[from Henry Suso]

  Bl. Henry Suso (c. 1300 - 1366) studied theology under Meister Eckhart in Cologne. But Eckhart was more than a teacher to him: there is a touching account in Suso's autobiography of how he went to Eckhart when his hypersensitive conscience was tormenting him, and how Eckhart gave him complete peace. He entered the Dominican Order in his native Constance. Some years later he had a profound religious experience which he described in great detail. It was the beginning of a great love story, told with impressive literary skill in the tender language of courtly love. 'Eternal Wisdom [a feminine noun in German, as in most languages with noun-gender] offers herself in the Holy Scriptures very affectionately, as a fair beloved who adorns herself beautifully in order to be well pleasing to all men, speaking gently in the guise of a woman, in order to incline all hearts to herself.'
    The language of chivalry, parodied in a later century in Don Quixote, was still viable in Suso's century. 'Your young unruly heart,' he said to himself, 'can scarcely endure to be without a special object of love.' So he often 'meditated about her, thinking of her lovingly, and liking her full well with all his heart and soul.' The mediaeval knight delighted to suffer for the lady he worshipped.
    Two of his books are written as dialogue, a favourite literary form in the 14th century. The dialogue is between himself ('the disciple') and God ('Eternal Truth', which, like 'Eternal Wisdom', is a feminine noun). The theme is the death of the ego.

     Disciple:  Lord, what is true detachment?
   Truth: Take note with careful discrimination of these two words: oneself and leave. If you know how to weigh these two words properly, testing their meaning thoroughly to their core and viewing them with true discernment, then you can quickly grasp the truth.
    Take, first of all, the first word -- oneself or myself -- and see what it is. It is important to realise that everyone has five kinds of self. The first self we have in common with a stone, and this is being. The second we share with plants, and this is growing. The third self we share with animals, and this is sensation. The fourth we share with all other human beings: we possess a common human nature in which all are one. The fifth - which belongs to a person exclusively as his or her own - is one's individual human self…
    Now what is it that leads people astray and robs them of happiness? It is exclusively this last self. Because of it a person turns outward, away from God and toward this self, when he or she should be returning inward. Thus they fashion their own selves according to what is accidental. In their blindness they appropriate to themselves what is God's. This is the direction they take, and they eventually sink into sinfulness….
    Disciple: The truth be praised! Dear Lord, tell me, does anything (of this self) still remain in the happy, detached person?
    Truth: Without a doubt it happens that, when the good and loyal servant is led into the joy of his Lord, he becomes drunk from the limitless overabundance of God's house. What happens to a drunken man happens to him, though it cannot really be described, that he so forgets his self that he is not at all his self and consequently has got rid of his self completely and lost himself entirely in God, becoming one spirit in all ways with him, just as a small drop of water does which has been dropped into a large amount of wine. Just as the drop of water loses itself, drawing the taste and colour of the wine to and into itself, so it happens that those who are in full possession of blessedness lose all human desires in an inexpressible manner, and they ebb away from themselves and are immersed completely in the divine will. Otherwise, if something of the individual were to remain of which he or she were not completely emptied, scripture could not be true in stating that God shall become all things in all things. Certainly one's being remains, but in a different form, in a different resplendence, and in a different power. This is all the result of total detachment from self. 


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.