English translation of fragments of the articles on ‘Jan Pelgrim Pullen’
by Susan Verkerk-Wheatley / Anne-Marie Bos
Jan Pelgrim Pullen
The third and also final article from the series about Jan Pelgrim Pullen (1550-1608) in ‘Van Ons Geestelijk Erf’ (From Our Spiritual Heritage), De Gelderlander, 1 October 1938. For the original text see: Jan Pelgrim Pullen. See also comment by Huub Welzen: titusbrandsmateksten.nl.
After Pullen has urged a breaking away, as much as possible, from all things, to be able to cleave to God, he affirms that we should once again search for God in the created order and, over and over again by means of this, bring ourselves into contact with God himself. He teaches us how we ought to be able to do that without the danger of again being shackled to the created order and pulled away from God. He then observes that in everything which is at our disposal, in all that we can use and possess, we should see that the gifts of God are not only made available to us through God’s goodness. This is an all too superficial view. We ought rather to consider that everything in its origin is divine, that in the depths of its being, it emanates from God and thus, that we should not merely consider it as being given to us by God, given in the manner that we give each other something, but that we should much rather reflect that God has created it for us, and that which is offered us is entirely divine in its origin. Then our nature will not think about its satisfaction but will in the first place think of God, whose purposes are served. Thus, having become accustomed in the first place to seeing God in all things, we shall feel ourselves drawn to those acts which lead our attention to God, gladly attending Holy Mass, receiving the Sacrament of the Altar, reading sacred Scripture, preaching the word of God ourselves or hearing others preaching it and so forth. Then, in this way we should more intimately unite ourselves with God and search for nothing but God alone. Moreover, even if we were then to be granted visions or revelations, these would have little significance for us compared to God himself who comes to meet us in them. Amongst no words or images is he to be understood and we should also then not attempt to consider these as the highest. It will often happen, he says, that in attending Holy Mass, in receiving Holy Communion and so forth, you are filled with sweet satisfaction. You are then inclined to consider this as something marvellous and therefore to prize it highly, so much so that if you lose this you think you have lost something great. And yet, your happiness and your election do not lie therein. If it seems that you are granted special enlightenment, and if made clear to you what the Holy Church in its mysterious doctrine has revealed and, then be on your guard, says Pullen, and try more than ever to regard yourself as small and insignificant, quite as nothing, drawn down into divine infinity, with which to be intimately united, is the highest good.
They, who certainly understand this ‘pathway to God’, seek only God, search for nothing other than God without even looking for something in themselves or indulging in personal satisfactions, also not in knowledge or consideration of the intellect. And these, Pullen says, ascend higher into God in one day, no, in one hour, yes in a single moment, being drawn deeply into his essence, more than others who regard sweet satisfaction as the highest good and do not penetrate the essential of piety. Thus, whoever fully loses himself in God, is completely free of himself, he shall receive first the full clarity of the divine light, and in that light remain so captivated and bound to God that he no longer leaves it. Thus, intimately united with God, he will be able to be fruitfully active and, through and through, a willing instrument in God’s hand. God will live in him and in his work and make this fruitful in time and eternity. However, if he is not in fact turned to God in his religion and piety, if he does not purely and only search for God, then God is not living in him and in his work, and this will also not bear the fruit which it could do, if it emanated solely out of God. Although they are daily in church, their service is not alive. Even if someone has plumbed the meaning of sacred Scripture and is a scholar in elucidating the mysteries of the faith, if he is not inwardly turned to God and free of himself, then he has actually not assimilated the true meaning of Holy Scripture and the mysteries of the faith, because this is God, who gives himself to us, who speaks to us in order to reveal Himself in his deepest essence, not in words and images, but in the stillness of the silent renunciation of all gratification. Not the letter, but the spirit gives life. The letter of Holy Scripture and of the highest human knowledge cannot make us understand what is beyond understanding, unless we learn from this that through it, God actually desires to tell us how infinite and incomprehensible His essence is, and through this concept of incomprehensibility, in humble recognition of our limitation and of all revelation, we see like a blind person, in the all dazzling light. Somewhat less knowledge and somewhat more of this light, which causes us to see ourselves as blind, would be very useful to us.
For Pullen, the explanation that the Holy Fathers here and there, missed the mark in terms of scholarship lies in their sanctity. He acknowledges that, in the elucidation of Scripture and of the mysteries of faith, they are not absolved from faults, but what harm is there in that, he asks. We must not take that so seriously. Much more important is the fact that they sought and found the union with God and pointed out to us the way to God. They understood the real and essential, and that is the most important thing. That, here and there, they went astray is an indication that they probably sought too much of their strength from earthly knowledge and in that, for obvious reasons, fell short. As they were intimately united to God, their God poured out his light in abundance and they were more safeguarded from lapses, for which their human knowledge made them susceptible. From their relatively few errors, we may heed a warning, that in practising the holiest and most exalted scholarship, to also unite ourselves wholly with God, to guard ourselves for every aberration. But on the other hand, we should understand that it is much worse to lose sight of God, even to the least degree, than to be subject to some error in scholarship. It is rather a pity, that so few people fully understand the value of this ‘path’ to God and lose themselves in earthly affairs.
Pullen points out that a hidden faculty is to be found in every soul which enables a person to see all things as emanating from God and referring back to God. Thus, if we only knew how to enter deeply into our own essence to discover this faculty and render it operative. But this involves demands that we lose ourselves entirely in him. Then God can reveal His Son in us and bring forth life. This is His joy and pleasure. But then we must surrender entirely to God in all simplicity and in awareness of our helplessness and make ourselves wholly receptive to his light without priding ourselves on what we ourselves do or could do. When we come to this degree of interior life, God gathers us up into himself and reveals himself in us and in our works.
Here Pullen refers to a book or treatise he previously wrote, Het boeck vant overweselijck leven (The Book of the Supernatural Life), in which he treats this theme more fully. He then counsels a person who aspires to this union with God not to allow himself to be diverted from this way to God. He must strive always to remain under the rays of that divine light. He must always understand that no light of human science conveys him more surely to his goal than this divine light, which comes from God himself and unites him as intimately as possible with God. Therefore, that person must keep far from himself everything which can disturb or interrupt that union with God and try to persevere in that quiet and indescribable union with God. He must count for nothing all other knowledge, as long as he possesses this union with God. He must not even consider the lack of human knowledge a loss, because that higher knowledge of God, which cannot be expressed in images or words, so far exceeds that it has to be counted for nothing.
It is to be regretted that so many people feed their spirit with swill for pigs, are entirely taken up with externals, and so remain deprived of the knowledge of the highest truth. They are like an ass that is draped with bells and attracts attention because of its harness; it remains an ass. But man knows that his glory lies in his inner union with God, and if he lends himself to it and does not presume on his own powers, God lives and works in him to his welfare and that of others.
Translation: Susan Verkerk-Wheatley / Anne-Marie Bos, with gratitude to a previous translation by Joachim Smet o.carm (†).
© Titus Brandsma Instituut 2019