"Try to turn your heart from the love of things visible and bring yourself to things invisible. For they who follow their own evil passions stain their consciences and lose the grace of God. "

Thomas á Kempis

* * *

"A single act of uniformity with the divine will suffices to make a saint."

St Alphonsus de Liguori

* * *

"Obedience is the true holocaust which we sacrifice to God on the altar of our hearts."

St Philip Neri

* * *


Blessed John of Rusybroeck   (1293-1381)




by Blessed John of Rusybroeck



21. A Similitude how a Man should act and bear himself in this case

Now I will give you a short similitude, that you may not err in this case, but may govern yourselves prudently. You should watch the wise bee and do as it does. It dwells in unity, in the congregation of its fellows, and goes forth, not in the storm, but in calm and still weather, in the sunshine, towards all those flowers in which sweetness may be found. It does not rest on any flower, neither on any beauty nor on any sweetness; but it draws from them honey and wax, that is to say, sweetness and light-giving matter, and brings both to the unity of the hive, that therewith it may produce fruits, and be greatly profitable. Christ, the Eternal Sun, shining into the open heart, causes that heart to grow and to bloom, and it overflows with all the inward powers with joy and sweetness.

So the wise man will do like the bee, and he will fly forth with attention and with reason and with discretion, towards all those gifts and towards all that sweetness which he has ever experienced, and towards all the good which God has ever done to him. And in the light of love and with inward observation, he will taste of the multitude of consolations and good things; and will not rest upon any flower of the gifts of God, but, laden with gratitude and praise, will fly back into the unity, wherein he wishes to rest and to dwell eternally with God.

This is the second degree of that inward working which adorns the lower part of man in many ways.

22. Of the Third Degree of the Spiritual Coming of Christ

When the sun has risen in the heavens as high as it can, it stands in the sign of Cancer (which means Crab, because it cannot go further, but begins to go back). Then come the fiercest heats of the whole year. And the sun draws up all the moisture, and the earth becomes dry, and the fruits ripen quickly.

So likewise, when Christ, the Divine Sun, has risen to the zenith of our hearts�that is, above all the gifts and consolations and sweetness which we may receive from Him�so that we do not rest in any savours, how great soever they be, which God may pour into our souls; if then, masters of ourselves, we ever turn inwards, by the way which has been shown heretofore, with humble praise and with fervent thanksgiving, towards the very source from which all gifts flow forth according to the needs and the merits of each creature: then Christ stands on high in the zenith of our hearts, and He will draw all things, that is, all our powers, to Himself. When thus neither savour nor consolation can overcome or hinder the loving heart, but it would rather forgo all consolations and all gifts, that it may find Him Whom it loves: then there arises from this the third kind of inward exercise, by which man is uplifted and adorned in his sensibility and the lower part of his being.

The first work of Christ, and the beginning of this degree consists in this: that God draws the heart, the desires, and all the powers of the soul up towards heaven, and calls them to be united with Him, and says in ghostly wise within the heart: Go ye out of yourselves by the way in which I draw and invite you. This drawing and this inviting I cannot well make plain to gross and insensitive men; but it is an inward constraining and drawing of the heart towards the most high unity of God. This inward summons is joyful to the loving heart above anything it ever experienced before. For hence arise a new way and a higher exercise.

Here the heart opens itself in joy and in desire, and all the veins gape, and all the powers of the soul are in readiness, and desire to fulfil that which is demanded of them by God and by His unity. This invitation is a shining forth of Christ, the Eternal Sun; and it brings forth such great pleasure and joy in the heart, and makes the heart open so widely, that it can never wholly close again. And thereby a man is wounded in the heart from within, and feels the wound of love. To be wounded by love is the sweetest feeling and the sharpest pain which any one may endure. To be wounded by love is to know for certain that one shall be healed; for the ghostly wound brings woes and weal at the same time. For Christ, the true Sun streams and shines into the wounded and open heart and calls it to oneness again. And this renews the wound and all its pangs.[45]

23. Of the Pain and Restlessness of Love

Of this inward demand and this invitation, and also because the creature lifts itself up and offers itself, and all that it can do, and yet can neither attain nor acquire the unity�of these things spring a ghostly pain. When the inmost part of the heart and the source of life have been wounded by love, and one cannot obtain that which one desires above all things, but must ever abide where one does not wish to be: from these two things pain comes forth. Here Christ is risen to the zenith of the conscience, and He sends His Divine rays into the hungry desires and into the longings of the heart; and this splendour burns and dries up and consumes all the moisture, that is, the strength and the powers of nature. The desire of the open heart, and the shining of the Divine rays, cause a perpetual pain.

If, then, one cannot achieve God and yet cannot and will not do without Him, from these two things there arise in such men tumult and restlessness, both without and within. And so long as a man is thus agitated, no creature, neither in heaven nor on earth, can give him rest or help him. In this state there are sometimes spoken from within sublime and salutary words, and singular teachings and wisdom are given. In this inward tumult one is ready to suffer all that can be suffered, that one may obtain that which one loves. This fury of love is an inward impatience which will hardly use reason or follow it, if it cannot obtain that which it loves. This inward fury eats a man's heart and drinks his blood. Here the sensible heat of love is fiercer than at any other stage in man's whole life; and his bodily nature is secretly wounded and consumed without any outward work, and the fruits of the virtues ripen more quickly than in all the degrees which have been shown heretofore.

In the like season of the year, the visible sun enters the sign of Leo, that is, the Lion, who is fierce by nature, for he is the lord over all beasts. So likewise, when a man comes to this way, Christ, the bright Sun, stands in the sign of the Lion, for the rays of His heat are so fierce that the blood in the heart of the impatient man must boil. And when this fierce way prevails, it masters and subdues all other ways and works; for it wills to be wayless, that is, without manner.

And in this tumult a man sometimes falls into a desire and restless longing to be freed from the prison of his body, so that he may at once be united with Him Whom he loves. And he opens his inward eyes and beholds the heavenly house full of glory and joy, and his Beloved crowned in the midst of it, flowing forth towards His saints in abounding bliss; whilst he must lack all this. And therefrom there often spring in such a man outward tears and great longings. He looks down and considers the place of exile in which he has been imprisoned, and from which he cannot escape; then tears of sadness and misery gush forth.

These natural tears soothe and refresh the man's heart, and they are wholesome to the bodily nature, preserving its strength and powers and sustaining him through this state of tumult. All the manifold considerations and exercises according to ways or manner are helpful to the impatient man; that his strength may be preserved and that he may long endure in virtue.

24. Of Ecstacies and Divine Revelations

By this fierce ardour and this impatience some men are at times caught into the spirit, above the senses; and there words are spoken to them and images and similitudes shown to them, teaching them some truth of which they or other men have need, or else things that are to come. These are called revelations or visions. If they are bodily images, they are received in the imagination. This may be the work of an angel in man, through the power of God. If it be an intellectual truth, or a ghostly image, through which God reveals Himself in His unfathomableness, this is received in the understanding; and the man can clothe it in words in so far as it can be expressed in words.

Sometimes a man may also be drawn above himself and above the spirit (but not altogether outside himself) into an Incomprehensible Good, which he shall never be able either to utter or to explain in the way in which he heard and saw; for in this simple act and this simple vision, to hear and to see are one. And none can work this in man, without intermediary and without the co-operation of any creature, save God alone. It is called Raptus; which means, rapt away, or uplifted, or carried away. At times God grants to such men a sudden spiritual glimpse, like the lightning in the sky. It comes like a sudden glimpse of strange brightness, shining forth from the Simple Nudity. And thereby for an instant the spirit is raised above itself; but the light passes at once and the man returns to himself again. This is the work of God Himself; it is something very sublime; for those to whom it happens often become illuminated men.

Other things sometimes happen to those who live in the fierce ardour of love; for often another light shines into them, and this is the work of God through means. In this light the heart and the desirous powers uplift themselves towards that light; and, in the meeting with that light, the joy and the satisfaction are so great that the heart cannot contain them, but breaks out in a loud voice with cries of joy. And this is called the Jubilus, or jubilation; that is, a joy which cannot be uttered in words.[46] And one cannot contain oneself; but if one would go out with an opened and uplifted heart to meet this light the voice must follow, so long as this exercise and this light endure.

Some inward men are at times taught in a dream by their guardian angels or by other angels, concerning many things of which they have need. Some men too are found who have many sudden intuitions, or inspirations, or imaginations, and also have miraculous dreams, and yet remain in their outward senses. But these know nothing of the tumult of love; for they dwell in outward multiplicity, and love has not wounded them. These things may be natural, or they may come from the devil, or from good angels, and therefore we may have faith in them so far as they accord with Holy Writ, and with the truth, but no more. If we trust them beyond this, we may easily be deceived.[47]

45. The "wound of love" as a metaphor for the rapturous yet piercing entrance of Divine Love into the heart, meets us again and again in the literature of mysticism. "God," says St Basil, "is the Perfect Beauty which inflicts on the soul an ineffable wound of love." In many cases, as for instance in the celebrated "transverberation" of St Teresa, this image probably describes one of those psycho-physical parallelisms�not uncommon in the records of high religious experience�in which actual bodily pangs accompany the spiritual crisis. Thus Richard Rolle says, "O thou everlasting fairness, thou hast wounded my heart; scarcely I live for joy and almost I die, for I may not in my deadly flesh suffer such a sweetness of this great majesty." (The Mending of Life, cap. 11.)

Thus, too, St John of the Cross�

"O burn that burns to heal!
O more than pleasant wound!
And O soft hand, O touch most delicate
That dost new life reveal,
That dost in grace abound,
And, slaying, dost from death to life translate."

(Llama de Amor Viva. Trans. by Arthur Symons.)
[46]The Jubilus, or inarticulate song of joy, was recognised by medieval writers as a normal form of religious exaltation: there are many references to it in mystical literature. Thus Jacopone da Tod� in the poem, "O jubilo del core"�

"The Jubilus in fire awakes
And straight the man must sing and pray,
His tongue in childish stammering shakes,
Nor knows he what his lips may say;
He cannot quench nor hide away
That sweetness pure and infinite.

"The Jubilus in flame is lit
And straight the man must shout and sing;
So close to love his heart is knit
He scarce can bear the honeyed sting;
His clamour and his cries must ring
And shame for ever take its flight."

(Laude 76. Trans. by J. Beck.)
47. This is the traditional Christian test for all visions and revelations. Thus Richard of St. Victor, the source of so much of Ruysbroeck's teaching, says in a celebrated passage�

"Even though you believe that you have been taken up into the high mountain apart, even though you believe that you see Christ transfigured, be not too ready to believe anything you see in Him or hear from him, unless Moses and Elias run to meet Him. I hold all truth in suspicion which Scripture does not confirm: nor do I receive Christ in His glory unless Moses and Elias are talking with Him." (Benjamin Minor, cap. 81.)