The scale (or ladder) of perfection written by walter hilton

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With an Essay on The Spiritual Life of Mediaeval England by the Rev. J. B. DALGAIRNS, Priest of the Oratory

Moses plus profecit in monte adorando quam

multitude magna bellantium
Scanned and edited by Harry Plantinga, 1995

This etext is in the public domain

Publishers' Note

OF all the old English ascetical works which were extant before the Reformation none have maintained their reputation longer than Walter Hilton's "Scale of Perfection." Hilton was a canon of Thurgarton in Nottinghamshire, and died in 1395. His "Scale of Perfection" is found in no less than five MSS. in the British Museum alone. Wynkyn de Worde printed it at least three times -- in the years 1494, 1519 and 1525. Many other editions were printed at the same period.

After the Reformation it was a favourite book of Father Augustine Baker's, the well-known author of "Sancta Sophia," and his comments on it are among his MSS. at Downside. In 1659 Father Baker's biographer and editor, Dom Serenus Cressy, O.S.B., published an edition of the "Scale," the title-page of which claims that "by the changing of some antiquated words [it is] rendered more intelligible." Another edition appeared in 1672, and yet another in 1679.

Within our own times two editions have been published -- one by the late Father Ephrem Guy, O.S.B., in 1869, the other, a reprint of Cressy's, in 1870, with an introduction by Father Dalgairns on the "Spiritual Life of Mediaeval England." Cressy's text has again been used in the present edition, and Father Dalgairns's Essay is also reprinted in this volume.


An Essay on the Spiritual Life of Mediaeval England


I. That the inward state of the Soul should be like the outward

II. Of the Active Life, and the Exercises and the Works thereof

III. Of the Contemplative Life, and the Exercises and Works thereof

IV. Of three Sorts that be of Contemplation, and of the First of them

V. Of the Second Sort of Contemplation

VI. Of the Lower Degree of the Second Sort of Contemplation

VII. Of the Higher Degree of the Second Sort of Contemplation

VIII. Of the Third Sort of Contemplation

IX. Of the Difference that is betwixt the Second and Third Sort of Contemplation

X. How that Appearings or Shewings to the Corporal Senses or Feelings may be both good and evil

XI. How thou shalt know whether the Showing or Apparition to the bodily Senses and Feelings be good or evil

XII. How and in what things a Contemplative Man should be busied

XIII. How virtue beginneth in Reason and Will and is perfected in Love and Liking, or Affection

XIV. Of the Means that bring a Soul to Contemplation

XV. (i) What a Man should use and refuse by the virtue of Humility

(ii) How Hypocrites and Heretics, for want of Humility, exalt themselves in their Hearts above others

XVI. Of a firm Faith necessary thereto, and what things we ought to believe thereby

XVII. Of a firm and resolute Intent and Purpose necessary thereto

XVIII. A brief Rehearsal of what hath been said, and of an Offering made of them altogether to Jesus

I. (i) Of Prayer, and the several Sorts thereof

(ii) How they should do that are troubled with vain Thoughts in their Prayers

II. (i) Of Meditation

(ii) Of divers Temptations of the Enemy, and the Remedies against them

III. That a Man should know the measure of his Gift, that he may desire and take a better when God giveth it
I. Of the Knowledge of a Man's Soul, and the Powers thereof necessary to Contemplation

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

III. (i) That a Man should be industrious to recover again his ancient Dignity, and reform within him the Image of the Trinity, and how it may be done

(ii) That this Dignity and Image is restored by Jesus, and how He is to be desired, sought and found

IV. (i) Of the Ground and Image of sin in us, which is first to be found out and laboured against, and how it is to be done

(ii) What the said Image of sin is, properly, and what cometh out of it

V. (i) Of the Seven Deadly sins, and first of Pride, what it is, and when it is a deadly sin and when but venial

(ii) How Pride in Heretics and in Hypocrites is deadly sin

(iii) A short Exhortation to Humility and Charity, with a Conclusion how a Man may know how much Pride he hath in him

VI. (i) Of Envy and Wrath and their Branches, and how, instead of sin, the Person is often hated

(ii) That it is a Mastery and noble Skill to love Men's Persons, and yet wisely to hate their sins, and how

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

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

VIII. (i) Of Gluttony, and how a Man shall know when he sinneth not in Eating and Drinking, and when he sinneth venially, and when deadly

(ii) That a Man should be busy to put away and hinder all Motions of Sin, but more busy about those of Spiritual sins than those of Bodily

(iii) What Remedy a Man should use against the Faults in Eating and Drinking

IX. Of the Five Windows of this dark Image, and what cometh in by them, and how they are to be ordered

X. Of another Hole or Window that is to be stopped as well as the Windows of the Senses, viz., the Imagination

XI. A Brief Rehearsal of what hath been said in the former Chapters, with a Portraiture of this dark Image of sin

XII. A comparing of this Image with the Image of Jesus, and how it is to be dealt with

XIII. How a Man shall be shapen to the Image of Jesus, and Jesus shapen in him

XIV. The Conclusion of this Book, and of the Cause why it was made, and how she for whom it was made was to make use of it


I. (i) That a Man is the Image of God after the Soul and not after the Body; and how he is restored and reformed thereto that was misshapen by sin

(ii) That Jews and Pagans and also false Christians are not reformed effectually through the virtue of the Passion through their own Faults

II. Of two Manners of Reforming of this Image, one in fulness, another in part

III. That Reforming in part is in two manners, one in Faith, another in Feeling

IV. That through the Sacrament of Baptism (which is grounded in the Passion of Christ) this Image is reformed from Original sin

V. That through the Sacrament of Penance (that consisteth in Contrition, Confession and Satisfaction) this Image is reformed from Actual sin

VI. That we are to believe stedfastly the reforming of this Image, if our Conscience witness to us a full forsaking of sin, and a true turning of our Will to good living

VII. That all the Souls that live humbly in the Faith of Holy Church, and have their Faith enlivened with Love and Charity, be reformed by this Sacrament, though it be so that they cannot feel the special gift of Devotion or of spiritual feeling

VIII. That Souls reformed need ever to fight and strive against the Motions of sin while they live here. And how a Soul may know when she assenteth to these Motions, and when not

IX. That this Image is both fair and foul whilst it is in this Life here, though it be reformed; and of the Differences of the secret Feelings of those that be reformed and those that be not

X. Of three sorts of Men, whereof some be not reformed, and some be reformed only in Faith, and some both in Faith and Feeling

XI. How Men that abide and live in sin, misshape themselves into the likeness of divers Beasts, and they be called the Lovers of the World

XII. (i) How Lovers of this World in divers ways disenable themselves from becoming reformed in their Souls

(ii) A little Counsel how Lovers of this World should do, if they will be reformed in their Souls before their departure hence
Of Reforming in Faith and Feeling also
I. That this Reforming cannot be suddenly gotten, but in length of Time, by Grace, and much Spiritual and Corporal Industry

II. (i) The Causes why so few Souls in comparison of the Multitude of others come to this Reforming that is both in Faith and Feeling

(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

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

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

V. Of an evil Day and a good Night, and what they mean, and how the Love of the World is likened to an evil Day, and the love of God to a good Night

VI. How that the Desire of Jesus felt in this lightsome Darkness slayeth all Motions of sin, and enableth the Soul to perceive spiritual Lightnings from the heavenly Jerusalem, that is, Jesus

VII. How a Man shall know false Illuminations, that are feigned by the Enemy, from the true Light of knowing that cometh out of Jesus, and by what tokens

VIII. How great profit it is to the Soul to be brought through Grace into lightsome Darkness, and how a Man shall dispose himself if he will come thereto

IX. That the Working of our Lord Jesus in the Reforming of a Soul, is divided into four times, which are: Calling, Justifying, Magnifying and Glorifying

X. How it falleth out sometimes that Souls that are but beginning or profiting in Grace seem to have more Love, as to outward tokens thereof, than some have that be perfect, and yet it is not really so in their Interior

XI. After what manner a Man shall come to know his own Soul, and how a Man should set his Love in Jesus, God and Man in one Person

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

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

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

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

V. How that some Souls love Jesus by bodily Fervours, and by their own human Affections that are moved by Grace and by Reason. And how some love Him more quietly by spiritual Affections only moved inwardly through spiritual Grace of the Holy Ghost

VI. That the Gift of Love, amongst all other Gifts of Jesus, is most worthy and most profitable. And how Jesus doth all that is well done in His lovers, only for Love. And how Love maketh the exercise of all Virtues and all good Deeds light and easy

VII. How Love through gracious Beholding of Jesus slayeth all stirrings of Pride; and maketh the Soul to lose the savour and delight in all earthly Honours

VIII. How Love slayeth all stirrings of Wrath and Envy easily; and reformeth in the Soul the Virtues of Peace and Patience, and of perfect Charity to his Neighbour, as He did specially in the Apostles

IX. Love slayeth Covetousness, Lechery and Gluttony, and the fleshly delight and savour in all the five Bodily Senses, softly and easily, through a gracious beholding of Jesus

X. What Virtues and Graces a Soul receiveth through opening of the inner eye into the gracious beholding of Jesus, and how it cannot be gotten only by man's labour, but through special grace and his own labour also

XI. How such special Grace for the Beholding of our Lord Jesus is withdrawn sometimes from a Soul; and how a Soul is to Behave herself in the Absence and in the Presence of Jesus, and how a Soul shall always desire (as much as is in her) the gracious Presence of Jesus

XII. A Commendation of Prayer offered up to Jesus by a Contemplative Soul, and how stableness in Prayer is a secure work to stand in; and how every Feeling of Grace in a chosen Soul may be called Jesus. But the more clean the Soul is, the more worthy the Grace is

XIII. How a Soul through the opening of the spiritual Eye receiveth a gracious Love enabling to understand the Holy Scriptures; and how Jesus, that is hid in the Holy Scriptures, showeth Himself to His Lovers

XIV. Of the secret Voice of Jesus sounding in a Soul, and how it may be known. And how all the gracious Illuminations made in a Soul be called the Speakings of Jesus

XV. (i) How through gracious Opening of the Spiritual Eye a Soul is made Wise, humbly and truly to see the Diversities of Degrees in Holy Church, as Militant, and for to see the nature of Angels; and first of the Reprobate

(ii) How by the same light of Grace the Nature of the blessed Angels is seen. And how Jesus is God and Man above all Creatures, according to that which the Soul may see of Him here

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