SERMON 1 (DW 33, W 81)
Sancti per fidem vicerunt regna (Heb. 11:32).
St Paul says: ‘the saints have conquered heaven with their faith’. The saints have conquered four kingdoms with their faith, and we should conquer them too. The first kingdom is the world, which we should overcome with poverty of spirit. The second kingdom is our body, which we should overcome with hunger and thirst. The third is the kingdom of the devil, which we should conquer with grief and pain, and the fourth is the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, which we should conquer with the power of love.
Even if we possessed the whole world, we should nevertheless consider ourselves to be poor and should reach out to the door of our Lord and God, beseeching the gift of our Lord’s grace, for it is grace that makes us children of God. Therefore David says: ‘Lord, my whole desire is for you and is before you’ (Ps. 37:10). St Paul says: ‘I count all things as refuse in order to gain my Lord, Jesus Christ’ (Phil. 3:8). It is impossible for a soul to be without sin unless God’s grace has entered it The effect of grace is to make the soul buoyant and responsive to all the works of God, for grace flows forth from the divine spring; it is a likeness of God that has the savour of God and makes the soul like God. Now when this grace and this savour enters the will, we call it love, and when this grace and savour enters our intelligence, we call it the light of faith. When the same grace and savour enters the irascible part, which is the dynamic power in us, then we call it hope.1 That is why they are called the divine virtues, since they have divine effects in the soul, just as we can tell by the power of the sun that it quickens the earth, since it enlivens all things and sustains their being.2 If this light were to disappear, then all things too would pass and it would be as it was before they existed. It is just the same with the soul: where there is grace and love, it is easy for us to do all godly works, and it is a sure sign of the absence of grace if we find it difficult to perform godly works. Therefore a master says:3 I do not condemn those people who wear fine clothes or eat well, as long as they have love. I do not regard myself as being any better when my life is demanding than when I see that there is more love in me. It is nonsensical for some people to fast and pray a good deal, to perform great works and seek constant solitude if they do not also improve their moral behaviour, but remain restless and irritable. They should take note of where they are weakest, and should apply themselves to overcoming this. If their way of life is right, then God will be pleased with whatever they do.
Thus it is that we can ‘conquer’ the ‘kingdoms’. Let us pray.
SERMON 2 (DW 38, W 29)
In illo tempore missus est angelus Gabriel a deo: ave gratia plena, dominus tecum (Luke 1:26, 28).
St Luke writes these words: ‘At that time the angel Gabriel was sent by God’. At what time? ‘In the sixth month’, when John the Baptist was in his mother’s womb.
If someone were to ask me: why do we pray, why do we fast, why do we all perform our devotions and good works, why are we baptized, why did God, the All-Highest, take on our flesh? — then I would reply: in order that God may be born in the soul and the soul be born in God. That is why the whole of Scripture was written and why God created the whole world and all the orders of angels: so that God could be born in the soul and the soul in God. It is the nature of every grain of corn to become wheat and every precious metal to become gold and all procreation to lead to the procreation of the human race. Therefore a master says that there is no animal which does not possess some likeness to human beings.
‘At that time.’ Firstly, when a word is conceived in my intellect, it is so pure and subtle there that it is a true word before it subsequently takes form in my thought. Thirdly, it is physically uttered by my mouth, and then it is nothing but a revelation of the inner word. In the same way the Eternal Word is spoken internally in the heart of the soul, in the most interior and purest part, in the head of the soul, of which I have recently spoken, in the intellect. That is where the birth takes place. Whoever has only an intimation of and hope for this, may wish to know how this birth takes place and what aids it.
St Paul says: ‘In the fullness of time God sent his only Son’ (Gal. 4:4). St Augustine explains the meaning of ‘fullness of time’ here when he says ‘where there is no more time, there is “fullness of time”’.4 For the day is full when there is no more of the day left. It is a necessary truth that all time must disappear where this birth begins, for there is nothing that so impedes it as time and creatures. It is a certain truth that time by its nature can touch neither God nor the soul. If the soul could be touched by time, she would not be the soul, and if God could be touched by time, he would not be God. If the soul could be touched by time, then God could never be born in her, and she could never be born in God. All time must fall away from that place where God is to be born in the soul, or she must have fallen away from time through her intentions or desires.
And here is another meaning of ‘In the fullness of time’: if someone possessed the skill and the power to draw time and all that has happened in time during these six thousand years or will happen before the end of time, into the Now of the present, then that would be the ‘fullness of time’. This is the Now of eternity in which the soul knows all things new and fresh and present in God with the same delight which I have in those things that are present to me now. I recently read in a book (who can fathom this?) that God is creating the world even now as he did on the first day when he created the world. Here God is rich, and here is God’s kingdom. The soul which is to be born in God must fall away from time as time must fall away from her. She must rise up and must linger in contemplation of this wealth of God,5 where there is length without length and breadth without breadth. There the soul knows all things and knows them in perfection.
What the masters tell us about the dimensions of the heavens beggars belief, and yet the least power in my soul is broader than the heavens, not to mention the intellect, in which there is breadth without breadth. In the head of the soul, in the intellect, I am as close to a point located a thousand miles beyond the sea as I am to the place where I am presently standing. In this expanse and wealth of God the soul attains knowing, nothing escapes her and she seeks nothing more.
‘The angel was sent.’ The masters say that the multitude of angels is a number beyond all numbers.6 Their multitude is so great that it cannot be contained by a number it cannot even be conceived of. But for someone who can conceive of distinction without number or quantity, even a hundred would be the same as one. If there were a hundred Persons in the Godhead, they would see only one God. Unbelievers and some uneducated Christians are astounded at this; even some priests know as little about it as a stone does, and take three in the sense of three cows or three stones. But whoever can conceive of distinction in God without number or quantity, knows that three Persons are a single God.
An angel is also so exalted that according to the best teachers, every angel is its own complete species.7 It is just as if there were someone who possessed everything, all the strength and wisdom that everyone possesses now and shall possess in the future. That would be a miracle, and yet they would still be only human, since they would only possess everything which all other people have, and would be far from being an angel. Every angel therefore is its own species and is distinct from others as one kind of animal is from another. God is rich in this multitude of angels, and whoever knows this, knows the kingdom of God. It proclaims God’s kingdom just as a king is proclaimed by the number of his knights. For this reason he is known as the ‘Lord God of hosts’. But however exalted they may be, this whole host of angels must assist and cooperate with God if God is to be born in the soul. This means that they have delight, joy and bliss in the birth, although they do not bring it about. No creature can bring it about, for this is the work of God alone and the angels can only serve him in it. Everything which aids this therefore is a form of ministry.
The angel was called ‘Gabriel’. And he acted according to his name. In fact, his name was no more Gabriel than it was Conrad. No one can know the angel’s name. No master and no mind has ever penetrated to the place where the angel is known by name, and perhaps indeed it has no name. The soul too is nameless. It is no more possible to find a name for the soul than it is to find one for God, even though weighty tomes have been written about this. But in so far as she chooses to act, we give her a name. Consider a carpenter for instance. This is not so much his name as the name for what he does and of which he is master. ‘Gabriel’ took his name from the act which he proclaimed, since ‘Gabriel’ means ‘power’ (cf. Luke 1:31).8 In this birth God acts powerfully or reveals his power. What end does the power of nature seek? Self-propagation. What end does all nature seek, which acts through generation? Self-propagation. The nature of my father wanted to reproduce a father according to its own father nature. Since it could not do this, it wished at least to produce something which was like itself in all ways. And since it lacked the power even to achieve this, it produced the most similar thing it could, which was a son. But when there is even less strength present, or when some mistake occurs, then it produces a human being which is even less like itself.9 In God, however, there is perfect power, which is why in his birth he produces a perfect image of himself. God perfectly generates in the soul all that he is in terms of power, truth and wisdom.
St Augustine says: ‘The soul becomes like that which it loves. If it loves earthly things, then it becomes earthly.’ We might ask: if it loves God, does it then become God? If I said that, it would sound incredible to those whose understanding is too limited to grasp this. But Augustine says: ‘I do not say it, but I refer you to Scripture, where we read: ‘I have said that you are gods.’ ”(Ps. 82:6).10 Whoever possesses anything of that wealth of which I have just spoken, whether a glimpse, a hope or a confident expectation of it, will understand me well! Nothing has ever been as similar, as akin or as united to anything else through birth as in this birth the soul is to God. And if it happens that it is obstructed in anything so that it is not like God in all respects, then this is not God’s fault. In so far as the soul’s failings fall away from her, to that extent he makes her like himself. We cannot blame the carpenter for not being able to make a nice house from wood that is riddled with woodworm; the problem lies with his materials. It is the same with God’s action in the soul. If the lowest angel could be reproduced or born in the soul, the whole world would be as nothing in comparison, for from the single spark of an angel there springs all that is green, leafy and bright in this world. But it is God himself who makes this birth happen, and the angel can do no more than assist him in it.
‘Ave’: that means ‘without pain’.11 Whoever has no creature in them, is ‘without pain’ and without hell, and whoever is a creature or possesses creatures the least, has the least pain. I said once that whoever possesses the world least, actually possesses it the most. No one owns the world as much as they who have given the whole world up. Do you know how God is God? God is God because there is nothing of the creature in him. He has never been named within time. Creatures, sin and death belong to time. In a certain sense they are all related, and since the soul has fallen away from time if she has fallen away from the world, there is neither pain nor suffering there. Indeed, even tribulation turns to joy for her there. If we were to compare everything which has ever been conceived of regarding delight and joy, bliss and pleasure, with the delight which belongs to this birth, then it would all be as nothing.
‘Full of grace.’ The least work of grace is more noble than all the angels according to their nature. St Augustine says that when God performs a work of grace (as when he converts a sinner and turns them into a good person), then this is greater than if he were to create a new world. It is as easy for God to invert heaven and earth as it is for me to turn an apple round in my hand. Where there is grace in the soul, it is so pure there, so like and so akin to God, and is without works, just as it is in the birth of which I have spoken. Grace does not perform works. St John ‘never worked any signs’ (cf John. 10:41). The work which the angel performs in God is so exalted that no master or mind can penetrate there and thus comprehend it. But from this work there falls a splinter (just as a splinter might fall from a length of wood that is being hewed), a flash, where the angel touches heaven with its lowest part, from which all that lives in this world receives its greenness, its flowering and its life.
I sometimes speak of two springs. Even if it seems strange, we must nevertheless speak from our own understanding. One spring, from which grace flows, is where the Father gives birth to his only-begotten Son; that same spring gives rise to grace and grace flows forth from it. The second spring is where creatures flow out from God, and this is as far removed from that other spring, where grace emerges, as heaven is from earth. Grace does not perform works. Where fire is in its own nature, it cannot harm anything or set it on fire. It is fire’s heat which ignites things here on earth. And even heat, where it exists in the nature of fire, cannot burn or harm anything. Indeed, where heat exists in the nature of fire, it is as remote from the proper nature of fire as heaven is from earth. Grace does not perform any works; it is too subtle for that and is as far from performing works as heaven is from earth. An indwelling, an inhering and a union with God, that is what grace is and there ‘God is with’, for the words ‘God is with you’ immediately follow.12 And that is where the birth occurs. No one should think that it is impossible to get this far. What difference does it make to me how difficult it is, if it is God who does the work? All his commandments are easily kept. Let him command me to do all that he will and I will be content, it will be only a small thing, as long as he grants me his grace as well. There are some who say that they do not have his grace. To these I reply: ‘I am sorry. But do you ask for it?’ – ‘No.’ ‘Then I regret that even more.’ Even if we cannot have grace, we can desire it. If we cannot desire it, then we can at least desire to have a desire for it. David says: ‘I have desired a desire, Lord, for your justice’ (cf. Ps. 119:20).
That this may be our desire, and that he may wish to be born in us, so help us God. Amen.
SERMON 3 (DW 28, W 17)
Ego elegi vos de mundo (John 15:16).
These words which I have spoken in Latin can be found in today’s Gospel reading for the feast of a saint by the name of Barnabas. Scripture tells us that he was an apostle, and our Lord says: ‘I have chosen you, I have selected you from all the world, picked you out from the entire world and from all created things, that you should bring forth much fruit and that your fruit should remain’ (cf. John 15:16). It is delightful when fruit is produced and remains, but fruit remains for those who themselves remain and dwell in love. At the end of this Gospel reading our Lord says, ‘Love one another as I have loved you; and as my Father eternally loved me, so I have loved you. Keep my commandments, then you will remain in my love’ (John 15:9, 10, 12).
All the commandments of God proceed from love and from the goodness of his nature for, if they did not come from love, then they could not be the commandment of God. God’s commandment is the goodness of his nature, and his nature is the goodness in his commandment. Now whoever dwells in the goodness of his nature, dwells in God’s love, but love has no Why. If I had a friend and loved him because of the benefits which this brought me and because of getting my own way, then it would not be my friend that I loved but myself. I should love my friend on account of his own goodness and virtues and on account of all that he is in himself. Only if I love my friend in this way do I love him properly. It is exactly the same with that person who stands in God’s love, who does not pursue his or her own interests with respect to God, themselves or any other thing, but loves God purely for the sake of his goodness and for the goodness of his nature, loving him for the sake of all that is in him. That is real love. Love for the virtues is a flower and an ornament and the mother of all virtues, perfection and blessedness, for it is God, since God is the fruit of the virtues. God fructifies all virtues and is himself the fruit of virtue, and this is the fruit which ‘remains’ for us. If someone worked for a fruit which then remained, this would be a great delight for them. If someone were to give their vineyard or field to their servant so that he could work the land and keep the fruit, and if they were to give him also all that he needed to do this, then the servant would be delighted to have the fruit at no cost to himself. In the same way, those who dwell in the fruit of virtue know delight, for they have no worries or problems since they have taken leave of themselves and all things.
Now our Lord says: ‘Whoever renounces anything for me and for my name’s sake shall receive a hundredfold and eternal life’ (cf. Matt. 19:29). But if you give it up for the sake of the hundredfold and of eternal life, then you have renounced nothing. Indeed, if you give it up for a thousandfold return, you have renounced nothing. You must give yourself up, and must do so completely, if you are really to renounce something. Once a man came to me – this happened quite recently – and told me that he had given away great amounts of land and possessions in order to save his soul. But I thought to myself: what small and insignificant things you have given away. To contemplate what you have renounced is blindness and stupidity. But if you have abandoned yourself, then you have really renounced something. Those who have taken leave of themselves are so pure that the world cannot endure them.
I once said on this point, quite recently, that whoever loves justice, takes possession of justice and is seized by justice and becomes justice. I once wrote in my book:13 the just person is in service neither to God nor creatures, for such a person is free, and the closer they are to justice, the more they become freedom itself and the more they are freedom. For nothing created is free. As long as there is something above me which is not God, I am oppressed by it, however small it is or whatever it may be, even if it is reason and love. In so far as these are created and are not God, they oppress me, for they are not free. The unjust person is in service to truth, whether they like it or not, as they are to the whole world and to all creatures, and they are the slave of sin.
Once the thought entered my mind, not so long ago, that the fact I am human is something I have in common with everyone else. Cows, too, see and hear, eat and drink, but what I am belongs to no one other than myself, to no person, no angel or to God, except in so far as I am one with him. It is one purity and one unity. All that God works he works in the One which is identical with himself. God gives to all things equally, although they are not equal in their own works, and all things strive to effect in their works that which is the same as their own being. Nature performed in my father the work of nature. It was nature’s purpose that I should become a father, just as he was a father. My father performs all his work for the sake of something that is the same as he is, for the sake of his own image, so that he is the result of his own work. The intention is always to produce a male. A female is born only when nature is diverted or obstructed, so that its work lacks full strength.14 But where the work of nature comes to an end, God takes over and begins to create, for if there were no women there would be no men either. When the child is conceived in the womb, it has body, shape and form, which is nature’s work. There it remains for forty days and forty nights until, on the fortieth day, God creates the soul in less than an instant so that the soul will be form and life for the body. Now the work of nature comes to an end, together with all that nature can effect in terms of shape, body and form. The work of nature ceases but, as it does so, it is fully restored in the activity of the rational soul. Now this is both a work of nature and a creation of God.
In created things, as I have often said before, there is no truth. But there is something which is above the created being of the soul and which is untouched by any createdness, by any nothingness. Even the angels do not have this, whose clear being is pure and deep; even that does not touch it. It is like the divine nature; in itself it is one and has nothing in common with anything. And it is with regard to this that many teachers go wrong. It is a strange land, a wilderness, being more nameless than with name, more unknown than known. If you could do away with yourself for a moment, even for less than a moment, then you would possess all that this possesses in itself. But as long as you have any regard for yourself in any way or for anything, then you will not know what God is. As my mouth knows what colour is and my eye what taste is: that is how little you will know what God is.
Now at this point we hear Plato, the great priest, speaking to us of great things.15 He speaks of a purity which is not in the world. It is neither in the world nor outside the world; it is neither in time nor in eternity; it has neither an exterior nor an interior dimension. But from this God, the eternal Father, drives forth the abundance and the depths of his whole Godhead. To this he gives birth in his only begotten Son and makes us the same Son. But his giving birth is at the same time a remaining within, and his remaining within is his giving birth. The One always remains, which wells forth within itself. ‘Ego’, the Latin word for ‘I’, can be used properly by God alone in his unity. ‘Vos’, which means ‘you’, says that you should be one in this unity. This means that ‘ego’ and ‘vos’, I and ‘you’, refer to unity.
That we may become this unity and may remain within it, so help us God. Amen.
SERMON 4 (DW 30, W 18)
Praedica verbum, vigila, in omnibus labora (2 Tim. 4:2, 5).
We shall read a passage today and tomorrow which concerns St Dominic and which St Paul wrote in his epistle. In our language it reads as follows: ‘Speak the word, spread it abroad, bring it forth and propagate it.’.
It is an amazing fact that something should flow out and yet remain within. That the word flows out and yet remains within is astonishing; that all creatures flow out and yet remain within is also astonishing. What God has given and has promised to give is astonishing, incredible and beyond belief. But this is as it should be, for if it were comprehensible and easy to believe, then that would not be right. God is in all things. The more he is in things, the more he is outside them: the more in, the more out and the more out, the more in. I have already said on a number of occasions that God created the whole world perfectly and entirely in the Now. God still creates now everything he made six thousand years ago or more, when he created the world. God is in all things, but in so far as God is divine and in so far as God is rational, he exists more properly in the soul and in angels, that is in the innermost and highest part of the soul, than he does anywhere else. And when I say the innermost, then I mean the highest, and when I say the highest, I mean the innermost part of the soul. And when I say the innermost and highest part of the soul together, then I mean both as if they were one. In that place, to which neither time nor the light of any image ever penetrated, in the highest and innermost part of the soul, God creates the whole of this world. Everything which God created six thousand years ago, when he made the world, and everything which he shall create over the next thousand years, if the world lasts that long, he creates in the innermost and highest part of the soul. Everything which is past, and everything which is present, and everything which is in the future God creates in the innermost part of the soul. Everything which God has ever worked in all the saints, he works in the innermost part of the soul. The Father gives birth to the Son in the innermost part of the soul, and he gives birth to you too together with his only begotten Son, and no less. If I wish to be a son of God, I must be a son in the same nature that his Son is Son, and nowhere else. If I wish to be a man or woman, I cannot be one in the nature of an animal, but must be one in the nature of a human being. But if I wish to be this particular person, then I must be in the particular nature of this person. St John says: ‘You are the children of God’ (1 John 3:1).
‘Speak the word, proclaim it, bring it forth and propagate it’ Proclaim it. That which is spoken into us from without is coarse, but this word is pronounced within. ‘Proclaim it’ – that means: become aware of what is in you. The prophet says: ‘God spoke one thing, but I heard two.’ That is true: God has only ever uttered one thing. His speech is single. In this one utterance, he speaks his Son forth, the Holy Spirit and all creatures, and yet there is only one utterance in God. But the prophet says: ‘I heard two things’, which means God and creatures. There where God speaks creatures, creatures are God, but here on earth they are creatures.16 People think that God became human only in the Incarnation, but this is not the case, for God has become human just as surely here and now as he did then, and has become human in order that he might give birth to you as his only begotten Son, and no less.
As I was sitting somewhere yesterday, I repeated a phrase taken from the Our Father: ‘May your will be done’ (Matt. 6:10). But it would have been better to say: ‘May will itself be yours’17 – that my will may be his will and that I may be him. This is what the Our Father means. And this phrase has a double meaning. The first is ‘Be asleep with respect to all things!’, which is to say that you should know nothing of time, creatures or images. The masters say: if someone who is soundly asleep were to slumber for a hundred years, then they would have no knowledge of any creature, of time or images. And then you could become aware of what God is doing within you. That is why the soul says in the Book of Love: ‘I am asleep but my heart is awake’ (S. of S. 5:2). Therefore, if all creatures are asleep in you, you can see how God is at work in you.
The phrase ‘labour in all things’ also has three meanings. It means ‘make the best of everything!’, which is to say ‘receive God in all things!’. For God is in all things. St Augustine says: ‘God did not make all things and then go his own way, thus abandoning them, but he remained within them.’18 People think that they have more when they have both things and God than when they have God without things. But this is wrong, for having all things as well as God is nothing other than having God alone, and if someone who has the Son as well as the Father thinks they have more than if they had the Son without the Father, then this would be wrong. For the Father with the Son is no more than the Son alone, just as the Son with the Father is no more than the Father alone. Therefore, receive God in all things, and that will be a sign that he has given birth to you as his only begotten Son, no less.
The second meaning of this phrase is: ‘make the best of everything’, which means ‘love God above all and your neighbour as yourself’ (Luke 10:27). This is a commandment from God. But I say that it is not only a commandment but that God has given us this as a gift and has promised to give us it. If you love a thousand marks which are in your rather than someone else’s possession, then this is not right. If you prefer one person to another, then this is not right. If you love your father and mother and yourself more than you do someone else, then this too is not right. And if you prefer blessedness in yourself to blessedness in another, that is not right either. ‘God forbid! What are you saying there? Should I love blessedness in someone else more than I do in myself?’ There are many learned individuals who do not understand this, and it seems very hard to them. But it is not difficult; it is quite simple. And I will show you why it is not difficult. See how nature has a twofold purpose for every member of our body. The first function which it performs is to serve the whole body of which it is a part and then to serve each other individual member no less than itself, and it considers its own interests in its action no more than it does those of any other member. Now this should be far more the case in the world of grace. God should be the rule and the foundation of your love. The first intention of your love should be directed solely towards God first and then towards your neighbour and yourself, but your neighbour no less than yourself. If you love blessedness in yourself more than in another, this is wrong, for if you love blessedness in yourself more than in another, then you love yourself, and where you love yourself, God is not your sole love, and that is wrong. For if you love the blessedness in St Paul and St Peter as you do in yourself, then you possess the same blessedness which they have. And if you love the blessedness in the angels as in yourself, and the blessedness in Our Lady, then you truly enjoy the same blessedness in yourself as they do. It is yours as much as it is theirs. Therefore we read in the Book of Wisdom: ‘He made him like his saints’ (Si. 45:2).
The third meaning of ‘make the best of everything’ is: ‘love God equally in all things’. This means to say that we should love him just as willingly in poverty as in wealth, in sickness as in health. We should love him just as much when we are living through a time of trial as when we are not, when we suffer as when we do not. Indeed, the greater the suffering, the less we suffer, as with two buckets. The heavier one bucket is, the lighter the other, and the more we give, the easier giving becomes. For someone who loves God, it would be just as easy to give up the whole world as it would be to give up an egg. The more we give, the easier it is to do so, as was the case with the apostles. The greater the suffering which befell them, the easier it was for them to endure.
‘Labour in all things.’ This means: where you find yourself dependent on multiple things and not on pure, naked and simple being, there you should exert yourself and ‘labour in all things’ ‘in the performing of your service’ (2 Tim. 4:5). That is tantamount to ‘lift your head up!’, which has two meanings. The first is ‘shed everything which is yours and take possession of God, then God will belong to you as he belongs to himself, and he will be your God as he is his own God, no less’. What is mine comes to me from no one. But if I have it from someone else, then it is not mine but rather it is that person’s from whom I have it. The second meaning is ‘lift your head up!’, which is ‘dedicate all your works to God’. There are many people who do not understand this, which does not surprise me at all, since in order to understand this someone would have to be very detached and raised above all the things of this world.
That we may come to this perfection, so help us God. Amen.
SERMON 5 (DW 53, W 22)
Misit dominus manum suam et tetigit os meum et dixit mihi, etc.
Ecce constitui te super gentes et regna (Jer. 1:9, 10).
‘The Lord stretched out his hand and touched my mouth and spoke to me.’.
When I preach, I am accustomed to talk about detachment, saying that we should become free of ourselves and of all things. Secondly, I say that we should be in-formed back into the simple goodness, which is God. Thirdly, I say that we should be mindful of the great nobility which God has given the soul in order that we should become wonderfully united with him. Fourthly, I speak of the purity of the divine nature, and of the radiance within it which is ineffable. God is a word: an unspoken word.
Augustine says: ‘the whole of Scripture is in vain. If it is said that God is a word, then he is spoken, but if it is said that God is unspoken, then he is ineffable.’19 But God is something, yet who can speak this word? No one can but he who is the word. God is a word which speaks itself. Wherever he is, he speaks this word, and where he is not, he does not speak it. God is both spoken and unspoken. The Father is speaking work, and the Son is working speech. What is in me, goes out of me: if I think something, then my speech reveals it and yet it remains within. In the same way the Father speaks the Son who remains unspoken and remains in him. I have said this repeatedly: God’s going out is his coming in. The closer I am to God, the more he speaks himself in me. The more we rational creatures go out of ourselves in our works, the more we enter into ourselves. This is not the case with physical creatures:20 the more they act, the more they go out of themselves. All creatures wish to speak God in all their works. They all speak as well as they can, but they cannot speak him. Whether they wish to or not, like it or not, even though they all want to speak God, he remains unspoken.
David says: ‘The Lord is his name’ (Ps. 68:4). ‘Lord’ means the setting up of a supremacy here, while ‘servant’ is a form of subjection. Certain names are proper to God, such as ‘God’, and are detached from all other things. ‘God’ is his truest name, just as ‘human being’ is our name. We are always human, whether we are foolish or wise. Seneca says: ‘That man or woman is wretched who does not transcend their humanity.’21 Certain names signify properties which are attributed to God, such as ‘son’ or ‘father’. When we think of a father, we think simultaneously of a son. There cannot be a father without a son, nor a son without a father; but both contain within themselves an eternal essence which is beyond time. Thirdly, certain names signify both a looking up to God and a turning towards time. God has many names in Scripture. But I say that if someone perceives something in God and gives it a name, then that is not God. God is above names and nature. We read of a good man who turned to God in his prayer and wished to give him a name. Then a brother said to him, ‘Be silent! You are dishonouring God!’ There is no name we can devise for God. But some names are permitted to us, with which the saints have addressed him and which God has so consecrated in their hearts and bathed in a divine light. And here we should learn first of all how we should approach God. We should say: ‘Lord, with the same names which you have so consecrated in the hearts of your saints and bathed in your light, we approach you and praise you.’ Secondly, we should learn that there is no name we can give God so that it might seem that we have praised and honoured him enough, since God is ‘above names’ and is ineffable.
The Father speaks the Son with the whole of his power and speaks all things in him. All creatures are the utterance of God. If my mouth speaks and declares God, so too does the being of a stone, and we understand more by works than by words. Lower nature cannot comprehend the work which the highest nature performs by its most exalted power. If it could perform this itself, then it would itself be the highest nature. All creatures wish to echo God in all their works, but they can reveal him only a little. Even the way that the highest angels rise up and touch God is as different from what is in God as black is from white. The totality of what each and every creature has received is also quite different from what is in God, even though they all desire to declare the nearest approximation to it that they can. The prophet says: ‘God spoke one thing but I heard two.’ When God speaks in the soul, then he and the soul are one, but as soon as this state of oneness falls away, division ensues. The higher we ascend with our knowledge, the more we are one in him. Therefore the Father always speaks the Son in unity and pours forth all creatures in him. They all clamour to return to that place from which they emerged. Their whole life and being is a clamouring and a hastening back to him from whom they were born.
The prophet says: ‘The Lord has stretched forth his hand’ (Jer. 1:9) and refers with these words to the Holy Spirit. Now he says: ‘He has touched my mouth’, and then: ‘He has spoken to me’ (Jer. 1:9). The ‘mouth’ of the soul is the soul’s highest part, which is what is meant here, and the soul says: ‘He has placed his word in my mouth’ (Jer. 1:9). This is the kiss of the soul, when mouth is joined to mouth, when the Father gives birth to the Son in the soul and the soul is ‘spoken to’. Now he says: ‘Take heed. Today I have chosen you and have raised you above nations and kingdoms’ (Jer. 1:10). In a ‘today’ God promises to choose us, where there is nothing and where, nevertheless, there is a ‘today’ in eternity. ‘And I have raised you above nations’, which means over the whole world, which you must be free of, and ‘over kingdoms’, which means that everything which is more than the One is too much, for you must die to all things and must be in-formed into the heights where we dwell in the Holy Spirit.
So help us God, the Holy Spirit Amen.
SERMON 6 (DW 58, W 44)
Qui mibi ministrat, me sequatur, et ubi ego sum, illic et minister meus erit
Our Lord Jesus Christ spoke these words: ‘Whoever serves me should follow me, and wherever I am, there should my servant be also.’ These words tell us three things. The first is that we should follow and serve our Lord when he says: ‘whoever serves me should follow me’. Therefore these words apply well to St Secundus, whose name means ‘he who follows God’, for he gave up his possessions, his life and all things for God’s sake. In the same way those who wish to follow God should abandon whatever might hinder them. Chrysostom says: These are challenging words for those who have embraced this world and material things, which are sweet to possess but difficult and bitter to part with.22 This shows us how demanding it is for certain people, who know nothing of spiritual things, to turn from the things of the world. As I have said often before: why does the ear not enjoy the taste of sweet things as does the mouth? Because it is not equipped to do so. For the same reason someone who lives in the flesh cannot perceive spiritual things. On the other hand, it is easy for an insightful person who understands the things of the spirit to free themselves from material things. St Denys says that God offers his heaven for sale;23 but nothing is as cheap as heaven, when it is for sale, and nothing is as exalted and as delightful to possess when it has been earned. Heaven is cheap because it is on sale to everyone at the price they can afford. Therefore we should give all that we have for heaven, especially our own self-will. As long as we still cling to our self-will, we have not yet earned heaven. But for those who abandon themselves and their self-will it is easy to part from material things. I have often told you the story of how a master instructed his disciple on how to perceive spiritual things. The disciple said: ‘I am raised up by your teaching and understand that all material things are like a small ship which is thrown about by the waves, or like a bird tossed on the wind.’ For all spiritual things are higher than material ones, and the higher they are, the more they encompass the material.24 Therefore material things are small with respect to spiritual ones, and the higher the spiritual ones are, the greater they are, and the more potent they are in works, the purer they are in their being. I have often said the following, which is a sure truth, that if someone were famished to the point of death and were then offered the finest food, they would prefer to die before tasting or enjoying the food, if God’s likeness were not in it. And if someone were freezing to death, they could not touch or put on any kind of clothing unless God’s likeness were in it. This proceeds from the first point: how we should part from all things and follow God.
The second point is this: how we should serve our Lord. St Augustine says: ‘That person is a true servant who seeks nothing but God’s glory in all their works.’25 David too says: ‘God is my Lord, him shall I serve’, since he has served me and in all his service he needed me only for my own good. Therefore I should serve him too and seek only his glory. Other lords do not do this, but in their service they seek only what is good for them and they serve us only in order to exploit us. Therefore we are not bound to great service to them, since the reward should be measured according to the extent and the value of the service.
The third point is this: we should take note of the reward and of our Lord’s words: ‘wherever I am, there should my servant be also’. Where is the dwelling of our Lord Jesus Christ? It is in oneness with the Father. This is far too great a reward, that all who serve him should dwell in oneness with the Father, and so, when Christ spoke of his Father, St Philip said: ‘Lord, show us your Father, and we shall be satisfied’ (John 14:8), as if meaning that merely to see him would have been enough. But there is a far greater delight for us in dwelling with him. When our Lord was transfigured on Mount Tabor, offering us a glimpse of the glory which is in heaven, St Peter too asked our Lord to remain there for ever. We should feel an immense desire for union with our Lord and God. And these are the signs of union with our Lord and God: just as God is threefold in the Persons, he is one in his essence. This is also how we should understand the union of our Lord Jesus Christ with his Father and with the soul. In the same way that black and white are distinct (the one cannot tolerate the other, since white is not black), so too something and nothing are distinct. Nothingness is that which can receive nothing from anything, while something is that which can receive something from something. It is precisely the same in God: whatever is something is perfectly in God and is perfect in him. When the soul is united with God, then it perfectly possesses in him all that is something. The soul forgets itself there, as it is in itself, and all things, knowing itself in God as divine, in so far as God is in it. Thus far it possesses a divine self-love and is inseparably united with God so that it enjoys nothing but him and delights only in him. What more could we desire or know, if we are so blessedly united with God? Our Lord created us for just such a union with himself. When Lord Adam broke the commandment, he was driven out of Paradise, and our Lord set two guards before its doors. The first was an angel and the second a flaming and double-edged sword. This refers to the two ways in which we can attain heaven again, which we have lost. The first way is by the angelic nature. St Denys says that ‘the angelic nature signifies the revelation of divine light’.26 With the angels, through the angels and with the divine light the soul should strive back towards God until it returns to the first cause. The second is by the flaming sword, which means that the soul should return through good and godly works which are performed in fiery love for God and our fellow men and women. That this should be our end, so help us God. Amen.
SERMON 7 (DW 48, W 60)
A master says: all things which are alike love each other and unite with each other, while all dissimilar things flee and hate each other.27 Now one master says that there is no dissimilarity as great as that between heaven and earth.28 The earth perceives within itself that it is remote and different from heaven, which is why it has fled from heaven to the lowest point and is immovable, so that it cannot approach heaven. But heaven has perceived within itself that earth has fled from it and has taken up the lowest position. Therefore it pours the whole of itself into the earth to make it fertile, to the extent that the masters consider that the wide span of heaven retains not so much as a pin-prick of its breadth but rather gives the whole of itself to the earth and makes it fertile. Therefore the earth is the most fertile of all temporal things.
I say the same of those who have destroyed themselves as they exist in themselves, in God and in all creatures. Such people have taken up the lowest position, and God must pour the whole of himself into them – or he would not be God. I declare the good, eternal and everlasting Truth that God must pour himself according to the whole of his capacity into all those who have abandoned themselves to the very ground of their being, and he must do so so completely that he can hold nothing back of all his life, all his being and nature, even of his divinity, which he must pour fully and in a fructifying way into those who have abandoned themselves for God and have taken up the lowest position.
As I made my way here today, I wondered how I might preach to you in such a way that you would be able to understand me. Then I thought of an analogy, and if you were able to understand it, you would understand both my meaning and the ground of all the sermons I have for so long been preaching. The analogy concerns my eye and a piece of wood. When my eye is open, it is an eye, but if it is closed, it is still the same eye. Nor does a block of wood decrease or increase in size by being looked at. Now listen carefully. If it now happens that my eye, which is one and simple in itself, is opened and directed towards the piece of wood in the act of seeing, then both remain what they are and yet both are so united through the act of seeing that we can truly say: ‘eye-wood’, the wood is my eye. But if the wood had no material form and was as immaterial as the seeing of my eye, then we could truly say that the piece of wood and my eye share a single being in the act of seeing. If this is the case with material things, then how much more so with spiritual ones! And you should also know that my eye has far more in common with the eye of a sheep which exists beyond the sea and which I have never seen, than it does with my own ears with which it actually coexists. This stems from the fact that the eye of a sheep exercises the same function as my own eye, and therefore I say that these have more in common with each other than my eyes do with my ears, which are distinct in their functions.
I have occasionally spoken of a light in the soul which is uncreated and uncreatable. I constantly return in my sermons to this light, which apprehends God without medium, without concealment and nakedly, just as he is in himself Indeed, it apprehends him in the act of begetting. I can again say truthfully that this light has more unity with God than it does with any of the soul’s faculties, although it coexists with these. For you should know that this light is not nobler in the being of my soul than the lowest or most basic faculty, such as hearing or sight or some other of the senses which fall victim to hunger or thirst, cold or heat. This is so because of the homogeneous nature of being. In so far as we take the soul’s faculties in their being, they are all one and are equally noble. But if we take them according to their function, then one is far nobler and more elevated than another.
Therefore I say that when we turn away from ourselves and from all created things, to that extent we are united and sanctified in the soul’s spark, which is untouched by either space or time. This spark is opposed to all creatures and desires nothing but God, naked, just as he is in himself. He is not satisfied with the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit, nor with the three Persons together, as far as each exists in their particularity. I say truly that this light is not satisfied with the unity of the fertility of the divine nature. Indeed, I will say something that sounds even more astonishing: I declare by the good and eternal Truth that this light is not satisfied with the simple, still and divine being which neither gives nor takes, but rather it desires to know from where this being comes. It wants to penetrate to the simple ground, to the still desert, into which distinction never peeped, neither Father, Son nor Holy Spirit. There, in that most inward place, where everyone is a stranger, the light is satisfied and there it is more inward than it is in itself, for this ground is a simple stillness which is immovable in itself. But all things are moved by this immovability and all the forms of life are conceived by it which, since they possess the light of reason, live of themselves.
That we too may lead lives illumined by reason, may the eternal Truth, of which I have spoken, help us. Amen.
SERMON 8 (DW 50, W 93)
Eratis enim aliquando in tenebrae (Eph. 5:8).
St Paul says: ‘Once you were in darkness, but now a light in the Lord.’ The prophets who walked in light, recognized and found the hidden truth under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes they were moved to turn outside themselves and to speak of things that they knew would sanctify us, teaching us to know God. But then they were struck dumb and could not speak. This happened for three reasons.
Firstly, the goodness that they saw and recognized in God was so great and mysterious that their minds could not retain its image, for the images in their minds were all wholly unlike what they saw in God and were such a travesty of the truth that they preferred silence to lies. The second reason is that all they saw in God was so great and sublime that they could derive neither an image nor a form from it in order to speak of it. The third reason why they fell silent was that they looked into the hidden truth and saw there the mystery of God, without being able to put it into words. But occasionally it happened that they turned outside themselves and spoke, but then they lapsed into gross matter and wanted to teach us to know God through lowly creaturely things, since there was nothing that could adequately capture that truth.
Now Paul says: ‘Once you were in darkness, but now a light in the Lord.’ If we explore the Latin word aliquando fully, then we see that it means ‘once’ and refers to time, which is what keeps us from the light. For nothing is as opposed to God as time. Not only time is opposed to God, but even clinging to time, not only clinging to time but even having contact with time, not even having contact with time but even the smell or scent of time – just as a certain smell hangs in the air where an apple has lain: this is what is meant by contact with time. Our best teachers say that the firmament, the sun and the stars have no more than occasional contact with time.29 In my opinion the soul is far higher than the heavens since in its highest and purest part it has nothing whatsoever to do with time. I have said on many occasions before that the Holy Spirit flowers from the work in God, from the birth in which the Father generates his only begotten Son and from this outflowing in such a way that it proceeds from them both and the soul flows forth in this procession. The image of the Godhead is impressed on the soul, and in the flowing out and flowing together of the three Persons the soul flows back and is formed back into its own first imageless image.30.
This is what Paul means when he says: ‘now a light in the Lord’. He does not say: ‘You are a light’, but ‘now a light’. He means what I have often said, namely that to know things is to know them in their first cause. The masters say that where things are suspended at the point of their origin they have the clearest view of being for, where the Father generates the Son, there is an eternal present-time or Now. In the eternal birth of the Son, the soul flowed into being and received God’s image imprinted upon it.
Once there was a discussion in the schools, and it was the opinion of some of the masters that God imprinted the image in the soul like one who paints a picture on the wall, which is not permanent. This view was opposed. Other masters put it better when they said that God imprinted his image permanently on the soul, like one of the ideas which permanently remain in it, such as ‘Today I have a particular intention and tomorrow I shall have the same thought and I shall keep this thought alive by concentrating consciously upon it’. Therefore they said that God’s works are perfect. For, if the carpenter were perfect in his work, then he would not require his materials; as soon as he conceived of a house, it would in that same moment be built. It is the same with God’s works: as soon as he conceives them, they are perfectly realized in an eternal present-time. But then the fifth master came and put it best of all when he said that there is no process of becoming in God, but only a present moment, that is a becoming without becoming, a becoming-new without renewal and that this becoming is God’s being. There is in God something so subtle that no renewal can enter there. There is something subtle in the soul too that is so pure and fine that no renewal can enter it either, for all that is in God is an eternal present-time without renewal.
There were four things I wanted to discuss: the subtlety of God and the subtlety of the soul, the activity in God and the activity in the soul. But I shall not speak of these now.
SERMON 9 (DW 41, W 43)
Qui sequitur iustitiam, diligetur a domino (Prov. 15:9) Beati, qui esuriunt, et sitiunt iustitiam: quoniam ipsi saturabuntur (Matt. 5:6).
I have taken a text from today’s epistle for two saints, and another from the Gospel.31 King Solomon says in the epistle, ‘God loves those who pursue justice’, and St Matthew says, ‘Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be filled.’.
Now notice the phrase ‘God loves’. It would be a great blessing for me, indeed too great a blessing, if we desired that God should love me, as I have often said. What does God love? God loves nothing but himself and what is like him in so far as he finds this in me and finds me in him. In the Book of Wisdom we read: ‘God loves only those who dwell in wisdom’ (Wisd. 7:28). Another passage is even better: ‘God loves those who pursue justice’ ‘in wisdom’ (cf. Prov. 15:9). All the masters are agreed that God’s wisdom is his only begotten Son. The text says ‘who pursue justice’ ‘in wisdom’, and therefore God loves those who pursue him, for he loves nothing in us except in so far as we are in him. There is a great difference between God’s love and our love. We only love something in so far as we find God in it. Even if I had sworn to do otherwise, I could love nothing but goodness. But God loves to the extent that he is good (and it is not as if he could find anything in us to love other than his own goodness) and loves us in so far as we are in him and in his love. This is his gift: it is the gift of his love that we are in him and dwell ‘in wisdom’.
St Paul says: ‘We are transformed in love.’ Now note this phrase ‘God loves’. A miracle! What is God’s love? His essence and his being – that is his love. If God were to be deprived of loving us, he would be deprived of his own being and divinity, for his being depends on his loving us. Thus the Holy Spirit flows forth. God bless us – what a miracle this is! If God loves me with the whole of his nature (which depends upon it), then God loves me as if his becoming and his being depended upon it. God has only one love, and with the selfsame love that the Father loves his only begotten Son, he also loves me.
Now there is another meaning. Take note: there is no problem with the text if we are prepared to explore it. It reads: ‘who pursue justice’ ‘in wisdom’. The just person has such a need for justice that they can love nothing but justice, and if God were not just, they would take no notice of him, as I have often said. Wisdom and justice are one in God, and whoever loves wisdom in him, loves justice too. If the Devil were just, then they would love him, in so far as he is just, and not a fraction more. The just person loves neither this nor that in God, and if God were to give them the whole of his wisdom together with everything which he can give other than himself, they would pay no attention to it and it would not please them. For such people desire nothing and seek nothing, knowing no Why to justify their actions, just as God acts without a Why and knows no Why. The just person acts precisely as God acts, without a Why, and so as life lives for its own sake, seeking no Why to justify itself, in the same way the just person knows no Why to justify what they do.
Now take note of the following passage, where it says: ‘they hunger and thirst for justice’. Our Lord says: ‘They who eat me will hunger for more; they who drink me will thirst for more’ (Ecclus. 24:21). How should we understand this? This is certainly not the case with physical things: the more we eat of them, the more we are filled. But with spiritual things we are never filled, for the more we have of them, the more we desire them. And therefore the text reads: ‘They will thirst the more who drink me and hunger the more who eat me.’ These people hunger so much for the will of God, and it gives them such delight, that they are so content with whatever God sends them that they cannot desire or will anything else. As long as we are hungry, the food tastes good, and the greater the hunger, the more satisfying it is to eat. This is true too of those who hunger for the will of God. His will is so pleasing to them, and they are so content with all that he wills and all that he sends them, that even if God wished to spare them something, they would not wish him to do so, since they are so content with what he originally willed for them. If I wished to make someone love me, and be especially pleasing to them, then I would prefer everything that is pleasing to them, and through which I become agreeable to them, to anything else. If it were the case that they preferred me to wear simple clothes rather than velvet, then there is no doubt that I would wear simple clothes rather than anything else. It is the same for someone who delights in God’s will. Everything that befalls them, whether illness or poverty or whatever, is preferable to them to anything else. It pleases them better than anything else precisely because it is God’s will.
Now I hear you ask: ‘How do I know that it is God’s will?’ My answer is that if it were not God’s will even for a moment, then it would not exist. Whatever is must be his will. If God’s will is pleasing to you, then whatever happens to you, or does not happen to you, will be heaven. Those who desire something other than God’s will get their just reward, for they are always in trouble and misery. They constantly have to endure violence and injustice, and suffering is their perpetual lot. And this is rightly so since they act as if they were betraying God for money, as Judas did. They love God for the sake of something else which is not God. And when they get what they want, they have no further concern with God. God is nothing created, neither devotion nor delight nor whatever you may care for. Scripture says: ‘the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not’ (John 1:10). If you think that by adding a thousand worlds to God you would somehow increase him, then you do not know God and do not have the least idea what he is, and you are a fool. Therefore we should have no concern for anything besides God. Whoever seeks something from God, as you have often heard me say, does not know what they are looking for.
This is how the Son is born in us – when we live without a Why and are born again into the Son. Origen writes sublimely of this (and had I written it, it would seem unbelievable to you): ‘We are not only born in the Son, but are born also from him and again into him, being born anew and immediately in the Son. I say – and it is true – that in every good thought, intention or work we are always born anew in God.’32 Therefore, as I have recently told you, the Father has only one Son and the less we turn our intention and attention to things other than God and the more we turn to nothing external, all the more shall we be transformed in the Son and all the more shall the Son be born in us and we be born in the Son and become one Son. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the sole Son of the Father, and he alone is both human and divine. But there is only a single Son in a single being, which is divine being. Thus we become one in him when he is the one object of our attention. God always wishes to be alone. This is a necessary truth, and it must always be the case that we should have only God in our thoughts.
God must have poured pleasure and delight into his creatures, although he kept the root of pleasure and the essence of all delight within himself. Let me give you an analogy. Fire sends its root into water together with its heat since, when we remove the fire, the heat remains for a while in the water as it does in the wood. The length of time the heat remains, and its intensity, is determined by how long and how intense the fire was while it was present. The sun, on the other hand, illumines the air and shines through it, but it does not send its root into it, for when the sun disappears there is no more light. It is the same with God and creatures: he casts the light of his pleasure upon creatures, but keeps the root of all pleasure in himself, since he wants us purely for himself and for no one else. God makes himself beautiful for the soul and offers himself to it and has tried with the whole of his Godhead to make himself attractive to the soul, for God wishes to be the only one who is pleasing to the soul and he will tolerate no rival. God does not allow himself to be restricted in any way, and it is his desire also that we should not strive for or desire anything other than himself.
Now some people are of the opinion that they are altogether holy and perfect, and go around the place with big deeds and big words, and yet they strive for and desire so many things, they wish to possess so much and are so concerned both with themselves and with this thing and that. They assert that they are seeking great piety and devotion, and yet they cannot accept a single word of reproval without answering back. Be certain of this: they are far from God and are not in union with him. The prophet says: ‘I have poured my soul forth in myself’ (cf. Ps. 42:4). But St Augustine puts it better when he says: ‘I have poured my soul forth over myself It is necessary for the soul to transcend herself if she is to become one in the Son, and the more she goes beyond herself, the more she becomes one with the Son. St Paul says: ‘We shall be transformed into the same image that he himself is’ (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18).
It says in one text that virtue is never virtue unless it comes from God or through God or in God; one of these three must always apply. If this is not the case, then it cannot be virtue since anything we seek without reference to God is nothing. Virtue is God, or it exists in him without mediation. But I shall not tell you now what the best thing is. Though perhaps you will say: ‘Tell us, sir, what is this? How can we be directly in God, neither striving nor seeking for anything other than him, and how can we be so poor and give up everything? It is hard counsel that we should not desire any reward.’ Now be certain of this: God never ceases to give us everything. Even if he had sworn not to, he still could not help giving us things. It is far more important to him to give than it is for us to receive, but we should not focus upon this, for the less we strive for it, the more God will give us. God intends thereby only that we should become yet more rich and be all the more capable of receiving things from him.
Sometimes it is my custom, when I pray, to say these words: ‘Lord, what we ask you for is so small. If someone asked me for it, then I would do it for them, and yet it is a hundred times easier for you to do than it is for me, and your desire to do it is greater too. And if we were to ask you for something greater, it would still be easy for you to give it. The greater the gift, the more willingly you give it.’ God is ready to give us great things if only we can renounce everything in justice.
That we may ‘pursue justice’ ‘in wisdom’ and ‘hunger and thirst’ for it, and that we may ‘be filled’, so help us God. Amen.
SERMON 10 (DW 39, W 59)
lustus in perpetuum vivet et apud dominum est merces eius (Wisd. 5:16).
In today’s Epistle we read these words spoken by ‘the wise man’: ‘the just person lives in eternity’. I have upon occasion explained what a just person is, but now I give it another meaning: a just person is someone who is established in justice and who is transformed into justice. The just man or woman lives in God and God lives in them, for God is born in the just as they are in him, since every one of the just person’s virtues gives birth to God and brings him joy. And not only every virtue of the just, but also every good work, however small it may be, which is done through the just person and in justice, gives God joy, filling him with joy, for nothing remains in its ground which is not thrilled through and through with joy. Those who are slow of understanding should simply accept this, while those who are enlightened should know it.
The just person seeks nothing through their works, for those whose works are aimed at a particular end or who act with a particular Why in view, are servants and hirelings. If you wish to be formed and transformed into justice then, do not intend anything particular by your works and do not embrace any particular Why, neither in time nor in eternity, neither reward nor blessedness, neither this nor that; such works in truth are dead. Indeed, even if you make God your goal, all the works you perform for his sake will be dead, and you will only spoil those works which are genuinely good. Not only will you spoil your good works, but you will also commit sins, for you will be behaving like a gardener who is supposed to plant a garden but who pulls out all the trees instead and then demands his wages. That is how you will spoil your good works. And so, if you wish to live and wish your works to live too, then you must be dead to all things and be reduced to nothing. It is a property of creatures to make one thing from another, but it is a property of God to make something from nothing. And so if God is to make something of you or in you, then you must first yourself become nothingness. Enter your own inner ground therefore and act from there, and all your works shall be living works. That is why ‘the wise man’ says that ‘the just person lives in eternity’ since it is because they are just that such a person acts, and all their works are living works.
Now ‘the wise man’ says ‘his reward is with the Lord’. Let me say something about this. When he says ‘with’, this means that the reward of the just is wherever God is, for the blessedness of the just and the blessedness of God are one, since the just person is blessed where God is blessed. St John says: ‘The Word was with God’ (John 1:1). He too says ‘with’ and therefore the just person is like God, for God is justice. And it follows that whoever is in justice, is in God and is God.
Now let us discuss the word ‘just’ further. He does not say in Latin ‘the just person’, or ‘the just angel’, but only ‘the just’. The Father begets his Son as the just and the just as his Son, for all the virtue of the just and of every work that comes from the virtue of the just is nothing other than the birth of the Son from the Father. That is why the Father never rests, but is always striving and urging that his Son should be born in me, as it says in Scripture: ‘I will not hold my peace for Zion’s sake and for Jerusalem I will not rest till the just is revealed and shines forth like lightning’ (Is. 62:1). ‘Zion’ is the height of life and ‘Jerusalem’ the height of peace. Indeed, God rests neither for the sake of the height of life or of peace, but rather he urges and strives that the just should become manifest. Nothing should act but God alone in the one who is just. For truly, in so far as it is something external that prompts you to act, to that extent your works are dead, and even if it is God who prompts you to act from outside, then such works too are dead. If your works are to be living works, then God must spur you to action from within, from your innermost part, if they really are to be alive. For that is where your own life is, and that is the sole place where you are truly alive. I tell you that if you imagine one virtue to be greater than another, and if you value one more highly than another, then you do not love it as it is in justice and God does not work in you. For as long as you value one virtue more than another, to that extent you do not take the virtues as they are in justice, and you are yourself not just. For the just man or woman loves and practises all virtues in justice, since these are themselves justice.
Scripture says: ‘Before the created world, I am’ (cf. Ecclus. 24:14). It says: ‘Before … I am’, which means that when we are raised above time into eternity, we perform a single work with God. Some people ask how it is that we can perform those works which God did a thousand years ago and which he will do a thousand years hence: this they do not understand. But in eternity there is no before and after, and what happened a thousand years ago and what will happen in another thousand years is one in eternity. Therefore what God did, what he created a thousand years ago, what he will do in a thousand years’ time and what he is doing now are all one. And so whoever has been raised above time into eternity, acts with God both in what he did a thousand years ago and in what he will do a thousand years hence. This too is something that wise people should know and those with less understanding should believe.
St Paul says: ‘We are eternally chosen in the Son’ (Eph. 1:4). Therefore we should never rest until we become what we have always been in him (cf. Rom. 8:29), for the Father urges and strives that we should be born in the Son and become what the Son is. The Father gives birth to the Son and derives such peace and delight from this birth that the whole of his nature is consumed within it. For whatever is in God, moves him to give birth; the Father is driven to give birth by his ground, his essence and his being.
Sometimes a light becomes manifest in the soul, and it seems to us that this is the Son, even though it is only a light. For where the Son becomes manifest in the soul, there too is the love of the Holy Spirit. Therefore I say that it is the nature of the Father to give birth to the Son, and it is the nature of the Son that I should be born in him and in his image. It is the nature of the Holy Spirit that I should be consumed in him, dissolved in him, and transformed wholly into love. Whoever is in love and is wholly love, feels that God loves nobody other than themselves, and they know of no one who loves or indeed of anyone but themselves.33.
Some teachers believe that the Spirit derives its blessedness from love, others that it derives it from the contemplation of God. But I say that it comes neither from love nor from knowledge nor from the contemplation of God. Now you could ask: does the Spirit therefore not contemplate God in its eternal life? Yes and no. In so far as it is born, it neither sees nor contemplates God. But in so far as it is actually being born, it does have a vision of God. Therefore the Spirit’s blessedness resides where it is in the process of being born, for it lives where the Father lives, which is to say in the simplicity and nakedness of being. Turn away from everything therefore and exist in your naked being, for whatever is outside being is ‘accidence’ and all forms of ‘accidence’ create a Why34.
That we may ‘live in eternity’, so help us God. Amen.
SERMON 11 (DW 40, W 63)
Manete in me (John 15:4) Beatas vir qui in sapientia morabitur (Ecclus. 14:22)35.
Our Lord Jesus Christ says in the Gospel: ‘Remain in me!’ (John 15:4), and in the Epistle it says: ‘Blessed is the man who dwells in wisdom’ (Ecclus. 14:22). These two phrases mean the same thing: the one from the Gospel and the other from the Epistle.
Now take note of what we must have if we are to dwell in him, that is in God. There are three things we must have. The first is that we should take leave of ourselves and of all things and be attached to nothing external which acts upon the senses within, and also that we should not remain in any creature which is either in time or in eternity. The second is that we should not love this or that good thing but rather goodness as such from which all good things flow, for things are only desirable and delightful in so far as God is in them. Therefore we should not love any good thing more than the extent to which we love God in it, nor should we love God for the sake of his heavenly kingdom nor for the sake of anything else, but should love him for his goodness which he is in himself. For whoever loves him for anything else, does not dwell in him but dwells in that for the sake of which they love him. Therefore, if you wish to dwell in him, you must love him for his sake alone. The third is that we should not take God as he is good or just, but should take him in the pure and clear substance in which he possesses himself. For goodness and justice are a garment of God, since they enfold him. Strip away from God therefore everything which clothes him and take him in his dressing room where he is naked and bare in himself. Thus you will remain in him.
Whoever remains in him in this way will possess five things. The first is this, that between that person and God there is no distinction, and they are one. The angels are beyond number, since they do not have any particular number, and are without number on account of their great simplicity. Although the three Persons in God are three without number, they do possess multiplicity.36 Between such a person and God, however, not only is there no distinction, but there is also no multiplicity, since there is only One. The second point is this, that such a person derives their blessedness from that purity from which God derives his own blessedness and maintains himself. The third point is this, that their knowing is one with God’s knowing, their activity with God’s activity and their understanding with God’s understanding. The fourth is that God is always being born in them. But how is this so? Take note of this: when we uncover and expose the divine light that God has naturally created in us, then the image of God in us is revealed. For the birth of God means here the revelation of God since to say that the Son is born of the Father is to say that the Father paternally reveals his mystery to him. Therefore, the more and the more clearly we uncover the image of God in us, the more clearly God is born in us. And thus the continuous birth of God is to be understood as the way that God reveals his image and shines forth in it. The fifth thing is this, that such a person is continuously being born in God. But how again is this so? Take note of this: the revealing of God’s image within us makes us like God, for through this image we are like God’s image, which God is according to his naked essence. Therefore the more we reveal ourselves, the more we are like God, and the more we are like God, the more we are united with him. And so our continuous birth into God is to be seen in the extent to which we shine forth with our image into God’s image, which God is according to his naked essence, and with which we are one. The union of God with this person is to be seen in the identity of these two images, for it is this image that makes us like God. Therefore, if it is said that someone is one with God and is God on the grounds of this unity, then this is based on that part of the image in which they are like him and not upon the created part. For when we consider someone as God, we do not consider them according to their creatureliness, but when we consider them as God, we are not denying their creatureliness in such a way as to negate it, rather this is to be seen as an affirmation of God which denies creatureliness in him. For when we consider Christ, who is both divine and human, according to his humanity, we are passing over his divinity, though not in such a way that we are denying it. It is simply a matter of what we are concentrating on at the time.37 This is how St Augustine is to be understood when he said: ‘We are what we love. If we love a stone, then we are a stone, if we love a person, then we are that person, if we love God – I hesitate to go on, for if I said that we would then be God, you might want to stone me. But let me refer you to the Scriptures.’38 And so when someone wholly conforms themselves to God through love, they are stripped of images and are in-formed and transformed into the divine uniformity in which they are one with God. All this they possess by remaining within. Now observe the fruit which this produces. That is, if such a person is one with God, then they bring forth all creatures with God and, in so far as they are one with him, they bestow blessedness on all creatures.
Now the other passage, from the Epistle, reads as follows: ‘Blessed is the man who dwells in wisdom.’ He says ‘in wisdom’. ‘Wisdom’ is a maternal name, for a maternal name suggests passivity since in God there is both activity and passivity. The Father is active, and the Son is passive, which comes from the fact that the latter undergoes the process of being born. Since the Son is the eternally begotten wisdom, in which all things are contained in diversity, he says: ‘Blessed is the man who dwells in wisdom.’.
Now it says: ‘Blessed is the man’. I have often said that there are two powers in the soul: one is the man and the other the woman. Now it says: ‘Blessed is the man’. The power in the soul which is called the man is the soul’s highest faculty, in which God shines forth and is revealed. For only God can enter this faculty, and it always remains in God. Therefore if we considered all things in this faculty, we would take them not as things but rather as they exist in God. And so we should always dwell in this faculty, for all things are as one in it. Then we would dwell in all things in the same way and would receive them as they are all one in God, and we would then possess all things. We would have stripped away the grossest part from all things and would receive them as they are delightful and desirable. That is how we possess them there, for it is God’s own nature to pour forth all that he has created and even his very self into that place. And therefore we are blessed if we constantly live in this faculty, for then we shall always live in God.
That we may ever live in God, so help us our dear Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
SERMON 12 (DW 1, W 6)
Intravit Jesus in templum et coepit eicere vendentes et ementes (Matt. 21:12).
In today’s Gospel we read that our Lord entered the temple and drove out those who were buying and selling there, saying to others who were offering doves for sale and the like: ‘Take these things away; remove them at once’ (John 2:16). Why did Jesus eject those who were buying and selling, ordering those who sold doves to remove them? He wanted the temple to be empty and it was as if he had said: ‘This temple is mine by right and I wish to have it to myself and to have command of it.’ What does this mean? This temple, in which God wants to hold sway according to his will, is the human soul, which he formed and created in his own likeness, as we know from his words ‘let us make man in our image and likeness’ (Gen. 1:26). And this is what he did. He made the human soul so similar to himself that neither in heaven nor on earth among all the glorious creatures which God so marvellously created is there one which is as like him as the human soul. That is why God wishes the temple to be empty, so that there shall be nothing there but himself. And this is the case because the temple is so pleasing to him, since it is so like himself, and he feels so much at home in the temple, whenever he is alone in it.
Now take note! Who were the people who were buying and selling, and who are they now? Listen carefully. I wish to speak only of good people in this sermon, but I shall just indicate who these traders were and are, these people who were buying and selling just as they do today, and who our Lord drove out. And our Lord still does drive out all those who buy and sell in his temple, not allowing a single one to remain. Now see, those people are all traders who refrain from serious sin, who wish to be good people and who do good works for the glory of God such as fasting, keeping vigil, praying and the like, all good works, and yet they do them in order that our Lord should give them something in return or do something for them which they desire: in other words these people are all merchants. This must be understood in a general sense in that they want to give one thing in exchange for another and thus want to engage in a process of bartering with our Lord. But they deceive themselves in their trade. For if they gave up for God’s sake all that they have or all that they are capable of doing, if they expended themselves entirely for God, then God would in no way be obliged to give them anything at all or do anything for them, unless he freely chooses to do so. For they are what they are on account of God, and what they have comes to them from God and not from themselves. Therefore God does not owe them anything for their good works and their giving, unless he freely chooses to grant them something through grace and not on account of their works or gifts, since they do not give from what is theirs, nor do they act from themselves, as Christ himself says: ‘Without me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5). These are very foolish people, who wish to barter with God, and they know little or nothing of the truth. That is why our Lord drove them out of the temple. The light and the darkness cannot exist together in the same place. God is truth and light in himself. So when God enters the temple, he banishes ignorance, which is darkness, and reveals himself with light and with truth. When the truth is known, the merchants vanish, for truth does not desire any kind of trade-off God does not seek his own interests39 but in all his works he is untrammelled and free and acts from pure love. The same is true of that person who is united with God. They too are unfettered and free in all their works, performing them for God alone, not seeking their own interests; and God works in them.
I say further: so long as we seek something from God in any of our good works, we are like these merchants. But if you wish to be entirely free of this bartering, so that God will let you be in this temple, then all you do in your works should be done solely for the praise of God, and you should remain as free as nothingness is free, which is neither here nor there. You should desire nothing at all in return for it. And if you act in this way, your works will be spiritual and divine, all the merchants shall have been driven from the temple and God alone will dwell there; for such a person intends only God. See, this is how the temple can be free of merchants. See, that person who thinks neither of themselves nor of anything other than God and the glory of God, is truly simple and free of any veniality in all their works, and does not seek to serve their own interests just as God is simple and free in all his works without seeking to serve his own interests.
I have mentioned too that our Lord said to those who were offering doves for sale: ‘Take these things away; remove them at once.’ He did not drive them out nor did he berate them severely but said quite gently: ‘Take these things away’, as if he wished to say: ‘These are not evil in themselves but nevertheless they stand in the way of the purest truth.’ These are all good people who do their works solely for God’s sake, not seeking to serve their own interests thereby, but still linking them to the self, to time and number, to a before and an after. In their works they are impeded in the attainment of the best truth of all, namely that they should be simple and free, as our Lord Jesus Christ is simple and free, who is ceaselessly conceived anew at a point beyond time by his heavenly Father and in that same eternal now is perfectly and ceaselessly born into his Father’s majesty, with thanks and praise, in equal honour. Exactly the same should be true of us who wish to become receptive to the highest truth and to live in it with neither a before nor an after, unhindered by our works and by any of the images we have ever known, simple and free, receiving anew the divine gift in this eternal now and freely bearing it back into our Lord Jesus Christ in this same light with thankful praise. This is how the doves can be removed, which means to say the obstacles and self-attachment of all those works which are otherwise good, since we do not seek to serve our own interests in them. That is why our Lord said gently: ‘Take these things away; remove them at once’, as if he meant that although they were good, they were also an obstacle.
When the temple becomes free of hindrances, that is from attachment to self and ignorance, then it is so radiantly clear and shines so beautifully above all that God has made and through all that God has made that no one can match its radiance but the uncreated God alone. And in truth, the temple is like no one and nothing else but the uncreated God. Nothing below the angels is like this temple. Even the highest angels have only an imperfect likeness to this temple of the noble soul. Their partial likeness to the soul lies in their knowledge and love. But a limit has been set above them beyond which they cannot go. The soul, on the other hand, can do so. If a soul – the soul of someone still bound to time – were on the same level as the highest angel, that person would still be capable of advancing infinitely beyond the angel, new in every moment, without number or mode, that is beyond the mode of the angels and of all created intelligences. God alone is free and uncreated, and thus he alone is like the soul as far as freedom, though not uncreatedness, is concerned, since the soul herself is created. When the soul enters the light that is pure, she falls so far from her own created somethingness into her nothingness that in this nothingness she can no longer return to that created somethingness by her own power. But God places himself40 with his uncreatedness beneath her nothingness and contains the soul in his somethingness. The soul has dared to become nothing and cannot return to herself by her own power – so far has she gone out of herself before God catches her. And this must necessarily be the case. For, as I said before: ‘Jesus entered the temple and drove out those who were buying and selling there, saying to others who were offering doves for sale and the like: “Take these things away”.’.
And so we come to the phrase ‘Jesus entered and began saying “Take these things away”’, which they did. Now there was no one in the temple but Jesus, and he began to speak in the temple. You should know that if someone else wishes to speak in the temple, then Jesus must be silent, as if he were not at home, and indeed he is not at home in the soul for there are strangers there with whom the soul speaks. If Jesus is to speak in the soul, then she must be alone and must herself be silent if she is to hear Jesus. Now then, in he comes and begins to speak. What does he say? He utters that which he is. What is he then? He is a word of the Father. And in this Word the Father speaks himself together with the whole of his divine nature and everything that God is as he knows it, and he knows it as it is. Since he is perfect in knowledge and power, he is perfect too in his speaking. By speaking the Word, he speaks himself and all things in another Person, imparting to him his own nature, and he utters forth in the same Word all intelligent beings as creatures who are akin to that Word according to the image in so far as the image dwells within and does not shine forth, as it does when each has its own separate being, although the images that shine forth have received the possibility of attaining a likeness to the Word by the grace of the Word itself The Father has wholly uttered that same Word, as it is in itself: the Word and everything in the Word.
Now since the Father has uttered this, what then does Jesus say in the soul? As I have told you, the Father speaks the Word and speaks in the Word and not otherwise, while Jesus speaks in the soul. The manner of his speaking is that he reveals himself and all that the Father has uttered in him according to the receptiveness of the spirit. He reveals the sovereignty of the Father in the spirit with equal and immeasurable power. When the spirit receives this power in the Son and through the Son, then it too becomes powerful in all it does so that it becomes equal and powerful in all virtues and in perfect purity so that neither joy nor grief, nor anything which God has created in time, can destroy us, but rather we are powerfully established in this as in a divine power, in comparison with which all things are powerless and small.
Secondly, Jesus reveals himself in the soul in an infinite wisdom which he himself is, in which wisdom the Father knows himself with all his sovereignty, as well as that same Word, which is itself wisdom and everything it contains, as it is one. When this wisdom is united with the soul, all doubt, all falsehood and all darkness is removed from her and she is placed in a pure, clear light which is God himself, as the prophet says: ‘Lord, in your light we will see light’ (Ps. 36:10). Thus God is known with God in the soul; then she knows herself with this wisdom and all things, and this same wisdom knows her with itself, and with the same wisdom she knows the Father’s sovereignty in fertile generative power, and essential is-ness in simple unity without distinction.
Jesus reveals himself thirdly with an infinite sweetness and abundance, which rises from the power of the Holy Spirit, spilling over and flooding into all receptive hearts with a wealth of abundance and sweetness. When Jesus reveals himself with this abundance and sweetness and unites himself with the soul, then with this same abundance and sweetness the soul floods into herself, forth from herself, beyond herself and beyond all things and, by grace, she flows powerfully back into her own primal origin without mediation. Then the outer self is utterly obedient to the self within, and shall remain always in constant peace in the service of God.
That Jesus may enter us too, driving out all obstacles and making us one, as he is one God with the Father and the Holy Spirit, so that we may be one with him and may eternally remain so, so help us God. Amen.
SERMON 13 (DW 2, W 8)
Intravit Jesus in quoddam castellum et mulier quaedam, Martha nomine,
excepit ilium in domum suam (Luke 10:38).
I have quoted a passage, first in Latin, which is taken from the Gospel and which means in our language: ‘Our Lord Jesus Christ entered a citadel and was received by a virgin who was a wife.’41.
Now note the fact that it has to be a ‘virgin’ who receives him. ‘Virgin’ means someone who is free of all alien images, as free in fact as that person was before he or she existed. We might ask how it is possible for someone who has been born and who has reached the age of reason to be as free of images as they were before they existed, even though they know many things, all of which are necessarily images: how then can such a person be free of them? Now take note of the following point. If I possessed such great intelligence that all the images that anyone had ever conceived, together with all those which are in God himself, existed in my mind, but in such a way that I was free of an ego-attachment to them in what I did or in what I refrained from doing, neither with a ‘before’ or an ‘after’, but rather I remained free and empty in this present moment for the most precious will of God, constantly ready to fulfil it, then I would be a virgin unburdened by any images, just as certainly as I was before I existed.42.
I say further that the fact that someone is a virgin does not take anything away from the works they have done but rather leaves them free and virginal, unhindered with respect to the highest truth, just as Jesus is empty and free and virginal in himself. We too must be virgins if we are to receive the virginal Jesus, since, in the view of the learned, the foundation of union is the meeting of like and like.
Now take note of this and listen carefully! If we were only ever a virgin, we would produce no fruit. If we are to be fruitful, then we must be a ‘wife’. ‘Wife’ is the noblest name that can be applied to the soul and it is more excellent than ‘virgin’. It is good that we should receive God into ourselves, and in this receptivity we are virgins. But it is far better that God should be fruitful in us, for only the fruitfulness of the gift shows gratitude for the gift and there the spirit is ‘wife’ in reproductive thankfulness, as it gives birth to Jesus back into the heart of God the Father.
Many good gifts are received in virginity, but they are not born back into God in wifely fertility with gratitude and praise. These gifts corrupt and turn to nothing so that they can never serve to improve us or to give us joy. Thus our virginity is useless since we do not then become a wife with full fertility. That is the problem. Therefore I have said: ‘Jesus entered a citadel and was received by a virgin who was a wife.’ This must necessarily be the case, as I have explained to you.
Married couples hardly produce more than a single child a year. But it is a different kind of ‘married couple’ that I mean now: all those whose ego is bound up with prayer, fasting, holding vigil, and all kinds of external observances and ascetical practices. By a ‘year’ I mean every kind of ego-attachment to any work, which removes our freedom to be at God’s disposal in this present moment and to follow him alone in that light with which he prompts us to do certain things and not to do others, free and new in every moment, as if we neither could nor wished to do anything else. By a ‘year’ I mean any form of ego-attachment or any regimented work which takes from us this freedom, ever new; for their soul will produce no fruit unless they have first completed the work which they began with ego-attachment, and they shall lack trust both in themselves and in God unless they have first completed the work to which their ego is attached, and without which they shall have no peace. Therefore they produce no fruit, unless they have satisfactorily performed their work. This is what I call a ‘year’, and yet the fruit is slight since it is the product of a work performed with ego-attachment and not in freedom. I call such people ‘married couples’ since they have an attachment of the ego. They scarcely produce any fruit, and what they do bring forth is paltry enough.
A virgin, who is a ‘wife’, who is free and unhampered by any attachment of the ego, is always as close to God as she is to herself. She brings forth many fruits, which are substantial, for they are neither more nor less than God himself. This virgin, who is a wife, brings forth this fruit and this birth, and produces a hundred or a thousand fruit every day, an innumerable amount, becoming generative and fertile from the noblest ground of all, that is, she too generates from that same ground from which the Father bears his eternal Word. For Jesus, the light and reflection of the Father’s heart – St Paul declares that he is the light and reflection of the Father’s heart and shines powerfully through the heart of the Father (cf. Heb. 1:3) – this Jesus is united with her and she with him, and she shines and gleams with him as a single oneness, as a pure, clear light in the heart of the Father.
I have said often enough that there is a power in the soul which is untouched by either time or flesh. It flows from the spirit and remains within the spirit and is entirely spiritual by nature. Now God is green and flowering in this power in all the joy and all the honour which he is in himself. There is such great delight there and such inconceivably deep joy that no one can adequately describe it. For the eternal Father ceaselessly gives birth to his eternal Son in this power in such a way that this power also gives birth to the Son of the Father and to itself as the same Son in the sole power of the Father. If someone possessed an entire kingdom or all the goods of the earth, and if they gave it all up for the sake of God, becoming one of the poorest of the earth, and if God then gave that person as much suffering as he has ever given anyone, and if they had to endure this all their life long, and if God then allowed them to glimpse just once and for only a fraction of a second how he is in this power, their joy would be so great that all of this suffering and all of this poverty would be insignificant. Indeed, even if God did not grant them heaven after this, they would already have received too great a reward for all they had ever suffered; for God exists in this power as he does in the eternal Now. If the spirit were for ever united with God in this power, then we would never grow old, for the Now in which God created human beings and the Now in which the last member of the human race will pass away, and the Now in which I am presently speaking to you, are all the same in God and are nothing other than a single Now. See, this person exists in a single light with God, which is why there is neither passivity nor temporal succession in them but only an unchanging eternity. For such a person there are truly no more surprises, and all things exist in him or her essentially. Therefore neither future events nor the effects of chance can bring them anything new, since they live in a single now-time, ever new, without ceasing. There is such divine majesty in this power.
There is a further power, which also has nothing to do with the body.43 It flows from the spirit and remains in the spirit and is entirely spiritual by nature. In this power God burns and glows ceaselessly with all his riches, with all his sweetness and with all his bliss. Truly, in this power there is so much joy and such great, immeasurable delight that no one can reveal it or give an adequate account of it. I say again: if there were someone who even for a moment could truly grasp with their intelligence the bliss and the joy which are in it – all the suffering that they could or have had to endure would seem insignificant to them, nothing at all. I go further and say that it would seem to them to be nothing but a joy and a comfort.
You can genuinely tell whether your suffering is your own or whether it is God’s suffering in the following way. If you suffer for your own sake, in whatever way this may be, then this suffering causes you pain and is difficult to endure. But if you suffer for God’s sake and for his sake alone, then this suffering causes you no pain and is not difficult for you to endure, since it is God who bears the burden. In truth, if there were someone who wished to suffer for God and only for his sake, and if all the suffering there has ever been and that exists now in all the world were to fall upon them, they would feel no pain and it would not be difficult for them to endure it, for God would bear the burden. If someone were to put a heavy load on my neck and someone else were to bear its weight for me, then I would be as happy to be laden with a hundred such loads as with one, since they would not be heavy for me and would cause me no pain. In brief, God makes light and sweet whatever it is that we endure for him and for his sake alone. And thus I began this sermon with the words: ‘Our Lord Jesus Christ entered a citadel and was received by a virgin who was a wife.’ But why was this so? It had to be the case that she was both a virgin and a wife. Now I have explained to you how Jesus was received, but I have not yet told you what that ‘citadel’ is, to which I shall now turn.
Sometimes I have said that there is a power in the soul that can alone be said to be free. Sometimes I have said that it is a refuge of the spirit and sometimes I have said that it is a light of the spirit. Sometimes I have said that it is a spark. But now I say that it is neither this nor that, and yet still it is a something which is as far above this or that as heaven is above earth. Therefore I shall now name it in a nobler manner than I have ever done before, and yet it mocks such reverence and the manner and is far above them. It is free of all names and is devoid of all forms, quite empty and free as God is empty and free in himself. It is so entirely one and simple, as God is one and simple, that no one can see inside it in a particular manner. This same power of which I have spoken, in which God flowers and is green with all his divinity, as the spirit in God, in this same power the Father bears his sole-begotten Son as truly as he does in himself, for he truly lives in this power, and together with the Father the spirit bears the same sole-begotten Son and itself as the same Son and is the same Son in this light and is the truth. If you could see this with my heart, then you would understand what it is I am saying: for it is true, and the truth itself tells it.
Now note this! So unified and simple is the ‘citadel’ in the soul, of which I speak and to which I am referring, above all manners and modes, that that noble power of which I have spoken is not worthy to peep into this citadel even once, for a split second. Even that other power, of which I spoke, and in which God glows and burns with all his wealth and with all his bliss, never dares to peer in there. So entirely one and simple is this citadel, and so far above all particular manner and all powers is this single oneness, that no power or manner can ever look into it, not even God himself. In full truth and as truly as God lives: God himself will never look in there even for a moment, nor has he ever done so in so far as he exists in the manner and individual nature of his Persons. This is easy to understand since this single oneness possesses neither a particular mode of being nor an individual nature. Therefore, if God is ever to look in there, it must cost him all his divine names and the individual nature of his Persons. All this must be left outside, if he is to peep in. He must be simple oneness, without mode or individual nature, in which he is neither Father nor Son nor Holy Spirit in this sense and yet is still something which is neither this nor that.
See, as he is one and simple, that is how he can enter this oneness, which I call a citadel in the soul, and in no other way can he enter in, but only in this way can he enter and be within. In that part the soul is like God, and in no other. What I have told you is true, as truth itself is my witness, and I pledge my soul on it.
That we may be just such a ‘citadel’ which Jesus may enter and be received, remaining eternally in us in the way I have described, so help us God. Amen.
SERMON 14 (DW 8, W 82)
In occisione gladii mortui sunt (Hebr. 11:37).
Of the martyrs we read that they ‘died by the sword’. Our Lord said to his disciples: ‘Blessed are you when you suffer for my name’s sake’ (Matt. 5:11, 10:22).44.
We read ‘they died’. This means in the first place that whatever we suffer in this world and in this life will have an end. St Augustine says all suffering and endeavour has an end, but the reward that God gives us is eternal. Secondly, we should be constantly aware of the fact that this life is mortal and that we should not fear any suffering or want that may befall us, since it will all have an end. Thirdly, we should behave as if we were already dead, untouched by good things or bad. There is a master who says that nothing can touch the heavens, which means that that person is heavenly for whom things count so little that they cannot touch him or her.45 Another master says that since all creatures are so insignificant, how is it that they can so easily make us turn from God, when the soul in her least part is more precious than heaven and all creatures? He replies that this is the result of our caring so little for God. If we cared more for God, as we should, then it would be almost impossible for us to fall. And it is good advice that we should behave in this world as if we were dead. St Gregory says that only those who are entirely dead to the world can possess God in full measure.46.
But the fourth point is the best one. He says that they are dead. It is death that gives them being. One master says that nature destroys nothing without creating something better in its place. When air becomes fire, then that is something better, but when air becomes water, this is degradation and error.47 If this is true of nature, then it is even more so of God: he never destroys anything without replacing it with something better. The martyrs are dead and have lost their life but have received being. A master says that the noblest thing is being, life and knowing. Knowing is higher than life or being since, in knowing, it must already possess life and being. On the other hand, life is nobler than being or knowing, as the tree, which lives, is nobler than the stone, which only possesses being. But if we take being in its purity, as it is in itself, then being is higher than knowing or living, for by possessing being, it also possesses knowing and living.
They have lost their lives but have found being. One master says that nothing is so like God as being: in so far as something has being, it is like God.48 Another says that being is so pure and so exalted that all God is, is being. God sees nothing but being, he knows nothing but being, being is his circumference. God loves nothing but his being, he thinks of nothing but his being. I tell you: all creatures are being.49 One master says that certain creatures are so close to God and bear the imprint of so much divine light within themselves that they can bestow being on other creatures too. This is not true, for being is so exalted and so pure and so akin to God that no one can bestow being but God alone in himself. Being is the particular property of God. A master says that one creature can bestow life upon another.50 But for this reason, everything that is something dwells in being. Being is the first name.51 Everything that is deficient, is descent from being. The whole of our life should be being. As far as our life is being, thus far it is in God.52 As far as our life is enclosed in God, thus far it is akin to God. Any life, however small, which is taken in so far as it is being, will be nobler than anything that was ever given life. Of this I am sure: if the soul knew even the very least thing that has being, then she would never turn from it again, even for a moment. In so far as it possesses being in God, the very least thing that we see in God – even a flower – is nobler than the whole world put together. To know the very least thing, as it exists in God, in so far as it has being, is better than knowing an angel.
If the angel turned to the knowledge of creatures, night would fall. St Augustine says that when angels know creatures without God, then that is like the evening light, but when they know creatures in God, that is like the morning light. But if they know God, as he is in himself pure being, then that is like the midday sun.53 I say we should know and recognize the nobility of being. No creature is so small that it does not desire being. When caterpillars fall from trees, they climb back up the wall so that they can preserve their being. That is how noble being is. We praise dying in God whereby he removes us to a being which is better than life: a being in which our life lives, and in which our life becomes being. We should pass willingly into death in order to receive a being that is better.
I have occasionally said that wood is better than gold, which is very strange. A stone would be nobler, in so far as it possesses being, than God and his divinity without being, if it were possible to deprive him of being. Life must be very intense if dead things are to become alive in it, death itself turning to life. For God nothing dies; all things are alive in him. ‘They are dead’, Scripture says of the martyrs, and they have been transported to an eternal life, to that life in which life is being. We should be wholly dead so that we are untouched by good things or bad. We should see the things we know in their primal cause. It is impossible to know something properly if you do not know it in its primal cause. And it can never be true knowledge when something is not known in its productive cause. In the same way life can never be perfected unless it is returned to its productive cause, where life is being, which the soul receives when she dies down to her depths, so that we may live in that life where life is being. What stops us from achieving this constantly, according to one master, is that we have contact with time. Whatever is touched by time, is mortal. Another master says that the course of the heavens is eternal, and that time derives from this but only as a descent from it. The heavens are eternal in their course, knowing nothing of time, which indicates that the soul should be transported to pure being. The second obstacle is the existence of contradiction. What is a contradiction? Sorrow and joy, black and white, stand in opposition to each other and have no endurance in being.
There is a master who says that the soul is given to the body in order to be purified.54 The soul, when she is cut off from the body, has neither reason nor will: she is one and cannot return to God by her own strength. She possesses reason and will in her own ground as in their root but not in their action.55 The soul is purified in the body so that she can gather what has been divided and dispersed. When that which the five senses have dispersed returns to the soul, then she has a power in which it all becomes one. The soul is purified also in the performance of the virtues, which means to say when the soul climbs up to a life which is unified. This is where the purity of the soul lies, in which she is purified from a life which is divided and enters a life which is unified. Everything which is divided in lower things becomes united when the soul climbs up to a life in which there is no contradiction. When the soul enters the light of reason, then she knows nothing of contradiction. But that which falls away from this light, falls into mortality and dies. Thirdly, the purity of the soul is shown also when she inclines to nothing at all. Whatever inclines towards something else, must die and cannot endure in being.
We ask God, our dear Lord, to help us move from a life which is divided to a life which is one. So help us God. Amen.
SERMON 15 (DW 10, W 66)
In diebus suis placuit deo et inventus est iustus (cf. Eccles. 44:16-17)56.
The passage which I have just quoted to you in Latin is written in the Epistle and can be used of a holy confessor. The translation is as follows: ‘In his days he was found just within; he pleased God in his days.’57 He found justice from within. My body is more in my soul than my soul is in my body. My body and my soul are more in God than they are in themselves, and justice is this: the origin of all things in truth. As St Augustine says: ‘God is closer to the soul than she is to herself.’58 The proximity of the soul to God allows of no distinction between them in truth. That same act of knowledge in which God knows himself is the knowing of every detached spirit and no other. The soul takes its being directly from God; therefore God is closer to the soul than she is to herself and therefore God is present in the soul with the whole of his divinity.
Now a master asks whether the divine light flows into the faculties of the soul just as purely as it exists in the being of the soul since the soul has her being directly from God and the faculties flow immediately from the being of the soul. But the divine light is too exalted to have anything in common with the faculties; for God is distant and alien to everything which comes into contact with anything else. Therefore, since the faculties do come into contact with other things, they lose their virginity. Divine light cannot shine through them, although they can become receptive to it by practice and purification. With regard to this another master says that the faculties are given another light which is similar to the inner one. It is similar to it but not identical with it. They receive an impression from this light so that they become responsive to the other light. Another master says that all the faculties of the soul which act within the body, shall die with the body, with the exception of knowledge and will. Only these will remain for the soul. But if the faculties which act in the body die with the body, they nevertheless remain in their root.59.
St Philip says: ‘Lord, show us the Father and we shall be satisfied’ (John 14:8). Now no one comes to the Father except through the Son (John 14:6). Whoever sees the Father sees the Son (John 14:9), and the Holy Spirit is their mutual love. The soul is so simple in herself that she can only ever perceive one image in the present. When she perceives the image of a stone, she does not perceive that of an angel, and if she perceives the image of an angel, she does not perceive any other image. But she must love in that moment whatever image she perceives. If she perceives a thousand angels, then this would be as many as two angels and yet she would not perceive more than one angel. Now we should unite ourselves as oneness. St Paul says: ‘Now that you have been set free from sin, you have become the servants of God’ (Rom. 6:22). The sole-begotten Son has freed us from our sins. But now, more to the point than Paul, our Lord says: ‘I have not called you servants but have called you friends’, ‘the servant does not know his master’s will’ (but the friend knows all that his friend knows), and ‘all that I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you’ (John 15:15). All that my Father knows I know, and all that I know, you know; for I and my Father have a single spirit. They who know all that God knows, know God. He or she grasps God in his own being, in his own unity, in his own present and in his own truth; with such a person all is well. But they who are unaccustomed to inward things do not know what God is. Like someone who has wine in their cellar but who has never tasted it, they do not know that he is good. The same is true of those who live in ignorance: they do not know what God is and yet they believe that they are alive. But this conviction does not come from God. We must have a pure, clear knowledge of divine truth. When someone has a right intention in all their works, then God is the origin of that intention, God himself and the divine nature is its realization, and its completion is in the divine nature, that is in God himself.
Now one master says that there is no one who is so foolish that they do not strive for wisdom.60 But why then do we not become wise? There is much to be said about this. The most important factor is to break through and beyond all things and the origin of all things, and it is this process that weighs us down. That is why we remain trapped in ourselves. If I am wealthy, then I am not necessarily wise too, but if I am in-formed by the essence of wisdom and its nature and am myself wisdom, then I am wise.
I once said in a convent that the true image of the soul is found where nothing is in-formed or out-formed but that which is God himself. The soul has two eyes: an inner and an outer eye.61 The inner eye of the soul is the one which perceives being and receives its own being directly from God: this is the activity which is particular to itself. The outer eye of the soul is that which is directed towards all creatures and which perceives them in the manner of an image and the function of a faculty. But they who are turned within themselves so that they know God according to their own taste and in their own being, are freed from all created things and are secure in themselves in a very fortress of truth. Just as I once said that on Easter Day our Lord came to his disciples through locked doors, so too God does not enter those who are freed from all otherness and all createdness: rather he already exists in an essential manner within them.
‘He pleased God in his days.’ We are concerned here with more than just one day since it is said ‘in his days’, which means the soul’s day and God’s day. The last six or seven days and those days which existed six thousand years ago are as close to the present day as yesterday is. Why? Because there time exists in a perpetual Now. Since the heavens revolve, day comes with the first revolution of the heavens. There the day of the soul occurs in a Now, and in her natural light, in which all things are, there is a whole day: there day and night are one. But God’s day is where the soul stands in the day of eternity in an essential Now, and the Father gives birth to his sole-begotten Son in a perpetual present and the soul is herself born again into God. Every time this birth takes place, the sole-begotten Son is born. Therefore there are far more sons born to virgins than are born to married women, for the former give birth above time in eternity. However many sons there may be to which the soul gives birth in eternity, there is still no more than a single Son since this happens above time in the day of eternity.
Now all is well with that person who lives in virtues, for I said a week ago that the virtues are in the heart of God. Whoever lives in virtue and acts in virtue, all is well with them. Whoever does not seek their own interest in anything, neither in God nor in creatures, lives in God and God lives in them. Such a person delights in abandoning all things and spurning them, and it is their joy to bring all things to their highest perfection. St John says: ‘Deus caritas est’, which means ‘God is love’, and love is God, ‘and whoever dwells in love, dwells in God and God dwells in them’ (1 John 4:16). They who dwell in God have a good residence and are an heir of God, and they in whom God dwells share a house with noble companions. Now one master says that God gives the soul a gift which moves the soul to inner things. Another maintains that the soul is touched without means by the Holy Spirit for in that love in which God loves himself, in that same love he loves me, and the soul loves God in the same love in which he loves himself, and if this love did not exist, in which God loves the soul, then neither would the Holy Spirit exist. The soul loves God in the warmth and the burgeoning of the Holy Spirit.62.
Now one evangelist writes: ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased’ (Mark 1:11). Another writes: ‘This is my beloved Son in whom all things please me’ (cf. Luke 3:22). And a third: ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am pleasing to myself’ (cf. Matt. 3:17). All that is pleasing to God, is pleasing to him in his sole-begotten Son; and all that he loves, he loves in his sole-begotten Son. Now we should live in such a way that we are one with the sole-begotten Son and are the sole-begotten Son. Between the sole-begotten Son and the soul there is no distinction. There can never be an equal love between servant and master. As long as I am a servant, I shall be both distant and distinct from the sole-begotten Son. And if I were to see God with the same eyes with which I perceive colour, then that would be quite wrong, since it would be temporal and all that is temporal is remote from God and alien to him. If we consider time, even in its smallest part, in the Now, still it is time and exists in itself. As long as we have time and space, number, multiplicity and quantity, all is not well with us and God is far away. Therefore our Lord says: ‘Whoever wishes to follow me must forsake themselves’ (Luke 9:23); no one can understand my words or my teaching unless they have first forsaken themselves. All creatures in themselves are nothingness. Therefore I have said: take leave of nothingness and grasp perfect being, in which there is a right will. Whoever has abandoned the whole of their will, will appreciate my teaching and will understand my words. Now there is a master who says that all creatures have received their being directly from God; that is why creatures love God by nature more than they do their own selves. If the spirit were to know its own pure state of detachment, then it would not be able to incline to any thing but would remain in its own detached state. Therefore it is said: ‘he pleased God in his days’.
The day of the soul and the day of God are different. Where the soul is in her natural day, she knows all things above time and space; nothing is either close to her or distant from her. Therefore I have said that all things are equally noble in this day. I once said that God is creating the world now and that all things are equally noble in this day. If we said that God created the world yesterday or that he would do so tomorrow, then we would be foolish. God creates the world and all things in an eternal present, and the time which passed a thousand years ago is just as present to God now and just as close to him as present time. The Father bears his sole-begotten Son into that soul which stands in a perpetual Now, in which same birth the soul is born again into God. It is a single birth: as often as the soul is born back into God, that is how often the Father gives birth to his sole-begotten Son in her.
I have spoken of a power in the soul. It does not grasp God where it first emerges in so far as he is good, nor does it grasp God in so far as he is truth: it delves deep, ceaselessly seeking, and grasps God in his unity and his desert. It grasps God in his wilderness and in his own ground. Therefore it does not rest content with anything, but seeks further to discover what God is in his Godhead and in the singularity of his own nature. Now it is said that there is no greater unity than that of the three Persons as one God. Then it is said that there is no greater unity than that between God and the soul. When the soul receives a kiss from the Godhead, she stands in absolute perfection and blessedness, embraced by unity. In the first touch in which God has and still does touch the soul as being uncreated and uncreatable, there, by the touch of God, the soul is as noble as God himself. God touches the soul as he does his own self. I once preached in the Latin language, on the Feast of the Holy Trinity, and said that distinction, which is to say distinction within the Trinity, comes from its unity. The unity is the distinction, and the distinction is the unity. The greater the distinction, the greater the unity, since this is the distinction without distinction. If there were a thousand Persons, there would still be only unity. When God sees a creature, he bestows being upon it, and when a creature sees God, it receives its being from him. The soul’s being is intellective and cognitive, and so wherever God is, the soul is, and wherever the soul is, there too is God.
Now it is said: ‘He is found within.’ That is within, which is to say in the ground of the soul, in the innermost part of the soul, in the intellect, not going out and not looking at any thing. There all the powers of the soul are equally noble; it is here that ‘he is found just within’. Being ‘just’ means remaining the same in suffering and joy, in bitterness and sweetness, and not allowing anything to hinder us in any way from finding ourselves unified in justice. The just person is one with God. Likeness is loved. Love always loves what is the same as itself. Therefore God loves the just man or woman as he loves himself.
That we may find ourselves within in the day and in the season of the intellect, in the day of justice and in the day of blessedness, so help us Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
SERMON 16 (DW 12, W 57)
Qui audit me non confundetur (Ecclus. 24:30).
The words which I have quoted in Latin are uttered by the eternal Wisdom of the Father and mean: ‘Whoever hears me shall not be ashamed.’ If they are ashamed of anything, it is of the fact that they are ashamed. ‘Whoever works in me does not sin. Whoever reveals me and radiates me shall have eternal life.’ Any of these three sentences I have quoted would be enough for a sermon. Firstly, I shall discuss the words of eternal Wisdom: ‘Whoever hears me shall not be ashamed.’ They who are to hear the eternal Wisdom of the Father must be within and must be at home and must be one if they are to hear the eternal Wisdom of the Father.
There are three things that prevent us from hearing the eternal Word. The first is corporality, the second is multiplicity and the third is temporality. If only we could transcend these three, we would dwell in eternity, in the Spirit, in unity and in the desert, and there we would hear the eternal Word. Now our Lord says: ‘No one hears my word or my teaching unless they have first abandoned their self’ (cf. Luke 14:26). For if we are to hear God’s word, we must be wholly detached. The hearer is the same as the heard in the eternal Word. The whole of the eternal Father’s teaching is his being, his nature and his whole divinity, which he reveals to us in his only begotten Son, teaching us to become like his Son. Someone who has gone out of themselves to the extent of becoming his only begotten Son comes into the possession of what the Son possesses. All that God does and all that he teaches, he does and teaches in his Son. All that God does he does in order that we may become his only begotten Son. When God sees that we are his only begotten Son, then God presses so urgently upon us and hastens towards us and acts as if his divine being were about to collapse and become nothing in itself so that he can reveal to us the whole abyss of his Godhead, the abundance of his being and his nature. God urgently desires that this should become ours just as it is his. Such a person is established in God’s knowledge and in God’s love and is nothing other than what God is.
If you love yourself, then you love everyone as much as yourself. But as long as there is anyone whom you do not love as much as yourself, then you have never properly loved yourself-unless you love everyone as yourself, loving all in one person, in someone who is both human and divine. Such a person, who loves themselves and everyone as much as themselves, is doing the right thing. Now some people say: I love my friend, who is a source of good things in my life, more than I do someone else. This is not right; it is imperfect. But we must accept it, just as some people cross the sea with a slack wind and still reach the other side. It is the same with those who love one person more than another, although this is natural. But if I loved him or her as much as I love myself, I would be just as happy that whatever happens to them, whether joy or pain, death or life, should happen instead to me, and this would be true friendship.63.
Therefore St Paul says: ‘I would be willing to be eternally separated from God for the sake of my friend and for God’s sake’ (Rom. 9:3). To be separated from God for a moment is to be separated from him for ever, and to be cut off from God is the pain of Hell. So what does St Paul mean when he says these words? The masters ask the question whether St Paul was still on the way to perfection or whether he had already attained it. I say that he was already wholly perfect, or he could not have said these words. Let me now clarify St Paul’s comment that he wished to be separated from God.
Taking leave of God for the sake of God is the greatest act of renunciation that someone can make. Now St Paul renounced God for the sake of God: he left all that he could get from God and he left all that God could give him and all that he could receive from God. When he took leave of these things, he renounced God for the sake of God, and yet God remained with him, as God exists in himself, not according to the manner in which he is gained or received but according to the being which he himself is. He never gave anything to God, nor did he ever receive anything from God; rather there is a single oneness here, a pure union. Here the person is truly human and can no more experience suffering than the divine essence can. As I have often said, there is something in the soul which is so close to God that it becomes one with him and not united. It is one, and has nothing in common with anything else, nor does anything created have anything in common with it. All created things are nothingness, but this is remote from and alien to all createdness. If we were wholly composed of this, we would be entirely uncreated and uncreatable. If everything that is material and flawed were included in this oneness, then it would be nothing other than what the oneness is in itself. If I were to find myself even momentarily in this state of being, then I would take as little notice of myself as I would of a dung-worm.
God gives to all things equally and so, as they flow forth from God, all things are equal and alike.64 Angels, men and women and all creatures are equal where they first emerge from God. Whoever takes things in their first emergence from God, takes all things as equal. Now if they are equal as they exist in time, they are even more so where they exist eternally in God. If we take a fly as it exists in God, then it is nobler in God than the highest angel is in itself. Now all things are equal and alike in God and are God. And this likeness is so delightful to God that his whole nature and being floods through himself in this likeness.65 This is as delightful for him as when you let a horse run free in a green meadow which is completely flat and even. It is the horse’s nature to expend its energy in springing and bucking on the meadow: this is his delight and accords with his nature. In the same way it is delightful for God to find likeness. It is a pleasure for him to pour out his nature and his being into this likeness, since likeness is what he himself is.
Now the question arises with respect to the angels as to whether those angels who dwell with us, serving us and protecting us, possess a lesser degree of likeness in their joy than do those who are in eternity, or whether they have been somehow reduced by becoming active through protecting and serving us. I say: no, not at all! Their joy and their likeness is none the less on this account, for the work of angels is the will of God and the will of God is the work of angels, which is why they are not impeded in their joy, their likeness or their work. If God commanded an angel to go to a tree and to remove caterpillars from it, then the angel would be willing to remove the caterpillars, and this would be his joy, and would be the will of God.
That man or woman who is thus rooted in the will of God desires nothing other than what God is and what he wills. If they are ill, they would not desire to be well. All suffering is a joy for them, and all multiplicity is simplicity and unity in so far as they are in God’s will. Indeed, even if it meant the pains of hell, it would be joy and blessedness for them. They are bare and have gone out of themselves and such a person must be bare of all that can be given them from without. If my eye is to perceive colour, it must be free of all colours. If I see the colour blue or white, then the seeing of my eye, which perceives the colour, is exactly the same as what it sees, as what is seen by the eye. The eye with which I see God is exactly the same eye with which God sees me. My eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowledge and one love.
That person who is thus rooted in God’s love must be dead to themselves and to all created things so that they are no more concerned with themselves than they are with someone who is over a thousand miles away. Such a person remains in likeness and in unity and is always the same. No unlikeness enters them. This person must have abandoned themselves and the whole world. If there were a person to whom the whole of this world belonged and they gave it up for God’s sake as simply as they received it, our Lord would return the whole world to them together with eternal life. And if someone else, who possessed nothing but their own good will, thought Lord, if this world were mine and if I had another world and then another (making three of them), and if they desired: Lord, I will give this one up and myself as simply as when I received them from you, then God would give that person just as much as if they had actually given everything away with their own hand. But someone else, who has nothing physical or mental to give away, would renounce the most. Whoever entirely renounces themselves even for a moment would be given all things. But if someone had abandoned themselves for twenty years and then took themselves back for a moment, then it would be as if they had never renounced themselves at all. That person who has detached themselves from everything and who is detached, never glancing even for a moment at what they have given up, who remains steadfast, unmoved in themselves and immutable – such a person alone has truly attained detachment.
That we may remain steadfast and immutable, like our eternal Father, so help us God and eternal Wisdom. Amen.
SERMON 17 (DW 21, W 97)
Unus deus et pater omnium (Eph. 4:6).
I have read a passage in Latin from the Epistle where St Paul writes: ‘One God and Father of all, who is blessed above all and through all and in us all’. I shall take another text from the Gospel, where our Lord says: ‘Friend, climb up higher, draw higher’ (Luke 14:10).
In the former text, where Paul says ‘One God and Father of all’, he omits one little word which signifies change.66 When he says ‘one God’, he means that God is one in himself and is distinct from all things. God belongs to no one, and no one belongs to him: God is one. Boethius says that God is one and does not change.67 Everything which God ever made, he made subject to change, and all created things bear the marks of changeability upon their backs.
This means that we should be at one within ourselves and distinct from all things, and should be unshakeably at one with God. Outside God there is only nothingness. Therefore it is impossible that there could be any change or instability. Whatever seeks a place beyond itself, undergoes change. But God contains all things in himself in fullness; therefore God seeks nothing beyond himself but seeks something only in the fullness in which it already exists within himself. And no creature can comprehend anything as it exists in God.
Further teaching is to be found in the words: ‘Father of all, who is blessed’. Now this passage contains change within itself. When it says ‘Father’, we too are meant. If he is our Father, then we are his children, and so both honour and any disrespect he is shown affect us too. When a child sees how much its father loves it, then it realizes that it must live a pure and innocent life for his sake. For this reason we too should live in purity since God himself says: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God’ (Matt. 5:8). What is purity of heart? Purity of heart is being detached and removed from all physical things, gathered and enclosed in oneself, and then springing forth from purity into God and being united there. David says that those works are pure and innocent which emerge and are perfected in the light of the soul; but those works are even more innocent which remain within, in the spirit, and do not emerge at all. ‘One God and Father of all.’.
Now we come to the other passage: ‘Friend, climb up higher, draw higher.’ I shall combine these two. When he says ‘Friend, climb up higher, draw higher’, then this is a dialogue between the soul and God in which the soul receives the answer: ‘One God and Father of all’. A master says that friendship resides in the will. In so far as friendship lies in the will, it cannot unite. I too have put it this way: love does not unite. Although love unites with respect to action, it does not do so with respect to being.68 This is why it is said ‘one God’ and ‘climb up higher, draw higher’. Only pure Godhead can enter the ground of the soul. Even the highest angel, although he is so close and akin to God and there is so much of God in him (his action is always in God, he is united with God in being and not in action, he indwells God and is always with him, and he is noble to a wonderful degree), nevertheless even he cannot enter the soul. There is a master who says that all creatures who possess distinction are not worthy that God should act in them. The soul in herself, where she exists above the body, is so pure and so fine that she absorbs nothing but pure Godhead. Yet even God cannot penetrate within unless all that has been added to him is first stripped away. That is why you were given the answer: ‘one God’.
St Paul says: ‘one God’. Oneness is purer than goodness and truth. Although goodness and truth add nothing, they do nevertheless add something in the mind: when they are thought, something is added. But oneness adds nothing, where God exists in himself, before he flows out into the Son and the Holy Spirit.69 Therefore he said: ‘Friend, climb up higher’. A master says: oneness is a negation of negation.70 If I say that God is good, then I am adding something to him. Oneness on the other hand is a negation of negation and a denial of denial. What does ‘one’ mean? One is that to which nothing has been added. The soul takes the Godhead where it is purified in itself, where nothing has been added to it, where nothing has been thought. One is the negation of negation. All creatures contain a negation within themselves: one creature denies that it is another. One particular angel denies that he is another. But with God there is a negation of negation: he is one and negates all else, since there is nothing outside God. All creatures are in God and are his own Godhead, which signifies the fulness of which I spoke above. He is one Father of the whole Godhead. I speak therefore of one Godhead, since nothing yet flows forth there, nothing is moved or thought. By denying something of God — if I were to deny goodness of God for instance (though I can in truth deny nothing of God) – by denying something of God, I grasp something which he is not. It is precisely this which must be got rid of. God is one; he is the negation of negation. That is why he said: ‘One God, Father of all’ and ‘Friend, climb up higher’.71.
A master says the nature of an angel has neither power nor action, since it knows nothing but God. It knows nothing of anything else.72 Certain of the soul’s powers absorb from outside, like the eye. However fine that which it takes in may be, stripped of its coarseness, it is still absorbing something from outside which is connected with the here and now. But knowledge and the intellect strip everything away and assimilate what entirely lacks the element of a here and now. To this extent the intellect is akin to the angelic nature.73 And yet it still receives from the senses: the intellect assimilates what is conveyed by the senses from outside. The will does not do this, and in this respect the will is nobler than the intellect. The will only receives anything in pure knowledge, where there is neither here nor now. What God means to say is that however exalted or pure the will may be, it must become yet more so. And so God replies by saying: ‘Friend, climb up higher, and you will receive honour’ (Luke 14:10).
The will desires blessedness. I was asked what the difference is between grace and blessedness. Grace, as we experience it in this life, and blessedness, which we shall later possess in eternal life, are to each other as flower to the fruit. When the soul is entirely filled with grace, and there remains nothing more in her which is not moved by grace and perfected by it, still not everything (as it is in the soul) which the soul has to do is performed so that she can be perfected by grace. I have already said that grace does not effect a work but rather pours all adornments into the soul. This is the wealth in the kingdom of the soul. I say that grace does not unite the soul with God but is rather a fulfilment. This is its work: to lead the soul back to God. There she receives the fruit from the flower. As regards the will, in so far as it desires blessedness and in so far as it wishes to be with God and is accordingly raised up, God enters it in purity, and in so far as our intellect apprehends God purely, as he is truth, to that extent God enters our intellect. But as he descends into the will, this must rise up. Therefore he says: ‘One God’, and ‘Friend, climb up higher’.
‘One God’: in the oneness of God the divinity of God is perfected. I say this, that God could never give birth to his sole-begotten Son if he were not one. All that God works in creatures and in his divinity God derives from his oneness. I say further: God alone possesses oneness. That is the defining characteristic of his being, and it is on account of this that God is God. Everything which is multiple depends upon the One, but the One depends upon nothing. The wealth and wisdom and truth of God are entirely one in God; and not just one but also oneness. All that God possesses is in the One, and it is one in him. The masters say that the firmament revolves so that it makes all things one, which is why it revolves so swiftly.74 God possesses all his wealth as one, upon which his nature depends, and it is the soul’s blessedness that God is one: it is her adornment and her glory. He said: ‘Friend, climb higher and glory will be yours.’ It is the glory and adornment of the soul that God is one. And God acts as if he were only one in order to please the soul and as if he adorned himself only in order to make the soul fall in love with him. Therefore we want first one thing and then another. Now we practise wisdom and now some art or other. It is because the soul does not possess the One that she will never find rest until all things are one in God. God is one; this is the blessedness of the soul, her adornment and her peace. A master says that God in all his works has all things in mind. The soul is all things.75 God pours into the soul whatever is noblest, purest and highest beneath her. God is all and is one.
That we may become one with God, so help us ‘one God, Father of all’. Amen.
SERMON 18 (DW 42, W 80)
Adolescens, tibi dico: surge (Luke 7:14).
In the Gospel according to St Luke we read of a ‘young man who was dead. Then our Lord came by and took pity on him and touched him, saying: “Young man, I tell you and command you, rise up!”’.
Now know this: in all good people God is wholly present, and there is a something within the soul in which God lives and in which the soul lives in God. But when the soul turns outwards to external things, she dies as God too dies to the soul. But in no way does God die to himself; rather he lives on in himself. When the soul parts from the body, the body is dead while the soul lives on in herself. God too is dead to that soul, but he lives on in himself. Now know this: there is a power in the soul which extends further than the heavens, which are wide beyond belief and are wider than language can express, but that other power in the soul is greater by far.76.
Now listen carefully! The heavenly Father speaks in that noble power to his only begotten Son: ‘Young man, rise up.’ The union of God with the soul is so great that it is beyond belief, and God is in himself so exalted that he is beyond the reach of either knowledge or desire. Desire extends further than anything that can be grasped by knowledge. It is wider than the whole of the heavens, than all angels, even though everything that lives on earth is contained in the spark of a single angel. Desire is wide, immeasurably so. But nothing that knowledge can grasp or desire can want, is God. Where knowledge and desire end, there is darkness, and there God shines.
Now our Lord says: ‘Young man, I tell you, rise up!’ If I am to hear the voice of God in me, then I must be as wholly removed from all that is mine as I am from what lies on the other side of the sea, especially with respect to time. The soul is as young in herself as she was when she was created, and the particular age she is given holds only for the body in which she, the soul, is active in the senses. A master says that if an old person had young eyes, they would see as well as young people do. Yesterday I said something as I sat which sounds quite incredible. I said that Jerusalem is just as close to my soul as the place where I am now standing. In truth, whatever is a thousand miles further away than Jerusalem is as close to my soul as my own body. I am as sure of this as I am that I am a man, and this is not difficult for learned priests to understand. Know this: my soul is as young today as when she was first created. Indeed, she is far younger! And know this too: I shall be ashamed if she is not younger tomorrow than she is today.77.
The soul has two powers which have nothing in common with the body, namely reason and the will. These act above time. If only the eyes of the soul were opened so that her intelligence could grasp the truth clearly! Now know this: such a person would find it as easy to take leave of everything as they do to give up a pea or a lentil or nothing at all. Indeed, upon my soul, all things would be as nothing to them. Now there are certain people who turn from things out of love, but who still have great regard for what they have left. But those who understand in truth that even when they have given themselves up and have abandoned all things, this is still absolutely nothing – those who live in this way, truly possess all things.
There is in the soul a power which finds all things equally pleasing. In fact, the very worst and the very best thing are exactly the same for this power, which receives everything from a position above the here and now. ‘Now’ is time and ‘here’ is place, the place where I am presently standing. But if I had gone out of myself and were entirely free of myself, then the Father would give birth to his only begotten Son so purely in my spirit that the spirit would give birth to him in return. Truly, if my soul were as ready as that of my Lord Jesus Christ, then the Father would act in me as purely as he does in his only begotten Son and no less so, for he loves me with the same love with which he loves himself. St John says: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God’ (John 1:1). Now, whoever wishes to hear this passage in the Father, where it is quite still, must themselves become wholly still and detached from all images and from all forms. Indeed, we should cleave so faithfully to God that nothing can cause us either joy or grief. Rather, we should accept all things in God, just as they are in him.
Now he says: ‘Young man, I tell you, rise up.’ He wishes to perform the work himself. If someone orders me to carry a stone, then they might as well tell me to carry a thousand stones as one, if they actually intend to carry the stones themselves. Or if one person orders another to carry a hundredweight, they might as well say a thousand as one, if they intend to do the work themselves. For God wishes to perform this work himself and we need only follow him, without offering resistance. If only the soul remained within, she would find all things present there. There is a power in the soul, which is not merely a power but is rather being, and not just being, but rather something that liberates from being.78 It is so pure, exalted and sublime in itself that no creature can enter into it, but only God, who dwells within it. In truth, God himself cannot enter in there in so far as he has a particular manner, in so far as he is wise or good or rich. Indeed, God cannot enter there with any particular manner of being but rather only with his naked and divine nature.
Now take note of the words that he uses: ‘Young man, I tell you…’ What is this ‘telling’ of God?79 It is the work of God, and this work is so noble and so exalted that God alone performs it. Now know this: all our perfection and all our blessedness depends upon our breaking through, passing beyond all createdness, all temporality and all being and entering into the ground that is without ground.
We beseech God, our precious Lord, that we may become one, dwelling within, and may God help us to enter this ground. Amen.
SERMON 19 (DW 5a, W 13a)
In hoc apparuit caritas dei in nobis, quoniam filium suum unigenitium misit
deus in mundum ut vivamus per eum (1 John 4:9).
St John says: ‘God’s love was revealed to us in this, that he sent his Son into the world that we should live through him’, and our human nature has been immeasurably ennobled by the fact that the All-Highest came down and assumed the nature of a human being.
There is a teacher who says: when I consider that our nature has been raised above that of creatures and that it is placed above the angels and is adored by them, I must rejoice from the bottom of my heart, for Jesus Christ, my precious Lord, has given me everything that he possesses in himself. And he says too: in all those things he imparted to his Son, Jesus Christ, the Father had me in mind, loving me more than him and imparting these things to me rather than to him. How can this be? God gave them to his Son on my account, for I was needy. Therefore, whatever he gave his Son, he meant for me and truly gave them to me as well as to him. And I exclude neither the unity nor the sanctity of the Godhead, nor anything else. Nothing that he gave him in human nature is more alien or distant to me than it is to him, for God cannot give only in part. He must either give everything or not at all. His gift is irreducible and indivisible and belongs not to time but to eternity. And, as I live, you should know that if we are to receive from him in this way, then we must be established in eternity, raised above time. In eternity all things are present. What is above me is as close and as present to me as that which is at my side. There we shall receive from God what we are to have from him. God knows nothing but himself: his eye is directed only at himself. What he sees, he sees in himself. Therefore God does not see us when we sin. And so God knows us only in so far as we exist in him: that is, in so far as we are without sin. And all the works which our Lord performed, he has given me so that they are no less meritorious for me than my own works are. But since the whole of his nobility is as much our possession and is as close to us, to me as it is to him, why then do we not receive as much as he does? This is something you must understand! Whoever wants to attain this gift, the gift of universal human nature that is equally available to all, then just as there is nothing in human nature which is either more distinct from, closer to or further away from any one person than another, so too you must make no distinctions in the way you relate to people, being no closer to yourself than you are to anyone else. You should love, respect and regard all others as yourself; and you should feel that whatever happens to someone else, whether good things or bad, is happening to you.80.
Now this is the second meaning: ‘he sent him into the world’. Here we must understand that great world into which the angels peer. And us? We should be there with all our love and desire, as St Augustine says: ‘through love we become what we love. Now should we say that if we love God, we become God?’81 That sounds like paganism. The love that someone gives contains not two but one and oneness, and when I love I am more God than I am in myself. The prophet says: ‘I have said you are gods and children of the most high’ (Ps. 82:6). It may sound strange to say that we can become God in such a way in love, and yet this is true in the eternal truth. Our Lord Jesus Christ proves it.
‘He sent him into the world.’ One meaning of the Latin word mundum is ‘pure’. Now take note! There is no place more suited to God than a pure heart and a pure soul: there the Father gives birth to his Son, just as he gives birth to him in eternity, no more and no less. What is a pure heart? That heart is pure which is detached from all creatures, for all creatures cause impurity since they are nothingness and nothingness is a deficiency which sullies the soul. All creatures are a pure nothingness; neither angels nor creatures can be said to be something. They cause impurity since they are made of nothingness; nothingness is what they are. They touch all things82 and cause impurity, since they are made of nothingness. They are and were nothingness. Nothingness is what is counter to all creatures and displeasing to them. If I placed a piece of red-hot coal in my hand, then that would cause me pain. This comes solely from ‘nothingness’, and were we free of nothingness, we would not be impure.
And now ‘we live in him’, with him. There is nothing we desire so much as life. What is my life? That which is self-moving from within. But that which is moved from without is not alive. If we live with him then, we must also act with him from within so that we do not act from without. Rather we should be moved by that from which we live, that is by him. We can and must act from our own inner self. And so if we are to live in him or through him, then he must become our own inner self and we must act from our own inner self. Just as God effects all things from his own inner self and through himself, in the same way we too must act from our own inner self, which is him in us. He is wholly our own, and all things are our own in him. All that is in the possession of the angels, the saints and Our Lady, is mine in him and is neither more distant nor alien to me than what is in my own possession. All things are equally my own in him. And if we are to come to this very own, so that all things are our own, then we must apprehend him equally in all things, no more in one than another, for he is in all things alike.
There are people who savour God in one way but not in another, and they want to possess God according to one manner of devotion and not another. I can tolerate this, but it is quite wrong. If we are to take God correctly, then we must take him equally in all things: in tribulation as in prosperity, in tears as in joy. He should always be the same for you. If you believe, without having committed a mortal sin, that you lack both devotion and serious intent and that, not having devotion or serious intent, you do not have God, and if you then grieve over this, this itself becomes your devotion and serious intent. Therefore you should not confine yourself to just one manner of devotion, since God is to be found in no particular way, neither this one nor that. That is why they do him wrong who take God just in one particular way. They take the way rather than God. Remember this then: intend God alone and seek him only. Then whatever kinds of devotional practice come to you, be content with those. For your intention should be directed at God alone and at nothing else. Then what you like or dislike is all right, and you should know that to do it differently is to do it wrongly. They who desire so many ways of devotion push God under a bench. Whether it is the gift of tears or sighings or the like – none of this is God. If these come to you, all well and good. If they do not come to you, that too is all right and you should receive what God wishes to give you in that moment, remaining always in humility and absence of self, and always considering that you are unworthy of any good which God might give you if that is his wish. Thus the passage is explained which St John wrote: ‘God’s love was revealed to us in this’. If we were like this, then this good would be revealed in us too. The fact that it is concealed is entirely our own fault. We are the cause of all our obstacles. Guard yourself against yourself, and you have good protection. And even if we do not wish to accept his love, he has nevertheless chosen us for this. If we do not accept it therefore, we shall regret it and shall be sorely punished. That we do not arrive at the place where this good is received is not his fault but ours.83.
SERMON 20 (DW 16a, W 14a
A master says that if every medium were removed between myself and a wall, then I would be at the wall but not in it. But this is not the case with spiritual things, for with them one thing is always in another. That which receives is the same as that which is received, for it receives nothing other than itself. This is difficult. Whoever understands it has been preached to enough. But now just a little about the image of the soul.84.
There are many teachers who are of the opinion that this image is born from the will and from knowledge, but this is not the case. Rather I say that this image is a product of itself with neither will nor knowledge. Let me give you an analogy. Imagine that a mirror is held up to my face – whether I wish to or not, with neither will nor knowledge of myself, my image is formed in the mirror. This image does not derive from the mirror, nor from itself. Rather this image is grounded in the one who gives it its being and its nature. When the mirror is removed from me, then I am no longer imaged in it, for I am myself this image.
Another analogy. When a branch grows from a tree, it bears both the name and the nature of the tree. What grows out is the same as what remains within, and what remains within is the same as what grows out. Thus the branch is an expression of itself.
The same is true for the image of the soul: what goes out is the same as what remains within and what remains within is the same as what goes out. This image is the Son of the Father and I myself am this image85 and this image is wisdom. Therefore God be praised now and for evermore. Amen. May those who do not understand this, not be troubled.
SERMON 21 (DW 86, W 9)
Intravit lesus in quoddam castellum, et mulier quaedam, Martha nomine,
except ilium (Luke 10:38)86.
St Luke writes in his gospel that our Lord entered a small town where he was received by a woman called Martha. She had a sister, whose name was Mary. Mary sat at the feet of our Lord and listened to his words, while Martha moved about and waited on our Lord.
Now there are three things which caused Mary to sit at the feet of our Lord. The first was that the goodness of God had seized her soul. The second was an inexpressible desire: she was filled with longing, but did not know what for. She was filled with desire, but did not know why. The third thing was the sweet consolation and the bliss which came to her from the eternal words which flowed from the mouth of Christ.
There were three things too which caused Martha to move about and to serve her beloved Christ. The first was her maturity and the ground of her being which she had trained to the greatest extent and which, she believed, qualified her best of all to undertake these tasks. The second was wise understanding which knew how to perform those works perfectly that love commands. And the third was the particular honour of her precious guest.87.
The masters say that God is prepared to satisfy the desires of every person both with respect to the pleasures of the mind and the senses. We can discern how God satisfies both our mind and senses in the precious friends of God. Satisfying our senses means that God gives us consolation, bliss and contentment, and the precious friends of God cannot be spoilt in this respect in the domain of their lower senses.88 But mental pleasure, on the other hand, is pleasure in the spirit. By mental pleasure I mean those occasions when the crown or highest part of the soul is not pulled down by all our bliss, and is not submerged therefore in feelings of delight, but rather remains upright, sovereignly above such things. Only then do we find ourselves in a state of mental pleasure, when neither the joys nor griefs of creatures can pull the tip of the soul downwards. And by creatures here I mean all those things which we perceive below God.
Now Martha says: ‘Lord, tell her to help me.’ This was not said grudgingly but rather she was obliged to say it from a loving good-will. We must call it either loving good-will or affectionate teasing. But why? Pay attention. She saw that Mary was bathed in joy, her soul filled with pleasure. Martha knew Mary better than Mary knew Martha, for she had already lived long and well, and it is life that gives the best knowledge. Better than joy or light, life knows everything that we can strive for in this life except God, and in a certain sense it does so more purely than even the light of eternity can.89 The eternal light teaches us to know ourselves as well as God, and not ourselves without God. When life sees only itself, then the distinction between what is the same and what is different emerges more clearly. St Paul attests to this, as do the pagan masters. In his ecstatic vision St Paul saw God and himself in a spiritual manner in God but he could not clearly distinguish one virtue from another there, which was a consequence of the fact that he had not practised them in his own life. The pagan masters on the other hand achieved such great knowledge through the practice of virtue that they perceived every virtue more clearly than Paul or any other saint did in their first ecstasy.
This was also the case with Martha. That is why she said: ‘Lord, tell her to help me’, as if she meant to say that her sister seemed to think that she could do whatever she wished simply by sitting at the Lord’s feet and enjoying his consolation. ‘Let her see now whether this is really the case, and tell her to stand up and go away.’ This was said frankly but out of affectionate love. Mary was so filled with longing that she yearned without knowing what for, and desired without knowing what it was she desired. And we cannot escape the suspicion that by sitting where she was, dear Mary was more concerned with her feelings of pleasure than with spiritual gain. That is why Martha said: ‘Lord, tell her to help me’, since she was afraid that Mary might get caught up in her reverie and fail to advance any further. Christ answered her by saying: ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried, you are concerned with many things. Mary has chosen the better part which shall never be taken from her’ (Luke 10:41–42). Christ did not say this to Martha reprovingly but rather indicated to her that Mary would indeed become as she wished her to be.
But why did Christ say ‘Martha, Martha’, thus naming her twice? Isidore says there is no doubt that neither prior to nor after his birth in human form did God ever call anyone by name who was subsequently lost, but the case is more doubtful for those whom he did not call by name.90 By Christ’s naming of people I understand his eternal knowledge: being inscribed indelibly and from eternity in the living book which is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, prior to the creation of all creatures. None of those who were named in it, whom Christ actually called by name, were lost. Moses is proof of this, to whom God himself said, ‘I have called you by name’ (Ex. 33:12), and Nathaniel, to whom our beloved Christ said, ‘I knew you when you lay beneath the fig tree’ (John 1:50). The fig tree signifies God, in whom Nathaniel’s name was written from eternity. Thus it is shown that none of those individuals were lost, or ever shall be lost, whom Christ addressed by name with his human tongue from the eternal Word.
But why did he call Martha twice by name? He wished to show that Martha was wholly in possession of all that is good and all that a creature can possess, whether temporal or eternal. With the first ‘Martha’ he was referring to her perfection in temporal works. With the second, he showed that she lacked nothing that is necessary for eternal blessedness. Therefore he said ‘you are careful’, meaning: ‘you are in the midst of things, but things are not in you’. They who are careful are unhindered in their actions.91 They are unhindered whose works conform to the eternal light. Such people are among things but not in them. They are very close to them but possess them no less than if they, the people, were up above in the circle of eternity. ‘Very close’, I say, for all creatures serve as a means to something else. There are two kinds of means. The first is that without which I cannot attain God: works and actions within time, which do not detract from our eternal blessedness. We perform works when we act virtuously from outside, and actionswhen we act from within with intelligent understanding. But the second means is precisely the abandoning of the first. For that is the reason why we exist in time at all, in order to come closer to God, becoming more like him, by rational ‘actions’ in time. This is also what St Paul means when he says: ‘Redeem the time, the days are evil’ (Eph. 5:16). ‘Redeeming the time’ means ceaselessly rising up to God through reason and not in the distinctions of sensory images but rather in living and rational truth. And in ‘the days are evil’, ‘day’ is to be taken as suggesting ‘night’ since, if there were no night, there would be no day and we would not speak of it at all for all would be a single light. It is this to which St Paul refers, for an illuminated life is too slight in which darkness still exists, concealing and obscuring eternal blessedness from the noble spirit. This was also Christ’s meaning when he said, ‘Go on while you have the light’ (John 12:35). For whoever acts in the light, rises up to God, free and unencumbered by any means: their light is their ‘actions’ and their ‘actions’ are their light.
This was how it was for Martha. Therefore he said to her: ‘Only one thing is necessary’, and not two. You and I, once enfolded by the eternal light, are one. But this ‘two-one’ is a burning spirit which exists above all things and yet is below God in the circle of eternity. This is two, since it does not see God without means. Its knowledge and its being, or its knowledge and the cognitive image, never become one. It is only possible to see God where God is seen spiritually, with no image at all. There one becomes two, two is one: light and spirit, both are one in the embrace of the eternal light.
Now take note of what the ‘circle of eternity’ is. The soul has three ways to God. The first is to seek God in all creatures with many and varied actions with burning love. This is what King Solomon was referring to when he said: ‘I have sought rest in all things’ (Ecclus. 24:7).
The second is a pathless way, which is free and yet fixed, in which we are raised and exalted above ourselves and all things, with neither will nor images, although not yet in substantial being. Christ was referring to this when he said: ‘You are blessed, Peter. Flesh and blood have not illumined you, but being caught up in the higher mind. When you call me God, my heavenly Father has revealed it to you’ (Matt. 16:17). But even St Peter did not see God as he is, although he was raised up to the ‘circle of eternity’ beyond all created understanding by the power of his heavenly Father. I tell you, without his knowledge he was violently seized by the heavenly Father in a loving embrace and raised up in spirit into the power of the heavenly Father beyond all comprehension. There, from above, St Peter heard the sound of a sweet creaturely voice, which was nevertheless free of all sensual pleasure, in the simple truth of the unity of God and humanity in the person of the heavenly Father-Son. I dare even to say this: if St Peter had seen directly into the nature of God, as he did later, and as St Paul did when he was transported to the third heaven, then the speech of even the highest angel would have seemed coarse to him. But still he spoke a few sweet words, which beloved Jesus did not require, since he sees into the ground of the heart and spirit – he who stands immediately before God the Father in the freedom of true unity. This is what St Paul meant when he said: ‘a man was caught up and heard such words as may not be uttered by men’ (2 Cor. 12:2–4). From that you should understand that St Peter had reached the ‘circle of eternity’ but did not in unity gaze upon God in his own being.
Although the third way is called a ‘way’, it is also a kind of ‘being at home’. It is seeing God directly in his own being. Now our beloved Christ says: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ (John 14:6): one Christ in the Person, one in the Father, one in the Spirit as three – ‘way, truth and life’, and one as precious Jesus in whom all this is. All creatures circle this way, and function as a means. But in this way they are led to God the Father by the light of his Word and are embraced by the love of the Holy Spirit which is of them both. This transcends anything that can be said in words. Listen to this miracle! How astonishing: to be without and within, to grasp and be grasped, to see and be ourselves seen, to hold and be ourselves held – that is the goal, where the spirit dwells in peace, united with precious eternity.
Let us return to our explanation of how dear Martha, and all God’s friends, can be said to be ‘with concern’ and not ‘in concern’. Here action in time is just as noble as any uniting of the self with God, for it is as profitable to us as anything that we can encounter, with the sole exception of the vision of God in his own essence. Therefore Christ says: ‘You stand with things and with concern’, meaning thereby that she was exposed to troubles and depression with her lower faculties since she was not swamped by the enticements of the Spirit. She was with things and not in them…92
Three things are essential to the works we perform. These are that we should act with orderliness, insight and perspicacity. By orderliness I mean that which corresponds to the highest in all its aspects, and by insight I mean that than which for the time being we know nothing better. And finally by perspicacity I mean sensing in good works the joyful presence of the living truth. Where all three of these things coincide, they draw us as close to God and are as beneficial for us as all the raptures of Mary Magdalene in the desert.93
Now Christ says: ‘you are concerned with many things’ and not with the one thing. This means that when she stands upright on the circle of eternity, simple, pure and without any actions, she is troubled by any form of ‘means’ which prevents her from remaining there in delight. Such a person is ‘worried’ by this, and is anxious and depressed. But Martha was securely established in mature virtue and had an unencumbered mind, free of any impediment. Accordingly she wished that her sister might be in the same state for she saw that she, her sister, was not yet essentially there. It was from the mature ground of her soul that she wished that her sister too should possess all that belongs to eternal blessedness. That is why Christ says: ‘Only one thing is necessary’. But what is this one thing? It is God. This is what all creatures need, for if God took back what is his, all creatures would fall into nothingness. If God removed what is his from the soul of Christ, where his spirit is united with the eternal Person, then Christ too would be no more than a creature. Therefore we have a great need of the one thing. Martha feared that her sister would remain trapped in her pleasant feelings and in the sweetness, and she wished that her sister might become as she herself was. Therefore Christ said: Be at peace, Martha. She ‘has chosen the better part’. But this shall pass. The very highest thing that a creature can possess will be hers, and she will become blessed as you are blessed.
Now understand this concerning the virtues. Virtuous life depends upon three things which concern the will. The first is giving the will up for God, since it is absolutely necessary to completely fulfil what we shall know then, whether by the process of letting go or acquiring. There are three kinds of will. The first is a ‘sensual’ will, the second a ‘rational’ will and the third an ‘eternal’ will. The sensual will demands instruction and motivates us to listen to authentic teachers. The rational will consists in planting our feet in all the deeds of Christ and the saints, which means to say that we direct our works, our way of life and all our actions towards the highest end. When all this has been fulfilled, then God causes something else to descend into the soul’s ground: the eternal will together with the loving command of the Holy Spirit. Then the soul says: ‘Lord, give me what your eternal will is!’ When she has satisfied the condition we have just explained, thus pleasing God, the beloved Father speaks his eternal Word into the soul.
Now good people say that we should become so perfect that no occasion of joy can ever touch us again and we are as immovable in joy as we are in sorrow. This is wrong. I tell you that there can never be a saint who is so great that they cannot be moved in this way. I say rather that it may be given to a saint in this life that nothing can distract them from God. You claim that as long as words can move you to joy and sorrow you are imperfect! This is not the case! And it was not true even for Christ himself, as he revealed when he said: ‘My soul grieves even unto death’ (Matt. 26:38). Christ was so hurt by words that if a single creature were to suffer the griefs of all, this would not be so terrible as the suffering of Christ. This was the consequence of the nobility of his nature and the holy union of human and divine nature in him. Therefore I say that there has never been nor shall there ever be a saint who has not felt the pain of suffering and the delight of joy. It may be the case that every once in a while there is someone who, through the love and grace and miracle of God, is unmoved by either suffering or joy when their faith or something else is under attack and they are flooded with grace. And again, perhaps there are saints who cannot be distracted from God by anything so that, although the heart suffers while they are not in a state of grace, their will dwells simply in God and says: ‘Lord, I am yours and you are mine!’ And whatever happens in such a person, it cannot harm their eternal blessedness as long as it does not touch the highest tip of the spirit where they are one with God’s most precious will.
Now Christ says: ‘You are concerned with many things.’ Martha was so formed in essence that her actions did not obstruct her. Both her works and actions led her to eternal blessedness. Although in her case this was mediated, a noble nature, constant perseverance and virtue in the above sense are greatly beneficial. Mary too began as Martha before maturing to be Mary, for as she still sat at the feet of our Lord, she had not yet truly become Mary – although Mary by name she had not yet become Mary in her being, since she was still in the grasp of sweet and pleasant feelings and was still under instruction, learning how to live.94 But Martha was already formed in essence. That is why she said: ‘Lord, tell her to get up’, as if she meant: ‘Lord, I wish that she would not sit there enjoying her pleasurable feelings. I wish that she would learn how to live so that she might possess life essentially. Tell her to get up so that she may become perfect.’ Mary was not her name as she sat at the feet of our Lord. Mary is the name rather of one who has a well-disciplined body which is obedient to instruction. And obedience is when the will is satisfied with what understanding dictates.
Now some good people maintain that they have progressed so far that the presence of physical objects no longer affects their senses. But this is not the case. I shall never reach the point where a hideous noise is as pleasing to my ears as sweetly sounding strings. But this much is possible – that a rational, God-conformed will may be free of all natural pleasures and, upon hearing such a noise, commands the sensual will not to be concerned with it so that the latter replies: ‘I gladly agree!’ Then conflict will turn to joy, for what we must strive for with great effort becomes our heart’s delight, and only then does it bear fruit.
Now some people want to maintain they have advanced so far that they are free even of good works. But I say again that this cannot be. It was after receiving the Holy Spirit that the disciples first began to practise virtues. ‘Mary sat at the feet of our Lord and listened to his words’, and she learned, for she was still under instruction and learning how to live. But later, when she had learned and Christ had ascended into heaven and she had received the Holy Spirit, only then did she begin to serve, travelling across the sea, preaching, instructing and becoming a servant and washerwoman to the disciples. It is when the saints become saints that they begin to perform good works and that is when they first begin to gather the treasure of eternal blessedness. All that they did before paid the debt of guilt and averted punishment. Christ himself is a witness to this: from the very beginning when God became human and humanity became God, he began to work for our blessedness up to the point of dying on the cross. There was not a single part of his body that had not practised particular good works.
That we may follow him faithfully in the practice of true virtues, so help us God. Amen.
SERMON 22 (DW 52, W 87)
Beati pauperes spiritu, quoniam ipsorum est regnum caelorum (Matt. 5:3).
Blessedness spoke to Wisdom and said: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’95.
All the angels, all the saints and everything that was ever born must be silent when the Wisdom of God speaks, for all the wisdom of the angels and all creatures is a pure nothingness before the unfathomable Wisdom of God. And this Wisdom has said that the poor are blessed.
Now there are two kinds of poverty: external poverty, which is good and very praiseworthy in those who willingly practise it for love of Our Lord Jesus Christ, since this is what he did when he was on earth. But I do not wish to speak further of this poverty, for there is another kind of poverty, which is internal, and which is referred to by Our Lord when he says: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’.
Now, I ask you to be poor enough to understand what it is that I am saying to you, for I declare by Eternal Wisdom that if you do not yourself become the same as that Wisdom of which we wish to speak, then my words will mean nothing to you.
Some people have asked me what poverty is in itself and what it means to be a poor man or woman.
Bishop Albrecht says that a poor person is someone who takes no pleasure in anything which God has created – and this was well said.96 But we can improve on this and offer a more profound definition of poverty by saying that a poor person is someone who desires nothing, knows nothing and possesses nothing. It is of these three things that we wish to speak, and I beseech you for the love of God to understand me if you can. But if you do not understand, then do not worry, for I shall be speaking of a particular kind of truth which only a few good people can grasp.
In the first place we say that a poor person is someone who desires nothing. Some people do not understand this point correctly. I mean those who cling to their own egos in their penances and external devotions, which such people regard as being of great importance. God have mercy on them, for they know little of the divine truth! These people are called holy because of what they are seen to do, but inside they are asses, for they do not know the real meaning of divine truth. Although such people are happy to say that a poor person is one who desires nothing, they interpret this as meaning that we must live in such a way that we never perform our own will in anything but that we should desire rather to carry out God’s most precious will. These people are all right, for they mean well and that is why they deserve our praise. May God in his mercy grant them heaven! But I tell you by the divine truth that such people are not truly poor nor are they like those who are poor. They are greatly esteemed by people who know no better. But I tell you that they are asses, who understand nothing of God’s truth. May they attain heaven because of their good intent, but of that poverty, of which we now wish to speak, they know nothing.
If someone were now to ask me what it means to be a poor person who desires nothing, then I would say that as long as it is someone’s will to carry out the most precious will of God, such a person does not have that poverty of which we wish to speak. For this person still has a will with which they wish to please God, and this is not true poverty. If we are to have true poverty, then we must be so free of our own created will as we were before we were created. I tell you by the eternal truth that as long as you have the will to perform God’s will, and a desire for eternity and for God, you are not yet poor. They alone are poor who will nothing and desire nothing.
When I existed in my first cause, I had no God and I was my own cause. I willed nothing and desired nothing, for I was naked being and I knew myself by the savour of truth. Then I desired myself and nothing else. What I desired, that was myself, and I was myself what I desired, and I was free both of God and of all things. But when I emerged by free choice and received my created being,97 I came into the possession of a God for, until creatures came into existence, God was not ‘God’, but was rather what he was. Then, when creatures emerged and received their created being, God was not ‘God’ in himself but in creatures.98.
Now we say that God, in so far as he is this ‘God’, is not the supreme goal of creatures, for even the least creature possesses this much in God. And if it were the case that a fly had reason and, through reason, was able to seek the eternal abyss of divine being from which it had emerged, then we would say that God, together with all that he is as ‘God’, could not satisfy the longing even of this fly. Therefore we ask God to free us from ‘God’ so that we may be able to grasp and eternally enjoy truth where the highest angels, the fly and the human soul are all one – in that place where I desired what I was and was what I desired. And so we say: if we are to be poor in will, then we must will and desire as little as we willed and desired before we came into being. It is in this way that someone is poor who wills nothing.
Secondly, they are poor who know nothing. From time to time we have said that we should live as if we did not live, either for ourselves, for truth or for God. But now we put it differently, going further, and say that they who are to have this poverty must live in such a way that they do not know that they do not live either for themselves, for truth or for God. They must rather be free of the knowledge that they do not know, understand or sense that God lives in them. More even than this: they must be free of all the knowledge that lives in them. For when we were contained in the eternal essence of God, there was nothing other than God in us, but what was in us was ourselves. Therefore we say that we should be as free of self-knowledge as we were before we were created, that we should allow God to do what he will and that we should be entirely free of all things.
Everything which ever emerged from God is programmed to act. Loving and knowing are the two forms of activity which belong to humanity. Now there is a debate as to which of these is the place where blessedness is to be found. Some masters have taught that it lies in knowledge, others that it lies in love, while others still consider that it lies in both knowledge and love. These are closer to the truth. But we say that it lies neither in knowledge nor in love, but rather there is a something in the soul which is the source of both knowledge and love, although it does not itself know or love, as do the soul’s faculties. Whoever comes to know this discovers where blessedness lies. It has neither a past nor a future, and it is not something to which anything can be added, for it cannot become larger or smaller. Therefore it does not possess any knowledge of the fact that God acts in it, rather it is itself that which delights in itself just as God delights in himself. We too should be so solitary and unencumbered that we do not know that it is God who acts in us. Thus we will have poverty. The masters say that God is being, rational being, who knows all things. But we say that God is neither being, nor rational being, nor does he know either this or that. Therefore God is free of all things, which is why he is all things. Now they who wish to be poor in spirit, must be poor in all their knowing so that they have no knowledge of anything, neither of God, nor of creature, nor of themselves. This is why it is necessary that we should desire to know or perceive nothing of God’s works. In this way we can become poor in knowing.
Thirdly, a poor person is someone who possesses nothing. Many have said that not possessing the material things of the earth is perfection, and this is certainly true when it is voluntary. But this is not the sense that I have in mind.
I said before that a poor person is someone who does not even will to perform God’s will, but who lives in such a way that he or she is as free both of their own will and of God’s will as they were before they were created. Of this we say that it is the highest poverty. Further, we have stated that a poor person is someone who knows nothing of the action of God within them. And this again is the purest poverty when someone is so free of knowledge and perception. But the third kind of poverty of which I shall now speak is the ultimate one, and this is the poverty of someone who possesses nothing.
Now listen carefully! I have often said, as great masters have said, that we should be so free of all things and all works, both inner and outer, that we become the place where God can act. But now we put it differently. If it is the case that someone is free of all creatures, of God and of themselves, if God finds a place to act in them, then we say: as long as this exists in someone, they have not yet reached the ultimate poverty. For God does not intend there to be a place in someone where he can act, but if there is to be true poverty of spirit, someone must be so free of God and all his works that if God wishes to act in the soul he must himself be the place in which he can act, and this he is certainly willing to be. For if God finds us this poor, then God performs his own active work and we passively receive God in ourselves and God becomes the place of his work in us since God works within himself. In this poverty, we attain again the eternal being which we once enjoyed, which is ours now and shall be for ever.
There is a passage in St Paul which says: ‘All that I am I am by the grace of God’ (1 Cor. 15:10). But now my words seem to be above grace, above being, above knowledge and will, above all desire, and so how can St Paul’s words be true? It was necessary that God’s grace should be in him, since it was this that made perfect in him what was imperfect.99 When the grace came to an end and completed its work, then Paul remained what he was.
And so we say that we should be so poor that we neither are nor possess a place in which God can act. If we still have such a place within us, then we still have multiplicity. Therefore I ask God to make me free of ‘God’, for my most essential being is above ‘God’ in so far as we conceive of God as the origin of creatures. And so in that essence, where God is above all existence and all multiplicity: I myself was there, there I desired myself and knew myself to make this man. Therefore I am my own self cause according to my essence, which is eternal, and not according to my becoming, which is in time. There I am unborn, and according to the manner of my unbornness, shall never die. According to the manner of my unborn nature, I have been eternal, as I am now and ever shall be. But what I am according to my nature which was born into the world, that shall die and turn to nothing, for it is mortal. Therefore it must decay with time. In my birth,100 all things were born, and I was the cause of my own self and of all things. Had I wished that I should not exist, then neither would anything else have existed. And if I did not exist, then neither would God have existed as ‘God’. I am the cause of God’s existence as ‘God’. But it is not necessary for you to know this.101.
One great master says that breaking through is better than flowing out, and this is true. When I flowed forth from God, all things said: God is. But this cannot make me blessed, for I know myself as creature in this. But in the breakthrough, where I am free of my own will and of God’s will and of all his works and am free of God himself, there I am above all creatures and am neither ‘God’ nor creature, but I am rather what I once was and what I shall remain now and for evermore. There I receive an impulse which shall raise me above the angels. In this flight I receive such great wealth that God, with all that he has as ‘God’ and with all his divine works, cannot satisfy me, for the consequence of this breakthrough is that God and I become one. Then I am what I have once been, and I neither increase nor decrease, but am an immovable cause which moves all things. God can find no place in us then, for with this poverty we attain that which we have eternally been and shall for ever remain. Here God is one with our spirit, and this is poverty in its ultimate form.
Whoever does not understand these words, should not be troubled. For as long as someone is not themselves akin to this truth, they will not understand my words, since this is an unconcealed truth which has come directly from the heart of God.
That we may live in such a way that we have eternal knowledge of this, so help us God. Amen.
SERMON 23 (DW 69, W 42)
Modicum et iam non videbitis me (John 16:16).
I have read out a passage in Latin, which St John wrote in his gospel and which we read on this Sunday. These are the words of Jesus to his apostles: ‘A little, a short while, and you shall no longer see me.’102.
If anything, however small, adheres to the soul, we cannot see God. St Augustine posed the question what is eternal life and this was his answer: ‘If you ask me what eternal life is, then you should ask eternal life itself and listen to what it has to say.’ No one knows better what heat is than someone who is hot. No one knows better what wisdom is than someone who is wise, and no one knows better what eternal life is than eternal life itself. Now eternal life, which is our Lord Jesus Christ, says: ‘That is eternal life, that we know you alone as the true God’ (John 17:3). If someone were to glimpse God from afar, as if through a medium or in a cloud, they would not separate themselves from God even for a moment for anything in the world. How overwhelming is it then, do you think, when we see God directly? Now our Lord says: ‘In a little while you shall no longer see me.’ All the creatures that God ever has created or ever could create if he wished are ‘a little’ compared with God. Heaven is so vast and so wide that you would not believe me if I told you. If you were to take a needle and were to prick heaven with its point, then that pin-prick of heaven would be greater with respect to both heaven and this world than this world and heaven are with respect to God. Therefore it is aptly said: ‘A little, a short while, and you shall no longer see me.’ As long as there is still something of the creature in you, however small it may be, you shall not see God. That is why in the Book of Love the soul says: ‘I have run around and sought him whom my soul loves, and have not found him’ (cf. S. of S. 3:2). She found angels and much else but not him whom she loved. She said: ‘After that, when I had leapt over a little or a small space, I found him that my soul loved’ (cf. S. of S. 3:4), just as if she had said: ‘when I had tested all creatures (which are meant by “a little”), I found him whom my soul loves’. The soul which seeks God must leap over all creatures.
Now know that God loves the soul to a miraculous degree. If God could be prevented from loving the soul, then he would lose his life and his being. It would kill him, if it is possible to say such a thing, for that same love with which God loves the soul is his life, and in that same love the Holy Spirit burgeons and this same love is the Holy Spirit. Now since God loves the soul so much, the soul must herself be something great.
In the book On the Soul a master says: ‘If there were nothing in between, then the eye could discern an ant or a midge in heaven’, and he spoke well, for he meant the fire and the air and other things which exist between heaven and the eye. But another master says: ‘If there were no medium, then my eye would not be able to see anything at all.’103 Both are right.
The former says that ‘If there were nothing in between, then the eye could discern an ant or a midge in heaven’, and he is right. For if there were nothing between God and the soul, then she could indeed see God since God neither knows nor tolerates any intermediary. If the soul were denuded, stripped of all intermediaries, then God too would be stripped bare for her and would give himself to her fully. As long as the soul is not denuded and stripped of all intermediaries, however small these may be, she shall not see God. If there existed anything between the body and the soul, even a hair’s breadth, then they would never have been truly united. If this is the case with physical things, it is even more true in the spiritual realm. Boethius says: ‘If you wish to know the truth in its purity, lay aside joy and suffering, fear, anticipation and hope.’104 Joy and pain, fear and anticipation – all these serve as intermediaries. As long as you regard them and they regard you, you shall not see God.
The other master says: ‘If there were no medium, then my eye would not be able to see anything at all.’ If I place my hand on my eye, I cannot see my hand. But if I hold it before my face, I see it straight away. This is a consequence of the coarse materiality of my hand, which must be purified and refined in the air and the light if it is to enter my eye as an ‘image’. You can see how this happens with a mirror. If you hold it up to your face, you can see your image in it. The eye and the soul are like this mirror, so that everything which is presented to them appears in them. Therefore I see neither the hand nor the stone in themselves, but rather I see the image of the stone. But I do not see this image in another image or in another medium but rather I see it directly and without an image since the image is itself the means and no other. This results from the fact that an image has no image, just as motion does not move – it causes entities to move – and greatness itself is without size but is the cause whereby certain objects are big. Thus the image is itself imageless, for it cannot be seen in another image. The eternal Word is both the medium and the image itself, which exists without mediation and without image so that the soul can comprehend God in the eternal Word, knowing him directly without an image.
There is a power in the soul which is the intellect. From the point of its origin and as soon as it becomes aware of God and savours him, it possesses five characteristics. Firstly, it is detached from the here and now. Secondly, it bears no likeness to anything else. Thirdly, it is pure and unmixed with anything else. Fourthly, it is active or exploratory in itself. Fifthly, it is an ‘image’.
Firstly, it is detached from the here and now. ‘Here’ and ‘now’ stand for space and time. ‘Now’ is the very least period of time. It is neither a piece of time nor is it a portion of time, but rather it is a taste of time, the sharp point of time and an end of time. And yet, however small it may be, it must be removed. Everything that touches time or smacks of time must be removed. Now for the being detached from ‘here’. ‘Here’ stands for space. The space in which I am now standing is very small. And yet, however small it may be, it must still be removed, if I am to see God.
Secondly, that this power is like nothing else. A master says: ‘God is a being that nothing is like and nothing can be like.’ Now John says: ‘We shall be called children of God’ (1 John 3:1). If we are to be his children, we must be like him. But then how can a master say that there is nothing like him? We must understand this in the following way. This power in the soul is like God precisely because it is not like anything at all. Just as there is nothing like God, neither is there anything like this power. Of course, it is the nature of all creatures to work and to strive to become like God. The heavens would never revolve if they did not seek and strive for God or God’s likeness. If God were not in all things, nature would neither effect nor desire anything for, whether you like it or not, whether you are aware of it or not, nature secretly seeks and strives for God in its innermost part. No man or woman has ever felt such a thirst that they would not still have refused a drink, were it offered them, unless there were something of God in it. Nature does not demand either food or drink, clothing or comfort or anything in anything if God is not in it. Secretly nature always seeks and strives to find God in things.
Thirdly, that this power is pure and unmixed with anything else. The nature of God is such that he cannot endure being mixed or combined with anything. Neither is this power mixed or combined. There is nothing alien in it, and nothing alien can enter it. If I said of a beautiful person that they are both blond and dark, then I would be doing them an injustice. The soul must be completely unmixed with anything. If anything were to be attached to my hood or placed upon it, then whoever were to pull at my hood would pull this too. If I were to leave this place, all that is attached to me would go too. If someone pulls away that which the spirit rests upon or is attached to, they will also remove the spirit. But someone who does not rest upon anything or is attached to anything will remain unmoved even if heaven and earth were to turn upside down, since he or she is attached to nothing and nothing is attached to them.
Fourthly, that it is always inwardly seeking. God is a being who always dwells in the innermost place. That is why the intellect always seeks within. The will, on the other hand, is directed outside, to what it loves. If for example my friend comes to visit me, then my will with its love turns wholly towards him and finds in this its pleasure. Now St Paul says: ‘We shall know God as we are known by him’ (1 Cor. 13:12). St John says: ‘We shall know God as he is’ (1 John 3:2). If I am to be coloured, then I must have in myself what belongs to colour. I can never be coloured without taking the nature of colour into myself. I can never see God except in that in which God sees himself. Therefore St Paul says: ‘God dwells in an unapproachable light’ (1 Tim. 6:16). But let no one give up on this account! We are on the way or are approaching the goal, and that is good, although it is far from the truth for it is not yet God.
Fifthly, that it is an ‘image’. Now pay attention to this point since it contains the whole of the sermon. One image is so wholly united with another image that no distinction can be discerned between them. We can conceive of fire without heat and of heat without fire, and we can conceive of the sun without light and light without the sun, but still we cannot discern any distinction between one image and another.105 I say further that even the all-powerful God can perceive no distinction there since both are born together and together they die. I do not die if my father dies. If he dies, then it is no longer possible to say ‘he is his son’ but rather ‘he was his son’. If a wall is painted white, in so far as it is white it is like all whiteness. But if you then paint it black, it is dead to all whiteness. The same is true here: if the image is lost which is formed after God, then the image of God is also lost. Let me say something, one or two things, about this. Listen carefully. Intellect peers in and examines every corner of the Godhead; it takes the Son in the heart of the Father and in the divine ground and places him in its own ground. The intellect drives in and is satisfied neither with goodness nor wisdom nor with truth nor even with God himself. In truth, it is as little satisfied with God as it is with a stone or a tree. It never rests, but breaks into the divine ground, where goodness and truth originate. It takes the divine in principio at its point of origin, where goodness and wisdom begin, before the divine acquires a name, before it breaks forth: intellect takes it then in a far higher ground than that of either goodness or wisdom. But their sister, the will, is content with God in so far as he is good, while intellect strips all this away, breaking in and through to the root where the Son wells up and the Holy Spirit burgeons.
That we may understand this, becoming eternally blessed, so help us Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
SERMON 24 (w 2, PF 2, DP 58)
Ubi est qui natus est rex judaeorum? (Matt. 2:2).
‘Where is he who is born King of the Jews?’ Now note where this birth takes place: ‘Where is he who is born… ?’ But I say, as I have often said, that this birth takes place in the soul just as it takes place in eternity, no more and no less. For there is only onebirth, and this takes place in the essence and ground of the soul.
But this raises certain questions. Firstly, since God exists spiritually in all things and is by nature more inwardly present in things than they are in themselves, and since wherever God is he must act and know himself and speak his Word, we are bound to ask which are the particular characteristics of the soul that make it more responsive to this action of God than other rational creatures which God indwells in the same way. Now take note of the following answer!.
God exists in all things essentially, actively and powerfully. But he is fertile in the soul alone. If all creatures are the vestige of God, then the soul alone is naturally made in his image.106 The birth must serve to adorn and perfect this image. And the soul, alone of all creatures, is responsive to God’s action and birth. Truly, whatever form of perfection enters the soul, whether divine, simple light or grace or blessedness, this must all enter the soul with this birth and in no other way. If you just wait for this birth to take place in you, you will find all that is good, all consolation, all bliss, all being and all truth. If you miss it, then you will miss all that is good and all blessedness. Whatever enters you in this birth, brings you pure being and enduring substance, but whatever you seek which is outside this birth shall perish – take it as and where you will, still it will all perish. Only this gives being, all else passes. But in this birth you will partake in the divine influx and all its gifts. Those creatures who are not in God’s image are not receptive to this, for the soul’s image belongs in a special way to this birth that takes place truly and particularly in the soul, being generated by the Father in the soul’s ground and innermost part, into which no image nor any faculty have ever glanced.
The second question is this: since the work of this birth happens in the being and ground of the soul, then surely it takes place just as much in a sinner as it does in a good person? What grace or benefit does it hold for me therefore? If the ground of both their natures is the same, then does that mean that the nobility of nature of those, even of those who are in Hell, remains intact?
Observe the following teaching. It is the peculiar characteristic of this birth that it always brings new light. It constantly introduces a strong light into the soul since it is the nature of goodness to pour itself forth wherever it may be. In this birth God pours himself into the soul with light so much that the light gathers in the being and ground of the soul and spills over into the faculties and the outer self. This happened to Paul too when God bathed him in his light as he journeyed, and spoke to him. A likeness of the light became externally visible, so that even his companions saw it, and it enveloped Paul as it did the saints (Acts 9:3). The abundance of light in the ground of the soul flows over into the body, which is then filled with radiance. But sinners can receive nothing of this, nor are they worthy to do so, since they are filled with sin and evil, which are called ‘darkness’. Therefore it is said: ‘The darkness shall neither receive nor comprehend the light’ (cf. John 1:5). The problem is that the paths which this light should take are blocked with falsehood and darkness. After all, light and darkness cannot coexist any more than God and creatures can. If God is to enter, then the creatures must leave. We are well aware of this light. Whenever we turn to God, there is a light that shines and burns in us, guiding us as to what we should do and what we should not do, and giving us many other kinds of good instruction, of which we had no knowledge or understanding in the past.
‘But how do you know all this?’
Now listen! Something often touches your heart so that it turns away from the world. How could that happen if not through this enlightenment? It happens with such gentleness and delight that you begin to find oppressive all that is not God or of God. You are drawn to God and you become aware of much good guidance without knowing where it comes from. But this inner movement originates neither from any creature nor from their promptings, for the stirrings and effects of creatures come from without. The ground of the soul, however, is touched only by this and the more you are free of yourself, the more you shall find light, truth and understanding. Therefore the only reason why anyone has ever erred in anything is that they have departed from this and have turned too much to external things. St Augustine says that there are many who have sought light and truth, but only without, where they are not to be found. Thus they finally go so far outside themselves that are never able to enter in again. That is why they have not found the truth, for the truth is within, in the ground, and not without. Whoever wishes to find light and understanding in all truth, must watch and observe this birth in themselves and in their ground, and then all their faculties shall be illumined as will their outer self. For, as soon as God touches the ground within with his truth, the light shines into the soul’s powers so that such a person can do more than he or she could ever be taught to do. The prophet says: ‘I have gained greater understanding than all those who ever taught me’ (cf. Eccles. 1:16). Now note that it is impossible for this birth to happen in sinners since this light cannot burn and shine in them. This birth cannot coexist with the darkness of sins, even though it does not occur in the faculties of the soul but rather in her being and her ground.
Now a further question presents itself. Since God the Father is born only in the being and ground of the soul, of what concern is it to the faculties? In what way do they serve it if they just stand idly by? What is the point of this birth if it does not take place in the faculties? This is a good question. Now observe the answer.
The action of all creatures is directed towards a final end. The final end is always the first in intention but the last in execution. Thus God too intends a beatific final end in all his works, which means to say he intends himself and intends that he should draw the soul, with all her faculties, to this final end, that is, to himself It is for this that God performs all his works, and the Father gives birth to the Son in the soul: so that all the faculties of the soul should arrive at this goal. He lies in wait for all that is in the soul and summons it all to this feast and celebration. But the soul has scattered herself abroad through her powers, in the activity of each one: the power of seeing in the eye, of hearing in the ear, of taste in the tongue. And thus the soul’s inner activity is weakened. For being divided is an imperfection in every power. Therefore if the soul wishes to work effectively within, she must reunite all her powers, gathering them back from scattered things into internal action. St Augustine says that the soul is more present where she loves than where she gives life to the body. Let me give you an analogy. There was once a pagan master who was devoted to the science of calculation.107 He had directed all his powers to this and, seated by the glowing embers of a fire, was calculating and exploring this art. Then someone approached him and drew a sword, not knowing that it was the master, and said: ‘Tell me quickly who you are, or I shall kill you!’ The master was so entirely immersed in his thoughts that he neither saw nor heard his enemy and could not answer him, not even by saying ‘My name is such and such’. After the enemy had shouted for a long time without getting an answer, he struck the master’s head off. Now this happened as the result of the pursuit of a natural science. How much more should we remove ourselves from all things, gathering our powers together, in order to see and to know the sole, immeasurable, uncreated and eternal truth? For this you should gather all your senses, all your faculties, the whole of your intellect and memory, drawing it all into the ground in which this treasure lies buried. If this is to happen, then know that you must strip yourself of all other works and must enter a state of unknowing, if you are to succeed in finding this.
But now another question arises. Would it not be better if each faculty retained its own activity, without hindering another in its work or indeed obstructing God in his action? Could there not be in me some kind of natural knowledge which would not serve to obstruct anything, just as God knows all things without impediment or as the saints do? This is a valuable question. Now listen to the following answer.
The saints see in God only a single image, and in this single image they know all things. Indeed, this is how God too sees himself and knows all things in himself. He does not need to turn from one thing to another, as we do. If it were the case for us in our earthly life that we always had a mirror before our face in which we could see all things in a single moment, knowing them in a single image, then neither action nor knowledge would be an obstacle for us. But since we must turn from one thing to another, we can never engage with the one without being hindered in this by the other. For the soul is bound so tightly to the faculties that she flows with them to wherever they go since the soul must be present with them in all their activity, and must be so with commitment, or the faculties cannot work at all. If her attention is dissipated in external works, she will necessarily be weakened with respect to inner works. For this birth to take place God requires a bare soul, untrammelled and free, in which nothing is but himself and which is filled with expectation for nothing other than himself. This was Christ’s meaning when he said: ‘Whoever loves anything but me, whoever loves father and mother or many other things is not worthy of me. I did not come upon earth to bring peace but a sword, to cut away all things, to part you from sister, brother, mother, child and friend that in truth are your enemies’ (cf. Matt. 10:34—36). For what is familiar to you is in truth your enemy. If your eye is to see all things, your ear to hear all things and your heart to consider all things, then truly your soul must be divided and dissipated among all these things.
Therefore a master says: if someone is to perform an inner work, they must draw in all their powers as if in the corner of their soul, hiding from all images and forms, and then they shall be able to act. They must thus enter a forgetfulness and an unknowing. Where this word is to be heard, there must be stillness and silence. We cannot serve this word better than with stillness and silence; there it can be heard and properly understood, and there we are in a state of unknowing. Where we know nothing, there it reveals itself and makes itself known.
Now we come to a further question. You might say: sir, you are basing all our salvation on a form of unknowing. That sounds like a lack of something. God created humanity in order that we should know, as the prophet says: ‘Lord, make them know’. Wherever there is unknowing, there is a lack and an absence. Such a person is no better than a beast, an ape, a fool, which is true for as long as he or she remains in unknowing. At this point we must come into a transformed knowing, an unknowing which comes not from ignorance but from knowledge. Then our knowing shall be divine knowledge, and our unknowing shall be ennobled and enriched with supernatural knowing. With respect to this, being passive shall make us more perfect than being active. Therefore one master says that the power of hearing is far nobler than the power of seeing, for we learn more wisdom through what we hear than through what we see, and it is through the former that we live more in wisdom. It is said of a pagan master that as he lay on his death-bed, his disciples talked in his presence of an exalted science. The master raised his head, listened and said: ‘Let me learn this science so that I can rejoice in it for all eternity.’ Hearing internalizes, while seeing, or at least the act of seeing, is more directed outwards. Therefore we shall be far more blessed in the life eternal by virtue of our hearing than on account of our seeing. For the process of the hearing of the eternal Word takes place within me, while the act of seeing proceeds from me, and in my hearing I play a passive role, while in my seeing I play an active one.
Our blessedness does not lie in our active doing, rather in our passive reception of God. God is far nobler than creatures, and that is how much nobler his action is than mine. Indeed, in his immeasurable love God has placed our blessedness in passive receptivity, for we are more passive than active, and we receive far more than we give. But every gift demands that we become receptive to a further, and greater, gift. Every divine gift increases our receptivity and our desire to receive what is great and noble. Therefore certain masters say it is in this that the soul is equal to God. For the infinity of the soul’s receiving matches the infinity of God’s giving.108 As God is omnipotent in his action, the soul is unfathomable in her passivity, which is why she is transformed with God and in God. It is for God to act and the soul passively to receive. God should know and love himself in her while she should know with his knowledge and should love with his love. Therefore she is made far more blessed by what is his than by what is her own, and her blessedness is rooted in his action rather than in her own.
St Denys’s disciples asked him why Timothy so excelled them all in perfection, to which Denys said that Timothy was a God-suffering man. Whoever can understand this would excel everyone in the world.
And so your unknowing is not a lack but rather your highest perfection, and passively to receive is your highest action. In this way you must cease being active and must draw all your powers to a point of stillness, if you truly desire to experience this birth within yourself. If you wish to find the new-born king, then you must ignore everything which you might otherwise find, and cast it aside.
That we may ignore and reject all that is unpleasing to this new-born king, so help us God, who became a son of man so that we may become the children of God. Amen.
SERMON 25 (w 4, PF 4, DP 59)
Et cum factus esset Jesus annorum duodecim (Luke 2:42).
We read in today’s Gospel that when our Lord was twelve years old, he went with Mary and Joseph to Jerusalem, to the temple. When they returned again, Jesus remained in the temple, without their knowledge. When they arrived home and missed him, they sought him among their friends and relatives and among the crowd but could not find him. They had lost him among all the people. Therefore they had to go back again, to their starting point, and as they reached the temple, they found him.
This too is what you must do, truly, if you wish to find the noble birth, leaving the ‘crowd’ and returning to the source and ground from which you came. All the faculties and works of the soul constitute the ‘crowd’: memory, reason and will, which all serve to divide and diversify you. Therefore you must leave them all: the activity of the senses and imagination and everything in which you are present to yourself or to your intentions. Only then can you find this birth, and not otherwise, believe me. It was never discovered among ‘friends’, ‘relatives’ or ‘acquaintances’: rather, that is where it is lost.
Therefore the following question arises: whether we can find this birth through particular things which, while divine, are mediated to us from outside by the senses. Certain concepts concerning God are an example of this, including the idea that God is good, that he is wise, merciful or whatever it may be that reason can derive from itself and which is similarly divine. Can all this bring us the birth? Indeed not. For although it may all be good and of God, it is still all mediated by the senses from outside. But if this birth is to shine out in truth and purity, there must be a movement solely from within, from God. All your activity must be stilled, and all your powers must serve him and not yourself. If this work is to be perfect, then God alone must perform it and you must passively receive it. Where you truly go out of your will and your knowledge, God truly and willingly enters in with his knowledge and shines there with great brilliance. Where God is to know himself in this way, then your knowing can neither coexist with it nor serve its ends. You should not imagine that your reason can evolve to the extent of understanding God. Rather, if God is to shine divinely within you, your natural light cannot assist this process but must become a pure nothingness, going out of itself. Only then can God enter with his light, bringing back with him all that you have renounced and a thousand times more, including a new form which contains all things in itself.
The Gospel provides an analogy for this. When our Lord had spoken kindly to the heathen woman at the well (John 4:6ff.), she left her jug, ran to the town and proclaimed to all that the Messiah had come. But the people did not believe her, and they went out with her to look at him themselves. Then they said to her ‘Now we believe, not because of your words: we believe rather because we have seen him ourselves’ (John 4:42). In the same way, truly, neither the skills of all creatures, nor your own wisdom nor the whole extent of your knowledge can bring you to the point that you have a divine knowledge of God. If you wish to know God in a divine manner, then your knowing must become a pure unknowing, a forgetting of yourself and of all creatures.
Now you could say: but sir, what is there left for my reason to do if it stands entirely bare and wholly inactive? Is this the best way, if I raise my mind to an unknowing knowing, which cannot ever exist? For, if I know something, then this is neither unknowing nor naked simplicity. Should I stand in complete darkness?.
Yes indeed! You are never better placed than when you are in complete darkness and unknowing.
But sir, must it all be removed? Can there be no return?.
No, truly. There can be no return.
What is this darkness? What is it called?
Its name means nothing other than a state of potential receptivity, which in no way lacks being, but is a potential receptivity in which you shall be perfected. That is why there is no return from this. But if you do go back, it cannot be on account of any truth but only on account of something else, such as the senses, the world or the devil. If you give way to this impulse, then you shall lapse into sin and may even fall into eternal damnation. Therefore there is no turning back but only a constant advance in order to realize this potentiality, which never rests until it is filled with being. And rightly so, just as matter does not rest until it is filled with all possible forms, or intellect does not rest until it is filled to its capacity.
With regard to this a pagan master says that nature has nothing which is swifter than the heavens: they outstrip everything as they follow their course. And yet, truly, the human mind goes even faster than this. If only it remained true to its potential, maintaining itself undefiled and undiminished by lower and coarse objects, then it would outstrip the highest heavens and would never rest until it reached the all-highest, there to be fed and nourished by the greatest good, which is God.
If you were to ask how beneficial it is to pursue this potentiality and to maintain ourselves in bareness and simplicity, holding only to this darkness and unknowing, without turning back, then I would say that it offers the sole possibility of gaining him who is all things. The more you are empty of self and are freed from the knowledge of objects, the closer you come to him. Concerning this desert, Jeremiah writes: ‘I will lead my beloved into the wilderness and will speak to her in her heart’ (Hos. 2:14). The true word of eternity is uttered only in solitude, where a man or woman is empty of self and multiplicity and is remote from them. The prophet hungered for this desolate self-abandonment when he said: ‘Who will give me the wings of a dove that I may fly away and be at rest?’ (Ps. 55:6). Where do we find peace and rest? Only in abandonment, in the desert and in isolation from all creatures. On this David says: ‘I would rather be rejected and spurned in the house of my God than dwell with great honour and wealth in the tavern of sinners’ (Ps. 84:10).
Now you could say: sir, if it is necessary that we should be stripped of all things and emptied of them, outside and within, the faculties together with their activity – if all this must be removed, then it is grievous if God allows us to remain without any support. ‘Woe is me that my exile is prolonged’ (Ps. 120:5), as the prophet says, if God prolongs my dereliction without casting his light upon me, speaking to me or working in me, as you are suggesting here. If we thus enter a state of pure nothingness, is it not better that we should do something in order to drive away the darkness and dereliction? Should we not pray or read or listen to a sermon or do something else that is virtuous in order to help ourselves?.
No, certainly not! The very best thing you can do is to remain still for as long as possible. You cannot turn away from this state to other things without doing yourself harm, that much is sure. You wish to be prepared in part by yourself and in part by God, which cannot be. You cannot think about or desire this preparation more swiftly than God can carry it out. But supposing that it could be divided: the preparation would then be yours and the inpouring or action would be his, which is quite impossible. You should know that God must pour himself into you and act upon you where he finds you prepared. You should not think that God is like a carpenter on earth who works or does not work as he will and for whom it is a matter of choice as to whether he should do something or not, according to his inclination. This is not the case with God who must act and must pour himself into you wherever and whenever he finds you prepared, just as the sun must pour itself forth and cannot hold itself back when the air is pure and clean. Certainly, it would be a major failing if God did not perform great works in you, pouring great goodness into you, in so far as he finds you empty and bare.
This is also what the masters write when they maintain that at the very same moment that the matter of the child in the womb is fully prepared, God pours the living spirit into the body, which is the soul or the body’s form. Both happen in a single moment: the being prepared and the inpouring of the soul. When nature has reached its highest point, God bestows his grace, and at the very same moment that the spirit is ready, God enters it, without hesitation or delay. In the Book of Mysteries it is written that our Lord said to the people: ‘Behold I stand at the door, knocking and waiting. If anyone lets me in, I shall eat with him’ (Rev. 3:20). You need to seek him neither here nor there, for he is no further than the door of your heart. There he stands, waiting for someone who is ready to open the door and to let him in. You do not need to call him from far away; he can hardly wait for you to let him in. He desires you a thousand times more urgently than you do him. The opening of the door and his entering in happen in exactly the same moment.
Now, you might say: how can this be? I cannot feel his presence in any way.
Listen to this. Sensing his presence is not in your power but in his. He will show himself when it suits him to do so, and he can also remain hidden if that is his wish. This is what Christ meant when he said to Nicodemus: ‘The spirit breathes where it will: you hear its voice but do not know where it comes from, or where it is going’ (John 3:8). He contradicted himself in what he said: ‘you hear but do not know’. Is hearing not also knowing? Christ meant that it is by hearing that we receive the spirit or draw it into ourselves, as if he wished to say: ‘you receive the spirit but know nothing of it’. Now know this! God can leave nothing empty; neither God nor nature can tolerate emptiness in anything. Therefore, if it seems to you at present that you cannot feel his presence and that you are entirely empty of him, then this is not in fact the case. For if there is something empty beneath heaven, whatever it may be – large or small – heaven will draw it up to itself, or heaven will have to descend to it and fill it with itself. God, who is the master of nature, cannot tolerate emptiness in anything. Therefore remain still and do not waver from this emptiness, for if you turn away from it at this point you shall never be able to find it again.
Now you might say: sir, you are always saying that this birth must take place in me, that the Son must be born in me. Well now, can you tell me please how I might recognize that this birth has actually happened?.
Certainly! There are three ways, and I shall now tell you one of them. I am often asked if it is possible for someone to advance so far that neither time, multiplicity nor matter are obstacles to them any more. Yes, indeed! When this birth has truly taken place in you, then no creatures can hinder you any more. Rather they all point you to God and to this birth. Take lightning as an analogy. It immediately turns whatever it strikes, whether tree, beast or man, towards itself. Even if a man’s back is turned, the lightning will immediately turn his face towards itself. If a tree had a thousand leaves, they would all turn their right side towards the flash. See, that is how it is for all those for whom this birth has already taken place. They are swiftly turned to this birth, in whatever may be happening to them at the time, however coarse it may be. What was previously an obstacle to you is now a great help. Your face is fully turned to this birth. Indeed, in everything that you see or hear, whatever it may be, in all things you can receive nothing but this birth. All things become pure God to you, for in all things you see nothing but God. Just as when someone looks for a long time into the sun: whatever they look at subsequently, the image of the sun shall always appear. Whenever you do not seek God and do not see him in each and every thing, then you do not have this birth.
Now you may ask: does someone who has advanced so far still need to practise penances, or do they neglect something if they fail to do so?.
Listen to this! All forms of penance – fasting, vigils, prayer, kneeling, self-flagellation, hair-shirts, sleeping on boards, or whatever – were created because the body and the flesh are always opposed to the spirit. The body is often too strong for it, and there is constant warfare between them, an eternal struggle. Here on earth the body is bold and strong, for it is in its own home. The world aids it, this earth is its homeland, and all its serving-maids support it: food, drink and physical comfort – all these work against the spirit. Here the soul is in exile; all her serving-maids and relatives are in heaven. There she is well connected, if she establishes herself there and makes herself at home. It is in order to assist the spirit here in its exile, and to weaken the flesh somewhat in this struggle so that it does not overwhelm the spirit, that we restrain it with penitential practices, curbing it so that the spirit can resist it. This is done in order to constrain the flesh, but if you lay upon it the bridle of love, then you will tame and control it in a way that is a thousand times better. It is with love that you can most swiftly overcome the flesh, and love will prove for it the heaviest burden. Therefore God intends nothing for us so much as love. For love is just the same as the fisherman’s hook: the fisherman cannot lay hold of the fish unless it is attached to the hook. If it has swallowed the hook, the fisherman can be sure of his fish, whichever way it turns, this way or that, he knows he will get it. I say the same of love: they who are caught by it have the strongest bonds and the sweetest burden. Whoever has taken this sweet burden upon themselves, achieves more and advances further than they would with all the penances and chastisements that everyone in the world could all perform together. They can endure cheerfully all that befalls them and that God sends them, and they can cheerfully forgive all the evil that others do to them. Nothing brings you closer to God and gives you God so much as this sweet bond of love. Whoever has found this path does not leave it again. Whoever hangs on this hook is caught so fast that foot and hand, mouth, eye, heart and all that makes us what we are, must become God’s possession. Therefore you can never overcome this enemy better, so that he does not harm you, than with love. And so it is written: ‘Love is as strong as death and as hard as hell’ (cf. S. of S. 8:6). Death separates the soul from the body, but love separates all things from the soul: she cannot tolerate whatever is not God or of God. Whoever is caught in this trap and walks this path, whatever they may do or not do is all entirely one. It makes no difference whether they do something or not. And yet the least act or devotional practice of such a person is more beneficial and fruitful for themselves and for everyone and is more pleasing to God than the devotions of all those who have less love even though they are without mortal sin. Their rest is more beneficial than others’ works. Watch out for this hook, therefore, so that you may be blessedly caught, and the more you are caught, the freer you shall be.
That we may be caught and freed in this way, may he help us who himself is love. Amen.
SERMON 26 (DW 85, W 85)
Paella, surge (Luke 8:54).
Our Lord placed his hand on the girl and said: ‘Rise up!’ The ‘hand of God’ is the Holy Spirit. All works are performed by warmth, for if the fiery love of God grows cold in the soul, the soul will die, and if God is to act in the soul, then God must be united with her. If the soul is to be united with God, she must be separated from all things and must be as solitary as God is solitary. A work which God performs in an empty soul is more precious than heaven and earth. It is for this that God created the soul, that she should be united with him. One of the saints says that the soul is created from nothing, and that God created her himself, with no one else present.110 Had anyone else been present, God would have been afraid that the soul might be drawn to them and not to himself. Therefore the soul must be alone, as God is alone.
Spiritual things and physical things cannot be united with each other. If divine perfection is to reign in the soul, then the soul must be spirit, as God is spirit. And if God wishes to bestow gifts on the soul in the soul, then he can only do so with restraint. Therefore it is in himself that he takes her into himself, and in this way she is united with him.111 Let me give you an analogy. When fire and stone unite, both being material, the stone often remains cool on account of its inner density. The same is true of air and light: whatever you see in the air, you see in the sun. But since they are both material, there is more light in a whole mile than there is in a half, and more in half a mile than there is in a house. But the closest parallel that we can find is that of body and soul. These are so united with each other that the body cannot act without the soul nor the soul without the body. God is to the soul as the soul is to the body, and when the soul departs from the body, the body must die. So too must the soul die if God departs from her.
There are three obstacles which hinder the union of the soul with God. The first is that she is too scattered and is not unified in herself, since the soul is never unified when she inclines to creatures. The second is that she is mixed with temporal things. The third is that when she is turned to the body, she cannot be united with God.
On the other hand, there are three things which further the union of God with the soul. The first is that the soul is unified and undivided, for if she is to be united with God, she must be simple as God is simple in himself. The second is that she is raised above herself and all transient things and holds to God. The third is that she is separated from all material things and acts from her primal and original purity. Augustine says of the free soul: If you do not desire me, I desire you; if I desire you, then you do not desire me. When I seek you, you flee from me.112 As they return, all pure spirits take the same path back to the purity of God.
SERMON 27 (w 56, DP 26)
Nolite timere eos, qui corpus occidunt, animant autem occidere non possunt
‘Do not fear those who would kill the body, for they cannot kill the soul.’ Spirit gives the spirit life. Those who wish to kill you are flesh and blood, and what is flesh and blood, shall die. The noblest thing in us is blood, when we will what is good, and the very worst thing in us is blood, when we will what is evil. If the blood subdues the flesh, then we are humble, patient, chaste and possess all the virtues. But if the flesh overcomes the blood, we are proud, angry and lustful, and possess all the vices. Here we are praising St John. I cannot praise him any more than God has already done.
Now listen! I shall say something at this point that I have never said before. When God created heaven and earth and all creatures, God did not act. There was no work for him to do, and there was no action or work in him. Then God said: ‘We will make a likeness’ (Gen. 1:26). It is easy to create something: we do this as and when we will. But what I make, I make alone, with myself and in myself and I impress my own image fully upon it. ‘We will make a likeness’, not ‘you, Father, or you, Son, or you, Holy Spirit’ but ‘we’: the Holy Trinity together – ‘we will make a likeness’. When God made humankind, he performed in the soul a work that was like himself, his active and enduring work. This work was so great that it was nothing other than the soul herself, and the soul was nothing other than the work of God. God’s nature, his being, and his divinity depend upon his being active in the soul. Blessed, blessed be God! When God acts in the soul, then he loves his work. And wherever the soul may be in which God accomplishes his work, there the work is so great that it is nothing other than love. Love on the other hand is nothing other than God. God loves himself and his nature, his being and his divinity. But in the love in which God loves himself, he also loves all creatures – not as creatures, but creatures as God. In the love in which God loves himself therefore, he loves all things.
Now I shall say something that I have never said before. God delights in himself. In the delight in which God delights in himself, he delights also in all creatures. With the delight with which God delights in himself, with that delight he delights in all creatures – not as creatures but in creatures as God. In the delight in which God delights in himself, in that delight he delights in all things.
Now pay attention! All creatures tend towards the highest perfection. I ask you to listen to this by the eternal truth, by the everlasting truth and by my soul. I shall again say what I have never said before. God and Godhead are as far apart from each other as heaven and earth. I say further: the inner and the outer self are as far apart as heaven and earth. But with God the distance is many thousands of miles greater. That is, God becomes and unbecomes. Now I return to my original phrase: God delights in himself in all things. The sun casts its light upon all creatures, and whatever it illumines, the sun draws into itself. And yet it suffers no diminution in its own brightness. All creatures are prepared to lose their lives for the sake of their being. All creatures convey themselves into my mind in order that they should exist mentally within me. I alone prepare creatures for God. Just think of what you are all doing!113
Now I come back to my ‘inner and outer self’. I look at the lilies in the field, their brightness, their colour and all their petals, but I do not see their fragrance. Why not? Because their scent is in me. On the other hand, what I say is in me and I utter it forth from myself. All creatures have the flavour of creatures only for my outer self, like wine, bread and meat. But for my inner self nothing has the flavour of a creature but rather that of a gift from God, though for my innermost self they smack not of a gift from God but of eternity.
I take a bowl of water, lay a mirror in it and place it in the light of the sun. Then the sun gives forth its light from its own circumference and from its own ground, but without exhausting itself. The reflection of the mirror lying in the sun is the sun but it is also what it is in itself. It is the same with God. God is in the soul with his essence, his being and his divinity, and yet he is not in the soul. The reflection of the soul is God in God, and yet she, the soul, is what she is in herself.
God ‘becomes’ God when all creatures speak God forth: there ‘God’ is born. When I was still in the ground, in the depths, in the flood and source of the Godhead, no one asked me where I wished to go or what I was doing. But as I flowed forth, all creatures uttered: ‘God’. If someone were to ask me: ‘Brother Eckhart, when did you leave your house?’, then I was in there. This is how all creatures speak of God. And why do they not speak of the Godhead? All that is in the Godhead is One, and of this no one can speak. God acts, while the Godhead does not act. There is nothing for it to do, for there is no action in it. It has never sought to do anything. The difference between God and Godhead is that one acts and the other does not. If I return to ‘God’ but do not remain there, then my breakthrough is far better than my flowing-out. I alone free all creatures from their own ratio into my reason so that they may all be one in me.114 But when I enter the ground, the bottom, the flood and the source of the Godhead, no one asks me where I come from or where I have been. There no one has missed me, and there God ‘unbecomes’.
Whoever has understood this sermon, I wish them well. Had no one been here, I would still have had to preach it to this collecting-box. There are some poor folk who return home and say: ‘I wish to sit down, to eat my bread and to serve God.’ But I say by the eternal truth that these people shall remain in error and can never attain what those others attain who follow God in poverty and in exile. Amen.
SERMON 28 (DW 83, W 96)
Renovamini spiritu (Eph. 4:23).
‘You shall be renewed in your spirit, which is called mens’, that is ‘mind’. Thus says St Paul.115
Now St Augustine says that together with the essence of the soul in her highest part, which is called mens in Latin or ‘mind’, God created a power which the masters call a container or shrine of spiritual forms or formal images. It is this power that makes the Father like the soul in the flowing-out of his divinity through which, in the distinction of the Persons, he has poured into the Son and the Holy Spirit the whole treasure of his divine being. In the same way the memory pours forth the treasure of its images into the powers of the soul. Now whenever the soul – with this power – sees anything that is imaged (whether the image of an angel or indeed her own image), then this is an imperfection in her. Even if she sees God, in so far as he is ‘God’ or in so far as he is something imaged or triune, this is an imperfection in her. But when all images are removed from the soul and she perceives the single Oneness, the pure being of the soul, resting in herself, receives the pure, formless being of divine unity which is being beyond being. O miracle of miracles! What a wonderful receptivity it is when the being of the soul can endure nothing but the pure unity of God.
Now St Paul says: ‘You shall be renewed in spirit’. All creatures under God experience renewal, though God himself is not subject to renewal but only to eternity. What is eternity? Listen to this! It is a property of eternity that being and being young are the same in it, for eternity would not be eternal if it could become new and were not already forever new. But now I say that angels experience renewal in that they are given knowledge of things to come, for they know the future in so far as God reveals it to them. And the soul too experiences renewal in so far as she is called ‘soul’, for ‘soul’ signifies that she gives life to the body and is the form of the body. She experiences renewal also in so far as she is called ‘spirit’. She is called ‘spirit’ because she is removed from all that is ‘here’ and ‘now’ and from all that belongs to nature. But where she is an image of God and is as nameless as God is without name, there she experiences no renewal but only eternity, as God does.
Now pay attention to this. God is nameless for no one can either speak of him or know him. Therefore a pagan master says that what we can know or say of the First Cause reflects ourselves more than it does the First Cause, for this transcends all speech and all understanding.116Accordingly, if I say that ‘God is good’, this is not true. I am good, but God is not good! In fact, I would rather say that I am better than God, for what is good can become better and what can become better can become the best! Now God is not good, and so he cannot become better. Since he cannot become better, he cannot become the best. These three are far from God: ‘good’, ‘better’, ‘best’, for he is wholly transcendent. If I say again that ‘God is wise’, then this too is not true. I am wiser than he is! Or if I say that ‘God exists’, this is also not true. He is being beyond being: he is a nothingness beyond being. Therefore St Augustine says: ‘The finest thing that we can say of God is to be silent concerning him from the wisdom of inner riches.’117 Be silent therefore, and do not chatter about God, for by chattering about him, you tell lies and commit a sin. If you wish to be perfect and without sin, then do not prattle about God. Also you should not wish to understand anything about God, for God is beyond all understanding. A master says: If I had a God that I could understand, I would not regard him as God.118 If you understand anything about him, then he is not in it, and by understanding something of him, you fall into ignorance, and by falling into ignorance, you become like an animal since the animal part in creatures is that which is unknowing. If you do not wish to become like an animal therefore, do not pretend that you understand anything of the ineffable God.
‘What then should I do?’
You should sink your ‘being-you’ into his ‘being-him’, and your ‘you’ and his ‘him’ should become a single ‘me’ so that with him you shall know in eternity his unbecome ‘isness’ and his unnameable ‘nothingness’.
Now St Paul says: ‘You shall be renewed in spirit’. If we wish to be ‘renewed in spirit’, then the six powers of the soul, the highest and the lowest, must each have a golden ring on their finger, all gilded with the gold of God’s love. Now listen carefully! There are three lower powers. The first is called discrimination (rationalis). On this you should have the golden ring of ‘enlightenment’, which means that your powers of discrimination are always illumined outside time by the divine light. The second is called irascibility (irascibilis). On this you should have the ring of peace. But why? This is so because in so far as you are in peace, thus far you are in God, and in so far as you are outside peace, thus far you are outside God. The third power is concupiscence (concupiscibilis). On this you should have the ring of contentment, so that you are contented with all creatures below God. But of God you can never have a sufficiency. The more you have of God, the more you desire him. If you could ever have enough of God, so that you were contented with him, then God would not be God.
So too must you have a golden ring on all the higher powers of the soul. Of these there are also three. The first is called a retentive power (memoria). It is this power which is likened to the Father in the Trinity. On this you should have the golden ring of containment, whereby you contain within yourself all eternal things. The second power is called reason (intellectus). This power is likened to the Son. On this you should have the golden ring of knowledge, that you may know God always. But how? You should know him without image, unmediated and without likeness. But if I am to know God without mediation in such a way, then ‘I’ must become ‘he’, and ‘he’ must become ‘I’. More precisely I say: God must become me and I must become God, so entirely one that this ‘he’ and this ‘I’ become one ‘is’ and act in this ‘isness’ as one, for this ‘he’ and this ‘I’, that is God and the soul, are very fruitful. But if thereby a single ‘here’ or ‘now’ enter in, then this ‘I’ can never become one in being and action with this ‘he’. The third power is called the will (voluntas), which is likened to the Holy Spirit. On this you should have the golden ring of love so that you love God. You should love God without regard to the fact that he wins our love, for God does not win our love: he transcends love and the prompting of love.
‘How then should I love God?’.
You should love God non-mentally, that is to say the soul should become non-mental and stripped of her mental nature.119 For as long as your soul is mental, she will possess images. As long as she has images, she will possess intermediaries, and as long as she has intermediaries, she will not have unity or simplicity. As long as she lacks simplicity, she does not truly love God, for true love depends upon simplicity. Therefore your soul should lose all her mental nature and should be left non-mental, for if you love God as ‘God’, as ‘Spirit’, as ‘Person’, as ‘Image’, then all this must be abandoned. You must love him as he is a non-God, a non-Spirit, a non-Person, a non-Image. Indeed, you must love him as he is One, pure, simple and transparent, far from all duality. And we should eternally sink into this One, thus passing from something into nothing.120 So help us God. Amen.
SERMON 29 (J 46)
There is an uncreated Spirit and a created spirit which flows from the uncreated Spirit and which constitutes the angels on the one hand and the rational spirit that is the soul on the other. The uncreated spirit is eternal being. The Father turns the eye of his unfathomable heart towards his own being, which is his nature, and gazes upon himself. And when he sees himself, he sees in himself the whole world, all abundance, all excellence and all things altogether. In the same gaze with which he looks upon himself, he forms a Word and speaks himself in the Word, and all the world, all abundance and all things altogether. The Word speaks itself back into the Father in all the world and in all excellence. In this gaze, in which the Father sees himself so fruitfully and the Word in all the world sees the Father,121 they have such great delight that all the joy and bliss that all the angels and all the saints ever won, even our Lady, is as nothing in comparison with the immeasurable delight which they receive in a revelation of the divine nature. Thus the third Person flows from them both, which is the Holy Spirit. And from them there also flows the way that God is himself in all things together with all that creatures possess.122
If we are to become worthy to receive the Holy Spirit, then we should act as the uncreated spirit of God acts. We should turn the eyes of our intellect into ourselves and should gaze upon the excellence of our spiritual being (as we are formed in the image of the Holy Trinity after which we were created), having been created in order to become united with the uncreated Spirit of God. As we then gaze upon the riches of our own self, as we are meant to be, we should delight in its wealth with the self, from which there should grow in us so great a desire and such great pleasure that we can never seek fullness or desire in any other place. Thus we should act as the uncreated Spirit of God acts.
But if we wish to receive the Holy Spirit worthily, we should also act in the same manner as the created spirit which is the angel. For the angels gaze unceasingly into the mirror of the Godhead and each receives the divine light according to the measure of their worthiness, as they are turned towards God. Each receives and passes it on to the others, and the others pass it on to those who are lower down.123 Thus we too should always gaze into the mirror of the Godhead, and should pass on what is revealed to us to others, who do not receive it so quickly, although they are of the same nature as ourselves.
If we wish to receive the Holy Spirit, we should also act in the same manner as the third spirit, which is the spirit of reason. For the rational spirit maintains itself in the light of its own self-knowledge and sees the truth in all things as in the light of reason. This spirit too should be stripped completely bare, so that it transcends all rationality. You should know your own self-reflection inwardly,124 so that you are not yourself in any thing but only in the highest good. We should see with reason and with knowledge. And so the seer, the creator and the image-maker must be stripped bare, as the hand of God is bare. What is the hand of God? It is the power of God that is active on account of his eternal work. Thus we should know God with invisible light and should abandon all that is not God.
That the uncreated Spirit may unite us in itself in all perfection, so help us God. Amen.
SERMON 30 (J 82)
The question arises whether there exists a form of attraction between God and creatures.125 The answer is that while God is not drawn to creatures, since he sees only himself, creatures are indeed drawn to God since all that has ever emerged from God looks back to him. Let us consider this in the highest image. At the very moment the highest image peers out of God, it looks back in again, its countenance uncovered, in order to comprehend the divine being but without any means from the work by which it received the whole of its own being. This image is God in his activity, and thus it is called an image of God. In its break-out it is a creature, and then it is called an image of the soul.
Now noble soul, consider yourself and the nobility that is in you, for you have been honoured in that you have received the image of God beyond all other creatures.126 Do not pursue mean things since you have been created for greatness. This is how we should understand the soul to be the kingdom of God.
‘Seek first the kingdom of God’ (Luke 12:31). This should be the whole of our desire and our endeavour, in order to come to know the nobility of God and the nobility of the soul. Now take note of how we should set about seeking the kingdom of God. In the Song of Songs it is written: ‘Do you not know yourself, most beautiful of women? Go out then and follow in the footsteps of your lord’ (cf. S. of S. 1:8). These words concern the soul, for she is the most beautiful of all creatures. And if she knows her own beauty, then she should go out. Now observe the three ways in which the soul ‘goes out’ from her own threefold being. The first form of her being is that of createdness. The second is that of her existence in the personal Word of the Trinity.127 Her third type of being is the one she possesses in the outflowing nature that is active in the Father, who is the origin of all creatures.
With regard to the first form of going-out, note that the soul must go out from her createdness! Christ says: ‘Whoever wishes to follow me must take up their cross, deny themselves and follow me’ (Matt. 16:24). Now know this as surely as you know that God lives: as long as we fail to be as empty of ourselves as we were before we existed, we shall never go out and deny ourselves. The masters say that we exist in two parts: an outer and an inner self. The action of the inner self is spiritual while that of the outer self is physical. With the inner self we seek God through a contemplative life, and with the outer self we seek him through an active life. Observe the following! I have sometimes said, and this is what I still affirm, that no external devotional practice leads to very much, for they serve only to tame nature. You should understand that all the external works which we may practise serve only to constrain nature and not to eradicate it. In order to eradicate nature it is spiritual works that we must perform. Now there are many people who rather than denying themselves actually maintain themselves in their own self-esteem. But truly, all these are deceived for this is contrary to human reason, contrary to the practice of graces and contrary to the testimony of the Holy Spirit. I will not say that those who hold external observance to be the best shall be damned, but only that they shall not come to God without great purification in Purgatory. For these people do not follow God if they do not abandon themselves; rather they follow the self-esteem in which they hold themselves. God is no more likely to be found in external observances than he is in sin. But these people, who practise many external devotions, have great status in the eyes of the world, which comes from their likeness to it. For those who understand only physical things, have a high regard for the kind of life which they can perceive with the senses. Thus one ass is adored by another!
Secondly, we should understand the function of the inner self, which is contemplation in knowledge and love. It is here that the beginning of a holy life lies. And with these activities the essence of the soul is described. Thus the masters say that every being exists on account of what it does. If we can only comprehend this essence in these two powers, then these are the noblest activities that exist in us. I have sometimes said that it is through virtue that we progress from vice to perfection. Now love is the form of all virtue, without which nothing can be a virtue. When we act virtuously, then this is the work of love and not our own work, for every work of virtue takes from love its power to bring us to God.128 Thus St Denys says that it is the nature of love to transform us into that which is the object of our love.129 Therefore we should live in such a way that the whole of our life is love. Then all virtues can be praised, whether external or internal. Thus David says: ‘You should go from virtue to virtue, for the God of Gods shall be seen in Zion’ (cf. Ps. 84:8). Seeing God is above the virtues. Just as I have said that virtue is the path from vice to perfection, in the same way the fruit of virtue – that is the goal to which virtue leads – shall not be grasped unless the soul is raised above the virtues. Know this: as long as we maintain ourselves with particularity of self in virtue, we shall neither taste nor possess the fruit of virtue, which is nothing other than gazing upon God in Zion. Seeing God is not in Jacob, who is the practice of virtue. But seeing God is in Zion. Zion is equivalent to a mirror and signifies a simple gazing upon the divine being in a naked vision. But be certain of this – no virtue can enter into this contemplation.
Now it might be asked whether we ought to abandon virtue itself. I say that we should not! We should practise virtue and not possess it. That is the perfection of virtue – to be free of virtue. Therefore Christ says: ‘When you have done all that you can, you should say: we are useless servants’ (Luke 17:10). Thus we should understand how the soul goes out of all her works.
But now we should address the question of how she is to lose her own being. Teachers maintain that everything God has made has been raised to such a state of nobility that nothing can fail to desire its own existence. But the soul must abandon her own being. This is where the death that is spiritual begins. If the soul is to undergo this death, then she must take leave of herself and all things, holding herself and all things to be as insignificant as they were before they existed. Christ says: ‘Unless this mustard seed dies, it shall remain alone’ (John 12:24). Death means the loss of life. Be sure therefore of this, that as long as we live and life lives in us, we shall know nothing of this death. St Paul says: ‘It is not I who live’ (Gal. 2:20). Some people understand this death as being dead to God, to oneself and to any creature. And this is true, since death is the loss of life. I shall put it even better and say: even if we are dead to all things, to God and creatures, if God can still find a space in the soul where he may live, then the soul is not yet dead nor has she yet gone out into the highest point of her created being. For to die, properly understood, is nothing other than the cessation of all that is. I do not mean that the being of the soul falls into nothingness as she was before she was created, rather we should understand this cessation to be the eradication of possessing and having. Here the soul forsakes all things, God and all creatures.
Of course, it sounds astonishing to say that the soul should forsake God, but I assert that it is more important for the soul to forsake God to attain perfection than it is for the soul to forsake creatures, or all will be lost. The soul must exist in a free nothingness. That we should forsake God is altogether what God intends, for as long as the soul has God, knows God and is aware of God, she is far from God. This then is God’s desire – that God should reduce himself to nothing in the soul so that the soul may lose herself. For the fact that God is called God comes from creatures. When the soul was a creature, she had a God, and then as she lost her createdness, God remained for himself as he is. And this is the greatest honour that the soul can pay to God, to leave God to himself and to be free of him.
This is how we should understand the smallest death which the soul undergoes in order to become divine. Such people go virtually unknown, for as St Paul says: ‘You are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God’ (Col. 3:3).
Now you might ask whether such people only perform good works from within, and I say: Yes, they do! Just as Christ, who was the image of all perfection, was a light that shone spontaneously from within for all people, so too these people are turned outwards to all in divine life and in complete openness in a way that is beyond their own control. And so this is how we should understand the first kind of going-out, which is the going-out of the soul from the createdness of her own being in order to seek the kingdom of God.
Secondly, the soul should go out from the being that she has in her eternal image in God. The teachers say that the image of the soul is a divine idea. The divine idea takes personal form in the Son. Therefore the Son is the blueprint of all creatures and is an image of the Father, in which image the being of all creatures is suspended. Now as the soul loses her created being, she sees the light of the uncreated image, in which the soul finds her own uncreatedness, for all things are one in this image and in the nature of this image.
Now the soul should go out of this image, where she finds her being in the uncreatedness of the image, and this the soul must do with a divine death. The soul knows in herself that neither this image nor this being is what she seeks, for the soul knows in this being that she possesses both distinction and multiplicity in this image. For the very least thing that we understand concerning the Godhead is itself a form of multiplicity. The eternal being in which the soul finds herself is the property of the eternal image in multiplicity – since the Persons are distinct from one another – and so the soul breaks through her eternal image in order to penetrate to where God is rich in unicity. That is why one master says that the breakthrough of the soul is nobler than her flowing-out Christ says: ‘No one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14:6). Christ is the eternal image. Now the soul should not remain in him but rather must pass through him, as he himself says. This breaking-through is the second death of the soul, which is far greater than the first. St John speaks of it when he says: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord’ (Rev. 14:13), that is in God.
Now listen to this, which is a wonder beyond all wonders. How can there be a death in him who says of himself that he is life? Let us answer this question in the following way. Just as all creatures flowed forth in the generation of the Son, receiving both life and being, in the same way all things take on their living form within the Son. If then the soul is to enter in again, she must leave the Son behind. The masters say that where the Son turns back upon the unity of the natures, there he is neither a Person nor a particular nature, and thus the Son loses himself. I say this of the soul too, that when she breaks through and loses herself in her eternal image, then this is the death that the soul dies in God. St Denys says that if God does not exist for the spirit, then neither does the eternal image, which is its origin. In this image the soul possesses the quality of identity, since the Son is identical with the Father. But where they are one, they are not identical, since identity requires distinction. And so I say that if the soul is to enter the divine unity, then she must leave behind the identity she has in the eternal image. This is why Denys says that the spirit’s greatest delight is in the nothingness of its image. A pagan master says: the nothingness of God fills all things while his somethingness is nowhere. And so the soul cannot find God’s somethingness unless first she is reduced to nothingness wherever she may be, whether created or uncreated, as has been said of the eternal image. This is the second death and the second going-out, when the soul goes out from the being she has in her eternal image in order to seek the kingdom of God. Therefore a master says: whoever wishes to come to God should take nothing with them.
The third kind of being from which the soul must go out is the divine, outflowing nature that is active in the Father, for some masters teach that the Father possesses knowledge in an anticipation of the out-flowing before giving birth to the Word. But all masters are agreed that God the Father comprehends his essence where he is the origin of the eternal Word and of all creatures. The masters make a distinction between being and essence.130 Where being is active being in the Father, it is also essence. Therefore the distinction is a logical one. And therefore where God is active, all creatures peer out from him in search of possibility. But we do not understand this to be divine union at the highest level, and so the soul should not remain here.
Now know this: the soul must die to all the divine activity which we attribute to the divine nature, if she is to enter the divine essentiality where God is free of all his work. For the highest image in the soul sees the essence of the Godhead without means where it is free and empty of all forms of work. Therefore this highest image should guide the soul but it should die with her.
Now note this: the Godhead hovers in itself and is all things to itself. Therefore God and his divinity are above everything that the creature as creature has comprehended or ever shall comprehend. St Paul says that God dwells in an unapproachable light (1 Tim. 6:16). Now when the soul has gone out from her created being and from the uncreated being in which she finds herself in the eternal image, and has entered the divine essence where she cannot comprehend the kingdom of God and where she knows that no creature can enter the kingdom of God, then the soul discovers herself,131 goes her own way and never seeks God; and thus she dies her highest death. In this death the soul loses all her desire, all images, all understanding and form and is stripped of all her being. And be sure of this, by the living God: just as a dead person, a corpse, cannot move themselves, neither can a soul who has experienced this spiritual death present an image or a particular manner of being to anyone else, since this spirit is dead and is buried in the Godhead, for the Godhead lives as no one other than itself.
O noble soul, consider your nobility! For until you have entirely abandoned yourself and have cast yourself into the fathomless ocean of the Godhead, you cannot know this divine death. The wise man says: the Lord possessed me at the beginning of his way. God possesses all things in the way of his divinity, not in that of the soul, for no creature has ever found God nor shall any creature as creature ever come near him.
Now as the soul loses herself in all ways, as we have said here, she finds that she is herself that same thing which she has sought without success. Then the soul finds herself in the highest image in which God is essentially present with all his divinity since he is his own kingdom. Here the soul knows her own beauty. Then the soul should go out in order that she might enter herself and know that she and God are a single blessedness and a single kingdom which she has found without trying. As the prophet said: ‘I poured forth my soul into myself’. This is how we should understand the line: ‘If you do not know yourself, most beautiful among women, then you must go out’ (cf. S. of S. 1:8). Therefore the soul should go out, as we have said here, in order that she should enter into the knowledge of herself, and then, without even trying, she shall find the kingdom of God. This is what St Paul says: ‘I have unworthily considered the sufferings of the present time and not the future glory which shall be revealed to us’ (Rom. 8:18).
Now pay careful attention to this! I have occasionally said, as I do again now, that I already have all that I ever shall possess in eternity, since God, with all his blessedness and all his divinity, delights in the highest image and this is concealed in the soul. Therefore the prophet says: ‘Truly, Lord, you are a hidden God’. This treasure is the kingdom of God which has been covered up by time, multiplicity, the soul’s own activity and createdness. Therefore the more the soul departs from all this multiplicity, the more the kingdom of God is uncovered in her. This can only happen through grace and not by the soul’s own powers. The soul can discover the kingdom only with the help of the grace which inheres naturally within the highest image. Here the soul is God, savouring and delighting in all things as God. And here the soul receives nothing from God nor from creatures, since she it is who contains herself and receives all things from herself. Here the soul and the Godhead are one, and here the soul has discovered that she herself is the kingdom of God.
Now someone may ask what is the best exercise we can do to help the soul to attain this. The answer to this is that the soul must remain in death and must not flinch from death. St Paul says: ‘Christ was obedient to the Father unto death on the Cross, therefore he raised him up and gave him a name which is above all other names’ (Phil. 2:8–9). Now I say the same of the soul: if she remains obedient to God in death, then he shall raise her up and give her a new name which is above all other names. Just as the Godhead is unnamed and without name, so too the soul is as nameless as God for she is the same as he is. Therefore Christ says: ‘I shall no longer call you servant but rather my friend, for all that my Father has told me I have told you’ (John 15:15). A friend is another self, says a pagan philosopher. God became another self in order that I might become another him. Augustine says that God became man in order that man might become God.132 In God the soul receives new life. Here the soul rises from the dead into the life of the Godhead, and here God pours into her all his divine wealth and she receives her new name which is above all other names. This is what St John means when he says: ‘We have emerged from death into life when we love’ (cf. 1 John 4:7). This then is how we should understand Christ’s words: ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice’ (Luke 12:31).
Now note how ‘all things shall be thrown at us’ (cf. John 15:21). We should understand this in two ways. The first is that what is perfection in all things is to be found in the first kingdom which is in God.133 The second is that perfection is to be maintained in all our works. Therefore we should perform all our works from the basis of God’s kingdom. Be sure of this, that if someone acts in such a way that their actions reduce other people, then they are not acting on the basis of God’s kingdom. And when works are performed purely from our human nature, they are troubled and agitated, but when we act within God’s kingdom, we are at peace in all that we do. Holy Scripture says: ‘God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good’ (Gen. 1:31). This is what I say of the soul too, that when she looks at all her works as they are in the kingdom of God, then they are all perfect, for there all works are equal. There the least of my works is the greatest and the greatest is the least. But if it is the case that our works are rooted in ourselves, then they are not perfect, for works in themselves are multiple and bring us into multiplicity, which is why we are often troubled in what we do. That is why Christ said: ‘Martha, you are concerned about many things; only one is necessary’ (Luke 10:41–42).
Be sure of this: in order to be perfect it is necessary for us to raise ourselves up in our works so that all we do is a single work. This must happen in the kingdom of God, where we are God. There all things obey us in a divine manner, and there we are lord of all that we do. I tell you truly: all that we do outside the kingdom of God is dead, but if we act within God’s kingdom, then our works shall live. Therefore the prophet said that God no more loves his works than he is troubled and changed by them. The same is true of the soul when she acts from the basis of God’s kingdom. And so whether such people act or refrain from acting, they will remain the same, for their works are neither given them nor taken from them. This is how we should understand the phrase: ‘all things shall be thrown at us’.
These words are spoken only to those who can receive them with their lives or with the powers of their heart.
That this may be revealed to us, so help us God. Amen.