You know, Theotimus, what was Jacob's love for his Rachel. And what did not he do to testify its greatness, force and fidelity, from the hour he had saluted her at the well? For from that time he never ceased to love her, and to gain her in marriage he served seven whole years with incredible devotion; yet he considered that all this was nothing, so much did love sweeten the pains which he supported for his beloved Rachel. And when he was, after all, disappointed of her, he served yet other seven years to obtain her; so constant, loyal and courageous was he in his affection; and having at length obtained her he neglected all other affections, scarcely even taking any account of the duty he had to Lia, his first spouse, a woman of great merit and very worthy to be cherished, whom God himself compassionated for the contempt she suffered, so remarkable was it.
But after all this, which was enough to bring down the haughtiest woman in the world to the love of so loyal a lover, it is verily a shame to see the weakness which Rachel showed in her affection to Jacob. The poor Lia had no tie of love with Jacob except the fact that she was the mother of his four sons. Reuben the first of these had gone into the fields at harvest-time and found some mandrakes, which he brought as a present to his mother. Rachel asked for some of them, and when poor Lia said: Dost thou think it a small matter that thou hast taken my husband from me, unless thou take also my son's mandrakes, -- Rachel sold, as it were, the favours and love of her husband for the mandrakes. But Jacob was distressed, and his heart sank, when he understood the weakness and inconstancy of Rachel, who for so trifling a thing sacrificed for a time the honour and pleasure of his special love. For, tell me truly, Theotimus -- was it not a strange and most fickle levity in Rachel, to prefer a heap of little apples to the chaste company of so amiable a husband? If it had been for kingdoms, for monarchies! -- but for a miserable handful of mandrakes! -- Theotimus, what think you of it?
And yet, returning to ourselves, good God! how often do we make elections infinitely more shameful and wretched? The great S. Augustine upon a time took pleasure in leisurely viewing and contemplating mandrakes, the better to discern the cause why Rachel had so passionately coveted them, and he found that they were indeed pleasing to the sight, and of a delightful smell, yet altogether insipid and without flavour. Now Pliny relates that when the surgeons bring the juice of them to be drunk by those on whom they wish to make an incision, that they may not feel the operation, it happens often that the very smell works the effect and puts the patient sufficiently to sleep. Wherefore the mandrake is a bewitching plant, which enchants the eyes, and charms away pains, sorrows, and all passions by sleep. Besides, he who smells the scent of them too long turns mute, and he who drinks too much of them dies without remedy.
Theotimus, could worldly pomps, riches and delights be better represented? They have an attractive outside, but he who bites this apple, that is, he who sounds their nature, finds neither taste nor contentment in them, nevertheless they enchant us and put us to sleep by the vanity of their smell; and the renown which the children of the world attach to them, benumbs and destroys those who give themselves up to them too intently, or take them too abundantly. And it is for such mandrakes, chimeras and phantoms of content, that we cast off the love of the heavenly beloved; and how then can we say that we love him above all things, since we prefer such empty vanities before his grace?
Is it not a marvel, but one worthy of tears, to see David, so noble in surmounting hatred, so generous in pardoning injuries, and yet so furiously unjust in love, that not content with possessing justly a great multitude of wives, he iniquitously usurps and takes away the wife of poor Urias, and by an insupportable cruelty causes the husband to be slain, that he may the better enjoy the love of the wife? Who would not wonder at the heart of a S. Peter, which was so bold amidst the armed soldiers that he alone of all his master's company takes sword in hand and strikes; and yet a little afterwards he is so cowardly amongst the women, that at the mere word of a maid he denies and forswears his master? And how can it seem so strange to us that Rachel could sell the chaste favours of her Jacob for the apples of the mandrake, since Adam and Eve actually forsook grace for an apple which a serpent offers them to eat?
In fine, I say to you this word, worthy of note. Heretics are heretics and bear the name, because out of the articles of faith they choose at their taste and pleasure those which it seems good to them to believe, rejecting and denying the others. And Catholics are Catholics, because without any choice or election they embrace, with an equal assurance and without exception, all the faith of the Church. Now it is the same in the articles of charity. It is a heresy in sacred love to make choice among God's commandments, which to observe, and which to violate: he who said: Thou shalt not kill, said also: Thou shalt not commit adultery. If then thou kill not, but commit adultery, it is not for love for God that thou killest not, but it is from some other motive, which makes thee rather choose this commandment than the other; a choice which makes heresy in matter of charity. If a man told me that he would not cut off my arm on account of his love for me, and yet proceeded to pluck out my eye, to break my head, to run me through: -- Ah! should I cry, how do you say that it is for love you do not cut off my arm, since you pluck out my eye which is no less precious to me, or run my body through with your sword, which is still more dangerous to me? It is a maxim that good comes from an entirely sound cause, evil from some defect. To make an act of true charity, it must proceed from an entire, general and universal love, which extends to all the divine commandments, and if we fail in any one commandment, love ceases to be entire and universal, and the heart wherein it is cannot be called truly loving, nor, consequently, truly good.