ON CONTEMPLATING GOD
William of Saint Thierry
Translated from the Latin by
Geoffrey Webb and Adrian Walker
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that love consists in keeping the commandments
1. "As the Father has loved Me, I also have loved you. Abide in My love. If you keep My commandments you will abide in My love, as I also have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love." (Jn 15.9.) Thus does Thy Truth, Who is also the Life towards which we journey, and the Way by which we travel, set out Thy divine philosophy in simple outline. Behold the beloved Son of the well-beloved Father and see how the Father loves His Son, and how the Son remains in His Father's love, keeping His commandments faithfully. Consider also the beloved ones of God's loved Son, and among them that beloved disciple who loved His Master so much that he kept all His commandments lovingly until death. Enlightened by truth and love, he knew how to choose good and refuse evil, and how to use the indifferent for a good end—these being the hall-marks of Christian virtue. For virtue, as has been said before, is the good use of free will. Virtue's work is the use of those things for a good purpose, which could be used for an evil end. And so, lest our charity be imperfect, we are taught to love our neighbor in accordance with the perfect law of charity. Just as God only loves Himself in us, and we say that we only love God, so too let us begin to love our neighbour as ourselves. In him, just as in ourselves, we will love God alone.
2. But why so many words, Lord? My wretched soul is naked, cold and shivering. It longs to be warmed by the fire of Thy love. Since I have no clothes, I have gathered together a few rags here and there and sewn them together to cover my nakedness. I am not like the wise woman of Zarephath who collected two faggots; (2 Kings 17.10-16) for I gather only little twigs from the great desert of my heart's vanity. I go into my house to prepare a meal from a handful of flour and a measure of oil before I die. Or rather, O Lord, I will not die—instead I will live and tell of Thy works. Like a wild ass in the desert, and with my dwelling in the land of bitterness, I draw in the breath of my love, O Lord; I open my mouth and close my eyes and Thou dost send into my heart something . . . what it is I cannot tell, but its taste is so delightful and gives me such strength, that if it would but remain I could desire nothing else. Yet Thou dost not let me know what it is by means of sight or feeling or understanding. I savour it, ponder over it and long to keep it, but it passes away almost at once. I swallow it, whatever it may be, in the hope of having eternal life thereby. I long for it to pour itself into my innermost soul so that I may lose the taste for every other affection. But it passes away all too quickly.
3. And when I try to remember more clearly some bare details of how one searches for it and receives, and of the experience of it, or when I try to prolong the passing remembrance of it by writing about it, I am made to learn by experience what Thou sayest of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel—"And thou dost not know where it comes from or where it goes to." (Jn 3.8.) Sometimes I want to recall these bare details I have tried to remember; sometimes I want these thoughts to return whenever I like. Then I hear the Lord saying, "The wind blows where it will." (Ibid.) And I know then that it blows when He wishes, and not when I want. All seems dead and tasteless. I know that my eyes must gaze on Thee alone, O fountain of life, so that in Thee only I may see the light. My eyes are turned to Thee now, O Lord, and may they never cease to gaze on Thee. By Thy power, under Thy protection, my soul strives towards Thee. My strength is nothing, so when it fails, may all my weakness cry out for Thy mercy. In the meanwhile, how long wilt thou put me off? How long wilt Thou make my unhappy soul wait, yearning for Thee? "Hide me, I beseech Thee, in the hiding place of Thy presence, from the disturbance of men. Protect me in The tabernacle from the strife of tongues." (Ps 31.20.) But now the ass which is my body, calls me down from the mountain, the place whence God looks down and where we look upon God. The servant waiting below grow impatient.
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© Akenside Press and Matthew C. Dallman, 2016.
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