"If you wish to learn and appreciate something worth while, then love to be unknown and considered as nothing. Truly to know and despise self is the best and most perfect counsel."

Thomas á Kempis

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"God gives us some things, as the beginning of faith, even when we do not pray. Other things, such as perseverance, he has only provided for those who pray."

St Augustine

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"Does our conduct correspond with our Faith?"

The Cure D'Ars

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 St John of the Cross   (1542 - 1591)

 

THE SPIRITUAL CANTICLE (cont)

 

by St John of the Cross

 

Stanza 25


Introduction

1. The soul that has reached this state of perfection is not content with extolling and praising the excellence of her Beloved, the Son of God, or of telling in song and rendering thanks for the favors she receives from him and the delights she enjoys in him; for she makes references also to those he bestows on other souls. In this blessed union of love she is aware of both. In praising and thanking him for the favors he grants to other souls, she recites this stanza:

Following your footprints
maidens run along the way;
the touch of a spark,
the spiced wine,
cause flowings in them from the balsam of God.

Commentary

2. In this stanza the bride praises the Beloved for the three favors devout souls receive from him, which animate them further and raise them to the love of God. Because she herself has experience of them in this state, she mentions them here.

The first, she says, is his sweetness he gives them that is so efficacious it makes them run along the road to perfection. The second is a visit of love by which he suddenly inflames them in love. The third is an abundance of charity that he infuses in them and by which he so inebriates them that he causes the spirit - as in the visit of love - to be elevated and burst forth in praise and delightful affections of love before God. Thus she says:

following your footprints

3. A footprint is a trace by which we can track the one to whom it belongs. God's sweetness and knowledge, given to the soul seeking him, is a trace by which she goes on knowing and searching for him. Yet the soul says to the Word, her Bridegroom: Following your footprints (the traces of your sweetness that you infuse and leave impressed on them) and the fragrance that flows from you,

maidens run along the way;

4. This means that devout souls run along by the youthful strength received from the sweetness of your footprints, that is, run from place to place and in many ways. This is the meaning of "run along": Each runs along according to the way and kind of spirit and state God gives, with many differences of spiritual practices and works. They run along the way of eternal life, the way of evangelical perfection, by which they encounter the Beloved in union of love after their spirit has been stripped of all things.

This sweetness and trace of himself that God leaves in the soul greatly lightens her and makes her run after him. For then the soul does very little or nothing of her own in order to advance on this road; rather, she is moved and attracted by the divine footprints, not only to go out, but even to run along this road in many ways, as we said. The bride in the Song of Songs sought this divine attraction from the Bridegroom, saying: Trahe me; post te curremus in odorem unguentorum tuorum (Draw me, and we shall run after you in the fragrance of your ointments) [Sg. 1:3-4]. And after he gave her this divine fragrance she says: In odorem unguentorum tuorum currimus: adolescentulae dilexerunt te nimis (We run in the odor of your ointments; the maidens have loved you exceedingly). And David says: I have run the way of your commandments when you enlarged my heart [Ps. 119:32].

The touch of a spark,
the spiced wine,
cause flowings in me from the balsam of God.

5. Commenting on the first two verses, we explained that souls, following his footprints, run along the way by external practices and works. And now in these three verses the soul speaks of the interior exercise of will when moved by two other inward favors and visits bestowed by the Beloved. She calls these favors "the touch of a spark" and "the spiced wine." And she calls the interior exercise of the will arising from these two visits "flowings in me from the balsam of God."

As for the first, it should be known that this touch of a spark is a very subtle touch that the Beloved sometimes produces in the soul, even when least expected, and which inflames her in the fire of love, as if a hot spark were to leap from the fire and set her ablaze. Then with remarkable speed, as when one suddenly remembers, the will is enkindled in loving, desiring, praising, and thanking God, and reverencing, esteeming, and praying to him in the savor of love. She calls these acts "flowings from the balsam of God." These flowings result from the touch of the sparks shot forth by the divine love that enkindles the fire. This divine love is the balsam of God that with its fragrance and substance comforts and cures the soul.

6. In the Song of Songs the bride speaks of this divine touch: Dilectus meus misit manum suam per foramen, et venter meus intremuit ad tactum eius (My Beloved put his hand through the opening, and my heart trembled at his touch) [Sg. 5:4].

The Beloved's touch is the touch of love that we said he produces in the soul. The hand is the favor he grants her by this touch. The opening through which this hand entered is the manner, mode, and degree of the soul's perfection, for the touch is usually greater or less and of one kind of spiritual quality or another in accordance with the manner of perfection. Her heart, which she says trembled, is the will in which this touch is produced. And the trembling is the elevation of her appetites and affections toward God through the desire, love, and praise of him, and all the other acts we mentioned, which are the flowings from the balsam of God redounding from this touch.

the spiced wine.

7. This spiced wine is another much greater favor that God sometimes grants to advanced souls, in which he inebriates them in the Holy Spirit with a wine of sweet, delightful, and fortified love. Accordingly, she calls this love "spiced wine." As this wine is seasoned and strengthened with many diverse, fragrant, and fortified spices, so this love, which God accords to those who are already perfect, is fermented and established in these souls and spiced with the virtues they have gained. Prepared with these precious spices, this wine gives such strength and abundance of sweet inebriation in these visits granted by God to the soul that they cause her to direct toward him, efficaciously and forcefully, flowings or outpourings of praise, love, and reverence, and so on, which we have mentioned. And she does this with admirable desires to work and suffer for him.

8. It should be known that this favor of sweet inebriation, because it has more permanence, does not pass away as quickly as the spark. The spark touches and then passes, although its effect lasts for a while, and sometimes for a long while; but the spiced wine - which, as I say, is sweet love in the soul - usually lasts, together with its effect, a long while, and sometimes a day or two, or many days, though not always in the same degree of intensity, because its lessening and increasing are beyond the soul's power. Sometimes without doing anything on their own, persons feel in their intimate substance that their spirit is being sweetly inebriated and inflamed by this divine wine. As David says: My heart grew hot within me, and in my meditation a fire shall be enkindled [Ps. 39:3].

The flowings from this inebriation of love sometimes last as long as the inebriation itself. At other times, even though this love is present, these flowings are absent; but when they are present their intensity is greater or less in accordance with the intensity of the inebriation. But the flowings, or effects of the spark, ordinarily last longer than the spark itself; in fact, the spark leaves these flowings in the soul, and they are more ardent than those derived from the inebriation, for this divine spark sometimes sets souls on fire and leaves them burning up with love.

9. And since we have mentioned fermented wine, it will be worthwhile to note briefly the difference between fermented wine, which is called old wine, and new wine. The difference will be the same as that between old and new lovers. This will help us in giving some instructions to spiritual persons.

With new wine, the lees are not yet completely fermented and settled. Thus the wine is still in the process of fermentation, and one cannot know its good quality and value until the effervescence stops and the lees are entirely fermented. Until then the wine is in danger of going bad, has a rough, sharp savor, and is harmful to one who drinks much of it. A great deal of its strength lies in the sediment.

In old wine the lees are settled and the process of fermentation finished, and thus there is no effervescence as in new wine. The good quality of the wine is now evident and there is no danger of its going bad, since the fermentation that could have spoiled it has now ceased. The wine that is well fermented is hardly ever spoiled or lost; it has a smooth savor; its strength lies in the substance and no longer in the taste. Drinking it fortifies one and gives a good disposition.

10. New lovers are comparable to new wine. They are the beginners in the service of God. The fervors of the wine of love are very exterior, in the sensory part of the soul. The lees of the weak and imperfect sensory part have not yet finished their work of fermentation. These new lovers find their strength in the savor of love, and this sensible savor is what really motivates and strengthens them for the performance of their works. One should not trust this love until these fervors and coarse sensory tastes have passed. Just as this fervor and the warmth of sense can incline one to good and perfect love and serve as a beneficial means for such love by a thorough fermentation of the lees of imperfection, so too it is very easy in these beginnings and in this novelty of tastes for the new wine of love to fail and lose its fervor and delight.

These new lovers always carry about the anxieties and fatigues of sensible love. In this regard they ought to be moderate in their drinking, for if, prompted by the agitation of the wine, they do a great deal of work, their nature will be ruined by these anxieties and fatigues of love, that is, of the new wine. As we said, this new wine is sharp, coarse, and unsmooth until completely fermented, that is, when these anxieties of love have passed, as we shall soon say.

11. The Wise Man in the Book of Ecclesiasticus makes this same comparison, saying: A new friend is like new wine; it will grow old and become a smooth drink [Ecclus. 9:10].

Now, then, the old lovers, those who are exercised and tried in the service of the Bridegroom, are like old wine. The lees of this wine are already fermented, and it does not have the sensitive effervescence or fermentation or the ardent external fires. What is more, these lovers taste the sweetness of the wine of love, the substance of which is now well fermented, so their love is based not on sensible delights, as is the love of new lovers, but settled within the soul in spiritual substance and savor and truly good works. And these individuals do not want to be attached to this sensory taste and fervor, nor do they desire to take pleasure in it lest weariness and distaste become their lot. For they who give reign to their appetite for some sensory taste will necessarily suffer affliction and displeasure in both sense and spirit.

Since these old lovers now lack the spiritual sweetness that has its roots in the sensory part, they do not have the anxieties or afflictions of love in the sense and spirit. These old lovers hardly ever fail God, for they now stand above all that would make them fail him, that is, above sensuality. And their wine of love is not only fermented and purged of the lees, but even spiced, as is said in the verse, with the perfect virtues that do not let it go bad as does the new wine. In God's sight, as a result, the old friend is highly esteemed, and thus the Book of Ecclesiasticus says of him: Do not forsake an old friend, for a new one will not be like him [Ecclus. 9:14].

With this wine of love, then, now tried in the soul and spiced, the Beloved causes the divine inebriation we mentioned. By its strength, the soul directs toward God sweet and delightful outpourings. Thus the meaning of these three verses is: The touch of the spark by which you awaken the soul, and the spiced wine by which you lovingly inebriate her cause her to direct to you the flowings of the movements and acts of love that you cause in her.
 

 
   
 
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