1. This dark night is an inflow of God into the soul, which purges it of its
habitual ignorances and imperfections, natural and spiritual, and which the
contemplatives call infused contemplation or mystical theology.1 Through this
contemplation, God teaches the soul secretly and instructs it in the perfection
of love without its doing anything or understanding how this happens.
infused contemplation is loving wisdom of God, it produces two principal effects
in the soul: by both purging and illumining, this contemplation prepares the
soul for union with God through love. Hence the same loving wisdom that purges
and illumines the blessed spirits purges and illumines the soul here on earth.
2. Yet a doubt arises: Why, if it is a divine light (for it illumines souls and
purges them of their ignorance), does the soul call it a dark night?
to this, there are two reasons this divine wisdom is not only night and darkness
for the soul but also affliction and torment. First, because of the height of
the divine wisdom that exceeds the abilities of the soul; and on this account
the wisdom is dark for the soul. Second, because of the soul's baseness and
impurity; and on this account the wisdom is painful, afflictive, and also dark
for the soul.2
3. To prove the first reason, we must presuppose a certain principle of the
Philosopher: that the clearer and more obvious divine things are in themselves,
the darker and more hidden they are to the soul naturally.3 The brighter the
light, the more the owl is blinded; and the more one looks at the brilliant sun,
the more the sun darkens the faculty of sight, deprives and overwhelms it in its
Hence when the divine light of contemplation strikes a soul not yet
entirely illumined, it causes spiritual darkness, for it not only surpasses the
act of natural understanding but it also deprives the soul of this act and
darkens it. This is why St. Dionysius and other mystical theologians call this
infused contemplation a "ray of darkness" - that is, for the soul not yet
illumined and purged.4 For this great supernatural light overwhelms the
intellect and deprives it of its natural vigor.
David also said that clouds and
darkness are near God and surround him [Ps. 18:11], not because this is true in
itself, but because it appears thus to our weak intellects, which in being
unable to attain so bright a light are blinded and darkened. Hence he next
declared that clouds passed before the great splendor of his presence [Ps.
18:12], that is, between God and our intellect. As a result, when God
communicates this bright ray of his secret wisdom to the soul not yet
transformed, he causes thick darkness in its intellect.
4. It is also evident that this dark contemplation is painful to the soul in
these beginnings. Since this divine infused contemplation has many extremely
good properties, and the still unpurged soul that receives it has many extreme
miseries, and because two contraries cannot coexist in one subject, the soul
must necessarily undergo affliction and suffering. Because of the purgation of
its imperfections caused by this contemplation, the soul becomes a battlefield
in which these two contraries combat one another. We will prove this by
induction in the following way.
5. In regard to the first cause of one's affliction: Because the light and
wisdom of this contemplation is very bright and pure, and the soul in which it
shines is dark and impure, a person will be deeply afflicted on receiving it.
When eyes are sickly, impure, and weak, they suffer pain if a bright light
shines on them.
The soul, because of its impurity, suffers immensely at the time
this divine light truly assails it. When this pure light strikes in order to
expel all impurity, persons feel so unclean and wretched that it seems God is
against them and they are against God.
Because it seems that God has rejected
it, the soul suffers such pain and grief that when God tried Job in this way it
proved one of the worst of Job's trials, as he says: Why have You set me against
You, and I am heavy and burdensome to myself? [Jb. 7:20]. Clearly beholding its
impurity by means of this pure light, although in darkness, the soul understands
distinctly that it is worthy neither of God nor of any creature. And what most
grieves it is that it thinks it will never be worthy, and there are no more
blessings for it. This divine and dark light causes deep immersion of the mind
in the knowledge and feeling of one's own miseries and evils; it brings all
these miseries into relief so the soul sees clearly that of itself it will never
possess anything else. We can interpret that passage from David in this sense:
You have corrected humans because of their iniquity and have undone and consumed
their souls, as a spider is eviscerated in its work [Ps. 39:11].
6. Persons suffer affliction in the second manner because of their natural,
moral, and spiritual weakness. Since this divine contemplation assails them
somewhat forcibly in order to subdue and strengthen their soul, they suffer so
much in their weakness that they almost die, particularly at times when the
light is more powerful. Both the sense and the spirit, as though under an
immense and dark load, undergo such agony and pain that the soul would consider
death a relief. The prophet Job, having experienced this, declared: I do not
desire that he commune with me with much strength lest he overwhelm me with the
weight of his greatness [Jb. 23:6].
7. Under the stress of this oppression and weight, individuals feel so far from
all favor that they think, and so it is, that even that which previously upheld
them has ended, along with everything else, and there is no one who will take
pity on them. It is in this sense that Job also cried out: Have pity on me, at
least you, my friends, for the hand of the Lord has touched me [Jb. 19:21].
amazing and pitiful it is that the soul be so utterly weak and impure that the
hand of God, though light and gentle, should feel so heavy and contrary. For the
hand of God does not press down or weigh on the soul, but only touches it; and
this mercifully, for God's aim is to grant it favors and not to chastise it.