Walter Hilton

walter-hilton

Walter Hilton (b. 1340–45, d. 24 March 1396) was an English Augustinian mystic. Hilton’s spiritual writings were highly influential during the fifteenth century in England. The most famous was the Scale of Perfection, which survives in some sixty-two manuscripts. With the revival of the Roman Catholic Church in England in the nineteenth century, a modernised version of a 1659 edition was issued by Fr JB Dalgairns in 1870. Evelyn Underhill published an edition of the Scale in 1923.

Little is known about Hilton, although there is evidence that he trained as a canon lawyer and spent years as a hermit before joining the Augustinian friars around 1386. He was well educated, and quoted Latin scripture in his book, with his own English translations.

Walter Hilton was an innovator. He was the first man to write a book of mysticism in the English language. At that time, Latin was the language of the church — although Wycliffe and his Lollards had worked hard to circulate manuscripts of an English Bible.

Hilton urged holiness. Every Christian is called to overcome sin, he said. As he saw it, this would come through ascetic practice and contemplation of God. In The Ladder of Perfection, he wrote,

“But you should ever seek with great diligence in prayer that you might gain a spiritual feeling or sight of God. And that is, that you may know the wisdom of God, His endless might, His great goodness in Himself and through His creatures…so that you may know and feel with all saints what is the length of the endless being of God, the breadth of the wonderful charity and the goodness of God, the height of His almighty majesty and the bottomless depths of His wisdom. In knowing and spiritual feeling of these should be the exercise of a contemplative man. For in these may be understood the full knowing of all spiritual things.”

His Ladder of Perfection sets out to describe the steps by which a soul attains the new Jerusalem. According to Hilton, the soul is formed in the image of God, first by faith, then in both faith and feeling. After passing through a dark night (in which humility and love stand it in good stead) the soul learns a longing “to love and see and feel Jesus and spiritual things.” When true love comes, vice is destroyed and Jesus becomes the life of the soul. A man is now able to see Christ working in all things.

Curiously enough, this man who set himself up as a guide for others admitted that he had never experienced the familiarity with the Divine that he described in his writings. This has not kept mystics from embracing his system. It was a fairly common outline of spirituality in Medieval Europe.

Source: http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1201-1500/walter-hilton-gave-spiritual-advice-11629871.html

Excerpts from his writing:

“The purpose of prayer is not to inform our Lord what you desire, for He knows all your needs. It is to render you able and ready to receive the grace which our Lord will freely give you. This grace cannot be experienced until you have been refined and purified by the fire of desire in devout prayer. For although prayer is not the cause for which our Lord gives grace, it is nevertheless the means by which grace, freely given, comes to the soul.”

“They must not fear, nor regard as sin, or take to heart any evil impulses to sin or to blasphemy, or doubts about the Sacrament, or any other such ugly temptations; for to experience these temptations defiles the soul no more than the bark of a dog or the bite of a flea. They trouble the soul but do not harm it provided a man puts them aside and ignores them. It does no good to struggle against them, or to try and master them by force, for the more a person struggles against them, the more persistent they become.”

“There are many who are hypocrites although they think they are not, and there are many who are afraid of being hypocrites although they certainly are not. Which is the one and which is the other God knows, and none but He.”

“What is humility but truthfulness? There is no real difference.”

“One who loves God retains this humility at all times, not with weariness and struggle, but with pleasure and gladness. Others, who have the common amount of charity and have not yet grown in grace to this extent, but are guided by their own reason, struggle and strive all day against their sins in order to acquire virtues. Like wrestlers, they are sometimes on top, and sometimes underneath. Such people are doing well. They acquire virtues through their own reason and will, but not because they love and delight in virtue, for they have to exert all of their energy to overcome their natural instincts in order to possess them. Consequently they never enjoy true peace or final victory. They will receive a great reward, but they are not yet sufficiently humble. They have not yet put themselves wholly into God’s hands, because they do not yet see Him.”

“Since you have forsaken the world and turned wholly to God, you are symbolically dead in the eyes of men; therefore, let your heart be dead to all earthly affections and concerns, and wholly devoted to our Lord Jesus Christ. For you must be well aware that if we make an outward show of conversion to God without giving Him our hearts, it is only a shadow and pretence of virtue, and no true conversion. Any man or woman who neglects to maintain inward vigilance, and only makes an outward show of holiness in dress, speech, and behavior, is a wretched creature. For they watch the doings of other people and criticize their faults, imagining themselves to be something when in reality they are nothing. In this way they deceive themselves. Be careful to avoid this, and devote yourself inwardly to His likeness by humility, charity, and other spiritual virtues. In this way you will be truly converted to God.”

“Learned men and great scholars have devoted great effort and prolonged study to the Holy Scriptures… employing the gifts which God gives to every person who has the use of reason. This knowledge is good… but it does not bring with it any spiritual experience of God, for these graces are granted only to those who have a great love for Him. This fountain of love issues from our Lord alone, and no stranger may approach it. But knowledge of this kind is common to good and bad alike, since it can be acquired without love, … and men of a worldly life are sometimes more knowledgeable than many true Christians although they do not possess this love. St. Paul describes this kind of knowledge: “If I had full knowledge of all things and knew all secrets, but had no love, I should be nothing.” Some people who possess this knowledge become proud and misuse it in order to increase their personal reputation, worldly rank, honours and riches, when they should use it humbly to the praise of God and for the benefit of their fellow Christians in true charity. St. Paul says of this kind of knowledge: “Knowledge by itself stirs the heart with pride, but united to love it turns to edification.” By itself this knowledge is like water, tasteless and cold. But if those who have it will offer it humbly to our Lord and ask for His grace, He will turn the water into wine with His blessing.”

Advertisements

About Bob OHearn

My name is Bob O'Hearn, and I live with my Beloved Mate, Mazie, and our lazy dog, Amos, in a lovely little mountain town called Paradise, situated on the ridge of the Little Grand Canyon, in the Northern California Sierra Nevadas. I have several other sites you may enjoy: Photo Gallery: http://www.pbase.com/1heart Essays on the Conscious Process: http://theconsciousprocess.wordpress.com/ Poetry and Prosetry: http://feelingtoinfinity.wordpress.com/ Writings from selected Western Mystics, Classic and Modern: https://westernmystics.wordpress.com/ Free Transliterations of Spiritual Texts: http://freetransliterations1.blogspot.com/ Wisdom of a Spirit Guide: https://spiritguidesparrow.wordpress.com/ Thank You!
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s