"O Lord, my God, who will seek you with simple and pure love, and not find that you are all one can desire, for you show yourself first and go out to meet those who seek you? "

St John of the Cross, OCD - Doctor of the Church

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"The one thing necessary which Jesus spoke of to Martha and Mary consists in hearing the word of God and living by it."

R. Garrigou-Lagrange, OP

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"It is vanity to love what passes quickly and not to look ahead where eternal joy abides. "

Thomas á Kempis

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 St John of the Cross   (1542 - 1591)

 

THE SPIRITUAL CANTICLE (cont)

 

by St John of the Cross

 

Stanza 12


Introduction

1. At this period the soul feels that she is rushing toward God as rapidly as a falling stone when nearing its center. She also feels that she is like wax in which an impression, though being made, is not yet complete. She knows, too, that she is like a sketch or the first draft of a drawing and calls out to the one who did this sketch to finish the painting and image. And her faith is so enlightened that it gives her a glimpse of some clear divine reflections of the height of her God. As a result she does not know what to do other than turn to this very faith that contains and hides the image and the beauty of her Beloved and from which she also receives these sketches and tokens of love, and speak to it in the following stanza:1

O spring like crystal!
If only, on your silvered-over faces,
you would suddenly form
the eyes I have desired,
which I bear sketched deep within my heart.

Commentary

2. Since the soul longs so ardently for union with the Bridegroom and is aware that she finds no means or remedy in any creature, she turns to speak to faith, as to that which most vividly sheds light concerning her Beloved, and takes it as a means toward this union. Indeed, there is no other means by which one reaches true union and spiritual espousal with God, as Hosea indicates: I will espouse you to me in faith [Hos. 2:20]. With this burning desire she exclaims, which is the meaning of the stanza: O faith of Christ, my Bridegroom, would that you might show me clearly now the truths of my Beloved that you have infused in my soul and are covered with obscurity and darkness (for faith, as the theologians say, is an obscure habit),2 in such a way that what you communicate to me in inexplicit and obscure knowledge, you would show suddenly, clearly, and perfectly, changing it into a manifestation of glory! Would that you might do this by drawing back from these truths (for faith is the covering and veil over the truths of God)! The verse then runs:

O spring like crystal!

3. She says faith is like crystal for two reasons: first, because it concerns Christ, her Bridegroom; second, because it has the characteristics of crystal, being pure in its truths, strong, clear, and cleansed of errors and natural forms.

And she calls it a spring because from it the waters of all spiritual goods flow into the soul. Christ our Lord, speaking with the Samaritan woman, called faith a spring, declaring that in those who believe in him he would make a fountain whose waters would leap up unto life everlasting [Jn. 4:14]. This water was the Spirit that believers were to receive through faith [Jn. 7:39].3

If only, on your silvered-over faces,

4. She calls the propositions and articles of faith "silvered-over faces." To understand this verse as well as the others, it should be known that faith is compared to silver in the propositions it teaches us, and the truths and substance it contains are compared to gold. For in the next life we shall see and enjoy openly this very substance that, clothed and covered with the silver of faith, we now believe.

David says of faith: If you sleep between the two choirs, the feathers of the dove will be silvery and the hinder parts will be of the color of gold [Ps. 68:13]. This means that if we close the eyes of the intellect to earthly and heavenly things, which he terms "sleeping between," we shall remain in faith. He calls faith the dove; and its feathers (the truths it tells us) are silvery because in this life faith proposes these truths to us covered and in darkness. As a result she calls these truths silvered-over faces. Yet when faith comes to an end, when it terminates through the clear vision of God, the substance of faith, having been stripped of the veil of silver, will have the color of gold.

Faith, consequently, gives and communicates God himself to us but covered with the silver of faith. Yet it does not for this reason fail to give him to us truly. Were someone to give us a gold vase plated with silver, we would not fail to receive a gold vase merely because of its being silver-plated. When the bride of the Song of Songs wanted this divine possession, God promised to make her, insofar as possible in this life, gold earrings plated with silver [Sg. 1:11]. He thereby promised to give himself to her, but hidden in faith.

The soul, then, exclaims to faith: Oh, if only on your silvered-over faces (the articles we mentioned) by which you cover the gold of the divine rays (the eyes I have desired), and adds:

you would suddenly form
the eyes I have desired,

5. The eyes refer to the divine truths and rays. Faith, as we mentioned, proposes these truths to us in its covered and inexplicit articles. The soul, in other words, says: Oh, if only the truths hidden in your articles, which you teach me in an inexplicit and dark manner, you would give me now completely, clearly, and explicitly, freed of their covering, as my desire begs!

She calls these truths "eyes" because of the remarkable presence of the Beloved she experiences. It seems that he is now always looking at her. Thus she says:

which I bear sketched deep within my heart.

6. She says these truths are sketched deep within her, that is, in her soul, in her intellect and will. For these truths are infused by faith into her intellect. And since the knowledge of them is imperfect, she says they are sketched. Just as a sketch is not a perfect painting, so the knowledge of faith is not perfect knowledge. Hence the truths infused in the soul through faith are as though sketched, and when clearly visible they will be like a perfect and finished painting in the soul. As the Apostle says: Cum autem venerit quod perfectum est evacuabitur quod ex parte est [1 Cor. 13:10]; this means that when what is perfect, the clear vision, comes, what is in part, the knowledge of faith, will end.

7. Over this sketch of faith the sketch of love is drawn in the will of the lover. When there is union of love, the image of the Beloved is so sketched in the will, and drawn so intimately and vividly, that it is true to say that the Beloved lives in the lover and the lover in the Beloved. Love produces such likeness in this transformation of lovers that one can say each is the other and both are one. The reason is that in the union and transformation of love each gives possession of self to the other and each leaves and exchanges self for the other. Thus each one lives in the other and is the other, and both are one in the transformation of love.

8. This is the meaning of St. Paul's affirmation: Vivo autem, iam non ego; vivit vero in me Christus (I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me) [Gal. 2:20]. In saying, "I live, now not I," he meant that even though he had life it was not his because he was transformed in Christ, and it was divine more than human. He consequently asserts that he does not live but Christ lives in him. In accord with this likeness and transformation, we can say that his life and Christ's were one life through union of love. This transformation into divine life will be effected perfectly in heaven in all those who merit the vision of God. Transformed in God, these blessed souls will live the life of God and not their own life although, indeed, it will be their own life because God's life will be theirs. Then they will truly proclaim: We live, now not we, but God lives in us.

Although transformation in this life can be what it was in St. Paul, it still cannot be perfect and complete even though the soul reaches such transformation of love as is found in the spiritual marriage, the highest state attainable in this life.4 Everything can be called a sketch of love in comparison with that perfect image, the transformation in glory. Yet the attainment of such a sketch of transformation in this life is a great blessing, for with this transformation the Beloved is very pleased. Desiring the bride to put him as a sketch in her soul, he said in the Song of Songs: Put Me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm [Sg. 8:6]. The "heart" signifies the soul in which God dwells in this life as a seal, which is the sketch of faith mentioned above; the "arm" signifies the strong will in which he is present as the seal, which is the sketch of love we just discussed.

9. The soul's state at this time is such that I do not want to neglect saying something about it, even though briefly, regardless of the fact that it is indescribable. It seems to the soul that its bodily and spiritual substance is drying up with thirst for this living spring of God. Its thirst is like David's when he said: As the hart longs for the fount of waters, so does my soul long for you, my God. My soul has thirsted for God the living fount; when shall I see and appear before the face of God? [Ps. 42:1-2]. This thirst so exhausts the soul that she would think nothing of breaking through the midst of the camp of the Philistines, as did David's strong men to fill their containers with water from the cistern of Bethlehem, which was Christ [1 Chr. 11:18]. She would consider all the difficulties of the world, the fury of demons, and infernal afflictions nothing if by passing through them she could plunge into the unfathomable spring of love. In this respect it is said in the Song of Songs: Love is as strong as death and its jealousy as hard as hell [Sg. 8:6].

It is incredible how ardent the longing and pain is that the soul experiences when she sees she is near the enjoyment of that good, yet it is not given to her. The more the object of her desire comes into sight and the closer it draws, while still being denied her, so much more pain and torment does it cause. In this spiritual sense Job says: Before I eat, I sigh; and the roaring and bellowing of my soul is like overflowing waters [Jb. 3:24], that is, on account of its craving for food. By the food is meant God because the yearning for food, or the knowledge of God, is commensurate with suffering for him.
 

 
   
 
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