John, Spiritual Canticle 36
We shall go at once
To the deep caverns of the rock
Which are all secret;
There we shall enter in,
And taste of the new wine of the pomegranate.
1 ONE of the reasons which most influence the soul to desire toenter into the 'thicket' of the wisdom of God, and to have a moreintimate knowledge of the beauty of the divine wisdom, is, as Ihave said, that it may unite the understanding with God in theknowledge of the mysteries of the Incarnation, as of all His worksthe highest and most full of sweetness, and the most deliciousknowledge. And here the bride therefore says, that after she hasentered in within the divine wisdom--that is, the spiritualmarriage, which is now and will be in glory, seeing God face toface--her soul united with the divine wisdom, the Son of God, shewill then understand the deep mysteries of God and Man, which arethe highest wisdom hidden in God. They, that is, the bride and theBridegroom, will enter in--the soul ingulfed and absorbed--andboth together will have the fruition of the joy which springs fromthe knowledge of mysteries, and attributes and power of God whichare revealed in those mysteries, such as His justice, His mercy,wisdom, power, and love.
'We shall go at once to the deep caverns of the rock.'
2. 'This rock is Christ,' as we learn from St. Paul. (292) Thedeep caverns of the rock are the deep mysteries of the wisdom ofGod in Christ, in the hypostatical union of the human nature withthe Divine Word, and in the correspondence with it of the union ofman with God, and in the agreement of God's justice and mercy inthe salvation of mankind, in the manifestation of His judgments.And because His judgments are so high and so deep, they are herefittingly called 'deep caverns'; deep because of the depth of Hismysteries, and caverns because of the depth of His wisdom in them.For as caverns are deep, with many windings, so each mystery ofChrist is of deepest wisdom, and has many windings of His secretjudgments of predestination and foreknowledge with respect to men.
3. Notwithstanding the marvellous mysteries which holy doctorshave discovered, and holy souls have understood in this life, manymore remain behind. There are in Christ great depths to befathomed, for He is a rich mine, with many recesses full oftreasures, and however deeply we may descend we shall never reachthe end, for in every recess new veins of new treasures abound inall directions: 'In Whom,' according to the Apostle, 'are hid allthe treasures of wisdom and knowledge.' (293) But the soul cannotreach these hidden treasures unless it first passes through thethicket of interior and exterior suffering: for even suchknowledge of the mysteries of Christ as is possible in this lifecannot be had without great sufferings, and without manyintellectual and moral gifts, and without previous spiritualexercises; for all these gifts are far inferior to this knowledgeof the mysteries of Christ, being only a preparation for it.
4. Thus God said to Moses, when he asked to see His glory, 'Manshall not see Me and live.' God, however, said that He would showhim all that could be revealed in this life; and so He set Moses'in a hole of the rock,' which is Christ, where he might see His'back parts'; (294) that is, He made him understand the mysteriesof the Sacred Humanity.
5. The soul longs to enter in earnest into these caverns ofChrist, that it may be absorbed, transformed, and inebriated inthe love and knowledge of His mysteries, hiding itself in thebosom of the Beloved. It is into these caverns that He invites thebride, in the Canticle, to enter, saying: 'Arise, My love, Mybeautiful one, and come; My dove in the clefts of the rock, in thehollow places of the wall.' (295) These clefts of the rock are thecaverns of which we are here speaking, and to which the briderefers, saying:
'And there we shall enter in.'
6. That is, in the knowledge of the divine mysteries. The bridesays not 'I will enter' alone, which seems the most fitting--seeing that the Bridegroom has no need to enter in again--but 'wewill enter,' that is, the Bridegroom and the bride, to show thatthis is not the work of the bride, but of the Bridegroom with her.Moreover, inasmuch as God and the soul are now united in the stateof spiritual marriage, the soul doeth nothing of itself withoutGod. To say 'we will enter,' is as much as to say, 'there shall wetransform ourselves'--that is, 'I shall be transformed in Theethrough the love of Thy divine and sweet judgments': for in theknowledge of the predestination of the just and in the foresightof the wicked, wherein the Father prevented the just in thebenedictions of His sweetness in Jesus Christ His Son, the soul istransformed in a most exalted and perfect way in the love of Godaccording to this knowledge, giving thanks to the Father, andloving Him again and again with great sweetness and delight, forthe sake of Jesus Christ His Son. This the soul does in union withChrist and together with Him. The delight flowing from this act ofpraise is ineffably sweet, and the soul speaks of it in the wordsthat follow:
'And taste of the new wine of the pomegranates.'
7. The pomegranates here are the mysteries of Christ and thejudgments of the wisdom of God; His power and attributes, theknowledge of which we have from these mysteries; and they areinfinite. For as pomegranates have many grains in their round orb,so in each one of the attributes and judgments and power of God isa multitude of admirable arrangements and marvellous workscontained within the sphere of power and mystery, appertaining tothose works. Consider the round form of the pomegranate; for eachpomegranate signifies some one power and attribute of God, whichpower or attribute is God Himself, symbolised here by the circularfigure, which has neither beginning not end. It was in thecontemplation of the judgments and mysteries of the wisdom of God,which are infinite, that the bride said, 'His belly is of ivoryset with sapphires.' (296) The sapphires are the mysteries andjudgments of the divine Wisdom, which is here signified by the'belly'--the sapphire being a precious stone of the colour of theheavens when clear and serene.
8. The wine of the pomegranates which the bride says that she andthe Bridegroom will taste is the fruition and joy of the love ofGod which overflows the soul in the understanding and knowledge ofHis mysteries. For as the many grains of the pomegranate pressedtogether give forth but one wine, so all the marvels andmagnificence of God, infused into the soul, issue in but onefruition and joy of love, which is the drink of the Holy Ghost,and which the soul offers at once to God the Word, its Bridegroom,with great tenderness of love.
9. This divine drink the bride promised to the Bridegroom if Hewould lead her into this deep knowledge: 'There Thou shalt teachme,' saith the bride, 'and I will give Thee a cup of spiced wine,and new wine of my pomegranates.' (297) The soul calls them 'mypomegranates,' though they are God's Who had given them to it, andthe soul offers them to God as if they were its own, saying, 'Wewill taste of the wine of the pomegranates'; for when He states itHe gives it to the soul to taste, and when the soul tastes it, thesoul gives it back to Him, and thus it is that both taste ittogether.
IN the two previous stanzas the bride sung of those good thingswhich the Bridegroom is to give her in everlasting bliss, namely,her transformation in the beauty of created and uncreated wisdom,and also in the beauty of the union of the Word with flesh,wherein she shall behold His face as well as His back. Accordinglytwo things are set before us in the following stanza. The first isthe way in which the soul tastes of the divine wine of thepomegranates; the second is the soul's putting before theBridegroom the glory of its predestination. And though these twothings are spoken of separately, one after the other, they areboth involved in the one essential glory of the soul.
There thou wilt show me
That which my soul desired;
And there Thou wilt give at once,
O Thou, my life,
That which Thou gavest me the other day.
1 THE reason why the soul longed to enter the caverns was that itmight attain to the consummation of the love of God, the object ofits continual desires; that is, that it might love God with thepureness and perfection wherewith He has loved it, so that itmight thereby requite His love. Hence in the present stanza thebride saith to the Bridegroom that He will there show her what shehad always aimed at in all her actions, namely, that He would showher how to love Him perfectly, as He has loved her. And, secondly,that He will give her that essential glory for which He haspredestined her from the day of His eternity.
'There Thou wilt show me
That which my soul desired.'
2. That which the soul aims at is equality in love with God, theobject of its natural and supernatural desire. He who loves cannotbe satisfied if he does not feel that he loves as much as he isloved. And when the soul sees that in the transformation in God,such as is possible in this life, notwithstanding the immensity ofits love, it cannot equal the perfection of that love wherewithGod loves it, it desires the clear transformation of glory whereinit shall equal the perfection of love wherewith it is itselfbeloved of God; it desires, I say, the clear transformation ofglory wherein it shall equal His love.
3. For though in this high state, which the soul reaches on earth,there is a real union of the will, yet it cannot reach thatperfection and strength of love which it will possess in the unionof glory; seeing that then, according to the Apostle, the soulwill know God as it is known of Him: 'Then I shall know even as Iam known.' (298) That is, 'I shall then love God even as I amloved by Him.' For as the understanding of the soul will then bethe understanding of God, and its will the will of God, so itslove will also be His love. Though in heaven the will of the soulis not destroyed, it is so intimately united with the power of thewill of God, Who loves it, that it loves Him as strongly and asperfectly as it is loved of Him; both wills being united in onesole will and one sole love of God.
4. Thus the soul loves God with the will and strength of GodHimself, being made one with that very strength of love wherewithitself is loved of God. This strength is of the Holy Ghost, inWhom the soul is there transformed. He is given to the soul tostrengthen its love; ministering to it, and supplying in it,because of its transformation in glory, that which is defective init. In the perfect transformation, also, of the state of spiritualmarriage, such as is possible on earth, in which the soul is allclothed in grace, the soul loves in a certain way in the HolyGhost, Who is given to it in that transformation.
5. We are to observe here that the bride does not say, 'There wiltThou give me Thy love,' though that be true--for that means onlythat God will love her--but that He will there show her how she isto love Him with that perfection at which she aims, because therein giving her His love He will at the same time show her how tolove Him as He loves her. For God not only teaches the soul tolove Himself purely, with a disinterested love, as He hath lovedus, but He also enables it to love Him with that strength withwhich He loves the soul, transforming it in His love, wherein Hebestows upon it His own power, so that it may love Him. It is asif He put an instrument in its hand, taught it the use thereof,and played upon it together with the soul. This is showing thesoul how it is to love, and at the same time endowing it with thecapacity of loving.
6. The soul is not satisfied until it reaches this point, neitherwould it be satisfied even in heaven, unless it felt, as St.Thomas teaches, (299) that it loved God as much as it is loved ofHim. And as I said of the state of spiritual marriage of which Iam speaking, there is now at this time, though it cannot be thatperfect love in glory, a certain vivid vision and likeness of thatperfection, which is wholly indescribable.
'And there Thou wilt give me at once, O Thou my life,
that which Thou gavest me the other day.'
7. What He will give is the essential glory which consists in thevision of God. Before proceeding further it is requisite to solvea question which arises here, namely, Why is it, seeing thatessential glory consists in the vision of God, and not in lovingHim, the soul says that its longing is for His love, and not forthe essential glory? Why is it that the soul begins the stanzawith referring to His love, and then introduces the subject of theessential glory afterwards, as if it were something of lessimportance?
8. There are two reasons for this. The first is this: As the wholeaim of the soul is love, the seat of which is in the will, theproperty of which is to give and not to receive--the property ofthe understanding, the subject of essential glory, being toreceive and not to give--to the soul inebriated with love thefirst consideration is not the essential glory which God willbestow upon it, but the entire surrender of itself to Him in truelove, without any regard to its own advantage.
9. The second reason is that the second object is included in thefirst, and has been taken for granted in the previous stanzas, itbeing impossible to attain to the perfect love of God without theperfect vision of Him. The question is solved by the first reason,for the soul renders to God by love that which is His due, butwith the understanding it receives from Him and does not give.
10. I now resume the explanation of the stanza, and inquire whatday is meant by the 'other day,' and what is it that God then gavethe soul, and what that is which it prays to receive afterwards inglory? By 'other day' is meant the day of the eternity of God,which is other than the day of time. In that day of eternity Godpredestined the soul unto glory, and determined the degree ofglory which He would give it and freely gave from the beginningbefore He created it. This now, in a manner, so truly belongs tothe soul that no event or accident, high or low, can ever take itaway, for the soul will enjoy for ever that for which God hadpredestined it from all eternity.
11. This is that which He gave it 'the other day'; that which thesoul longs now to possess visibly in glory. And what is that whichHe gave it? That what 'eye hath not seen nor ear hath heard,neither hath it ascended into the heart of man.' (300) 'The eyehath not seen,' saith Isaias, 'O God, beside Thee, what thingsThou hast prepared for them that expect Thee.' (301) The soul hasno word to describe it, so it says 'what.' It is in truth thevision of God, and as there is no expression by which we canexplain what it is to see God, the soul says only 'that which Thougavest me.'
12. But that I may not leave the subject without saying somethingfurther concerning it, I will repeat what Christ hath said of itin the Apocalypse of St. John, in many terms, phrases, andcomparisons, because a single word once uttered cannot describeit, for there is much still unsaid, notwithstanding all thatChrist hath spoken at seven different times. 'To him thatovercometh,' saith He, 'I will give to eat of the tree of life,which is in the paradise of My God.' (302) But as this does notperfectly describe it, He says again: 'Be thou faithful untodeath; and I will give thee the crown of life.' (303)
13. This also is insufficient, and so He speaks again moreobscurely, but explaining it more: 'To him that overcometh I willgive the hidden manna, and will give him a white counter, and onthe counter a new name written which no man knoweth but he thatreceiveth it.' (304) And as even this is still insufficient, theSon of God speaks of great power and joy, saying: 'He that shallovercome and keep My works unto the end, I will give him powerover the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, andas a vessel of the potter they shall be broken: as I also havereceived of My Father. And I will give him the morning star.'(305) Not satisfied with these words, He adds: 'He that shallovercome shall thus be vested in white garments, and I will notput his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his namebefore My Father.' (306)
14. Still, all this falls short. He speaks of it in words ofunutterable majesty and grandeur: 'He that shall overcome I willmake Him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out nomore; and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the nameof the city of My God, the new Jerusalem which descendeth out ofheaven from My God, and My new name.' (307) The seventh time Hesays: 'He that shall overcome I will give unto him to sit with Mein My throne: as I also have overcome, and sat with My Father inHis throne. He that hath an ear let him hear what the Spirit saithto the Churches. (308)
15. These are the words of the Son of God; all of which tend todescribe that which was given to the soul. The words correspondmost accurately with it, but still they do not explain it, becauseit involves infinite good. The noblest expressions befit it, butnone of them reach it, no, not all together.
16. Let us now see whether David hath said anything of it. In oneof the Psalms he saith, 'O how great is the multitude of thysweetness, O Lord, which Thou hast hidden for them that fearThee.' (309) In another place he calls it a 'torrent of pleasure,'saying, 'Thou shalt make them drink of the torrent of Thypleasure.' (310) And as he did not consider this enough, he saysagain, 'Thou hast prevented him with blessings of sweetness.'(311) The expression that rightly fits this 'that' of the soul,namely, its predestined bliss, cannot be found. Let us, therefore,rest satisfied with what the soul has used in reference to it, andexplain the words as follows:
'That which Thou gavest me.
17. That is, 'That weight of glory to which Thou didst predestineme, O my Bridegroom, in the day of Thy eternity, when it was Thygood pleasure to decree my creation, Thou wilt then give me in myday of my betrothal and of my nuptials, in my day of the joy of myheart, when, released from the burden of the flesh, led into thedeep caverns of Thy bridal chamber and gloriously transformed inThee, we drink the wine of the sweet pomegranates.'
BUT inasmuch as the soul, in the state of spiritual marriage, ofwhich I am now speaking, cannot but know something of this 'that,'seeing that because of its transformation in God something of itmust be experienced by it, it will not omit to say something onthe subject, the pledges and signs of which it is conscious of initself, as it is written: 'Who can withhold the words He hathconceived?' (312) Hence in the following stanza the soul sayssomething of the fruition which it shall have in the beatificvision, explaining so far as it is possible the nature and themanner of it.
The breathing of the air,
The song of the sweet nightingale,
The grove and its beauty
In the serene night,
With the flame that consumes, and gives no pain.
1 THE soul refers here, under five different expressions, to thatwhich the Bridegroom is to give it in the beatific transformation.1. The aspiration of the Holy Spirit of God after it, and its ownaspiration after God. 2. Joyous praise of God in the fruition ofHim. 3. The knowledge of creatures and the order of them. 4. Thepure and clear contemplation of the divine essence. 5. Perfecttransformation in the infinite love of God.
'The breathing of the air.'
2. This is a certain faculty which God will there give the soul inthe communication of the Holy Ghost, Who, like one breathing,raises the soul by His divine aspiration, informs it, strengthensit, so that it too may breathe in God with the same aspiration oflove which the Father breathes with the Son, and the Son with theFather, which is the Holy Ghost Himself, Who is breathed into thesoul in the Father and the Son in that transformation so as tounite it to Himself; for the transformation will not be true andperfect if the soul is not transformed in the Three Persons of theMost Holy Trinity in a clear manifest degree. This breathing ofthe Holy Ghost in the soul, whereby God transforms it in Himself,is to the soul a joy so deep, so exquisite, and so grand that nomortal tongue can describe it, no human understanding, as such,conceive it in any degree; for even that which passes in the soulwith respect to the communication which takes place in itstransformation wrought in this life cannot be described, becausethe soul united with God and transformed in Him breathes in Godthat very divine aspiration which God breathes Himself in the soulwhen it is transformed in Him.
3. In the transformation which takes place in this life, thisbreathing of God in the soul, and of the soul in God, is of mostfrequent occurrence, and the source of the most exquisite delightof love to the soul, but not however in the clear and manifestdegree which it will have in the life to come. This, in myopinion, is what St. Paul referred to when he said: 'Because youare sons, God hath sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts,crying Abba, Father.' (313) The blessed in the life to come, andthe perfect in this, thus experience it.
4. Nor is it to be thought possible that the soul should becapable of so great a thing as that it should breathe in God asGod in it, in the way of participation. For granting that God hasbestowed upon it so great a favour as to unite it to the most HolyTrinity, whereby it becomes like unto God, and God byparticipation, is it altogether incredible that it should exercisethe faculties of its understanding, perform its acts of knowledgeand of love, or, to speak more accurately, should have it all donein the Holy Trinity together with It, as the Holy Trinity itself?This, however, takes place by communication and participation, GodHimself effecting it in the soul, for this is 'to be transformedin the Three Persons' in power, wisdom, and love, and herein it isthat the soul becomes like unto God, Who, that it might come tothis, created it to His own image and likeness.
5. How this can be so cannot be explained in any other way than byshowing how the Son of God has raised us to so high a state, andmerited for us the 'power to be made the sons of God.' (314) Heprayed to the Father, saying: 'Father, I will that where I am theyalso whom Thou hast given Me may be with Me, that they may see Myglory which Thou hast given Me.' (315) That is, 'that they may doby participation in Us what I do naturally, namely, breathe theHoly Ghost.' He says also: 'Not for them only do I pray, but forthem also who through their word shall believe in Me; that theyall may be one, as Thou, Father, in Me, and I in Thee, that theyalso may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou hastsent Me. And the glory which Thou hast given Me, I have given tothem: that they may be one as We also are one. I in them and Thouin Me, that they may be made perfect in one, and the world mayknow that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them as Thou hast alsoloved Me,' (316)--that is, in bestowing upon them that love whichHe bestows upon the Son, though not naturally as upon Him, but inthe way I speak of, in the union and transformation of love.
6. We are not to suppose from this that our Lord prayed that thesaints might become one in essence and nature, as the Father andthe Son are; but that they might become one in the union of loveas the Father and the Son are one in the oneness of love. Soulshave by participation that very God which the Son has by nature,and are therefore really gods by participation like unto God andof His society.
7. St. Peter speaks of this as follows: 'Grace to you and peace beaccomplished in the knowledge of God, and Christ Jesus our Lord;as all things of His divine power, which pertain to life andgodliness, are given us by the knowledge of Him Who hath called usby His own proper glory and virtue, by Whom He hath given us mostgreat and precious promises: that by these you may be madepartakers of the divine nature.' (317) Thus far St. Peter, whoclearly teaches that the soul will be a partaker of God Himself,and will do, together with Him, the work of the Most Holy Trinity,because of the substantial union between the soul and God. Andthough this union be perfect only in the life to come, yet even inthis, in the state of perfection, which the soul is said now tohave attained, some anticipation of its sweetness is given it, inthe way I am speaking of, though in a manner wholly ineffable.
8. O souls created for this and called thereto, what are youdoing? What are your occupations? Your aim is meanness, and yourenjoyments misery. Oh, wretched blindness of the children of Adam,blind to so great a light, and deaf to so clear a voice; you seenot that, while seeking after greatness and glory, you aremiserable and contemptible, ignorant, and unworthy of blessings sogreat. I now proceed to the second expression which the soul hasmade use of to describe that which He gave it.
'The song of the sweet nightingale.'
9. Out of this 'breathing of the air' comes the sweet voice of theBeloved addressing Himself to the soul, in which the soul sendsforth its own sweet song of joy to Him. Both are meant by the songof the nightingale. As the song of the nightingale is heard in thespring of the year, when the cold, and rain, and changes of winterare past, filling the ear with melody, and the mind with joy; so,in the true intercourse and transformation of love, which takesplace in this life, the bride, now protected and delivered fromall trials and changes of the world, detached, and free from theimperfections, sufferings, and darkness both of mind and body,becomes conscious of a new spring in liberty, largeness, and joyof spirit, in which she hears the sweet voice of the Bridegroom,Who is her sweet nightingale, renewing and refreshing the verysubstance of her soul, now prepared for the journey of everlastinglife.
10. That voice is sweet to her ears, and calls her sweetly, as itis written: 'Arise, make haste, My love, My dove, My beautiful one,and come. For winter is now past, the rain is over and gone. Theflowers have appeared in our land, the time of pruning is come:the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.' (318) When thebride hears the voice of the Bridegroom in her inmost soul, shefeels that her troubles are over and her prosperity begun. In therefreshing comfort and sweet sense of this voice she, too, likethe nightingale, sends forth a new song of rejoicing unto God, inunison with Him Who now moves her to do so.
11. It is for this that the Beloved sings, that the bride inunison with Him may sing unto God; this is the aim and desire ofthe Bridegroom, that the soul should sing with the spirit joyouslyunto God; and this is what He asks of the bride in the Canticle:'Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come; my dove in the cleftsof the rock, in the hollow places of the wall, show me thy face,let thy voice sound in my ears.' (319)
12. The ears of God signify the desire He hath that the soulshould sing in perfect joy. And that this song may be perfect, theBridegroom bids the soul to send it forth, and to let it sound inthe clefts of the rock, that is, in the transformation which isthe fruit of the mysteries of Christ, of which I spoke just now.(320) And because in this union of the soul with God, the soulsings unto Him together with Him, in the way I spoke of when I wasspeaking of love, (321) the song of praise is most perfect andpleasing unto God; for the acts of the soul, in the state ofperfection, are most perfect; and thus the song of its rejoicingis sweet unto God as well as to itself.
13. 'Thy voice is sweet,' (322) saith the Bridegroom, 'not onlyto thee, but also to Me, for as we are one, thy voice is also inunison and one with Mine.' This is the Canticle which the soulsings in the transformation which takes place in this life, aboutwhich no exaggeration is possible. But as this song is not soperfect as the new song in the life of glory, the soul, having aforetaste of that by what it feels on earth, shadows forth by thegrandeur of this the magnificence of that in glory, which isbeyond all comparison nobler, and calls it to mind and says thatwhat its portion there will be is the song of the sweetnightingale.
'The grove and its beauty.'
14. This is the third thing which the Bridegroom is to give thesoul. The grove, because it contains many plants and animals,signifies God as the Creator and Giver of life to all creatures,which have their being and origin from Him, reveal Him and makeHim known as the Creator. The beauty of the grove, which the soulprays for, is not only the grace, wisdom, and loveliness whichflow from God over all created things, whether in heaven or onearth, but also the beauty of the mutual harmony and wisearrangement of the inferior creation, and the higher also, and ofthe mutual relations of both. The knowledge of this gives the soulgreat joy and delight. The fourth request is:
'In the serene night.'
15. That is, contemplation, in which the soul desires to beholdthe grove. It is called night, because contemplation is dim; andthat is the reason why it is also called mystical theology--thatis, the secret or hidden wisdom of God, where, without the soundof words, or the intervention of any bodily or spiritual sense, asit were in silence and in repose, in the darkness of sense andnature, God teaches the soul--and the soul knows not how--in amost secret and hidden way.
16. Some spiritual writers call this 'understanding withoutunderstanding,' because it does not take place in whatphilosophers call the active understanding which is conversantwith the forms, fancies, and apprehensions of the physicalfaculties, but in the understanding as it is possible and passive,which without receiving such forms receives passively only thesubstantial knowledge of them free from all imagery. This occurswithout effort or exertion on its part, and for this reasoncontemplation is called night, in which the soul through thechannel of its transformation learns in this life that it alreadypossesses, in a supreme degree, this divine grove, together withits beauty.
17. Still, however clear may be its knowledge, it is dark nightin comparison with that of the blessed, for which the soul prays.Hence, while it prays for the clear contemplation, that is, thefruition of the grove, and its beauty; with the other objects hereenumerated, it says, let it be in the night now serene; that is,in the clear beatific contemplation: let the night of dimcontemplation cease here below, and change into the clearcontemplation of the serene vision of God above. Thus the serenenight is the clear and unclouded contemplation of the face of God.It was to this night of contemplation that David referred when hesaid, 'Night shall be my light in my pleasures'; (323) that is,when I shall have my delight in the essential vision of God, thenight of contemplation will have dawned in the day and light of myunderstanding
'With the flame that consumes, and gives no pain.'
18. This flame is the love of the Holy Ghost. 'Consumes' meansabsolute perfection. Therefore, when the soul says that theBeloved will give it all that is mentioned in this stanza, andthat they will be its possession in love absolute and perfect, allof them and itself with them in perfect love, and that withoutpain, its purpose is to show forth the utter perfection of love.Love, to be perfect, must have these two properties: it mustconsume and transform the soul in God; the burning andtransformation wrought in the soul by the flame must give no pain.But this can be only in the state of the blessed, where the flameis sweet love, for in this transformation of the soul thereinthere is a blessed agreement and contentment on both sides, and nochange to a greater or less degree gives pain, as before, when thesoul had attained to the state of perfect love.
19. But the soul having attained to this state abides in its loveof God, a love so like His and so sweet, God being, as Mosessaith, (324) a consuming fire--'the Lord thy God is a consumingfire'--that it perfects and renews it. But this transformation isnot like that which is wrought in this life, which though mostperfect and in love consummate was still in some measure consumingthe soul and wearing it away. It was like fire in burning coals,for though the coals may be transformed into fire, and made likeit, and ceased from seething, and smoke no longer arises from themas before they were wholly transformed into fire, still, thoughthey have become perfect fire, the fire consumes them and reducesthem to ashes.
20. So is it with the soul which in this life is transformed byperfect love: for though it be wholly conformed, yet it stillsuffers, in some measure, both pain and loss. Pain, on account ofthe beatific transformation which is still wanting; loss, throughthe weakness and corruption of the flesh coming in contact withlove so strong and so deep; for everything that is grand hurts andpains our natural infirmity, as it is written, 'The corruptiblebody is a load upon the soul.' (315) But in the life of blissthere will be neither loss nor pain, though the sense of the soulwill be most acute, and its love without measure, for God willgive power to the former and strength to the latter, perfectingthe understanding in His wisdom and the will in His love.
21. As, in the foregoing stanzas, and in the one which follows,the bride prays for the boundless knowledge of God, for which sherequires the strongest and the deepest love that she may love Himin proportion to the grandeur of His communications, she prays nowthat all these things may be bestowed upon her in loveconsummated, perfect, and strong.
John, Spiritual Canticle 36