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HOW HOLY BENEVOLENCE PRODUCES THE PRAISE OF THE DIVINE WELL-BELOVED.
Honour, my dear Theotimus, is not in him who is honoured, but in him who honours: for how often it happens that he whom we honour knows nothing of it, nor has so much as thought about it. How often we praise such as know us not, or who are sleeping; and yet according to the common estimation of men, and their ordinary manner of conceiving, it seems that we do one some good when we do him honour, and that we give him much when we give him titles and praises, and we find no difficulty in saying that a man is rich in honour, glory, reputation, praise, though indeed we know that all this is outside the person who is honoured. He oftentimes receives no manner of profit therefrom, according to a saying ascribed to the great S. Augustine: O poor Aristotle, thou art being praised where thou art not, and where thou art, thou art being burned. What fruit, I pray you, do Cæsar and Alexander the Great reap from so many vain words which some vain souls employ in their praise?
God being replenished with a goodness which surpasses all praise and honour, receives no advantage nor increase by all the benedictions which we give him. He is neither richer nor greater, nor more content or happy by them, for his happiness, his content, his greatness, and his riches neither are nor can be any other thing than the divine infinity of his goodness. At the same time, since, according to our ordinary estimation, honour is held one of the greatest effects of our benevolence towards others, and since by it we not only do not imply any indigence in those we honour, but rather protest that they abound in excellence, we therefore make use of this kind of benevolence towards God, who not only approves it, but exacts it, as suitable to our condition, and so proper to testify the respectful love we bear him, that he has ordained we should render and refer all honour and glory unto him.
Thus then the soul who has taken a great complacency in God's infinite perfection, seeing that she cannot wish him any increase of goodness, because he has infinitely more than she can either wish or conceive, desires at least that his name may be blessed, exalted, praised, honoured and adored ever more and more. And beginning with her own heart, she ceases not to provoke it to this holy exercise, and, as a sacred bee, flies hither and thither amongst the flowers of the divine works and excellences, gathering from them a sweet variety of complacencies, from which she works up and composes the heavenly honey of benedictions, praises, and confessions of honour, by which, as far as she is able, she magnifies and glorifies the name of her well-beloved: in imitation of the great Psalmist, who having gone round, and as it were in spirit run over the wonders of the divine goodness, immolated on the altar of his heart the mystic victim of the utterances of his voice, by canticles and psalms of admiration and benediction: I have gone round, and have offered up in his tabernacle a sacrifice of jubilation: I will sing, and recite a psalm to the Lord.246246Ps. xxvi. 6 But, Theotimus, this desire of praising God which holy benevolence excites in our hearts is insatiable, for the soul that is touched with it would wish to have infinite praises to bestow upon her well-beloved, because she finds his perfections more than infinite: so that, finding herself to fall far short of being able to satisfy her desire, she makes extreme efforts of affection to praise at least in some measure this goodness all worthy of praise, and these efforts of benevolence are marvellously augmented by complacency: for in proportion as the soul finds God good, relishing more and more his sweetness, and taking complacency in his infinite goodness, she would also raise higher the benedictions and praises she gives him. And again, as the soul grows warm in praising the incomprehensible sweetness of God, she enlarges and dilates the complacency she takes in him, and by this enlargement she more strongly excites herself to his praise. So that the affection of complacency and that of praise, by these reciprocal movements and mutual inclinations, advance one another with great and continual increase.
So nightingales, according to Pliny, take such complacency in their songs, that, by reason of this complacency, for fifteen days and fifteen nights they never cease warbling, forcing themselves to sing better in emulous striving with one another; so that when they sing the best, they take a greater complacency, and this increase of complacency makes them force themselves to greater efforts of trilling, augmenting in such sort their complacency by their song and their song by their complacency, that it is often found that they die and their throats burst with their singing. Birds worthy the fair name of philomel, since they die thus, of and for the love of melody!
O God! my Theotimus, how the soul ardently pressed with affection to praise her God, is touched with a dolour most delicious and a delight most dolorous, when after a thousand efforts of praise she comes so short. Alas! she would wish, this poor nightingale, to raise her accents ever higher, and perfect her melody, the better to sing the praises of her well-beloved. By how much more she praises, by so much more is she delighted in praising: and by how much greater her delight in praising is, by so much her pain is greater that she cannot yet more praise him; still, to find what content she can in this passion, she makes all sorts of efforts, and in the midst of them faints and fails, as it happened to the most glorious S. Francis, who amidst the pleasure he had in praising God and singing his canticles of love, shed a great abundance of tears, and often let fall through feeblessness, what he might be holding in his hands: being like a sacred nightingale all outspent, and often losing respiration through the effort of aspiration after the praises of him whom he could never praise sufficiently.
But hear an agreeable similitude upon this subject, drawn from the name which this loving Saint gave his religious; for he called them Cicalas, by reason of the nightly praises they sang to God. Cicalas, Theotimus, as though they were nature's organs, have their breasts set with pipes; and to sing the better they live only on dew, which they take not by the mouth, for they have none, but suck it by a certain little tongue they have on the breast, by which they utter their cries with so much noise that they seem to be nothing but voice. Now this is the state of the sacred lover; for all the faculties of her soul are as so many pipes which she has in her breast, to repeat the canticles and praises of the well-beloved. Her devotion in the midst of all these is the tongue of her heart, according to S. Bernard, by which she receives the dew of the divine perfections, sucking and drawing them to her, as her food, by the most holy complacency which she takes in them; and by the same tongue of devotion she utters all her voices of prayer, praise, canticles, psalms, benedictions, according to the testimony of one of the most glorious spiritual cicalas that was ever heard, who sang thus: Bless the Lord, O my soul: and let all that is within me bless his holy name.247247Ps. cii. 1. For is it not as though he had said, I am a mystical cicala, my soul, my spirit, my thoughts, all the faculties that are collected within me, are organ pipes. Let all these for ever bless the name and sound the praises of my God. I will bless the Lord at all times, his praise shall be always in my mouth. In the Lord shall my soul be praised; let the meek hear and rejoice.248248Ps. xxxiii. 1, 2.
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