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The Fire Of Love by Richard Rolle


By some truly it is doubted which life is more meedful and better; contemplative or active. It seems to not a few that active is meedfuller because of the many deeds and preachings that it uses. But these err unknowingly, for they know not the virtue of contemplative. Yet there are many active better than some contemplative; but the best contemplative are higher than the best active.

Therefore we say the contemplative life is altogether the better, the sweeter, the more worthy, and the more meedful as to the true meed, that is joy of the unwrought good, because the contemplative more burningly loves God. And more grace is asked if contemplative life be led rightly, than active.

The reason of more fervent love in contemplative life than in active is because in contemplative they are in rest of mind and body, and therefore they taste the sweetness of eternal, before all mortal love. The active truly serve God in labour and outward running about, and tarry but little in inward rest, wherefore they can not be delighted save seldom and shortly; the contemplative soothly love as if they were continually within the halsing of their Beloved.

Forsooth some gainsetting say: active life is more fruitful; for it does works of mercy, it preaches and works other such deeds; wherefore it is more meritorious. I say, nay, for such works belong to accidental reward, that is, joy of the thing wrought. And so one that shall be taken into the order of angels can have some meed that he that shall be in the order of cherubim or seraphim shall not have; that is to say joy of some good deed that he did in this life, the which another -- that without comparison surpasses in God's love -- did not. Also ofttimes it happens that some one of less meed is good, and preaches; and another preaches not, that mickle more loves. Is not this one better because he preaches? No; but the one that loves more is higher and better, although he be less in preaching he shall have some meed, because he preached not, that the greater was not worthy of.

Therefore it is shown that man is not holier or higher for the outward works that he does. Truly God that is the Beholder of the heart rewards the will more than on the deeds. For the more burningly that a man loves, in so mickle he ascends to a higher reward.

Truly, in true contemplative men, there is a full sweet heat and the plenteousness of God's love abiding, from the which a joyful sound is sent into them with untrowed mirth; and this is never found in active men in this life, because they take not heed only to heavenly things, so that they might be worthy to joy in Jesu. And therefore active life is worthily put behind; and contemplative life, in this present and in the life to come is worthily preferred.

Wherefore in the litter of the true Solomon the pillars are of silver and the resting place of gold. The pillars of the chair are the strong upbearers and the good governors of holy kirk; these are of silver, for in conversation they are clear and in preaching full of sound. The gold resting place are contemplative men; on the which, being in high rest, Christ especially rests His Head, and they forsooth in Him singularly rest. These are of gold, for they are purer and dearer in honesty of living, and are redder in burning of loving and contemplating.

God forsooth has forordained His chosen to fulfill divers services. It is not given truly to ilk man to execute or fulfill all offices, but ilk man has that that is most according to his state. Wherefore the Apostle says: Unicuique nostrum data est gracia secundum mensuram donationis Christi; that is to say: To ilk one of us is grace given after the measure of Christ's gift.'

Some truly do alms of righteously gotten goods; others to their death defend the truth; others clearly and strongly preach God's word, and others show their preaching in their writing; others suffer for God great penance and wretchedness in this life; others, by the gift of contemplation, are only busy to God and set themselves straitly to love Christ. But without doubt, among all estates that are in the kirk, they that are become contemplative joy with a special gift; they are now worthy with singing to joy in God's love.

Truly if any man might get both lives, that is to say contemplative and active, and keep and fulfill them, he were full great; that he might fulfill bodily service, and nevertheless feel the heavenly sound in himself, and be melted in singing into the joy of heavenly love. I wot not if ever any mortal man had this. To me it seems impossible that both should be together.

Christ truly in this respect is not to be numbered among men, nor His blest Mother among women. For Christ had no wandering thoughts, and He was not contemplative in a common manner, as saints in this life are contemplative; truly He needed not to labour as we need, because, from the beginning of His Conceiving, He saw God.

No marvel by great exercise of ghostly works there comes into us a songful joy, and we receive the sweetest sound from heaven; and so henceforward we desire to stand in rest, that with great sweetness we may joy. Therefore he that serves active life well is busy to go up to contemplative life.

He who truly is raised in the manner aforesaid with the gift of heavenly contemplation, comes not down to active; unless peradventure he be compelled to take governance of Christians; that I trow has seldom or never happened. But other contemplatives can well be chosen for that, because they are less imbued with heat of love. Forsooth lesser saints are sometimes more able than greater for the office of prelacy, because they that could not rest perfectly in inward desires shall behave themselves more accordingly about outward business.

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