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Treatise on the Love of God
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CHAPTER XVI.

OF THE LOVING FEAR OF SPOUSES; A CONTINUATION OF THE SAME SUBJECT.

Ah! my brother Jonathan, said David, thou wast amiable to me above the love of women:5515512 Kings i. 26. as though he had said, thou wast worthy of a greater love than that of wives for their husbands. All excellent things are rare. Imagine to yourself, Theotimus, a spouse of dove-like heart and having the perfection of nuptial love. Her love is incomparable, not only in excellence, but also in the great variety of beautiful affections and qualities which accompany it; it is not only chaste, but modest; it is strong, but gracious withal; it is violent and yet tender; it is ardent yet respectful, noble yet fearful, bold yet obedient, and all its fear is mingled with a delicious confidence. Such truly is the fear of a soul endowed with the excellence of love; for she has such assurance of the goodness of her spouse that she fears not the losing of him, but she greatly fears that she will not enjoy enough of his divine presence, and that some occasion may make him absent himself, though only for a moment. She is quite confident that she will never displease him, but she fears she may not love him as much as love requires: her love is too noble to entertain even the least suspicion of ever falling into disgrace with him, but still it is so sensitive that it fears it may not be closely enough united to him; yea, the soul sometimes arrives at such perfection that she no longer fears she may not be closely enough united to him, her love assuring her that she will be so for ever, but she fears that this union may not be so pure, simple and attentive as her love would desire. Such is that admirable lover, who would not love spiritual sweetnesses, pleasures, virtues, consolations, lest she might be diverted, be it ever so little, from her only love, which is the love she bears to her beloved; protesting that it is himself, not his gifts, which she seeks, and crying out to this effect:—Ah! show me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou liest in the midday, lest I begin to wander after552552Cant. i. 6. the pleasures which are outside thee.

With this sacred fear of divine spouses were touched the great souls of S. Paul, S. Francis, S. Catharine of Genoa, and others, who would not admit any mixture in their loves, but endeavoured to make them so pure, so simple, and so perfect, that neither consolations, nor the virtues themselves, should find any place between their heart and God, so that they might say: I live, not I, but Jesus Christ lives in me: my God is all things to me: what is not my God is nothing to me; Jesus Christ is my life: my love is crucified; and other such words of an ecstatic heart.

Now the love of beginners or learners proceeds from true love, but from a love which is as yet young, feeble and only beginning; filial fear proceeds from a constant and solid love, already tending to perfection; but the fear of spouses springs from the excellence and perfection of love already quite possessed: and as to servile and mercenary fears, they do not truly proceed from love, but ordinarily precede love, and are its harbingers, as we have already said, and they are oftentimes very profitable servants. You will see, Theotimus, an honourable lady who, not willing to eat her bread idle, any more than she did whom Solomon so much extolled,553553Prov. xxxi. 27. will lay silk in goodly variety of colours on fine white satin, which afterwards she will richly embellish with gold and silver in suitable patterns: the work is wrought with the needle, which she inserts wherever she would lay her silk, silver, or gold; yet the needle is not put into the satin to be left there, but only to draw in after it and make way for, the silk, silver, and gold: so that when these are once laid upon their grounds, the needle is drawn out and taken away. Even so the divine goodness, wishing to place a great variety of virtues in man's soul, and afterwards to embellish them with his sacred love, makes use of the needle of servile and mercenary fear, with which our hearts are ordinarily first pricked. But still this is not left there, but ever as the virtues are drawn into and laid in the soul, mercenary and servile fear departs, according to the word of the beloved disciple: Perfect charity casteth out fear.5545541 John iv. 18. Yea, verily, Theotimus, for the fear of being damned and of losing heaven is dreadful and full of anguish: and how can it then stand with sacred love, which is all agreeable, all sweet?

 


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