"Whom do you seek, friend, if you seek not God? Seek him, find him, cleave to him; bind your will to his with bands of steel and you will live always at peace in this life and in the next."

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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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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"Those who love God are always happy, because their whole happiness is to fulfill, even in adversity, the will of God."

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 38


Introduction

1. In the two preceding stanzas the bride's song focused on the good the Bridegroom will offer her in that eternal bliss. That is, the Bridegroom will really transform her into the beauty of both his created and uncreated wisdom, and also into the beauty of the union of the Word with his humanity in which she will know him face to face as well as from the back.

In the next stanza she discusses two things: first, the manner in which she will taste that divine juice of the sapphires, or rather the pomegranates; second, the glory she will give her Bridegroom through her predestination. It should be noted that even though she refers to these goods as successive parts, they are all contained in one essential glory. She says:

There you will show me
what my soul has been seeking,
and then you will give me,
you, my life, will give me there
what you gave me on that other day:

Commentary

2. The reason the soul desired to enter these caverns was to reach the consummation of the love of God, which she had always been seeking; that is, to love God as purely and perfectly as he loves her in order to repay him by such love. She declares to the Bridegroom in this stanza that there he will show her that which was her aim in all her acts: to love the Bridegroom as perfectly as he loves her. The second gift she will receive there is the essential glory to which he predestined her from the day of his eternity. Thus she declares:

There you will show me
what my soul has been seeking,

3. The soul's aim is a love equal to God's. She always desired this equality, naturally and supernaturally, for lovers cannot be satisfied without feeling that they love as much as they are loved. Since the soul sees through her transformation in God in this life that she cannot, even though her love is immense, equal the perfection of God's love for her, she desires the clear transformation of glory in which she will reach this equality. Even though there is a true union of will in this high state she now enjoys, she cannot attain the excellence and power of love that she will possess in the strong union of glory. Just as the soul, according to St. Paul, will know then as she is known by God [1 Cor. 13:12], so she will also love God as she is loved by him. As her intellect will be the intellect of God, her will then will be God's will, and thus her love will be God's love. The soul's will is not destroyed there, but is so firmly united with the strength of God's will, with which he loves her, that her love for him is as strong and perfect as his love for her; for the two wills are so united that there is only one will and love, which is God's. Thus the soul loves God with the will and strength of God himself, united with the very strength of love with which God loves her. This strength lies in the Holy Spirit in whom the soul is there transformed, for by this transformation of glory he supplies what is lacking in her, since he is given to the soul for the sake of the strength of this love. Even in the perfect transformation of this state of spiritual marriage, which the soul reaches in this life, she superabounds with grace and, as above, loves in some way through the Holy Spirit who is given to her [Rom. 5:5] in this transformation of love.

4. It should be noted that the soul does not say that there he will give her his love - although he really does - because she would thereby manifest only that God loves her. She states rather that there he will show her how to love him as perfectly as she desires. It is precisely by giving her his love there that he shows her how to love as she is loved by him. Besides teaching her to love purely, freely, and disinterestedly, as he loves us, God makes her love him with the very strength with which he loves her. Transforming her into his love, as we said, he gives her his own strength by which she can love him. As if he were to put an instrument in her hands and show her how it works by operating it jointly with her, he shows her how to love and gives her the ability to do so.

Until attaining this equality of love the soul is dissatisfied, nor would she be satisfied in heaven if, as St. Thomas affirms in the opuscule De Beatitudine,1 she did not feel that she loved God as much as she is loved by him. And even though in this state of spiritual marriage we are discussing there is not that perfection of glorious love, there is nonetheless a living and totally ineffable semblance of that perfection.

and then you will give me,
you, my Life, will give me there
what you gave me on that other day:

5. What the soul says he will then give her is essential glory, consisting in the vision of God's being. But before proceeding we ought to resolve a doubt: Why, since essential glory lies in seeing God and not in loving, does the soul declare at the beginning of the stanza that her aim was this love and not the essential glory, and afterward request, as something of less importance, essential glory? There are two reasons:

First, just as the ultimate reason for everything is love (which is seated in the will), whose property is to give and not to receive, whereas the property of the intellect (which is the subject of essential glory) lies in receiving and not giving, the soul in the inebriation of love does not put first the glory she will receive from God, but rather the surrender of herself to him through true love without concern for her own profit.

Second, the desire to see is included in the desire to love and already presupposed in the preceding stanzas, for it is impossible to reach the perfect love of God without the perfect vision of God. Thus the force of this doubt is resolved by the first answer. With love the soul pays God what she owes him; with the intellect, on the contrary, she receives from him.

6. But returning to the commentary, let us see what day "that other day" is, which she here mentions, as well as the meaning of the "what" God gave her on that other day and which she asks to have afterward in glory.

By "that other day," she means the day of God's eternity, which is different from this temporal day. In that day of eternity God predestined the soul to glory, decreed the glory he would bestow on her, and gave it to her freely from all eternity before he created her. And this "what" is so proper to the soul that no event or adversity, whether great or insignificant, will suffice to take it from her; rather, she will attain the endless possession of the "what" to which God predestined her from eternity. And this is the "what" that she says he gave her on that other day and she now desires to possess openly in glory.

As for understanding the nature of the "what" he there gave her: Neither eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the human heart, as the Apostle says [1 Cor. 2:9]. And again Isaiah says: Eye has not seen, outside of you, Lord, what you have prepared, and so on [Is. 64:4]. Since it has no name, the soul calls it "what." The "what" is in point of fact the vision of God, but that which the vision of God is to the soul has no other name than "what."

7. Yet in order to say something about it, let us repeat what Christ said of it to St. John seven times in the Apocalypse with many expressions and words and comparisons, for this "what" cannot be understood by one word, nor at one time, for even with all these terms it still remains to be expressed. Christ then says: To him that overcomes I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of my God [Rv. 2:7].

But since this expression does not explain the "what" suitably, he immediately adds another: Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life [Rv. 2:10].

Because this expression is inadequate also, he uses another that is more obscure, yet explains it better: To the one who overcomes I will give the hidden manna and a white stone, and on the stone a new name will be written, which no one knows save the one who receives it [Rv. 2:17].

And because this is also an insufficient expression of the "what," the Son of God uses another indicating great happiness and power: To the one who overcomes and keeps my commandments until the end will I give power over the nations. That one will rule them with a rod of iron, and as a vessel of clay they shall be smashed, as I also received of my Father. And I will give that one the morning star [Rv. 2:26-28].

And discontented with these expressions for explaining this "what," he then states: The one who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments, and I will not cross the name of that one from the book of life. And I will confess this name before my Father [Rv. 3:5].

8. But since everything he said falls short of the mark, he then employs many terms to explain the "what," and they include in themselves unspeakable majesty and grandeur: And I will make the one who overcomes a pillar in the temple of my God, and this victor shall go out no more. And I will write upon this one the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God, and also my new name [Rv. 3:12].

And then he makes use of the seventh expression to explain the "what": To the one who overcomes I will give to sit with me on my throne, as I also have conquered and sat with my Father on his throne. Let whoever has ears to hear, hear, and so on [Rv. 3:21-22].

These are the words of the Son of God, explaining the "what." They cast the "what" in very perfect terms, but they still do not explain it. This is a peculiarity of a thing that is immense: All the expressions of excellence, grandeur, and goodness are fitting, but do not explain it, not even when taken together.

9. Let us see if David makes any affirmations about this "what." In a psalm he exclaims: How great is the multitude of your sweetness that you have hidden for them who fear you [Ps. 31:19]. And so in another place he calls the "what" a torrent of delight: You will give them to drink from the torrent of your delight [Ps. 36:8]. And because David finds this term inadequate as well, he calls it the prevenient blessings of God's sweetness [Ps. 21:3].

Consequently, a suitable expression for the "what" of which the soul here speaks (the happiness to which God predestined her) is undiscoverable.

Let us set aside this term "what" that the soul uses and explain the verse in this way: What you gave me (that weight of glory to which you predestined me, O my Spouse, on the day of your eternity when you considered it good to decree my creation), you will give me then on the day of my espousals and nuptials and on my day of gladness of heart [Sg. 3:11], when loosed from the flesh and within the high caverns of your chamber, gloriously transformed in you, I shall drink with you the juice of the sweet pomegranates.

 
   
 
   
   
   
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