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The Form Of Perfect Living And Other Prose Treatises by Richard Rolle

CHAPTER I. In every sinful man and woman that is bound in deadly sinà

In every sinful man and woman that is bound in deadly sin, are three wretchednesses, the which bring them to the death of hell. The first is: Default of ghostly strength. That they are so weak within their heart, that they can neither stand against the temptations of the fiend, nor can they lift their will to yearn for the love of GOD and follow thereto. The second is: Use of fleshly desires: -- for they have no will nor might to stand, they fall into lusts and likings of this world; and because they think them sweet, they dwell in them still, many till their lives' end, and so they come to the third wretchedness. The third is, Exchanging a lasting good for a passing delight: as who say they give endless joy for a little joy of this life. If they will turn them and rise to penance, GOD will ordain their dwelling with angels and with holy men. But because they choose the vile sin of this world, and have more delight in the filth of their flesh than in the fairness of heaven, they lose both the world and heaven. For he that hath not JESUS Christ loses all that he hath, and all that he is, and all that he might get. For he is not worthy of life, nor to be fed with swine's-meat. All creatures shall be stirred in His vengeance in the day of Doom. These wretchednesses that I have told you of are not only in worldly men and women, who use gluttony, lust, and other open sins: but they are also in others who seem in penance and godly life. For the devil that is enemy to all mankind, when he sees a man or a woman among a thousand, turn wholly to GOD, and forsake all the vanities and riches that men who love this world covet, and seek lasting joy, a thousand wiles he has in what manner he may destroy them. And when he can not bring them into such sins which might make all men wonder at them who knew them, he beguiles many so privily that they cannot oftentimes feel the trap that has taken them.

Some he takes with error that he puts them in. Some with singular wit, when he makes them suppose that the thing that they say or do is best; and therefore they will have no counsel of another who is better and abler than they; and this is a foul stinking pride; for such man would set his wit before all other. Some, the devil deceives through Vain-glory, that is idle joy; when any have pride and delight in themselves, of the penance that they suffer, of good deeds that they do, of any virtue that they have; are glad when men praise them, sorry when men blame them, have envy of them who are spoken better of than they. They consider themselves so glorious, and so far surpassing the life that other men lead, that they think that none should reprehend them in anything that they do or say; and despise sinful men, and others who will not do as they bid them. How mayst thou find a sinfuller wretch than such a one? And so much the worse is he because he knows not that he is evil, and is considered and honoured of men as wise and holy. Some are deceived by over-great lust and liking in meat and drink, when they pass measure and come into excess, and have delight therein; and they know not that they sin, and therefore they amend them not, and so they destroy virtues of soul. Some are destroyed with over-great abstinence of meat and drink and sleep. That is often temptation of the devil, for to make them fall in the midst of their work, so that they bring it to no ending as they should have done, had they known reason and had discretion; and so they lose their merit for their frowardness. This snare our enemy lays to take us with when we begin to hate wickedness, and turn us to GOD. Then many begin a thing that they can never more bring to an end: then they suppose that they can do whatsoever their heart is set on. But oftentimes they fall or ever they come midway; and that thing which they supposed was for them is hindering to them. For we have a long way to heaven, and as many good deeds as we do, as many prayers as we make, and as many good thoughts as we think in truth and hope and charity, so many paces go we heavenwards. Then, if we make us so weak and so feeble that we can neither work nor pray as we should do, nor think, are we not greatly to blame that fail when we had most need to be stalwart? And well I wot that it is not GOD'S will that we so do. For the prophet says: |Lord, I shall keep my strength to Thee,| so that he might sustain GOD'S service till his death-day, and not in a little and a short time waste it, and then lie wailing and groaning by the wall. And it is much more peril than men suppose. For S. Jerome says that he makes an offering of robbery who outrageously torments his body by over-little meat or sleep. And S. Bernard says: |Fasting and waking hinder not spiritual goods, but help, if they be done with discretion; without that, they are vices.| Wherefore, it is not good to torture ourselves so much, and afterwards to have displeasure at our deed. There have been many, and are who suppose it is naught all that they do unless they be in so great abstinence and fasting that all men speak of them who know them. But oftentimes it befalls that the more outward joy or wondering they have (on account) of the praising of men, the less joy they have within of the love of GOD. By my judgment, they should please JESUS Christ much more if they accepted for His sake -- in thanking and praising Him, to sustain their body in His service and to withhold themselves from great speech of men -- whatsoever GOD sent them in time and place, and gave themselves since entirely to the love and the praising of that Lord JESUS Christ: Who will stalwartly be loved, and lastingly be served, so that their holiness were more seen in GOD'S eye than in man's. For all the better thou art, and the less speech thou hast of men, the more is thy joy before GOD. Ah! how great it is to be worthy of love, and to be not loved. And what wretchedness it is, to have the name and the habit of holiness, and be not so; but to cover pride, ire or envy under the clothes of Christ's childhood. A foul thing it is to have liking and delight in the words of men who can no more deem what we are in our soul than they wot what we think. For ofttimes they say that he or she is in the higher degree that is in the lower; and whom they say is in the lower, is in the higher. Therefore I hold it to be but madness to be gladder or sorrier whether they say good or ill. If we be trying to hide us from speech and praise of this world, GOD will shew to us His praise, and our joy. For that is His joy when we are strength-full to stand against the privy and open temptation of the devil, and to seek nothing but the honour and praise of Him, and that we might entirely praise Him. And that ought to be our desire, our prayer and our intent, night and day, that the fire of His love kindle our hearts, and the sweetness of His grace be our comfort and our solace in weal and woe. Thou hast now heard a part how the fiend deceives, with his subtle craft, unknowing men and women. And if thou wilt do by good counsel and follow holy teaching, as I hope that thou wilt, thou shall destroy his traps, and burn in love's fire all the bands that he would bind thee with; and all his malice shall turn thee to joy, and him to more sorrow. GOD suffers him to tempt good men for their profit, that they may be the higher crowned, when they, through His help, have overcome so cruel an enemy, that oftentimes, both in body and soul, confounds many men.

In three manners, the devil has power to be in a man. In one manner, hurting the good they have by nature, as in dumb men, and in others, staining their thoughts. In another manner, snatching away the good that they have of grace: and so he is in sinful men whom he has deceived through delight of the world and of their flesh, and leads them with him to hell. In the third manner, he torments a man's body, as we read that he has done (to) Job. But wit thee well, if he beguile thee not within, thou needst not dread what he may do to thee without, for he may do no more than GOD gives him leave to do.

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