The scale (or ladder) of perfection

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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 quietly228 by spiritual Affections only moved inwardly through spiritual Grace of the Holy Ghost

THEREFORE I may truly say, that he that hath most of this love here in this life, most pleaseth God, and shall have most clear sight of Him, and most fully love Him in the bliss of Heaven, for that he hath the greatest gift of love here in earth. This love cannot be had by a man's own travail, as some imagine. It is freely had by the gracious gift of Jesus after much bodily and spiritual pains going before. For there are some lovers of God that make themselves to love God as it were by their own might; for they strain themselves through great violence, and pant so strongly, that they burst into bodily fervours, as if they would draw God down from Heaven to them. And they say in their hearts and with their mouth: Ah, Lord! I love Thee, and I will love Thee, and I will suffer death for the love of Thee. And in this manner of working they feel great fervour and much grace. And true it is, I think, this working good and meritorious,229 if it be well tempered with humility and discretion. But yet these men love not, nor have the gift of love on that manner that I speak of, neither do they ask it so. For a soul that hath the gift of love through gracious beholding of Jesus, as I mean, or that soul that hath it not yet, but would have it, she is not busy to strain herself above her strength, as it were by bodily might, for to have it by bodily fervours, and so far to feel the love of God, but thinketh herself to be right nought, and that she can do right nought of herself; but as it were a dead thing, only depending and borne up by the mercy of God. She seeth well that Jesus is all, and doth all, and, therefore, asketh she nought else but the gift of love; for since the soul seeth that her own love is nought, therefore she desireth His love, for that is enough. Therefore she prayeth and desireth that the love of God should touch her with His blessed light, that she may see a little of Him by His gracious presence, for then should she love Him; and so by this way cometh the gift of love, which is God, into a soul. The more that a soul noughteth itself through grace by sight of this verity, sometime without any fervour showed outwardly, and the less that it thinketh that it loveth or seeth God, the nearer it approacheth230 for to perceive the gift of this blessed love; for then is love master, and worketh in the soul, and maketh it forget itself, and for to see and look on only how love worketh; and then is the soul more suffering than doing, and that is pure love. Thus St Paul meant when he said thus: Quicumque spiritu Dei aguntur, &c. -- They that are wrought by the spirit of God are God's sons.231 That is, souls that are made so humble, and so pliable232 to God, that they work not of themselves, but suffer the Holy Ghost to stir and work in them the feelings of love with a sweet chord to His stirrings. These are in a special manner God's sons most like unto Him.

Other souls that cannot love thus, but travail themselves by their own afflictions, and stir themselves through their own thinking of God and bodily exercise, for to draw out of themselves, by mastery, the feeling of love, by fervours and other bodily signs, these love not spiritually. They do well and meritoriously, if so be they understand humbly that this their working is not the kindly gracious feeling of love, but is a human acting of the soul at the bidding of reason. And, nevertheless, through the goodness of God, because the soul doth as much as in it is, these human affections of the soul stirred into God by man's working are turned into spiritual affections, and are meritorious, as if they had been done spiritually in the first beginning. And this is a great courtesy of our Lord showed to humble souls, which turneth all these human affections of natural love into the affection and into the reward233 of His own love, as if He had wrought them all fully by Himself. And so these human affections thus turned may be called affections of spiritual love through purchase, not through kindly bringing forth of the Holy Ghost. I say not that a soul can work such human affections only of itself without grace; for I wot well that St Paul saith that we can do just nought, nor think anything that is good of ourselves without grace. Non enim quod sumus sufficientes, &c. -- Not as if we were sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves, but all our sufficiency is of God.234 For God worketh in all both good work and good will, as St Paul saith: It as God that worketh in us both to will and to do, according to His good pleasure.235 But I say that such affections are good, being made by the will and endeavours of a soul according to the general grace that He giveth to all chosen souls, not of special grace made spiritually by the touching of His gracious presence, as He worketh in His perfect love, as I said before; for in unperfect lovers love worketh at a distance by human affections; but in perfect lovers love worketh nearly by her own spiritual affections, and killeth in a soul, for the time, all other affections, both carnal, natural and human; and that is properly the working of love by itself. Thus love may be had in some measure,236 in part, here in a pure soul through the spiritual sight of Jesus; but in the bliss of Heaven it is fulfilled by clear sight in His Godhead; for there shall no affections be felt in a soul but such as are divine and spiritual.

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

ASK, then, of God nothing but this gift of love, which is the Holy Ghost. For among all the gifts that our Lord giveth there is none so good, nor so profitable, so worthy nor so excellent as this is. For there is no gift of God that is both the giver and the gift, but this gift of love; and, therefore, it is the best and the worthiest. The gift of prophecy, the gift of working miracles, the gift of great knowledge and counsel, and the gift of great fasting, or of great penance doing, or any other such, are great gifts of the Holy Ghost, but they are not the Holy Ghost, for a reprobate and damnable soul may have all these gifts as well as an elect soul. And, therefore, all these kinds of gifts are not greatly to be desired or cared for much. But the gift of love is the Holy Ghost, God Himself, and Him can no soul have and withal be damned; for that gift alone saveth from damnation, and maketh it God's son, and a receiver237 of the heavenly heritage. And that love, as I have said before, is not the affection of love that is created in a soul, but it is the Holy Ghost Himself, that is, love uncreated, that saveth a soul. For He first giveth Himself to that soul before the soul loveth Him, and He formeth the affection in the soul, and maketh the soul to love Him only for Himself. And not only so, but also by this gift the soul loveth itself, and her neighbour as herself only for God. And this is the gift of love that maketh the distinction betwixt chosen and reprobate souls. And this gift maketh perfect peace betwixt God and a soul, and uniteth all blessed creatures wholly in God; for it maketh Jesus for to love us, and us Him also, and each of us to love one another in Him.

Covet this gift of love principally, as I have said; for if He please out of His grace to give it thee on that manner, it shall open and enlighten the reason of thy soul, to see verity, that is God, and spiritual things. And it shall stir up thy affections wholly and fully for to love Him. And it shall work in thy soul only as He will, and thou shalt behold Jesus reverently, with softness of love, and see how He worketh. Thus commanded He by His Prophet that we should do, saying thus: Vaacaate et videte quoniam ego sum Deus. -- Cease ye, and see that I am God.238 That is, ye that are reformed in feeling, and have your inner eye opened into sight of spiritual things, cease ye sometime from outward working, and see that I am God. That is, see only how I, Jesus, God and Man, do; behold ye Me, for I do all, I am love, and for love I do all that I do, and ye do nought. And that this is truth, I shall show you, for there is no good deed done by you, nor good thought felt in you, but what is done by Me. That is, through power and wisdom and love mightily, wisely and lovely, else it is no good deed. But now it is true that I, Jesus, am both power and wisdom and blessed love, and ye are naught, for I am God. Therefore may you easily see that I do all your good deeds, and all your good thoughts, and all your good loves in you, and ye do right nought. And yet, nevertheless, be all these good deeds called yours. Not because ye work them principally, but for that I give them unto you for love that I bear to you. And, therefore, since I am Jesus, and for love do all this, cease then ye from beholding of yourselves, and set yourselves at nought, and look on Me, and see that I am God, for I do all this. This is somewhat of the meaning of that verse of David before said.

See then and behold what love worketh in a chosen soul, which he reformeth in feeling to his likeness, when the reason is enlightened to the spiritual knowing of Jesus, and to the feeling of His love. Then bringeth love into the soul the perfection of virtues, and turneth them all into quietness,239 and into liking, as it were, without working of the soul; for the soul striveth not much for the getting of them, as it did before; but it hath them easily, and feeleth them restfully, only through the gift of love, that is, the Holy Ghost. And that is a very great comfort, and gladness unspeakable, when she feeleth suddenly in herself (and scarce knows how) the virtues of humility and patience, sobriety and staidness,240 chastity and purity and love to her neighbour. And all other virtues which were sometimes travaillous,241 painful and hard for to keep, are now turned into easiness,242 and liking, and into wonderful lightness, insomuch that she thinketh it no mastery nor difficulty to keep every virtue, but it is most pleasing to him to keep it, and all this is made by love.

Other men that stand in the way of common charity, and are not yet got so far in grace, but work under the command of reason, they strive and fight all day against sins for the procuring of virtues; and sometimes they be above, and sometimes beneath as wrestlers are.

These men do full well, they have virtues in reason, and will, not in savour, nor in love. For they fight with themselves as it were by their own might for them; therefore cannot they fully have rest, nor perfectly the higher hand. Nevertheless they shall have great reward,243 but they are not yet humble enough. They have not yet put themselves altogether into God's hand, for they see Him not yet. But a soul that hath spiritual sight of Jesus taketh no great care of striving for virtues for that time. He is not busy about them particularly, but he maketh it all his business to keep that sight, and that beholding of Jesus which it hath for to hold the mind stably thereto, and bind his love only to it, that it fall not from it, but forget all other things as much as it can. And when it doth thus, then is Jesus verily Master against all sins, and overshadoweth it with His blessed presence, and getteth it all virtues. And the soul is so comforted and so borne up with the restful244 feeling of love that it hath of the sight of Jesus, that it feeleth no great disease outwardly. And thus doth love generally slay all sins in a soul, and reformeth it in the new feelings of virtues.

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 Honours245

NEVERTHELESS I shall tell thee more particularly how love killeth sins in a soul, and reformeth virtues. And first of Pride, and the virtue contrary thereto, namely, Humility. Thou must understand that there be two kinds of Humility; one is had by working of reason; another is felt by the special gift of love. Both are of love, but the former love worketh by, and with the reason of the soul, and the latter love worketh by herself. The first is imperfect, the other is perfect. The first a man feeleth from the beholding of his own sins and wretchedness, through the which beholding he thinketh himself unworthy to have any gift of grace, or any reward of God, but thinketh it enough that He would of His great mercy, grant him forgiveness of his sins. And also he thinketh himself, because of his sins, to be worse than the greatest sinner that liveth, and that every man doth better than he. And by such beholding thrusteth he himself down in his thoughts under all men. And he is busy to withstand the stirrings of pride as much as he can, both bodily and spiritual pride, and despiseth himself so that he assenteth not to the feelings of pride. And if his heart be taken sometimes with it, that it be defiled with vain joy of worship and praise from others; or from the conceit of his wit, or of any other thing, as soon as he perceiveth it he is displeased with himself, and hath sorrow for it in heart, and asketh forgiveness for it of God, and showeth himself to his confessor, and accuseth himself humbly, and receiveth his penance. This is good humility, but it is not yet perfect humility; for it is of souls that are beginning and profiting in grace caused by the beholding of their sins. Love worketh this humility by reason.

Perfect humility a soul feeleth from the sight and spiritual knowing of Jesus; for when the Holy Ghost lighteneth the reason into the sight of verity, how Jesus is all, and that He doth all, the soul hath so great love and so great joy in that spiritual sight (for it is really so indeed) that it forgetteth itself, fully leaneth to Jesus with all the love that it hath to behold Him. It taketh no heed246 of any unworthiness of itself, nor of sins aforedone, but setteth at nought itself, with all the sins, and all the good deeds that ever it did, as if there were nothing but Jesus. Thus was David humble when he said thus: Et substantia mea tanquam nihilum ante Te. -- And my substance is as nothing before Thee.247 That is, Lord Jesus, the sight of why blessed uncreated substance and of Thine endless Being showeth well unto me that my substance and being of my soul is as nought in regard of Thee.

Also, such a soul in respect to his neighbour hath no regard to him, nor judging of him, whether he be better or worse than himself; for he esteemeth himself and all other men to be all alike, and to be just nought of themselves in regard of God (and this is very so). For all the goodness that is wrought in himself, or in others, is only of God, whom he beholdeth as all in all. And therefore setteth he all other creatures at nought, as he doth himself. Thus humble was the Prophet when he said thus: Omnes gentes quasi non sint sic sunt coram eo, &c. -- All nations are before our Lord as if they were not, and are reputed as nothing,248 and as a vain thing.249 That is, in comparison250 of the endless Being, and the unchangeable nature of God, mankind is as nought; for of nought was it made, and to nought shall it return, unless He keep it in its being that made it of nought. This is truth, and this should make a soul humble, if by grace it could see this truth. Therefore when once love openeth the inner eye of the soul, for to see this truth, with other circumstances that attend it, then beginneth the soul to be really humble; for then through the sight of God it feeleth and seeth itself as it is; and then doth the soul forsake the beholding and leaning upon itself; and fully falleth to the beholding of Jesus. And when it doth so, then setteth the soul nought by all the joy and worship of the world, for the joy of worldly worship is so little, and so nought, in regard of that joy and of that love that it feeleth in the spiritual sight of Jesus and knowledge of the truth that, though it might have it without any sin, he would have nothing to do with it. No, though men would worship him, praise him, and favour him, or set him in great state, it would nothing at all please him. No, though he had great skill in all the seven liberal sciences, and of all skill under the sun, or had power to work all manner of miracles, yet would he take no more delight251 in all this, nor no more savour than to gnaw on a dry stick. He had rather forget all this, and to be alone out of the sight of the world, than to think of them and be worshipped of all men; for the heart of a true lover of Jesus is made so much, and so large through a little sight of Him, and a little feeling of His spiritual love, that all the liking and all the joy of all the earth cannot suffice to fill a corner of it. And then appeareth it well that these wretched worldly lovers, that are, as it were, ravished with the love of their own worship, and pursue after it to have it with all the might and all the wit they have, they have no taste of this Humility, but are wondrous far from it. But the lover of Jesus hath this humility lastingly, and that not with heaviness and striving for it, but with liking and gladness. The which gladness he hath not therefore, because he forsaketh the worship of the world, for that were a proud humility belonging to an hypocrite; but because he hath a sight and a spiritual knowing of the verity and worthiness of Jesus through the gift of the Holy Ghost. That reverend sight, and that lovely beholding of Jesus comforteth his love so wonderfully, and beareth it up so mightily and so easily,252 that verily it cannot like, nor fully rest in any earthly joy, nor would he if he could. He maketh no matter whether men praise him or dispraise253 him, worship him or despise him, as to himself he sets it not to heart, neither to be well pleased254 (for his greater humiliation) when men despise him, nor to be displeased when men worship him or praise him. He had rather forget both the one and the other, and only think on Jesus, and get humility by that way. And that is much the securer way whosoever can attain to it. Thus did David when he said: Oculi mei semper ad Dominum, &c. -- My eyes are always to the Lord, for He shall pluck my feet out of the net.255 For when he doth so, then forsaketh he utterly himself, and casteth himself wholly under Jesus, and then is he in a secure guard; for the shield of Truth which he holdeth keepeth him so well that he shall not be hurt through any stirring of pride, as long as he holdeth himself within the shield. As the Prophet saith: Sucto circumdabit te veritas ejus, &c. -- Verity shall compass thee with a shield.256 And that is, if thou, leaving all other things, only beholdest Him; for then shalt thou not dread for the night's dread; that is, thou shalt not fear the spirit of pride, whether he come by night or by day, as the next verse saith thus: A sagitta volaante in die -- From the arrow that flieth by day. Pride cometh by night to assail a soul when it is despised and contemned of other men, that thereby it should fall into heaviness and into sorrow. It cometh also as an arrow flying on the day, when a man is praised and worshipped of all men; whether it be for wordly doing or spiritual, that he should have vain joy in himself, and to rest therein, and false gladness in a thing that is passing. This is a sharp arrow and a perilous, it fleeth swiftly, and it striketh softly, but it woundeth deadly. But the lover of Jesus, that stably beholdeth by devout prayers, and busy thinking on him, is so encompassed with the safe shield of Truth that he dreadeth it not; for this arrow cannot enter into his soul. Nay, though it come it hurteth him not, but glanceth257 away and passeth forth.

And thus is the soul made humble, as I understand, by the working of the Holy Ghost, that is, the gift of love; for He openeth the eye of the soul to see and love Jesus, and He keepeth the soul in that sight restfully and securely; and He slayeth all the stirrings of pride wonderfully and privily and softly, and the soul knoweth258 not how. And also He bringeth in by that way verily and lovely the virtue of humility. All this doth love, but not in all lovers alike fully; for some have this grace but short and little, as it were in the beginning of it, and a little assaying toward it; for the conscience is not yet cleansed fully through grace. And some have it more fully, for they have clearer sight of Jesus, and they feel more of this love. And some have it most fully, for they have the full gift of Contemplation. Nevertheless, he that hath the least on this manner that I have said, I hope verily he hath the gift of perfect humility, for he hath the gift of perfect love.

How Love slayeth all stirrings of Wrath and Envy easily;259 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

Love slayeth Anger and Envy.

LOVE, where it worketh, worketh wisely and easily260 in a soul; for he slayeth mightily anger and envy, and all passions of wrath and melancholy in it, and bringeth into the soul the virtues of patience and mildness, peaceableness and amity to his neighbour. It is full hard and a great mastery for a man that standeth only in working of his own reason to keep patience, holy rest and softness in heart and charity to his neighbour, when they use him hardly and do him wrong, that he do not through motion or rising of anger or bitterness261 within him something against them, either by word or deed, or both. (And nevertheless though a man be stirred and troubled in himself, and made unrestful, if so be it passeth not too much the bounds of reason, and that he keep his hands and his tongue, and be ready to forgive the trespass when forgiveness is asked, yet this man hath the virtue of patience, though it be but weak and nakedly. Forasmuch as he desires to have it, and laboureth busily in restraining his unruly passions to the end that he may have it, and also is sorry that he hath it not as he should.) But to a true lover of Jesus it is no great mastery for to suffer all this; for why? Love fighteth for him, and slayeth wondrous easily such stirrings of wrath and of melancholy; and maketh his soul so easy and so peaceable, so suffering and so goodly, through the spiritual sight of Jesus, with the feeling of His blessed love, that though he be despised and contemned of other men, or suffer wrong or harm, shame or villainy, he heedeth262 it not, he is not much stirred against them; he will not be angered nor stirred against them, for, if he were much stirred, he should forego the comfort which he feeleth within his soul, but that will he not. He can lightlier forget all the wrong that is done him than another man can forgive it, though forgiveness263 was asked him; and so he had rather264 forget it; for he thinketh it most easy to him. And love doth all this, for love openeth the eye of the soul to the sight of Jesus, and establisheth it with the pleasure265 and content of love that it feeleth by that sight, and comforteth it so mightily that it taketh no heed266 whatever men jangle or do against him; it resteth267 nothing upon him; the greatest harm that he can suffer is a forbearing of the spiritual sight of Jesus; and therefore it is better268 for him to suffer all harms than that alone. All this can the soul do well and easily without great disturbing of this spiritual sight, when the grievances fall outwardly and touch not the body, as do backbitings or scornings or spoiling of his goods. All these grieve him nought; but it goeth somewhat nearer when his flesh is touched, and he feeleth smart, then is it harder.

Nevertheless, though it be hard and impossible to the frail nature of man to suffer bodily penance gladly and patiently, without bitter stirrings of ire, anger and melancholy, and yet it is not impossible to love, that is, the Holy Ghost for to work this in a soul, when He toucheth it with the blessed gift of love. But He giveth a soul that is in that plight mightily the feelings of love, and wonderfully fasteneth it to Jesus, and separateth it very far from sensuality through His secret might, and comforteth it so sweetly by His blessed presence that the soul feeleth little pain or else none at all in the sensual part; and this is a special grace given to the holy Martyrs.

This grace had the Apostles, as holy Writ saith of them thus: Ibant Apostoli gaudentes, &c. -- The Apostles went from the Council rejoicing, when they were beaten with scourges, and they were glad that they were accounted worthy to suffer any bodily pain for the love of Jesus.269 They were not stirred to anger, nor to bitterness,270 to be revenged on the Jews that beat them, as a worldly man would be when he suffered a little harm, were it never so little, from his neighbour. Nay, they were not stirred to any pride, nor highness of mind, nor to disdain or judge the Jews, as hypocrites and heretics are who will suffer much bodily pain, and are sometimes ready to suffer death with great gladness and with mighty will, as it were in the name of Jesus, for love of Him. Verily, that love and that gladness that they have in suffering of bodily mischief is not of the Holy Ghost, it cometh not from the fire that burneth on the High Altar of Heaven, but it is feigned by the enemy, inflamed of hell; for it is fully mingled with the height of pride, and of presumption of themselves, of despite and judging and disdaining of those that thus punish them. They imagine that all this is charity, and that they suffer all that for the love of God, but they are beguiled by the mid-day fiend.

A true lover of Jesus, when he suffereth harm from his neighbour, is so strengthened through grace of the Holy Ghost, and is made so humble, so patient, so peaceable, and that so really, that what harm or wrong soever he suffereth from his neighbour, he still preserveth his humility, he despiseth him not, he judgeth him not, but he prayeth for him in his heart, and hath pity and compassion on him much more tenderly than of another man that never did him harm; and verily loveth him better, and more fervently desireth the salvation of his soul, because he seeth that we shall have so much spiritual profit out of that evil deed of that man though it be against his will. But this love and this meekness is wrought only by the Holy Ghost above the nature of man in them whom He maketh true lovers of Jesus.

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