Book: The Cell of Self-Knowledge

Author: Various

The Cell of Self-Knowledge By Various

Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook, or read online
Pages (PDF): 81
Publication Date: 1910

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The Cell of Self-Knowledge: Seven Early English Mystical Treatises. Chapters include: A very Devout Treatise, named Benjamin, of the Mights and Virtues of Man's Soul, and of the Way to True Contemplation, compiled by a Noble and Famous Doctor, a man of great holiness and devotion, named Richard of Saint Victor; Divers Doctrines Devout and Fruitful, taken out of the Life of that Glorious Virgin and Spouse of Our Lord, Saint Katherin of Seenes; A Short Treatise of Contemplation taught by Our Lord Jesu Christ, or taken out of the Book of Margery Kempe, Ancress of Lynn; A Devout Treatise compiled by Master Walter Hylton of the Song of Angels; A Devout Treatise called the Epistle of Prayer; A very necessary Epistle of Discretion in Stirrings of the Soul; and, A Devout Treatise of Discerning of Spirits, very necessary for Ghostly Livers.



A GREAT clerk that men call Richard of Saint Victor, in a book that he maketh of the study of wisdom, witnesseth and saith that two mights are in a man's soul, given of the Father of Heaven of whom all good cometh. The one is reason, the other is affection; through reason we know, and through affection we feel or love.

Of reason springeth right counsel and ghostly wits; and of affection springeth holy desires and ordained feelings. And right as Rachel and Leah were both wives unto Jacob, right so man's soul through light of knowing in the reason, and sweetness of love in the affection, is spoused unto God. By Jacob is understanden God, by Rachel is understanden reason, by Leah is understanden affection. Each of these wives, Rachel and Leah, took to them a maiden; Rachel took Bilhah, and Leah took Zilpah. Bilhah was a great jangler, and Zilpah was ever drunken and thirsty. By Bilhah is understanden imagination, the which is servant unto reason, as Bilhah was to Rachel; by Zilpah is understanden sensuality, the which is servant unto affection, as Zilpah was to Leah. And so much are these maidens needful to their ladies, that without them all this world might serve them of nought. For why, without imagination reason may not know, and without sensuality affection may not feel. And yet imagination cryeth so inconveniently in the ears of our heart that, for ought that reason her lady may do, yet she may not still her. And therefore it is that oft times when we should pray, so many divers fantasies of idle and evil thoughts cry in our hearts, that on no wise we may by our own mights drive them away. And thus it is well proved that Bilhah is a foul jangler. And also the sensuality is evermore so thirsty, that all that affection her lady may feel, may not yet slake her thirst. The drink that she desireth is the lust of fleshly, kindly, and worldly delights, of the which the more that she drinketh the more she thirsteth; for why, for to fill the appetite of the sensuality, all this world may not suffice; and therefore it is that oft times when we pray or think on God and ghostly things, we would fain feel sweetness of love in our affection, and yet we may not, for are we so busy to feed the concupiscence of our sensuality; for evermore it is greedily asking, and we have a fleshly compassion thereof. And thus it is well proved that Zilpah is evermore drunken and thirsty. And right as Leah conceived of Jacob and brought forth seven children, and Rachel conceived of Jacob and brought forth two children, and Bilhah conceived of Jacob and brought forth two children, and Zilpah conceived of Jacob and brought forth two children; right so the affection conceiveth through the grace of God, and bringeth forth seven virtues; and also the sensuality conceiveth through the grace of God, and bringeth forth two virtues; and also the reason conceiveth through the grace of God, and bringeth forth two virtues; and also the imagination conceiveth through the grace of God, and bringeth forth two virtues, or two beholdings. And the names of their children and of their virtues shall be known by this figure that followeth:

Husband: Jacob temporally, God spiritually. Wives to Jacob: Leah, that is to say, Affection; Rachel, that is to say, Reason. Maid to Leah is Zilpah, that is to understand,

Sensuality; and Bilhah maiden to Rachel, that is to understand, Imagination.

The sons of Jacob and Leah are these seven that followeth: Reuben signifieth dread of pain; Simeon, sorrow of sins; Levi, hope of forgiveness; Judah, love of righteousness;

Issachar, joy in inward sweetness; Zebulun, hatred of sin; Dinah, ordained shame.

The sons of Jacob and Zilpah, servant of Leah, are these: Gad, abstinence; Asher, patience.

The sons of Jacob and of Rachel are these: Joseph, discretion; Benjamin, contemplation.

The sons of Jacob and Bilhah, servant to Rachel, are these: Dan, sight of pain to come; and Naphtali, sight of joy to come.

In this figure it is shewed apertly of Jacob and of his wives, and their maidens, and all their children. Here it is to shew on what manner they were gotten, and in what order:—

First, it is to say of the children of Leah; for why, it is read that she first conceived. The children of Leah are nought else to understand but ordained affections or feelings in a man's soul; for why, if they were unordained, then were they not the sons of Jacob. Also the seven children of Leah are seven virtues, for virtue is nought else but an ordained and a measured feeling in a man's soul. For then is man's feeling in soul ordained when it is of that thing that it should be; then it is measured when it is so much as it should be. These feelings in a man's soul may be now ordained and measured, and now unordained and unmeasured; but when they are ordained and measured, then are they accounted among the sons of Jacob.


THE first child that Leah conceived of Jacob was Reuben, that is, dread; and therefore it is written in the psalm: "The beginning of wisdom is the dread of our Lord God." This is the first felt virtue in a man's affection, without the which none other may be had. And, therefore, whoso desireth to have such a son, him behoveth busily and oft also behold the evil that he hath done. And he shall, on the one party, think on the greatness of his trespass, and, on another party, the power of the Doomsman. Of such a consideration springeth dread, that is to say Reuben, that through right is cleped "the son of sight." For utterly is he blind that seeth not the pains that are to come, and dreadeth not to sin. And well is Reuben cleped the son of sight; for when he was born, his mother cried and said: "God hath seen my meekness." And man's soul, in such a consideration of his old sins and of the power of the Doomsman, beginneth then truly to see God by feeling of dread, and also to be seen of God by rewarding of pity.

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