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CHAPTER II: Of the Worthiness and Excellency of the Soul and how it was lost
THE soul of a man is a life consisting of three powers, Memory, Understanding and Will, after the image and likeness of the Blessed Trinity; inasmuch as the Memory was made strong and stedfast by the power of the Father to hold and retain God in perpetual remembrance, without forgetting, distracting or letting of any creature, and so it hath the likeness of the Father. The Understanding was made bright and clear, without error or darkness, as perfectly as a soul in a body unglorified could have, and so it hath the likeness and image of the Son, who is infinite wisdom. The Will and affections were made pure and clean, burning in love towards God, without sensual love of the flesh or of any creature by the sovereign goodness of God the Holy Ghost, and so it hath the likeness of the Holy Ghost, which is blessed love. Whereby you may see that man’s soul (which may be called a created Trinity) was in its natural estate replenished in its three powers with the remembrance, sight and love of the most blessed uncreated Trinity, which is God.
This was the dignity and worth of man’s soul by nature at his first creation, which thou hadst in Adam before the first sin. But when Adam sinned, choosing love and delight in himself and in the creatures, he lost all his excellency and dignity, and thou, also, in him, and fell from that Blessed Trinity into a foul, dark, wretched trinity; that is to say, into forgetting of God and ignorance of himself, and into a beastly love and liking of himself, and all this he did wittingly and willingly. For, as David saith in the Psalter: Man being in honour understood it not, and, therefore, he lost it, and became like a beast.
See then the wretchedness of thy soul, for as the Memory was something established and fixed upon God, so now it hath forgotten Him and seeketh its rest in the creatures, now in one creature and then in another, and never can find full rest, having lost Him in whom is full rest. So it is with the Understanding and the Will and affections, both which were pure in spiritual favour and sweetness but now is turned into a foul, beastly lust and liking in itself and in the creatures and in fleshly favours, both in the senses as in gluttony and lechery; and in the imagination, as in pride, vain-glory and covetousness, insomuch that thou canst do no good deed but it is defiled with vain-glory; nor canst thou easily make use of any of thy five senses cleanly upon anything that is pleasant, but thy heart will be taken and enflamed with a vain lust and liking of it, which putteth out the love of God from thy heart, so that no feeling of love or spiritual favour may come into it.
Every man that liveth in spirit understandeth well all this. This is the soul’s wretchedness and our mischief for the first man’s sin besides all other wretchedness and sins which thou hast wilfully added thereto. And know thou well that hadst thou never committed any sin with is thy body, either mortal or venial, but only this which is called original (for that is the first sin, and is nothing else but the losing of our righteousness which we were created in), thou shouldst never have been saved, had not our Lord Jesus Christ by His precious Passion delivered thee, and restored thee again.
And, therefore, if thou think I have herein spoken too high, because thou canst neither understand it well, nor practise it according as I have delivered, I will now descend to thee, and fall as low as thou canst desire, both for thy profit and my own. Then say thus: though thou be never so much a wretch, and hast committed never so great sins, do but forsake thyself and all thy works done, both good and bad, and cry God mercy, and ask salvation only by virtue of this precious Passion, and that with a good trust, and without doubt thou shalt have it. And as for original sin, and all other thou shalt be safe, yea, as safe as an anchoret that is enclosed. And not only thou, but all Christian souls that trust upon His Passion and humble themselves, acknowledging their wretchedness, asking mercy and forgiveness, and the fruit of this precious Passion only, and submitting themselves to the Sacraments of holy Church, though it be so that they have been encumbered with sin all their lifetime, and never had feeling of spiritual favour or sweetness, or ghostly knowledge of God, yet shall they in this faith, and in their good will, by virtue of this precious Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ be safe, and come to the bliss of Heaven.
All this thou knowest well, but yet it delights me to recite and speak of it, that thou mayest see the endless mercy of our Lord, how low He falleth to thee and to me and to all sinful caitiffs; ask mercy therefore, and have it. Thus saith the Prophet in the person of our Lord: Every one that calleth upon the Name of our Lord shall be saved;9292 Romans 10. that is to say, asketh salvation by Jesus and His Passion.
This courtesy of our Lord some men understand aright, and are saved thereby, and others in trust of this mercy and this courtesy lie still in their sins, and think to have the benefit of it when they list, but they are mistaken, for they are taken ere they are aware, and so damn themselves.
But thou wilt object: If this be true that thou sayest, I wonder greatly at that which I find in some holy men’s books, for some say (as I understand them) that he that cannot love this blessed Name Jesus nor find and feel in it spiritual joy and delight with sweetness, shall be a stranger to the bliss of Heaven, and never come there. Verily when I read these words, they astonished me, making me afraid. For I hope (as you have said) that through the mercy of our Lord they shall be safe, by keeping of the commandments and by true repentance for their former evil life, who never felt any such spiritual sweetness, in the Name of Jesus, and therefore I marvel the more, to find them say (as me thinketh) the contrary hereto.
To this I answer that (in my opinion) their saying (if it be well understood) is true, and no whit contrary to what I have said, for this Name Jesus is nothing else in English but healer or health. Now every man that liveth in this wretched life is spiritually sick, for there is no man that liveth without sin, which is a spiritual sickness, as St John saith of himself, and of other perfect men thus: If we say we have no sin, we beguile ourselves, and there is as no truth in us.9393 1 St John 1. Therefore he can never come to the joy of Heaven, till he be first healed of this ghostly sickness. But this spiritual healing may no man have (that hath the use of reason) except he desire it, and love it, and have delight therein, inasmuch as he hopeth to get it. Now the Name of Jesus is nothing else but this spiritual health; wherefore it is true that they say, that no man can be safe, unless he love and like the Name of Jesus; for no man can be spiritually healed, until he love and desire spiritual health; just as if a man were bodily sick, there could no earthly thing be so dear, nor so needful to him, nor so much would he desire it, as bodily health; for though thou shouldst give him all the dignities and riches of this world, and not make him whole (if thou couldst), thou pleaseth him not. Right so it is to a man that is sick spiritually, and feeleth the pain thereof; nothing is so dear, nor so needful, nor so much coveted by him, as is ghostly health, and that is Jesus, without whom all the joys of Heaven cannot please him. And this is the reason (as I take it) why our Lord when He took man’s nature upon Him for our salvation, would not be called by a name betokening His infinite essence, or His wisdom, or His justice, but only by that which betokened the cause of His coming, namely, the salvation of man’s soul, which salvation this name Jesus betokened. Hereby, then, it appeareth that none can be saved unless he love salvation, to have it through the mercy of our Lord Jesus only, by the merits of His passion; which love he may have that liveth and dieth in the very lowest degree of charity.
Also I may affirm on the other side, that he that cannot love this blessed name Jesus with a spiritual joy, nor increase in it with heavenly melody here, shall never have nor feel in Heaven the fulness of sovereign joy, which he that could so love it in this life by abundance of perfect charity in Jesus shall then have and feel in Heaven, and so may their saying be understood.
Nevertheless he shall be saved, and have great reward in Heaven from God, whosoever in this life is in the lowest degree of charity by keeping God’s commandments. For our Lord saith: In My Father’s house are sundry mansions.9494 St John 14. Some are perfect souls, who in this life are filled with charity and graces of the Holy Spirit, and sing most sweetly and lovingly to God in Contemplation of Him, with wonderful sweetness and heavenly savour. These because they have most charity and grace of the Holy Ghost shall have the highest reward in the bliss of heaven, for these are called God’s darlings. Others there be, not disposed or enabled to Contemplation, nor having the perfection of charity (as the apostles and martyrs had in the beginning of the holy Church), these shall have a lower reward in the bliss of Heaven, for these are called God’s friends, for thus doth our Lord call them: Eat, O My friends, and be inebriated, O My darlings.9595 Cant. 5. As if He had said: Ye that are My friends, because ye have kept My commandments, and preferred My love before the love of the world, and loved me more than any earthly thing, ye shall be fed with the spiritual food of the Bread of life. But ye that are more than My friends, that not only kept My commandments, but also of your own free will fulfilled My counsels, and loved Me entirely with all the powers of your souls, and burned in My love with spiritual delight (as especially did the apostles and martyrs and all other souls that through grace came to the gift of perfection) ye shall be made drunken with the noblest and freshest wine in My cellar, which is the supreme joy of love in heaven.
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