Collection of Letters: Detail
- John of Mantua
To Matilda, always fortunate in Christ, John [sends] the grace of contemplation.
Every soul founded in faith, protected by charity, brought forth in action, seeks to increase itself, never satisfied with what it has. S/he keeps that well who does not retreat from self-knowledge. This knowledge is preserved in humility, felt in thinking, enlarged in feeling. This is the rest of labors, the comfort of sorrows, the death of vices, the life of virtues. It is the light of reason and the reason of light and the way of truth. This causes God to be sought and seekers to be made happy and to enjoy with happiness and exult with joy. The happy mind leaps, happiness exults; always increasing, it swells with joy in every joy. It contemplates the divine, disdains the earthly. It seeks always what is, is oppressed by what is not.
S/he already participates in heavenly life who is seized by the sweetness of contemplation and fattened by its appealing taste. Then charity grows, humility rises, pride is conquered, though even conquered it is to be feared. Fear grows, love rises, love from fear, fear from love. This is the blessed life in which man is known and is not ignorant of the author of man. In this life every creature is active, when contemplating is proclaimed by each, all things bless God, give thanks to God in all, and mindful of each, will be crowned by them. Therefore you, made happy by the sweetness of such good, reminded by the virtue of such pleasantness, seek to remain in this good and always to grow in it, fearing to lose what you rejoice always to have.
So, o true spouse of God, you sought to know your beloved in multiple ways and went around the city in love of him, and when you did not find enough seeking through the streets you were compelled to return to the open places, that is to men of active life, hoping that someone would find him for you once more. Compelled by this need, admonished by his love, you deigned to come to me who also does not abhor the wheel of the world, and you think somehow to find your love who dwells so much in pure minds through me who is quite experienced in such business. Therefore you asked me to expound the Song of Songs which is the doctrine of contemplation, hoping to hear something from me that might advance your love. Which work I undertake with pleasure, except that I am afraid to write of such a thing; but what is not sufficent of my own merits, your intention may deserve, so that with the holy spirit granting what I do not perceive I may be of help to your intention in some way. For the love of God is the spirit and it does not leave your love/charity a widow. I do not thus write, blessed soul, what appears to the teaching of human learning, but what is perceived with the help of the holy spirit. Protected therefore by that hope, I hand over most willingly to your charity/love what with God granting I can.
The prologue ends.
The first book begins.
The intention of Solomon in this book is to teach those to contemplate who, instructed according to his books, are able to be brought to greater matters. For in these, following the order of life, he proceded from lesser to greater. In the first, Proverbs, he instructed the young to dwell in the world without complaint; in Ecclesiastes to despise worldly things and what is not to be loved for itself, but in the Song of Songs, to commune with heavenly, to hasten always to him who is. Who does not walk in this way to contemplation, will not be rejoiced to commune in it; but since we know that you, beloved of the spouse, hastened to such good by these steps, you will be able to find joy through such investigation. So that you may enjoy, let your spirit always go back to prior matters, always seek that you not neglect something in minor things from which you might rightly grieve.
[end of last book]
This spouse began contemplation in humility and preserving humility, the root of contemplation, persevered in it and remained in humility to the end. Let this teach us how to be embodied in its way so we can rejoice with contemplation. For you have heard how much the desire for contemplation is aroused, always humiliating itself; you have been able to learn from it how it labored in knowledge of itself. How it put its hope in the beloved, how it was kindled in patience, and patiently instructed. How it ascended by steps and preserved humility in all things, who seeks can find. Since therefore you so loved to be joined with such a spouse/groom, since you sought this spouse over all things with the innards of your heart, whose sweetness you loved, imitate this spouse/bride; labor, desiring to perceive in the loveliest sweetness all the good that is read of here, so that you may fully see that this is the song of all songs, as we expounded the loveliest and sweetest of all things, that every other sings.
For nothing is so well known as through contemplation, nothing so grows as through its sweetness. Read this and understanding it, taste the savor of all things; seek always to know how sweet the Lord is to those tasting. And when you have grown in that taste, do not cease to persevere, mindful that “Who perseveres will be saved.” Labor that the more you ascend, the more you be humbled and being humble are exalted. Fortunate that you desire these goods and in their abundance you are supported by humility. Follow this spouse in the labor of her exercize, that you may deserve to come to that inheritance with her, which your spouse, our Lord Jesus Christ, offers, who lives with God the father and the holy spirit and reigns, God, through all the worlds of worlds (“world without end”). Amen.
Matildae semper in Christo felici Iohannes contemplationis gratiam. Omnis anima fide fundata, caritate munita, in agendo producta quaerat, unde se augeat, et numquam sit ei satis, quod habeat. Quod bene custodit, qui a sui cognitione non recedit. Haec autem cognitio in humilitate servatur et cogitando sentitur et sentiendo dilatatur. Hic est requies laborum, solamen dolorum, mors vitiorum, vita virtutum. Lumen est rationis et ratio luminis et via veritatis. Haec facit Deum inquiri et inquirentes laetari et laetitia gaudere et gaudio exultare. Salit mens laeta, exultat laetitia; semper in augmento, in omni gaudio dilatatur gaudio. Contemplatur divina, fastidit terrena. Quaerit semper, quod est, gravatur eo, quod non est. Iam vitae caelestis particeps efficitur, qui contemplationis dulcedine capitur et eius suavissimo gustu saginatur. Tunc crescit caritas, consurgit humilitas, vincitur superbia etiam victa semper timenda. Crescit timor, surgit amor, amor ex timore, timor ex amore. Haec est vita beata, in qua homo cognoscitur nec auctor hominis ignoratur. In hac vita omnis creatura operatur, ab unaquaque contemplans praedicatur, omnia Deum benedicunt, in omnibus Deo gratiae aguntur, et de unoquoque his memor coronabitur. Tanti igitur boni laetificata dulcedine, tantae suavitatis admonita virtute quaeris in hoc bono manere et in eodem semper crescere timens amittere, quod gaudes semper habere. Quae igitur, o vere Dei sponsa, dilectum cognoscere multipliciter quaeristi, et cuius dilectione civitatem circuisti et per vicos quaerens non satis invenisti, ad plateas idest ad activae vitae homines coacta es redire sperans quemlibet plus te eum invenisse. Hac compulsa necessitate, illius admonita caritate ad me etiam rotam mundi non abhorrentem dignata es accedere, et dilectum tuum in puris tantum mentibus habitantem per me talis negotii satis expertem aliquo modo putas invenire. Quapropter Cantica Canticorum, qui est doctrina contemplationis, me rogaasti exponere sperans aliquid a me audire, quod tuae dilectioni possit proficere. Quod opus gratanter suscipio, nisi quia de tanta re scribere formido; sed quod meis meritis non sufficio, hoc tua promereatur intentio, ut spiritu sancto donante, quae non sentio, tuae intentioni aliquo modo sim auxilio. Amor enim Dei spiritus est nec tuam caritatem viduam derelinquet. Nec ideo haec, beata anima, scribo, quod umquam humanae doctrinae parentur magisterio, sed spiritus sancti sentiuntur auxilio. Illius igitur spe protectus tuae caritati libentissime trado, quod Deo dante dicere potero.
Incipit Liber Primus
Intentio Salomonis est docere in hoc libro contemplari, quos secundum suos libros instructos ad maiora videt posse perduci. In his enim ordinem vitae secutus a minoribus ad maiora progreditur. In primo enim, qui est Proverbiorum, parvulos instruit in mundo sine querela versari, in Ecclesiaste vero mundana despicere et ea per se amanda non esse, in Canticis autem Canticorum in caelestibus conversari, ad eum, qui est, semper festinare. Qui hac via ad contemplationem non graditur, in ea conversari non laetabitur; sed quia te, sponsi dilecta, his gradibus ad tantum bonum scimus properasse, tali investigatione poteris gaudere. Ut tamen gaudeas, semper animus tuus ad priora recurrat, semper inquire, ne in minoribus aliquid neglegas, unde iure possis dolere.
Ista sponsa in humilitate contemplationem incepit et salva humilitate, contemplationis radice, in ea perseveravit et in humilitate usque in finem permansit. Hoc nos doceat, secundum suam viam huic incorporemur, ut contemplatione laetemur. Quantum enim contemplationis desiderium in se excitaverit semper se humiliando, audistis; quantum in ipsa sui notitia laboravit, ab ea discere potuistis. Quantum suam spem in dilectum posuit, quantum in patientiam se accendit, patenter edocuit. Quomodo per gradus ascendit et in omnibus humilitatem servavit, qui quaerit, invenire potest. Quia ergo tanti sponsi coniunctionem amasti, quia hunc sponsum cordis visceribus super omnia quaesivisti, cuius suavitatem dilexisti, hanc sponsam imitare; labora, omnis boni cupida, quae hic leguntur, in suavissima dulcedine sentire, ut plene videas ista esse cantica omnium canticorum, ut exposuimus suavissima et omnium dulcissima, quia omnia alia cantat. Nullum enim ita cognoscitur, sicut per contemplationem, nullum adeo crescit, sicut per istam dulcedinem. Ista lege, et intellegens omnium saporem degustes; semper quaere cognoscere, quam suavis est Dominus gustantibus. In quo gustu cum creveris, perseverare non cesses, memor: `Qui perseveraverit, hic salvus erit.' Labora, quanto magis ascendis, eo magis humiliari et humilians exaltari. Felix, quae haec bona appetis, si in abundantia eorum humilitati innitaris. Hanc sponsam sequere in sui exercitii labore, ut in eandem cum illa hereditatem merearis pervenire, praestante hoc tibi sponso tuo Domino nostro iesu Christo, qui cum Deo patre et spiritu sancto vivit et regnat Deus per omnia saecula saeculorum. Amen.
John sends Matilda his commentary in four books on the Song of Songs which she had asked him to write for her. He addresses the opening and the ending directly to Matilda, and makes a number of comments to her in course of the text, which might be considered one long letter in the tradition of spiritual tractates written for individuals. John encourages her to action as well as contemplation (28r-28v), telling her that earthly powers are established to protect men attacked from the devil’s agents, that their love of justice comes from God, as her glorious power does for the active life. She, a most prudent “virago” who terrified her subjects, must not be distressed that she has to bear arms as well as contemplate, to supply with her sword when the word does not prevail against perverse heretics. When Christ tells Peter to put his sword in its sheath he does not say throw it away; it must not be exercized except in concert with the authority of Peter, but it must be employed in the cause of justice. The pope fights heresy with the sword of heaven, Matilda with the sword of the world.
Iohannis Mantuani In Cantica Canticorum et De Sancta Maria Tractatus ad Comitissam Matildam, ed. Bernhard Bischoff, Burkhard Taeger (Freiburg: Universitätsverlag, 1973) Spicilegium Friburgense 19, Tractatus in Cantica Canticorum ad Semper Felicem Matildam, p.25-26, 154-55