Thomas à Kempis. (b. 1379 or 1380, d. 1471). The Imitation of Christ.
The Harvard Classics. 190914.
Book III: On Inward Consolation
LVIII. Of Deeper Matters, and Gods Hidden Judgments which are not to be Inquired into
MY Son, beware thou dispute not of high matters and of the hidden judgments of God; why this man is thus left, and that man is taken into so great favour; why also this man is so greatly afflicted, and that so highly exalted. These things pass all mans power of judging, neither may any reasoning or disputation have power to search out the divine judgments. When therefore the enemy suggesteth these things to thee, or when any curious people ask such questions, answer with that word of the Prophet, Just art Thou, O Lord, and true is Thy judgment,1 and with this, The judgments of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.2 My judgments are to be feared, not to be disputed on, because they are incomprehensible to human understanding.
2. And be not given to inquire or dispute about the merits of the Saints, which is holier than another, or which is the greater in the Kingdom of Heaven. Such questions often beget useless strifes and contentions: they also nourish pride and vain glory, whence envyings and dissensions arise, while one man arrogantly endeavoureth to exalt one Saint and another. But to wish to know and search out such things bringeth no fruit, but it rather displeaseth the Saints; for I am not the God of confusion but of peace,3 which peace consisteth more in true humility than in self-exaltation.
3. Some are drawn by zeal of love to greater affection to these Saints or those; but this is human affection rather than divine. I am He who made all the Saints: I gave them grace, I brought them glory; I know the merits of every one; I prevented them with the blessings of My goodness.4 I foreknew my beloved ones from everlasting, I chose them out of the world;5 they did not choose Me. I called them by My grace, drew them by My mercy, led them on through sundry temptations. I poured mighty consolations upon them, I gave them perseverance, I crowned their patience.
4. I acknowledge the first and the last; I embrace all with inestimable love. I am to be praised in all My Saints; I am to be blessed above all things, and to be honoured in every one whom I have so gloriously exalted and predestined, without any preceding merits of their own. He therefore that shall despise one of the least of these My people, honoureth not the great; because s made both small and great.6 And he who speaketh against any of My Saints speaketh against Me, and against all others in the Kingdom of Heaven.
5. But yet (which is far better) they love Me above themselves and their own merits. For being caught up above themselves, and drawn beyond self-love, they go all straightforward to the love of Me, and they rest in Me in perfect enjoyment. There is nothing which can turn them away or press them down; for being full of Eternal Truth, they burn with the fire of inextinguishable charity. Therefore let all carnal and natural men hold their peace concerning the state of the Saints, for they know nothing save to love their own personal enjoyment. They take away and add according to their own inclination, not as it pleaseth the Eternal Truth.
6. In many men this is ignorance, chiefly is it so in those who, being little enlightened, rarely learn to love anyone with perfect spiritual love. They are still much drawn by natural affection and human friendship to these or to those: and as they reckon of themselves in lower matters, so also do they frame imaginations of things heavenly. But there is an immeasurable difference between those things which they imperfectly imagine, and these things which enlightened men behold through supernatural revelation.
7. Take heed, therefore, My son, that thou treat not curiously those things which surpass thy knowledge, but rather make this thy business and give attention to it, namely, that thou seek to be found, even though it be the least, in the Kingdom of God. And even if any one should know who were holier than others, or who were held greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven; what should that knowledge profit him, unless through this knowledge he should humble himself before Me, and should rise up to give greater praise unto My name? He who considereth how great are his own sins, how small his virtues, and how far he is removed from the perfection of the Saints, doeth far more acceptably in the sight of God, than he who disputeth about their greatness or littleness.
8. They are altogether well content, if men would learn to be content, and to refrain from vain babbling. They glory not of their own merits, seeing they ascribe no good unto themselves, but all unto Me, seeing that I of my infinite charity have given them all things. They are filled with so great love of the Divinity, and with such overflowing joy, that no glory is lacking to them, neither can any felicity be lacking. All the Saints, the higher they are exalted in glory, the humbler are they in themselves, and the nearer and dearer are they unto Me. And so thou hast it written that they cast their crowns before God and fell on their faces before the Lamb, and worshipped Him that liveth for ever and ever.7
9. Many ask who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, who know not whether they shall be worthy to be counted among the least. It is a great thing to be even the least in Heaven, where all are great, because all shall be called, and shall be, the sons of God. A little one shall become a thousand, but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed. For when the disciples asked who should be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, they received no other answer than this, Except ye be converted and become as little children, yet shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. But whosoever shall humble himself as this little child, the same shall be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.8
10. Woe unto them who disdain to humble themselves willingly with the little children; for the low gate of the kingdom of Heaven will not suffer them to enter in. Woe also to them who are rich, who have their consolation here;9 because whilst the poor enter into the kingdom of God, they shall stand lamenting without. Rejoice ye humble, and exult ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of God if only ye walk in the truth.