Light, life, and love selections from the German Mystics



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Thirdly, we may apply this word to the Father, as if Christ said to His Father: "Father, I have declared Thy name to mankind; I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do; and in Thy service I have spent My whole body as Thine instrument. Behold, I am all worn out and exhausted; and yet I still thirst to do and suffer more for Thine honour. This is why I hang here, extended to the furthest breadth of love, for I long to be an everlasting sacrifice, a sweet savour to Thee, and at the same time an eternal atonement and salvation to mankind." Thus, too, might this strong Samson have said: "O Lord, Thou hast put into the hand of Thy servant this very great salvation and victory, and yet behold, I die of thirst." As if He would say: Father, I have accomplished Thy gracious will; I have finished the work of man's salvation, as Thou didst demand; and yet I still thirst; for the sins by which Thou art offended are infinite. And so I desire that the love and merits of My Passion, by which Thou wilt be appeased, may be infinite too. And as I now offer myself as a peace-offering and a living sacrifice for the salvation of all men, so through Me may all men appease Thee, by offering Me to Thee as a peace-offering to Thine eternal glory, in memory of My Passion, and to make good all their shortcomings." O how acceptable to the Father must this desire of love have been! For what was this thirst but a sweet and pleasant refreshment to the Father, and at the same time the blessed renovation of mankind? Or what other language does this burning throat speak to us, save that of Christ's burning love, without measure and without limit, out of which He did all His works? This truly is the most noble sacrifice of our redemption, this is that peace-offering which will be offered even to the last day, by all good men, to the Holy Ghost, to the highest Father, in memory of the Son, to the eternal glory of the adorable Trinity, and to the fruit of salvation for mankind. Here, certainly, is the inexhaustible storehouse of our reconciliation, which never fails, for it is greater than all the debts of the world. This is that immeasurable love, which is higher than the heavens, for it has repaired the ruin of the angels; deeper than hell, for it has freed souls from hell; wider and broader than the earth, for it is without end and incomprehensible by any created understanding. O how keen and intense was this thirst of our Lord! For not only did He then say once, "I thirst," but even now He says in our hearts continually, "I thirst; woman, give me to drink." So great, so mighty, is that thirst, that He asks drink not only from the children of Israel, but from the Samaritans. To each one He complaineth of His thirst. But for what dost Thou thirst, O good Jesus? "My meat and drink," saith He, "is that men should do My Father's will. Now this is the will of My Father, even your sanctification and salvation, that you may sanctify your souls by walking in My precepts, by doing works of repentance, by adorning yourselves with all virtues, in order that, like a bride adorned for her husband, you may be worthy to be present at My supper in My Father's kingdom, and to sleep with Me as My elect bride, in the chamber of My Father's heart." O how Christ longs to bring all men thither! This is the meaning of His words: "Where I am there shall also My servant be"; and again: "Father, I will that they may be one even as We are one." O, how incomprehensible is this thirst of Christ! What toil and labour He endured for thirty and three years, for the sake of it! For this His very heart's blood was poured out. See what our tender Lord says to His Father: "The zeal of Thine house hath even eaten Me." Truly, He would have submitted to be crucified a thousand times, rather than allow one soul to perish through any fault of His. O how this inward thirst tormented Him, when He thought that He had done all that He could, and even a hundredfold more than He need have done, and yet that so few had turned to Him, and been won by Him. His whole body was now worn out; all His blood was shed; nothing remained for Him to do; and therefore He was constrained to confess, "It is finished"; and yet by all His labours, afflictions, and sufferings, He had brought no richer harvest to the Father than this. Truly, this was the most bitter of all His sorrows, that after so hard a battle His victory had not been more glorious, and that He returned a conqueror to His Father with so few spoils. Therefore, all those who do not refresh Him by performing His will, and doing all that is pleasing and honourable to Him, and withstanding all that reason tells them to be displeasing to Him, will one day hear Him say, "I was thirsty, and ye gave Me no drink. Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire."

Fourthly, there is yet another inward meaning of this word--namely, that Christ spoke it out of the love which inwardly draws Him towards all men, thus making known to us His ardent love, and opening His own heart, as a delightful couch, on which we may feed pleasantly, and inviting us to it, saying, "I thirst for you." For as the liquid which we drink is sent down pleasantly through the throat into the body, and so passes into the substance and nature of our body, so Christ out of the ardent thirst of His love, takes spiritual pleasure in drinking in all men into Himself, swallowing them, as it were, and incorporating them into Himself, and bringing them into the secret chamber of His loving heart. Therefore He says: "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me"--all men, that is, who allow themselves to be drawn by Me, and submit to Me as obedient instruments, suffering Me to do with them according to My gracious will. But those who resist Him quench not His thirst, but give Him a bitter draught instead, even the deeds of their own self-will. These, when our Lord tasteth them, He straightway rejects.


THE SIXTH WORD
WHEN Christ had tasted the draught of vinegar and gall, He spoke the sixth word: "It is finished." Thereby He signified that by His Passion had been fulfilled all the prophecies, types, mysteries, scriptures, sacrifices, and promises, which had been predicted and written about Him. This is that true Son of God, for whom the Father of heaven made ready a supper in the kingdom of His eternal blessedness; and He sent His servant--that is the human nature of Christ, coming in the form of a servant, to call them that were bidden to the wedding. For Christ, when He took human nature upon Him, was not only a servant but a servant of servants, and served all of us for thirty and three years with great toil and suffering. Indeed, He spent His whole life in bidding all men to His supper. It was for this that He preached, and wrought miracles, and travelled from place to place, and proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, and that all should be prepared for it. But they would not come. And when the Father of the household heard this, He said to His Servant: "Compel them to come in, that My house may be filled." Then that Servant thought within Himself: "How shall I be able without violence to compel these men to come, that rebellion may be avoided and yet that their privilege and power of free will may remain unimpaired? For if I compel them to come by iron chains, and blows, and whips, I shall have asses and not men." Then He said to Himself: "I perceive that man is so constituted as to be prone to love. Therefore I will show him such love as shall pass all his understanding, love than which no other love can be greater. If man will observe this, he will be so caught in its toils, that he will not be able to escape its heat and flame, and will be constrained to turn to God, and love Him in return. For, turn where he will, he will always be met by the immeasurable benefits, the infinite goodness, and the wonderful love of God; and at the same time he will feel more and more compelled to return love for love, till he will be no more able to resist it, and will be gently constrained to follow. When this was done, Jesus Christ, this faithful and wise Servant, said to His Lord and Father, "It is finished. I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do. What more could I have done, and have not done it? I have no member left that is not weary and worn with toil and pain. My veins are dry, My blood is shed; My marrow is spent, My throat is hoarse with crying. Such love have I shown to man, that his heart cannot be human, cannot even be stony, or the heart of a brute beast, but must be quite devilish and desperate, if it be not moved by the thought of these things."

Moreover, this word of our Lord Jesus is a word of sorrow, not of joy. He spoke it not as if He had now escaped from all His suffering. No; when He said, "It is finished," He meant all that had been ordained and decreed by the eternal Truth for Him to suffer. Besides, all the sufferings which had been inflicted upon Him by degrees and singly, He now endures together with immeasurable anguish. Who can have such a heart of adamant as not to be moved by such torment as this? How short were the words which our Lord Jesus spoke on the Cross, yet how full of sacramental mysteries! Now were fulfilled the words of Exodus: "And all things were finished which belonged to the sacrifice of the Lord."

Moreover by this word our Lord declared the glorious victory of the Passion, and how the old enemy, the jealous serpent, was overcome and thrown down; for this was the cause for which He suffered. For this He had taken upon Himself the garment of human nature, that He might vanquish and confound the enemy, by the same weapons wherewith the enemy boasted that he had conquered man. This was the chief purpose of His Passion, and now He confesses that it is finished. O how wonderful are the mysteries, and the victories, included in this little but deep word: "It is finished!" All that the eternal Wisdom had decreed, all that strict justice had demanded for each man, all that love had asked for, all the promises made to the fathers, all the mysteries, types, ceremonies in Scripture, all that was meet and necessary for our redemption, all that was needed to wipe out our debts, all that must repair our negligences, all that was glorious and loving for the exhibition of this splendid love, all that we could desire, for our spiritual instruction--in a word, all that was good and fitting for the celebration of the glorious triumph of our redemption, all is included in that one word, "It is finished." What, then, remains for Him, but to finish and perfect His life in this glorious conflict; and, because nothing remains for Him to do, to commend His precious soul into His Father's hands, seeing that He has fought the good fight, and finished His course in all holiness? It is meet, then, that He should obtain the crown of glory which His heavenly Father will give Him on the day of His exaltation.

Lastly, by this word Christ offered up all His toil, sorrow, and affliction for all the elect, as the Apostle saith: "Who in the days of His flesh offered up prayer and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared. For if the blood of bulls and of goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge our conscience from dead works to serve the living God?"


THE SEVENTH WORD
OUR Lord Jesus cried again with a loud voice, and said, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit." O all ye who love our Lord Jesus Christ, come, I beseech you, and let us watch, with all devotion and pity, His passing away. Let us see what must have been His sorrow and agony and torment, when His glorious soul was now at last forced to pass out of His worthy and most sacred body, in which for thirty and three years it had rested so sweetly, peacefully, joyfully, and holily, even as two lovers on one bed. How hard was it for them to be rent asunder, between whom no disagreement had ever arisen, no strife, or quarrel, or treachery. How unspeakably grievous was that Cross, when His sacred body was compelled to part with so faithful a friend, so gentle an occupant, so loving a teacher and master; and how great was the sorrow with which His glorious and pure soul was torn away from so faithful a servant, which had ever served obediently, never sparing any trouble, never shrinking from cold or heat or hunger or thirst; always enduring labour and sorrow in gentleness and patience. O how great was this affliction! For, as the philosopher says: "Of all terrible things death is the most terrible, on account of the natural and mutual affection, which is very great, between soul and body." How much greater must have been the anguish and sorrow, when the most holy soul and body of Christ were sundered, between which there had always been such wonderful harmony and love. Therefore, with inward pity and anxious sorrow, let us meditate on this sad parting; for the death of Christ is our life.

Let us meditate devoutly how His sacred body, the instrument of our salvation, was steeped in anguish, when all His members, as if to bid a last farewell, were bowing themselves down to die! Who can look without remorse and sorrow and pity upon the most gracious face of Christ, and behold how it is changed into the pallor and likeness of death; how tears still flow from His dimmed eyes; how His sacred head is bent; how all His members prove to us, by signs and motions, the love which they can no longer show by deeds. Let us pity Him, I pray you, for He is our own flesh and blood, and it is for our sins, not His own, that He is shamefully slain. O ye who up till now have passed by the Cross of Jesus with tepid or cold hearts, and whom all these torments and tears, and His blood shed like water, have not been able to soften; now at last let this loud voice, this terrible cry, rend and pierce your hearts through and through. Let that voice which shook the heaven and the earth and hell with fear, which rent the rocks and laid open ancient graves, now soften your stony hearts, and lay bare the old sepulchres of your conscience, full of dead men's bones--that is to say, of wicked deeds, and call again into life your departed spirits. For this is the voice which once cried: "Adam, where art thou; and what hast thou done?" This is the voice which brought Lazarus from Hades, saying, "Lazarus, come forth: arise from the grave of sin, and let them free thee from thy grave-clothes." Truly it was not so much the grievousness of His sufferings, as the greatness of our sins, which made our Lord utter this cry. He cried also, to show that He had the dominion over life and death, over the living and the dead. For though he was quite worn out, and destitute of strength, and though He had borne the bitter pangs of death so long, beyond the power of man, yet He would not allow Death to put forth its power against Him, until it pleased Him.

With a loud voice He cried, that earthly men, who care only for the things of earth, might quake with fear and trembling, and to cause them to meditate and see how naked and helpless the Lord of lords departed from this life. With a terrible voice He cried, to stir up all those who live in wantonness, and who have grown old in their defilement, and send forth a foul savour, like dead dogs, so that at last these miserable men may rise from their lusts and pleasures and sensual delights, and see how the Son of God, who was never strained with any spot of defilement, went forth to His Father; and with what toil and pain and anguish He departed from the light of day, and what He had to suffer before He reached his Father's Kingdom. He also cried with a loud voice, that He might inflame the lukewarm and slothful to devotion and love.

Moreover He cried with a loud voice as a sign of the glorious victory which He had gained, when after a single combat with His strong and cruel enemy, and having descended into the arena--the battlefield of this world--He had routed him on Mount Calvary and stripped him bare of his spoils. This victory, this glorious triumph, Christ proclaimed with a loud voice, and thus departing from the battlefield triumphant and victorious, He departed to the place of all delights, to the heart and breast of God, His Father, commending to it, as to a safe refuge, both Himself and all His own, with the words, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit."

We may learn from these words that the eternal Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, had been let down like a fishing-hook or great net, by the Father of heaven, into the great sea of this world, that He might catch not fish but men. Hear how He says: "My word, that goeth forth out of My mouth shall not return unto Me void, but shall execute that which I please, and shall prosper in the thing whereto I send it." And this net is drawn by the Father out of the salt sea, to the peaceful shore of His fatherly heart, full of the elect, of works of charity, of repentance, patience, humility, obedience, spiritual exercises, merits and virtues. For Christ drew unto Himself all the afflictions and good deeds of the good; just as St Paul says, "I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." Even so, Christ lives in all the good, and all who have been willing and obedient instruments in the hands of Christ. In all such Christ lives and suffers and works. For whatever good there is in all men, is all God's work. Therefore Christ, feeling His Father drawing Him, gathered together in Himself in a wonderful manner all the elect with all their works, and commended them to His Father, saying, "My Father, these are Thine; these are the spoils which I have won by My conquest, by the sword of the Cross; these are the vessels which I have purchased with My precious blood; these are the fruits of My labours. Keep in Thine own name those whom Thou hast given Me. I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil." Thus did Christ commend Himself and all His own into His Father's hands. Come therefore, O faithful and devout soul, and contemplate with great earnestness the coming in and the going out of thy Lord Jesus; follow Him with love and longing, even to the chamber and bed of joy, which He has prepared for thee in thy Father's heart. Happy would he be, who could now be dissolved with Christ, and die with the thief, and hear from the lips of the Lord that comfortable word, "This day shalt thou be with Me in paradise." And though this is not granted to us, yet whatever we can here gain by labours and watchings and fastings and prayers, let us commend it all with Christ to the Father; let us pour it back again into the fountain, whence it flowed forth for us; and let nothing be left in us of empty self-satisfaction, no seeking after human praise or honour or reward. But whatever our God hath been willing to do in us, let us return it back into His own hands and say, "We are nothing of ourselves. It is He who made us, and not we ourselves. All good was made by Him, and without Him was not anything made. When therefore He taketh with Him what He made Himself, we are absolutely nothing."

Lastly, Christ commended His soul into His Father's hands, to show us how the souls of good and holy men mount up after Him to the bosom of the eternal Father, who must otherwise have gone down to hell; for it is He who has opened to us the way of life, and His sacred soul, by making the journey safe and free from danger, has been our guide into the kingdom of heaven.


SUSO
SUSO AND HIS SPIRITUAL DAUGHTER
AFTER this, certain very high thoughts arose in the mind of the servitor's spiritual daughter, concerning which she asked him whether she might put questions to him. He replied, Yea verily: since thou hast been led through the proper exercises, it is permitted to thy spiritual intelligence to enquire about high things. Ask then whatever thou wilt. She said: Tell me, father, what is God, and how He is both One and Three? The servitor replied, These be indeed high questions. As to the first, What is God, you must know that all the Doctors who ever lived cannot explain it, for He is above all sense and reason. Yet if a man is diligent, and does not relax his efforts, he gains some knowledge of God, though very far off. Yet in this knowledge of God consists our eternal life and man's supreme happiness. In this way, in former times, certain worthy philosophers searched for God, and especially that great thinker Aristotle, who tried to discover the Author of Nature from the order of nature and its course. He sought earnestly, and he was convinced from the well-ordered course of nature that there must of necessity be one Prince and Lord of the whole universe--He whom we call God. About this God and Lord we know this much, that He is an immortal Substance, eternal, without before or after, simple, bare, unchangeable, an incorporeal and essential Spirit, whose substance is life and energy, whose most penetrating intelligence knows all things in and by itself, whose essence in itself is an abyss of pleasures and joys, and who is to Himself, and to all who shall enjoy Him in a future life, a supernatural, ineffable, and most sweet happiness. The maiden, when she heard this, looked up, and said: These things are sweet to tell and sweet to hear, for they rouse the heart, and lift the spirit up far beyond itself. Therefore, father, tell me more about these things. The servitor said: The Divine Essence, about which we speak, is an intelligible or intellectual Substance of such a kind, that it cannot be seen in itself by mortal eyes; but it can be discerned in its effects, even as we recognise a fine artist by his works. As the Apostle teaches us, "The invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made." For the creatures are a kind of mirror, in which God shines. This knowledge is called speculation, by which we contemplate the great Architect of the world in His works. Come now, look upward and about thee, through all the quarters of the universe, and see how wide and high the beautiful heaven is, how swift its motion, and how marvellously its Creator has adorned it with the seven planets, and with the countless multitude of the twinkling stars. Consider what fruitfulness, what riches, the sun bestows upon the earth, when in summer it sheds abroad its rays unclouded! See how the leaves and grass shoot up, and the flowers smile, and the woods and plains resound with the sweet song of nightingales and other birds; how all the little animals, after being imprisoned by grim winter, come forth rejoicing, and pair; and how men and women, both old and young, rejoice and are merry. O Almighty God, if Thou art so lovable and so pleasant in Thy creatures, how happy and blessed, how full of all joy and beauty, must Thou be in Thyself? But further, my daughter, contemplate the elements themselves--Earth, Water, Air, and Fire, with all the wonderful things which they contain in infinite variety--men, beasts, birds, fishes, and sea-monsters. And all of these give praise and honour to the unfathomable immensity that is in Thee. Who is it, Lord, who preserves all these things, who nourishes them? It is Thou who providest for all, each in his own way, for great and small, rich and poor. Thou, O God, doest this; Thou alone art God indeed! Behold, my daughter, thou hast now found the God whom thou hast sought so long. Look up, then, with shining eyes, with radiant face and exulting heart, behold Him and embrace Him with the outstretched arms of thy soul and mind, and give thanks to Him as the one and supreme Lord of all creatures. By gazing on this mirror, there springs up speedily, in one of loving and pious disposition, an inward jubilation of the heart; for by this is meant a joy which no tongue can tell, though it pours with might through heart and soul. Alas, I now feel within me, that I must open for thee the closed mouth of my soul; and I am compelled, for the glory of God, to tell thee certain secrets, which I never yet told to any one. A certain Dominican, well known to me, at the beginning of his course used to receive from God twice every day, morning and evening, for ten years, an outpouring of grace like this, which lasted about as long as it would take to say the "Vigils of the Dead" twice over.40 At these times he was so entirely absorbed in God, the eternal Wisdom, that he would not speak of it. Sometimes he would converse with God as with a friend, not with the mouth, but mentally; at other times he would utter piteous sighs to Him; at other times he would weep copiously, or smile silently. He often seemed to himself to be flying in the air, and swimming between time and eternity in the depth of the Divine wonders, which no man can fathom. And his heart became so full from this, that he would sometimes lay his hand upon it as it beat heavily, saying, "Alas, my heart, what labours will befall thee to-day?" One day it seemed to him that the heart of his heavenly Father was, in a spiritual and indescribable manner, pressed tenderly, and with nothing between, against his heart; and that the Father's heart--that is, the eternal Wisdom, spoke inwardly to his heart without forms.41 Then he began to exclaim joyously in spiritual jubilation: Behold, now, Thou whom I most fervently love, thus do I lay bare my heart to Thee, and in simplicity and nakedness of all created things I embrace Thy formless Godhead! O God, most excellent of all friends! Earthly friends must needs endure to be distinct and separate from those whom they love; but Thou, O fathomless sweetness of all true love, meltest into the heart of Thy beloved, and pourest Thyself fully into the essence of his soul, that nothing of Thee remains outside, but Thou art joined and united most lovingly with Thy beloved.

To this the maiden replied: Truly it is a great grace, when anyone is thus caught up into God. But I should like to be informed, whether this is the most perfect kind of union or not? The servitor answered: No, it is not the most perfect, but a preliminary, gently drawing a man on, that he may arrive at an essential way of being carried up into God. The maiden asked him what he meant by essential and non-essential. He answered: I call that man essential or habitual (so to speak), who by the good and persevering practice of all the virtues, has arrived at the point of finding the practice of them in their highest perfection pleasant to him, even as the brightness of the sun remains constant in the sun. But I call him non-essential, in whom the brightness of the virtues shines in an unstable and imperfect way like the brightness of the moon. That full delight of grace which I described is so sweet to the spirit of the non-essential man, that he would be glad always to have it. When he has it, he rejoices; when he is deprived of it, he grieves inordinately; and when it smiles upon him, he is reluctant to pass to doing other things, even things that are pleasing to God; as I will show you by an example. The servitor of the Divine Wisdom was once walking in the chapter-house, and his heart was full of heavenly jubilation, when the porter called him out to see a woman who wished to confess to him. He was unwilling to interrupt his inward delight, and received the porter harshly, bidding him tell the woman that she must find some one else to confess to, for he did not wish to hear her confession just then. She, however, being oppressed with the burden of her sins, said that she felt specially drawn to seek comfort from him, and that she would confess to no one else. And when he still refused to go out, she began to weep most sadly, and going into a corner, lamented greatly. Meanwhile, God quickly withdrew from the servitor the delights of grace, and his heart became as hard as flint. And when he desired to know the cause of this, God answered him inwardly: Even as thou hast driven away uncomforted that poor woman, so have I withdrawn from thee my Divine comfort. The servitor groaned deeply and beat his breast, and hurried to the door, and as he did not find the woman there, was much distressed. The porter, however, looked about for her everywhere, and when he found her, still weeping, bade her return to the door. When she came, the servitor received her gently, and comforted her sorrowing heart. Then he went back from her to the chapter-house, and immediately God was with him, with His Divine consolations, as before.

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