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1. Let my beloved come into his garden and eat the fruit of his appletrees. I am come into my garden, my sister Spouse; I have gathered my myrrh with my spices; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk; eat, O friends, drink and be drunken, O dearly beloved.
The Spouse, who, as her Well-beloved has declared, is a beautiful garden always full of flowers and fruits, earnestly begs Him to come there to enjoy its delights and to eat His pleasant fruits. It is as though she were to say, I desire neither beauty nor fertility except for Thee; come, then, into Thy garden and possess all things, partake of and use them for the advantage of favored souls, otherwise I deserve them not.—The Well-beloved consents to the desire of the Spouse; He desires indeed to come and partake of everything, but He would have the Bride present to see that He Himself first eats from the table He spreads for His friends. I have gathered, He says, My myrrh; but it is for thee, My Spouse, for it is thy sustenance, which is nothing but bitterness; for suffering never ceases in this mortal life. Nevertheless, this myrrh is never alone, but is always accompanied by very pleasant spices.—The perfume is for the Bridegroom; the bitter myrrh for the Spouse. As for me, says the Bridegroom, I have eaten My sweets, I have drunk wine and milk, I have fed upon the sweets of thy love.
Enchanted with the generosity of His Bride, He invites all his friends and His children to come and satisfy their hunger and quench their thirst beside His Bride, who is a garden laden with fruits and watered with milk and honey. A soul of this strength has abundant supply for the spiritual needs of all sorts of persons, and can bestow excellent advice upon all who apply to her.80
This is also true of the church which invites Christ to come and eat of the fruit of her appletrees, which is simply to collect the fruit of His merits by the sanctification of His predestinated, as He will do it at His second coming. The Bridegroom replies to His beloved Spouse, that He did come into his garden when He became incarnate; that He gathered his myrrh with his spices when He suffered the bitterness of His passion, which was accompanied by infinite merits, and sent a perfume up to God the Father. I have eaten My honeycomb, He adds, with My honey. This is to be understood of his actions and teaching; for He practised what He preached, and ordained nothing for us which He did not first Himself put in action, meriting for us, by the very things which He practised, the grace for what He requires of us. Thus the life of Christ was like a honeycomb, the divine order and sweetness of which constituted His meat and drink, and His happiness, in the view of the glory which His Father would receive from it, and the advantage it would be to men. I have drunk My wine with My milk. What wine is this, O Saviour divine, which Thou hast drunk and with which Thou wert so deeply intoxicated as to entirely forget Thyself? It was the overpowering love He bore to men which caused Him to forget that He was God, and think only on their salvation. He was so intoxicated with it, that it is said of Him by a Prophet, that He should be loaded with reproaches, such was the strength of His love. He drank wine with His milk, when He drank His own blood in the supper, which, under the semblance of wine, was virgin milk. The milk, again, was the influx of the Divinity of Christ into His humanity.
This Divine Saviour invites thither all His elect, who desire to be nourished like Him upon suffering, reproaches and ignominy, on the love of His example and His pure doctrine, which will be delicious wine and milk for them; wine, which shall give them strength and courage to perform every thing required of them, and milk, which shall delight them by the sweetness of the doctrine that shall be taught them.
We are, then, all invited to hear and imitate Jesus Christ.
2. I sleep, but my heart waketh; it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled; for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night.
The soul that watches for its God, experiences that, although its exterior appears dead, and, as it were, stunned and benumbed, like a body in a deep sleep, still the heart constantly retains a secret and hidden vigor, which preserves it in union with God. Those souls which are far advanced, frequently experience, in addition, a very surprising thing, that often, during the night, they are but half asleep, as it were, and that God seems to operate more powerfully in them in the night and during sleep, than during the day.
While thus asleep, the soul hears clearly the voice of the Well-beloved, who knocks at the door. He desires to make Himself
heard; He says, Open to Me, My sister; I am come to thee, My love, whom I have chosen above all others to be My Bride; My dove in simplicity, My perfect one, My beautiful, My undefiled. Reflect that My head is fitted with what I have suffered for thee during the darkness of My mortal life, and that for thy sake I have been saturated with
the drops of the night of the most cruel persecutions. I come now to thee, to make thee partaker of My reproaches, My ignominy, and My confusion.2525
Thus it appears that the, whole course of the soul is but a constant succession of crosses, ignominy and confusion. There
are many persons who abandon themselves to certain crosses, but not to all; who can never prevail upon themselves to be willing
that their reputation in the sight of men should be taken away; this is the very point God is here aiming at.
The soul, too, feels an extreme repugnance to obeying the command of God to apply herself without; she has become fond of her inward retreat. Nevertheless, it is quite certain that she will not have to bear these crosses unless she leave her solitude. When God intends that a soul shall really die to self, He sometimes permits in it certain apparent, but not real, false steps, by the effect of which its reputation among men is destroyed.
I once knew an interior person to whom a host of most terrible crosses was foreshown, and among them the loss of reputation, to which she was exceedingly attached. She could not bring herself to give this up, and begged of God any other cross but that, thus formally refusing her consent. She herself told me that she had ever since remained in the same position. So fatal was this reservation to her progress, that she had been favored by our Lord with neither humiliations nor graces since that time.—Justifications, ii. 200. Thou hast, hitherto, tasted but the bitterness of the 82cross, thou hast not yet experienced its ignominy and confusion. One is quite different from the other, as thou art about to learn from, a terrible experience.
3. I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?2626 The soul cannot remain long in this state of nakedness and spoliation, and hence the apostle (Col. iii. 9, 10) informs us that after being stripped of the old Adam, we must put on the new man Christ Jesus. Having renounced and abandoned everything, even our attachment to things good in themselves, and having learned to will neither this nor that, nor anything but what the Divine Will proposes to us, we must now be clothed again with the same affections, but no longer because they are pleasant, expedient, or fitted to gratify our self love, but because they are pleasing to God, expedient for His honor, and fitted to advance His glory.—St. Francis of Sales, on the Love of God. Book ix., ch. 16.
The Spouse perceiving the intention of the Bridegroom to make her a partaker of His ignominy, is sadly fearful; and is now as much dejected at her threatened disgrace as she was before bold and courageous in accepting the cross. There are many who are content to bear the cross; but there is scarcely a single one that is willing to bear its infamy.
The soul is apprehensive of two things, when her possible ignominy is presented; one, that she may be reinvested with what
she has lately thrown aside, to wit, self and her natural defects;2727
Defects of nature, not voluntary transgressions.
In order to purify the spirit, God makes use of what John of the Cross styles the obscure night of the spirit, in which he permits the defects which the soul supposed vanished and forever gone, to reappear in strongly marked features on the surface. I refer to natural faults of temper, hasty words or acts, caprices of conduct, rebellious thoughts. God then stripping the soul of its facility in practising the divine virtues and good works, all its imperfections reappear, and being abandoned to itself if suffers on every side. God lays His hand heavily upon it; the creatures slander it, and subject it to the strangest persecutions; its own thoughts are thoughts of rebellion, and the devils besiege it besides. It is by this terrible array of crucifying instruments that the soul is made to succumb and yield to death; if any one of them were missing, the part not thus assaulted would servo the soul as a refuge and reprieve, and would continue it in its life of self.
These defects are not voluntary; nor are the thousand wretched weaknesses that assault the soul and make it miserable; but of this the soul is not always conscious, as the absence of God leads her to think that her faults are the cause. Does she turn towards Him? She finds herself cast off and experiences nothing but His indignation; does she look at self within? temptations, wretchedness, poverty, imperfection; does she look imploringly towards the creature? they are thorns that pierce and repel her. She is suspended, as it were, at a distance from God and every creature, and to complete her misery, He commonly thrusts these poor suffering ones at such times out of doors, i.e., He makes it necessary in the order of His Providence that they should leave their solitude and mix in the commerce of the world. Their greatest torment is, that, while they ardently desire to be wholly detached from the creature, they find their hearts continually going out after it, in spite of their utmost exertions. But now at last, when the creature and their own defects, the strength of God’s arm and their experience of their own weakness, and the malice of men and devils, have worked out the purposes of God, He delivers them, at a single stroke, from every foe, and receives perfectly pure into Himself. Those who will not consent to this crucifying process, must be content to remain all their life time in self and imperfection.
The Spouse means here to explain, that in the beginning the soul suffers persecutions and calumny with resolution, from an inward and powerful sustaining consciousness that they are undeserved; but here this is no longer the case. As it finds itself filled with thoughts of inclination for the creature, it supposed that it has in reality what it only has in thought. In consequence, it esteems itself the most miserable creature in the world, is persuaded that it suffers deservedly all its agonies, and is covered with the most inexpressible confusion and humiliation. It is convinced that there is no one so wicked as itself, and the greater its former detachment from the creature and from spiritual enjoyments and its buoyancy, the more it now feels its wretchedness, its ties to earth and its heavy weight, and all in so distressing a degree that it is thrown into an agony a thousand times a day. It seems to have an appetite for every pleasure and to long to enjoy them all, though, in fact, it shuns them more than ever.—Justifications, ii. 201. the other, lest she should become defiled in the affections 83of the creature. I have put off my coat, says she, self, my faults, and all the residue of the old Adam that was in me; how can I put it on again? And yet I cannot conceive of anything else that can cause my humiliation and confusion; for as to the contempt put upon me by the creature, without my having caused it by my own fault, it is a pleasure and a glory to me, trusting that it will glorify my God and render me more acceptable in His sight. I have washed and purifed my affections, so that there is nothing in me that is not wholly devoted to my Well-beloved, how shall I again defile them by commerce with the creature?2828I remarked in the preceding note, that at this time the soul was thrust out into active life: that is, that its situation or unforeseen circumstances obliged it to mingle with the world. It had hitherto withdrawn into solitude, painfully separating itself from the creature, and it is now very distressing to return to them again. Still, did not God by his Providence compel it to come forth, it would not be the subject of calumny, as it would be unknown; neither would it experience a revival of its affection for the creatures, as they would not be brought before it; nor could it ever be made sufficiently acquainted with its own weakness and its absolute dependence upon grace, nor recognize that it can expect nothing from itself, but must wait upon God for everything, must trust in Him, despair of itself, hate self, and quit it forever. This pain and suffering is not experienced by those who know not God, nor by those who give themselves up to license; they cannot feel the sting of an evil to which they voluntarily subject themselves, quenching the Holy Spirit, giving themselves up to all sorts of irregularities, forgetting God and becoming wickedness itself. The longer they live, the more depraved they become, while the others, after having been tempted, proved and tried, are deemed worthy on account of their unconscious fidelity and deep humility, of being received into God.—Justifications, ii. 203.
Ah, poor blinded one! what wouldst thou ward off? The Bridegroom only desired to try thy fidelity and see if thou wert in truth ready to do all His will. He was despised and rejected of men (Isa. liii.), esteemed stricken, smitten of God and afflicted, and was numbered with the transgressors, He who was innocence itself; and thou, who art so loaded with guilt, yet canst not bear to be reproached with it! Ah! wilt thou not suffer severely for thy resistance?
4. My beloved put in his hand through the opening, and my bowels thrilled at his touch.
The Well-beloved, notwithstanding the resistance of his Bride,2929It is important to bear in mind here what was said in the beginning, that there is a voluntary resistance which puts an absolute stop to the work of God, because he cannot violate man’s freedom of will, and that there is also a resistance of nature, which lies indeed in the will, but without being voluntary, it is the repugnance of nature to its own destruction. But whatever may be the extent of this repugnance, and how great soever may be the rebellion of nature against its own annihilation, God does not cease His effectual working to that end, taking advantage of the consecration the soul has made of itself and the total abandonment which it has never withdrawn, and does not now withdraw, its will remaining submissive and subdued to God, notwithstanding the rebellion in its feelings. It is this abandonment, this submission of the will, which is concealed in the very depths of the soul and is sometimes unrecognized by it, which I have called the passage of the hand of God; for it is by means of it that He is able to continue His purifying operations in us, without violating our freedom.—Justifications, ii. 205—i. 7. puts in his hand by a little opening which yet remains to Him, that is, a remnant of abandonment, in spite of the repugnance of the soul to abandon herself so absolutely. A soul in this degree has a depth of submission to every will of God that will refuse him nothing; but when he unfolds his plans in 85detail,3030When I speak of God’s unfolding His plans in detail, we must not understand that He points out to the soul such and such things to be renounced and sacrificed; not at all. I have often said that, with God, speaking is doing, and so here, He only explains his design by putting the soul into the crucible of the most severe trials, as will be seen. He brings it to the point of sacrificing to Him not only its possessions, but its entire being, and not only for time, but for eternity. And how is this sacrifice accomplished? By an absolute despair of itself, which James of Jesus calls a holy despair, because it takes away every support in the creature and forces it into an unconditional abandonment of itself into the hands of God. For we must remember that the more we despair of self, the more we trust in God, though always in a way recognized by the intellect; the further removed we are from certainty and a faith resting on sight, the more deeply we enter into the faith of God, stripped of every support; the more we hate self the better we love God. Whenever God takes anything away from the soul, it is a sacrifice; but the last sacrifice of all, the one which I am in the habit of describing as the pure sacrifice, is that made by the soul, when finding itself abandoned of God, of self and of the creature, it cries out to Him, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me? (Matt. xxvii. 46), and immediately adds with the Lord Jesus, Into Thy hands I commend my spirit (Luke xxiii. 46). This was the entire and absolute sacrifice of Himself, and it is this surrender of the whole of self for time and eternity which I call the last sacrifice; after this, those further words of the Lord Jesus, It is finished (John xix. 30), announce the completion of the soul’s sacrifice, and close the scene. and using the rights He has acquired over her, calls for the last renunciation and the extremest sacrifices, then it is that all her bowels thrill at His touch; and she finds trouble where she anticipated none. This difficulty3131All our troubles spring from our resistances, and these latter from our attachments; the more we torment ourselves when in suffering, the sharper it becomes; but if we surrender ourselves to it more and more, and permit the crucifying process to go on undisturbed, it is much softened. The soul only becomes acquainted with its hindrances as they are removed.—Justifications, ii. 207. arises from the fact that she was attached to something, without being aware of it. All her nature is in a tremor at this touch, for it is painful, and causes the most exquisite anguish to the soul, as was experienced by 86the most patient of men, when, after having suffered the most inconceivable ills without complaint, he could not refrain from crying out when the finger of God was laid upon him, Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me (Job xix. 21). Thus the Spouse trembles at the touch of God.
How jealous art Thou, O Divine Spouse, that Thy bride should do all Thy will, since a simple excuse that seemed so just offends
Thee so deeply! Couldst Thou not have hindered so dear and so faithful a Spouse from offering this resistance?3232
The resistance here spoken of is of two kinds, which have respect to the demands made by God in the preceding verses. We have
heard the voice of the Bridegroom, saying to His Spouse, Open to Me, My sister Spouse! for I am heavy with the drops of My passion. The soul then sees clearly that He has come to her, loaded with grief to make
her a partaker of His suffering; for His addresses are painful impressions, produced by Himself in her, of all possible grief,
attended by all conceivable weakness; for if she could be strong in her suffering, she would bear it gladly. God opens to
her the possibility of loss of reputation and of slanderous persecutions, and follows it up with the reality; He accompanies
these troubles with a sense of her own innumerable frailties and wretchedness, an apparent loss of virtue, or rather of strength
and facility for good works, so that she is covered with inconceivable confusion and distress. For while God lays His own
hand heavily upon the interior, He delivers the exterior up to calumnies, to the malice of men and often of the devil, to
whom He gives unrestricted power over the body, a thought enough to make one shudder. Ordinarily, before delivering the outward
over to the power of the enemy, He infuses such an overwhelming admiration of His justice, and so urgent a desire that its
claims should be satisfied, not only in regard to its own sins but to those of others also, that it is almost overcome. Then,
the soul, without specification or reserve, and without any distinct view, surrenders itself up to the rigors of the Divine
Justice, upon which God takes it at its word. While the trial lasts, it feels an extreme rebellion against the suffering;
it can find no trace of abandonment within; it cries with all its strength for deliverance. In the moments of calm which sometimes
appear, its appreciation and love of the Divine Justice returns, and it cannot refrain from renewing its sacrifice at the
altar of the same Justice, until the tempest recommences. Then it forgets again its sacrifice and its love of Justice, and
devoured by its repugnances seems to experience the pangs of death.
At other times, before subjecting the soul to trials, God sets before it without detail the most extreme sufferings, and requires its consent. Some souls refuse, not being able to yield the sacrifice; some absolutely, others for a few days only; and their resistance causes them horrible torments, especially such as had previously been yielding and obedient, and were unconsciously sullied by a secret pride in their faithfulness in suffering, and in never having refused anything to God, however exacting His requirements.
God permits the soul to resist the sacrifice upon the Cross, and to feel this repugnance to receiving a Bridegroom covered with blood and steeped in grief. But souls of this stamp seldom resist long. The resistance was necessary to convince them of their frailty and to prove to them how far they are from possessing the courage they fondly imagined. There are some of them, who, after having had an exquisitely pure experience of the delights of love, find themselves exceedingly feeble when Love presents its crucifying demands; and if they have previously been faithful, the pain of the spiritual impurity contracted by this resistance, causes them great suffering.—Justifications, ii. 208. But it was necessary for her perfection. The Bridegroom permits the presence of the fault, that He may punish, and at the same time purge her from that complacency in her own purity and innocence which still remained, and from the repugnance which she felt at being stripped of her own righteousness; for though she knew perfectly well that her righteousness belonged to the Bridegroom, she was still somewhat attached to it, and appropriated some of the credit of it to herself.
5. I rose up to open to my beloved; my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers were bathed with the choicest myrrh.
No sooner does the soul perceive her fault than she hastens to repent, and to rise up, by a renewal of her abandonment and an extension of her sacrifice. It is not done, however, without pain and bitterness; the inferior part and the whole of nature are seized with sadness and affright; all her actions even, are rendered more painful and bitter; but the bitterness is far beyond anything she has yet experienced.
6. I withdrew the bolt of my door for my Beloved; but he had turned aside and was gone. My soul melted when he spake; I sought him, and found him not; I called him, but he gave me no answer.
This is as though the soul were to say, I have removed the barrier which hindered my total loss and the consummation of my marriage; for that can only take place after total loss. I have therefore removed this barrier by the most courageous 88abandonment and the purest sacrifice3333 Consent to damnation but not to sin. The sacrifice here referred to is the giving up of the hope of eternal life. The soul seems abandoned of God and delivered over to the rage of Satan; believing itself lost, it relinquishes its hope of salvation. After making this sacrifice, it experiences a few moments of repose, which induce it to believe that it is restored to the favor of God, but, on the contrary, He thrusts it down into the spiritual hell. The sacrifice is pure, because its motive is excess of love, and it is accompanied by the abandonment of every selfish interest; for the soul prefers hell to sin, and thus it does not sin, though it suffers greatly from the belief that it does. The extremity of its pain at this thought is a sufficient evidence that it does not offend God. How many times does it exclaim in its vehemence: Destroy me, but suffer me not to sin! Others fear hell, because it is the punishment of sin; this soul demands that it may be sent to hell rather than be suffered to sin. It thinks it is guilty of all the blasphemies that are injected into its mind; its struggles augment the evil which is only to be diminished by resignation and patience.—Justifications, i. 9. that ever was beheld.—I have opened3434This opening is a renewed abandonment; the resistance lately exhibited having interrupted its course, the soul must make a new and express act of abandonment. God always exacts this, and it marks that the soul has been unfaithful, since it has need to turn again and renew its overt and perceptible acts.—Justifications, ii. 213. to my Beloved, thinking that He would come in and heal the grief He had caused by His touch; but alas! the blow would be too mild if the remedy were so promptly applied! He hides, He flies, He is turned aside, and is gone; He leaves to His afflicted Spouse nothing but the wound He had inflicted, the pain of her fault, and the impurity she conceives herself to have contracted in rising.
The goodness of the Bridegroom, nevertheless, is so great, that, though He hides Himself, He does not cease to bestow great
favors upon His friends; and the greater, as the privations are longer and more severe. Thus did He to His Spouse, who was
now in a new and most favorable state of mind, though she knew it not. Her soul melted when He spake, and by this softening she lost those hard and unyielding characteristics that prevented the consummation of the spiritual
marriage, so that she is now wholly prepared to flow sweetly into her Original.3535
My heart, says David, speaking in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross, my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels (Psalm xxii. 14). The heart of the Saviour, that Oriental pearl, precious above all others, and of inestimable value, cast into an unspeakably
corrosive sea of bitterness in the day of His passion, melted within Him, was dissolved and ran away in anguish under the
pressure of such intolerable agonies.
But love is stronger than death, and can touch the heart and soften and melt it more quickly than any other power. My soul melted when He spake, says the holy Spouse; and what does she mean to express by this but that her soul was no longer contained within herself, but had flowed towards her Divine Lover. God commanded Moses to speak to the rock and it should bring forth water (Numb. xx. 8); what wonder, then, if when He Himself speaks softly, the soul of His Spouse should melt within her. Balsam is naturally so thick that it will neither pour nor flow, and the more closely and the longer it is kept the thicker it becomes, until it is found at last red, hard and transparent; but by heat it is dissolved and rendered fluid. Love had liquefied the Bridegroom, and hence the Spouse calls Him an oil poured forth; and now her turn has come, and she proclaims herself as melted with love. My soul, says she, ran down while my Beloved spake. The love of the Bridegroom was in her heart and under her breasts, like new wine, exceeding strong, which cannot be restrained within its vat, but runs over on every side.—St. Francis of Sales, on the Love of God. Book vi., ch. 12.
I sought Him, but I found Him not; I called Him, but He gave me no answer! O inconceivable affliction!
7. The watchmen that went about the city found me; they smote me, they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took away my veil from me.
Poor, suffering Spouse! never has anything like this occurred before; for hitherto the Bridegroom kept thee; thou hast securely dwelt under His shadow; thou wert in assurance in His arms; but since he has departed by thy fault, ah! what has happened! Thou thoughtedst thou hadst already suffered much by the numerous trials to which He had subjected thy fidelity; but they were a small matter in comparison with what remains to be suffered. What thou hast suffered with Him was but the shadow of suffering, and thou hadst no reason to expect any less. Thinkest thou to espouse a God, covered with wounds, torn with nails and despoiled of everything, without being treated in the same manner? The soul finds herself smitten and wounded of them that kept the walls of the city; they who had not 90hitherto dared to attack her, and who nevertheless incessantly watched her, now take their time to smite her. Who are these watchmen? They are the ministers of God’s justice;3636These ministers of God’s justice are the devils, to whom He sometimes delivers over souls to be tormented. This happens sometimes especially to those who have wavered in their abandonment, and have made a similar resistance to God to that of the Spouse. This trial, joined to the experience of their own wretchedness, strips them of the support they had in their own righteousness; their own righteousness, remember; that is, the appropriation they had made of the righteousness and fidelity manifested in them, as their own. This appropriating the things of God to themselves must pass away wholly, and all righteousness be confessed to belong to Him alone. By the uncertainty in which they are placed as to their own salvation by the view of their wretchedness, they are caused to look only to the righteousness of God; they recognize His all and their own nothingness; His omnipotence and their own weakness; and they are thus established in an abandonment that is never afterwards shaken.—Justifications, ii. 215. they wound her and take away that covering so dear to her, the veil of her own righteousness.
Ah, miserable Spouse! what wilt thou now do in thy pitiable state? The Bridegroom will have nothing more to do with thee after so sad an accident, which has subjected thee to the humiliation of being maltreated by soldiers, of being wounded by them, and even of leaving thy veil, thy principal ornament, in their hands! If thou continuest still to seek thy Beloved, thou wilt be called mad to present thyself before Him in such a plight, and still if thou dost not search for Him thou wilt die of longing; thou art truly in a pitiable case!
8. I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved, that ye tell him that I am sick of love.
True love has no eyes for self.3737I have seen three pious men injuriously treated. The first buried his sufferings in silence, through fear of the Divine Righteousness. The second rejoiced on his own account, hoping for the recompense of reward, but was afflicted for him that had done him wrong. The third, entirely forgetful of self, wept at the injury which his oppressor had inflicted upon himself by wrong doing. Behold here three worthy champions in the lists of virtue! one impelled by fear, another stimulated by the hope of reward, and a third inspired by the disinterested breathings of perfect love.—St. John Climachus, Sacred Ladder, Degree viii., art. 28. This poor afflicted Spouse 91forgets her still bleeding wounds, she forgets her loss, she does not even refer to it; she thinks solely upon Him whom she loves, and she seeks Him with so much the more perseverance as she finds more obstacles in the way. She calls upon enlightened souls and says to them, O ye, to whom my Beloved will no doubt reveal Himself, I charge you by Himself to tell Him that l am sick of love. What, O fairest of women, wouldst thou not that we should tell Him of thy wounds, and relate what thou hast undergone in seeking Him? Ah no! answers the generous soul, I am abundantly overpaid for all my sufferings, since I have borne them for Him, and I prefer them to the greatest good; say but one word to my Beloved, that I am sick of love! The wound made by His love in the depths of my heart is so acute, that I am insensible to all exterior pains; yea, I can even say, that in comparison they are a delight.
9. What is thy beloved, more than another beloved, O thou fairest among women! what is thy beloved, more than another beloved, that thou dost so charge us?
The daughters of Jerusalem do not cease to call her the fairest among women, because her most painful wounds are hidden, and those which are exposed even add lustre to her beauty. They are astonished at beholding a love so strong, so constant and so faithful in the midst of so many disasters. They inquire, Who is this Well-beloved? For, say they, He must be of unequalled attraction, thus to engage His Spouse; for though these souls are spiritual, they are not yet sufficiently advanced to comprehend so straight and naked a path.
Had the bride thought of herself, she would have said, Call me not fair (Ruth i. 20), she would have used some words of humility, but she is incapable of that;3838The first thought of self love is always for self; pure love thinks of nothing but God, without the slightest reference to self.—Justifications, iii. 38. she has but one thought, the search of her Beloved. She can only speak of Him; she can think of nothing else, and though she should behold herself 92plunged into an abyss, it would excite no emotion in her. The reasoning she lately indulged in, through fear of becoming defiled, has cost her too dearly, since it has occasioned the absence of the Bridegroom. Instructed thus by her sad experience, she cannot look a moment at herself, and though she were as frightful as she is lovely, she could not think of it.
10. My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand.
My Well-beloved, replies the Spouse, is white by His purity, innocence and simplicity. He is ruddy by His charity, and because He has chosen to be dyed and purpled in His own blood. He is white by His frankness, ruddy by the fire of His love. He is chiefest among ten thousand, that is to say, He is above all I have chosen and preferred Him to every other. His Father has chosen Him above all the children of men as His Beloved Son in whom He is well pleased (Matt. iii. 17). In short, if you would know, O my young and tender sisters, who it is that I so passionately love, it is He who is fairer than the children of men, for grace is poured into His lips (Ps. xlv. 2). It is He who is the brightness of everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of His goodness (Wisd. vii. 26). Judge ye, if I am not right in bestowing upon Him the whole strength of my love!
11. His head is as the most fine gold, his locks as the clusters of the palm, black as a raven.
By the locks covering his head are to be understood the holy humanity which covers and conceals the Divinity. These same locks, or this humanity extended upon the cross, are like the clusters of the palm; for there, dying for men, He achieved His victory over the enemies and obtained for them the fruits of His redemption, which had been promised us through His death. Then the bud of the palm-tree opened and the church emerged from the heart of her Bridegroom. There the adorable humanity appeared black as a raven, for it was not only covered with wounds, 93but also loaded with the sins and blackness of all men, and this, although it was in truth unparalleled in whiteness and purity. There Christ appeared a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people (Ps. xxii. 6). Was He not black? and yet this blackness only set off His beauty, for it was only laid upon Him that it might be taken off from the whole world.
12. His eyes are like a dove’s by the rivers of waters, washed with milk, and sitting beside overflowing streams.
She goes on holding up to admiration the perfection of her Bridegroom; His abundance and His wonderful qualities are the joy of the Spouse, in the midst of her misery. His eyes, says she, are so pure, so chaste and so simple, His knowledge so purified from everything material, that they are like dove’s; not like doves of any common beauty, but doves washed in the milk of divine grace, which, having been given to Him without measure, has filled Him with all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God (Col. ii. 3). He is beside the small streams in lowly souls, who, even though but little advanced, are not the less agreeable to Him, by reason of their lowliness; especially when they have learned to make use of it. But He makes His constant abode in abandoned souls, near those rapid and overflowing streams that are arrested by nothing in their course, and that swell and rush on with the greater impetuosity when any obstacle seeks to detain them.
13. His cheeks are as a bed of spices, prepared by the perfumers; His lips like lilies, dropping choice myrrh.
The cheeks of the Bridegroom represent the two parts of His soul, the superior and inferior, which are arranged in such an order that nothing can be conceived more admirable, and which give forth an inconceivable perfume. And as the cheeks are joined to the head, so His noble and beauteous soul is joined to His Divinity. The beds of spices signify the powers and interior faculties of His holy humanity, which are all perfectly well ordered. It was indeed a skilful perfumer who chose and arranged 94them, for it was the Holy Spirit that ordered the whole internal and external man Christ Jesus. His lips are well compared to lilies, but they are the red lilies common in Syria, of exceeding beauty. What lips can be more ruby, or fairer or sweeter than those that dispense the words of spirit and life, and of the knowledge of eternal life? They also distil an excellent myrrh, for the teaching of Christ leads to repentance, the mortification of the passions, and continual abandonment.
14. His hands are turned as of gold, set with hyacinths; his belly is ivory, set with sapphires.
By His hands are to be understood His external and internal operations; the interior are all gold, for they contemplate nothing less than rendering to God the Father everything received from Him. They are turned or fashioned in the lathe, to show that He receives nothing from His Father which He does not render to Him again, and that He retains nothing; for He is faithful to give up His kingdom, into the hands of His God and Father (1 Cor. xv. 24, 29). They are set with hyacinths; for every one of his interior operations is distinguished by the most eminent degree of that virtue to which they belong, especially of devotion to His Father and mercy toward man. His exterior operations are dispensing, liberal and open in favor of men. His hands are rounded; they can retain nothing, and they are full of the most excellent grace and mercy, which He unceasingly communicates and distributes to His needy creatures.
His Humanity, represented by his belly, is compared to ivory, because everything in it is exceedingly pure and solid, since all is united to God and reposes upon the Divinity. It is likewise adorned and embellished with all possible perfections, which shine in it like so many precious stones.
15. His legs are as pillars of marble, set upon sockets of fine gold; his countenance is as Lebanon, excellent as the cedars.
The whole lower part of the body, here spoken of as the legs and feet that sustain it, is taken for the flesh of the Savior, and is well 95represented by marble, by reason of its incorruptibility. For although for a few hours it yielded to death, yet being set upon a socket of fine gold, that is, united to the Divinity, it did not see corruption (Acts ii. 31), and that noble building of God, sustained by the Word of God, to which it owes its incorruptibility, will never be dissolved. His countenance is beautiful even as Lebanon, which is of vast extent and exceedingly fertile, for there are planted the cedars, that is, the saints. But though all the saints are planted in Jesus Christ, He is nevertheless elect, like them, as regards His humanity, being the first fruits of them that are saved; and He is elected for all men, for there is none elected that is not chosen in Him and by Him; it is He that has merited their election, all having been predestinated to be conformed to the glory of Christ, that He might be the first born among many brethren (Rom. viii. 29).
16. His throat is most sweet, yea, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my Friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.
The good qualities of ordinary things may be sufficiently well expressed by ordinary phrases of commendation, but there are some subjects so above expression that they can only be worthily admired by declaring them above all praise. Such is the Divine Bridegroom, who, by the excess of His perfections, renders His Bride dumb when she endeavors most worthily to praise Him, that all hearts and minds may be attracted to Him. Her passion causes her to burst out into the praise of some of the excellencies which seem to her most comely in the Bridegroom: but as if recovering somewhat from her ecstasy of love, and ashamed of having desired to express what is inexpressible, she condemns herself to sudden silence, thus putting a disordered termination to an address which she uttered as much to find vent for her own passion, as to invite her companions to love Him of whom she is so enamored. Her silence is thus preceded by these few words only, His throat is most sweet.
As the throat is the organ of the voice, she thus signifies that He is the expression of the Divinity, and that thus, as God, He 96is superior to all attributes and qualities. If any are attributed to Him, it is simply an accommodation to the weakness of the creature that knows no other way of expressing itself.—Then giving herself up to transport, she exclaims, Yea, He is altogether lovely! As though she would say, O my companions! believe me not because I have told you of my Well-beloved; but judge for yourselves; taste that He is good for yourselves, and then you will understand the force and uprightness of my love. He is to be desired, too, not only because He is the desire of the everlasting hills (Gen. xlix. 26, vulgate), and is the desire of all nations (Hag. ii. 7), but also because our desire should be to share in His greatness according to our weakness; for He may be imitated by all, though not in all His perfection. This is He, O daughters of Jerusalem, who is possessed of all these rare beauties, and infinitely more than I know how to declare, and whom I love and seek, and of whom I am desperately enamored. Judge if I be not rightly sick of love.
17. Whither is thy beloved gone, O thou fairest among women? Whither is thy beloved turned aside? that we may seek him with thee.
This soul in its abandonment and grief becomes a great missionary; she preaches the perfections, the sweetness and the infinite loveliness of Him whom she loves, with so much eloquence to her companions, that they are all inspired with a desire to seek Him with her, and to know Him themselves. O conquering Love! when Thou fliest away most rudely, then Thou achievest the most victories! and this soul, impetuous as a torrent by reason of her violent love, carries along with her every one she meets. Ah! who would not desire to see and seek so desirable a lover? O yea who are now uselessly throwing away your affections in the amusements of the world, why not join in this search? How infinitely happy would it make you!
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