The scale (or ladder) of perfection

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

HYPOCRITES and heretics feel not this humility neither in good-will nor in affection, but full cold and dry are their hearts and reins from the soft feeling of this virtue, and by so much the further are they from it, as they esteem they have it. They gnaw on the dry bark without, but the sweet kernel and the inward taste of it they never come to. They make a show of outward humility in habit and holy speech, in a low carriages and (as they would make show) in many corporal and spiritual virtues. But in the will and affection of their heart, where humility should be, it is but feigned. For they judge, and despise, and set at naught other men that will not do as they do and teach; they esteem them either fools for want of knowledge, or to be blinded by fleshly living. And, therefore, lift they themselves up on high in their own sight above all others, weening that they live better than others, and that they only have the truth and verity of right living and of spiritual feeling, and of the singular grace of God both in knowledge and affection above all others. And out of this sight of themselves riseth a delight in their hearts, in which they worship and praise themselves, as if there were none but they. They praise and thank God with their lips, but in their hearts, like thieves, they steal His worship and praise, and place it in themselves, and so have neither humility in will nor affection.

A wretched caitiff or sinner which falleth all day, and is sorry that he doth so, though he hath not humility in affection, yet hath he it in good will; but an Heretic or an Hypocrite hath neither; for they have the condition of the Pharisee, who came, as our Lord saith in the Gospel, with the Publican into the Temple to pray. And when he came, he prayed not, nor asked aught of God, for he thought he had no need; but he began to thank God, and said thus: Lord, I thank Thee that Thou givest me more grace than others, that I am not like other men, robbers, luxurious, or other such sinners. He looked beside him, and saw the Publican, whom he knew for a wretch, knocking on his breast, only crying for mercy; then he thanked God he was not such a one as he, for Lord, said he, I fast twice a week, and I pay my tithes duly. When he had done, our Lord said: He went home without grace as he came, and got just nought.

But thou wilt say, wherein did this Pharisee amiss, since he thanked God and spoke the truth? I answer he did amiss, inasmuch as he judged and reproved the Publican in his heart, who was justified of God. And he also did amiss, for he thanked God only with his mouth, but secretly in his heart he willingly delighted in himself through pride and glorying in the gifts of God, stealing to himself the honour of them, and the praise and love due to God. This is the condition verily of Heretics and Hypocrites, they will not willingly pray, and if they pray, do not humble themselves, acknowledging their wretchedness, but feigningly thank and love God, and speak of Him with their mouth, but their delight is vain and false, and not in God, and yet they do not think so, for they cannot love God. And as the wise man saith: Praise is not comely in the mouth of a sinner.64 Wherefore it is profitable for me, and for thee, and for such other wretches, to leave the condition of this Pharisee, and feigned loving of God, and follow the Publican in lowliness, asking of mercy and forgiveness of sins, and grace of spiritual virtues, that we may afterward, with a clean heart, truly thank Him and love Him, and yield wholly all honour without feigning; for our Lord asketh thus by His Prophet:65 Upon whom shall My Spirit rest? He answereth Himself, and saith: Upon none but upon the humble, poor and contrite in heart, and him that trembleth at My words. If, therefore, thou wilt have the Spirit of God ruling in thy heart, have humility and dread Him.

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

THE second thing which it behoveth thee to have is a firm faith in all the articles of thy belief, and in the Sacraments of the holy Church, believing them stedfastly with all thy will in thy heart. If thou feel any stirring in thy heart against any of them, by suggestion of the enemy to put thee in doubt of them, be thou stedfast, and dread not therefore, but forsake thine own wit, without disputing or ransacking of them, and set thy faith in general on the faith of the holy Church, and make no reckoning of the stirrings of thy heart which seem to be contrary thereto; for those stirrings are not thy faith, but the faith of the holy Church is thy faith, though thou never see it nor feel it. And bear those suggestions patiently as a scourge of our Lord, by which He will cleanse thy heart and make thy faith stedfast. Also it behoveth thee to embrace and honour in thy heart all the laws and ordinances made by the prelates and rulers of the Church, either in declaring of the Faith, or concerning the Sacraments, or in general concerning all Christian men, meekly and truly assenting to them though thou understandest not the cause of making such ordinances; and though thou shouldst think that some of them were unreasonable,66 yet shalt not thou judge them or find fault with them, but reverence and honour them although they little concern thy particular. Neither entertain thou any opinion or fancy or singular conceit under colour of more holiness (as some unwise people do) either out of thy own imagination, or by the teaching of any other man, which thwarteth the least ordinance or general teaching of the Church.

Moreover, together with such faith, thou shalt firmly hope that thou art ordained by our Lord to be saved as one of His chosen by His mercy, and stir not from this hope whatsoever thou hearest or seest, or what temptation befalls thee. Though thou think thyself so great a wretch that thou art worthy to sink into hell, for that thou doest no good nor servest God as thou shouldst, yet hold thee in this truth and in this hope, and ask mercy, and all shall be well with thee. And though all the devils in hell appeared in bodily shapes, saying to thee, sleeping or waking, that thou shouldst not be saved; or all men living on earth or all the angels in heaven (if possible) should say the same, yet believe them not, nor be stirred much from thy hope of salvation. This I speak to thee, because some are so weak and simple that when they have given up themselves wholly to serve God to their power, and feel any stirrings of this kind within them by the suggestion of the enemy, or any of his false prophets (which men call soothsayers) that they shall not be saved, or that their state or manner of living is not pleasing to God, they be astonished and moved with such words, and so through ignorance fall sometimes into great heaviness, and as it were into despair of salvation.
Who may hope for salvation.

Wherefore it is (as it seems to me) necessary for every one (that by the grace of God is in a full and resolute will to forsake sin, and as clearly as his conscience telleth him, suffereth no deadly sin to rest in him, but he goes soon to confession for it, and humbly betakes himself to the sacraments of the Church) to have a good trust and hope of salvation. Much more then should they trust and hope, who give themselves wholly to God, and eschew venial sins the best they know and can.
Who not.

But on the other hand, as perilous it is for him who lieth wittingly in deadly sin, to have trust in salvation, and in hope of this trust will not forsake his sin, nor humble himself truly to God and the holy Church.

Of a firm and resolute Intent and Purpose necessary hereto

THE third thing needful for thee to have in thy beginning was an entire and firm intention; that is to say an entire will and a desire only to please God, for this is charity, without which all is nought which thou doest, and thou shalt set thine intent always to search and travail how thou mayest please Him, resting no time willingly from some good exercises, either bodily or ghostly. Neither shalt thou set a time in thy heart that thus long thou wilt serve Him, and then suffer thy heart willingly to fall down to vain thoughts and idle exercises, imagining it needful to do so for preserving of thy health, leaving the keeping of thy heart and good exercises, and seeking rest and comfort for a time outwardly from thy bodily senses or inwardly from vain thoughts, as it were for recreation of thy spirit, that thereby it may be more quick and lively for spiritual employments. But I trow thou wilt not find it so. I say not that thou wilt be able fully and continually to perform this thy intent and purpose, for ofttimes thy bodily necessities, such as eating, drinking, sleeping and speaking and the frailty of thy flesh shall let and hinder thee, be thou never so careful. But my meaning and desire is that thy will and intent be always wholly to be exercised bodily and spiritually, and to be no time idle, but always lifting up thy heart by desire to God and to heaven, whether thou be eating or drinking or doing any corporal work as much as thou canst, intermit it not willingly. For if thou have this intent it will make thee quick and ready to thy exercises; and if thou fall through frailty or negligence upon any idle occupation or vain speech, it will smite thy heart as sharply as a prick, and make thee account irksome, and be weary of all such vanities, and turn again speedily to inward thinking of Jesus Christ or to some good exercise.

As to thy body, it is good to use discretion in eating, drinking and sleeping, and in all manner of bodily penance, and in long vocal prayer, and in all bodily and sensible feelings and fervours, or earnestness of devotions, and tears and the like, and in discoursing with the imagination in times of aridities and want of the feeling of grace. In all these works it is good to use discretion, for the mean is the best. But in destroying of sin by keeping thy heart, and in the continual desire of virtues and the joys of heaven, and to have the spiritual knowledge and love of Jesus Christ, hold there no mean, for the greater it is the better it is, for thou must hate sin and all fleshly loves and fears in thy heart without ceasing, and love virtue and purity and desire them without stinting if thou canst. I say not that all this is needful to salvation, but I trow it is speedful and much helping. And if thou keep this full intent, thou shalt profit more in one year in virtues than thou shalt without it in seven.

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

Now I have told thee of the end thou shouldst set in thy desire, and draw towards it as nigh as thou canst, as also what is needful for thee to have in thy beginning, namely, humility, firm faith and an entire and strong will and purpose, upon which ground thou shalt build thy spiritual house by prayer and meditation and other spiritual virtues.

Furthermore, pray thou or meditate thou, or any other good deed or exercises which thou dost, be it either good by grace or defective through thy own frailty, or whatsoever it be that thou seest, feelest or hearest, smellest or tastest, either outwardly or by thy bodily senses or inwardly by thy imagination, or knowest or perceivest by thy natural reason, bring it all within the truth and the rules of holy Church, and cast all into the mortar of humility and break it small with the pestle of the fear of God, and throw the powder of all this into the fire of desire, and so offer it up to God. And I tell thee for truth that well pleasing shall this offering be in the sight of our Lord Jesus, and sweet shall the smoke of that fire smell before His face.

The sum is this: draw all that thou seest and intendest within the truth of holy Church, and break thyself by humility, and offer up the desire of thy heart only to thy Lord Jesus, to have Him and nought else but Him. If thou do thus, I hope, by the grace of Christ, that thou shalt never be overcome by thine enemy. This St Paul teacheth us when he saith: Whether ye eat or drank, or whatsoever else ye do, do all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,67 forsaking yourselves and offering all up to Him; and the means which thou shalt use to this purpose are prayer and meditation.


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