Oct 01 2012

Marguerite Porete – Peace of charity in the annihilated life

Published by at 8:49 am under Poetry

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

/ Photo by TheGost4u /

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.

Marguerite Porete

France (1260? – 1310) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

Not much is known about the life of Marguerite Porete (also known as Marguerite of Hainaut) other than what is recorded of her heresy trial in Paris — which eventually led to her death by being burned at the stake.

Marguerite Porete may have been a Beguine, like Hadewijch of Antwerp and Mechthild of Magdeburg, but this is questionable. Her accusers called her a Beguine, but apparently meant it as an insult. In her own writings, Marguerite lists the Beguines as being among her critics.

Her book, The Mirror of Simple Souls (or The Mirror of Simple Annihilated Souls, a reference to ecstatic annihilation in God), survived her death and was translated into many European languages, attributed initially to “an unknown French mystic.” The book is a collection of poetry and prose that suggests a profound experience of mystical union which resulted in a complete loss of personal identity in which only the Divine remains.

Marguerite wrote: “God has nowhere to put his goodness, if not in me…no place to put himself entire, if not in me. And by this means I am the exemplar of salvation, and what is more, I am the salvation itself of every creature, and the glory of God…” (tr. by Peter Dronke).

More poetry by Marguerite Porete

8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Marguerite Porete – Peace of charity in the annihilated life”

  1. Kathy Stewarton 01 Oct 2012 at 1:55 pm

    We simply are flaming, burning, loving, laughing, helping, soothing,without any effort. That is the truth!!! Exquisite thoughts on this not so easily understood poem. <3

  2. marrobon 01 Oct 2012 at 2:37 pm

    A rainy cool afternoon to announce October.
    It’s true, turning inwards, more quiet, more echoing enya music,
    more doing nothing comes naturally.

    I forget who said ” Do nothing and all is done”. ( too lazy to
    look it up) . But after
    reading Marguerite Porete and Ivan’s fine, subtle, clarification,
    an alteration flows naturally: Do nothing, with Love, and all is done.

  3. Andrew Mackenzie Gordonon 01 Oct 2012 at 4:17 pm

    Seeing as this is the Autumn after London 2012 I wanted to share something with/from/to soul: here are the Olympic values and my personal slogan to achieve them:
    Courage: be always true
    Determination: never ever ever ever give up
    Equality: You’re okay, I’m okay
    Excellence: Connect with soul
    Friendship: You’re not alone
    Inspiration: Ask someone who knows
    Respect: Everyone’s doing their best

  4. Madathil Nairon 01 Oct 2012 at 8:14 pm

    Ivan, you have summed it up all beautifully in the last para. Yes, in the presence of the awakened one, things happen spontaneously, while for him/her, there is no happening at all. One does or wills only if there is any externality left. Where is there an inside or outside for the one who has gone Universal – the Whole?

  5. Nollaig O'Maoldomhnaighon 02 Oct 2012 at 4:57 am

    What a wonderful awesome poem that highlights our human weaknesses! She was some woman that is for sure! Can we ever love like the that? Ah be grateful for mystics and just be! Thanks for the poet and poem Ivan and of course alway appreciate the information and analysis.

  6. Pegon 02 Oct 2012 at 6:29 am

    Thank you Ivan. Reading this idea of no will is beautiful, comforting. Living this is beautiful and comforting and much more. But there is also, more to it while “be”ing with a physical body that exists within a 3D world. At times I feel discomforted because of feeling guilty of not “doing” as we were taught throughout our lives. It is my consciousness that is in resonance with 9th, 10, 11, or 12th dimension and yet my body exists in third. Even my words now feel harsh and incongruent to this state of “be” ing. Marguerite speaks of “be” and not “being.” Only when you experience this “be” state can you understand internally what the difference is. What is left to do when the fires of kundalini have burned away all the ego attachments and healed all the shame, guilt, loss, pain? ! You can finally … be.

    Much love and light, Peg

  7. ebrahimon 03 Oct 2012 at 7:23 am

    when work is done
    there is only the worker

    when actions are completed
    there is only the actor

    where love is born
    there is only the beloved

    who wills himself in movement and stillness
    in reality and appearance

    when even the truth of the form
    has submitted to the reality of the form

    love returns to its home
    completing its light

    none remains thereafter to know
    love mysterious – remains ever its own secret – treasure

    the existent word has spoken for the non-existent one
    the revealed tune has sung on behalf of that which does not exist to sing

    the spirit of the sound returns to its source
    shedding off it garment on entry

    no will remains
    no entity

    concepts of being and not-being

    worshiping believer

    the last indication of you
    dies by the breath

    nothing more alive or dead
    to receive or bestow

    annihilation itself annihilated
    the life of the ever living alone

    finds itself to be
    by manifest proof and exposition

    the only.

  8. Pegon 07 Oct 2012 at 7:29 am

    Thank you ebrahim. That is beautiful.

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