But now, thou mayst ask me and say, |Thou speakest so much of love; tell me -- What is love, and where is love. And how I shall love GOD verily. And how that I may know that I love Him. And in what state I may most love Him.
| These are hard questions to teach, to a feeble man and fleshly as I am. But nevertheless therefore, I shall not delay that I shall not shew my wit, and as I think it may be. For I hope in the help of JESUS, who is the well of love and peace and sweetness. Thy first asking is: What is love?
And I answer: Love is a burning yearning after GOD, with a wonderful delight and certainty. GOD is light and burning. Light clarifies our reason; burning kindles our will, that we desire naught but Him. Love is a life, joining together the loving and the loved. For meekness makes us sweet to GOD. Purity joins us to GOD. Love makes us one with GOD. Love is the beauty of all virtues. Love is the thing through which GOD loves us, and we Him, and each one of us loves others. Love is the desire of the heart, aye thinking on that it loves; and when it has that it loves, then it joys and nothing can make it sorry. (Love is yearning between two, with lastingness of thoughts.) Love is a stirring of the soul for to love GOD for Himself, and all other things for GOD; the which love, when it is ordained in GOD, it does away all inordinate love in anything that is not good. But all deadly sin is inordinate love for a thing that is naught: then love puts out all deadly sin. Love is a virtue which is the rightest affection of man's soul. Truth may be without love: but it cannot help without it. Love is a perfection of learning, virtue of prophecy, fruit of truth, help of sacraments, establishing of wit and knowledge; riches of pure men; life of dying men. So, how good love is. If we suffer to be slain; if we give all that we have, (down) to a beggar's staff; if we know as much as men may know on earth, all this is naught but ordained sorrow and torment. If thou wilt ask how good is he or she, ask how much he or she loves; and that no man can tell. For I hold it folly to judge a man's heart; that none knows save GOD. Love is a righteous turning from all earthly things, and is joined to GOD, without departing, and kindled with the fire of the Holy Ghost: far from defiling, far from corruption, bound to no vice of this life. High above all fleshly lusts, aye ready and greedy for the contemplation of GOD. In all things not overcome. The sum of all good affections. Health of good manners; goal of the commandments of GOD; death of sins; life of virtues. Virtue whilst fighting lasts, crown of over-comers. Mirth to holy thoughts. Without that, no man may please GOD; with that, no man sins. For if we love GOD in all our heart, there is nothing in us through which we serve sin. Very love cleanses the soul, and delivers it from the pain of hell, and from the foul service of sin, and from the ugly fellowship of the devils; and (out) of the fiend's son, makes GOD'S son, and partner of the heritage of heaven. We shall force ourselves to clothe us in love, as iron or coal does in the fire, as the air does in the sun, as the wool does in the dye. The coal so clothes itself in fire that it is fire. The air so clothes itself in the sun that it is light. And the wool so substantially takes the dye that it is like it. In this manner shall a true lover of JESUS Christ do: his heart shall so burn in love, that it shall be turned into the fire of love, and be as it were all fire; and he shall so shine in virtues that no part of him shall be murky in vices.
The second asking is: Where is love? And the answer: love is in thine heart, and in the will of man; not in his hand, nor in his mouth: that is to say, not in his work, but in his soul, |For many speak good and do good, and love not GOD: as hypocrites, who suffer great penance, and seem holy in man's sight. But because they seek praise and honour of men, and favour, they have lost their meed: and in the sight of GOD, they are devil's sons, and ravishing wolves. But if a man give alms-deed, and take him to poverty and do penance, it is a sign that he loves GOD: but therefore loves he Him not, save when he forsakes the world only for GOD'S love, and sets all his thought on GOD, and loves all men as himself: and all the good deeds that he may do, he does them with intent to please JESUS Christ, and to come to the rest of heaven. Then he loves GOD: and that love is in his soul, and so his deeds shew without. If thou speakest good and doest good, men suppose that thou lovest good: therefore look well that thy thought be in God, or else thou deceivest thyself, and deceivest men. Nothing that I do without (outside) proves that I love GOD.
For a wicked man might do as much penance in body, as much waking and fasting as I do. How may I then ween that I love, or hold myself better, on account of that which any man may do? Certainly, my heart, whether it loves my GOD or not, wots no one but GOD, for nought that they may see me do. Wherefore, love is in will verily, not in work, but in a sign of love. For he that says he loves GOD, and will not do what is in him to shew love, tell him that he lies. Love will not be idle, it is working some good evermore. If it cease working, wit thou that it cools and goes away.
The third asking is: How shall I verily love GOD? I answer; Very love is to love Him with all thy might, stalwartly: in all thine heart, wisely: in all thy soul, devoutly and sweetly. Stalwartly can no man love Him save he be stalwart. He is stalwart, who is meek; for all ghostly strength comes of meekness; -- on whom rests the Holy Ghost? in a meek soul. Meekness governs us and keeps us in all our temptations, so that they overcome us not. But the devil deceives many that are meek, through tribulations, and reproofs, and back-bitings*. But if thou beest wroth for any anguish of this world, or for any word that men say of thee, or for aught that men say to thee, thou art not meek, nor mayst thou love GOD stalwartly. For love is stalwart as death, which slays every living thing on earth, and hard as hell that spares not them that are dead. And he who loves GOD perfectly grieves Him not, whatever shame or anguish he may suffer; but he has delight and covets that he might be worthy for to suffer torment and pain for Christ's love: and he has joy that men reprove him and speak ill of him. Like a dead man, what so men do or say, he answers not. Right-so, whoso loves GOD perfectly, they are not stirred for any word that man may say. For he or she cannot love, that cannot suffer pain or anger for their friend's love. For whoso loves, they have no pain. Proud men or women love not stalwartly, for they are so weak, and they fall at every stirring of the wind that is temptation. They seek a higher place than Christ; for they will have their will done, whether it be with right or with wrong: and Christ wills that nothing but well be done, and without harm to other men. But who is verily meek, they will not have their will in this world, but that they may have it in the other fully. In nothing may men sooner overcome the devil than in Meekness, which he much hates. For he may wake, and fast and suffer pain more than any other creature may: but meekness and love may he not have. Also, it behoves thee to love GOD wisely, and that thou canst not do save thou beest wise. Thou art wise, when thou art poor without desire of this world, and despisest thyself for love of Christ: and expendest all thy wit and all thy might in His service. For some who seem wise are most fools, for all their wisdom they spill in covetousness and care about the world. If thou sawest a man have precious stones wherewith he might buy a kingdom, if he gave them for an apple, as a child will do, rightly mightest thou say that he was not wise but a great fool. Just so, if we will, we have precious stones: Poverty and penance and ghostly travail, with the which we may buy the kingdom of heaven. For, if thou lovest poverty and despisest riches and delights of this world, and holdest thyself vile and poor, and thinkest thou hast naught of thyself save sin: for this poverty, thou shalt have riches without end. And if thou hast sorrow for thy sins, and because thou art so long in exile out of thy country, and forsakest the solace of this life: thou shalt have for this sorrow the joy of heaven. And if thou beest in travail, and punishest thy body reasonably and wisely, by wakings, fastings, and in prayers and meditations, and sufferest heat and cold, hunger and thirst, privation and anguish for the love of JESUS Christ; for this travail thou shalt come to rest that lasts aye, and sit on a settle of joy with angels. But some there are who love not wisely, like children who love an apple, more than a castle. So do many; they give the joy of heaven for a little delight of their flesh, that is not worth a plum. Now canst thou see, that whoso will love wisely, it behoves him to love lasting things, lastingly; and passing things, passingly; so that his heart be settled and fastened on nothing but GOD. And if thou wilt love JESUS verily, thou shalt not only love Him stalwartly and wisely, but also devoutly and sweetly. Sweet love is when thy body is chaste and thy thought clean. Devout love is; when thou offerest thy prayers and thy thoughts to GOD with ghostly joy, and burning heart in the heat of the Holy Ghost; so that men think that thy soul is as it were drunken for delight and solace of the sweetness of JESUS; and thy heart conceivest so much of GOD'S help that men think thou mayst never be departed from Him: and then thou comest into such rest and peace in soul, and quiet, without thoughts of vanity, (or) of vices, as if thou wert in silence and sleep, and set in Noe's ship, so that nothing may hinder thee from devotion and sweet love. For thou hast gotten His love: all thy life, until death come, in joy and comfort: and thou art verily Christ's lover: and he rests in peace whose place is made in peace.
The fourth asking was: how thou mightest know that thou wast in love and charity. I answer: that no man wots on earth that they are in charity; save it be through any privilege or special grace that GOD has given to any man or woman: that all others may not take example by. Holy men and women trow that they have truth and hope and charity: and in that do as well as they may, and hope certainly that they shall be safe; they wot it not so quickly; for if they wish, their merit were the less. And Solomon says it is so with righteous men and wise men, and that their works are in GOD'S hand. And nevertheless, a man wots not whether he be worthy hatred or love; but all is reserved uncertain for another world. Nevertheless, if any had grace that he might win to the third degree of love, which is called Singular, he should know that he was in love. But in such manner were the knowing, that he might never bear himself the higher, nor be in less care to love GOD; but so much the more that he is secure of love, will he be busy to love Him and dread Him, Who has made him so, and done that goodness to Him; and he that is so high, he will not hold himself worthier than the sinfullest man that goes on earth. Also seven experiments are there, that a man be in charity. The first is; when all covetousness of earthly things is quenched in him. For whereso covetousness is, is no love of Christ. Then, if he have no covetousness, sign is that he has love. The second is, burning yearning for heaven. For when men have felt aught of that savour, the more they love, the more they covet: and he that has not felt, he desires not. Therefore, when anyone is given so much, till he love thereof (so) that he can find no joy in his life: token has he that he is in charity. The third is; if his tongue be changed, that was wont to speak of earth; now speaks of GOD, and of the life that lasts aye. The fourth is: exercise of ghostly profit. As if any man or woman give themselves entirely to GOD'S services, and meddle with no earthly business. The fifth is: when the thing that is hard of itself seems light for to do; the which love makes. For as Austin says: |Love it is which brings the far thing near-to-hand, and the impossible to the openly possible.| The sixth is: hardness of thought to suffer all anguish and hurt that comes -- without this, all the other suffices not. For whatso befalls him shall not make a righteous man sorry. For he who is righteous, hates naught but sin; he loves naught but GOD, before GOD: he dreads naught but to anger GOD. The seventh is: delectability in soul, when he is in tribulation, and makes praise to GOD in the anger that he suffers. And this shews well that he loves GOD, when no sorrow can bring him down. For many love GOD while they are at ease; and in adversity they grumble, and fall into so great sorriness, that scarcely may any man comfort them: and so slander they GOD, striving and fighting against His judgments. And that is caitiff praise that any wealth of the world makes: but that praise is of great price that no violence of sorrow can do away.
The fifth asking was: In what state men may most love GOD? I answer, in such state as it be that men are in most rest of body and soul, and least occupied with any needs or business of this world. For the thought of the love of JESUS Christ, and of the joy that lasts aye, seeks outward rest, so that it be not hindered by comers and goers, and occupation of worldly things; and it seeks within great silence from the annoyances of desires, and of vanities, and of earthly thoughts. And especially, all who love contemplative life they seek rest in body and soul. For a great Doctor says: |They are GOD'S throne who dwell still in one place, and are not running about, but in sweetness of Christ's love are fixed.| And I have loved for to sit: for no penance, nor fantasy, nor that I wished men to talk of me, nor for no such thing: but only because I knew that I loved GOD more, and longer lasted within the comfort of love: than going, or standing, or kneeling. For sitting am I in most rest, and my heart most upward. But therefore, peradventure, it is not best that another should sit, as I did and will do to my death, save he were disposed in his soul, as I was.