1. The two extremes, divine and human, which are joined here, produce the third
kind of pain and affliction the soul suffers at this time. The divine extreme is
the purgative contemplation, and the human extreme is the soul, the receiver of
this contemplation. Since the divine extreme strikes in order to renew the soul
and divinize it (by stripping it of the habitual affections and properties of
the old self to which the soul is strongly united, attached, and conformed), it
so disentangles and dissolves the spiritual substance - absorbing it in a
profound darkness - that the soul at the sight of its miseries feels that it is
melting away and being undone by a cruel spiritual death. It feels as if it were
swallowed by a beast and being digested in the dark belly, and it suffers an
anguish comparable to Jonah's in the belly of the whale [Jon. 2:1-3]. It is
fitting that the soul be in this sepulcher of dark death in order that it attain
the spiritual resurrection for which it hopes.
2. David describes this suffering and affliction - although it is truly beyond
all description - when he says: The sighs of death encircled me, the sorrows of
hell surrounded me, in my tribulation I cried out [Ps. 18:5-6].
But what the
sorrowing soul feels most is the conviction that God has rejected it, and with
abhorrence cast it into darkness. The thought that God has abandoned it is a
piteous and heavy affliction for the soul. When David also felt this affliction
he cried: In the manner of the wounded, dead in the sepulchers, abandoned now by
your hand so that you remember them no longer, so have you placed me in the
deepest and lowest lake, in the darkness and shadow of death, and your wrath
weighs on me, and all your waves you have let loose on me [Ps. 88:4-7].
this purgative contemplation oppresses a soul, it feels very vividly indeed the
shadow of death, the sighs of death, and the sorrows of hell, all of which
reflect the feeling of God's absence, of being chastised and rejected by him,
and of being unworthy of him, as well as the object of his anger. The soul
experiences all this and even more, for now it seems that this affliction will
3. Such persons also feel forsaken and despised by creatures, particularly by
their friends. David immediately adds: You have withdrawn my friends and
acquaintances far from me; they have considered me an abomination [Ps. 88:8].
Jonah, as one who also underwent this experience, both physically and
spiritually in the belly of the whale, testifies: You have cast me out into the
deep, into the heart of the sea, and the current surrounded me; all its
whirlpools and waves passed over me and I said: I am cast from the sight of your
eyes; yet I shall see your holy temple again (he says this because God purifies
the soul that it might see his temple); the waters encircled me even to the
soul, the abyss went round about me, the open sea covered my head, I descended
to the lowest parts of the mountains, the locks of the earth closed me up
forever [Jon. 2:4-7]. The "locks" refer to the soul's imperfections that hinder
it from enjoying the delights of this contemplation.
4. Another excellence of dark contemplation, its majesty and grandeur, causes a
fourth kind of affliction to the soul. This property makes the soul feel within
itself the other extreme - its own intimate poverty and misery. Such awareness
is one of the chief afflictions it suffers in the purgation.
experiences an emptiness and poverty in regard to three classes of goods
(temporal, natural, and spiritual) which are directed toward pleasing it, and is
conscious of being placed in the midst of the contrary evils (the miseries of
imperfections, aridities and voids in the apprehensions of the faculties, and an
abandonment of the spirit in darkness).
Since God here purges both the sensory
and spiritual substance of the soul, and its interior and exterior faculties, it
is appropriately brought into emptiness, poverty, and abandonment in these
parts, and left in dryness and darkness. For the sensory part is purified by
aridity, the faculties by the void of their apprehensions, and the spirit by
5. God does all this by means of dark contemplation. And the soul not only
suffers the void and suspension of these natural supports and apprehensions,
which is a terrible anguish (like hanging in midair, unable to breathe), but it
is also purged by this contemplation. As fire consumes the tarnish and rust of
metal, this contemplation annihilates, empties, and consumes all the affections
and imperfect habits the soul contracted throughout its life. Since these
imperfections are deeply rooted in the substance of the soul, in addition to
this poverty, this natural and spiritual emptiness, it usually suffers an
oppressive undoing and an inner torment. Thus the passage of Ezekiel may be
verified: Heap together the bones, and I shall burn them in the fire, the flesh
shall be consumed, and the whole composition burned, and the bones destroyed [Ez.
24:10]. He refers here to the affliction suffered in the emptiness and poverty
of both the sensory and the spiritual substance of the soul. And he then adds:
Place it also thus empty on the embers that its metal may become hot and melt
and its uncleanness be taken away from it and its rust consumed [Ez. 24:11].
This passage points out the heavy affliction the soul suffers from the purgation
caused by the fire of this contemplation. For the prophet asserts that in order
to burn away the rust of the affections the soul must, as it were, be
annihilated and undone in the measure that these passions and imperfections are
connatural to it.
6. Because the soul is purified in this forge like gold in the crucible, as the
Wise Man says [Wis. 3:6], it feels both this terrible undoing in its very
substance and extreme poverty as though it were approaching its end. This
experience is expressed in David's cry: Save me, Lord, for the waters have come
in even unto my soul; I am stuck in the mire of the deep, and there is nowhere
to stand; I have come unto the depth of the sea, and the tempest has overwhelmed
me. I have labored in crying out, my throat has become hoarse, my eyes have
failed while I hope in my God [Ps. 69:1-3].
God humbles the soul greatly in order to exalt it greatly afterward. And
if he did not ordain that these feelings, when quickened in the soul, be soon
put to sleep again, a person would die in a few days. Only at intervals is one
aware of these feelings in all their intensity. Sometimes this experience is so
vivid that it seems to the soul that it sees hell and perdition open before it.
These are the ones who go down into hell alive [Ps. 55:15], since their
purgation on earth is similar to what takes place there. For this purgation is
what would have to be undergone there. The soul that endures it here on earth
either does not enter that place, or is detained there for only a short while.
It gains more in one hour here on earth by this purgation than it would in many