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Chapter VII.

By what steps we can ascend to the heights of love and what permanence there is in it.

If then any one is aiming at perfection, from that first stage of fear which we rightly termed servile (of which it is said: “When ye have done all things say: we are unprofitable servants,”16971697    S. Luke xvii. 10.) he should by advancing a step mount to the higher path of hope—which is compared not to a slave but to a hireling, because it looks for the payment of its recompense, and as if it were free from care concerning absolution of its sins and fear of punishment, and conscious of its own good works, though it seems to look for the promised reward, yet it cannot attain to that love of a son who, trusting in his father’s kindness and liberality, has no doubt that all that the father has is his, to which also that prodigal who together with his father’s substance had lost the very name of son, did not venture to aspire, when he said: “I am no more worthy to be called thy son;” for after those husks which the swine ate, satisfaction from which was denied to him, i.e., the disgusting food of sin, as he “came to himself,” and was overcome by a salutary fear, he already began to loathe the uncleanness of the swine, and to dread the punishment of gnawing hunger, and as if he had already been made a servant, desires the condition of a hireling and thinks about the remuneration, and says: “How many hired servants of my father have abundance of bread, and I perish here with hunger. I will then return to my father and will say unto him, ‘Father I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.’”16981698    S. Luke xv. 17–19. But those words of humble penitence his father who ran to meet him received with greater affection than that with which they were spoken, and was not content to allow him lesser things, but passing through the two stages without delay restored him to his former dignity of sonship. We also ought forthwith to hasten on that by means of the indissoluble grace of love we may mount to that third stage of sonship, which believes that all that the father has is its own, and so we may be counted worthy to receive the image and likeness of our heavenly Father, and be able to say after the likeness of the true son: “All that the Father hath is mine.”16991699    S. John xvi. 15. Which also the blessed Apostle declares of us, saying: “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours.”17001700    1 Cor. iii. 22. And to this likeness the commands of our Saviour also summon us: “Be ye,” says He, “perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”17011701    S. Matt. v. 48. For in these persons sometimes the love of goodness is found to be interrupted, when the vigour of the soul is relaxed by some coldness or joy or delight, and so loses either the fear of hell for the time, or the desire of future blessings. And there is indeed in these a stage leading to some advance, which affects us so that when from fear of punishment or from hope of reward we begin to avoid sin we are enabled to pass on to the stage of love, for “fear,” says one, “is not in love, but perfect love casteth out fear: for fear hath torment, but he who fears is not perfect in love. We therefore love because God first loved us.”17021702    1 John iv. 18, 19. We can then only ascend to that true perfection when, as He first loved us for the grace of nothing but our salvation, we also have loved Him for the sake of nothing but His own love alone. Wherefore we must do our best to mount with 418perfect ardour of mind from this fear to hope, from hope to the love of God, and the love of the virtues themselves, that as we steadily pass on to the love of goodness itself, we may, as far as it is possible for human nature, keep firm hold of what is good.

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