, to slay true simple souls under
colour of holiness and charity. And thus many deceits can the fiend bring in on
Who so will not consent, but meeketh him truly to
prayer and to counsel, shall graciously be delivered of all these
deceits. But it is sorrow for to say,
and more for to feel, that sometime our
own spirit is so overcome peradventure with each of these three spirits, of the
flesh, of the world, and of the fiend, and so brought into danger, bounden in
bondage, in thraldom and in service of them all, that sorrow it is to wit. In
great confusion and loss of itself, it doth now the office of each one of them
itself in itself. And this befalleth when, after long use, and customable
consenting unto them when they come, at the last it is made so fleshly, so
worldly, and so malicious, so wicked, and so froward, that now plainly of
itself, without suggestion of any other spirit, it gendereth and bringeth forth
in itself, not only lusty thoughts of the flesh, and vain thoughts of the
world, but that worst of all these, as are bitter thoughts and wicked, in
backbiting and deeming, and evil suspicion of others. And when it is thus with
our spirit, then, I trow, it may not lightly be known when it is our own spirit
that speaketh, or when it heareth any of the other three spirits speaking in it
as it is touched before. But what maketh it matter who speaketh, when it is all one and the same thing
that is spoken? What helpeth to know the person of him that speaketh, when it
is siker and certain that all is evil and perilous that is spoken?
If it be thine enemy, consent not to him, but meek thee to prayer and to
counsel, and so mayst thou mightily withstand thine enemy. If it be thine own
spirit, reprove him bitterly, and sighingly sorrow that ever thou fell in so great wretchedness, bondage, and
thraldom of the devil. Shrive thee of thy customed consents, and of thine old
sins, and so mayst thou come (by grace) to recover thy freedom again; and by
the gracious freedom mayst thou soon come to, wisely for to know, and
soothfastly for to feel by the proof, when it is thine own spirit that speaketh
these evils, or it be these other evil spirits that speaketh them in thee. And
so may this knowing be a sovereign mean and help of againstanding, for often
times unknowing is cause of much error, and, againward, knowing is cause of
much truth; and to this manner of knowing mayst thou win thus as I say to
If thou be in doubt or in were of these evil thoughts when they come, whether that
they be the speech of thine own spirit, or of any of the others of thine
enemies; look then busily by the witness of thy counsel and thy conscience, if
thou have been shriven and lawfully amended after the doom of thy confessor, of all the consents that ever thou
consented to that kind of sin, that thy thought is aware of. And if
thou have not been shriven shrive thee then, as truly as thou mayst, by grace
and by counsel; and then wete thou right well that all the thoughts that come
to thee after thy shrift, stirring thee oft times to the same sins, they are
the words of other spirits than thine own (I mean some of the three touched
before). And thou for none such thoughts, be they never so thick, so foul, nor
so many (I mean for their first coming in), but if it be for recklessness of
againstanding, art no blame worthy. And
not only releasing of purgatory that thou hast deserved for the same sins done
before, what so they be, thou mayst deserve, if thou stiffly againstand them,
but also much grace in this life, and much meed in the bliss of heaven. But all
those evil thoughts coming in to thee, stirring thee to any sin, after that
thou hast consented to that same sin, and before that thou hast sorrow for that
consent, and art in will to be shriven thereof, it is no peril to thee to take
them to thyself, and for to shrive thee
of them, as of thoughts of thine own spirit; but for to take to thyself all
other thoughts, the which thou hast by very proof, as it is shewed before, by
the speeches of other spirits than of thyself, therein lieth great peril, for
so mightest thou lightly misrule thy conscience, charging a thing
for sin the which is none; and this were great error, and a mean to the
greatest peril. For if it were so that each evil thought and stirring to sin
were the work and the speech of none other spirit, but only of man's own
spirit; then it would follow by that that a man's own spirit were a very fiend,
the which is apertly false and a damnable woodness; for though all it be so that a soul may, by frailty and
custom of sinning, fall in to so much wretchedness, that it taketh on itself by
bondage of sin the office of the devil, stirring itself to sin ever more and
more, without any suggestion of any other spirit (as it is said before), yet it
is not therefore a devil in kind, but it is a devil in office, and may be
cleped devilish, for it is in the doing like to the devil, [that is to say, a
stirrer of itself unto sin, the which is the office of the devil]. Nevertheless yet, for all this thraldom
to sin and devilishness in office, it may by grace of contrition, of shrift,
and of amending, recover the freedom again, and be made saveable--yea, and a
full special God's saint in this life, that before was full damnable and full
cursed in the living. And, therefore,
as great a peril as it is a soul that is fallen in sin, not for to charge his
conscience therewith, nor for to amend him thereof, as great a peril it is,
and, if it may be said, a greater, a man for to charge his
conscience with each thought and stirring of sin that will come in him; for, by
such nice charging of conscience, might he lightly run in to error of
conscience, and so be led in to despair all his life time. And the cause of all
this is lacking of knowing of discretion of spirits, the which knowing may be
gotten by very experience; who so redely will look soon after that a soul have
been truly cleansed by confession as it is said before. For fast after
confession a soul is, as it were, a clean paper leaf, for ableness that it hath
to receive what that men will write thereupon. Both they do press for to write on the soul, when it is
clean in itself made by confession: God and His angel on the one party, and the
fiend and his angel on the other party; but it is in the free choice of the
soul to receive which that it will. The receipt of the soul is the consent of
the same soul. A new thought and a stirring to any sin, the which thou hast
forsaken before in thy shrift, what is it else but the speech of one of the
three spirits the which are thine enemies (touched before), proffering to write
on thy soul the same sin again? The speech of thyself, is it not; for why,
there is no such thing written in thy soul, for all it is wasted away before in
thy shrift, and thy soul left naked and bare; nothing left thereupon, but a
frail and a free consent, more inclining to the evil, for custom therein, than
it is to the good, but more able to the good than to the evil, for
cleanness of the soul and virtue of the sacrament of shrift; but, of itself, it
hath nought then, where through it may think or stir itself to good or to evil;
and, therefore, it followeth that what thought that cometh then in it, whether
that it be good or evil, it is not of itself, but the consent to the good or to
the evil, whether that it be, that is ever more the work of the same soul.
And all after the worthiness and the wretchedness
of this consent, thereafter it deserveth pain or bliss. If this consent be to
evil, then as fast it hath, by cumbrance of sin, the office of that same spirit
that first made him suggestion of that same sin; and if it be to the good, then
as fast it hath, by grace, the office of that same spirit that first made him
stirring to that same good. For as oft
as any healful thought cometh in our mind, as of chastity, of soberness, of
despising of the world, of wilful poverty, of patience, of meekness, and of
charity, without doubt it is the spirit of God that speaketh, either by Himself
or else by some of His angels--that is to say, either His angels of this life,
the which are true teachers, or else His angels of His bliss, the which are
true stirrers and inspirers of good. And as it is said of the other three evil
spirits, that a soul, for long use and customable consenting unto them, may be
made so fleshly, so worldly, and so malicious, that it taketh upon it the
office of them all; right so it is againward that a soul, for long use and custom in goodness, may
be made so ghostly by cleanness of living and devotion of spirit against the
spirit of the flesh, and so heavenly against the spirit of the world, and so
godly by peace and by charity, and by restfulness of heart, against the spirit
of malice, of wrath, and of wickedness, that it hath them now of office all
such good thoughts to think when him list, without forgetting, in as great
perfection as the frailty of this life will suffer. And thus it may be seen how
that each thought that smiteth on our hearts, whether that it be good or evil,
it is not evermore the speech of our own spirit, but the consent to the
thought, what so ever it be, that is ever of our own spirit. Jesu grant us His
grace, to consent to the good and againstand the evil. Amen.
FINIS. DEO GRATIAS
1 John iv. 1-6.
Ps. lxxxv. 8 (Vulgate lxxxiv. 9).
Zech. i. 9-19.
Col. ii. 18.
1 Thess. i. 2-9.
Pepwell adds: "or ambition." Cf.
Chaucer, The Persones Tale, ed. Skeat, SS 18: "and coveitise of hynesse by
pryde of herte."
So Harl. MS. 674; Pepwell has: "war."
Cf. above, p. 17 note.
Pepwell has: "gladly."
Pepwell reads "ever ready."
Cf. Mother Juliana, Revelations of
Divine Love, i. cap. 9: "In general I am, I hope, in onehead of charity
with all my even Christian, for in this onehead standeth the life of all
mankind that shall be saved."
If it is still guilty of the other
Pepwell adds: "and voluptuous."
Ps. cxxxii. (Vulgate cxxxi. ) 13.
Cf. Walter Hilton, The Ladder of
Perfection, II. pt. ii. cap. 3: "Jerusalem is, as much as to say,
a sight of peace, and betokeneth contemplation in perfect love of God;
for contemplation is nothing else but a sight of God, which is very peace."
Probably Isa. lvii. 15.
Pepwell reads: "most folly."
Pepwell adds: "or harm." Cf. The
Chronicle of Robert of Brunne, 8905-6: "Now may ye lyghtly bere the stones
to schip wythouten dere.'
The MSS. read: "doles."
Pepwell reads: "But it is more sorrow
to feel of our own spirit's deceits. For sometime our own spirit."
The MSS. read: "Bot what thar reche";
what need to care.
Pepwell reads: "didst feel in there."
Cf. above, p. 95, note.
Pepwell adds: "and judgment."
Unless because of carelessness in
resisting them when they first come.
To regard thyself as responsible.
Not in Harl. MS. 674.
Pepwell reads: "a full damnable and a
full cursed fiend in his living."
Pepwell adds: "and desire much."
Pepwell reads: "suggestion."
On the other hand.