John, Dark Night 2 17
Explains how this dark contemplation is secret.
1 THREE things have to be expounded with reference to three words containedin this present line. Two (namely, 'secret' and 'ladder') belong to the darknight of contemplation of which we are treating; the third (namely, 'disguised')belongs to the soul by reason of the manner wherein it conducts itself inthis night. As to the first, it must be known that in this line the souldescribes this dark contemplation, by which it goes forth to the union oflove, as a secret ladder, because of the two properties which belong toit--namely, its being secret and its being a ladder. We shall treat of eachseparately.
2. First, it describes this dark contemplation as 'secret,' since,as we have indicated above, it is mystical theology, which theologians callsecret wisdom, and which, as Saint Thomas says is communicated and infusedinto the soul through love.(213) This happens secretly and in darkness, soas to be hidden from the work of the understanding and of other faculties.Wherefore, inasmuch as the faculties aforementioned attain not to it, butthe Holy Spirit infuses and orders it in the soul, as says the Bride in theSongs, without either its knowledge or its understanding, it is called secret.And, in truth, not only does the soul not understand it, but there is nonethat does so, not even the devil; inasmuch as the Master Who teaches thesoul is within it in its substance, to which the devil may not attain, neithermay natural sense nor understanding.
3. And it is not for this reason alonethat it may be called secret, but likewise because of the effects which itproduces in the soul. For it is secret not only in the darknesses and afflictionsof purgation, when this wisdom of love purges the soul, and the soul is unableto speak of it, but equally so afterwards in illumination, when this wisdomis communicated to it most clearly. Even then it is still so secret thatthe soul cannot speak of it and give it a name whereby it may be called;for, apart from the fact that the soul has no desire to speak of it, it canfind no suitable way or manner or similitude by which it may be able to describesuch lofty understanding and such delicate spiritual feeling. And thus, eventhough the soul might have a great desire to express it and might find manyways in which to describe it, it would still be secret and remain undescribed.For, as that inward wisdom is so simple, so general and so spiritual thatit has not entered into the understanding enwrapped or cloaked in any formor image subject to sense, it follows that sense and imagination (as it hasnot entered through them nor has taken their form and colour) cannot accountfor it or imagine it, so as to say anything concerning it, although the soulbe clearly aware that it is experiencing and partaking of that rare anddelectable wisdom. It is like one who sees something never seen before, whereofhe has not even seen the like; although he might understand its nature andhave experience of it, he would be unable to give it a name, or say whatit is, however much he tried to do so, and this in spite of its being a thingwhich he ha d perceived with the senses. How much less, then, could he describea thing that has not entered through the senses! For the language of Godhas this characteristic that, since it is very intimate and spiritual inits relations with the soul, it transcends every sense and at once makesall harmony and capacity of the outward and inward senses to cease and bedumb.
4. For this we have both authorities and examples in the Divine Scripture.For the incapacity of man to speak of it and describe it in words was shownby Jeremias,(214) when, after God had spoken with him, he knew not what tosay, save 'Ah, ah, ah!' This interior incapacity--that is, of the interiorsense of the imagination--and also that of the exterior sense correspondingto it was also demonstrated in the case of Moses, when he stood before Godin the bush;(215) not only did he say to God that after speaking with Himhe knew not neither was able to speak, but also that not even (as is saidin the Acts of the Apostles)(216) with the interior imagination did he dareto meditate, for it seemed to him that his imagination was very far awayand was too dumb, not only to express any part of that which he understoodconcerning God, but even to have the capacity to receive aught therefrom.Wherefore, inasmuch as the wisdom of this contemplation is the language ofGod to the soul, addressed by pure spirit to pure spirit, naught that isless than spirit, such as the senses, can perceive it, and thus to them itis secret, and they know it not, neither can they say it,(217) nor do theydesire to do so, because they see it not.
5. We may deduce from this the reason why certain persons-- good and fearful souls--who walk along thisroad and would like to give an account of their spiritual state to theirdirector,(218) are neither able to do so nor know how. For the reason wehave described, they have a great repugnance in speaking of it, especiallywhen their contemplation is of the purer sort, so that the soul itself ishardly conscious of it. Such a person is only able to say that he is satisfied,tranquil and contented and that he is conscious of the presence of God, andthat, as it seems to him, all is going well with him; but he cannot describethe state of his soul, nor can he say anything about it save in general termslike these. It is a different matter when the experiences of the soul areof a particular kind, such as visions, feelings, etc., which, being ordinarilyreceived under some species wherein sense participates, can be describedunder that species, or by some other similitude. But this capacity for beingdescribed is not in the nature of pure contemplation, which is indescribable,as we have said, for the which reason it is called secret.
6. And not only for that reason is it called secret, and is so, but likewise because thismystical knowledge has the property of hiding the soul within itself. For,besides performing its ordinary function, it sometimes absorbs the soul andengulfs it in its secret abyss, in such a way that the soul clearly seesthat it has been carried far away from every creature and; has become mostremote therefrom;(219) so that it considers itself as having been placedin a most profound and vast retreat, to which no human creature can attain,such as an immense desert, which nowhere has any boundary, a desert the moredelectable, pleasant and lovely for its secrecy, vastness and solitude, wherein,the more the soul is raised up above all temporal creatures, the more deeplydoes it find itself hidden. And so greatly does this abyss of wisdom raiseup and exalt the soul at this time, making it to penetrate the veins of thescience of love, that it not only shows it how base are all properties ofthe creatures by comparison with this supreme knowledge and Divine feeling,but likewise it learns how base and defective, and, in some measure, howinapt, are all the terms and words which are used in this life to treat ofDivine things, and how impossible it is, in any natural way or manner, howeverlearnedly and sublimely they may be spoken of, to be able to know and perceivethem as they are, save by the illumination of this mystical theology. Andthus, when by means of this illumination the soul discerns this truth, namely,that it cannot reach it, still less explain it, by common or human language,it rightly calls it secret.
7. This property of secrecy and superiority over natural capacity, which belongs to this Divine contemplation, belongs toit, not only because it is supernatural, but also inasmuch as it is a roadthat guides and leads the soul to the perfections of union with God; which,as they are things unknown after a human manner, must be approached, aftera human manner, by unknowing and by Divine ignorance. For, speaking mystically,as we are speaking here, Divine things and perfections are known and understoodas they are, not when they are being sought after and practised, but whenthey have been found and practised. To this purpose speaks the prophet Baruchconcerning this Divine wisdom: 'There is none that can know her ways northat can imagine her paths.'(220) Likewise the royal Prophet speaks in thismanner concerning this road of the soul, when he says to God: 'Thy lightningslighted and illumined the round earth; the earth was moved and trembled.Thy way is in the sea and Thy paths are in many waters; and Thy footstepsshall not be known.'(221)
8. All this, speaking spiritually, is to be understoodin the sense wherein we are speaking. For the illumination of the roundearth(222) by the lightnings of God is the enlightenment which is producedby this Divine contemplation in the faculties of the soul; the moving andtrembling of the earth is the painful purgation which is caused therein;and to say that the way and the road of God whereby the soul journeys toHim is in the sea, and His footprints are in many waters and for this reasonshall not be known, is as much as to say that this road whereby the souljourneys to God is as secret and as hidden from the sense of the soul asthe way of one that walks on the sea, whose paths and footprints are notknown, is hidden from the sense of the body. The steps and footprints whichGod is imprinting upon the souls that He desires to bring near to Himself,and to make great in union with His Wisdom, have also this property, thatthey are not known. Wherefore in the Book of Job mention is made of thismatter, in these words: 'Hast thou perchance known the paths of the greatclouds or the perfect knowledges?'(223) By this are understood the ways androads whereby God continually exalts souls and perfects them in His Wisdom,which souls are here understood by the clouds. It follows, then, that thiscontemplation which is guiding the soul to God is secret wisdom.
Explains how this secret wisdom is likewise a ladder.
1 IT now remains to consider the second point--namely, how this secret wisdomis likewise a ladder. With respect to this it must be known that we can callthis secret contemplation a ladder for many reasons. In the first place,because, just as men mount by means of ladders and climb up to possessionsand treasures and things that are in strong places, even so also, by meansof this secret contemplation, without knowing how, the soul ascends and climbsup to a knowledge and possession of(224) the good things and treasures ofHeaven. This is well expressed by the royal prophet David, when he says:'Blessed is he that hath Thy favour and help, for such a man hath placedin his heart ascensions into the vale of tears in the place which he hathappointed; for after this manner the Lord of the law shall give blessing,and they shall go from virtue to virtue as from step to step, and the Godof gods shall be seen in Sion.'(225) This God is the treasure of the strongplace of Sion, which is happiness.
2. We may also call it a ladder because,even as the ladder has those same steps in order that men may mount, it hasthem also that they may descend; even so is it likewise with this secretcontemplation, for those same communications which it causes in the soulraise it up to God, yet humble it with respect to itself. For communicationswhich are indeed of God have this property, that they humble the soul andat the same time exalt it. For, upon this road, to go down is to go up, andto go up, to go down, for he that humbles himself is exalted and he thatexalts himself is humbled.(226) And besides the fact that the virtue of humilityis greatness, for the exercise of the soul therein, God is wont to make itmount by this ladder so that it may descend, and to make it descend so thatit may mount, that the words of the Wise Man may thus be fulfilled, namely:'Before the soul is exalted, it is humbled; and before it is humbled, itis exalted.'(227)
3. Speaking now in a natural way, the soul that desiresto consider it will be able to see how on this road (we leave apart the spiritualaspect, of which the soul is not conscious) it has to suffer many ups anddowns, and how the prosperity which it enjoys is followed immediately bycertain storms and trials; so much so, that it appears to have been giventhat period of calm in order that it might be forewarned and strengthenedagainst the poverty which has followed; just as after misery and tormentthere come abundance and calm. It seems to the soul as if, before celebratingthat festival, it has first been made to keep that vigil. This is the ordinarycourse and proceeding of the state of contemplation until the soul arrivesat the state of quietness; it never remains in the same state for long together,but is ascending and descending continually.
4. The reason for this is that, as the state of perfection, which consists in the perfect love of God andcontempt for self, cannot exist unless it have these two parts, which arethe knowledge of God and of oneself, the soul has of necessity to be practisedfirst in t he one and then in the other, now being given to taste of theone--that is, exaltation--and now being made to experience the other--thatis, humiliation--until it has acquired perfect habits; and then this ascendingand descending will cease, since the soul will have attained to God and becomeunited with Him, which comes to pass at the summit of this ladder, for theladder rests and leans upon Him. For this ladder of contemplation, which,as we have said, comes down from God, is prefigured by that ladder whichJacob saw as he slept, whereon angels were ascending and descending, fromGod to man, and from man to God, Who Himself was leaning upon the end ofthe ladder.(228) All this, says Divine Scripture, took place by night, whenJacob slept, in order to express how secret is this road and ascent to God,and how different from that of man's knowledge. This is very evident, sinceordinarily that which is of the greatest profit in it-- namely, to be everlosing oneself and becoming as nothing(229)--is considered the worst thingpossible; and that which is of least worth, which is for a soul to findconsolation and sweetness (wherein it ordinarily loses rather than gains),is considered best.
5. But, speaking now somewhat more substantially andproperly of this ladder of secret contemplation, we shall observe that theprincipal characteristic of contemplation, on account of which it is herecalled a ladder, is that it is the science of love. This, as we have said,is an infused and loving knowledge of God, which enlightens the soul andat the same time enkindles it with love, until it is raised up step by step,even unto God its Creator. For it is love alone that unites and joins thesoul with God. To the end that this may be seen more clearly, we shall hereindicate the steps of this Divine ladder one by one, pointing out brieflythe marks and effects of each, so that the soul may conjecture hereby onwhich of them it is standing. We shall therefore distinguish them by theireffects, as do Saint Bernard and Saint Thomas,(230) for to know them inthemselves is not possible after a natural manner, inasmuch as this ladderof love is, as we have said, so secret that God alone is He that measuresand weighs it.
Begins to explain the ten steps(231) of the mystic ladder of Divine love,according to Saint Bernard and Saint Thomas. The first five are here treated.
1 WE observe, then, that the steps of this ladder of love by which the soulmounts, one by one, to God, are ten. The first step of love causes the soulto languish, and this to its advantage. The Bride is speaking from this stepof love when she says: 'I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem, that, if yefind my Beloved, ye tell Him that I am sick with love.'(232) This sickness,however, is not unto death, but for the glory of God, for in this sicknessthe soul swoons as to sin and as to all things that are not God, for thesake of God Himself, even as David testifies, saying: 'My soul hath swoonedaway'(233)--that is, with respect to all things, for Thy salvation. For justas a sick man first of all loses his appetite and taste for all food, andhis colour changes, so likewise in this degree of love the soul loses itstaste and desire for all things and changes its colour and the other accidentalsof its past life, like one in love. The soul falls not into this sicknessif excess of heat be not communicated to it from above, even as is expressedin that verse of David which says: Pluviam voluntariam segregabis, Deus,haereditati tuae, et infirmata est,(234) etc. This sickness and swooningto all things, which is the beginning and the first step on the road to God,we clearly described above, when we were speaking of the annihilation whereinthe soul finds itself when it begins to climb(235) this ladder of contemplativepurgation, when it can find no pleasure, support, consolation or abiding-placein anything soever. Wherefore from this step it begins at once to climb tothe second.
2. The second step causes the soul to seek God without ceasing.Wherefore, when the Bride says that she sought Him by night upon her bed(when she had swooned away according to the first step of love) and foundHim not, she said: 'I will arise and will seek Him Whom my soul loveth.'(236)This, as we say, the soul does without ceasing as David counsels it, saying:'Seek ye ever the face of God, and seek ye Him in all things, tarrying notuntil ye find Him;'(237) like the Bride, who, having enquired for Him ofthe watchmen, passed on at once and left them. Mary Magdalene did not evennotice the angels at the sepulchre.(238) On this step the soul now walksso anxiously that it seeks the Beloved in all things. In whatsoever it thinks,it thinks at once of the Beloved. Of whatsoever it speaks, in whatsoevermatters present themselves, it is speaking and communing at once with theBeloved. When it eats, when it sleeps, when it watches, when it does aughtsoever, all its care is about the Beloved, as is said above with respectto the yearnings of love. And now, as love begins to recover its health andfind new strength in the love of this second step, it begins at once to mountto the third, by means of a certain degree(239) of new purgation in the night,as we shall afterwards describe, which produces in the soul the followingeffects.
3. The third step of the ladder of love is that which causes thesoul to work and gives it fervour so that it fails not. Concerning this theroyal Prophet says: 'Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, for in Hiscommandments he is eager to labour greatly.'(240) Wherefore if fear, beingthe son of love, causes within him this eagerness to labour,(241) what willbe done by love itself? On this step the soul considers great works undertakenfor the Beloved as small; many things as few; and the long time for whichit serves Him as short, by reason of the fire of love wherein it is now burning.Even so to Jacob, though after seven years he had been made to serve sevenmore, they seemed few because of the greatness of his love.(242) Now if thelove of a mere creature could accomplish so much in Jacob, what will loveof the Creator be able to do when on this third step it takes possessionof the soul? Here, for the great love which the soul bears to God, it suffersgreat pains and afflictions because of the little that it does for God; andif it were lawful for it to be destroyed a thousand times for Him it wouldbe comforted. Wherefore it considers itself useless in all that it does andthinks itself to be living in vain. Another wondrous effect produced herein the soul is that it considers itself as being, most certainly, worse thanall other souls: first, because love is continually teaching it how muchis due to God;(243) and second, because, as the works which it here doesfor God are many and it knows them all to be faulty and imperfect, they allbring it confusion and affliction, for it realizes in how lowly a mannerit is working for God, Who is so high. On this third step, the soul is veryfar from vainglory or presumption, and from condemning others. These anxiouseffects, with many others like them, are produced in the soul by this thirdstep; wherefore it gains courage and strength from them in order to mountto the fourth step, which is that that follows.
4. The fourth step of this ladder of love is that whereby there is caused in the soul an habitual sufferingbecause of the Beloved, yet without weariness. For, as Saint Augustine says,love makes all things that are great, grievous and burdensome to be almostnaught. From this step the Bride was speaking when, desiring to attain tothe last step, she said to the Spouse: 'Set me as a seal upon thy heart,as a seal upon thine arm; for love-- that is, the act and work of love--isstrong as death, and emulation and importunity last as long as hell.'(244)The spirit here has so much strength that it has subjected the flesh andtakes as little account of it as does the tree of one of its leaves. In noway does the soul here seek its own consolation or pleasure, either in God,or in aught else, nor does it desire or seek to pray to God for favours,for it sees clearly that it has already received enough of these, and allits anxiety is set upon the manner wherein it will be able to do somethingthat is pleasing to God and to render Him some service such as He meritsand in return for what it has received from Him, although it be greatly toits cost. The soul says in its heart and spirit: Ah, my God and Lord! Howmany are there that go to seek in Thee their own consolation and pleasure,and desire Thee to grant them favours and gifts; but those who long to doThee pleasure and to give Thee something at their cost, setting their owninterests last, are very few. The failure, my God, is not in Thy unwillingnessto grant us new favours, but in our neglect to use those that we have receivedin Thy service alone, in order to constrain Thee to grant them to us continually.Exceeding lofty is this step of love; for, as the soul goes ever after Godwith love so true, imbued with the spirit of suffering for His sake, HisMajesty oftentimes and quite habitually grants it joy, and visits it sweetlyand delectably in the spirit; for the boundless love of Christ, the Word,cannot suffer the afflictions of His lover without succouring him. This Heaffirmed through Jeremias, saying: 'I have remembered thee, pitying thy youthand tenderness, when thou wentest after Me in the wilderness.'(245) Speakingspiritually, this denotes the detachment which the soul now has interiorlyfrom every creature, so that it rests not and nowhere finds quietness. Thisfourth step enkindles the soul and makes it to burn in such desire for Godthat it causes it to mount to the fifth, which is that which follows.
5. The fifth step of this ladder of love makes the soul to desire and long forGod impatiently. On this step the vehemence of the lover to comp rehend theBeloved and be united with Him is such that every delay, however brief, becomesvery long, wearisome and oppressive to it, and it continually believes itselfto be finding the Beloved. And when it sees its desire frustrated (whichis at almost every moment), it swoons away with its yearning, as says thePsalmist, speaking from this step, in these words: 'My soul longs and faintsfor the dwellings of the Lord.'(246) On this step the lover must needs seethat which he loves, or die; at this step was Rachel, when, for the greatlonging that she had for children, she said to Jacob, her spouse: 'Give mechildren, else shall I die.'(247) Here men suffer hunger like dogs and goabout and surround the city of God. On this step, which is one of hunger,(248)the soul is nourished upon love; for, even as is its hunger, so is its abundance;so that it rises hence to the sixth step, producing the effects which follow.
Wherein are treated the other five steps of love.
1 ON the sixth step the soul runs swiftly to God and touches Him again andagain; and it runs without fainting by reason of its hope. For here the lovethat has made it strong makes it to fly swiftly. Of this step the prophetIsaias speaks thus: 'The saints that hope in God shall renew their strength;they shall take wings as the eagle; they shall fly and shall not faint,'(249)as they did at the fifth step. To this step likewise alludes that verse ofthe Psalm: 'As the hart desires the waters, my soul desires Thee, O God.'(250)For the hart, in its thirst, runs to the waters with great swiftness. Thecause of this swiftness in love which the soul has on this step is that itscharity is greatly enlarged within it, since the soul is here almost whollypurified, as is said likewise in the Psalm, namely: Sine iniquitate cucurri.(251)And in another Psalm: 'I ran the way of Thy commandments when Thou didstenlarge my heart';(252) and thus from this sixth step the soul at once mountsto the seventh, which is that which follows.
2. The seventh step of this ladder makes the soul to become vehement in its boldness. Here love employsnot its judgment in order to hope, nor does it take counsel so that it maydraw back, neither can any shame restrain it; for the favour which God heregrants to the soul causes it to become vehement in its boldness. Hence followsthat which the Apostle says, namely: That charity believeth all things, hopethall things and is capable of all things.(253) Of this step spake Moses, whenhe entreated God to pardon the people, and if not, to blot out his name fromthe book of life wherein He had written it.(254) Men like these obtain fromGod that which they beg of Him with desire. Wherefore David says: 'Delightthou in God and He will give thee the petitions of thy heart.'(255) On thisstep the Bride grew bold, and said: Osculetur me osculo oris sui.(256) Tothis step it is not lawful for the soul to aspire boldly, unless it feelthe interior favour of the King's sceptre extended to it, lest perchanceit fall from the other steps which it has mounted up to this point, and whereinit must ever possess itself in humility. From this daring and power whichGod grants to the soul on this seventh step, so that it may be bold withGod in the vehemence of love, follows the eighth, which is that wherein ittakes the Beloved captive and is united with Him, as follows.
3. The eighth step of love causes the soul to seize Him and hold Him fast without lettingHim go, even as the Bride says, after this manner: 'I found Him Whom my heartand soul love; I held Him and I will not let Him go.'(257) On this step ofunion the soul satisfies her desire, but not continuously. Certain soulsclimb some way,(258) and then lose their hold; for, if this state were tocontinue, it would be glory itself in this life; and thus the soul remainstherein for very short periods of time. To the prophet Daniel, because hewas a man of desires, was sent a command from God to remain on this step,when it was said to him: 'Daniel, stay upon thy step, because thou art aman of desires.'(259) After this step follows the ninth, which is that ofsouls now perfect, as we shall afterwards say, which is that that follows.
4. The ninth step of love makes the soul to burn with sweetness. This stepis that of the perfect, who now burn sweetly in God. For this sweet anddelectable ardour is caused in them by the Holy Spirit by reason of the unionwhich they have with God. For this cause Saint Gregory says, concerning theApostles, that when the Holy Spirit came upon them visibly they burned inwardlyand sweetly through love.(260) Of the good things and riches of God whichthe soul enjoys on this step, we cannot speak; for if many books were tobe written concerning it the greater part would still remain untold. Forthis cause, and because we shall say something of it hereafter, I say nomore here than that after this follows the tenth and last step of this ladderof love, which belongs not to this life.
5. The tenth and last step of this secret ladder of love causes the soul to become wholly assimilated to God,by reason of the clear and immediate(261) vision of God which it then possesses;when, having ascended in this life to the ninth step, it goes forth fromthe flesh. These souls, who are few, enter not into purgatory, since theyhave already been wholly purged by love. Of these Saint Matthew says: Beatimundo corde: quoniam ipsi Deum videbunt.(262) And, as we say, this visionis the cause of the perfect likeness of the soul to God, for, as Saint Johnsays, we know that we shall be like Him.(263) Not because the soul will cometo have the capacity of God, for that is impossible; but because all thatit is will become like to God, for which cause it will be called, and willbe, God by participation.
6. This is the secret ladder whereof the soul herespeaks, although upon these higher steps it is no longer very secret to thesoul, since much is revealed to it by love, through the great effects whichlove produces in it. But, on this last step of clear vision, which is thelast step of the ladder whereon God leans, as we have said already, thereis naught that is hidden from the soul, by reason of its complete assimilation.Wherefore Our Saviour says: 'In that day ye shall ask Me nothing,' etc.(264)But, until that day, however high a point the soul may reach, there remainssomething hidden from it--namely, all that it lacks for total assimilationin the Divine Essence. After this manner, by this mystical theology and secretlove, the soul continues to rise above all things and above itself, and tomount upward to God. For love is like fire, which ever rises upward withthe desire to be absorbed in the centre of its sphere.
Which explains the word 'disguised,' and describes the colours of the disguiseof the soul in this night.
1 Now that we have explained the reasons why the soul called this contemplationa 'secret ladder,' it remains for us to explain likewise the word 'disguised,'and the reason why the soul says also that it went forth by this 'secretladder' in 'disguise.'
2. For the understanding of this it must be knownthat to disguise oneself is naught else but to hide and cover oneself beneathanother garb and figure than one's own--sometimes in order to show forth,under that garb or figure, the will and purpose which is in the heart togain the grace and will of one who is greatly loved; sometimes, again, tohide oneself from one's rivals and thus to accomplish one's object better.At such times a man assumes the garments and livery which best representand indicate the affection of his heart and which best conceal him from hisrivals.
3. The soul, then, touched with the love of Christ the Spouse, andlonging to attain to His grace and gain His goodwill, goes forth here disguisedwith that disguise which most vividly represents the affections of its spiritand which will protect it most securely on its journey from its adversariesand enemies, which are the devil, the world and the flesh. Thus the liverywhich it wears is of three chief colours--white, green and purple- - denotingthe three theological virtues, faith, hope and charity. By these the soulwill not only gain the grace and goodwill of its Beloved, but it will travelin security and complete protection from its three enemies: for faith isan inward tunic of a whiteness so pure that it completely dazzles the eyesof the understanding.(265) And thus, when the soul journeys in its vestmentof faith, the devil can neither see it nor succeed in harming it, since itis well protected by faith--more so than by all the other virtues--againstthe devil, who is at once the strongest and the most cunning of enemies.
4. It is clear that Saint Peter could find no better protection than faithto save him from the devil, when he said: Cui resistite fortes in fide.(266)And in order to gain the grace of the Beloved, and union with Him, the soulcannot put on a better vest and tunic,(267) to serve as a foundation andbeginning of the other vestments of the virtues, than this white garment(268)of faith, for without it, as the Apostle says, it is impossible to pleaseGod, and with it, it is impossible to fail to please Him. For He Himselfsays through a prophet: Sponsabo te mihi in fide.(269) Which is as much asto say: If thou desirest, O soul, to be united and betrothed to Me, thoumust come inwardly clad in faith.
5. This white garment of faith was worn by the soul on its going forth from this dark night, when, walking in interiorconstraint and darkness, as we have said before, it received no aid, in theform of light, from its understanding, neither from above, since Heaven seemedto be closed to it and God hidden from it, nor from below, since those thattaught it satisfied it not. It suffered with constancy and persevered, passingthrough those trials withou t fainting or failing the Beloved, Who in trialsand tribulations proves the faith of His Bride, so that afterwards she maytruly repeat this saying of David, namely: 'By the words of Thy lips I kepthard ways.'(270)
6. Next, over this white tunic of faith the soul now putson the second colour, which is a green vestment. By this, as we said, issignified the virtue of hope, wherewith, as in the first case, the soul isdelivered and protected from the second enemy, which is the world. For thisgreen colour of living hope in God gives the soul such ardour and courageand aspiration to the things of eternal life that, by comparison with whatit hopes for therein, all things of the world seem to it to be, as in truththey are, dry and faded and dead and nothing worth. The soul now divestsand strips itself of all these worldly vestments and garments, setting itsheart upon naught that is in the world and hoping for naught, whether ofthat which is or of that which is to be, but living clad only in the hopeof eternal life. Wherefore, when the heart is thus lifted up above the world,not only can the world neither touch the heart nor lay hold on it, but itcannot even come within sight of it.
7. And thus, in this green livery and disguise, the soul journeys in complete security from this second enemy,which is the world. For Saint Paul speaks of hope as the helmet ofsalvation(271)--that is, a piece of armour that protects the whole head,and covers it so that there remains uncovered only a visor through whichit may look. And hope has this property, that it covers all the senses ofthe head of the soul, so that there is naught soever pertaining to the worldin which they can be immersed, nor is there an opening through which anyarrow of the world can wound them. It has a visor, however, which the soulis permitted to use so that its eyes may look upward, but nowhere else; forthis is the function which hope habitually performs in the soul, namely,the directing of its eyes upwards to look at God alone, even as David declaredthat his eyes were directed, when he said: Oculi mei semper ad Dominum.(272)He hoped for no good thing elsewhere, save as he himself says in anotherPsalm: 'Even as the eyes of the handmaid are set upon the hands of her mistress,even so are our eyes set upon our Lord God, until He have mercy upon us aswe hope in Him.'(273)
8. For this reason, because of this green livery (sincethe soul is ever looking to God and sets its eyes on naught else, neitheris pleased with aught save with Him alone), the Beloved has such great pleasurewith the soul that it is true to say that the soul obtains from Him as muchas it hopes for from Him. Wherefore the Spouse in the Songs tells the Bridethat, by looking upon Him with one eye alone, she has wounded His heart.(274)Without this green livery of hope in God alone it would be impossible forthe soul to go forth to encompass this loving achievement, for it would haveno success, since that which moves and conquers is the importunity of hope.
9. With this livery of hope the soul journeys in disguise through this secretand dark night whereof we have spoken; for it is so completely voided ofevery possession and support that it fixes its eyes and its care upon naughtbut God, putting its mouth in the dust,(275) if so be there may be hope--torepeat the quotation made above from Jeremias.(276)
10. Over the white andthe green vestments, as the crown and perfection of this disguise and livery,the soul now puts on the third colour, which is a splendid garment of purple.By this is denoted the third virtue, which is charity. This not only addsgrace to the other two colours, but causes the soul to rise to so lofty apoint that it is brought near to God, and becomes very beautiful and pleasingto Him, so that it makes bold to say: 'Albeit I am black, O daughters ofJerusalem, I am comely; wherefore the King hath loved me and hath broughtme into His chambers.'(277) This livery of charity, which is that of love,and causes greater love in the Beloved, not only protects the soul and hidesit from the third enemy, which is the flesh (for where there is true loveof God there enters neither love of self nor that of the things of self),but even gives worth to the other virtues, bestowing on them vigour and strengthto protect the soul, and grace and beauty to please the Beloved with them,for without charity no virtue has grace before God. This is the purple whichis spoken of in the Songs,(278) upon which God reclines. Clad in this purplelivery the soul journeys when (as has been explained above in the first stanza)it goes forth from itself in the dark night, and from all things created,'kindled in love with yearnings,' by this secret ladder of contemplation,to the perfect union of love of God, its beloved salvation.(279)
11. This, then, is the disguise which the soul says that it wears in the night of faith,upon this secret ladder, and these are its three colours. They constitutea most fit preparation for the union of the soul with God, according to itsthree faculties, which are understanding, memory and will. For faith voidsand darkens the understanding as to all its natural intelligence, and hereinprepares it for union with Divine Wisdom. Hope voids and withdraws the memoryfrom all creature possessions; for, as Saint Paul says, hope is for thatwhich is not possessed;(280) and thus it withdraws the memory from that whichit is capable of possessing, and sets it on that for which it hopes. Andfor this cause hope in God alone prepares the memory purely for union withGod. Charity, in the same way, voids and annihilates the affections and desiresof the will for whatever is not God, and sets them upon Him alone; and thusthis virtue prepares this faculty and unites it with God through love. Andthus, since the function of these virtues is the withdrawal of the soul fromall that is less than God, their function is consequently that of joiningit with God.
12. And thus, unless it journeys earnestly, clad in the garmentsof these three virtues, it is impossible for the soul to attain to the perfectionof union with God through love. Wherefore, in order that the soul might attainthat which it desired, which was this loving and delectable union with itsBeloved, this disguise and clothing which it assumed was most necessary andconvenient. And likewise to have succeeded in thus clothing itself andpersevering until it should obtain the end and aspiration which it had somuch desired, which was the union of love, was a great and happy chance,wherefore in this line the soul also says:
Oh, happy chance!
John, Dark Night 2 17