Servatus Lupus of Ferrières

Letter to Gottschalk

Translated by Victor Genke

(Peter K. Marshall, ed. Servati Lupi Epistulae. Leipzig: Teubner, 1984, pp. 37–41)

     [1] Had I not feared that deeming me so adverse to the observance of charity as not to be moved by anyone’s pleas you would offend the very charity itself, I would not have responded on the subjects in which you sought advice, still taking refuge in silence, namely for two reasons: first, not to deprive or bereave you of the opportunity to exercise your own talent by causing your mind to be idle; second, not to let my mediocrity injure others’ excellency by my own estimation, as you already have the judgment of those whom, as I know, you harassed with this question formerly. Nevertheless, having had their oral and written advice, you want to put to the test what I think about it. Since holding different opinions concerning these questions, as long as they are not contrary to the faith, is either no or little fault, I will not show reluctance to explain what, according to my opinion, most blessed and learned Augustine had intended in the passage that you suggested for interpretation.
     [2] And this former question, which he left unsolved because he was not able to determine it from “any examples or testimonies of the divine Scriptures” (1) either with difficulty or at all—that is whether in that summit of resurrection, [which is] longed for by many faithful, the eyes of the flesh will be “something similar to the mind” (2)—is omitted altogether; at any rate if we were to think that by some insight of our mind we could apprehend the images of those future things that surpass [even] so great a genius of that author, it would be of extreme madness. Yet neither our felicity in this resurrection will be in any way diminished if the divine excellence is not seen by the eyes of the flesh, because now we do not feel any damage to our intelligence even though we cannot touch by the hand our reason, which we behold by the apprehension of our mind, because it is incorporeal; nor will our nature suffer anything shameful if much loftier excellence is given to our spirit which so excelled from the beginning of our birth that, although for some time [our spirit has been] distorted through sin, the image of God nevertheless has always been present in it, and the flesh, restored into one and the same person, is governed by it.
     [3] As to the latter question, let us examine the purpose of the words to which the same most outstanding author had confined himself, having diligently considered them. “Or, which is—he says—more easy to comprehend, God will be so known by us, and shall be so much before us, that we shall see Him by the spirit in ourselves, in one another, in Himself, in the new heavens and the new earth, in every created thing which shall then exist” (3) Thus far I do not see any obscurity in these words, because the most illustrious author who had a profound respect for divine authority, eloquently explains how “God will be all in all” (4), that is [by telling] that divine grace, the cloud of former ignorance being far away, will fully manifest itself to the elect, raised to the equality with angels, and by its ineffable vision will eternally make [us] blessed, as well as by the evidence of its whole presence will make [us] happy, so that nobody’s spirit should doubt that God is present in us and in all the rest of the saints, as also in all the other creature; so it glorifies the rational by its knowledge only, but the irrational, that is earth and heaven, being present wholly everywhere, it holds together by governing it. Thus it is present in the rational through recognition and presence and in the irrational through mere presence.
     [4] Which [grace], nevertheless, being brought down to the elect’s notion in a much more excellent way than now, will further not only the growth in knowledge, but also the increase in felicity. For even now heaven and earth are ruled by the presence of that [grace] whose truthful voice is, “I fill heaven and earth” (Je. 23:24). But [to be able] to understand in what way it is wholly present in heaven and wholly present in earth, the sight of our mind is [too much] darkened, “for a perishable body weighs down the soul,” (Wis. 9:15) lest it may be able to reveal the power of its nature freely. Which [body], when released not only from the stain, but even from any suspicion of corruption—[our] nature being glorified only, but not changed (for He who said, “Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” [Lk. 24:39] did not allow us to be mistaken concerning this)—will be in so great harmony with the spirit, to which it is now inimical, that it will neither want nor be able to sin any more, the spirit itself being firmly attached indeed to its God and made one with Him, [this body] will be rewarded with [the possibility of] looking at Him who indwells both it and the similar creatures, but rules the rest [of the created universe]. That is the kind of vision in which both secure felicity and felicitous security of the saints will be established, and if we are to apprehend it we should purify the eyes that are not of the body, but those of the heart, as the Truth commanded us saying, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt. 5:8).
     [5] Faith begins such purification here, and charity accomplishes it over there. For till when can our affection say to God, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You”? (Ps. 73:25, Vulg., 72:25) That is, as long as we put the hope of our beatitude in the power of some celestial creature or in the allurement of mundane excellence but not in God who created us, we suffer from gross glaucoma which covers our eyes. But when those things that sooner either perniciously frustrated our spirit with false opinions or delighted it with deceitful sweetness, begin to be healthily held in disgust, the gloom being gradually dispersed by God’s clemency, our vision recovers and day after day it grows more sharpened by the collyrium of divine precepts, until, the flesh of mortality having been laid aside, it is led to seeing Him onto whom all the aspirations had been transferred.
     [6] To the aforementioned words, on the meaning of which we have been talking for some time, not as we should, but as we could (because what they signify is incomprehensible), the same wonderful author added [the following]: “…And through the bodies in every body wherever the eyes of the spiritual body will be directed” (5). Nobody doubts, even among those who are very little acquainted with the secular literature, that here [the following meaning] is to be implied: “And so that the spirit may see through the bodies in every body.” Certainly, the opinion that God can be seen by the eyes of the flesh, unless they obtain some qualities of the mind, he removed in a most evident manner. It would have been possible indeed to inquire more scrupulously which meaning he did want to be perceived when he said, “through the body in every body,” unless he had blocked it up, certain similarity being admitted.
     [7] At last he premised: “Besides, one recognizes his own life (undoubtedly the spirit) (6)­, that life by which one now lives in the body, and which vivifies these earthly members and causes them to grow, by an interior sense, and not by one’s bodily eye. But the life of other people, though it is invisible, one sees through the body. For how do we distinguish between living and dead bodies, except by seeing at once both the body and the life which we cannot see but through the body?” (7) Accordingly, from this excellent sentence of his it grows clear that “through the bodies,” that is through bodily eyes, “in every body” which the eyes will observe, God is to be seen not in His substance, which privilege is reserved for the spirit, but in His most evident presence of governing. Thus, when we behold in the body the life of other people by our bodily senses, we do not contemplate the invisible life; yet we cannot doubt that it is there because of the vivifying power [that is inherent in them]. Our eyes will endure no insult if seeing God, who by His spirit is present everywhere, they will be able to behold Him only in the bodies which they will look at, in the way which I described above; just as now our hearing bears no humiliation if having perceived some most pleasant sound it still stays within its own limits.
     [8] This understanding of the [proposed] excerpt, which I have set forth to you, will liberate you of all the difficult questions in which you sought advice; among other things it will not declare that God can be seen by the bodily eye directly, neither in a proper nor in a figurative sense, because the eyes have no qualities similar to the mind whatever; for the dignity of the spirit will preserve the propriety of beholding Him. Since the divine majesty rules its creatures so evidently that it cannot be hidden even from the bodily eyes, anyone who thinks reasonably will easily point to the fact that all things represent nothing other than they in fact are. The circumstances, if considered without the obstinacy of superstition, lead a cautious and instructed reader to this conclusion. For me it is so much evident that I would consider it as a great wonder if most blessed Augustine, should he come to life again, thought [about it] in any other way.
     [9] Accordingly, always fulfilling but never acquitting myself of the duty of charity, I exhort you, my admirable brother, not to waste your talent on such questions any more, lest, occupied with them more than necessary, you should have insufficient strength for more useful research or teaching. Why should we so obstinately seek after the knowledge that perhaps is not yet profitable for us? Certainly it is a divinely illuminated mind who says to God: “The eye has not seen, O God, beside You, what You have prepared for those who wait for You” (Is. 64:4). How can we desire to have full comprehension of this ineffable vision, our spirit still being aggravated by the dense dirt of our vices?
     [10] Meanwhile, let us stay in the most ample field of the Holy Scriptures and fully give ourselves up to meditations about them and seek the face of the Lord humbly, piously and at all times, “for those who seek the Lord, shall not lack any good thing” (Ps. 34:10; Vulg., 33:11). It will depend on His clemency, while “we do not try to understand things that are too difficult for us, or try to discover what is beyond our powers,” (cf. Sirach 3:21, Vulg., 3:22) when He, having considered our condition, would like to raise us to loftier and mightier things and would deign to show Himself to our purified mind’s eye, by which, as He revealed, He can be seen. But whether or not the [bodily] eyes after the resurrection will be given some qualities similar to the mind, let us leave this to the will of Him to whom judgment belongs, ignoring both this and innumerable other things without any detriment to ourselves.
     [11] I do not know who stole from me the copy that you have demanded back. The explanation of those words which you repeatedly asked for, as it does not come to my mind immediately for all of them, and which the strong pressure of work that constantly overwhelms me does not let me to investigate, I postponed for another time, though I am not ignorant of the peculiarities of the Greek language which are to be expected from the Greeks.
     [12] Truly, if you decide to write to me, who is a small one, I implore you, do not burden me with superfluous or false praise, but rather supplicate the Lord that He may make me always striving for His praise, but may put off the fruit of my praise till the time when all have praise from Him.


     (1) Augustine, De civitate Dei, 22, 29.
     (2) Id., ibid.
     (3) Id., ibid.
     (4) Id., ibid.
     (5) Id., ibid.
     (6) The words in brackets are inserted as a remark by Lupus.
     (7) Augustine, De civitate Dei, 22, 29.

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