(c. 1300 – 1366)

[Note: ‘the disciple’ is Henry Suso himself.  He is describing the practical life of the enlightened person.  He never used the word ‘God’ but ‘Eternal Truth’ or ‘Eternal Wisdom’ (see this site, ‘Jacob’s Well’ 2008).  Today, for ‘detachment’ we should probably read ‘non-attachment’.]

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After this the disciple turned again in all seriousness to eternal Truth and asked for the power to discern by outward appearance a person who was truly detached. He asked thus. Eternal Truth, how do such people act in relation to various things?
            Answer: They withdraw from themselves, and all things withdraw along with this self.
            Question: How do they conduct themselves with respect to time?
            Answer: They exist in an ever-present now, free of selfish intentions, and they seek to act perfectly in the smallest thing as in the greatest.
            Question: Paul says that no law is made for the just.
            Answer: Just persons, by becoming so, conduct themselves more submissively than other people because they understand from within, in the source, what is proper outwardly for everyone, and they view all things accordingly. The reason that they are unfettered is that they do (freely) out of an attitude of detachment what ordinary people do under compulsion.
            Question: Is not the person who has been transported to interior detachment freed from external exercises?
            Answer: One sees few people reach the condition you describe without their strength being wasted. The efforts of those who really achieve it affect them to the marrow. And so, when they realise what is to be done and left undone, they continue to practise the usual exercises, performing them more or less frequently as their strength and the occasion permit.
            Question: Where do the pangs of conscience and other anxieties of seemingly good people come from, as well as the unrestrained latitude (of conscience) in other people?
            Answer: Both types are focusing their attention on their own image but in different ways; the one group spiritually, the other bodily.
            Question: Does a detached person remain unoccupied all the time, or what does he or she do?
            Answer: The activity of really detached people lies in their becoming detached, and their achievement is to remain unoccupied because they remain calm in action and unconcerned about their achievements.
            Question: What is their conduct toward their fellow human beings?
            Answer: They enjoy the companionship of people, but without being compromised by them. They love them without attachment, and they show them sympathy without anxious concern - all in true freedom.
            Question: Is such a person required to go to confession?
            Answer: The confession that is motivated by love is nobler than one motivated by necessity.
            Question: What is such people’s prayer like? Are they supposed to pray, too?
            Answer: Their prayer is effective because they forestall the influence of the senses. God is spirit and knows whether this person has put an obstacle in the way or whether he or she has acted from selfish impulses. And then a light is enkindled in their highest power, which makes clear that God is the being, life and activity within them and that they are merely instruments.
            Question: What are such a person's eating, drinking and sleeping like?
            Answer: Externally, and in keeping with their sensuous nature, the outward person eats. Internally, however, they are as if not eating; otherwise, they would be enjoying food and rest like an animal. This is also the case in other things pertaining to human existence.
            Question: What is their external behaviour like?
            Answer: They have few mannerisms, and they do not talk a lot; their words are simple and direct. They live modestly so that things pass through them without their involvement. They are composed in their use of the senses.
            Question: Are all detached people like this?
            Answer: More so or less so, depending on accidental circumstances. Essentially, however, they are the same.
            Question: Do such people come to a full knowledge of the truth, or do they remain in the realm of opinion and imagining?

            Answer: Since they remain basically human, they continue to have opinions and imaginings. But because they have withdrawn from themselves into that which is, they have a knowledge of all truth; for this is truth itself and they ignore themselves. But let this be enough for you. One does not arrive at the goal by asking questions. It is rather through detachment that one comes to this hidden truth.  Amen.


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In their many different idioms the classical spiritual writers have attempted to throw light on the eternal question of union with God. 
Every month we give you a brief passage from a spiritual classic.