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Three Friends Of God by Frances Bevan


To praise Him in the dance! O glorious day!

The pilgrim journey done --

No more press forward on the weary way,

For all is reached and won!

His Hand at last, the Hand once pierced for me,

For ever holdeth mine --

O Lord, no songs, no harps of heaven will be

Sweet as one word of Thine.

Lord, altogether lovely! then at last

High shall the guerdon be;

Thy kiss outweigh the weary ages past,

Of hearts that brake for Thee.

. . . . .

Yet now I know Thee as the hidden Bread,

The living One, who died --

Who sitteth at my table -- by my bed --

Who walketh at my side.

I know Thee as the fountain of deep bliss,

Whereof one drop shall make

The joys of all the world as bitterness,

My Lord, for Thy sweet sake.

Lord, Thou hast loved me; and henceforth to me

Earth's noonday is but gloom;

My soul sails forth on the eternal sea,

And leaves the shore of doom.

I pass within the glory even now,

Where shapes and words are not,

For joy that passeth words, O Lord, art Thou,

A bliss that passeth thought.

I enter there, for Thou hast borne away

The burden of my sin --

With conscience clear as heaven's unclouded day

Thy courts I enter in.

Heaven now for me -- for ever Christ and heaven --

The endless Now begun --

No promise -- but a gift eternal given,

Because the work is done. -- Henry Suso

IT came to pass as time went on, that after the pestilence and the earthquakes, there were years of famine and scarcity. And those people who had formerly given bread or wine to the convent, had none to give, and the convent became not only very poor, but fell into debt. Then the monks met together to consult as to what they should do. And they agreed to choose Henry Suso to be their prior. No doubt they knew that by reason of his preaching and his books, he was known far and wide, and had many friends amongst rich people.

He was grieved and distressed that he was to be put into a high place, for he knew that, it would be the beginning of great and fresh troubles to him.

The first day he had the bell rung to assemble the Chapter. Elizabeth tells us, |He exhorted them to call upon the beloved S. Dominic, the founder of their Order, because he had promised with God's assistance always to come to their help.|

This, however, was very unlike the usual practice of Father Henry, and is contradicted by that which followed, though he probably in some way referred to S. Dominic. For when he had exhorted the monks in few words, two of them, who were sitting close together, looked at one another and smiled, and in mocking wise one of them said to him:

|See what a foolish man we have for a prior, for he tells us to take our need to God. Does he think God will open heaven, and send down meat and drink to supply us every day?|

And the other said in reply, |Not only is he a fool, but we are all fools together, for having chosen him to be our prior, although we knew perfectly well beforehand, that he knows nothing about business or earthly matters, and is always gazing up to heaven.|

And the other monks joined in, with many words of derision.

The next morning as he was standing in the choir, the porter called him out to speak to a rich canon, who was a friend of his. The canon said to him, |Dear sir, you are not a man of business. Last night I was warned by God to give you some help as from Him. I bring you, therefore, twenty pounds of pence of Constance for a beginning. Trust God, for He will never forsake you.| Then was he glad, and took the money, and bought therewith wine and corn. And God helped him thus all the while that he was prior, and made him always able to pay for everything, so that no debts remained.

But on the other hand, much trouble came upon him by means of the canon. For being a very rich man, he gave to Father Henry from time to time, and also on his deathbed, a large sum of money to give to the poor. And in consequence, when he had given it away, many complained bitterly that they had not had their due share. And troubles many and great came upon him, for he was slandered and despised. For many believed he had used the money for dishonest purposes, and he was brought before prelates and magistrates, and unjustly condemned for things of which he was innocent.

But the Lord taught him therein many lessons, and he learnt to comfort those who were in tribulation, with the comfort wherewith he himself was comforted of God.

And he was also able to teach wholesome lessons to many, who because they had no real troubles, made troubles for themselves, making as it were mountains out of molehills.

|There was once,| he said, |a deeply afflicted man who passed by a house, wherein he heard a woman lamenting piteously. And he said to himself, Go in, and comfort that poor creature in her trouble.'

|Therefore he went in and said, Dear woman, what is your sorrow that causes you so much lamentation?'

|She answered, I have dropped my needle, and I cannot find it.'

|Then did he turn away and left the house, and he thought, Thou foolish creature, hadst thou but to bear my burden, thou wouldest not weep over a needle.' Thus many are truly miserable, who have no true afflictions.

|And others are there, who are pierced with a sword through heart and soul, to see that the Lord is so lovely and so sweet, and yet that there are men on every hand, who see no beauty in Him that they should desire Him.

|Oh could we but in all things let go all else, and cast ourselves simply on God, then should we never be troubled as to the things that befall us, for His will would be ours. It was once shown to a man, how he should thus let go all that was his own. He was made to suppose that far away on the deep sea he was all alone, with nothing under him but his cloak, no land in sight, far or near. What would he do? He could neither call for help, nor swim, nor wade. What then? He must trust himself to God. Let us rejoice when God cuts off from us all means and resources, that we may have nothing left but Himself.|

And here his story ends, for Elizabeth Staglin died before her spiritual father, and in his own books he tells us no more of that which befell him.

His two books, |The Book of the Eternal Wisdom,| and |The Book of Truth,| are in the form of dialogues. The first between the Eternal Wisdom, and His servant. The second between a disciple, and the Truth.

Much that is of the Spirit's teaching do we find in these books, and we feel in reading them that yet more was taught to the heart of the Lord's servant, than he was able to express in words. He says himself, |One thing must I give you to know. He who listens to a sweet chord touched by the hand of a musician, knows the sweetness of the music, as he cannot know it who hears another man speak of it, and hears it not himself. And even so is the difference between the words spoken in pure grace by the Lord, the words that come from a living heart, and are spoken by a living mouth, if we compare them with the same words when they are written down upon the dead parchment, and have to be rendered in the German tongue.

|Then are they like roses that have been plucked, and that wither apart from the stem. For it is the sweet tone of the spiritual Voice that reaches and touches the heart, and cannot be written down, and the living words fall dead oftentimes upon hearts that are dead and dry. For never was a harp string of so musical a sound, but that when touched by a dry stick it would be silent and dumb. And the joyless heart can as little understand the joyful tongue, as a German could understand an Italian. And therefore let the man who reads the Book of the Eternal Wisdom' bear ever in mind, that the stream is not the fountain. And let him go himself to the fountain-head there to learn the glory and the beauty and the sweetness, where alone they are to be found, and where is the presence of the ever-flowing grace, which can make the dead heart alive and glad.|

But strangely, as a sudden discord in the sweet music, do we find in |The Book of the Eternal Wisdom,| several pages of |the worthy praise of the pure Queen of Heaven!| Not the Eternal Wisdom, but Mary, |the Mother of all grace!|

Idolatry so degraded, so blasphemous, and so senseless, that it might well serve as the saddest sample of the fall of the apostate Church.

But so different is it in style and language from the writing of Henry Suso, that it might well be known as from another hand, even before we find the explanation.

It is, we are told, inserted from the writings of Bernard of Clairvaux.

When, and by whom, these pages were inserted we cannot know, though the intention of the copyist was that it should pass as having been done by Suso himself. We recall his words previously mentioned, in which he says that even in his lifetime his books had been strangely altered by scribes and copyists, each one adding thereto, or taking from them, as he deemed best.

And when at his death, his books, as he originally wrote them, were left to the safe keeping of the Dominican monks, and only reproduced long afterwards, |having been collected and revised by the worthy reading-master, Brother Felix Faber,| we can only wonder that so much remains which could not have been written by any, but a man taught of God.

We are therefore sure of the authorship of that which a dishonest copyist could never have invented, but admitting that there was still a mass of ignorance and superstition left to cloud the mind of Henry Suso, we can readily believe that the improvements made by the monks were by no means scanty.

It may be remembered how, in the case of Nicholas von Laufen, this practice of altering the original to suit Roman Catholic readers, has been clearly proved. And we may remember, too, that it was the known and admitted practice of those times.

It is perhaps well to have in one book, passages to prove how sharp was the contrast between the teaching of a |Friend of God,| and a Roman saint -- between the canonized Bernard of Clairvaux, and the despised and persecuted Henry of Constance.

It would seem, however, that Henry Suso did not remain very long the prior of the convent at Constance. Later on we hear of him in a convent at Ulm, and there on the 25th of January, 1365, lie died, and was buried in the cloisters. Some name a later year as the time of his death, but the earlier date seems the most probable. His age has been differently stated as sixty-four, seventy, and eighty-six.

The practice which has prevailed in other countries besides Judaea, of honouring the righteous after their death, though despising them till they could no longer bear witness for God, was so far followed in the case of Henry Suso, that his grave was regarded with great reverence, when discovered by accident in the year 1613.

On the other hand, a greater honour fell to the lot of Suso when in the year 1576, the general of the Jesuits, Everard Mercurian, published the following edict: |Also to those of our order is forbidden the reading of the books of certain spiritualistic authors, who even less accord with our views, such as Tauler, Ruysbrock, Henry Suso; and none of their writings may be anywhere allowed in our colleges, except by the will of the Provincial Father.|

In conclusion, we may observe that the life of Suso, written by Elizabeth Staglin, and no doubt improved upon later by many even more superstitious than she was, can be regarded only as containing true facts, which we must carefully weed from the legends and fables with which it abounds.

That these foolish legends are rather to be attributed to Elizabeth, than to Henry himself, would seem to be probable, when we consider the following passage from one of his sermons:

|One finds many people who have strange fancies and dreams. They see all kinds of beautiful things, and things to come, in their sleep. They see saints, in this way, or departed spirits. I do not say that such things can never be, for an angel appeared to Joseph in his sleep. On the other hand, I would give no encouragement to such things, for they often arise from natural causes. He whose mind is filled with pure and lovely things, will often dream of such, and fools will dream of folly.

|One finds people also, who have all sorts of visions and revelations, and supposing that, for the space of ten years, such things came from God, yet can the evil one find opportunities to mix himself up with them, and deceive and mislead people.

|In all such revelations, the utmost you can do, is to see whether you have the testimony of Holy Scripture as a confirmation thereof. Put away from you, as you value your own salvation, everything which you cannot find to accord with the Scripture, and with the word of the teachers of the Church.|

This last sentence (the teachers of the Church) explains, alas, many an error and folly into which Suso fell, though, on the other hand, as we know, he thankfully accepted the teaching of the |Friends of God,| in spite of the fact that they were condemned by the priests of his Church.

To him it was, to use his own words, a blessed experience and reality, |Lord, never was a magnet so powerful to draw to itself the hard steel, as Thou, the Lord, lifted up on the cross, art powerful to draw me through joy and sorrow from all that is in the world to Thee and to Thy cross; form me and shape into the image of the suffering Jesus here below, that I may enjoy Thee eternally in the high glory whither Thou art gone.|

And now we take leave for a while of the |Friends of God| of those olden days -- soon to meet them again, not in imperfect records, and amongst dark superstitions, and many delusions, but in |the high glory| which shone down into their hearts; in the |light that is love;| to join them in blessed song which is led and attuned by Christ, in which there shall be no discordant note, and when at last all true worshippers gathered in one, shall worship the Father together, in the Spirit and in truth.

And let us ask ourselves, |What manner of people ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness,| in love, in devotedness, in unworldliness, who have not only the same Lord and Saviour, but open Bibles, and Gospel teaching on every hand, and the broad day instead ofthe dim twilight, and the open door set before us which no man can shut, and the glorious hope so long lost to the Church, held forth before our eyes!

For to us has been given the Morning Star.

And to each who read of the wonderful dealings of God with His beloved saints of old, may the prayer of Henry Suso be fulfilled, |Lord, let me speak Thy praise, as long as a breath is left in my lips, and when my speech is gone, let my finger point to Thee, and end up the praises of my earthly life. And when my body is turned to dust, I beseech Thee, O Lord, that for each grain of dust, some praise may rise to Thee through the hard pavement that lies above; may rise through all the heavens, and that Thou mayest be praised through me, till the day when soul and body are reunited, to praise Thee again together, and for ever more.|

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