John, Ascent of Carmel 2 14


Wherein is proved the fitness of these signs, and the reason is given whythat which has been said in speaking of them is necessary to progress.

1 WITH respect to the first sign whereof we are speaking -- that is to say,that the spiritual person who would enter upon the spiritual road (whichis that of contemplation) must leave the way of imagination and of meditationthrough sense when he takes no more pleasure therein and is unable to reason-- there are two reasons why this should be done, which may almost be comprisedin one. The first is, that in one way the soul has received all the spiritualgood which it would be able to derive from the things of God by the pathof meditation and reasoning, the sign whereof is that it can no longer meditateor reason as before, and finds no new sweetness or pleasure therein as itfound before, because up to that time it had not progressed as far as thespirituality which was in store for it; for, as a rule, whensoever the soulreceives some spiritual blessing, it receives it with pleasure, at leastin spirit, in that means whereby it receives it and profits by it; otherwiseit is astonishing if it profits by it, or finds in the cause of it that helpand that sweetness which it finds when it receives it. For this is in agreementwith a saying of the philosophers, Quod sapit, nutrit. This is: That whichis palatable nourishes and fattens. Wherefore holy Job said: Numquid poteritcomedi insulsum, quod non est sale conditum?(303) Can that which is unsavoryperchance be eaten when it is not seasoned with salt? It is this cause thatthe soul is unable to meditate or reason as before: the little pleasure whichthe spirit finds therein and the little profit which it gains.

2. The second reason is that the soul at this season has now both the substance and thehabit of the spirit of meditation. For it must be known that the end of reasoningand meditation on the things of God is the gaining of some knowledge andlove of God, and each time that the soul gains this through meditation, itis an act; and just as many acts, of whatever kind, end by forming a habitin the soul, just so, many of these acts of loving knowledge which the soulhas been making one after another from time to time come through repetitionto be so continuous in it that they become habitual. This end God is wontalso to effect in many souls without the intervention of these acts ( orat least without many such acts having preceded it), by setting them at oncein contemplation. And thus that which aforetime the soul was gaining graduallythrough its labour of meditation upon particular facts has now through practice,as we have been saying, become converted and changed into a habit and substanceof loving knowledge, of a general kind, and not distinct or particular asbefore. Wherefore, when it gives itself to prayer, the soul is now like oneto whom water has been brought, so that he drinks peacefully, without labour,and is no longer forced to draw the water through the aqueducts of pastmeditations and forms and figures(304) So that, as soon as the soul comesbefore God, it makes an act of knowledge, confused, loving, passive and tranquil,wherein it drinks of wisdom and love and delight.

3. And it is for this causethat the soul feels great weariness and distaste, when, although it is inthis condition of tranquillity, men try to make it meditate and labour inparticular acts of knowledge. For it is like a child, which, while receivingthe milk that has been collected and brought together for it in the breast,is taken from the breast and then forced to try to gain and collect foodby its own diligent squeezing and handling. Or it is like one who has removedthe rind from a fruit, and is tasting the substance of the fruit, when heis forced to cease doing this and to try to begin removing the said rind,which has been removed already. He finds no rind to remove, and yet he isunable to enjoy the substance of the fruit which he already had in his hand;herein he is like to one who leaves a prize(305) which he holds for anotherwhich he holds not.

4. And many act thus when they begin to enter this state;they think that the whole business consists in a continual reasoning andlearning to understand particular things by means of images and forms, whichare to the spirit as rind. When they find not these in that substantial andloving quiet wherein their soul desires to remain, and wherein it understandsnothing clearly, they think that they are going astray and wasting time,and they begin once more to seek the rind of their imaginings and reasonings,but find it not, because it has already been removed. And thus they neitherenjoy the substance nor make progress in meditation, and they become troubledby the thought that they are turning backward and are losing themselves.They are indeed losing themselves, though not in the way they think, forthey are becoming lost to their own senses and to their first manner ofperception; and this means gain in that spirituality which is being giventhem. The less they understand, however, the farther they penetrate intothe night of the spirit, whereof we are treating in this book, through thewhich night they must pass in order to be united with God, in a union thattranscends all knowledge.

5. With respect to the second sign, there is littleto say, for it is clear that at this season the soul cannot possibly takepleasure in other and different objects of the imagination, which are ofthe world, since, as we have said, and for the reasons already mentioned,it has no pleasure in those which are in closest conformity with it -- namely,those of God. Only as has been noted above, the imaginative faculty in thisstate of recollection is in the habit of coming and going and varying ofits own accord; but neither according to the pleasure nor at the will ofthe soul, which is troubled thereby, because its peace and joy are disturbed.

6. Nor do I think it necessary to say anything here concerning the fitnessand necessity of the third sign whereby the soul may know if it is to leavethe meditation aforementioned, which is a knowledge of God or a general andloving attentiveness to Him. For something has been said of this in treatingof the first sign, and we shall treat of it again hereafter, when we speakin its proper place of this confused and general knowledge, which will comeafter our description of all the particular apprehensions of the understanding.But we will speak of one reason alone by which it may clearly be seen how,when the contemplative has to turn aside from the way of meditation andreasoning, he needs this general and loving attentiveness or knowledge ofGod. The reason is that, if the soul at that time had not this knowledgeof God or this realization of His presence, the result would be that it woulddo nothing and have nothing; for, having turned aside from meditation (bymeans whereof the soul has been reasoning with its faculties of sense), andbeing still without contemplation, which is the general knowledge whereofwe are speaking, wherein the soul makes use of its spiritual faculties(306)-- namely, memory, understanding and will -- these being united in this knowledgewhich is then wrought and received in them, the soul would of necessity bewithout any exercise in the things of God, since the soul can neither work,nor can it receive that which has been worked in it, save only by way ofthese two kinds of faculty, that of sense and that of spirit. For, as wehave said, by means of the faculties of sense it can reason and search outand gain knowledge of things and by means of the spiritual faculties it canhave fruition of the knowledge which it has already received in these facultiesaforementioned, though the faculties themselves take no part herein.

7. And thus the difference between the operation of these two kinds of faculty inthe soul is like the difference between working and enjoying the fruit ofwork which has been done; or like that between the labour of journeying andthe rest and quiet which comes from arrival at the goal; or, again, likethat between preparing a meal and partaking and tasting of it, when it hasbeen both prepared and masticated, without having any of the labour of cookingit, or it is like the difference between receiving something and profitingby that which has been received. Now if the soul be occupied neither withrespect to the operation of the faculties of sense, which is meditation andreasoning, nor with respect to that which has already been received and effectedin the spiritual faculties, which is the contemplation and knowledge whereofwe have spoken, it will have no occupation, but will be wholly idle, andthere would be no way in which it could be said to be employed. This knowledge,then, is needful for the abandonment of the way of meditation and reasoning.

8. But here it must be made clear that this general knowledge whereof weare speaking is at times so subtle and delicate, particularly when it ismost pure and simple and perfect, most spiritual and most interior, that,although the soul be occupied therein, it can neither realize it nor perceiveit. This is most frequently the case when we can say that it is in itselfmost clear, perfect and simple; and this comes to pass when it penetratesa soul that is unusually pure and far withdrawn from other particular kindsof knowledge and intelligence, which the understanding or the senses mightfasten upon. Such a soul, since it no longer has those things wherein theunderstanding and the senses have the habit and custom of occupying themselves,is not conscious of them, inasmuch as it has not its accustomed powers ofsense. And it is for this reason that, when this knowledge is purest andsimplest and most perfect, the understanding is least conscious of it andthinks of it as most obscure. And similarly, in contrary wise, when it isin itself least pure and simple in the understanding, it seems to theunderstanding to be clearest and of the greatest importance, since it isclothed in, mingled with or involved in certain intelligible forms whichunderstanding or sense may seize upon.(307)

9. This will be clearly understoodby the following comparison. If we consider a ray of sunlight entering througha window, we see that, the more the said ray is charged with atoms and particlesof matter, the more palpable, visible and bright it appears to the eye ofsense;(308) yet it is clear that the ray is in itself least pure, clear,simple and perfect at that time, since it is full of so many particles andatoms. And we see likewise that, when it is purest and freest from thoseparticles and atoms, the least palpable and the darkest does it appear tothe material eye; and the purer it is, the darker and less apprehensibleit appears to it. And if the ray were completely pure and free from all theseatoms and particles, even from the minutest specks of dust, it would appearcompletely dark and invisible to the eye, since everything that could beseen would be absent from it -- namely, the objects of sight. For the eyewould find no objects whereon to rest, since light is no proper object ofvision, but the means whereby that which is visible is seen; so that, ifthere be no visible objects wherein the sun's ray or any light can be reflected,nothing will be seen. Wherefore, if the ray of light entered by one windowand went out by another, without meeting anything that has material form,it would not be seen at all; yet, notwithstanding, that ray of light wouldbe purer and clearer in itself than when it was more clearly seen and perceivedthrough being full of visible objects.

10. The same thing happens in therealm of spiritual light with respect to the sight of the soul, which isthe understanding, and which this general and supernatural knowledge andlight whereof we are speaking strikes so purely and simply. So completelyis it detached and removed from all intelligible forms, which are objectsof the understanding, that it is neither perceived nor observed. Rather,at times (that is, when it is purest), it becomes darkness, because it withdrawsthe understanding from its accustomed lights, from forms and from fancies,and then the darkness is more clearly felt and realized. But, when this Divinelight strikes the soul with less force, it neither perceives darkness norob serves light, nor apprehends aught that it knows, from whatever source;hence at times the soul remains as it were in a great forgetfulness, so thatit knows not where it has been or what it has done, nor is it aware of thepassage of time. Wherefore it may happen, and does happen, that many hoursare spent in this forgetfulness, and, when the soul returns to itself, itbelieves that less than a moment has passed, or no time at all.

11. The cause of this forgetfulness is the purity and simplicity of this knowledge whichoccupies the soul and simplifies, purifies and cleanses it from all apprehensionsand forms of the senses and of the memory, through which it acted when itwas conscious of time,(309) and thus leaves it in forgetfulness and withoutconsciousness of time.(310) This prayer, therefore, seems to the soul extremelybrief, although, as we say, it may last for a long period; for the soul hasbeen united in pure intelligence, which belongs not to time; and this isthe brief prayer which is said to pierce the heavens, because it is briefand because it belongs not to time.(311) And it pierces the heavens, becausethe soul is united in heavenly intelligence; and when the soul awakens, thisknowledge leaves in it the effects which it created in it without its beingconscious of them, which effects are the lifting up of the spirit to theheavenly intelligence, and its withdrawal and abstraction from all thingsand forms and figures and memories thereof. It is this that David describesas having happened to him when he returned to himself out of this sameforgetfulness, saying: Vigilavi, et factus sum sicut passer solitarius intecto.(312) Which signifies: I have watched and I have become like the lonelybird(313) on the house-top. He uses the word 'lonely' to indicate that hewas withdrawn and abstracted from all things. And by the house-top he meansthe elevation of the spirit on high; so that the soul remains as though ignorantof all things, for it knows God only, without knowing how. Wherefore theBride declares in the Songs that among the effects which that sleep andforgetfulness of hers produced was this unknowing. She says that she camedown to the garden, saying: Nescivi.(314) That is: I knew not whence. Although,as we have said, the soul in this state of knowledge believes itself to bedoing nothing, and to be entirely unoccupied, because it is working neitherwith the senses nor with the faculties, it should realize that it is notwasting time. For, although the harmony of the faculties of the soul maycease, its intelligence is as we have said. For this cause the Bride, whowas wise, answered this question herself in the Songs, saying: Ego dormioet cor meum vigilat.(315) As though she were to say: Although I sleep withrespect to my natural self, ceasing to labour, my heart waketh, beingsupernaturally lifted up in supernatural knowledge.(316)

12. But, it mustbe realized, we are not to suppose that this knowledge necessarily causesthis forgetfulness when the soul is in the state that we are here describing:this occurs only when God suspends in the soul the exercise of all its faculties,both natural and spiritual, which happens very seldom, for this knowledgedoes not always fill the soul entirely. It is sufficient for the purpose,in the case which we are treating, that the understanding should be withdrawnfrom all particular knowledge, whether temporal or spiritual, and that thewill should not desire to think with respect to either, as we have said,for this is a sign that the soul is occupied. And it must be taken as anindication that this is so when this knowledge is applied and communicatedto the understanding only, which sometimes happens when the soul is unableto observe it. For, when it is communicated to the will also, which happensalmost invariably, the soul does not cease to understand in the very leastdegree, if it will reflect hereon, that it is employed and occupied in thisknowledge, inasmuch as it is conscious of a sweetness of love therein, withoutparticular knowledge or understanding of that which it loves. It is for thisreason that this knowledge is described as general and loving; for, justas it is so in the understanding, being communicated to it obscurely, evenso is it in the will, sweetness and love being communicated to it confusedly,so that it cannot have a distinct knowledge of the object of its love.

13. Let this suffice now to explain how meet it is that the soul should be occupiedin this knowledge, so that it may turn aside from the way of spiritualmeditation, and be sure that, although it seem to be doing nothing, it iswell occupied, if it discern within itself these signs. It will also be realized,from the comparison which we have made, that if this light presents itselfto the understanding in a more comprehensible and palpable manner, as thesun's ray presents itself to the eye when it is full of particles, the soulmust not for that reason consider it purer, brighter and more sublime. Itis clear that, as Aristotle and the theologians say, the higher and moresublime is the Divine light, the darker is it to our understanding.

14. Of this Divine knowledge there is much to say, concerning both itself and theeffects which it produces upon contemplatives. All this we reserve for itsproper place,(317) for, although we have spoken of it here, there would beno reason for having done so at such length, save our desire not to leavethis doctrine rather more confused than it is already, for I confess it iscertainly very much so. Not only is it a matter which is seldom treated inthis way, either verbally or in writing, being in itself so extraordinaryand obscure, but my rude style and lack of knowledge make it more so. Further,since I have misgivings as to my ability to explain it, I believe I oftenwrite at too great length and go beyond the limits which are necessary forthat part of the doctrine which I am treating. Herein I confess that I sometimeserr purposely; for that which is not explicable by one kind of reasoningwill perhaps be better understood by another, or by others yet; and I believe,too, that in this way I am shedding more light upon that which is to be saidhereafter.

15. Wherefore it seems well to me also, before completing thispart of my treatise, to set down a reply to one question which may arisewith respect to the continuance of this knowledge, and this shall be brieflytreated in the chapter following.


Wherein is explained how it is sometimes well for progressives who are beginningto enter upon this general knowledge of contemplation to make use of naturalreasoning and the work of the natural faculties.

1 WITH regard to that which has been said, there might be raised one question-- if progressives (that is, those whom God is beginning to bring into thissupernatural knowledge of contemplation whereof we have spoken) must neveragain, because of this that they are beginning to experience, return to theway of meditation and reasoning and natural forms. To this the answer isthat it is not to be understood that such as are beginning to experiencethis loving knowledge must, as a general rule, never again try to returnto meditation; for, when they are first making progress in proficiency, thehabit of contemplation is not yet so perfect that they can give themselvesto the act thereof whensoever they wish, nor, in the same way, have theyreached a point so far beyond meditation that they cannot occasionally meditateand reason in a natural way, as they were wont, using the figures and thesteps that they were wont to use, and finding something new in them. Rather,in these early stages, when, by means of the indications already given, theyare able to see that the soul is not occupied in that repose and knowledge,they will need to make use of meditation until by means of it they come toacquire in some degree of perfection the habit which we have described. Thiswill happen when, as soon as they seek to meditate, they experience thisknowledge and peace, and find themselves unable to meditate and no longerdesirous of doing so, as we have said. For until they reach this stage, whichis that of the proficient in this exercise, they use sometimes the one andsometimes the other, at different times.

2. The soul, then, will frequentlyfind itself in this loving or peaceful state of waiting upon God(318) withoutin any way exercising its faculties -- that is, with respect to particularacts -- and without working actively at all, but only receiving. In orderto reach this state, it will frequently need to make use of meditation, quietlyand in moderation; but, when once the soul is brought into this other state,it acts not at all with its faculties, as we have already said. It wouldbe truer to say that understanding and sweetness work in it and are wroughtwithin it, than that the soul itself works at all, save only by waiting uponGod and by loving Him without desiring to feel or to see anything. Then Godcommunicates Himself to it passively, even as to one who has his eyes open,so that light is communicated to him passively, without his doing more thankeep them open. And this reception of light which is infused supernaturallyis passive understanding. We say that the soul works not at all, not becauseit understands not, but because it understands things without taxing itsown industry and receives only that which is given to it, as comes to passin the illuminations and enlightenments or inspirations of God.

3. Although in this condition the will freely receives this general and confused knowledgeof God, it is needful, in order that it may receive this Divine light moresimply and abundantly, only that it should not try to interpose other lightswhich are more palpable, whether forms or ideas or figures having to do withany kind of meditation; for none of these things is similar to that pureand serene light. So that if at this time the will desires to understandand consider particular things, however spiritual they be, this would obstructthe pure and simple general light of the spirit, by setting those cloudsin the way; even as a man might set something before his eyes which impededhis vision and kept from him both the light and the sight of things in frontof him.

4. Hence it clearly follows that, when the soul has completely purifiedand voided itself of all forms and images that can be apprehended, it willremain in this pure and simple light, being transformed therein into a stateof perfection. For, though this light never fails in the soul, it is notinfused into it because of the creature forms and veils wherewith the soulis veiled and embarrassed; but, if these impediments and these veils werewholly removed (as will be said hereafter), the soul would then find itselfin a condition of pure detachment and poverty of spirit, and, being simpleand pure, would be transformed into simple and pure Wisdom, which is theSon of God. For the enamoured soul finds that that which is natural has failedit, and it is then imbued with that which is Divine, both naturally andsupernaturally, so that there may be no vacuum in its nature.

5. When the spiritual person cannot meditate, let him learn to be still in God, fixinghis loving attention upon Him, in the calm of his understanding, althoughhe may think himself to be doing nothing. For thus, little by little andvery quickly, Divine calm and peace will be infused into his soul, togetherwith a wondrous and sublime knowledge of God, enfolded in Divine love. Andlet him not meddle with forms, meditations and imaginings, or with any kindof reasoning, lest his soul be disturbed, and brought out of its contentmentand peace, which can only result in its experiencing distaste and repugnance.And if, as we have said, such a person has scruples that he is doing nothing,let him note that he is doing no small thing by pacifying the soul and bringingit into calm and peace, unaccompanied by any act or desire, for it is thisthat Our Lord asks of us, through David, saying: Vacate, et videte quoniamego sum Deus.(319) As though he had said: Learn to be empty of all things(that is to say, inwardly and outwardly) and you will see that I am God.


Which treats of the imaginary apprehensions that are supernaturally representedin the fancy. Describing how they cannot serve the soul as a proximate meansto union with God.

1 NOW that we have treated of the apprehensions which the soul can receivewithin itself by natural means, and whereon the fancy and the imaginationcan work by means of reflection, it will be suitable to treat here of thesupernatural apprehensions, which are called imaginary visions, which likewisebelong to these senses, since they come within the category of images, formsand figures, exactly as do the natural apprehensions.

2. It must be understoodthat beneath this term 'imaginary vision' we purpose to include all thingswhich can be represented to the imagination supernaturally by means of anyimage, form, figure and species. For all the apprehensions and species which,through all the five bodily senses, are represented to the soul, and dwellwithin it, after a natural manner, may likewise occur in the soul after asupernatural manner, and be represented to it without any assistance of theoutward senses. For this sense of fancy, together with memory, is, as itwere, an archive and storehouse of the understanding, wherein are receivedall forms and images that can be understood; and thus the soul has them withinitself as it were in a mirror, having received them by means of the fivesenses, or, as we say, supernaturally; and thus it presents them to theunderstanding, whereupon the understanding considers them and judges them.And not only so, but the soul can also prepare and imagine others like tothose with which it is acquainted.

3. It must be understood, then, that,even as the five outward senses represent the images and species of theirobjects to these inward senses, even so, supernaturally, as we say, withoutusing the outward senses, both God and the devil can represent the same imagesand species, and much more beautiful and perfect ones. Wherefore, beneaththese images, God often represents many things to the soul, and teaches itmuch wisdom; this is continually seen in the Scriptures, as when Isaias sawGod in His glory beneath the smoke which covered the Temple, and beneaththe seraphim who covered their faces and their feet with wings;(320) andas Jeremias saw the rod watching,(321) and Daniel a multitude of visions,(322)etc. And the devil, too, strives to deceive the soul with his visions, whichin appearance are good, as may be seen in the Book of the Kings, when hedeceived all the prophets of Achab, presenting to their imaginations thehorns wherewith he said the King was to destroy the Assyrians, which wasa lie.(323) Even such were the visions of Pilate's wife, warning him notto condemn Christ;(324) and there are many other places where it is seenhow, in this mirror of the fancy and the imagination, these imaginary visionscome more frequently to proficients than do outward and bodily visions. These,as we say, differ not in their nature (that is, as being images and species)from those which enter by the outward senses; but, with respect to the effectwhich they produce, and in the degree of their perfection, there is a greatdifference; for imaginary visions are subtler and produce a deeper impressionupon the soul, inasmuch as they are supernatural, and are also more interiorthan the exterior supernatural visions. Nevertheless, it is true that someof these exterior bodily visions may produce a deeper impression; thecommunication, after all, is as God wills. We are speaking, however, merelyas concerns their nature, and in this respect they are more spiritual.

4. It is to these senses of imagination and fancy that the devil habituallybetakes himself with his wiles -- now natural, now supernatural;(325) forthey are the door and entrance to the soul, and here, as we have said, theunderstanding comes to take up or set down its goods, as it were in a harbouror in a store- house where it keeps its provisions. And for this reason itis hither that both God and the devil always come with their jewels ofsupernatural forms and images, to offer them to the understanding; althoughGod does not make use of this means alone to instruct the soul, but dwellswithin it in substance, and is able to do this by Himself and by other methods.

5. There is no need for me to stop here in order to give instruction concerningthe signs by which it may be known which visions are of God and which not,and which are of one kind and which of another; for this is not my intention,which is only to instruct the understanding herein, that it may not be hinderedor impeded as to union with Divine Wisdom by the good visions, neither maybe deceived by those which are false.

6. I say, then, that with regard toall these imaginary visions and apprehensions and to all other forms andspecies whatsoever, which present themselves beneath some particular kindof knowledge or image or form, whether they be false and come from the devilor are recognized as true and coming from God, the understanding must notbe embarrassed by them or feed upon them, neither must the soul desire toreceive them or to have them, lest it should no longer be detached, free,pure and simple, without any mode or manner, as is required for union.

7. The reason of this is that all these forms which we have already mentionedare always represented, in the apprehension of the soul, as we have said,beneath certain modes and manners which have limitations; and that the Wisdomof God, wherewith the understanding is to be united, has no mode or manner,neither is it contained within any particular or distinct kind of intelligenceor limit, because it is wholly pure and simple. And as, in order that thesetwo extremes may be united -- namely, the soul and Divine Wisdom -- it willbe necessary for them to attain to agreement, by means of a certain mutualresemblance, hence it follows that the soul must be pure and simple, neitherbounded by, nor attached to, any particular kind of intelligence, nor modifiedby any limitation of form, species and image. As God comes not within anyimage or form, neither is contained within any particular kind of intelligence,so the soul, in order to reach God,(326) must likewise come within no distinctform or kind of intelligence.

8. And that there is no form or likeness inGod is clearly declared by the Holy Spirit in Deuteronomy, where He says:Vocem verborum ejus audistis, et formam penitus non vidistis.(327) Whichsignifies: Ye heard the voice of His words, and ye saw in God no form whatsoever.But He says that there was darkness there, and clouds and thick darkness,which are the confused and dark knowledge whereof we have spoken, whereinthe soul is united with God. And afterwards He says further: Non vidistisaliquam similitudinem in die, qua locutus est vobis Dominus in Horeb de medioignis. That is: Ye saw no likeness in God upon the day when He spoke to youon Mount Horeb, out of the midst of the fire.(328)

9. And that the soul cannotreach the height of God, even as far as is possible in this life, by meansof any form and figure, is declared likewise by the same Holy Spirit in theBook of Numbers, where God reproves Aaron and Miriam, the brother and sisterof Moses, because they murmured against him, and, desiring to convey to themthe loftiness of the state of union and friendship with Him wherein He hadplaced him, said: Si quis inter vos fuerit Propheta Domini, in visione appareboei, vel per somnium loquar ad illum. At non talis servus meus Moyses, quiin omni domo mea fidelissimus est: ore enim ad os loquor ei, et palem, etnon per aenigmata, et figuras Dominum videt.(329) Which signifies: If therebe any prophet of the Lord among you, I will appear to him in some visionor form, or I will speak with him in his dreams; but there is none like Myservant Moses, who is the most faithful in all My house, and I speak withhim mouth to mouth, and he sees not God by comparisons, similitudes and figures.Herein He says clearly that, in this lofty state of union whereof we arespeaking, God is not communicated to the soul by means of any disguise ofimaginary vision or similitude or form, neither can He be so communicated;but mouth to mouth -- that is, in the naked and pure essence of God, whichis the mouth of God in love, with the naked and pure essence of the soul,which is the mouth of the soul in love of God.

10. Wherefore, in order to come to this essential union of love in God, the soul must have a care notto lean upon(330) imaginary visions, nor upon forms or figures or particularobjects of the understanding; for these cannot serve it as a proportionateand proximate means to such an end; rather they would disturb it, and forthis reason the soul must renounce them and strive not to have them. Forif in any circumstances they were to be received and prized, it would befor the sake of profit which true visions bring to the soul and the goodeffect which they produce upon it. But, for this to happen, it is not necessaryto receive them; indeed, for the soul's profit, it is well always to rejectthem. For these imaginary visions, like the outward bodily visions whereofwe have spoken, do the soul good by communicating to it intelligence or loveor sweetness; but for this effect to be produced by them in the soul it isnot necessary that it should desire to receive them; for, as has also beensaid above, at this very time when they are present to the imagination, theyproduce in the soul and infuse into it intelligence and love, or sweetness,or whatever effect God wills them to produce. And not only do they producethis joint effect, but principally, although not simultaneously, they producetheir effect in the soul passively, without its being able to hinder thiseffect, even if it so desired, just as it was also powerless to acquire it,although it had been able previously to prepare itself. For, even as thewindow is powerless to impede the ray of sunlight which strikes it, but,when it is prepared by being cleansed, receives its light passively withoutany diligence or labour on its own part, even so the soul, although againstits will, cannot fail to receive in itself the influences and communicationsof those figures, however much it might desire to resist them. For the willthat is negatively inclined cannot, if coupled with loving and humbleresignation, resist supernatural infusions; only the impurity and imperfectionsof the soul can resist them even as the stains upon a window impede thebrightness of the sunlight.(331)

11. From this it is evident that, when thesoul completely detaches itself, in its will and affection, from theapprehensions of the strains of those forms, images and figures wherein areclothed the spiritual communications which we have described, not only isit not deprived of these communications and the blessings which they causewithin it, but it is much better prepared to receive them with greater abundance,clearness, liberty of spirit and simplicity, when all these apprehensionsare set on one side, for they are, as it were, curtains and veils coveringthe spiritual thing that is behind them. And thus, if the soul desire tofeed upon them, they occupy spirit and sense in such a way that the spiritcannot communicate itself simply and freely; for, while they are still occupiedwith the outer rind, it is clear that the understanding is not free to receivethe substance. Wherefore, if the soul at that time desires to receive theseforms and to set store by them, it would be embarrassing itself, and contentingitself with the least important part of them -- namely, all that it can apprehendand know of them, which is the form and image and particular object of theunderstanding in question. The most important part of them, which is thespiritual part that is infused into the soul, it can neither apprehend norunderstand, nor can it even know what it is, or be able to express it, sinceit is purely spiritual. All that it can know of them, as we say, accordingto its manner of understanding, is but the least part of what is in them-- namely, the forms perceptible by sense. For this reason I say that whatit cannot understand or imagine is communicated to it by these visions,passively, without any effort of its own to understand and without its evenknowing how to make such an effort.

12. Wherefore the eyes of the soul mustever be withdrawn from all these apprehensions which it can see and understanddistinctly, which are communicated through sense, and do not make for afoundation of faith, or for reliance on faith, and must be set upon thatwhich it sees not, and which belongs not to sense, but to spirit, which canbe expressed by no figure of sense; and it is this which leads the soul tounion in faith, which is the true medium, as has been said. And thus thesevisions will profit the soul substantially, in respect of faith, when itis able to renounce the sensible and intelligible part of them, and to makegood use of the purpose for which God gives them to the soul, by castingthem aside; for, as we said of corporeal visions, God gives them not so thatthe soul may desire to have them and to set its affection upon them. 13. But there arises here this question: If it be true that God gives the soulsupernatural visions, but not so that it may desire to have them or be attachedto them or set store by them, why does He give them at all, since by theirmeans the soul may fall into many errors and perils, or at the least mayfind in them such hindrances to further progress as are here described,especially since God can come to the soul, and communicate to it, spirituallyand substantially, that which He communicates to it through sense, by meansof the sensible forms and visions aforementioned?

14. We shall answer thisquestion in the following chapter: it involves important teaching, mostnecessary, as I see it, both to spiritual persons and to those who instructthem. For herein is taught the way and purpose of God with respect to thesevisions, which many know not, so that they cannot rule themselves or guidethemselves to union, neither can they guide others to union, through thesevisions. For they think that, just because they know them to be true andto come from God, it is well to receive them and to trust them, not realizingthat the soul will become attached to them, cling to them and be hinderedby them, as it will by things of the world, if it know not how to renouncethese as well as those. And thus they think it well to receive one kind ofvision and to reject another, causing themselves, and the souls under theircare, great labour and peril in discerning between the truth and the falsehoodof these visions. But God does not command them to undertake this labour,nor does He desire that sincere and simple souls should be led into thisconflict and danger; for they have safe and sound teaching, which is thatof the faith, wherein they can go forward.

15. This, however, cannot be unlessthey close their eyes to all that is of particular and clear intelligenceand sense. For, although Saint Peter was quite certain of that vision ofglory which he saw in Christ at the Transfiguration, yet, after having describedit in his second canonical Epistle, he desired not that it should be takenfor an important and sure testimony, but rather directed his hearers to faith,saying: Et habemus firmiorem propheticum sermonem: cui benefacitis attendentes,quasi lucernoe lucenti in caliginoso loco, donec dies elucescat.(332) Whichsignifies: And we have a surer testimony than this vision of Tabor -- namely,the sayings and words of the prophets who bear testimony to Christ, whereuntoye must indeed cling, as to a candle which gives light in a dark place. Ifwe will think upon this comparison, we shall find therein the teaching whichwe are now expounding. For, in telling us to look to the faith whereof theprophets spake, as to a candle that shines in a dark place, he is biddingus remain in the darkness, with our eyes closed to all these other lights;and telling us that in this darkness, faith alone, which likewise is dark,will be the light to which we shall cling; for if we desire to cling to theseother bright lights -- namely, to distinct objects of the understanding --we cease to cling to that dark light, which is faith, and we no longer havethat light in the dark place whereof Saint Peter speaks. This place, whichhere signifies the understanding, which is the candlestick wherein this candleof faith is set, must be dark until the day when the clear vision of Goddawns upon it in the life to come, or, in this life, until the day oftransformation and union with God to which the soul is journeying.

John, Ascent of Carmel 2 14