"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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"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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"A person who rails at God in adversity, suffers without merit; moreover by his lack of resignation he adds to his punishment in the next life and experiences greater disquietude of mind in this life."

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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 St John of the Cross   (1542 - 1591)

 

THE SPIRITUAL CANTICLE (cont)

 

by St John of the Cross

 

Stanza 37


Introduction

1. One of the main reasons for the desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ [Phil. 1:23] is to see him face to face and thoroughly understand the profound and eternal mysteries of his Incarnation, which is by no means the lesser part of beatitude. As Christ himself says to the Father in St. John's Gospel: This is eternal life, that they know you, the one true God, and your Son Jesus Christ whom you have sent [Jn. 17:3]. The first thing a person desires to do after having come a long distance is to see and converse with a deeply loved one; similarly, the first thing the soul desires on coming to the vision of God is to know and enjoy the deep secrets and mysteries of the Incarnation and the ancient ways of God dependent on it. Hence, after expressing her desire to see herself in the beauty of God, the soul declares in the following stanza:

And then we will go on
to the high caverns in the rock
which are so well concealed;
there we shall enter
and taste the fresh juice of the pomegranates.

Commentary

2. One of the reasons urging the soul most to enter this thicket of God's wisdom and to know its beauty from further within is her wish to unite her intellect with God in the knowledge of the mysteries of the Incarnation, in which is contained the highest and most savory wisdom of all his works. The bride states in this stanza that once she has entered further into the divine wisdom (further into the spiritual marriage she now possesses, which in glory will be the face-to-face vision of God as well as union with this divine wisdom who is the Son of God), she will know the sublime mysteries of God and human beings. These mysteries are exalted in wisdom, and the soul enters the knowledge of them, engulfing and immersing herself in them. And both the bride and the Bridegroom will taste the savoriness and the delight caused by the knowledge of these mysteries together with the powers and attributes of God uncovered in them, such as: justice, mercy, wisdom, power, charity, and so on.

And then we will go on
to the high caverns in the rock

3. The rock mentioned here, as St. Paul says, is Christ [1 Cor. 10:4]. The high caverns of this rock are the sublime, exalted, and deep mysteries of God's wisdom in Christ, in the hypostatic union of the human nature with the divine Word, and in the corresponding union of human beings with God, and the mystery of the harmony between God's justice and mercy with respect to the manifestations of his judgments in the salvation of the human race. These mysteries are so profound that she very appropriately calls them high caverns: high, because of the height of the sublime mysteries; and caverns, because of the depth of God's wisdom in them. As caverns are deep and have many recesses, so each of the mysteries in Christ is singularly deep in wisdom and contains many recesses of his secret judgments of predestination and foreknowledge concerning the children of the earth. She then adds:

which are so well concealed;

4. They are so well concealed that however numerous are the mysteries and marvels that holy doctors have discovered and saintly souls understood in this earthly life, all the more is yet to be said and understood. There is much to fathom in Christ, for he is like an abundant mine with many recesses of treasures, so that however deep individuals may go they never reach the end or bottom, but rather in every recess find new veins with new riches everywhere. On this account St. Paul said of Christ: In Christ dwell hidden all treasures and wisdom [Col. 2:3]. The soul cannot enter these caverns or reach these treasures if, as we said, she does not first pass over to the divine wisdom through the straits of exterior and interior suffering. For one cannot reach in this life what is attainable of these mysteries of Christ without having suffered much and without having received numerous intellectual and sensible favors from God, and without having undergone much spiritual activity; for all these favors are inferior to the wisdom of the mysteries of Christ in that they serve as preparations for coming to this wisdom.

When Moses asked God to reveal his glory, God told Moses that he would be unable to receive such a revelation in this life, but that he would be shown all good, that is, all the good that can be revealed in this life. So God put Moses in the cavern of the rock, which is Christ, as we said, and showed his back to him, which was to impart knowledge of the mysteries of the humanity of Christ.

5. The soul, then, earnestly longs to enter these caverns of Christ in order to be absorbed, transformed, and wholly inebriated in the love of the wisdom of these mysteries, and hide herself in the bosom of the Beloved. In the Song of Songs he invites her to these clefts, saying: Arise, make haste, my love, my beautiful one, and come into the clefts of the rock and into the cavern of the wall [Sg. 2:13-14]. These clefts are the caverns we are discussing here of which the soul says next:

there we shall enter

6. That is, "there," into that knowledge and those mysteries, "we shall enter." And she does not declare, I alone shall enter - which would seem more suitable since the Bridegroom does not enter again - but we (the Beloved and I) shall enter. Thereby she shows that she does not do this work alone but that the Bridegroom does it with her. Furthermore, since the soul and God are now united in this state of spiritual marriage that we are discussing, the soul performs no work without God.

To say, "there we shall enter," is to say that there we shall be transformed; that is, I shall be transformed in you through love of these divine and delightful judgments. In her knowledge about the predestination of the just and the foreknowledge of the damned, in which the Father predisposed the just with the blessings of his sweetness [Ps. 21:3], in his Son Jesus Christ, the soul is most sublimely and intimately transformed in the love of God. And with unspeakable delight she thanks and loves the Father again through his Son Jesus. She does this united with Christ, together with Christ. And the savor of this praise is so delicate as to be totally beyond words. Yet the soul states in the following verse:

and taste the fresh juice of the pomegranates.

7. The pomegranates stand for the mysteries of Christ, the judgments of the wisdom of God, and the virtues and attributes uncovered in the knowledge of these innumerable mysteries and judgments. Just as pomegranates have many little seeds formed and sustained within the circular shell, so each of the attributes, mysteries, judgments, and virtues of God, like a round shell of power and mystery, holds and sustains a multitude of marvelous decrees and wondrous effects.

We observe here the circular or spherical figure of the pomegranate and by each pomegranate understand here some divine attribute and power; each divine attribute and power is God himself, who is represented by the circular or spherical figure because he has no beginning or end.1

Since in God's wisdom there are such countless judgments and mysteries, the bride told the Bridegroom in the Song of Songs: Your belly is of ivory set with sapphires [Sg. 5:14]. The sapphires represent these mysteries and judgments of the divine wisdom, signified by the belly; for the sapphire is a precious stone, the color of a clear and serene sky.

8. The juice from these pomegranates that the bride and the Bridegroom will taste is the fruition and delight of the love of God overflowing from the knowledge of his attributes. In eating a pomegranate, one juice alone is tasted from its many seeds; similarly, from all the infused wonders and grandeurs of God there redounds to the soul one fruition and delight of love, which is the drink of the Holy Spirit. With glowing tenderness of love she at once offers this drink to her God, the Word, her Spouse. She had promised him this divine drink in the Song of Songs if he would lead her into this lofty knowledge: There you will teach me; and I shall give you the drink of spiced wine and of juice from my pomegranates [Sg. 8:2]. She calls the pomegranates (the divine knowledge) her own because even though they are his, God has given them to her. She offers as a drink to God her joy in and fruition of this knowledge in the wine of love. Such is the meaning of the words, "And taste the fresh juice of the pomegranates." Tasting it himself, he gives it to her to taste; and she in tasting it turns and offers it to him. And thus they both taste it together.
 

 
   
 
   
   
   
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