29 December 2009

The True Marks and Qualities of the Elect

The words below are excerpted from a homily by the fourteenth-century German Dominican theologian and mystic, Johannes Tauler. In this particular sermon, he reflects on Christmas and how we as God’s human creation ought to respond to our Lord’s love. And we do this by exhibiting the qualities of true children of God which have been demonstrated to us by the example of Jesus Christ. Johannes Tauler makes use of the wisdom of Saint Augustine, Dionysius, and Saint Anselm in this homily.

Dear children, God has wrought a great wonder, and manifested the greatness of His love towards us, in that He has looked down upon us, who were His enemies, aliens and far off from Him, with such mercy as to give us power to become His sons and children; therefore it behooves us not to show ourselves ungrateful for such kindness, but to put on the true marks and qualities of the elect, beloved children of God.

He who would be a son of our Father in Heaven must be a stranger among the children of this world, and must have an earnest mind and a single eye, with a heart inclined towards God. Now such a one is made a son of God when he is born again in God, and this takes place with every fresh revelation of God to his soul. A man is born of the Spirit when he permits God's work to be wrought in his soul; yet it is not this which makes the soul to be perfectly blessed, but that revelation makes the soul to follow after Him Who has revealed Himself to her, and in Whom she is born anew, with love and praise.

The beloved children of God renounce themselves, and hence they do right without effort, and mount up to the highest point of goodness; while he who will not let go of himself, but does right by labor and toil, will never reach the highest that he might. Men who live on the outside of things are a great hindrance in the way of goodness by their many idle words. Therefore those who wish to foster the inner life of their souls, are in great danger of receiving hurt from things which are said without thought, especially when many are together. He who repents of what he has said as soon as the words are out of his mouth, is one of the careless speakers. He only is a good son who has cast off his old sins and evil habits; for without this it is impossible that he should be created anew in Christ Jesus.

It is a mark of the children of God that they see their own little faults and shortcomings to be great sins. We must let all things be to us merely the supply of our wants, and possess them in their nothingness. The great work and aim of the beloved children of God is to shun all sin, deadly or trifling, that they may not grieve God's spirit; for they know, as Saint Augustine says, that for the smallest habitual sin which is not punished and laid aside in this present life, they will have to suffer more than all the pains of this world. Hence Anselm says, that he would rather die, and that this world should be destroyed, than commit one sin a day knowingly. And Augustine says: "The soul is created eternal, and therefore she cannot rest but in God."

Dionysius says: "To be converted to the truth means nothing else but a turning from the love of created things, and a coming into union with the uncreated Highest Good. And in one who is thus converted there is a joy beyond conception, and his understanding is unclouded and not perverted by the love of earthly things, and is mirrored in his conscience, in the mirror of God's Mind. Love is the noblest of all virtues, for it makes man divine, and makes God man."

A certain teacher has said that if a man will give his heart and life to God, God will give him in return greater gifts than if he were to suffer death over again for him.

Now that man shall attain unto the Highest Good who is ready to descend into the lowest depths of poverty. And this comes to pass when he is cast into utter wretchedness and forsaken of all creatures and all comfort. And let him ask help of none; let him be as knowing nothing, and as though he had never been anything but a fool; let him have none to take compassion on him, even so much as to give him a cup of cold water to drink; yet let him never forget God in his heart, and never shrink from God's searching Eye of judgment, though he knows not what its verdict will be; but with a cheerful and thankful spirit yield himself up to suffer whatever God shall appoint unto him, and to fulfill according to his power, by the grace of God, all His holy will to the utmost that he can discern it, and never complain of his distresses but to God alone with entire and humble resignation, praying that he may be strong to endure all his sufferings according to the will of God. Dear children, what glorious sons of God would such men be! What wonders would God work through them to the magnifying of His glory! These are the true and righteous men who trust in God, and cleave to Him in spirit and in truth! That we may thus become His sons, may God help us by His grace! Amen.