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A Little Book of Eternal Wisdom
Blessed Henry Suso
Translated by C. H. McKenna, O.P.
1910 by Burns Oates & Washbourne Ltd.
Blessed Henry Suso
Translated by C. H. McKenna, O.P.
1910 by Burns Oates & Washbourne Ltd.
This work is published for the greater Glory of Jesus Christ through His most Holy Mother Mary
and for the sanctification of the militant Church and her members.
INDEX OF SCRIPTURE REFERENCES
PREFACE - A FOREWORD
Jesus and Mary! Sacred names, always united in the mind and heart of every true Christian. Jesus, model of true manhood; Mary, model of true womanhood. Jesus, begotten of the Father before all ages, the figure of His substance, by whom were made all things that were made. Mary, first woman in the mind of the Creator; original type, remaining unfallen when every copy fell! Woman, destined from eternity to crush the head of the unclean demon. Jesus and Mary! Models of the interior life, to you is dedicated this new edition of a work of one of your devoted servants, which is well calculated to lead many souls up the path of perfection till they reign with you in the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Little Book of Eternal Wisdom is among the best of the writings of Blessed Henry Suso, a priest of the Order of St. Dominic, who lived a life of wonderful labours and sufferings, and died in the Fourteenth century with a reputation for sanctity which the Church has solemnly confirmed. Gregory XVI granted to the whole Order of St. Dominic the privilege of celebrating his office, and of offering the Mass yearly in his honour, appointing the Second of March for his festival.
The Order of St. Dominic, known in the Church both as the Order of Truth and the Order of Preachers, so rich in pontiffs, martyrs, and confessors, is also illustrious for its theologians, its ascetic writers, its great masters of the spiritual life. Its mystic theologians stand in the first rank of those who have scaled the wondrous heights of sublime perfection. Not only have they stood on the mountain tops of the spiritual life, but they have pointed out, with a clearness surpassed by no other writers, the path of ascent, marking for the unwary its every danger. The wiles of the enemy are exposed; where, when, and how he seeks to accomplish our ruin. Our defence is first outlined, and then given in detail. The source of strength is pointed out, and thus the perilous journey may safely be made.
Among the ascetic writers of the Order, mention may be made of St. Thomas Aquinas, Blessed Albert the Great, Master Humbert, St. Antoninus, Dom Bartholomew of the Martyrs, Ven. Louis of Granada, St. Vincent Ferrer, St. Catherine of Sienna, and St. Catherine of Ricci, whilst the Illuminated Doctor John Tauler and Blessed Henry Suso are among the first of the great mystic theologians of the Church.
The Little Book of Eternal Wisdom was translated and published for the Catholics of England years ago, but has long been out of print. It would be difficult to speak too highly of this little book or of its author. In soundness of teaching, sublimity of thought, clearness of expression, and beauty of illustration, we do not know of a spiritual writer that surpasses Henry Suso. He clothes virtue in such lovely garments, the path to the sublime heights of perfection is so clearly marked out, that the willing soul is allured onward and assisted upward, till she stands with her blessed guide in the full light of the Eternal Wisdom.
To this preface it was deemed advisable to add the celebrated “Parable of the Pilgrim,” taken from the writings of Walter Hilton, a Carthusian monk, and afterwards abridged by the venerable contemplative Father Baker, of the Order of St. Benedict.
The devout reader is earnestly requested to read this parable again and again before commencing the study of Suso’s golden book of Eternal Wisdom. This parable outlines the whole plan of the spiritual life, it conveys most useful instructions for those who seriously aim at perfection, which Hilton designates as the Vision of Peace given to the Soul in Jerusalem. This parable will be understood and appreciated by those only who are hungering after Justice. They should read it frequently and fervently pray for grace to become true pilgrims and pursue the path here clearly marked out, that so they may arrive at the glorious end.
C. H. McKenna, O.P.
THE PARABLE OF THE PILGRIM
A certain man had a great desire to go to Jerusalem. Not knowing the right way, he inquired of one he hoped could direct him, and asked by what path he could reach there in safety. The other said, “The journey there is long and full of difficulties. There are several roads that appear and promise to lead there, but their dangers are too great. However, I know one way which, if you will faithfully follow according to the marks and directions that I shall give you, will certainly lead you there. I cannot, however, promise you security from many frights, beatings, and other ill-usages and temptations of all kinds, yet if you only have courage and patience enough to suffer them without quarrelling, or resisting, or troubling yourself about them, but pass on quietly, having this only in your mind, and sometimes on your tongue, I have naught, I am naught, I desire naught but to be in Jerusalem,’ my life for yours, in due time you will get there in safety.”
The pilgrim, full of joy at the news said, “If only I arrive at length in safety at the place I desire so much, I care not what miseries I suffer on the way; therefore, only let me know the course I am to take, and, God willing, I shall not fail carefully to observe all your directions.”; “Since you have so good a will,” said the guide, “though I myself was never so happy as to be in Jerusalem, yet be assured that if you follow the instructions I shall give, you will arrive safe at the end of your journey.”
The advice is briefly this: Before taking the first step on the highway that leads there you must be firmly grounded in the truths of the Catholic faith. Moreover, whatever sins you find sullying your conscience you must cleanse by hearty penance and absolution according to the laws of the Church. Having done so begin your journey in God’s name; but be sure to have with you two necessary instruments, Humility and Charity. These are contained in the words above mentioned, which must always be present to your mind, “I am naught, I have naught, I desire only one thing and that is our Lord Jesus, and to be with Him at peace in Jerusalem.” The meaning and power of these words you must have continually, at least in your thoughts either expressly or virtually. Humility says, “I am nothing, I have nothing.” Charity says, “I desire nothing but Jesus.” You must never lose these two companions, neither will they consent to be separated from each other, for they agree lovingly together, and the deeper you establish yourself in humility the higher you will advance in charity, for the more you see and feel yourself to be nothing the more ardently you will see and love Jesus, that by Him who is All you may become something.
This humility is to be exercised not so much in considering your own vileness and sinfulness, though in the beginning this consideration is good and beneficial, but rather in a quiet consideration of the infinite being and goodness of Jesus. You are to behold Him either through grace in sensible devotional knowledge of Him, or, at least, in a full and firm faith in Him. And such a contemplation of the infinite sanctity and goodness of Jesus will operate in your mind a much more pure, spiritual, solid and perfect humility, than the reflecting on your own nothingness, which produces a humility much more gross, boisterous and imperfect. In this mirror of sanctity you will behold yourself to be not only the most wretched, filthy creature in the world, but also, in the very substance of your soul, setting aside the foulness of sin, to be a mere nothing; for really, in comparison with Jesus who is All, you are nothing. And until you have and feel that you have the love of Jesus, although you think you have done ever so many good deeds, spiritually and worldly, you have nothing, for nothing but the love of Jesus will abide in and fill your soul. Therefore cast aside and forget all other things in order that you may have that which is the best of all. If you do this you will become a true pilgrim, who leaves behind him house, wife, children, friends, and goods, and denies himself all things in order that he may go on his journey lightly and without hindrance.
If your desire for Jesus still continues and grows stronger, so that you go on your way courageously, they will then tell you that you may become ill, and perhaps with such a disease as will bring frightful dreads into your mind; or perhaps you will become very poor and you will find no charitable person to help you. Do not heed what they say, but if you should happen to fall into sickness or poverty, still have faith in Jesus, and say, “I am naught, I have naught, I care for naught in this world, and I desire naught but the love of Jesus, that I may see Him at peace in Jerusalem.”
If it should ever happen that through some of these temptations and your own weakness, you waver and perhaps fall into sin, and thus lose the way for a time, return as soon as possible to the right path by using such remedies as the Church ordains. Do not think of your past sins, for that will harm you and favour your enemies; but make haste to go on your way as if nothing happened. Think only of Jesus, and of your desire to gain His love, and nothing will harm you.
Finally, when your enemies see that you are so determined that neither sickness, fancies, poverty, life, death, nor sins discourage you, but that you will continue to seek the love of Jesus and nothing else, by continuing your prayer and other spiritual works, they will grow enraged and will not spare you the most cruel abuse. They will make their most dangerous assault by bringing before you all your good deeds and virtues, showing that all men praise, love, and honour you for your sanctity. This they will do to make you vain and proud. But if you offer your life to Jesus you will consider all this flattery and falsehood as deadly poison to your soul, and will cast it from you.
In order to shun such temptations renounce all vain thoughts and think of Jesus only, resolving to know and love Him. After you have accustomed yourself to think of Him alone, any thoughts not relating to Him will be unwelcome and painful to you.
If there is any work you are obliged to do for yourself or neighbour fail not to do it as soon and as well as you can, lest by delay it may distract your thoughts from Jesus. If it is unnecessary work do not think about it, but dismiss it from your thoughts saying, “I am naught, I can do naught, I have naught, and I desire naught but Jesus and His love.”
It will be necessary for you, as for all other pilgrims, to take, on the way, sleep and refreshments and sometimes innocent recreation; but if you use discretion in these things, although they seem to delay you, they will give you strength and courage to continue on your journey.
To conclude, remember that your principal aim, and indeed only business, is to give your thoughts to the desire of Jesus, and to strengthen this desire by daily prayer and other spiritual works. And whatever you find suitable to increase that desire, be it praying or reading, speaking or being silent, working or resting, make use of it as long as your soul finds delight in it, and as long as it increases the desire of having and enjoying nothing but the love of Jesus and the blessed sight of Jesus in true peace in Jerusalem. Be assured that this good desire, thus cherished and continually increased, will bring you safely to the end of your pilgrimage.
Observing these instructions, you are in the right path to Jerusalem. To proceed on this journey, it is necessary to do, inwardly and outwardly, such works as are suitable to your condition, and such as will help to increase in you the gracious desire that you have to love Jesus only. No matter what your works are, whether thinking, reading, preaching, labouring, etc., if you find that they draw your mind from worldly vanity and strengthen your heart and will more to the love of Jesus, it is good and profitable for you to pursue them. But if through custom, you find such works in time lose their power and virtue to increase this love, cast them aside and try some other works which you think will gain for you more grace and sanctity; for, although the inclination and desire of your heart for Jesus should never change, nevertheless the spiritual works you practice, such as prayer, reading, etc., in order to feed and strengthen this desire, may well be changed, according as you feel your spiritual welfare will be benefited by this change. Therefore, lest you hinder the freedom of your heart to love Jesus, do not think that because you have accustomed yourself to a certain form of devotion, that you cannot change it for a better.
Before you have journeyed far, you must expect enemies of all kinds, who will surround you and busily endeavour to hinder you from going forward. Indeed, if they can by any means, they will, either by persuasions, flatteries, or violence, force you to return to your former habits of sinfulness. For there is nothing that annoys them so much as to see a resolute desire to love Jesus and to labour to find him. Consequently, they will conspire to drive out of your heart that good desire and love in which all virtues are comprised. The first enemies that will assault you will be the desires of the flesh, and vain fears of your corrupt heart. Joined with these will be unclean spirits, which, with sights and temptations, will seek to entice you to them, and draw you from Jesus. But do not believe anything they say, but betake yourself to your old and only secure remedy, answering: “I am naught, I have naught, and I desire naught but only the love of Jesus.”
If they endeavour to put dreads and doubts into your mind, and try to make you believe you have not done necessary penance to atone for your sins, do not believe them. Neither believe them if they say you have not sufficiently confessed your sins, and that you should return home to do penance better, before you have the boldness to go to Jesus. You are sufficiently acquitted of your sins, and there is no need at all that you should delay in order to ransack your conscience, for this will now but harm you, and either put you entirely out of your way, or at least unprofitably delay your toil.
If they tell you that you are not worthy to have the love of Jesus, or to see Jesus, and that on that account you ought not to be so presumptuous as to desire and seek it, do not believe them, but go on, saying, “It is not because I am worthy, but because I am unworthy, that I desire to have the love of Jesus; for, once having that, I should become worthy. Therefore, I will never cease desiring it until I have obtained it. I was created for this love alone, and so, say and do what you will, I will desire it continually, and never cease to pray for it, and thus endeavour to obtain it.”
If you meet with any who seem to be your friends, and who in kindness would hinder your progress by entertaining you and seeking to draw you to sensual mirth by vain discourses and carnal pleasures, whereby you will be in danger of forgetting your pilgrimage, turn a deaf ear to them, answer them not; think only of this, that you would fain be at Jerusalem. If they offer you gifts and attractions, heed them not, but think ever of Jerusalem.
If men despise you, lay false charges against you, defraud and rob you, or even beat and use you cruelly, for your life take no notice of them, but meekly content yourself with the injury received, and proceed as if nothing had happened to hinder you. This punishment, or even more, is as nothing if you can only arrive at Jerusalem, where you shall be recompensed for all you have endured.
If your enemies see that you grow courageous, and that you will neither be seduced by flatteries nor disheartened by the pains and trials of your journey, but rather are contented with them, they will then be afraid of you. Notwithstanding all this, they will still pursue you on your way and seek every advantage against you, now and then endeavouring, either by flatteries or alarms, to stop and drive you back. Fear them not, but continue on your way thinking of nothing but Jerusalem and Jesus, whom you will find there. [Emphasis mine.]
BLESSED HENRY SUSO BIOGRAPHY
Blessed Henry Suso was a German Priest and Mystic, born in Constance (1295–1366). He was declared Blessed in 1831 by Pope Gregory XVI. The Dominicans celebrate his feast day on January 23rd.
His father belonged to the noble family of Berg; his mother, a holy woman from whom he took his name, to a family of Sus (or Süs). When thirteen years of age he entered the Dominican convent at Constance, where he made his preparatory, philosophical, and theological studies.
From 1324 to 1327 he took a supplementary course in theology in the Dominican studium generale at Cologne, where he sat at the feet of Johann Eckhart, “the Master,” and probably at the side of Tauler, both celebrated mystics. Returning to Constance, he was appointed to the office of lector, from which he seems to have been removed sometime between 1329 and 1334. In the latter year he began his apostolic career. About 1343 he was elected prior of a convent, probably at Diessenhofen. Five years later he was sent from Constance to Ulm where he remained until his death.
Suso’s life as a mystic began in his eighteenth year, when giving up his careless habits of the five preceding years, he made himself “the Servant of the Eternal Wisdom,” which he identified with the Divine essence and, in a concrete form, with the personal Eternal Wisdom made man. Henceforth a burning love for the Eternal Wisdom dominated his thoughts and controlled his actions. He had frequent visions and ecstasies, practised severe austerities (which he prudently moderated in maturer years), and bore with rare patience corporal afflictions, bitter persecutions and grievous calumnies.
He became foremost among the Friends of God in the work of restoring religious observance in the cloisters. His influence was especially strong in many convents of women, particularly in the Dominican convent of Katherinenthal, a famous nursery of mysticism in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and in that of Toss, where lived the mystic Elsbeth Stagel, who turned some of his Latin into German, collected and preserved most of his extant letters, and drew from him the history of his life which he himself afterwards developed and published.
In the world he was esteemed as a preacher, and was heard in the cities and towns of Swabia, Switzerland, Alsace, and the Netherlands. His apostolate, however, was not with the masses, but rather with individuals of all classes who were drawn to him by his singularly attractive personality, and to whom he became a personal director in the spiritual life.
This edition of Blessed Henry Suso’s Little Book of Eternal Wisdom is translated from the classical German text of Cardinal Melchior Diepenbrock, Prince-Bishop of Breslau.
That it is a very imperfect reproduction of the incomparable original, I am fully aware, but there are authors whose beauties of idiom are such as to be untranslatable, and Suso is one of them.
It is superfluous to enlarge here on the intrinsic merits of Blessed Henry Suso’s work. For over five hundred years it has enjoyed undiminished popularity, as at once a religious and literary masterpiece. Such a work speaks too eloquently for itself; it is its own best praise, its own best commentary.
BLESSED HENRY SUSO’S PREFACE TO HIS BOOK
A preacher once stood, after matins, before a crucifix, and complained from his heart to God that he could not meditate properly on His torments and passion, and that this was very bitter for him, inasmuch as, up to that hour, he had in consequence suffered so much. And, as he thus stood with his complaint, his interior senses were rapt to an unusual exaltation, in which he was very speedily and clearly enlightened as follows: Thou shalt make a hundred venias, and each venia with a special meditation of My passion, and each meditation with a request. And every one of My sufferings shall be spiritually impressed on thee, to suffer the same again through Me as far as thou art able.
And as he thus stood in the light, and would needs count the venias, he only found ninety, upon which he spoke to God thus: Sweet Lord, Thou didst speak of a hundred venias, and I find only ninety. Then he was reminded of ten others which he had already made in the Chapter House, before solemnizing, according to his custom, the devout meditation of the miserable leading forth of Christ to death, and coming before that very crucifix; and so he found that the hundred meditations had entirely included from beginning to end His bitter Passion and death. And when he began to exercise himself in this matter, as he had been directed, his former dryness was changed into an interior sweetness.
Now it was his request that if, perchance, anyone else had the same imperfection, and felt the same dryness and bitterness in meditating on Christ’s Passion in which all sanctification lies, he too might be assisted, and might exercise himself therein, and not desist until he had attained salvation. And, therefore, he wrote his mediations down, and wrote them in German, because he had so received them from God. Accordingly, he gained many a bright inspiration of divine truth, whereof these meditations were a cause, and between him and the Eternal Wisdom there sprang up a tender intercourse, and this took place not by a bodily intercourse nor by figurative answers; it took place solely by meditation in the light of Holy Writ whose answers can deceive in nothing; so that the answers are taken either from the mouth of the Eternal Wisdom who uttered them herself in the Gospel, or else from the highest doctors, and they comprise either the same words or the same sense, or else such truths as are agreeable to Holy Writ, out of whose mouth the Eternal Wisdom spoke. Nor did the visions which hereafter follow take place in a bodily way; they are but an interpreted similitude.
The answer touching our Blessed Lady’s complaint he has given in the sense of St. Bernard’s words; and the reason why he propounds his doctrine by question and answer is that it may prove the more attractive; that it may not seem as though he were the person to whom the doctrine belonged, or who had spoken it as coming from himself. His object is to give a general doctrine, in which he and all persons may find everyone what is suitable for himself. He takes upon himself, as a teacher ought to do, the person of all mankind: now he speaks in the person of a sinner; now under the image of a love-sick soul; then, as the matter suggests, in the likeness of a servant with whom the Eternal Wisdom discourses.
Moreover, everything is expounded with reference to our interior; much is given here as doctrine that a zealous man should choose out for himself as devout prayer. The thoughts which stand here are simple, the words simpler still, for they proceed from a simple soul and are meant for simple men who have still their imperfections to cast aside.
It happened that, as the same brother had begun to write on the three matters, namely, the Passion, and the rest of it all, and had come to that part on repentance: Now then, cheer up thou soul of mine! etc., he had reclined himself one forenoon on his chair, and that in a bright sleep he saw clearly, in a vision, how two culpable persons sat before him, and how he chastised them very severely for sitting there so idly, and performing nothing.
Then was it given him to understand that he should thread a needle, which was put into his hand. Now the thread was threefold; and two parts were very fine, but the other part was a little coarser, and when he would needs twist the three together he could not well do it. Then he saw close to him on his right hand our Lord, standing the same as when He was unbound from the pillar, and He stood before him with a look so kind and fatherly that he thought it was indeed his father. Now he perceived that His body had quite a natural colour; it was not very white, but of the colour of wheat, that is, white and red well mixed together (and this is the most natural colour of all), and he perceived that His whole body was covered with wounds, and that they were quite fresh and bloody, that some were round, some angular, some very long, just as the whips had torn Him; and as He thus stood sweetly before him, and kindly looked at him, the preacher raised his hands and rubbed them to and fro on His bloody wounds, and then took the three parts of the thread and twisted them easily together. Then was given to him a power, and he understood that he was to complete his task, and that God with His rose-coloured garment (which is wrought so delightfully out of His wounds) would clothe all those in eternal beauty who should occupy their time and leisure with it here below.
One thing, however, a man should know, that there is as great a difference between hearing himself the sweet accords of a harp and hearing another speak of them, as there is between the words received in pure grace and that flow out of a living heart, through a living mouth, and those same words when they come to be set down on dead parchment, especially in the German tongue; for then are they chilled, and they wither like plucked roses: for the sprightliness of their delivery, which, more than anything, moves the heart of man, is then extinguished, and in the dryness of dry hearts are they received.
Never was there a string how sweet soever, but it became dumb when stretched on a dry log. A joyless heart can as little understand a joyful tongue as a German can an Englishman! Therefore let every fervent soul hasten after the first outpourings of this sweet doctrine, so that she may learn to contemplate them in their origin, where they were in all their loveliness and ravishing beauty; even there are the inpourings of the present grace, to the quickening of hearts that are dead! And he who thus looks at this book will hardly have read it through before his heart will needs be deeply moved either to fervent love, or to new light, or to a yearning towards God, and abhorrence of sin, or else to some spiritual request, wherein the soul will presently be renewed in grace.