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Fire of Love
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CHAPTER XII

OF CONTEMPLATION

Contemplative life or contemplation has three parts: reading, prayer and meditation. In reading God speaks to us; in prayer we speak to God. In meditation angels come down to us and teach us that we err not; in prayer they go up and offer our prayers to God, joying in our profit; that are messengers betwixt God and us.

Prayer certain is a meek desire of the mind dressed in God, with which, when it comes to Him, He is pleased. Meditation on God and godly things, in which is the halsing of Rachel, is to be taken after prayer and reading.

To reading belongs reason or the inquisition of truth, that is as a goodly light marked upon us. To prayer belongs praise, song, surpassing in beholding, and marvel; and thus contemplative life or contemplation stands in prayer. To meditation belongs the inspiration of God, understanding, wisdom and sighing.

If it be asked what is contemplation it is hard to define. Some say that contemplative life is nought else but knowledge of things to come and hidden: or to be void of all worldly occupation: or the study of God’s letters. Others say that contemplation is the free sight into the visioned truths of wisdom, lift up with full high marvel. Others say that contemplation is a free and wise insight of the soul all spread about to behold His might. Others say, and say well, that contemplation is joy in heavenly things. Others say, and say best, that contemplation is the death of fleshly desires through the joy of the mind upraised.

To me it seems that contemplation is the joyful song of God’s love taken into the mind, with the sweetness of angels praise. This is the jubilation that is the end of perfect prayer and high devotion in this life. This is the ghostly mirth had in mind for the Everlasting Lover, with great voice outbreaking. This is the last and most perfect deed of all deeds in this life. Therefore the psalmist says: Beatus vir qui scit jubilationem, that is to say: ‘Blest be the man that knows jubilation,’ in contemplation of God. Truly none alien to God can joy in Jesu, nor taste the sweetness of His love. But if he desire to be ever kindled with the fire of everlasting love, in patience, meekness, and gentle manners; and to be made fair with all cleanness of body and soul, and dight with ghostly ointments; he is lift up into contemplation. Let him unceasingly seek healthful virtues, by which in this life we are cleansed from the wretchedness of sins, and in another life, free from all pain, we joy endlessly in the blessed life: yet in this exile he thus shall be worthy to feel the joyful mirth of God’s love.

Therefore be not slow to chastise thyself with prayer and waking, and use holy meditations; for doubtless with these ghostly labours, and with heaviness and weeping from inward repenting, the love of Christ is kindled in thee, and all virtues and gifts of the Holy Ghost are shed into thy heart. Begin therefore by wilful poverty, so that whiles thou desirest nought in this world, before God and man thou livest soberly, chastely and meekly. To have nothing is sometimes of need, but to will that you may have nought is of great virtue. We may have mickle desires and yet will to have right nought, when we hold that we have to our need and not to our lust. Right as he sometime that hath nought coveteth to have many things; right so he that seemeth to have many things hath right nought, for that that he hath he loveth it not, save only for his bodily need.

Truly it behoves the most perfect to take necessaries, else were he not perfect if he refused to take that whereof he should live.

This is the manner for perfect men to keep: all worldly goods for God to despise, and yet to take of the same meat and clothing; and if this want at any time, not to murmur but to praise God; and as much as they may to refuse superfluities. The warmer a man waxes with the heat of everlasting light, the meeker shall he be in all adversities. He that is truly and not feignedly meek holds himself worthy of being despised, and neither by harm nor reproof is provoked to wrath. Wherefore lowing himself to continual meditation, it is given him to rise to the contemplation of heavenly things, and the sharpness of his mind being cleansed as the sickness of the flesh suffers, it is given him to sing sweetly and burningly with inward joys. And truly when he goes to seek any outward thing, he goes not with a proud foot, but only joying in high delights anon with the sweetness of God’s love is as it were ravished in trance, and being ravished is marvellously made glad.

Such forsooth is contemplative life if it be taken in due manner. By long use in ghostly works we come to contemplation of things everlasting. The mind’s sight is truly taken up to behold heavenly things, yet by shadowly sight and in a mirror, not clearly and openly: whiles we go by faith we see as it were by a mirror and shadow. Truly if our ghostly eye be busy to that spiritual light it may not see that light in itself as it is, and yet it feels that it is there whiles it holds within the savour and heat of that light unknown. Whereof in the psalm it is said: Sicut tenebrae ejus, ita et lumen ejus; that is: ‘And as the darkness thereof, so the light thereof.’

Although truly the darkness of sin be gone from an holy soul, and murk things and unclean be passed, and the mind be purged and enlightened, yet whiles it bides in this mortal flesh that wonderful joy is not perfectly seen. Forsooth holy and contemplative men with a clear face behold God. That is either their wits are opened for to understand holy writ; or else the door of heaven is opened unto them: that is more. As one might say: all lettings betwixt their mind and God are put back, their hearts are purged, and they behold the citizens of heaven. Some truly have received both these.

As we, standing in darkness, see nothing, so in contemplation that invisibly lightens the soul, no seen light we see. Christ also makes darkness His resting place, and yet speaks to us in a pillar of a cloud. But that that is felt is full delectable. And in this truly is love perfect when man, going in the flesh, cannot be glad but in God, and wills or desires nothing but God or for God. Hereby it is shown that holiness is not in crying of the heart, or tears, or outward works, but in the sweetness of perfect charity and heavenly contemplation. Many truly are molten in tears, and afterwards have turned them to evil; but no man defiles himself with worldly business after he has truly joyed in everlasting love. To greet and to sorrow belong to the newly converted, beginners and profiters; but to sing joyfully and to go forth in contemplation belongs but to the perfect.

He therefore that has done penance for a long time, whiles he feels his conscience pricking for default knows without doubt that he has not yet done perfect penance. Therefore in the meantime tears shall be as bread to him day and night; for unless he first punish himself with weeping and sighing he cannot come to the sweetness of contemplation.

Contemplative sweetness is not gotten but with full great labour; and with joy untold it is possessed. Forsooth it is not of man’s merit but God’s gift. And yet from the beginning to this day a man might never be ravished in contemplation of everlasting love unless he before had perfectly forsaken all the vanity of the world. Moreover he ought to be used in healthful meditation and devout prayer before he come truly to the contemplation of heavenly joys.

Contemplation is sweet and desirable labour. It gladdens the labourer, and hurts not. No man has this but in joying: not when it comes, but when it goes, he is weary. O good labour to which mortal men dress them! O noble and marvellous working that those sitting do most perfectly! It behoves that he take great rest of body and mind whom the fire of the Holy Ghost truly enflames.

Many truly know not how to rest in mind, nor yet to put out void and unprofitable thoughts, and cannot fulfill what is bidden in the psalm: Vacate, et videte quaniam ego sum Deus; that is to say: ‘Be void from worldly vanity and see, for I am God.’ Truly the void in body, and wavering in heart, are not worthy to taste and see how sweet our Lord is—how sweet the height of contemplation.

Truly ilk man contemplative loves solitariness so that the more fervently and oftener, in that he is letted of no man, he may be exercised in his affections.

Then, therefore, it is known that contemplative life is worthier and fuller of meed than active life. And all contemplatives by the moving of God love solitary life, and because of the sweetness of contemplation are especially fervent in love. It seems that solitary men raised by the gift of contemplation are high and touch the highest perfection. Unless it happen there be some in such state that they have come even with the height of the contemplative life, and yet they cease not to fulfil the office of the preacher. They pass these other solitaries—highest in contemplation and only given to godly things, not to the needs of their neighbours—their degrees being like, and for their preaching they are worthy a crown that is cleped aureola.

Truly a very contemplative man is set towards the light unseen with so great desire that ofttimes he is deemed by man as a fool or unwise; and that is because his mind is enflamed from its seat with Christ’s love. It utterly changes his bodily bearing, and his body departing also from all earthly works it makes God’s child as a man out of his mind.

Thus truly whiles the soul gathers all the self into endless mirth of love, withholding herself inwardly she flows not forth to seek bodily delights. And because she is fed inwardly with liking pleasure, it is no marvel though she say sighing; ‘Who shall give thee me, my brother, that I may find thee without, and kiss thee?’ That is to say: loosed from the flesh I may be worthy to find Thee, and seeing Thee face to face, be joined with Thee withouten end. ‘And now man despises me.’

A devout soul given to contemplative life and fulfilled with love everlasting despises all vainglory of this world, and, joying only in Jesu, covets to be loosed. For why she is despised by these that savour and love this world, not heaven, and grievously languishes in love, and greatly desires with the lovely company of the angels to be given to the joys that worldly adversity can not noy.

Nothing is more profitable, nothing merrier, than the grace of contemplation that lifts us from these low things and offers us to God. What is this grace but the beginning of joy? And what is the perfection of joy but grace confirmed? In which is kept for us a joyful happiness and happy joy, a glorious endlessness and everlasting joy; to live with the saints and dwell with angels. And that which is above all things: truly to know God; to love Him perfectly; and in the shining of His majesty to see Him and, with a wonderful song of joy and melody, to praise Him endlessly.

To whom be worship and joy, with deeds of thankfulness, in the world of worlds. Amen.

Thus endys the xij chapetyrs of Richarde Hampole into englys translate be ffrere Richard Misyn, to informacioun of Cristyn sauls. Anno domine Millimo cccc xxxiiij. </div2>

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