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Scale (or Ladder) of Perfection
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SECTION II: That it is a Mastery and noble Skill to love Men’s Persons, and yet wisely to hate their sins, and how

IT is no mastery to watch and fast till thy head ache; nor to run to Rome or Jerusalem on pilgrimage upon thy bare feet; nor for to stir about and preach, as if thou wouldst turn all men by thy preaching. Nor is it any mastery to build churches or chapels, or to feed poor men and build hospitals. But it is a mastery for a man to love his neighbour in charity, and wisely hate his sin, and love the man. For though it be true that all those deeds before said be good in themselves, yet are they common to good men and to bad, for every man may do them if that he would and have wherewith. And for thee to do that which every man may do, I hold it no mastery; but to love thy neighbour in charity and hate his sin can no man do, save only good men, who have it by the gift of God and not by their own travail, as St Paul saith: Love and charity is shed abroad in your hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given to you.131131    Rom. 5. And, therefore, it is more precious and more dainty to come by. All other good deeds without this make not a man good nor worthy of the bliss of heaven, but this alone, and only this, maketh a man good and all his good deeds to be medeful. All other gifts of God and works of man are common to good and bad, to the chosen and the reprobate; but this gift of charity is proper only to good and chosen souls.

And, therefore, for the learning of this hard lesson, thou must understand and consider that a good man for the love of God fasteth, watcheth, goeth on pilgrimage and forsaketh all the pleasures of the world sincerely in his heart, without feigning, and he hath his reward in heaven; and an hypocrite doth the same deeds out of vain-glory and for love of himself, and receiveth his reward here. Also, a true preacher of God’s Word, filled with charity and humility, sent of God and received and approved by the Church, if he preach and teach God’s Word, shall have a special reward of God; that is the aureola for his preaching. And an hypocrite or an heretic that hath no humility or charity, nor is sent of God nor yet of holy Church, if they preach, they have their reward here. Also a good man living in the world for the love of God buildeth many churches, chapels, abbeys, hospitals and doth other many good deeds of mercy, and he shall have his reward in the bliss of heaven, not for the deed in itself, but for the good will and the charity that he hath in him by the gift of God for to do these good deeds. Another man out of vanity of himself and worship and pleasing of the world and for his own name doth the same good deeds, and hath his reward here. The cause in all these is that the one hath charity and the other none; but which is the one and which is the other, our Lord knoweth, and none but He.

From this, therefore, we are to learn these two lessons. First, that we should love and worship all men in our hearts, and approve and think well of and receive all their deeds that have the likeness of goodness, though the doers be bad in the sight of God, except they be the deeds of known and open heretics, or of open cursed (or excommunicated) men; for of these two we are specially to fly and eschew their company and coming amongst them. And we are also to reprove and refuse their deeds, seem they never so good, as long as they are rebels to God and holy Church. And if a worldly, cursed (or excommunicated) man build a church, or feed poor men, thou mayest safely hold and judge such his doings to be noughts and deem them as they are. Also if an open heretic, who is a rebel to holy Church, preach and teach, though he convert a hundred thousand souls, thou mayest hold the deed, as to himself, right nought; for these men are openly out of charity, without which all is nought that a man doth.

Secondly, that it is a great mastery for a man to know how and to be able to love his neighbour in charity; all which may be plainly proved by St Paul’s words, thus: If I speak with the tongues of men and angels, if I have not charity, I am right nought; and if I have so great faith that I can overturn hills and bear them away, and have not charity, I am right nought. And also, though I had all manner of knowledge of all mysteries, and if I give all that I have to the poor, and my body to be burnt, and have not charity, it profiteth me right nought.132132    1 Cor. 13.

Here it seemeth by St Paul’s words that a man may do all good deeds bodily without charity, and that charity is nought else but to love God and his neighbour as himself. How should, then, any wretched caitiff upon earth, whatever he be, have any delight or trust or security in himself for anything he doth or is able to do with all his bodily powers or natural wit, sith all this is nought worth without love and charity to his neighbour? And this charity cannot be gotten by his own working, for it is the free gift of God, sent only into an humble soul, as St Paul saith. Who then dare be so bold as to say: I have Christ, or I am charity? Verily no man can say it securely,133133    Sickerly. or of a certainty, but he that is perfectly and truly humble; other men may trow of themselves, and hope that they be in charity by tokens; but he that is perfectly humble feeleth it, and therefore may say it securely. Thus humble was St Paul, and therefore said he thus of himself: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or anguish, or distress,134134    Rom. 8. etc.? And he answereth himself, and saith: I am persuaded that no creature shall be able to separate me from the charity of God in Christ Jesus. Many men do deeds of charity, and have no charity, as I have said. To reprove a sinner for his sin to his amendment, in a convenient time, is a deed of charity; but to hate the sinner instead of the sin, is against charity. He that is verily humble can part the one from the other, and none but he. For though a man had all moral virtues of all the philosophers, he could not do this; he could be able to hate sin in other men (for he hateth it in himself), but he could not be able to love the man in charity, with all his philosophy. Also, if a man had the knowledge of all books and divinity, and be not withal truly humble, he shall lightly stumble and err in this point, and take the one for the other. But humility is worthy to receive a gift from God, which cannot be gotten or learned by cunning of man, and therefore he that is humble can hate the sin and truly love the man.

But now peradventure thou beginnest to be afraid for that which I have said, that charity cannot be gotten by any work that thou canst do; how shalt thou then do

To this I answer, that there is nothing so hard to get as charity; this is truth, as to the getting of it by our own travail and labour. And, on the contrary, I say that there is no gift of God that may so lightly or easily be had as charity, for our Lord giveth no gift so freely, nor so gladly, nor so commonly, as He doth it. How shalt thou, then, have it, sayest thou? Be meek and lowly in spirit and thou shalt have it; and what is lighter to be done than to be humble? Soothingly nothing. Then it followeth that there is nothing so lightly to be had as charity, and, therefore, thou need not be much afraid; be humble, and have it. Thus saith St James: Our Lord resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble. Which grace is properly charity; for according to the measure of thy humility, so shalt thou have charity. If thou have humility imperfectly only in will, not in affection, then hast thou imperfect charity, which indeed is good, for it sufficeth for salvation, as David saith: Lord, with the eyes of mercy thou seest my imperfection.135135    Ps. 138:16. But if thou have humility perfectly, then shalt thou have perfect charity, and this is best. The other we must necessarily have if we will be saved. This we should ever desire and labour for. If thou ask me now who is perfectly humble, I shall tell thee no more concerning humility at this time but this: He is humble that truly knoweth himself as he is.


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