On Cleaving to God

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On Cleaving to God
De Adhaerendo Deo


St. Albert the Great, Doctor of the Church
D. Alberti Magni

translated by John Richards

Latin and English Edition
Prepared for Saints' Books

Translator’s Introduction

This famous and much loved little treatise, On Cleaving to God, (De Adhaerendo Deo) has always been attributed to Saint Albert the Great, who lived from about 1200 to 1280, and was one of the most respected theologians of his time. He was moreover a voluminous writer in the scholastic tradition, and, amongst other things, Bishop of Ratisbonne and one of the teachers of Eckhart at Paris University. The Latin text of which this is a translation is found in volume 37 of his Opera Omnia published in Paris in 1898.

However almost all modern scholars are agreed that the work could not have been written by him, at least certainly not in its present form. It contains many implicit references and quotations from writers who lived well after Albert the Great. It is quite clear from the opening words of the treatise that it is in essence the private anthology of a contemplative or would-be contemplative, culled from many different sources, and including thoughts of his own. From the references included, it would seem to belong, at least in its present form to an unknown writer of the fifteenth century. However, it has often been pointed out that the first nine chapters seem to be of a somewhat different character to the remaining seven. Indeed most of the directly contemplative and mystical material in the work is contained in this first half, while the second section is concerned largely with more general matters of ordinary Christian piety. It has therefore been suggested that it is perhaps possible that a later hand has to some extent reworked and extended an original, shorter text, that could perhaps even go back to Albert the Great. Albert, we know, wrote a commentary on the teachings of the famous St. Dionysius, and this work, particularly in the first nine chapters is full of “Dionysian” themes. This could indicate that these chapters at least may belong to Albert the Great, or, alternatively, it could explain how it came to be attributed to him. The fact remains, whichever way round, that the work stands on its own merits as a classic of Western contemplative mysticism in the Via Negativa tradition. It has indeed been frequently called a supplement to the Imitation of Christ.

In view of all these considerations, and in view of the fact that the work has always been attributed to Albert the Great (and all libraries and catalogues include it under his name), I have felt it best to leave it attached to his name, though with the above reservations. After all, Anonymous has dozens of works attributed to him that were actually written by someone else, so perhaps for once it is only fair to attribute an anonymous work to an actual person. Anyone who has ever tried to look for a work by Anonymous in a big library catalogue will, I feel confident, be grateful to me!

Like Anonymous, I lay no claims to copyright on this translation. I commit it, and a copy of the Latin original, to the deep in sure and certain hope that it will do its own work.

John Richards

On the highest and supreme perfection of man, in so far as it is possible in this life

De ultima et summa perfectione hominis, quantum in hac vita possibile est.

I have had the idea of writing something for myself on and about the state of complete and full abstraction from everything and of cleaving freely, confidently, nakedly and firmly to God alone, so as to describe it fully (in so far as it is possible in this abode of exile and pilgrimage), especially since the goal of Christian perfection is the love by which we cleave to God. In fact everyone is obligated, to this loving cleaving to God as necessary for salvation, in the form of observing the commandments and conforming to the divine will, and the observation of the commandments excludes everything that is contrary to the nature and habit of love, including mortal sin. Members of religious orders have committed themselves in addition to evangelical perfection, and to the things that constitute a voluntary and counselled perfection by means of which one may arrive more quickly to the supreme goal which is God. The observation of these additional commitments excludes as well the things that hinder the working and fervour of love, and without which one can come to God, and these include the renunciation of all things, of both body and mind, exactly as one’s vow of profession entails. Since indeed the Lord God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth, in other words, by knowledge and love, that is, understanding and desire, stripped of all images. This is what is referred to in Matthew 6.6, ‘When you pray, enter into your inner chamber,’ that is, your inner heart, ‘and having closed the door,’ that is of your senses, and there with a pure heart and a clear conscience, and with faith unfeigned, ‘pray to your Father,’ in spirit and in truth, ‘in secret.’ This can be done best when a man is disengaged and removed from everything else, and completely recollected within himself. There, in the presence of Jesus Christ, with everything, in general and individually, excluded and wiped out, the mind alone turns in security confidently to the Lord its God with its desire. In this way it pours itself forth into him in full sincerity with its whole heart and the yearning of its love, in the most inward part of all its faculties, and is plunged, enlarged, set on fire and dissolved into him.

Cogitavi mihi aliquid ultimate (in quantum possibile est in hujus exsilii et peregrinationis immoratione) depingere, scriptando de et super ab omnibus plena et possibili abstractione, et cum solo Domino Deo expedita, secura, et nuda firmaque adhaesione: praesertim cum ipsius Christianae perfectionis finis sit charitas, qua Domino Deo adhaeretur. Ad quam quidem adhaesionem charitativam omnis homo de necessitate salutis tenetur, quod fit praeceptorum observantia, et divinae voluntatis conformitate: quorum observantia excludit omne quod repugnat charitatis essentiae et habitui, cujusmodi sunt peccata mortalia. Religiosi vero adstrinxerunt se etiam ad Evangelicam perfectionem, atque ad ea quae supererogationis et consilii sunt, per quae expeditius ad ultimum finem, qui Deus est, pervenitur: per quorum observantiam excluduntur ea etiam quae impediunt actum seu fervorem charitatis, quo minus possit quis in Dominum Deum ferri, cujusmodi sunt abrenumtiatio omnium rerum, corporis insuper et animae, professionis dumtaxat voto excepto. Quoniam quidem Spiritus cum sit Dominus Deus, et eos, qui adorant eum, in spiritu et veritate oportet adorare, id est, cognitione et amore, intellectu et affectu, aab omnibus phantasmatibus nudis. Hinc est et illud Matthaei, vi. 6: Cum oraveris, intra in cubiculum tuum, id est, cordis tui intima: et clauso ostio, scilicet sensuum tuorum, et inibi corde puro, et conscientia bona, et fide non ficta, ora Patrem tuum, in spiritu et veritate, in abscondito. Quos tunc congrue fit, cum homo ab omnibus aliis fuerit exoccupatus et exutus, et totus intra se receptus: ubi universis et singulis exclusis et oblitis, coram Jesu Christo, tacito ore, sola mens desideria sua secure Domino Deo suo fiducialiter pandit, ac per hoc toto cordis et amoris affectu se in eum intimissimis medullis omnium virium suarum sincerissime ac plenissime diffundit, et immergit, dilatat et inflammat, et resolvit in se.

How one can cling to and seek Christ alone, disdaining everything else

Qualiter quis, omnibus aliis spretis, soli Christo inhaereat et intendat?
Certainly, anyone who desires and aims to arrive at and remain in such a state must needs above all have eyes and senses closed and not be inwardly involved or worried about anything, nor concerned or occupied with anything, but should completely reject all such things as irrelevant, harmful and dangerous. Then he should withdraw himself totally within himself and not pay any attention to any object entering the mind except Jesus Christ, the wounded one, alone, and so he should turn his attention with care and determination through him into him - that is, though the man into God, through the wounds of his humanity into the inmost reality of his divinity. Here he can commit himself and all that he has, individually and as a whole, promptly, securely and without discussion, to God’s unwearying providence, in accordance with the words of Peter, cast all your care upon him (1 Peter 5.7), who can do everything. And again, In nothing be anxious (Philippians 4.6), or what is more, Cast your burden upon the Lord, and he will sustain you. (Psalm 55.22) Or again, It is good for me to hold fast to God, (Ps. 73.28) and I have always set up God before me. (Psalm 16.8) The bride too in the Song of Songs says, I have found him whom my soul loves, (Canticle 3.4) and again, All good things came to me along with her. (Wisdom 7.11) This, after all, is the hidden heavenly treasure, none other than the pearl of great price, which must be sought with resolution, esteeming it in humble faithfulness, eager diligence, and calm silence before all things, and preferring it even above physical comfort, or honour and renown. For what good does it do a religious if he gains the whole world but suffers the loss of his soul? Or what is the benefit of his state of life, the holiness of his profession, the virtue of his habit and tonsure, or the outer circumstances of his way of life if he is without a life of spiritual humility and truth in which Christ abides through a faith created by love. This is what Luke means by, the Kingdom of God (that is, Jesus Christ) is within you. (Luke 17.21)

Verumtamen quicumque talem statum aggredi et ingredi desiderat et satagit, opus est omnino, ut velut clausis oculis et sensibus, de nulla re se penitus implicet aut perturbet, sollicitus sit aut curet: sed cuncta tamquam impertinentia et noxia ac perniciosa funditus excutiat: deinde se totum intra se recipiat, nec aliud umquam objectum inibi mente attendat, quam solum Jesum Christum vulneratum: sicque per eum in eum, id est, per hominem in Deum, per vulnera humanitatis ad intima divinitatis suae, sedulo et obnixe intendat: ibique se suaque singula ac cuncta, indiscusse, suae infatigabili providentiae committat expedite et secure, juxta illud Petri: Omnem sollicitudinem vestram projicientes in eum, qui potest omnia. Et iterum: Nihil solliciti sitis. Et rursus: Jacta super Dominum curam tuam, et ipse te enutriet. Et iterum: Mihi adhaerere Deo bonum est. Et: Providebam Dominum in conspectu meo semper. Et sponsa in Canticis: Inveni quem diligit anima mea: quippe venerunt mihi omnia bona pariter cum illa. Nempe hic est thesaurus ille coelestis absconditus, nec non margarita pretiosa, quae prae omnibus comparata fiducia humili, conatu instantissimo, taciturnitate tranquilla, etiam usque ad corporalis commodi, laudis vel honoris jacturam, in fortitudine spiritus quaeritur. Alioquin quid proficit religiosus, si totum mundum lucretur, et animae suae detrimentum patiatur? Aut quid relevat status, professionis sanctitas, perfectionis habitus, tonsura, et exterioris dispositio conversationis, sine vita in spiritu humilitatis et veritatis, ubi Christus habitat per fidem charitate formatam? Hinc est illud Lucae xvii.21: Regnum Dei intra vos est, quod est Christus Jesus.

What the perfection of man consist of in this life

Quae sit conformitas perfectionis hominis in hac vita?
Now the more the mind is concerned about thinking and dealing with what is merely lower and human, the more it is separated from the experience in the intimacy of devotion of what is higher and heavenly, while the more fervently the memory, desire and intellect is withdrawn from what is below to what is above, the more perfect will be our prayer, and the purer our contemplation, since the two directions of our interest cannot both be perfect at the same time, being as different as light and darkness. He who cleaves to God is indeed translated into the light, while he who clings to the world is in the dark. So the supreme perfection of man in this life is to be so united to God that all his soul with all its faculties and powers are so gathered into the Lord God that he becomes one spirit with him, and remembers nothing except God, is aware of and recognises nothing but God, but with all his desires unified by the joy of love, he rests contentedly in the enjoyment of his Maker alone.

Now the image of God as found in the soul consists of these three faculties, namely reason, memory and will, and so long as they are not completely stamped with God, the soul is not yet deiform in accordance with the initial creation of the soul. For the true pattern of the soul is God, with whom it must be imprinted, like wax with a seal, and carry the mark of his impress. But this can never be complete until the intellect is perfectly illuminated, according to its capacity, with the knowledge of God, who is perfect truth, until the will is perfectly focused on the love of the perfect good, and until the memory is fully absorbed in turning to and enjoying eternal happiness, and in gladly and contentedly resting in it. And since the glory of the beatitude which is achieved in our heavenly homeland consists in the complete fulfilment of these three faculties, it follows that perfect initiation of them is perfection in this life.

Porro quanto plus mens sollicita est ad ista inferiora et humana cogitanda et tractanda, tanto plus a superioribus et coelestibus per devotionis intima elongatur: et quanto ferventius ab inferiorum memoria, affectu et intellectu ad superiora sensus colligitur, tanto perfectior erit oratio, et purior contemplatio: quia simul perfecte non potest esse utrisque intenta, quae sicut lux et tenebrae sunt divisa. Quippe qui Deo adhaeret, versatur in lumine: qui vero mundo adhaeret, in tenebris est. Qua ex re, est hominis in hac vita sublimior perfectio, ita Deo uniri ut tota anima cum omnibus potentiis suis et viribus in Dominum Deum suum sit collecta, ut unus fiat spiritus cum eo, et nihil meminerit nisi Deum, nihil sentiat vel intelligat nisi Deum, et omnes affectiones in amoris gaudio unitae, in sola Conditoris fruitione suaviter quiescant.

Imago enim Dei in his tribus potentiis in anima expressa consistit, videlicet, ratione, memoria, et voluntate. Et quamdiu illae ex toto, Deo impressae non sunt, non est anima deiformis juxta primariam animae creationem. Forma nempe animae Deus est, cui debet imprimi, sicut cera sigillo, et signatum signo signatur. Hoc autem numquam plene fit, nisi cum ratio perfecte juxta capacitatem suam illuminatur ad cognitionem Dei, qui est summa veritas, et voluntas perfecte afficitur ad amandam summam bonitatem, et memoria plene absorbetur ad intuendum et fruendum aeterna felicitate, et ad suaviter et delectabiliter in ea quiescendum. Et quia in horum consummata adeptione consistit gloria beatudinis, quae perficietur in patria, liquet quod istorum perfecta inchoatio est perfectio in hac vita.

How man’s activity should be purely in the intellect and not in the senses

Qualiter operatio humana debeat esse in solo intellectu, et non in sensibus?
Happy therefore is the person who by continual removal of fantasies and images, by turning within, and raising the mind to God, finally manages to dispense with the products of the imagination, and by so doing works within, nakedly and simply, and with a pure understanding and will, on the the simplest of all objects, God. So eliminate from your mind all fantasies, objects, images and shapes of all things other than God, so that, with just naked understanding, intent and will, your practice will be concerned with God himself within you.
For this is the end of all spiritual exercises - to turn the mind to the Lord God and rest in him with a completely pure understanding and a completely devoted will, without the entanglements and fantasies of the imagination. This sort of exercise is not practised by fleshly organs nor by the exterior senses, but by that by which one is indeed a man. For a man is precisely understanding and will. For that reason, in so far as a man is still playing with the products of the imagination and the senses, and holds to them, it is obvious that he has not yet emerged from the motivation and limitations of his animal nature, that is of that which he shares in common with the animals. For these know and feel objects by means of recognised shapes and sense impressions and no more, since they do not possess the higher powers of the soul. But it is different with man, who is created in the image and likeness of God with understanding, will, and free choice, through which he should be directly, purely and nakedly impressed and united with God, and firmly adhere to him.

For this reason the Devil tries eagerly and with all his power to hinder this practice so far as he can, being envious of this in man, since it is a sort of prelude and initiation of eternal life. So he is always trying to draw man’s mind away from the Lord God, now by temptations or passions, now by superfluous worries and pointless cares, now by restlessness and distracting conversation and senseless curiosity, now by the study of subtle books, irrelevant discussion, gossip and news, now by hardships, now by opposition, etc. Such matters may seem trivial enough and hardly sinful, but they are a great hindrance to this holy exercise and practice. Therefore, even if they may appear useful and necessary, they should be rejected, whether great or small, as harmful and dangerous, and put out of our minds. Above all therefore it is necessary that things heard, seen, done and said, and other such things, must be received without adding things from the imagination, without mental associations and without emotional involvement, and one should not let past or future associations, implications or constructs of the imagination form and grow.

For when constructs of the imagination are not allowed to enter the memory and mind, a man is not hindered, whether he be engaged in prayer, meditation, or reciting psalms, or in any other practice or spiritual exercise, nor will they recur again.

So commit yourself confidently and without hesitation, all that you are, and everything else, individually and in general, to the unfailing and totally reliable providence of God, in silence and in peace, and he will fight for you.

He will liberate you and comfort you more fully, more effectively and more satisfactorily than if you were to dream about it all the time, day and night, and were to cast around frantically all over the place with the futile and confused thoughts of your mind in bondage, nor will you wear out your mind and body, wasting your time, and stupidly and pointlessly exhausting your strength.

So accept everything, separately and in general, wherever it comes from and whatever its origin, in silence and peace, and with an equal mind, as coming to you from a father’s hand and his divine providence. So render your imagination bare of the images of all physical things as is appropriate to your state and profession, so that you can cling to him with a bare and undivided mind, as you have so often and so completely vowed to do, without anything whatever being able to come between your soul and him, so that you can pass purely and unwaveringly from the wounds of his humanity into the light of his divinity.

Felix ergo qui per abstersionem continuam phantasmatum et imaginum, ac per introversionem et inibi per sursum ductionem mentis in Deum, tandem aliquando obliviscitur phantasmatum quodammodo, ac per hoc consequentes operatur interius nudo ac simplici ac puro intellectu et affectu circa objectum simplicissimum Deum. Omnia igitur phantasmata, species, imagines, ac formas rerum omnium citra Deum a mente rejicias, ut in solo nudo intellectu et affectu ac voluntate tuum pendeat exercitium circa Deum intra te.

Nempe finis omnium exercitiorum hic est, scilicet intendere et quiescere in Domino Deo intra te per purissimum intellectum, et devotissimum affectum sine phantasmatibus et implicationibus. Hujusmodi autem exercitium non fit in organis carneis, et sensibus exterioribus, sed per quod quis homo est: homo vero quis est intellectu et affectu. Et idcirco quamdiu homo cum phantasmatibus et sensibus ludit, et eis insistit, videtur nondum exisse motus et limites bestialitatis suae, hoc est, illius quod cum bestiis habet commune. Quia illae per phantasmata et per tales sensitivas seu sensibiles species cognoscunt et afficiuntur, et non aliter, eo quod altiorem vim animae non habeant. Secus est de homine, secundum intellectum et affectum et liberum arbitrium, ad Dei imaginem et similitudinem creato, quibus debet Deo immediate, pure et nude imprimi, et uniri, firmiterque inhaerere.

Quamobrem diabolus diligentissime et maxime conatur impedire illud exercitium, quantum potest, ex quo est quodammodo praeambulum et initium vitae aeternae, invidens super hoc homini. Idcirco nititur semper mentem hominis alienare a Domino Deo, nunc per istas, nunc per illas tentationes seu passiones, nunc sollicitudine superflua et cura indiscreta, nunc turbatione, et conversatione dissoluta, curiositateque irrationabili: nunc per studia librorum subtilium, colloquia aliena, rumores et novitatem: nunc per aspera, nunc per contraria, etc. Quae tamen etsi nonnumquam levia et tamquam nulla videantur peccata, tamen magna sunt impedimenta hujus sancti exercitii et operis. Et ideo, etiamsi utilia et necessaria visa fuerint, sive magna sive parva, ut noxia et perniciosa illico sunt rejicienda penitus, et a sensibus propellenda.

Summopere igitur necessarium est, ut audita, visa, facta, et dicta, et caetera similia sine phantasmatibus, imaginibus et occupationibus recipiantur, nec etiam ex consequenti vel antea vel tunc super hoc phantasmata et implicationes formentur et nutriantur. Et ita quando phantasmata non venit ad memoriam et mentem, tunc non impedit hominem, sive in oratione, meditatione, et psalmodia, sive in alia quacumque operatione et exercitatione spirituali, nec rursum iterato occurret ei.

Et sic expedite secureque te totum, etiam plene omnia et singula committe infallibili et certissimae divinae providentiae cum silentio et quiete, et ipse pugnabit pro te: et melius, honestius ac dulcius liberabit te et consolabitur, quam si tu semper die noctuque de hoc continue phantasiareris, et vana vagaque ac captiva mente fatue sic et sic, hinc et inde discurreres errabundus, necnon mente et corpore deficiens tempus perderes, et vires stulte ac irrationabiliter consumeres.

Cuncta ergo et singula, undecumque et qualitercumque occurrentia ortum habeant, sic accipe cum taciturnitate et tranquillitate aequanimiter, quemadmodum de manu paternae divinaeque providentiae tibi venirent. Nuda igitur te a phantasmatibus omnibus rerum corporearum, juxta tui status et professionis exigentiam, ut nuda mente et sincere inhaereas ei cui te multipliciter et totaliter devovisti, ut nihil quodammodo possibile sit medii inter animam tuam et ipsum, ut pure fixeque fluere possis a vulneribus humanitatis in lumen suae divinitatis.

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