SAINT AUGUSTINE saith that the life of every good Christian man is a continual desire to God, and such desire is of great power and virtue, for it is a great crying in the ears of God; the more fervently thou desirest, the higher thou criest, the better thou prayest, and the wiser are thy thoughts. And what is this desire? Surely nothing but a loathing of all this worldly bliss, a forsaking of all fleshly or sensual love in thine heart, and an extreme loving, with a most hungry longing and thirsting after God and the everlasting bliss of Heaven; this is that which may be called a desire of God for Himself.
If thou hast this desire, as I verily hope and believe that thou hast, I pray thee keep it well and nourish it diligently; and when thou shalt pray or meditate of God, make this desire of Him to be the beginning and final intention of such thy exercises, and of all other thy works and deeds, thereby to increase it. Seek and nourish only this, and seek not after any feeling in thy corporal senses, external or internal, nor any sensible sweetness or devotion, neither by the ear nor by the taste of thy palate, nor by any wonderful light or sight of thy eyes, nor seek the sight of Angels, no, though our Lord Himself would appear in His body to the sight of thy eyes, make no great matter of that; and therefore let all thy diligence be that thou mayest truly and really perceive and find in thy soul, and especially in thy will, a loathing and full forsaking of all manner of sin and of all manner of uncleanness, with a spiritual seeing or perceiving how foul, how ugly and how painful these things be; and that thou mayest have within thee a mighty desiring of virtues, and, namely, of humility and charity, and finally, of the bliss of Heaven. This that I shall now tell thee were (as I would think) a spiritual comfort, and a spiritual sweetness in a man's soul; and that is, to have cleanness in conscience from wickedness and from all worldly vanities, with a firm faith and humble hope and a full desire of God. Howsoever it be for having of other comforts and sweetnesses I esteem that sweetness to be true, sound and secure that is found in cleanness of conscience, with a strong will of forsaking and loathing of all sins, and with inward sight and fervent desire of spiritual things; all other comforts and sweetnesses caused by any manner of feelings, unless they lead or help to the said end, that is, to cleanness of conscience and spiritual desire of God, are not secure to rest on.
But now thou wilt perhaps ask, whether this desire be love to God?
As to that I answer and say: That this desire is not properly love, but a beginning and taste of love, for love properly is a perfect uniting and coupling together of the lover and the loved into one. Perfect love maketh God and the soul to be as if they both together were but one thing. But such perfect coupling and union may not be had in this life, but only in desire and longing thereto, as by the example that I shall now deliver thee. If a man love another man that is absent, he greatly desireth his presence. Even so spiritually, as long as we are in this life, our Lord is absent from us, so that here we may neither see Him nor feel Him as He is, and therefore are not able (for want of such sight and feeling) here to love Him in fulness and perfection and in reality as we might do if we had the sight of Him really, and as He is in His own being; the which, because we have not, nor shall have in this life, therefore all that we can do here is to have a desire and a great longing and thirsting for to be present with Him and see Him in His bliss, and to be fully and perfectly united unto Him in love. This desire we may have in us (of His gift) in this life, by the which we shall be saved, for it is love unto Him, such as may here be had. St Paul saith thus: We know that while we are in this body we are pilgrims (or strangers) from God.349 That is, we abide in this earth, or banishment, absent from Heaven, for we here walk by faith, and not by sight (that is, we here live in faith, not in real sight of Him as He is); but we are bold, and have a good will rather to be absent from the body, and to be present to our Lord (that is, we, through cleanness of conscience and sure trust of salvation, dare desire parting from our body by bodily death, and thereupon to be present to our Lord); nevertheless, because as yet we may not, therefore we endeavour, whether present or absent, to please Him; that is, we strive against the sins of the world, and pleasures of the flesh, and sensuality, by desire to Him, seeking to burn and consume in the fire of such our desire all things that may let or hinder us from Him.
But thou wilt perhaps further ask me: Whether a man may continually have this desire in his heart? and thou perhaps thinkest that he cannot.
As to that I will answer according to my opinion in it, which is, that thou mayest have this desire in thine heart and intention virtually or habitually, always and continually; but thou canst not so have it as to working or exercising upon it, as thou mayest better understand by this example. If thou wert sick, thou wouldst have, as every man in such a case hath, continually a natural desire in thine heart of bodily health; and this whether thou be asleep or awake, but art thinking of some worldly things; thou hast then such a desire only in intention or habit, and not in using or acting upon it. But when thou thinkest on thy bodily sickness or on thy health, then hast thou thy said desire of health in using and acting. Even so it is spiritually in the desire of God. He who by the gift of God hath this desire, though he sleep, or else thinketh not on God, but on some other worldly things, yet hath he this desire in his heart and soul till he commit some deadly sin. But as soon as he thinketh on God or purity of life or the joys of Heaven, then his desire to God worketh actually, as long as he keepeth his thought and intention to please God, either in prayers, meditations, or any other good action, so that all his endeavour be to excite this desire, and discreetly use it sometimes in one deed, sometimes in another, according as he is disposed and hath grace thereto.
This desire is the root of all thy actions that are rewardable. For whatever good deed thou doest for God's sake, whether it be bodily or spiritual, as when thou prayest or meditatest, it is an exercising and using of this desire. And therefore when thou doest any good work, scruple not whether thou desirest God or no, for thy deed showeth thy desire. Some ignorantly conceive that they desire not God except they be ever calling upon Him either with their mouths or their hearts; and therefore they are continually saying, Lord save me, or some such-like words; which words indeed are good, because they stir up the heart to a desiring of God. Yet nevertheless, without any such words, a pure thought of God, or any spiritual thing, or of virtue, or the humanity of Christ, or joys of Heaven, or understanding of the holy Scriptures, with love, may be better than such words. And the more spiritual thy thought is, the more is thy desire. Be not, therefore, in doubt whether thou desirest God, when thou thinkest upon Him or doest any outward good work to thy neighbour, for thy deeds show it. Nevertheless, though all thy good actions, spiritual and corporal, are a demonstration of thy desire to God, yet is there a great difference between spiritual and corporal deeds, for deeds of a Contemplative life are not so outward as the other; and therefore when thou prayest unto, or meditatest upon God, thy desire to Him is more entire, more fervent, more spiritual than when thou doest external works of charity to thy neighbour.
Now, if thou ask me by what means thou shalt keep this desire, and nourish it, I shall tell a little in that point, not with the meaning that thou shalt or must use the self-same form that I tell thee for it; but that thou thereby have some kind of general example, whereof thou shalt make use upon thy need and according to thy manner -- not my manner, unless mine seem more for thy purpose, for I neither may nor can tell thee fully what is best for thee to use; but I shall tell thee somewhat according to what I think.
How thou shalt Dispose thee to Devotion
IN the night after thy sleep, if thou wilt rise to pray and serve our Lord, thou shalt feel thyself at the first to be fleshly, heavy, and, as it were, drowned in sensuality, and ofttimes impertinent thoughts of the world or other vanities pressing into thy mind. But then shalt thou dispose thee to pray, or to think some good thought, for to revive and quicken thine heart towards God, and do thou use all thy discreet industry, for the drawing up of thy thoughts from worldly vanities, and from vain imaginations that come into thy mind, that so thou mayest feel some devotion in such vocal prayers as thou shalt then use, if thou use any such; or else (if thou wilt) enter thou into some spiritual thoughts, whereby thou mayest not remain hindered and troubled with such vain thoughts of the world or of thy flesh. And now as for matter of good thoughts for thee, thou must know that there be divers matters of such thoughts or meditations, but which of them were best for thee to take and use I cannot tell thee.
But I trow that such matter and manner of thinking or meditating, wherein thou feelest greatest gust, facility and ease or pleasure, is best for thee to use so long as it continueth so grateful to thy spirit. Thou mayest (it thou wilt) sometimes think on thy sins heretofore committed, and of the frailties into which thou daily fallest, and ask mercy and forgiveness for them. Also after this thou mayest think on the frailties and sins and miseries, corporal and spiritual, of thy Christian brethren, with pity and compassion of them, and ask mercy and forgiveness for them as tenderly as for thyself, and as if thou hadst done them, and that is a good exercise for the time. For I tell thee for truth that thou mayest make of other men's sins a precious ointment for to heal thine own soul, when thou thinkest on them with compassion and sorrow for them; this ointment is precious and very medicinal, though the spicery or things whereof it is composed be not clean, or otherwise wholesome; for it is treacle or mithridate, made of poison for to do away and destroy poison; that is to say, thine own and other men's sins. If thou beat and bruise them well with sorrow of thine heart, pity and compassion, they turn into treacle or mithridate, that will cleanse and make whole thy soul from pride and envy, and bring into it love and charity to thy Christian brethren. Such thought is good for thee sometimes to take into thee.
How a Man is to Think on the Humanity of Christ
ALSO for thy exercise of devotion thou mayest think on the humanity of our Lord, as of His birth, of His Passion or of any other of His works, and feed thy thought with spiritual imagination thereof, for to move thine affection more to the love of Him. This thought (I mean of something of our Saviour's humanity) is good and expedient, namely, when it cometh freely of God's gift, with devotion and fervour of spirit, else a man will not likely find taste or devotion in it. And if he have it not with such facility and sending of God, I think it not expedient that a man should much force himself in it, as if he would get it by violence; for so doing he might hurt his head and body too, and yet be never the nearer. Therefore I think that it is good for a man to have in his mind and thought sometimes our Saviour's humanity, or some matter thereof; and if devotion come withal, and relish or gust found in it, then to hold it and follow it for a time, but leave off soon, and hang not long thereon. And if devotion come not by thinking of the Passion, strive not, nor press too much for to have and come by such devotion or feeling in it, but take what will easily come; and if it come not easily betake thee to some other matter, wherein thou thinkest or hopest to find more devotion or gust.
How a Man shall think on Virtues and upon the Saints
ALSO other thoughts there be that are more spiritual, as to think on virtues, and to see by light of understanding the virtue of humility, what it is, and what great reasons be why a man should be humble; and also what is patience, cleanness in soul, justice, charity, sobriety and other such like virtues; and how worthy it is that a man should labour for the getting of them, and of the means by which they may be gotten, and by such thoughts to have a great desire and longing to the having of those virtues; and also for to have a spiritual sight of the three principal, or Theological Virtues, Faith, Hope and Charity. By the sight and desire of these virtues a soul should see and feel much grace of our Lord, without which grace a man's soul is half blind, and without spiritual sweetness or taste. Also, for to think on the saints, as the apostles, martyrs, confessors and holy virgins, beholding in his interior their holy living and the grace and virtues that our Lord gave them in their life, and by the remembrance and consideration hereof, to stir thy heart for to take example from them for leading a better and perfecter life.
How a Man shall think of the Holiness of our Lord Jesus and of our Blessed Lady
ALSO the thinking and considering (above all other saints) of our Lady St Mary and her excellency in grace and virtues is a good matter for raising and exercise of devotion, by seeing with thy spiritual eye the abundance of grace that was in her holy soul when she was here living, which our Lord had given her, above what He gave to any of the other Saints; for she was replenished with all other virtues, without one spot of sin, showing and manifesting by her life perfect humility and fulness of charity, with the beauty and excellence of all other virtues, the which virtues altogether make her so holy, that there would no temptation, or motion of pride, envy, wrath or anger, sensual delight or of any other kind of sin or imperfection enter into her heart or defile her soul in any part of it. By the beholding of the beauty and excellency of this blessed soul, a man's heart should be moved and put into a great spiritual delight and comfort.
And much more and above that is the beholding of the soul of our Lord Jesus, the which soul of His was fully and wholly united to the divinity, excelling without any comparison our blessed Lady and all other creatures. For in the Passion of Jesus are two natures, that is, God and man, perfectly united together. By the virtue of this most blessed union, which cannot be expressed nor yet conceived by man's wit or understanding, the soul of Jesus hath received the perfection and fulness of all wisdom and goodness; as the Apostle saith: The fulness of the divinity doth dwell is Christ corporally;350 that is, the divinity of God was fully united to the humanity (or man's nature) in the soul of Jesus, and so, by the means of His soul dwelling in His body, the remembrance of the humanity of our Lord after this manner (that is, to regard the virtues and surpassing grace of the soul of Jesus) should be right comfortable to a man's soul.
Of seeing and beholding the Power (by some consideration or thinking), the Wisdom, the Goodness and the Mercy of God in His Creatures
ALSO the remembrance of the power, the wisdom and the goodness of our Lord in all His creatures; for as much as we living here on earth cannot see God fully and as He is in His essence, therefore we are to see and behold Him, love and fear Him upon the sight and consideration of His creatures and His works; and in them also are we to admire and wonder at His power and goodness. Also, for to think on the mercy of our Lord, that He hath showed to me and to thee, and to all sinful captives that sometimes were in bondage to the devil, through the greatness and multitude of our sins; how He patiently suffered us to live in our sin, and in our heinous contempts of Him, and work no revenge on us for the same, as He most justly might have done, and might most worthily have cast us down headlong into Hell, if His love had not hindered Him; but out of love He spared us, and sent His grace into our souls, taking us out of the state of heinous sins, and by His grace hath turned our will entirely unto Him, and made us thereby, for the having of Him, and for His love, to forsake all manner of sin. The remembrance of His mercy and goodness, in these and in other matters and points more and greater than I can now reckon up, may justly cause and bring into a soul a great truth and confidence in our Lord, and a full hope of salvation, and greatly inflameth the desire of love to aspire to the joys of Heaven.
How the Consideration and thinking on the Miseries and Perils of this Life is apt to breed in a soul the Desire of Heaven
ALSO to think upon the miseries, mischiefs and perils, corporal and spiritual, that happen in this life; and after that to think of the joys of Heaven, as how great happiness is there, and what wonderful joy and delight; for there is neither sin, nor sorrow, nor passion nor pain, hunger nor thirst, aches nor sickness, doubt nor fear, shame nor blame, nor want of power, nor strength, nor lack of light, nor coldness in love; but there is most excellent beauty, clearness, strength, health, everlasting delights, perfect wisdom, love, peace, honour, security, rest, joy and bliss in abundance without ever having any end. The consideration of these points ought to cause thee the more fervently to covet and desire those everlasting joys and rest of that same most blessed life. Many men are covetous of worldly goods, honours and earthly riches, and think both in dreaming and waking how and by what means they might come thereto; and then they forget all care of their souls' good, and all thoughts of the pains of Hell, or of the joys of Heaven. Surely these men are not wise; they are like to children that run after butterflies, and, because they look not to their feet, they sometimes easily fall down and break their legs. What is all the pomp, honours, riches and jollity of this world but a butterfly? Surely it is no more, yea, it is much less. Therefore, I pray thee, be covetous of the joys of Heaven, and thou shalt have honour and riches that shall last for ever. For at the latter day, when worldly covetous men bring no good in their hands (because all their honour and riches, which they only made account of, are turned into nothing but sorrow and pain) then the good men of the world, that have truly forsaken all vain honours and riches of this world, or else if they had them they made no account in their hearts of them, nor did set their love or delight in them, but have ever lived in the peace of God and in humility and in hope, and sometimes in sorrows or afflictions, and patiently expected the mercy of God; they (I say) shall then fully attain that which they here coveted, for they shall be crowned as kings, and shall ascend up with our Lord into the bliss of Heaven. Also there be many other good considerations or thoughts (more than I can speak of) that serve to stir and raise a man's mind and affection to loathe the vanities of this world and to desire the joys of Heaven.
These matters I have not mentioned unto thee as if I had withal fully showed the manner how they are exercised in a man's soul; but I have only touched them a little, to the end thou mightest, by so much the better, understand these things for such use as thou canst best make of them.
How a Man shall do when he feeleth no taste nor comfort in his Mental Exercises
NEVERTHELESS I would think it were good for thee that when thou disposest thee to think on God, as I have before said, or in any other manner, and peradventure thou feelest no gust nor devotion in thy exercise, but only a naked mind and a weak will; by which thou wouldst fain think on God, but canst not; then I think it is good for thee that thou strive not too much with thyself, for so thou mayest fall into greater darkness, unless thou knowest how to work more subtlety, and more above in spirit, and with all quietness in the senses. But thou not knowing how to do so for want of experience or skill in it, I hold it more secure for thee in such a case for to say thy Pater noster and thine Ave Maria, or else thy Matins, or to read in thy Psalter, for that is evermore a sure standard that will not fail. Whoso may cleave thereto he shall not err; and if thou canst by thy prayer get devotion, look then that this devotion be only in affection, that is to say in a great desire toward God, with a spiritual delight. Hold on then such thy saying of those vocal prayers, and not easily break off; for oftentimes it happeneth that praying with the mouth getteth and keepeth devotion, and if in such a case thou cease from saying, thy devotion withal vanisheth away.
Nevertheless, if Devotion in prayer bring into thine heart a devout thought of the humanity of our Lord, or of any of the other matters before mentioned by me, and this thought should be hindered by thy saying of the vocal prayers, then will it be best for thee to cease from thy saying, and to feed thy mind and affection with the thought of the said good matter till it leave thee and be vanished away.
What a Man is to take heed of in his Prayers and Meditations
BUT of certain things it behoveth thee to beware in thy meditations; of some of them I shall tell thee. One is that when thou hast had a spiritual thought or imagination of the humanity of our Lord, or of other bodily things, and thy soul hath been comforted and fed therewith, and afterward it passeth away of itself; do not seek, as it were, by mastery or force to hold it still, for then it will turn thee into pain and bitterness. Also, if it pass not away, but dwell still in thy mind, without any travail or industry of thine, and thou, for the comfort thou findest in it, wilt not leave it, and thereupon it still continuing with thee, cometh to bereave or hinder thee of thy sleep at nights, or else in the day times hindereth thee from other good deeds, or else through the great fervour that it worketh in thy body, thy body or thine head by it falleth into a great feebleness, then must thou lessen or moderate, and sometimes forbear such exercise of thine, even when thou hast most devotion in it, or to it, and wouldst otherwise be most loth to forbear it, or part from it; and therefore thou must needs use discretion in the matter, for to avoid those mischiefs, or any of them, which now I have reckoned up to thee, or any other mischief or peril that may come to thee through indiscreet fervour or love to those thy exercises; and in particular, give it over when it is reasonable time to give it over, or when thy Christian brother may receive harm, or take just offence at thee by occasion of thy long stay at such thy devotions. If thou do otherwise in this matter than I have told thee, I think thou dost not well nor wisely in it.
A worldly man or woman that peradventure feels not devotion twice in a year, if he (through the grace of our Lord Jesus) feel great compunction for his sins, or think seriously or devoutly on the Passion of our Lord, or upon any other good matter, if he by occasion thereof, and his devotion therein, be put from his sleep and his rest, for one, or two, or three nights, until his head ache, it makes no great matter, nor will he be the worse for it; such devotion cometh but seldom upon such persons. But as for thee, or any other man or woman, that every day duly performest, or hath such devotions, and intendest to continue in pursuing of such daily exercises, it is expedient for thee to use and hold discretion in thy performance of those thy exercises, and not fully to yield and plunge thyself into devotion, so far as it will offer itself unto thee, but moderate thyself in it, and take it moderately, though it offer itself to thee in abundance.