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Fire of Love
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CHAPTER XXIV

OF THE STINK OF LECHERY AND THE PERIL OF TOUCHING: AND OF THE CURSEDNESS OF COVETOUSNESS: AND OF UNGODLY GLADNESS

Whiles a man weds not for pure love of God and virtue and chastity, but is busy to live in chastity and in array of all virtue, doubtless he gets to himself a great name in heaven; for as he ceases not to love God here, so in heaven he shall never cease from His praising. Wedlock soothly is good in itself; but when men constrain themselves under the band of matrimony for the fulfilling of their lust, they turn forsooth good into ill, and whereby they ween to profit, thereof they cease not to be worse. Whosoever loves wedlock for this intent, because by it he trows he may be rich, is, without doubt, busy to loose the bridle of wantonness; and overflowing in lust and riches, he joys full mickle to have found medicine for his slippery flesh.

There are forsooth froward men that love their wives unmannerly for their beauty; and the sooner their bodily strength is broken the more loose are they to fulfill their bodily lust. For the more lust they have the sooner they fail, and whiles they have prosperity they perish; and whiles they are busy to be fed with lust, they wretchedly lose strength of body and mind.

Nothing soothly is more perilous, fouler and more stinking for man than to put his mind on woman’s love, and desire her as blissful rest. No marvel what before he desired with mickly anguish as great bliss, after the deed straightway waxes foul. Afterward he knows truly that he has cowardly gone wrong in such lust, when he perceives lust so short and diseases long. For it is shown that he was strongly bound with a foul band of feeble vanity. But because he would not turn to God with all his heart, he knew not his wretchedness until the time he felt it; and therefore he fell into the pit of bondage, because he beheld not the seat of joy. If truly he had felt one drop of the sweetness of eternal life, never should fleshly fairness—that is beguiling and vain grace—have appeared so sweet to his mind. But alas! he takes no heed how stinking and odious is his wretched lust in the sight of God Almighty, and in his conscience he sees not himself beguiled.

No man certainly can be given to uncleanness of the flesh unless he err from the ways of righteousness. Truly whiles the fire of earthly love ceases not to inflame man’s mind, no marvel it wastes in it all the moisture of grace, and making it both void and dry, it alway increases its heat; and from the fire of covetousness kindles the fire of lechery. And so the thrall soul, marvellously mazed, covets nothing but fleshly desires, or to increase riches, and making his end in them, labours always to get new things; and he sees not those pains that he goes to because he cared not for God’s words and His commandments. And because he desires only these outward joys, and is blinded to the inward and unseen, as it were sightless he goes to the fire. And truly when the unhappy soul shall pass from the body, she shall know perfectly in the Judgment how wretched she was; the which trowed herself, whiles she was in the flesh, not only guiltless, but also happy.

In ilk thing therefore cleanness of mind more than of body is to be cared for; for certain it is less wicked to touch the flesh of woman with bare hands than to be defiled with wicked lust in mind. Truly if we touch women and think nothing evil in heart it ought not to be called sin, although through it temptation of the flesh sometimes arises; for man falls not into evil whiles his mind is steadfast in God.

Whiles the heart of the toucher is caught by divers desires, or is bowed in evil sweetness, and he is not straightway refrained by the love of God and steadfastness in virtue, know without doubt that that man has the sin of uncleanness within himself, though he be never so far not only from women but also from men. And forsooth if a true man be untied with an untrue woman, it is full near that his mind be turned to untruth. Truly it is the manner of women that when they feel themselves loved out of measure by men, they beguile men’s hearts by cherishing flattery; and they draw to those things that their wicked will stirred up, the which before they assayed by open speech.

Solomon soothly was wise and true to God for a while, but afterward, for the too mickle love by which he drew to women, he failed most foully in steadfastness and in the commandments of God; the more worthy to be grievously smitten in that he, set in great wisdom, suffered himself to be overcome by a fond woman. Let no man therefore flatter himself, and no man presume to say of himself ‘I am sicker, I do not dread, the world can not beguile me,’ whilst thou hearest of the wisest man the unwittest deed.

Covetousness is also ghostly fornication; for the covetous heart, for the love of peace, opens his bosom to the strumpetry of the fiend. When God was loved before the love of money, as very Spouse, and afterward He is forsaken because of unclean love and wicked wooers received, what else is done but fornication and idolatry? Be we therefore busy to keep our hearts clean in the sight of God Almighty, and to destroy venomous delectations; and if anything have been done in our heart by frailty, let nothing now be shown before God but perfectness.

Sometimes truly we are hated by some men for mickle mirth, and sometimes we joy in words and laughter, and although this, and more such, may be done with a clean soul before God, nevertheless before men we know well it is taken and expounded ill; and therefore moderation is to be had; and that we keep ourselves wisely nor place ourselves where we trow we can do ought that is like evil.

It is good for the servants of Christ to be near God, because in desire for Him they receive the heat of the fire of the Holy Ghost; and they sing the sweetness of endless love with sweetest heavenly sound like to honey. Wherefore melliflui facti sunt coeli: that is to say: ‘the heavens are made sweet as honey,’ that is to mean: saints that so burningly have loved Christ, knowing that He has suffered so mickle for them. Whence truly the minds of the saints are knitted to endless love, unable to be loosed; and although ravished as it were by the sweetness of heavenly life, by a melody as it were felt before, are gladdened in that.

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