Of two Manners of reforming of this Image, one in fulness, another in part
This is chapter 4 of The Scale of Perfection – Book 2 in Middle English:
Of two maner reformynge of this image, oon in fulnesse and othir in partie.
Hilton opens this chapter asking: How is it possible that can we be reformed in the image of God which is perfect. This surely cannot exist in any creature? The features of this reforming would be that the soul would have stable memory, a clear sight or understanding, a clear burning love to God and spiritual things everlastingly, as it had in the beginning. It seems that we are so wrapped about with this black image of sin, for all that thou canst do, that upon what side soever thou turnest, thou feelest thyself defiled and spotted with fleshly stirrings of this foul image. Because of this it seems impossible that the soul can be reformed in this way. Thou askest, therefore, how it can be reformed?
Hilton responds that there are two ways of reforming the image of God. Firstly, Reforming in fulness cannot be had in this life, but is deferred till after, to the bliss of Heaven, where man’s soul shall fully be reformed, because our imperfect body could not contain the perfect. However in Heaven it shall be restored to much more bliss, and much higher joy through the great mercy and the endless goodness of God, than it should have had if it had never fallen. It is interesting how Hilton’s use of Isaiah 2:11 brings together the teachings from Book 1 and extends them: The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day.
The next paragraph explains why all souls cannot be fully saved until the end of creation. It also explains why those present at the Passion were not fully saved. I have to say I find the argument rather tortuous and cumbersome. Hilton appears to be saying that we must have free will to have faith. That means that God’s creation must play out to the full so that everyone will be given a full chance to have faith. If everyone was fully saved by the Passion, then there would be no chance for anyone else to be fully saved, because they would have been perfected, and creation is not perfected until its completion. As I understand, this complicated argument must arise because of the Augustinian notion of God, and Hilton is a thorough going Augustinian. God is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and ending of time. God can see all time and creation in his gaze. God knows who has been saved, and who will be saved. We creatures do not have this foreknowledge, living as we do, only in the present and must wait for creation to play out. Hilton concludes that Saint Paul in Hebrews 11:40 has said: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. In other words, Hilton concludes, the chosen souls should not make a full end without us that come after.
In the final paragraph, Hilton offers a further reason that creation is like this. Adam had the chance to choose God, and if he should afterwards be reformed, that he should be set again in the same free choosing that he was first in, as whether he would become reformed or no. This is another reason that man’s soul is not fully reformed speedily upon the Passion of Jesus Christ.
If we could be saved perfectly by faith in the Passion of Jesus Christ, then there would be an end reached for creation at that point. As it is we all take part in creation actively. The whole of creation is bursting with anticipation for the perfection that must come...