Chapters from the Myroure, II

This section does not follow directly upon the last but, rather, begins the second part of the work…

Introduction to the Second Part

Here begins the second part of Our Lady’s Mirror that contains your seven offices and first how you shall be directed in reading this book and all other books.

Devout reading of holy books is called one of the parts of contemplation for it brings much grace and comfort to the soul if it is well and discreetly done. Much holy reading is often lost for lack of diligence when it is not given the attention that it deserves. Therefore if you wish to profit in reading you must obey these five things.

First, you must take heed of what you read, that it contains such things that are useful for you to read and appropriate to the degree in which you stand. For you ought not to read of worldly matters or worldly books, those which do not contain spiritual edification or do not pertain to the needs of the [monastic] house. You should also read no books that speak of vanities or trifles and much less books of evil or occasions of evil. For since your holy rule forbids you all vain and idle words at all times and places, it likewise forbids you to read of all vain and idle things for reading is a kind of speaking.

Second, when you begin to read or to hear such books of spiritual fruit as are proper for you to read or to hear, you must dispose yourself to them with humble reverence and devotion. For just as in prayer a man speaks to God, so in reading God speaks to man and therefore he ought reverently to be heard and humble reverence be given to the word. It causes grace and the light of understanding to enter into the soul so that the soul may see and feel more openly the truth of the word and have greater comfort and edification from it. Therefore the Scripture says: Esto mansuetus ad audiendum verbum dei ut intelligas. That is, be humble and mild to hear the word of God in order to understand it. (As if he had said it [to you directly].) But you must have humility in hearing and reading the word, for you may not be certain of its true understanding. For our Lord Jesus Christ says in his gospel that the Father of heaven has hidden the mysteries and truths of his Scripture from the proud who are wise in their own sight and he has shown them to the humble.

Third, you must work to understand the thing that you read. For Cato taught his son to read his precepts that he might understand them. As he says, it is a great negligence to read and not to understand. Therefore when you read by yourself alone, you should not be hasty to read much at once but you ought to dwell upon it and sometimes read a thing again two or three times or more until you understand it clearly. St. Augustine says that no man should believe that he understands a thing sufficiently and completely with only one reading. If you cannot understand what you read, ask another who can teach you. They who are able should not be loath to teach another. As a clerk writes, there are three things that make a disciple surpass his master: one is to ask questions frequently and learn what he does not know. Another is to continually keep in mind what he learns and hears. The third is readily and freely to teach to others the things that he has learned and knows.

They also who read aloud in the convent ought to diligently look over their reading before and understand it that they may point it as it ought to be pointed and read it clearly and openly for the understanding of the hearers. They cannot do that unless they understand it and savor it first themselves.

The fourth thing that should be kept in reading is that you must address your intent so that your reading and studying is not only for knowledge alone or for telling to others but principally to inform yourself and to put it to work in your own living. For St. Paul says: Regnum dei non est in sermone, sed in virtute. That is, the kingdom of God is not in words but in virtues. For he who seeks after knowledge to be considered wise or to speak well and does not study for his own personal application, he works against himself. For our Lord says in his gospel that the servant who knows his Lord’s will and does not do it shall be beaten with many wounds.

The fifth thing is discretion so that you may direct your reading according to your circumstance. You should understand that books speak in various ways. Some books are made to inform the understanding and to tell how spiritual persons ought to be governed in all their living that they may know what they should leave and what they should do, how they should labor and cleanse their consciences and, in the attainment of virtues, how they should withstand temptations and suffer tribulations, how they should pray, occupy themselves, and contain spiritual exercises and many other holy doctrines. When you read such books, you ought to consider yourself truthfully whether you live and do as you read or not, what will and desire you have to do so, and what attention and work you direct to these things. If you feel that your life is ruled in virtue according to what you read, then you should truly and humbly thank our Lord for it who is the giver of all goodness and pray to him with a fervent desire that you may continue and increase ever more and more in his grace. If you feel and see in yourself that you lack such virtuous governance of which you read, then you must be right careful that you do not pass it recklessly by as though you did not know it. Rather, you ought to dwell on it and inwardly sorrow for the failings and shortcomings that you see in yourself and earnestly keep in mind the lesson that shows you yourself and often read it again and consider it and with full purpose and will amend yourself and so direct your life thereafter. In this manner you ought to read the first part of this book which informs your understanding and directs how you should be governed in saying and singing and reading of your divine service.

Other books are made to quicken and to stir up the affections of the soul. Some tell of the sorrows and dreads of death and of judgment and of pains to stir up the affection of fear and sorrow for sin. Some tell of the great benefits of our Lord God, how he made us and bought us and what love and mercy he shows continually towards us to stir up our affections of love and of hope in him. Some tell of the joys of heaven to stir up the affection of joy to desire it afterward. Some tell of the foulness and wretchedness of sin to stir up the affections of hate and loathing against it.

When you read these books you ought to work in yourself inwardly to stir up your affections according to what you read. When you read matters of fear, you ought to work to conceive a fear in yourself. When you read matters of hope, you ought to stir up yourself to feel comfort of the same hope and so forth.

Never the less it is necessary that each person is to read and study these books and such matters as may be most pertinent to him at that time. For if any were drawn down in bitterness of temptation or tribulation it is not useful for him at that time to read in books of heaviness and of dread although he may wish to do so, but rather such books as might stir up his affections to comfort and hope. So it should be said variously after the diversity of dispositions with which persons are stirred at that time. It is written in the Vita Patrum that when devils had long tempted a holy man at last they cried and said to him, “You have overcome us! For when we would lift you up with great hope, you bore yourself down in fear and sorrow of your sins. When we wished to overcome you with much fear and heaviness, then you reared yourself up to hope and the comfort of mercy. We can get no hold on you!”

There are also some books that treat of matters that both inform the understanding and stir up the affections variously. In the reading of such books, you should dispose yourself to both as the matter requires as I have said before. In this way you ought to read the second part of this book because within it your understanding is informed concerning what your service means. In the same service, your affections ought to be stirred sometimes to love and joy in the praise of our Lord Jesus Christ and of his most holy mother, sometimes to fear, sometimes to hope, and sometimes to sorrow and fellow-suffering and that especially on Fridays when we remember our Lord’s holy passion and the fellow-suffering of his holy mother.

Also in the second part the first word of each antiphon and of each hymn and of each response and verse and so forth of all the others is written in Latin with Roman letters that you may know where each begins. The English of all the same Latin is written with a smaller letter and that is the exposition of the Latin text. By this difference you will know which is the translation of the Latin and which is set for your exposition. Therefore they who see this book and read it may better understand it than those who hear it and do not see it.

Also when the second part is read openly in the convent, it is not necessary always to read the Latin especially where the matter hangs together as it does in your legend and in some other places. For it would in this way prevent the hearers from understanding. Therefore it is enough to read only the Latin at the beginning of each lesson and not in the beginning of each clause of the last. In other places of your service where the sense is not clear but each thing is different in sentence from one another as it is in the antiphon and responses and other material, there it is proper to read the first word in Latin as it is written at the beginning of each clause so that you should readily know when you have the Latin before you what English belongs to each clause. Also when your legend is read at matins if any would, in the meantime, have the English before her and feed her mind with it, then the Latin that is written at the beginning of each clause of the English should help her much and direct her that she may follow along with the reader clause by clause. Else she would not know in the English alone where the reader of Latin might be. What I say about looking at the English while the Latin is read should be understood concerning those who have said their matins or read their legend [in Latin] beforehand. Else I would not counsel them to leave the hearing of the Latin for attention to the English.

As much as it is forbidden under pain of curse that no man should translate any text of holy Scripture into English without license from the diocesan Bishop and in many places of your service are such texts from holy Scripture, therefore I asked and have license of our Bishop to translate such things into English for your spiritual comfort and profit so that both our conscience in the translating and yours in having may be the more sure and clear to our Lord’s worship which keeps us in his grace and brings us to his joy. Amen.