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Fire of Love
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CHAPTER XIX

OF FAIRNESS OF MIND: VANITY OF THE WORLD: LOVE OF GOD: AND UNION WITH OUR NEIGHBOUR: AND WHETHER PERFECT LOVE CAN BE LOST AND GOTTEN IN THIS WAY

If thou be gladdened in fairness know it well, for the fairness of thy mind shall make thee beloved of the highly Fair if for love of Him only thou keepest it undefiled. Soothly the corruptible flesh with all its beauty is full feeble and to be despised, because, soon passing, it beguiles all its lovers. Therefore the virtue of our life stands in this: that vanity being despised and spurned, we cleave unpartingly to truth.

All earthly things which are desired on earth are vain; true soothly are the heavenly and eternal which can not be seen. Ilk Christian man in this shows himself truly chosen of God, that he sets these earthly things at nought; his desires are altogether spread in God, and he receives thereof a privy sound of love that no man umbelapped with worldly desires knows, being wretchedly withdrawn from the savour of heavenly joy. But no marvel that the shining soul, utterly intent to the love of the everlasting and inwardly desiring Christ, is wont to have his heart’s capacity fulfilled with plenteousness of sweetness; so that in this flesh made merry, as it were with angels’ life, they are gladdened with songful mirth.

Therefore if our love be pure and perfect, whatever our heart loves it is God. Truly if we love ourself, and all other creatures that are to be loved, only in God and for God, what other in us and in them love we but Him? For when our God truly is loved by us with a whole heart and all virtue, then, without doubt, our neighbour and all that is to be loved, is most rightly loved. If therefore we shed forth our heart before God and in the love of God being bound with Him, and holden with God, what more is there by which we can love any other creature?

Truly in the love of God is the love of my neighbour. Therefore as he that loves God knows not but to love man, so he that truly knows to love Christ is proved to love nothing in himself but God. Also all that we are loved by and love—all to God the Well of love we yield: because He commands that all the heart of man be given to Himself. All desires also, and all movings of the mind, He desires be fastened in Him. He forsooth that truly loves God feels nothing in his heart but God, and if he feel none other thing nought else has he; but whatso he has he loves for God, and he loves nought but that God wills he should love; wherefore nothing but God he loves and so all his love is God. Forsooth the love of this man is true, for he conforms himself to his Maker, the which has wrought all things for Himself; and so he loves all things for God.

Soothly when the love of the everlasting is truly kindled in our souls, without doubt all vanity of this world and all fleshly love is held but as foulest filth; and whiles the soul is given to continual devotion, she desires nothing but the pleasance of the Maker. Marvellously she burns in herself with the fire of love, that, slowly profiting and growing in ghostly good, henceforth she falls not into the slippery way and the broad that leads to death, but rather, raised up by a heavenly fire, she goes and ascends into contemplative life.

Truly contemplative life is not perfectly gotten of any man in this vale of tears, even a little, unless first his heart is inflamed from its depths with the torches of eternal love so that he feels it burn with the fire of love, and his conscience he knows molten with heavenly sweetness. So no marvel a man is truly made contemplative whiles both tasting sweetness and feeling burning he nearly dies for the greatness of love. And therefore he is fastened in the halsing, as it were bodily, of endless love; for contemplating unceasingly with all his desire, he busies him to go up to see that undescried light. Forsooth such a man knows to grant no comfort in his soul but God’s, in whose love now languishing to the end of his life he is made to desire, crying grievously with the psalmist: Quando veniam et apparebo ante faciem Dei? that is to say: ‘When shall I come and appear before the face of my God?’

This is perfect love. But it may not incongrously be asked whether this standing in love, once had, may at any time be lost. Truly whiles man can sin he can lose charity; but not to be able to sin belongs not to the state of this way but to the country above: wherefore ilk man, howsoever holy he be in this life, yet he can sin and mortally; for the dregs of sin are fully slakened in no pilgrim of this life after common law. Truly if there were any such the which neither desire nor could be tempted, they should belong to the state of heaven rather than of this way; nor were it of meed to them not to default, whiles they can not sin. I wot not if any such be living anywhere in flesh for, I speak for myself, the flesh desires against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; and after the inward man I am glad in God’s law, but I know not yet so mickle love that I could utterly slake all fleshly desire.

Nevertheless I trow that there is a degree of perfect love, the which whosoever attains he shall never afterwards lose. For truly it is one thing to be able to lose, and another alway to hold, what he will not leave although he can.

The perfect truly abstain themselves, as mickle as in them is, from ilk thing by which their perfection can be destroyed or else let. Truly with the freeness of their choice they are fulfilled with the grace of God, with which they are busily stirred to love, to speak and do good; and they are withdrawn from ill of heart, mouth, and work.

When a man is therefore perfectly turned to Christ he despises all passing things, and he fastens himself immovably to the desire only of his Maker, as far as he is let by mortality because of the corruption of the flesh. Then no marvel, manly using his might, first the heaven as it were being opened, with the eye of his understanding he beholds the citizens of heaven; and afterward he feels sweetest heat as it were a burning fire. Then he is imbued with marvellous sweetness, and henceforth he is joyed by a songly noise.

This therefore is perfect charity, which no man knows but he that receives it; and he that has received never leaves it: sweetly he lives, and sickerly shall he die.

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