« Prev In the first place, this book teacheth how… Next »

In the first place, this book teacheth how poverty is a (state of) being withdrawn (detached) from all creatures.


POVERTY is a likeness with God. What is God? God is a Being, withdrawn from all creatures, a free power, a pure working. So also poverty is an existence withdrawn from all creatures. What is the meaning of withdrawn? What doth not adhere to anything. Poverty adheres to nothing, and nothing adheres to it.


It might be said in answer: All things adhere to something, for all things are contained by something;—to what then doth a 2poor man adhere or hold on? A poor man adhereth to nothing that is under him, and only to Him who is raised above all things. St. Augustine saith: “The best of all things, that is, God.”1010   St. Augustin in Psalm cxxxiv., No. 6: Confess. vii. 4, No. 6. And this is what poverty seeketh, to which it adhereth, and to nothing else. And this is also the supreme nobleness of poverty, that it adheres only to the very highest, and entirely leaves the lowest as far as it is possible.


Several say that the highest poverty and the most entire withdrawal consist in this, that a man becometh as he was when he did not yet exist. Then he understood nothing and willed nothing, then was he God with God.1111   Do waz er got mit got. (Denifle’s text, p. 3, line 24, of his edition.) This might be true, if it were possible. But inasmuch as man hath a natural being, he must also have a working; for in this lies his beatitude, that he know and love God, as St. John saith: “This is life eternal, to know Thee the Father, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”1212   John xvii. 3.


But how is man to know and love God, and yet remain poor or empty of all knowing and loving? He must know God by means of God, and love God by means of God, and otherwise he can neither know nor love Him, so as to attain to beatitude; and he of himself 3must thus be poor or wanting in all knowledge. What is the knowing of man? It is in images and forms which man draws in through the senses, and otherwise he is not able to know through nature. And if he wisheth to be blessed and saved he must be lacking in this knowledge and stand on the ground of genuine poverty.


Here it may be objected: What use is there then in a man having in himself a rational power of distinguishing in images and forms, if this will not save him or bless him, and if, furthermore, he must become empty of this distinguishing faculty and thoroughly lacking in it. To this I reply: That a distinguishing power is useful, because man is not yet in thorough poverty, and because he is still burdened with manifold things. Hence he must put up with this aptitude to distinguish. In this imperfect condition the power of distinguishing must not be set aside, and has its use. But when man hath come to the point where his being is simplified and weaned from all that is manifold, and when he thus cometh into true poverty, then he must leave all distinction through images, and must transfer himself with One into One, without any distinction. For if he remained on the ground of distinctions, he would commit faults, and would not be thoroughly poor. Furthermore, to distinguish is useful, for man 4cannot be taught in any other way than through distinctions. Thirdly, because while man is in time, he hath a working in time, according to the outer man; and a clear rational distinction is necessary in order that man may not remain in time, and that the outer man may be in due subordination to the inner. Fourthly, distinction is useful, because man cannot remain long without manifold sinful impressions, and these man must resist by distinctions, so that he may remain pure and poor. And thus, therefore, is poverty a likeness with God; for it is a pure, simple Being, separate and apart from all creatures.


The question now occurs: Shall then man be poor and lacking even graces and virtues, for grace is a creature, and virtues are creaturely? To this I answer: Grace is nothing else than a light which God draweth from Himself, and He poureth it into the soul, and the soul thereby passes from the bodily to the spiritual, from time to eternity, and from the manifold to the simple. Thus when the soul is raised above all the bodily over time and all that is manifold, so as to become a naked spirit, dwelling in eternity and uniting itself to the Only One—when come to this, grace is changed into God,1313   So wurt gnade gewandelt in got. (Denifle, p. 4, line 35.) so that God no longer draweth the soul after the manner of a creature, but He leadeth it with Himself in a godlike 5manner. He leadeth it from Himself to Himself; as St. Augustine saith: “O Lord, give me another Thyself, that I may go from Thee to Thee.” And arrived at this point, the soul is poor in grace and emptied of it.


Next has a man to be poor in virtues? Virtues are creaturely in operation but Divine in intention, and God doth not accept virtue according to the working but according to the intention, and man has to work from a pure intention, that is, God: Behold now, virtue is no longer a creature but Divine, for all things work through the end in view. Thus therefore God shall be thy end, and nothing else; and hence virtue consists well with poverty. Again, man has to be poor in virtue in this sense, that he has so completely worked out all virtues that he hath lost the mere image of virtue, and he hath no longer virtue as an accident but in his essence, and not in a manifold direction but in unity; and he works virtue in unity. Arrived at this point again, virtue is no longer a creature but Divine. And as God comprehendeth all things in Himself, so also a purely poor man comprehendeth all the virtues in a simple love, and in love he worketh all virtues, and these virtues are essential, and they consist well with poverty. For a man can never become genuinely poor unless all the virtues make up his being.



Another objection. Are we to understand by the term poverty of spirit, as some say, that it means when a man has what he requires bodily, he yet holds this possession, unwillingly, inwardly? And the question is if such a man hath virtue essentially in the same way as a poor man, lacking all things both outwardly and in the spirit. My answer is this: A man begins to enter into what is essential when he is empty of all that is accidental. For if he is empty of all accidents, this is a sign that Divine Love hath withdrawn from him all temporal things, and that he stands empty and naked, lacking all things, outwardly and inwardly. In this condition he hath not the faculty or property of working some virtues with materials, and can only let himself be in all virtue, given up with a simple will to God. Now another man cannot be thus, who is not yet emptied of all outward accidents, and from whom Divine Love hath not drawn away all external things, and who is not entirely stripped of all natural possession. Hence he cannot have virtue in essence but in accidence. But what is accidence? It is a thing which now is and then is not; and accordingly it now works virtue, but only as it occurs or presents itself to him. But a genuinely poor man worketh alway virtue, and as his being is indestructible so also his virtue cannot be destroyed. For this reason it is called essential, for it is like or equal to being.



It has been said: Whosoever hath one virtue hath all virtues.1414   Compare St. Gregory, Morals, 22. c. 1.—St. Thomas, i. 2. qu. 65. a. 1.—St. Bonaventure, 3 dist. 36. qu. 1. That is true. For all the good that a man can do outwardly or inwardly belongs to a virtue, which ought to be perfect. And if he turns all things to this virtue he thereby wins the essence of virtue, and with its essence he draws to himself all other virtues and makes them essential. If, then, a man hath not placed all things in virtue, the essence of virtue has escaped him; hence he cannot have all virtue essentially as he himself is not like unto its essence and being.


From this it follows also that the perfection of man is not only to be taken as implying emptiness of the internal, but likewise of the external man; for a man is not only man through the soul, but also through the body. Hence man is not perfect only by lacking everything in the inner spiritual man, but he must also be entirely lacking in the outer man, as far as it is possible. When then a poor man hath turned all things into virtue outwardly and inwardly, then and then only is he perfect: for perfection stands founded on virtue.


Some one may say: Supposing a man has withdrawn himself from all creatures and yet creatures turn to him with favour, would not 8this hinder poverty? My answer is: If man is in himself emptied of all things, whatsoever befalls him without his co-operation, is a gift of God, and is the best thing for man, whatever it be, be it grateful or painful, sour or sweet. For when a man turneth himself away from all things and holds on to God, God must needs go to meet him with all good, be it bodily or spiritual. He must take it all from God and not from creatures.


But what shall a man do if too much or too little accrues to him? If too much accrues to him, he must not stand upon the ground of accidents, but take steps that he may always remain a poor man. If any one give him a hundred marks, let him take heed that he doth not become richer thereby; for his riches are God and not temporal things. Shall he then take all that is given to him? If he taketh it, he maketh himself laden with it and no longer empty. But if he refuses it, he has less reward than if he took it. But, supposing he who wishes to give it is himself poor,—or, again, if he is so rich in charity that he keeps nothing and gives all away, or, further, if he wishes to give it thee from natural love,—then take it not, let him be cumbered with it, while you are empty and free. But if the giver be rich in goods but poor in love, and he giveth thee through God and you are in need of help, take; and if something 9over thy necessity give it to others. And if this puts on thee a burthen, it is not really such, but a work of God.


If, again, too little falls to thy share, then seek to free thyself from thy necessity. If any one giveth thee, take it. If they do not give thee, suffer in patience. For want is sometimes as profitable as possession. For in want a man knoweth himself better than in having; for in the lack of temporal things man is prepared for the reception of everlasting things, and in the sickness of bodily power man gains much in spiritual strength, which surpasses all bodily powers; as St. Paul says: “Righteousness is made perfect in weakness.”1515   2 Cor. xii. 9.


It may be inquired: Supposing a poor man addresses himself to rich people, can he find complete love and truth in them? I answer: No; and I will establish this with a little discourse. First, “Like cleaves to like,” a lesson of Aristotle, 17 Eth. Nic. 1165, b. 17.1616   Aristotle, Eth. Nic. 1165, b. 17: τὸ ὅμοιον τῷ ὁμοὶῳ φὶλον. Hence where there is disparity there is no love. Secondly, they have not the true ground from which spring forth love and truth. Thirdly, what they do of charity to poor men is done from fear of hell and love of heaven; and this is not genuine charity or 10truth, for they love themselves in it. And if they could get to heaven without poor people they would not have much friendship for them. Fourthly, if they ever testify truth and love to a poor man, it is not thorough, but a part and a fraction, and is not perfect, for they do not learn to love all that belongs to it, but only a little, and that with difficulty and under much pressure. Fifthly, a poor man is removed from all creatures, and they are still laden with creatures, and therefore they cannot show with love that they cherish the poor man out of love, and thus he remaineth unloved by them. Sixthly, genuine love is a thorough going forth out of yourself and apart from all things; and hence if these people have not gone forth from themselves and all things they cannot have love. Seventhly, genuine love is spiritual, for it springs from the Holy Ghost,—and they are bodily, and hence they cannot show spiritual love. Therefore a really poor man doth not reckon much on rich people when he suffers want. Eighthly, a poor man is unknown by all rich people, therefore he is also unrequited, for the being ignored also begets lack of love, as St. Augustine1717   Is extensively illustrated by St. Augustin and explained: De Trinitate, lib. 8, c. 4, sq. lib. 10, c. 1, sq. lib. 13, c. 4. saith: “The things that we see we love them well, but other things that we don’t know or recognise, we also love them not.”


God is a free capacity, so also is poverty a free capacity, unchained by any one; for its 11nobility is freedom. The soul, as long as it is laden with temporal and sinful things, is not free, but is a burthen. What makes a burden? Coarseness, blindness, the lack of virtue. Thus temporal things are coarse and blind, and make the soul unvirtuous. Therefore, if she wishes to be noble and free, she must empty herself of temporal things. Poverty is empty of all things, and therefore poverty is noble and free.

« Prev In the first place, this book teacheth how… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection