John, Spiritual Canticle 23
Our bed is of flowers
By dens of lions encompassed,
Hung with purple,
Made in peace,
And crowned with a thousand shields of gold.
1 IN two of the foregoing stanzas--the fourteenth and the fifteenth--the bride-soul celebrated the grace and magnificence of theBeloved, the Son of God. In the present stanza she not onlypursues the same subject, but also sings of her high and blessedstate, and her own security in it. She then proceeds to thevirtues and rich gifts with which she is endowed and adorned inthe chamber of the Bridegroom; for she says that she is in unionwith Him, and is strong in virtue. Next she says that she hasattained to the perfection of love, and then that she enjoysperfect spiritual peace, endowed and adorned with gifts andgraces, so far as it is possible to have them in this life. Thefirst subject of the stanza is the joy which the bride feels inher union with the Beloved, saying:
'Our bed is of flowers.'
2. I have already said that this bed of the soul is the bosom andlove of the Son of God, full of flowers to the soul, which nowunited to God and reposing in Him, as His bride, shares the bosomand love of the Beloved. That is, the soul is admitted to aknowledge of the wisdom, secrets and graces, and gifts and powersof God, whereby it is made so beautiful, so rich, so abounding indelights that it seems to be lying on a bed of many-coloureddivine flowers, the touch of which makes it thrill with joy, andthe odours of which refresh it.
3. This union of love with God is therefore most appropriatelycalled a bed of flowers, and is so called by the bride in theCanticle, saying to the Beloved, 'Our bed is of flowers.' (199)She speaks of it as ours, because the virtues and the love, oneand the same, of the Beloved are common to both together, and thedelight of both is one and the same; as it is written: 'Mydelights were to be with the children of men.' (200) The bed issaid to be of flowers, because in this state the virtues in thesoul are perfect and heroic, which they could not be until the bedhad flowered in perfect union with God.
'By dens of lions encompassed.'
4. The dens of lions signify the virtues with which the soul isendowed in the state of union. The dens of lions are saferetreats, protected from all other animals, who, afraid of theboldness and strength of the lion within, are afraid not only toenter, but even to appear in sight. So each virtue of the soul inthe state of perfection is like a den of lions where Christ dwellsunited to the soul in that virtue; and in every one of them as astrong lion. The soul also, united to Him in those very virtues,is as a strong lion, because it then partakes of the perfectionsof God.
5. Thus, then, the perfect soul is so defended, so strong invirtue, and in all virtues together, reposing on the flowery bedof its union with God, that the evil spirits are not only afraidto assault it, but even dare not appear before it; such is theirdread of it, when they behold it strong, courageous, and mature inits perfect virtues, on the bed of the Beloved. The evil spiritsfear a soul transformed in the union of love as much as they fearthe Beloved Himself, and they dare not look upon it, for Satan isin great fear of that soul which has attained to perfection.
6. The soul's bed is encompassed by virtues: they are the dens,for when the soul has advanced to perfection, its virtues are soperfectly ordered, and so joined together and bound up one withanother, each supporting the other, that no part of it is weak orexposed. Not only is Satan unable to penetrate within it, but evenworldly things, whether great or little, fail to disturb or annoyit, or even move it; for being now free from all molestation ofnatural affections, and a stranger to the worry of temporalanxieties, it enjoys in security and peace the participation ofGod.
7. This is that for which the bride longed when she said, 'Whoshall give to me Thee my brother, sucking the breast of my mother,that I may find Thee without, and kiss Thee, and now no man maydespise me?' (201) The 'kiss' here is the union of which I amspeaking, whereby the soul, by love, becomes in a sense the equalof God. This is the object it desires when it says, 'Who shallgive to me Thee my brother?' That means and makes equality.'Sucking the breast of my mother'; that is, destroying all theimperfections and desires of nature which the soul inherits fromits mother Eve. 'That I may find Thee without'; that is, 'beunited to Thee alone, away from all things, in detachment of thewill and desires.' 'And now no man may despise me'; that is, theworld, the devil, and the flesh will not venture to assail it, forbeing free and purified, and also united to God, none of these canmolest it. Thus, then, the soul is in the enjoyment now ofhabitual sweetness and tranquillity that never fail it.
8. But beside this habitual contentment and peace, the flowers ofthe virtues of this garden so open in the soul and diffuse theirodours that it seems to be, and is, full of the delights of God.I say that the flowers open; because the soul, though filled withthe virtues in perfection, is not always in the actual fruition ofthem, notwithstanding its habitual perception of the peace andtranquillity which they produce. We may say of these virtues thatthey are in this life like the budding flowers of a garden; theyoffer a most beautiful sight--opening under the inspirations ofthe Holy Ghost--and diffuse most marvellous perfumes in greatvariety.
9. Sometimes the soul will discern in itself the mountain flowers--the fulness, grandeur, and beauty of God--intermingled with thelilies of the valley--rest, refreshment, and defence; and againamong them, the fragrant roses of the strange islands--the strangeknowledge of God; and further, the perfume of the water lilies ofthe roaring torrents--the majesty of God filling the whole soul.And amid all this, it enjoys the exquisite fragrance of thejasmine, and the whisper of the amorous gales, the fruition ofwhich is granted to the soul in the estate of union, and in thesame way all the other virtues and graces, the calm knowledge,silent music, murmuring solitude, and the sweet supper of love;and the joy of all this is such as to make the soul say in truth,'Our bed is of flowers, by dens of lions encompassed.' Blessed isthat soul which in this life deserves at times to enjoy theperfume of these divine flowers.
'Hung with purple.'
10. Purple in Holy Scripture means charity, and kings are clad init, and for that reason the soul says that the bed of flowers ishung with purple, because all the virtues, riches, and blessingsof it are sustained, flourish, and are delighted only in charityand love of the King of heaven; without that love the soul cannever delight in the bed nor in the flowers thereof. All thesevirtues, therefore, are, in the soul, as if hung on the love ofGod, as on that which preserves them, and they are, as it were,bathed in love; for all and each of them always make the soul loveGod, and on all occasions and in all actions they advance in loveto a greater love of God. That is what is meant by saying that thebed is hung with purple.
11. This is well expressed in the sacred Canticle: 'King Solomonhath made himself a litter of the wood of Libanus; the pillarsthereof he hath made of silver, the seat of gold, the going up ofpurple; the midst he hath paved with charity.' (202) The virtuesand graces which God lays in the bed of the soul are signified bythe wood of Libanus: the pillars of silver and the seat of goldare love, for, as I have said, the virtues are maintained by love,and by the love of God and of the soul are ordered and bring forthfruit.
'Made in peace.'
12. This is the fourth excellence of the bed, and depends on thethird, of which I have just spoken. For the third is perfectcharity, the property of which is, as the Apostle saith, to castout fear; (203) hence the perfect peace of the soul, which is thefourth excellence of this bed. For the clearer understanding ofthis we must keep in mind that each virtue is in itself peaceful,gentle, and strong, and consequently, in the soul which possessesthem, produces peace, gentleness, and fortitude. Now, as the bedis of flowers, formed of the flowers of virtues, all of which arepeaceful, gentle, and strong, it follows that the bed is wroughtin peace, and the soul is peaceful, gentle, and strong, which arethree qualities unassailable by the world, Satan, and the flesh.The virtues preserve the soul in such peace and security that itseems to be wholly built up in peace. The fifth property of thisbed of flowers is explained in the following words:
'Crowned with a thousand shields of gold.'
13. The shields are the virtues and graces of the soul, which,though they are also the flowers, serve for its crown, and thereward of the toil by which they are acquired. They serve also,like strong shields, as a protection against the vices, which itovercame by the practice of them; and the bridal bed of flowerstherefore--that is, the virtues, the crown and defence--is adornedwith them by way of reward, and protected by them as with ashield. The shields are said to be of gold, to show the greatworth of the virtues. The bride in the Canticle sets forth thesame truth, saying: 'Three score valiant men of the most valiantof Israel surround the little bed of Solomon, all holding swords;. . . every man's sword upon his thigh, because of fears in thenight.' (204)
14. Thus in this stanza the bride speaks of a thousand shields, toexpress the variety of the virtues, gifts, and graces wherewithGod has endowed the soul in this state. The Bridegroom also in theCanticle has employed the same expression, in order to show forththe innumerable virtues of the soul, saying: 'Thy neck is as thetower of David, which is built with bulwarks; a thousand shieldshang upon it, all the armour of valiant men.' (205)
THE soul, having attained to perfection, is not satisfied withmagnifying and extolling the excellencies of the Beloved, the Sonof God, nor with recounting and giving thanks for the gracesreceived at His hands and the joy into which it has entered, butrecounts also the graces conferred on other souls. In this blessedunion of love the soul is able to contemplate both its own andothers' graces; thus praising Him and giving Him thanks for themany graces bestowed upon others, it sings as in the followingstanza:
In Thy footsteps
The young ones run Thy way;
At the touch of the fire
And by the spiced wine,
The divine balsam flows.
1 HERE the bride gives thanks to her Beloved for three graces whichdevout souls receive from Him, by which they encourage and excitethemselves to love God more and more. She speaks of them herebecause she has had experience of them herself in this state ofunion. The first is sweetness, which He gives them, and which isso efficacious that it makes them run swiftly on the road ofperfection. The second is a visit of love, by which they aresuddenly set on fire with love. The third is overflowing charityinfused into them, with which He so inebriates them that they areas much excited by it as by the visit of love, to utter thepraises of God, and to love Him with all sweetness.
'In Thy footsteps.'
2. These are the marks on the ground by which we trace the courseof one we seek. The sweetness and knowledge of Himself which Godcommunicates to the soul that seeks Him are the footsteps by whichit traces and recognises Him. Thus the soul says to the Word, theBridegroom, 'In Thy footsteps'--'in the traces of Thy sweetnesswhich Thou diffusest, and the odours which Thou scatterest.'
'The young ones run Thy way.'
3. 'Devout souls run with youthful vigour in the sweetness whichThy footsteps communicate.' They run in many ways and in variousdirections--each according to the spirit which God bestows and thevocation He has given--in the diversified forms of spiritualservice on the road of everlasting life, which is evangelicalperfection, where they meet the Beloved in the union of love, inspiritual detachment from all things.
4. This sweetness and impression of Himself which God leaves inthe soul render it light and active in running after Him; for thesoul then does little or nothing in its own strength towardsrunning along this road, being rather attracted by the divinefootsteps, so that it not only advances, but even runs, as I saidbefore, in many ways. The bride in the Canticle, therefore, praysfor the divine attraction, saying, 'Draw me, we will run afterThee to the odour of Thy ointments'; (206) and David saith, 'Ihave run the way of Thy commandments, when Thou didst dilate myheart.' (207)
'At the touch of the fire, and by the spiced wine,
the divine balsam flows.'
5. I said, while explaining the previous lines, that souls run inHis footsteps in the way of exterior works. But the three lines Ihave just quoted refer to the interior acts of the will, whensouls are under the influence of the other two graces, andinterior visits of the Beloved. These are the touch of fire, andspiced wine; and the interior act of the will, which is the resultof these visits, is the flowing of the divine balsam. The contactof the fire is that most delicate touch of the Beloved which thesoul feels at times even when least expecting it, and which setsthe heart on fire with love, as if a spark of fire had fallen uponit and made it burn. Then the will, in an instant, like one rousedfrom sleep, burns with the fire of love, longs for God, praisesHim and gives Him thanks, worships and honours Him, and prays toHim in the sweetness of love.
6. This is the flowing of the divine balsam, which obeys the touchof the fire that issues forth from the consuming love of God whichthat fire kindled; the divine balsam which comforts the soul andheals it with its odour and its substance.
7. The bride in the Canticle speaks of this divine touch, saying,'My Beloved put His hand through the opening, and my bellytrembled at His touch.' (208) The touch of the Beloved is thetouch of love, and His hand is the grace He bestows upon the soul,and the opening through which He puts His hand is the vocation andthe perfection, at least the degree of perfection of the soul; foraccording thereto will His touch be heavier or lighter, inproportion to its spiritual state. The belly that trembled is thewill, in which the touch is effected, and the trembling is thestirring up of the desires and affections to love, long for, andpraise God, which is the flowing of the balsam from this touch.
8. 'The spiced wine' is that exceeding great grace which Godsometimes bestows upon advanced souls, when the Holy Spiritinebriates them with the sweet, luscious, and strong wine of love.Hence it is here called spiced wine, for as such wine is preparedby fermentation with many and divers aromatic and strengtheningherbs; so this love, the gift of God to the perfect, is in thesoul prepared and seasoned with the virtues already acquired. Thislove, seasoned with the precious spices, communicates to the soulsuch a strong, abundant inebriation when God visits it that itpours forth with great effect and force those acts of rapturouspraise, love, and worship which I referred to before, and thatwith a marvellous longing to labour and to suffer for Him.
9. This sweet inebriation and grace, however, do not pass quicklyaway, like the touch of the fire, for they are of longercontinuance. The fire touches and passes, but the effects abideoften; and sometimes the spiced wine continues for a considerabletime, and its effects also; this is the sweet love of the soul,and continues occasionally a day or two, sometimes even many daystogether, though not always in the same degree of intensity,because it is not in the power of the soul to control it.Sometimes the soul, without any effort of its own, is conscious ofa most sweet interior inebriation, and of the divine love burningwithin, as David saith, 'My heart waxed hot within me, and in mymeditation a fire shall burn.' (209)
10. The outpourings of this inebriation last sometimes as long asthe inebriation itself. At other times there are no outpourings;and they are more or less intense when they occur, in proportionto the greater or less intensity of the inebriation itself. Butthe outpourings, or effects of the fire, generally last longerthan the fire which caused them; yea, rather the fire leaves thembehind in the soul, and they are more vehement than those whichproceed from the inebriation, for sometimes this divine fire burnsup and consumes the soul in love.
11. As I have mentioned fermented wine, it will be well to touchbriefly upon the difference between it, when it is old, and newwine; the difference between old wine and new wine is the same,and will furnish a little instruction for spiritual men. New winehas not settled on the lees, and is therefore fermenting; wecannot ascertain its quality or worth before it has settled, andthe fermentation has ceased, for until then there is great risk ofits corruption. The taste of it is rough and sharp, and animmoderate draught of it intoxicates. Old wine has settled on thelees, and ferments no more like new wine; the quality of it iseasily ascertained and it is now very safe from corruption, forall fermentation which might have proved pernicious has entirelyceased. Well-fermented wine is very rarely spoiled, the taste ofit is pleasant, and its strength is in its own substance, not inthe taste, and the drinking thereof produces health and a soundconstitution.
12. New lovers are compared to new wine; these are beginners inthe service of God, because the fervour of their love manifestsitself outwardly in the senses; because they have not settled onthe lees of sense, frail and imperfect; and because they measurethe strength of love by the sweetness of it, for it is sensiblesweetness that ordinarily gives them their strength for goodworks, and it is by this they are influenced; we must, therefore,place no confidence in this love till the fermentation hassubsided, with the coarse satisfaction of sense.
13. For as these fervours and sensible warmth may incline men togood and perfect love, and serve as an excellent means thereto,when the lees of imperfections are cleared; so also is it veryeasy at first, when sensible sweetness is fresh, for the wine oflove to fail, and the sweetness of the new to vanish. New loversare always anxious, sensibly tormented by their love; it isnecessary for them to put some restraint upon themselves, for ifthey are very active in the strength of this wine, their naturalpowers will be ruined with these anxieties and fatigues of the newwine, which is rough and sharp, and not made sweet in the perfectfermentation, which then takes place when the anxieties of loveare over, as I shall show immediately.
14. The Wise Man employs the same illustration; saying, 'A newfriend is as new wine; it shall grow old, and thou shalt drink itwith pleasure.' (210) Old lovers, therefore, who have been triedand proved in the service of the Bridegroom, are like old winesettled on the lees; they have no sensible emotions, nor outburstsof exterior zeal, but they taste the sweetness of the wine oflove, now thoroughly fermented, not sweet to the senses as wasthat of the love of beginners, but rather settled within the soulin the substance and sweetness of the spirit, and in perfect goodworks. Such souls as these do not seek after sensible sweetnessand fervours, neither do they wish for them, lest they shouldsuffer from loathing and weariness; for he who gives the reins tohis desires in matters of sense must of necessity suffer pain andloathing, both in mind and body.
15. Old lovers, therefore, free from that spiritual sweetnesswhich has its roots in the senses, suffer neither in sense norspirit from the anxieties of love, and thus scarcely ever provefaithless to God, because they have risen above that which mightbe an occasion of falling, namely, the flesh. These now drink ofthe wine of love, which is not only fermented and free from thelees, but spiced also with the aromatic herbs of perfect virtues,which will not allow it to corrupt, as may happen to new wine.
16. For this cause an old friend is of great price in the eyes ofGod: 'Forsake not an old friend, for the new will not be like tohim.' (211) It is through this wine of love, tried and spiced,that the divine Beloved produces in the soul that divineinebriation, under the influence of which it sends forth to Godthe sweet and delicious outpourings. The meaning of these threelines, therefore, is as follows: 'At the touch of the fire, bywhich Thou stirrest up the soul, and by the spiced wine with whichThou dost so lovingly inebriate it, the soul pours forth the actsand movements of love which are Thy work within it.'
SUCH, then, is the state of the blessed soul in the bed offlowers, where all these blessings, and many more, are granted it.The seat of that bed is the Son of God, and the hangings of it arethe charity and love of the Bridegroom Himself. The soul now maysay, with the bride, 'His left hand is under my head,' (Ct 2,6) andwe may therefore say, in truth, that such a soul is clothed inGod, and bathed in the Divinity, and that, not as it were on thesurface, but in the interior spirit, and filled with the divinedelights in the abundance of the spiritual waters of life; for itexperiences that which David says of those who have drawn nearunto God: 'They shall be inebriated with the plenty of Thy house,and Thou shalt make them drink of the torrent of Thy pleasure, forwith Thee is the fountain of life.' (Ps 35,9)
2. This fulness will be in the very being of the soul, seeing thatits drink is nothing else but the torrent of delights, and thattorrent the Holy Spirit, as it is written: 'And he showed me ariver of living water, clear as crystal, proceeding from thethrone of God and the Lamb.Õ (Ap 22,1) This water, being the very loveitself of God, flows into the soul, so that it drinks of thetorrent of love, which is the spirit of the Bridegroom infusedinto the soul in union. Thence the soul in the overflowing of itslove sings the following stanza:
In the inner cellar
Of my Beloved have I drunk; and when I went forth
Over all the plain
I knew nothing,
And lost the flock I followed before.
1 HERE the soul speaks of that sovereign grace of God in taking itto Himself into the house of His love, which is the union, ortransformation of love in God. It describes two effects proceedingtherefrom: forgetfulness of, and detachment from, all the thingsof this world, and the mortification of its tastes and desires.
'In the inner cellar.'
2. In order to explain in any degree the meaning of this, I haveneed of the special help of the Holy Ghost to direct my hand andguide my pen. The cellar is the highest degree of love to whichthe soul may attain in this life, and is therefore said to be theinner. It follows from this that there are other cellars not sointerior; that is, the degrees of love by which souls reach this,the last. These cellars are seven in number, and the soul hasentered into them all when it has in perfection the seven gifts ofthe Holy Ghost, so far as it is possible for it. When the soul hasthe spirit of fear in perfection, it has in perfection also thespirit of love, inasmuch as this fear, the last of the sevengifts, is filial fear, and the perfect fear of a son proceeds fromhis perfect love of his father. Thus when the Holy Scripturespeaks of one as having perfect charity, it says of him that hefears God. So the prophet Isaias, announcing the perfections ofChrist, saith of Him, 'The spirit of the fear of the Lord shallreplenish him.' (215) Holy Simeon also is spoken of by theEvangelist as a 'just man full of fear,' (216) and the sameapplies to many others.
3. Many souls reach and enter the first cellar, each according tothe perfection of its love, but the last and inmost cellar isentered by few in this world, because therein is wrought theperfect union with God, the union of the spiritual marriage, ofwhich the soul is now speaking. What God communicates to the soulin this intimate union is utterly ineffable, beyond the reach ofall possible words--just as it is impossible to speak of GodHimself so as to convey any idea of what He is--because it is GodHimself who communicates Himself to the soul now in the marvellousbliss of its transformation. In this state God and the soul areunited, as the window is with the light, or coal with the fire, orthe light of the stars with that of the sun, yet, however, not soessentially and completely as it will be in the life to come. Thesoul, therefore, to show what it received from the hands of God inthe cellar of wine, says nothing else, and I do not believe thatanything could be said but the words which follow:
'Of my Beloved have I drunk.'
4. As a draught diffuses itself through all the members and veinsof the body, so this communication of God diffuses itselfsubstantially in the whole soul, or rather, the soul istransformed in God. In this transformation the soul drinks of Godin its very substance and its spiritual powers. In theunderstanding it drinks wisdom and knowledge, in the will thesweetest love, in the memory refreshment and delight in thethought and sense of its bliss. That the soul receives and drinksdelight in its very substance, appears from the words of the bridein the Canticle: 'My soul melted as He spoke' (217)--that is, whenthe Bridegroom communicated Himself to the soul.
(215) Is 11,3(216) Lc 2,25. Justus et timoratus.(217) Ct 5,6
5. That the understanding drinks wisdom is evident from the wordsof the bride longing and praying for the kiss of union: 'ThereThou shalt teach me, and I will give thee a cup of spiced wine.'(Ct 8,2) 'Thou shalt teach me wisdom and knowledge in love, and Iwill give Thee a cup of spiced wine--that is, my love mingled withThine.' The bride says that the will also drinks of love, saying:'He brought me into the cellar of wine; He hath ordered in mecharity,' (219)--that is, 'He gave me His love, embracing me, todrink of love'; or, to speak more clearly, 'He ordered in me Hischarity, tempering His charity and to the purpose making it mine.'This is to give the soul to drink of the very love of its Beloved,which the Beloved infuses into it.
6. There is a common saying that the will cannot love that ofwhich the understanding has no knowledge. This, however, is to beunderstood in the order of nature, it being impossible, in anatural way, to love anything unless we first know what it is welove. But in a supernatural way God can certainly infuse love andincrease it without infusing and increasing distinct knowledge, asis evident from the texts already quoted. Yea, many spiritualpersons have experience of this; their love of God burns more andmore, while their knowledge does not grow. Men may know little andlove much, and on the other hand, know much and love but little.
7. In general, those spiritual persons whose knowledge of God isnot very great are usually very rich in all that belongs to thewill, and infused faith suffices them for this knowledge, by meansof which God infuses and increases charity in them and the actsthereof, which are to love Him more and more though knowledge isnot increased. Thus the will may drink of love while theunderstanding drinks in no fresh knowledge. In the presentinstance, however, all the powers of the soul together, because ofthe union in the inner cellar, drink of the Beloved.
8. As to the memory, it is clear that the soul drinks of theBeloved in it, because it is enlightened with the light of theunderstanding in remembering the blessings it possesses and enjoysin union with the Beloved.
'And when I went forth.'
9. That is, after this grace: the divine draught having so deifiedthe soul, exalted it, and inebriated it in God. Though the soul bealways in the high estate of marriage ever since God has placed itthere, nevertheless actual union in all its powers is notcontinuous, though the substantial union is. In this substantialunion the powers of the soul are most frequently in union, anddrink of His cellar, the understanding by knowledge, the will bylove, etc. We are not, therefore, to suppose that the soul, whensaying that it went out, has ceased from its substantial oressential union with God, but only from the union of itsfaculties, which is not, and cannot be, permanent in this life; itis from this union, then, it went forth when it wandered over allthe plain--that is, through the whole breadth of the world.
'I knew nothing.'
10. This draught of God's most deep wisdom makes the soul forgetall the things of this world, and consider all its previousknowledge, and the knowledge of the whole world besides, as pureignorance in comparison with this knowledge.
11. For a clearer understanding of this, we must remember that themost regular cause of the soul's ignoring the things of the world,when it has ascended to this high state, is that it is informed bya supernatural knowledge, in the presence of which all natural andworldly knowledge is ignorance rather than knowledge. For the soulin possession of this knowledge, which is most profound, learnsfrom it that all other knowledge not included in this knowledge isnot knowledge, but ignorance, and worthless. We have this truth inthe words of the Apostle when he said that 'the wisdom of thisworld is foolishness with God.' (220)
12. This is the reason why the soul says it knows nothing, nowthat it has drunk of the divine wisdom. The truth is that thewisdom of men and of the whole world is mere ignorance, and notdeserving any attention, but it is a truth that can be learnedonly in that truth of the presence of God in the soulcommunicating to it His wisdom and making it strong by thisdraught of love that it may see it distinctly. This is taught usby Solomon, saying: 'The vision that the man spake, with whom Godis, and who being strengthened by God abiding with him, said: I amthe most foolish of men, and the wisdom of men is not with me.'(221)
13. When the soul is raised to this high wisdom of God, the wisdomof man is in its eyes the lowest ignorance: all natural scienceand the works of God, if accompanied by ignorance of Him, are asignorance; for where He is not known, there nothing is known. 'Thedeep things of God are foolishness to men.' (222) Thus thedivinely wise and the worldly wise are fools in the estimation ofeach other; for the latter cannot understand the wisdom andscience of God, nor the former those of the world, for the wisdomof the world is ignorance in comparison with the wisdom of God;and the wisdom of God is ignorance with respect to that of theworld.
14. Moreover, this deification and elevation of the spirit in God,whereby the soul is, as it were, rapt and absorbed in love, onewith God, suffer it not to dwell upon any worldly matter. The soulis now detached, not only from all outward things, but even fromitself: it is, as it were, undone, assumed by, and dissolved in,love--that is, it passes out of itself into the Beloved. Thus thebride, in the Canticle, after speaking of her own transformationby love into the Beloved, expresses her state of ignorance by thewords 'I knew not.' (223) The soul is now, in a certain sense,like Adam in paradise, who knew no evil. It is so innocent that itsees no evil; neither does it consider anything to be amiss. Itwill hear much that is evil, and will see it with its eyes, andyet it shall not be able to understand it, because it has no evilhabits whereby to judge of it. God has rooted out of it thoseimperfect habits and that ignorance resulting from the evil ofsin, by the perfect habit of true wisdom. Thus, also, the soulknows nothing on this subject.
15. Such a soul will scarcely intermeddle with the affairs ofothers, because it forgets even its own; for the work of theSpirit of God in the soul in which He dwells is to incline it toignore those things which do not concern it, especially such as donot minister to edification. The Spirit of God abides within thesoul to withdraw it from outward things rather than to lead itamong them; and thus the soul knows nothing as it knew itformerly. We are not, however, to suppose that it loses the habitsof knowledge previously acquired, for those habits are improved bythe more perfect habit of supernatural knowledge infused, thoughthese habits be not so powerful as to necessitate knowledgethrough them, and yet there is no reason why they should not do sooccasionally.
16. In this union of the divine wisdom, these habits are unitedwith the higher wisdom of other knowledge, as a little light withanother which is great; it is the great light that shines,overwhelming the less, yet the latter is not therefore lost, butrather perfected, though it be not the light which shines pre-eminently. Thus, I imagine, will it be in heaven; the acquiredhabits of knowledge in the just will not be destroyed, though theywill be of no great importance there, seeing that the just willknow more in the divine wisdom than by the habits acquired onearth.
17. But the particular notions and forms of things, acts of theimagination, and every other apprehension having form and figureare all lost and ignored in this absorbing love, and this for tworeasons. First, the soul cannot actually attend to anything of thekind, because it is actually absorbed by this draught of love.Secondly, and this is the principal reason, its transformation inGod so conforms it to His purity and simplicity--for there is noform or imaginary figure in Him--as to render it pure, cleansedand empty of all the forms and figures it entertained before,being now purified and enlightened in simple contemplation. Allspots and stains in the glass become invisible when the sun shinesupon it, but they appear again as soon as the light of the sun iswithheld.
18. So is it with the soul; while the effects of this act of lovecontinue, this ignorance continues also, so that it cannot observeanything in particular until these effects have ceased. Love hasset the soul on fire and transmuted it into love, has annihilatedit and destroyed it as to all that is not love, according to thewords of David: 'My heart hath been inflamed, and my reins havebeen changed; and I am brought to nothing, and I knew not.' (224)The changing of the reins, because the heart is inflamed, is thechanging of the soul, in all its desires and actions, in God, intoa new manner of life, the utter undoing and annihilation of theold man, and therefore the prophet said that he was brought tonothing and knew not.
19. These are the two effects of drinking the wine of the cellarof God; not only is all previous knowledge brought to nothing andmade to vanish, but the old life also with its imperfections isdestroyed, and into the new man renewed; this is the second of thetwo effects described in the words that follow:
'And lost the flock I followed before.'
20. Until the soul reaches the state of perfection, howeverspiritual it may be, there always remains a troop of desires,likings, and other imperfections, sometimes natural, sometimesspiritual, after which it runs, and which it tries to feed whilefollowing and satisfying them. With regard to the understanding,there are certain imperfections of the desire of knowledge. Withregard to the will, certain likings and peculiar desires, at timesin temporal things, as the wish to possess certain trifles, andattachment to some things more than to others, certain prejudices,considerations, and punctilios, with other vanities, stillsavouring of the world: and again in natural things, such aseating and drinking, the preference of one kind of food overanother, and the choice of the best: at another time, in spiritualthings, such as seeking for sweetness, and other follies ofspiritual persons not yet perfect, too numerous to recount here.As to the memory, there are many inconsistencies, anxieties,unseemly reminiscences, which drag the soul captive after them.
21. The four passions of the soul also involve it in many uselesshopes, joys, griefs, and fears, after which it runs. As to thisflock, some men are more influenced by it than others; they runafter and follow it, until they enter the inner cellar, where theylose it altogether, being then transformed in love. In that cellarthe flock of imperfections is easily destroyed, as rust and mouldon metal in the fire. Then the soul feels itself free from thepettiness of self-likings and the vanities after which it ranbefore, and may well say, 'I have lost the flock which I followedbefore.'
GOD communicates Himself to the soul in this interior union with alove so intense that the love of a mother, who so tenderlycaresses her child, the love of a brother, or the affection of afriend bear no likeness to it, for so great is the tenderness, andso deep is the love with which the Infinite Father comforts andexalts the humble and loving soul. O wonders worthy of all awe andreverence! He humbles Himself in reality before that soul that Hemay exalt it, as if He were its servant, and the soul His lord. Heis as anxious to comfort it as if He were a slave, and the soulGod. So great is the humility and tenderness of God. In thiscommunion of love He renders in a certain way those services tothe soul which He says in the Gospel He will perform for the electin heaven. 'Amen, I say to you, that He will gird Himself and makethem sit down to meat, and passing will minister unto them.' (225)
2. This very service He renders now to the soul, comforting andcherishing it, as a mother her child whom she nurtures in herbosom. And the soul recognisesherein the truth of the words ofIsaias, 'You shall be carried at the breasts, and upon the kneesthey shall caress you.' (226) What must the feelings of the soulbe amid these sovereign graces? How it will melt away in love,beholding the bosom of God opened for it with such overflowinglove. When the soul perceives itself in the midst of thesedelights, it surrenders itself wholly to God, gives to Him thebreasts of its own will and love, and under the influence thereofaddresses the Beloved in the words of the bride in the Canticle,saying: 'I to my Beloved, and His turning is towards me. Come, myBeloved, let us go forth into the field, let us abide in thevillages. Let us rise early to the vineyards, let us see if thevineyard flourish, if the flowers be ready to bring forth fruits,if the pomegranates flourish; there will I give Thee my breasts'(227)--that is, 'I will employ all the joy and strength of my willin the service of Thy love.' This mutual surrender in this unionof the soul and God is the subject of the stanza which follows:
John, Spiritual Canticle 23