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COMMENTARY.


CHAPTER I.

VERSE 1. Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.

THIS kiss, which the soul desires of its God, is essential union, or a real, permanent and lasting possession of its divine object. It is the spiritual marriage.

That this may be understood, it is necessary to explain the difference between a union of the powers and essential union. Either of them may be transitory, and for a few moments only, or permanent and lasting.

The union of the powers is that by which God unites the soul to Himself, but very superficially; it is more properly a contact than a union.

It is nevertheless united to the personal Trinity according to the different effects peculiar to each member of it; but always as if to distinct persons, and by an intermediate operation. This operation serves both as a means and an end, the soul resting in the union thus experienced, without supposing that there is anything beyond.

This union is accomplished in order, in all the powers of the soul, and is sometimes perceived in one or two of them according to the designs of God, and at others in all three together. This constitutes the application of the soul to the Holy Trinity as to distinct persons.

When the union is in the understanding alone, it is a union of pure intellect, and is attributed to the Word as a distinct person.

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When the union is in the memory, which is effected by an absorption of the soul into God, and a profound forgetfulness of the creature, it is attributed to the Father, as a distinct person.

And when it takes place in the will alone, by a loving joy without sight or knowledge of anything distinct, it is a union of love, and is attributed to the Holy Spirit, as a distinct person. And this latter is the most perfect of all, because it approaches nearer than any other to essential union, and is generally the road by which the soul arrives at it.

All these unions are divine embraces—but they are not the Kiss of His mouth.

These unions are of two sorts, the one transitory and very short lived, the other permanent and sustained by the perpetual presence of God, and a sweet and tranquil love, which continues in the midst of everything.

Such, in a few words, is the union of the powers, which is a union of betrothal; it implies the affection of the heart, caresses and mutual presents, as is the case with the betrothed, but not the full enjoyment of its object.

Essential union and the kiss of His mouth is the spiritual marriage, where there is a union of essence with essence, and a communication of substance—where God takes the soul for a spouse and unites Himself to it, no longer by persons nor by any act or means, but immediately, reducing all into unity and possessing it in His own unity.66    The infancy of the new man is passed in receiving nourishment from the milk of the good examples which history sets before us.
   He then enters upon the second stage, where no longer needing to be supported by human authority, and forgetting everything that has its origin in man, he advances towards the things of God, where his reason, illuminated by the light of the sovereign and immutable law, enables him to proceed with a firm step by the requirements of this primitive rule of all good.

   The third age succeeds, in which the superior part having become stronger and more authoritative, begins to hold the other in check by force of reason, as the wife is kept submissive to the husband. The new man here experiences, as it were, the blessedness of the conjugal union, under the veil of this spiritual modesty, by means whereof we no longer need to be forced to live uprightly; since, if we had the fullest permission to sin, we should have no desire to use it.

   In the fourth period, the strength constantly increasing, the practice of what was begun in the last stage becomes easier, more decided, and more constant; the maturity of the perfect man comes on by which he is enabled to sustain without yielding, all the tempests of this world and all the assaults of persecution.

   He then passes to the fifth, where, raised above everything that could cause him the slightest trouble, he enjoys, in profound peace, the abundance of the riches that are found in the tranquil and unfading kingdom of sovereign and unspeakable Wisdom.

   The fifth period is followed by the sixth, which carries the renewing of the interior man to its last perfection, and finishes him in the image and likeness of God; he then lives in the world as not in it, and leads upon the earth the life that the blessed enjoy in Heaven.

   The seventh stage is that eternal rest and perfect and undisturbed felicity in which all representations and states have ceased forever. For as death is the destruction of the old man, eternal life is the end of the new, for the first is then loaded with the damnation incurred through sin, and the other is clothed with the righteousness whose reward is glory—St. Augustine on True Religion, ch. 26.

Then it is the kiss of His mouth, and real and perfect possession. It is an enjoyment which is neither barren nor unfruitful, 25since it extends to nothing less than the communication of the Word of God to the soul.

We must remember that God is all mouth, as He is all word, and that the application of this divine mouth to the soul is the perfect enjoyment and consummation of the marriage by which the communication of God Himself, and of His word, is made to the soul.

This is what may be called the apostolic state, in which the soul is not only espoused but fruitful, for God, as mouth, is some time united to the soul before rendering it fruitful of His own fecundity.

There are some who maintain that this union cannot take place until the next life, but I am confident that it may be attained in this, with this reservation, that here we possess without seeing, there we shall behold what we possess.

Now I say, that while the view of God is in addition to our 26glory, without which it would be incomplete, it does not, nevertheless, constitute essential beatitude; for we are happy from the moment we receive the supreme Good, and can receive and enjoy it without seeing it. We enjoy it here in the night of faith, where we have the pleasure of enjoyment without the satisfaction of sight; there, we shall have the clear vision of God in addition to the happiness of possessing Him. But this blindness hinders neither the true possession nor the veritable enjoyment of the object, nor the consummation of the divine marriage, any more than it does the real communication of the Word to the soul.

This is far from imaginary, as will be attested by every person of experience.77    The consummation of the interior life is referred by some to the next life. To me it seems that in the other world we shall experience the consummation of grace and glory, of all increase and merit, the fruit, the recompense and the unclouded enjoyment of the truth of the interior; but as to the interior in itself, it must be completed in all its perfected and finished proportions in the present state. Here it has its commencement, a perfect conversion in every sense required by a perfect recollection; its progress is here, the hunger and perpetual seeking after God, which avoids, flees and purifies everything contrary to Him; and its end, too, may be here the state of rest and satisfaction in the Sovereign Good which has been the object of the soul’s desire.
   But it is to be remembered that this repose is in the enjoyment of God as it may be had in this life, which is no impediment to a perpetual progress in Him. The state is thus perfected as far as the action of the creature is concerned, but not consummated nor finished as to the perfecting hand of God. The human body maybe used, it seems to me, as an illustration of this subject; for it is called a perfect body when it is complete in all its members. Now, although we find some that are lame, blind and maimed, we do not say that the body should be deprived of its limbs, but we draw for a perfect body, one that is in possession of all its members. Beyond this perfection there is another of form and beauty, when the body is not only complete in its members, but when the separate members themselves present that harmony of proportion and color that belong to a perfect man. This is our conception of a perfect body, and every one agrees that its beauty is a perfect beauty, although no one will deny that it is as nothing in comparison with its perfection when glorified. Now it is not necessary, in order to persuade us that the present perfection of the body is not that of one risen in glory, to deprive it of any of its members, however apparently insignificant.

   It is the same with the interior life. Admit that it will enjoy a totally different perfection in the world to come from that which it is here capable of receiving, let us not, for that reason, make it sadly imperfect by depriving it of any of its essential elements. It is even here a magnificent whole, the greatest achievement of the love and omnipotence of God, for, according to John of the Cross, the work of our regeneration and salvation is more stupendous than that of our creation.—Mad. Guyon, Justifications, iii. 124.

The present is a proper opportunity to resolve the difficulty of some spiritual persons who think that when the soul is united with God in an essential union, it can no longer speak of Jesus Christ and his interior states, the soul having passed through and left that state. I agree with them entirely, that union to Jesus Christ has preceded for a long time the essential union, since union with Him as a person, took place during the union 27of the powers; and further, that the union with the God-man Christ Jesus is the first of all, and occurs at the very beginning of the illuminated life. But as regards the communication of the Word to the soul, I say that the soul must first have arrived in God alone,88These words, God alone, indicate perfect union.—Just, i. 389. and been there established in essential union, and by the spiritual marriage, before the divine communication can be made to it; as the fruits and products of marriage can only appear after its consummation.

All this is more real than can be expressed; and in the fact that God here possesses the soul without interruption, we may trace the difference between essential union and every other kind. When united with the creature, we can only enjoy it by intervals, because the creature is without; but the enjoyment of God is permanent and lasting, because it is within, and God being our final end, the soul can incessantly pour itself into Him as into its goal and centre, to be there mingled and transformed without ever again coming out.99That is, unless it should fall away and be rejected of God.—Justifications i. 143. Just as a river, which is composed of water derived from the sea, and quite distinct from it, finding itself away from its original, endeavors in various ways to reach the ocean; which, having done, it loses and mixes itself with it, just as it was before it left there, and can no longer be distinguished from it.

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It is further to be observed, that God, in creating us, made us participants of His being and fit to be reunited to Him; at the same time bestowing upon us a tendency towards such a reunion.1010    There is never a moment in which God does not shed His infinite love of benevolence upon every human soul, for being communicable in his nature, He must necessarily communicate Himself incessantly to every being disposed to receive His gifts, as the dew falls upon every object exposed to the sky. But man is created free, and has the power of shutting himself up, and of sheltering himself from the celestial dew; he turns his back upon God and heaps hindrance upon hindrance, lest he should be reached by His mercy. What effect, then, has the feeling arising from some good source? It affects the man somewhat, and removing some of the obstacles he had put in the way, he is induced to turn towards the source which unceasingly rains love upon every heart. No sooner is the heart turned and opened a little, than the dew of grace falls gently into it, and according as it is more or less abundant, so is the growth of love in the heart; the more widely the soul is opened to God, the more profuse is the fall of the dew.
   But it is to be remembered, that Love prepares His own way; no other can do it for Him; He prepares our heart and leads it from fullness to fullness; He enlarges, and as He enlarges, fills; for He abhors an empty heart, and though He seems, at times, to reduce souls to emptiness and nakedness, the desolation is only external and apparent. It is true that He thrusts out everything that is not God; for, as God is Love, He can only permit Himself in the soul; all else is offensive to Him. He, therefore, sets every engine in motion, that He may purify His creature, enlarge, extend and magnify it, in order that He may have room enough to dwell in.

   But O, holy Love! where, ah! where are the hearts that will submit to be thus purified, enlarged and extended by Thy hand? Thine operations only seem harsh because we are impure, for Thou art always gentle and tender-hearted! We must even esteem it a great matter, if some souls will give Thee a hesitating admission. Alas! how straitened art Thou in such hearts! what confined quarters and what a filthy residence for the infinite God of purity! O Love! hast Thou not the power of a God? Must we make no other use of our liberty but in resisting Thee? Sad gift! the only true employment of which is in sacrificing it wholly to Thee!—Mad. Guyon, Justifications, iii. 109.
He has imparted a similar trait to the human body in respect to man in a state of innocence, drawing it from man himself, that He might give it this inclination to union, as to its origin. But as this takes place between gross, material substances, the union can only be material and very restricted, because it occurs between solid and impenetrable bodies. This may be illustrated by the attempt to unite two metals of very 29different qualities by fusing them together; they never can be perfectly united on account of their dissimilitude; but the nearer alike the two metals are, the more readily they mix. On the other hand, mix two glasses of water, and the two immediately become so mingled as to be undistinguishable. Thus, the soul, being perfectly spiritual in its character, is altogether fitted to be united, mingled and transformed in its God.

This may be illustrated by the union of salt and water: when a lump of rock salt is thrown into water, there is union between the two, because they are on all sides united; but when the salt is liquefied, dissolved and vanished, then there is union and admixture.

There may be a union without any intermixture; such is the union of the powers. But the intermingling is the essential union; and this union is absolute, being of all in the all.

It is only to God that the soul can be thus united, because such is its nature by creation. This is what Saint Paul calls being changed into the same image (2 Cor. iii. 18), and the Savior, oneness (John. xvii. 11, 21).

Now this takes place when the soul loses its proper subsistence to exist only in God; by which is meant mystically, the loss of all self-appropriation, and a loving and perfect sinking of the soul into Him, and not that essential despoiling of its intimate existence implied in the hypostatic union. It is as when a drop of water is let fall into a cup of wine; it loses its own appropriate form and character, and is apparently changed into wine; but its being and substance always remains entirely distinct; so that, if it were the will of God, an Angel could, at any time, separate the identical drop. In the same way, the soul may always be separated from God, though with great difficulty.

This, then, is the lofty and intimate union that the Spouse so pressingly demands at the hand of the Bridegroom. She asks it of Him as though she was addressing another; an impetuous sally of love, giving vent to her passion without particular thought as to whom she was speaking. Let Him kiss 30me, says she, since He can do it, but let it be with the kisses of His mouth; no other union can content me; that alone can satisfy all my desires, and that is what I demand.


1, 2. For thy breasts are better than wine, and more fragrant than the choicest ointments.

Thy breasts, O God, from which Thou nourishest souls in their beginnings, are so sweet and pleasant, that they render Thy children, and even those who have yet need of the breast, stronger than the stoutest men who are drinkers of wine. They are so fragrant that, by their charming perfume, they attract those souls that are happy enough to perceive it; they are also like a precious ointment that heals every interior wound. Ah! if this be so, even at the outset, what delights will there not be in the nuptial kiss, the kiss of His mouth!

This Song of Songs starts in the beginning with, an announcement of what is to be its end, and, as it were, the recompense and perfection of the Spouse; for it is altogether natural that the prospect and desire of the end should precede the choice of the means. These latter are then described in order, beginning with spiritual infancy.

It was a view of this end, that induced the Spouse to ask, in the first instance, the kiss of his mouth; though it is the last thing she will receive, and that only after having undergone many a trial and many a toil.


2. Thy name is as oil poured forth; therefore have the virgins loved thee.

Sensible grace, which is here signified by the name of the Bridegroom, penetrates the whole soul so powerfully with the sweetness which God sends to the souls He intends to fill with His love, that it is truly like a balm poured forth, which extends and insensibly increases, in proportion as it is more and more 31poured out, and with so excellent an odor that the young soul finds itself wholly penetrated by its power and sweetness. This takes place without violence, and with so much pleasure that the soul, still young and feeble, suffers itself to be carried away by these innocent charms. This is the way God causes Himself to be loved by young hearts, who are not as yet capable of loving except on account of the pleasure they experience in loving. It was by a stream of this oil of gladness, that the Father anointed the Son above his fellows, who shall share His glory with Him.—(Psalm xlv. 7.)


3. Draw me, we will run after thee to the odor of thine ointments.

This young lover prays the Bridegroom to draw her by the centre of her soul, as if she were not satisfied with the sweetness of the balsam poured forth among her powers; for she already comprehends, through the grace of the Bridegroom, who continually draws her with more and more force, that there is an enjoyment of Himself more noble and more intimate than that which she at present shares. This is what gives rise to her present request. Draw me, says she, into the most interior chambers of my soul, that my powers and senses may all run to Thee by this deeper though less perceptible course. Draw me, O divine Lover! and we will run after Thee by recollection which causes us to perceive the divine force by which Thou drawest us towards Thee. In running, we will be guided by a certain odor, perceived by virtue of Thine attraction which is the smell of the ointment Thou hast already poured forth to heal the evil that sin has caused in our powers, and to purify our senses from the corruption that has there entered. We will even outrun this odor to reach Thee, the centre of our bliss.

This excellent perfume gives rise to the prayer of recollection, because the senses as well as the powers all run after its odor, which causes them to taste with delight that the Lord is good. (Psalm xxxiv. 8.)

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3. The King hath brought me into his store-chambers; we will exult and be glad in thee, remembering thy breasts better than wine; the upright love thee.

The soul has no sooner manifested her desire to pass by all creatures that it may run to Him, than, to recompense her for a love already somewhat purified, He causes her to enter into his divine store-chambers. This is a greater grace than any she has hitherto received, for it is a transient union in the powers.

When the heart of a man displays sufficient fidelity to be willing to dispense with all the gifts of God that it may reach God himself, He takes pleasure in showering upon it a profusion of the very gifts it did not seek; but He removes them with indignation from those who prefer them to seeking Himself alone.

It was a knowledge of this, that caused the royal prophet to urge all men to seek the Lord and His strength; to seek His face evermore (Psalm cv. 4); as though he would have said, do not stop at the graces or gifts of God, which are only as the rays that issue from His face, but which are not Himself; mount up to His very throne and there seek Him; seek His face evermore until you are so blessed as to find it.

Then, says the Spouse, transported with joy at the ineffable secret revealed to her, then, when we are in thee, O God, we shall exult and be glad in Thee; we will remember thy breasts more than wine; that is, the remembrance of having preferred the Bridegroom over everything else, will be the height of her joy and pleasure. She had already chosen the sweetness of his milk before the wine of the pleasures of this world; wherefore, she says, we will remember thy breasts more than wine. Here she chooses God in preference to His spiritual consolations; and the transports of grace, which she experienced while drawing the milk of His breasts.

She adds, the upright love Thee, to signify that the true uprightness which leads the soul to dispense with all the pleasures of earth and the enjoyments of heaven, to be lost in God, is what constitutes pure and perfect love. In truth, O my God, none 33but those who are upright in the way, can love Thee as Thou deservest to be loved!


4. I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.

As the greatest graces of God tend always to produce in us a deeper knowledge of what we are, and as they would not come from Him, if they did not give, in their degree, a certain taste of the misery of the creature, so it is with this soul; scarcely has she emerged from the store chambers of the King before she discovers that she is black. What is this thy blackness, O thou incomparable maiden? (we say to her;) tell us, we pray thee. I am black, she says, because I perceive by the light of my divine Sun, hosts of defects, of which I was never aware until now; I am black, because I am not yet cleansed of self.

But, nevertheless, I am comely as the tents of Kedar; for this experimental knowledge of what I am, is extremely pleasing to my Bridegroom, and induces Him to visit me as a place of rest. I am comely, because, having no voluntary1111Mark this, no voluntary stain.—Just i. 156. stain, my Spouse renders me fair with His own beauty. The blacker I am in my own eyes, the fairer I am in His.

I am comely, too, as the curtains of Solomon, The curtains of the divine Solomon are the holy Humanity, which conceals the Word of God made flesh. I am comely, she says, as His curtains, for He has made me a partaker of His beauty in this, that as the holy Humanity concealed the Divinity, so my apparent blackness hides the greatness of God’s workings in my soul.

I am black also from the crosses and persecutions which attack me from without; but I am comely as the curtains of Solomon, because blackness and the cross make me like Him.

I am black because outward weaknesses1212 Weaknesses, not sins.—Justifications ii. 273. appear in me, but I am comely, because my intention is pure within.

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5. Look not upon me because I am dark-colored, because the sun hath tanned me; my mother’s children strove against me; they made me keeper in the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.

Why is it that the betrothed asks that they will not look upon her in her blackness? Because the soul, entering now into the state of faith, and spoliation of sensible grace, loses by degrees the sweet vigor that led her so easily to the practice of virtue, and made her externally so beautiful.1313    While the soul still feels the full power of the divine unction upon it, its imperfections appear to be destroyed; but as the work of purification goes on, the virtues sink deep into the soul, disappearing from the surface and leaving the natural defects in conspicuous prominence.
   The effects of winter upon the vegetable world seem to me to present a lively and truthful image of this operation of God. As the season of cold and storms approaches, the trees gradually lose their leaves, their vivid green is soon changed into a funereal brown, and they fall and die. The trees now look stripped and desolate; the loss of their summer garments brings to light all the irregularities and defects in their surfaces which had previously been hidden from view. Not that they have contracted any new deformity; not at all; everything was there before, but hidden by their abundant verdure. Thus the man in the time of his purification, appears stripped of his virtues, but as the tree, in the preservation of its sap, retains that which is the producing cause of leaves, so the soul is not deprived of the essence of virtue, nor of any solid advantage; but only of a certain external facility in the display of its possessions. The man thus spoiled and naked, appears in his own eyes and in those of others with all the defects of nature which were previously concealed by the verdure of sensible grace.

   During the whole of winter, the trees appear dead; they are not so in reality, but, on the contrary, are submitting to a process which preserves and strengthens them. For what is the effect of winter? It contracts their exterior, so that the sap is not uselessly expended abroad, and it concentrates their strength upon the root, so that new ones are pushed out and the old ones strengthened and nourished and forced deeper into the soil. We may say, then, that however dead the tree may appear in its accidents (if we may be allowed to apply this expression to its leaves), it was never more alive in its essentials, and it is even during winter that the source and principle of its life is more firmly established. During the other seasons it employs the whole force of its sap in adorning and beautifying itself at the expense of its roots.

   Just so in the economy of grace. God takes away that which is accidental in virtue, that He may strengthen the principle of the virtues. These are still practised by the soul, though in an exceedingly hidden way, and in humility, pure love, absolute abandonment, contempt of self and the others, the soul makes solid progress. It is thus that the operation of God seems to sully the soul exteriorly; in point of fact it implies no new defects in the soul, but only an uncovering of the old ones, so that by being openly exposed they may be better healed.—Mad. Guyon, Justifications, ii. 265.
And not being 35able any longer to perform, her previous acts, because God requires something else of her, she seems to have fallen back into a state of nature.

This seems so to those who are not enlightened, and it is for this reason that she exclaims: I beseech you, my friends and companions, who have not yet arrived at so interior a point, you, who are yet in the first experiences of the spiritual life, judge me not because I am dark colored externally, nor because of my outward defects, real or apparent; for they do not happen from want of love and courage, as is the case with souls in the beginning, but because my divine Sun has looked upon me with his constant, burning beams, and changed my color. He has taken away my natural complexion that I might have only such a one as his fiery fervor would give me. It is the violence of love that dries up and tans my skin, and not its departure.1414Just as fire blackens wood before consuming it. It is the approach of the fire that blackens the wood, and not its removal. Wood may also be discolored by moisture; but it is then far less fit to be burned, and may even be made so wet that it will not burn at all. Such is the blackness of those who depart from Thee, O God, and go whoring from Thee. (Psalm lxxiii. 27). They shall all perish; but not so our Spouse, who is rendered dark-complexioned by the excess of the love that intends to perfect her in Himself, by cleansing her of everything opposed His own purity.—Justifications, ii. 274. This blackness is an advance, not a relapse; but a progress not for your imitation at your tender age, for the blackness which you would give yourselves would be a defect; to be right it must only proceed from the Sun of Righteousness, who, for His own glory and the highest good of the soul, burns up and destroys that dazzling outward complexion which was a source of blindness to the soul, though a cause of great admiration to those about, to the great prejudice of the Bridegroom’s glory.

My mother’s children beholding me thus black, sought to compel me to resume my active life, and direct my attention to the 36exterior, instead of devoting myself to the destruction of my interior passions; they strove against me for a long while, and in the end, not being able to resist them, I yielded to their desires; but in attending to these outward and foreign things, I have not kept mine own vineyard, which is my interior, where my God dwells. That is my whole care, and the only vineyard I ought to keep; and since I have not kept mine own; since I have been inattentive to the voice of my God, I have been still less faithful in guarding those of others. This is the persecution that souls are ordinarily subjected to, when it is once perceived that their constant introversion causes neglect of some external thing, the soul being entirely turned inward, and hence not being able to apply herself to the correction of certain trifling defects that the Bridegroom will Himself remedy in due time.


6. Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou reposest at midday, lest I should begin to wander after the flocks of thy companions.

O Thou whom my soul loveth! exclaims this poor affianced one, thus obliged to leave the sweet employment within, to be engaged about external matters of the lowest description; O Thou, whom I love so much the more as I find my love more thwarted; ah, show me where Thou feedest Thy flocks, and with what food Thou satisfiest the souls that are so blessed as to be under Thy care! We know that when Thou wert upon earth, Thy meat and drink was to do the will of Thy Father (John iv. 34), and now Thy meat is that Thy friends do Thy will. Thou still feedest Thy followers upon Thyself, revealing to them Thine infinite perfection, to the end that they may love Thee more fervently; and the more Thou art revealed, the more they seek to know, that they may be able ever to love Thee more and more.

Tell me also, pursues she, where Thou reposest at noon! By this figure she intends to convey the vehemence of pure love desiring to learn from its author and master, in what it consists; 37lest perchance, wandering into some human path, though under the semblance of spirituality, she may be misled, and may be ministering to self-love, at the very moment when she was persuaded she had nothing in view, but pure love and the glory of God alone.

She is right in fearing a mistake which involves such important consequences, and which is too common among the flocks of the church. It happens whenever persons are guided by spiritual advisers whom Jesus Christ has truly rendered His companions, associating them with Himself in the direction of souls, but who, not being dead to themselves nor crucified to the world with Him, do not teach their pupils to deny themselves; to be crucified and dead in everything, in order to live to God only, and that Christ may live in them. Whence it happens, that both being in an extremely natural and unmortified life, their path is also exceedingly human, and consequently liable to turn aside hither and thither, frequently changing their devotions and their guides, without ever arriving at anything solid. And because this wandering arises from the failure to consult with care the maxims and example of Jesus Christ, and to apply to Him by prayer to obtain from Him what He alone can grant us, therefore it is that this beloved soul, being well instructed, implores with so much earnestness the knowledge of His Word with which He feeds souls, and faithfulness to follow his example. For she knows that these alone, with the help of grace, can prevent her from going astray.

We are too often arrested at created means, however religious. God alone can teach us to do His will, for He alone is our God.1515A father has caused various dishes to be placed upon the table, some far more delicious than others. One of the children has taken a fancy to the dish that stands nearest to him, though it is far from the best, and requests to be helped from it because of his liking for it. The father perceives that if he were to give him a far better one he would reject it, his mind being set upon that which he sees before him; and so, lest he should remain hungry and discouraged, he reluctantly grants him his request. Thus God granted the prayer of the Israelites for a king; it was not what He would have chosen for them, nor what they needed, but it was what their hearts were set upon having.—John of the Cross, Ascent of Carmel, Book ii. ch. 21.—(Psalm cxliii. 10.)

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She asks also of the Word that He would conduct her to his Father, since He is the way that leads there. The bosom of the Father being the place where He rests in the noontide of His glory, and in the full light of eternity, she desires to be lost in God with Jesus His Son; to be there hidden and there to rest forever. And though she does not say so explicitly, she gives us to understand it distinctly enough by what she says afterwards,—lest I should begin to wander as I have done. There I shall be perfectly secure; I shall never more be deceived; and what is far better, I shall sin no more.


7. If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherds’ tents.

The Bridegroom replies to His Bride, and to prepare her for the grace which He would bestow, as well as to instruct her in the use of what she has already received, He gives her a most important direction—If thou know not, says He, go forth. He means to say that she cannot know the divine object of her love, however passionately she may desire it, except she first know herself; for the nothingness of the creature helps our conception of the all of God. But as the light necessary for discovering the creature’s abyss of nothingness exists only in the all of God, He directs her to go forth. Whence? From herself. How? By abandonment and fidelity in applying it to everything, permitting herself no natural satisfaction and no life in self or any creature.1616    Let us note here, that our Spouse, far from falling into open sin, does not even indulge herself in innocent recreations. A soul that has enjoyed God in the unspeakable degree, has acquired too refined a taste to be pleased any longer with earthly things. Those who leave Him, and permit themselves to be guilty of offences against Him, are such, as sought Him only for his delights, not for Himself; when He takes these away, they seek their pleasure elsewhere. But God never abandons a soul that seeks Him for Himself alone; that fears rather than desires his favors, and that loves the cross without fearing it. As the souls that relapse and fall away, do so, because, in their first privations, they seek an indemnification for the suffering inflicted by God in the pleasures of the senses, which 39they at first esteem innocent; therefore I have always strenuously insisted, in everything which He has permitted me to write, that the soul must suffer itself to be consumed without seeking consolation, and to die without helping it to a single breath.
   This matter seems to me one of great consequence; for almost every soul, on arriving at this point, either turns back, seeking again its former activity in order to recover the enjoyment it has lost; or what is far worse, follows its sensual inclinations; and as the love it had for God was impure, sensual, and entirely selfish, when it no longer feels it, it indulges its senses in the delights of the creature. As these persons loved God solely for the gratification it gave them, as St. Francis of Sales testifies of them, and not for Himself, the moment their pleasure ceases, they turn to those which are unlawful; and, as their taste has been refined by their participation of spiritual enjoyments, they cannot now be satisfied without an infinity of pleasure—nor are they then—but seek to stifle their consciences and their constant remorse by a more unbridled license. Had they loved God with a pure affection, He never would have suffered them to have thus fallen.

   Let me also add here that, in the beginning, when the soul is immersed in delights and heavenly consolations, it appears strong, but is, in fact, so exceedingly weak, that the least occurrences distract it, and cause it to commit a thousand faults. After the first purgation or trial, called by John of the Cross the night of the senses, it is no longer subject to these frailties, so that as to every external thing in the order of God, it can walk abroad without being sullied, as formerly, by a thousand vain complacencies and self-seekings. I say things in the order of God and according to His will; for it would be a very different matter, if it were to amuse and divert itself; neither could a soul that has reached this state do it without great pain, and an infidelity so much the more horrible, as the soul had the greater power to avoid it.

   In truth, this is the most dangerous period of the whole spiritual life; for if, on the cessation of interior support the soul turns to external sources of pleasure, though it finds it difficult at first, yet the way grows more and more easy. It is a way of destruction to many a spiritual pilgrim, and I have, therefore, in all my writings constantly pointed it out. I speak of the beginning of the night of the senses, and not when it is fully set in; for then there is scarcely anything to fear. And so after total death, the soul becomes so confirmed in God that it can find nothing satisfying in the creature, nor can it fall, short of becoming like Lucifer. To leave God after reaching this state, would render a soul the most miserable in the universe; for as it has tasted the joy unspeakable of the Divine Union it can not with its utmost exertion derive any pleasure from exterior sources, for the now distant pleasures of sense would seem so insipid in comparison with celestial delights, that they would only redouble its torture.

   Such a soul must be, as it were, in hell. Having received in heaven a divine power, and being now cast out, it must either return to God, a very difficult thing, or must become worse than Satan himself. Such a person, of whom it is difficult to find one, would I think become the most abandoned of men, and his depravity would be measured by the extent to which he had experienced the Divine favor. We scarcely ever find, then, a soul thus fallen; but among those who are just entering upon the night of the senses, and who are not yet dead to self, nor established in God, we may see many who no longer experiencing the delights which they had sought rather than God, apply themselves to the creature for the enjoyment which they no longer find in Him; but the pleasures they derive thence are so blunted, that they must run to every excess to produce any emotion. It is a miracle when a soul in this case is converted and returns to God, for as they have tasted the good things of God, and have abandoned Him, every motive that can be brought to bear upon them to bring them back, is already familiar to them; they know it all and it affects them no longer. Such, it seems to me, is the meaning of what is declared in the word: For it is impossible, for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away to renew them again unto repentance.Heb vi. 4-6).

   But if falling away is difficult for souls in this degree, it is far more so, I might rather say almost impossible, for those in the subsequent ones; for they become as it were settled in a fixed state, and so great is the difficulty of falling from that, that it requires the pride of the Devil himself and a maliciousness of purpose of which the soul here is far from capable. Still, it is, of course, possible, and I suppose there are some who, like the rebel angels, have been thrust headlong down from heaven into hell; but after such a fall, the difficulty of returning to God is greatly increased. It seems to me almost impossible, not from any opposition on the part of God, who always furnishes every one with all needful means of salvation, but on account of the wickedness of such a soul in which it is strengthening and confirming itself. If I may speak after the manner of men, the loss of such a soul is more painful to God than that of a million of others; and His former love to them is now the measure of His wrath.—Justifications, i. 417.
And whither? To enter into God by an absolute self-abandonment, where she will find that He is all and in all (Coloss. i. 17; iii. 2); and that she herself, consequently, and every creature, are merely nothingness.

Now, nothingness deserves no esteem, because it has no good; neither does it merit love, for it is nothing; it is only worthy, on the contrary, of contempt and hatred on account of the self-esteem and self-love entirely opposed to God, that have been implanted in it by sin. If the creature, then, aspire to Divine Union, it must be well persuaded of the all of God and its own nothingness, and must go forth of itself, feeling nothing but contempt and hatred for itself, that it may reserve all its esteem and love for God; and by this means, it may attain to union.

This going forth from self by a perpetual abandonment of every selfish interest, is the interior work which the Heavenly Bridegroom prescribes to those who are sighing after the kiss 40of His mouth. He thus signifies it to this soul by the single expression, go forth, which is sufficient to guide her inward course.

As regards the outward, it is His will that she should neglect no part of her duty in the station in which He has placed her, a direction which comprehends infinitely more than the most minute detail could do, and while she must follow the attraction of the Holy Spirit in all liberty as to the inward life, He would have her also conform to the external usages of religion and be obedient to those in authority, as to the exterior, and this He expresses by going forth in the footsteps of the flock, that is to say, in the ordinary, common way, externally, and by feeding the kids,—that is, the senses—by the shepherds’ tents.

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8. I have compared thee, O my love, to my company of horsemen in Pharaoh’s chariots.

The Bridegroom knowing perfectly well that all the commendations which He lavishes on His beloved, far from rendering her vain, only further her annihilation, praises her in magnificent strains, that her love may be fed. I have compared thee, he says, to My company of horsemen; that is, I desire of thee a course so swift and sure in Me that I can only liken thy single soul to a whole company running toward Me with extreme rapidity; I have compared thee to My angels, and I will for thee the same bliss that they enjoy, always to behold My face.—(Matt. xviii. 10.)

Still, for the better concealment of such great things while thou art upon the earth, I have made thee externally like to the chariots of Pharaoh. Those who behold thee running so swiftly and as it were disorderly, will believe that thou art in search of the pleasures, the vanities and the multiplicities of Egypt, or that thou art busy in self-seeking in such eager haste, but thou art running toward Me, and thy race shall end 42in Me alone, and nothing shall prevent thy safe arrival, because of the strength and fidelity with which I have supplied thee.


9. Thy cheeks are comely as a turtle dove’s; thy neck as jewels.

The cheeks signify the interior and exterior; they are comely as a turtle dove’s. The dove is said to have this peculiarity, that when one of a pair dies, the other ever after remains single, without seeking another mate. So the soul, separated from its God, can take no pleasure in any creature, either within or without. Within, it is reduced to a solitude so much the more complete, in that, not finding the Bridegroom, it cannot be occupied with anything else. Without, everything is dead, so far as it is concerned; and it is this very separation of the soul from every creature and from everything that is not God, that constitutes its beauty in the eyes of the Well-beloved.

Her neck represents pure love, which is the greatest stay left her. But though she appears in a state of the greatest nakedness, she is still enriched by the practice of numberless virtues, which, like jewels of great price, serve as an ornament. But without this adornment, love alone would render her perfectly beautiful, just as the neck of the bride, though stripped of jewels, is not deprived of beauty.


10. We will make thee chains of gold inlaid with silver.

Although thou art already very beautiful in thy nakedness, the evidence of a pure heart and unfeigned charity; we will still add something farther to set off thy beauty, by giving thee precious ornaments. These shall be chains, in token of thy perfect submission to every will of the King of Glory. But they shall be of gold, to signify that, acting only from an exceedingly purified love, thou hast but a single and pure regard to the good pleasure and glory of God in everything thou doest or sufferest for Him. Nevertheless, they shall be inlaid with silver; because, however simple and pure charity may be in itself, it must 43appear and be made manifest externally, in the practice of good works and the most excellent virtues.

It is to be noted, that the Divine Master takes special care in many passages to instruct His beloved pupil as to the supreme purity He requires in the love of the Spouse, and in her faithfulness to neglect nothing in the service of the Well-beloved, or the help of the neighbor.


11. While the King was reclining upon his couch, my spikenard sent forth the smell thereof.

The Spouse is not yet so unclothed but that she receives from time to time visits from her Well-beloved. But why do I call it a visit? It is rather a manifestation of Himself, an experience of His deep and central presence. The holy Bridegroom is ever in the centre of the soul that is faithful to Him; but He often dwells there in such a hidden manner, that the Spouse is almost always ignorant of her happiness except at certain times, when He is pleased to reveal Himself to the loving soul, which then perceives Him deeply and intimately present. Such is His conduct toward this the purest of His followers, as is testified by her words when my King, He who reigns over and guides me as a Sovereign, was reclining upon His couch, which is the ground and centre of my soul, where He takes His rest; my spikenard, that is, my faithfulness, sent forth the smell thereof so sweetly and pleasantly, that He was obliged to discover Himself to me. Then I recognized that He was reposing within me as on His royal couch, which before I was ignorant of, for although He was there, yet I knew it not.


12. A bundle of myrrh is my well-beloved unto me; he shall abide between my breasts.

When the Bride, or rather the lover (for she is not yet a bride), has found her Bridegroom, she is so transported with joy, that she is eager to be instantly united to Him. But the union of perpetual enjoyment is not yet arrived. He is mine, 44she says, I cannot doubt that He gives Himself to me this moment, since I feel it, but He is to me, as it were, a bundle of myrrh. He is not yet a Bridegroom whom I may embrace in the nuptial bed, but a bundle of crosses, pains and mortifications; a bloody husband ( Ex. iv. 25), and crucified lover, who desires to test my faithfulness, by making me partaker of a good share of his sufferings. For this is the part of the soul at this period.

As an evidence, however, of the progress of this already heroic soul, note that she does not say, my Well-beloved will give me the bundle of the cross, but that He Himself should be that bundle; for all my crosses shall be those of my Well-beloved. This bundle shall be betwixt my breasts as an evidence that He will be a Bridegroom of bitterness as well without as within. External crosses are a small matter, if unaccompanied by those which are internal, and the inward are rendered much more painful by the simultaneous presence of the outward. But though the soul perceives nothing but the cross on every side, it is nevertheless her Well-beloved in the shape of the cross, and He never is more present to her than in those seasons of bitterness, during which He dwells in the midst of her heart.


13. My beloved is unto me as a cluster of cypress, in the vineyards of Engaddi.

My beloved, continues the lover, is unto me as a cluster of cypress. She only partially expresses herself; it is as though she said: He is only near to me, for I have not the blessedness of that intimate union by which He would dwell wholly in me, and I in Him. He is nevertheless near to me but as a cluster of cypress (a shrub producing a very fragrant balm), since it is He only who gives odor and value to everything that is done by those who love Him. This cluster grows in the vineyards of Engaddi, which are very beautiful, and the grapes of which are excellent. She compares her Well-beloved to the pleasant fragrance and excellent virtue of balsam, to the delight and strength of wine, to express by these images that he, who has 45learned from the interior enjoyment of God to put his pleasure in Him, can no longer find delight in anything else; and that we no sooner seek any other source of satisfaction than we lose that which is divine.


14. Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves’ eyes.

The Well-beloved beholding the readiness of the Spouse to be crucified and instructed by Him, is charmed with the lustre of the beauty He has bestowed upon her. He caresses and praises her, calling her His fair one and His well-beloved.—Behold, thou art fair, my love, He says, behold, thou art fair!— Sweet words! He refers to a double beauty, one external, the other internal; but He desires that she should perceive it, as though He would say: Behold, thou art fair already in the depths, though thou art not yet perfected; know, too, that in a little while thou shalt be perfectly beautiful without, when I shall have finished thee and drawn thee out of thy weaknesses.

These praises are accompanied by the promise of a more exquisite beauty, in the hope of which the soul will take courage, while its humility is cherished by reflecting on its imperfections.

But why does He say that in a little while she shall be endued with a double beauty? It is because she has already doves’ eyes; that is, she is simple within, not turning aside from the view of her God, and without, in all her words and actions, which are destitute of guile.

This dove-like simplicity is the surest mark of the advancement of a soul; for no longer making use of indirect means or artifices, she is led by the Spirit of God. The Spouse understood from the beginning the necessity of simplicity and the perfect nature of uprightness when she said, the upright love Thee; (verse 3), where she places the perfection of love in its simplicity and uprightness.

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15. Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, and comely; our bed is adorned with flowers.

The loving soul seeing that her Bridegroom has praised her for her double beauty, and unwilling to appropriate anything to herself, says in return, Behold, Thou art fair, my beloved, and comely. She returns Him all the praise she had received from Him, and adds more on her own part. Nothing belonging to us, no praise, no glory, and no pleasure, everything must be referred to Him who is the author and centre of every good. The loving soul teaches us this important point of practice throughout, everywhere giving glory to the Lord for everything He has bestowed upon her. If I am beautiful, she says to Him, it is with Thine own beauty; it is Thou who art beautiful in me with this double beauty, which Thou praisest in me.

Our bed, she adds, that inner retreat in which Thou dwellest in me, and which I call ours, that Thou mayst thereby be induced to come and give me there the nuptial kiss which I first asked of Thee, and which is my final end—our bed is ready, and adorned with the flowers of a thousand virtues.


16. The beams of our houses are of cedar and our carved ceilings are of cypress.

The Bridegroom, hidden in the ground and centre of the soul (as has been said), takes pleasure in sending from the sanctuary in which He dwells, certain effusions of His sensible graces, which produce, in the exterior of the Spouse, an abundance of different virtues, which are like flowers. Finding herself adorned with these she is so surprised and charmed, or perhaps has so little experience, that she believes her inward edifice is nearly completed. The roof is on, she says; the beams, which are the practice of exterior virtues, are laid of cedar; methinks I perceive their agreeable odor and that I can practice them with as much strength as ease. The regulation of the senses appears to me to be perfectly accomplished as the setting in order of the carved and beautiful ceiling of cypress.

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But, O Spouse! this only appears so to thee because thy bed is adorned with flowers, and because the sweet, grateful and pleasant state which thou experiencest within, makes thee believe that thou hast gained everything without; but remember, thy ceilings are of cypress, which is a tree of death, and all this beauty and adornment are but the preparation for a sacrifice.


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