The scale (or ladder) of perfection



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SECTION II

Of divers Temptations of the Enemy, and the Remedies against them

NEVERTHELESS it behoveth a man to suffer many temptations first, which shall befall some men often after that their comfort is withdrawn, and that sundry ways by the malice of the enemy. As thus: when the devil perceiveth devotion much withdrawn, that the soul is left, as it were, naked for a time, then sendeth he to some temptations of lust, of gluttony, and these so hot and burning that they shall think they never felt so grievous ones in all their life before, even when they gave themselves most to such sins. Insomuch as they think it impossible to stand out long from falling without help. And, therefore, have they then much sorrow for lack of comfort and devotion which formerly they have had, and much dread also of falling from God by such open sins. All this the devil worketh (by God's permission) to make them repent of their good purposes, and turn back to their former courses of sinning. But whoso will abide, and suffer a little pain, and not turn again to sin for anything, the hand of our Lord is full near, and will help them right soon, for He hath much care of that man that is in such a case, though he knoweth it not; for so saith David in the person of our Lord: I am with him in trouble, I will deliver him, and he shall glorify Me.81 The devil tempteth others maliciously to spiritual sins, as to doubt of the articles of faith, or of the Sacrament of our Lord's blessed Body. Also to despair, or blaspheme of God or any of His saints, or to a wearisomeness of their own life, or to bitterness against others, or foolish melancholy and sadness, or too much fear of themselves, of doing hurt to their healths by giving themselves so much to serving of God. Some others, and namely solitary folks, he frighteth with dreads and ugly shapes appearing to their eyes or to their imaginations, causing often thereby great shakings and quakings in their bodies, either sleeping or waking, and so troubleth them that they can hardly take any rest. And also many other ways he tempteth, more than I can or may say.
The remedies of temptations that come from Satan.

The remedies for such may be these. First: that they put all their trust in our Lord Jesus Christ, and often call to mind His Passion and the pains that He suffered for us, and that they then believe stedfastly that all sorrows and travail which they suffer in such temptations, which to unskilful men may seem a forsaking by God, are indeed no such leavings or forsakings, but trials for their good, either for cleansing of their former sins or for the great increasing of their reward and the disposing of them for more grace, if they will but suffer awhile and stand fast, that they turn not again willingly to sin.

Another remedy is that they fear not, nor esteem these malicious stirrings for sins, nor lay to heart that despair or blasphemy, or doubtings of sacrament, or any such other, though never so ugly to hear; for the feeling of these temptations defile the soul no more than if they heard a hound bark or felt the biting of a flea. They vex the soul indeed, but do not harm it, if so be a man despise them and set them at nought, for it is not good to strive with them, as if thou wouldst cast them out by mastery and violence, for the more they strive with them the more they cleave to them. And therefore they shall do well to divert their thoughts from them as much as they can, and set them upon some business. And if they will still hang upon them, then it is good for them that they be not angry nor heavy through feeling of them; but with a good trust in God bear them (like a bodily sickness and scourge of our Lord for the cleansing of their sins as long as He pleaseth) out of love to Him, even as He was willing to be scourged and bear His cross for the love of them. Moreover, it is good for them to open their minds to some wise man in the beginning, before these temptations get rooting in their heart, and that they forsake their own wit and judgement and follow the counsel of another. But that they show them not unadvisedly or lightly to any unskilful or worldly man, who never felt such temptations, for such may happily by their unskilfulness bring a simple soul into despair.


The remedy of those temptations that seem to come from God.

Of this manner of temptations by which a man seemeth forsaken of God, and is not, the help and comfort is this: The Lord saith by His prophet, For a little space have I left thee, but in great mercy will I gather thee. For a moment of indignation have I hid my face a little while from thee, and in mercy everlasting will I have mercy on thee.82 As if He had said, I suffered thee to be troubled a little while, and in a point of My wrath I smote thee; that is to say, the penance and the pain that thou sufferest here is but a point or little prick of My wrath, in regard of the pain of hell or of purgatory. Yet in My manifold mercies I shall gather thee; when thou thinkest thyself forsaken, then will I of My great mercy gather thee again to Me; for when thou esteemest thyself, as it were, lost, then shall our Lord help thee, as Job saith: When thou shalt think thyself consumed, thou shalt arise as the daystar, and thou shalt have confidence.83 That is to say, when thou art brought so low by travail into temptation that thou despairest of help or comfort, like a forlorn man, yet stand stiffly in hope and pray to God, and verily thou shalt suddenly spring up as the day-star, in gladness of heart, and have a sure trust in God.

Moreover, for the comfort of such men, that they may not despair in temptation, the wise man saith thus of our Lord: In temptation He walketh with him, and bringeth fear and dread upon him, and torments him with His discipline, till He try him in his cogitations, and may trust His soul: And He will establish him, and make a direct way unto him, and make him glad, and will disclose His secrets to him, and will heap upon him as treasures knowledge of understanding and justice.84 The wise man, because he would have not despair in temptation, to comfort them saith thus: In temptation our Lord forsaketh not a man, but goeth with him from the beginning to the end. For he saith first, He chooseth him, and that is, when He draweth a man to Him by comfort of devotion, and afterward bringeth upon him sorrow and dread and trials, and that is when He withdraweth devotion and suffereth him to be tempted. And he saith that He tormenteth him in tribulation until He hath well tried him in his thoughts, and until a man will put all his trust in Him fully, and then He bringeth him out into the right way, and fasteneth him to Him, and gladdeneth him, and sheweth him His secrets, and giveth him His treasure of knowing and understanding of righteousness.

By these words may you see that these temptations or any other, be they never so ugly, are expedient and profitable to a man that by grace is in full will to forsake sin, if he will be willing to suffer and abide God's will, and not turn again to sin which he hath forsaken, for any sorrow, or pain, or dread of such temptations; but ever stand still in travail and in prayer with good hope. Our Lord of His endless goodness having pity and mercy of all His creatures, when He seeth time, will put to His hand and smite down the devil and all his power, and ease him of his travail, and put away all dreads and sorrows and darkness out of his heart, and brings into his soul the light of grace, opening the eye thereof to see, that all the travail that he hath had was expedient for him, giving him also fresh spiritual might to withstand all the suggestions of the fiend and all deadly sins without great difficulty, and leadeth him into a stability and settledness of virtue and good living; in which, if he keepeth himself humble to the end, then will He take him wholly to himself. Thus much have I said, that thou mightest not be troubled or letted with any such temptation, or too much afraid; but do as I have said, and better if thou canst, and I hope through the grace of Jesus Christ thou shalt never be overcome by thine enemy.

Take heed of idleness after thou hast passed these temptations.

But after thou hast escaped these temptations, or else if our Lord hath so kept thee (as He doth many by His mercy) that thou hast not been troubled much with any such, then it is good for thee that thou beware of turning thy rest into idleness; for there is many a man that taketh rest upon him too soon, as if he were ripe for rest in Contemplation. But if thou wilt do well, begin a new game and a new travail, and that is, by meditation, to enter within into thy own soul, for to know what it is, and by the knowing thereof to come to the spiritual knowledge of God. For St Austin saith, By the knowing of myself I shall get the knowledge of God. I say not that such exercise is absolutely necessary, and thy bounden duty, unless thou feel thyself stirred up by grace, and as it were called thereto. For our Lord giveth divers gifts where He pleaseth, not all to one man, nor one to every man, save the gift of charity, which is common to all.

Therefore, if a man have received a gift from God, as devotion in prayer, or in the Passion of Christ, or any other, be it never so little, let him not leave it quickly for any other, unless he assuredly find and feel a better, but hold that which he hath, and exercise himself therein seriously, ever desiring a better when God will give it. Nevertheless, if that be withdrawn somewhat, and he seeth a better, and feeleth his heart stirred thereto, then seemeth it to be a calling of our Lord to the better, and then is it time that he follow after it, to get it, and fall to practise it as speedily as he may.



CHAPTER III
That a Man should know the measure of his Gift, that he may desire and take a better when God giveth it

OUR holy Fathers heretofore taught us that we should know the measure of our gift, and therefore to work upon it, and according to it, and not take upon us, out of our head or imagination, to have more in our feeling or ability than indeed we have. We may ever desire the best, but we may not ever work the best or our utmost, because we have not yet received that grace and ability. A hound that runneth after the hare only because he seeth other hounds run, when he is weary, he stayeth and resteth, or turneth home again; but if he run because he seeth or is in view of the hare, he will not spare for weariness till he have caught her. Right so it is in the spiritual course, whoso hath grace, be it never so little, and wittingly leaveth it, and the working upon it, and putteth himself to the exercise or practice of another kind, for which he hath not as yet received a gift or grace, but doth it only because he seeth, readeth, or heareth that some others do so, he may perhaps run awhile till he be weary and then will he turn home again, and if he be not the more wary, may hurt his feet with such fancies before he get home. But he that continueth working upon such grace as he hath, and humbly beggeth by prayer perseverantly for more, and after feeleth his heart stirred to follow after the grace which he desired, he may securely run, if he keep himself humble. Therefore, desire of God as much as thou wilt or canst, without measure or moderation at all concerning any thing that belongs to His love or Heaven's bliss, for he that can desire most of God shall feel and receive most; but work as thou mayest and cry God mercy, for that thou canst not do. Thus St Paul seems to mean, when he said: Every one hath a proper gift of God, one so, and another so.85 Also, when he said: There are varieties of gifts, to one is given the word of wisdom, to another the word of knowledge,86 etc. And also when he said: To every one of us is given grace, according to the measure of the donation of Christ.87 And further, where he said: That we may know the things that are given us by God. He saith that every one hath his gift of God: For to every man that shall be saved is given a grace according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it is speedful that we know the gifts that are given us by God, that we may work in them, for by those we shall be saved, as some by bodily works, and by deeds of mercy, some by great bodily penance, some by sorrow and weeping for their sins all their lifetime, some by preaching and teaching, some by divers graces and gifts of devotion shall be saved and come to bliss.

PART III -- CHAPTER I
Of the Knowledge of a Man's Soul and the Powers thereof necessary to Contemplation

THERE is one work more very needful and expedient to travail, in which I esteem also to be the plain highway in our working (as much as may be) to Contemplation: and that is, for a man to enter into himself, to know his own soul88 and the powers thereof.

By this inward sight thou shalt come to see the nobility and dignity that naturally it had in its first creation; and thou shalt also see the wretchedness and the mischief which thou art fallen into by sin. From this sight will arise a desire with great longing in thine heart to recover again that dignity and nobleness which thou hast lost. Also thou shalt feel a loathing and detestation of thyself, with a great will and desire to destroy and beat down thyself and all things that let thee from that dignity and that joy. This is a spiritual work, hard and sharp in the beginning, for those that will go speedily and seriously about it. For it is an exercise in the soul against the ground of all sins, little and great, which ground is nought else but a false mistrusted love of man to himself. Out of this love, as St Austin saith, springeth all manner of sin, deadly and venial.

Verily until this ground be well ransacked and deep digged, and as it were dried up by casting out of all fleshly and worldly loves and fears, a soul can never spiritually feel the burning love of Jesus Christ nor have the homeliness of His gracious presence, nor have a clear sight of spiritual things by light in the understanding. This then must be the travail and labour of a man, to draw his heart and mind from the fleshly love and liking of all earthly creatures, from vain thoughts and from fleshly imaginations and from the love and vicious feeling of himself, so that the soul shall or may find or take no rest in any fleshly thoughts or worldly affections. Then inasmuch as the soul cannot as yet find her spiritual rest and satisfaction in the sight and love of Jesus, therefore it must needs be that in the meanwhile she must find and feel some pain and wearisomeness.

This pain and travail is somewhat straight and narrow, nevertheless I hope it is the way which Christ teacheth to them that would be His perfect lovers in the Gospel, saying: Strive to enter in at the strait gate, for strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leadeth to life, and few men find it.89 How strait this way is, He telleth us in another place: Whoso will come after me, let him forsake himself and hate his own soul.90 That is to say, forsake all fleshly love and hate his own carnal life and vain liking of all his bodily senses for love of Me; and take the cross, that is suffer the pain of this awhile and then follow Me; that is to say, in Contemplation of My Humanity and of My Divinity. This is a strait and narrow way that no bodily thing can pass through it, for it is a slaying of all sin, as St Paul saith: Mortify your members that are upon earth,91 not the members of our body but of our soul, as uncleanness, lust, evil concupiscence, avarice, fond love to ourselves and earthly things. Therefore as thy endeavour has been heretofore to resist bodily sins and open temptations of the enemy, and that in matters as it were from without; right so it behoveth thee now, in this spiritual work within thyself, to batter down and destroy the ground of sin in thyself as much as thou canst. Which that thou mayest be better able to perform, I shall give thee the best counsel I can.



CHAPTER II
Of the Worthiness and Excellency of the Soul and how it was lost


How man is the image of the Blessed Trinity

THE soul of a man is a life consisting of three powers, Memory, Understanding and Will, after the image and likeness of the Blessed Trinity; inasmuch as the Memory was made strong and stedfast by the power of the Father to hold and retain God in perpetual remembrance, without forgetting, distracting or letting of any creature, and so it hath the likeness of the Father. The Understanding was made bright and clear, without error or darkness, as perfectly as a soul in a body unglorified could have, and so it hath the likeness and image of the Son, who is infinite wisdom. The Will and affections were made pure and clean, burning in love towards God, without sensual love of the flesh or of any creature by the sovereign goodness of God the Holy Ghost, and so it hath the likeness of the Holy Ghost, which is blessed love. Whereby you may see that man's soul (which may be called a created Trinity) was in its natural estate replenished in its three powers with the remembrance, sight and love of the most blessed uncreated Trinity, which is God.
How he lost it.

This was the dignity and worth of man's soul by nature at his first creation, which thou hadst in Adam before the first sin. But when Adam sinned, choosing love and delight in himself and in the creatures, he lost all his excellency and dignity, and thou, also, in him, and fell from that Blessed Trinity into a foul, dark, wretched trinity; that is to say, into forgetting of God and ignorance of himself, and into a beastly love and liking of himself, and all this he did wittingly and willingly. For, as David saith in the Psalter: Man being in honour understood it not, and, therefore, he lost it, and became like a beast.
Man's wretchedness by sin.

See then the wretchedness of thy soul, for as the Memory was something established and fixed upon God, so now it hath forgotten Him and seeketh its rest in the creatures, now in one creature and then in another, and never can find full rest, having lost Him in whom is full rest. So it is with the Understanding and the Will and affections, both which were pure in spiritual favour and sweetness but now is turned into a foul, beastly lust and liking in itself and in the creatures and in fleshly favours, both in the senses as in gluttony and lechery; and in the imagination, as in pride, vain-glory and covetousness, insomuch that thou canst do no good deed but it is defiled with vain-glory; nor canst thou easily make use of any of thy five senses cleanly upon anything that is pleasant, but thy heart will be taken and enflamed with a vain lust and liking of it, which putteth out the love of God from thy heart, so that no feeling of love or spiritual favour may come into it.
How notwithstanding all this, man may be saved by the Passion of Christ, be he never so wretched.

Every man that liveth in spirit understandeth well all this. This is the soul's wretchedness and our mischief for the first man's sin besides all other wretchedness and sins which thou hast wilfully added thereto. And know thou well that hadst thou never committed any sin with is thy body, either mortal or venial, but only this which is called original (for that is the first sin, and is nothing else but the losing of our righteousness which we were created in), thou shouldst never have been saved, had not our Lord Jesus Christ by His precious Passion delivered thee, and restored thee again.

And, therefore, if thou think I have herein spoken too high, because thou canst neither understand it well, nor practise it according as I have delivered, I will now descend to thee, and fall as low as thou canst desire, both for thy profit and my own. Then say thus: though thou be never so much a wretch, and hast committed never so great sins, do but forsake thyself and all thy works done, both good and bad, and cry God mercy, and ask salvation only by virtue of this precious Passion, and that with a good trust, and without doubt thou shalt have it. And as for original sin, and all other thou shalt be safe, yea, as safe as an anchoret that is enclosed. And not only thou, but all Christian souls that trust upon His Passion and humble themselves, acknowledging their wretchedness, asking mercy and forgiveness, and the fruit of this precious Passion only, and submitting themselves to the Sacraments of holy Church, though it be so that they have been encumbered with sin all their lifetime, and never had feeling of spiritual favour or sweetness, or ghostly knowledge of God, yet shall they in this faith, and in their good will, by virtue of this precious Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ be safe, and come to the bliss of Heaven.


The endless mercy of God to all sinners

All this thou knowest well, but yet it delights me to recite and speak of it, that thou mayest see the endless mercy of our Lord, how low He falleth to thee and to me and to all sinful caitiffs; ask mercy therefore, and have it. Thus saith the Prophet in the person of our Lord: Every one that calleth upon the Name of our Lord shall be saved;92 that is to say, asketh salvation by Jesus and His Passion.
Who shall be partakers of it, and who not.

This courtesy of our Lord some men understand aright, and are saved thereby, and others in trust of this mercy and this courtesy lie still in their sins, and think to have the benefit of it when they list, but they are mistaken, for they are taken ere they are aware, and so damn themselves.
Whether a particular love of Jesus be necessary to salvation, and how.

But thou wilt object: If this be true that thou sayest, I wonder greatly at that which I find in some holy men's books, for some say (as I understand them) that he that cannot love this blessed Name Jesus nor find and feel in it spiritual joy and delight with sweetness, shall be a stranger to the bliss of Heaven, and never come there. Verily when I read these words, they astonished me, making me afraid. For I hope (as you have said) that through the mercy of our Lord they shall be safe, by keeping of the commandments and by true repentance for their former evil life, who never felt any such spiritual sweetness, in the Name of Jesus, and therefore I marvel the more, to find them say (as me thinketh) the contrary hereto.

To this I answer that (in my opinion) their saying (if it be well understood) is true, and no whit contrary to what I have said, for this Name Jesus is nothing else in English but healer or health. Now every man that liveth in this wretched life is spiritually sick, for there is no man that liveth without sin, which is a spiritual sickness, as St John saith of himself, and of other perfect men thus: If we say we have no sin, we beguile ourselves, and there is as no truth in us.93 Therefore he can never come to the joy of Heaven, till he be first healed of this ghostly sickness. But this spiritual healing may no man have (that hath the use of reason) except he desire it, and love it, and have delight therein, inasmuch as he hopeth to get it. Now the Name of Jesus is nothing else but this spiritual health; wherefore it is true that they say, that no man can be safe, unless he love and like the Name of Jesus; for no man can be spiritually healed, until he love and desire spiritual health; just as if a man were bodily sick, there could no earthly thing be so dear, nor so needful to him, nor so much would he desire it, as bodily health; for though thou shouldst give him all the dignities and riches of this world, and not make him whole (if thou couldst), thou pleaseth him not. Right so it is to a man that is sick spiritually, and feeleth the pain thereof; nothing is so dear, nor so needful, nor so much coveted by him, as is ghostly health, and that is Jesus, without whom all the joys of Heaven cannot please him. And this is the reason (as I take it) why our Lord when He took man's nature upon Him for our salvation, would not be called by a name betokening His infinite essence, or His wisdom, or His justice, but only by that which betokened the cause of His coming, namely, the salvation of man's soul, which salvation this name Jesus betokened. Hereby, then, it appeareth that none can be saved unless he love salvation, to have it through the mercy of our Lord Jesus only, by the merits of His passion; which love he may have that liveth and dieth in the very lowest degree of charity.

Also I may affirm on the other side, that he that cannot love this blessed name Jesus with a spiritual joy, nor increase in it with heavenly melody here, shall never have nor feel in Heaven the fulness of sovereign joy, which he that could so love it in this life by abundance of perfect charity in Jesus shall then have and feel in Heaven, and so may their saying be understood.

Nevertheless he shall be saved, and have great reward in Heaven from God, whosoever in this life is in the lowest degree of charity by keeping God's commandments. For our Lord saith: In My Father's house are sundry mansions.94 Some are perfect souls, who in this life are filled with charity and graces of the Holy Spirit, and sing most sweetly and lovingly to God in Contemplation of Him, with wonderful sweetness and heavenly savour. These because they have most charity and grace of the Holy Ghost shall have the highest reward in the bliss of heaven, for these are called God's darlings. Others there be, not disposed or enabled to Contemplation, nor having the perfection of charity (as the apostles and martyrs had in the beginning of the holy Church), these shall have a lower reward in the bliss of Heaven, for these are called God's friends, for thus doth our Lord call them: Eat, O My friends, and be inebriated, O My darlings.95 As if He had said: Ye that are My friends, because ye have kept My commandments, and preferred My love before the love of the world, and loved me more than any earthly thing, ye shall be fed with the spiritual food of the Bread of life. But ye that are more than My friends, that not only kept My commandments, but also of your own free will fulfilled My counsels, and loved Me entirely with all the powers of your souls, and burned in My love with spiritual delight (as especially did the apostles and martyrs and all other souls that through grace came to the gift of perfection) ye shall be made drunken with the noblest and freshest wine in My cellar, which is the supreme joy of love in heaven.



CHAPTER III
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