"Spiritual persons ought to be equally ready to experience sweetness and consolation in the things of God, or to suffer and keep their ground in drynesses of spirit and devotion, and for as long as God pleases, without their making any complaint about it."

St Philip Neri

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"Obedience is a short cut to perfection."

St Philip Neri

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"It is not God's will that we should abound in spiritual delights, but that in all things we should submit to his holy will."

Blessed Henry Suso

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 St John of the Cross   (1542 - 1591)


 

THE DARK NIGHT (cont)

 

by St John of the Cross

 

Book Two

 

Ch 18. [An explanation of how this secret wisdom is also a ladder.]


1. The second characteristic has yet to be discussed, that is, how this secret wisdom is also a ladder. It should be known that there are many reasons for calling this secret contemplation a ladder.

First, as one ascends a ladder to pillage the fortresses containing goods and treasures, so too, by this secret contemplation, the soul ascends in order to plunder, know, and possess the goods and treasures of heaven. The Royal Prophet points this out clearly in saying: Blessed are those who receive your favor and help. In their heart they have prepared their ascent, in the vale of tears, in the place which they set. For in this way the Lord of the Law will give a blessing, and they will go from virtue to virtue (as from step to step) and the God of gods will be seen on Zion [Ps. 84:6-8]. He is the treasure of the fortress of Zion, and this treasure is beatitude.

2. We can also call this secret wisdom a "ladder" because as the same steps of a ladder are used for both ascent and descent, so also the same communications produced by this secret contemplation extol the soul in God and humiliate it within itself. Communications that are truly from God have this trait: They simultaneously exalt and humble the soul. For on this road, to descend is to ascend and to ascend is to descend, since those who humble themselves are exalted and those who exalt themselves are humbled [Lk. 14:11]. Besides this (that the virtue of humility exalts), God, in order to exercise the soul in humility, usually makes it ascend by this ladder so that it might descend, and he makes it descend that it might ascend. Accordingly, the Wise Man's words are fulfilled: Before the soul is exalted, it is humbled, and before it is humbled, it is exalted [Prv. 18:12].

3. Naturally speaking, and disregarding the spiritual, which it does not feel, the soul, if it desires to pay close attention, will clearly recognize how on this road it suffers many ups and downs, and how immediately after prosperity some tempest and trial follows, so much so that seemingly the calm was given to forewarn and strengthen it against the future penury. It sees, too, how abundance and tranquility succeed misery and torment, and in such a way that it thinks it was made to fast before celebrating that feast.

This is the ordinary procedure in the state of contemplation until one arrives at the quiet state: The soul never remains in one state, but everything is ascent and descent.

4. The reason is that since the state of perfection, which consists in perfect love of God and contempt of self, cannot exist without knowledge of God and of self, the soul necessarily must first be exercised in both. It is now given the one, in which it finds satisfaction and exaltation, and now made to experience the other, humbled until the ascent and descent cease through the acquiring of the perfect habits. For the soul will then have reached God and united itself with him. He is at the end of the ladder and it is in him that the ladder rests.

This ladder of contemplation, derived as we have said from God, is prefigured in that ladder Jacob saw in his sleep and by which the angels were ascending and descending from God to human beings and from human beings to God, while God leaned on the top [Gn. 28:12-13]. The divine Scriptures say that all this happened at night, while Jacob was sleeping, to disclose how secret is the way and ascent to God and how it differs from human knowledge. The secrecy of this ascent is evident, since ordinarily the losing and annihilation of self, which bring the most profit to individuals, are considered the worst for them, whereas consolation and satisfaction (which are of less value and in which one ordinarily loses rather than gains if attachment is present) are considered the best.

5. Speaking now somewhat more particularly of this ladder of secret contemplation, we declare that the principal property involved in calling contemplation a "ladder" is its being a science of love, which as we said is an infused loving knowledge that both illumines and enamors the soul, elevating it step by step to God, its Creator. For it is only love that unites and joins the soul to God.

For greater clarity we will note the steps of this divine ladder and briefly point out the signs and effects of each so that one may surmise which of these steps one is on. We will distinguish them by their effects, as do St. Bernard and St. Thomas.1 Knowing these steps in themselves is impossible naturally, because this ladder of love is, as we said, so secret that God alone measures and weighs it.