Selected Writings

A free mind is one which is untroubled and unfettered by anything, which has not bound its best part to any particular manner of being or devotion and which does not seek its own interest in anything but is always immersed in God’s most precious will, having gone out of what is its own. There is no work which men and women can perform, however small, which does not draw from this its power and its strength. We should pray with such intensity that we want all the members of our body and all its faculties, eyes, ears, mouth, heart and all our senses to turn to this end; and we should not cease in this until we feel that we are close to being united with him who is present to us and to whom we are praying: God.

And so I tell you that we should learn to see God in all gifts and works, neither resting content with anything nor becoming attached to anything. For us there can be no attachment to a particular manner of behaviour in this life, nor has this ever been right, however successful we may have been.

As St Denys says: they speak most beautifully of God who can maintain the deepest silence concerning him in the fullness of their inner wealth.21

But of God you can never have a sufficiency. The more you have of God, the more you desire. If you could ever have enough of God, so that you were content with him, then God would not be God.

But where is this true possession of God, whereby we really possess him, to be found? This real possession of God is to be found in the heart, in an inner motion of the spirit towards him and striving for him, and not just in thinking about him always and in the same way. For that would be beyond the capacity of our nature and would be very difficult to achieve and would not even be the best thing to do. We should not content ourselves with the God of thoughts for, when the thoughts come to an end, so too shall God. Rather, we should have a living God who is beyond the thoughts of all people and all creatures. That kind of God will not leave us, unless we ourselves choose to turn away from him.

Concerning sin and our proper attitude when we find ourselves in sin. Truly, to have committed a sin is not sinful if we regret what we have done. Indeed, not for anything in time or eternity should we want to commit a sin, neither of a mortal, venial or any other kind. Whoever knows the ways of God should always be mindful of the fact that God, who is faithful and loving, has led us from a sinful life into a godly one, thus making friends of us who were previously enemies, which is a greater achievement even than making a new earth. This is one of the chief reasons why we should be wholly established in God, and it is astonishing how much this inflames us with so great and so strong a love that we strip ourselves entirely of ourselves. Indeed, if you are rightly placed in the will of God, then you should not wish that the sin into which you fell had not happened. Of course, this is not the case because sin was something against God but, precisely because it was something against God, you were bound by it to greater love, you were humbled and brought low. And you should trust God that he would not have allowed it to happen unless he intended it to be for your profit. But when we raise ourselves out of sin and turn away from it, then God in his faithfulness acts as if we had never fallen into sin at all and he does not punish us for our sins for a single moment, even if they are as great as the sum of all the sins that have ever been committed. God will not make us suffer on their account, but he can enjoy with us all the intimacy that he ever had with a creature. If he finds that we are now ready, then he does not consider what we were before. God is a God of the present. He takes you and receives you as he finds you now, not as you have been, but as you are now. God willingly endures all the harm and shame which all our sins have ever inflicted upon him, as he has already done for many years, in order that we should come to a deep knowledge of his love and in order that our love and our gratitude should increase and our zeal grow more intense, which often happens when we have repented of our sins. Therefore God willingly tolerates the hurtfulness of sin and has often done so in the past, most frequently allowing it to come upon those whom he has chosen to raise up to greatness. Now listen! Was there ever anyone dearer to or more intimate with our Lord than the apostles? And yet not one of them escaped mortal sin. They all committed mortal sin. He showed this time and again in the Old and New Testament in those individuals who were to become the closest to him by far; and even today we rarely find that people achieve great things without first going astray. And thus our Lord intends to teach us of his great mercy, urging us to great and true humility and devotion. For, when repentance is renewed, then love too is renewed and grows strong.

deceptive and can easily be an illusion. Indeed, the second type is experienced in all the faculties of our soul and cannot deceive those who truly love God; indeed they no more doubt it than they doubt God himself, for love drives out all fear. ‘Love knows no fear’ as St John12 (1 John 4:18) says, and it is also written: ‘Love covers a multitude of sins’ (1 Peter 4:8). For where there is sin, there can be neither complete trust nor love, since love completely covers over sins and knows nothing of them. Not in such a way as if we had not sinned, but rather it wipes them away and drives them out, as if they had never existed. For all God’s works are so utterly perfect and overflowing that whoever he forgives, he forgives totally and absolutely, preferring to forgive big sins rather than little ones, all of which creates perfect trust. I hold this kind of knowledge to be incomparably better, more rewarding and more authentic than the other, since neither sin nor anything else can obstruct it. For when God finds people in the same degree of love, then he judges them in the same way, regardless of whether they have sinned greatly or not at all. But those to whom more is forgiven, should have a greater love, as our Lord Jesus Christ said: ‘They to whom more is forgiven must love more’ (Luke 7:47).

For God does not give us anything in order that we should enjoy its possession and rest content with it, nor has he ever done so. All the gifts which he has ever granted us in heaven or on earth were made solely in order to be able to give us the one gift, which is himself. With all other gifts he simply wants to prepare us for that gift which is himself. And all the works which God has ever performed in heaven or on earth served solely to perform the one work, that is to sanctify himself so that he can sanctify us. And so I tell you that we should learn to see God in all gifts and works, neither resting content with anything nor becoming attached to anything. For us there can be no attachment to a particular manner of behaviour in this life, nor has this ever been right, however successful we may have been.

For God has not linked our salvation with any particular kind of devotion. Any one devotional practice has things which others lack, but the effectiveness of all good practices comes from God alone and is denied to none of them, for one form of goodness cannot conflict with another. Therefore people should remember that if they see or hear of a good person who is following a way which is different from theirs, then they are wrong to think that such a person’s efforts are all in vain. If someone else’s way of devotion does not please them, then they are ignoring the goodness in it as well as that person’s good intention. This is wrong. We should see the true feeling in people’s devotional practices and should not scorn the particular way that anyone follows.

For whoever does not truly have God within themselves, but must constantly receive him in one external thing after another, seeking God in diverse ways, whether by particular works, people or places, such a person does not possess God. The least thing can impede them, for they do not have God and do not seek, love and intend him alone. It is not only bad company but also good company that can obstruct them, not only the street but also the church, not only evil words and deeds but also good words and deeds, for the obstruction lies within themselves, since in them God has not become all things.

God, who is faithful, allows his friends to fall frequently into weakness only in order to remove from them any prop on which they might lean. For a loving person it would be a great joy to be able to achieve many great feats, whether keeping vigils, fasting, performing other ascetical practices or doing major, difficult and unusual works. For them this is a great joy, support and source of hope so that their works become a product and a support upon which they can lean. But it is precisely this which our Lord wishes to take from them so that he alone will be their help and support . . . in no way do our works serve to make God give us anything or do anything for us. Our Lord wishes his friends to be freed from such an attitude, and thus he removes their support from them so that they must henceforth find their support only in him.

How then should I love God?’ You should love God non-mentally, that is to say the soul should become non-mental and stripped of her mental images. For as long as your soul is mental, she will possess images. As long as she has images, she will possess intermediaries, and as long as she has intermediaries, she will not have unity or simplicity. As long as she lacks simplicity, she does not truly love God, for true love depends upon simplicity . . . Indeed, you must love him as he is One, pure, simple and transparent, far from all duality. And we should eternally sink into this One, thus passing from something into nothing. So help us God. Amen.

If I had a friend and loved him because of the benefits which this brought me and because of getting my own way, then it would not be my friend that I loved but myself. I should love my friend on account of his own goodness and virtues and account of all that he is in himself. Only if I love my friend in this way do I love him properly.

Indeed, the more we are our own possession, the less we are God’s possession.

in this way, seek wrongly, and the further they range, the less they find what they are looking for. They proceed like someone who has lost their way: the further they go, the more lost they become.

But what then should they do? First of all, they should renounce themselves, and then they will have renounced all things. Truly, if someone were to renounce a kingdom or the whole world while still holding onto themselves, then they would have renounced nothing at all. And indeed, if someone renounces themselves, then whatever they might keep, whether the kingdom or honour or whatever it may be, they will still have renounced all things.

It is written: ‘They have become rich in all virtues’ (1 Cor. 1:5). Truly, this cannot happen unless they first become poor in all things. Whoever desires to be given everything, must first give everything away.

My Lord told me a joke. And seeing Him laugh has done more for me than any scripture I will ever read.

Now pay attention to this. God is nameless for no one can either speak of him or know him. Therefore a pagan master says that what we can know or say of the First Cause reflects ourselves more than it does the First Cause, for this transcends all speech and all understanding . . . He is being beyond being: he is a nothingness beyond being. Therefore St. Augustine says: ‘The finest thing that we can say of God is to be silent concerning him from the wisdom of inner riches.’ Be silent therefore, and do not chatter about God, for by chattering about him, you tell lies and commit a sin. If you wish to be perfect and without sin, then do not prattle about God. Also you should not wish to understand anything about God, for God is beyond all understanding. A master says: If I had a God that I could understand, I would not regard him as God. If you understand anything about him, then he is not in it, and by understanding something of him, you fall into ignorance, and by falling into ignorance, you become like an animal since the animal part in creatures is that which is unknowing. If you do not wish to become like an animal therefore, do not pretend that you understand anything of the ineffable God.

Now some people are of the opinion that they are altogether holy and perfect, and go around the place with big deeds and big words, and yet they strive for and desire so many things, they wish to possess so much and are so concerned both with themselves and with this thing and that. They assert that they are seeking great piety and devotion, and yet they cannot accept a single word of reproval without answering back. Be certain of this: they are far from God and are not in union with him.

Now, you might say: how can this be? I cannot feel his presence in any way. Listen to this. Sensing his presence is not in your power but in his. He will show himself when it suits him to do so, and he can also remain hidden if that is his wish. This is what Christ meant when he said to Nicodemus: ‘The spirit breathes where it will: you hear its voice but do not know where it comes from, or where it is going’ (John 3:8).

On the value of the renunciation that we should practise inwardly and outwardly. You should know that no one has ever renounced themselves so much in this life that there was nothing left of themselves to renounce. But there are few people who are properly aware of this and who remain constant in their efforts. It is a fair trade and an equal exchange: to the extent that you depart from things, thus far, no more and no less, God enters into you with all that is his, as far as you have stripped yourself of yourself in all things. It is here that you should begin, whatever the cost, for it is here that you will find true peace, and nowhere else. People should not worry so much about what they do but rather about what they are. If they and their ways are good, then their deeds are radiant. If you are righteous, then what you do will also be righteous. We should not think that holiness is based on what we do but rather on what we are, for it is not our works which sanctify us but we who sanctify our works. However holy our works may be, they do not in any way make us holy in so far as they are works, but it is we, in so far as we are holy and possess fulness of being, who sanctify all our works, whether these be eating, sleeping, waking, or anything at all. Little comes from the works of those whose being is slight. This teaches us then that we should make every effort to be good, and should worry not so much about what we do or the character of our actions, but we should be concerned rather about their ground.

On undetached people who are full of self-will.4 People say: ‘O Lord, I wish that I stood as well with God and that I had as much devotion and peace with God as other people, and that I could be like them or could be as poor as they are.’ Or they say: ‘It never works for me unless I am in this or that particular place and do this or that particular thing. I must go to somewhere remote or live in a hermitage or a monastery.’ Truly, it is you who are the cause of this yourself, and nothing else. It is your own self-will, even if you don’t know it or this doesn’t seem to you to be the case. The lack of peace that you feel can only come from your own self-will, whether you are aware of this or not. Whatever we think – that we should avoid certain things and seek out others, whether these be places or people, particular forms of devotion, this group of people or this kind of activity – these are not to blame for the fact that you are held back by devotional practices and by things; rather it is you as you exist in these things who hold yourself back, for you do not stand in the proper relation to them. Start with yourself therefore and take leave of yourself. Truly, if you do not depart from yourself, then wherever you take refuge, you will find obstacles and unrest, wherever it may be. Those who seek peace in external things, whether in places or devotional practices, people or works, in withdrawal from the world or poverty or self-abasement: however great these things may be or whatever their character, they are still nothing at all and cannot be the source of peace. Those who seek in this way, seek wrongly, and the farther they range, the less they find what they are looking for. They proceed like someone who has lost their way: the farther they go, the more lost they become. But what then should they do? First of all, they should renounce themselves, and then they will have renounced all things. Truly, if someone were to renounce a kingdom or the whole world while still holding on to themselves, then they would have renounced nothing at all. And indeed, if someone renounces themselves, then whatever they might keep, whether it be a kingdom or honour or whatever it may be, they will still have renounced all things. St Peter said, ‘See, Lord, we have left everything’ (Matt. 19:27), when he had left nothing more than a mere net and his little boat, and a saint5 comments that whoever willingly renounces what is small, renounces not only this but also everything which worldly people can possess or indeed even desire. Whoever renounces their own will and their own self, renounces all things as surely as if all things were in that person’s possession to do with as they pleased, for what you do not wish to desire, you have given over and given up to God. Therefore our Lord said, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ (Matt. 5:3), which is to say those who are poor in will. Let no one be in any doubt about this: if there were a better way, then our Lord would have told us, who said, ‘If anyone would follow me, he must first deny himself’ (Matt 16:24). This is the point which counts. Examine yourself, and wherever you find yourself, then take leave of yourself. This is the best way of all.

People should not worry so much about what they do but rather about what they are. If they and their ways are good, then their deeds are radiant. If you are righteous, then what you do will also be righteous. We should not think that holiness is based on what we do but rather on what we are, for it is not our works which sanctify us but we who sanctified our works.

say, ‘I wish to come to you so that your wealth shall fill my poverty, your infinity shall fill my emptiness, and your immeasurable, incomprehensible Godhead shall fill my base and wretched humanity.

Take note of what makes our essence and our ground good. The reason why a person’s essence and ground, which lends goodness to their works, is wholly good is that their mind is wholly turned to God. Make every effort then to let God be great and to ensure that all your good intentions and endeavours are directed to him in all that you do and in all that you refrain from doing. Truly, the more you do this, the better your works will be, whatever they are. If you hold to God, then he will give you goodness. If you seek God, then you will find both God and all goodness. Indeed, if you trod on a stone while in this state of mind, it would be a more godly act than if you were to receive the body of our Lord while being concerned only for yourself and having a less detached attitude of mind. Whoever holds to God, holds to both God and all virtue. And what was previously the object of your seeking, now seeks you; what you hunted, now hunts you, what you fled, now flees you. This is so because the things of God cling to those people who cling to God, and all those things flee them, which are unlike God and are alien to him.

The most powerful form of prayer, and the one which can virtually gain all things and which is the worthiest work of all, is that which flows from a free mind. The freer the mind is, the more powerful and worthy, the more useful, praiseworthy and perfect the prayer and the work become. A free mind can achieve all things.

We should be able to recognize true and perfect love by whether or not someone has great hope and confidence in God, for there is nothing that testifies more clearly to perfect love than trust.

Why God sometimes allows people who are genuinely good to be hindered in the good that they do. God, who is faithful, allows his friends to fall frequently into weakness only in order to remove from them any prop on which they might lean. For a loving person it would be a great joy to be able to achieve many great feats, whether keeping vigils, fasting, performing other ascetical practices or doing major, difficult and unusual works. For them this is a great joy, support and source of hope so that their works become a prop and a support upon which they can lean. But it is precisely this which our Lord wishes to take from them so that he alone will be their help and support. This he does solely on account of his pure goodness and mercy, for God is prompted to act only by his goodness, and in no way do our works serve to make God give us anything or do anything for us. Our Lord wishes his friends to be freed from such an attitude, and thus he removes their support from them so that they must henceforth find their support only in him. For he desires to give them great gifts, solely on account of his goodness, and he shall be their comfort and support while they discover themselves to be and regard themselves as being a pure nothingness in all the great gifts of God. The more essentially and simply the mind rests on God and is sustained by him, the more deeply we are established in God and the more receptive we are to him in all his precious gifts – for human kind should build on God alone.

You should be like those who at all times watch and wait for their Lord’ (Luke 12:36). Truly, such vigilant people are alert and on the watch for their Lord for whom they wait; they look to see if he is not by chance concealed in what befalls them, however strange it may be to them.

You should not imagine that your reason can evolve to the extent of understanding God. Rather, if God is to shine divinely within you, your natural light cannot assist this process but must become a pure nothingness, going out of itself. Only then can God enter with his light, bringing back with him all that you have renounced and a thousand times more, including a new form which contains all things in itself.