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In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, the Guide for Anchoresses begins here.

The upright love you. In the Song of Songs: the bride to the bridegroom. There is what is right in grammar, what is right in geometry, and what is right in theology; and each of these is a different kind of rightness. We are talking about rightness in a theological sense, which has two rules: one is concerned with the direction of the heart, the other with the rectification of external things.

The upright love you. Lord, says the bride of God to her beloved bridegroom, the upright love you. The upright are those who live according to a rule. And you, my dear sisters, have been asking me for a long time for a rule. There are many kinds of rule; but there are two in particular that I will discuss because of your request, with the grace of God.

One of them rules the heart, and makes it even and smooth without the bumps and hollows of a crooked and accusing conscience which says, You are committing a sin here, or This is not yet atoned for as well as it ought to be. This rule is always internal and directs the heart. And this is the charity which the Apostle describes, of a pure heart and a clear conscience and sincere faith. This rule is the charity of a pure heart and a clear conscience and true faith. Extend your mercy, says the Psalmist, to those who know you by sincere faith, and your justice—that is, uprightness of life—to those who have an upright heart—that is, those who direct all their intentions according to the rule of the divine will. These people are called the good par excellence: the Psalmist says: Do good, O Lord, to those who are good and upright in heart. They are told that they should rejoice—that is, in the testimony of a clear conscience: Rejoice, all you who are upright in heart, that is, those who have been set right by that supreme rule which rectifies everything, of which Augustine says, Nothing should be sought after but the rule of the supreme authority, and the Apostle, Let us all remain in the same rule.

The second rule is completely external and regulates the body and physical acts, giving directions on all outward behaviour, how you should eat, drink, dress, say your prayers, sleep, keep vigil. And this is bodily exercise, which according to the Apostle is worth little; and is like the rule of what is right in mechanics, which is part of the discipline of geometry. And this rule only exists to serve the other. The other is like the lady, this one like her maid; because all that is ever done according to the outer rule is only to regulate the heart internally.

Now you ask what rule you anchoresses should observe. You should in every way, with all your might, scrupulously observe the inner rule, and the outer for the sake of the inner. The inner rule is always the same, the outer varies; because everyone should observe the outer rule in the way that helps her best to follow the inner. Now, it is indeed the case that all anchoresses can observe a single rule as far as purity of heart is concerned, which is the objective of all religious life; that is, everyone can and should observe one rule concerning purity of heart, which is a clean and clear understanding (conscience) unaware of any sin which has not been amended through confession. This is the work of the lady rule, which rules and straightens and smooths away sin from the heart and the conscience; because nothing makes it crooked apart from sin. Straightening and smoothing it is the virtue and the whole strength of every religious way of life and of every order. This rule is not a product of human invention, but of divine precept; therefore it is eternally unchanging, and everyone should observe it always in the same way. But not everyone can observe a single rule, and they need not and should not observe the outer rule in the same way, that is, where corporal observances are concerned: that is, corporal observances according to the outer rule, which I called the maid, and which is a human invention, established for no other reason than to serve the inner, which makes people fast, keep vigil, wear scanty and rough clothing, and similar hardships, which many can stand physically, many cannot. Therefore the latter must be changed in various ways according to each individual's nature and her capacity. For one may be robust, another so delicate that she can reasonably be excused and please God with less. One may be well-educated, another who is not must do more manual labour and say her prayers differently. One may be old and unprepossessing and give less cause for anxiety, another may be young and beautiful and need to be guarded more carefully. For this reason every anchoress should keep the outer rule according to her confessor's advice, and whatever he asks and orders her to do in obedience, being familiar with her nature and knowing her strength. He can change the outer rule at his discretion, according to how he sees that the inner rule can best be observed.

My advice is that no anchoress should make profession—that is, bind herself to a vow—of more than three things, which are obedience, chastity, and stability of abode (that she should never move elsewhere afterwards unless it is absolutely necessary, as in the case of violence and fear of death, or obedience to her bishop or his superior). For whoever undertakes something and promises God to carry it out as a vow binds herself to it, and commits a mortal sin if she voluntarily breaks her vow. If she does not promise it, she may do it nevertheless, and give it up whenever she wants to—as with food, with drink, abstaining from meat or fish, and everything of that kind, with dress, with sleeping arrangements, with Hours, with other prayers, saying so many or in such a way. You are free to do or to give up all these things and others like them while you want and when you want unless they have been vowed. But charity, which is love, and humility and patience, faithfulness and keeping all the ten commandments, confession and penance, these and others like them, some of which belong to the old law, some to the new, are not human inventions or a rule established by man, but are God's commands, and therefore everyone is obliged to keep them, and you above all, because these rule the heart. Nearly everything that I write is about ruling the heart, except at the beginning of this book and at the very end. You already observe everything of the outer rule that I am writing about here, my dear sisters, thanks be to God, and through his grace will do so the longer the better. But even so, I do not want you to bind yourselves by a vow to observe them; because as often as you broke any of them after that, it would distress you too much and make you so anxious that you might soon—which God forbid!—fall into despair, that is, into an absence of hope and a loss of faith in your salvation. For this reason, my dear sisters, you should not make a vow to practise anything that I write for you about external observances in the first part of your book, on devotions, and more particularly in the last, but keep it in your heart and practise it as if you had made a vow.

If any ignorant person asks you what order you belong to—as you tell me some do, straining out the gnat and swallowing the fly—answer: of St James, who was God's apostle and called God's brother because of his great holiness. If such an answer seems strange and remarkable to him, ask him what constitutes order, and where he could find the religious way of life more clearly described and explained in Holy Scripture than it is in St James's canonical epistle. He defines religious life and true order. Pure and immaculate religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their need, and to keep oneself unspotted from this world; that is, Pure and immaculate religion is to visit and help widows and fatherless children, and keep oneself pure and unspotted from the world. This is how St James describes religious life and order. The second part of what he says applies to recluses; because there are two parts, corresponding to the two different kinds of religious. Each kind has its own part, as you may hear. Some people in the world are good religious, especially prelates and true preachers. The first part of what St James said applies to them; they are, as he says, those who go to help widows and fatherless children. The soul is a widow who has lost her spouse, that is, Jesus Christ, through any mortal sin. Those are also fatherless who through their sin have lost the Father of heaven. Going to see such people and comforting them and helping them with the nourishment of holy instruction—this is true religion, says St James. The second part of what he says applies to your kind of religious life, as I said before, keeping yourselves pure and unspotted from the world more than other religious. So the apostle St James, describing religion, mentions neither white nor black—in his order. But many people strain out the gnat and swallow the fly—that is, attach great importance to what matters least. Paul the First Hermit, Antony and Arsenius, Macarius and the others, weren't they religious and of St James's order? Likewise St Sarah and St Syncletica, and many others like them, both men and women, with their coarse mats and their harsh hair-shirts; didn't they belong to a good order? And whether white or black—as ignorant people ask you, thinking that order consists in the outer garment—God knows; nevertheless, they were certainly both, not, however, in their clothes, but as God's spouse sings of herself, I am black but comely. I am black and yet white, she says: unsightly outside, bright inside. This is how you should answer those people who ask about your order, and whether it is white or black: say that you are both through the grace of God, and of the order of St James which he described next: To keep oneself unspotted from this world—that is, as I said before, to keep oneself pure and unspotted from the world. This is what the religious life consists in, not in the wide hood or the black cape, or in the white rochet or in the grey cowl. Where many people are gathered together, for the sake of unity importance must be attached to uniformity of clothing, and of other kinds of external observances, so that the outer uniformity should symbolize the inner unity of one love and one will that they all have in common. With their uniform habit, which they all share, and also in other things, they proclaim that all of them together share one love and one will (take care that they are not lying!). That is the nature of a community. But wherever a woman or a man is living on their own, as a hermit or recluse, it does not matter much about external things as long as they do not give rise to scandal. Listen to Micah: I will show you, O man, what is good and what God requires from you: to judge rightly at all costs and walk carefully with the Lord your God. I will show you, O man, says the holy Micah, God's prophet, I will show you truly what is good, and the nature of religion and order, the kind of holiness God requires from you. It is this; understand it. Always do well and deem yourself weak, and with dread and with love walk with God your Lord. Where these things are, there is true religious life, there is true order; and to do all the rest and neglect this is nothing but fraud and hypocrisy. Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, who clean the outside of the cup and plate, but inside are full of every kind of uncleanness, like whited sepulchres. All that good religious do or wear according to the outer rule is entirely for this purpose; it is nothing more than than a tool with which to build towards it, nothing more than a maid to serve the lady in ruling the heart.

This one book is divided into eight smaller books. Now, my dear sisters, I am dividing this book into eight distinctions, which you call parts; and each one deals with its own particular topics, without overlap, and nevertheless each follows on logically from the one before, and what comes later is always linked to what precedes. The first part is all about your devotions. The second is about how you should use your five senses to guard your heart, in which are order and religion and the life of the soul. In this distinction there are five chapters, that is, five sections corresponding to the five senses, which guard the heart like watchmen wherever they are faithful; and it says something about each one separately in turn. The third part is about birds of a particular kind which David compares himself to in the Psalter as if he were a recluse, and how recluses are similar in nature to those birds. The fourth part is about both carnal and spiritual temptations, and comfort against them, and about their remedies. The fifth part is about confession. The sixth part is about penance. The seventh, about purity of heart, why Jesus Christ should and must be loved, and what deprives us of his love and prevents us from loving him. The eighth part is all about the outer rule: first about food and drink, and other related matters; then about the things you are allowed to receive, and what things you are allowed to guard or keep; then about your clothes and related matters; then about your handiwork; about haircutting and bloodletting; about your maids' rule; finally, how you should teach them lovingly.