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VERSE 1. By night on my bed, I sought him whom my soul loveth; I sought him but I found him not.
The soul, finding that the Bridegroom does not grant her a favor which she surely counted on, as he had formerly bestowed it when she did not hope for it, is astonished at his prolonged absence. She seeks Him in her interior, which is her bed, and during the night of faith, but alas! she is sadly surprised not to find Him! She had some reason to seek Him there, since it was there that He discovered Himself to her, and gave her the liveliest conception which she had yet experienced of His character.
But, O Spouse! thou canst not find Him there! Knowest thou not, that He bade thee seek Him no longer in thee but in Himself?
Thou wilt not now find Him anywhere out of Himself.2020
Those who have had little experience may object here, that since it is necessary after all to come forth out of self, in order
to seek God in Himself, it would be a more reasonable direction to bid the beginner seek Him in that way in the first place,
instead of sending him the roundabout way of first seeking Him within and then without. But this would be a great mistake;
for such a one seeking God in God Himself, looks for Him as for something quite distinct and separate, and, as it were, outside
of Himself; he even searches heaven for Him.
In this way, instead of becoming interior and collecting all the forces of his soul, as David did, to call upon God, his strength is dissipated and wasted. As we see the slender and scattered lines of a drawing mutually approaching and strengthening each other as they near the central point, but becoming feeble and indistinct in proportion as they recede from there, so the strength of the soul, whether employed about knowing or loving, the more it is concentrated in its own centre, the greater power does it exhibit of performing its appropriate work. And as these lines, however widely separated, are united in the point of view, so the functions of the soul, diverse and distinct at a distance from the centre, once assembled there, constitute but a single undivided, though not indivisible point, and are endowed with singular power of seeking God.
In order to become interior and spiritual, then, we must begin by seeking God within, by recollection, without which we can never reach the central unity. But when once arrived there, we must depart again, not by returning towards the external multiplicity, the point whence we set out, but by passing through beyond self in order to reach God. For this going forth from self is not effected by the way by which we entered into recollection, but, as it were, by a way leading through one’s self and beyond, from the centre of the creature to the centre of the Creator.
The centre of the soul may be regarded, in short, as a sort of halfway house or inn, by which the traveller must necessarily pass, but, in leaving which, he is not obliged to retrace his steps, but passes onward still by the high road. And as the way to the inn is longer in proportion as we were previously dissipated and removed from our centre; so the further we pass it, the further do we leave self behind, both in sight and feeling. No sooner are we arrived at our centre than we find God, and are invited, as I have said, to come forth from ourselves and pass onward, and then we very really pass into Him; for it is there that He is truly found where are no longer ourselves; the further we journey, the further we advance in Him, and the further we depart from ourselves.
Then our progress in God should be measured by our separation from self; that is, as to our views, feelings, remembrances, self-interest and self-reflections. While the soul is advancing towards its centre, it is wholly absorbed in self-reflection, and the nearer it comes, the more intense is its absorption, though in more simplicity. When, however, it has arrived there, it ceases to behold itself, just as we see everything about us, but not what is in us. But in proportion as it passes away from and beyond itself, it sees less and less of itself, because its face is turned the other way, and it cannot look back. Hence those self-reflections which were useful in the beginning become exceedingly injurious at last. At first, our views must be self-directed and complex; they then become simple and incomplex, without ceasing to have a selfish direction, and then the soul is gifted with a single eye. As the traveller, approaching the inn, which is in full view, has no need of consideration, but fixes his eye steadily upon it, but having entered it, no longer beholds it; so the soul, arrived at its centre, may be said to behold itself no longer, though in fact it has a mode of perception, appropriate to its state. When, however, it has passed beyond itself, it no longer feels nor perceives itself, but the further it advances in God, the less does it discover itself, until at last wholly lost in the abyss of God, it no longer feels, knows, nor discerns anything but Him. Then it is plain that all reflections are hurtful and mortal, for they turn, the soul into the way that leads from God, and would bring it back to self.
Now this passing beyond self is accomplished by means of the surrender of the will, which as sovereign of the powers carries with it the understanding and the memory, which though separate and very diverse powers, are yet one and indivisible in their centre. Now, I say, and it is clear, that this state is attended with a sort of stability, and the more it advances the firmer it grows; for it is evident that he who has passed beyond and left self, is an entirely different person in his functions from him who is yet striving to reach self and this centre; and if the former should endeavor to enter again the latter road, he would find it difficult, if not impossible.
So, then, we see that they who have reached self and passed beyond, must ever put a greater distance between them and it, and they who desire to be converted must continually endeavor to recollect themselves in their centre. To compel a man who has already entered into God, to resume the way and the practices by which he reached his position, would be like endeavoring to force the food which has been digested and passed into the intestines to return by the mouth, a result which only arrives as the sequel of horrible pains and the forerunner of death. While the food remains in the stomach, however, it may be discharged by vomiting, just as we, while still continuing in self, may return upon our ways with greater or less ease, according as we are more or less advanced towards the centre; but afterward the thing is far more difficult and almost impossible—Justifications, ii. 57. Depart from self in all haste that thou mayest be no 60longer but in Him, and there thou wilt find Him! O wonderful stratagem of the Bridegroom! When he is most enamored of His Well-beloved, He flies from her with the greatest cruelty; but it is cruelty full of love, and without it the soul would never depart from self, and consequently would never be lost in God.
2. I will rise now and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth: sought him, but I found him not.
Behold a miracle performed by the absence of a God! How many times had He invited His beloved to rise from her repose, and she could not do it? He entreated her with the tenderest expressions, but she was so intoxicated with the peace and tranquillity which she enjoyed, that she could not be induced to leave them.61
O faithful soul! the repose enjoyed in thyself is but a shadow of that which thou wilt find in God! But it was impossible to arouse her; but now that she no longer finds her Well-beloved in her resting place, O, she exclaims, I will rise now; this couch, which was once paradise to me, is now a hell, since my beloved is gone; and with Him hell would be a paradise.
The city, this world which I formerly hated, shall be the field of my seeking. The soul, not yet fully instructed, however enamored she may appear, and justly eager for the possession of the Bridegroom, her final end, yet here talks as a child. She is so weak, that she cannot at first seek God in Himself; although she does not find Him within herself, she must seek Him in every creature, in a thousand places where He is not, and being thus dispersed abroad, she is occupied with the creature under pretext of seeking the Creator. She seeks, nevertheless; for her heart loves and can find no rest but in the object of 62its love, but she finds nothing, because God has not departed from her to be sought in other creatures. He desires to be sought in Himself, and when she shall have arrived there she will discover another truth, the beauty of which will entrance her, that her Well-beloved is everywhere and in everything, and that everything is He, so that she can distinguish nothing from Him who is in all places without being enclosed in any.
3. The watchmen that go about the city found me, to whom I said, Saw ye Him whom my soul loveth?
Since I have not found my Beloved in any mortal creature, I have sought Him among those happy spirits that go about the city to guard it; they found me because they are ever on the watch, These are the watchmen (Isa. lxii. 6) whom God has set upon 63the walls of Jerusalem, and who shall never hold their peace day nor night. I asked them news of my Well-beloved, of Him for whom I burn with love; but though they themselves possess Him, they could not give Him to me. Methinks I see Mary Magdalene (John xx. 12, 13,) who, not finding Christ in the sepulchre, seeks Him everywhere, asking angels and men, but none can give tidings of the Beloved but Himself.
4. It was but a little that I passed by them when I found Him whom my soul loveth. I held Him; neither will I let Him go until I bring Him into my mother’s house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me.
The soul having thus come forth from self and left all creatures behind, finds her Well-beloved, who manifests Himself to her with new charms; which causes her to believe that the blessed moment for the consummation of the divine marriage is at hand, and that she is about to enter into permanent union. She exclaims in a transport of joy, I have found Him whom my soul loveth, I embrace Him and will never let Him go. For she thinks she can retain Him, and that He only left her on account of some fault she had committed. I will embrace Him so closely, she continues, and will attach myself to Him with so much fidelity, that I will never let Him go until I have brought Him into my mother’s house; that is, unto the bosom of God, which is the chamber of her that conceived me, since He is my source and origin.
But what language is this, O foolish soul? It is His part to take thee there, not thine to lead Him? But love believes everything possible, as Mary was persuaded that she could carry away the body of the Lord (John xx. 15). The intense desire which she feels to be there, causes her to forget that she must be there with Him and clothed with Him, and she says she will lead Him there.
5. I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes and the hinds of the fields, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till she please.
The Bridegroom, full of compassion, after this first trial of the Spouse (the first deep, interior trial since she rose up to 64come forth), again communicates his essential union. The poor soul is so carried away with the possession of a treasure which seems to her infinitely greater than before, since it has cost her so dear, that she falls asleep, swoons away, is lost, and seems as if expiring in the arms of love.
We may gather from this that, though the soul suffers greatly in the search after her Beloved, its pain is but a shadow in comparison with the bliss arising from the possession of its adorable object. The same thing is asserted by Saint Paul, who tells us that the greatest sufferings of this life are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us (Rom. viii. 8). Her Well-beloved will not have her waked, because it would hinder her death and retard her happiness.
6. Who is she that goeth up by the wilderness, like a pillar of smoke, from the incense of myrrh and frankincense and all powders of the perfumer?
The friends of the Bride beholding her adorned with so many perfections, and so filled with grace from the visit of the Bridegroom, testify their astonishment by these expressions: “Who is she that goeth up by the wilderness, like a pillar of smoke?”—The Bride becomes so purified in the arms of her Beloved, that she issues from them, like a subtle vapor almost consumed by the fire of love. She is like a smoke that tends directly upward, in consequence of her uprightness and righteousness, and exceedingly subtle, to show that she is already wholly spiritual. This smoke is composed of the choicest odors of all the virtues; but it is worthy of remark, that they are gums that melt and powders that are loose and not solid; solidity and consistence are no longer her part. And whence cometh this upward tending, odoriferous vapor? It cometh from the wilderness of faith. Whither goeth it? To its rest in God.
7. Behold his bed, which is Solomon’s; threescore valiant men are about it, of the valiant of Israel.
The Spouse, feeling already quite disengaged from self, thinks that there is but one thing more to be done; and this is true; 65but alas! what obstacles are yet to be overcome before it is effected. This is to go to God, who is the bed of the true Solomon. But to reach it, threescore of the valiant men of Israel must be passed through. These valiant warriors are the Divine Attributes who are about the royal bed, and prevent the approach of such as are not in a state of perfect annihilation. They are the most valiant in Israel, because it is in these Attributes that Israel, that is, the contemplative soul, finds its strength, and it is also by their means that the power of God is manifested to men.
8. They all hold swords, being expert in war; every man hath his sword upon his thigh because of fear in the night.
They all hold swords to engage in combat with the soul which, by a secret presumption, attributes to self what belongs to God only; and this causes them to exclaim with united voice; Who is like unto God? The Divine Righteousness is the first that comes to fight with and destroy the self-righteousness of the creature, and then comes strength to bring to naught the power of man, and causing him to enter by experience of his own infinite weakness into the strength of the Lord (Psalm lxxi. 16), teaches him to dismiss all thought except of the righteousness of God. His providence assails human foresight; and thus with all the attributes. They are all armed, for it is necessary that the soul should be destroyed in these matters before being admitted to the bed of Solomon, becoming a bride and reaching the finishing and consummation of its marriage. These great warriors have every one his sword upon his thigh. This sword is nothing else than the word of God, deep, searching and effectual, discovering to the soul its secret presumption, and at the same time destroying it.
This is the uncreated Word, which only manifests itself in the depths of the soul, that it may there operate what it expresses. It is no sooner declared, than, like a stroke of lightning, it reduces to ashes all that opposes it. It operated in the same way when it became incarnate (Psalm xxxiii. 9). For He 66 spake and it was done, and impressed upon His humanity the characters of His Omnipotence. It entered into the abasement of the creature, to bring down its loftiness, and into its weakness to destroy its strength; it took the form of a sinner that it might annihilate self-righteousness. It does the same in the soul; it abases, weakens and covers it with wretchedness.
But why does the Scripture say that they are thus armed because of fear in the night? By this we are to understand, that as self-appropriation is what keeps the soul in darkness, and is the cause of all its melancholy nights, the Divine Attributes are armed against it, that it may not usurp that which belongs only to God.
9. King Solomon made himself a chariot of the wood of Lebanon.
The Son of God, the King of Glory, made Himself a chariot of His Humanity, to which He became united in the Incarnation, intending to be seated upon it to all eternity, and to make of it a triumphal car, upon which He will ride with pomp and splendor in the sight of all His creatures. It is made of the wood of Lebanon, because He was descended, according to the flesh, from Patriarchs, Prophets, and Kings, eminent for their sanctity and character. The Word of God is thus in man, as upon the throne of His Majesty, as St. Paul declares (2 Cor. v. 19) that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.
Christ constructs for Himself in every soul a throne, which He adorns with great magnificence, to become the place of His abode, as well as of His repose and eternal delights; after having bought it with His blood and sanctified it by His grace, that He may reign there as a Sovereign. For as God reigns in Jesus Christ, in the same way Christ reigns in pure hearts, where He finds nothing that either resists or is offensive to Him. This is appointing us a kingdom (Luke xxii. 29), and making us partakers of His royal state, as His Father had appointed Him a kingdom and shared His glory with Him.
This throne of the King of Kings, then, is made of the wood of Lebanon. The foundation of the spiritual building is the 67natural ground of man, which is not inaptly represented by the height and value of the trees of Lebanon, inasmuch as it is derived from God Himself, and is made in His image and likeness.
The Spouse of this Canticle is set forth as a model of this august throne, to every other spouse of the Celestial Bridegroom, that they may be animated in the pursuit of a similar felicity. She herself describes the throne, having received new light to scan it with more penetration, in the essential though transitory union, with which she has been just favored. Hence she adds,
10. He made the pillars thereof of silver, the couch of gold, the ascent thereto of purple; and the midst thereof he strewed with love for the daughters of Jerusalem.
The pillars of the holy Humanity of Jesus Christ are of silver; His soul with its powers and His body with its senses being of a finished purity well set forth by the most refined and brilliant silver. His couch, which is the Divinity itself, in which Christ subsists in the person of the Word, is clearly expressed by the couch of this mysterious chariot being made all of gold, which is often put in the Scriptures for God. The ascent thereto is adorned with purple, whereby it is signified, that although the bosom of God the Father, which is the dwelling place of the Word, was His by right of His eternal generation, and though He could have no other, even after becoming man by the decree of the Divine Righteousness, to which He voluntarily submitted; still He could not reascend to His Father, to enter into the fulness of His glory, except by the purple of His blood. Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory! (Luke xxiv. 26). The midst of this triumphal car is adorned with ornaments of great value, well signified by love as being the greatest and most precious of all. For is it not Jesus Christ that contains all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge and the fulness of the Godhead bodily? (Col. ii. 3, 9). The Holy Spirit was not given by measure to Him (John iii. 34). The Holy Spirit, then, fills the midst of this majestic throne; since 68He is the Love of the Father and of the Son, and thus the love with which God loves men; and as He is the union of the Divine Persons, so He is the link that binds pure souls to Christ. The Divine Solomon has made all this for the daughters of Jerusalem, who are His elect, for whom He has done and suffered all.
In the sanctuary which God prepares for Himself in His beloved, there are, in the same way, pillars of silver, which are the gifts of the Holy Spirit, founded upon Divine Grace, which is like pure and shining silver, serving them for material and foundation. The couch of it is of gold; for a soul that is fit to serve as a throne and royal couch for Christ should have no other foundation than God Himself, and must be devoid of every created support. Its ascent thereto is of purple; for if it is only through much tribulation that we can enter into the kingdom of God (Acts xiv. 22), and if we must suffer with Christ, in order to reign with Him (2 Tim. ii. 12), in a much higher degree must this be true of those who are called to the first places in the interior kingdom, and who are to be honored in this life with the nuptials of the heavenly Bridegroom, than it is of the ordinary sort of Christians who leave the world, in a salvable state truly, but loaded with debts and imperfections. The amount of crosses, reproaches and destructions suffered by such souls is inconceivable. And lastly, the midst thereof is strewed with love, since these living thrones of the Most High being full of love, are also adorned with all the fruits and ornaments of love, such as good works, merits, the fruits of the Spirit, and the practice of the purest and most solid virtues.
Behold your calling, O ye daughters of Jerusalem! interior Brides, devoted souls! Behold what the King of Kings, the King of Peace has merited for you and offers to bestow upon you, if you will give Him your love! It is upon this precious foundation that the Bridegroom and the Bride rest the magnificent praises which they mutually interchange in the succeeding chapters.
11. Go forth, O ye daughters of Zion, and behold King Solomon with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart.
Christ invites all interior souls, who are the daughters of Zion, to go forth out of themselves and their imperfections to behold King Solomon with the crown of Glory Bestowed upon Him by God Himself. The Divine Nature is in the light of a mother to the human, crowns it, and is at the same time its diadem. It crowns Christ in the day of His espousals with a glory as sublime as it is infinite and unfading. But what is the Lamb’s espousal day? It is the day on which He ascended up into Heaven, where He was received at the right hand of the Father, a day of eternal gladness of heart. Behold, Him, daughters of Zion! arrayed in all His divine conquests; for He desires to share them with you.
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