CHASTITY: The Outer Senses (Part II) From the Ancrene Riwle

The Outer Senses (Part II) From the Ancrene Riwle

Author unknown

Here begins the second part, of the defense of the heart by the five senses.

Omnia custodia serva tuum quia ex ipso vita procedit (Proverbs 4:2-3).  “Protect your heart well with every kind of defense, daughter,” says Solomon, “for if she is well locked away, the soul’s life is in her.”  The heart’s guardians are the five senses, sight and hearing, tasting, and smelling, and the feeling in every part.  And we must speak of all of them, for whoever protects these well does as Solomon commands: protects well their heart and their soul’s health.  The heart is a most wild beast and makes many a light leap out.  As St. Gregory says, Nihil cordefugiatus, “nothing flies out of a person sooner than their own heart.”  David, God’s prophet, at one time mourned that she had escaped him: Cor meum dereliquit me (Psalm 39:1-3), that is, “My heart has fled from me.”  And another time he rejoices and says that she has come home: Invenit servus tuus suum (2 Samuel 7:27).  “Lord,” he says, “my heart has come back again; I have found her.”  When so holy a man and so wise and so wary lets her escape, anyone else may anxiously dread her flight.  And where did she break out of David, the holy king, God’s prophet?  Where?  God knows, at the window of his eye, because of one sight that he saw while looking out just once, as you will hear after.

Therefore my dear sisters, love your windows as little as you possibly can.  Let them all be little, the parlor’s smallest and narrowest.  Let the cloth in them be of two kinds: the cloth black, the cross white, both inside and outside.  The black cloth symbolizes to the world outside that you are black and unworthy, and that the true sun has burned you outwardly, and so made you as outwardly unlovely as you are, with the gleams of his grace.  The white cross is proper to you.  For there are three crosses, red and black and white.  The red is proper to those who are ruddied and reddened as the martyrs were through the shedding of their blood for God’s love.  The black cross is proper to those who are doing their penance in the world for terrible sins.  The white cross is rightly proper to white maidenhood and to purity, which it is very hard to keep well.  By a cross, hardship is always to be understood – so the white cross symbolizes the defense of white chastity, which it is very hard to protect well.  The black cloth, apart from its symbolism, does less harm to the eyes and is thicker against the wind and harder to see through, and keeps its color better against the wind and other things.  Look that your parlor cloth is fastened on every side and well-attached, and guard your eyes there in case your heart flies out and goes away as it did from David, and your soul sickens as soon as she is gone.

I write much for others that in no way touches you, my dear sisters.  For you do not have a name – nor ever will have through the grace of God – for being peeping anchoresses, or using enticing looks and behavior, as some, alas, sometimes unnaturally do.  For it is against nature and an immoderately strange thing that the dead should dote on those living in the world, and go mad with them through sin.

“But dear sir,” says someone. “Is it then so mightily evil to peep out?”  Yes it is, dear sister, because of the evil which comes of it.  It is evil and mightily evil to every anchoress, especially to the young – and to the old because they set a bad example to the younger, and give them a shield to guard themselves with.  For if anyone blames them, then they say right away, “But sir, she does it too, who is better than I am, and knows better than I what she ought to do!”  Dear young anchoress, often a most skillful smith forges a most puny knife.  Follow the wise in their wisdom and not in their folly.  An old anchoress may do something good that would be bad if you did it.  But to peep out without harm neither of you can do.  Take note now what harm has come of peeping: not one harm or two, but all the woe that now is and ever was and ever will be – all comes from sight.  See here the proof that this is true.

Lucifer, because he saw himself and gazed at his own fairness, leaped into pride, and from an angel became a hideous devil.  Of Eve our first mother it is written that sin found its very first entry into her through her sight: Vidit igitur mulier quod bonum esset lignum ad vescendum, et pulcrum oculis, aspectuque delctabile, et tulit defructu eius et comedit, deditque viro suo, (Genesis 3:6): that is, “Eve looked on the forbidden apple and saw it was fair; and she began to delight in looking at it, and set her desire on it, and took and ate of it, and gave it to her husband.”  See how Holy Writ speaks, and how profoundly it tells the way sin began, thus: sight went before and made a way for harmful desire – and the act that all humanity feels came after it.

This apple, dear sister, symbolizes all the things that desire and the delight of sin turn to.  When you look at a man, you are in Eve’s situation: you look at the apple. If someone had said to Eve when she first cast her eye on it, “Ah, Eve, go away, you are looking at your death,” what would she have answered?  “My dear sir, you are wrong, why are you challenging me?”

The apple that I look on is forbidden me to eat, not to look at!  Thus would Eve readily enough have answered.  O my dear sisters, Eve has many daughters who follow their mother, who answer in this way: “But do you think,” someone says, “that I will leap on him just because I look at him?”  God knows, dear sister, stranger things have happened.  Eve your mother leapt after her eyes, from the eye to the apple, from the apple in paradise down to the Earth, from the Earth to hell, where she lay in prison four thousands years and more, she and her husband both, and condemned all her offspring to leap after her to death without end.  The beginning and the root of all this sorrow was one light look; just so, as it is often said, much comes from little.  So let every weak woman fear greatly – seeing that she who had just then been wrought by the hands of God was betrayed through a single look, and brought into deep sin which spread over all the world.

Egressa est Dyna filia Jacob ut videret mulieres alien igenas, et cetera, (Genesis 34:1): “A maiden, Jacob’s daughter, called Dinah,” as it tells in Genesis, “went out to look at strange women” yet it does not say that she looked at men.  And what do you think came of that looking?  She lost her maidenhood and was made a whore.  Thereafter, because of that same act, the pledges of high patriarchs were broken and a great city was burned, and the king, his son, and the citizens were slain, the women led away.  Her father and her brothers were made outlaws, noble princes though they were.  This is what came of her looking.  The Holy Spirit caused all such things to be written in the book to warn women of their foolish eyes.  And take note of this: that this evil caused by Dinah did not come from the fact that she saw Hamor’s son, whom she sinned with, but came from her letting him lay eyes on her – for what he did to her was very much against her will at first.

In the same way Bathsheba, by uncovering herself in David’s sight, caused him to sin with her, a holy king though he was, and God’s prophet, (2 Samuel 11:2-5).  Now, here comes a weak man – though he holds himself estimable if he has a wide hood and a closed cloak – and he wants to see some young anchoresses.  And he just has to see whether her looks please him, she whose face has not been burnt by the sun – as if he was a stone!  And he says she may confidently look upon holy men – yes, someone like him, with his wide sleeves.  But, arrogant sir, have you not heard about David God’s own darling? – Of whom God himself said Inveni virum secundum cor meum, (Acts 13:22): “I have found,” he said, “a man after my own heart.”  This man, whom God himself in this precious saying declared a king and a prophet chosen above all, this man, because of one look cast on a woman as she washed herself, let out his heart and forgot himself, so that he did three immeasurably serious and mortal sins: with Bathsheba, the lady he looked at, adultery; on his faithful knight, Uriah her lord, treachery and murder, (2 Samuel 11).  And you, a sinful man, are so brazen as to cast foolish eyes upon a young woman!  Yes, my dear sisters, if anyone is eager to see you, never believe good of it, but trust him the less, I would not have it that anyone see you unless he has special leave from your director.  For all the three sins I have just spoken about, and all the evil caused by Dinah that I spoke about before, all came about not because the women looked foolishly on men, but because they uncovered themselves in the sight of men, and did things through which they had to fall into sin.

For this reason it was commanded in God’s law that a pit should always be covered, and if anyone uncovered a pit and a beast fell in, the one who had uncovered the pit had to pay for it, (Exodus 21:33-34).  This is a most fearsome saying for a woman who shows herself to the eyes of men.  She is symbolized by the one who uncovers the pit; the pit is her fair face and her white neck and her light eyes, and her hand, if she holds it out in his sight.  And also her words are a pit, unless they are well-chosen.  Everything to do with her, whatever it may be, which might readily awaken sinful love, our Lord calls all of it a pit.  This pit he commanded to be covered, lest any beast fall in, and drown in sin.  The beast is the animal man who thinks nothing about God, and does not use his senses as one ought to do, but seeks to fall into this pit that I speak of, if he finds it open.  But the judgment is very severe on whomever uncovers the pit, for she must pay for the animal that has fallen in.  She is guilty of that animal’s death before our Lord, and must answer for his soul on Doomsday, and pay for the loss of the animal, and have no other coin but herself.  This is a most heavy payment!  And God’s judgment and his commandment is that she pay without fail, because she uncovered the pit in which it drowned.  You who uncover this pit, you who do anything by which a man is carnally tempted through you, even if you do not know it, fear this judgment greatly.  And if he is tempted so that he sins mortally in any way, even if it is not with you but with desire toward you, or if he tries to fulfill with someone else the temptation which has been awakened through you, because of your deed, be quite sure of the judgment.  For opening the pit you must pay for the animal, unless you are absolved of it. You must, as they say, suffer the rod, that is, suffer for his sin.  A dog will happily enter wherever he finds an opening.

Inpudicus oculus inpudici cordis est nuncius – Augustine: “What the mouth cannot say for shame, the wanton eye speaks, and is like a messenger for the wanton heart.”  But now, here is some woman who would not for anything desire uncleanness with a man – and yet she does not care if he thinks about her, and is tempted by her.  Yet St. Augustine puts these two both in one pairing: to want, and to wish to be wanted: Non solum appetere sed et appeti velle criminosum – “To desire a man, or be willing to be desired by a man, both are deadly sins.”  Oculi prima tela sunt adultere, “The eyes are the arrows and the first weapons of lechery’s pricking.”  And just as men war with three kinds of weapons – with arrow’s shooting, and with spear’s point, and with sword’s edge – with just the same weapons – that is with arrows from the handling – this stinking whore lechery wars with the lady’s chastity, who is God’s spouse.  First she shoots arrows from wanton eyes, which fly lightly forth like a feathered shaft and stick in the heart.  Next she shakes a spear and advances on her, and with stirring words gives the spear’s wound.  The sword’s blow – that is, handling – is final, for a sword strikes from near at hand and gives the death-blow.  And, alas, it is as good as over for those who come so close together that they handle one another or in any way touch one another.  Whoever is wise and innocent should guard herself from the arrows, that is, guard her eyes; for all the evil that follows comes from the arrows of the eyes.  And is she not most reckless and foolhardy, who holds her head out boldly over an exposed battlement, when someone is attacking the castle with bolts from outside?  Truly our enemy, the warrior from hell, shoots more bolts at one anchoress, so I believe, than at seven and fifty ladies in the world.  The battlements of the castle are her house’s windows and she does not lean out of them lest she have the devil’s bolts in her eyes when she least expects it, for he is always attacking.  She keeps her eyes in, for once she is blinded she is easily felled; blind the heart and she is easily overcome, and with sin soon brought to the ground.

Bernardus: Sicut mors per peccatum inorbem, ita per has fenestras in mentem – “Just as death came into the world through sin,” says St. Bernard, “so through the window of the eye death has her entrance into the soul.”  Lord Christ!  People would shut fast every window of the house if they could shut death out of it, the death of the body – and an anchoress will not enclose her eye-windows against the death of the soul?  And they might quite as properly be called “ill-windows,” for they have done much ill to many an anchoress.

All Holy Writ is full of warnings about the eye.  David says Averte oculos meos ne videant vanitatem (Psalm 118:37) – “Lord,” says David, “turn away my eyes from the world’s wrongness.”  Job says, Pepigifedus cum oculis meis ne cogitarem de virgine, (Job 31:1), “I have made an agreement with my eyes,” says Job, “so that I may not misthink.”  What is he saying?  Do we think with our eyes?  God knows it, he speaks well.  For after the eye comes the thought and after that the deed.  Jeremiah knew this well, who lamented in this way: Oculus meus depraedatus est animam meam, (Lamentations 3:51): “Alas,” he says, “my eyes have robbed all my soul.”  When God’s prophet made such a lament over his eyes, what lamentation and sorrow on account of their eyes do you think comes to many men and to many women?  the Wise Man asks in his book whether anything harms women more than their eyes: Oculo quic nequius?  Totam faciem lacrimare faciet quem vidit (Ecclesiasticus 31:15): “The whole face must flow with tears,” he says, “just because of what the eye sees.”

So for the reasons I have given, in the same way as all the openings of all your windows have been kept closed from the view of everyone, so let them remain closed from now on – and the more tightly they can be closed, the more tightly they should be.  In general, the rule is: God will guard well all those who close them; and all those who leave them open, God will punish and allow to fall into sin, either with their foolish eyes, or their mouth, or their hands.  These and many other such things, unbecoming and unnatural in an anchoress more than in anyone else, would never have happened if she had kept her window tightly shut.  And if anyone contradicts me, I call her conscience to witness fiercely against her, that if she lingers at her window with an eye or a mouth, or ever receives a hand or a foolish word, she is all adorned and falsely tricked out in a spurious sanctity.  Ah, treacherous traitor!  “God, I would not do something evil or dirty to you,” says he or she – but these very people soil themselves and anger God, who sees what treason is inside the foolish heart.  Not only every fleshly touching but even every foolish word is a hateful villainy and worthy of God’s anger, though it grow no further between a man and an anchoress.  Yet through the just vengeance of God is goes further and further, and often – and when one least expects it – turns into that foul sin.  Alas, we have heard of it plenty of times!  Let no one trust in the anchoress who lets in a man’s eye and shows herself.  Above everything that you have written in your rule about outward things, I would have this point, this article about being well-enclosed, best kept.

4 Comments on CHASTITY: The Outer Senses (Part II) From the Ancrene Riwle

  1. where oh where is part 1 ??


  2. I will do my best.


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