"When the devil has failed in making a man fall, he puts forward all his energies to create distrust between the penitent and the confessor, and so by little and little he gains his end at last."

St Philip Neri

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"Spiritual persons ought to be equally ready to experience sweetness and consolation in the things of God, or to suffer and keep their ground in drynesses of spirit and devotion, and for as long as God pleases, without their making any complaint about it."

St Philip Neri

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"God looks neither at long nor beautiful prayers, but at those that come from the heart."

The Cure D'Ars

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Blessed John of Rusybroeck   (1293-1381)




by Blessed John of Rusybroeck



66. Showing how some Men live contrary to these Exercises

Now some men, who seem to be righteous, yet live contrary to these three ways and to every virtue. Let every one observe and prove himself! Every man who is not drawn and enlightened of God is not touched by love, and has neither the active cleaving with desire[67] nor the simple and loving tendency to fruitive rest. And therefore such a one cannot unite himself with God; for all those who live without supernatural love are inclined towards themselves and seek their rest in outward things. For all creatures by their nature tend towards rest: and therefore, rest is sought both by the good and by the evil, in divers ways.

Now mark this: when a man is bare and imageless in his senses, and empty and idle in his higher powers,[68] he enters into rest through mere nature; and this rest may be found and possessed within themselves in mere nature by all creatures, without the grace of God, whenever they can strip themselves of images and of all activity. But in this the loving man cannot find his rest, for charity and the inward touch of God's grace will not be still: and so the inward man cannot long remain in natural rest within himself.

But now mark the way in which this natural rest is practised. It is a sitting still, without either outward or inward acts, in vacancy, in order that rest may be found and may remain untroubled. But a rest which is practised in this way is unlawful; for it brings with it in men a blindness and ignorance, and a sinking down into themselves without activity. Such a rest is nought else than an idleness, into which the man has fallen, and in which he forgets himself and God and all things in all that has to do with activity. This rest is wholly contrary to the supernatural rest, which one possesses in God; for that is a loving self-mergence joined to a simple gazing into the Incomprehensible Brightness. This rest in God, which is actively sought with inward longing, and is found in fruitive inclination, and is eternally possessed in the self-mergence of love, and which, when possessed, is sought none the less: this rest is exalted above the rest of mere nature as greatly as God is exalted above all creatures. And that is why all those men are deceived who have self in mind and sink down in the natural rest, and neither seek God in desire, nor find Him in fruitive love; for the rest which they find consists in their own idleness, to which they are inclined by nature and by habit. And in this natural rest one cannot find God, but it certainly leads a man into a bare vacancy, which may be found by Pagans and Jews and all men, how wicked soever they may be, if they can live in their sins without the reproach of their conscience, and can empty themselves of every image and of all activity. In this bare vacancy the rest is pleasant and great. This rest is in itself no sin; for it exists in all men by nature, whenever they make themselves empty. But when a man wishes to practise and possess it without acts of virtue, he falls into spiritual pride and a self-complacency, from which he seldom recovers. And he sometimes fancies himself to have and to be that to which he shall never attain. When a man thus possesses this rest in false quietude, and all loving adherence seems a hindrance to him, he clings to himself in his rest, and lives contrary to the first way in which man is united with God: and this is the beginning of all ghostly error.

Now consider a similitude of this: the angels who turned inward towards God in love and fruition, with all that they had received from Him, found beatitude and eternal rest; but those who turned towards themselves, and sought rest in themselves with self-complacency in the natural light, their rest was short and was unlawful. And they were blinded, and there was a wall of separation between them and the external light, and they fell into darkness and eternal restlessness. This is the first contrary way; which one possesses by resting in false quietude.

Now mark this: when a man wishes to possess inward rest in idleness, without inward and desirous cleaving to God, then he is ready for all errors; for he is turned away from God, and inclined towards himself, in natural love, seeking and desiring consolation and sweetness and everything that pleases him. And such a man is like to a merchant, for in all his activity he is turned only towards himself, and seeks and means his own rest and his own profit, more than the glory of God. A man who thus lives in mere natural love, always possesses himself in self-love without self-renunciation. Such men often lead a hard life with great works of penitence, that they may become known and renowned for their great sanctity, and also that they may merit a great reward; for all natural love is favourably disposed to itself and likes to receive great honours in time and a great reward in eternity. And these men have many special desires, and pray and beseech God for many particular things. And thus they are often deceived; for sometimes, through the work of the devil, those things which they desire happen to them, and then they ascribe this to their sanctity, and hold themselves worthy of them all; for such people are proud, and neither touched nor enlightened by God. And therefore they dwell within themselves, and a small consolation may greatly rejoice them, for they know not what they lack. And they are wholly attached, in their desire, to inward savours and the spiritual refreshment of their nature. And this is called spiritual lust; for it is an inordinate attachment in natural love, which is always directed towards itself, and seeks its own profit in all things.

Such men are always spiritually proud and self-willed; and this is why their desires and lusts are sometimes so vehemently set upon the things which they desire, and wilfully strive to acquire from God, so that they are often deceived, and some of them also become possessed by the devil. All these men live contrary to charity and to the loving introversion in which a man offers himself up, with all that he can achieve, for the honour and love of God; and in which nothing can give him rest or satisfaction but a single incomprehensible Good, which is God alone. For charity is a bond of love, in which we are drawn up to God, and through which we renounce ourselves, and whereby we are united with God and God is united with us. But natural love turns back towards itself, and towards its own profit, and ever abides alone. Nevertheless, in its outward works, natural love is as like unto charity as two hairs from the same head; but the intentions are different. For the good man always seeks and means and desires, with an aspiring heart, to glorify God; but in natural love a man has always himself and his own profit in mind. Therefore, when natural love opposes and conquers true charity the man falls into four sins; namely, spiritual pride, avarice, gluttony, and lust. And in this way Adam fell in Paradise, and all human nature with him, for he loved himself inordinately with natural love, and so he turned away from God, and scorned in his pride the commandment of God. And he desired knowledge and wisdom in his avarice; and he sought pleasant tastes and satisfactions in gluttony; and after that he was moved by lust. But Mary was a living Paradise. She found the grace which Adam lost, and much more besides, for she is the Mother of Love. She turned in active charity towards God, and conceived Christ in humility. And she offered Him up to the Father with all His sufferings in generosity; and she never tasted of consolation, nor of any gift, in gluttony; and her whole life was in purity. Whosoever follows her shall conquer all that is contrary to the virtues, and shall enter into the kingdom where she reigns with her Son in eternity.

So, when a man possesses the natural rest in bare vacancy, whilst in all his works he has himself in mind, and he continues obstinately disobedient in his self-will, he cannot be united with God; for he lives without charity in unlikeness to God. And here begins the third contrary way, which is the most noxious of all; and this is an unrighteous life, full of ghostly error and of all perversity.

Now mark well what follows, lest you should not understand it well. All these men are, in their own opinion, God-seeing men, and believe themselves the holiest of all men living. Yet they live contrary and unlike to God and all saints and all good men. Observe the following marks: thus you will be able to recognise them both by their words and their works. By means of the natural rest which they feel and possess in themselves in bare vacancy, they believe themselves to be free, and to be united with God without means, and to be above all the customs of Holy Church, and above the commandments of God, and above the law, and above every work of virtue which can in any way be done. For they think their idleness to be so great a thing that it may not be troubled by any work, how good soever it be; for this idleness is nobler than any virtue. And therefore they maintain themselves in pure passivity, without any activity towards above or towards below; like a loom, which does not work of itself, but awaits its master, and the time when he wishes to work. For they deem that if they worked themselves, God would be hindered in His work. And therefore they are empty of every virtue; and indeed so empty, that they will neither praise nor thank God. They have no knowledge and no love, no will, no prayer, no desire; for they believe that all that they could pray for, and desire, is already possessed of them. And so they are poor of spirit, for they are without will, and have forsaken everything, and live without any personal preferences: and thus it seems to them that they are empty, and have overcome everything, and have in their possession all those things for which the customs of Holy Church have been instituted and ordained. And so, they say, no one, not even God, can give them anything, or can take away anything from them; for they have, in their own opinion, transcended all customs and all virtues, and have entered into the pure emptiness, and are released from every virtue. And this release from all virtues in emptiness needs, they say, more labour than the acquisition of the virtues. And therefore they would be free, and obedient to none; neither pope, nor bishop, nor parson. Even though outwardly they seem to be so, inwardly they are submissive to none, neither in will nor in works; for they are in every respect empty of all that Holy Church practises. And therefore they say, as long as a man strives after virtue, and desires to fulfil the good pleasure of God, he is still imperfect; for he is still amassing virtues, and knows not this spiritual poverty and emptiness. But they are themselves, in their own opinion, lifted up above all the choirs of saints and angels, and above every reward which one can in any way merit. And therefore they say that their virtues can nevermore increase, nor can they themselves deserve a greater reward, nor commit any sin any more; for, they say, they live without will, and have surrendered their spirit to God in rest and bareness, and are one with God, and in themselves have become nothing. And therefore they can do without hindrance all that the bodily nature desires, for they have attained to the state of innocence, and no law has sway over them. When therefore it happens that their emptiness of spirit is troubled or hindered by any natural lust, they yield to nature, that their emptiness of spirit may remain untroubled. And that is why they do not keep Lent or Ember-days, or any other commandment, save when they do it for the sake of their neighbours; for they live without conscience in all things. I hope that of such folk not many are to be found; but those who are like them are the most wicked and vile of all men living. And they are sometimes possessed of the Fiend; and then they are so cunning that one cannot vanquish them on the grounds of reason. But through Holy Scripture and the teaching of Christ and our Faith, we may prove that they are deceived.
67. This adherence or deliberate cleaving of the loving will to God is the supreme work of the self in the Divine union and is never transcended. Its absence marks the distinction between heretical quietism and true contemplation.
68. Ruysbroeck's word "ledich" means both empty and idle: a blank passivity of the mind and of the will.