You must understand that, as St. Gregory says, there are, in the church, two ways of life which lead to salvation. One is called the active life, the other the contemplative. Every man who is saved is so by one or other of these. The active life consists in love and charity manifested exteriorly by good works. It means the keeping of God’s commandments and the performance of the seven corporal and spiritual works of mercy for one’s fellow Christians. This is the life proper to men of the world who are rich and have plenty of worldly goods, and it belongs, also, to those who hold office and authority over other men and have the administration of property or wealth, whether they are learned or ignorant, laymen or ecclesiastics. Such are bound to fulfill these duties to the best of their abilities, as reason and discretion shall dictate. If they are possessed of great fortune, it will be their duty to do much good. If their fortune is small, less is expected of them. If they possess nothing, they must, at least, have good will. These are the works of an active life, whether it is exercised in temporal or spiritual authority. Exercises of bodily mortification, such as fasting, vigils, and other severe forms of penance, also pertain to the active life. The flesh must be chastised, with discretion, to atone for past sins and to restrain sinful inclinations and to make the body obedient and compliant to the soul. These works, active though they are, dispose a man, in the early stages, to come to the contemplative life, provided that they are used discreetly.
From: The Scale of Perfection by Walter Hilton; translated from Medieval English by Gerard Sitwell (London: Burns Oates, 1953), p. 4. The Scale of Perfection, written in the 14th century, was first published in 1494.
Walter Hilton was probably an Augustinian canon of Thurgarton in Nottinghamshire, England. He died in about 1400.