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exerpt from 
The Twelve Patriarchs
Richard of St. Victor

Translated by Grover A. Zinn

(c) 1979 by the Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle in the State of New York

Paulist Press,



How arduous and difficult it is to asquire the grace of contemplation

But nevertheless we know (for we have learned this, as Scripture teaches): "Because the hope that is delayed afflicts the soul" (Prov. 13:12).  For nothing so affects the soul in the same manner as impatient longing.  What is sought more beneficially than the sweetness of this vision? What is sensed more pleasantly?  What does the soul experience more joyfully?  Rachel knows this, for it is impossible for reason not to know this since every other sweetness is bitter when compared to this pleasure.  This is the reason that she is able neither to relax her effort nor to temper her longing.  For this reason she has so much anxiety at giving birth and such immensity of grief.  And for what reason do you think there is such greatness of grief except from endless effort and impatient longing?  Daily it increases: labor from desire, and grief from labor.  It is increased continually: longing from effort and effort from longing.  Nevertheless, Rachel knows that this matter is beyond her powers, and yet she is able to temper neither her effort nor her longing.  For indeed, the mind by its own activity can never attain to such grace.  This gift is from God; it is not a reward to man.  But without doubt no person receives such and so much grace without a mighty effort and burning longing.  Rachel knew this, and for that reason she multiplies effort and more passionately inflames her desire with daily increases.  Indeed, in such anxiety of daily exertion, in such immensity of grief Benjamin is born and Rachel dies, because when the human mind is carried above itself it passes beyond all narrowness of human reasoning.  All human reason succumbs to that which the mind catches sight of from the light of divinity when it has been raised above itself and snatched up in ecstasy.  For what is the death of Rachel, except the failure of reason?


Concerning that kind of contemplation which is above reason

And so when Benjamin is born, Rachel dies, because the mind, having been carried away to contemplation, experiences how great the failure of human reason is.  Did not Rachel die and did not the sense of all human reason fail in the Apostle when he said: "Whether in the body or outside the body, I do not know; God knows" (2 Cor. 12:2)?  Therefore, let no person suppose that he is able to penetrate to the splendor of that divine light by argumentation; let no person believe that he is able to comprehend it by human reasoning.  For if it were possible to approach that divine light by some argument or other then it would not be inaccessible.  And thereupon the Apostle indeed boasts not that he went to that but that without doubt he was snatched up: "I know," he says, "a man, whether in the body or outside the body I do not know; God knows; such a one was snatched up to the third heaven" (2 Cor. 12:2). ... Any soul is truly raised up to any of these heavens when, as it abandons the lowest things of earthly thoughts, it is transfixed in contemplation of these heavens. And so knowledge of self pertains to the first heaven; contemplation of God pertains to the third.  And who do you think ascends to this third heaven, except he who also descends--the Son of man who is in heaven?  And so, if there are those who ascend to the heavens and descend into the depths, nevertheless they do not ascend except perhaps to the first and second for they are not able to ascend to the third.  Certainly men can be snatched up to this heaven, but they are not at all able to ascend by themselves...  Moreover, we can conclude suitably enough from the death of his mother that we ought to understand by Benjamin that kind of contemplation which is above reason.