A preacher once stood, after matins, before a crucifix, and complained from his heart to God that he could not meditate properly on His torments and passion, and that this was very bitter for him, inasmuch as, up to that hour, he had in consequence suffered so much. And, as he thus stood with his complaint, his interior senses were rapt to an unusual exaltation, in which he was very speedily and clearly enlightened as follows: Thou shalt make a hundred venias, and each venia with a special meditation of My passion, and each meditation with a request. And every one of My sufferings shall be spiritually impressed on thee, to suffer the same again through Me as far as thou art able.
And as he thus stood in the light, and would needs count the venias, he only found ninety, upon which he spoke to God thus: Sweet Lord, Thou didst speak of a hundred venias, and I find only ninety. Then he was reminded of ten others which he had already made in the Chapter House, before solemnizing, according to his custom, the devout meditation of the miserable leading forth of Christ to death, and coming before that very crucifix; and so he found that the hundred meditations had entirely included from beginning to end His bitter Passion and death. And when he began to exercise himself in this matter, as he had been directed, his former dryness was changed into an interior sweetness.
Now it was his request that if, perchance, any one else had the same imperfection, and felt the same dryness and bitterness in meditating on Christ's Passion in which all sanctification lies, he too might be assisted, and might exercise himself therein, and not desist until he had attained salvation. And, therefore, he wrote his mediations down, and wrote them in German, because he had so received them from God. Accordingly, he gained many a bright inspiration of divine truth, whereof these meditations were a cause, and between him and the Eternal Wisdom there sprang up a tender intercourse, and this took place not by a bodily intercourse nor by figurative answers; it took place solely by meditation in the light of Holy Writ whose answers can deceive in nothing; so that the answers are taken either from the mouth of the Eternal Wisdom who uttered them herself in the Gospel, or else from the highest doctors, and they comprise either the same words or the same sense, or else such truths as are agreeable to Holy Writ, out of whose mouth the Eternal Wisdom spoke. Nor did the visions which hereafter follow take place in a bodily way; they are but an interpreted similitude.
The answer touching our Blessed Lady's complaint he has given in the sense of St. Bernard's words; and the reason why he propounds his doctrine by question and answer is that it may prove the more attractive; that it may not seem as though he were the person to whom the doctrine belonged, or who had spoken it as coming from himself. His object is to give a general doctrine, in which he and all persons may find every one what is suitable for himself. He takes upon himself, as a teacher ought to do, the person of all mankind: now he speaks in the person of a sinner; now under the image of a love-sick soul; then, as the matter suggests, in the likeness of a servant with whom the Eternal Wisdom discourses. Moreover, everything is expounded with reference to our interior; much is given here as doctrine that a zealous man should choose out for himself as devout prayer. The thoughts which stand here are simple, the words simpler still, for they proceed from a simple soul and are meant for simple men who have still their imperfections to cast aside.
It happened that, as the same brother had begun to write on the three matters, namely, the Passion, and the rest of it all, and had come to that part on repentance: Now then, cheer up thou soul of mine! etc., he had reclined himself one forenoon on his chair, and that in a bright sleep he saw clearly, in a vision, how two culpable persons sat before him, and how he chastised them very severely for sitting there so idly, and performing nothing. Then was it given him to understand that he should thread a needle, which was put into his hand. Now the thread was threefold; and two parts were very fine, but the other part was a little coarser, and when he would needs twist the three together he could not well do it. Then he saw close to him on his right hand our Lord, standing the same as when He was unbound from the pillar, and He stood before him with a look so kind and fatherly that he thought it was indeed his father. Now he perceived that His body had quite a natural colour; it was not very white, but of the colour of wheat, that is, white and red well mixed together (and this is the most natural colour of all), and he perceived that His whole body was covered with wounds, and that they were quite fresh and bloody, that some were round, some angular, some very long, just as the whips had torn Him; and as He thus stood sweetly before him, and kindly looked at him, the preacher raised his hands and rubbed them to and fro on His bloody wounds, and then took the three parts of the thread and twisted them easily together. Then was given to him a power, and he understood that he was to complete his task, and that God with His rose-coloured garment (which is wrought so delightfully out of His wounds) would clothe all those in eternal beauty who should occupy their time and leisure with it here below.
One thing, however, a man should know, that there is as great a difference between hearing himself the sweet accords of a harp and hearing another speak of them, as there is between the words received in pure grace and that flow out of a living heart, through a living mouth, and those same words when they come to be set down on dead parchment, especially in the German tongue; for then are they chilled, and they wither like plucked roses: for the sprightliness of their delivery, which, more than anything, moves the heart of man, is then extinguished, and in the dryness of dry hearts are they received. Never was there a string how sweet soever, but it became dumb when stretched on a dry log. A joyless heart can as little understand a joyful tongue as a German can an Englishman! Therefore let every fervent soul hasten after the first out-pourings of this sweet doctrine, so that she may learn to contemplate them in their origin, where they were in all their loveliness and ravishing beauty; even there are the in-pourings of the present grace, to the quickening of hearts that are dead! And he who thus looks at this book will hardly have read it through before his heart will needs be deeply moved either to fervent love, or to new light, or to a yearning towards God, and abhorrence of sin, or else to some spiritual request, wherein the soul will presently be renewed in grace.
Here ends the Preface, and follows