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Cloud of Unknowing
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HERE BEGINNETH THE EIGHT AND FIFTIETH CHAPTER

 

That a man shall not take ensample of Saint Martin and of Saint Stephen, for to strain his imagination bodily upwards in the time of his prayer.

 

FOR that that they say of Saint Martin and of Saint Stephen, although they saw such things with their bodily eyes, it was shewed but in miracle and in certifying of thing that was ghostly. For wit they right well that Saint Martin’s mantle came never on Christ’s own body substantially, for no need that He had thereto to keep Him from cold: but by miracle and in likeness for all us that be able to be saved, that be oned to the body of Christ ghostly. And whoso clotheth a poor man and doth any other good deed for God’s love bodily or ghostly to any that hath need, sure be they they do it unto Christ ghostly: and they shall be rewarded as substantially therefore as they had done it to Christ’s own body. Thus saith Himself in the gospel. And yet thought He it not enough, but if He affirmed it after by miracle; and for this cause He shewed Him unto Saint Martin by revelation. All the revelations that ever saw any man here in bodily likeness in this life, they have ghostly bemeanings. And I trow that if they unto whom they were shewed had been so ghostly, or could have conceived their bemeanings ghostly, that then they had never been shewed bodily. And therefore let us pick off the rough bark, and feed us off the sweet kernel.

But how? Not as these heretics do, the which be well likened to madmen having this custom, that ever when they have drunken of a fair cup, cast it to the wall and break it. Thus should not we do if we will well do. For we should not so feed us of the fruit, that we should despise the tree; nor so drink, that we should break the cup when we have drunken. The tree and the cup I call this visible miracle, and all seemly bodily observances, that is according and not letting the work of the spirit. The fruit and the drink I call the ghostly bemeaning of these visible miracles, and of these seemly bodily observances: as is lifting up of our eyes and our hands unto heaven. If they be done by stirring of the spirit, then be they well done; and else be they hypocrisy, and then be they false. If they be true and contain in them ghostly fruit, why should they then be despised? For men will kiss the cup for wine is therein.

And what thereof, though our Lord when He ascended to heaven bodily took His way upwards into the clouds, seen of His mother and His disciples with their bodily eyes? Should we therefore in our ghostly work ever stare upwards with our bodily eyes, to look after Him if we may see Him sit bodily in heaven, or else stand, as Saint Stephen did? Nay, surely He shewed Him not unto Saint Stephen bodily in heaven, because that He would give us ensample that we should in our ghostly work look bodily up into heaven if we might see Him as Saint Stephen did, either standing, or sitting, or else lying. For howso His body is in heaven—standing, sitting, or lying—wots no man. And it needeth not more to be witted, but that His body is oned with the soul, without departing. The body and the soul, the which is the manhood, is oned with the Godhead without departing also. Of His sitting, His standing, His lying, needeth it not to wit; but that He is there as Him list, and hath Him in body as most seemly is unto Him for to be. For if He shew Him lying, or standing, or sitting, by revelation bodily to any creature in this life, it is done for some ghostly bemeaning: and not for no manner of bodily bearing that He hath in heaven. See by ensample. By standing is understood a readiness of helping. And therefore it is said commonly of one friend to another, when he is in bodily battle: “Bear thee well, fellow, and fight fast, and give not up the battle over lightly; for I shall stand by thee.” He meaneth not only bodily standing; for peradventure this battle is on horse and not on foot, and peradventure it is in going and not standing. But he meaneth when he saith that he shall stand by him, that he shall be ready to help him. For this reason it was that our Lord shewed Him bodily in heaven to Saint Stephen, when he was in his martyrdom: and not to give us ensample to look up to heaven. As He had said thus to Saint Stephen in person of all those that suffer persecution for His love: “Lo, Stephen! as verily as I open this bodily firmament, the which is called heaven, and let thee see My bodily standing, trust fast that as verily stand I beside thee ghostly by the might of My Godhead. And I am ready to help thee, and therefore stand thou stiffly in the faith and suffer boldly the fell buffets of those hard stones: for I shall crown thee in bliss for thy meed, and not only thee, but all those that suffer persecution for Me on any manner.” And thus mayest thou see that these bodily shewings were done by ghostly bemeanings.

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