I Have seen, says Pliny, a tree at Tivoli grafted in all the fashions that one can graft, and bearing all sorts of fruit; for upon one branch there were cherries, on another nuts, on others grapes, figs, pomegranates, apples, and, in a word, all kinds of fruit. This was wonderful, Theotimus, yet more so is it to see, in Christian man, heavenly love, with all virtues grafted thereon; in such sort that, as one might have said of this tree that it was a cherry tree, an apple, a nut, a pomegranate, so may one say of charity that it is patient, mild, valiant, just, or rather that it is patience, mildness and justice itself.
But the poor tree of Tivoli did not live long, as the same Pliny records, for this variety of productions dried up its essential sap, so that it withered away and died; whereas, on the contrary, charity is fortified and invigorated, so as to produce abundance of fruit in the exercise of all the virtues; yea, as our holy Fathers have observed, it is insatiable in its desires of bringing forth fruit, and never ceases to urge the heart wherein it dwells, as Rachel did her husband, saying: Give me children, otherwise I shall die.
Now the fruits of grafted trees always follow the graft, for if the graft be apple it will bear apples, if cherry it will bear cherries; yet so that these fruits always taste of the stock. In like manner, Theotimus, our acts take their name and species from the particular virtues whence they spring, but they draw the taste of their sanctity from holy charity, which is the root and source of all sanctity in man. And as the stock communicates its taste to all the fruits which the grafts produce, yet so that each fruit preserves the natural property of the graft whence it sprung, even so charity pours out in such sort her excellence and dignity upon the acts of other virtues, that she does not deprive them of the particular worth and goodness which they have by their own natural condition.
All flowers lose their lustre and grace amidst the darkness of night, but, in the morning, the sun, which makes them again visible and agreeable, does not however make their beauties and their graces equal, and its brightness, though equally spread over them all, yet makes them unequally bright and glorious, according as they are more or less susceptible of the effects of its splendour. And the light of the sun, equal as it is on the violet and the rose, yet will never make that so fair as this, or make a daisy as lovely as a lily. However, if the sun should shine very clearly upon the violet, and very mistily and faintly upon the rose, then without doubt it would make the violet more fair to see than the rose. So, my Theotimus, if one with an equal charity should suffer death by martyrdom, and another hunger by fasting, who does not see that the value of this fasting will not therefore be equal to that of martyrdom? No, Theotimus, for who would dare to affirm that martyrdom is not more excellent in itself than fasting? And as it is more excellent, and as superadded charity does not take away but perfects its excellence, charity will consequently leave to it the advantage which it naturally had over fasting. Surely no man of good sense will equal nuptial chastity to virginity, nor the good use of riches to the entire abnegation of the same. Who again would dare to say, that charity accompanying these virtues deprives them of their properties and privileges, since it is not a virtue which destroys and impoverishes, but betters, quickens and enriches all the good it finds in the souls which it rules. Yea, so far is charity from bereaving the other virtues of their natural pre-eminences and dignities, that, on the contrary, having this quality of perfecting the perfections which it meets with, it more greatly perfects where it finds greater perfection. It acts like sugar, which so preserves and so seasons fruits with its sweetness that, sweetening them all, it leaves them dissimilar in taste and sweetness, according as their natural taste and sweetness are dissimilar, nor does it ever make peaches and nut-fruits as sweet or agreeable as apricots and mirabels.
Still it is true that if love be ardent, powerful and excellent in a heart, it will also more enrich and perfect all the virtuous works which may proceed from it. One may suffer death and fire for God without charity, as S. Paul supposes, and as I explain elsewhere: by better reason may one suffer them with little charity. Now I say, Theotimus, that it may come to pass that a very small virtue may be of greater value in a soul where sacred love fervently reigns, than martyrdom itself in a soul where love is languishing, feeble and dull. Thus the little virtues of our Blessed Lady, of S. John, of other great saints, were of better worth before God than the most exalted of many inferior saints; as many of the slight movements of love in the seraphim are more inflamed than the greatest in angels of the last order; or as the first essays of the nightingale are incomparably more melodious than the song of the best-trained finch.
Pireicus towards the end of his days painted only miniatures and trivial subjects, such as barbers' or cobblers' shops, asses laden with herbs, and similar petty matters; which he did, as Pliny conjectures, to lessen his great renown, whence in the end he came to be called a painter of rubbish; and yet the greatness of his art did so appear in his small works that they were sold at a higher rate than the great pieces of others. Even so, Theotimus, the little simplicities, abjections and humiliations in which the great saints so delighted, in order to hide themselves and put their hearts under shelter against vainglory, having been practised with a great excellence of the art and of the ardour of heavenly love, were found more grateful in the sight of God than the large and illustrious works of many others which were performed with little charity and devotion.
The sacred spouse wounds her beloved with a single one of her hairs, of which he makes such great account that he compares them to the flocks of the goats of Galaad; and he has no sooner commended the eyes of his devout loving one, which are the most noble parts of the face, than presently he praises her hair, which is the most frail, worthless and mean; to teach us that in a soul captivated by divine love, exercises that seem very trifling are yet highly agreeable to his Divine Majesty.