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“THE tranquil night.” In this spiritual sleep in the bosom of the Beloved the soul is in possession and fruition of all the calm, repose, and quiet of a peaceful night, and receives at the same time in God a certain dim, unfathomable divine intelligence. This is the reason why it says that the Beloved is to it the tranquil night.
2. “At the approaches of the dawn.” This tranquil night is not like a night of darkness, but rather like the night when the sunrise is drawing nigh. This tranquillity and repose in God is not all darkness to the soul, as the dark night is, but rather tranquillity and repose in the divine light and in a new knowledge of God, whereby the mind, most sweetly tranquil, is raised to a divine light.
3. This divine light is here very appropriately called the approaches of the dawn, that is, the twilight; for as the twilight of the morn disperses the darkness of the night and reveals the light of day, so the mind, tranquil and reposing in God, is raised up from the darkness of natural knowledge to the morning light of the supernatural knowledge of God; not clear, indeed, as I have said, but dim, like the night at the approaches of the dawn. For as it is then neither wholly night nor wholly day, but, as they say, twilight, so this solitude and divine repose is neither perfectly illumined by the divine light nor yet perfectly alien from it.
4. In this tranquillity the understanding is lifted up in a strange way above its natural comprehension to the divine light: it is like a man who, after a profound sleep, opens his eyes to unexpected light. This knowledge is referred to by David when he says, “I have watched, and am become as the lonely sparrow on the housetop”;153153Ps. 101:8 that is, “I opened the eyes of my understanding and was raised up above all natural comprehension, lonely, without them, on the housetop, lifted up above all earthly considerations.” He says that he was “become as the lonely sparrow,” because in this kind of contemplation, the spirit has the properties of the sparrow. These are five in number:
i. It frequents in general high places; and the spirit, in this state, rises to the highest contemplation.
ii. It is ever turning its face in the direction of the wind, and the spirit turns its affections thither whence comes the spirit of love, which is God.
iii. It is in general solitary, abstaining from the companionship of others, and flying away when any approach it: so the spirit, in contemplation, is far away from all worldly thoughts, lonely in its avoidance of them; neither does it consent to anything except to this solitude in God.
iv. It sings most sweetly, and so also does the spirit at this time sing to God; for the praises which it offers up proceed from the sweetest love, most pleasing to itself, and most precious in the sight of God.
v. It is of no definite color; so also is the perfect spirit, which in this ecstasy is not only without any tinge of sensual affection or self-love, but also without any particular consideration of the things of heaven or earth; neither can it give any account whatever of them, because it has entered into the abyss of the knowledge of God.
“The silent music.”
5. In this silence and tranquillity of the night, and in this knowledge of the divine light, the soul discerns a marvelous arrangement and disposition of God’s wisdom in the diversities of His creatures and operations. All these, and each one of them, have a certain correspondence with God, whereby each, by a voice peculiar to itself, proclaims what there is in itself of God, so as to form a concert of sublimest melody, transcending all the harmonies of the world. This is the silent music, because it is knowledge tranquil and calm, without audible voice; and thus the sweetness of music and the repose of silence are enjoyed in it. The soul says that the Beloved is silent music, because this harmony of spiritual music is in Him understood and felt. He is not this only, He is also —
“The murmuring solitude.”
6. This is almost the same as the silent music. For though the music is inaudible to the senses and the natural powers, it is a solitude most full of sound to the spiritual powers. These powers being in solitude, emptied of all forms and natural apprehensions, may well receive in spirit, like a resounding voice, the spiritual impression of the majesty of God in Himself and in His creatures; as it happened to St. John, who heard in spirit as it were “the voice of harpers harping on their harps.”154154Rev. 14:2 St. John heard this in spirit: it was not material harps that he heard, but a certain knowledge that he had of the praises of the blessed, which every one of them, each in his own degree of glory, is continually singing before God. It is as it were music. For as every one of the saints had the gifts of God in a different way, so every one of them sings His praises in a different way, and yet all harmonize in one concert of love, as in music.
7. In the same way, in this tranquil contemplation, the soul beholds all creatures, not only the highest, but the lowest also, each one according to the gift of God to it, sending forth the voice of its witness to what God is. It beholds each one magnifying Him in its own way, and possessing Him according to its particular capacity; and thus all these voices together unite in one strain in praise of God’s greatness, wisdom, and marvelous knowledge. This is the meaning of those words of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Wisdom: “The Spirit of our Lord has replenished the whole world, and that which contains all things has the knowledge of the voice.”155155Wisd. 1:7 “The voice” is the murmuring solitude, which the soul is said to know, namely, the witness which all things bear to God. Inasmuch as the soul hears this music only in solitude and in estrangement from all outward things, it calls it silent music and murmuring solitude. These are the Beloved.
“The supper which revives, and enkindles love.”
8. Lovers find recreation, satisfaction, and love in feasts. And because the Beloved in this sweet communication produces these three effects in the soul, He is here said to be the supper that revives, and enkindles love. In Holy Scripture supper signifies the divine vision, for as supper is the conclusion of the day’s labors, and the beginning of the night’s repose, so the soul in this tranquil knowledge is made to feel that its trials are over, the possession of good begun, and its love of God increased. Hence, then, the Beloved is to the soul the supper that revives, in being the end of its trials, and that enkindles love, in being the beginning of the fruition of all good.
9. That we may see more clearly how the Bridegroom is the supper of the soul, we must refer to those words of the Beloved in the Revelation: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man shall hear My voice, and open to Me the gate, I will enter into him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.”156156Rev. 3:20 It is evident from these words that He brings the supper with Him, which is nothing else but His own sweetness and delights, wherein He rejoices Himself, and which He, uniting Himself to the soul, communicates to it, making it a partaker of His joy: for this is the meaning of “I will sup with him, and he with Me.” These words describe the effect of the divine union of the soul with God, wherein it shares the very goods of God Himself, Who communicates them graciously and abundantly to it. Thus the Beloved is Himself the supper which revives, and enkindles love, refreshing the soul with His abundance, and enkindling its love in His graciousness.
10. But before I proceed to explain the stanzas which follow, I must observe that, in the state of betrothal, wherein the soul enjoys this tranquillity, and wherein it receives all that it can receive in this life, we are not to suppose its tranquillity to be perfect, but that the higher part of it is tranquil; for the sensual part, except in the state of spiritual marriage, never loses all its imperfect habits, and its powers are never wholly subdued, as I shall show hereafter.157157Stanza xxvi. What the soul receives now is all that it can receive in the state of betrothal, for in that of the marriage the blessings are greater. Though the bride-soul has great joy in these visits of the Beloved in the state of betrothal, still it has to suffer from His absence, to endure trouble and afflictions in the lower part, and at the hands of the devil. But all this ceases in the state of spiritual marriage.
THE bride now in possession of the virtues in their perfection, whereby she is ordinarily rejoicing in peace when the Beloved visits her, is now and then in the fruition of the fragrance and sweetness of those virtues in the highest degree, because the Beloved touches them within her, just as the sweetness and beauty of the lilies and other flowers when in their bloom are perceived when we handle them. For in many of these visits the soul discerns within itself all its virtues which God has given it; He shedding light upon them. The soul now, with marvelous joy and sweetness of love, binds them together and presents them to the Beloved as a nosegay of beautiful flowers, and the Beloved in accepting them — for He truly accepts them then — accepts thereby a great service. All this takes place within the soul, feeling that the Beloved is within it as on His own couch, for the soul presents itself with the virtues which is the greatest service it can render Him, and thus this is one of the greatest joys which in its interior conversation with God the soul is wont to receive in presents of this kind made to the Beloved.
2. The devil, beholding this prosperity of the soul, and in his great malice envying all the good he sees in it, now uses all his power, and has recourse to all his devices, in order to thwart it, if possible, even in the slightest degree. He thinks it of more consequence to keep back the soul, even for an instant, from this abundance, bliss, and delight, than to make others fall into many and mortal sins. Other souls have little or nothing to lose, while this soul has much, having gained many and great treasures; for the loss of one grain of refined gold is greater than the loss of many of the baser metals.
3. The devil here has recourse to the sensual appetites, though now they can give him generally but little or no help because they are mortified, and because he cannot turn them to any great account in distracting the imagination. Sometimes he stirs up many movements in the sensitive part of the soul, and causes other vexations, spiritual as well as sensual, from which the soul is unable to deliver itself until our Lord shall send His angel, as it is written, “The angel of the Lord shall put in himself about them that fear Him, and shall deliver them;”158158Ps. 33:8 and so establish peace, both in the spiritual and sensitive parts of the soul. With a view to show forth this truth, and to ask this favor, the soul, apprehensive by experience of the craft which the devil makes use of to thwart this good, addressing itself to the angels, whose function it is to succor it at this time by putting the evil spirits to flight, speaks as in the following stanza:
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