The scale (or ladder) of perfection



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SECTION II

How that without great Corporal and Spiritual Industry, and without much Grace and Humility, Souls cannot come to reforming in Feeling nor keep themselves therein after they come thereto

BUT now thou wilt say, since it is so, that reforming in Faith only is so low, and so perilous to rest in, for fear of falling again; and reforming in Feeling is so high, and so secure for them that can arrive thereto, therefore covetest thou to know what kind of exercises and industries were most convenient to be used for it, by the which thou mayest profit and come thereto; or whether there be any one certain exercise or special work by which a man may come to that grace and that reforming in feeling.
They must strive against all sins.

To this I answer thus: Thou knowest well that what man or woman that will dispose himself to come to cleanness of heart and to feeling of grace, it behoveth him to use much industry and great striving both in will and in deeds continually against the wicked stirrings of all chief sins. Not only against pride or envy, but against all other, with all the kinds that come out of them, as I have said before in the First Book. For why? Passions and fleshly desires hinder the cleanness of heart and peace of conscience. And it behoveth him also to labour to get all virtues, not only chastity and temperance, but also patience and mildness, charity and humility, and all the other. And this cannot be done by one manner of work, but by divers works, according to the divers and sundry dispositions of men, as now praying, now meditating, now working some good works, now proving and exercising themselves in divers ways, in hunger, in thirst, in cold, in suffering of shame and despite, if need be, and bodily pains and labours, for the love of virtue and justice. This thou knowest full well, for this thou readest in every book that treateth of good life; thus saith every man that would stir up men's souls to the love of God. And so it appeareth that there is no one special exercise, no certain work by which only a soul can come to that grace, but principally through the grace of our Lord Jesus, and by many and great deeds, in all that he is able to do, and yet all is little enough.

And one reason why there must be such painstaking is this: That since our Lord Jesus Himself is the special master and teacher of this art, and the special Physician of spiritual sicknesses; for without Him all is nought; it is therefore reasonable, that as He teacheth and stirreth, so a man should follow and work. But he is a simple master that cannot teach his scholar whilst he is learning but only one lesson, and he is an unskilful physician, that by one medicine would heal all sores. Therefore our Lord Jesus, that is so wise and so good, to show His wisdom and goodness teacheth divers lessons to His scholars, after that they profit in their learning, and giveth to divers souls divers and several medicines according to the nature of their sickness.

Another reason also is this: If there were one certain work by which a soul might come to the perfect love of God, then might a man fancy that he might come thereto by his own endeavours, and through his own travail only; as a merchant cometh to his riches only by his own industry and travail. But it is not so in this spiritual business, concerning the love of God, for he that will serve God wisely and come to the perfect love of God, he will covet to have none other reward but Him only. But then for to have him may no creature deserve by his own travail or industry; for though a man could labour both corporally and spiritually as much as could all the creatures that ever have been, yet could he not, for all that, only by his own working deserve to have God for his reward; for He is the sovereign bliss and endless goodness, and surpasseth without comparison all men's deserts; and therefore He cannot be gotten by any man's special working, as a temporal reward may, for He is free and giveth to whom He will, and when He will, neither for this, nor for that, nor in this time, nor after that time. For though a soul work all that he can and may all his lifetime, yet shall he never have the perfect love of Jesus till our Lord will freely give it.

Neither grace without working nor working without grace.

Nevertheless, on the other side, I say that God useth not to give such grace unless a man do work and travail all that he can and may; yea, till it seem to him that he can work no more, or else be in full will and desire to do more if he could. And so it seemeth, that neither grace only, without the full working of the soul so far as it can, nor the man's working alone, without grace, bringeth the soul to the reforming in feeling (the which reforming consisteth in perfect love and charity). But that both joined together, that is grace joined to working, bringeth into a soul the blessed feeling of perfect love. The which grace cannot rest fully, but only on humble souls that be full of the fear of God.

Therefore I may affirm that he that hath not humility, nor doth use his industry and labour, cannot come to this reforming in feeling. And he hath not full humility, that understandeth and perceiveth not himself truly as he is. As thus: He that doth all the good deeds that he can, as fasting, watching, wearing hair-cloth, and all other sufferings of bodily penance, or doth all the outward works of mercy to his neighbour, or else internal works, as praying, weeping, sighing, meditating, if he always rest in them, and lean so much on them, and so greatly regardeth them in his own sight and esteem that he presumeth on his own deserts, and thinketh himself ever rich and good, holy and virtuous, verily as long as he feeleth himself thus, he is not humble enough. No; though he say or think that all that he doth is of God's gift, and not of himself, he is not yet humble enough; for he doth not as yet make himself naked of all his good deeds, nor truly poor in spirit, nor feels himself to be nothing, as indeed he is. And verily, till a soul through grace is come sensibly to annihilate herself and strip herself of all the good deeds that she doth, through the sight and beholding of the truth of Jesus, she is not perfectly humble; for what is humility but truth? Verily nothing else. And therefore he that through grace can see Jesus, how that He doth all, and himself doth just nothing, but suffereth Jesus to work in him what He pleaseth, he is humble. But this is very hard, and as it were impossible, and unreasonable (to a man that worketh all by human reason, and seeth no further) for to do many good deeds, and then to attribute all to Jesus and set himself at nought. But whoso can have a spiritual sight of the truth, he shall think it full true and full reasonable to do so. And verily he that hath this sight shall do never the less, but shall be stirred up to travail corporally and spiritually, much the more, and with a better will. And this may be one cause why some men peradventure labour and travail,186 and pine their wretched bodies with outrageous penance all their lifetime, and are ever saying prayers and psalms and many beads, and yet cannot come to the spiritual feeling of the love of God, as it seems some do in short time, with less pains, for they have not that humility I spake of.

Also on the other side I say: He that useth not his industry, but thinketh thus with himself, to what end should I take pains? Why should I pray, or meditate, or watch, or fast, or do any other bodily penance to attain to such grace, seeing it cannot be gotten or had but only by the free gift of Jesus? Therefore I will continue in my sensuality as I am, and do even nothing of any such corporal or spiritual works; but expect till He give it, for if He be pleased to give it, He asketh no working of me, how much soever or how little I do, I shall have it, and if He be pleased not to give it, labour I never so hard, I shall get it never the sooner. He that saith thus shall never come to this reforming, for he draweth himself wilfully to idleness of the flesh, and disenableth himself for the receiving of the gift of grace, inasmuch as he layeth aside and putteth from him both inward working, which consisteth in a lasting desire and longing after Jesus, and outward working, by exercising his body in outward deeds, so that he shall never receive the said grace.

Therefore I say that he that hath not true humility, nor is very serious and diligent, either only in internal exercises and continual desire towards God by prayer, and devout affections and thoughts of Him, or else both inward and outward, he cannot come to this spiritual forming of His image.



CHAPTER III
An Entry or good Beginning of a Spiritual Journey, showing how a Soul should behave herself in intending and working that will come to this Reforming, by example of a Pilgrim going to Jerusalem


The shortest and readiest way to attain hereto.

NEVERTHELESS, for that thou covetest to know some manner of working by which thou mayest the sooner attain to this reforming, I shall show thee, as well as I can, the shortest and readiest help that I know in this working. And how that may be I shall tell thee by an example of a good pilgrim in this wise. There was a man that would go to Jerusalem and because he knew not the way he came to another man, who he believed knew the way thither better, and asked him whether he might come to that city, who answered that he could not come thither without great pains and travail, for the way is long and perilous, and full of great thieves and robbers and many other hindrances there be that befall a man in his going, and also there be many several ways as it seemeth leading thitherward. And many men travelling thitherward are oftentimes killed or robbed, and so may not come to that place which they desire. Nevertheless, there is one way, the which whosoever taketh and holdeth to it, I will undertake (saith he) he shall come to that city of Jerusalem, and shall never lose his life, nor be slain, nor die by default, though he should oft be robbed and well beaten, and suffer much pain in the going, yet his life shall be safe. Then said the pilgrim, so I may have my life saved, and come to the place that I covet, I care not what mischief I suffer in going. And therefore, tell and advise me what you think necessary, and I promise you on a certainty that I will follow your counsel. That other man answered and said thus: Lo, I set thee in the right way; this is the way, and see that thou bear in mind that which I tell thee. Whatsoever thou seest, hearest, or feelest, that would stay or hinder thee in the way, stick not at it, willingly consent not to it, abide not with it, behold it not, like it not, fear it not, but still go forward holding on thy way, and ever think and say with thyself that thou fain wouldst be at Jerusalem for that thou covetest and that thou desirest; and nought else but that, and if men rob thee and spoil thee, beat thee, scorn thee, despise thee, do not thou strive against such their doings, if thou mean to have thy life safe, but be content with the harm thou receivest, and hold on thy way, as if all that were nothing, lest thou receive more harm. Also if men would seek to stay thee by telling tales, and feed thee with lies or conceits to draw thee to merriment, or to forsake or prolong thy pilgrimage, give them a deaf ear and answer them not again, and say naught else but that thou wouldst fain be at Jerusalem. And if men proffer thee gifts, and would make thee rich with worldly goods, listen not to them, but think ever on Jerusalem. And if thou wilt hold this course and do that which I have said, I will undertake for thy life, that thou shalt not be slain, but that thou shalt come to that place that thou desirest.

Now to apply this spiritually to our purpose: 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. Then if thou covet to come to this blessed sight of very peace, and be a true pilgrim towards Jerusalem, though it be so that I was never there, nevertheless, as far forth as I can, I shall set thee in the way towards it.



The beginning of the high way, in which thou shalt go, is reforming in Faith, grounded humbly on the faith and on the laws of holy Church as I have said before, for trust assuredly, though you have sinned heretofore, if you be now reformed by the Sacrament of Penance, after the law of holy Church, that thou art in the right way. Now then, since thou art in the safe way, if thou wilt speed in thy going and make a good journey, it behoveth thee to hold these two things often in thy mind: humility and Love; and often say to thyself, I am nothing, I have nothing, I covet nothing, but one. Thou shalt have the meaning of these words in thine intent, and in the habit of thy soul perpetually, though thou have them not always expressly in thy thought (for that is not necessary). Humility saith, I am nothing, I have nothing; Love saith, I covet nothing, but one, and that is Jesus. These two stirrings well fastened, with the minding of Jesus, make good music in the harp of the soul, when they be cunningly struck upon with the finger of reason; for the lower thou smitest upon the one, the higher soundeth the other. The less thou feelest that thou art, or that thou hast of thyself, through Humility, the more thou covetest for to have of Jesus, through desire of love. I mean not only that Humility which a soul feeleth by the sight and sense of his own sin, for frailness and wretchedness of this life, or of the wretchedness of his neighbour; for though this kind of Humility be true and wholesome, nevertheless it is boisterous and fleshly in comparison of that other, not so clean, nor soft, nor lovely. I mean that Humility which a soul feeleth through grace, in the sight and beholding of the endless being, and the wonderful goodness of Jesus, and if thou canst not see it with thy spiritual eye, yet that thou believe it; for through this sight of his being, either in full faith or in feeling, thou shalt esteem thyself not only the most wretched creature that is, but also as nothing in the substance of thy soul, though thou hadst never done any sin. And this is lovely Humility; for in respect of Jesus (who is truly all) thou art just nothing, and so must thou think that thou hast just nothing, but art as a vessel that standeth ever empty, and as if nothing were therein, as of itself; for do thou never so many good deeds outward or inward, until thou have and feel that thou hast the love of Jesus, thou hast just nothing. For with that precious liquor only may thy soul be filled, and with none other. And forasmuch as that thing alone is so precious and noble, therefore whatever else thou hast, or what thou dost, hold and esteem it as nothing as to rest in, without the sight and the love of Jesus. Cast it all behind thee, and forget it, that thou mayest have this, which is the best of all. Just as a true pilgrim, going towards Jerusalem, leaveth behind him house and land, wife and children, and maketh himself poor and bare from all things that he hath, that he may go lightly without letting. Right so, if thou wilt be a spiritual pilgrim, thou shalt strip thyself naked of all that thou hast, that are either good deeds or bad, and cast them all behind thee, that thou be so poor in thy own feeling that there be nothing of thy own working that thou wilt restingly lean on; but ever desiring more grace and love, and ever seeking the spiritual presence of Jesus. And if thou dost thus, then shalt thou resolve in thy heart fully and wholly that thou wilt be at Jerusalem, and at no other place but there; that is, thou shalt purpose in thy heart wholly and fully that thou wilt nothing have but the love of Jesus and the spiritual sight of Him in such manner as He shall please to show Himself; for to that end only art thou made and redeemed, and He it is that is thy beginning and thy end, thy joy and thy bliss. And therefore whatsoever thou hast, be thou never so rich in other deeds spiritual or corporal (unless thou have this love that I speak of, and know and feel that thou hast it) hold and esteem that thou hast right nothing. Imprint this well in the desire of thy soul, and cleave fast thereto, and it shall save thee from all perils in thy going, that thou shalt never perish, and it shall save thee from the thieves and robbers which I call unclean spirits, that though they spoil thee and beat thee by divers temptations, thy life shall ever be safe; and in brief, if thou keep it, as I have said, thou shalt escape all perils and mischiefs, and come to the city of Jerusalem in a short time.

Now then, since thou art in the way, and knowest the name of the place, and whither thou tendest, begin therefore to go thy journey. Thy setting forth is naught else but spiritual working, and bodily also, when there is need, which thou shalt use according to discretion in this wise. What work soever it is that thou shalt do (according to thy degree, and the estate thou art in), corporally or spiritually, if it help and further this gracious desire that thou hast to love Jesus, and make it more whole, more easy, and more mighty to all virtues and to all goodness, that work I hold the best, be it preaching, be it meditating, reading, or working; and as long as that work strengtheneth most thy heart and thy will to the love of Jesus, and draweth thy affections and thy thoughts farthest off from worldly vanities, it is good to use it; and if so be that through use the savour or good taste thereof groweth less, and thou thinkest of some other work that savoureth more, and thou feelest more grace in that other, take the other, and leave that. For though thy desire and the yearning of thy heart to Jesus ought ever to be unchangeable, nevertheless thy spiritual works that thou art to use, in praying or thinking, for the feeding and nourishing thy desire, may be divers, and may well be changed, after that thou feelest thyself disposed through grace severally to apply thy heart to them; for it fareth with works and this desire as it doth with sticks and a fire, for the more sticks are laid to the fire, the greater is the fire. Right so, the more several spiritual works that a man hath in his design, to keep entire this desires the mightier and more burning shall his desire be to God.



And therefore consider wisely what work thou canst best do, and which most helpeth to keep whole this desire of Jesus (if so be thou be free, and not bound by any obligation), and that do. Bind not thyself to voluntary customs unchangeably, which may hinder the liberty of thy heart to correspond or answer the motion or invitation of Jesus, if His grace at any time should specially visit thee. And I shall tell thee what customs are ever good and necessary to be kept, that is, such as consist in the getting of virtues, and in hindering or resisting of sin, such customs should never be left; for thou shouldst ever be humble, patient, sober and chaste, if thou do as thou shouldst. But the customs of other things, if they hinder a better good, are good to be laid aside, giving place to that which would be better for us. As thus, if a man have a custom to say so many beads or prayers, or to meditate of such or such a subject, for so long a time, or to watch, or kneel thus long, or any other such bodily deed, these customs are to be left sometimes when reasonable cause requireth, or when more grace cometh otherwise, or in some other exercise.

CHAPTER IV
Of certain Temptations and Lettings which Souls feel from their Spiritual Enemies, in their Spiritual knowing and going towards Jerusalem, and the Remedies against them

NOW that thou art in the way, and knowest how thou shouldst go, beware of thy enemies, that will be busy to let thee if they can. For their intent is to put out of thy heart that desire, and that longing that thou hast to the love of Jesus, and to drive thee home again to the love of worldly vanities; for that nothing grieveth them so much as this desire. These enemies are principally fleshly desires, and vain fears, which rise out of thy heart, through the corruption of thy fleshly nature, and would hinder thy desire of the love of God, that they may fully and peaceably possess thy heart; these are thy nearest enemies. Also other enemies there are, as unclean spirits, which are busy with slights and wiles to deceive thee. But one remedy hast thou, which I mentioned before, and that is, that whatsoever they say, believe them not; but hold on thy way, and only desire the love of Jesus. Answer them ever on this wise: I am nothing, I have nothing, I covet nothing only the love of our Lord Jesus.
The first temptation.

If thy enemies, by suggestions in thy soul, say unto thee that thou hast not made thy Confession aright, or that there is some old former sin hid in thy heart that thou knowest not, nor never madest thy Confession aright of it, and therefore thou must turn home again, and leave off thy desire, and go confess thyself better; believe not this saying, for it is false, for thou art rightly confessed, and so do thou surely hope and trust; and that thou art in the right way, and that thou needest no further to ransack thy soul for confession of that which is past, hold on thy way, and think only on Jerusalem.
The second temptation. The third temptation.

Also, if they say that thou art not worthy to have the love of God, and therefore why shouldst thou covet that which thou wilt not be able to attain, nor art not worthy of; believe them not but go on, and say thus: Not because I am worthy, but because I am unworthy, therefore would I love God; for if I had His love, that would make me worthy; and since I was created to that end, though I should never have it, yet will I covet it, and therefore will I pray and think that I may get it. And then if thy enemies see that thou beginnest to wax bold, and well-willed to thy work, they will begin to be afraid of thee, yet will they not cease to seek to stay and hinder thee as much as they can, as long as thou art going in the ways what with affrighting and threatening thee on one side, and what with flattering and vain pleasing thee on the other side, to make thee break thy purpose and turn home again. And they will say thus: If thou hold on thus thy desire to Jesus, travailing so fervently as thou now beginnest, thou wilt fall into bodily sickness, or thou wilt craze thy head and fall into fancies or melancholy, as thou seest some do; or thou wilt fall into poverty, or bodily mischief, and none will be able to help thee, or thou wilt fall into secret temptations and illusions of the devil, that thou shalt not be able to help thyself; for it is very dangerous for any man to give himself over to the love of God, and leave all the world, and covet nothing but only the love of Him. For that many perils may fall out that a man knows nothing of, and therefore turn home again, and leave off this desire, for thou shalt never bring it to pass, and do as other worldly men do.
The fourth temptation

Thus will thy enemies say, but believe them not, but hold on thy desire, and say naught else; but that thou wouldst have Jesus, and be Jerusalem; and if they perceive that thy will is so strong, that thou wilt not give over, neither for fear of sin, nor of sickness, for fancies nor for frenzies, for doubts nor for dreads of spiritual temptations, for mischiefs nor for poverty, for life nor for death, but ever seekest and longest after one thing, and nothing else but that one thing, and turnest a deaf ear to them, as though thou heardest them not, and holdest thee on stiffly and constantly in thy course of prayer, and in thy other spiritual exercises without stinting, but yet with discretion, after the counsel and directions of thy Superior, or of thy ghostly Father, then begin they to be wroth, and to come a little nearer to thee. Then they begin to rob thee and beat thee, and do thee all the shame that they can, and that is, when they make that all the deeds that thou doest, be they never so well done, are judged by others to be evil, and turned into the worse part. And whatsoever thou wouldst do, or have done for the help or comfort of thy body or soul, it shall be letted or hindered by other men, so that thou shalt be put from thy will in everything which thou reasonably desirest. And all this they do, that thou mayest be stirred up to anger, or melancholy, or evil will against thy neighbour. But against all these diseases, and all other that thou mayest feel, use this remedy. Take Jesus into thy mind, and trouble not thyself with them, nor be angry; tarry not with them, but think on thy lesson: That thou art nothing, that thou hast nothing, that thou canst nothing lose of earthly goods, that thou covetest nothing but the love of Jesus; and hold on thy way, with thy exercises, to Jerusalem. And though thou be sometimes tarried and letted in thy way, through thy frailty, with such inconveniences as befall thy bodily life, through evil will of man, or malice of the enemy; as soon as thou canst, come again to thyself, leave off the thinking of thy inconveniences, and go on with thy exercise. Abide not long upon the thinking of those thy defects for fear of thy enemies.
The fifth temptation.

And after this, when they see that thou art so well willed, that thou art not angry, nor heavy, nor wroth, nor much moved against any creature for aught that they can do or say against thee, but settest thy heart fully to suffer all that may fall, ease or unease, praise or dispraise, and that thou dost esteem or regard nothing so that thou mayest keep thy thought and thy desire whole to the love of God, then are they much abashed. But then will they set upon thee with flattery and vain pleasing, and that is when they set before thee all thy good deeds and virtues, and tell thee that all men praise thee and speak well of thy holiness, and how all men love thee and worship thee for thy holy living. Thus will thy enemies do, that thou mayest believe them, and take delight in this vain joy, and rest therein. But if thou do well thou shalt esteem all such janglings and suggestions to be false flatterings of thy enemy, that proffereth thee to drink venom tempered with honey, and therefore refuse it, and say thou wilt have none of it, but thou wouldst be at Jerusalem.

Such lettings shalt thou feel, or the like, what from thy flesh, and what from the world, and what of the fiend, more than I can rehearse. Now for as long as a man suffereth his thoughts willingly to run about the world in beholding of sundry things, he perceiveth few lettings. But as soon as he draweth all his thoughts and his yearnings to one thing only, to have it, to know it, and to love it, which is Jesus; then shall he feel many painful lettings; for whatsoever thing he feeleth which is not that which he coveteth, that same thing is a letting to him. Therefore I have set down some of them for examples in particular. And moreover in general, I shall now tell thee that whatsoever stirring thou feelest of the flesh, or of the fiend, either pleasant or painful, bitter or sweet, lovely or dreadful, gladsome or sorrowful, that would draw down thy thoughts or thy desires from the love of Jesus to worldly vanities, and would hinder or cool thy spiritual covetousness that thou hast to the love of Him, and would have thy heart to be occupied with that stirring and rest upon it, set it at naught, entertain it not willingly, tarry not therewith too long. But if it be any worldly thing that is necessary to be done, for thyself or thy neighbour, dispatch it, and quit thee soon of it, and bring it to an end that it hang not on thy heart. But if it be another thing that may be spared and is not very needful, or else concerns thee not, heed it not, jangle or dally not therewith, nor trouble or vex thyself about it, fear it not, like it not, but cast it out of thy heart speedily, and say thus: I am nothing, I have nothing, I seek nor covet nothing but the love of Jesus. Fasten thy thoughts to this desire and strengthen it, and maintain it by prayer and other spiritual exercises that thou forget it not, and it shall lead thee in the right way, and save thee from all dangers; that though thou feel them thou shalt not perish, and I hope that it shall bring thee to the perfect love of our Lord Jesus.



Nevertheless on the other side, I say also, what work or what stirring it is that may help or strengthen or nourish thy desire, and draw thy thoughts farthest from lust and the minding of the world, more entire and more burning to the love of God, whether it be praying, meditating, reading or hearing, solitariness or being in company, silence or talking, going or sitting, hold to it for the time, and exercise thyself therein as long as any savour or relish therein lasteth, if it be so that thou take therewith meat, and drink, and sleep, as a pilgrim doth, and use discretion in thy exercises, after the advice and directions of thy superior. For a pilgrim, though he be in never so great haste in his journey, yet will he eat and drink and sleep. Do thou likewise; and though it hinder and stay thee at one time, it shall further thee at another time.
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