Medieval English Prose for Women: Selections from the Katherine Group and Ancrene Wisse

By Bella Millett; Jocelyn Wogan-Browne | Go to book overview

Guide for Anchoresses, Part 7

St Paul testifies that all external hardships, all mortifications of the flesh and physical labours count as nothing compared with love, which purifies and enlightens the heart. Physical exertion is of little use, but piety can achieve everything: that is, physical exertion is of little use, but a gentle and pure heart can achieve everything. If I speak with the tongues of men and angels, etc.; if I surrender my body to be burned, etc.; if I give away all my goods to feed the poor, but do not have charity, it is useless to me. 'If I knew the languages of men and angels,' he says, 'if I inflicted on my body every torture and suffering that the body could bear, if I gave the poor all that I had, and I did not have love as well, for God and for all men in him and for his sake, it would all be wasted.' For as the holy abbot Moses said, however much misery and physical hardship we may endure, and however much good we may bring about, all such things are nothing unless they are used as tools to cultivate the heart with. If the axe did not cut, or the spade dig, or the plough turn up the soil, who would want to keep them? Just as tools are not valued for their own sake, but only for the things that are done with them, so no physical hardship is to be valued except for this reason: that God may look towards it sooner with his grace, and purify the heart and give it clear sight, which nobody can have who is polluted by vices, or by earthly love of worldly things; because this pollution clouds the eyes of the heart so much that it cannot know God or rejoice in seeing him. Two things, as St Bernard says, make a pure heart: that everything you do, you do either solely for the love of God, or for someone else's good and advantage. In everything that you do, have one of these two intentions -- or both together, because the second is included in the first. If you always keep your heart pure in this way, you can do all you want; if you have a troubled heart, everything troubles you. To the pure all things are pure, but nothing is pure to those who are defiled, says the Apostle. Similarly, Augustine says: Have charity and do what you wish -- that is, with the consent of the reason. Because of this, my dear sisters, try above all to have a pure heart. What is a pure heart? I have said what it is already: that is, that you should not desire or love anything except for God and those things which help you towards

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Medieval English Prose for Women: Selections from the Katherine Group and Ancrene Wisse
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • List of Abbreviations ix
  • Introduction xi
  • Further Reading xxxix
  • A Note on the Texts and Translations xli
  • Texts 1
  • Hali Meiðhad - Epistel of Meidenhad Meidene Froure 2
  • A Letter on Virginity - A Letter on Virginity for the Encouragement of Virgins 3
  • Seinte Margarete 44
  • Saint Margaret 45
  • Sawles Warde I Þe Feaderes Ant I Þe Sunes Ant I Þe Hali Gastes Nome, | Her Biginneð 'sawles Warde'. 86
  • The Custody of the Soul 87
  • Ancrene Wisse, Part 7 110
  • Guide for Anchoresses, Part 7 111
  • Ancrene Wisse, Part 8 130
  • Guide for Anchoresses, Part 8 131
  • Textual Commentary 150
  • Glossary 166
  • List of Proper Names 217
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