Nature, as far as I know, never converts fire into water, though some waters turn into fire. Yet God did it once by miracle. For as it is written in the Book of Machabees, when the children of Israel were conducted into Babylon, in the time of Sedecias, the priests, by the counsel of Jeremias, hid the holy fire in a valley, in a dry well, and upon their return, the children of those that had hid it went to seek it, following the direction their fathers had given them, and they found it converted into a thick water, which being drawn by them, and poured upon the sacrifices, as Nehemias commanded, was, when the sunbeams touched it, converted into a great fire.
Theotimus, amongst the tribulations and remorse of a lively repentance God often puts in the bottom of our heart the sacred fire of his love, this love is converted into the water of tears, they by a second change into another and greater fire of love. Thus the famous penitent lover first loved her Saviour, her love was converted into tears, and these tears into an excellent love; whence Our Saviour told her that many sins were pardoned her because she had loved much. And as we see fire turns wine into a certain water which is called almost everywhere aquavitæ, which so easily takes and augments fire that in many places it is also termed ardent; so the amorous consideration of the goodness which, while it ought to have been sovereignly loved, has been offended by sin, produces the water of holy penitence; and from this water the fire of divine love issues, thence properly termed water of life or ardent. Penitence is indeed a water in its substance, being a true displeasure, a real sorrow and repentance; yet is it ardent, in that it contains the virtue and properties of love, as arising from a motive of love, and by this property it gives the life of grace. So that perfect penitence has two different effects; for in virtue of its sorrow and detestation it separates us from sin and the creature, to which delectation had attached us; but in virtue of the motive of love, whence it takes its origin, it reconciles us and reunites us to our God, from whom we had separated ourselves by contempt: so that it at once reclaims us from sin in quality of repentance, and reunites us to God in quality of love.
But I do not mean to say that the perfect love of God, by which we love him above all things, always precedes this repentance, or that this repentance always precedes this love. For though it often so happens, still at other times, as soon as divine love is born in our hearts, penitence is born within the love, and oftentimes penitence entering into our heart, love enters in penitence. And as when Esau was born, Jacob his twin brother held him by the foot, that their births might not only follow the one the other, but also might cleave together and be intermingled; so repentance, rude and rough in regard of its pain, is born first, as another Esau; and love, gentle and gracious as Jacob, holds him by the foot, and cleaves unto him so closely that their birth is but one, since the end of the birth of repentance is the beginning of that of perfect love. Now as Esau first appeared so repentance ordinarily makes itself to be seen before love, but love, as another Jacob, although the younger, afterwards subdues penitence, converting it into consolation.
Mark, I pray you, Theotimus, the well-beloved Magdalen, how she weeps with love: They have taken away my Lord, says she, melting into tears; and I know not where they have laid him, but having with sighs and tears found him, she holds and possesses him by love. Imperfect love desires and runs after him, penitence seeks and finds him; perfect love holds and clasps him. It is with it as is said to be with Ethiopian rubies, whose fire is naturally very faint, but when they are dipped in vinegar it sparkles out and casts a most brilliant lustre: for the love which goes before repentance is ordinarily imperfect; but being steeped in the sharpness of penitence, it gains strength end becomes excellent love.
It even happens sometimes that repentance, though perfect, contains not in itself the proper action of love, but only the virtue and property of it. You will ask me, what virtue or property of love can repentance have, if it have not the action? Theotimus, God's goodness is the motive of perfect repentance, which it displeases us to have offended: now this motive is a motive only because it stirs us and gives us movement. But the movement which the divine goodness gives unto the heart which considers it, can be no other than the movement of love, that is, of union. And therefore true repentance, though it seem not so, and though we perceive not the proper effect of love, yet ever takes the movement of love, and the unitive quality of love, by which it re-unites and re-joins us to the divine goodness. Tell me, I pray: -- it is the property of the loadstone to draw and unite iron unto itself; but do we not see that iron touched with the loadstone, without having either it or its nature, but only its virtue and attractive quality, can draw and unite to itself another iron? So perfect repentance, touched with the motive of love, is not without the virtue and quality thereof, that is, the movement of union to re-join and re-unite our hearts to the divine will. But you will reply, what difference is there between this movement of penitence, and the proper action of love? Theotimus, the action of love is indeed a movement of union, but it is made by complacency, whereas the movement of union which is in penitence is not made by way of complacency, but by displeasure, repentance, reparation, reconciliation. Forasmuch therefore as this motive unites, it has the quality of love; inasmuch as it is bitter and dolorous it has the quality of penitence, and in fine, by its natural condition it is a true movement of penitence, but one which has the virtue and uniting quality of love.
So Theriacum-wine is not so named because it contains the proper substance of Theriacum, for there is none at all in it; but it is so called because the plant of the vine having been steeped in Theriacum, the grapes and the wine which have sprung from it have drawn into themselves the virtue and operation of Theriacum against all sorts of poison. We must not therefore think it strange if penitence, according to the Holy scripture, blots out sin, saves the soul, makes her grateful God and justifies her, which are effects appertaining to love, and which apparently should only be attributed to love: for though love itself be not always found in perfect penitence, yet its virtue and properties are always there, having flowed into it by the motive of love whence it springs.
Nor must we wonder that the force of love should be found in penitence before love be formed in it, since we see that by the reflection of the rays of the sun beating upon a mirror, heat, which is the virtue and the proper quality of fire, grows by little and little so strong that it begins to burn before it has yet well produced the fire, or at least before we have perceived it. For so the Holy Ghost casting into our understanding the consideration of the greatness of our sins, in that by them we have offended so sovereign a goodness, and our will receiving the reflection of this knowledge, repentance by little and little grows so strong, with a certain affective heat and desire to return into grace with God, that in fine this movement comes to such a height, that it burns and unites even before the love be fully formed, though love, as a sacred fire, is always at once lighted, at this point. So that repentance never comes to this height of burning and re-uniting the heart to God, which is her utmost perfection, without finding herself wholly converted into fire and flame of love, the end of the one giving the other a beginning; or rather, the end of penitence is within the commencement of love, as Esau's foot was within Jacob's hand; in such sort that while Esau was ending his birth, Jacob was beginning his, the end of the one's birth being joined and fastened to, yea, what is more, included in, the beginning of the other's: for so the beginning of perfect love not only follows the end of penitence but even cleaves and ties itself to it; and to say all in one word, this beginning of love mingles itself with the end of penitence, and in this moment of mingling, penitence and contrition merit life everlasting.
Now because this loving repentance is ordinarily practised by elevations and raisings of the heart to God, like to those of the ancient penitents: I am thine, save thou me. Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me: for my soul trusteth in thee! Save me, O God; for the waters are come in even unto my soul! Make me as one of thy hired servants! O God be merciful to me a sinner! -- it is not without reason that some have said, that prayer justifies; for the repentant prayer, or the suppliant repentance, raising up the soul to God and re-uniting it to his goodness, without doubt obtains pardon in virtue of the holy love, which gives it the sacred movement. And therefore we ought all to have very many such ejaculatory prayers, made in the sense of a loving repentance and of sighs which seek our reconciliation with God, so that by these laying our tribulation before Our Saviour, we may pour out our souls before and within his pitiful heart, which will receive them to mercy.