Christ loved much Mary, and Martha her sister, as the gospel telleth. By Martha, who was busy to feed Christ, is understood active life; and by Mary who sat by meekness at Christ’s feet, to hear his words, is understood contemplative life. Christ said not that Martha did evil in ministering, but he blamed her that she would have drawn her sister from the more perfect life. For it is perilous for them that savour not the more perfect life, to withdraw others away, whom God calls thereto. Christ said that Mary had chosen the better part, which should not be taken from her. For active life shall be taken away with the death of the body, but perfect contemplation never; for it is begun here, and it endures more perfectly after this life.
St. Bede saith that active life is a studious servant of Christ, to be busy in just travails, and to keep the commandments of God and himself undefiled from the world, and to hold soul, hand, tongue, and all members of the body, from all the filth of sin tempting them. Afterwards to help the need of neighbours, as much as he may, to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, to visit the sick, and such other, and to show the way of truth to him that erreth; to call again the proud neighbour to the way of meekness, and tell those who are with us how they must stand. And let no man enforce to pass into contemplative life unless he has long-time practised this life, for if he presumes foolishly it speeds not.
Contemplative life hath two parts, the lower consists in meditation, or thinking of holy scripture, and in other sweet thoughts of Jesus, and in the sweetness of prayers. The higher part is in the beholding of heavenly things, having the eye of the heart among the heavenly citizens, thinking on God, the beauty of angels, and holy souls. Contemplation is a wonderful joy in God’s love, which joy is a loving of God that cannot be told. And that wonderful love is in the soul, and for an abundance of joy and sweetness it ascends into the mouth; so that heart, tongue, body, and soul, joy together in God.
This gladness God sends into the soul that he chooses to this life. When a man hath long practised good doing, and sweetness of prayer, and is wont to feel compunction, and to be free from occupations of this world, and hath learned to occupy the eye of the soul alone in the love of God, and hath begun in desiring earnestly a foretaste, yea, in this life the joy of everlasting bliss which he shall take in the life to come. Truly that soul which is called and chosen of God to this life, God first inspired to forsake the world by the will, and all the vanity and coveting and lusts thereof. After that, He leads him alone, all troubles and worldly company being forsaken, and speaks to his heart; and as the prophet saith, He gives him to taste the sweetness of the beginning of love, and turns his will to holy prayers, and sweet meditations; putting out of the heart idle thoughts and all vanities, setting it to think on him and heavenly things. Then He opens to the eye of such a soul the gate of heaven, so that the same eye looks into heaven, and then the fire of love enlightened his heart, and burning therein makes it clean of all earthly filth; and so, thenceforward, he is contemplative, and filled with love of a sight which he saw in heaven with the spiritual eye of his soul. But no man hath perfect sight of heaven while he lives here, in the body; but he that ends in this love, as soon as he dieth, is brought before God with companies of angels, and sees him face to face, and dwells with him without end.
All these sentences (opinions) foregoing, I have gathered of holy writ, and of diverse saints, and doctors, and nothing of mine own head; to show to my poor brethren and sisters what grace and love our Lord Jesus hath showed to souls in this life. For each man should ascend from one to another, as he is called of God, some in higher, some in lower, as he is enabled of God thereto. But for that, I, myself, caitiff and wretch, unworthy through divers sins before done, being beneath all these perfect points, which seem to me as far distant as from hence to heaven. Therefore I beseech all that read or hear this treatise, to pray for me to God, that he forgives my sins, and quicken my soul with the grace of his heavenly treasure of love. And let us all, together, give thanks to the Holy Trinity, who thus graciously enlightened the souls of mortal men with the beams of his heavenly grace.
Blessed be the name of our Lord, into worlds of worlds. Amen.
Here ends the book called the Poor Caitiff.
At the end of one of the Transcriptions of the Poor Caitiff, in the British Museum Manuscript. Harl. 2335, is the following; note, which proves the value placed upon its contents in the days of darkness preceding the reformation, and shows one method of circulating the truth then adopted.
“This book was made of the goods of John Gamalin, for a common profit, that the person that has this book committed to him of the person that hath power to commit it, have the use thereof for the time of his life, praying for the souls of the same John. And that he that hath this aforesaid use of commission, when he occupied it not, leave he it for a time to some other person. Also that the person to whom it was committed for the term of life, under the aforesaid conditions, deliver it to another the term of his life. And so be it delivered and committed from person to person, man or woman, as long as the book endureth.”