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CHAPTER VII: Of Covetousness and how a Man may know how much of it is hid in his Heart

HEAVE up this image, and look well about it, and into it, and then shalt thou see covetousness and love of earthly things possess a great part of this image, though it seem little of it. Thou hast forsaken riches and the having much of this world, and art shut up in a cell, but hast thou cleanly forsaken the love of all this? I fear not yet, for it is less mastery to forsake worldly goods than to forsake the love of them. Peradventure thou hast not forsaken thy covetousness, but only hast changed it from great things unto small; from a pound unto a penny, and from a silver dish unto a dish of a halfpenny. This is but a simple change; thou art no good merchant. These examples are childish, nevertheless they signify much more. If thou believe not what I say, put thyself upon the trial. If thou have love and delight in the having and holding of anything that thou hast, how mean soever it may be, with the which love thou feedest thy heart for a time, or if thou have a desire and yearning for to have something that thou hast not, with the which desire thy heart is disquieted and stumbled through unreasonable thinking of the thing, that the pure desire of virtue and of God cannot rest therein; this is a sign that there is covetousness in this image. And if thou wilt put thyself further to the trial, look if anything that thou hast be taken away from thee by violence, or by borrowing, or any other way, so that thou canst not get it again, and for this thou art disquieted, angered, and troubled in thine heart, both for the loss of that thing which thou wouldst have again, and canst not; and also art stirred against him that hath it, to strive and chide with him that may restore it, and will not, this is a token that thou lovest worldly goods. For thus do worldly men when their goods and riches are taken from them; they are heavy, sorry and angry, chiding and striving with them that have them, openly, both by word and deed. But thou dost all this in thy heart privily, where God seeth, and therein thou art in more default than a worldly man; for thou hast forsaken in appearance the love of worldly things, but a worldly man hath not so, and therefore he is excused, though he strive and pursue for his goods by lawful means, for to have them again.

But now sayest thou, that it behoveth thee to have thy necessaries of such things as belong unto thee, as well as a worldly man. I grant well thereto; but thou shouldst not love it for itself, nor have liking in the holding nor in the keeping, nor feel sorrow and heaviness in the losing, or in the withdrawing of it. For as St Gregory saith: As much sorrow as thou hast in losing of a thing, so much love hast thou in the keeping of it. And therefore if so be thy heart made whole, and thou hadst truly felt a desire of spiritual things, and therewith hadst a true sight of the least spiritual thing that is, thou wouldst set at nought all the love and liking of any earthly thing, it would not cleave to thee.

For to love and have more than thou reasonably needest, only for lust and liking, is a great fault. Also, to fix thy love upon the thing which thou needest, for the thing itself, is a fault also, but not so great. But to have and use that thing that thou needest without love of it, more than nature and need requireth, without which the thing cannot be used, is no fault.

Soothly in this point I fear that many who have taken upon them the state and likeness of poverty are much letted and hindered in their pursuit of the love of God; I accuse no man, nor reprove any state, for in each state there be some good, and some otherwise; but one thing I say to every man or woman that hath taken the state of voluntary poverty, whether he be religious or secular, or what degree he be in, as long as his love and his affection is bounden and fastened, and as it were glued with the love of any earthly thing, which he hath, or would have, he cannot have nor feel soothfastly the clean love, and the clear sight of spiritual things. For St Austin said to our Lord thus: Lord, he loveth Thee but little, that loveth anything with Thee, which he loveth not for Thee. For the more love and covetousness of any earthly thing is with thee, the less is the love of God in thy heart. For though it be so, that this love of earthly things putteth them not out of charity; but if it be so much that it strangleth the love of God and of their neighbour, verily it hindereth and letteth them from the fervour of charity, and also from that special reward which they should have in the bliss of heaven for perfect poverty, and that is a great loss if thou couldst see it. For who so could understand the spiritual reward, how good, how precious and how worthy it is (for it is everlasting), he would not for the love of all earthly joy, or having all earthly things (though he might have them without sin) hinder, no, nor lessen the least reward of the bliss of heaven, which he might have if that he would; but God knows I speak more than I do myself. But I pray thee do thus as I say, by the grace of God, if thou canst, or any other man that will, for it would be a comfort to my heart (though I have it not in myself that which I say) that I might have it in thee, or in any other creature, which hath received more plenty of His grace than I.

But see, now then, since covetousness, in the naked ground of it, letteth a man or woman so much from the spiritual feeling of the love of God, how much more, then, doth it let and cumber worldly men and women, who by all their wits and bodily business night and day, study and travail how they may get riches and plenty of worldly goods? They can have no other delight but in worldly things; nay, they will not, for they seek it not. I say no more of them at this time; for in this writing I spake not to them. But this I say, that if they would see, or could see what they do, they would not do so.

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