The scale (or ladder) of perfection



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SECTION III

How a Man shall know how much Wrath and Envy is hid in the ground of his Heart, and how he may know whether he loves his Enemies, and the Examples we have thereof in our Saviour

Now turn we again to this image. If thou wilt, try how much anger and envy is hid in thy heart, which thou feelest and perceivest not. Look well and behold thyself wisely when such stirrings of anger and envy against thy neighbour spring out of thy heart. The more that thou art stirred by melancholy or wicked will against him, the more is this image in thee. For the more thou grudgest by impatience, either against God for any tribulation or sickness, or other bodily disease sent by Him, or against thy neighbour, for aught that he doth against thee, the less is the image of Jesus reformed in thee. I say not that such grudgings or fleshly angriness are deadly sins; but I say that they hinder the cleanness of heart and peace of conscience, that thou canst not have perfect charity, by the which thou shouldst come to life Contemplative. For that end is the purpose of all my saying, that thou shouldst not only cleanse thy heart from deadly sins, but also from venial as much as thou canst; and that the ground of sin might by grace of Jesus Christ be somewhat shaked in thee.

For though it be so that thou feelest no evil against thy neighbour for a time, yet art thou not secure that the ground of anger is quenched in thee; neither yet art thou lord and master of the virtue of charity. For let him but touch thee a little angrily, or by a shrewd word, and thou shalt see presently whether thy heart be yet made whole by perfect charity. The more thou art stirred and evil-willed against his person, the further art thou from charity. And if thou be nothing stirred against his person, neither by any angry carriage or gesture outwardly, nor by any privy hate in thy heart, either to despise or judge him, or undervalue, or set him at nought; but the more shame or villainy he doth to thee by word or deed, the more pity and compassion thou hast of him, as thou wouldst have of a man that were out of his wits, and thinkest that thou canst not find in thy heart to hate him (because love is so good in itself) but pray for him and help him and desire his amendment, not only with thy mouth, as hypocrites can do, but with affection of love in thy heart; then hast thou perfect charity to thy neighbour.


To love our enemies. After the example of our Saviour.

This charity had St Stephen perfectly when he prayed for them that stoned him to death. This charity counselled Christ to those that would be His perfect followers when He said thus: Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, pray for them that persecute you.136 And, therefore, if thou wilt be one of Christ's followers, be like Him in this craft. Learn to love thine enemies and sinful men, for all these are thy neighbours. Look and bethink thee how Christ loved Judas, who was both His deadly enemy and a sinful caitiff; how goodly Christ was to him, how benign, how courteous, and how lowly to him whom He knew to be damnable. And nevertheless He chose him to be His apostle, and sent him to preach with His other apostles. He gave him power to work miracles; He showed the same good cheer to him in word and deed as He did to other apostles. He washed his feet, and fed him with His precious Blood, and preached to him as He did to His other apostles. He bewrayed him not openly (for He did it privily); He miscalled him not, despised him not, never spake evil of him; notwithstanding if He had done all these things, He had said nothing but truth. Moreover, when Judas took Him, He kissed him, and called him His friend. All this charity showed Christ unto Judas, whom He knew to be damnable; and this He did in no way of counterfeiting or flattering, but in reality and truth of good love and clean charity. For though it was true that Judas was not worthy to have any gift from God, or any sign of love for his wickedness; nevertheless, it was worthy and seemly that our Lord should show Himself to be that which He is, and that is love and goodness to all His creatures, as He was to Judas. I say not that He loved him for his sin, nor that He loved him as one of His chosen, as He did St Peter; but He loved him inasmuch as he was His creature, and showed him tokens of love, if he would have been mended thereby. Follow thou His example somewhat as much as thou canst; for though thou art shut up in a house as to thy body, nevertheless in thy heart (where the seat of love is) thou mayest have part in such love to thy neighbour, as I have spoken of.

Whoso thinkest himself to be in his life a perfect lover and follower of Christ's teaching (as some men perhaps esteem themselves to be, because they preach and teach, and are poor in worldly goods, as Christ was) and cannot follow Christ in this love and charity, to love their neighbours, even every man, both good and bad, friend and foe, without feigning or flattery, or despising him in his heart, without angriness or malicious reproving, soothly he beguileth himself. The nearer he thinketh himself to be to Christ's example, the further is he off; for Christ said to them that would be His disciples, thus: This is My bidding, that you should love one another as I have loved you.137 For if ye love as I have loved, then are ye My disciples.


How a man should love the bad as well as the good.

But now thou wilt say: How shall I love him that is bad as well and truly as him that is good?

To this I say thus: That thou shalt love both good and bad in charity, but not for the same cause as I shall tell how. Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Now, thou shalt love thyself only in God, or else for God. In God thou lovest thyself, when thou art righteous and virtuous through grace, and lovest not thyself but only for that righteousness and virtues that God giveth thee, then lovest thou thyself in God, for thou lovest not thyself, but God. Also, thou lovest thyself for God, when being in deadly sin thou desirest to be made righteous and virtuous, for then thou lovest not thyself as thou art (for thou art unrighteous), but as thou wouldst be. Right so shalt thou love thy neighbour. If he be good and righteous thou shalt love him by charity in God only; in that he is good and righteous; for then lovest thou God (who is goodness and righteousness) in him, and so thou lovest him more than if he were bad or in deadly sin. As, for example, thy enemies who hate thee, or any other of whom thou hast full evidence they are not in grace; yet notwithstanding shalt thou love them, not as they are, nor as good and righteous men (for they are bad and unrighteous), but thou shalt love them for God, that they may be good and righteous. And so shalt thou hate nothing in them, but that thing which is contrary to righteousness, and that is sin. This is as I understand the doctrine of St Augustine, for to distinguish the love of the man from the hatred of his sin, and the love of thy neighbour. He that is humble, or desires truly to be humble, can thus love his neighbour, and none but he.



CHAPTER VII
Of Covetousness and how a Man may know how much of it is hid in his Heart

HEAVE up this image, and look well about it, and into it, and then shalt thou see covetousness and love of earthly things possess a great part of this image, though it seem little of it. Thou hast forsaken riches and the having much of this world, and art shut up in a cell, but hast thou cleanly forsaken the love of all this? I fear not yet, for it is less mastery to forsake worldly goods than to forsake the love of them. Peradventure thou hast not forsaken thy covetousness, but only hast changed it from great things unto small; from a pound unto a penny, and from a silver dish unto a dish of a halfpenny. This is but a simple change; thou art no good merchant. These examples are childish, nevertheless they signify much more. If thou believe not what I say, put thyself upon the trial. If thou have love and delight in the having and holding of anything that thou hast, how mean soever it may be, with the which love thou feedest thy heart for a time, or if thou have a desire and yearning for to have something that thou hast not, with the which desire thy heart is disquieted and stumbled through unreasonable thinking of the thing, that the pure desire of virtue and of God cannot rest therein; this is a sign that there is covetousness in this image. And if thou wilt put thyself further to the trial, look if anything that thou hast be taken away from thee by violence, or by borrowing, or any other way, so that thou canst not get it again, and for this thou art disquieted, angered, and troubled in thine heart, both for the loss of that thing which thou wouldst have again, and canst not; and also art stirred against him that hath it, to strive and chide with him that may restore it, and will not, this is a token that thou lovest worldly goods. For thus do worldly men when their goods and riches are taken from them; they are heavy, sorry and angry, chiding and striving with them that have them, openly, both by word and deed. But thou dost all this in thy heart privily, where God seeth, and therein thou art in more default than a worldly man; for thou hast forsaken in appearance the love of worldly things, but a worldly man hath not so, and therefore he is excused, though he strive and pursue for his goods by lawful means, for to have them again.

But now sayest thou, that it behoveth thee to have thy necessaries of such things as belong unto thee, as well as a worldly man. I grant well thereto; but thou shouldst not love it for itself, nor have liking in the holding nor in the keeping, nor feel sorrow and heaviness in the losing, or in the withdrawing of it. For as St Gregory saith: As much sorrow as thou hast in losing of a thing, so much love hast thou in the keeping of it. And therefore if so be thy heart made whole, and thou hadst truly felt a desire of spiritual things, and therewith hadst a true sight of the least spiritual thing that is, thou wouldst set at nought all the love and liking of any earthly thing, it would not cleave to thee.

For to love and have more than thou reasonably needest, only for lust and liking, is a great fault. Also, to fix thy love upon the thing which thou needest, for the thing itself, is a fault also, but not so great. But to have and use that thing that thou needest without love of it, more than nature and need requireth, without which the thing cannot be used, is no fault.

Soothly in this point I fear that many who have taken upon them the state and likeness of poverty are much letted and hindered in their pursuit of the love of God; I accuse no man, nor reprove any state, for in each state there be some good, and some otherwise; but one thing I say to every man or woman that hath taken the state of voluntary poverty, whether he be religious or secular, or what degree he be in, as long as his love and his affection is bounden and fastened, and as it were glued with the love of any earthly thing, which he hath, or would have, he cannot have nor feel soothfastly the clean love, and the clear sight of spiritual things. For St Austin said to our Lord thus: Lord, he loveth Thee but little, that loveth anything with Thee, which he loveth not for Thee. For the more love and covetousness of any earthly thing is with thee, the less is the love of God in thy heart. For though it be so, that this love of earthly things putteth them not out of charity; but if it be so much that it strangleth the love of God and of their neighbour, verily it hindereth and letteth them from the fervour of charity, and also from that special reward which they should have in the bliss of heaven for perfect poverty, and that is a great loss if thou couldst see it. For who so could understand the spiritual reward, how good, how precious and how worthy it is (for it is everlasting), he would not for the love of all earthly joy, or having all earthly things (though he might have them without sin) hinder, no, nor lessen the least reward of the bliss of heaven, which he might have if that he would; but God knows I speak more than I do myself. But I pray thee do thus as I say, by the grace of God, if thou canst, or any other man that will, for it would be a comfort to my heart (though I have it not in myself that which I say) that I might have it in thee, or in any other creature, which hath received more plenty of His grace than I.

But see, now then, since covetousness, in the naked ground of it, letteth a man or woman so much from the spiritual feeling of the love of God, how much more, then, doth it let and cumber worldly men and women, who by all their wits and bodily business night and day, study and travail how they may get riches and plenty of worldly goods? They can have no other delight but in worldly things; nay, they will not, for they seek it not. I say no more of them at this time; for in this writing I spake not to them. But this I say, that if they would see, or could see what they do, they would not do so.

CHAPTER VIII

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