"This is the greatest wisdom -- to seek the kingdom of heaven through contempt of the world. "

Thomas á Kempis

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"It is vanity to be concerned with the present only and not to make provision for things to come."

Thomas á Kempis

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"God commands not impossibilities, but by commanding he suggests to you to do what you can, to ask for what is beyond your strength; and he helps you, that you may be able."

St Augustine

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 St John of the Cross   (1542 - 1591)


 

THE DARK NIGHT (cont)

 

by St John of the Cross

 

Book Two

 

Ch 23. [An explanation of the fourth verse. Tells of the soul's wondrous hiding place during this night and how, though the devil enters other very high places, he is unable to gain entry to this one.]


1. "In concealment" amounts to saying in hiding or under cover. As a result, departing in darkness and concealment more truly indicates the security the soul speaks of in the first verse of this stanza. She received this security along the way toward union with God through love by means of this dark contemplation. "In darkness and concealment" is like saying that since the soul walked in darkness in the way we mentioned, she was concealed and hidden from the devil, and from his deceits and wiles.1

2. The reason the darkness of this contemplation frees and hides the soul from the wiles of the devil is that the contemplation experienced here is infused passively and secretly without the use of the exterior and interior faculties of the sensory part of the soul. The soul's journey, consequently, is not only hidden and freed from the obstacle these faculties in their natural weakness can occasion, but also from the devil, who without these faculties of the sensory part cannot reach the soul or know what is happening within it. Accordingly, the more spiritual and interior the communication and the more removed it is from the senses, the less the devil understands it.

3. It is very important to the soul's security that in its inner communion with God its senses remain in darkness, without this communication, and that they do not attain to it. First, so that there may be room for a more abundant spiritual communication, without any hindrance to freedom of spirit from the weakness of the sensory part. Second, so that, as we say, the soul might journey more securely, since the devil cannot enter so far within it. Hence we can understand spiritually those words of our Savior: Let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing [Mt. 6:3]. This is like saying: Do not allow the left side, the lower portion of your soul, to know or attain to what happens on the right side, the superior and spiritual part of the soul; let this be a secret between the spirit and God alone.

4. It is quite true that even though the devil is ignorant of the nature of these very interior and secret spiritual communications, he frequently perceives that one is receiving them because of the great quietude and silence some of them cause in the sensory part. And since he is aware that he cannot impede them in the depths of the soul, he does everything possible to excite and disturb the sensory part, which he can affect with sufferings, horrors, and fears. He intends by this agitation to disquiet the superior and spiritual part of the soul in its reception and enjoyment of that good.

Yet when the communication of such contemplation shines in the spirit alone and produces strength in it, the devil's diligence in disturbing the soul is often of no avail. It receives instead new benefits and a deeper, more secure peace. For what a wonderful thing it is! In experiencing the troublesome presence of the enemy, the soul enters more deeply into its inner depths without knowing how and without any efforts of its own, and it is sharply aware of being placed in a certain refuge where it is more hidden and withdrawn from the enemy. There the peace and joy that the devil planned to undo increase. All that fear remains outside; and the soul exults in a very clear consciousness of secure joy, in the quiet peace and delight of the hidden Spouse that neither the world nor the devil can either give or take away. The soul experiences the truth of the bride's exclamation in the Song of Songs: Behold, sixty men surround the bed of Solomon, etc., because of the fears of the night [Sg. 3:7-8]. She is aware of this strength and peace even though she frequently feels that her flesh and bones outside are being tormented.

5. At other times, when the spiritual communication is not bestowed exclusively on the spirit but on the senses too, the devil more easily disturbs and agitates the spirit with these horrors by means of the senses. The torment and pain he then causes is immense, and sometimes it is ineffable. For since it proceeds nakedly from spirit to spirit, the horror the evil spirit causes within the good spirit (in that of the soul), if he reaches the spiritual part, is unbearable. The bride of the Song of Songs also speaks of this disturbance in telling of her desire to descend to interior recollection and enjoy these goods: I went down into the garden of nuts to see the apples of the valleys and if the vineyard was in flower; I knew not; my soul was troubled by the chariots (by the carts and roaring) of Aminadab (the devil) [Sg. 6:11-12].2

6. At other times, when the communications are accorded by means of the good angels, the devil detects some of the favors God desires to grant the soul. God ordinarily permits the adversary to recognize favors granted through the good angels so this adversary may do what he can, in accord with the measure of justice, to hinder them. Thus the devil cannot protest his rights, claiming that he is not given the opportunity to conquer the soul, as was his complaint in the story of Job [Jb. 1:9-11; 2:4-5]. He could do this if God did not allow a certain parity between the two warriors (the good angel and the bad) in their struggle for the soul. Hence the victory of either one will be more estimable, and the soul, victorious and faithful in temptation, will receive a more abundant reward.

7. We must note that this is why God permits the devil to deal with the soul in the same measure and mode in which he himself conducts and deals with it. True visions ordinarily come from the good angel, even if Christ is represented, for he hardly ever appears in his own Person. If a person receives true visions from the good angel, God permits the bad angel to represent false ones of the same kind. Thus an incautious person can be deceived, as many have been. There is a figure of this in Exodus where it says that all the true signs Moses worked were seemingly worked by Pharaoh's magicians: If he produced frogs, they also did; if he turned water into blood, they also did so [Ex. 7:11-12, 19-22; 8:6-7].

8. Not only does the devil imitate this kind of corporeal vision, but he also simulates and interferes with spiritual communications coming from a good angel, since he can discern them, as we said; and as Job said, omne sublime videt3 [Jb. 41:25], imitates and interferes with them. Yet he cannot imitate and form these spiritual communications as he can those granted under some appearance or figure, for these are without form and figure, and it is of the nature of the spirit to be formless and figureless. He represents his frightful spirit to the soul in order to attack it in the same way in which it receives the spiritual communication, and to assail and destroy the spiritual with the spiritual. In this case, when the good angel communicates spiritual contemplation, the soul cannot enter the hiding place of this contemplation quickly enough to go unnoticed by the devil. He then presents himself to it with some spiritual horror and disturbance, at times very painful. Sometimes the soul can withdraw speedily without giving this horror of the evil spirit an opportunity to make an impression on it, and it recollects itself by the efficacious favor the good angel then gives it.

9. At other times the devil prevails, and disturbance and horror seize upon it. This terror is a greater suffering than any other torment in life. Since this horrendous communication proceeds from spirit to spirit manifestly and somewhat incorporeally, it surpasses all sensory pain. This spiritual suffering does not last long, for if it did the soul would depart from the body on account of this violent communication. Afterward the soul can recall this diabolic communication; doing so is enough to cause great suffering.

10. All we have mentioned here takes place passively without one's doing or undoing anything. Yet it should be understood that when the good angel allows the devil the advantage of reaching the soul with this spiritual horror, he does so that it may be purified and prepared, through this spiritual vigil, for some great feast and spiritual favor that God, who never mortifies but to give life or humbles but to exalt [1 Sam. 2:6-7], desires to give. This favor will be granted a short time afterward, and the soul, in accord with the dark and horrible purgation it suffered, will enjoy a wondrous and delightful spiritual communication, at times ineffably sublime. The preceding horror of the evil spirit greatly refines the soul so it can receive this good. These spiritual visions belong more to the next life than to this, and each is a preparation for the one following.

11. We have been speaking of God's visits by means of the good angel, in which the soul does not walk in such complete darkness and concealment that the enemy cannot somehow reach it. Yet when God visits the soul directly, this verse is fully verified. In receiving spiritual favors from God, the soul is in total darkness and concealment as far as the enemy is concerned.

The reason for this concealment is that since His Majesty dwells substantially in that part of the soul to which neither the angel nor the devil can gain access and thereby see what is happening, the enemy cannot learn of the intimate and secret communications there between the soul and God. Since the Lord grants these communications directly, they are wholly divine and sovereign. They are all substantial touches of divine union between God and the soul. In one of these touches, since this is the highest degree of prayer, the soul receives greater good than in all else.

12. These are the touches the soul began to ask for in the Song of Songs on saying: Osculetur me osculo oris sui, etc.4 [Sg. 1:1]. Since a substantial touch is wrought in such close intimacy with God, for which the soul longs with so many yearnings, a person will esteem and covet a touch of the divinity more than all God's other favors. After the bride in the Song had received many favors, which she related there, she was unsatisfied and asked for these divine touches: Who will give you to me, my brother, that I might find you alone, outside nursing at the breasts of my mother so that with the mouth of my soul I might kiss you and no one might despise me or attack me? [Sg. 8:1]. This passage refers to the communication God gives to the soul by himself alone, outside and exclusive of all creatures, for this is the meaning of the terms "alone" and "outside nursing at the breasts." The breasts of the appetites and affections of the sensory part are dried up when in freedom of spirit the soul enjoys these blessings with intimate delight and peace, unhindered by the sensory part or the devil (who opposes them through the senses). The devil, then, would not assail the soul, because he would be unable to reach these blessings or come to understand these divine touches of the loving substance of God in the substance of the soul.

13. No one attains to this blessing except through an intimate nakedness, purgation, and spiritual hiding from all that is of creatures. Accordingly, one reaches this good in "darkness" (as we have explained at length and now repeat in reference to this verse), "and concealment" (in which the hidden soul, as we said, is confirmed in its union with God through love). The soul in its song consequently exclaims: "In darkness and concealment."

14. When these favors are bestowed in concealment (only in the spirit, as we said), a person is usually aware, without knowing how, that the superior and spiritual part of the soul is withdrawn and alienated from the lower and sensory part. This withdrawal makes one conscious of two parts so distinct that one seemingly has no relation to the other and is far removed from it. And, indeed, this is in a way true, for in the activity that is then entirely spiritual there is no communication with the sensory part.

A person in this way becomes wholly spiritual, and in these hiding places of unitive contemplation, and by their means, the passions and spiritual appetites are to a great degree eliminated. Referring thus to the superior part, the soul says in this last verse: my house being now all stilled.