Light, life, and love selections from the German Mystics



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Wisdom. Thou must by no means despair; it was for thy sins and those of others that I came into this world, that I might restore thee to Thy heavenly Father, and bring thee back to greater glory and honour than thou ever hadst before.

Servitor. Ah, what is this, which whispers such flattering things to a soul that is dead, abhorred, rejected?

Wisdom. Dost thou not know Me? Why art thou so despondent? Art thou beside thyself with excessive grief, My dearest son? Knowest thou not that I am Wisdom, most gentle and tender, in whom is the Abyss of infinite mercy, never yet explored perfectly even by all the saints, but none the less open to thee and all other sorrowing hearts. I am he who for thy sake willed to be poor and an exile, that I might recall thee to thy former honour. I am He who bore a bitter death, that I might restore thee to life. I am thy Brother; I am thy Bridegroom. I have put away all the wrong that thou ever didst against Me, even as if it had never been, only henceforth, thou must turn wholly to Me, and never again forsake Me. Wash away thy stains in My blood. Lift up thy head, open thine eyes, and take heart. In token of reconciliation, take this ring and put it on thy finger as My bride, put on this robe, and these shoes on thy feet, and receive this sweet and loving name, that thou mayst both be and be called for ever My bride. Thou has cost Me much labour and pain; for that cause, the Abyss of My mercy toward thee is unfathomable.

Servitor. O kindest Father, O sweetest Brother, O only joy of my heart, wilt Thou be so favourable to my unworthy soul? What is this grace? What is the Abyss of Thy clemency and mercy? From the bottom of my heart I thank Thee, O heavenly Father, and beseech Thee by Thy beloved Son, whom Thou hast willed to suffer a cruel death for love, to forget my impieties. . . .

Now, O Lord, I remember that most loving word, wherewith in the book of Ecclesiasticus43 Thou drawest us to Thyself. "Come to me, all ye who desire me, and be filled with my fruits. I am the mother of beautiful affection. My breath is sweeter than honey, and my inheritance above honey and the honeycomb." "Wine and music rejoice the heart, and above both is the love of Wisdom."44 Of a surety, O Lord, Thou showest Thyself so lovable and desirable, that it is no wonder that the hearts of all long for Thee, and are tormented by the desire of Thee. Thy words breathe love, and flow so sweetly, that in many hearts the love of temporal things has wholly dried up. Therefore, I greatly long to hear Thee speak of Thy lovableness. Come, O Lord, my only comfort, speak to the heart of Thy servant. For I sleep sweetly beneath Thy shadow, and my heart is awake.



Wisdom. Hear, My son, and see; incline thine ear, forgetting thyself and all other things. Lo, I in Myself am that ineffable Good, which is and ever was; which has never been expressed nor ever will be. For although I give Myself to be felt by men in their inmost hearts, yet no tongue can ever declare or explain in words what I am. For verily all the beauty, grace, and adornment which can be conceived by thee or by others, exists in me far more excellently, more pleasantly, more copiously, than any one could say in words. I am the most loving Word of the Father, begotten from the pure substance of the Father, and wondrously pleasing am I to His loving eyes in the sweet and burning love of the Holy Spirit. I am the throne of happiness, the crown of souls: most bright are Mine eyes, most delicate My mouth, My cheeks are red and white, and all My appearance is full of grace and loveliness. All the heavenly host gaze upon Me with wonder and admiration; their eyes are ever fixed upon Me, their hearts rest in Me, their minds turn to Me and turn again. O thrice and four times happy is he, to whom it shall be given to celebrate this play of love amid heavenly joys at My side, holding My tender hands in happiest security, for ever and ever to all eternity. Only the word that proceeds out of My sweet mouth surpasses the melodies of all the angels, the sweet harmony of all harps, and musical instruments of every kind. . . .

Servitor. There are three things, O Lord, at which I marvel greatly. The first is, that although Thou art in Thyself so exceedingly loving, yet towards sin Thou art a most severe judge and avenger. Alas, Thy face in wrath is too terrible; the words which Thou speakest in anger pierce the heart and soul like fire. O holy and adorable God, save me from Thy wrathful countenance, and defer not till the future life my punishment.

Wisdom. I am the unchangeable Good, remaining always the same. The reason why I do not appear always the same, is on account of those who do not behold Me in the same way. By nature I am friendly; yet none the less I punish vice severely, so that I deserve to be feared. From My friends I require a pure and filial fear, and a friendly love, that fear may ever restrain them from sin, and that love may join them to Me in unbroken loyalty.

Servitor. What Thou sayest pleases me, O Lord, and it is as I would have it. But there is another thing at which I greatly marvel--how it is that when the soul is faint from desire of the sweetness of Thy presence, Thou art wholly mute, and dost not utter a single word that can be heard. And who, O Lord, would not be grieved, when Thou showest Thyself so strange, so silent, to the soul that loves Thee above all things?

Wisdom. And yet all the creatures speak of Me.

Servitor. But that is by no means enough for the soul that loves.

Wisdom. Also every word that is uttered about Me is a message of My love; all the voices of holy Scripture that are written about Me are letters of love, sweet as honey. They are to be received as if I had written them Myself. Ought not this to satisfy thee?

Servitor. Nay but, O most holy God, dearest Friend of all to me, Thou knowest well that a heart which is on fire with love is not satisfied with anything that is not the Beloved himself, in whom is its only comfort. Even though all the tongues of all the angelic spirits were to speak to me, none the less would my unquenchable love continue to yearn and strive for the one thing which it desires. The soul that loves Thee would choose Thee rather than the kingdom of heaven. Pardon me, O Lord: it would become Thee to show more kindness to those who love Thee so ardently, who sigh and look up to Thee and say: Return, return! Who anxiously debate with themselves: alas, thinkest thou that thou hast offended Him? That He has deserted thee? Thinkest thou that He will ever restore thee His most sweet presence, that thou wilt ever again embrace Him with the arms of Thy heart, and press Him to thy breast, that all thy grief and trouble may vanish? All this, O Lord, Thou hearest and knowest, and yet Thou art silent.

Wisdom. Certainly I know all this, and I watch it with great pleasure. But I would have thee also answer a few questions, since thy wonder, though veiled, is so great. What is it which gives the greatest joy to the highest of all created spirits?

Servitor. Ah, Lord, this question is beyond my range. I prithee, answer it Thyself.

Wisdom. I will do as thou desirest. The highest angelic spirit finds nothing more desirable or more delightful than to satisfy My will in all things; so much so, that if he knew that it would redound to My praise for him to root out nettles and tares, he would diligently fulfil this task in preference to all others.

Servitor. Of a truth, Lord, this answer of Thine touches me sharply. I perceive that it is Thy will that I should be resigned in the matter of receiving and feeling tokens of Thy love, and that I should seek Thy glory alone, in dryness and hardness as well as in sweetness.

Wisdom. No resignation is more perfect or more excellent, than to be resigned in dereliction.

Servitor. And yet, O Lord, the pain is very grievous.

Wisdom. Wherein is virtue proved, if not in adversity? But be assured, that I often come, and try whether the door into My house is open, but find Myself repulsed. Many times I am received like a stranger, harshly treated, and then driven out of doors. Nay, I not only come to the soul that loves me, but tarry with her like a friend; but that is done so secretly, that none know it save those who live quite detached and separated from men, and observe My ways, and care only to please and satisfy My grace. For according to My Divinity I am purest Spirit, and I am received spiritually in pure spirits.

Servitor. So far as I understand, Lord God, Thou art a very secret Lover. How glad would I be if Thou wouldest give me some signs, by which I might know Thee to be truly present.

Wisdom. By no other way canst thou know the certainty of My presence better, than when I hide Myself from thee, and withdraw what is Mine from thy soul. Then at last thou knowest by experience what I am, and what thou art. Of a surety I am everlasting Good, without whom no one can have anything good. When therefore I impart that immense Good, which is Myself, generously and lovingly, and scatter it abroad, all things to which I communicate Myself are clothed with a certain goodness, by which My presence can be as easily inferred, as that of the Sun, the actual ball of which cannot be seen, by its rays. If therefore thou ever feelest My presence, enter into thyself, and learn how to separate the roses from the thorns, the flowers from the weeds.

Servitor. Lord, I do search, and I find within myself a great diversity. When I am deserted by Thee, my soul is like a sick man, whose taste is spoiled. Nothing pleases me, but all things disgust me. My body is torpid, my mind oppressed; within is dryness, without is sadness. All that I see or hear, however good in reality, is distasteful and hateful to me. I am easily led into sins; I am weak to resist my enemies; I am cold or lukewarm towards all good. Whoever comes to me, finds my house empty. For the House-Father is away, who knows how to counsel for the best, and to inspire the whole household. On the other hand, when the day-star arises in my inmost heart, all the pain quickly vanishes, all the darkness is dispelled, and a great brightness arises and shines forth. My heart laughs, my mind is exalted, my soul becomes cheerful, all things around me are blithe and merry; whatever is around me and within me is turned to Thy praise. That which before seemed hard, difficult, irksome, impossible, becomes suddenly easy and pleasant. To give myself to fasting, watching, and prayer, to suffer or abstain or avoid, in a word all the hardnesses of life seem when compared with Thy presence to have no irksomeness at all. My soul is bathed in radiance, truth, and sweetness, so that all its labours are forgotten. My heart delights itself in abundant sweet meditations, my tongue learns to speak of high things, my body is brisk and ready for any undertaking; whoever comes to ask my advice, takes back with him high counsels such as he desired to hear. In short, I seem to myself to have transcended the limits of time and space, and to be standing on the threshold of eternal bliss. But who, O Lord, can secure for me, that I may be long in this state? Alas, in a moment it is withdrawn from me; and for a long space again I am left as naked and destitute as if I had never experienced anything of the kind; till at last, after many and deep sighings of heart, it is restored to me. Is this Thou, O Lord, or rather I myself? Or what is it?

Wisdom. Of thyself thou hast nothing except faults and defects. Therefore that about which thou askest is I Myself, and this is the play of love.

Servitor. What is the play of love?

Wisdom. So long as the loved one is present with the lover, the lover knoweth not how dear the loved one is to him; it is only separation which can teach him that.

Servitor. It is a very grievous game. But tell me, Lord, are there any who in this life no longer experience these vicissitudes of Thy presence?

Wisdom. You will find very few indeed. For never to be deprived of My presence belongs not to temporal but to eternal life.
APHORISMS AND MAXIMS
ACT according to the truth in simplicity; and, whatever happens, do not help thyself; for he who helps himself too much will not be helped by the Truth.

God wishes not to deprive us of pleasure; but He wishes to give us pleasure in its totality--that is, all pleasure.

Wilt thou be of use to all creatures? Then turn thyself away from all creatures.

If a man cannot comprehend a thing, let him remain quiet, and it will comprehend him.

Say to the creatures, I will not be to thee what thou art to me.

The power of abstaining from things gives us more power than the possession of them would.

Some men one meets who have been inwardly drawn by God, but have not followed Him. The inner man and the outer man in these cases are widely at variance, and in this way many fail.

He who has attained to the purgation of his senses in God performs all the operations of the senses all the better.

He who finds the inward in the outward goes deeper than he who only finds the inward in the inward.

He is on the right road who contemplates under the forms of things their eternal essence.



It is well with a man who has died to self and begun to live in Christ.
THEOLOGIA GERMANICA
SIN AND SELFISHNESS
SIN is nothing else but the turning away of the creature from the unchangeable Good to the changeable; from the perfect to the imperfect, and most often to itself. And when the creature claims for its own anything good, such as substance, life, knowledge, or power, as if it were that, or possessed it, or as if that proceeded from itself, it goeth astray. What else did the devil do, and what was his error and fall, except that he claimed for himself to be something, and that something was his and was due to him? This claim of his--this "I, me, and mine," were his error and his fall. And so it is to this day. For what else did Adam do? It is said that Adam was lost, or fell, because he ate the apple. I say, it was because he claimed something for his own, because of his "I, me, and mine." If he had eaten seven apples, and yet never claimed anything for his own, he would not have fallen: but as soon as he called something his own, he fell, and he would have fallen, though he had never touched an apple. I have fallen a hundred times more often and more grievously than Adam; and for his fall all mankind could not make amends. How then shall my fall be amended? It must be healed even as Adam's fall was healed. And how, and by whom, was that healing wrought? Man could not do it without God, and God could not do it without man. Therefore God took upon Himself human nature; He was made man, and man was made God. Thus was the healing effected. So also must my fall be healed. I cannot do the work without God, and He may not or will not do it without me. If it is to be done, God must be made man in me also; God must take into Himself all that is in me, both within and without, so that there may be nothing in me which strives against God or hinders His work. Now if God took to Himself all men who are or ever lived in the world, and was made man in them, and they were deified in Him, and this work were not accomplished in me, my fall and my error would never be healed unless this were accomplished in me also. And in this bringing back and healing I can and shall do nothing of myself; I shall simply commit myself to God, so that He alone may do and work all things in me, and that I may suffer Him, and all His work, and His divine will. And because I will not do this, but consider myself to be mine own, and "I, me, and mine," and the like, God is impeded, and cannot do His work in me alone and without let or hindrance; this is why my fall and error remain unhealed. All comes of my claiming something for my own. ii., iii.
THE TWO EYES
We should remember the saying that the soul of Christ had two eyes, a right eye and a left eye. In the beginning, when the soul of Christ was created, she fixed her right eye upon eternity and the Godhead, and remained in the full beholding and fruition of the Divine essence and eternal perfection; and thus remained unmoved by all the accidents and labours, the suffering, anguish, and pain, that befell the outer man. But with the left eye she looked upon the creation, and beheld all things that are therein, and observed how the creatures differ from each other, how they are better or worse, nobler or baser; and after this manner was the outer man of Christ ordered. Thus the inner man of Christ, according to the right eye of His soul, stood in the full exercise of His Divine nature, in perfect blessedness, joy, and eternal peace. But the outer man and the left eye of the soul of Christ stood with Him in perfect suffering, in all His tribulations, afflictions and labours; in such a way that the inner or right eye remained unmoved, unimpeded and untouched by all the labour, suffering, woe, and misery that happened to the outer man. It has been said that when Jesus was bound to the pillar and scourged, and when He hung on the cross, according to the outer man, the inner man, a soul according to the right eye, stood in as full possession of Divine joy and blessedness as it did after the ascension, or as it does now. Even so His outer man, or soul according to the left eye, was never impeded, disturbed, or troubled by the inward eye in its contemplation of the outward things which pertained to it. The created soul of man has also two eyes. The one is the power of looking into eternity, the other the power of looking into time and the creatures, of perceiving how they differ from each other, of giving sustenance and other things necessary to the body, and ordering and ruling it for the best. But these two eyes of the soul cannot both perform their office at once; if the soul would look with the right eye into eternity, the left eye must be shut, and must cease to work: it must be as if it were dead. For if the left eye is discharging its office towards outward things--if it is holding conversation with time and the creatures--then the right eye must be impeded in its working, which is contemplation. Therefore, he who would have one must let the other go; for no man can serve two masters. vii.
A FORETASTE OF ETERNAL LIFE
Some have asked whether it is possible for the soul, while it is still in the body, to reach so great a height as to gaze into eternity, and receive a foretaste of eternal life and blessedness. This is commonly denied; and in a sense the denial is true. For indeed it cannot come about, so long as the soul is occupied with the body, and the things which minister to the body and belong to it, and to time and created things, and is disturbed and troubled and distracted by them. For the soul that would mount to such a state, must be quite pure, entirely stripped and bare of all images; it must be wholly separate from all creatures, and above all from itself. Many think that this is impossible in this present life. But St Dionysius claims that it is possible, as we find from his words in his letter to Timothy, where he says: "In order to behold the hidden things of God, thou shalt forsake sense and the things of the flesh, and all that can be perceived by the senses, and all that reason can bring forth by her own power, and all things created and uncreated which reason can know and comprehend, and thou shalt stand upon an utter abandonment of thyself, as if thou knewest none of those things which I have mentioned, and thou shalt enter into union with Him who is, and who is above all existence and knowledge." If he did not think this to be possible in this present time, why did he teach it and urge it upon us in this present time? But you ought to know that a master has said, about this passage of St Dionysius, that it is possible, and may come to a man so often that he may become accustomed to it, and be able to gaze into eternity whenever he will. And a single one of these glances is better, worthier, higher, and more pleasing to God than all that the creature can do as a creature. He who has attained to it asks for nothing more, for he has found the kingdom of heaven and eternal life here on earth. viii.
DESCENT INTO HELL
Even as the soul of Christ had to descend into hell, before it ascended into heaven, so must the soul of man. And mark how this comes to pass. When a man truly perceives and considers who and what he is, and finds himself wholly base and wicked, and unworthy of all the consolation and kindness that he ever received, either from God or from the creatures, he falls into such a profound abasement and contempt for himself, that he thinks himself unworthy to walk upon the earth; he feels that he deserves that all creatures should rise against him and avenge their Maker upon him with punishments and torments; nay, even that were too good for him. And therefore he will not and dare not desire any consolation or release, either from God or any creature; he is willing to be unconsoled and unreleased, and he does not lament for his condemnation and punishment, for they are right and just, and in accordance with God's will. Nothing grieves him but his own guilt and wickedness; for that is not right, and is contrary to God's will: for this reason he is heavy and troubled. This is the meaning of true repentance for sin. And the man who in this life enters into this hell, enters afterwards into the kingdom of heaven, and has a foretaste of it which exceeds all the delights and happiness which he has ever had, or could have, from the things of time. But while a man is in this hell, no one can comfort him, neither God, nor the creatures. Of this condition it has been written, "Let me die, let me perish! I live without hope; from within and from without I am condemned, let no man pray for my deliverance." Now God has not forsaken a man, while he is in this hell, but He is laying His hand upon him, that he may desire nothing but the eternal Good only, and may discover that this is so noble and exceedingly good, that its blessedness cannot be searched out nor expressed, comfort and joy, peace, rest, and satisfaction. When, therefore, the man cares for and seeks and desires the eternal Good and nought beside, and seeks not himself, nor his own things, but the glory of God only, he is made to partake of every kind of joy, blessedness, peace, rest, and comfort, and from that time forward is in the kingdom of God.

This hell and this heaven are two good safe ways for a man in this present life, and he is happy who truly finds them. For this hell shall pass away, but this heaven shall abide for evermore. Let a man also observe, that when he is in this hell, nothing can console him; and he cannot believe that he shall ever be delivered or comforted. But when he is in heaven, nothing can disturb him: he believes that no one will ever be able to offend or trouble him again, though it is indeed possible that he may again be troubled and left unconsoled.



This heaven and hell come upon a man in such a way, that he knows not whence they come; and he can do nothing himself towards making them either come or depart. He can neither give them to himself, nor take them away from himself, neither bring them nor drive them away; even as it is written, "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth." And when a man is in either of these two states, all is well with him, and he is as safe in hell as in heaven. And while a man is in the world, it is possible for him to pass many times from the one state into the other--even within a day and night, and without any motion of his own. But when a man is in neither of these two states, he holds intercourse with the creatures, and is carried this way and that, and knows not what manner of man he is. A man should therefore never forget either of these states, but carry the memory of them in his heart. xi.
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