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The Fire Of Love by Richard Rolle


Friendship is the knitting of two wills, consenting to like things and dissenting to unlike; and this friendship can be betwix good and betwix evil, but by divers affections. It ought mostly to be betwix God and man's soul; the which is bound to conform her will to God's will in all things, so that what God wills she wills, and what God wills not neither she wills. Thus soothly shall full friendship be betwix them.

But in human affections where true friendship is God forbid that the sundering of bodies should make the parting of souls, but rather the unloosed knot of cleaving friendship shall comfort the heaviness of bodily sundering, so that the friend shall think he is with his friend, whiles he sees the steadfastness of their will is unloosed. It is true friendship certain when a friend behaves him to his friend as to himself; when he thinks his friend is himself in another body; and he loves his friend for himself, and not for the profit that he trows he may have from him.

But it is asked, if the one friend err whether shall friendship cease? Some say friendship is not perfect unless it be betwix them that are like in virtue; but how was that perfect that might be broken? The one erring is not now perfect, and so gradually it can go to nought; which is against reason in true friendship where a man is loved for himself and not for profit or liking.

Soothly it is not necessary for friends that the one be changed on account of the changing of the other; but it is impossible that friendship -- since it is virtue -- be voided in any man without his changing. Wherefore it is not broken on account of the error of the one, but -- and it be true friendship -- it shall be the more busy to call him that erred back again. And thus it behoves that friendship by which he wills and gets good for his friend as for himself be called love; and, whiles they live, for no error can it be broken.

Friendship certain is lightly loosed when that wherefore they should be loved is not found in the friends; that is to say when the friendship for which now the friends are loved is not profitable nor pleasing. And such friendship is feigned, for it can not last save whilst pleasure and profit bide. But that is the cause wherefore true friendship is not dissolved in friends whiles they live. Therefore true friendship is not broken whiles they are, but the one can be erring yet both live. And therefore though one err yet friendship lasts if it be true, because they love each other according to what they are -- that is as they are good -- and by that it behoves to be understood goodness not of manners but of nature.

Nature truly gars a man seek him a true friend, for nature desires to keep kindness and faith. And it works nothing in vain. Wherefore that friendship that is natural shall not be loosed -- nature being lasting -- unless it be to the great wrong of nature that the nature loved gainstands; and that can nature in no wise do unless it be oppressed by corrupt manners. Therefore friendship that kindles anything that is not the same as that that is loved slakes, and is slakened when the things that stirred the love are not had; so that if by manners or riches or fairness friendship be had, with ill manners, sliding riches, and wasted fairness be had, with ill manners, sliding riches, and wasted fairness friendship vanishes also, and it is said of him that had it, there is nothing unhappier than to have been happy.

But friendship that nature works in friends is cast out by no poverty, nor with any error done away, and with no foulness of body ended, whiles the nature lasts that is the cause of this friendship. Such friendship is purely natural and therefore it is worthy neither meed nor unmeed, unless it conflicts ought against God's commandments. It has also a great delight knit with it, in which it earns neither meed nor unthank. True friendship can not be without mutual liking betwix friends, and their speech is desirable and their cheer comfortable. And this friendship -- if it be informed with God's grace and be altogether in God and if it be given to Him -- so then it is called holy friendship and is full meedful. But if on account of this friendship anything be done by the friends against God's will, it is perverse and wrong and foul friendship, and unclean and unmeedful.

I wot not soothly by what unhap it now befalls that scarcely or seldom is found a true friend. Ilk one seeks his own, and no man has a friend of whom he says, he is myself in another body. They bow to their own profits and likings and shame not to fulfill guile in their friends. Thereof it is deemed that they are not true friends but feigned, because they love not men but either they covet their goods or they strive after false flatteries and favours.

Yet, forsooth, friendship betwix men and women may be perilous, for fair beauty lightly cherishes a frail soul, and temptation seen sets fleshly desire on fire and ofttimes brings in the sin of body and soul; and so the company of women with men is wont to happen to the destruction of virtue. And yet this friendship is not unlawful but meedful; if it be had with good soul, and if it be loved for God and not for the sweetness of the flesh.

If women truly saw themselves despised by men, they would complain of God that made them such as men should disdain, and they would peradventure mistrust of health; for they trow themselves forsaken if they receive not the counsel or help of men. Reason certain is less quick in them, therefore they are lightly beguiled and soon overcome and therefore they mickle need the counsel of good men. They are drawn truly from ill to ill. For mickle readier are they to the likings of lust than to the clearness of holiness.

There is also a natural love of man for woman and woman for man that wants to no man, not even the holy, for it was ordained by God first in nature; by the which being together, and according by the stirring of nature they are fellowly made glad. This love also has its pleasures; as in speech and honest touching and goodly dwelling together, by the which man gets no meed unless it be mingled with charity; nor gets he unthanks, unless it be defiled with sin. If ill movings arise by which they think of lust, and they go towards it, doubtless they are guilty of death, because they sin against God.

Therefore they foully trespass that say that all our deeds, inward or outward, are meedful or unmeedful; for they would -- or at the least they strive -- to deny natural deeds and likings to be in us; and thus they are not ashamed to bring in confusion to noble nature.

Certain, that friendship, and companionship of men and women is unlawful and forbidden in which they accord to fulfill all their desire of covetous and foul lust; and putting the everlasting behind they seek to flourish intemporal solace and bodily love. They also sin grievously, and most, that have taken holy orders and go to women as wooers, saying that they languish for their love, and nearly faint with great desire and strife of thought; and so they lead them, light and unstable, to wretchedness in this life, and also in the endless. But they shall not be left unpunished, for they bear their damnation with them; of whom it is said by the psalmist: Sepulcrum patens est guttur corum, etc. That is to say: Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they have wrought falsely, deem them God.'

God certain wills that women be not despised of men, nor be beguiled by vain flattery; but that they be taught truly and charitably in all holiness that longs to body and soul. But seldom is he found now that so does; but rather -- what is to sorrowed for -- either to get their gifts or their beauty they study to inform them. Wherefore ofttimes it happens that if they teach them in one thing, in another they destroy them; and they will not, or they dare not, forbid those things, although they be evil, that women please to use, so that they be not grieved.

True friendship certain is the sadness of lovers, and comfort of minds; relief of grief, and putting out of worldly heaviness; reformation of sinners; increase of holiness; lessening of slander, and multiplying of good meed. While a friend is drawn from ill by his friend by healthful counsel and is inflamed to do good when he sees in his friend the grace that he desires to have. Holy friendship therefore that has medicine for all wretchedness is not to be despised. From God it truly is that amid the wretchedness of this exile we be comforted with the counsel and help of friends, until we come to Him. Where we shall all be taught of God, and sit in eternal seats; and we shall be glad without end in Him that we have loved, and in whom and by whom we have friends.

From this friendship I can except no man, be he never so holy, but he needs it; unless there be any such to whom not man but angels serve. There are some that joy in God's love and are so moistened with His sweetness that they can say: Renuit consolari anima mea: My soul gainsays to be comforted' with worldly cheer with which worldly lovers refresh themselves. Nevertheless it behoves that in these things that, according to nature and grace, are needful to their body, and in men they be delighted. Who eats or drinks or takes recreation from heat or cold, withouten liking? Who has a friend, and in his presence and speech and dwelling with him and taking part in his good, is not glad? Sickerly none but the mad and they that want reason, for in these things and others like is the life of man comforted -- although it be the holiest -- and joys most quickly in God.

Therefore, My soul gainsays to be comforted,' is not to be understood of such comfort, but of stinking and unclean and unlawful comfort of worldly things. And afterwards he said: Delectasti me domine in factura tua; et in operibus mannum tuarum exultabo. 'Lord in Thy work thou hast gladdened me; and in the work of Thy hands I shall be joyful.' Who denies that he shall receive comfort that says he is mirthed in God's works? Vir insipiens non cognoscet, et stultus non intelliget hoc. 'But the unwise man shall not know this nor a fool understand.'

Some truly have the love of God, but not after knowledge; the which, whiles they study to put by superfluities are also unwisely led to cut away their necessities, supposing that they can not please God unless they chastise themselves by too mickle abstinence and unmeasured nakedness. And although paleness of face be the beauty of solitary man, nevertheless their service is not rightly ordered; for if they be hidden to chastise their bodies and bring them into the service of the spirit, yet ought they not to slay their bodies but keep them for the honour of God, to the time He sunders the soul from the body to which He has joined it. Therefore such are sharp to men and bitter in themselves, and they know not the keeping of friendship, nor keep the way thereof.

Forsooth love of kinsmen, if it be unmannered, is called fleshly affection, and it is to be broken because it lets from God's love: and if it be mannered it is called natural, and lets not from God's service; for in that it is nature it works not against the Maker thereof.

Next the women of our time are worthy of reproof that in such marvellous vanity have found new array for head and body, and have brought it in, so that they put beholders to both dread and wonder. Not only against the sentence of the apostle in gold and dressing of the hair, in pride and wantonness, they go serving, but also against the honesty of man and nature ordained by God, they set broad horns upon their heads, and a horrible greatness of wrought hair that grew not there, some of whom study to hide their foulness or increase their beauty and with painting of beguiling adultery they colour and whiten their faces. Newly carven clothing also both men and women use full fondly, not considering what beseems nature, but what tidings, that are newly noised, and vain novelties they can bring by the fiend's stirring.

If any should snib such things -- yea even full seldom -- he is laughed to scorn; and they consider more a fond tale than their amends. Therefore they go, and are taken and also snared by those things -- these ladies and women that are called worthy, that desire to be fair for a time, and everlasting to be foul. For after this joy they, that have not loved Christ in this life but the foulest vanity of this world, shall feel hell pain, having crowned themselves with roses before they withered. But let us pass now to other things.

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