The life of a man who, spent out, lies dying little by little on his bed, hardly deserves to be termed life, since, though it be life, it is so mingled with death that it is hard to say whether it is a death yet living or a life dying. Alas! how pitiful a spectacle it is, Theotimus! But far more lamentable is the state of a soul ungrateful to her Saviour, who goes backward step by step, withdrawing herself from God's love by certain degrees of indevotion and disloyalty, till at length, having quite forsaken it, she is left in the horrible obscurity of perdition. This love which is in its decline, and which is fading and perishing, is called imperfect love, because, though it be entire in the soul, yet seems it not to be there entirely; that is, it hardly stays in the soul any longer, but is upon the point of forsaking it. Now, charity being separated from the soul by sin, there frequently remains a certain resemblance of charity which may deceive us and vainly occupy our minds, and I will tell you what it is. Charity while it is in us produces many actions of love towards God, by the frequent exercise of which our soul gets a habit and custom of loving God, which is not charity, but only a bent and inclination which the multitude of the actions has given to our hearts.
After a long habit of preaching or saying Mass with deliberation, it happens often that in dreaming we utter and speak the same things which we should say in preaching or celebrating; in the same manner the custom and habit acquired by election and virtue is, in some sort, afterwards practised without election or virtues since the actions of those who are asleep have, generally speaking, nothing of virtue save only an apparent image, and are only the similitudes or representations thereof. So charity, by the multitude of acts which it produces, imprints in us a certain facility in loving which it leaves in us even after we are deprived of its presence. When I was a young scholar, I found that in a village near Paris, in a certain well, there was an echo, which would repeat several times the words that we pronounced in it: and if some simpleton without experience had heard these repetitions of words, he would have thought there was some one at the bottom of the well who did it. But we knew beforehand by philosophy that it was not any one in the well who repeated our words, but simply that there were cavities, in one of which our voices were collected, and not finding a passage through, they, lest they might altogether perish and not employ the force that was left to them, produced second voices, and these gathering together in another concavity produced a third, the third a fourth, and so consecutively up to eleven, so that those voices in the well were no longer our voices, but resemblances and images of them. And indeed there was a great difference between our voices and those: for when we made a long continuance of words, they only repeated some, they shortened the pronunciation of the syllables, which they uttered very rapidly; and with tones and accents quite different from ours; nor did they begin to form these words until we had quite finished pronouncing them. In fine, they were not the words of a living man, but, so to say, of a hollow and empty rock, which notwithstanding so well counterfeited man's voice whence they sprang, that an ignorant person would have been misled and beguiled by them.
Now this is what I would say. When holy charity meets a pliable soul in which she long resides, she produces a second love, which is not a love of charity, though it issues from charity; it is a human love which is yet so like charity, that though afterwards charity perish in the soul it seems to be still there, inasmuch as it leaves behind it this its picture and likeness, which so represents charity that one who was ignorant would be deceived therein, as were the birds by the painting of the grapes of Zeuxis, which they deemed to be true grapes, so exactly had art imitated nature. And yet there is a great difference between charity and the human love it produces in us: for the voice of charity declares, impresses, and effects all the commandments of God in our hearts; the human love which remains after it does indeed sometimes declare and impress all the commandments, yet it never effects them all, but some few only. Charity pronounces and puts together all the syllables, that is, all the circumstances of God's commandments; human love always leaves out some of them, especially that of the right and pure intention; and as for the tone, charity keeps it always steady, sweet, and full of grace, human love takes it always too high in earthly things, or too low in heavenly, and never sets upon its work until charity has ended hers. For so long as charity is in the soul, she uses this human love which is her creature and employs it to facilitate her operations; so that during that time the works of this love, as of a servant, belong to charity its mistress: but when charity is gone, then the actions of this love are entirely its own, and have no longer the price and value of charity. For as the staff of Eliseus, in his absence, though in the hand of Giezi who received it from him, wrought no miracle, so actions done in the absence of charity, by the simple habit of human love, are of no value or merit to eternal life, though this human love learned from charity to do them, and is but charity's servant. And this so comes about because this human love, in the absence of charity, has no supernatural strength to raise the soul to the excellent action of the love of God above all things.