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STANZA XVIII

O nymphs of Judea!

While amid the flowers and the rose-trees

The amber sends forth its perfume,

Tarry in the suburbs,

And touch not our thresholds.

IT is the bride that speaks; for seeing herself, as to the higher part of the soul, adorned with the rich endowments of her Beloved, and seeing Him delighting in her, she desires to preserve herself in security, and in the continued fruition of them. Seeing also that hindrances will arise, as in fact they do, from the sensual part of the soul, which will disturb so great a good, she bids the operations and motions of the soul’s lower nature to cease, in the senses and faculties of it, and sensuality not to overstep its boundaries to trouble and disquiet the higher and spiritual portion of the soul: not to hinder even for a moment the sweetness she enjoys. The motions of the lower part, and their powers, if they show themselves during the enjoyment of the spirit, are so much more troublesome and disturbing, the more active they are.

“O nymphs of Judea.”

2. The lower, that is the sensual part of the soul, is called Judea. It is called Judea because it is weak, and carnal, and blind, like the Jewish people. All the imaginations, fancies, motions, and inclinations of the lower part of the soul are called nymphs, for as nymphs with their beauty and attractions entice men to love them, so the operations and motions of sensuality softly and earnestly strive to entice the will from the rational part, in order to withdraw it from that which is interior, and to fix it on that which is exterior, to which they are prone themselves. They also strive to influence the understanding to join with them in their low views, and to bring down reason to the level of sense by the attractions of the latter. The soul, therefore, says in effect: “O sensual operations and motions.”

“While amid the flowers and the rose-trees.”

3. The flowers, as I have said, are the virtues of the soul, and the rose-trees are its powers, memory, understanding, and will, which produce and nurture the flowers of divine conceptions, acts of love and the virtues, while the amber sends forth its perfume in the virtues and powers of the soul.

“The amber sends forth its perfume.”

4. The amber is the divine spirit of the Bridegroom Who dwells in the soul. To send forth the perfume among the flowers and the rose-trees, is to diffuse and communicate Himself most sweetly in the powers and virtues of the soul, thereby filling it with the perfume of divine sweetness. Meanwhile, then, when the Divine Spirit is filling my soul with spiritual sweetness,

“Tarry in the suburbs.”

5. In the suburbs of Judea, which is the inferior or sensual part of the soul. The suburbs are the interior senses, namely, memory, fancy, and imagination, where forms and images of things collect, by the help of which sensuality stirs up concupiscence and desires. These forms are the nymphs, and while they are quiet and tranquil the desires are also asleep. They enter into the suburbs of the interior senses by the gates of the outward senses, of sight, hearing, smell, etc. We can thus give the name of suburbs to all the powers and interior or exterior senses of the sensual part of the soul, because they are outside the walls of the city.

6. That part of the soul which may be called the city is that which is most interior, the rational part, which is capable of conversation with God, the operations of which are contrary to those of sensuality. But there is a natural intercourse between those who dwell in the suburbs of the sensual part — that is, the nymphs — and those who dwell in the higher part, which is the city itself; and, therefore, what takes place in the lower part is ordinarily felt in the higher, and consequently compels attention to itself and disturbs the spiritual operation which is conversant with God. Hence the soul bids the nymphs tarry in the suburbs — that is, to remain at rest in the exterior and interior senses of the sensual part,

“And touch not our thresholds.”

7. Let not even your first movements touch the higher part, for the first movements of the soul are the entrance and thresholds of it. When the first movements have passed into the reason, they have crossed the threshold, but when they remain as first movements only they are then said merely to touch the threshold, or to cry at the gate, which is the case when reason and sense contend over an unreasonable act. The soul here not only bids these not to touch it, but also charges all considerations whatever which do not minister to its repose and the good it enjoys to keep far away.

NOTE

THE soul in this state is become so great an enemy of the lower part, and its operations, that it would have God communicate nothing to it when He communicates with the higher. If He will communicate with the lower, it must be in a slight degree, or the soul, because of its natural weakness, will be unable to endure it without fainting, and consequently the spirit cannot rejoice in peace, because it is then troubled. “For,” as the wise man says, “the body that is corrupted burdens the soul.”171171Wisd. 9:15 And as the soul longs for the highest and noblest conversation with God, which is impossible in the company of the sensual part, it begs of God to deal with it without the intervention of the senses. That sublime vision of St. Paul in the third heaven, wherein, he says, he saw God, but yet knew not whether he was in the body or out of the body, must have been, be it what it may, independent of the body: for if the body had any share in it, he must have known it, and the vision could not have been what it was, seeing that he “heard secret words which it is not lawful for a man to speak.”1721722 Cor. 12:2-4 The soul, therefore, knowing well that graces so great cannot be received in a vessel so mean, and longing to receive them out of the body, — or at least without it, addresses the Bridegroom in the words that follow:


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