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Title: Matelda and the Cloister of Hellfde - Extracts from the Book of Matilda of Magdeburg
Author: Mechthild of Magdeburg, 1210?-
Language: English
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                                MATELDA
                                AND THE
                          CLOISTER OF HELLFDE


                          _BY THE SAME AUTHOR_


  _TREES PLANTED BY THE RIVER_. Crown 8vo, 4s. 6d.

      "This excellent book will commend itself to many a contemplative
    Christian during hours of quiet communion with his own soul and with
    God."--_Christian Commonwealth._

      "A delightful book, and presents points of interest quite
    novel."--_Rock._

      "There are some exquisite sketches of the religious history of
    individuals who exerted a powerful influence in their day, but of
    whom we know nothing now, which will be highly appreciated by every
    spiritually-minded Christian."--_Methodist Times._

      "A deeply interesting book."--_Aberdeen Free Press._


  _THREE FRIENDS OF GOD._ Records from the Lives of John Tauler, Nicholas
        of Basle, Henry Suso. By Frances A. Bevan, Author of "The Story
        of Wesley," etc. Crown 8vo, 5s.

      "Fascinating glimpses of the strange religious life of mediæval
    Europe. No student of history and human nature can fail to be
    interested by this book, while to pious minds it will bring stimulus
    and edification."--_Scotsman_.


  _HYMNS OF TER STEEGEN, SUSO, AND OTHERS._ Edited by Mrs. Frances Bevan,
        Author of "Trees Planted by the River," etc. Crown 8vo, 1s. 6d.

      "Some of the hymns are very beautiful, calculated to strengthen the
    weary, comfort the sad, stimulate the down-hearted, and draw the soul
    nearer to God."--_Record._

      "The literary quality of many of the hymns will be welcome to many
    lovers of sacred poetry."--_Manchester Guardian._



                                MATELDA
                                AND THE
                          CLOISTER OF HELLFDE


                       EXTRACTS FROM THE BOOK OF
                          MATILDA OF MAGDEBURG

                       SELECTED AND TRANSLATED BY
                             FRANCES BEVAN

                               AUTHOR OF
                        "THREE FRIENDS OF GOD,"
                     "TREES PLANTED BY THE RIVER,"
             "HYMNS OF TER STEEGEN, SUSO, AND OTHERS," ETC.

                               __London__
                           JAMES NISBET & CO.
                           21 BERNERS STREET
                                  1896

                 _Printed by_ Ballantyne, Hanson & Co.
                       _At the Ballantyne Press_



                                PREFACE


To most of us the Matelda of Dante has been scarcely more than a shape
existing in the mind of a poet. It may be that she now stands before us
not only as a woman of flesh and blood, but as one who has for us in
these days a marvellous message. One of the great cloud of witnesses to
the love and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, speaks to us in a German
Béguine, who is now recognised by many as the original of her who
conducted Dante into "the terrestrial Paradise."

Whether or no we regard her as the guide of Dante, may she be to us a
means whereby we "forget the things that are behind, and press forward to
those that are before." May she yet be to some sorrowful souls the guide
into the blessed Garden of God--the garden no longer guarded by a flaming
sword, but opened to the sinner who "has washed his robes, and made them
white in the Blood of the Lamb." May some to whom the future is dark and
fearful, and who carry as a heavy burden the sin of past years, be led on
across the river into the light, the sweetness, and the rest of the green
pastures of Christ--the sin and sorrow left behind, remembered no more,
for the Lord remembers them not. And in His Presence, where there is the
fulness of joy, the sufferings of this present time can also be
forgotten, for sorrow rejoiceth before Him.

Six persons have up to this time been regarded as the original of the
Matelda of Dante. The Countess Matilda of Tuscany most commonly till
modern times; Matilda, mother of Otto the Great; the nun of Hellfde,
Matilda of Hackeborn; the "gentle lady" of the _Vita Nuova_, and of the
_Convito_; Vanna, the lover of Guido Cavalcanti; and finally, the
Béguine, also of Hellfde, known as Matilda of Magdeburg.

The claims of the Countess Matilda appear to rest on her name only,
without further traits of resemblance; those of Matilda of Hackeborn have
been disproved by the chronological researches of Preger; of the rest,
only Matilda of Magdeburg shows any resemblance striking enough to lead
to the conclusion that she was in the mind of Dante when he described the
lady who sang the sweet songs of Paradise. Scartazzini, who regards the
gentle lady of the _Vita Nuova_ as the true Matelda, can assign no valid
reason for doubting that Matilda the Béguine has a better claim. I think
that few can doubt it who have carefully read the proofs furnished by the
ancient records of the convent of Hellfde, and by the book of Matilda of
Magdeburg. These proofs will be found summarised in a brochure published
at Munich in 1873, "Dante's Matelda, _ein akademischer Vortrag von
Wilhelm Preger_."

The extracts from her book, which I have endeavoured to translate, are
chosen from the passages in her prose and poetry which best exemplify the
Divine teaching, rather than from those which identify her with the
Matelda of Dante. That which is useless, except for purposes of historic
research, has been passed over. The writing of Mechthild, especially when
in rhyme and measure, is difficult to translate, and I am conscious that
the rendering of her poems is extremely imperfect.

In one case extracts from more than one have been placed together; in
others, only a part of a longer poem has been given. The object has been
rather to pass on Mechthild's message than to give an adequate idea of
the whole book, a great deal of which is defaced by the superstition of
her times.

But the truth which is eternal is found richly in the midst of much that
is false, and thus far, she being dead yet speaketh. That she learnt so
fully much that we are now very slow to learn, is a fact the more
remarkable when we consider, how lost and buried was the Gospel teaching
of the Apostles in the ages that succeeded them. Their "successors" had
been too often employed in "darkening counsel by words without
knowledge." All the more do the love and wisdom of God shine forth in the
teaching which those who turned to Him only, received from His lips.
Mechthild was one who sat at His feet and heard His words, and it is well
for us to hear that which she learnt of Him. A somewhat free translation
has been necessary, in order to render in English the equivalent to
German mediæval language; but I trust that the sense and meaning have
been faithfully, however unworthily, rendered.



                        The Cloister of Hellfde


_How, and by whom the cloister was founded and built, in which the two
blessed maidens, Mechthild and Gertrude, served God._

When men had counted one thousand two hundred and nineteen years since
the birth of Christ our dear Lord and Saviour, it came to pass, by the
special grace of God, that the mighty and noble Count Burkhardt of
Mansfeldt built a convent of nuns near to the castle of Mansfeldt. This
convent was dedicated by Count Burkhardt to Mary the Blessed Virgin; and
therein did he place pious nuns, taken from the convent of S. James,
called Burckarsshoff, of the Cistercian order, near Halberstatt.

The wife of the above-mentioned Count Burkhardt was a Countess of
Schwarzbruck, Elisabeth by name. She was the mother of two daughters--one
named Gertrude, the other Sophia. Gertrude married a young Count of
Mansfeldt, the cousin of Count Burkhardt, and Sophia married a Burggraf
of Querfurdt.

Now Count Burkhardt, in the same year that he finished the building and
furnishing of the aforesaid convent, departed joyfully from this present
life; and after his departure the noble countess, Frau Elisabeth, his
widow, found that the place chosen near the castle of Mansfeldt was not
suitable for a spiritual life, and therefore, in the fifth year after the
death of her lord, by the advice of persons of good understanding, she
removed and rebuilt the convent at a place called Rodardsdorff. And when
it had remained there twenty-four years it was again removed to Helpede
or Hellfde, as the following history relates.

Now when the above-named countess, Frau Elisabeth, had removed the
convent to Rodardsdorff, she betook herself thither, and there did she
serve God, and ended her life well and blissfully.

The first abbess of this convent was Frau Kunigunde of Halberstatt, and a
truly God-fearing and devout woman. And when she had lived seventeen
years at Rodardsdorff, she there died a blessed death in the year 1251.
And on the day following her departure there was chosen by the direction
of the Holy Ghost, as the above-named abbess, Frau Kunigunde, had
predicted, to be abbess in her room, the sister Gertrude, born of the
noble family of Hackeborn, and a sister by birth of the blessed and
marvellously endowed Mechthild, of whom the Book of spiritual graces
gives the history.

This Abbess Gertrude was chosen unanimously, as being of a wholly
spiritual and devout manner of life. She was nineteen years old at the
time of her election, and she filled her office for forty years and
eleven days; and during her time the nuns of the cloister lived holy and
God-fearing lives, and God bestowed upon them marvellous gifts. And when
she had lived fifty-nine years, she was taken away from this world,
joyfully and piously, and entered into the gladness and the glory of the
everlasting kingdom in the year of our Lord 1291.

And when the cloister had now been standing twenty-four years at
Rodardsdorff, and she had been abbess at that place seven years, then for
the third time was the site of the convent changed, and it was renewed
and rebuilt as follows:--

It was seen and observed by Count Hermann of Mansfeldt, a son of Frau
Gertrude, the elder daughter, and Burggraf Burkhardt of Querfurdt, a son
of Frau Sophia, the younger daughter of the mighty Count Burkhardt of
Mansfeldt, the founder of the convent, that at Rodardsdorff there was a
great want of water, so that it could not have been well for the convent
longer to remain there. Therefore these two counts made an exchange of
the convent with the two barons, the Lord Albert and the Lord Ludolf of
Hackeborn, for the manor and village of Hellfde, adding on their part
other estates. And at Hellfde was the cloister for the third time
rebuilt.

The nuns of the convent of Rodardsdorff were removed to the convent of
Hellfde in the year 1258, on the Sunday of the Holy Trinity. To this
inauguration of the convent did the aforesaid two Counts of Mansfeldt and
Querfurdt invite many lords and gentlemen, such as Rupert, the archbishop
of Magdeburg, Bishop Volradt, of Halberstatt, also many other lords and
prelates, spiritual and temporal.

Count Hermann of Mansfeldt had no male issue, but only three daughters.
Two of these, Sophia and Elisabeth, did he place in the convent of
Hellfde, where they lived godly lives. One of them became an able writer,
who wrote many good and useful books for the convent, and afterwards
became the abbess thereof. The other was for a long time prioress, and
was a skilful painter, who laboured industriously at the adorning of the
books and of other things which pertained to the service of God. The
third daughter was given in marriage by Count Hermann of Mansfeldt to a
Baron von Rabbinswalt.

And because the aforesaid Count Hermann had no male heirs, he sold the
castle and the county of Mansfeldt to the Burggraf Burkhardt of
Querfurdt. And thus did Mansfeldt and the land come into the family of
Querfurdt, as also other estates of Count Hermann in the land of
Thuringia.

In the cloister of Hellfde there lived many most excellent persons, the
children of counts and lords, and of nobles and common people. And for
near ninety years the community lived after the manner of cloistered
nuns, a life as it were angelic. And the Lord Jesus was so intimately
known to the persons of this community that they communed with Him, as
with their most dearly beloved Lord and Bridegroom, as one good friend
would speak with another. And the angels of heaven had a special joy and
gladness in beholding this blessed company, of which much might be
written, but which for brevity's sake we will not write, as much is told
of these things in the Book of spiritual graces.

At last, in the year 1342, after the birth of Christ our dear Lord, there
arose a great dispute between the Duke of Brunswick and the Count of
Mansfeldt, whose name was Burkhardt. And this dispute arose because a
Duke of Brunswick, Albert by name, was chosen by some to be Bishop of
Halberstatt, and by others there was chosen the son of Count Burkhardt of
Mansfeldt, whose name was also Albert. And the choice of this latter was
confirmed by the Pope.

Therefore there arose war and fighting, so that the Dukes of Brunswick
invaded the land of the Count of Mansfeldt with rage and violence, and
spoiled and wasted and burned all before them. And by means of this
visitation of God was the convent burned to the ground, and utterly
ruined and destroyed. And as the chronicles relate, it was Duke Albert of
Brunswick (the Bishop-elect) and a lord of Weringenrod, who with their
own hands set fire to the convent. What it was that moved them to do
this, is known to Him who knoweth all things.

There were also several horsemen, and others with cross-bows and other
murderous weapons, who ran to seize the abbess and some of her godly
spiritual children, intending to do them grievous harm. Yet, as the
enemies themselves bore witness, when they were a stone's throw from
these maidens they lost, as it were, their strength and force, and could
proceed no further. And although it was against the will and desire of
Duke Henry of Brunswick (who was also Bishop of Heldesheim) and of Duke
Otto of Brunswick, and of others who were with Duke Albert, and though
these endeavoured with all possible good faith to prevent it, the
cloister was nevertheless pillaged and burnt.

After this, in the year 1346, the convent was for the fourth time again
rebuilt, in the outer part of the town of Eisleben. (From the German
edition of the _Mechthilden Buch_ 1503.)


                        Gertrude Von Hackeborn.

It was during the forty years in which the convent was under the able
direction of the Abbess Gertrude von Hackeborn, that it became
distinguished for the high attainments of its inmates. Gertrude was of
the family of the Barons of Hackeborne, whose castle and manor was
situated a little to the east of the town of Eisleben. At the age of
nineteen she was already marked out, by her spiritual and mental
endowments, as a capable directress of the nuns placed beneath her care.
It was she who persuaded her brothers Albert and Ludolf to give the manor
of Hellfde for the new site of the convent, which had been for
twenty-four years at Rodardsdorff. Many gifts were afterwards given to
the convent by the Barons of Hackeborn, in consideration of the
distinguished place held there by their two sisters, Gertrude and
Matilda.

For a long time Gertrude was supposed to be the author of the book known
as the _Gertruden Buch_, out of which Ter Steegen made the extracts which
he published in his "Lives of Holy Souls," assigning them to the Abbess
Gertrude von Hackeborn. It seems now, however, clearly ascertained that
the book so long attributed to the abbess was the work of a nun of the
convent, also named Gertrude, to whom reference will be made later on. In
this book, as also in the book called the _Mechthilden Buch_, which was
dictated chiefly by Matilda of Hackeborn, and completed by the writers
(also nuns of the convent) after her death, much is related of the Abbess
Gertrude. She is described as a woman of remarkable character, uniting
love, gentleness, and piety with practical wisdom, good sense, and mental
culture. The chief feature which appears to have impressed the
sisterhood, was "the sweetness of the love which dwelt in her innermost
heart."

Up to the last her love was active and practical. When in her latter days
she was completely crippled, and in constant suffering, she insisted upon
being carried to the sisters who were ill in bed, that she might speak to
them a word of comfort. When at last her speech failed her, her beaming
eyes, her loving countenance, and the gentle movement of her hand assured
the sisters who stood around her that her affection for them remained
untouched by her bodily infirmities. The sisters said it was not a
melancholy, but a joyful, duty to watch by her bed of weakness and
suffering.

But it was never the case during her long superintendence of the convent
that this remarkable power of loving interfered with the strictest
discipline, or with the wise and careful ordering of the convent life.
She had no easy task when many daughters of the highest families of the
North German nobles were committed to her care. They were accustomed to
rule rather than to obey, and to live idle lives of pleasure and
self-indulgence. But under the loving direction of the Abbess Gertrude
order and industry flourished, and a desire to learn became very
remarkable amongst these German ladies. Gertrude taught by her example,
by the power of her word, by the decision and good sense which made
themselves felt in all she said and did.

Above all things, are we told, she required and insisted upon a thorough
and careful knowledge of the Bible. She made it her constant care that
the convent should have an increasing supply of the best books, which she
either bought, or copied by means of some of the nuns. "It is certain,"
she said, "that if the zeal for study should decrease, and the knowledge
of Holy Scripture diminish, all true spiritual life would come to an
end."

There was soon an excellent school formed in the convent, which has left
proofs of its remarkable character, as in the case of the books of
Gertrude and Matilda, which were written by nuns of the convent. The
second part of the _Gertrude Book_, written by the Nun Gertrude herself,
is said to be an example of fluency in Latin rarely found amongst the
women of the Middle Ages.

The life at Hellfde was a very busy life, and had nothing of the usual
littleness of convent rule. With great spiritual fervour, there was at
the same time a spirit of liberty and cheerfulness that helped forward
the constant, serious, diligent work of the house. Studying and copying,
illuminating, working and singing, occupied the sisters, as well as the
care of the poor and the sick; and above all, the study of the Word of
God.

Besides the two sisters, the Abbess Gertrude and Matilda of Hackeborn,
two other nuns were distinguished by remarkable gifts. One of these,
called on account of her office the Lady Matilda, was the leader and
teacher of the choir, and also the chief teacher in the school of the
convent. She appears to be the same as Matilda von Wippra mentioned in
the Querfurdt Chronicles. Much is related of her great gift as a teacher,
and of the power which accompanied her words. "Her words," so it is said
in the _Gertrude Book_, "were sweeter than honey, and her spirit was more
glowing than fire." To her mainly was the school of Hellfde indebted for
its wide reputation.

When the Abbess Sophia von Querfurdt (the successor of Gertrude) resigned
her office in the year 1298, it was the Lady Matilda who took the
direction of the convent, which remained without an abbess for five
years. Matilda, however, filled this post for one year only, as she died
in 1299. She was remembered for "the burning desire which she had for the
salvation of souls," and was deeply lamented by the sisters whom she had
loved. They spoke often of her sweet voice, and her friendliness, and her
holy conversation.

Last, but not least, was the Nun Gertrude, whose name is attached to the
_Gertrude Book_, four of the five books of which were written in Latin by
an unnamed sister, and one book, the second, was the work of Gertrude
herself.

Her history is but little known. She was born on January 6, 1256,
apparently in Thuringia, and of poor parents, and from her fifth year she
had been an inmate of the convent. Very early she became remarkable for
her thirst for knowledge, and as a girl she devoted herself to severe
study, having the singular predilection of an enthusiastic love of
grammar. She soon left far behind her all the other nun-students, and
till her twenty-fifth year was entirely absorbed in secular learning.

It was then that the great era in her life, described by her in the
_Gertrude Book_, is to be dated. It was her conversion to God,[1] her
passage from death to life. She knew for the first time the love of Him
who had borne her sins; she knew herself justified by faith in Him. This
happened in the year 1281. More will be related of this remarkable woman.

It may have been that amongst the means which led to her conversion was
an event which happened sixteen years earlier, and which has yet to be
related. But before entering upon this part of the history of Hellfde, a
few words must be said regarding the dark side of the picture presented
to us in the records of this and other convents of the thirteenth
century.


                       The Dark Side of Hellfde.

That to Christian life in each of the past nineteen centuries there is a
dark side, is an obvious fact. But as the dark side has been constantly
regarded as the bright side by the Christians of each century, our task
in discovering it must not consist merely of a study of old records. We
have to compare the facts related, and the praise and blame attached to
them, with something less variable than the human conscience and human
opinion.

The "piety," attributed to the mediæval saints, even when, as in the case
of the nuns of Hellfde, it actually existed, included a mass of
heathenish superstition, of unwholesome excitement of the brain and
nerves; of blank ignorance of the true meaning of a great part of the
Word of God; and in most cases, of abject submission to a fallen and
heretical Church.

The "best books" of which the Abbess Gertrude formed her convent library
contained grains of truth in masses of error, and some true facts
smothered beneath piles of legendary rubbish. To find the pearls at the
bottom of the sea of superstition and senseless legend, is at times a
despairing endeavour. Yet the pearls are there, and must have been there;
for the gates of the grave have never prevailed against the true Church
of God. Some there always were taught by the Holy Spirit of God, and
believing in the midst of their errors and wanderings the great eternal
truths of the Gospel.

If we are to find true faith, if we are to find truth at all in the
Middle Ages, we must find it amongst innumerable human inventions, and
shining like a gem in the dark caverns of human folly. Can we say that in
the nineteenth century it is otherwise? It were well to consider, and use
for the search-light we so deeply need, the unchangeable Word of the
living God.

Apart from the error taught by "the Church" in those past
ages--saint-worship, purgatory, the merit of human works, and many
more--a bewildering element of confusion presents itself in the
atmosphere of visions and revelations in which the "pious" perpetually
lived, or desired to live. For to live what has been called in our times
"the higher Christian life," meant at that time to be a seer of visions,
and a dreamer of dreams. The seeing of visions was an attainment as much
to be desired as to live in temperance, or godliness, or honesty.

Whilst in our days the wholesome fear of being sent to a lunatic asylum
serves as a check upon the wild imagination of undisciplined woman kind,
the strangest performances and utterances might in the twelfth and
thirteenth centuries procure for the unfortunate woman a halo in the
pictures which perpetuated her memory.

It is well to look at the matter of visions and revelations in the light
of Holy Scripture. That the servants of God have seen visions divinely
shown to them, no one can doubt who believes the Bible; nor that they
have from time to time received direct revelations from God. Also, we
read as a promise made to Christian people, that "your young men shall
see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; and on My servants and
on My hand-maidens I will pour out in those days of My Spirit, and they
shall prophesy."

In the first place, therefore, we must admit that visions and revelations
are, in the cases here mentioned, a reality, and a special gift of God,
in consequence of the exaltation of Christ to the right hand of God, This
is the explanation of these facts given by the Apostle Peter in the 33rd
verse of the 2nd chapter of the Acts.

But when we read the various accounts in the Acts of the fulfilment of
this promise, or the accounts in the Old Testament of similar visions and
revelations, we find one marked distinction between these accounts and
those given in mediæval legends. In the Bible the point is, not the state
of exaltation to which such and such a man or woman attained, but,
leaving them out of the question altogether, we are simply told what it
was God showed or revealed to His servants. The seeing of visions is
never spoken of as being the highest state of Christian life in the New
Testament, or of spiritual life in the Old Testament. On the contrary,
God on some occasions gave revelations to the most unworthy, and simply
used them to speak the words He put into their mouths, whether they would
or no--a truth which he taught to Balaam by using an ass as an example.

But in mediæval times, a _state_ in which the man, or more frequently the
woman, became liable to visions, was the thing mainly to be desired. It
was not as in the case of Amos, who was content to go on herding his cows
and picking his figs till the Lord gave him his message. The mediæval
saint was trained and wrought upon by fasting and watching, by the study
of the wildest legends, and by a conviction that the seeing of visions
betokened a state of special holiness. This preparation of the mind, and
one may say mainly of the _body_, for an unnatural and unwholesome
condition produced the desired effect. The attacks of catalepsy, of
convulsions and other diseased symptoms, were hailed as supernatural
signs, and the disorder of the brain as a work of the Spirit. And from
one to another the infection spread, as the convulsions and delusions
excited envy and admiration, and a straining of the mind after something
of like sort.

The atmosphere, therefore, of the convent of Hellfde, and of many other
convents of Germany and Belgium, was scarcely a wholesome one; and we
must disentangle the spiritual teaching, which truly came from God, from
the "revelations" which, if spiritual at all, and not wholly the result
of disease, were the work of the evil one.

But whilst amongst facts well known to medical scientists, and amongst
facts belonging to still unexplored and unknown regions of psychology,
there may be quite enough to account for the stories, if really true, of
the mass of mediæval visions, we must remember, also, that a great many
of these stories were the inventions of those whose interest it was to
compose them.

The disastrous fact remained that, by means of these fables, or of real
hallucinations, errors in belief and in practice were taught and
encouraged. It would not occur to those brought up in a belief of
superstitions, which had descended, under other names, from heathen
times, to sift or examine the legends which were their daily food. It is
for us to sift out from amongst the working of disordered brains, and the
inventions of ignorant people, the true teaching which they received from
the only Wise God, who cared for His loving, but ignorant, children of
the Middle Ages, as He cares now for His more enlightened, but alas! more
lukewarm, children of the nineteenth century.

There is one more remark to be made with regard to the accounts given by
really holy people of their visions and dreams. Occasionally, it was
merely a form of writing in symbol, as when John Bunyan describes having
seen in his dream Christian escaping from the City of Destruction. There
were two reasons for this in the case of the mediæval "Friends of God."
It was, in the first place, dangerous to say in plain words that which
would have brought down upon them the curse of the Church. They spoke,
therefore, largely in symbol, whether by word or by forms and devices of
architecture. This language was common to them, and it was well
understood by those who had the key in their common faith.

In the second place, the want of adequate words to express spiritual
truths must always be felt, and much can be said in symbol which could
not be said at much greater length in plain speech. In how many words
could that be taught us which we learn from the one expression, "The Lamb
of God"?

And that many of those of whom the histories remain, were truly God's
children, truly taught by the Holy Ghost, and in continual communion with
Him as a real and solid fact, we cannot doubt. They lived a true life of
intercourse with Him, clouded and bewildered by the errors of their
times, by their unnatural bodily conditions, and by the fear of sinning
against the authority which some of them believed to be from God--the
fatal power of the Roman Church.

In this dreamland of visions and revelations the nuns of Hellfde
lived--or rather, into it they frequently wandered. They certainly at
times trod the solid earth, and fulfilled their various duties in a
practical manner. They also spent much time, more, no doubt, than many
spend now, in "the good land, the land of brooks of water, of fountains
and depths that spring out of valley and hills, and that drinketh water
of the rain of heaven." It was a familiar land to those who abode in Him
who is there.

And it is a relief to find that, in spite of their extreme love and
reverence for the Abbess Gertrude, they had no visions to report as seen
by her. She probably had more to do with creatures of flesh and blood,
with the strong wills and natures of the girls sent to her from the
castles of the nobles, than with creatures of her own imagination; and
she looked for revelations, and found them in the Word of God. "She
undertook the most menial work," writes one of the compilers of the
_Mechthild Book_, "and took a considerable part in the common employments
of the sisters. Sometimes she was the first and the only one at work till
she called others to help her, or led them to do so by her example and
her pleasant, friendly words. However busy she might be, she always found
time to visit each one who was sick, and inquire if there was anything
she needed. And with her own hands she waited upon them, either bringing
them refreshments, or soothing and comforting them.

"She read the Holy Scriptures very diligently, and with great delight, as
often as she could, and required of those under her care that they should
do the same. In prayer she was very fervent and reverent, she seldom
prayed without tears. She had a wonderful quietness of spirit; and at her
hours of prayer her heart was so peaceful and free from care, that if she
were called to speak to any one, or to other business, she went back
afterwards and prayed as quietly as if she had not been disturbed.
Amongst the children she was the gentlest and kindest, and with the older
maidens the holiest and most sensible of friends, and with the elder
women the most affectionate and wise. She was never to be seen idle;
either she had a piece of work on hand, or she was reading, or teaching,
or praying."

It can, therefore, easily be imagined that the Abbess Gertrude suffered
neither from catalepsy nor convulsions, but that she was a wholesome and
cheerful woman. In her last days she had a paralytic seizure, which
deprived her of the power of speech for some time before her death; but
she appeared to be fully conscious, and interested as before in the
sisters of the convent.


                                Matilda.

We must now go back to the time when the Abbess Gertrude was in full
strength and activity at the age of thirty-three. In that year, 1265,
there arrived at the convent of Hellfde an infirm, worn-out Béguine, a
namesake of two inmates of the convent--Matilda von Hackeborn and the
Lady Matilda of the choir. The Béguine went by the name of Matilda of
Magdeburg.

It would be interesting to know as much of her history as she related to
the nuns of Hellfde. As it is, we have but an outline of it. We know thus
much, that for Christ's sake she had "renounced worldly honour and
worldly riches." She had evidently been brought up, writes Preger, "under
the influence of court life and of knightly company, and we see that she
was accustomed to the manners of noble ladies, and to the language of the
higher classes. There is a chivalric tone in her expressions which seems
to link her words with the knightly poetry of her time, a poetry then at
the height of its cultivation. And as in her words, so in her
actions--there was a freedom and powerful independence which betoken high
birth."

Yet of her family and of her birthplace nothing is known. The date of her
birth we know, the year 1212. Apparently her home was not far from
Magdeburg. We are told of her brother Baldwin, later a Dominican friar,
that from a child he had been "brought up in all good manner of living
and in virtuous habits." Matilda, therefore, had no doubt been carefully
educated.

Others said of her, "that from her childhood she had led an innocent,
unsullied life." Of herself she says, "that in her earliest childhood her
sins were many and great. But that even then, whenever she had a trouble
and was sad, she prayed to God. I knelt down before my Beloved, and said,
O Lord, now I am unhappy. Can it be for Thy glory that I should go away
uncomforted! But I was the most simple and ignorant of any who ever
desired to walk in the way of life. Of the malice of the devil, I knew
nothing; of the misery of the world, I knew nothing whatsoever; and the
false profession of people who are called spiritual was also unknown to
me.

"But I must say this for the honour of God, that one day in my twelfth
year, when I was all alone, I received the greeting of the Holy Ghost,
unworthy sinner as I was, in such overflowing measure, that I never
afterwards could endure the thought of committing a great and deadly sin.
This blessed greeting was repeated day after day, and it filled me with
love and sorrow. I had learnt from God alone what is Christian faith, and
I made it my rule of life; thus my heart was kept pure, but of the
mysteries of God I knew nothing as yet.

"Whilst during my youth I lived with my friends and relations, amongst
whom I was the best beloved, the mysteries of God remained unknown to me.
But during that time I long had the desire that, without any fault of
mine, I might be despised by the world, whilst meanwhile the sweetness
and honour of the world seemed greater to me day by day."

This is all we can learn of the early years of Matilda in her unknown
home; but we have in few touches a picture of a rare and simple nature,
humbled by the sense of sin, but proud enough to desire to be despised;
sweet enough also to be loved with unusual love, and to find it a
delight.

In the year 1235, at the age of twenty-three, she tore herself from those
who thus loved her and went to Magdeburg, where she only knew one person,
a friend of her family. But she avoided this one friend, lest he should
persuade her to give up her determination to live alone for God. She
asked to be received in a convent, but she was refused. She was unknown
and without any means, and she was looked upon with suspicion and
contempt. She had her desire. She was alone and despised.

"But God," she says, "never forsook me. He filled me so continually with
the sweetness of His love, He drew me into such intimacy with Himself,
and He showed me such unspeakable wonders of His heart, that I could well
afford to lose the world and all that is in it."

What were the further wanderings of Matilda we do not know, but it was
only a little while after her refusal at the convent that she became one
of the persecuted order of the Béguines.


                       A word as to the Béguines.

There lived at Liège, at the end of the twelfth century, a priest named
Lambert le Bègues. His name does not prove him to have been a stammerer;
on the contrary, he was a preacher of great fervour, and attracted
multitudes to his sermons. Le Bègues was probably the name of his family.

At that time the Bishop of Liège, whose name was Raoul, was a man of evil
reputation. He had formerly been Archbishop of Mainz, but had been
deposed from his office on account of simony. At Liège he sold by auction
in the market-place the church preferments that fell to his share. The
clergy of Liège, who had not been shining examples of holy living even
before the arrival of Bishop Raoul, were now encouraged by his example to
live in a disorderly manner, and the morals of the town of Liège were at
a very low ebb when Lambert began his preaching there.

It would seem that at that time, both in towns and country places, there
were a number of wandering priests, who went about preaching and
administering the Sacraments, without being under the orders of any
special bishop. Probably they were more or less associated with the lay
preachers of the "Brethren," called in a vague way the Waldensian
Brethren, whose evangelising was carried on so extensively as to bring
upon them much persecution in the whole of Western Europe.

It was in order to direct this zeal for evangelising into more Catholic
channels that Francis of Assisi and Dominic founded the orders of
predicant friars; just as in our days the "Church Army" in England has
been formed to bring under Church authority the work of evangelisation,
which had been set on foot by the Salvation Army.

Lambert was apparently one of the independent priests who preached on
their own account, and was, therefore, free to speak unwelcome truths. He
had been originally a chorister in S. Paul's Church at Liège. He was
probably a man with means of his own; for not only did he preach
earnestly and constantly against the worldliness of the professing
Church, but he provided a practical means of separating from the world.

In a large garden which he had by the river side beyond the city walls he
built a number of small separate houses, which he filled with women of
all classes who desired to live a secluded life and devote themselves to
good works. In the middle of the garden he built a church, dedicated to
S. Christopher, which was finished in the year 1184. Lambert then placed
his community under the care of a priest.

These Béguine sisters took no vows; they were free to leave the community
when they chose to do so. They retained possession of their money and
property. They were under no convent rules; they simply promised
obedience to their Superior as long as they remained in the Béguinage.
But if they wished to return to ordinary life, or to marry, they had a
right to do so, as married women living, of course, no longer in the
community. They were not required to wear any special dress, but to be
clothed in "modest apparel."

They lived either alone in one of the little houses, or two or more
together, keeping house for themselves, and having their rooms very
simply furnished. They did their own baking and brewing; and if they had
no means of their own, they had some employment by which to gain their
living. This Béguine life was, therefore, regarded by the Church as less
meritorious than convent life, notwithstanding the fact that the Béguines
were employed in nursing the sick, attending to the poor, and in teaching
young girls reading, writing, and needlework. They were free to go out
with leave of the Superior and visit their friends, or the poor in the
town outside of which the Béguinage was built. Some of them might even
live in the town, wearing ordinary dresses, and keeping shops, or
maintaining themselves by their labour.

These rules of Béguine life were multiplied in various ways as Béguine
communities became rapidly very numerous in Belgium, Holland, and
Germany.

But to return to Lambert, their founder. His sermons, which contained
solemn warnings addressed to the higher clergy by reason of their evil
ways, very soon brought upon him persecution and ill-usage. During one of
his sermons in the great church of S. Lambert he was seized by order of
the bishop, and imprisoned in the castle of Revogne. He employed himself
in his dungeon in translating the Acts of the Apostles from Latin into
French.

Amongst other accusations which had been brought against him, it was said
that he had prophesied the destruction of S. Lambert's Church. Whilst he
was translating in his dungeon, it came to pass, on the 28th of April
1185, that the sexton of the church went up into the belfry to ring the
bell. He had taken with him a pan of hot coals in order to warm his
hands. A coal must have fallen through a crack in the floor into a space
below, where wood and straw were stored up. In the following night the
tower was seen to be in flames.

The fire spread quickly, burning not only the church, but the bishop's
palace, which stood near, the houses of the canons, and the neighbouring
churches of S. Peter, S. Trudo, S. Clement, and the Eleven Thousand
Virgins. For three days the whole town was in the greatest danger.

The charge against Lambert was now changed into an accusation of sorcery.
He was brought to his trial, but the "four discreet and learned men"
appointed by the bishop to judge his cause, could find no proof of any
offence with which he was charged. The people of Liège, who were
displeased at his imprisonment, began to clamour for his release; and he
himself demanded to be set free, that he might go to Rome and appeal to
the Pope.

His request was granted. The Pope acquitted him of all charges brought
against him, and authorised his work by instituting him formally as the
Patriarch of the Béguines.

He only survived this journey to Rome six months, and died at Liège
towards the end of the year 1187. He was buried before the high altar in
his church of S. Christopher. Some chroniclers relate these facts in a
slightly different way, according to which Lambert was sent to Rome by
the bishop with a list of charges brought against him. But the important
point remains proved, that he was the founder of the widely-spread
community of men and women known later as Beghards and Béguines.

For after his death, possibly before, communities of men were formed on
the plan of the Béguine communities. These men maintained themselves by
weaving or other handicrafts. They met together for meals and for prayer,
but did not have their possessions in common. They had no rule, but were
accustomed to wear simple clothes--brown, white, black, or grey.

As time went on, the ranks of the Beghards or Béguines were largely
recruited by the "Friends of God," with whom they seem at all times to
have been in constant intercourse; so that in the fourteenth century to
be a Beghard or Béguine, meant much the same thing as to belong to the
Waldensian Brethren. In consequence, their persecutions during the
fourteenth century amounted at last to extermination, their houses being
replenished from the ranks of "orthodox" Roman Catholics. The persons,
therefore, from that time onwards bearing the name of Beghards or
Béguines differed in nothing from members of Roman Catholic orders.


                           The Great Sorrow.

But to return to Matilda, who joined the Béguines at the time when they
had already earned for themselves the reproach of Christ, and when, on
the other hand, there were those amongst them who had wandered far from
the primitive simplicity of the first inhabitants of Lambert le Bègues
garden-houses.

By these latter (though they, too, claimed to be the "Friends of God,")
Matilda was "bitterly despised." And she who had lived during her youth
in ignorance of "the false profession of people called spiritual" had to
learn amongst "the religious" many a sorrowful lesson. Not amongst
Béguines only, but on all sides the fact forced itself upon the heart of
Matilda that the Church was fallen from her first estate.

"I, poor creature as I was, could yet be so presumptuous as to lift up
the whole of corrupt Christendom upon the arms of my soul, and hold it up
in lamentation before God.

"And our Lord said, 'Leave it alone, it is too heavy for thee.' And I
made answer, 'O my beloved Lord, I will lift it, and bear it to Thy feet,
and cast it into Thine own arms, which bore it on the cross.' And God in
His pity let me have my will, that I might find rest in casting it upon
Him.

"And this poor Christendom, brought into the presence of the Lord, seemed
to me as a maiden of whom I felt bitterly ashamed.

"And the Lord said, 'Yea, behold her, blind in her belief, and lame in
her hands which do no good works, and crippled in her feet with evil
desires, and seldom and idly does she think of Me; and she is leprous
with impurity and uncleanness.'"

And the foremost in the guilt of Christendom she found to be those who
should have been the pastors and teachers, "the great he-goats, who are
defiled with all uncleanliness, and with frightful greed and avarice."

To the Lord, "the High Pope in Heaven," Matilda turned for guidance and
consolation. "When I wake in the night," she said, "I think, have I the
strength to pray as I desire for unfaithful Christendom, which is a
sorrow of heart to Him I love." She prayed for the priests, that from
goats they might become lambs, that they might forget the law of the
Jews, and think of the blood of the Lamb who was slain, and mourn over
the sufferings of the Lord.

"Alas for holy Christendom, for the crown is fallen from thy head, thy
precious jewels are lost; for thou art a troubler and a persecutor of the
holy faith. Thy gold is dimmed in the mire of evil pleasures, thy purity
is burnt up in the consuming fire of greed, thy humility is sunk in the
swamp of the flesh, and thy truth has been swept away by the lying spirit
of the world!

"Alas for the fallen crown, the holy priesthood! For thee there remains
nothing but ruin and destruction, for with spiritual power thou makest
war upon God, and upon His friends. Therefore God will humble thee before
thou art aware, He will smite the heart of the pope at Rome with bitter
grief.

"And in that grief and calamity the Lord will speak to him and accuse
him, saying, 'Thy shepherds have become murderers and wolves, before My
eyes they slaughter the white lambs, and the sheep are weak and weary,
for there is none to lead them to the wholesome pastures on the high
mountain side; that is, to the love and the nurture of God. But if any
know not the way to hell, let him look at the corrupted clergy, and see
how straightly they go thither. Therefore must I take away the worn-out
mantle and give a new mantle to My Bride, to holy Christendom.

"If thou, son pope, shouldst bring that to pass, thy days might be
lengthened. For that the popes before thee lived short lives, was because
they did not fulfil My will.' And it was as if I could see the pope at
his prayers, and God thus answering him.[2] And in the night I saw the
Lord in the dress of a pilgrim, and as if He had journeyed through the
whole of Christendom. And I fell at His feet and said, 'Beloved pilgrim,
whence comest Thou?' And He answered, 'I come from Jerusalem'--by which
name He meant the holy Church--'and I have been driven forth from My
dwelling. The heathen knew Me not, the Jews suffered Me not, and the
Christians fought against Me.'

"Then I prayed for Christendom; but the Lord answered with bitter sorrow
that He had been dishonoured and put to grievous shame by Christian
people, though for them He had done so great wonders, and had suffered so
great anguish.

"And so it is with me, that longing and humility and love, these three
blessed handmaidens, lead my soul up to God, and the soul beholds her
Beloved and says, 'Lord, I mourn because Thou art thus warred against by
those who are the dearest to Thee on the earth, by Christian people. I
mourn because Thy friends are sorely hindered by Thine enemies.'

"And the Lord answered me, 'All that befalls My friends, sin only
excepted, shall turn to them to joy, and for the glory of God. For the
suffering calls with a mighty voice saying, that beyond all worship that
can be offered Me is the patience that suffers, and if for a while I
comfort not, it is far better than that comfort should come from another
will than Mine.'"

That there were some, the "Friends of God," who shone like stars in the
dark night Matilda thus found, and rejoiced to find. "But that the eagle
soars to heaven," she said, "no thanks is there to the owl."

It was no wonder that Matilda was "much and continually despised" by the
priests of whom she gave so bold a testimony. The Lord, she said,
suffered in like manner, for thus was He put to shame because in Him was
the truth. It was probably for some such plain speaking that Matilda was
refused as an inmate of the convents to which she applied for admittance.


                           Matilda and Dante.

It was during the thirty years of Matilda's Béguine life that she began
writing the book which has preserved her memory down to the days in which
we live.

Not only does the book itself present Matilda to us as one of the most
remarkable people of her age, but in a book more widely known is found,
in all probability, the echo of her words, and the picture of herself as
she appeared to the imagination of Dante. It is not necessary here to go
into the proofs of this identification of the Béguine Matilda with the
"lady all alone who went along

  Singing and culling flower after flower
  With which her pathway was all painted over;"

the "beauteous lady, who in rays of love did warm herself." For those who
desire to trace the connection of Matilda's book with Dante's poem, the
proofs will be found in the first volume of Preger's "History of German
Mysticism," and in a lecture delivered by Preger in the year 1873 on the
subject of Dante's Matilda.

The resemblances between Dante and Eckhart have been remarked upon in a
recent work on Dante, where, however, no allusion is made to other German
writers.

"Any one who has read the discourses of Meister Eckhart, ... will be
struck by the frequent and close resemblances, not of thought only, but
of expression and illustration, which exist between him and Dante. So
frequent and so close are these, that the reader can hardly conceive the
possibility of their being due to mere coincidence."

But whence did Eckhart derive his expressions which reappear in Dante?
"Matilda," says Preger, "expresses herself in a language higher than that
of ordinary speech, and more fitted to the nature of heavenly things. And
it may here be remarked, how frequently the elements of the speech of
speculative mysticism, such as we may call the speech of Eckhart, are
previously to be found in the writing of Matilda. But Matilda herself was
not the creator of these expressions, for her poetical nature was
inclined rather to expressions of thought in a manner less abstract, and
appealing more vividly to the senses. But it would seem that before
Matilda and Eckhart, certain characteristic theorems of speculative
mysticism had become stereotyped in the German language. They form the
stock of that capital of speech by which, especially through Eckhart's
writings, the German language has been enriched. Matilda is, therefore,
of importance in leading us to the discovery of how far Eckhart was
indebted for his expressions to that more ancient store of language."

It would occupy too much space to trace here the remarkable connection
not only in general between the book of Matilda and that of Dante, but
between certain passages which almost repeat themselves in the later
book. Others, again, which are not similar, yet stand in relation to one
another. The City of Woe, for example, seen by Dante, is found also in
Matilda's book, but there it is "the City of Eternal Hate;" and thus in
many instances.

Matilda's book is commonly known by the name, "The flowing forth of the
light of the Godhead." She wrote it originally in Low German, but of this
original no copy is at present known to exist. Soon after her death,
which occurred in 1277, a Latin translation was made by a predicant friar
at Cologne, known as Brother Henry. Of this two copies remain, one of the
fourteenth the other of the sixteenth century. The loose leaves had been
first collected by another Brother Henry, also a predicant friar.

Afterwards a translation was made from Low German into High German by a
priest, Henry von Nordlingen, assisted by a friend. It was completed
after two years' labour in 1344. This Henry von Nordlingen, a friend of
Suso, gave the High German translation to Margaret of the Golden Ring.
Margaret gave it to the Waldschwestern in Einsiedeln. It was discovered
in the convent library of Einsiedeln by Dr. Greith in the year 1861. In
the year 1869 it was published in two forms by Dr. Gall Morel--first, the
High German copy as discovered at Einsiedeln; secondly, a translation
into modernised German.

It is from the Latin translation that it could be known to Dante.[3]

The original book is the oldest work of its sort hitherto known to have
existed in the German tongue.

"It may justly be said," writes Preger, "that this book denotes a high
degree in the measurement of the culture of German women, and of
religious life in the Middle Ages. With freedom and clearness of thought,
the writer combines tender and deep feeling; with a childlike and naïve
perceptiveness, a true sublimity of conception. Matilda frequently
touches the depths in which speculative mysticism is formed, and her
influence is to be traced even in the work of the deep thinker who was
her compatriot, namely, Meister Eckhart, in whose language we find the
echo of Matilda's speech. This language, which she employs with freedom
and ease, takes at times the form of didactic speech, but it often rises
to musical rhythm, to lyric song, and to epic portraiture. By the variety
and life, as well as by the plastic intuition of expression, this work is
distinguished from the monotonous writings on similar subjects by older
authors."[4]

Much more might yet be said of Matilda as a writer and a poet. But it is
with Matilda, the persecuted "Friend of God," the witness for Christ in a
time dark as she describes it, that we have to do in the present
instance.


                        The Book and its Origin.

We have Matilda's own account of the origin of her book. She says that
when she began to live a spiritual life, and "took leave of the world,"
she found that the fulness of her bodily life and strength was a danger
to her spiritual life, and, therefore, after the manner of her times she
regarded the body as an enemy against which she was called to wage
continual war.

"I saw that the weapons furnished to my heart were the sufferings and the
death of Christ, and yet I was in great and constant fear, and I thought
to deal violent blows to my enemy with sighs and confession, and weeping,
with fasting, watching, and prayer, and with blows and stripes. And by
this means for two and twenty years I kept my body in subjection, and had
no illness.

"But after this illness came. And then came to me the mighty power, even
the love of God, and filled me to overflowing with His wonders, so that I
dared no longer keep silence, though to one so simple as I it was hard to
speak. And I said to the Lord, 'O loving God, what canst Thou find in me?
Thou knowest well I am a fool and a sinner, and a miserable creature in
soul and body. It is to the wise that Thou shouldst commit Thy wonders,
then mightest Thou be praised aright.'

"But the Lord was displeased at my words, and He rebuked me, saying,
'Tell me now, art thou not Mine?'

"'Yes, Lord, that hast Thou granted me!'

"'May I not, then, do with thee as I will?'

"'Yes, my Beloved; and I am willing to be brought to nought if Thou
willest it.'

"Then, poor creature as I was, I went to my confessor, and told him what
the Lord had put into my heart, and asked his counsel. And he said I
ought cheerfully to do that to which God had called me. And yet did I
weep with shame, seeing before my eyes my great unworthiness, and that
God should lead a despicable woman to write the things which come from
the heart and mouth of God."

Then Matilda, as is her wont, runs on into rhyme--

  "The love of God has moved my pen,
  My book is not from the mind of men."

And afterwards, she says, "I was warned by some that my book might give
much offence, and that it would be burnt as evil teaching. And I turned
to my Beloved, as was my wont, and said to Him that if it were so, He had
Himself misled me, for it was He who commanded me to write it. Then did
He reveal Himself to my sorrowful heart, as if He held the book in His
right hand, and said, 'My beloved one, do not be sorrowful. The truth can
be burnt by no man. He who would take it out of My Hand must be stronger
than I.'

"And yet I still answered Him, 'O Lord, if I were a learned clerk to whom
Thou hadst shown these wonders, then might I write so as to bring Thee
eternal glory. But how can it be that Thou shouldst build a golden house,
the house of Thy dwelling place, in a miry pool?'

"And He answered me, that when He gave the gifts of His grace, He sought
for the lowest and the smallest and the most unnoticed treasure houses.
'It is not on the high mountains that men drink of the fountains, for the
stream of My Holy Spirit flows downwards to the valleys below. There are
many wise in the Scriptures, who are but fools and unlearned in other
learning.'"

Further on Matilda says that in the German tongue she found it hard to
speak of that which God had shown her, and "of Latin I know nothing. For
that which the eye can see, and the ear can hear, and the mouth can
speak, is as unlike the truth which is revealed to the soul who loves, as
a candle is to the glorious sun. Of the heavenly things which God has
shown me I can speak but, as it were, a little word, not more than the
honey which a little bee could carry away on his foot from an overflowing
vessel.

"And now, Lord, I will commend these writings to Thy tender mercy; and
with a heart that sighs, and with eyes that weep, and with a downcast
spirit, I pray that they never may be read by a Pharisee, and I pray also
that Thy children may so receive them into their hearts, as Thou, O Lord,
hast of Thy truth given out of Thy store to me."

Matilda's book grew in an irregular manner from year to year. She wrote
from time to time on loose sheets that which she believed she had
received from God. There is, therefore, no connection in these writings,
nor is there any plan in her manner of writing. Sometimes she wrote in
prose, or in prose running from time to time into metre and rhyme.
Sometimes she wrote in verse, in irregular measure, and with or without
irregular rhymes, each division with a heading.

The friar Henry of Halle collected the loose leaves, and before the death
of Matilda he divided them into six books. A seventh book was added by
Matilda after the death of Brother Henry. Five of these books appear to
have been written before Matilda entered the convent of Hellfde, and some
can be dated by allusions to contemporary events.[5]

Apart from all that is interesting in these books, as literature or as
history, there remains for the Christian reader who "is not a Pharisee"
the far more interesting field of research into their value as spiritual
teaching. The Pharisee will find much to blame and to despise in the
ignorance and superstition of this Béguine of the Middle Ages.

And in sifting Matilda's writings, as indeed the writings of any man or
woman, the gold, if there be any, has to be separated from the dross. The
dross which had been accumulating for twelve centuries formed a large
amount of that which Matilda believed she had learnt from God. We can
recognise the gold by the one test furnished to us by Him who despises
not any, but teaches the most ignorant who come to Him. If we apply to
the writings of Matilda this infallible test, of conformity to the Word
of God, we may be enriched by the gold without being encumbered by the
dreary heaps of dross from which we have to sift it.

The book is supposed to be the expression of the intercourse of the soul
with God. That it is really so _in part_, can be verified by any
Christian reader who will compare it with the Bible and with the
experience common to Christian believers. That this true Christian
teaching should be mixed with the errors of her time is natural, and we
know that the errors of each successive age leave their traces in the
books that are the most enlightened, and that our own age is no
exception.

The object in view in making the following extracts from Matilda's book
is not to present it as a literary or historical study. Were it so, it
would be needful to give extracts from the false as well as from the true
teaching, so as to give a correct idea of Matilda and her times. But
writing simply with a desire that the truth taught to Matilda by the
Spirit of God should be made available for those in these later days who
are glad of spiritual food, the false and the imaginary will be passed
over, and the remainder given as much as possible in Matilda's own words.

It must be remarked, however, that certain expressions which in mediæval
German conveyed no impression of irreverence would sound painfully
familiar in modern English. An equivalent has, therefore, to be found
conveying to readers now the same sense which the original words would
have conveyed to the readers of the thirteenth century.

It may also be remarked that the chief errors to be noted in Matilda's
book are a tendency to the worship (in a lower sense of the word) of the
Virgin and the Saints, a belief in Purgatory, and a certain weight
attached to the merit of human works.

Of the first of these, it may truly be said that Matilda's references to
the Virgin Mother stand in remarkable contrast to the writings of later
times. If compared with "the Glories of Mary," now in popular use, they
serve as a landmark showing the downward course of error and superstition
in the Church of Rome during the past six hundred years, though there
were already those, such as Bonaventura,[6] who hastened the fall.

It must be observed, too, in reference to Matilda's allusions to the
Virgin Mary, that the chasm between the mother of the Lord and all
ordinary believers is very much reduced if compared with that which
exists in modern Roman Catholic books of devotion, from the fact that the
place assigned to every redeemed soul in Matilda's writings is far higher
than in most Catholic or Protestant teaching. Even amongst Protestants it
is not uncommon to regard the redeemed as in a place below the angels, or
on a level with them. But to Matilda the power and the value of the work
of Christ were so fully recognised, that she regarded the Bride of the
Lamb, or the individual who is made a member of the body of Christ, as in
the highest place next to the Bridegroom, the Head of the Body.

As regards human merit, Matilda only appears occasionally to attach some
weight to it in speaking of others; of herself, she says she has nothing
to bring to God but her sin.


                     The Journey to Eternal Peace.

It will be best to describe Matilda's spiritual life as far as possible
from her own words. She gives us in parables the history of her soul.
Sometimes it seems well to give these in full, at other times to give the
sense whilst omitting repetitions.

She tells us that for a long time she was without rest or peace, knowing
not only the guilt, but the power of sin, and she looked hither and
thither for that which would meet her need. And the mind, as it were,
disputed with the soul, for the mind would have her to seek her peace in
the things that could be seen. And thus it said--

  "O soul, in the Magdalen's bitter tears
  Do the streams of comfort flow."

But the soul made answer--

              "Hold thy peace,
  For my need thou dost not know.
  The comfort I crave is joy divine,
  I needs must drink the unmingled wine."

  "Soul, if as a virgin pure thou art,
  A river of love will fill thy heart."

  "And if in troth it so might be,
  The fountain of love is not in me."

  "Rejoice in the blood the martyrs shed."

  "In the path of the martyrs I daily tread,
  But I have not found my rest."

  "In the wisdom the Lord's apostles taught,
  Is there peace, O soul, for thee."

  "I have the Wisdom that is the best,
  He abideth ever with me."

  "The angels in heaven are bright and fair,
  For solace, O soul, betake thee there."

  "The joy of the angels is grief to me,
  If the Lord of the angels I may not see."

  "In fastings and labours manifold,
  Did John in the wilderness toil of old,
    And so may peace be thine."

  "To labour and suffer my heart is fain,
  But love is more than all toil and pain."

  "O soul, the Virgin is kind and sweet,
    And fair the Child on her breast,
  And thou, adoring, before her feet
    Shalt find thy rest."

  "My Beloved is mine, and I am His,
  I seek the joy where the Bridegroom is;
    For a full-grown bride am I."...

Then doth the mind warn the soul, saying--

  "In His terrible glory no foot hath trod,
    A devouring fire dread to see;
  In the blinding light of the face of God
    No soul can be.
  For thou knowest that all high heaven is bright
    With a glory beyond the sun,
  With the radiance of the saints in light,
    And the fount of that light is One.
  From the breath of the everlasting God,
    From the mouth of the Man Divine,
  From the counsel of God the Holy Ghost,
    Doth that awful glory shine.
  Soul, couldst thou abide for an hour alone
  In the burning fire around His throne?"

  "The fish drowns not in the mighty sea,
    The bird sinks not in the air,
  The gold in the furnace fire may be,
    And is yet more radiant there.
  For God to each of His creatures gave
    The place to its nature known,
  And shall it not be that my heart should crave
    For that which is mine own?
  For my nature seeketh her dwelling-place,
    That only and none other;
  The child must joy in the Father's face,
    The brethren in the Brother.
  To the bridal chamber goeth the bride,
    For love is her home and rest;
  And shall not I in His light abide,
    When I lean upon His breast?"

  .       .       .       .       .       .       .

  And she who is beloved with love untold,
    Thus goes to Him who is divinely fair,
  In His still chamber of unsullied gold,
    And love all pure, all holy, greets her there--
  The love of His eternal Godhead high,
    The love of His divine Humanity.
  Then speaketh He and saith, "Beloved one,
    What would'st thou? It is thine.
  From self shalt thou go forth for evermore,
    For thou art Mine.
  O soul, no angel for an hour might dream
    Of all the riches that I give to thee,
  The glory and the beauty that beseem
    The heritage of life that is in Me.
  Yet satisfied thou shalt for ever long,
    Thus sweeter shall be thine eternal song."[7]

  "O Lord my God, so small, so poor am I,
  And great, almighty, O my God, art Thou."

  "Yet thou art joined to Christ eternally;
  My love a changeless, everlasting NOW."

    And thus the joyful soul is still
    At rest in God's eternal will,
    And she is His, and thus delighteth He
        Her own to be.


                           The Path of Love.

We have the same history, the same "pilgrim's progress," given to us in
another form. Matilda calls it "The Path of Love."--It is her own story,
the years of dreary penance, followed by the revelation of Christ to the
soul.

  "O thou that lovest, wouldst thou know
  The path wherein thy feet should go?"

    "Yea, teach it, Lord, to me."

  "Through drear repentance leads the way,
    And the shame of sin confessed--
  And when thou hast trod on the world's display,
    And on the devil's behest,
  And on the flesh in its haughty pride,
    And on thy helpless will,
  That holds the soul of the chosen bride
    In bonds and slavery still,
  And when the enemy conquered lies,
    And weary art thou and athirst--
  Then to Him whom thou lovest lift thine eyes,
    To Him who loved thee first."

Then shall He speak and say--

  "I hear a voice that calleth amain,
    A voice of love and tears;
  I have wooed, and I have listened in vain
    Through long, long years--
    And it speaks to-day.
  My heart is troubled, and I must haste
    To the sad sweet voice across the waste."

  .       .       .       .       .       .       .

  And in the morning, when the dew is sweet,
    She hears the gentle music of His feet--
  She hears Him speak and say, "I heard thy voice."
    The glorious One draws nigh;
  Amidst the dew when all the woods rejoice
    With gladsome melody.
  And she arrays herself in fair attire,
    In raiment of a bride;
  Her mantle is the holy judgment fire
    Wherein the gold is tried.
  Of meek humility her stole is spun,
    Her robe is white as snow,
  For unto Him, the High and Holy One,
    She fain would go.
  And thus she passeth through the forest dim,
    Where holy people dwell,
  And day and night, with dance and song and hymn,
    Their gladness tell;
  With solemn dance of praise that knows no end,
    Hands linked with other hands of ancient years;
  The mighty faith of Abraham His friend,
    The longing of His seers;
  The chaste humility of her who bore
    God's blessed Son;
  And all the victories that in days of yore
    His saints have won--
  These join in dance attuned to glorious song
    And move in cadence sweet,
  And multiplied as ages pass along
    Are those rejoicing feet.

He saith--

      "Beloved, do as they have done
      Who praise My name alway."

And she makes answer--

  "Thou must lead me on,
    And I will dance as they;
  I move to music of Thy song
    Rejoicing over me,
  And so my halting steps are strong
    To follow after Thee;
  To pass within Thy love's eternal rest,
    And onwards to confess Thee undismayed;
  And onwards yet, till on my Saviour's breast
    My soul is stayed;
  And yet beyond that rest and joy of mine,
    To joy which heart of man hath never known,
  Where Christ rejoiceth in His Song Divine--
    That joy of perfect love, O Lord, is Thine,
  And Thine alone."

Then doth He speak and say--

  "Beloved, thou hast praised Me in the dance
    And weary are thy feet--
  Behold in shadow of the trees of God
    The rest is sweet,
    Rest, rest with Me."

  "O Lord, too great this love of Thine,
    Thine only can it be;
  For, lo! my love, Lord, is not mine,
    It comes from Thee."


                  The Journey through the Wilderness.

Thus much do we know of the journey of this redeemed soul from
self-occupation and self-discipline, whilst Christ listened for her voice
in vain, to the knowledge of the peace and joy that is in Him. And we
know something also of her earthly path, told us in a spiritual song,
which she calls "How fair is the Bridegroom, and how the bride followeth
Him."

  "Behold, My bride, how fair My mouth, Mine eyes;
  My heart is glowing fire, My hand is grace;
  And see how swift My foot, and follow Me.
  For thou with Me shalt scorned and martyred be,
  Betrayed by envy, tempted in the wilds,
  And seized by hate, and bound by calumny,
  And they shall bind thine eyes lest thou shouldst see,
  By hiding Mine eternal truth from thee.
  And they shall scourge thee with the worlds despite,
  And shrive thee with the ban of doom and dread,
  For penance thy dishonoured head shall smite,
  By mockery thou to Herod shalt be led,
      By misery left forlorn--
  And scourged by want, and by temptation crowned,
      And spit upon by scorn.
  The loathing of thy sin thy cross shall be;
  Thy crucifixion, crossing of thy will;
  The nails, obedience that shall fasten thee;
  And love shall wound, and steadfastness shall slay,
      Yet thou shalt love Me still.
  The spear shall pierce thine heart, and Mine shall be
  The life that lives and moves henceforth in thee.
  Then as a conqueror loosened from the cross,
  Laid in the grave of nothingness and loss,
  Thou shalt awaken, and be borne above
  Upon the breath of Mine almighty love."

Thus the revelation of the love of God, which was to the soul the opening
of heaven, the entrance into the Father's house where was the feast of
joy, the music, and the dancing, was to lead to a walk of faithfulness
here below, which would bring upon the witness of God persecution and
shame and reproach.

Was it, therefore, that when the Lord had spoken to the Pharisees of the
love which welcomes the publican and the sinner, of the joy and gladness
into which the returning son was brought, He spoke to the disciples the
solemn warning lest the riches, not only temporal, but spiritual,
entrusted to them as stewards should be wasted by them? Is it not true
that the revelation to the soul of that which is in the Father's house,
the joy and the love, and the unspeakable riches of Christ, needs nothing
less than Divine grace and power to keep us from misusing the treasure
entrusted to us, and making it an occasion for feeding and exalting the
fleshly mind?

Therefore Paul needed the thorn in the flesh, not to fit him for entering
the third heaven, but after he had been there; so that the riches
bestowed on him were not made an occasion for self-glorification, but he
became a good steward of the manifold grace of God.

It is to be carefully remarked in the writings of Matilda, that she does
not speak of this entrance into the gladness of heaven as an attainment.
On the contrary, as we have seen, she speaks of the result of her
repentance, of her conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil, as
being but weariness and thirst.

It is only when Christ comes into the parable that the heavenly
experience begins.

"For," she says, "before the time when Jesus Christ opened heaven with
the key of His cross, there was no man so holy that he could, or that he
might, ascend up into the Eternal heavens--not with labour or with the
soaring of the imagination, not with longing or the stretching forth of
imploring arms, not with the utmost yearning of his love. For Adam had
fastened the bolt so firmly, that no man could open it. Shouldst Thou,
then, O Eternal Father, keep fast the door of heaven with the bolt of Thy
justice, so that sinners must remain without, I turn me to Jesus, Thy
beloved Son, who holds in His hands the key of Thine almighty power.

"That key was forged in the land of the Jews, (and truly the Jews now
would lock Thy people out of heaven and keep them in bondage), but when
by Jesus the key was turned, the outcast sinner could enter into Thy
love. But it is also the love of the Father who speaketh, and saith, 'My
soul endureth not that any sinner should be turned away who cometh to Me;
therefore do I follow after many a soul for long, long years, till I lay
hold upon him, and hold him fast.'"

By the Jews who would lock the people of God out of heaven Matilda, it
need not be said, had in her mind the Jews of Christendom, the professing
Church being constantly called by her Jerusalem, and the formalist
priests "those who follow the law of the Jews."

But the name of Jerusalem was also employed by her as a name of honour,
applied to the true Church of God, the true Bride of Christ.

For within the outward profession of Christianity, Matilda recognised the
living Body of Christ. It is true that the two should have been one and
the same, as the soul and the visible body are one person. But it was no
longer so, and Matilda therefore saw the professing Church, Christendom,
divided into two parts, the living and the dead, the true and the false,
the children of God and the children of this world. To her the true and
living Church was yet glorious and undivided, for it was united in one by
the Spirit of God. Whether amongst professing Catholics or amongst the
"Friends of God" who stood apart from Rome these living stones were
found, there was yet but the one building, the dwelling-place of God.

If Matilda had no thoughts respecting the "Reunion of Christendom," she
had a firm belief in the Unity of the Church of God. It could not be
reunited, for it was the Body of Christ. The prayer of the Lord "that
they all may be one," had been heard. "I know," He said, "that Thou
hearest Me always."

Through the ages when Christendom had been divided into countless sects,
the true Members of Christ, whether they knew it or not, had been, and
must be, one. It needed but to believe it, and to own it. But in order to
recognise it as true, it was necessary that the eyes should be opened to
see that the same profession of faith, or all varying professions of
Christian faith, included the two classes, the living and the dead; the
living, united together as the living members of the body; the dead, but
separate particles of mouldering dust.

A "Reunion of Christendom," which would have as its object to form into
one mass the living and the dead, can be but a denial of the great truth
that "there _is_ one Body and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one
hope of your calling."

Matilda, in a parable, describes the true Church of God as a beautiful
maiden standing upon a mighty stone, which was as a mountain of spices,
and the name of which was Christ, her feet adorned with a jasper stone,
which is Christian faith; and in her hand a cup, of which she drank alone
"in unspeakable blessedness," for the angels in heaven might not drink of
it--it was "the Blood of the Eternal Son."

Matilda knew, and rejoiced to know, that she was one with all the saints
of all the ages, and she tells us her experience of it also.

As Mary, she said, she knew how the sword had pierced through her own
soul also, because so many who seem "religious" are lukewarm and
undecided for Christ.

As John, "I know what it is to rest in the unspeakable love upon the
bosom of Jesus Christ."

And as Paul, "Yes, Paul, I was caught up with thee, and I saw so
marvellous a place, that thenceforth I could but long ever to be there.
And I drank of the wine of which the heavenly Father is the cup-bearer,
and Christ is the cup, and the Holy Ghost the pure, clear wine, and love
is the plenishing. And love invited me and welcomed me to drink thereof,
so that now I am well content to drink gall and vinegar here below."

And further, "Stephen, I kneel beside thee before the Jews who hated
thee, amongst the sharp stones, which fall upon me, great ones and small
ones, all my days. Those who seem to be good people stone me in the back,
and run away, for they would not have me know it was they who did it.
God, however, saw it."

"Mary Magdalene, I live with thee in the wilderness, for all is sorrow to
me except my God."


                               Practice.

Of Matilda's daily life we know but little, having scarcely any incidents
recorded in her book. Apparently, from various passages, we can learn
that, like most Béguines, her time was chiefly occupied in tending the
sick and poor.

She considered it needful to visit the sick in the Béguinage daily, "to
comfort them with the lovely words of God, and to refresh them also in a
gentle way with earthly things, for God is very rich. It is needful also
to bestow much care on the cleanliness of the sick-room, and it is a good
thing to be merry and to laugh with them, but in a godly manner. And it
is well to serve them with ready hands, and to ask them kindly to tell
what are their pains and complaints, and to show them that they have a
friend who will stand by them and care for them."

Household matters, too, were a part of Matilda's experience. "It is right
to go every day into the kitchen, and to see that the needful provisions
are good, so that our stinginess, or the cook's laziness, may not rob the
Lord of the bodily strength of His servants. A hungry mouth will sing the
Lord's praises ill, and a hungry man is little fit for study, and this is
so much taken from the Lord's service."

Matilda also wrote letters, containing much wholesome advice. From a
letter to a prior is the following:--

"We should listen to any complaints with sympathy, and be very faithful
in giving counsel. If the brethren desire to build magnificently, you
should hinder this, and say, 'Ah, dearest brethren, let us rather build
for God a beautiful palace in our souls, with the stones of Holy
Scripture and holy graces.'

"The first stone of such a palace, in which the eternal God may dwell,
and where His beloved may dwell with Him, is deep humility. We do not
desire to build in pride and vanity, as the lords and ladies of this
world; but we do need to build as heavenly princes upon earth, knowing
that at the last day we shall sit on thrones with the despised Jesus.

"And make sure that during the day or the night you find a full spare
hour to converse with our dear Lord and God, praying to Him without let
or hindrance. For the heavenly gift which God loves to give to His elect,
His beloved children, is of a fine and noble sort, and it flows freely to
the soul that draws near to Him, and to whom He bends down in His
infinite love.

"For His heart was so smitten with love to us that He gave up all things,
and emptied Himself for more than thirty years, that He might at last
embrace His beloved, and give free course to His love.

"Will you not think of this? Could you be so uncourteous to Him, as to
refuse Him one hour a day in return for these thirty years?

"When I, the lowest of the least, go to my prayers, I adorn myself for
this hour. I put on as my only ornament my unworthiness, I array myself
in the miry slough that I am, and I am shod with the precious time that I
have lost day by day, and I am girded with the pain which I have caused
to others. And I am wrapped in the cloak of my sinfulness, of which I am
full; and I put on my head the crown of my secret faults, wherewith I
have trespassed against the Lord. Then I take the glass of the truth and
look in it to see myself therein, and alas! I see but sorrow and shame. I
would rather put on this dress than any rich attire, although it were
better to be clothed in hell, and crowned with devils, than to be sinful
as I am.

"And in this dress do I go to seek Jesus, my blessed Lord, and I find Him
in no other way so truly as in my sin.

"Therefore with joy do I go to Him, with love and fear, and the
uncleanness of my sin vanishes before His holy eyes, and He looks on me
with such love, that my heart overflows with love to Him. And all the
guilt and grief are gone, and He teaches me His will, and makes me to
taste His sweetness, and He overwhelms me with His tender love.

"Prayer has a marvellous power, it makes the bitter heart sweet, and the
sorrowful heart glad, and the poor rich, and the foolish wise, and the
fearful bold, and the sick strong, and the blind to see, and the cold to
burn. It draws the great God down into the small heart, and lifts the
hungry soul up to God, the living Fountain. It brings together the loving
God and the loving soul in a blessed meeting-place, and they speak
together of love."

In another letter she says, "That which hinders spiritual people more,
perhaps, than anything, is the little importance attached to small sins.
I tell you in truth, when I neglect a pleasant laugh that would have hurt
nobody, or when I allow bitterness in my heart even without showing it in
word or action, or when I feel a little impatience in suffering pain, my
soul becomes so dark, and my mind so dull, and my heart so cold, that I
have to go and confess my sin with shame and tears. I feel like a dog who
has been beaten till I breathe again freely in the love and mercy of God,
and find myself again in the sweet garden of Paradise, out of which my
sin had driven me."


                     Gleanings from Matilda's Book.

The seven books which compose "The flowing forth of the light of the
Godhead" being composed of detached papers put together by Brother Henry,
have, as has been remarked, no special connection one with another. It
may be as well to give detached poems from the first five books, and
thoughts in prose, or rather not in rhyme, asking indulgence for the
imperfect rendering of either into modern English. The titles given are
from the original.


               How God is to be Praised for Eight Things.

  O Dew, abundant from the depths of Heaven;
  O sweet white Flower, pure as mountain snow;
  O Precious Fruit of that celestial Flower;
  O Ransom from the everlasting woe;
  The holy Sacrifice for sins of men;
  The Gift that the eternal Father gave;
  O Dew of life, by Thee I live again,
  By Thee who camest down to seek and save.
  I see Thee small, in low and humble guise;
  And me Thou seest, great in shame and sin:
  Lord, I would be Thy daily sacrifice,
  Though I am worthless, vile, and foul within.
  Yet into that mean cup Thy grace will pour
  The love that overflows for evermore.


                  How God draweth the Soul to Himself.

  Eagle of the highest Heaven, gentle Lamb, Infolding Fire,
        Kindle, glow in me.
      Barren, thirsty, do I seek Thee,
        Through the ages of desire,
      One day as a thousand winters,
        Waiting, Lord, for Thee.
      Bitterer to the soul that loveth
        Far from her Beloved to dwell,
      Than the pit of doom to sinners--
        An abyss there is profounder
      Than the depths of hell.

        .       .       .       .       .       .       .

      The nightingale she can but sing,
        For she is made of love's delight,
      Of love bereft, what else were left
        Than death and night?

Then spake the spirit to the soul--

    "Arise, O Queen, and sing!
  Behold, He comes, the Beloved One,
    Behold the Bridegroom King!"

Then spake the soul in joyful fear--

  "O blessed Herald, so might it be!
  For I am faithless, guilty, vile,
  In Him alone is there rest for me.
  For me is no home beneath the skies,
  No summer land, and no resting-place,
  But the marvellous pity of His eyes,
  And the sweetness of His Face;
  And when all around the lights are dim,
  The heart that sorroweth turns to Him."

The Herald said--

  "Thou must watch and wait,
  And water the earth, and strew the flowers."

But the soul made answer--

  "The desolate
  Must watch in prayer, and must wait in shame,
    In tears must water, and long for the day;
  But if as I strew the flowers He came,
    From myself and my tears I should pass away.
  For He strikes the chords of the heavenly lyre,
    And sorrow and sadness turn and flee,
  And the earthly love, and the earth's desire,
    In that music sweet depart from me."


         The Soul's Desire sent Forth to Seek the Beloved One.

Thus spake the soul to her desire--

  "Speed forth afar and see
  Where may my Belovèd be,
  And say to Him, 'His love I crave.'"

  Then fled the swift desire afar,
  And rose beyond sun, moon, and star,
  And called before the heavenly door,
    "Lord, open unto me!"

Then spake the Host--

  "What need hast thou,
  That thou dost thus implore?"

  "O Lord, I come with the prayer of one
  Who weepeth upon the earth alone--
    The fish on the sand must pine."

  "Go back! no door is unbarred to thee
  Till thou bring the sorrowful soul to Me,
    For the need is _Mine_."

Then sped the messenger swiftly home, and said--

  "The Master calleth Come!
    Arise and shine!"

  Then she as on summer winds doth rise
  In joyful flight through the starry skies,
    And there meet her angels twain;
  For God hath sent two angels fleet,
  The well-belovèd soul to meet.

And they ask--

  "What seekest thou thus afar?
  With the dark earth art thou clad."

The soul said--

  "Greet me better than so,
  For to Him who loveth me well I go,
    And I am no more sad.
  Lo! dimmed as ye near the earth below,
    Is the sweet light of your eyes;
  And with light of God do I shine and glow
    As aloft I rise."
  Then with an angel on either hand,
    The soul sped through the skies,
  And when she came to the angel land,
    To the country of Paradise,
  She was a stranger guest no more,
  For to her was opened the heavenly door,
    She saw the Beloved Face.
  Forth flowed her heart in weeping blest,
  She said, "My Lord, I have found my rest
    In the glory of Thy grace.
  I needs must praise Thee and adore,
  For evermore, for evermore.
  Whence came I here? I am lost in Thee;
  I can think no more of the earth below,
    Nor of the sorrow and weeping there.
  I had thought to tell Thee my grief and woe,
  But, Lord, I have seen Thee, and nought I know,
    But that Thou art fair."


        The Complaint of the Loving Soul, and the Answer of God.

  "O Lord, too long Thou dost guard and spare
      This dungeon-house of clay,
  Where I drink the water of sorrow and care,
  And the ashes of emptiness are my fare,
      From day to day."

  "Where is thy patience, O My Queen?
    Let Thy sorrow be sore as it may,
  I heal it as if it never had been,
    When I speak, it has passed away.
  My riches of glory for ever are thine,
    Thy might has prevailed over Me,
  For I love thee for ever with love divine;
  If thou hast the token, the gold is Mine,
    And I weigh full measure to thee.
  For all things renounced, and for all things wrought,
    All sorrow, and all endeavour,
  I give thee beyond all desire or thought,
    For I give thee Myself for ever."


                      How God comes into the Soul.

  He comes to me in silent hours,
  As morning dew to summer flowers.


      How the Soul receiveth God, and how God receiveth the Soul.

  O sweet enfolding in the Arms divine,
    O blessed Vision, welcome passing sweet,
  I bow beneath the joy that I am Thine,
    A weight of gladness cast I at Thy feet.
  O heights of God! within Thy clefts I hide,
  The home where dove and nightingale abide.

  "All hail, My dove! on earth below
      Thou hast roamed afar and long,
  Until should grow the strong swift wings,
  That should bear Thee aloft from thy wanderings
      To the rest and song."


                   The Soul's fivefold Praise of God.

  O blessed God, who pourest forth Thy store;
  O God, whose love flows on for evermore;
  O God, whose longing burns eternally;
  O God, in whom I dwell, whose dwelling is in me;
  O God, whose rest is in my love--
  In Thee alone I live and move.


      Of the Soul's Complaint, of the Garden, and of the New Song.

  "When mine eyes are dim with weeping,
    And my tongue with grief is dumb;
  And it is as if Thou wert sleeping
    When my heart calleth, 'Come;'
  When I hunger with bitter hunger,
      O Lord, for Thee.
  Where art Thou, then, Belovèd?
      Speak, speak to me."
  "I am where I was in the ancient days,
    I in Myself must be;
  In all things I am, and in every place,
    For there is no change in Me.
  Where the sun is My Godhead, throned above,[8]
    For thee, O Mine own, I wait;
  I wait for thee in the garden of love,
    Till thou comest irradiate
  With the light that shines from My Face divine,
    And I pluck the flowers for thee;
  They are thine, belovèd, for they are Mine,
    And thou art one with Me.
  In the tender grass by the waters still,
    I have made thy resting-place;
  Thy rest shall be sweet in My holy will,
    And sure in My changeless grace.
  And I bend for thee the holy Tree,
    Where blossoms the mystic Rod;
  The highest of all the trees that be
    In the Paradise of God.
  And thou of that Tree of life shalt eat,
    Of the Life that is in Me;
  Thou shalt feed on the fruit that is good for meat,
    And passing fair to see.
  There overshadowed by mighty wings
    Of the Holy Spirit's peace,
  Beyond the sorrow of earthly things,
    The toil and the tears shall cease.
  And there beneath the eternal Tree,
    I will teach thy lips to sing
  The sweet new song that no man knows
    In the land of his banishing.
  They follow the Lamb where'er He goes,
    To whom it is revealed;
  The pure and the undefiled are those,
    The ransomed and the sealed.
  Thou shalt learn the speech and the music rare,
    And thou shalt sing as they,
  Not only there in My garden fair,
    But here, belovèd, to-day."

  "O Lord, a faint and a feeble voice
    Is mine in this house of clay,
  But Thy love hath made my lips rejoice,
    And I can sing and say,
  'I am pure, O Lord, for Thou art pure,
    Thy love and mine are one;
  And my robe is white, for Thine is white,
    And brighter than the sun.
  Thy mouth and mine can know no moan,
    No note of man's sad mirth,
  But the everlasting joy alone,
    Unknown to songs of earth;
  And for ever fed on that living Tree,
  I will sing the song of Thy love with Thee.'"


                 God's fivefold Comparing of the Soul.

  Rose, most fair amidst the briars;
  Harmless dove, so pure and white;
  Honey-bee that never tires;
  Sun of everlasting light;
  Full fair moon in cloudless skies--
  Joy and gladness to Mine eyes.


                   God's sixfold Delight in the Soul.

  O soul, thou art the pillow for My Head,
  My still sweet rest, My longing deep and strong,
  My Godhead's joy, My Manhood's solace sweet,
  My cooling fountain in love's furnace heat,
        My music, and My song.


                        Knowledge and Enjoyment.

  To love, and not to know,
  Is through a dark wild land to go;
  To know, and not possess,
  Is hell's dread bitterness;
  Possess, yet not be where Thou art,
  Hath rent my heart.


              The Prayer for Love, and the Answer thereof.

  "O Lord my Saviour, love me well,
  And love me often and long--
  Often, that pure my soul may be;
  Well, that so I be fair to see;
  Long, and for ever, for Thee apart
  Shall be my heart."

  "That often I love thee needs must be,
  For I am Love from eternity;
  And I love thee well, because I long
  For thy love with a yearning deep and strong;
  And I love thee long, for no end can be
  To My divine eternity."


           Love unto Death; Love Immeasurable; Love Eternal.

  I rejoice that I cannot but love Him,
    Because He first loved me;
  I would that measureless, changeless,
    My love might be;
  A love unto death, and for ever;
    For, soul, He died for thee.
  Give thanks that for thee He delighted
    To leave His glory on high;
  For thee to be humbled, forsaken,
    For thee to die.
  Wilt thou render Him love for His loving?
    Wilt thou die for Him who died?
  And so, by thy living and dying,
    Shall Christ be magnified.
  And deep in the fiery stream that flows
    From God's high throne,
  In the burning tide that for ever glows
    Of the marvellous love unknown;
  For ever, O soul, thou shalt burn and glow,
    And thou shalt sing and say,
  "I need no call at His feet to fall,
    For I cannot turn away.
  I am the captive led along
    With the joy of His triumphal song;
  In the depths of love do I live and move,
    I joy to live or to die;
  For I am borne on the tide of love
    To all eternity:
  The foolishness of the fool is this,
  The sorrow sweeter than joy to miss."


         God asks the Soul what She brings, and She Answereth.

  "What dost thou bring me, O my Queen?
    Love maketh thy steps to fly."

  "Lord, to Thee my jewel I bring,
  Greater than mountains high;
  Broader than all the earth's broad lands,
  Heavier than the ocean sands,
  And higher it is than the sky:
  Deeper it is than the depths of the sea,
    And fairer than the sun,
  Unreckoned, as if the stars could be
    All gathered into one."

  "O thou, My Godhead's image fair,
    Thou Eve, from Adam framed,
  My flesh, My bone, My life to share,
  My Spirit's diadem to wear,
    How is thy jewel named?"

  "Lord, it is called my heart's desire,
    From the world's enchantments won;
  I have borne it afar through flood and fire,
    And will yield it up to none;
  But the burden I can bear no more--
    Where shall I lay it up in store?"

  "There is no treasure-house but this,
    My heart divine, My Manhood's breast;
  There shall My Spirit's sacred kiss
    Fill thee with rest."


    How the Soul praises God for Seven Things, and God praiseth the
                           Soul who loves Him.

  O Jesus Lord, most fair, most passing sweet,
    In darkest hours revealed in love to me,
  In those dark hours I fall before Thy Feet,
    I sing to Thee.
  I join the song of love, and I adore
  With those who worship Thee for evermore.
  Thou art the Sun of every eye,
    The Gladness everywhere,
  The Voice that speaks eternally,
    The Strength to do and bear,
  The sacred Lore of wisdom's store,
    The Life of life to all,
  The Order mystic, marvellous
    In all things great and small.

Then doth God praise the soul, and the words of His praise sound sweetly,
thus--

  Thou art light to Mine eyes, and a harp to Mine ears,
  And the voice of My words, and My wisdom's crown,
  The love that cheers Mine eternal years,
  My music, and My renown.
  Wherever thy pilgrim steps may be,
  Thou longest, belovèd, thou longest for Me.

The soul saith--

  Thy love hast Thou told from the days of old,
    Thou hast written my name in Thy Book divine;
  Engraved on Thy Hands and Thy feet it stands,
    And on Thy side as a sign.
  O glorious Man in the garden of God,
    Thy sacred Manhood is mine.
  I kneel on the golden floor of heaven
    With my box of ointment sweet,
  Grant unto me, Thy much forgiven,
    To kiss and anoint Thy feet.

  Where wilt thou find that ointment rare,
    O My belovèd one?

  Thou brakest my heart and didst find it there,
    Rest sweetly there alone.

  There is no embalming so sweet to Me,
    As to dwell, My well-beloved, in thee.

The soul saith--

  Lord, take me home to Thy palace fair,
  So will I ever anoint Thee there.

  "I will. But My plighted troth saith, 'Wait;'
    And My love saith, 'Work to-day;'
  My meekness saith, 'Be of low estate;'
    And My longing, 'Watch and pray;'
  My shame and sorrow say, 'Bear My cross;'
    My song saith, 'Win the crown;'
  My guerdon saith, 'All else is loss;'
    My patience saith, 'Be still,'
    Till thou shalt lay the burden down,
      Then, when I will.
  Then, belovèd, the crown and palm,
  And then the music and the psalm;
  And the cup of joy My Hand shall fill
    Till it overflow;
  And with singing I strike the harp of gold
    I have tuned below,
  The harp I tune in desolate years
  Of sorrow and tears,
  Till a music sweet the chords repeat,
    Which all the heavens shall fill;
  For the holy courts of God made meet,
    Then, when I will."


    A fivefold Song of the Soul to God, and how God is a Robe of the
                   Soul, and the Soul a robe of God.

  Thou hast shone within this soul of mine,
    As the sun on a shrine of gold;
  When I rest my heart, O Lord, on Thine,
    My bliss is manifold.
  My soul is the gem on Thy diadem,
    And my marriage robe Thou art;
  If aught could sever my heart from Thine,
  The sorrow beyond all sorrows were mine,
    Alone and apart.
  Could I not find Thy love below,
  Then would my soul as a pilgrim go
    To Thy holy land above;
  There would I love Thee as I were fain,
    With everlasting love.
  Now have I sung my tuneless song,
    But I hearken, Lord, for Thine;
  Then shall a music, sweet and strong,
    Pass into mine.

  "I am the Light, and the lamp thou art;
    The River, and thou the thirsty land;
  To thee thy sighs have drawn My heart,
    And ever beneath Thee is My hand.
  And when thou weepest, it needs must be
  Within Mine arms that encompass thee;
  Thy heart from Mine can none divide,
  For one are, the Bridegroom and the Bride:
  It is sweet, belovèd, for Me and thee,
  To wait for the day that is to be."

  O Lord, with hunger and thirst I wait,
  With longing before Thy golden gate,
      Till the day shall dawn,
  When from Thy lips divine have passed
    The sacred words that none may hear
  But the soul who, loosed from the earth at last,
    Hath laid her ear
  To the Mouth that speaks in the still sweet morn
    Apart and alone;
  Then shall the secret of love be told,
    The mystery known.


             The Lord giveth a tenfold Honour to the Soul.

  The mouth of the Lord hath spoken,
    Hath spoken a mighty word;
  My sinful heart it hath broken,
    Yet sweeter I never heard.
  "Thou, thou art, O soul, My deep desire,
    And My love's eternal bliss;
  Thou art the rest where leaneth My breast,
    And My mouth's most holy kiss.
  Thou art the treasure I sought and found,
    Rejoicing over thee;
  I dwell in thee, and with thee I am crowned,
    And thou dost dwell in Me.
  Thou art joined to Me, O Mine own, for ever,
    And nearer thou canst not be;
  Shall aught on earth or in heaven sever
    Myself from Me?"


                  Between God and the Soul only Love.

  'Twixt God and thee but love shall be,
    'Twixt earth and thee distrust and fear,
    'Twixt sin and thee shall be hate and war,
  And hope shall be 'twixt heaven and thee,
      Till night is o'er.


        How God maketh the Soul to be Free and Wise in His Love.

  My love, My dove, thy feet are red,
    Thy wings are strong, thy mouth is sweet,
  Thine eyes are fair, erect thy head,
  Beside the waters dost thou tread,
    Thy flight is far and fleet.

  O Lord, the Blood that hath ransomed me
    Hath dyed my feet;
  With Thy faithfulness my wings are strong,
    With Thy Spirit my mouth is sweet.
  And my eyes are fair with the light of God,
    And safe in Thy shelter I lift my head,
    And beside the waters of life I tread,
  I follow where Thou hast trod;
  And my flight is swift, for Thy love hath need
    Of me, Lord, even me.
    When from the earthly prison freed
    My soul shall be;
  Then shall she rest through the ages blest,
    O Lord, in Thee.


        The Road wherein the Soul leadeth the Senses, and where
                      the Soul is Free from Care.

  It is a wondrous and a lofty road
    Wherein the faithful soul must tread;
    And by the seeing there the blind are led,
  The senses by the soul acquaint with God.
  On that high path the soul is free,
    She knows no care nor ill,
  For all God wills desireth she,
    And blessed is His will.


    How the Bride casts away the Solace of Created Things, and seeks
                        only the Comfort of God.

    Thus speaks the Bride, whose feet have trod
      The chamber of eternal rest,
    The secret treasure-house of God,
      Where God is manifest:
  "Created things, arise and flee,
  Ye are but sorrow and care to me."

  This wide, wide world, so rich and fair,
  Thou sure canst find thy solace there?

  "Nay, 'neath the flowers the serpent glides,
  Amidst the bravery envy hides."

  And is not heaven enough for thee?

  "Were God not there 'twere a tomb to me."

  O Bride, the saints in glory shine,
  Can they not fill that heart of thine?

  "Nay, were the Lamb, their light, withdrawn,
  The saints in gloom would weep and mourn."

  Can the Son of God not comfort thee?

  "Yea, Christ and none besides for me!
  For mine is a soul of noble birth,
  That needeth more than heaven and earth;
  And the breath of God must draw me in
  To the Heart that was riven for my sin.
  For the Sun of the Godhead pours His rays
  Through the crystal depths of His manhood's grace;
  And the Spirit sent by Father and Son
  Hath filled my soul, and my heart hath won;
  And the longing and love are past and gone,
  For all that is less than God alone--
  God only, sweet to this heart of mine--
  O wondrous death that is life divine!"


       Of Love, the Handmaiden of the Soul, and of the Soul whom
                           Love hath Smitten.

  Of old, belovèd damsel,
    My handmaid thou wouldst be;
  But thy ways are strange and wondrous,
    Thou hast chased and captured me.
  Thou hast wounded me right sore,
    Thou hast smitten me amain,
  And I know that never more
    Can my heart be whole again.
  Can the hand that has wounded heal?
    Or slay, if no balm there be?
  Else had it been for my weal
    Thou wert all unknown to me.

  "I chased thee, for so was my will;
    I captured thee, for my need;
  I bound thee, and bind thee still,
    For I would not have thee freed;
  I wounded thee sore, that for evermore
    Thou shouldest live by my life alone:
  When I smote thee, mine wert thou life and limb;
    I drave the Almighty God from His throne,
  Of the life of His manhood despoiled I Him.
    I brought Him back in glorious might
    To the Father in heaven's eternal light;
  And thou, poor worm, shouldst thou go free,
  As if my hand had not smitten thee?"


           Be thou in Suffering a Lamb, a Dove, and a Bride.

  Thou art My Lamb in patience dumb,
    My Dove in sighing for Me,
  My Bride in waiting till I shall come
    In the day that is to be.


          Of the Two Golden Chalices of Sorrow and of Comfort.

I, slothful sinner that I am, knelt down at my hour of prayer, and it
seemed to me as if God were unwilling to give me the least measure of His
grace. Then would I fain have wept and mourned, because of my sinful
desires; for it seemed to me that they were the hindrance to my spiritual
gladness.

But no, said my soul, think rather of the faithfulness of God, and praise
Him for His goodness. Glory be to God in the highest!

And as I praised, there shone a great light into my soul; and in the
light, God showed Himself to me in great majesty, and in unspeakable
glory. And it was as if He held up in His hands two golden chalices, and
both were full of living wine. In the left hand was the red wine, the
wine of sorrow, and in the right hand the most holy consolation. Then did
the Lord say, "There are some who drink of this wine alone, although I
pour out both in My divine love. Yet the golden wine is in itself the
noblest, and most noble are those who drink of both, the red wine and the
golden."


                      The Working of Blessed Love.

It were bitterer than death to me if ever I did that which is good,
without God.

This is the nature of the great love which is of God. She does not flow
forth in tears, but burns in the great fire of heavenly glory. And thus
she spreads to the farthest distances, and yet remains in herself
steadfast and still. She rises up into the nearest converse with God, and
remains in herself in the lowest measure. She grasps the most, and
retains the least.

O blessed Love, who are they who know thee? They are those through whom
the light of God glows and burns. They dwell not in themselves. The more
they are tried, the stronger they grow. Why so? Because the longer they
are in conflict, yet abiding in love, the more glorious is God to their
souls, and the more do they see themselves to be unworthy and vile.

Why so? Because the greater the love, the greater is holy fear; and the
fuller the comfort, the stronger the dread of sin. The loving soul does
not fear with terror, but she fears nobly. There are two things over
which I cannot mourn enough--one is, that God is so forgotten in the
world; the other, that His people are so imperfect. Therefore many fall,
because the godly have fallen before them.


              How God speaks to the Soul in Three Places.

In the first of these places does the devil also speak, which he cannot
do in the other two.

The first place is the mind of man, and this stands open not to God only,
but to the devil and to all creatures, who enter in as they will, and
hold converse with the soul through the mind.

The second place in which God speaks, is in the soul itself. And into the
soul none can enter but God only. When God speaks to the soul, it is
without the aid of the senses. It is in a mighty, strong, and swift
communication, in a speech the mind cannot comprehend, unless the mind is
so humbled as to take the lowest place amongst created things.

The third place where God speaks with the soul is in heaven, when God
draws the soul up thither, and brings her into His secret place, where He
shows her all His wonders.


                             Of False Love.

All, who do not in all things cleave to the truth of God, must fall with
bitter loss. For love, which has not humility for her mother, and holy
fear for her father, will be a barren love.


                            Matilda's Faith.

Thus far in the five first books of Matilda's writings can we trace the
history of her soul before she found her last refuge in the convent of
Hellfde.

Preger's remarks are valuable as showing how Matilda, in expressions
which she borrowed from the common stock of the writings of the mystics,
as well as in expressions of her own, might appear to have wandered into
the regions of Pantheism. That she herself attached a meaning to these
expressions, which those who were simply mystics, and not believers in
Christ as their Saviour, could not understand, seems, however, clear. But
the expressions were open to the danger of being thus misunderstood. To
those who were mystics, and nothing more, intercourse with God was a
vague sentiment; and what they called the love of God, was merely a name
given to their own human thoughts of God, the God of their imagination.

But Matilda insisted strongly upon the truth, that there is no way to God
but through the Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of sinners. That otherwise
all communication between the soul and God is cut off, "the bolt fastened
by Adam" holding fast the door between God and men.

In speaking of some (no doubt the "Brethren of the Free Spirit"), she
mentions as the greatest sin, and as the highest degree of unbelief, that
"men should think to enter into the presence of the eternal God, passing
by the holy Manhood of our Lord Jesus Christ. When such people imagine
themselves to have entered into communication with the being of God, they
enter instead into eternal condemnation. And yet by that means they
intend to become holier than others. They set at nought and deride the
words of God, which are written regarding the Manhood of our Lord."

Thus to an unbelieving mystic, the term "union with God" was familiar,
and meant nothing better than the dreams of a Buddhist. But to Matilda,
though she did not, and no doubt could not, clearly define it, the truth
was revealed, expressed in so few words in the fifth chapter of the
Epistle to the Ephesians, where, with reference to Christ and the Church,
it is written, "He that loveth his wife loveth _himself_. For no man ever
yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth it and cherisheth it, even as the
Lord the Church: for we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His
bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall
be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great
mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church." And again, in 1
Cor. xii. 12, "As the body is one, and hath many members, and all the
members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also _is Christ_."

That this truth, taught so plainly in many passages of Scripture, notably
by the Lord Himself in the one word which smote the heart of Paul, "Why
persecutest thou _Me_?" was the truth Matilda believed, seems to be
clear. But she was apt to use, when speaking of it, the stereotyped
expression "union with God," not perceiving that this is untrue, and
incapable of being symbolised, as in Ephesians, by the figure of Adam and
Eve. It is not Christ as God, but as the second Adam, who is there
symbolised.

Many such incorrect expressions may, no doubt, be found now in modern
Protestant books.[9]

Preger further remarks, "If we would describe religious life, as shown in
Matilda, by its distinctive features, we should remark, in the first
place, that she is seeking after a consciousness, or is, in fact,
conscious of being in immediate intercourse with God. Whilst the majority
of her contemporaries knew of no relation with God, except through
culture or learning, or the medium of saints, or the ordinances of the
Church, and were satisfied to know no more, Matilda looked upon all these
things merely as helps to personal and immediate communion with God. This
alone could satisfy her.

"And further, she was aware that into this communion with God she could
only be brought through God's free grace. And only by free grace could
she retain it. It is true she speaks of human merit, and alludes to the
intercession of Mary, but in so doing was rather expressing the ruling
thoughts of her age than her own innermost convictions. For it is only in
speaking of others that she admits the merit of human works; she has
another law for herself, finding, as she says, no peace in the good works
of the saints, 'and as for me, unhappily I have no good works to find
peace in.'

"That which is the important matter with regard to Matilda's faith is
this--she grounds her peace not on imparted, but on imputed
righteousness. 'It is a fathomless mystery,' she says, 'that God can look
upon a sinner as a converted man.'

"But in spite of this evangelical tendency in her writings, we cannot but
receive the impression that in the heights of her communion with God she
at times loses the safe path. The reason of this is, that the subordinate
place which she gives to all relations between God and men by Church
ordinances is also given more or less to the knowledge of God by means of
the written Word. It does not appear to be the ring in which her new life
is set; it would seem as though she endeavoured to soar above it, in
order to assure herself more firmly of her state of grace by immediate
communications from God to her soul.

"Therefore she seems in some passages to regard the written Word and the
Divine Word spoken to her as distinct, and on the same level. Thus, as in
mysticism generally, the safe path is lost, and the soul is cast forth
upon the wide sea of subjective self-consciousness.

"We feel the presentiment of this danger, and the need of a safer path,
in which the security of Divine teaching is ours. This can only be when
the written Word is the seed of Divine knowledge, and the faculties of
man the ground in which the seed takes root."

So far Preger. It may also be remarked, that whilst Matilda evidently
grounded her salvation and enjoyment of God upon the atoning work of
Christ, she does not allude to it very frequently. We must remember that
amongst all the errors of mediæval Catholicism, the blood-shedding of
Christ was still regarded as the means by which sin was expiated. It was
still an article of faith, though disfigured, and often kept out of sight
by all that man had added to the Scriptures.

Matilda, therefore, regarded it as an understood necessity in Christian
faith, and as not demanding frequent assertion or proof. Had she lived in
our days it might have been otherwise.

That "Christ once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He
might bring us to God," was a truth known and believed amongst the
"Friends of God," Catholic or Waldensian. That "it is the Blood that
maketh atonement for the soul," that "without shedding of Blood there is
_no remission_," that on Christ, the Lamb who was slain, did "the Lord
lay the iniquity of us all," they knew, and rejoiced to know. However
overlaid in Roman Catholicism by the teaching of human merit, and of the
mediation and intercession of the saints, this truth was preserved
through God's great mercy in the corruption of the Church. It may be
found yet as the anchor of the soul in the confession of faith of many an
ignorant and unlearned Roman Catholic, who know little of the doctrines
of their Church, but who do know from their service-books that "Christ
died for our sins."

The three have ever borne witness on earth, the Spirit, the Water, and
the Blood, and these three agree in one--a witness never silenced through
the darkest ages of the Church.

It was during the last years of Matilda's life that she wrote for "the
children of the world" a call to Christ.

  Wilt thou, sinner, be converted?
    Christ, the Lord of glory, see
  By His own denied, deserted,
    Bleeding, bound, and scourged for thee.
  Look again, O soul, behold Him
    On the cross uplifted high;
  See the precious life-blood flowing,
    See the tears that dim His eye.
  Love has pierced the heart that brake,
  Loveless sinner, for thy sake:
  Hearken till thy heart is broken
    To His cry so sad and sweet;
  Hearken to the hammer smiting
    Nails that pierce His hands and feet.
  See the side whence flows the fountain
    Of His love and life divine,
  Riven by a hand unthankful--
    Lo! that hand is thine.
  See the crown of thorns adorning
    God's belovèd holy Son,
  Then fall down in bitter mourning,
    Weep for that which _thou_ hast done.
  Thank Him that His heart was willing
    So to die for love to thee;
  Thank Him for the joy that maketh
    This world's joy but gall to be.
  And till thou in heaven adore Him
    Fight for Him in knightly guise;
  Joy in shame and toil and sorrow,
    Glorious is the prize!


                         The Echo of the Book.

Matilda had a friend, called Jutta von Sangershausen. A relation of hers,
Anno von Sangershausen, was the Grand-Master of the Teutonic Order of
Knights. Other members of the family had offered their services to the
order in defence of their country from the invasions of the heathen
Prussians.

Jutta's husband had died on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Her children
entered various convents. Jutta then joined herself to the Béguines, and
was employed for a time in nursing the sick, especially those afflicted
with leprosy. In the year 1260 she determined to go forth as a missionary
amongst the Prussians. She took up her abode in a forest near Culm, where
she lived as a hermitess, making known the faith of Christ by word and
example.

Matilda for a time resolved to go also as a missionary to the heathen.
But she was now growing old, and worn-out by labours and persecutions. It
was evident that she no longer had the needful strength. She was grieved
to the heart that she could not thus make Christ known, and she laid the
matter before the Lord.

He consoled her, and showed her that as He had sent Jutta to the heathen,
so had He also given her His message, which should be sent far and wide
in the book which she was writing.

And so it proved, as her book was widely known and read for a
considerable time after her death. Even now it may be that the words so
lately brought to light in the convent of Einsiedeln may lead some weary
souls to Christ. And still the reflection of the light which shone into
the heart of Matilda shines forth more faintly in the poem known and read
through so many ages, and in so many lands--the great poem of Dante.

It is now more than seventy years ago that a young man travelling in
Italy employed himself at Venice in reading the _Divine Commedia_, for
the sake of learning Italian. He had cared till then for the things of
this world only, but he left Venice with the first beginning of a love
which was to shape his long life, and make him the means of life to many.

It was from the poem of Dante, he said, that he had first learnt to know
Christ as his Saviour. He may be known to many as the writer of the hymn
so often sung--

  "A pilgrim through this lonely world
    The blessed Saviour passed;
  A mourner all His life was He,
    A dying Lamb at last"--

a distant echo of Matilda's voice sounding in many places still.

What was it that Dante learnt, or believed that he learnt, from the lady
whose joyful singing sounded to him across the river of forgetfulness,
whose eyes shone with a light greater than that of earthly love?

She explained to him her joy by the words of that psalm, the
ninety-second, which forms a key-note to the poems of the Béguine
Matilda, of her to whom the Lord had taught "the song and the music of
heaven," whom He had made glad through _His_ work, who triumphed in the
work of His hands.

It was in the work "wrought in the land of the Jews," the great work that
"loosed the bolt with which Adam had barred the heavenly door," that
Matilda the Béguine rejoiced, showing forth the Lord's lovingkindness in
the morning, and his faithfulness every night--the work which "the
brutish man knoweth not, neither doth the fool understand it," for "the
preaching of the Cross is to them that perish foolishness," "the
foolishness of God that is wiser than men."

In the work which brought her into the "sweet garden of Paradise," where
she was no more a stranger, which had won for her the right to eat of the
Tree of Life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God, and to pluck
the flowers, which were hers, because they were Christ's.

It may truly be said that if there is anything distinctive in the writing
of Matilda the Béguine, it is that she wrote from her own experience of
the gladness of the heavenly place, revealed to her whilst yet in the
body on the earth. She had learnt that there is an "earthly Paradise,"
earthly not because it is of the earth, but because it is a foretaste and
earnest of the heavenly, given to those who are still pilgrims upon the
earth.

To reach it the river had to be crossed, wherein the old things pass
away, and all things become new; where the things that are behind are
forgotten, and the things that are before become the possession, by
faith, of the redeemed soul. Her sins were amongst the forgotten things,
for God remembered them no more, and the sorrow of the earth was
forgotten, swallowed up in the tide of eternal joy, and

  "The longing and love were past and gone,
  For all that is less than God alone."

Thus, in the poem of Dante, does Matelda draw him through the water of
the river at the moment when the remembrance of his sin had stung him at
the heart, so that he fell overpowered and helpless and ashamed. It
needed that the sin should be left behind amongst the former things that
had passed away.

Those who have known the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, the Fountain
opened for sin and for uncleanness, will gladly own that this is the true
Christian experience of the saints of God--the land of Canaan beyond the
river, reached and entered before the warfare and the trial of faith are
over; the Father's house become a familiar place before the murmuring of
the self-righteous is for ever silenced.

Did Dante know it as the Béguine knew it? Was it in his case but a vague
sense of a place of joy and beauty which the soul might find on this side
of heaven? Did he know that the river was a river of death--the death
which is the death of deaths, "in the land of the Jews" so long ago?

We cannot know. It needs the simple faith of those who have become fools
that they may be wise. Then does the garden of the Lord become a blessed
reality, no dreamland, but an eternal inheritance.

The Béguine had seen by faith her name engraved on the pierced Hands and
Feet of Christ. Should she not rejoice and sing? Should she not praise
Him that He was wounded for her transgressions, that He was bruised for
her iniquities, that the chastisement of her peace was upon Him, that by
His stripes she was healed? And thus she knew that her "robe was white,
for Christ's was white, and brighter than the sun."

How far this was the experience of Dante, his poem does not tell us. But
he knew that there was an earthly Paradise, and it seems all but certain
that in Matilda's book he had found one who was rejoicing there with
unspeakable joy.

The remarks of Preger in his lecture on Dante's Matelda confirm the
thought that this is the true key to his description of the beautiful
lady, whose appearance formed the great era in his spiritual life. The
song taken from the words of the fifty-first Psalm, "Wash me and I shall
be whiter than snow," the introduction into the knowledge of heavenly
things, are but an echo of the songs of the Béguine.

But the heavenly things of Dante are far more clouded with the evil
teaching of his age than the heavenly experiences of Matilda of
Magdeburg. The glory of the Catholic Church, rather than the glory of
Christ, is the light that lightens his heavenly Paradise. It was the Lamb
who was the light of Matilda's heaven. In the bewildering medley of
Catholic and heathen mythologies in Dante's poem, it is only here and
there that a gleam of the true light can make its way. But Matilda the
Béguine rose above the clouds and mists of man's imagination, and she saw
Jesus.

Preger refers us to the ordinary explanation of Matelda and Beatrice;
namely, that like Leah and Rachel in mediæval theology, they represent
the life of action and the life of contemplation.

This theory as regards Matelda was, as Preger observes, founded on the
idea that the Countess Matilda of Tuscany was the Matelda of Dante. That
the warlike countess was a fair specimen of activity, we cannot doubt;
but that it had any resemblance to Christian activity, is more than
doubtful. Probably the identity of name was the only foundation of this
idea.

"It is true," writes Preger, "that Dante saw these two women prefigured
in a dream as Leah and Rachel, and that Leah said, referring to her
sister, 'Her seeing, and me doing, satisfies.' But that therefore doing
and seeing are the only characteristics of these women is a conclusion to
which Dante did not advance, nor need we do so. They _both_ looked in the
mirror, but Leah first crowned herself with flowers; and it was after
hearing the call, 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see
God,' that this dream presented itself to Dante."

Matelda, who corresponds to Leah in the dream, conducts Dante into the
earthly Paradise, and the place accords with the guide. She was not yet
in heaven, the working-day was not yet over, but Matelda was rejoicing,
not in _her_ work, but in _the work of God_. She was glad that the
flowers of His garden were her crown of beauty.

So wrote Matilda the Béguine--

  "I pluck the flowers for thee;
  They are thine, beloved, for they are Mine,
  And thou art one with Me."

It was a place in which the flowers of the earth had never grown, and it
needed the washing which makes whiter than snow to fit the soul for that
garden of God upon the earth. Therefore the song which came to Dante
across the river was the ancient song of the soul that is washed from
sin: "Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, whose sins are
covered." Virgil never crossed the river.

However clouded may have been the faith of mediæval Christendom, the need
of Christ was felt. The distinction between a Christian and a heathen was
acknowledged as one which told upon the eternal destiny of men. By means
of Christ the Saviour could the Christian man pass on, washed and
sanctified, into the land beyond the river. A "land beyond," was that
Paradise to men of the world of sense and of earthly knowledge, but
without the knowledge of God, and of Jesus Christ, whom He has sent. And
singing the song of the forgiven, whilst she made garlands of the
flowers, Matelda appeared to Dante, separated from him at first by the
river of forgetfulness. She drew near to him as one who dances. She spoke
to him of the nature of the mysterious wind that moved the branches of
the trees which grew in the land "given as the earnest of eternal
peace"--the earnest whilst here on earth of heavenly things, of the
flowers that grew from no earthly seed, and of the river that flows from
no earthly source, and of the other river which divides the earthly
Paradise from the heavenly, as the river Lethe divided it from all that
was before.

And we see that Matelda is to Dante the medium of supernatural
revelations, just as afterwards, Beatrice.

Matelda, then, in the earthly Paradise appears as the representative of
the insight into the heavenly joy whilst still on earth, Beatrice as the
beholding of it when the earthly life is past. And this knowledge of the
heavenly things was to be brought back by him who had seen them whilst
still in the body, as the palm-leaves upon the staff of the pilgrim who
had been within the boundary of the holy land.

And it was Matelda who drew Dante through the river into that land whilst
still upon the earth--the land where he should hear the singing, and know
the sweetness, and learn more in the Paradise here of the Paradise
hereafter.

It was the earnest of the inheritance which was given to him through
Matelda.

And truly this is the message and mission of the Béguine, not as
Matelda's, to Dante only, but to us also, who can receive the message
without the bewildering counter teaching of the corrupted Church. It is
true the message, more clearly given, is in the Bible we have known so
long; and it was through the blessed teaching of that Bible that Matilda
the Béguine learnt it. But it is well for us not only to read the
glorious promises of God, but to meet with those to whom they have been
fulfilled, the sharers of the like precious faith with us, who now
believe in Jesus. Now, from the holy women of Hellfde have the clouds
passed away which at times hid from them the brightness of the glory, but
the words of love spoken to their hearts by the mouth of their Beloved
remain to them as an everlasting possession.

And are not the same words still spoken day by day to those who have ears
to hear? And in the midst of this sorrowful world, is there not still a
blessed company who have entered the same Paradise, and learnt the same
songs, taught by the lips of Christ?

It will not render us less fit for the common earthly life, that we have
been there, in the garden where the Lord God walks, and His own are not
afraid. In truth, it is only those who have been there who have the
healing leaves for the sick and the suffering ones around them. It is
only those who see the Son, and believe on Him, who are thus brought back
to the garden of the Lord, to feed upon the fruit of the tree of life.
And these are they who are again sent forth as His messengers into the
world of man's exile.

"As My Father hath sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them
into the world."

Thus the Lord spake of all who believe on His Name. The message sent long
ago by Matilda the Béguine has been heard again after the silence of
ages, and it is once more a call to the sinful, the sorrowful, and the
fearful, who have been living in ignorance of the marvellous love which
is unchanged, and which answers to the great need of our age, as to that
of the thirteenth century. May God the Holy Ghost open the hearts of many
to hear and to rejoice.


                         Matilda's Last Years.

Matilda was fifty-three years old when, in the year 1265, she took refuge
in the convent of Hellfde.

Gertrude von Hackeborn was not one who would refuse admission to a
persecuted "Friend of God." Gertrude had now been abbess fourteen years,
and was in the prime of her life and activity. Mechthild von Hackeborn,
"the maiden so marvellously lovable," as they said in the convent, was
then twenty-five. The little Gertrude, who was to be the brightest star
amongst the sisters of Hellfde, was only nine.

But during the twelve remaining years of the life of Matilda of Magdeburg
there was time enough for some good seed to be sown in the heart of
Gertrude, which should one day spring up and bear much fruit.

Soon after Matilda's entrance into the convent she had a severe and
painful illness. But she was tended with loving care, and found amongst
her sisters of Hellfde a happy and peaceful home. She in her turn was
regarded by them as an honoured teacher, and her influence made itself
quickly felt.

It was at Hellfde that she wrote the two remaining books, "rich," says
Preger, "in light and instruction." When she had finished the sixth book
she thought that her task was done. She therefore concluded it with a
word of farewell--"This book was begun in love, it shall also end in
love; for there is nought so wise, nor so holy, nor so beautiful, nor so
strong, nor so perfect as love."

But afterwards Matilda felt herself led to write "more of that which God
had shown her," although she had prayed that she might now lay down her
pen and cease from her labours.[10]

In the last years of her life she was obliged to write by dictation, her
eyes and hands having failed her. The following extracts from the last
two books will show an advance in the knowledge of Him she loved, and for
whom she laboured to the last.


                        The Labour of the Lord.

The Lord showed me in a parable that which He has ever done, and will
ever do, to fulfil to me the meaning thereof.

I saw a poor man rise up from the ground where he was sitting. He was
dressed like a workman, in common linen clothing, and he had a crowbar in
his hand, which he thrust under a heavy burden that was as large as the
earth.

I said to him, "Good man, what is it you are lifting?"

"I am going to lift and carry your sorrows," said he. "Try it thyself,"
he said; "with all thy might, lift and carry."

Then did I answer Him, for I knew Him, "Lord, I am so poor, I have no
strength."

And He answered me, "So did I teach My disciples. I said, 'Blessed are
the poor in spirit.'"

And my soul spake to Him, and I said, "O Lord, it is Thyself. Turn Thou
Thy face to me that I may know Thee."

And He answered, "Learn to know Me inwardly."

I said, "O Lord, if I saw Thee amongst thousands, I could not but know
Thee."

And then I said further, "This burden is too heavy for me."

And He answered me, "I will lay it so close to Myself, that thou mayest
easily bear it. Follow Me, and see how I stood before My Father on the
Cross, sustaining all."

Then did I ask Him to bless me; and He said, "I always bless thee. Thy
sorrow shall turn to a good blessing for thee."

And I said no more but this, "O Lord, come Thou thus to the help of all
who love to suffer for Thee."


                    The Prayer of the Longing Heart.

There was one who for a long while, amidst the mercies of God, and also
many sorrows, longed continually that God would release the soul and take
her to Himself. And the Lord said to her, "Wait." Then did the suffering
one answer, "Lord, I cannot cease from longing. Oh, how gladly would I be
with Thee!" Then said the Lord--

  "Before the worlds, O soul, I longed for thee;
  And still I long, and thou dost long for Me;
  And when two longings meet, for ever stilled,
  The cup of love is filled."


                                Prayers.

Give me, O Lord, and take from me all that Thou willest, and leave me but
the desire to pass away to Thee in Thy love, and to Thy love. O well is
me, and I thank Thee, King of Heaven and Son of God, that whilst I was in
the world Thou didst choose me, and call me out of the world. For this
will I thank Thee eternally. Thy holy sorrow, all that Thou hast suffered
for me, is mine. Therefore all that I suffer I offer up to Thee, though
how little is my suffering like to Thine! Keep me always in Thy love,
that for ever I may praise Thee, Jesus, my most beloved; and I pray Thee
to loosen the cords, and let me be for ever with Thee.

O Thou beloved Lord Jesus Christ, Thou Eternal God, one with the Eternal
Father, think upon me. I thank Thee, Lord, for the grace of Thine
Atonement, wherewith Thou hast touched the depths of my heart, and
pierced me through with the power of Thy love. But when Thou dost touch
my heart with Thine awful, Thy holy tenderness, which flows through soul
and body, I fear lest I, who am so unworthy of Thee, should be
overwhelmed with the blessedness of Thy love.

Therefore I turn at times to pray for others more than for myself, and
withdraw myself, as it were, from the fulness of the joy, through love to
Thee and Christian faithfulness. For I fear the rising up within my heart
of the pride which cast down the most glorious of the angels of heaven,
and the voice of the serpent who deceived Eve with the promise of
vainglory.

I pray, O my God, that in continual love I may receive and enjoy the
gifts Thou givest. I ask for the fulness of Thy love, that shame and pain
and bitterness may be sweet to me, and that I may desire Thy will and not
mine, and that the fire of my love may burn in me to all eternity.


   Of the Good Works of Men, how They Shine by the Work of the Lord.

How it is that the works of godly men shall shine and glow in the glory
of heaven, understand from these words.

Wherein we were innocent of aught, in this our innocence, the pure
holiness of God shines and glows.

In so far that we laboured in good works, the holy working of God shines
forth.

In so far as we clave to God with trustful hearts, the tenderness and
faithfulness of God shines brightly.

In so far as we receive our sorrows thankfully, do the sufferings of
Christ shine forth.

In so far as we wrought diligently in holy graces, does the holy grace of
God shine and glow in manifold brightness to all eternity.

And as here we loved, and as here we shed forth the light of a holy life,
in this does the love of God burn and shine, more and more unto the
perfect eternal day.

For all that shone forth from us was the light of the eternal Godhead.
The good works we did were given to us through the holy Manhood of the
Son of God, and we wrought them by the power of the Holy Ghost. Thus all
our works, our love, our sufferings, flow back thither whence they came,
from the Three in One, to His eternal praise.


               The Soul that Loveth Speaketh to her Lord.

  If the world were mine and all its store,
    And were it of crystal gold;
  Could I reign on its throne for evermore,
    From the ancient days of old,
  An empress noble and fair as day,
    O gladly might it be,
  That I might cast it all away,
    Christ, only Christ for me.
  For Christ my Lord my spirit longs,
    For Christ, my Saviour dear;
  The joy and sweetness of my songs,
    The whilst I wander here.
  O Lord, my spirit fain would flee
    From the lonely wilderness to Thee.


               Seven Things known to the Longing of Love.

  I bring unto Thy grace a sevenfold praise,
    Thy wondrous love I bless--
  I praise, remembering my sinful days,
    My worthlessness.
  I praise that I am waiting, Lord, for Thee,
    When, all my wanderings past,
  Thyself wilt bear me, and wilt welcome me
    To home at last.
  I praise Thee that for Thee I long and pine,
    For Thee I ever yearn;
  I praise Thee that such fitful love as mine
    Thou dost not spurn;
  I praise Thee for the hour when first I saw
    The glory of Thy Face,
  Here dimly, but in fulness evermore,
    In that high place;
  I praise Thee for a mystery unnamed,
    Unuttered here below,
  Unspeakable in words the lips have framed,
    Yet passing sweet to know.
  It is the still, the everlasting tide,
    The stream of Love Divine,
  That from the heart of God for evermore
    Flows into mine.
  To that deep joy that bindeth heart to heart
    In one eternal love,
  A still small stream that flows unseen below,
    An endless sea above,
  To that high love, that fathomless delight,
    No thought of man may reach;
  And yet behind it is a sevenfold bliss,
  Most holy of God's holy mysteries,
    Untold in speech.
  Faith only hath beheld that secret place,
    Faith only knows how great, how high, how fair
  The Temple where the Lord unveils His Face
    To His belovèd there.
  O how unfading is the pure delight,
    How full the joy of that exhaustless tide
  Which flows for ever in its glorious might,
    So still, so wide;
  And deep we drink with sweet, eternal thirst,
  With lips for ever eager as at first,
    Yet ever satisfied.


              Of a Sin that is Worse than all Other Sins.

I have heard men speak of a sin, and I thank God that I have not known
it, for it seems to me, and it is, more sinful than all other sins, for
it is the height of unbelief. I grieve over it with body and soul, and
with all my five senses, from the depth of my heart, and I thank the
living Son of God that into my heart it never came.

This sin did not have its source in Christian people, but the vile enemy
of God has by means of it deceived the simple. For, led by him, they
would fain be so holy as to enter into the depths of the eternal Godhead,
and to sound the secret abyss of the eternal sacred Manhood of the Lord.
If thus they became blinded with pride, they bring themselves under the
eternal curse. They would attain to a holiness which is reached by
mocking at the written Word of God, which speaks to us of the Manhood of
our Lord.

Thou poorest of the poor! didst thou indeed know and confess truly the
eternal God, then wouldst thou also confess of necessity the eternal
Manhood that dwelleth in the Godhead, and thou wouldst of necessity
confess the Holy Ghost, who enlightens the heart of the Christian, who is
the source of all his blessedness and joy, and who teaches the mind of
man far better than all other teachers, and leads us to confess in
humility that which He has taught us to know of the perfection of God.


           How Love was seen with her Handmaidens--A Parable.

In the night I spoke thus to our Lord, "Lord, I live in a land that is
called Misery; it is this evil world, for all that is in it cannot
comfort me, nor give me joy unmixed with sorrow. In this land I have a
house, which is called Painful. It is the house in which my soul lives,
namely, my body. This house is old, and small, and dark. In this house I
have a bed, which is called Unrest, for all things are a grief to me
which have not to do with God. Near this bed I have a chair, called
Discomfort, wherein I hear of sins committed by others in which I had no
part. Before this chair I have a table, that is called Distress, for I am
grieved to find so few spiritual people. On this table lies a clean
tablecloth, which is called Poverty, that has much good in it, and if it
were rightly used it would be dear to those who use it. On this table my
food is placed for me; it is called the Bitterness of sin, and Willing
suffering. The drink is called 'Scanty Praise,' because, alas! I have far
too few good works to be remembered."

All this I saw as it were dimly in my soul. And then was the true Love of
God revealed to me. She stood before me as a noble and royal maiden, of
stately presence, fair, and with the roses of her youth, and around her
stood many maidens, who were the graces of the Spirit, and they were come
to be my handmaidens if I desired to have them as mine, for they were
willing to serve me. They wore crowns brighter than shining gold, and
their clothing was of green sendal.

And as I beheld her my dark house was lighted up, so that I could see all
that was therein, and all that happened there. And I knew the damsel
well, for she had often been my dear companion, and her face was familiar
to me. But as I have written of her oftentimes in this book, I will not
speak of her further.

Then said I to her, "O beloved damsel, that art a thousandfold higher
than I am, yet thou dost serve me with honour and reverence, as if I were
greater than an empress."

And she said, "When I saw that it was thy desire to renounce earthly
things I desired to be thy constant handmaiden, for I was seeking those
who from the love of God turned away from the things on earth."

And I said, "Beloved damsel, so long hast thou served me, I would gladly
give thee for thy service all that I have or might have on the earth."

She answered, "I have gathered up thy gift, and will restore it to thee
at last with glory and honour."

Then said I, "Lady, I know not what more to give but myself."

"And that," she said, "I have long desired, and now at last thou hast
given me my desire...."

The parable proceeds to relate the service of each handmaiden bestowed by
Love upon the soul, first True Repentance--then the maiden called
Humility--Gentleness--Obedience, Tenderness (who was to give her help in
tending the sick, and in making coarse food and hard labour sweet to her
who served). Then came the "beloved damsel" Purity, then Patience,
Holiness, Hope, and the "glorious and holy maiden called Faith." Then
Watchfulness, Moderation, Contentment, "the dear maiden who made the hard
bed soft, and the coarse food pleasant." Then the mistress of the
maidens, Wisdom, and a "maiden unwillingly praised," called Bashfulness.
And lastly came Fear and Constancy.

And these all being ready to serve, the soul gave thanks, "O thou dear
Love of God, I thank Thee that Thou hast brought to me so many helpers on
my way to heaven." And the soul saw how all the saints and angels bowed
down in the wonderful glory of God, because all they were, and all they
did, was a gift of grace from God to them. "The saints kneel down and bow
themselves before God in blessed love, and in joyful longing. They thank
God that His grace was ready and waiting to bring them through this
earthly need, and to bear their sorrows."


                   Four Things that Belong to Faith.

That we believe in Christ as God, loving God from the heart, truly
confessing Jesus Christ, and faithfully following His teaching even unto
death. I think that in these four things we find eternal life.

But our faith must be a Christian faith, not the faith of Jews, or of
unbelieving Christians, who also profess to believe in one God, but who
believe not in the holy works which He has wrought. His work they
despise, as we grieve to know. But for us, our belief is that God sent
His only-begotten Son into the world, and that it was His Will to do so.
We believe in the work and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, whereby He has
redeemed our souls. We believe in the Holy Ghost, who has perfected our
blessedness in the Father and in the Son, and who brings forth in us all
the works that are pleasing to God.


                       From a Friend to a Friend.

Great and overflowing is the love of God, that never standeth still, but
floweth on for ever and without ceasing, with no labour or effort, but
freely and fully, so that our little vessel is full and over-full. If we
do not stop the channel by our self-will it will never slacken in its
flowing, but the gift of God will ever make our cup to run over.

Lord, Thou art full of grace, and therewith Thou fillest us. But Thou art
great, and we are small, how then can we receive that which Thou givest?
Lord, whilst Thou givest to us, it is for us to give to others. Truly our
vessel that Thou hast filled is a small one, but a small one can be
emptied and filled anew, till it has filled a large one.

The great vessel is full sufficiency of grace, but we, alas! are so
small, that one little word from God, one little verse of the Holy
Scriptures, so fills us, that we can contain no more. Let us then empty
forth the little vessel into the great vessel, that is, God. How are we
to do this? We should pour forth that which we have received in holy
longing and desire for the salvation of sinners. Then will the little
vessel be filled again. Let us empty it forth anew on the imperfections
of the people of God, that they may fight more valiantly, and may become
perfected in grace. Let us pour it forth in holy pity for the need of the
Christian Church, that is sunk so deeply in sin.

God has first loved us, first laboured for us, first suffered for us, let
us therefore be followers of Him, and restore to Him in the way that I
have described that which He gave. Our Lord suffered for us unto death,
but a very small suffering of ours seems great to us. But the thoughts of
God and those of the loving soul meet together, as the air and the
sunlight are mingled by the mighty power of God in sweet union, so that
the sun overcomes the frost and the darkness, one knows not how. It comes
all and alone from the sun. So comes our blessedness from the joy of God.
God grant us, and preserve to us, this blessedness! Amen.


                         Something of Paradise.

It was shown to me, and in my mind I saw, what manner of place is
Paradise. Of its breadth and length I could see no end. First came I to a
place that was between this world and the beginning of Paradise.

There saw I trees with much shade and fair green grass, but weeds were
there none. Some trees bore fruit, but most of them only beautiful and
sweet smelling leaves. Swift streams of water divided the ground, and
warm south winds moved onward towards the north. In the waters were
mingled earthly sweetness and heavenly delight. The air was sweet and
soft beyond all words. Yet were no birds or beasts in that place; for God
had prepared it for men only, that they might be there in stillness and
in peace.... I saw a twofold Paradise. It is of the earthly one that I
have spoken. The heavenly Paradise is in the heights above, and shields
the earthly from all harm. But of the heavenly Paradise Matilda only says
that it is for a time, and that it is the place wherein the souls who
have had no purgatory await the Kingdom of the Lord, "they move in sweet
delight, as the air moves in the sunshine," and will one day have their
crowns of glory, and will reign with Christ.


                        The End of the Journey.

It was evident to Matilda that her end was near. Her age was what would
be called old age in the Middle Ages, when life was so much shorter than
in our time. "I asked the Lord," she said, "how I should conduct myself
in these last days of my life. He answered me, 'Thou shouldst do in thy
last days as in thy first days. Love and longing, repentance and fear,
these four things were the beginning of thy course, and must therefore be
the end also.'

"Then said I, 'Beloved Lord, where, then, are the two things that are the
foundation and crown of heavenly blessedness, where are faith and full
assurance?'

"Then said our Lord, 'Thy faith becometh knowledge, and thy longing is
turned into full assurance.' This I understood from the speaking of the
Lord to me, and I know it also in my heart.

"I am a wonder to myself, and am indeed a wonder. For when I think of
death, my soul rejoices so mightily in the thought of going forth from
earthly life, that my body is lulled, as it were, in an inexpressible
supernatural quietness, soft and sweet, and my mind is awakened to see
the unspeakable wonders that attend the going forth of the soul.
Meanwhile I would desire most to die at the time which God has before
appointed. Yet at the same time I would willingly live till the last
great day. And my heart longs oftentimes to live in the days of the
martyrs, that I might shed my sinful blood in true Christian faith for
Jesus my Beloved.

"That I dare to say I love God, is a gift of His pure grace. For it is
when my sins and sufferings are before my eyes that my soul begins to
burn in the fire of the true love of God, and the sweetness is so
surpassing, that even my body shares in the Divine blessedness. I write
this as it were by compulsion, for I would rather hold my peace, because
I live in fear and dread of secret tendency to vainglory. Yet I am more
afraid, when God has been so gracious to me, that I, poor and empty as I
am, have kept silence too often and too long.

"From my childhood onwards I was troubled with fear, dread, and constant
sorrow of heart in thinking of my end. Now in my last days God has given
me peace. And I have said to Him, 'Lord, it likes me well to think of the
light and blessedness of thy heavenly glory, of which I am so unworthy,
but I still have a great fear as to how my soul shall pass from my body.'
And the Lord answered, 'It shall be thus--I draw My breath, and the soul
will follow on to Me, as the needle to the magnet stone.'"


And again she prayed that at that last moment the Lord would come to her,
as "the dearest Friend," as the "Confessor," as the Father.

  "O Lord, I pray, when dawneth the last day
    These weary eyes shall see,
  Come as a father to his darling child,
    And take me home to Thee."

In these prayers and longings we find no thought of purgatory. Yet as an
article of her creed Matilda believed in it. Nor did any thought of
superior holiness make her overlook it in her own case. But the true
spiritual instinct of the new nature was stronger than the force of
education and of the authority of the Church. How true is it that in
spiritual matters the head is no match for the heart.

So in the case of saint-worship--Matilda had never renounced it, yet we
see her heart turn instinctively to God, as the needle to the pole.

The waiting time was one of suffering, but cheered by the love and
tenderness of the sisters, who delighted to wait upon her.

"Thus does a beggar woman speak in her prayers to God--Lord, I thank Thee
that since in Thy love Thou hast taken from me all earthly riches, Thou
now feedest and clothest me by the means of others; for everything which
I can now call my own, and all that gives joy to my heart, must now come
to me from strangers.

"Lord, I thank Thee that since Thou hast taken away the power of sight
from mine eyes, Thou hast appointed other eyes to serve me. Lord, I thank
Thee that since Thou hast taken the strength from my hands, Thou servest
me with other hands. Lord, I thank Thee that since Thou hast taken away
the strength of my heart, Thou servest me now by the hearts of strangers.
Lord, I pray Thee reward them here on earth with Thy divine love, and
grant to them to serve Thee faithfully till they reach a blessed end."


                             The Last Poem.

_Thus speaks the suffering body to the patient soul._

  With the wings of longing when wilt thou fly
  To the hills of the glorious land on high,
      To Christ thine eternal love?
  Thank Him for me, though vile I be,
  That His grace for me hath a share;
  That He took our sorrows and felt our need,
      That we are His love and care.
  Ask Him, that safe in his tender Hand
    In sweet rest I may lie,
  When we part at the bounds of the pilgrim land,
    Thou, soul and I.

_Then doth the Soul make answer._

  I thank thee that thou on the pilgrim road
    Hast been my comrade true;
  Often wert thou a weary load,
    Yet didst thou bear me through.
  When the Day shall come that is to dawn
  Shall all thy sorrows be past and gone;
  Therefore let us give thanks and praise,
  For His love who guarded us all our days,
  And for hope of the joy that is to be,
  For thee and me.

How did Matilda die? We know no more. Her death is mentioned in the
_Mechthild Book_, Matilda von Hackeborn being one of those present at her
death. But, alas! as it often happens in the search for mediæval facts,
we are met instead by a relation of visions and dreams. Matilda von
Hackeborn tells us no more than how she beheld in a vision the departure
of the soul of her namesake.[11]

The difficulty is to realise that in these imaginary histories we are
reading the writings of some who, like Matilda of Hackeborn, had, in
spite of their visions, real intercourse with God.

That Matilda of Magdeburg had this true intercourse, based upon the
written Word of God, that she was one of those of whom the Lord Jesus
said, "I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him," there can be no
doubt in any Christian mind. It was the time of the conflict of light
with darkness, of the prejudices of early education with the experiences
of communion with the living God. The heart received much that
contradicted the nominal belief, and this inconsistency was not remarked
by the recipient of the truth, because the mind was not called upon to
act in the matter. It was left in inert subjection to the teaching of the
Church.

When nearly three hundred years later the mind asserted its rights, and
the Reformers gave at length Scriptural proofs of that which the "Friends
of God" had experienced, all might have been well. But, alas! the weight
was shifted to the other side, and that which had been a matter of the
heart became after a while a matter of the reason, to be discussed and
assented to by those who had no heart in the question. We have to suffer
for this in our days. Let us learn not to be contented with proofs in
black and white, valuable as they are. We need that communion of heart
with God by the power of the Holy Ghost, which needs no proof, and which
is the only remedy for our lukewarmness, our worldliness, and our
joylessness.


                           The Nun Gertrude.

It is of interest to trace in the convent of Hellfde the results of the
work and the teaching of the Abbess Gertrude and of the Béguine Matilda.
It was not in vain that the abbess had given to the Scriptures such a
place of honour, and had so diligently studied them, and insisted upon
their study. Nor was it in vain that Matilda of Magdeburg had spoken and
written of the free grace of God, and of the love of Christ that passeth
knowledge.

This teaching was the beginning of a stream of life and light, which
became deeper and wider as it flowed along. And we find in the next book
written in the convent a clearer and fuller confession of the truth. This
book, written in part by the Nun Gertrude, in part by an unnamed sister,
consists of five separate books, together called _Insinuationes divinæ
pietatis_. Of four of these books little can be said, except that they
consist chiefly of the visions and revelations of the authoress, and
accounts of visions seen by the Nun Gertrude. It is in the second of the
five books, the only one written by Gertrude herself, that we find that
which repays the trouble of sifting the true from the false, and the gems
of marvellous lustre from the dust-heaps in which they lie buried.

A translation of some of the most remarkable passages in this second book
has already been given, as mentioned above, in the book, "Trees Planted
by the River." But a few more short extracts will perhaps add to the
proof of Gertrude's clear and simple trust in Christ, as revealed in the
Gospel.

"When I consider," she writes, "the character of my life from the
beginning and onwards I have to confess in truth it is a history of
nothing but grace, grace without the smallest deserving on the part of
one so unworthy as I am. For Thou didst of Thy free grace bestow upon me
clearer light in the knowledge of Thyself, and Thou didst lead me on by
the alluring sweetness of Thy love and kindness. I was more attracted by
Thy love, than I could have been driven by the punishment which, on the
part of Thy holy justice, was due to me."

"The great power and sound strength of Gertrude's mind," writes Preger,
"could not allow her to satisfy herself with the visions in which she had
a share. She sought a firmer foothold for her new life, a source which
should lastingly and invariably satisfy her inmost being. And with the
whole energy of the mind, which had formerly been absorbed in secular
learning, she gave herself to the study of the Holy Scriptures, and of
such commentaries as she could find to explain them, amongst others those
of Augustine and Bernard.

"How deeply she felt the value of the treasures laid up for her in the
Scriptures, we learn from the joyful inspiration which filled her soul
when reading them. 'She could not,' writes the unnamed nun, 'drink in
enough each day of the wonderful sweetness she found in meditating on the
Word of God, and in searching for the hidden light which she found in it.
It was sweeter to her than honey, and more lovely than the sound of the
organ, and consequently it seemed as though her heart was filled with an
almost unceasing joy.'

"'She copied out from the Scriptures and from commentators whole books of
extracts, which she wrote for the convent sisters; and was often employed
from early in the morning till late at night in endeavouring to write
explanations of difficult passages, so as to render them more
intelligible to her sisters. For it was a part of her nature to lead on
others in the same path, and to work for those around her, so as to
exercise a wholesome influence, forming them and helping them.

"'She also provided other convents which had few books with extracts from
the Bible. Thus the Scriptures were the Alpha and Omega of her thoughts.
All her reflections, warnings, and consolations had a Bible passage as
their source. It was astonishing, her friend said, how invariably the
right word from the Scriptures was ready to hand in each case; and
whether she reproved or counselled, she made use of the witness of Holy
Scripture as that which no one might dare to gainsay.

"'This universal tendency of her mind to draw others into the enjoyment
of that which she possessed, and to work for this end, explains how
instantly and willingly she would tear herself away from silent
contemplation, to use any occasion that presented itself for active work
for others. To return to contemplation again was then easy for her.'

"We perceive from this remark the breadth, and at the same time the
strength, of her mind, as well as the harmony of her inner and outer
life. This is not contradicted by the fact that her friend mentions as
her chief fault a certain impatience and vehemence, for which she often
blamed herself. It arose from her strong impulse to work for others."

Preger further remarks: "It was in the ninth year after her conversion,
1289 and 1290, that she wrote that remarkable book which forms the second
of the five books of the _Insinuationes_. It consists of confessions in
forcible language, from the heights of the strongest feeling and the
clearest perception. At the same time, the great gifts with which she was
endowed shine the more brightly from their accompaniment of the most
touching humility. This book, together with her 'Practices of Piety,' a
book of prayers, belong to the most beautiful products of mystical
literature.

"In her case, a progress from legal bondage to ever-increasing liberty of
spirit is clearly marked. When once her new spiritual life had had its
beginning in evangelical faith, it followed from the strength and
wholesome soundness of her mind, that the unfolding of this spiritual
freedom should proceed in spite of the opposition of religious tradition,
and should prove victorious. It is of the greatest interest to trace this
progress as far as we have the means of doing so."

This onward path from asceticism, self-chastisement, and bitter sorrow
over the fallen Church, to calm and happy communion with Christ, was
remarked by others, and the passage from bondage to liberty was a cause
of joyful thanksgiving to herself.

"At all times," writes her anonymous friend, "she rejoiced in such
assured confidence, that neither calamity, nor loss, nor any other
hindrance, nay, not even her sins or shortcomings, could overcloud it;
for she had always the full and firm assurance of the rich grace and
mercy of God. If she felt herself stained by daily sins, it was her
custom to take refuge at the feet of Christ, to be washed in His Blood
from all spot and stain."

It will be remarked that Gertrude had not yet fully apprehended the great
truth that the worshipper once purged has no more conscience of sin, that
"by one offering Christ hath perfected for ever them that are
sanctified," and that for this reason there is no repetition of
sacrifice. For "without _shedding_ of Blood is no remission," and the
Blood of expiation once shed, can be shed no more for ever.

But it may be that Gertrude, like many now, confused the recalling of
that blood-shedding which put away sin, a recalling which gives comfort
when we feel that we have sinned afresh, with the actual cleansing, once
and for ever, in the precious Blood of Christ--the actual cleansing never
to be repeated, but the comfort and peace founded upon it a constant
experience, which the heart may rejoice in on every fresh occasion of the
confession of sin.

"When she felt," continues her friend, "the marvellous power of the grace
of God, she did not betake herself to penances, but, committing herself
freely to the drawing of that grace, she yielded herself as an instrument
for loving service, free to receive all that God gave, and to be used by
Him for His work."

It is further remarked that she looked upon God's gift of grace in His
Son as so immeasurable and marvellous, that all human endeavour and
doings vanished to a point when compared with it, and were not worth
mentioning.

And with regard to her own assurance of faith, she saw that also was a
gift of God's free grace bestowed on her in spite of her undeservings. It
would seem as if this strong faith and sense of God's unutterable love,
had led her entirely beyond the land of bondage in which her
fellow-Christians were living. She was as a child at liberty in the
Father's home.

On one occasion when taking a walk, she fell down a steep place, and
getting up unhurt, she said, "O my beloved Jesus, how well it had been
for me had that fall brought me quickly home to Thee!" And when the
sisters who were with her said in wonderment, "Would you not be afraid to
die without the sacrament?" she answered, "I would desire the sacrament
if I were dying, but far, far more do I desire the will of my God and His
appointment for me. That is the best preparation for death; for however I
die, my hope is in the mercy that will never fail me. Without that I
should be lost, whether I died suddenly, or with a sure knowledge
beforehand that the time was come."

For she no longer regarded herself as apart from Christ, but as in Him,
and as one in whom He dwelt, and therefore looked upon herself as
belonging to Him, and, consequently, instead of mortifying her body, she
looked upon taking food or rest as something done for the Lord.

"Not," says Preger, "that in regard to others she had fully cast aside
the prevailing belief in the merit of works, but in her own case she saw
but her own sin and God's free grace. And with regard to the works of
others, she considered no value attached to them if they were done with a
view to reward. Those good works, she said, which people do from habit,
have a black mark set against them; those done for Christ's sake, and by
His power, a red mark. But the red mark has a black mark across it, if
there is any thought of gaining merit by those works. They have a golden
mark when they are done simply for His honour, with no other aim in
view."

It should be remarked also that Gertrude entertained strong misgivings
with regard to the common practices of exciting devotion by appeals to
the senses. The erection of mangers at Christmas, and the representations
in pictures and images of the sufferings and the death of Christ,
appeared to her useless and dangerous. She feared that true personal
intercourse with God in the Spirit and in truth, would be hindered by
these means.

Nor did she share the devotion of her contemporaries to relics of any
sort. "The Lord has shown me," she said, "that the most worthy relics
which remain of Him are His Words."

"In such a soul," writes Preger, "in which Christ was so entirely the
central point, it was natural that Mary should recede into the
background. It is true that the spirit of the age was not wanting in the
influence brought to bear upon her, and the cult of Mary does not
disappear, therefore, from the pages of her book. But she tells us that
she was filled with bitter grief when, on one of the festivals of the
Virgin, she heard a sermon which contained nothing but the praises of
Mary, and of the value of the Incarnation of the Lord not a word. After
this sermon, as she passed by the altar of the Virgin, she could not feel
in her heart the sweet devotion to her which she had sometimes known. She
was roused into a sort of displeasure with Mary herself, because she
seemed to her to stand in the way of her Beloved."

It is a painful example of the arguing of an enlightened conscience with
a conscience shackled and enslaved by superstition. She imagined the Lord
would have her salute His Mother, and her heart answered "Never." And at
last she resolved the difficulty by the belief that in doing that which
she was unwilling to do, rather than that which would have satisfied her
heart, she was pleasing the Lord Himself.

It is useful for us to follow these conflicts of a heart devoted to
Christ, with the awful power of generally accepted evil teaching. The
spirit of the age is not at any time the Spirit of God. How much power
does the spirit of unbelief, of lukewarmness, of corrupted Christianity,
exercise upon us?

It matters little that the errors are of a different order. If Mary stood
in the way of Christ in the days of Gertrude, is there nothing that
amongst "enlightened Protestants" stands now between the soul and the
Saviour? Is there nothing believed and taught amongst us which blinds the
eyes of lost and helpless sinners to their need of a Saviour? nothing
which blinds the guilty to their need of the Atoning Blood? nothing which
turns the eyes from Christ, the Coming One, to look for a millennium, not
of His Presence, but rather a time when grapes grow on thorns, and figs
on thistles?

To return to Gertrude, groping her way from the dim twilight around her
to the glorious Gospel day. She was once told that there was to be an
indulgence of many years proclaimed to those who were willing to
sacrifice their riches to buy it. For a moment Gertrude wished she had
"many pounds of gold and silver." But the Lord spoke to her heart and
said, "Hearken! By virtue of My authority receive thou perfect and full
forgiveness of all thy sins and shortcomings." And she saw at that moment
that her soul in the eyes of God was whiter than snow.

When, some days later, this confidence still filled her with joy, she
began to fear lest she had deceived herself. "For," she thought, "if the
Lord really gave me that white raiment, surely I must have stained it
many times since then by my many faults." But the Lord comforted her,
saying, "Is it not true that I always retain in My hand a greater power
than I bestow upon My creatures? Hast thou not seen how the sun by the
power of its heat draws out the spots and stains from the white linen
that it bleaches, and makes it whiter than it was before? How much more
can I, the Creator of the sun, keep in stainless whiteness the soul upon
whom I have had mercy, pouring forth upon it the warmth of my burning
love?"

Here, again, we see that Gertrude arrived at the right sense of perfect
forgiveness, though it was rather the Love of Christ than His
bloodshedding which gave her this assurance. She no doubt had an
unclouded belief in the expiation made by His blood, as we see from other
passages in her book. But in resting her assurance on His love, if that
were (as happily it was not) the whole ground of her confidence, she
would have failed in the possession of unchanging peace. She would have
rejoiced at the moments when she realised His great love, and have feared
and trembled when the sense of it was overclouded by sin and infirmity.
The Christian taught of God looks back to see how Christ once bore his
sins in His own body on the cross, and looks up to see Christ in glory as
the proof that those sins are for ever put away. He rests upon these
unchangeable facts--all _the more_, therefore, realising the marvellous
love of the Divine Saviour who died for him, and rose again for his
justification.

Gertrude did seek and find this solid foundation. "The longing for
certainty," writes Preger, "characterises her inner life. Her powerful
mind could only be satisfied in the firm grasping of evident truth. This
led her to feel the necessity of immediate intercourse with God." And
when she had the assurance of knowing the will of God, she acted,
therefore, with an extraordinary decision and promptness. The sisters
were astonished at the suddenness of her determinations, and the speed
with which she carried them out. They suspected at first that she was
self-willed, but they came afterwards to the conclusion that she was
carrying out the will of God.

In the last years of her life her longing to depart and to be with Christ
became so intense, that she fought against it as a mark of an impatient
spirit. "But," says Preger, "to what clearness and assurance of Divine
truth she had been led, we see from the joyful confidence with which she
looked forward to death and judgment." In the last chapters of her book
of prayers, before mentioned, we find a passage with which it is well to
conclude the history of her spiritual life.

"O Truth, Thou hast for Thine inseparable companions Justice and Equity.
In number, measure, and weight Thy judgment stands firm. That which Thou
weighest, Thou weighest in a perfect balance. Woe is me, a thousandfold
woe, if I fall into Thine hands and there should be found no substitute
to take my place.

"O Love Divine, Thou wilt provide the substitute. Thou wilt answer for
me. Thou wilt undertake my cause, that I may live because of Thee.

"I know what I will do. I will take the cup of salvation. The Cup, which
is Jesus, I will place in the empty scale. Thus--thus all my deficiency
will be made up, all my sin covered, all my ruin restored, and all my
imperfection will become more than perfect.

"Lord, at this hour (six o'clock) Thy Son Jesus was brought to judgment.
Thou didst lay upon Him the sin of the whole world, upon Him who was
sinless, but who was called to render account for my sin and my guilt.
Yea, O my God, I receive Him from Thine hand as my companion in the
judgment; I receive Him, the Most Innocent, the Most Beloved, Him who was
condemned and slain for love to me, and now Thy gift, O my loving God, to
me.

"O blessed Truth, to come before Thee without my Jesus would be my fear
and terror, but to come with Him is joy and gladness. O Truth, now mayest
Thou sit down on the judgment-seat and bring against me what Thou wilt. I
fear nothing. I know--I know that Thy glorious face will have no terror
for me, for He is with me, who is all my hope and all my assurance. I
would ask, how canst Thou now condemn me when I have my Jesus as mine,
that dearest, that truest Saviour, who has borne all my sin and misery
that He might win for me eternal pardon.

"My beloved Jesus, blessed Pledge of my redemption, Thou wilt appear
before the judgment-seat for me. By Thy side do I stand there. Thou the
Judge, and Thou the Substitute also. Then wilt Thou recount what Thou
didst become for love of me, how tenderly Thou hast loved me, how dearly
Thou hast bought me, that I through Thee might be righteous before God.

"Thou hast betrothed me to Thyself; how could I be lost? Thou hast borne
my sins. Thou hast died, that to all eternity I might never die. All that
is Thine Thou hast freely given me, that I through Thy deserving might be
rich. Even so, in the hour of death, I shall be judged according to that
innocence, according to that purity, which Thou hast freely given me,
when Thou didst pay the whole debt for me by giving Thyself. Thou wert
judged and condemned for my sake, that I, poor and helpless as I am,
might be more than rich in all the wealth that is Thine, and mine through
Thee."


                    The Voice that for ever Speaks.

Thus to the ear that listens for the One beloved Voice, come from those
old times the familiar tones, the household words of the family of God.
These souls, so misled, so darkened by the mists of evil teaching, yet by
the power of the Holy Ghost saw the Son and believed on Him, and had
everlasting life. His sheep followed Him, for they knew His voice, and
their souls were filled with love and praise.

Did they not often mistake for His voice the imaginations of their own
hearts? Yes, often they did so, and perhaps we do it less often, because
less often do we listen for His voice. He speaks and we are deaf, and we
go on our way expecting no word from His lips, and therefore there is
nothing which we suppose to be that Voice, and our delusions are
altogether of another nature.

Our delusion in these days is that there is no immediate, daily, hourly
communication between the soul and God. We do not mistake by regarding
false coin as true; our mistake is that the true coin has ceased to exist
since the days when John and Paul spoke to the Lord and He answered them,
and the Holy Spirit spoke, and they listened.

Yet still as of old there are those whose eyes have been anointed with
eye-salve and they see Him, and their ears unstopped and they hear Him,
and they can bear witness to the truth that the Comforter abides with us
for ever, and takes still of the things of Jesus and shows them unto us;
and these can recognise in the old histories of the saints of God the
same voice and the same teaching, and can trace it back to the written
Word, to which it answers as the stamp to the seal.

It is well for us also to bear in mind the delusions, and, to us,
inconceivable errors which were mistaken in past ages for the voice of
God. That the chief work of Satan has been from the beginning to
counterfeit the work of God, we know from revelation. Nor have we to be
on our guard against Satanic power alone. The tremendous force of early
education, of the general opinion of the world around us, do not act less
powerfully upon us than upon those in former days.

It is true that the course of this age is "according to the prince of the
power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of
disobedience." The course of each age since Adam sinned has been thus
shaped. But mere natural tendency to receive what we call truths, without
taking the trouble to think, and to form opinions, as well as courses of
action, by habit simply and only, can lead us far enough astray without
any other misleading force.

The convent of Hellfde is a remarkable proof of the power of Satan, and
of the distortion of our nature, acting upon those who were true-hearted
believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, true children of God, and truly
taught by Him in the midst of many delusions. Had they applied the test
of Holy Scripture to all which they believed to be the voice of God, a
very small part of it would have stood the test, in the case of the
sister, for example, who wrote four of the five parts of the _Gertrude
Book_. The remarkable difference of the second book written by Gertrude
herself from the four others, remains as a proof of the fact that the
"entrance of the Lord's Word giveth light and understanding to the
simple."

But in the case of communications regarded as the voice of God, and _not_
standing in opposition to His Word, must not a further distinction be
made? Even then the mind may possibly be exercised in simply recalling
passages of Scripture, and may be influenced by them as in the case of
ordinary writings. Is there nothing more than this which is meant by the
statements of the Lord Jesus Christ when speaking of the intercourse
between the soul and Himself?

"Why do ye not understand My speech? even because ye cannot hear My
word." There is, then, a hearing of which the unbelieving man is
incapable. "He that is of God heareth God's words. Ye therefore hear them
not, because ye are not of God." Thus there are those who "hear indeed
and understand not, and see indeed but perceive not." On the other hand,
there are the sheep of Christ, "who follow Him, for they know His voice."
"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me."

How, then, was it that the true sheep of Christ in the convent of Hellfde
followed at times the voice of strangers, and mistook it for His own?[12]
Should we therefore conclude that _all_ they received as His was but the
working of their own minds, or a snare of the evil one?

If so, the Lord Himself is no longer the Truth. He has solemnly declared
to us, that for ever He would hold intercourse with His saints by the
power of the Holy Ghost. He has given us the plain assurance, "Lo, I am
with you always, even unto the end of the world (the age)." The saints of
all ages have claimed these promises, and have found them true.

But the world cannot receive the Spirit of Truth, because it seeth Him
not, neither knoweth Him. Nevertheless "_Ye_ know Him, for He dwelleth
with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless, I will
come to you. Yet a little while _the world_ seeth Me no more; but ye see
Me: because I live ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I
am in My Father, and ye in Me, and I in you." And again, "He that loveth
Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest
Myself to him."

Thus in spite of delusions caused by the false teaching of the corrupted
Church, in spite of the hallucinations caused by unnatural bodily
conditions, the Lord was true to His word, and made to His servants that
revelation of His love that passeth knowledge, which marks their
testimony.

And because it passeth knowledge, and all that it is possible for the
heart of man to conceive, we recognise it as His revelation to the soul.
The God of Catholicism was a Judge, awful and terrible. Even the thought
that the righteous anger of the Father needed to be appeased by the
merciful intervention of the Son, gave place in time to the thought that
the Son also was but a righteous Judge, in whom was justice without
mercy. Therefore it was necessary that His mother should be the hope and
refuge of sinners, and that her intercession should incline His heart to
pity. And there followed in due time a host of other mediators between
God and man, to whom the sinful and the suffering should turn rather than
to the great and dreadful God.

And it was in the face of this teaching that those who knew His voice had
the absolute assurance of His immeasurable and unspeakable love. They
passed, as it were, through the host of mediators and intercessors to
cast themselves at His feet, and to wash them with their tears, and
anoint them with the love which the Holy Spirit of God had shed abroad in
their hearts.

Nor had they, as some Protestants in our days, the strange delusion that
there is a something called "religion" to which, if they turn in their
last days, they may perhaps be fit for heaven. They knew, and we know, if
we will look into our hearts, that this is not the answer to our need.

Can "religion" love us? We need love. We need a living heart who can love
us with a love utterly unchangeable and eternal. And we find it in Him
whose name is Love; in Him who is absolutely just, but who is also the
justifier of him that believeth in Jesus. "The Just God and the
Saviour"--well may it be added, "there is none besides Me." No God has
ever been invented by the thoughts of man who can be at once the Just One
and the Saviour, in whom "Mercy and Truth are met together, in whom
Righteousness and Peace have kissed each other."

We find this revelation of Himself all through the ages, and it is thus
that He is now revealed to every soul whose eyes have been opened to see
Him, whose ears have been unstopped to hear that marvellous Voice, which
is as clear and distinct to the soul now, as will be the shout, and the
voice of the Archangel, and the trumpet of God in the day that is to be.

Is it not by the teaching of God Himself, through His Word and Spirit,
that we find the solid path upon which to walk, day by day, in all
circumstances of our ordinary life? He thus becomes wisdom to the
foolish, and strength to the weak. He directs the path of those who in
all their ways acknowledge Him. We find a safer guide than our own
understanding, than the "common-sense" of the natural heart, which may
mislead, and will mislead, those who have no better teacher, as dreams
and visions misled the true-hearted servants of God in former days.

The guidance and teaching of Him who is the Wisdom of God, and who hears
and answers the prayers of those who seek Him, will assuredly not lead us
to commit acts of folly; but the common-sense will be more fully
exercised, because all existing facts will then be taken into account.

The greatest and most universal failure in common-sense must be the
leaving out of God in all our thoughts; and therefore is it written of
the natural man, not only "there is none that doeth good, no not one,"
but also, "there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh
after God."


[1]Described in her own words in "Trees Planted by the River" (Nisbet).

[2]This pope was Gregory X.

[3]The Latin translation of Matilda's book appears to have been published
   very early, as it does not contain the seventh book, probably,
   therefore, considerably earlier than the year 1300. We know that the
   6th and 7th Cantos of the _Purgatorio_ were written between 1308 and
   1313; the 24th Canto after the year 1314. If Dante passed through
   Cologne in his wanderings, as appears probable from his reference to
   Cologne in the _Inferno_, xxiii. 63, he may there have seen the book.
   It was, however, no doubt widely circulated before the end of the
   thirteenth century. The supposition that Matilda of Hackeborn was the
   origin of Dante's Matilda is disproved by the later date of the
   _Mechthilden Buch_, which could scarcely have been published before
   the year 1310.

[4]In his lecture on Dante's Matilda, delivered at a later period, Preger
   raises the question whether the book of the Béguine is of such a
   nature as to have attracted in so considerable a measure the
   appreciation of a Dante. "I must here only repeat," he says, "that
   which I have formerly written with regard to the spirit and poetical
   power of this work, as it appears in Morel's edition. I think I may
   say that amongst all the known works of this nature up to the end of
   the thirteenth century, there is none that attains to the importance
   of this work. Only the second part of the book of the Nun Gertrude,
   written by herself, can be placed in any point of view in comparison
   with it. It is evident that the Béguine Matilda was of sufficient
   significance to make an impression on Dante, and to be used by him as
   a type of that form of contemplation which I have described under the
   name of practical mysticism."

[5]The contents of the seven books may be thus summarised:--

   1. Disconnected passages--visions, or parables related as visions.

   2. Disconnected parables, visions, and prophecies. With regard to one
     of these visions Matilda remarks, "That this so happened is not to
     be understood literally, but spiritually; it was that which the soul
     saw, and recognised, and rejoiced in. The words sound human, but the
     natural mind can but partly receive that which the higher sense of
     the soul perceives of spiritual things."

   Commendations of the preaching friars of the order of S. Dominic.

   References to passing events and contemporary persons, or persons
     lately departed.

   3. Refers chiefly to ecclesiastical matters. Contains prophecies of
     the last days, of the Antichrist, of the return of Enoch and Elijah.
     In these prophecies occur passages reproduced in the _Divine
     Commedia_.

   4. The book of love, between God and the soul.

   5. Practical.

   6. Descriptions of hell (the City of Eternal Hate) and Purgatory, with
     which the _Divine Commedia_ may be compared.

   Preparation for death.

   7. Various and disconnected. References to contemporary persons and
     events.

[6]Author of the "Psalter of the Blessed Virgin."

[7]See _Purgatoria_, Canto xxxi. 129.

    "My soul was tasting of the food that while
      It satisfies us, makes us hunger for it."

[8]See Isaiah lx. 19, 20, as explaining this thought: "The sun shall be
   no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give
   light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light,
   and thy God thy glory. Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall
   thy moon withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be thine everlasting
   light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended."

[9]In which the Church, the Body of Christ, is spoken of as existing not
   only before His death and resurrection, but before He became
   Incarnate.

[10]"Why did I thus pray?" she writes. "Because I find that I am still
   just as despicable and unworthy as I was thirty years ago when I began
   to write. But the Lord showed me that He had healing roots stored, as
   it were, in a little sack, and with them should the sick be refreshed,
   and the healthy strengthened, and the dead raised, and the godly
   sanctified."

[11]Matilda the Béguine's own words relating to the death of a friend may
   better describe her own--

    "He laid him down upon the breast of God
      In measureless delight,
    Enfolded in the tenderness untold,
      The sweetness infinite."

   The account given by Matilda of Hackeborn is but an evidence of the
   unreal state of those who were for ever craving for some fresh
   revelations to supplement the Word of God; who unconsciously to
   themselves were walking, so far, by sight, and not by faith, and by
   the sight, moreover, of a disordered body.

[12]In general no doubt their delusions arose from the fact that the
   falsehood presented itself in the form of authorised teaching. They
   were not on their guard against those whom they had learnt from their
   cradles to reverence--who represented to them the Apostles of Christ.
   And these delusions, acting upon over-strained and ill-taught minds
   and half-starved bodies, kept up a state of mental disease, in which
   clear and reasonable thought was at times obliterated. It was a
   spiritual alcohol or opium that was constantly measured out by the
   accredited teachers of the Church.


                                THE END.

                 _Printed by_ Ballantyne, Hanson & Co.
                         _Edinburgh and London_



                          Transcriber's Notes


--Silently corrected a handful of typos: mostly missing quotation marks.





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