CHAPTER VI The third, degree of Truth -- the clearing of the spiritual sight, so that it may gaze on holy and heavenly things. If therefore men practise perseverance in the three matters that have been mentioned viz., the
sorrow of repentance, the longing for righteousness, and works of mercy, they clear their spiritual sight of the three hindrances (1) which either through ignorance, infirmity or disposition they have encountered, and may thus pass on to that direct vision in which the third degree of truth consists. These are the ways that seem good to men at all events to those who are glad when they have done evil and rejoice in most wicked things, (2) and who attempt to cover their sins with the cloak of ignorance or of weakness. (3) But vainly do they whose ignorance or weakness is wilful put forward either of these pleas as an excuse for indulgence in sin. (4) Do you suppose that the first man could successfully plead infirmity of the flesh on the ground that he sinned, not of his own accord, but at the instigation of his wife? 1. The same idea is more fully and finely expressed by St. Bernard in his treatise 'On Conversion' (cap. xv). where he says: 'The clemency of God blots out sin, not indeed so that it shall pass out of the memory, but so that what has been in it as a blemish, shall in future so linger in the memory as to cause no stain.'
2. Prov. ii. 14 (cp. xiv. 12 and xvi. 25).
3. St. Bernard's words here are taken from Ps. cxl. 4.
4. The argument here anticipates that of St. Thomas Aquinas a century later, who says: 'Some things we are under an obligation to know, those, to wit, without the knowledge of which we are unable to accomplish a due act rightly. . . Now it is evident that whoever neglects to have or to do what he ought to have or to do, commits a sin of omission. Wherefore through negligence, ignorance of what one is bound to know is a sin, whereas it is not imputed as a sin to man if he fails to know what he is unable to know . . . it is evident that no invincible ignorance is a sin . . vincible ignorance is a sin, if it be about matters one is bound to know, but not if it be about things one is not bound to know. (Summa Theologica i. 11, Quest. Ixxvi,. Art. 3, Eng. Trans.) Or were the men who stoned the first martyr, and had themselves stopped their ears, excusable on the plea of ignorance? Some people think that they have a natural antipathy to truth, and an inclination to and affection for sin, and that they are overcome by weakness and ignorance. Let such persons turn inclination into aversion, affection into distaste; let them conquer the weakness of the flesh by righteous energy, and dispel ignorance by better education. For if they disregard truth now, when it is needy, naked and weak, they may recognize it to their shame too late, when, coming with full authority and power, it overawes and rebukes them. They will then tremble as they return the vain reply, When did we see thee in need, and did not minister to thee? (1) Surely the Lord whom they now disregard when He seeks sympathy shall be known when he executeth judgments. (2) Finally they look on him whom their pierced (3) as shall also the covetous on him whom they despised. Thus by the tears of penitence, by the pursuit of righteousness and by persistence in works of mercy, is the spiritual sight cleared from all stain, whether due to weakness, ignorance or disposition. 1. Matt. xxv. 44. The various forms of need enumerated by our Lord are summed up in the one word egere 'to be in need'.
2. Ps. ix. 16 (Vulg. 17).
3. John xix. 37. And to it truth promises to reveal itself in its purity. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God. (1) There are then three kinds of degrees of truth; we rise to the first by humble effort, to the second by loving sympathy, to the third by enraptured vision. In the first truth is revealed in severity, in the second in pity, in the third in purity. Reason, by which we analyze ourselves, guides us to the first, feeling which enables us to pity others conducts us to the second; purity by which we are raised to the level of the unseen, carries us up to the third. 1 Matt. v. 8.