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Treatise on the Love of God
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CHAPTER XVI.

OF THE PERFECT STRIPPING OF THE SOUL WHICH IS UNITED TO GOD'S WILL.

Let us represent to ourselves, Theotimus, the sweet Jesus in Pilate's house, where for love of us he was divested of all his garments one after the other, by the soldiers, the ministers of death. And not content with that, they took his skin from him, tearing it with the blows of rods and whips; then afterwards his soul was bereft of his body, and his body of life, by the death which he endured upon the cross. But three days being run out, his soul, by the most holy Resurrection, put on again its glorious body, and his body its immortal skin, wearing sundry garments, now those of a gardener, now of a pilgrim, or other guise according as the salvation of man and the glory of God required. Love did all this, Theotimus, and it is love also which, entering into a soul to make it happily die to itself and live to God, bereaves it of all human desires, and of self-esteem which is as closely fixed to the spirit as the skin to the flesh, and strips her at length of her best beloved affections, such as those which she had to spiritual consolations, exercises of piety and the perfection of virtues, which seemed to be the very life of the soul.

Then, Theotimus, the soul may by good right cry out: I have put off my garment, how shall I find in my heart to put it on? I have washed my feet, from all sorts of affections, how shall I defile them?431431Cant. v. 3. Naked came I out of the hand of God, and naked shall I return thither: God gave me many desires and God hath taken them away: As it hath pleased the Lord, so is it done: blessed be the name of the Lord.432432Job i. 21. Yes, Theotimus, the same God who made us desire virtues in our beginning, and who makes us practise them on all occurrences, he it is that takes from us the affection to virtues and all spiritual exercises, that with more tranquillity, purity and simplicity, we should care for nothing but the divine Majesty's good pleasure. For as the fair and chaste Judith reserved indeed her costly festal robes in her cabinet, and yet placed not her affection upon them, nor yet ever wore them in the time of her widowhood, save only when by God's inspiration she went to overthrow Holofernes, so, though we have learnt the practice of virtue and the exercises of devotion, yet are we not to give our affection to them nor clothe our heart again with them, save only as far as we know that such is the good pleasure of God. Judith always wore mourning weeds except only on this occasion when God's will was that she should be in pomp; so are we peaceably to remain vested with our misery and abjection amidst our imperfections and infirmities, till God shall exalt us to the practice of excellent actions.

We cannot long remain in this nakedness, despoiled of all sorts of affections. Wherefore, following the advice of the holy Apostle, as soon as we have put off the garments of the old Adam, we are to put on the habits of the new man, that is to say of Jesus Christ, for having renounced all,—yes, even the affection to virtues, neither desiring of these nor of other things a larger portion than God's will intends,—we must put on again divers affections, and perhaps the very same which we have renounced and resigned: but we must now put them on again not because they are agreeable, profitable, honourable to us, and proper to content the love we have for ourselves, but because they are agreeable to God, profitable to his honour, and destined to his glory.

Eliezer carried ear jewels, bracelets and new attire for the maid whom God had provided for his master's son, and in effect he presented them to the virgin Rebecca, as soon as he knew it was she. New garments are required for our Saviour's spouse. If for the love of God she has stript herself of the ancient affection which she had to parents, country, home, friends, she must take quite new affections, loving all this in its order, not now according to human considerations, but because the heavenly spouse wills, commands, and intends it so, and has established this order in charity. If we have once put off our old affection to spiritual consolations, to exercises of devotion, to the practice of virtues, yea to our own advancement in perfection, we must put on another affection quite new, by loving all these graces and heavenly favours, not because they perfect and adorn our spirit, but because our Saviour's name is sanctified in them, his kingdom advanced, his good-pleasure glorified.

So did S. Peter vest himself in the prison, not at his own choice but at the angel's command. He puts on his girdle, then his sandals, and afterwards the rest of his garments. And the glorious S. Paul, stripped in a moment of all affections: Lord, said he, what wilt thou have me do? that is, what is it thy pleasure for me to love, now that throwing me to the ground thou hast made my own will to die? Ah! Lord, plant thy good-pleasure in the place of it, and, teach me to do thy will, for thou art my God.433433Ps. cxlii. 10 Theotimus, he who has forsaken all for God ought to resume nothing but according to God's good-pleasure. He feeds not his body but according to God's ordinance that it may be serviceable to the spirit; he only engages in studies in order to assist his neighbour and his own soul, according to the divine intention; he practises virtues not as being his own choice, but according to God's desire.

God commanded the prophet Isaias to strip himself naked; and he did so,434434Is. xx. 2. going and preaching in this way, for three days together as some hold, or for three years as others think, and then, the time prefixed by God having expired, he resumed his clothes. Even so are we to strip ourselves of all affections little and great, as also to make a frequent examination of our hearts to discover whether it be willing to divest itself, as Isaias did, of all its garments: then we must take up again, at proper times, the affections suitable to the service of charity, to the end that we may die with Our Saviour naked upon the cross, and rise again with him in newness of life. Love is strong as death435435Cant. viii. 6. to make us quit all, it is magnificent as the Resurrection, to adorn us with honour and glory.


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