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VERSE 1. My beloved is gone down into His garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens and to gather lilies.
O blessed soul! After thy long search, at last thou hast news of thy Beloved! With great confidence thou didst declare that thou wouldst hold Him so firmly that He should never escape, and yet thou hast let Him go farther off than ever! Alas! she says, I was ignorant and rash; I did not reflect that it was not for me to retain Him; that it is His own prerogative to bestow or withdraw Himself, as seems good to Him, and that I ought to will only His will, and to be content with His coming and going. I confess that mine was an interested love, though I knew it not; I preferred my own pleasure in loving, seeing and possessing Him to His good pleasure.—Ah! could I but once behold Him again, I would do so no longer; I would let Him come and go at His own will, and that would be the way to lose Him no more. I know, nevertheless, that He is gone down into His garden; my Well-beloved is in my soul, but He is so exclusively there for Himself that I desire no part in it. He is in the most interior centre, in the most sublime part where is found that which is most sweet smelling. There is where God dwells, the source and seat of every virtue; there He comes to feed on what belongs to Him only, for there is nothing there that belongs to me or is for me. He takes His pleasure in the garden which He has planted, cultivated and caused to bear fruit by his life-giving heat. Let Him gather His lilies, then! let all the purity be for Him! let Him have all the pleasure and all the profit from it!
2. I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine; He feedeth among the lilies.
The moment the soul is wholly freed from self-appropriation, she is all ready to be received into the nuptial couch of the Bridegroom, where she is no sooner introduced, than, tasting the chaste and holy delights of the Kiss of his mouth, which she desired at first, and which she now enjoys in that Essential Union, 98 which has been bestowed upon her, she cannot refrain from expressing her joy in these words, I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine! O wonderful gain! I can describe it no farther than that I am unreservedly given up to my Beloved, and that I possess him without obstacle, hindrance or restraint!
O, worthy to be envied of the angels! Thou hast at last discovered thy Well-beloved; and though thou art no longer so bold
as to say that thou wilt never let Him go, thou hast Him more securely than ever. Thou wilt never lose Him more! Who would
not rejoice with thee on so joyful an occasion!—Thou art so fully thy Beloved’s that nothing hinders thee from being lost
in Him; since thou has been wholly melted by the heat of his love, thou hast been ready to be poured into Him as into thy
As the Bridegroom had spread abroad His love and His soul in the heart of the Bride, so she in turn pours her soul into the
heart of her Beloved. As a snow bank upon a hill side exposed to the sun comes forth from itself, quits its form and melts
and runs away on the side on which the warmth-giving rays fall upon it, so the soul of the Spouse melted and ran toward the
voice of her Well-beloved, coming forth from self and the confinement of nature to follow Him who has called her.
But how is this holy melting of the soul into its Beloved accomplished? The extreme delight of the Bridegroom in the thing loved, produces in it a spiritual impotence, so that it has no longer the power to dwell in self, and thus, like melted balsam, deprived of consistency and solidity, it runs and flows into that which it loves. It does not dart itself by a sudden effort, nor does it cling and clasp as though it would by force become united, but it only flows gently along like a limpid and liquid thing, into the Divinity it adores. And as we see the clouds, thickened and driven by the south wind, melt and turn into rain, and no longer able to contain themselves, fall and run upon the ground, mingling with and tempering the earth so that they become but one with it; so the soul, which, though loving, was yet dwelling in self, issues forth in this holy and blessed stream, quitting itself forever, not only to be united to its Beloved, but to be wholly mingled and made one with Him.—St. Francis of Sales, on the Love of God. Book vi., ch. 12. Ah! exclaims this imcomparable Spouse, if I am wholly His, He also is wholly mine! for I experience anew of His goodness; He bestows Himself upon me in a manner as unspeakable as it is new; He compensates my pains with the tenderest caresses; He feeds among the lilies of my purity; those of the soul, far more precious to Him than those of the flesh, are an absolute freedom from self-appropriation; a soul freed from self is a virgin soul; those of the body are the integrity of the senses.
3. Thou art beautiful, O my love, sweet and comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army set in array.
The Bridegroom finding His bride entirely free from self, dissolved and prepared for the consummation of the marriage, and to be received into a state of permanent and lasting union with Himself, admires her beauty; He tells her that she is beautiful because He finds in her a certain charm and sweetness which approaches the divine. Thou art comely, He continues, as Jerusalem; for since thou hast lost everything of thine own to devote it wholly to Me, thou art adorned and embellished with all that is Mine, and art joint possessor of all my inheritance. I find thee entirely fitted to be My dwelling-place as I desire to be thine; thou shalt dwell in Me and I in thee.
But while thou hast so many charms and so much sweetness for Me, thou art terrible to the devil and to sin as an army in array; thou puttest to flight thine enemies without a blow, for they fear thee as much as Me, since thou art become one spirit with God (1 Cor. vi. 17), by the loss of thyself in Me.
Ah! poor souls! ye who are engaged your whole lifetime in fierce combat and achieve but insignificant victories, though at
the cost of many wounds! if ye would but earnestly give yourselves up to God and abandon yourselves to Him, you would be more
formidable and more terrible than an infinite army drawn up in order of battle!4040
As the little children of our Heavenly Father, we can walk with Him in two different ways; we may walk in the steps of our
own will, conforming it to His, and keeping the hand of our obedience always in that of the Divine Intention, and following
wherever that leads. God wills that I should keep holy the day of rest; this binds me to will it too, which I do by an operation
of my own will, conforming to the expression of His.
But we may also go with our Lord having no will of our own, simply suffering ourselves to be carried along at His good pleasure, like an infant in the arms of its mother, by a sort of admirable consent which may be called the union, or rather the oneness of our will with that of God. Such should be our deportment in the manifestation of His good pleasure, as it is developed purely in His Providence and without any interference on our part. It is true we may will that all things should happen according to the will of God, and such a will is very good, but we may also receive the manifestations of His good pleasure by perfectly simple tranquillity in the will, which, willing nothing, quietly acquiesces in all things that God wills in us, by us and through us.
Had any one asked the holy child Jesus, as He was held in the arms of His mother, whither He went, would He not have been right in answering, I do not go, my mother goes for me. But Thou art going surely with Thy mother? No; I do not go at all, or if I do go whither my mother carries me, I do not go with her nor do I go by my own steps, but by hers. And had any one replied, But still, O Child beloved! Thy will is to suffer Thyself to be carried by the dear mother? might He not have answered, Ah no! I have no will about it; as my loving mother walks for me so she wills for me also, I have committed to her the care both of going and of willing to go, wherever she shall think best and as I walk only by her steps, so I will only by her willing. And as the first suffices for us both, so also does the last, without any willing on My part, I pay no attention as to whether she walks fast or slow, this way or that, nor do I concern myself in the least as to whither she goes.
Thus should we be, supple and manageable under the Divine good pleasure, plastic as wax, without amusing ourselves with wishing and willing this or that, but committing all things to God that He may will for us as He pleases, casting all our care upon Him, for He careth for us (I Peter v. 7). Note that the Apostle says all our care, that is, the care of receiving the events of His Providence as well as that of willing or not willing them; for He will see to the well ordering of our affairs, and will will for us that which is for the best.—St. Francis of Sales, on the Love of God. Book ix. ch. 14.
4. Turn away thine eyes from me, because they have made me to flee away; thy hair is as a flock of goats that appear from Gilead.
It is impossible to conceive the delicacy of the love of God, and the extremity of purity which He requires of souls that are to be His Brides; the perfection of one state is the imperfection of another. Heretofore the Bridegroom rejoiced infinitely that His Spouse never turned her eyes away from Him; now, He desires her not to look at Him; He tells her that her eyes have made Him to flee away. When once the soul has begun to flow into her God, as a river into its original source, she must be wholly submerged and lost in Him. She must then lose the perceptible vision of God and every distinct4141We see what is distinct from us, but not what is within us.—Justifications ii. 133. knowledge, however 101ever small it may be; sight and knowledge exist no longer where there is neither division nor distinction, but a perfect fusion. The creature, in this state, cannot look at God without beholding herself, and perceiving at the same time the working of His love. Now, the whole of this must be concealed and hidden away from her sight, that like the Seraphim she may have her eyes veiled, and may never see anything more in this life. That is, she is not to will to see anything or to make any discoveries of herself, which she cannot do without infidelity. But this is no hindrance to God’s causing her to discover and understand whatever He pleases. Nothing remains uncovered but the heart, for it is impossible to love too much.
When I speak of distinction, I do not mean the distinction of some divine perfection in God Himself, for that is gone long since; for since the first absorption, the soul has had but a single view of God in her by a confused and general faith, with no distinction of attributes or perfections; and though she has often spoken of the greatness and sovereign qualities of her Well-beloved, it was only done for the purpose of winning souls, and not for any need in herself of these distinct views, which are given her according to necessity, either in speaking or writing. The distinction I now refer to is that between God and the soul. Here the soul cannot and ought not any longer to make such a distinction; God is she and she is God, since by the consummation of the marriage she is absorbed into God and lost in Him, without power to distinguish or find herself again. The true consummation of the marriage causes an admixture of the soul with God so great and so intimate that she can distinguish and see herself no longer, and it is this fusion which diversifies, so to speak, the actions of the creature arrived at this lofty and sublime position; for they emanate from a principle which is wholly divine, in consequence of the unity which has been effected between God and the soul melted and absorbed in Him, God becoming the principle of her actions and words, though they are spoken and manifested externally through her.
The marriage of the body, whereby two persons are rendered one flesh (Gen. ii. 24), is but a faint image of this, by which, in 102the words of St. Paul, God and the soul become one spirit (1 Cor. vi. 17). Many are exceedingly anxious to know when the spiritual marriage takes place; it is easy to ascertain this, from what has been said. The Betrothal, or mutual engagement, is made in the union of the powers when the soul surrenders herself wholly to God, and God gives Himself wholly to the soul, with the intention of admitting her to union; this is an agreement and mutual promise. But ah! what a distance is yet to be travelled, and what sufferings to be undergone before this eagerly desired union can be granted or consummated! The Marriage takes place when the soul falls dead and senseless into the arms of the Bridegroom, who, beholding her more fitted for it, receives her into union. But the Consummation of the marriage does not come to pass until the soul is so melted, annihilated and freed from self, that it can unreservedly flow into God. Then is accomplished that admirable fusion of the creature and the Creator which brings them into unity, so to speak, though with such an infinite disproportion as exists between a single drop of water and the ocean. The drop has become ocean, but it forever remains a little drop, though it has become assimilated in character with the waters of the ocean, and thus fit to be mingled with it and to make but one ocean with it.
If it be said that some saints and some authors have placed the divine marriage in states less advanced than the one that is here described, I reply, that it is because they mistook the betrothal for the marriage and the marriage for the consummation; and in speaking with freedom they do not always distinguish exactly these degrees, in the same way that, the very first steps of the interior road are frequently mistaken for Divine Union itself. Every soul that has been admitted to the privilege of betrothal considers herself a Bride; and very naturally, because the Bridegroom so calls her, as we have seen in this very song. Experience and divine illumination alone can enable any one to distinguish the difference.
The Bridegroom again compares the thoughts of His Spouse represented by her hair to goats that appear from Gilead; not to goats that are standing still, for the mind of such persons is so 103clear and empty of thoughts, that those which come appear only for a moment, and for just so long a time as is necessary to produce the effect God would work by them.
5. Thy teeth are as a flock of sheep which go up from the washing, whereof every one beareth twins, and there is not one barren among them.
The Bridegroom repeats to his Bride what He has already once declared, to show her that she has now in full reality what she then had only in the germ. Her teeth are her powers, which are now become so innocent, pure and cleansed, that they are perfectly washed. The flocks which they resemble, are no longer shorn, as they were before, but facility in the use of her powers in an admirable manner, and without confusion, is restored; for the memory now only recalls what the occasion demands, according to the Spirit of God, and without disordered images, and in the right time. They are not barren, being endowed with a double fertility; doing more than they have ever accomplished before, and doing it better.
6. As the rind of a pomegranate are thy cheeks, besides that which is hidden within.
As the rind of the pomegranate is the least part of it, and includes all its excellence, so with this soul, its exterior appears of small account in comparison with what is concealed within. 4242But little can be said of your truly abandoned ones who are wholly lost and dead to self. No one sees or knows them; their dwelling is hidden, and none can tell what are their pleasures or the delights in which they rest at noon. Being thus unknown, they are often, yea, almost always, persecuted by men, even by the best and most holy, in which they rejoice and are exceeding glad, as it manifests in them the life of their beloved Saviour. For, since for thy love of them Thou wert persecuted by Thine own children, as bitterly as though Thou hadst been the enemy of the whole human race, is it not a great honor to the disciple that he should be as his Master?—John of St. Sampson, Contemplations, 16.Holy men even search after persons of this degree of abandonment and cannot discern them, in consequence of the difference of their states. And thus it comes to pass, that they very frequently persecute and outrageously slander them as idle, unknown fellows, whose lives are profitless, according to their judgment. The fingers of these unknown friends of God, in this way often distil the choicest myrrh.—The same, Contemplations, 38. 104 The interior is filled with, the purest charity and the most advanced graces, but hidden under a very common exterior; for God takes pleasure in hiding away the souls He destines for Himself. Men are not worthy to know them, though the angels admire and respect them even under the humblest external form in the world. Those who judge by the outward appearance alone would believe them very ordinary persons, though they are the delight of God.
These are not they who astonish the world by miracles, or the possession of extraordinary gifts; these things are a small matter in their eyes. God hides them for Himself, and is so jealous4343Verily, O Lord, Thou art a jealous God! Thus Thou callest Thyself (Ex. xxxiv. 14). One reason of the jealousy of God is the small number of souls who consecrate themselves to Him without reserve. He cannot bear a rival; hence he takes but little delight in divided souls. But those who are entirely devoted to Him, He loves and regards as His own peculiar property; He exercises all His right over them without being interfered with by their freedom of will, since their abandonment is frank, hearty and perfectly voluntary; but He is also seized with a jealousy proportioned to His love; He cannot abide a spot in them; they are his choice specimens, locked up in His own secret drawers, and not exposed to the curious gaze of an unappreciating world.—Justifications, iii. 57. of them that he will not expose them to the eyes of men, but, on the contrary, He seals them with His seal, as He Himself declares that His Bride is a fountain sealed (ch. iv. 12), whereof He Himself is the seal. But why does He keep her sealed? Because love is as strong as death and jealousy as cruel as the grave (ch. viii. 6). How completely the matter is here expressed, for, as death takes away everything from him whom it holds, so Love snatches everything away from the soul and conceals it in the secret recesses of a living sepulchre. The jealousy of God is as cruel as hell, for it will spare no means whatever to possess itself fully of the Spouse.
I shall be reminded, perhaps, that this soul cannot be so hidden, inasmuch as she is a help to her neighbor. But I reply, that this is the very thing that most subjects her to humiliation, 105God making use of it to render the soul more contemptible because of the contradictions which she must experience. It is true that those who apply to her and are in a state to receive some communication of the grace which is in her, perceive its effects; but besides that, these souls themselves are exceedingly hidden. God generally permits the humble exterior to the chosen soul to offend even those who are made partakers of her grace, so that they often separate themselves from her after God has produced the effect He intended by her means.
The Bridegroom in this treats the Spouse like Himself.—Were not all those whom he had gained for His Father offended because of Him? (Mark xiv. 27). Examine for a moment the life of Christ; was there ever anything more ordinary as to the exterior? Those who accomplish more extraordinary things are copies of those saints of whom Christ said that they should do greater works than He did (John xiv. 12). The souls of whom we now speak are other Christs, which is the reason why we perceive in them less the features of the saints;4444I refer to those more striking and extraordinary features that sometimes illustrate their lives; as to their holiness, that consists simply in the life of Christ in them.—Justifications iii. 64. but if we seek for the marks of the Lord Jesus we shall find them most clearly there. Nevertheless, he is a stumbling-block to the Jews, and to the Greeks foolishness (1 Cor. i. 23). These souls frequently, in their simplicity, offend those who are rather attached to legal forms than to the simplicity of the Gospel, and regard only the rind of the pomegranate without penetrating any further within.
O ye who are thus misled, remember that the pomegranate, to which the Spouse is so aptly compared, has a rind very contemptible in appearance, notwithstanding it contains the most excellent of fruits and the most agreeable both to the eye and the palate. This is the admirable order of charity which the Bridegroom began to introduce into the heart of His Spouse when He brought her into His store-chambers, and which is here finished, the pomegranate being now fully ripened.106
7. There are threescore queens and fourscore concubines, and virgins without number.
The Bridegroom declares that there are chosen souls like queens; others of a lower rank, who participate in his peculiar favors, though they have not the prerogative of sovereigns, and great numbers of souls belonging to Him in the ordinary way and who are beginning to sigh for union with Him; but His Bride surpasses them all in the affection He has for her. O God! to what happiness hast Thou raised Thy Spouse! There are some who appear like queens, elevated above the rest by the splendor of their virtues; there are many others upon whom Thou bestowest Thy caresses, but this Thy Spouse is more to Thee alone than all the others together.
8. My dove, my undefiled, is but one; she is the only one of her mother; she is the choice one of her that bare her. The daughters saw her and blessed her; yea, the queens and the concubines, and they praised her.
Though the primary sense of this verse refers to the ever-blessed Mary and the universal Church, still, as there is nothing attributed to the church as a mystical body, which is not proportionately true of souls as its members, especially when they are perfectly pure; so it may be said that there are souls in every age whom God has elected in a very peculiar manner. He here declares, then, that this soul, in whom the marriage has been consummated by her total annihilation and absolute loss, is a dove in simplicity, and but one, for there are few that resemble her; she is also but one, for she is restored in God to the perfect unity of her origin. She is perfect, but with the perfection of God, and because she is freed from self and disengaged from her hard, cramped and limited nature, from the time that by her entire renunciation she entered into the innocence of God. She is perfect in her interior, by the loss of all self-seeking whatever.
It is to be remarked here, that whatever praises the Bridegroom may have hitherto bestowed upon the Spouse, He has never called her one and perfect until she had entirely sunk into 107His Divine Unity; for these qualities are only to be found in God when the soul is perfected in Him in, a permanent and enduring state.
She is the only one of her mother, because she has lost all the multiplicity of nature and become separate from everything that is natural. She is the choice one of that wisdom that bare her in order that she might be lost in His bosom.
The most interior souls have beheld her; for God ordinarily permits such souls to be a little known, sometimes bestowing some discernment of their state upon other deeply spiritual souls, who are delighted with the sight, and, admiring their perfection, pronounce them blessed. The queens, who are souls high in the esteem of every one, and also those other common souls inferior in merit, contribute also great praises, because they feel the effect of the grace communicated to them.
Though this may seem to contradict what has been said a little way back, there is, in fact, no inconsistency; what is here said to be understood of the Apostolic state of Christ which He received both as King and Savior, on the very spot where a little while after He was executed as a felon.
9. Who is she that cometh forth as the rising morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army in battle-array.
A chorus of the companions of the Bridegroom are here admiring the beauty of His Bride. Who is she, say they, that cometh forth, rising gradually? For it must be understood that the soul, though in union with God, is raised by degrees, and perfected in this divine life until she arrives in the eternal mansions. She rises in God imperceptibly, like the day breaking, until she comes to the perfect day and brightness of noon, which is the glory of Heaven. But this everlasting day has its beginning in this life. She is fair as the moon, for she derives all her beauty from the sun. She is clear as the sun, because she is in union with Christ, being a partaker of His glory and lost with Him in God. But she is terrible and fearful to devils, to sin, to the world, and to self-love, as an army drawn up in order of battle and ready for the fight.108
10. I went down into the garden of nuts to see the fruits of the valley, and to see whether the vine flourished and the pomegranates budded.
The soul is not yet so firmly established in God that she cannot still cast some looks upon self; it is an unfaithfulness, but it is rare and only arises from weakness. The Bridegroom has permitted His bride to commit this slight fault, to show us how much injury is caused by self reflection in the most advanced states. She entered for a moment again into self under the most specious pretexts in the world, to behold the fruits of her annihilation, to see if the vine flourished, if she were advancing, if her charity were fruitful. Does not that appear very natural, right and reasonable?
11. I knew nothing; my soul troubled me on account of the chariots of Aminadab.
I did it, she says, without thought, and not intending to do evil nor to displease my Well-beloved, but no sooner was it done than my soul was in trouble because of the chariots of Aminadab; that is, by thousands and thousands of reflections, that revolved in my head like so many disastrous chariots, which would have accomplished my destruction, had not His hand sustained me.
12. Return, return, O Shulamite! return, return, that we may look upon thee.
The return4545No matter how advanced may be the state of the soul, if it has departed from God, conviction and conversion are as necessary as at the very first.—Justifications, i. 138. of the Spouse is as ready and sincere as her fault had been slight and unintentional, wherefore, her companions did not perceive that she had wandered. The only thing that they observed, and at which they were much astonished was, that scarcely had she finished declaring to them the loveliness and beauty of the Bridegroom before she disappeared from their eyes, because she was then at once admitted to the marriage supper of the Lamb. She thus became so elevated above herself and every other creature, that other souls having entirely 109lost sight of her, beg her to return to them, that they may behold her in her glory and joy as they have seen her in her grief. Return, they cry, O Shulamite! temple of peace, return to instruct us both by thy example and by thy precept, the way we must take to attain the blessedness that thou possessest; return, that thou mayest be our guide, our support, our consolation; return, that thou mayest take us with thee.
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