1380 Song of Angels

The medieval mystic Walter Hylton was a contemporary of Adam Easton's. Educated at Cambridge he died just one year before Adam in 1396. Walter lived his life in the spirit of the mystic tradition and this was very much in vogue in the 14th century. We see young women such as Catherine of Sienna, Julian of Norwich and the more learned  Brigit of Sweden and Margery Kempe, both experiencing and writing about Christianity from a stringently ascetic point of view. Walter in a way forms a bridge between the scholastic debates of Oxford and Cambridge (see "University" for examples of these) and the writing sof the female mystics. You can detect a legalistic structure in his writing and somehow elements of his treatise seem reminiscent of Adam's debate on whether Adam could see God after the fall of man. Yet there is also a flow and charm to the work that has more in common with the women writers than the university. Here Walter explains how one may know if one has truly heard the song of angels.....

Editors note - there are other versions of this text on the web but most are in a modern English which to my mind takes away some of the beauty and the very prosaic quality that is the essence of Walter Hylton's work. The version below follows the 16th century printed version reasonably faithfully and is only updated at all to clarify two or three words where the archaic form really does make the meaning obscure.

Dear brother in Christ, I have understanding by thine own speech, and also by the telling of another man, that thou yearnest and desirest to have more knowledge and understanding than thou hast of angel's song and heavenly sound; what it is and in what wise it is perceived and felt in a mans soul and how a man may be sure that it is true and not feigned, and how it is made by the presence of the good angel and not by the inputting of the evil angel. These things thou wouldst learn of me, but, soothly, I cannot tell thee for a surety the truth of this matter; nevertheless somewhat as me thinketh, I will show thee in a short word. Note well that the end and sovereignty of perfection standeth in true union of God and of a mans soul by perfect Charity. This union then is truly made when the mights of the soul are reformed by grace to the dignity and the state of the first condition, that is, when the mind is established firmly, without changing and wandering, in God and ghostly things, and when the reason is cleared from all worldly and fleshly beholdings, and from all bodily imaginations, figures, and fantasies of creatures, and is illumined by grace to behold God and ghostly things, and when the will and the affection is purified and cleansed from all fleshly, kindly and worldly love and is inflamed with burning love of the Holy Spirit. This wonderful union may not be fulfilled perfectly, continually, and wholly in this life for the corruption of the flesh, but only in the bliss of heaven. Nevertheless, the nearer that a soul in this present life may come to this union, the more perfect it is. For the more that it is reformed by grace to the image and the likeness of its Creator here, in this wise, the more joy and bliss shall it have in heaven.

Our Lord God is an endless being without changing, almighty without failing, sovereign wisdom, light, soothness without error or darkness, sovereign goodness, love, peace, and sweetness. Then the more that a soul is united, fastened, conformed, and joined to our Lord, the more stable and mighty it is, the more wise and clear, good and peaceable, loving and more virtuous it is, and so it is more perfect. For a soul that hath by the grace of Jesu and long travail of bodily and ghostly exercise, overcome and destroyed lusts and passions, and unreasonable impulses within itself, and without in the sensuality, and is clothed all in virtues, as in meekness and mildness, in patience and softness, in ghostly strength and righteousness, in continence, in wisdom, in truth, hope and charity, then it is made perfect as it may be in this life. Much comfort it receiveth from our Lord, not only inwardly, in its own privy substance by virtue of the union to our Lord that lieth in knowing and loving of God, in light and ghostly burning of Him, in transforming of the soul in to the Godhead; but also many other comforts, savours, sweetnesses, and wonderful feelings in divers and sundry manners, after that our Lord voucheth safe to visit His creatures here on earth, and after that the soul profiteth and waxes in charity.
Some souls, by virtue of the love that God giveth them, are so cleansed that all creatures and all that they heareth or seeth, or feeleth by any of the wits turneth them to comfort and gladness; and the sensuality receiveth new savour and sweetness in all creatures. And right as beforetimes the likings in sensuality was fleshly, vain, and vicious, for the pain of original sin, right so, now they are made ghostly and clean, without bitterness and biting of conscience. And this is the goodness of our Lord, that since the soul is punished in the sensuality, and the flesh is partner in the pain, that afterward the soul be comforted in the sensuality, and the flesh be fellow in joy and comfort with the soul, not fleshly, but ghostly, as he was fellow in tribulation and pain.

This is the freedom and the lordship, the dignity, and the worship that a man hath over all creatures, the which dignity he may so recover by grace here, that every creature savour to him as it is. And that is when by grace he seeth, he heareth, he feeleth only God in all creatures. In this manner a soul is made ghostly in the sensuality by abundance of charity, that is, in the substance of the soul.  Also, our Lord comforteth a soul by angel's song. What that song is may not be described by no bodily likeness, for it is ghostly, and above all manner of imagination and reason. It may be felt and perceived in a soul, but it may not be showed. Nevertheless, I shall speak thereof to thee as me thinketh. When a soul is purified by the charity of God, illumined by wisdom, and stabled by the might of God, then is the eye of the soul is opened to behold ghostly things, as virtues and angels and holy souls, and heavenly things. Then is the soul able because of cleanness to feel the touching, the speaking of good angels. This touching and speaking is ghostly and not bodily. For when the soul is lifted and ravished out of the sensuality, and out of mind of any earthly things, then in great fervour of charity and light (if our Lord vouchsafe) the soul may hear and feel heavenly sound, made by the presence of angels in loving God.

Not that this song of angels is the sovereign joy of the soul; for the difference that is between a man's soul in flesh and an angel because of uncleanness, a soul may not hear it except by ravishing in love and needeth for to be purified, well cleaned and filled with much charity or it were able for to hear heavenly sound. For the sovereign and essential joy is in the charity of God by Himself and for Himself, and the secondary is in communing and beholding of angels and ghostly creatures. For right as a soul, in understanding of ghostly things, is oftentimes touched and moved through bodily imagination by working of angels, as Ezekiel the prophet did see in bodily imagination the truth of God's hidden mysteries, right so, in the love of God, a soul by the presence of angels is ravished out of mind of all earthly and fleshly things and into an heavenly joy, to hear angel's song and heavenly sound, according to the measure of its charity.

Now then me thinketh that there may no feel verily the angel's song nor heavenly sound, but he be in perfect charity, though all that are in perfect charity have not felt it, but only the soul that is so purified in the fire of charity that all earthly savour is burned out of it, and all mean hindrance between the soul and the cleanness of angels is broken and put away from it. Then soothly may he sing a new song, and soothly he may hear a blessed heavenly sound, and angel's song, without deceit or feigning. Our Lord knows where that soul is that, for abundance of burning charity, is worthy to hear angel's song.

Whoso then would hear angel's song, and not be deceived by feigning of himself, nor by imagination, nor by the illusion of the enemy, him behoveth to have perfect charity and that is when all vain charity and dread, vain joy and sorrow, is cast out of the heart, so that it loves nothing but God, nor dread nothing but God, nor joyeth, nor sorroweth nothing but in God, or for God. Who so might by the grace of God go this way, he should not err.

Nevertheless, some men are deceived by their own imagination or by the illusion of the enemy in this manner. Some man when he long had travailed bodily and ghostlyly, in destroying of sins and getting of virtues, and peradventure hath gotten by grace a little rest, and a clarity in conscience, anon he leaveth prayers, readings of holy scriptures, meditations of the passion of Christ, and the mind of his wretchedness. Before he be called of God, he adhereth by his own wits, by violence, to seek and to behold heavenly things of his eye, be made ghostly by grace and overcomes by imaginations his wits and by indiscreet travailing turneth the brains in his head, and overtaxes the might and the wits of the soul and of the body. And then, for feebleness of the brain, he thinketh that he heareth wonderful sounds and songs and that is nothing but a fantasy, caused oftroubling of the brain, as a man that is in a frenzy he thinketh that he heareth and seeth what none other doth and is but vanity and fantasies of the head, or else it is by working of the wicked enemy that feigneth such sounds in his hearing. For if a man have any presumption in his fantasies and in his workings, and thereby falleth into indiscreet imagination, as it were in a frenzy, and is not ordered nor ruled by grace, nor comforted by ghostly strength, the devil entereth in, and by his false illuminations, and by his false sounds, and by his false sweetnesses, he deceiveth a mans soul. And of this false ground springeth errors and heresies, false prophecies, presumptions and false reasonings, blasphemings and slanderings, and many other mischiefs. And, therefore, if thou see any man ghostly occupied fall in any of these sins and these deceits, or in frenzies, know well that he never heard nor felt angels song nor heavenly sound. For soothly he that heareth verily angels song, he is made so wise that he will never err by fantasy, nor by indiscretion, nor by no craft of working of the devil.

Also, some men feel in their hearts as it were be ghostly sounds and sweet songs in divers manners, and this is commonly good and sometime it may turn to deceit. This sound is felt in this wise. Some man sets the thought of his heart only in the name of Jesu and steadfastly holdeth it thereto, and in short time him thinketh that that name turneth him to great comfort and sweetness, and him thinketh that the name soundeth in his heart delectably as it were a song and the virtue of this liking is so mighty that it draweth all the wits of the soul thereto. Who so may feel this sound and this sweetness verily in his heart, knows well that it is of God and as long as he is meek, he shall not be deceived.

But this is not angel's song but it is a song of the soul by virtue of the name and by a touching of the good angel. For when a soul offereth him to Jesu truly and meekly, putting all his trust and his desire in Him, and busily keepeth Him in his mind, our Lord Jesu, when He will, purges the affection of the soul, and filleth it and feedeth it with sweetness of Himself, and maketh His name  in the feeling of the soul as honey, and as song, and as anything that is delectable; so that it liketh the soul evermore to cry Jesu, Jesu. And not only he hath comfort in this, but also in psalms and hymns, and anthems of holy Church that the heart singeth them sweetly, devoutly, and freely, without any travail of the soul or bitterness, in the same time and notes that holy Church useth.

This is good of the gift of God, for the substance of this feeling lies in the love of Jesu which is fed and lighted by such manner of songs. Nevertheless, in this manner of feeling, a soul may be deceived by vainglory not in that time that the affection singeth to Jesu, and loveth Jesu in sweetness of Him, but afterward, when it ceaseth and the heart keeleth of the love of Jesu. Then entereth in vainglory. Also, some man is deceived in this way: he heareth it said that it is good to have Jesu in his mind, or any other good word of God then he straineth his heart mightily to that name, and by custom he hath it nearlhand always in his mind and nevertheless, he feeleth not thereby in his affection, sweetness nor light of knowing in his reason, but only a naked mind of God, or of Jesu, or of Mary, or of any other good word. Here may be deceit, not for it is evil to have Jesu in mind in this wise, but if he holds this feeling and this mind (that is only his own working by custom) to hold it a special visitation of our Lord and he thinks it more than it is. For note well that a naked mind or a naked imagination of Jesu, or of any ghostly thing, without sweetness of love in the affection or without light of knowing in reason, it is but a blindness, and a way to deceit, if a man hold it in his own sight more than it is. Therefore I hold it surer that he be meek in his own feeling, and hold this mind in regard nought till he may, by custom and using of this mind, feel the fire of love in his affection, and the light of knowing in his reason.
Lo I have told thee in this manner a little as me thinketh, not affirming that this sufficeth nor that this is the truth in this matter. But if you think otherwise, or any other man else savour by grace the contrary hereto, I leave thus saying and give stead to him; it sufficeth for me to live in truth principally, and not in feeling.

Transcription of Walter Hyltons Song of Angels from Pepwells edition.