The scale (or ladder) of perfection



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PART III -- CHAPTER I
In what Sense this Manner of Speaking of Reforming of a Soul in Feeling is to be understood; and in what Manner it is reformed, and how it is found in St Paul's Writings

I HAVE heretofore told thee somewhat of reforming in Faith, and also I have touched concerning thy proceeding from that reforming to a higher reforming which is in feeling. Not that I would by these discourses limit God's working by the law of my speaking, as to say that God worketh thus in a soul and no other wise. No, I mean not so, but I speak after my simple feeling that our Lord worketh thus in some creatures as I conceive. And I hope well, also, that He worketh otherwise, which passeth my wit and my feeling. Nevertheless, whether He worketh thus or otherwise by several ways, in longer time or shorter, with much travail or little, if all come to one end, that is, the perfect love of Him, then is it good enough. For if He will give one soul on one day the full grace of Contemplation, and without any travail, as He well may; as good is that to that soul as if he had been tried, pained,214 mortified and purified twenty years. And therefore in this manner take my sayings as I have said, and namely as I meant to say them. For now by the grace of our Lord Jesus shall I speak a little as methinketh more plainly of reforming in feeling, what it is, and how it is made, and what are spiritual feelings which a soul receiveth. Yet in the first place, that I may not be understood to make this manner of speaking of reforming of a soul in feeling as a fiction or fancy of my own, I shall ground it on St Paul's words, where he saith thus: Nolite conformari huic saeculo, &c. That is, ye that are through grace reformed in Faith, conform not yourselves henceforward to the manner of the world, in pride, in covetousness and in other sins, but be ye reformed in newness of feeling.215 Lo, here thou mayest see that St Paul speaketh of reforming in feeling; and what that newness of feeling is he expoundeth in another place thus: Ut impleamini in agnitione, &c. That is: We pray God that ye may be fulfilled in knowing of God's will in all understanding and in all manner of spiritual wisdom.216 This is reforming in feeling; for thou must understand that the soul hath two manners of feelings, one without by the five bodily senses; another within of the spiritual senses, which are properly the faculties of the soul -- memory, understanding and will. When these faculties are through grace fulfilled in all understanding of the will of God and spiritual wisdom, then hath the soul new gracious feelings. That this is so he showeth in another place, thus: Renovamini spiritu mentis vestri, &c. -- Be ye renewed in the spirit of your soul.217 That is, ye shall be reformed, not in bodily feeling nor in imagination, but in the upper part of your reason. And be clothed with the new man, that is shapen after God in righteousness, holiness and truth. That is, your reason, which is properly the image of God, through grace of the Holy Ghost, shall be clothed in a new light of truth, holiness and righteousness, and then is it reformed in feeling. For when the soul hath perfect knowledge of God, then is it reformed. Thus saith St Paul: Expoliantes veterem hominem, &c. -- Spoil yourself of the old man with all his deeds.218 That is, cast from you the love of the world with all worldly manners, and clothe you with the new man. That is, you shall be renewed in the knowing of God, after the likeness of Him that made you.

By these words thou mayest understand that St Paul would have men's souls reformed in perfect knowledge of God, for that is the new feeling which he speaketh of generally. And therefore upon his words I shall speak more plainly of this reforming as God shall give me grace. For there be two manners of knowing of God.

One is had principally in imagination, and little in understanding. This knowing is in chosen souls beginning and profiting in grace, who know God, and love Him humanly (not spiritually) with human affections, and with a corporal image of His Humanity, as I have spoken before.

This knowing is good, and is likened to milk, by which they are tenderly nourished as children until they be able to come to the Father's table, and take from His hand substantial bread.

Another knowing is principally felt in the understanding, and little in imagination; for the understanding is the lady, and the imagination is the maid, serving the understanding when need is. This knowing is solid bread meet for perfect souls, and is reforming in feeling.

CHAPTER II

How God openeth the inward Eye of the Soul to see Him, not all at once, but by divers times, and of three Manners of reforming of a Soul explained by a familiar Example

A SOUL that is called from the love of the world, and after that is righted, tried and mortified and purified, as I have said before, our Lord Jesus of His merciful goodness reformeth it in feeling when He pleaseth. He openeth the inner eye of the soul, when He enlighteneth her reason through the touching and shining of His blessed light for to see Him and know Him, not all fully at once, but by little and little, by divers times, as the soul is able to bear it. He seeth Him not what He is, for that can no creature do in Heaven nor in earth. Nor seeth he Him as He is, for that sight is only in the bliss of Heaven. But he seeth Him that He is an unchangeable being, a supreme power, a sovereign truth, supreme goodness, a blessed life, an endless bliss. This seeth a soul, and much more that cometh withal not blindly and nakedly and unsavourly, as doth a learned man, that knoweth and seeth Him only by his learning, through might of his naked reason; but he seeth Him in understanding, that is, comforted and lighted by the gift of the Holy Ghost, with a wonderful reverence, and a secret burning love, and with a spiritual savour and heavenly delight, more clearly and more fully than can be written or spoken.

This sight, though it be but short and little, is so worthy and so mighty that it draweth and ravisheth all the affections of the soul from be holding and minding of all earthly things to itself, for to rest therein evermore if it could. And upon this kind of sight and knowing the soul groundeth all its working inward in all the affections; for then she worshippeth God in the humanity, as verity; wondereth at Him, as power and might; loveth Him, as goodness. This sight and this goodness, and this knowing of Jesus, with the blessed love that cometh out of it, may be called reforming of a soul in feeling and in faith, which I have spoken of. It is in faith, for it is dark yet in comparison of that full knowing of Jesus, with the blessed love that cometh out of it, that shall be in Heaven. For then shall we see Him, not only that He is, but as He is, as St John saith: Tunc videbimus eum sicut est -- Then shall we see Him as He is.219 Nevertheless it is in feeling also, as in regard of that blind knowing that a soul hath standing only in faith, for this soul knoweth somewhat of the very nature of Jesus as God through this gracious sight, which that other in faith knoweth not, but only believeth it to be truth.

Nevertheless, that thou mayest the better conceive what I mean, I shall show these three manners of reforming of a soul by example of three men standing in the light of the sun. Of the which one is blind, another can see, but hath his eyes stopped, the third looketh forth with full sight. The blind man hath no manner of knowledge that he is in the sun, but he believeth it if an honest man tell him so; and he betokeneth a soul that is only reformed in Faith, that believeth in God as holy Church teacheth, and understandeth not what. This sufficeth as to salvation. That other man seeth a light of the sun, but he seeth it not clearly what it is, for his eyelid letteth him that he cannot see; but he seeth through the lids of his eyes a glimmering of great light. And this man betokeneth a soul that is reformed in Faith and in feeling, and so he is Contemplative, for he seeth somewhat of the Godhead of Jesus through grace, not clearly nor fully; for the lid, that is, his bodily nature, is yet a wall betwixt his nature and the nature of Jesus God, and letteth him from the clear sight. But he seeth through this wall, after that grace toucheth him more or less, that Jesus is God, and that Jesus is sovereign goodness, and sovereign being, and a blessed life, and that all other goodness cometh from Him. Thus seeth the soul by grace, notwithstanding its bodily nature, and the more clean and subtle that the soul is made, and the more it is separated from sensuality, the sharper sight it hath and the greater love of the Divinity of Jesus. This sight is so mighty that though no other man living should believe in Jesus, nor love Him, yet would he never believe the less, nor love Him the less, for he seeth it so certainly that he cannot but believe it.

The third man that hath full sight of the sun, he believeth it not, for he seeth it fully. And he betokeneth a full blessed soul, that without any wall of his body or of sin, seeth openly the face of Jesus in the bliss of Heaven. There is no faith, and therefore he is fully reformed in feeling. There is no state above the second reforming that a soul can come to here in this life, for this is the state of perfection and the way to heavenward. Nevertheless, all the souls that are in this state are not all alike in degrees; for some have it little, short and seldom; and some longer, clearer and oftener; and some have it best of all, clearest and longest, according to the abounding of grace, and yet all these have the gift of Contemplation. For the soul hath not perfect sight of Jesus all at once, but at first a little and a little, and after that it profiteth and cometh to more feeling; and as long as it is in this life it groweth more in knowing, and in this love of Jesus. And verily I know not what can be more desirable to such a soul that hath felt a little of it, than utterly to leave it and set at nought all other things, for to hold only thereto, to have a clearer sight and clearer love of Jesus, in whom is all the Blessed Trinity.

This manner of knowing of Jesus, as I understand, is the opening of Heaven to the eye of a clean soul, of which holy men speak in their writings. Not as some imagine, that the opening of Heaven is as if a soul could see by imagination through the skies above the Firmament, how our Lord Jesus sitteth in His Majesty, in a bodily light, as much as an hundred suns. No, it is not so; no, though he see never so high on this manner, verily he seeth not the spiritual Heaven. The higher he soareth up above the sun for to see Jesus God, thus by such imagination the lower he falleth beneath the sun. Nevertheless, this kind of sight is tolerable in simple souls that can seek no better for Him that is invisible.

CHAPTER III

How Jesus is Heaven to the Soul, and why He is called Fire

WHAT then is Heaven to a reasonable soul? Verily nought else but Jesus God. For if that be Heaven only that is above all things, then is God only Heaven to man's soul, for He alone is above the nature of a soul. Then if a soul can through grace have knowledge of that blessed nature of Jesus, verily he seeth Heaven, for he seeth God. Therefore there be many men that err in understanding of some words that are spoken of God, for that they understand them not spiritually.

Holy Writ saith, that a soul that will find God must lift her inward eye upward, and seek God above itself. Then some men that would do after this saying, understand this word above themselves to signify the placing or setting of a thing in place and worthiness above another, as one element or planet is above another in situation and worthiness of a bodily place. But it is not so taken spiritually; for a soul is above each bodily thing, not in place, or sight, but in purity and worthiness of nature. Right so in the same manner God is above all bodily and spiritual creatures, not in place and sight, but in purity and worthiness of His unchangeable blessed nature.

And therefore he that will wisely seek God, and find Him, he must not run out with his thoughts as if he would climb above the sun, and part the firmament, and imagine the Majesty like to a hundred suns. But he must rather draw down the sun, and all the firmament, and forget it, and cast it beneath him where he is, and set all this and all bodily things also at nought; and then, if he can, think spiritually both of himself and of God also. And if he do thus, then seeth the soul above itself, then seeth it into Heaven.

Upon this same manner shall this word within be understood. It is commonly said that a soul should see our Lord within all things and within itself. True it is, that our Lord is within all creatures, but not on that manner that a kernel is hid within the shell of a nut; or as a little bodily thing is contained within a greater. But He is within all creatures, as holding and preserving them in their being, through the subtlety and power of His own blessed nature, and purity invisible. For even as a thing that is most precious and most clean is laid innermost, right so by the same likeness it is said that the nature of God, which is most precious, most clean, most goodly, most remote from bodily substance, is hid within all things. And therefore he that will seek God within, he must first forget all bodily things, for all such things are without; and also his own body; and he must forget thinking of his own soul, and think on the uncreated nature; that is, Jesus, who made him, quickeneth him, holdeth him, and giveth him reason, memory and love, the which is within him through His power and sovereign subtlety.

Upon this manner must the soul do, when grace toucheth it, or else it will but little avail to seek Jesus, and to find Him within itself, and within all creatures as methinketh.

Also it is said in Holy Writ, that God is light. So sayeth St John: God is light.220 This light we must not take for a bodily light; but it must be understood thus: God is light; that is, God is truth and verity itself, for verity is spiritual light. He then that most graciously knoweth verity, best seeth God. And nevertheless it is likened to corporal light, for this reason: Right as the sun showeth to the bodily eye both itself and all bodily things thereby; even so verity, that is, God, showeth to the reason of the soul itself first, and by itself all other spiritual things that are needful to the knowing of a soul. Thus saith the Prophet: Domine in lumine tuo videbimus lumen. -- Lord, we shall see Thy light by Thy light.221 That is, we shall see Thee, who art verity, by Thyself.

In like manner, it is said that God is fire. Our God is wasting fire.222 That is to say, God is not elementary fire, that heateth and burneth a body, but God is love and charity. For as fire wasteth all bodily things, that can be wasted, even so the love of God burneth and wasteth all sin out of the soul and maketh it clean, as fire cleanseth all manner of metals. These words and all other that are spoken of our Lord in Holy Writ by bodily similitude, must needs be understood spiritually, else there is no savour in them. And the reason why such words are said of our Lord in Holy Writ is this, for that we are so carnal, that we cannot speak of God nor understand anything of Him, unless we be first entered by such words. But when the inner eye is open through grace to have a little sight of Jesus, then will the soul easily enough turn all such words of bodily things into spiritual understanding. This spiritual opening of the inner eye into knowing of the Divinity, I call reforming in faith and feeling. For then the soul feeleth somewhat in understanding of that thing that it had before, in naked believing, and that is the beginning of Contemplation. Of the which St Paul saith thus: Non Contemplantibus nobis quae videntur, &c. -- Our Contemplation is not on things that are seen, but on things unseen. For things that are seen are passing, but things unseen are everlasting. 223 To which sight every soul should desire to come. both here in part, and in the bliss of Heaven fully. For in that sight, and in that knowing of Jesus fully, consisteth the bliss of a reasonable soul and endless life. Thus saith our Lord: Haec est aautem vita aeterna, &c.224 -- This is eternal life, that they know Thee the true God, and Thy Son whom Thou hast sent.

CHAPTER IV

Of two manner of Loves, created and uncreated, and how we are bound to love Jesus much for our Creation; but more for our Redemption; and most of all for our Salvation, through the gifts of His Love

BUT now perhaps thou wonderest why, since this knowing of God is the bliss and end of a Soul, why I have said heretofore that a soul should covet nought else but only the love of God, and speak nothing of this sight that a soul should covet it.

Unto this I may answer, that the sight of Jesus is the full bliss of a soul; but not only for the sight, but also for the blessed love that cometh out of that sight. And because that love cometh out of knowing, and not knowing out of love; therefore it is said, that in knowing, and in sight principally of God with love is the bliss of a soul; and the more He is known, the better He is loved. But forasmuch as a soul cannot arrive to this knowing, and the love that cometh out of it, without love, therefore I say that thou must covet love; for love is a cause why a soul cometh to this knowing, and to the love that cometh out of it. And in what manner that is, I shall tell thee more plainly.

Holy writers say, and true it is, that there be two sorts of spiritual love: One is called Created, and the other Uncreated. Love uncreated is God Himself, the Third Person in the Trinity, that is the Holy Ghost. He is love uncreated, and unmade; as St John saith: God is love.225 That is, the Holy Ghost. Love created is the affection of the soul produced by the Holy Ghost out of the sight and the knowing of Verity; that is, God stirred up, and set upon him. This love is called created, for it is made by the Holy Ghost. This love is not God in Himself, for it is made: but it is the love of the soul felt by the sight of Jesus, and stirred up towards Him only. Now may you see that created love is not the cause why a soul cometh to the spiritual sight of Jesus. And some men think that they could love God so fervently, as it were by their own strength, that they might be worthy to have the spiritual knowing of Him. No, it is not so; but love uncreated, that is, God Himself, is cause of all this knowing. For a blind wretched soul is so far from the clear knowing, and the blessed feeling of His love, through sin and frailty of its corporal nature, that it could never come to it, if it were not for the endless greatness of the love of God. But because He loveth us so much, therefore giveth He us His love, that is the Holy Ghost. He is both the giver and the gift, and maketh us then by that gift for to know and love Him.

Lo, this is the love that I spake of, that thou shouldst only covet and desire this uncreated love, that is, the Holy Ghost; for verily a less thing or a less gift than He is cannot avail us, to bring us to the blessed sight of Jesus. And therefore ought we fully to desire and ask of Jesus only this gift of love, that He would for the greatness of His so blessed love touch our hearts with His invisible light to the knowledge of Himself, and make us partakers of His love; that as He loveth us, so we might love Him again. Thus saith St John: Nos diligamus Deum, &c. -- Let us love God now, for He loved us first.226 He loved us much when He made us after His likeness; but He loved us more when He bought us with His precious Blood, by voluntary undertaking of death in His Humanity from the power of the enemy and the pains of Hell; but He loveth us most when He giveth us the gift of the Holy Ghost, that is, love, by the which we know Him and love Him, and are made secure that we are His sons chosen to salvation. For this love are we more bound to Him than for any other love that ever He showed to us, either in our making or redeeming. For though He had made us and bought us, if He did not save us withal, what would our making or redeeming profit us? Verily right nought.

Therefore the greatest token of love showed to us, as methinketh, is this: That He giveth Himself in His Godhead to our souls. He gave Himself, first, in His manhood to us for our ransom, when He offered Himself to the Father of Heaven upon the altar of the Cross.

This was a right fair gift, and a right great token of love. But when He giveth Himself in His Godhead spiritually to our souls for our salvation, and maketh us to know Him and to love Him, then loveth He us fully; for then giveth He Himself to us, and more cannot He give us, nor could less suffice us. And for this cause it is said that the justifying of a sinful soul through forgiveness of sins is attributed227 and appropriated principally to the working of the Holy Ghost; for the Holy Ghost is love. And in the justifying of a sinner, our Lord Jesus showeth to a soul most of His love, for He putteth away all sin, and uniteth it to Him and that is the best thing that He can do to a soul; and therefore it is attributed to the Holy Ghost. The making of the soul is attributed to the Father, as to the sovereign might and power that He showeth in making of it. The redeeming of it is attributed to the Son, as to the sovereign skill and wisdom that He showed in His Manhood; for He overcame the enemy principally through wisdom, and not through strength. But the justifying and full saving of a soul through forgiveness of sins is appropriated to the Third Person, that is, the Holy Ghost, for therein showeth Jesus most love unto man's soul, and for that thing should He be most loved of us again. His making is common to us and all unreasonable creatures; for as He made us of nought, so made He them, and therefore this is a work of greatest might, but not of greatest love. Also the Redemption is common to us and all reasonable souls, as to Jews and Saracens, and to false Christian men; for He died for all souls alike, and bought them if they would have the perfect love of it. And also it is sufficient for the restoring of all, though it be so that all have it not. And this work had most of wisdom, not most of love. But the justifying and sanctifying of our souls through the gift of the Holy Ghost, that is only the work of love, and is not common, but a special gift only to chosen souls. And verily that is most the working of love to us that are His chosen children.


Love doth all.

This is the love of God that I spake of, which thou shouldst covet and desire; for this love is God Himself and the Holy Ghost. This love uncreated, when it is given to us, it worketh in our souls all that good is, and all that belongeth to goodness. This love loveth us before we love Him, for it cleanseth us first from our sins, it maketh us to love Him, and maketh our wills strong to withstand all sins, and stirreth us up to exercise ourselves through divers exercises both bodily and ghostly in all virtues. It stirreth us up also to forsake sin and carnal affections and worldly fears. It keepeth us from malicious temptations of the enemy, and driveth us out from business and vanities of the world, and from the conversation of worldly lovers. All this doth the uncreated love of God, when He giveth Himself to us; we do right nought but suffer Him and assent to Him; for that is the most that we do to assent willingly to His gracious working in us. And yet is not that will from and of ourselves but of His making, so that methinketh He doth in us all that is well done, and yet we see it not.

And He not only doth all thus, but afterwards this love doth more; for He openeth the eye of the soul, and showeth to the soul the sight of Jesus wonderfully, and the knowledge of Him as well as the soul can suffer it by little and little; and by that sight He ravisheth all the affections of the soul to Him, and then beginneth the soul to know Him spiritually and to love Him burningly. Then seeth the soul somewhat of the nature of the blessed Divinity of Jesus, how that He is all, and that He worketh all, and that all good deeds that are done and good thoughts are only of Him; for He is all-sovereign might and all-sovereign verity and all-sovereign goodness. And therefore every good deed is done of Him and by Him. And He alone shall have the worship and the thanks for all good deeds, and nothing else but He; for though wretched men steal His worship here for a while, yet at the last end shall verity show full well that Jesus did all, and man did right nought of himself. And then shall the thieves of God's goods that are not reconciled to Him here in this life be judged to death for their sins. And Jesus shall be fully worshipped and thanked of all blessed creatures for His working. This love is nothing else but Jesus Himself, that for love worketh all this in man's soul and reformeth it in feeling to His likeness, as I have said before, and somewhat more shall say. This love bringeth into the soul the perfection of all virtues, and maketh it all clean and true, soft and easy, and turneth it all into love and into liking. And in what manner He doth that I shall tell thee a little hereafter. This love draweth the soul from vain beholding of worldly things into Contemplation of spiritual creatures and of the secrets of God, from sensuality into spirituality, from earthly feeling into heavenly savour.


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