St John of the Cross (1542 - 1591)
Catholic belief, prayers and spiritual teaching
St John of the Cross (1542 - 1591)
THE SPIRITUAL CANTICLE (cont)
by St John of the Cross
1. What, then, is the state of this happy soul in her bed of flowers where these things and so many others take place, in which she has for her couch the Bridegroom, the Son of God, and for a covering and hanging, love of this very Bridegroom? She can certainly repeat the words of the bride: His left hand is under my head [Sg. 2:6]. We can therefore assert truly that this soul is here clothed with God and bathed in divinity, not as though on the surface, but in the interior of her spirit, superabounding in divine delights. In the fullness of the spiritual waters of life, she experiences what David says of those who have reached God: They shall be inebriated with the plenty of your house; and you will give them to drink of the torrent of your delight, because with you is the fountain of life [Ps. 36:8-9]. What fulfillment will the soul have in her being, since the drink given her is no less than a torrent of delight! This torrent is the Holy Spirit, because, as St. John says, He is a resplendent river of living water that flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb [Rv. 22:1]. These waters, since they are the intimate love of God, flow intimately into the soul and give her to drink of this torrent of love that, as we said, is the Spirit of her Bridegroom infused in this union. As a result she sings this stanza with abundant love:
In the inner wine cellar
2. In this stanza the soul relates the sovereign favor God granted by recollecting her in the intimacy of his love, which is the union with God, or transformation, through love.1 And she notes two effects of this union: forgetfulness or withdrawal from all worldly things, and mortification of all her appetites and gratifications.
3. To explain something about this wine cellar, and what the soul wishes to make known here, it will be necessary for the Holy Spirit to take my hand and guide my pen.
This wine cellar is the last and most intimate degree of love in which the soul can be placed in this life. Accordingly she calls this degree of love "the inner wine cellar," that is, the most interior. As a result, there are other steps of love not so interior by which one ascends to this last.
And we can assert that there are seven of these degrees or wine cellars of love. They are all possessed when the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are possessed perfectly according to the soul's capacity for receiving them. Thus when the soul attains to the perfect possession of the spirit of fear, she has the spirit of love insofar as that fear, which is the last of the seven gifts, is filial. And perfect filial fear arises from perfect paternal love. So when the divine Scripture wishes to point out that a person is perfect in charity, it says such a one is God-fearing. Isaiah, in prophesying the perfection of Christ, said: Replebit eum spiritus timoris Domini (The spirit of the fear of God will fill him) [Is. 11:3]. St. Luke likewise called Simeon a God-fearing man: Erat vir justus et timoratus [Lk. 2:25]. And so with many others.
4. It should be known that many people reach and enter the first wine cellars according to the perfection of their love, but few in this life reach this last and most interior; for in it is wrought the perfect union with God, called spiritual marriage, of which the soul is now speaking. What God communicates to the soul in this intimate union is totally beyond words. One can say nothing about it, just as one can say nothing about God himself that resembles him. For in the transformation of the soul in God, it is God who communicates himself with admirable glory; the two become one, as we would say of the window united with the ray of sunlight, or the coal with the fire, or the starlight with the light of the sun. But this union is not as essential and perfect as in the next life.
Thus to explain what she receives from God in the interior cellar of union, the soul says nothing else - nor do I think she can say anything more adequate - than the following:
5. As the drink is diffused through all the members and veins of the body, so this communication is diffused substantially in the whole soul, or better, the soul is transformed in God. In this transformation she drinks of God in her substance and in her spiritual faculties. With the intellect she drinks wisdom and knowledge; with the will, sweetest love; and with the memory she drinks refreshment and delight in the remembrance and the feeling of glory.2
As for the first, that the soul receives and drinks delight substantially, the bride speaks of it in the Song of Songs: Anima mea liquefacta est, ut sponsus locutus est (My soul delighted as soon as the bridegroom spoke) [Sg. 5:6]. This speaking of the bridegroom is equivalent to God's communication of himself to the soul.
6. In the same book the bride says that the intellect drinks wisdom when, in desiring to attain this kiss of union and seeking it from the bridegroom, she said: There you will teach me (wisdom and knowledge and love), and I shall give you a drink of spiced wine (my love spiced with yours, transformed in yours) [Sg. 8:2].
7. Regarding the third, the will drinks love as the bride says in the Song of Songs: He put me in the secret wine cellar and set in order charity in me [Sg. 2:4]. The meaning is that when I was put in his love, he gave me love to drink; or, more clearly and properly speaking: He put his charity in order in me, making his own charity fit and suit me. Hence the soul drinks of the Beloved's very own love that he infuses in her.
8. It should be known that the teaching of some about the will's inability to love what the intellect does not first know ought to be understood naturally. Naturally, it is impossible to love without first understanding what is loved, but, supernaturally, God can easily infuse and increase love without the infusion or increase of particular knowledge.
This is the experience of many spiritual persons; they frequently feel they are burning in love of God, with no more particular knowledge than before. They understand little but love a great deal, or understand a great deal but love little. As a matter of fact those spiritual persons whose understanding of God is not very advanced usually make progress according to their wills, while infused faith suffices for their knowledge. By means of this faith God infuses charity in them and augments this charity and its act, which means greater love, although, as we said, their knowledge is not increased. Thus the will can drink love without the intellect again drinking knowledge, although in our case, in which the soul says she drank of her Beloved, all three faculties drink together insofar as there is union in the inner wine cellar.
9. As to the fourth, in which the memory drinks of the Beloved, it is clear that the memory is illumined by the intellectual light in remembrance of the goods the soul possesses and enjoys in the union with her Beloved.
10. This divine drink so deifies, elevates, and immerses her in God that she says:
11. That is, when this favor had passed. For even though the soul is always in this sublime state of spiritual marriage once God has placed her in it, the faculties are not always in actual union although the substance is. Yet in this substantial union of the soul the faculties are frequently united too; and they drink in this inner wine cellar, the intellect understanding, the will loving, and so on. But in saying "when I went abroad" she does not refer to the essential or substantial union, which is this state she already has, but to the union of the faculties, which is not, nor can be, continuous in this life. "And when I went abroad," then
12. That is, through this vast world.
13. The reason is that the drink of highest wisdom makes her forget all worldly things. And it seems that her previous knowledge, and even all the knowledge of the world, is pure ignorance in comparison with this knowledge.
For a better understanding of this, it should be known that the most formal cause of the soul's knowing nothing of the world when in this state is that she is being informed with supernatural knowledge, in the presence of which all natural and political knowledge of the world is ignorance rather than knowledge. When the soul is brought into this lofty knowing, she understands by means of it that all other knowledge, which has not the taste of this knowledge, is not knowledge but ignorance, and there is nothing to know in it. She declares the truth of the Apostle's words, that what is greater wisdom in the sight of humans is foolishness before God [1 Cor. 3:19]. Hence she asserts that she no longer knew anything after drinking of that divine wisdom. And this truth (that the wisdom of humans and of the whole world is pure ignorance and unworthy of being known) cannot be understood except by this favor of God's presence in the soul, by which he communicates his wisdom and comforts her with the drink of love so that she may behold this truth clearly, as Solomon explains: This is the vision that the man who is with God saw and spoke. And being comforted by God's dwelling within him, he said: I am the most foolish of all, and human wisdom is not with me [Prv. 30:1-3].
The reason is that, in the excess of the lofty wisdom of God, the lowly wisdom of humans is ignorance. The natural sciences themselves and the very works of God, when set beside what it is to know God, are like ignorance. For where God is unknown nothing is known. The high things of God are foolishness and madness to humans, as St. Paul also says [1 Cor. 2:14]. Hence the wise people of God and the wise people of the world are foolish in the eyes of each other; one group cannot perceive the wisdom and knowledge of God, and the other cannot perceive the wisdom and knowledge of the world. The wisdom of the world is ignorance to the wisdom of God, and the wisdom of God is ignorance to the wisdom of the world.
14. On the other hand, the elevation and immersion of the mind in God in which the soul is as though carried away and absorbed in love, entirely transformed in God, does not allow attention to any worldly thing. The soul is not only annihilated with respect to all things and estranged from them, but undergoes the same even with respect to herself, as if she had vanished and been dissolved in love; all of which consists in passing out of self to the Beloved. Thus the bride, in the Song of Songs, after having treated of the transformation of her love in the Beloved, refers to this unknowing, in which she was left, by the word, nescivi (I did not know) [Sg. 6:12].
In a way, the soul in this state resembles Adam in the state of innocence, who did not know evil. For she is so innocent that she does not understand evil, nor does she judge anything in a bad light. And she will hear very evil things and see them with her own eyes and be unable to understand that they are so, since she does not have within herself the habit of evil by which to judge them; for God, by means of the perfect habit of true wisdom, has destroyed her habitual imperfections and ignorances that include the evil of sin.
15. And so too in regard to her words, "I no longer knew anything." She takes little part in the affairs of others, for she is not even mindful of her own. This is characteristic of God's spirit in the soul: He gives her an immediate inclination toward ignoring and not desiring knowledge of the affairs of others, especially that which brings her no benefit. God's spirit is turned toward the soul to draw her away from external affairs rather than involve her in them. Thus she remains in an unknowing, in the manner she was accustomed to.
16. It should not be thought that because she remains in this unknowing she loses there her acquired knowledge of the sciences; rather, these habits are perfected by the more perfect habit of supernatural knowledge infused in her. Yet they do not reign in such a way that she must use them in order to know, although at times she may still use them. For in this union with divine wisdom these habits are joined to the superior wisdom of God. When a faint light is mingled with a bright one, the bright light prevails and is what illumines. Yet the faint light is not lost; rather, it is perfected even though it is not the light that illumines principally. Such, I believe, will be the case in heaven. The habits of acquired knowledge of the just will not be supplanted, but they will not be of great benefit either, since the just will have more knowledge through divine wisdom than through these habits.
17. Yet particular knowledge, forms of things, imaginative acts, and any other apprehensions involving form and figure are all lost and ignored in that absorption of love. There are two reasons for this:
First, since the soul is absorbed and imbibed in that drink of love she cannot advert actually to any other thing.
Second, and principally, transformation in God makes her so consonant with the simplicity and purity of God, in which there is no form or imaginative figure, that it leaves her clean, pure, and empty of all forms or figures, purged and radiant in simple contemplation. The effect of this contemplation is like that of the sun on a window. In shining on the window, the sun makes it look bright, and all the stains and smudges previously apparent are lost sight of; yet when the sunlight passes, the stains and smudges reappear.
Since the effect of that act of love lasts for a while, the unknowing also continues so the soul cannot advert to anything in particular until the effect of that act of love passes. Since the act of love inflamed and transformed her into love, it annihilated her and did away with all that was not love, as is understood in what we mentioned above concerning David: Because my heart was inflamed, my reins were also changed, and I was brought to nothing and knew not [Ps. 73:21-22]. The change of reins because of this inflaming of the heart is a change of the soul according to her operations and appetites into God, into a new kind of life in which she is undone and annihilated before all the old things she formerly made use of. The prophet thus says that he was brought to nothing and did not know, for these are the two effects we mentioned of this drink from the wine cellar of God. Not only is all her old knowing annihilated, seeming to her to be nothing, but her old life and imperfections are annihilated, and she is renewed in the new self [Col. 3:10], which is the second effect contained in this verse.
18. It should be known that however spiritual a soul may be there always remains, until she reaches this state of perfection, some little herd of appetites, satisfactions, and other imperfections, natural or spiritual, after which she follows in an effort to pasture and satisfy it.
In the intellect there usually reside some imperfect appetites for knowing things.
The will is usually allowed to be captivated by some small appetites and gratifications of its own. These may involve temporal things, such as some little possession, or the attachment to one object more than to another, or some presumptions, judgments, punctilios, and other small things having a worldly savor or tinge. These latter may concern natural things, such as eating, drinking, finding more gratification in this than in that, choosing and desiring the best. Or they may concern spiritual things, such as the desire for spiritual satisfactions or other trifles we would never finish listing that are characteristic of spiritual persons who are not yet perfect.
In the memory there are usually many wanderings, cares, and useless imaginings after which she follows.
19. Regarding, too, the four passions of the soul, there are many useless hopes, joys, sorrows, and fears that she follows.
Some have more and others less of this herd, and they follow until, having entered the interior wine cellar to
drink, all transformed in love, they lose it entirely. In this wine cellar these herds of imperfections are more
easily consumed than are the rust and tarnish of metal consumed by fire. Thus the soul now feels free of all
the childish likes and trifles she pursued; and she can say: "And lost the herd which I was following."