Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

pilgrims to another life, devoted to another love, and that all true worship is already within the veil ; that a supernatural faith cannot rest in bare material signs, which are but base and elementary things, but must be lifted up unto Him who is risen and ascended. To Him, the Living One, 'who dieth no more,' faith and love were taught thus to ascend in the adoration of praise, while penitence in the same moment might kneel to weep over the remembrance of the Cross and Passion, so lively set forth in the broken bread and in the wine of the festival of commemoration and peace. Yet faith was bidden at the same moment by these spiritual words to whisper in the heart, “He is not here, for He is risen, and has been long since comforted for all the sorrows which He endured for thee.' And thus Faith beckoned Love, her sister in the mystical life, ever onwards and upwards to the banquet of the eternal life. For if, from the lowest, the steps of the ladder are the ascensions of faith, we are sure that the highest is all love; the love which shall remain when faith is dissolved into sight, and hope crowned with fruition. It was a favourite belief,* that possessed and haunted other ages, that saints could die of mere longing for the love of God, and, though to our cold, unimpressionable hearts such a grace may indeed seem utterly impossible of bare imagination, let us not doubt that there have been souls to whom it was almost a reality. So consumed were they by the love of God, that the golden ring that united and, as if thou heardest just otherwise, thou buriest thy heart in the earth ;' and then he cries, 'Oh, leave the world.

Hearken to me, ye poor! What have ye not, if ye have God? Hear, ye rich! What have ye, if ye have not God ?'

* St. Bernard, indeed, seems to deny the possibility of this beatific death, saying : ‘My Lord Jesus Christ alone had the pure wine of love, who only tasted death, not as a debt of human condition, but by the good pleasure of His own will, dying no otherwise for His friends than that He might win us and make us such instead of enemies ' (i. 851).

soul and body was not so much riven by the cold file of death, as dissolved by the inward fires* of their great passion of love to Him, until, almost by and in the very exhaustion of an unsatisfied desire, they entered His presence, the Vision of whose eternal beauty burned so vehemently within the furnace of those interior desires. †

Now, if the rounds of the ladder of the mystical life are faith and love, what shall the sides of it be but humility and hope ? As the rails of a ladder keep the steps in their ordered places, and by the taking hold we climb upwards, so, if we would ascend to God, let us take fast hold of humility. By pride we fell from God; only by humility do we return to Him. Humility is the perpetual childhood of the soul, which lives in the conscious love of the Divine Fatherhood, and is constantly resting in the assurance of His gentle presence, having none of the fussy self-consciousness, that is, in fact, only a thinly disguised pride, but all the simple ways of a child, as if already at home in the love that surrounds it. No grace is more beautiful, and none has more influence, than humility, I which is the loosing of the vulgar raiment of ostentation and self-assertion, and the clothing of the life in the modest garments of penitence and devotion. There is always a great vulgarity in the selfattracting attitudes of pride, and an exquisite sweetness in

*

Speaking of the hard bondage of the flesh, Augustine says that the body of man has become by the law of sin the most grievous bond and fetter, yet when the soul is wholly turned to the Lord with all its love, it will not only despise the fear of death, but even desire it, for he strikingly adds: “Nihil est tam durum et amarum quod non amoris igne vincatur ;'-'Nothing is so hard and bitter but that it can be overcome by the flames of love' (tom. i. 522).

+ There is a beautiful little Latin poem, comparing a holy death to the fabled death of the phoenix in its self-kindled flames, in Trench's “Sacred Latin Poetry,' p. 249.

I Cf. Quarles, 'School of the Heart,' 37.

the refined ways of a self-concealing life, just as a spiritual face looks best in the soberest attire. Humility is the soul of all refinement, and as heaven is the throne of the Divine presence, infinitely removed from the coarseness and unrefinements of the world, humility, in its refining power elevating* the soul above the low, self-important, and selfinterested ways of this life, becomes one of the chief means by which we ascend and are united to the Beauty of God. By contrition and faith, which, with hope and love, are the graces that most sanctify, and which can raise the soul nearest to the beatific life, we climb upwards; so only we ascend. “Behold ! cries St. Augustine in his vivid manner, -behold, my brethren, a great marvel: God is the Most High: if thou liftest thyself up, He flieth from thee; but if thou wilt abase thyself, He cometh down to thee. And in another placet he exquisitely says, “The humble soul draws God out of heaven that He may become its neighbour. Add to which his golden words, though they contain a concealed irony: ‘God loves an humble sinner rather than a proud saint.'

Thus, holding fast to humility upon the left side, on the right we have the comfortable support of a blessed hope. Of this grace, an old writer, who should be far more read for the rich and suggestive quaintness of his style, has said (in a sermon on The Three Divine Sisters): 'Hope is the sweetest friend that ever kept a distressed soul company: it beguiles the tediousness of the way, all the miseries of our pilgrimage. Therefore, Dum spiro, spero, said the heathen; but, Dum exspiro, spero, says the Christian. Whilst I live, I hope ; the other, When I die, I hope. So

* This is the ladder whereby we must ascend (Gen. xxviii. 12). Pride cast us down, and humility must lift us up,' says Henry Smith (1591 A. D.), in an excellent sermon On Humility' (Works, ii., p. 212).

+ iv. 760, A.

The one,

[ocr errors]

un

Job, “I will hope in Thee though Thou killest me.” It tells the soul such sweet stories of the succeeding joys: what comforts there be in heaven ; what peace, what joy, what triumphs, marriage-songs, and alleluias there are in that country whither she is travelling, that she goes merrily away with her present burden.'

It has been exquisitely said that 'a wild light nestles in the eyes of Hope,' for her home is not here, and she is shy, not bold of mien, for she loves to guide the souls, who will follow her, to hidden ways of devotion that lead away from all other desires to God. Hope is a silver lamp, trimmed and burning with a clear flame in the shrine of the consecrated soul, where patience and love bow in interior contemplation over the messages and written promises of the King, who is more dear because still refused and crowned ; rather, we would say, still thorn-crowned by a rebel-world. Or sweet Hope is as a light, the bright lovetoken of His faithfulness, streaming through the darkness from the open casement of the eternal home for the guidance and comfort of the poor travellers, who are still struggling blindly onwards in a night of storm and rain. Faith and Hope, unseen, will attend us even to the grave, and go together hand in hand behind the bier, when the deathstruggle is over, and the spirit of the just has passed to God, and they sing quiet songs in the hearts of the mourners, as if some of the angel-choirs had descended with voices of gentle peace, and would hush the wailing of earth with the hope of heaven. Yes, wherever the weary feet may have to tread, bleeding with the thorny and flint-strewn ways of life, this shining ladder touches the ground before us and invites our sad and tired hearts by His grace, who is ascended, to return to the feet of God. It shines upon us in its own soft unearthly light, as though the pale and distant reflection of the Vision of God, that sometimes and so suddenly at the last lightens the eyes of the dying, till the sunset-glory becomes the visible presage of the eternal peace so nearly entered. And, till we also rest, Hope, the hope of the soul in God, is as the rail of this mystical ladder for the hand-clasp of faith in all the conflicts of our spiritual warfare, so that the soul that loves Him may constantly retire into Him, its home and citadel and place of defence. By it the love, which has once twined itself in faith around the living glory of the Crucified, can climb higher and higher in hope and longing, like the clinging tendrils of some climbing plant of ivy, or as the trellised vine, which, though in the service and discipline of life 'every limb bleeds wine, and no man payeth back the comfort of its gift,' will blossom perfectly in the sunshine of the Vision and the Throne.

* Thomas Adams, Sermons, vol. ii., p. 277.

Yet it is true of the vine that:

'If its arms stretch out,
It is but cross-wise, also forced and bound.'*

And most certainly the via crucis is the only via lucis, or ad lucem, and the hands and feet that will climb to God must leave on the steps of the ladder the many traces of blood. But Hope and Divine Love will place their hands under the torn and aching feet, till the wounds are scarcely felt, and, once ascended, there is perpetual rest at the pierced Feet, and in those wounded Hands that receive the soul at last.

Nor should the comparison be forgotten between the Songs of Degrees and this mystical ladder. A learned German Hebraist has derived the title common to all these Psalms from an internal feature of the Psalms themselves, for we may notice in them, as, for instance, in the hundred and twenty-first, that the idea in one verse is often repeated

* From the lovely ‘Sermon in the Hospital.'

« PredošláPokračovať »