The 25. Discourse.
That euerie man according to his capacitie and vocation may vse contemplation.
MAny euen in old time held opinion that Contempla∣tion* properly appertained only to the Philosophers, whose number could then be but very small, as also they did lykewise meruaylouslie commend such acti∣ons of the mind, yea, and that life which was destined onely therevnto. The lyke doe some men in these daies attribute Page 335 vnto those who being withdrawne out of the world do liue in Mo∣nasteries and Hermitages, in that being thus separated they may the better tend to spirituall exercises: which doe in quantitie farre surpasse the others. And they be in parte induced thus to iudge, be∣cause they imagine that the common sorte knowe not almost what contemplation meaneth: and withal that they see many wise men disdaine it, as if it were some vnpleasant or very difficult misterie. Moreouer, they heare the Munkes, who bragge that they haue ta∣ken it vpon them, say that it doth belong to them onely. All this hath caused them as it were inseparably to vnite such actions vnto those liues which seeme altogether freed from earthly cares. This so goodly and high a matter would deserue that wee should begin more grauely to discourse thereof: but I would not (neither perad∣uenture could I) as wishing others to goe seeke to bee instructed therein, in the writings of the learned where they bee perfectly exa∣mined, as my selfe haue done: Wherefore my intent is to speake meanely thereof according to my abilitie, so to helpe those that flye no higher then my selfe. And this is it that hath caused me first to set downe common opinions, that afterwarde wee may with the more ease climbe to the truer. Now as wee accompt him a spoyler which appropriateth that thing to himselfe that ought to bee com∣mon, so is it a kind of vsurping, when by ouer free iudgement ma∣ny are made vnworthie the benefites, wherein they may haue part, and the same adiudged to a fewe Munkes vnder colour that they attribute it to themselues onely. We must not therefore doe either the one or the other, but rather endeuour to make all persons capa∣ble of some portion of this spirituall benefite. Experience teacheth * that the giftes which wee tearme to bee of nature, are distributed with as merueilous indifferencie as is obserued among mettalles. In the meane time, when by good doctrine we are taught to pre∣uaile of whatsoeuer is in vs, we may reape such vtilitie as may bee profitable to euery mans condition. For, to speake by similitudes, they whose mindes are as it were gould or siluer, may lift them much higher than they that haue them but of copper or yron: Al∣beit that when the most bases• substances are polished, they also yeeld some beautie. Euery man will confesse that among men the countrie clowne is most abiect and of least accompt, and yet he that list to studyvpō it may make most of them by little & little to com∣prehend that there is an eternall deuinitie, which hath created the world: that there be immortall soules: and that after this life there Page 336 shall bee a more happie life for those that haue beleeued in Christ the Sonne of GOD. Then they afterward comming to thinke and meditate vpon these things, what els doe they but enter into the pathes of the highest Contemplation. No man therefore ought to thinke himselfe vtterly vnworthie: for he shall make himselfe a bruite beast by thinking that hee can not participate therein.
But what shall wee say of those who being endued with good wittes (as many gentlemen and others) do a many of them in liew * of lifting vp their mindes, bow them downe and captiuate them to earthly mixe, rather then make them walke at libertie through the heauens, there to behould the diuersitie of beauties that doe re∣ioyce the soule which is a prisoner in this mortall bodie? Truely wee are to mourne for them, that they are ignorant of this goodly priuiledge, either if they bee not ignorant, that they make no ac∣comp• of it. Some there are which tearme Contemplation a high folly and the vizard of Mouckish idlenesse, and scorne the same as they vse to doe diuers other good things which they reiect, euen as the man that is out of taste reiecteth good foode, No man néede to wish them any other punishment then they inflict vppon them∣selues in denying the enioying of a benefite which they will not knowe, and yet doe contemne it as some mischiefe alreadie kno∣wen.
By this that I haue saide, it appeareth that the vse of Con∣templation is not tyed to that life only which seemeth to be who∣ly vowed thereto: for there bee many Monckes that fall to ryot, and many Artificers which contemplate: and without this bene∣fite which fewe seeke to enioye, humaïne miseries and continuall cares would take from vs the greatest parte of that felicitie which we labour for. This may be a beginning of aunswer to the afore alleadged opinions: for in my mind it is more auaileable to declare what this contemplatiue power is and the true obiects thereof, to the ende wee may the better knowe how to helpe our selues there∣with, and the neede that we haue thereof.
The reasonable soule (to speake familierly) consisteth of two partes: the one which is exercised in the base things of this world, * which being in maner innumerable may happen after sundrie fa∣shions in respect of the mutabilitie of the substances, varietie of ap∣petites, affections and operations of men: And they which beare themselues well in these matters are termed ••creet and wise men: Page 337 But the other parte which is the same whereof I now meane to speake, seeketh higher then these bodily eyes can penetrate: for it comprehendeth the substances, notwithstanding the same be spoy∣led of all matter: then sporting it selfe in the meditation of things which daylie doe fall out, it stayeth vpon yt that is deuine & eternal: The participants herein be termed learned men & of great know∣ledge, because yt thereby, as by a sure guide, this most noble part of their soule, which is endued with most perfect intelligence, is led into those places where it may somwhat comprehend those things wherewith it hath some correspondence & similitude: for that which is spirituall delighteth in spirituall things: & herein consisteth the excellencie of the creatures that participate in reason, aboue all o∣ther mortal and earthly creatures: that they can from farre though vnperfectly discerne things immortall and heauenly. This ought to sollicite them not to stifle in them that naturall power which is giuen them to bee well employed. As for the obiects: the most soueraigne of them is God, beyond whom no man can looke, because he is the ende of all endes and the cause of all causes, and that in him all fulnesse of perfection doth abide. But there bee ma∣ny other inferiour as the Angelicall natures, the heauenly mo∣tions, and whatsoeuer is immutable in the order of nature, wherein is a very large scope to exercise the same facultie, which by conti∣nuall vse groweth the more perfect.
To see therefore how this may bée put in practise, wee are * to consider of what persons euery politique bodie is composed: which I will deuide into three orders. In the first shall come the Noble men and Gentrie: In the second, all that bestowe their time in deuine or humaine learning: And in the third, all other the dwellers both in towne and countrie. As for the first, they seeme to bee borne with more quicke and plyant inclinations then * the others: because their fathers hauing atteyned to honor through vertue as well intellectuall as morall, as it is to bee presumed, haue left vnto them some small seedes thereof (as neere as nature can forme them) meete to spring againe, so long as their bringing vp bee no hinderaunce thereto: for confirmation whereof wee doe many times see the children of Princes, Lordes and Gentle∣men at seauen yeeres of age shewe foorth euen pettie miracles of the soule. She bringeth them foorth in place where she findeth the agents which she vseth to bee best disposed: euen as wee see in a Lanterne that the brighter the glasse is, the more doth the inward Page 338 light thereof appeare, and being dimme, small brightnesse may be séené. These therefore hauing so good groundes doe want but good instructions to bring them to the knowledge of the dignity of man, which consisteth in the lifting vp of his minde vnto the author of all his good. Whereto also their noble calling ought to exhorte them. And as in the actiue life that they leade, they keepe it ordina∣rily occupied in diuers honest and profitable things, so should they goe forward and thence ascend to spirituall: for he that is deuoyde of such apprehensions maketh his condition very bad.
If any man saith: Why, are not we present at the religious ce∣remonies: * It is but a colde excuse, because the most excellent parte of religion consisteth in the inward man. And this doth the scrip∣ture teach vs, when it saith that God is a spirite and will be woor∣shipped in spirite and truth. And how may it be possible to caste of the heauenly misteries, if this speculatiue power should not bende as a bowe to the search of so high trueths, more necessarie for the sustenance of the soule then bread is for the bodie? Howbeit, there be but fewe of that degree that are very hot herein: whereof it com∣meth that many are ignorant of that which they ought especially to knowe, and are skilfull in that which they ought rather to bee ignorant of. For proofe I will alleadge onely one example of a neighbour of myne, who in certaine companie talking of religion sayd: These Hugnenots would seeme to be great doctors, but knowe no thing. If you dispute with them, they presently denye Purgatorie: but then denye you the Trinitie and you neuer see men so amazed. This, I suppose, he sayd thinking to haue sayd very well: howbeit it is a lamentable case to see that he that ought to haue taught others, had neede to haue gone to schoole to learne the first principles of Christianitie and Godlinesse, sith in matters of ciuilitie he was sufficiently seene. The bodily exercises which tend to honestie are very conuenient for gentlemen, but they droope toward the ground if they be not susteyned by the soule, which being deuout, doth be∣tweene times estraunge it selfe from this element. Hereof are wee admonished in the fourth Commaundement of the lawe, wherein God declareth that it is his will wee should rest the seauenth day, that is to say, that wee should forget all worldly cares, and applye our whole minds to meditate vpon his wonderfull works, as well of our creation and conseruation as redemption. Wherein we see that contemplation is a common duetie, whereto we may aduowe those to be most bound that haue receiued most kinds of benefites.
Page 339 Now to speake of the second order which proceedeth from the * first and third order, namely the Gentrie and Communaltie: Wee may well say that many of them are thrust forward voluntarily to learne the sciences, as wel through a desire they haue of knowledge as also to profite others. But there are also and that the greatest parte whom profite and necessitie doe stirre vp. Among these some there are whose onely contemplation hath regard to their coffers: which the first sorte regard not, as ayming at better endes. And in deede the chiefest duetie of a Philosopher is to whet his wictes to the knowledge of whatsoeuer exquisite things in the whole world: whose contentation, the higher that the spirite penetrateth, the greater it is. As for deuine knowledge which they that haue the Ecclesiasticall offices doe perticulerly professe, the same doth re∣quire a soule free from worldly bonds and lettes, because that in so high an argument it is to employ whatsoeuer the agilitie thereof. And to them more properly then to any doth contemplation ap∣pertaine. Not that I meane that they ought continually to bee therein occupied as a quadrant to behould the sunne, for so in vaine should they be in office, if they discharge not themselues to the be∣nefite of those that are to receiue the vsurie of such spirituall ta∣lents as GOD hath imparted vnto them, namely, sound doc∣trine. Thus doe we see that actiue life ought not to bée seuered for euer, or any long time from the contemplatiue. And this did the best Philosophers well knowe. Also that great Deuine S. Augu∣stine well allowed this orderly composition of the one and the o∣ther. For although the spirituall actions are more worthie then the corporall, yet must they not be separated.
I knowe very well that the Munkes, especially the begging * Fryers and Charterhouse (for those of S. Bennet and S. Bernard are somewhat better companions) will gainsay this, affirming that the continuall contemplation which they haue chosen, not be∣ing interrupted by mortal cares maketh both soule and bodie more perfect. Truely it is a goodly matter to seeke to attaine to some small perfection according as mans frailtie can beare: But sith S. Paule (who attained to so high holinesse) with his high and pro∣found speculation, continued neruerthelesse in continuall action to the edification of the Church, I am driuen to aduowe that it is bet∣ter to stay vpon his example, then of any of the rest. And to the end the better to lay open this matter, I will set downe the liues of the auncient Munkes who liued within foure hundred yéeres after Page 340 Christ, in such maner as a very learned 〈…〉hath gathered them out of the writings of S. Augustin. Contemning, saith he, all worldly delights and pleasures, they doe together leade a most holy and cha•• life, passing their time in prayer, readings and conferences, without puffe of pride, contempt, debate or enuie. No man houldeth anything in proper, neither is any man burdensome to his neighbour: with their hands they doe such labour as may maintaine their bodies, and not hinder their mindes from attending vnto God: Then doe they com∣mit their labours into the hands of those whom they call Deanes, who of the money which they make thereof be accomptable to him that is called the father among them. These fathers are such persons as are not only holy in life, but also excellent in the doctrine of God, and ha∣uing preheminence in vertues as well as in power doe gouerne their children without any pride: and as they haue authoritie to com∣maund them, so are their sonnes as readie to obey them. Toward euening euery man commeth foorth of his cell, and yet fasting do meet together to heare their father, which done, they take their bodily re∣fectiō, as much as is requisite to maintaine health: Euery man restray∣neth his lustes, so to vse it in all sobrietie, yea euen the foode that is set before them, which is neither much, nor very delicate. The ouerplus aboue their sustenance (for they leaue much, as well in that they la∣bour diligently, as also in respected of their sobrietie) is destributed to the poore which care not greatly for earning it: They force not of aboū∣dance, but care only to reserue no parte of their superfluitie. In this au∣steritie of life, saith he, no man is forced to a heauier burden then ei∣ther he can or is willing to beare, and him that is weaker then the rest doe they not therefore condemne, for they all knowe the commenda∣tion of Charitie, as also that all meates are cleane to those that are cleane. Their only industrie consisteth, not in reiecting any meates as vncleane, but in taming their lustes and maintaying themselues in good loue together. As for bodily exercise, they knowe the same to profite but for a while only. Charitie doe they especially obserue, fra∣ming thereto their foode, speech, apparell and countenances. Euery of them doe conspire in one charitie, and doe abhorre the 〈…〉olation thereof. He that resisteth this is expelled, and who so contrarieth it, stayeth not one day among them.
Thus farre the wordes of S. Augustine, who there maketh a * goodly description of the auncient kind of Monasteries, which then stoode the Monckes in stead for a preparation to a more excellent e∣state. For their Colledges and assemblies were as it were nource∣ries Page 341 to furnish the Church of good ministers, and out of the same were Gregorie Nazianzene, Basil, Chrisostome, and many other notable persons called to be Bishops. It appeareth therefore that their liues were as well actiue as contemplatiue. For although most of them liued in solitarie places, to the ende the lesse to bee di∣uerted from their studies and morall discipline, yet did one of their principall purposes tende to make them meete to serue in that bo∣die whereof they were but small members. Then being admitted into Ecclesiasticall functions, it was lawfull for them to marie: * neither was mariage in those daies forbidden. Howbeit, although this auncient maner of Monasticall life, when such simplicitie of rules and hartes reigned, did beare a goodly shewe, yet may wee, and that truely, say that it was grounded rather vpon the inuen∣tions of men then any examples taken out of the scriptures. But all these things are, by little and little, altered and corrupted: as by comparing them with our daies we may easely perceiue. For if we marke well what most of our Monckes haue studied within these threescore yeeres, wee shall finde it to bée nothing but this, Hang and burne, whom: Euen those men who by brotherly admonition wished them not to stoope vnto so many corruptions as were crept in among them, and did not allowe of their newe found deuo∣tions.
Thus are their chiefe contemplations conuerted into fire and blood, which euen to this day doe beare great sway, though rather in will then effect. Rabelais who in his writings mentioneth sun∣drie braue Monckes of his time, doth paint vs them out more mo∣derate and tractable: for so farre were they from sclaundering and hurting, that contrariwise they sought to bee merie and make good theere with all men. Among the rest he speaketh of Frier Bernard Lardon, resiant in the good towne of Amiens, whose like was not to be found againe in 36. Monasteries. His superiour contempla∣tions, saith he, remained in the autenticall raunges of the same towne, & his inferiour in the deepest sellers in Laon in Laonoise, which were best furnished with good wines. Moreouer, this good Frier was alwaies merie and liuely as a pretie vntamed Asse, and as learned as his portuise could extend.
This is the fruite which these late worlds haue brought foorth, namely, to haue chaunged the integritie of ould time into the im∣puritie of these daies. The first Monkes of whom I haue spoken, being replenished with charitie did good to all: most of them Page 342 that haue succeded them within a fewe ages, bearing more affec∣tion * to their bellies then to the holy scripture, caring for none, haue had regard but to themselues: But many of those of our daies, a∣bandoning themselues too much to hate and reuenge, doe hurt ma∣ny. Yet will I not say but that among that multitude which swar∣meth al ouer the world there be many, who groning vnder the bur∣den of so many traditions, do wish the reformation to the auncient obseruations endued with great moderation. Yea my selfe haue in my imprisonment knowne many courteous persons of them. I pray to God for them that he will vouchsafe so to strengthen them that they may in mouth sing, and in deede practise this Psalme of Dauid. I did in harte reioyce, to heare the peoples voyce, in offering so willingly: For let vs vp say they, and in the Lords house pray: Thus spake the flolke full louingly, &c. Wel, leauing these abuses, we must confesse that they which dedicate themselues to heauenly things, doe choose an excellent matter, as sayth S. Paule, if they well dis∣charge it: and they may thinke their contemplations to be fruitfull and true, if thereby they feele their soules more deuout towarde God, and their harts more redily bent to helpe their neighbours. But as for such as delight onely in the solitarinesse of the deserts, fewe there are of them but are infected with hypocrisie.
I will now speake a little of humaine sciences which I haue too * long ouerslipped: Truely such as apply their minds to them, haue a large fielde wherein to walke their spirites, albeit not so worthie as the other: For the Deuine is the mistris, and these are her infe∣riour handmaidens, the professors whereof haue had contempla∣tion in honor, whome they haue affirmed to be the mother of wise∣dome. Neither haue they bene therein deceiued, for it is very diffi∣cult to penetrate into high and deepe misteries but by daily medi∣tation. The Platonistes haue highly magnified this contempla∣tiue facultie of the soule, whose operations they haue thought to be most worthie in respect of themselues, as proceeding from a per∣fect cause, and embracing most perfect obiects, the highest whereof was God. Plato also speaking of the soueraigne felicitie sayd, that it consisted in a similitude and coniunction of the soule thereto: which it did in parte attaine, when abandoning all transitorie mat∣ters, it stayed vpon the consideration of the supreme beauties who afterward rauished it into so great felicitie. But this matter is vn∣to vs Deuine rather then Philosophicall, wherefore I will speake no more of it, but onely commende these poore soules, who so zea∣lously Page 343 sought a felicitie which they could neuer finde by any natu∣rall reasons: and accuse our owne blackishnesse, who hauing it be∣fore our spirituall eyes will scarce vouchsafe to looke vpon it. But the Philosophers studies tend to baser matters: & I wel like some mens deuisions thereof, namely into reasonable which teacheth to speake well and encrease: into morall, which instructeth how to liue well, which also comprehendeth the politicall: and into natural, which giueth vs knowledge of nature and euery thing that hath being. Who so therefore li•• to profite in all the sayd doctrines, must vse often meditation, to the ende the better to perceiue the perfections of the same. For whatsoeuer it be which the mind doth but lightly passe ouer, it is but a touching of the minde: but when it stayeth vpon it, it penetrateth through the thicknesse of the wood euen to the marrow. He that shall consider of speech which is pro∣per to man onely, will thinke nothing to bee so common and fami∣lier: but if he ascendeth to the inward worde, which is the conceipt of the vnderstanding, in which receptakle a thousand images per∣fect and vnperfect, true and false bee resident and passe to and fro, which afterwarde be reuealed by the sensible speech, he cannot but wonder at Gods so wonderfull workmanship. Thus ought wee from terrestriall matters to ascend into celestiall, and againe from the highest to returne to the lowest. For what els is the composi∣tion of man but celestiall and terrestriall, which by a most excellent and inimitable workmanship are conioyned together, whereof wée gather this instruction, that the contemplatiue and actiue life doe very well agree together: and to seeke to deuide them is as it were to force nature.
Some may say, that although Contemplation beseemeth the *Philosopher, yet the Prince, Captaine, Iudge & Phisition ought rather to labour, for that at their hands we are to expect only good effects. Hereto I aunswer, that effects proceede of consultation and consultation from discretion, whereto wée first attaine by expe∣rience, then by meditation. When he that possesseth the royall dig∣nitie shal often thinke with himselfe that mercie and truth doe mer∣ueilously preserue the King, and that his throne is vphoulden by gentlenesse, as Salomon saith, will he not bee more diligent in his duetie then he that thinketh himselfe to bee set vp as a paynted I∣mage vpon an Aulter, to be admired and magnified? Those also to whom is committed the administration of Iustice and regarde of health, in liewe of employing their whole mindes in the filling of Page 344 their purses; should then not doe better sometimes in the 〈◊〉 to occupie themselues, the •udges in meditating vppon▪ this goodly saying of King Iehosapht, who sayd, to those of his time. Consi∣der*what ye doe, for y• exercise not the iudgement of man; but of the Lord: And all your iudgements shall redound to your selues. Also the Phisitions in the saying of Ecclesiasticus. The soueraigne hath gi∣uen knowledge vnto ••on to be honored in his merueiles. For by often consideration of these admonitions they will growe more duetifull to men and obedient to God, whose ••ttie instruments they are to make those vertues which he freely bestoweth vpon them, which neuerthelesse they sell full deere, to shiue here vpon earth. But am∣bition which is properly tearmed an honorable torment, and co∣uetousnesse which is a shamefull hell, doe withdrawe as well the one as the other from so high thoughts, whereof ensueth confusion in politicke order.
Concerning the third order, which is tearmed the third estate, I will deuide it into two parts. The worst whereof is the countrie * people, who seeme to be led as much by affection as by reason, and is so grosse that although it be taught, yet a man would say that it either contemneth or is vtterly ignorant of the superiour exercises of the soule, and that the same are no more conuenient for it then is Magnificat for morning prayer. But charitie should make vs to iudge that God doth nothing in vaine, also that hauing giuen them a like substantiall forme as to the highest, he hath in no wise for∣bidden them the vse of whatsoeuer may make them partakers of the benefites which are offred vnto all and consist in the knowledge of him. And if we well note what the Scripture saith, we shal finde that he reuealeth himself to the lowly and is hidden from the wise. * Herof we should learne to be modest in the iudgement of this mat∣ter, sith faith, which is a supreme contemplation is not denyed the veriest clownes: wherein we see Gods wonders, in that he ma∣keth many of them learned to saluation in a science which seemeth vtterly vnlearned. The towne dwellers are more capable of in∣struction, and besides their deuotions doe also apply their mindes to the artes, whereof sometimes groweth such perfection of work∣manship, that many are driuen to confesse that the boysterous hand could neuer haue performed them, had not quicknesse of wit bene the guide. And whereas the soule abaseth it selfe in the matters which we touch (which is much vnworthier then that that is ma∣teriall) yet doth it not so before it hath bene long stayed vpon the Page 345 consideration of the formes wherewith〈…〉•othe it, also vp∣pon the meere• to attaine to such an 〈…〉 to inuent the instru∣ments necessary thereto.
Cobre 〈◊〉 by the deduction afore sayd we see, first that it is * mee•e for all men to contemplate more or lesse in deuine misteries. Secondly, that it may also in part be applyed to inferiour things. Thirdly, that〈…〉member our selues from ciuill so∣cietie, and 〈◊〉 stable or liue aparte, to the entent the better to attend thereto: for in all 〈…〉 priuate or publique he that hath leisure and will, hath also vse thereof. But before I ende this discourse, I haue thought good to vse this small admonition to those that care so little for submitting those noble partes of their soules not to workes of small accompt, but euen to horrible vice, and to set before their eyes the saying of Dauid. Man being in ho∣nor*hath no vnderstanding, but is compared vnto the beastes that pe∣rish and is made like to them. For when they disdaine to enioye the goodly priuiledges graunted vnto them, and choose rather to burie this light in earthly pleasures, as a man would doe a precious dia∣mont in mire, then doe they as a man should say, transforme them selues into beastes, which is a iust punishment due to their ingra∣titude and blockishnesse. I will also aduertise others which are quite contrary to these, because of the quicknesse of their vnderstan∣dings, not to soare ouer high beyond the limited boundes: But to remember what God said to Adam touching the tree of good and * euill, Thou shalt not eate thereof, for in the day that thou shalt eate thereof thou shalt dye the death. Hereby should they learne to con∣tent themselues with that wisedome which he hath vouchsafed to impart vnto thē as wel cōcerning deuine as humane causes: which is (if we take it right) most wonderfull. Least contemning the per∣son of so excellent an Apostle as S. Peter, we transforme our selues into a Simon Magus, or disday•ing an Aristotle become a phan∣tasticall Stoike.
Thus much of Contemplation may suffice me to haue spoken who neuer went to Monckish schoole, and he that listeth to knowe more, let him repayre thereto, if he so thinke good.