The Ways to Perfect Religion, by John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, being Prisoner in the Tower of London

Sister Elizabeth, gladly I would write unto you something that might be to the health of your soul and furtherance of it in holy religion. But well I know that without some fervour in the love of Christ, religion cannot be to you savoury, nor any work of goodness can be delectable, but every virtuous deed shall seem laborious and painful. For love maketh every work appear easy and pleasant, though it be right displeasant of itself. And contrariwise right easy labour appeareth grievous and painful, when the soul of the person that doeth the deed hath no desire nor love in doing of it. This thing may well appear by the life of hunters, the which out of doubt is more laborious and painful than is the life of religious persons, and yet nothing sustaineth them in their labour and pains but the earnest love and hearty desire to find their game. Regard no less my writing, good sister, though to my purpose I use the example of hunters, for all true Christian souls be called hunters, and their office and duty is to seek and hunt for to find Christ Jesu. And, therefore. Scripture in many places exhorteth us to seek after Him, and assureth that He will be found of them that diligently seek after Him — Invenieiur ab his qui quaerunt eum. That is to say. He will be found of them that seek Him; well happy are all those that can find Him, or can have any scent of Him in this life here. For that scent, as Saint Paul saith, is the scent of the very life. And the devout souls, where they feel this scent, they run after Him apace — Curremus in odorem unguentorutn tuorum. That is to say, we shall run after the scent of Thy sweet ointments. Seeing then all devout souls may be called hunters, I will further prosecute the comparison made before between the life of the hunters and the life of the religious persons after this manner.

A Comparison between the Life of Hunters and the Life of Religious Persons

What life is more painful and laborious of itself than is the life of hunters, which most early in the morning break their sleep and rise when others do take their rest and ease? And in his labour he may use no plain highways and the soft grass, but he must tread upon the fallows, run over the hedges and creep through the thick bushes, and cry all the long day upon his dogs, and so continue without meat or drink until the very night drive him home. These labours be unto him pleasant and joyous, for the desire and love that he hath to see the poor hare chased with dogs.

Verily, verily, if he were compelled to take upon him such labours, and not for this cause, he would soon be weary of them, thinking them full tedious unto him; neither would he rise out of his bed so soon, nor fast so long, nor endure these other labours, unless he had a very love therein. For the earnest desire of his mind is so fixed upon his game that all these pains be thought to him but very pleasures. And therefore I may well say that love is the principal thing that maketh any work easy, though the work be right painful of itself, and that without love no labour can be comfortable to the doer. The love of his game delighteth him so much that he careth for no worldly honour, but is content with full simple and homely array. Also the goods of the world he seeketh not for, nor studieth how to attain them; for the love and desire of his game so greatly occupieth his mind and heart. The pleasures also of his flesh he forgetteth by weariness and wasting of his body in earnest labour. All his mind, all his soul, is busied to know where the poor hare may be found. Of that is his thought, and of that is his communication, and all his delight is to hear and speak of that matter, every other matter but this is tedious for him to give ear unto; in all other things he is dull and unlusty, in this only quick and stirring; for this also to be done, there is no office so humble, nor so vile, that he refuseth not to serve his own dogs himself, to bathe their feet and to anoint them where they be sore, yea, and to cleanse their stinking kennel, where they shall lie and rest them. Surely if religious persons had so earnest a mind and desire to the service of Christ as have these hunters to see a course at a hare, their life should be unto them a very joy and pleasure.

For what other be the pains of religion but these that I have spoken of? That is to say, much fasting, crying and coming to the choir, forsaking of worldly honours, worldly riches, fleshly pleasures and communication of the world, humble service and obedience to her sovereign, (i.e., religious superior) and charitable dealing to her sister; which pains in every point the hunter taketh and sustaineth more largely for the love that he hath to his game, than doeth many a religious person for the love of Christ. For albeit the religious person riseth at midnight, which is painful to her in very deed, yet she went before that to her bed at a convenient hour, and also cometh after to her bed again. But the hunter riseth early, and so continueth forth all the long day, no more returning to his bed until the very night, and yet peradventure he was late up the night before, and full often up all the long nights. And though the religious woman fast until it be noon, the which must be to her painful, the hunter yet taketh more pain, which fasteth until the very night, forgetting both meat and drink for the pleasure of his game. The religious woman singeth all the forenoon in the choir, and that also is laborious unto her, but yet the hunter singeth not, but he crieth, hallooeth and shouteth all the long day and hath more greater pains. The religious woman taketh much labour in coming to the choir and sitting there so long a season, but yet no doubt of it more labour taketh the hunter in running over the fallow, and leaping over the hedges, and creeping through the bushes than that can be. And would to God that in other things, that is to say, touching worldly honours, worldly riches, worldly pleasures — would to God that the religious persons many of them might profit as much in mindfulness in seeking of Christ, as the hunter doeth in seeking of his game, and yet all their comfort were to commune and speak of Christ, as the hunters have all their joy to speak of the poor hare, and of their hunting.

And furthermore, would to God the religious persons would content themselves with the humble service done to their sovereign, and with charitable behaviour unto their sisters, and with as good a heart and mind as the hunters acquit them to serve their hounds. I wot it is a thing much more reasonable to love and serve reasonable creatures made to the image of Almighty God, rather than to love and serve dogs which be unreasonable creatures. And rather our duty were to speak of Christ, and of things belonging to His honour, than of the vain worldly matters which be but very trifles indeed. And also with more attentive mind we should seek after our Saviour Christ Jesu, to know our very comfort in Him — wherein resteth the great merit of our souls — than the hunters should seek after the hare, which when they have gotten they have no great gains thereby. But as I have said, the cause why so many religious persons so diligently pursue not the ways of religion as do the hunters, is the want of the observation of their game, which is nothing else but the lack of love. For verily, as I think, the earnest love and hearty desire of game maketh all labours and pains joyous unto the hunter. And if there v/ere in religious persons as great favour and love to the service of God, as be in hunters to their game, all their life should be a very paradise and heavenly joy in this world. And contrariwise without this fervour of love it cannot be but painful, weary and tedious to them.

My purpose therefore, dear sister, is to minister unto you some common considerations which if you will often resort unto by due remembrance and so by diligent prayer call upon Almighty God for His love, you shall now by His grace attain it.

The First Consideration

The first consideration may be this: First consider by your own mind and reason that Almighty God of His own singular goodness and free will did create you and make you of naught, whereunto He was not bound by any necessity, nor drawn by any commodity that might rise upon Him by your creation. No other thing moved Him but His very goodness and special favour that He bare unto you, long or ever He did make you. This, good sister, take for a very truth and firmly believe it, for so it is in very deed; innumerable creatures, more than ever were made or ever shall be made, He might have made if it had been so pleasing unto Him. For how many, suppose you, married men and married women have been and shall be hereafter in this world, that never had nor never shall have any children, yet they full gladly would have had, and by possibility of nature might have had many, if it had so pleased Almighty God to have made and to have given unto them children. But all those be left unmade, and amongst them He might have left you also unmade, and never have put His hand to the making of you if He had so would. Nevertheless, as I said, it pleased His goodness herein to prefer you of His special favour that He bore unto you, leaving unmade others more innumerable, electing you and appointing you to be made, refusing and setting apart all them which would, peradventure, have considered His special grace and favour more lovingly than you hitherto have done, and would have studied more for His pleasure and service than ever you did; and you occupy the room and place that some of them might have occupied by like favour as Almighty God hath shewed unto you. Ah, dear sister, how much should this one consideration move you to the earnest love of this our so gracious a Lord, that thus hath appointed and chosen you to be His creature before so many others, where He might have taken any of them at His pleasure and repelled you and left you as naught without any manner of being!

The Second Consideration

The second consideration is this: Where there is many manner of beings, some creatures have a goodly being, some have an ungoodly being. It is a more goodly being margarite (i.e., a pearl) of a precious stone than of a pebble stone; of the fair bright gold than of rusty iron; of a goodly pheasant than of a venomous serpent; of a pretty fawn than of a foul toad; of a reasonable soul than of an unreasonable beast. And it is not to be doubted but Almighty God might have given to any of them what being soever He would, and might have transformed each of those into the nature and kind of any of the other at His pleasure and will. For of the stones He might make men, as in the Gospel our Saviour doth affirm: Potens est Deus de lapidibus istis suscitare filios Abrahae, Almighty God hath the power to make of these stones the children of Abraham. And contrariwise He might of men have made stones, as the wife of Lot was turned into a salt stone. And in like wise me or you or any other man or woman, He might have made a stone, or a serpent, or a toad, for His pleasure. There is no creature so foul, so horrible, or so ungodly, but He might put you in the same condition that the most loathly of them be put in, and them, in contrariwise, He might have put in the same condition that you be in. Consider now, by your reason, that if you had been made in the hkeness of an owl, or of an ape, or of a toad, how deformed you should have been, and in how wretched and miserable condition. And thank your Lord God that hath given you a more excellent nature, yea, such a nature as excelleth in nobleness, in dignity, all other bodily natures; for it is made to the very likeness and image of Almighty God, whereunto none other bodily creature doth reach near. Metals nor stones, be they never so precious, neither herbs nor trees, neither fishes nor fowls, neither any manner of beast, be they never so noble in their kind, doth attain to this high point of nobleness to have in them the image and likeness of Almighty God, but only man.

Forasmuch then as our Lord God might have given this excellent dignity to other innumerable creatures, as to beasts, to fowls, to fishes, totrees, to herbs, to metals, to stones, and hath not so done, but before all those hath elected and chosen you to bear His image and likeness and to be endued with a reasonable soul, how much should his loving dealing move you to enforce yourself with all the strength and power of your heart and mind to love Him therefore again.

The Third Consideration

The third consideration is this: That whereas, notwithstanding this great and excellent gift, you, nevertheless, by reason of original sin wherewith you were born of your mother into this world, had lost the great inheritance above in heaven and purchased everlasting imprisonment in hell, He of His great and singular goodness had provided you to be born within the precincts of Christendom, where you have been instructed in the doctrine of His taith and received the holy Sacrament of Baptism, and have been made a Christian woman, whereby you did receive again your inheritance before lost, and have escaped the most horrible danger of everlasting damnation. How many, suppose you, in all the world that be not instructed in this law and faith of Christ, nor have not received the holy Sacrament of Baptism, both noble men and women, both knights and princes, which have great wisdom and reason, and many such as, peradventure, if they were taught it, would more readily apply their minds to Christ’s faith than you do, and more heartily serve Him, honour and love Him than ever you did; and yet, lo! thus graciously hath He provided for you before all them, and hath appointed you to be a Christian woman and to be partaker of all those graces and benefits that belong unto the Christian people, which be so many and so great, that it passeth the wits of men, not only to number but also to think.

And here, good sister, do deeply consider in your soul how much this loving preferment of our Lord God should stir you to love Him again, when He suffereth so innumerable a multitude of men and women to perish and to be lost for ever, amongst whom many do pass you in all natural virtues, both of body and soul, and also would farther pass you in profiting in the law of Christ if they were received thereunto; and yet, I say, He suffereth them to perish everlastingly and perpetually to be damned; and for your safeguard hath provided of His singular goodness and mercy towards you, for the which since it is not possible of your part to recompense, why shall you not with all your power enforce yourself to love His most gracious goodness again, and after your possibility to give unto Him most humble thanks therefor?

The Fourth Consideration

The fourth consideration is this: That where, since that time of your Baptism and that you were made a Christian woman, you have many times unkindly fallen into deadly sin and broken His laws and commandments, setting at naught all those benefits which He before had given to you, following your wretched pleasure to the great displeasure and contempt of His Most High Majesty; and yet He furthermore did not strike you, nor yet revenge Himself upon you rigorously, punishing the transgressors and breakers of His law as He might and should by His righteousness have done. But, contrariwise, He did long spare you by His excellent mercy, and mercifully He did abide your return to Him again by sorrowful repentance and asking of Him mercy for your abominable offences. And where you so did with good hearty mind at any time, He received you to His grace, and by the sacrament of penance you were taken into His favour again, and so yet escape the horrible pains of hell due for your outrageous unkindness. No reason may judge the contrary but that you of good right have deserved them for your foul presumption in breaking of the laws of your Lord God, and preferring your wretched appetites before His pleasure, and following your own wilful desires before His most high commandments. Alas, what miserable condition should you now have been in if He so incontinent after your offences had stricken you by death and had sent you to the horrible pains of hell, where you should not only for a time have bidden, but for ever and without all remedy. No prayers of your friends, no almsdeeds, no such other good works should have relieved you.

Ah, sister, imprint deeply in your soul this inestimable mercy of your Lord God showed unto you through His most gracious and merciful abiding for your return to Him by true repentance and asking of His mercy. For innumerable souls of men and women, for less offences than you have done, lie now in the prison of hell, and shall there continue without end; which if they might have had as great sufferance as you have had, and so long leisure to repent them, they would have taken more sorrowful repentance than ever you took, and do now more sorrowfully repent than ever you did, but that as now cannot profit them, for that sorrow and repentance is now too late. But to my purpose, how may you think that this loving sufferance and gracious abiding of your amendment and merciful accepting of your sorrows and repentance for your great sins, Cometh not of a singular love showed unto you by your Lord God before all them? And shall not this consideration pierce your heart and move you much to love Him again?

The Fifth Consideration

The fifth consideration is this: Peradventure, after that thus by your repentance and asking mercy you were taken to this grace of your God, yet far more grievously and far more unkindly you fell again to sin, and kept not the purpose and promise that before you did make, but more without shame and dread of His highness took your liberty in your sinful ways, abusing His gentleness and presuming upon His mercy, not regarding any benefit or kindness showed by His most excellent goodness unto you before, so defiling your soul by innumerable ways, and making it filthy and more ungoodly than is the sow that waltereth herself in the foul miry puddle, and more pestilently stinketh in the sight of God than is the stinking carrion of a dead dog being rotten and lying in a ditch; yet, nevertheless, for all these misbehaviours, your Lord God of His far-passing goodness hath called you again from your sinful life and hath graciously stirred your soul to forsake your sin and to leave this wretched world and to enter the holy religion. Whereby (after the sentence of holy doctors) your soul is made as clean as it was at your baptism and restored again to the purity and cleanliness of your first innocence; and not only that, but also He hath appointed you to be of the number of them that He assigned for His best beloved spouses. And what high point of singular favour is this? How many women, far better than you, be left behind in this world, not called to this high dignity nor admitted to this most special grace? When the noble King Asuerus, as it is written in the Scripture, commanded many fair maidens to be chosen out and to be seen unto with all things that might make them fair and beautiful and pleasant to his sight, to the intent that they at all times when it should like him to appoint any of them to come to his presence and to be his spouse, they might be the more ready, this thing, no doubt of it, was to them that were thus chosen a comfort, that they were preferred before others, and also every one of them might live in hope to come to the king’s presence and have some likelihood to be accepted for his spouse, in SO much that all others but they were excluded. In like manner it is with religious women. All they, by the gracious calling of the great King of heaven, be gathered into God’s religion and dissevered from the other secular women that be of the world, there a season to abide until they be sufficiently prepared by the holy sacraments and the holy observations of religion to come to His gracious Highness’s presence, and to be brought into His secret chamber above in heaven, there to abide with Him in endless joy and bliss. Blessed is that religious woman that so doth prepare herself for this little time that here she shall tarry by prayer, by meditation, by contemplation, by tears of devotion, by hearty love and burning desire, that after that this transitory lite she may be admitted to the most excellent honour, and not with shame and rebuke be repelled therefrom when the day shall come.

The Sixth Consideration

The sixth consideration that you call well to your remembrance, who it is that doth thus exhort you for to love, verily He is that person that if either you will freely give your love, or else sell your love, He is most worthy to have it above all other. First, if ye were of that mind to give your love free, it were good yet there to bestow it that you should choose such a one, as both in goodliness of person, as also in prowess and wisdom, and good gentle manners may be worthy of your love. For if there be any deformity in him whom you would love, it is an impediment and great let for to love him; but in our Saviour Christ the Son of God is no deformity, for He is all goodly, and surmounteth all other in goodliness; and, therefore, of Him the prophet David affirmeth in this manner: Speciosus forma prae filiis hominum, that is to say, “He is goodly before the children of men.” And of truth much goodly must He needs be that hath so many goodly creatures. Behold the rose, the lily, the violet; behold the peacocks, the pheasant, the popinjay; behold all the other creatures of this world—all these were of His making, all their beauty and goodliness of Him they received it. Wherefore this goodliness describeth that He Himself must needs of necessity be very goodly and beautiful. And for that in the book of Canticles the Spouse describeth His goodliness, saying: Dilectus meus candidas et rubicundus, electus ex millibus that is to say: “He that I love is white and red, chosen out amongst thousands.” And this beauty and goodliness is not mortal, it cannot fade nor perish as doeth the goodliness of other men, which like a flower to-day is fresh and lusty, and to-morrow with a little sickness is withered and vanisheth away. And yet it is sensible to the goodliness of man’s nature, for the which also he is more naturally to be beloved of many. For likeness is the ground of love, like always doth covet like, and the nearer in likeness that any person be, the sooner they may be knit together in love. The same likeness He hath and you have, like body and like soul, touching His manhood; your soul is also like unto Him in His Godhead, for after the image and similitude of it your soul is made. Furthermore of His might and power you may be likewise a certain season. He made this world by the only commandment of His mouth, and gave to the herbs and all other creatures their virtue and might that they have; and may also by His power save and damn creatures, either to lift them up in body and soul into heaven above, or else to throw them down into ever-during pains of hell. If ye doubt of His wisdom, behold all this world, and consider how every creature is set with another, and every of them by himself, how the heavens are apparelled with stars, the air with fowls, the water with fishes, the earth with herbs, trees and beasts, how the stars be clad with Hght, the fowls with feathers, the fishes with scales, the beasts with hair, herbs and trees with leaves, and flowers with scent, wherein doth well appear a great and marvellous wisdom of Him that made them. Finally His good and gentle manner is all full of pleasure and comfort so kind, so friendly, so liberal and beneficious, so piteous and merciful, so ready in all opportunities, so mindful and circumspect, so dulcet and sweet in communication. For as Scripture saith: Non hahet amaritudinem conversatio vel taedium convictus illius, sed laetitiam et gaudium, that is to say: “His manners be so sweet and pleasant that the conversation of Him hath no bitterness; yea, His company hath no loathsomeness nor weariness in it, but all gladness and joy.” Here peradventure you will say unto me, how may I love that I see not? if I might see Him with all the conditions ye speak of, I could with all my heart love Him. Ah! good sister, that time is not come yet; you must, as I said, now for the time prepare yourself in cleanness of body and soul, against that time; so when that time Cometh you may be able and worthy to see Him, or else you shall be excluded from Him with the unwise virgins, of whom the Gospel telleth that they were shut out from His presence with great shame and confusion, because they had not sufficiently prepared themselves. Therefore, good sister, for this time be not negligent to prepare yourself with all good works, that then you may be admitted to come unto His presence, from the which to be excluded it shall be a more grievous pain than any pain of hell. For, as Chrysostom saith: Si decem mille gehennas quis dixerit, nihil tale est quale ab illa beata visione excidere, that is to say: “If one would rehearse unto me ten thousand hells, yet all that should not be so great pains as it is to be excluded from the blessed sight of the face of Christ.”

The Seventh Consideration

The seventh consideration is this: where now it appeareth unto you, that if you will give your love freely, there is none so worthy to have it as Jesus the Son of the Virgin Mary. I will further shew unto you that if you will not freely give it, but you will look peradventure to have something again, yet there is none so well worthy to have it as He is; for if another will give more for it than He, I will not be against it; take your advantage. But sure I am there is none other to whom your love is so dear, and of so great a price as it is unto Him, nor any that will come nigh unto that that He hath given or will give. If His benefits and kindness shewed towards you, whereof I spake somewhat before, were by you well pondered, they be no small benefits, and especially the love of so great a prince, and that He would thus love you, and prefer you before so many innumerable creatures of His, and that when there was in you no love, and when you could not skill of love; yea, and that, that more is, when you were enemy unto Him, yet He loved you, and so wonderfully that for your love, and to wash you from sin, and to deliver your soul from the extreme peril, He shed His most precious blood, and suffered the most shameful, the most cruel and the most painful death of the cross; His head to be pierced with thorns. His hands and feet to be through holed with nails, His side to be lanced with a spear, and all His most tender body to be torn and rent with whips and scourges. Believe this for a very truth, good sister, that for your sake He suffered all, as if there had been no more in all the world but only yourself, which I will declare more largely unto you in the next consideration following.

Believe it in the meantime certainly, for so it is indeed, and if you believe it not, you do a great injury and shew a full unkindness unto Him that thus much hath done for you.

And if this belief truly settle in your heart, it is to me a marvel if you can content your heart without the love of Him, of Him, I say, that thus dearly hath loved you, and doth love you still. For what other lover will do thus much for your love? What creature in all the world will die for your sake? What one person will part with one drop of his heart blood for your sake? When then the Son of God, the Prince of heaven, the Lord of Angels, hath done this for your sake, which thing no other creature will do, what frost could have congealed your heart that it may not relent against so great an heat of love? If He, so excellent in all nobleness, should have given you but one favourable countenance from the heavens above, it had been a more precious benefit than ever you could recompense by your love again. It were impossible for your love to recompense that one thing. But how much rather when He hath descended into this wretched world for your sake, and here hath become man, and hath endured all misery pertaining unto man, save only sin and ignorance, and finally hath suffered this great horrible death for your love, how shall you ever now recompense this by any love or service to be done for your pity? And He hath not only done all this for your sake, but also hath prepared for you after this transitory life a reward above in heaven, so great that never mortal eye saw the like, nor any tongue can express, nor yet any heart can think. Ah, sister, when your wretched soul shall hence depart, which cannot be very long here, who shall give you refreshing the space of one hour? Good therefore it is that you look unto yourself and upon Him bestow your love, the which hitherto hath done most for you and best hath deserved it beyond all other; and yet after this life He will give for it a reward so inestimable that it shall never fail you.

The Eighth Consideration

The eighth consideration is this: that albeit, there are many others which also are beloved of Christ Jesu, yet the love that He sheweth to them, nothing minisheth His love towards you, as if there were no more beloved of Him in all the kind of man. This may evidently be shewed unto you by this example following. If before any image of our Saviour were disposed and set in a long row many glasses, some great and some little, some high and some low, a convenient distance from the image, so that every one of them might receive a presentment of the image, it is no doubt but in every one of these glasses should appear the very likeness of the same image. I will not say but this likeness should be longer in the great glasses than in the less, and clearer in the better cleansed glasses, and in them that were nigh unto the image, than in the others that were not so well cleansed and much farther off. But as to the likeness itself it shall be as full and as whole in every one glass as though there were but one.

Now to my purpose, if you consider likewise that all the good souls that be scoured from deadly sin be in the manner of glasses set in an order to receive the love of our Saviour Christ Jesu, such souls as by true penance doing, by sighing, by weeping, by praying, by watching, by fasting and by other like, be the better scoured and cleansed from the spots and malice of deadly sin, they be the brighter glasses and more clearly receive this love, and such also be near unto our Saviour, for nothing putteth us far from Him but only sin. And therefore they that have more diligently scoured their souls from the rust of sin be nearer unto Him than the others that so have not done. Such souls also as of their part enforce themselves to a great love and to a more ample fervour, they do enlarge the capacity of their souls to receive a more large abundance of love; again, those that less enforce them, have a less capacity in receiving, and therefore so much the less they receive of this love, even as a man that openeth his bosom wide and enlargeth it, is more able to receive a greater thing into it than he that doeth not.

But yet, as I have said before of the glasses, every one of the souls receives as full and as whole a love of Jesu Christ as though there were no more souls in all the world but that one alone, for the love of Christ Jesus [is] infinite. And therefore when innumerable of souls have every one of them received as much the love of Christ Jesu as to every one of them is possible, yet hath He still in Himself love sufficient for infinite more, and this His love thereby is not in any point diminished nor lessened, though it be divided into many, be the number of them never so great. None of them that be beloved receive the less because of the multitude of his fellows, nor if he had no more but himself he should not thereby have any more abundance of love to his part, but according to the cleansing and capacity of his soul and nighness unto Christ, his part in love shall be the less or more. Wherefore, good sister, I pray you be diligent to scour your soul clean, and to enforce your soul on your part fervently to love your spouse Christ Jesu, and draw nigh unto Him with entire devotion, and then undoubtedly you shall be partner to the more plenteous abundance of His love, notwithstanding any other multitude which beside is beloved of Him; for He nevertheless is as studious of you and as mindful and as fervently careth for your weal as though there were no more beloved of Him but you alone in all this world.

The Ninth Considefation

The ninth consideration is this: where peradventure you would object to me again and say: “Brother, if it be thus as you say, that my Lord Jesu loveth me so much, and is so mindful of me, and so fervently intendeth my weal, what need me to care whatsoever I do? He will not cast me away; He will not forsake me nor suffer me to perish.” Good sister, without doubt as I have said, our Saviour Christ Jesu is in love towards you, and He is mindful and more loving towards you than I can express. And sure you may be that He will never cast you away, nor forsake you, if you before cast not yourself away, nor forsake yourself. But if you give any place to sin in your soul, and suffer it to enter upon you, verily then you forsake yourself and cast yourself away, and willingly destroy yourself, that is your deed and not His; for He never forsaketh any creature unless they before have forsaken themselves. And if they will forsake themselves, were they never in so great favour with Him before, they then incontinently lose His favour. The which thing well appeareth in His first spiritual creatures the noble angels, Lucifer and his company, which were created in excellent brightness, and were much in the favour of Almighty God, they presumptuously offended Him in pride; for the which not only they lost His favour, but also their marvellous brightness became incontinently horrible, foul, and were expelled out of the glorious kingdom of heaven that they were in, and thrown into perpetual darkness, into the prison of hell.

The first man Adam also, who was created in singular honour, and was put into paradise, a place full of gladness, there to live in comfort of all pleasure, the which was done to him for a singular love that Almighty God had towards him; yet anon as he fell to sin he was in like manner expelled out from that pleasure, and sent into this miserable world to endure misery and pain.

If those noble creatures which were lifted up into so great favour with Almighty God, so lightly by their misdemeanour in sin lost His gracious favour, let none other creature think but if they admit any sin to their soul, they shall be likewise excluded out of His favour. For sin is so odious unto Almighty God, that not the dearest friends that ever He had in all the world, but if there were found in their souls any deadly sin after death, they should never be received into the joy of heaven. Not the blessed Mary Magdalene for all her love towards Him, nor yet His own blessed Mother that bare Him into this world, if one deadly sin were found in their souls, they should incontinent be thrown into the dark dungeon of hell. Wherefore, good sister, say not, if His love be so much upon you, and He so desirously intendeth your profit, that you may do what you list, you need not to care what you do; but contrariwise, the more that He loveth you, the more you should take heed unto yourself and beware that you offend Him not, for so did the Blessed Mary Magdalene, of whom I spake before. She, notwithstanding the great love that both our Saviour had to her and she unto Him again, for the which also her sins were forgiven her, yet after His death she fled from the company of men, and lived in the wilderness far from any worldly comfort, in great wailing, fasting and prayer and such other painfulness of her body, and was nothing the less diligent to keep herself warily from sin, for the great love that our Lord and Saviour had to her; but for that the more studiously she did avoid and eschew everything whereby she might run into any displeasure against Him.

The Tenth Consideration

The tenth consideration is this: it were well done, and much it should further this cause if you truly esteem of how little value your love is, how vain, how light and how trifling a thing it is, and how few there be that would much regard it or set much price thereby, for few there be or none to whom it may do any profit or avail. Contrariwise, you should consider the love of your spouse, the sweet Jesu, how excellent it is, how sure, how fast, how constantly abiding, how many have much specially regarded it. Martyrs innumerable, both men and women, for His love have shed their blood and have endured every kind of martyrdom, were it never so cruel, were it never so terrible. No pain, no torment, might compel them to forsake His love; so desirous were they of His love that rather than they would forego it, they gave no force of the loss of all this world beside, and their own life also. So dear and precious was that love to them that all the honours, pleasures and possessions of this life they accounted as very trifles in comparison of that. And what be you in comparison of them, but naughty, wretched and miserable? Where then they, which be now glorious saints above in heaven, so much have valued and so greatly esteemed this most excellent love, and you may have the same love for yours, that is so naughty and so little worth, what should you do of your part? How much should you enforce yourself not only to obtain this love, but studiously to keep it, since that you have it once, and for nothing to depart therefrom! He of His goodness doth not repel any creature from His love, but permitteth them assuredly that if any draw nigh unto Him by love, He will love them again, and give His most precious love for theirs. He sayeth: Ego diligentes vie diligo; that is to say: “I love them that love Me.” And in another place: En qui venit ad me non ejiciam foras; that is to say: “What person soever cometh unto Me, I will not cast him away.” Sister, if you consider this deeply, it should move you to fall down upon your knees and with all your heart and mind say unto your Spouse in this manner:

“O my blessed Saviour Lord Jesu, Thou askest my love, Thou desirest to have my heart, and for my love Thou wilt give me Thy love again. O my sweet Lord, what is this for Thee to desire, which art so excellent? If my poor heart were of so much value as all the hearts of men and women that ever were, if they were put together in one; and if it were as precious and noble as there is price and nobleness in all the orders of angels; if furthermore it did contain in it all bodily and spiritual treasure that is within the compass of heaven or without, yet it were but a little gift to give unto so great a Lord, for His most delicate and precious love to be had of Him again: much rather my love and heart, as it is now naughty, wretched and miserable, so is it but a small gift and of little value. Nevertheless, such as it is, since it is Thy pleasure to have it and Thy goodness doth ask it of me, saying: Praebe mihi cor tuum; that is to say: ‘Give me thy heart’ — I freely give it unto Thee, and I most humbly beseech Thy goodness and mercy to accept it, and so to order me by Thy grace, that I may receive into it the love of nothing contrary to Thy pleasure, but that I always may keep the fire of Thy love, avoiding from it all other contrary love that may in any wise displease Thee.”

The Final Conclusion of All

Now then, good sister, I trust that these considerations, if you often read them with good deliberation, and truly imprint them in your remembrance, they will somewhat inflame your heart with the love of Christ Jesu, and that love once established in you all the other points and ceremonies of your religion shall be easy unto you, and no wit painful; you shall then comfortably do everything that to good religion appertaineth, without any great weariness. Nevertheless, if it so fortune that you at any time begin to feel any dulness of mind, quicken it again by the meditation of death, which I send you here before, or else by some effectual prayer earnestly calling for help and succour upon the most sweet Jesu, thinking, as it is indeed, that is your necessity and that no where else you can have any help but of Him. And if you will use these short prayers following, for every day in the week one, I think it shall be unto you profitable. For thus you may in your heart shortly pray, what company soever you be amongst.

The Prayers be these:

O blessed Jesu, make me to love Thee entirely.
O blessed Jesu, I would fain, but without Thy help I cannot.
O blessed Jesu, let me deeply consider the greatness of Thy love towards me.
O blessed Jesu, give unto me grace heartily to thank Thee for Thy benefits.
O blessed Jesu, give me good will to serve Thee, and to suffer.
O sweet Jesu, give me a natural remembrance of Thy passion.
O sweet Jesu, possess my heart, hold and keep it only to Thee.

These short prayers if you will often say, and with all the power of your soul and heart, they shall marvellously kindle in you this love, so that it shall be always fervent and quick, the which is my especial desire to know in you. For nothing may be to my comfort more than to hear of your furtherance and profiting in God and in good religion, the which our blessed Lord grant you for His great mercy. Amen.

text taken from A Spiritual Consolation and Treatises, by Saint John Fisher, edited by D. O’Connor, 1903; imprimatur by + Bishop Edward Ilsley, Diocese of Birmingham, England, 25 April 1903