1. This night, which as we say is contemplation, causes two kinds of darkness or
purgation in spiritual persons according to the two parts of the soul, the
sensory and the spiritual.
Hence one night of purgation is sensory, by which the
senses are purged and accommodated to the spirit; and the other night or
purgation is spiritual, by which the spirit is purged and denuded as well as
accommodated and prepared for union with God through love.
The sensory night is
common and happens to many. These are the beginners of whom we will treat first.
The spiritual night is the lot of very few, those who have been tried and are
proficient, and of whom we will speak afterward.
2. The first purgation or night is bitter and terrible to the senses. But
nothing can be compared to the second, for it is horrible and frightful to the
Because the sensory night is first in order, we will speak of it now
briefly. It is a more common occurrence, so one finds more written on it. Then
we will pass on to discuss more at length the spiritual night, for hardly
anything has been said of it in sermons or in writing; and even the experience
of it is rare.
3. Since the conduct of these beginners in the way of God is lowly and not too
distant from love of pleasure and of self, as we explained, God desires to
withdraw them from this base manner of loving and lead them on to a higher
degree of divine love. And he desires to liberate them from the lowly exercise
of the senses and of discursive meditation, by which they go in search of him so
inadequately and with so many difficulties, and lead them into the exercise of
spirit, in which they become capable of a communion with God that is more
abundant and more free of imperfections. God does this after beginners have
exercised themselves for a time in the way of virtue and have persevered in
meditation and prayer. For it is through the delight and satisfaction they
experience in prayer that they have become detached from worldly things and have
gained some spiritual strength in God. This strength has helped them somewhat to
restrain their appetites for creatures, and through it they will be able to
suffer a little oppression and dryness without turning back. Consequently, it is
at the time they are going about their spiritual exercises with delight and
satisfaction, when in their opinion the sun of divine favor is shining most
brightly on them, that God darkens all this light and closes the door and the
spring of sweet spiritual water they were tasting as often and as long as they
desired. For since they were weak and tender, no door was closed to them, as St.
John says in the Book of Revelation [Rv. 3:8]. God now leaves them in such
darkness that they do not know which way to turn in their discursive imaginings.
They cannot advance a step in meditation, as they used to, now that the interior
sense faculties are engulfed in this night. He leaves them in such dryness that
they not only fail to receive satisfaction and pleasure from their spiritual
exercises and works, as they formerly did, but also find these exercises
distasteful and bitter. As I said, when God sees that they have grown a
little, he weans them from the sweet breast so that they might be strengthened,
lays aside their swaddling bands, and puts them down from his arms that they may
grow accustomed to walking by themselves. This change is a surprise to them
because everything seems to be functioning in reverse.
4. This usually happens to recollected beginners sooner than to others since
they are freer from occasions of backsliding and more quickly reform their
appetites for worldly things. A reform of the appetites is the requirement for
entering the happy night of the senses. Not much time ordinarily passes after
the initial stages of their spiritual life before beginners start to enter this
night of sense. And the majority of them do enter it because it is common to see
them suffer these aridities.
5. We could adduce numerous passages from Sacred Scripture, for since this
sensory purgation is so customary we find a great many references to it
throughout, especially in the Psalms and the Prophets. But I do not want to
spend time citing them, because the prevalence of the experience of this night
should be enough for those who are unable to find the scriptural references to