"Whoever wants to stand alone without the support of a master and guide will be like the tree that stands alone in a field without a proprietor. No matter how much the tree bears, passers-by will pick the fruit before it ripens. "

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

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"Let no one wear a mask, otherwise he will do ill; and if he has one, let him burn it."

St Philip Neri

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"Shun too great a desire for knowledge, for in it there is much fretting and delusion. Intellectuals like to appear learned and to be called wise. Yet there are many things the knowledge of which does little or no good to the soul, and he who concerns himself about other things than those which lead to salvation is very unwise. "

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 22


Introduction

1. Great was the desire of the Bridegroom to free and ransom his bride completely from the hands of sensuality and the devil.1 Like the good shepherd rejoicing and holding on his shoulders the lost sheep for which he had searched along many winding paths [Lk. 15:4-5], and like the woman who, having lit the candle and hunted through her whole house for the lost drachma, holding it up in her hands with gladness and calling her friends and neighbors to come and celebrate, saying, rejoice with me, and so on [Lk. 15:8-9], now, too, that the soul is liberated, this loving Shepherd and Bridegroom rejoices. And it is wonderful to see his pleasure in carrying the rescued, perfected soul on his shoulders, held there by his hands in this desired union.

Not only does he himself rejoice, but he also makes the angels and saintly souls share in his gladness, saying in the words of the Song of Songs: Go forth, daughters of Zion, and behold king Solomon in the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his espousal and on the day of the joy in his heart [Sg. 3:11]. By these words he calls the soul his crown, his bride, and the joy of his heart, and he takes her now in his arms and goes forth with her as the bridegroom from his bridal chamber [Ps. 19:5]. He refers to all this in the following stanza:

The bride has entered
the sweet garden of her desire,
and she rests in delight,
laying her neck
on the gentle arms of her Beloved.

Commentary

2. Now that the bride has diligently sought to catch the foxes, still the north wind, and calm the girls of Judea, all of which are obstacles to the full delight of the state of spiritual marriage; and now that she has also invoked and obtained the breeze of the Holy Spirit, as in the preceding stanzas, which entails the proper preparation and instrument for the perfection of this state, we must treat of this marriage by explaining this stanza. Here the Bridegroom speaks and, in calling the soul "bride," declares two things:

First, he tells how, now victorious, she has reached this pleasant state of spiritual marriage, which was his as well as her ardent longing.

And second, he enumerates the properties of this state that the soul now enjoys, such as resting in delight and laying her neck on the gentle arms of her Beloved, as we shall explain.

The bride has entered

3. To offer a more lucid explanation of the order of these stanzas and of what the soul usually passes through before reaching this state of spiritual marriage, which is the highest (which we will now speak of with divine help), it should be noted that before the soul reaches this state she first exercises herself in the trials and bitterness of mortification and in meditation on spiritual things. This is referred to from the first stanza until that which says: "Pouring out a thousand graces." Afterward she enters the contemplative way. Here she passes through the paths and straits of love about which she sings in the sequence of the verses until the stanza that begins, "Withdraw them, Beloved," where the spiritual betrothal is wrought. Then she advances along the unitive way, in which she receives many remarkable communications, visits, gifts, and jewels from her Bridegroom, and, as one betrothed, learns of her Beloved and becomes perfect in loving him. All of this she relates from the stanza in which the betrothal was made ("Withdraw them, Beloved") to the present one beginning with, "The bride has entered," where the spiritual marriage between this soul and the Son of God is effected.

This spiritual marriage is incomparably greater than the spiritual betrothal, for it is a total transformation in the Beloved, in which each surrenders the entire possession of self to the other with a certain consummation of the union of love. The soul thereby becomes divine, God through participation, insofar as is possible in this life. And thus I think that this state never occurs without the soul's being confirmed in grace, for the faith of both is confirmed when God's faith in the soul is here confirmed. It is accordingly the highest state attainable in this life.

Just as in the consummation of carnal marriage there are two in one flesh, as Sacred Scripture points out [Gn. 2:24], so also when the spiritual marriage between God and the soul is consummated, there are two natures in one spirit and love, as St. Paul says in making this same comparison: Whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him [1 Cor. 6:17]. This union resembles the union of the light of a star or candle with the light of the sun, for what then sheds light is not the star or candle, but the sun, which has absorbed the other lights into its own.

4. The Bridegroom speaks of the state in this verse, saying, "the bride has entered," that is, she has entered, leaving behind everything temporal and natural and all spiritual affections, modes, and manners, and has set aside and forgotten all temptations, disturbances, pains, solicitude, and cares, and is transformed in this high embrace. Wherefore the next line follows:

the sweet garden of her desire,

This is like saying: She has been transformed into her God, here referred to as "the sweet garden," because of the sweet and pleasant dwelling she finds in him.

One does not reach this garden of full transformation, which is the joy, delight, and glory of spiritual marriage, without first passing through the spiritual betrothal and the loyal and mutual love of betrothed persons. For after the soul has been for some time the betrothed of the Son of God in gentle and complete love, God calls her and places her in his flowering garden to consummate this most joyful state of marriage with him. The union wrought between the two natures and the communication of the divine to the human in this state is such that even though neither changes its being, both appear to be God. Yet in this life the union cannot be perfect, although it is beyond words and thought.

5. The Bridegroom points this out clearly in the Song of Songs where he invites the soul, now his betrothed, to this state: Veni in hortum meum, mea soror, mea sponsa, messui myrrham meam cum aromatibus meis (Come and enter my garden, my sister, my bride, for now I have gathered my myrrh with my fragrant spices) [Sg. 5:1]. He calls her "sister" and "bride" because she was a sister and bride in the love and surrender she had made of herself to him before he called her to this state of spiritual marriage, where, as he says, he has now gathered his fragrant myrrh and aromatic spices, the fruits of the flowers now ripe and ready for the soul. These are the delights and grandeurs that of himself and in himself he communicates to her in this state. Consequently he is for her an enchanting, desirable garden. Her entire aim, and God's as well, in all her works is the consummation and perfection of this state. She never rests until reaching it. She finds in this state a much greater abundance and fullness of God, a more secure and stable peace, and an incomparably more perfect delight than in the spiritual betrothal; here it is as though she were placed in the arms of her Bridegroom. As a result she usually experiences an intimate spiritual embrace, which is a veritable embrace, by means of which she lives the life of God. The words of St. Paul are verified in this soul: I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me [Gal. 2:20].

Therefore, since the soul lives in this state a life as happy and glorious as is God's, let each one consider here, if this be possible, how pleasant her life is. Just as God is incapable of feeling any distaste, neither does she feel any, for the delight of God's glory is experienced and enjoyed in the substance of the soul now transformed in him. As a result the next verse continues:

and she rests in delight,
laying her neck

6. The "neck" refers here to the soul's strength by means of which, as we said, is effected this union with her Bridegroom. She would be unable to endure so intimate an embrace if she were not now very strong. And because the soul labored by means of this strength, practiced the virtues, and conquered, it is right that with the strength by which she struggled and conquered she rest, laying her neck

on the gentle arms of her Beloved.

7. To recline her neck on the arms of God is to have her strength, or better, her weakness, now united to the strength of God, for the "arms" of God signify God's strength. Accordingly this state of spiritual marriage is very aptly designated by the laying of her neck on the gentle arms of the Beloved, for now God is the soul's strength and sweetness in which she is sheltered and protected against all evils, and habituated to the delight of all goods.

Desirous of this state, the bride spoke to the Bridegroom in the Song of Songs: Who will give you to me for my brother, nursed at the breasts of my mother, that I may find you alone outside and kiss you, and no one despise me? [Sg. 8:1]. In calling him "brother," she indicates the equality of love between the two in the betrothal before this state is reached. And in saying, "nursed at the breasts of my mother," she means: You dried up and subdued in me the appetites and passions that in our flesh are the breasts and milk of mother Eve, and an impediment to this state. And when this is accomplished "that I may find you alone outside," that is, outside of all things and of myself, in solitude and nakedness of spirit, which is attained when the appetites are dried up. And alone there, "kiss you" alone, that is, that my nature now alone and denuded of all temporal, natural, and spiritual impurity may be united with you alone, with your nature alone, through no intermediary. This union is found only in the spiritual marriage, in which the soul kisses God without contempt or disturbance from anyone. For in this state neither the devil, the flesh, the world, nor the appetites molest her. Here we find also the fulfillment of what is said in the Song of Songs: Winter is now past, the rain is gone, and the flowers have appeared in our land [Sg. 2:11-12].
 

 
   
 
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