The scale (or ladder) of perfection

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

I HAVE already told thee of this image, that it is nought, Nevertheless, if thou canst not understand how this should be an image, seeing nought can be nothing else but nought, and so for all my telling thou canst make nothing of it, I shall therefore tell thee more plainly of this image as methinketh.
Seven Rivers springing out of this Image.

This image is a false inordinate love of thyself. Out of this there come all manner of sins by seven rivers, Which are these: pride, envy, anger, sloth, covetousness, gluttony and lechery. Lo, this is somewhat that thou mayest understand. By some one of these rivers runneth out all manner of sin, and putteth thee out of the state of charity, if it be a deadly sin; or letteth the fervour of thy charity if it be venial. Now mayest thou grope120 at least that this image is not altogether nought; but it is much of bad, for it is a great spring of love unto thyself, with such rivers as I have said.

But now, sayest thou, how can this be true? For I have forsaken the world, and am shut up in a monastery; I meddle with no man, I chide not, I strive not, I neither buy nor sell, I have no worldly business, but by the mercy of God keep myself chaste, and withhold me from delights. And, besides this, I pray, I watch, I labour bodily and ghostly, as well as I can; how should this image then be so much in me as thou speakest of?

The spring of all these Rivers is within.

To this I answer, granting thee that I hope thou dost all these works and more; and yet may it be true as I say. Thou art busy to thy power to stop these rivers without, but the spring within perhaps thou leavest whole. Thou art like to a man which had in his yard a stinking well, with many runnings from it, who went and stopped the runnings, and left the spring whole, and thought all was well; but the water sprang up at the ground of the well, and stood still insomuch that it corrupted all the fairness of his garden, and yet did no water run out. Right so may it be with thee, if it be so that thou hast by grace stopped the rivers of this image without, so far that all is done well, but beware of the spring within; surely unless thou stop and cleanse that as much as thou canst, it will corrupt all the flowers of the garden of thy soul, show they never so fair outwardly in sight of men.
How a man may know whether the spring be stopped.

But now, sayest thou, whereby shall I know that the ground is stopped, if I go about it? As to this I shall tell thee, how by trying and experience thou shalt know this image if it be in thee, and how much it is in thee, and thereby shalt thou know how much it is stopped in thee, and how little also. And inasmuch as pride is the principal river, I shall begin with it.



Of the Seven Deadly Sins, and first of Pride, what it is, and when it is a deadly Sin and when but venial

PRIDE is nothing else (as the learned say) but love of thy own excellency, that is, of thy own worship. The more thou lovest and likest thine own honour, the more thou hast of this pride; the more thou hast of this image in thee. If thou feel in thy heart a stirring of pride, that thou art holier, wiser, better and more virtuous than others, that God hath given thee grace to serve Him better than others do, and thinkest all others beneath thee, and thyself above them, or any other thought of thyself, which showeth to the eye of thy soul an excellency and a surpassing of others, and thou feelest a love and delight in this stirring, and a vain pleasing in thyself, that indeed thou art so; this is a token that thou bearest this black image, which, though it be privy from the eyes of men, yet it appeareth openly in God's sight.

But thou sayest that thou canst not eschew such stirrings of pride, for oft thou feelest them against thy will, and therefore thou holdest them no sin; or, if they be sin, they be nought but venial.

As to this, I answer that the feeling of these stirrings of pride, or of any other sin, which spring either out of the corruption of this foul image or by incasting or suggestion of the enemy, is no sin so far as to the feeling of them. Nevertheless, when by negligence and thy own blindness this feeling is received unwarily in thy thoughts, and turned into love and liking, then is there sin in it more or less according to the measure of this love, sometime venial and sometime deadly.

The privilege that Christians have in relation to concupiscence and the stirrings of sin.

This is a grace and privilege by virtue of Christ's passion granted to all Christians baptized in water and the Holy Ghost. For verily to Jews and Saracens, who believe not in Jesus Christ, all such stirrings are deadly sins. For St Paul saith: Whatsoever is done without faith in Christ is sin. But we Christians have this privilege through His mercy, that such feelings are no sins, but the pain of original sin.
When the stirrings of Pride are mortal.

But when it is venial and when it is deadly I cannot fully tell thee; nevertheless, a little I shall say, as methinketh. When the stirrings of pride are received and turned into liking, so far that the heart chooseth them for a full rest and a full delight, and seeketh no other end, but only the liking therein, then is this pride deadly sin; for he maketh and chooseth this delight as his god, without any opposing of his reason or will, and therefore it is deadly sin.

But now, sayest thou, who is such a fool as to choose pride for his God? No man living, sure, will do so. To this I answer that I cannot tell thee in special who sinneth deadly in pride. But in general I shall say that there be two sorts of pride, one bodily and the other spiritual. Bodily pride is of fleshly living men; spiritual is of hypocrites and heretics. These three sin deadly in pride; I mean such fleshly living men as St Paul speaks of: If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die.121 Then say I thus: That a worldly man who loveth and seeketh principally the worship of himself, and chooseth the liking of it as the rest of his heart, and the end of his bliss, he sinneth deadly.

And when venial.

But now thou wilt say: Who doth choose the love of his worship, credit or honour, instead of his God; I answer, that he that loveth his worship, as for to seem better and greater of estate than any other, and travaileth about it as much as he can; if he love it so much that for the getting, or keeping, or the saving of it, he breaketh the commandment of God, or breaketh love and charity to his neighbour, or is ready, or in full will to break it rather than he would forbear his worship, or lose anything of it, either in his name, or in his estate, or of fulfilling his will; soothly he sinneth deadly, for he loveth his worship, and chooseth it more than the love of God and of his neighbour. And nevertheless, the man that sinneth thus deadly will say with his mouth that he will not choose pride for his god, but he beguileth himself, for he chooseth it for his god in his deeds.
And in whom.

Nevertheless, another worldly man that loveth his own worship and pursueth after it, if he love it not so much, that he would not for the getting or the saving of it do a deadly sin, or break charity to his neighbour, he sinneth not deadly but venially, more or less according to the measure of his love and of his liking, with other circumstances.

But a man or woman that disposeth himself or herself, to live contemplatively, if it be so that he forsake himself as to his own will, and offer up himself wholly to God with a full general will, that he will not sin in pride wittingly, nor have any joy in himself wilfully, but only in God, as far as he can, and may; and notwithstanding after this full will offered up to God, feeleth many stirrings of vain-glory, and delighteth in them for the time (because at the first he did not so well perceive them), this liking is but venial sin, and, namely, if it be so, that when he cometh to himself he reproveth himself, and withstandeth this stirring with displeasure of his will, and asketh mercy and help of God; then the liking which before was some sin, our Lord of his mercy soon forgiveth it; and moreover he shall have reward122 for his good travail in withstanding it.

Who are God's special servants.

And this is a courtesy of our Lord, granted to all those who are specially His servants and domestics123 of His court, as are all those that for His love forsake, with a good true will, all worldly and all fleshly sin, and give themselves wholly both body and soul unto His service, with all their might and cunning, as do truly Anchorites enclosed, and all truly religious persons, who for the love of God and salvation of their own souls enter into any religious order approved by holy Church. Or else, if it be so, that they enter first for worldly respects, or for their bodily sustenance, or some other such; if they repent them and turn it into a spiritual respect, as for the service of God; these as long as they keep this will and pursue it as well as their frailty will permit, are true religious persons.

Also, what man or woman soever he be; in what degree soever he liveth in holy Church, priest, clerk or layman, widow, maid or wife that will for the love of God and salvation of his, or her, own soul forsake all the worships and likings of this world, in the world, in his or her heart truly and fully betwixt God and themselves, and all unnecessary business and earthly things, even to what they have bare need of, and offer up their will entirely to be His servants, in the constant exercise of devout prayers and holy thoughts, with other good deeds that they may do bodily and ghostly, and keep their will whole to God stedfastly, all such are God's special servants in holy Church. And for this good will and good purpose that they have by the gift of God, they shall increase in grace and in charity here all their life long; and they shall have for this special will a special reward in the bliss of heaven above other chosen souls, who offered not wholly their will and their body to God's service, neither openly nor privately as they did. All these, whom I call God's servants, and of His court more specially, if they, through frailty and ignorance, when they feel such stirrings of vainglory, for the time delight therein, and perceive not that they do so, for that their reason and senses are letted through that liking which they feel, so that they cannot so well see those stirrings, they sin not deadly in this liking of vainglory. For that will that they have in general set in their heart before, to please God, and to forsake all manner of sin, if they knew it, keepeth them here, that they sin not deadly in such stirrings, and in all other that come of frailty, and will keep them still as long as the ground of that will is kept whole.

How divers states in Holy Church shall have divers rewards in Heaven.

I say moreover for thy comfort, and for the comfort of all others who live in the state of Anchorets enclosed, and also by God's grace, for the comfort of all them that enter into any religious order approved in holy Church, that all those who through the mercy of God among them shall be saved, shall have a special reward, and a singular worship in the bliss of heaven; for their state of living before other souls that had not that state in holy Church, though they were never so holy; which worship is better than all the worship of this world without comparison; for if thou couldst see what it is, thou wouldst not for the worship of this world, if thou mightest have it without sin, change thy state either of Anchoret or of religious, neither lose that singular reward in heaven, which reward is called the Accidental Reward.
There be two special Rewards in Heaven. The Sovereign or Essential.

Nevertheless, that other men may not mistake this that I say, therefore I shall say it more plainly. Thou shalt understand that there be two rewards in the bliss of heaven, which our Lord giveth to chosen souls. The one is Sovereign and Principal, and is called the Essential Reward, and that is the knowing and loving of God according to the measure of charity given by God to the soul while she lived here in mortal body. This reward is best and Sovereign, for it is God Himself, and is common to all the souls that shall be saved, in what state or degree soever they live in holy Church, more or less according to the quantity and the muchness of their charity in this life, what degree soever they live in. For he that loveth God by charity most shall have most reward in the bliss of heaven for he shall there love God and know Him most and that is the Sovereign, or Essential reward, and according to this reward it may and shall fall out, that some manner of man or woman, as a lord or a lady, knight or esquire, merchant or ploughman, or what degree he be, in man or Yeoman may and shall have more reward than some priest or friar, monk or canon, or Anchoret enclosed. And why so? Soothly, because he loved God more in charity.
The secondary or accidental.

Another reward there is that is Secondary, or Accidental, which our Lord giveth for special good deeds, which a man doth voluntarily, over that he is bound to do. Of these deeds three principal ones the Doctors of holy Church do make mention of, namely, Martyrdom, Preaching and Virginity.124 These works, inasmuch as they pass all others in excellency, shall have a special reward, which is called an Aureola, which is nought else but a singular worship and a special token ordained by God for reward of that special deed they did above others, over and above that Sovereign or Essential reward of the love of God which is common to him and to all others. Right so it is of all other special good deeds, which, if they be done sincerely, are specially acceptable in the sight of God, and in the judgement of holy Church are very excellent, as are the enclosing of Anchorets, done by the authority of holy Church, also entering into religion approved, and the stricter that the religion is, the more excellent is the deed in the judgement of holy Church.

Also after these, and beneath these, are the taking of the order of Priest, either for cure of men's souls, and to minister the Sacraments of holy Church, or else for singular Devotion to please God, and profit our neighbour, by the sacrifice of the precious body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Soothly these are special deeds, and declared to be excellent by the judgement of holy Church, and in the sight of our Lord. When they are done truly for God, they are excellent, and shall have special reward, each man in his degree, in the bliss of Heaven. The state of Bishop and Prelate is above all these deeds, as to the Accidental reward. That this is so, appeareth out of holy Writ, where it saith thus in the Prophet Daniel: But go thou until the time prefixed, and thou shalt rest and stand in thy lot until the end of the days;125 which is to say thus much: The Angel when he had showed Daniel the secrets of God, he said to him thus: Go thou to the rest of this bodily death, and thou shalt stand in thy lot as a prophet at the last day. And verily as Daniel shall stand as a prophet at the last day of doom, and have the worship and excellency of a prophet above the Sovereign blessed reward of the love and sight of God, right so shalt thou stand as an Anchoret in that lot, and a Religious in the lot of the Religious, and so shall it be with other excellent deeds, and have a singular worship, passing other men at the day of doom.

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