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CHAPTER I: Of the Knowledge of a Man’s Soul and the Powers thereof necessary to Contemplation

THERE is one work more very needful and expedient to travail, in which I esteem also to be the plain highway in our working (as much as may be) to Contemplation: and that is, for a man to enter into himself, to know his own soul8888    The fairness and the foulness of it. and the powers thereof.

By this inward sight thou shalt come to see the nobility and dignity that naturally it had in its first creation; and thou shalt also see the wretchedness and the mischief which thou art fallen into by sin. From this sight will arise a desire with great longing in thine heart to recover again that dignity and nobleness which thou hast lost. Also thou shalt feel a loathing and detestation of thyself, with a great will and desire to destroy and beat down thyself and all things that let thee from that dignity and that joy. This is a spiritual work, hard and sharp in the beginning, for those that will go speedily and seriously about it. For it is an exercise in the soul against the ground of all sins, little and great, which ground is nought else but a false mistrusted love of man to himself. Out of this love, as St Austin saith, springeth all manner of sin, deadly and venial.

Verily until this ground be well ransacked and deep digged, and as it were dried up by casting out of all fleshly and worldly loves and fears, a soul can never spiritually feel the burning love of Jesus Christ nor have the homeliness of His gracious presence, nor have a clear sight of spiritual things by light in the understanding. This then must be the travail and labour of a man, to draw his heart and mind from the fleshly love and liking of all earthly creatures, from vain thoughts and from fleshly imaginations and from the love and vicious feeling of himself, so that the soul shall or may find or take no rest in any fleshly thoughts or worldly affections. Then inasmuch as the soul cannot as yet find her spiritual rest and satisfaction in the sight and love of Jesus, therefore it must needs be that in the meanwhile she must find and feel some pain and wearisomeness.

This pain and travail is somewhat straight and narrow, nevertheless I hope it is the way which Christ teacheth to them that would be His perfect lovers in the Gospel, saying: Strive to enter in at the strait gate, for strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leadeth to life, and few men find it.8989    St Luke 13. How strait this way is, He telleth us in another place: Whoso will come after me, let him forsake himself and hate his own soul.9090    St Matt. 16, St John 12. That is to say, forsake all fleshly love and hate his own carnal life and vain liking of all his bodily senses for love of Me; and take the cross, that is suffer the pain of this awhile and then follow Me; that is to say, in Contemplation of My Humanity and of My Divinity. This is a strait and narrow way that no bodily thing can pass through it, for it is a slaying of all sin, as St Paul saith: Mortify your members that are upon earth,9191    Col. 3. not the members of our body but of our soul, as uncleanness, lust, evil concupiscence, avarice, fond love to ourselves and earthly things. Therefore as thy endeavour has been heretofore to resist bodily sins and open temptations of the enemy, and that in matters as it were from without; right so it behoveth thee now, in this spiritual work within thyself, to batter down and destroy the ground of sin in thyself as much as thou canst. Which that thou mayest be better able to perform, I shall give thee the best counsel I can.

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