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Walter Hilton

  excerpts from

THE SCALE OF PERFECTION

 

 

Book I  Part III Chapter VIII

  

SECTION I  Of Gluttony and how a Man shall know when he sinneth not in Eating and Drinking, and when he sinneth venially, and when deadly
SECTION II: That a Man should be busy to put away and hinder all Motions of sin, but more busy about those of Spiritual sins than those of Bodily
SECTION III: What Remedy a Man should use against the Faults in Eating and Drinking

Book II  Part III

 

CHAPTER IX: How Love slayeth Covetousness, Lechery and Gluttony, ...through a gracious beholding of Jesus

 

Book I  Part III

SECTION I  Of Gluttony and how a Man shall know when he sinneth not in Eating and Drinking, and when he sinneth venially, and when deadly

STILL mayest thou see more in this image, though it be dark, namely, sensual love to thyself, in gluttony, sloth and lechery. These fleshly likings make a man full beastly, and far from the inward savour of the love of God and from the clear sight of spiritual things. But thou wilt say that thou must needs eat and drink and sleep, which thou canst not do without liking, therefore thou thinkest this liking is no sin.

As unto this I say: That if in eating, drinking and other takings of necessaries for thy body, thou observe and keep measure; which is that thou do but what is needful for nature, and thou receivest or admittest no further pleasure or delight in the taking, than the nature of the thing doth needs bring with it; and all this thou dost not of purpose to please thy sensuality, but for ghostly delight which thou feelest in thy soul, and the upholding of thy body in the service of God, I grant that for a truth thou then sinnest right nought therein, but mayest well eat and sleep in that manner as thou hast mentioned.

Soothly and without doubt I am full far from knowing how to do better in this point, and further from doing of it, for to eat I have by kind or nature, but to skill how to eat, I cannot but by the grace of God. St Paul had this cunning by the grace of God, as he saith himself thus: I am cunning in all things, through Him that strengtheneth me; for I can hunger, and I can eat, I can with plenty, and I can with poverty, I can do all things. St. Austin saith thus to our Lord: Lord, thou hast taught me that I should take meat as a medicine: hunger is a sickness of my nature, and meat is a medicine thereof. Therefore the liking and delight that cometh therewith, and accompanieth eating, inasmuch as it is natural, and followeth of necessity, it is no sin; but when it passeth into lust, and into a voluntary and sought or intended pleasure, then it is sin.

Therefore here lieth all the mastery and skill to be able to distinguish wisely need from lust and voluntary liking, being so knit together that the one cometh with the other. So that it is hard to take the one (which is the meat or drink) as need requireth, and to reject or not to admit the other, namely, the voluntary and willingly admitted lust and liking, which often cometh under the colour of need.

Nevertheless, sith it is so, that need is the ground of this, and that need is no sin; for be a man never so holy, it behoveth him to eat, and drink and sleep; therefore the lust and liking that cometh under the colour of this need, and often exceedeth this need, is the less sin. For it is true that he who chooseth lust and the liking of his flesh, and delight in welfare of meat or drink, as the full rest of his heart that he would never have any other life nor other bliss, but live ever in such lust of his flesh, if he might, it is no doubt but he sinneth deadly; for he loveth his flesh more than God. But he that lieth in deadly sin of pride or envy, or such other, he is so blinded by the devil, that for the time he hath no power of his free will, and therefore he cannot well withstand fleshly likings when they come, but falleth down willingly to them, as a beast doth to carrion; and inasmuch as he hath no general will before to God principally, because that he is in deadly sin, therefore the lust of gluttony into which he falleth easily, is to him deadly sin, for he maketh no resistance either general or special. But another man or woman, who being in grace or charity, hath alway a good general will to God in his soul, whether he sleep or wake, eat or drink, or whatsoever good deed he doth, so that it be not evil in itself; by the which will and desire he chooseth God above all things, and had rather forbear all things in the world, than anger his God for love of Him. This will, though it be but general, is of so great virtue through the grace of our Lord Jesus, that if he fall by frailty in lust and in liking of meat and of drink, or of such other infirmity, either by exercise, in eating too much, or too often, or too greedily, or too lusty and delicately, or too often before the set times of eating, it saveth and keepeth him from deadly sin. And this is truth, as long as he is in charity in his other works, and keepeth his general will in all that he doth; and especially if anon after such his miscarriage he acknowledge his own wretchedness and cry for mercy, and be in purpose specially to withstand such fleshly lusts for the time to come. For our Lord is good and merciful, and forgiveth right soon these venial sins and miscarriages, or excesses about meat and drink (by reason that the occasions of them are hardest to eschew, because of the necessity there is of seeking and taking of them for the upholding of our corporal lives and healths) unto an humble soul.

And these stirrings and likings of gluttony, among all other sins, are most excusable and least perilous. And therefore thou shalt not rise against the ground of this sin as thou shalt against the ground of all other sin, for the ground of this sin is only natural need and necessity, the which thou canst not eschew, unless thou shouldst do worse, namely, slay this need (as many unwise persons do, by destroying their bodies or healths), whereas they should only slay the thief and spare the true man. That is to say, slay unreasonable lust and sensual voluntary liking, and spare and keep natural liking and corporal ability, and they do not so. But against all other sins thou shalt arise to destroy, not only deadly sins and the greater venials, but also against the ground of them by suppressing the stirrings and motions of them, and also avoiding the occasions and motives and incentives to them as much as thou canst; but this thou canst not do here with all thy skill, for thou canst not live without meat and drink, but thou mayest live without lechery or carnal pleasure if thou wilt, and never better than when without it. And therefore thou shalt not fly only the deeds of it (namely, the doing of any external thing against chastity) but also thou shalt suppress and destroy within thee all mere inward and mental desires against the virtue of chastity (the which mental desires or thoughts are sometimes only venial sins, and sometimes mortal); but also thou shalt labour against the ground of the said sin, and seek to destroy the feeling and the rising of fleshly stirrings.

But this travail and labour against the ground of lechery must be spiritual, by prayers and spiritual virtues, and not by bodily penance only; for wot thou well, that if thou fast and watch and scourge thyself, and do all that thou canst, thou shalt never have cleanness and chastity without the gift of God, and without the grace or virtue of humility. Thou shalt sooner kill thyself, than kill fleshly stirrings and feelings of lust and lechery, either in thy heart or in thy flesh, by any bodily penances; but by the grace of Jesus, in an humble soul, the ground may be much stopped and destroyed, and the spring may be much dried, the which will cause true chastity in body and in soul.

The same may be said of pride and of covetousness, and of such other, for thou mayest live though thou wert not proud at all, nor covetous, nor luxurious, and therefore thou shalt labour to destroy the very feelings of them as much as thou canst, and so seek to cleanse and take away the very ground of those sins. But in gluttony it is otherwise, because the ground thereof, which is natural appetite and need, must remain as long as thou livest, therefore must thou only arise and fight against the unreasonable desires of thy natural appetite therein, the which do creep in under pretense, and by occasion of the said just and reasonable need; smite these unreasonable stirrings, and keep the ground whole.

 
SECTION II: That a Man should be busy to put away and hinder all Motions of sin, but more busy about those of Spiritual sins than those of Bodily

AND therefore he that riseth against the feeling of fleshly liking in meat and drink, more fully and more sharply than against those of pride, or covetousness, or lechery, or envy (the which because they be more spiritual and less perceivable, seem perhaps less evil, and are less reprehended). I say that he is half-blind, for he seeth not his spiritual uncleannesses (as of pride and envy), how foul they are in Godís sight, for, I believe that if a man could see with his spiritual eye how foul pride and covetousness are in Godís sight, and how contrary they are to Him, he would more loathe a stirring of pride, and the vain liking of it; and also he would more abhor and rise against that evil will of envy, or anger to his neighbour than many a stirring or liking either of gluttony or of lechery. Nevertheless, all men do not think so, for commonly men are more shy or troubled to feel a stirring of fleshly sin, and have for it more sorrow and heaviness than for great likings in vain-glory or in other ghostly sins. But they are not wise; for if they would understand the holy Scriptures and sayings of doctors they should find it as I say, which I neither may nor will rehearse now.

I will not excuse them that fall in the likings and delights of gluttony and lechery, as if they sinned not; for I wot well that all the kinds of them are sins more or less, according to the measure of the lust and misbehaviour in the sin, and other likings, with consideration of how far voluntary it was with other circumstances. But my desire is, that thou mightest know and esteem all sins according as they are, indeed, the greater to be the greater, as are spiritual sins; and the less to be the less, as are fleshly or sensual sins; and yet nevertheless would I have thee to hate and fly all, both bodily and spiritual, with all thy might. For know thou well, that fleshly desires and unreasonable likings in meat and drink, or any likings that belong to the body, exceeding reasonable needs, though they be not always great sins to him that is in charity. Nevertheless, to a soul that desireth cleanness and purity of heart, and a spiritual feeling of God, they are full heavy, painful and bitter, and greatly to be eschewed; for the spirit cannot feel his kindly savour within, till the flesh hath lost his beastly savour without.

And, therefore, if thou wilt come to cleanness of heart, thou must strive against the unreasonable stirrings of fleshly desires, but against the ground of them thou shalt not rise; for the ground of it is Need, as natural hunger, which thou must necessarily feel, and must attend thereto, and satisfy it in fitting time and manner, and help thyself against it by medicine of meat, as thou wouldst help thyself in a reasonable manner against a bodily sickness, that thou mayest more freely serve God both bodily and spiritually. For know thou well, that what man or woman that shall be occupied spiritually in thoughts, great pain or hunger wilfully undertaken or bodily sickness or pain in the stomach, or in the head, or in other parts of the body for want of good ruling of themselves in too much fasting, or in any other way, will much let the spirit, and much hinder him from the knowing and beholding of spiritual things, unless he have much grace, and be arrived to great abilities in the Contemplative life. For though it be true, that bodily pain either of penance, or of sickness, or of bodily occupation, sometime letteth not the fervour of love to God in devotion, but oft increaseth it, yet I believe that they let the fervour of love in Contemplation, the which may not be had nor felt fully, but in rest and freedom of body and soul from all the aforesaid corporal pains, wants, employments and solicitudes

 
SECTION III: What Remedy a Man should use against the Faults in Eating and Drinking

THEREFORE, thou shalt behave thyself discreetly about thy body, yielding it necessaries reasonably, and then let God send thee what He pleaseth, either health or sickness; take it gladly, and grudge not willingly against Him.

Do as I say, take thy meat as it cometh, or provide it according to reason, and take it gladly, as a thing that thou needest; but be well aware of lusts that cometh with need, eschew too much as well as too little. And having done, if after it there arise in thee a remorse or biting of conscience, that thou hast eaten too much, and thereupon thou becomest sad and heavy with overmuch bitterness against thyself, lift up the desire of thy heart to thy good Lord Jesus, and acknowledge thyself a wretch, and a beast, and ask Him forgiveness, and say that thou wilt amend it, and pray that he will forgive thee. Leave off then, and think no further of it, nor strive so much with the vice, as if thou wouldst destroy it utterly, for it is not worth the doing so, neither shalt thou be ever able to bring it about that way; but set thyself about some other business bodily or ghostly, according as thou findest thyself best disposed, that thereby thou mayest profit more in other virtues, as in humility and charity. For wot thou well, that he that hath in his desire and in his endeavours no other respect to no other thing but Humility and Charity, always crying after them, how he may have them, he shall through such desire and manner of working profit and increase, not only in those two virtues, but also in all other virtues together with them, as in chastity, abstinence and such other (though he have but a little regard to them in comparison of the other, namely, Humility and Charity) more in one year than he should, without the said desire and manner of working, profit in seven years, though he strive against gluttony, lechery and such other continually, and beat himself with scourges each day from morning to even-song time.

Set thyself, therefore, about Humility and Charity, and using all thy diligence and industry to come by them, yet shalt thou have enough to do in getting of them. And if thou canst get them, they will direct thee, and measure thee privily and secretly, how thou shalt eat, and how thou shalt drink, and succour all thy bodily needs, that there shall no man know of it, unless thou thyself do tell it him, and that thou shalt not be in perplexity, scruples, vexation, anguishment, or heaviness, nor with any lust or adhering to the delights and likings of sensuality, but shalt do all in peace of a glad conscience with all quietness and satisfaction. I have spoken more than I thought to have done in this matter, but nevertheless do (as far as thou canst) as I say, and I hope God shall make all well.

By this that I have said, thou mayest in some measure see into this image of sin, and perceive how much it hinders thee. The Gospel saith, how that Abraham spake to the rich man that was buried in hell, on this wise: There is betwixt us and you a great chaos [Luke 16]; that is to say, a thick darkness betwixt thee and us, that we cannot come to thee, nor thou to us. This dark image in thy soul and mine may be in like manner called a chaos, that is, a great darkness, for it letteth us that we cannot come to Abraham, which is Jesus, and it letteth Him, that He will not come to us.

 

Book II  Part III

CHAPTER IX: How Love slayeth Covetousness, Lechery and Gluttony, ...through a gracious beholding of Jesus

...And not only doth love this, but also it slayeth the liking of Lechery and all other bodily uncleanness, and bringeth into the soul true chastity, and turneth it into liking. For the soul feeleth so great delight in the sight of Jesus that it liketh for to be chaste, and it is no great difficulty to it to keep chastity, for therein is most ease and most rest.

And in the same manner the gift of love slayeth the lusts of Gluttony, and maketh the soul sober and temperate, and beareth it up so mightily that it cannot rest in the liking of meat and drink. But it taketh such meat and drink, whatever it be, as least hindereth or chargeth the bodily complexion, if it can easily come by it; nor for the love of itself, but for the love of God. On this wise the lover of God seeth well that he needeth to sustain his bodily life with meat and drink, as long as God will suffer them to continue together. Here, then, will be the discretion of the lover of Jesus, as far as I understand that hath feeling and working in love, that in what manner he may best keep his grace whole, and be least letted from working in it through taking of bodily sustenance, so shall he do. That kind of meat, which least letteth and least troubleth the heart, and may keep the body in strength, be it flesh, be it fish, be it bread and ale, that I suppose the soul chooseth for to have, if it can come thereby. For the whole business of the soul is to think on Jesus with reverent love, constantly, without letting of anything, if that it might. And therefore since it must needs be letted somewhat and hindered the less it is letted and hindered by meat or drink or any other thing the better it is. It had rather use the best meat and most costly if it less hinder the keeping of his heart, than to take only bread and water, if that hinder him more; for he hath no regard for to get great merit by the pain of fasting, and be put thereby from softness and quietness of heart, but all his business is for to keep his heart as stably as he can in the sight of Jesus and in the feeling of His love. And surely I am of the opinion that he may with less lust and liking use the best meat, that is good in its kind, than another man that worketh all by reason without the special gift of love can use the worst. Ever excepting such meat as is dressed with art and curiosity only for lust, for such manner of meat cannot at all accord with him. And also on the other side, if little meat, as only bread and beer, most helpeth and quieteth his heart, and keepeth it most in peace, that is most acceptable to him for to use; and, namely, if he feel his bodily strength sustained thereby, and have the gift of love withal...