Peace of charity in the annihilated life

by Marguerite Porete

English version by Ellen L. Babinsky


Of this life, says Love, we wish to speak, in asking what one could find:

1. A Soul
2. who is saved by faith without works
3. who is only in love
4. who does nothing for God
5. who leaves nothing to do for God
6. to whom nothing can be taught
7. from whom nothing can be taken
8. nor given
9. and who possesses no will

-- from Marguerite Porete: Mirror of Simple Souls (Classics of Western Spirituality), by Ellen Babinsky

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

This poem has several surprising statements that overturn our common notions of spirituality and striving and the need to help others. Marguerite Porete seems to be almost taunting us with the bluntness of her words. So let's look a little more deeply...

There is a debate that has gone on for centuries in virtually all spiritual traditions. In Christianity, the question is formulated as, "Is one saved through faith or through works?" (In Eastern traditions, the question might be rephrased as, "Does enlightenment require effort and service, or are those a distraction from the ever present truth?")

Here Marguerite Porete gives us a checklist of qualities of the awakened soul. It is a vision of the Self utterly at rest. It is "only in love" -- nowhere else. The soul is so complete in itself that "nothing can be taught" to it and "nothing can be taken / nor given" to it.

And, for her, activity has nothing to do with the soul in its wholeness. Action, effort, even service, imply an externalization of awareness and a dualistic view of the universe. It implies a creation of multiplicity and separation and incompleteness, while the soul in communion with Love only witnesses completeness. This is how she can say that the awakened soul "does nothing," not even "for God." It is because the soul "leaves nothing to do for God;" the soul, in fact, sees nothing undone that must be done. Every noble action is a form of ritual, an attempt to awaken wholeness and holiness within by enacting it externally. When that unity is finally found within, the outer world is not seen as separate from that wholeness.

The soul, overcome with this vision of unity, within and without, "possesses no will." That is, it has no self-will, no will to action. Love is its will.

Marguerite Porete states plainly that, in her view, the soul "is saved by faith without works."

Having said all this, I'll add a little more of my own perspective to this question. Even in the deepest, most still communion, one does not become inactive or cease to be of service to others. In fact, this is where service truly begins. But action is no longer performed through self-will. Instead, action naturally flows through you, free from self. There is simply expression that passes through you. It is not even truly action or "works" anymore, because that suggests 'you' are 'doing' them -- and you are not; it just naturally comes through you as warmth and light naturally radiate from the candle flame, without effort. One naturally works and wills for the wellness of the world -- but there is no feeling of work or will.



Recommended Books: Marguerite Porete

Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women Marguerite Porete: Mirror of Simple Souls (Classics of Western Spirituality) Women Writing in India: 600 BC to the Present: Volume 1 Christian Mystics: Their Lives and Legacies throughout the Ages The Soul as Virgin Wife: Mechthild of Magdeburg, Marguerite Porete, and Meister Eckhart
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