FIRST CHAPTER

Of four degrees of Christian men's living; and of the course of his calling that this book was made unto.

GHOSTLY friend in God, thou shalt well understand that I find, in my boisterous beholding, four degrees and forms of Christian men's living: and they be these, Common, Special, Singular, and Perfect. Three of these may be begun and ended in this life; and the fourth may by grace be begun here, but it shall ever last without end in the bliss of Heaven. And right as thou seest how they be set here in order each one after other; first Common, then Special, after Singular, and last Perfect, right so me thinketh that in the same order and in the same course our Lord hath of His great mercy called thee and led thee unto Him by the desire of thine heart. For first thou wottest well that when thou wert living in the common degree of Christian men's living in company of thy worldly friends, it seemeth to me that the everlasting love of His Godhead, through the which He made thee and wrought thee when thou wert nought, and sithen bought thee with the price of His precious blood when thou wert lost in Adam, might not suffer thee to be so far from Him in form and degree of living. And therefore He kindled thy desire full graciously, and fastened by it a leash of longing, and led thee by it into a more special state and form of living, to be a servant among the special servants of His; where thou mightest learn to live more specially and more ghostly in His service than thou didst, or mightest do, in the common degree of living before. And what more?

Yet it seemeth that He would not leave thee thus lightly, for love of His heart, the which He hath evermore had unto thee since thou wert aught: but what did He? Seest thou nought how Mistily and how graciously He hath privily pulled thee to the third degree and manner of living, the which is called Singular? In the which solitary form and manner of living, thou mayest learn to lift up the foot of thy love; and step towards that state and degree of living that is perfect, and the last state of all.

 

SECOND CHAPTER

A short stirring to meekness, and to the work of this book.

LOOK up now, weak wretch, and see what thou art. What art thou, and what hast thou merited, thus to be called of our Lord? What weary wretched heart, and sleeping in sloth, is that, the which is not wakened with the draught of this love and the voice of this calling! Beware, thou wretch, in this while with thine enemy; and hold thee never the holier nor the better, for the worthiness of this calling and for the singular form of living that thou art in. But the more wretched and cursed, unless thou do that in thee is goodly, by grace and by counsel, to live after thy calling. And insomuch thou shouldest be more meek and loving to thy ghostly spouse, that He that is the Almighty God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, would meek Him so low unto thee, and amongst all the flock of His sheep so graciously would choose thee to be one of His specials, and sithen set thee in the place of pasture, where thou mayest be fed with the sweetness of His love, in earnest of thine heritage the Kingdom of Heaven.

Do on then, I pray thee, fast. Look now forwards and let be backwards; and see what thee faileth, and not what thou hast, for that is the readiest getting and keeping of meekness. All thy life now behoveth altogether to stand in desire, if thou shalt profit in degree of perfection. This desire behoveth altogether be wrought in thy will, by the hand of Almighty God and thy consent. But one thing I tell thee. He is a jealous lover and suffereth no fellowship, and Him list not work in thy will but if He be only with thee by Himself. He asketh none help, but only thyself. He wills, thou do but look on Him and let Him alone. And keep thou the windows and the door, for flies and enemies assailing. And if thou be willing to do this, thee needeth but meekly press upon him with prayer, and soon will He help thee. Press on then, let see how thou bearest thee. He is full ready, and doth but abideth thee. But what shalt thou do, and how shalt thou press? 

THIRD CHAPTER

How the work of this book shall be wrought, and of the worthiness of it before all other works.

LIFT up thine heart unto God with a meek stirring of love; and mean Himself, and none of His goods. And thereto, look the loath to think on aught but Himself. So that nought work in thy wit, nor in thy will, but only Himself. And do that in thee is to forget all the creatures that ever God made and the works of them; so that thy thought nor thy desire be not directed nor stretched to any of them, neither in general nor in special, but let them be, and take no heed to them. This is the work of the soul that most pleaseth God. All saints and angels have joy of this work, and hasten them to help it in all their might. All fiends be furious when thou thus dost, and try for to defeat it in all that they can. All men living in earth be wonderfully holpen of this work, thou wottest not how. Yea, the souls in purgatory be eased of their pain by virtue of this work. Thyself art cleansed and made virtuous by no work so much. And yet it is the lightest work of all, when a soul is helped with grace in sensible list, and soonest done. But else it is hard, and wonderful to thee for to do.

Let not, therefore, but travail therein till thou feel list. For at the first time when thou dost it, thou findest but a darkness; and as it were a cloud of unknowing, thou knowest not what, saving that thou feelest in thy will a naked intent unto God. This darkness and this cloud is, howsoever thou dost, betwixt thee and thy God, and letteth thee that thou mayest neither see Him clearly by light of understanding in thy reason, nor feel Him in sweetness of love in thine affection. 

And therefore shape thee to bide in this darkness as long as thou mayest, evermore crying after Him that thou lovest. For if ever thou shalt feel Him or see Him, as it may be here, it behoveth always to be in this cloud in this darkness. And if thou wilt busily travail as I bid thee, I trust in His mercy that thou shalt come thereto.

FOURTH CHAPTER

Of the shortness of this word, and how it may not be come to by curiosity of wit, nor by imagination.

BUT for this, that thou shalt not err in this working and ween that it be otherwise than it is, I shall tell thee a little more thereof, as me thinketh.

This work asketh no long time or it be once truly done, as some men ween; for it is the shortest work of all that man may imagine. It is never longer, nor shorter, than is an atom: the which atom, by the definition of true philosophers in the science of astronomy, is the least part of time. And it is so little that for the littleness of it, it is indivisible and nearly incomprehensible. This is that time of the which it is written: All time that is given to thee, it shall be asked of thee, how thou hast dispended it. And reasonable thing it is that thou give account of it: for it is neither longer nor shorter, but even according to one only stirring that is within the principal working might of thy soul, the which is thy will. For even so many willings or desirings, and no more nor no fewer, may be and are in one hour in thy will, as are atoms in one hour. And if thou wert reformed by grace to the first state of man's soul, as it was before sin, then thou shouldest evermore by help of that grace be lord of that stirring or of those stirrings. So that none went forby, but all they should stretch into the sovereign desirable, and into the highest willable thing: the which is God. For He is even meet to our soul by measuring of His Godhead; and our soul even meet unto Him by worthiness of our creation to His image and to His likeness. And He by Himself without more, and none but He, is sufficient to the full and much more to fulfil the will and the desire of our soul. And our soul by virtue of this reforming grace is made sufficient to the full to comprehend all Him by love, the which is incomprehensible to all created knowledgeable powers, as is angel, or man's soul; I mean, by their knowing, and not by their loving. And therefore I call them in this case knowledgeable powers. But yet all reasonable creatures, angel and man, have in them each one by himself, one principal working power, the which is called a knowledgeable power, and another principal working power, the which is called a loving power. Of the which two powers, to the first, the which is a knowledgeable power, God that is the maker of them is evermore incomprehensible; and to the second, the which is the loving power, in each one diversely He is all comprehensible to the full. Insomuch that a loving soul alone in itself, by virtue of love should comprehend in itself Him that is sufficient to the full--and much more, without comparison--to fill all the souls and angels that ever may be. And this is the endless marvellous miracle of love; the working of which shall never take end, for ever shall He do it, and never shall He cease for to do it. See who by grace see may, for the feeling of this is endless bliss, and the contrary is endless pain.

And therefore whoso were reformed by grace thus to continue in keeping of the stirrings of his will, should never be in this life--as he may not be without these stirrings in nature--without some taste of the endless sweetness, and in the bliss of heaven without the full food. And therefore have no wonder though I stir thee to this work. For this is the work, as thou shalt hear afterward, in the which man should have continued if he never had sinned: and to the which working man was made, and all things for man, to help him and further him thereto, and by the which working a man shall be repaired again. And for the defailing of this working, a man falleth evermore deeper and deeper in sin, and further and further from God. And by keeping and continual working in this work only without more, a man evermore riseth higher and higher from sin, and nearer and nearer unto God.

And therefore take good heed unto time, how that thou dispendest it: for nothing is more precious than time. In one little time, as little as it is, may heaven be won and lost. A token it is that time is precious: for God, that is given of time, giveth never two times together, but each one after other. And this He doth, for He will not reverse the order or the ordinal course in the cause of His creation. For time is made for man, and not man for time. And therefore God, that is the ruler of nature, will not in His giving of time go before the stirring of nature in man's soul; the which is even according to one time only. So that man shall have none excusation against God in the Doom, and at the giving of account of dispending of time, saying, "Thou givest two times at once, and I have but one stirring at once."

But sorrowfully thou sayest now, "How shall I do? and sith this is thus that thou sayest, how shall I give account of each time severally; I that have unto this day, now of four and twenty years age, never took heed of time? If I would now amend it, thou wottest well, by very reason of thy words written before, it may not be after the course of nature, nor of common grace, that I should now heed or else make satisfaction, for any more times than for those that be for to come. Yea, and moreover well I wot by very proof, that of those that be to come I shall on no wise, for abundance of frailty and slowness of spirits, be able to observe one of an hundred. So that I am verily concluded in these reasons. Help me now for the love of JESUS!"

Right well hast thou said, for the love of JESUS. For in the love of JESUS; there shall be thine help. Love is such a power, that it maketh all thing common. Love therefore JESUS; and all thing that He hath, it is thine. He by His Godhead is maker and giver of time. He by His manhood is the very keeper of time. And He by His Godhead and His manhood together, is the truest Doomsman, and the asker of account of dispensing of time. Knit thee therefore to Him, by love and by belief, and then by virtue of that knot thou shalt be common perceiver with Him, and with all that by love so be knitted unto Him: that is to say, with our Lady Saint Mary that full was of all grace in keeping of time, with all the angels of heaven that never may lose time, and with all the saints in heaven and in earth, that by the grace of JESUS heed time full justly in virtue of love. Lo! here lieth comfort; construe thou clearly, and pick thee some profit.  But of one thing I warn thee amongst all other. I cannot see who may truly challenge community thus with JESUS and His just Mother, His high angels and also with His saints; but if he be such an one, that doth that in him is with helping of grace in keeping of time. So that he be seen to be a profiter on his part, so little as is, unto the community; as each one of them doth on his.

And therefore take heed to this work, and to the marvellous manner of it within in thy soul. For if it be truly conceived, it is but a sudden stirring, and as it were unadvised, speedily springing unto God as a sparkle from the coal. And it is marvellous to number the stirrings that may be in one hour wrought in a soul that is disposed to this work. And yet in one stirring of all these, he may have suddenly and perfectly forgotten all created thing. But fast after each stirring, for corruption of the flesh, it falleth down again to some thought or to some done or undone deed. But what thereof? For fast after, it riseth again as suddenly as it did before.

And here may men shortly conceive the manner of this working, and clearly know that it is far from any fantasy, or any false imagination or quaint opinion: the which be brought in, not by such a devout and a meek blind stirring of love, but by a proud, curious, and an imaginative wit. Such a proud, curious wit behoveth always be borne down and stiffly trodden down under foot, if this work shall truly be conceived in purity of spirit. For whoso heareth this work either be read or spoken of, and weeneth that it may, or should, be come to by travail in their wits, and therefore they sit and seek in their wits how that it may be, and in this curiosity they travail their imagination peradventure against the course of nature, and they feign a manner of working the which is neither bodily nor ghostly--truly this man, whatsoever he be, is perilously deceived. Insomuch, that unless God of His great goodness shew His merciful miracle, and make him soon to leave work, and meek him to counsel of proved workers, he shall fall either into frenzies, or else into other great mischiefs of ghostly sins and devils' deceits; through the which he may lightly be lost, both life and soul, without any end. And therefore for God's love be wary in this work, and travail not in thy wits nor in thy imagination on nowise: for I tell thee truly, it may not be come to by travail in them, and therefore leave them and work not with them.

And ween not, for I call it a darkness or a cloud, that it be any cloud congealed of the humours that flee in the air, nor yet any darkness such as is in thine house on nights when the candle is out. For such a darkness and such a cloud mayest thou imagine with curiosity of wit, for to bear before thine eyes in the lightest day of summer: and also contrariwise in the darkest night of winter, thou mayest imagine a clear shining light. Let be such falsehood. I mean not thus. For when I say darkness, I mean a lacking of knowing: as all that thing that thou knowest not, or else that thou hast forgotten, it is dark to thee; for thou seest it not with thy ghostly eye. And for this reason it is not called a cloud of the air, but a cloud of unknowing, that is betwixt thee and thy God.

FIFTH CHAPTER

That in the time of this word all the creatures that ever have been, be now, or ever shall be, and all the works of those same creatures, should be hid under the cloud of forgetting.

AND if ever thou shalt come to this cloud and dwell and work therein as I bid thee, thee behoveth as this cloud of unknowing is above thee, betwixt thee and thy God, right so put a cloud of forgetting beneath thee; betwixt thee and all the creatures that ever be made. Thee thinketh, peradventure, that thou art full far from God because that this cloud of unknowing is betwixt thee and thy God: but surely, an it be well conceived, thou art well further from Him when thou hast no cloud of forgetting betwixt thee and all the creatures that ever be made. As oft as I say, all the creatures that ever be made, as oft I mean not only the creatures themselves, but also all the works and the conditions of the same creatures. I take out not one creature, whether they be bodily creatures or ghostly, nor yet any condition or work of any creature, whether they be good or evil: but shortly to say, all should be hid under the cloud of forgetting in this case.

For although it be full profitable sometime to think of certain conditions and deeds of some certain special creatures, nevertheless yet in this work it profiteth little or nought. For why? Memory or thinking of any creature that ever God made, or of any of their deeds either, it is a manner of ghostly light: for the eye of thy soul is opened on it and even fixed thereupon, as the eye of a shooter is upon the prick that he shooteth to. And one thing I tell thee, that all thing that thou thinketh upon, it is above thee for the time, and betwixt thee and thy God: and insomuch thou art the further from God, that aught is in thy mind but only God.

Yea! and, if it be courteous and seemly to say, in this work it profiteth little or nought to think of the kindness or the worthiness of God, nor on our Lady, nor on the saints or angels in heaven, nor yet on the joys in heaven: that is to say, with a special beholding to them, as thou wouldest by that beholding feed and increase thy purpose. I trow that on nowise it should help in this case and in this work. For although it be good to think upon the kindness of God, and to love Him and praise Him for it, yet it is far better to think upon the naked being of Him, and to love Him and praise Him for Himself.

SIXTH CHAPTER

A short conceit of the work of this book, treated by question.

BUT now thou askest me and sayest, "How shall I think on Himself, and what is He?" and to this I cannot answer thee but thus: "I wot not."

For thou hast brought me with thy question into that same darkness, and into that same cloud of unknowing, that I would thou wert in thyself. For of all other creatures and their works, yea, and of the works of God's self, may a man through grace have fullhead of knowing, and well he can think of them: but of God Himself can no man think. And therefore I would leave all that thing that I can think, and choose to my love that thing that I cannot think. For why;  He may well be loved, but not thought. By love may He be gotten and holden; but by thought never. And therefore, although it be good sometime to think of the kindness and the worthiness of God in special, and although it be a light and a part of contemplation: nevertheless yet in this work it shall be cast down and covered with a cloud of forgetting. And thou shalt step above it stalwartly, but Mistily, with a devout and a pleasing stirring of love, and try for to pierce that darkness above thee. And smite upon that thick cloud of unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love; and go not thence for thing that befalleth.

SEVENTH CHAPTER

How a man shall have him in this work against all thoughts, and specially against all those that arise of his own curiosity, of cunning, and of natural wit.

AND if any thought rise and will press continually above thee betwixt thee and that darkness, and ask thee saying, "What seekest thou, and what wouldest thou have?" say thou, that it is God that thou wouldest have. "Him I covet, Him I seek, and nought but Him."

And if he ask thee, "What is that God?" say thou, that it is God that made thee and bought thee, and that graciously hath called thee to thy degree. "And in Him," say, "thou hast no skill." And therefore say, "Go thou down again," and tread him fast down with a stirring of love, although he seem to thee right holy, and seem to thee as he would help thee to seek Him. For peradventure he will bring to thy mind diverse full fair and wonderful points of His kindness, and say that He is full sweet, and full loving, full gracious, and full merciful. And if thou wilt hear him, he coveteth no better; for at the last he will thus jangle ever more and more till he bring thee lower, to the mind of His Passion.

And there will he let thee see the wonderful kindness of God, and if thou hear him, he careth for nought better. For soon after he will let thee see thine old wretched living, and peradventure in seeing and thinking thereof he will bring to thy mind some place that thou hast dwelt in before this time. So that at the last, or ever thou wit, thou shalt be scattered thou wottest not where. The cause of this scattering is, that thou heardest him first wilfully, then answeredest him, receivedest him, and lettest him alone.

And yet, nevertheless, the thing that he said was both good and holy. Yea, and so holy, that what man or woman that weeneth to come to contemplation without many such sweet meditations of their own wretchedness, the passion, the kindness, and the great goodness, and the worthiness of God coming before, surely he shall err and fail of his purpose. And yet, nevertheless, it behoveth a man or a woman that hath long time been used in these meditations, nevertheless to leave them, and put them and hold them far down under the cloud of forgetting, if ever he shall pierce the cloud of unknowing betwixt him and his God. Therefore what time that thou purposest thee to this work, and feelest by grace that thou art called of God, lift then up thine heart unto God with a meek stirring of love; and mean God that made thee, and bought thee, and that graciously hath called thee to thy degree, and receive none other thought of God. And yet not all these, but if thou list; for it sufficeth enough, a naked intent direct unto God without any other cause than Himself.

And if thee list have this intent lapped and folden in one word, for thou shouldest have better hold thereupon, take thee but a little word of one syllable: for so it is better than of two, for ever the shorter it is the better it accordeth with the work of the Spirit. And such a word is this word GOD or this word LOVE. Choose thee whether thou wilt, or another; as thee list, which that thee liketh best of one syllable. And fasten this word to thine heart, so that it never go thence for thing that befalleth.

This word shall be thy shield and thy spear, whether thou ridest on peace or on war. With this word, thou shalt beat on this cloud and this darkness above thee. With this word, thou shall smite down all manner of thought under the cloud of forgetting. Insomuch, that if any thought press upon thee to ask thee what thou wouldest have, answer them with no more words but with this one word. And if he proffer thee of his great clergy to expound thee that word and to tell thee the conditions of that word, say him: That thou wilt have it all whole, and not broken nor undone. And if thou wilt hold thee fast on this purpose, be thou sure, he will no while abide. And why? For that thou wilt not let him feed him on such sweet meditations of God touched before.

EIGHTH CHAPTER

A good declaring of certain doubts that may fall in this word treated by question, in destroying of a man's own curiosity, of cunning, and of natural wit, and in distinguishing of the degrees and the parts of active living and contemplative.

BUT now thou askest me, "What is he, this that thus presseth upon me in this work; and whether it is a good thing or an evil? And if it be an evil thing, then have I marvel," thou sayest, "why that he will increase a man's devotion so much. For sometimes me think that it is a passing comfort to listen after his tales. For he will sometime, me think, make me weep full heartily for pity of the Passion of Christ, sometime for my wretchedness, and for many other reasons, that me thinketh be full holy, and that done me much good. And therefore me thinketh that he should on nowise be evil; and if he be good, and with his sweet tales doth me so much good withal, then I have great marvel why that thou biddest me put him down and away so far under the cloud of forgetting?"

Now surely me thinketh that this is a well moved question, and therefore I think to answer thereto so feebly as I can. First when thou askest me what is he, this that presseth so fast upon thee in this work, proffering to help thee in this work; I say that it is a sharp and a clear beholding of thy natural wit, printed in thy reason within in thy soul. And where thou askest me thereof whether it be good or evil, I say that it behoveth always be good in its nature. For why, it is a beam of the likeness of God. But the use thereof may be both good and evil. Good, when it is opened by grace for to see thy wretchedness, the passion, the kindness, and the wonderful works of God in His creatures bodily and ghostly. And then it is no wonder though it increase thy devotion full much, as thou sayest. But then is the use evil, when it is swollen with pride and with curiosity of much clergy and letterly cunning as in clerks; and maketh them press for to be holden not meek scholars and masters of divinity or of devotion, but proud scholars of the devil and masters of vanity and of falsehood. And in other men or women whatso they be, religious or seculars, the use and the working of this natural wit is then evil, when it is swollen with proud and curious skills of worldly things, and fleshly conceits in coveting of worldly worships and having of riches and vain plesaunce and flatterings of others.

And where that thou askest me, why that thou shalt put it down under the cloud of forgetting, since it is so, that it is good in its nature, and thereto when it is well used it doth thee so much good and increaseth thy devotion so much. To this I answer and say--That thou shalt well understand that there be two manner of lives in Holy Church. The one is active life, and the other is contemplative life. Active is the lower, and contemplative is the higher. Active life hath two degrees, a higher and a lower: and also contemplative life hath two degrees, a lower and a higher. Also, these two lives be so coupled together that although they be divers in some part, yet neither of them may be had fully without some part of the other. For why? That part that is the higher part of active life, that same part is the lower part of contemplative life. So that a man may not be fully active, but if he be in part contemplative; nor yet fully contemplative, as it may be here, but if he be in part active. The condition of active life is such, that it is both begun and ended in this life; but not so of contemplative life. For it is begun in this life, and shall last without end. For why? That part that Mary chose shall never be taken away. Active life is troubled and travailed about many things; but contemplative sitteth in peace with one thing.

The lower part of active life standeth in good and honest bodily works of mercy and of charity. The higher part of active life and the lower part of contemplative life lieth in goodly ghostly meditations, and busy beholding unto a man's own wretchedness with sorrow and contrition, unto the Passion of Christ and of His servants with pity and compassion, and unto the wonderful gifts, kindness, and works of God in all His creatures bodily and ghostly with thanking and praising. But the higher part of contemplation, as it may be had here, hangeth all wholly in this darkness and in this cloud of unknowing; with a loving stirring and a blind beholding unto the naked being of God Himself only.

In the lower part of active life a man is without himself and beneath himself. In the higher part of active life and the lower part of contemplative life, a man is within himself and even with himself. But in the higher part of contemplative life, a man is above himself and under his God. Above himself he is: for why, he purposeth him to win thither by grace, whither he may not come by nature. That is to say, to be knit to God in spirit, and in onehead of love and accordance of will. And right as it is impossible, to man's understanding, for a man to come to the higher part of active life, but if he cease for a time of the lower part; so it is that a man shall not come to the higher part of contemplative life, but if he cease for a time of the lower part. And as unlawful a thing as it is, and as much as it would let a man that sat in his meditations, to have regard then to his outward bodily works, the which he had done, or else should do, although they were never so holy works in themselves: surely as unlikely a thing it is, and as much would it let a man that should work in this darkness and in this cloud of unknowing with an affectuous stirring of love to God for Himself, for to let any thought or any meditation of God's wonderful gifts, kindness, and works in any of His creatures bodily or ghostly, rise upon him to press betwixt him and his God; although they be never so holy thoughts, nor so profound, nor so comfortable.

And for this reason it is that I bid thee put down such a sharp subtle thought, and cover him with a thick cloud of forgetting, be he never so holy nor promise he thee never so well for to help thee in thy purpose. For why, love may reach to God in this life, but not knowing. And all the whiles that the soul dwelleth in this deadly body, evermore is the sharpness of our understanding in beholding of all ghostly things, but most specially of God, mingled with some manner of fantasy; for the which our work should be unclean. And unless more wonder were, it should lead us into much error.

NINTH CHAPTER

That in the time of this work the remembrance of the holiest Creature that ever God made letteth more than it profiteth.

AND therefore the sharp stirring of thine understanding, that will always press upon thee when thou settest thee to this work, behoveth always be borne down; and but thou bear him down, he will bear thee down. Insomuch, that when thou weenest best to abide in this darkness, and that nought is in thy mind but only God; an thou look truly thou shalt find thy mind not occupied in this darkness, but in a clear beholding of some thing beneath God. And if it thus be, surely then is that thing above thee for the time, and betwixt thee and thy God. And therefore purpose thee to put down such clear beholdings, be they never so holy nor so likely. For one thing I tell thee, it is more profitable to the health of thy soul, more worthy in itself, and more pleasing to God and to all the saints and angels in heaven--yea, and more helpful to all thy friends, bodily and ghostly, quick and dead--such a blind stirring of love unto God for Himself, and such a privy pressing upon this cloud of unknowing, and better thee were for to have it and for to feel it in thine affection ghostly, than it is for to have the eyes of thy soul opened in contemplation or beholding of all the angels or saints in heaven, or in hearing of all the mirth and the melody that is amongst them in bliss.

And look thou have no wonder of this: for mightest thou once see it as clearly, as thou mayest by grace come to for to grope it and feel it in this life, thou wouldest think as I say. But be thou sure that clear sight shall never man have here in this life: but the feeling may men have through grace when God vouchsafeth. And therefore lift up thy love to that cloud: rather, if I shall say thee sooth, let God draw thy love up to that cloud and strive thou through help of His grace to forget all other thing.

For since a naked remembrance of any thing under God pressing against thy will and thy witting putteth thee farther from God than thou shouldest be if it were not, and letteth thee, and maketh thee inasmuch more unable to feel in experience the fruit of His love, what trowest thou then that a remembrance wittingly and wilfully drawn upon thee will hinder thee in thy purpose? And since a remembrance of any special saint or of any clean ghostly thing will hinder thee so much, what trowest thou then that the remembrance of any man living in this wretched life, or of any manner of bodily or worldly thing, will hinder thee and let thee in this work?

I say not that such a naked sudden thought of any good and clean ghostly thing under God pressing against thy will or thy witting, or else wilfully drawn upon thee with advisement in increasing of thy devotion, although it be letting to this manner of work--that it is therefore evil. Nay! God forbid that thou take it so. But I say, although it be good and holy, yet in this work it letteth more than it profiteth. I mean for the time. For why? Surely he that seeketh God perfectly, he will not rest him finally in the remembrance of any angel or saint that is in heaven.

TENTH CHAPTER

How a man shall know when his thought is no sin; and if it be sin, when it is deadly and when it is venial.

BUT it is not thus of the remembrance of any man or woman living in this life, or of any bodily or worldly thing whatsoever that it be. For why, a naked sudden thought of any of them, pressing against thy will and thy witting, although it be no sin imputed unto thee--for it is the pain of the original sin pressing against thy power, of the which sin thou art cleansed in thy baptism--nevertheless yet if this sudden stirring or thought be not smitten soon down, as fast for frailty thy fleshly heart is strained thereby: with some manner of liking, if it be a thing that pleaseth thee or hath pleased thee before, or else with some manner of grumbling, if it be a thing that thee think grieveth thee, or hath grieved thee before. The which fastening, although it may in fleshly living men and women that be in deadly sin before be deadly; nevertheless in thee and in all other that have in a true will forsaken the world, and are obliged unto any degree in devout living in Holy Church, what so it be, privy or open, and thereto that will be ruled not after their own will and their own wit, but after the will and the counsel of their sovereigns, what so they be, religious or seculars, such a liking or a grumbling fastened in the fleshly heart is but venial sin. The cause of this is the grounding and the rooting of your intent in God, made in the beginning of your living in that state that ye stand in, by the witness and the counsel of some discreet father.

But if it so be, that this liking or grumbling fastened in thy fleshly heart be suffered so long to abide unreproved, that then at the last it is fastened to the ghostly heart, that is to say the will, with a full consent: then, it is deadly sin. And this befalleth when thou or any of them that I speak of wilfully draw upon thee the remembrance of any man or woman living in this life, or of any bodily or worldly thing other: insomuch, that if it be a thing the which grieveth or hath grieved thee before, there riseth in thee an angry passion and an appetite of vengeance, the which is called Wrath. Or else a fell disdain and a manner of loathsomeness of their person, with despiteful and condemning thoughts, the which is called Envy. Or else a weariness and an unlistiness of any good occupation bodily or ghostly, the which is called Sloth.

And if it be a thing that pleaseth thee, or hath pleased thee before, there riseth in thee a passing delight for to think on that thing what so it be. Insomuch, that thou restest thee in that thought, and finally fastenest thine heart and thy will thereto, and feedest thy fleshly heart therewith: so that thee think for the time that thou covetest none other wealth, but to live ever in such a peace and rest with that thing that thou thinkest upon. If this thought that thou thus drawest upon thee, or else receivest when it is put unto thee, and that thou restest thee thus in with delight, be worthiness of nature or of knowing, of grace or of degree, of favour or of fairhead, then it is Pride. And if it be any manner of worldly good, riches or chattels, or what that man may have or be lord of, then it is Covetyse. If it be dainty meats and drinks, or any manner of delights that man may taste, then it is Gluttony. And if it be love or plesaunce, or any manner of fleshly dalliance, glosing or flattering of any man or woman living in this life, or of thyself either: then it is Lechery.

ELEVENTH CHAPTER

That a man should weigh each thought and each stirring after that it is, and always eschew recklessness in venial sin.

I SAY not this for that I trow that thou, or any other such as I speak of, be guilty and cumbered with any such sins; but for that I would that thou weighest each thought and each stirring after that it is, and for I would that thou travailedst busily to destroy the first stirring and thought of these things that thou mayest thus sin in. For one thing I tell thee; that who weigheth not, or setteth little by, the first thought--yea, although it be no sin unto him--that he, whosoever that he be, shall not eschew recklessness in venial sin. Venial sin shall no man utterly eschew in this deadly life. But recklessness in venial sin should always be eschewed of all the true disciples of perfection; and else I have no wonder though they soon sin deadly.

TWELFTH CHAPTER

That by Virtue of this word sin is not only destroyed, but also Virtues begotten.

AND, therefore, if thou wilt stand and not fall, cease never in thine intent: but beat evermore on this cloud of unknowing that is betwixt thee and thy God with a sharp dart of longing love, and loathe for to think on aught under God, and go not thence for anything that befalleth. For this is only by itself that work that destroyeth the ground and the root of sin. Fast thou never so much, wake thou never so long, rise thou never so early, lie thou never so hard, wear thou never so sharp; yea, and if it were lawful to do--as it is not--put thou out thine eyes, cut thou out thy tongue of thy mouth, stop thou thine ears and thy nose never so fast, though thou shear away thy members, and do all the pain to thy body that thou mayest or canst think: all this would help thee right nought. Yet will stirring and rising of sin be in thee.

Yea, and what more? Weep thou never so much for sorrow of thy sins, or of the Passion of Christ, or have thou never so much mind of the joys of heaven, what may it do to thee? Surely much good, much help, much profit, and much grace will it get thee. But in comparison of this blind stirring of love, it is but a little that it doth, or may do, without this. This by itself is the best part of Mary without these other. They without it profit but little or nought. It destroyeth not only the ground and the root of sin as it may be here, but thereto it getteth virtues. For an it be truly conceived, all virtues shall truly be, and perfectly conceived, and feelingly comprehended, in it, without any mingling of the intent. And have a man never so many virtues without it, all they be mingled with some crooked intent, for the which they be imperfect.

For virtue is nought else but an ordained and a measured affection, plainly directed unto God for Himself. For why? He in Himself is the pure cause of all virtues: insomuch, that if any man be stirred to any one virtue by any other cause mingled with Him, yea, although that He be the chief, yet that virtue is then imperfect. As thus by example may be seen in one virtue or two instead of all the other; and well may these two virtues be meekness and charity. For whoso might get these two clearly, him needeth no more: for why, he hath all.

THIRTEENTH CHAPTER

What meekness is in itself, and when it is perfect and when it is imperfect.

NOW let see first of the virtue of meekness; how that it is imperfect when it is caused of any other thing mingled with God although He be the chief; and how that it is perfect when it is caused of God by Himself. And first it is to wit, what meekness is in itself, if this matter shall clearly be seen and conceived; and thereafter may it more verily be conceived in truth of spirit what is the cause thereof.

Meekness in itself is nought else, but a true knowing and feeling of a man's self as he is. For surely whoso might verily see and feel himself as he is, he should verily be meek. Two things there be, the which be cause of this meekness; the which be these. One is the filth, the wretchedness, and the frailty of man, into the which he is fallen by sin; and the which always him behoveth to feel in some part the whiles he liveth in this life, be he never so holy. Another is the over-abundant love and the worthiness of God in Himself; in beholding of the which all nature quaketh, all clerks be fools, and all saints and angels be blind. Insomuch, that were it not that through the wisdom of His Godhead He measured their beholding after their ableness in nature and in grace, I defail to say what should befall them.

This second cause is perfect; for why, it shall last without end. And the tother before is imperfect; for why, it shall not only fail at the end of this life, but full oft it may befall that a soul in this deadly body for abundance of grace in multiplying of his desire--as oft and as long as God vouchsafeth for to work it--shall have suddenly and perfectly lost and forgotten all witting and feeling of his being, not looking after whether he have been holy or wretched. But whether this fall oft or seldom to a soul that is thus disposed, I trow that it lasteth but a full short while: and in this time it is perfectly meeked, for it knoweth and feeleth no cause but the Chief. And ever when it knoweth and feeleth the tother cause, communing therewith, although this be the chief: yet it is imperfect meekness. Nevertheless yet it is good and notwithstanding must be had; and God forbid that thou take it in any other manner than I say.

FOURTEENTH CHAPTER

That without imperfect meekness coming before, it is impossible for a sinner to come to the perfect Virtue of meekness in this life.

FOR although I call it imperfect meekness, yet I had liefer have a true knowing and a feeling of myself as I am, and sooner I trow that it should get me the perfect cause and virtue of meekness by itself, than it should an all the saints and angels in heaven, and all the men and women of Holy Church living in earth, religious or seculars in all degrees, were set at once all together to do nought else but to pray to God for me to get me perfect meekness. Yea, and yet it is impossible a sinner to get, or to keep when it is gotten, the perfect virtue of meekness without it.

And therefore swink and sweat in all that thou canst and mayest, for to get thee a true knowing and a feeling of thyself as thou art; and then I trow that soon after that thou shalt have a true knowing and a feeling of God as He is. Not as He is in Himself, for that may no man do but Himself; nor yet as thou shalt do in bliss both body and soul together. But as it is possible, and as He vouchsafeth to be known and felt of a meek soul living in this deadly body.

And think not because I set two causes of meekness, one perfect and another imperfect, that I will therefore that thou leavest the travail about imperfect meekness, and set thee wholly to get thee perfect. Nay, surely; I trow thou shouldest never bring it so about. But herefore I do that I do: because I think to tell thee and let thee see the worthiness of this ghostly exercise before all other exercise bodily or ghostly that man can or may do by grace. How that a privy love pressed in cleanness of spirit upon this dark cloud of unknowing betwixt thee and thy God, truly and perfectly containeth in it the perfect virtue of meekness without any special or clear beholding of any thing under God. And because I would that thou knewest which were perfect meekness, and settest it as a token before the love of thine heart, and didst it for thee and for me. And because I would by this knowing make thee more meek.

For ofttimes it befalleth that lacking of knowing is cause of much pride as me thinketh. For peradventure an thou knewest not which were perfect meekness, thou shouldest ween when thou hadst a little knowing and a feeling of this that I call imperfect meekness, that thou hadst almost gotten perfect meekness: and so shouldest thou deceive thyself, and ween that thou wert full meek when thou wert all belapped in foul stinking pride. And therefore try for to travail about perfect meekness; for the condition of it is such, that whoso hath it, and the whiles he hath it, he shall not sin, nor yet much after.

FIFTEENTH CHAPTER

A short proof against their error that say, that there is no perfecter cause to be meeked under, than is the knowledge of a man's own wretchedness.

AND trust steadfastly that there is such a perfect meekness as I speak of, and that it may be come to through grace in this life. And this I say in confusion of their error, that say that there is no perfecter cause of meekness than is that which is raised of the remembrance of our wretchedness and our before-done sins.

I grant well, that to them that have been in accustomed sins, as I am myself and have been, it is the most needful and speedful cause, to be meeked under the remembrance of our wretchedness and our before-done sins, ever till the time be that the great rust of sin be in great part rubbed away, our conscience and our counsel to witness. But to other that be, as it were, innocents, the which never sinned deadly with an abiding will and avisement, but through frailty and unknowing, and the which set them to be contemplatives--and to us both if our counsel and our conscience witness our lawful amendment in contrition and in confession, and in making satisfaction after the statute and the ordinance of all-Holy Church, and thereto if we feel us stirred and called by grace to be contemplatives also--there is then another cause to be meeked under as far above this cause as is the living of our Lady Saint Mary above the living of the sinfullest penitent in Holy Church; or the living of Christ above the living of any other man in this life; or else the living of an angel in heaven, the which never felt--nor shall feel--frailty, is above the life of the frailest man that is here in this world.

For if it so were that there were no perfect cause to be meeked under, but in seeing and feeling of wretchedness, then would I wit of them that say so, what cause they be meeked under that never see nor feel--nor never shall be in them--wretchedness nor stirring of sin: as it is of our Lord JESUS CHRIST, our Lady Saint Mary, and all the saints and angels in heaven. To this perfection, and all other, our Lord JESUS CHRIST calleth us Himself in the gospel: where He biddeth that we should be perfect by grace as He Himself is by nature.

SIXTEENTH CHAPTER

That by Virtue of this work a sinner truly turned and called to contemplation cometh sooner to perfection than by any other work; and by it soonest may get of God forgiveness of sins.

LOOK that no man think it presumption, that he that is the wretchedest sinner of this life dare take upon him after the time be that he have lawfully amended him, and after that he have felt him stirred to that life that is called contemplative, by the assent of his counsel and his conscience for to profer a meek stirring of love to his God, privily pressing upon the cloud of unknowing betwixt him and his God. When our Lord said to Mary, in person of all sinners that be called to contemplative life, "Thy sins be forgiven thee," it was not for her great sorrow, nor for the remembering of her sins, nor yet for her meekness that she had in the beholding of her wretchedness only. But why then? Surely because she loved much.

Lo! here may men see what a privy pressing of love may purchase of our Lord, before all other works that man may think. And yet I grant well, that she had full much sorrow, and wept full sore for her sins, and full much she was meeked in remembrance of her wretchedness. And so should we do, that have been wretches and accustomed sinners; all our lifetime make hideous and wonderful sorrow for our sins, and full much be meeked in remembrance of our wretchedness.

But how? Surely as Mary did. She, although she might not feel the deep hearty sorrow of her sins--for why, all her lifetime she had them with her whereso she went, as it were in a burthen bounden together and laid up full privily in the hole of her heart, in manner never to be forgotten--nevertheless yet, it may be said and affirmed by Scripture, that she had a more hearty sorrow, a more doleful desire, and a more deep sighing, and more she languished, yea! almost to the death, for lacking of love, although she had full much love (and have no wonder thereof, for it is the condition of a true lover that ever the more he loveth, the more he longeth for to love), than she had for any remembrance of her sins.

And yet she wist well, and felt well in herself in a sad soothfastness, that she was a wretch most foul of all other, and that her sins had made a division betwixt her and her God that she loved so much: and also that they were in great part cause of her languishing sickness for lacking of love. But what thereof? Came she therefore down from the height of desire into the deepness of her sinful life, and searched in the foul stinking fen and dunghill of her sins; searching them up, by one and by one, with all the circumstances of them, and sorrowed and wept so upon them each one by itself? Nay, surely she did not so. And why? Because God let her wit by His grace within in her soul, that she should never so bring it about. For so might she sooner have raised in herself an ableness to have oft sinned, than to have purchased by that work any plain forgiveness of all her sins.

And therefore she hung up her love and her longing desire in this cloud of unknowing, and learned her to love a thing the which she might not see clearly in this life, by light of understanding in her reason, nor yet verily feel in sweetness of love in her affection. Insomuch, that she had ofttimes little special remembrance, whether that ever she had been a sinner or none. Yea, and full ofttimes I hope that she was so deeply disposed to the love of His Godhead that she had but right little special beholding unto the beauty of His precious and His blessed body, in the which He sat full lovely speaking and preaching before her; nor yet to anything else, bodily or ghostly. That this be sooth, it seemeth by the gospel.

SEVENTEENTH CHAPTER

That a Very contemplative list not meddle him with active life, nor of anything that is done or spoken about him, nor yet to answer to his blamers in excusing of himself.

IN the gospel of Saint Luke it is written, that when our Lord was in the house of Martha her sister, all the time that Martha made her busy about the dighting of His meat, Mary her sister sat at His feet. And in hearing of His word she beheld not to the business of her sister, although her business was full good and full holy, for truly it is the first part of active life; nor yet to the preciousness of His blessed body, nor to the sweet voice and the words of His manhood, although it is better and holier, for it is the second part of active life and the first of contemplative life.

But to the sovereignest wisdom of His Godhead lapped in the dark words of His manhood, thither beheld she with all the love of her heart. For from thence she would not remove, for nothing that she saw nor heard spoken nor done about her; but sat full still in her body, with many a sweet privy and a listy love pressed upon that high cloud of unknowing betwixt her and her God. For one thing I tell thee, that there was never yet pure creature in this life, nor never yet shall be, so high ravished in contemplation and love of the Godhead, that there is not evermore a high and a wonderful cloud of unknowing betwixt him and his God. In this cloud it was that Mary was occupied with many a privy love pressed. And why? Because it was the best and the holiest part of contemplation that may be in this life, and from this part her list not remove for nothing. Insomuch, that when her sister Martha complained to our Lord of her, and bade Him bid her sister rise and help her and let her not so work and travail by herself, she sat full still and answered not with one word, nor shewed not as much as a grumbling gesture against her sister for any plaint that she could make. And no wonder: for why, she had another work to do that Martha wist not of. And therefore she had no leisure to listen to her, nor to answer her at her plaint.

Lo! friend, all these works, these words, and these gestures, that were shewed betwixt our Lord and these two sisters, be set in ensample of all actives and all contemplatives that have been since in Holy Church, and shall be to the day of doom. For by Mary is understood all contemplatives; for they should conform their living after hers. And by Martha, actives on the same manner; and for the same reason in likeness.

EIGHTEENTH CHAPTER

How that yet unto this day all actives complain of contemplatives as Martha did of Mary. Of the which complaining ignorance is the cause.

AND right as Martha complained then on Mary her sister, right so yet unto this day all actives complain of contemplatives. For an there be a man or a woman in any company of this world, what company soever it be, religious or seculars--I out-take none--the which man or woman, whichever that it be, feeleth him stirred through grace and by counsel to forsake all outward business, and for to set him fully for to live contemplative life after their cunning and their conscience, their counsel according; as fast, their own brethren and their sisters, and all their next friends, with many other that know not their stirrings nor that manner of living that they set them to, with a great complaining spirit shall rise upon them, and say sharply unto them that it is nought that they do. And as fast they will reckon up many false tales, and many true also, of falling of men and women that have given them to such life before: and never a good tale of them that stood.

I grant that many fall and have fallen of them that have in likeness forsaken the world. And where they should have become God's servants and His contemplatives, because that they would not rule them by true ghostly counsel they have become the devil's servants and his contemplatives; and turned either to hypocrites or to heretics, or fallen into frenzies and many other mischiefs, in slander of Holy Church. Of the which I leave to speak at this time, for troubling of our matter. But nevertheless here after when God vouchsafeth and if need be, men may see some of the conditions and the cause of their failings. And therefore no more of them at this time; but forth of our matter.

NINETEENTH CHAPTER

A short excusation of him that made this book teaching how all contemplatives should have all actives fully excused of their complaining words and deeds.

SOME might think that I do little worship to Martha, that special saint, for I liken her words of complaining of her sister unto these worldly men's words, or theirs unto hers: and truly I mean no unworship to her nor to them. And God forbid that I should in this work say anything that might be taken in condemnation of any of the servants of God in any degree, and namely of His special saint. For me thinketh that she should be full well had excused of her plaint, taking regard to the time and the manner that she said it in. For that that she said, her unknowing was the cause. And no wonder though she knew not at that time how Mary was occupied; for I trow that before she had little heard of such perfection. And also that she said, it was but courteously and in few words: and therefore she should always be had excused.

And so me thinketh that these worldly living men and women of active life should also full well be had excused of their complaining words touched before, although they say rudely that they say; having beholding to their ignorance. For why? Right as Martha wist full little what Mary her sister did when she complained of her to our Lord; right so on the same manner these folk nowadays wot full little, or else nought, what these young disciples of God mean, when they set them from the business of this world, and draw them to be God's special servants in holiness and rightfulness of spirit. And if they wist truly, I daresay that they would neither do nor say as they say. And therefore me thinketh always that they should be had excused: for why, they know no better living than is that they live in themselves. And also when I think on mine innumerable defaults, the which I have made myself before this time in words and deeds for default of knowing, me thinketh then if I would be had excused of God for mine ignorant defaults, that I should charitably and piteously have other men's ignorant words and deeds always excused. And surely else, do I not to others as I would they did to me.

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