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The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, by Jan van Ruysbroeck, [1916], at





Now consider the order and the degrees of all the virtues and of all holiness, with which we should go out to meet God through resemblance; that so we may rest with Him in the unity.


The Gift of Fear


When a man lives in the Fear of God, in the moral virtues and in outward works; and when he is obedient and submissive to Holy Church and to the Divine commandments, and when he is ready and willing in simplicity of intention to do all good things: then he is like unto God, through faithfulness, and through the gathering of his will into the will of God, both in doing and in leaving undone. And he rests in God, above likeness; for through faithfulness and singleness of intention, he fulfils the will of God, more or less according to the measure of his likeness; and through love, he rests in his Beloved above likeness.


The Gift of Piety


And if he exerts himself well in that which he has received from God, then God bestows upon him the spirit of Piety and Mercy. Thus he becomes gentle of heart, meek and merciful. And thereby he becomes more full of life and more like to God, and feels himself to be resting more in God, and to be broader and deeper in virtue than before. And he savours this likeness and this rest so much the better, the more his resemblance is increased.


The Gift of Knowledge


And if he here exerts himself well, with great zeal, and with a single intention, and fights all that which is opposed to the virtues; this man receives the third gift, which is Knowledge and Discretion. Thus he becomes reasonable and discerning, and knows what to do and what to leave undone, and where he must give and where he must take away. And through simplicity of intention and godly love, this man rests in God above himself in the unity; and he possesses himself in likeness, and he possesses all his works with a greater delight, because he is obedient and submissive to the Father, and has reason and discernment through the Son, and is gentle and merciful through the Holy Ghost. And thus he bears a resemblance unto the Holy Trinity, and he rests in God, through his love and the simplicity of his intention. And herein the whole of the active life consists. Thus a man should exert himself with great zeal, and should follow his single intention with reason and discernment. And he must beware of all that is opposed to the virtues, and must ever bow himself down in humility at the feet of Christ: and in this way he will grow ever more and more in virtue and in resemblance; and if he keeps himself thus he cannot err. Yet according to this way, he still remains in the active life. For if a man practises and clings to the activities of the heart and the diversity of works, more than to the ground and reason of all works; and if he busies himself more with the practice of the sacraments, with their forms and outward symbols, than with the ground and the truth which are signified thereby: so he shall ever remain an outward man. But he shall be saved by his good works and his simplicity of intention.


The Gift of Strength


And therefore, if a man wishes to come nearer to God, and to exalt his practice and his life, he must proceed from the works to their reason, and from the forms to the truth; thereby he shall become master of his works, and shall know truth, and shall come into the inward life. And God gives him the fourth gift, which is the spirit of Strength: and thus he shall be able to overcome joy and grief, profit and loss, hope and care in earthly things, together with all kinds of hindrances and all multiplicity. And thus he becomes free and detached from all creatures. When a man has become free from all creaturely images, he is master of himself, and easily and without labour becomes inward and recollected; and turns freely and without hindrance to God, with fervent devotion, with lofty desire, with thanksgiving and praise, and with a single intention. Thus he enters into fruition of all his deeds and his whole life, inward and outward; for he stands before the throne of the Holy Trinity, and often receives inward consolation and sweetness from God. For he who serves at such a table with thanksgiving and praise, and with inward reverence, often drinks of the wine, and often eats of that which is left, and of the crumbs which fall from the Lord's table: and he continually possesses inward peace, through the singleness of his intention. And if he will abide steadfastly before God in thanksgiving and praise, and with uplifted purpose, the spirit of Strength is doubled within him; for then he no longer loses himself in bodily desires, in longings after consolation or sweetness, nor in any other gift of God, nor in rest and peace of the heart. But he will forego all gifts and every consolation, if so be that he may find Him Whom he loves. In this way he is strong who abandons and overcomes the unrest of the heart and earthly things; and doubly strong is he who also foregoes and overpasses every consolation and heavenly gift. Thus a man transcends all creatures, and possesses himself, powerful and free, through the gift of spiritual Strength.


The Gift of Counsel


When, therefore, no creature can either overcome or impede a man from persisting in his single and upward-striving intention, and when through this Strength he is steadfast in praising God, seeking and meaning God above all His gifts, then God bestows upon him the fifth gift, which is the gift of Counsel In this gift the Father draws the man inwardly, and calls him to His right hand, with the chosen in His unity. And the Son says in ghostly wise within him: Follow Me to My Father: one thing is needful." And the Holy Ghost makes the heart expand and flame up in fiery love. And thence comes the life of loving tumult and inward restlessness; for, in him who listens to this counsel, there arises a storm of love, and nothing can satisfy him save God alone. And therefore he abandons himself and all things, that he may find Him in Whom he lives and in Whom all things are one. Here the man should have God in mind in a simple way, and should master himself by means of the reason, and should renounce all self-will, and should await in freedom the unity which he desires, until the day when it is God's pleasure to give it. Thus the spirit of Counsel works in him in two ways: for that man is great, and follows the precept and counsel of God, who abandons himself and all things, and says, with an insatiable, impetuous and burning love: Thy Kingdom come. But that man is greater still, and follows still better the counsel of God, who overcomes his own self-will, and renounces it in love, and says unto God with reverent submission: Thy Will be done in all things and not my will. When Christ our dear Lord approached His passion, He said those very words unto His Father, in humble abnegation of Himself; and they were to Him the most happy, and to us the most wholesome, and to the Father the most lovable, and to the devil the most terrible, words which Christ ever spoke; for, by His renunciation of self-will according to His manhood, we are all saved. In this way the will of God now becomes to the loving and humble man the highest joy, and the greatest desire of his ghostly feelings: even though this will should lead him to hell, which is impossible. And here nature is cast down into the depths, and God is exalted most highly; and this man becomes capable of receiving all the gifts of God; for he has denied himself, and has renounced his own self, and has given all for all. And he therefore asks nothing and wills nothing but that which God wishes to give him. That which God wills, this is his joy; and he who surrenders himself to God in love is the most free of all men living. He lives without care, for God cannot lose that which is His.

Now mark this: although God knows all hearts, yet such a man is often tempted and tried of Him, whether he is able to renounce himself in freedom: and by this, he may then become enlightened, and may live for the glory of God and also for his own salvation. And that is why God sometimes takes him from His right hand to His left, from heaven into hell, from all blessedness into great misery; so that it seems to him as though he were forsaken and despised of God and of all creatures. If, then, he has formerly renounced himself and his own will in love and in joy, so that he sought not himself but the good pleasure of God, he will easily renounce himself also in pains and misery, so that in these too he will seek not himself but always the glory of God. He who is willing to work great things is willing also to suffer great things; but to bear and to suffer in resignation is nobler and more pleasing to God, and more satisfying to our spirit, than to work great things in a like resignation, for it is more contrary to our nature. And this is why our spirit is more exalted and our nature more cast down by grievous suffering than by great works done with equal love. When a man maintains himself in this resignation, without any other preference, right as one who neither wills nor knows anything else, then he possesses the spirit of Counsel in two ways; for he satisfies the will and the counsel of God in his working and his suffering, by self-surrender, and by submissive obedience. And his nature is adorned most gloriously: and he is capable of being enlightened according to


The Gift of Understanding


And therefore God gives him the sixth gift, which is the spirit of Understanding. This gift we have already likened to a fountain with three rills, for it establishes our spirit in the unity, it reveals Truth and it brings forth a wide and general love. This gift may also be likened to sunshine, for by its shining the sun fills the air with a simple brightness and lights all forms, and shows the distinctions of all colours. And thereby it shows forth its own power; and its heat is common to the whole world, bringing forth fruits and useful things. So likewise does the first ray of this gift bring about simplicity within the spirit. And this simplicity is penetrated by a particular radiance even as the air of the heavens by the splendour of the sun. For the grace of God, which is the ground of all gifts, maintains itself essentially like to a simple light in our potential understanding: and, by means of this simple light our spirit is made stable and onefold and enlightened, and fulfilled of grace and Divine gifts: and here it is like unto God through grace and Divine love. And since the spirit is now like unto God, and means and loves God alone above all gifts, it will no longer be satisfied by likeness, nor by a created brightness; for it has both by nature and above nature a primal tendency towards the Abysmal Being from which it has flowed forth. And the Unity of the Divine Being eternally draws back all likeness into its unity. And here the spirit is enkindled into fruition, and it melts into God as into its eternal rest; for the grace of God is to God even as the sunshine is to the sun, and the grace of God is the means and the way which leads us to God. And for this reason it shines within us in simplicity, and makes us deiform, that is, like unto God. And this likeness perpetually merges itself in God, and dies in God, and becomes one with God, and remains one, for charity makes us one with God, and causes us to remain one and to dwell in the One. Nevertheless we keep the eternal likeness in the light of grace or of glory; thereby we possess ourselves actively in charity and in the virtues. And we keep the union with God, above our activity, in the nakedness of our spirit, in the Divine light, where we possess God in rest, above all virtues. For charity in the likeness must ever be at work; and union with God in fruitive love must ever be at rest. And this is the working of love; for in one "Now" and at the same time love works and rests in its Beloved. And the one is strengthened by the other; for the higher the love, the greater the rest; and the greater the rest, the deeper the love; for the one lives in the other, and whosoever loves not, rests not, and whosoever rests not, loves not. And yet, some good men think that they neither love nor rest in God; and this thought itself comes from love. Because they desire to love more than they can, it seems to them that their love falls short. And yet in this work they taste love and rest; for none save the resigned, emptied and enlightened man can understand how one may love in labour and rest in fruition. Yet every lover is one with God in rest, and like unto God in the works of love; for God in His most high nature, of which we bear the likeness, dwells in fruition in eternal rest according to His Essential Unity, but works in eternal activity according to the Trinity: and the one is the perfection of the other; for rest abides in the Unity, and work in the Trinity. And thus they dwell together throughout eternity. And, therefore, if a man is to taste of God, he must love and if he will love, then he may taste. But if he lets himself be satisfied with other things, he shall not be able to taste what God is. And therefore we must possess ourselves in simplicity, in virtue, and in likeness, and God above ourselves through love in rest and unity. And this is the first way in which the man who is common to all is made stable.

When the air is fulfilled with the brightness of the sun, the beauty and the wealth of the whole world are revealed, and the eyes of men become enlightened and rejoice in the manifold diversity of colours. And so it is, when we are onefold within ourselves, and our power of understanding is enlightened and the Spirit of Understanding shines through it. Then we can become aware of the high attributes which are in God, and which are the causes of all the works which flow forth from Him. Although all men may understand the works, and God through His works; yet no one can truly understand, neither in their appearance nor in their reality, the attributes of the works of God as they are in their ground, save by means of this gift. For this teaches us to seek out and to recognise our own nobleness, and it gives us the power to discern the virtues and all practices, and the way in which we should live without error in accordance with eternal Truth: and he who is enlightened by it can dwell in the spirit, and can, with enlightened reason, rightly apprehend and understand all things in heaven and on earth. And therefore such a one walks in heaven, and beholds and apprehends with all saints the nobility of his Beloved, His incomprehensible height, His abysmal depth, length and breadth, wisdom and truth, His bounty and His unspeakable generosity, and all those loveworthy attributes which are in God our Lover without number, and without limit in His most high nature: for all this is He Himself. Then that enlightened man lowers his eyes, and beholds himself and all other men and all creatures, and observes how God in His free generosity has created them in nature and endowed them in many ways, and how, above nature, it is His pleasure to endow them and to enrich them with Himself, if they will but seek and desire Him. All such reasoning observation of the manifold diversities of the Divine riches rejoices our spirit, if, through Divine love, we have died unto ourselves in God, and if we live and walk in the spirit, and taste of the things which are eternal. This gift of Understanding shows us the unity which we possess in God through the fruitive immersion of love, and also the likeness to God which we have in ourselves through charity and the works of virtue. And it gives to us light and brightness in which we can walk with discernment in the ways of the spirit, and can seek out and recognise God in ghostly similitudes, and also ourselves, and all things according to the mode and the measure of that light and according to the will of God and the greater nobility of our understanding. This is the second degree in which the man who is common to all may be enlightened.

According to the measure in which the air is irradiated by the brightness of the sun, so too the heat increases and brings all things to fruitfulness. When our reason and understanding are so enlightened, that they can recognise and distinguish Divine truth, then the will, that is, the power of love, grows hotter and streams forth in abundant loyalty and love towards all men in common. For this gift, through the knowledge of truth which is imparted to us in its light, establishes in us a wide-stretching love toward all in common. Now the most simple are also the most tranquil, and have the most peace in themselves; and are the most deeply immersed in God; and are most enlightened in understanding, and most fruitful in good works, and in outflowing love toward all in common. And they are hindered least, for they are most like unto God; for God is simplicity in His Being, clarity in His understanding, and outflowing and universal love in His works. And the more we are like unto God in these three things, so much the more closely are we united with Him. And for this reason we must remain simple in our ground, and must apprehend all things by means of enlightened reason, and must flow forth through all things in universal love. So likewise the sun in the heavens, though it abides in itself simple and unchanged, sends forth its light and heat to the whole world in common.

Now understand how we should live with enlightened reason in universal love. The Father is the Origin of the whole Godhead according to Essence and according to Personality. We therefore should bow down in spirit, in humble awe, before the sublimity of the Father: and thereby we possess humility, the foundation of all the virtues. We should fervently adore, that is to say, we should honour and reverence, the mightiness of the Father, because He, in His might, creates and preserves all things out of nothing. And thereby we shall be lifted up in ghostly wise. We should offer praise and thanks and everlasting service to the faithfulness and love of God, Who has freed us from the fetters of the enemy and from eternal death: and thereby we shall be made free. We should present and bewail before the wisdom of God the blindness and ignorance of human nature; and should crave that all men may become enlightened, and may attain to the knowledge of truth: thus God shall be known and honoured by them. We should pray for the mercy of God upon sinners, that thus they may be converted, and may grow in virtue: thus God shall be loved by them with a desirous love. We should give generously to all those who have need of it of the rich treasures of God, that therewith they may all be filled, and may flow back towards God; and thus God shall be possessed by them all. We should offer to the Father, with awe and reverence, all the service and all the works which Christ, according to His manhood, fulfilled in love: thus all our prayers shall be heard. We should also offer to the Father in Christ Jesus all the fervent devotion of the angels and the saints and the just: so we shall be united with them all in the glory of Godly We should also offer up to the Father the whole service of Holy Church, and the Holy Sacrifice of all the priests, and all that we may achieve and think, in the name of Christ; that thereby we may go out to meet God through Christ, and may become like unto Him in universal love, and may transcend all likeness in simplicity, and may be united with Him within the Essential Unity. We should ever abide in oneness with God, and should eternally flow forth with God and all His saints in universal love, and continually return with thankfulness and praise, and immerse ourselves in fruitive love in the Essential Rest. This is the richest life of which I know: and in it we possess the gift of Understanding.


The Gift of Wisdom


Now understand this well: when we turn within ourselves in contemplation, the fruitive unity of God is like to a darkness, a somewhat which is unconditioned and incomprehensible. And the spirit turns inward through love and through simplicity of intention, because it is active in all virtues, offering itself up in fruition above all virtues. In this loving introversion, there arises the seventh gift, which is the spirit of Savouring Wisdom; 63 and it saturates the simplicity of our spirit, soul and body, with wisdom and with ghostly savours. And it is a ghostly touch or stirring within the unity of our spirit; and it is an inpouring and a source of all grace, all gifts and all virtues. And, in this touch of God, each man savours his exercise and his life according to the power of the touch and the measure of his love. And this Divine stirring is the inmost mediator between God and ourselves, between rest and activity, between the conditioned and the unconditioned, between eternity and time. And God works this ghostly touching within us first of all, before all gifts; and yet it is known and tasted by us last of all. For only when we have lovingly sought God in all our practices even to the inward deeps of our ground, do we first feel the gushing in of all the graces and gifts of God; and we feel this touch in the unity of our highest powers, above reason, but not without reason, for we understand in truth that we are touched. But if we would know what this is and whence it comes, then reason and all creaturely observation fail. For though the air be illuminated by the sunlight, and the eyes be sharp and sound, if one would follow the rays which bring the brightness, and look at the disc of the sun, the eyes would fail in their activity, and would only receive the lustre of the rays in a passive way. So likewise, the reflection of the Incomprehensible Light in the unity of our highest power is so intense that all creaturely activity which works in distinction must fail. And here our activity must passively endure the interior working of God, which is the source of all Divine gifts. For could we receive God Himself into our comprehension, He would give Himself to us without intermediary; but this is impossible to us because we are too narrow and too little to comprehend God. And therefore He pours His gifts into us according to the measure of our comprehension and the worthiness of our practices. For the fruitful unity of God ever abides above the unity of our powers and ever demands of us likeness in love and in virtues. And that is why we are touched again and again, that we may each time be renewed and become more like Him in the virtues. And, through these renewed touches, the spirit falls into hunger and thirst, and would taste through and through, and pass through and through the whole abyss in a storm of love, that thereby it may be satisfied. Hence there comes an eternal, hungry craving, and an eternal unsatisfied desire. For all loving spirits desire and strive after God, each according to its nobleness and the measure in which it has been touched by God; yet God remains eternally incomprehensible by way of our active desires, and therefore there abides in us, together with all saints, an eternal hunger, and an eternal desirous introversion. And in the meeting with God, the radiance and the heat are so great and so limitless that all spirits must fail in their activity, and must melt and vanish away in sensible love in the unity of their spirit. And here they must passively endure as sheer creatures the working of God. And here our spirit and Divine grace and all our virtues are one sensible love without activity; for our spirit has spent itself and has itself become love. And here the spirit is simple and susceptible of all gifts and is capable of every virtue. And, in this ground of sensible love, there dwells the gushing spring, that is, the inpouring or inward working of God, which at every hour moves us and urges us and draws us inward and causes us to flow forth into new works of virtue. Thus I have shown to you the ground and the condition of all the virtues.

Next: Chapter :LXIV. Of the Highest Degree of the Most Interior Life