Sunday, 21 April 2013

A Meditation of St Anselm

(Text from here; it's attributed to Anselm, though its authorship is uncertain.)

My heart’s voice is to Thee, my Lord and eternal King, Christ Jesus. The work of Thy hand dares to address Thee with loving boldness, for it yearns after Thy beauty and longs to hear Thy voice. O Thou, my heart’s desired One, how long must I bear Thy absence; how long must I sigh after Thee, and my eyes drop tears? O Lord, all love, all loveable, where dwellest Thou? Where is the place of Thy rest, where Thou reposest all joyful among Thy favourite ones, and satisfiest them with the revelations of Thy glory? How happy, how bright, how holy, how ardently to be longed for, is that place of perennial joys! My eye has never reached far enough, nor my heart soared high enough, to know the multitude of the sweetnesses which Thou hast stored up in it for Thy children. And yet I am supported by their fragrance, though I am far away from them. The breath of Thy sweetness comes to me from afar; a sweetness which to me exceeds the odour of balsam, and the breath of frankincense and myrrh, and every kind of sweetest smell. It awakes chaste longings in my heart; and delightful, yet scarce tolerable are its flames. For ‘what have I in heaven?’ (Ps. lxxiii. 25.) What is my treasure in that celestial shrine? What is my heritage in the land of the living? Is it not Christ, my Lord, my sole salvation, my total good, my fulness of joy? And how, O Lord, shall I restrain my heart from loving Thee? If I love not Thee, what shall I love? If I transfer my love from Thee, where shall I bestow it worthily? O longed-for Lord, where shall my longings find a rest outside of Thee? If my love stir its wing away from Thee, outside of Thee, it will be soiled; and my longings will be all in vain if they glance aside from Thee. For art not Thou loveable and desirable above all things that can be desired or loved? Whatever worth and beauty all creation has, it has from Thee; and what marvel, since Thou alone excellest all things? Thou hast clothed the sun among the stars with an excellent brightness, and brighter than the sun art Thou. Nay, what is the sun, or what is all created light, in comparison of Thee, but darkness? Thou hast peopled the sky with stars, the empyrean with angels, the air with birds, the waters with fish, the earth with herbs, and plants with flowers. But there is no beauty nor no grace in all of them in comparison of Thee, O Fountain of universal beauty, Lord Jesus. Thou hast stored honey with its sweetness, and sweeter than honey art Thou. Thou hast infused its pleasantness into oil, and pleasanter than oil art Thou. Thou hast shed their odours into all fragrant gums, and sweet and pleasant above all rare spices is Thy fragrance. Thou hast set gold among minerals in rare pre-eminence for worth and beauty; yet what is all of it compared to my priceless Lord, and His fathomless glory, that the angels long to gaze into? Every precious stone and desirable to look upon is the work of Thy hands,—sardius, topaz, jasper, chrysolite, onyx, beryl, amethyst, sapphire, carbuncle, emerald; and yet what are all of them but toys compared with Thee, all-loveable and all-beauteous King? And Thine own handiwork are those precious and immortal jewels with which Thou, O wise Master-builder, didst in the beginning of the ages beautifully embellish the superethereal palace to the praise and glory of the Father.

Through Thee, for the fulfilling of the behests of the eternal Father, thousands of thousands glide in swift flight twixt heaven and earth, like industrious bees that flit to and fro between their hive and the flowers; a busy throng, innocent and stainless, neither laggard nor disobedient. Through Thee a hundred times ten thousand stand ministrant in the sanctuary of the temple of highest heaven, staring on the Face of Majesty with a clear unflinching gaze, and sounding forth their harmonious ceaseless hymn to the glory of the triune undivided Godhead.

Through Thee the Seraphim burn, the Cherubim shine, the Thrones give judgment.

Thou, O Lord, art a fire that burns and consumes not; and, from their immediate nearness to the fires of Thy Godhead, all the sacred choir of the Seraphim are wrapt in coruscating flame, and pour abroad the overflowing of their blissful ardours on the other armies of Thy battling hosts; and of these we in our turn have tasted of the fulness.

Thou, our God, art very Light; and the hills catch Thy glory and shed it on Thy people, when Thou dost largely shower forth Thy hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge on the eyes of the Cherubim, who fix their nearer gaze on Thee. And from them are lighted in their turn the elect subordinated lamps of Thy marvellous tabernacle, which inextinguishably shine before Thy Face, O Lord...

Thine, O sweet Jesus, are the magnificent Archangels, in whom the benignity of Thy great condescension chiefly works; for, glorious satraps of Thy palace, Thou disdainest not to dispatch them down to this poor world to support and help our lowliness, creatures of clay that we are, and close allied to dust and ashes. Through them, by Thy command, the chiefest interests of our salvation are administered, and the profoundest secrets of Thy supreme purpose are conveyed to us by them; by them come sicknesses and health to the generations of mankind; by them the kingdoms and the empires of the world subsist. And, chief amongst them do we own Thy Michael, the stalwart standard-bearer and the citizen of heaven, who stands in advance of the army of the living God, and brandishing his champion’s blade thunders with terrible voice against the marshalled hosts of the enemy. ‘Who is like God?’

And the blessed Angels, so loveable in their innocence, are they not the choice work of Thy Fingers, O Wisdom of God? For on the day of their creation Thou didst deck them with an incorruptible vestiture for the work of Thy holy service. These are the living stars of the higher heaven, the lilies of the inner paradise, the rose-trees planted by the silent-flowing waters of Siloe, with their roots immovably fixed in Thee. O River of peace, O Breath of the garden of delights, O only Wisdom ranging round about the circling bourne of heaven; by Thee they shine, and burn, and glow in perfect wisdom, in virginal chastity, and in the ardours of a deathless love. Blooming in endless youth, they find in our weakness the sphere of their faithful service; for they lead us by the hand like tender guides, and direct our steps as we travel through this darksome world, and ward off the assaults of the enemy, and whisper to us the secrets of Thy will, and brace up our failing hearts to good, and carry up the incense of our prayers to the altar of gold, and always supplicate the Face of our merciful Father for us.

Thus, merciful Father, Thou hast indeed some care for us, though for a season we are far away from home. And if the tenth drachma which once slipped from Thy bosom and has now been recovered by Thy toils and sorrows have any worth, it is all Thy gift, good Jesus. If there be aught of sweetest sound in this tenth chord strung of yore for the praise of God, it is the persuasive touch of Thy Sovereign Hand that evokes it, when on the ten-stringed psaltery Thou singest the glory of the Father. Sing as Thou singest, O Lord; play Thy sweet music with the swift and changeful modulations of a manifold thanks giving. Strike those nine tuneful heavenly strings, which never yet sounded harsh or sad. And touch that tenth, of lowest note, whose upper part strained and set in tune to Thee sounds joyfully; whilst its lower part, bound as yet awhile to the earth, knows only how to yield dull sounds of sadness and untunefulness.

When, O First-begotten of God, I muse with intensest thought upon all Thy wonderful works, I tremble with amazement; for Thou dost shine forth all-glorious in every way in all of them. And yet, great though they be, and beautiful and very good, they show as emptiness and nothing compared with Thee. Earth and sky and all their bravery subsist by Thee their Creator and Governor, and utter forth Thy power and fulness, Thy wisdom and beauty, Thy goodness and love; and as light excels darkness, so Thou and Thou alone transcendest all of them. And Thou, my God, awaitest me in heaven, the Treasure and the Reward of Thy servant; Giver at once and Gift, Saviour and Salvation. The expected of my soul, ‘what besides Thee has it desired upon earth?’ (Ps. lxxiii. 25.)

Why then should I leave heaven for an atom? What is it in all the earth that I have deemed a greater good than Thee, or a dearer love than Thee, that I should steal my heart from Thee and desire anything in all the universe outside of Thee? Why in all my life have I ever loved any thing or desired anything but Thee, Jesus my God? Why, Jesus, have I delayed, why have I ever for a moment stopped entertaining Thee in my heart, embracing Thee with my whole soul, and delighting all the inward recesses of my being with Thy sweetness? When I was not with Thee, where was I? When my desires rested not on Thee only, whither, whither did they fly?

God of my life, how vainly have my days been spent, how unprofitably have they slipped by! days which Thou gavest me that I might do Thy will in them, and I have not done it. How long the years, how many the hours that I have squandered, living but bringing forth no fruit in Thy sight! And how then shall I stand? How shall I dare to lift my eyes and look in Thy Face at that great reckoning, if Thou shalt bid me give an account of all my sins or of all my opportunities, and shalt demand the issues of all! O let it not be so, most patient Father; nay, let it not be so, but rather let my wasted opportunities—alas, how many!—be buried in forgetfulness. And if, by Thy help, I have husbanded some few of them—their number is small enough, I know—let these be remembered to eternity; and, Father of all love, let at least this my residue of time be fruitful and hallowed by Thy grace, that it may find a place in the days of eternity and be reckoned in my favour in Thy sight.

Now, then, from this moment do you, all my desires, bestir yourselves and fly to your Lord Jesus: fly away; why linger ye? Speed ye to your goal, seek whom ye seek. ‘You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified’ (St. Mark xvi. 6)...

And thou now, my soul, lift up thyself again with all thy best endeavours, and join the thousands of saints who are rejoicing in Jesus their Lord. Fly thither in the chariot of faith and hope, and by the fire of love take there thy dwelling ‘where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God’ (Col. iii. 1). Strain thine eye, and see thou in the light of His countenance. Linger about the marks of His blessed Scars, and kiss them one by one with thankful devotion; Scars whence gushed those rivers of the precious Blood with which the only-begotten Son of God paid for thy salvation, and for thy sanctification to eternal life. O Jesus, he who loves Thee not, let him be anathema; whoso loves Thee not, let him be filled with bitterness. Thy love, O Lord, is chaste and admits of no impurity; the savour of Thy love is pure, and draws aside no soul from rectitude; Thy love is sweet, and no bitterness is in it, for it sweetens the world’s bitters, and turns to bitterness its sweets. It is not cramped by adversities, and no oppression overburdens it; it sinks not under want, and is embittered by no grief; it is even and undisturbed in bodily labours, careless of threats, incorruptible in the midst of blandishments; in tortures it remains invincible, and it lives for ever more in death. As the miser gloats over his hoard, and the mother delights in the love of her only child, even so, sweet Jesus, the soul that loves Thee sips joy and gladness from the treasures of Thy dear love. The sweetness of honey, the softness of milk, wine with its freshening taste, and all delight some things—none, none of them so please the palate of those who taste them as Thy love charms the souls of them that love Thee.

O sweet Jesus, living and all-desirable Bread; sweet Fruit of the vine; Oil of mingled rarities; gentle Lamb; strong Lion; lovely Leopard; guileless Dove; swift Eagle; Star of the morning; Sun of eternity; Angel of peace; fontal Light of the sempiternal lights; let my every sense conspire to praise Thee, and love Thee, delight in Thee, and admire Thee; Thee, the God of my heart and my portion, Christ Jesus. Let my heart die to its will, and my flesh to its desires; do Thou live in me, and let the live coal of Thy love glow in the midst of my soul, and break forth into a consuming fire; let Thy grace foster and nourish it in me, that it burn continually on my heart’s altar; let it glow in my inmost marrow, and rage in all the recesses of my soul; and in the perfect day let it be found perfected in Thee. In the day when Thou shalt see me stripped of this clothing of mortality, which I now carry about with me, let Thy Love enfold me, and be for a garment of beauty to my soul; that it be found not naked, but clothed upon, and have wherewithal to hide its infirmities from thine Eye. And that strange, that other fire, the fire that shall burn Thine adversaries; let the fervour of Thy love keep it far from me, and raise my soul to Thee, her Creator, and plunge her deep in the ocean of Thy Light Divine. Jesus, my Lord, let all who love Thee be filled with Thy benedictions; and coming home to Thee let their names be written in heaven, that they may have peace ‘under the covert of Thy wings’ (Ps. lxii. 8). To Thee therefore, only-begotten of God, be with the Eternal Father, and the Holy Ghost, unceasing praise, inviolable beauty, and Kingdom never to be moved, enduring for ever and for evermore. Amen.

The images are all from eleventh- and twelfth-century Canterbury manuscripts, now in the British Library: Harley 603, Arundel 155, and Arundel 91.

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