Prologue of Richard Rolle
More have I marvelled than I showed when, forsooth, I first felt my heart wax warm, truly, and not in imagination, but as if it were burned with sensible fire. I was forsooth amazed as the burning in my soul burst up, and of an unwont solace; ofttimes, because of my ignorance of such healthful abundance, I have groped my breast seeking whether this burning were from any bodily cause outwardly. But when I knew that it was only kindled inwardly from a ghostly cause, and that this burning was nought of fleshly love or concupiscence, in this I conceived it was the gift of my Maker. Gladly therefore I am molten into the desire of greater delight and ghostly sweetness; the which, with that ghostly flame, has pithily [19] comforted my mind.

First truly before this comfortable heat, and sweetest in all devotion, was shed in me, I plainly trowed such heat could happen to no man in this exile: for truly so it enflames the soul as if the element of fire were burning there. Nevertheless, as some say, there are some, burning in the love of Christ, because they see them despising this world, and with busyness given only to the service of God. But as it were if thy finger were put into the fire it should be clad with sensible burning, so, as beforesaid, the soul set afire with love, truly feels most very heat; but sometimes more and more intense, and sometimes less, as the frailty of the flesh suffers.

O who is there in mortal body that all this life may suffer this great heat in its high degree, or may bear for long its continual existence? Truly it behoves him fail for sweetness and greatness of desire after so high an outward love; and no marvel though many, passing out of this world, full greedily would catch it and yearn after it with full hot desire; so that unto this honey-sweet flame with wonderful gifts of mind he might yield his soul, and so be taken, and forthwith enter the companies of them that sing praises to their Creator withouten end.

But some things happen contrary to charity; for filth of the flesh creeps up tempting restful minds; bodily need also and the frail affections of man, imprinted with the anguish of this wretched exile, sometimes lessen this heat, and the flame which under a figure I called fire, because it burns and lightens, they hinder and heavy. [20] And yet truly they take not fully away that which may not be taken away, for it has umbelapped [21] all my heart. But this most happy heat, sometimes absent on account of such things, appears again; and I, as it were abiding grievously cold, think myself desolate until the time it come again, whiles I have not, as I was wont, that feeling of ghostly fire which applies itself gladly to all parts of the body and soul, and in the which they know themselves secure.

And, moreover, sleep gainstands me as an enemy; for no time heavies me to lose save that in which, constrained, I yield to sleeping. Waking truly I am busy to warm my soul, thirled [22] as it were with cold, the which, when settled in devotion, I know well is set on fire, and with full great desire is lifted above all earthly things.

Truly affluence of this everlasting love comes not to me in idleness, nor might I feel this ghostly heat while I was weary bodily for travel, or truly unmannerly [23] occupied with worldly mirth, or else given without measure to disputation; but I have felt myself truly in such things wax cold, until, putting aback all things in which I might outwardly be occupied, I have striven to be only in the sight of my Saviour and to dwell in full inward burning.

Wherefore I offer this book to be seen: not to philosophers nor wise men of this world, nor to great divines lapped in infinite questions, but unto the boisterous [24] and untaught, more busy to learn to love God than to know many things; for truly not disputing but working is to be known and loved. For I trow these things here contained may not be understood of these questionaries; in all science most high in wisdom but in the love of God most low.

Therefore to them I have not written, except, all things forgetting and putting aback that are longing to this world, they love to be given only to the desires of our Maker. First truly they must flee all earthly dignity, and hate all pride of knowledge and vainglory, and at the last, conforming themselves to highest poverty, meditating and praying, they be constantly given to the love of God.

Thus no marvel the fire within of unwrought charity shall appear to them; and dressing their hearts to receive the heat with which all darkness is consumed, it will lift them up into that most lovely and merry burning, so that they shall pass temporal things and hold for themselves the seat of endless rest. The more knowledge they have, truly the more they are able to love rightly, if they be glad to be despised of others, and gladly despise themselves.

And since I here stir all manner of folk to love, and am busy to show the hottest and supernatural desire of love, this book shall bear the name: "Burning of Love."


[19] to the core

[20] grieve

[21] enwrapped

[22] pierced

[23] immoderately

[24] ignorant or simple

the fire of love or
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