THE ASCENT OF MOUNT CARMEL
This treatise explains how to reach divine union quickly. It presents
instruction and doctrine valuable for beginners and proficients alike that
they may learn how to unburden themselves of all earthly things, avoid
spiritual obstacles, and live in that complete nakedness and freedom of
spirit necessary for divine union. It was composed by Padre Fray John of
the Cross, Discalced Carmelite.
T. The following stanzas include all the doctrine I intend to discuss in
this book, The Ascent of Mount Carmel. They describe the way that leads to
the summit of the mount -- that high state of perfection we here call union
of a soul with God. Since these stanzas will serve as a basis for all I
shall say, I want to cite them here in full that the reader may see in them
a summary of the doctrine to be expounded. Yet I will quote each stanza
again before its explanation and give the verses separately if the subject
A song of the soul's happiness in having passed through the dark night of
faith, in nakedness and purgation, to union with its Beloved.
1. One dark night,
fired with love's urgent longings
-- ah, the sheer grace! --
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.
2. In darkness and secure,
by the secret ladder, disguised,
-- ah, the sheer grace! --
in darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled.
3. On that glad night,
in secret, for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything,
with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart.
4. This guided me
more surely than the light of noon
to where he was awaiting me
-- him I knew so well --
there in a place where no one appeared.
5. O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.
6. Upon my flowering breast
which I kept wholly for him alone,
there he lay sleeping,
and I caressing him
there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.
7. When the breeze blew from the turret,
as I parted his hair,
it wounded my neck
with its gentle hand,
suspending all my senses.
8. I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out from myself,
leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.
P.1. A deeper enlightenment and wider experience than mine is necessary to
explain the dark night through which a soul journeys toward that divine
light of perfect union with God that is achieved, insofar as possible in
this life, through love. The darknesses and trials, spiritual and temporal,
that fortunate souls ordinarily undergo on their way to the high state of
perfection are so numerous and profound that human science cannot
understand them adequately. Nor does experience of them equip one to
explain them. Only those who suffer them will know what this experience is
like, but they won't be able to describe it.
P.2. In discussing this dark night, therefore, I will not rely on
experience or science, for these can fail and deceive us. Although I will
not neglect whatever possible use I can make of them, my help in all that,
with God's favor, I shall say, will be Sacred Scripture, at least in the
most important matters, or those that are difficult to understand. Taking
Scripture as our guide we do not err, since the Holy Spirit speaks to us
through it. Should I misunderstand or be mistaken on some point, whether I
deduce it from Scripture or not, I will not be intending to deviate from
the true meaning of Sacred Scripture or from the doctrine of our Holy
Mother the Catholic Church. Should there be some mistake, I submit entirely
to the Church, or even to anyone who judges more competently about the
matter than I.
P.3. I am not undertaking this arduous task because of any particular
confidence in my own abilities. Rather, I am confident that the Lord will
help me explain this matter because it is extremely necessary to so many
souls. Even though these souls have begun to walk along the road of virtue,
and our Lord desires to place them in the dark night that they may move on
to the divine union, they do not advance. The reason for this may be that
sometimes they do not want to enter the dark night or allow themselves to
be placed in it, or that sometimes they misunderstand themselves and are
without suitable and alert directors who will show them the way to the
summit. God gives many souls the talent and grace for advancing, and should
they desire to make the effort they would arrive at this high state. And so
it is sad to see them continue in their lowly method of communion with God
because they do not want or know how to advance, or because they receive no
direction on breaking away from the methods of beginners. Even if our Lord
finally comes to their aid to the extent of making them advance without
these helps, they reach the summit much later, expend more effort, and gain
less merit, because they do not willingly adapt themselves to God's work of
placing them on the pure and reliable road leading to union. Although God
does lead them -- since he can do so without their cooperation -- they do
not accept his guidance. In resisting God who is conducting them, they make
little progress and fail in merit because they do not apply their wills; as
a result they must endure greater suffering. Some souls, instead of
abandoning themselves to God and cooperating with him, hamper him by their
indiscreet activity or their resistance. They resemble children who kick
and cry and struggle to walk by themselves when their mothers want to carry
them; in walking by themselves they make no headway, or if they do, it is
at a child's pace.
P.4. With God's help, then, we will propose doctrine and counsel for
beginners and proficients that they may understand or at least know how to
practice abandonment to God's guidance when He wants them to advance.1
P.4.(2). Some spiritual fathers are likely to be a hindrance and harm
rather than a help to these souls that journey on this road. Such directors
have neither understanding nor experience of these ways. They are like the
builders of the tower of Babel [Gn. 11:1-9]. When these builders were
supposed to provide the proper materials for the project, they brought
entirely different supplies because they failed to understand the language.
And thus nothing was accomplished. Hence, it is arduous and difficult for a
soul in these periods of the spiritual life when it cannot understand
itself or find anyone else who understands it.
P.4.(3).It will happen to individuals that while they are being conducted
by God along a sublime path of dark contemplation and aridity, in which
they feel lost and filled with darknesses, trials, conflicts, and
temptations, they will meet someone who, in the style of Job's comforters
[Jb. 4:8-11], will proclaim that all of this is due to melancholia,
depression, or temperament, or to some hidden wickedness, and that as a
result God has forsaken them. Therefore the usual verdict is that these
individuals must have lived an evil life since such trials afflict them.
P.5. Other directors will tell them that they are falling back since they
find no satisfaction or consolation as they previously did in the things of
God. Such talk only doubles the trial of a poor soul. It will happen that
the soul's greatest suffering will be caused by the knowledge of its own
miseries. That it is full of evil and sin is as clear as day to it, and
even clearer, for, as we shall say further on, God is the author of this
enlightenment in the night of contemplation. And when this soul finds
someone who agrees with what it feels (that these trials are all its own
fault), its suffering and distress grow without bounds. And this suffering
usually becomes worse than death. Such a confessor is not satisfied with
this but, in judging these trials to be the result of sin, he urges souls
who endure them to go over their past and make many general confessions --
which is another crucifixion. The director does not understand that now
perhaps is not the time for such activity. Indeed, it is a period for
leaving these persons alone in the purgation God is working in them, a time
to give comfort and encouragement that they may desire to endure this
suffering as long as God wills, for until then no remedy -- whatever the
soul does, or the confessor says -- is adequate.
P.6. With divine help we will discuss all this: how individuals should
behave; what method the confessor should use in dealing with them; signs to
recognize this purification of the soul that we call the dark night;
whether it is the purification of the senses or of the spirit; and how we
can discern whether this affliction is caused by melancholia or some other
deficiency of sense or spirit.
P.6.(2). Some souls -- or their confessors -- may think that God is leading
them along this road of the dark night of spiritual purgation, but perhaps
this will not be so. What they suffer will be due to one of these
deficiencies. Likewise, many individuals think they are not praying when,
indeed, their prayer is deep. Others place high value on their prayer while
it amounts to little more than nothing.
P.7. Some people -- and it is sad to see them -- work and tire themselves
greatly, and yet go backward; they look for progress in what brings no
progress but instead hinders them. Others, in peace and tranquility,
continue to advance well. Some others let themselves be encumbered by the
very consolations and favors God bestows on them for the sake of their
advancing, and they advance not at all.
P.7.(2). We will also discuss many other experiences of those who walk
along this road: joys, afflictions, hopes, and sorrows -- some of these
originating from the spirit of perfection, others from the spirit of
imperfection. Our goal will be to explain, with God's help, all these
points so that those who read this book will in some way discover the road
they are walking along, and the one they ought to follow if they want to
reach the summit of this mount.
P.8. Readers should not be surprised if this doctrine on the dark night --
through which a soul advances toward God -- appears somewhat obscure. This,
I believe, will be the case as they begin to read, but as they read on they
will understand it better since the latter parts will explain the former.
Then, if they read this work a second time, the matter will seem clearer
and the doctrine sounder.
P.8.(2). But if some people still find difficulty in understanding this
doctrine, it will be due to my deficient knowledge and awkward style, for
the doctrine itself is good and very necessary. But I am inclined to
believe that, even if it were presented with greater accuracy and polish,
only a few would find profit in it, because we are not writing on moral and
pleasing topics addressed to the kind of spiritual people who like to
approach God along sweet and satisfying paths. We are presenting a
substantial and solid doctrine for all those who desire to reach this
nakedness of spirit.
P.9. My main intention is not to address everyone, but only some of the
persons of our holy order of the primitive observance of Mount Carmel, both
friars and nuns, whom God favors by putting on the path leading up this
mount, since they are the ones who asked me to write this work. Because
they are already detached to a great extent from the temporal things of
this world, they will more easily grasp this doctrine on nakedness of
BOOK ONE CHAPTER 1
1. Some remarks about the two different nights through which spiritual
persons pass in both the lower and higher parts of their nature. A
commentary on the first stanza.
One dark night,
fired with love's urgent longings
-- ah, the sheer grace! --
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.
1.1. The soul sings in this first stanza of its good luck and the grace it
had in departing from its inordinate sensory appetites and imperfections.
To understand this departure one should know that a soul must ordinarily
pass through two principal kinds of night -- which spiritual persons call
purgations or purifications of the soul -- in order to reach the state of
perfection. Here we will term these purgations nights because in both of
them the soul journeys in darkness as though by night.
1.2. The first night or purgation, to which this stanza refers and which
will be discussed in the first section of this book, concerns the sensory
part of the soul. The second night, to which the second stanza refers,
concerns the spiritual part. We will deal with this second night, insofar
as it is active, in the second and third sections of the book. In the
fourth section we will discuss the night insofar as it is passive.
1.3. This first night is the lot of beginners, at the time God commences to
introduce them into the state of contemplation. It is a night in which
their spirit also participates, as we will explain in due time. The second
night or purification takes place in those who are already proficients, at
the time God desires to lead them into the state of divine union. This
purgation, of course, is more obscure, dark, and dreadful, as we will
subsequently point out.
Commentary on the Stanza
1.4. In this stanza the soul desires to declare in summary fashion that it
departed on a dark night, attracted by God and enkindled with love for him
alone. This dark night is a privation and purgation of all sensible
appetites for the external things of the world, the delights of the flesh,
and the gratifications of the will. All this deprivation is wrought in the
purgation of sense. That is why the poem proclaims that the soul departed
when its house was stilled, for the appetites of the sensory part were
stilled and asleep in the soul, and the soul was stilled in them. One is
not freed from the sufferings and anguish of the confining appetites until
they are tempered and put to sleep. So it was a sheer grace, the soul
declares, to have gone out unseen without encumbrance from the appetites of
the flesh, or from anything else. It was also fortunate the departure took
place at night; that is, that God took from the soul all these things
through a privation that was a night to it.
1.5. It was a sheer grace to be placed by God in this night that occasioned
so much good. The soul would not have succeeded in entering it, because
souls are unable alone to empty themselves of all their appetites in order
to reach God.
1.6. Summarily, then, we have an explanation of the first stanza. Now we
will expound on it verse by verse and explain whatever pertains to our
subject. We will follow the method mentioned in the prologue: first cite
each stanza and comment on it; then, the individual verses.3
The nature of the dark night through which a soul journeys to divine union.
One dark night
2.1. We can offer three reasons for calling this journey toward union with
God a night.
2.1.(2) The first has to do with the point of departure, because
individuals must deprive themselves of their appetites for worldly
possessions. This denial and privation is like a night for all one's
2.1.(3). The second reason refers to the means or the road along which a
person travels to this union. Now this road is faith, and for the intellect
faith is also like a dark night.
2.1.(4). The third reason pertains to the point of arrival, namely God. And
God is also a dark night to the soul in this life. These three nights pass
through a soul, or better, the soul passes through them in order to reach
union with God.
2.2. They are represented in the Book of Tobias [Tb. 6:18-22], where we
read that the angel ordered the young Tobias to wait three nights before
any union with his bride.
2.2.(2). On the first night he was to burn the fish heart in the fire. That
heart signified the human heart that is attached to worldly things. To
undertake the journey to God the heart must be burned with the fire of
divine love and purified of all creatures. Such a purgation puts the devil
to flight, for he has power over people through their attachment to
temporal and bodily things.
2.3. Tobias, on the second night, as the angel told him, was to be admitted
into the society of the holy patriarchs, the fathers of the faith. After
passing through the first night (the privation of all sensible objects), a
person enters the second night by living in faith alone; not in a faith
that is exclusive of charity but a faith that excludes other intellectual
knowledge, as we shall explain later, for faith does not fall into the
province of the senses.
2.4. The angel told Tobias that on the third night he would obtain the
blessing, which is God. God, by means of faith, which is the second night,
communicates himself so secretly and intimately that he becomes another
night for the soul. This communication of God is a night much darker than
those other two nights, as we will soon point out. When this third night
(God's communication to the spirit, which usually occurs in extreme
darkness of soul) has passed, a union with the bride, who is the Wisdom of
God, then follows. Tobias was also told by the angel that, after the third
night had come to an end, he would be joined to his bride in the fear of
the Lord. Now when the fear of God is perfect, love is also perfect, which
means that the transformation of the soul in God through love is
2.5. In actuality these three nights comprise only one night, a night
divided into three parts like natural night. The first part, the night of
the senses, resembles early evening, that time of twilight when things
begin to fade from sight. The second part, faith, is completely dark, like
midnight. The third part, representing God, is like the very early dawn
just before the break of day. To provide further enlightenment about all
this, we will discuss each of these causes of night separately.
The first cause of this night -- the privation of the appetite in all
things. The reason for the use of the expression "night."
3.1. We are using the expression "night" to signify a deprival of the
gratification of the soul's appetites in all things. Just as night is
nothing but the privation of light and, consequently, of all objects
visible by means of the light -- darkness and emptiness, then, for the
faculty of sight -- the mortification of the appetites can be called a
night for the soul. To deprive oneself of the gratification of the
appetites in all things is like living in darkness and in a void.1 The eye
feeds on its objects by means of light in such a way that when the light is
extinguished the eye no longer sees them. Similarly do people by means of
their appetites feed and pasture on worldly things that gratify their
faculties. When the appetites are extinguished -- or mortified -- one no
longer feeds on the pleasure of these things, but lives in a void and in
darkness with respect to the appetites.
3.2. Let us draw an example from each of the faculties. By depriving itself
of its appetites for the delights of hearing, a soul lives in darkness and
emptiness in this sense faculty. And by depriving itself of the pleasure of
seeing things, it lives in darkness and poverty in the faculty of sight. By
denying itself the fragrances pleasing to the sense of smell, a soul abides
in emptiness and darkness in this sense faculty. Then too by denying the
palate the pleasures of delicious foods, it is also in the void and in
darkness in the sense of taste. Finally, by mortifying itself of all the
delights and satisfactions of the sense of touch, a soul likewise dwells in
darkness and in a void in this faculty. The conclusion is that any
individuals who may have denied and rejected the gratification that all
things afford them, by mortifying their appetite for them, live as though
in the night -- in darkness, which is nothing else than a void within them
of all things.
3.3. The cause of this darkness is attributable to the fact that -- as the
scholastic philosophers say -- the soul is like a tabula rasa [a clean
slate] when God infuses it into the body. Without the knowledge it receives
through its senses it would be ignorant, because no knowledge is
communicated to it naturally from any other source. Accordingly, the
presence of the soul in the body resembles the presence of a prisoner in a
dark dungeon who knows no more than what he manages to behold through the
windows of his prison and has nowhere else to turn if nothing is seen
through them. For the soul possesses no other natural means of perceiving
what is communicated to it than the senses (the windows of its prison).
3.4. We can easily affirm that if a soul denies whatever is perceptible
through the senses, it lives in darkness and in a void since light can
enter by no other natural means than these five senses. Now it is true that
the sensory perceptions of hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch are
unavoidable; yet they will no more hinder a soul -- if it denies them --
than if they were not experienced. It is true also that those desiring to
keep their eyes closed will live in darkness just like the blind. David
says on this subject: Pauper sum ego, et in laboribus a juventute mea. (I
am poor and in labors from my youth) [Ps. 88:15]. Even though he was
manifestly rich, he says he was poor because his will was not fixed on
riches; and he thereby lived as though really poor. On the other hand, had
he been actually poor, without his will being so, there would have been no
true poverty, because the appetite of his soul would have been rich and
3.4.(2). Hence, we call this nakedness a night for the soul, for we are not
discussing the mere lack of things; this lack will not divest the soul if
it craves for all these objects. We are dealing with the denudation of the
soul's appetites and gratifications. This is what leaves it free and empty
of all things, even though it possesses them. Since the things of the world
cannot enter the soul, they are not in themselves an encumbrance or harm to
it; rather, it is the will and appetite dwelling within that cause the
damage when set on these things.
3.5. This first kind of night refers to the sensory part of the soul, and
it is one of the two nights mentioned above through which a person must
pass to reach union with God. It is time to explain how fitting it is that
the soul leave its house and journey through this dark night toward union
The necessity of truly passing through this dark night of sense (the
mortification of the appetites) in order to journey to union with God.
4.1. The necessity to pass through this dark night (the mortification of
the appetites and denial of pleasure in all things) to attain divine union
with God arises from the fact that all of a person's attachments to
creatures are pure darkness in God's sight. Clothed in these affections,
people are incapable of the enlightenment and dominating fullness of God's
pure and simple light; first they must reject them. There can be no
concordance between light and darkness; as St. John says: Tenebrae eam no
comprehenderunt (The darkness could not receive the light) [Jn. 1:5].
4.2. The reason, as we learn in philosophy, is that two contraries cannot
coexist in the same subject.1 Darkness, an attachment to creatures, and
light, which is God, are contraries and bear no likeness toward each other,
as St. Paul teaches in his letter to the Corinthians: Quae conventio lucis
ad tenebras? (What conformity is there between light and darkness?) [2 Cor.
6:14] Consequently, the light of divine union cannot be established in the
soul until these affections are eradicated.
4.3. For a better proof of this, it ought to be kept in mind that an
attachment to a creature makes a person equal to that creature; the
stronger the attachment, the closer is the likeness to the creature and the
greater the equality, for love effects a likeness between the lover and the
loved. As a result David said of those who set their hearts on their idols:
Similes illis fiant qui faciunt ea, et omnes qui confidunt in eis (Let all
who set their hearts on them become like them) [Ps. 115:8]. Anyone who
loves a creature, then, is as low as that creature and in some way even
lower because love not only equates but even subjects the lover to the
4.3.(2). By the mere fact that a soul loves something, it becomes incapable
of pure union and transformation in God; for the lowness of the creature is
far less capable of the height of the Creator than is darkness of light.
4.3.(3). All creatures of heaven and earth are nothing when compared to
God, as Jeremiah points out: Aspexi terram, et ecce vacua erat et nihil; et
caelos, et non erat lux in eis (I looked at the earth, and it was empty and
nothing; and at the heavens, and I saw they had no light) [Jer. 4:23]. By
saying that he saw an empty earth, he meant that all its creatures were
nothing and that the earth too was nothing. In stating that he looked up to
the heavens and beheld no light, he meant that all the heavenly luminaries
were pure darkness in comparison to God. All creatures considered in this
way are nothing, and a person's attachments to them are less than nothing
since these attachments are an impediment to and deprive the soul of
transformation in God -- just as darkness is nothing and less than nothing
since it is a privation of light. One who is in darkness does not
comprehend the light, so neither will a person attached to creatures be
able to comprehend God. Until a soul is purged of its attachments it will
be unable to possess God, neither here below through the pure
transformation of love nor in heaven through the beatific vision. For the
sake of greater clarity we will be more specific.
4.4. We just asserted that all the being of creatures compared to the
infinite being of God is nothing and that, therefore, anyone attached to
creatures is nothing in the sight of God, and even less than nothing
because love causes equality and likeness and even brings the lover lower
than the loved object. In no way, then, is such a person capable of union
with the infinite being of God. There is no likeness between what is not
and what is. To be particular, here are some examples.
4.4.(2). All the beauty of creatures compared to the infinite beauty of God
is the height of ugliness. As Solomon says in Proverbs: Fallax gratia, et
vana est pulchritudo (Comeliness is deceiving and beauty vain) [Prv.
31:30]. So a person attached to the beauty of any creature is extremely
ugly in God's sight. A soul so unsightly is incapable of transformation
into the beauty that is God because ugliness does not attain to beauty.
4.4.(3). All the grace and elegance of creatures compared to God's grace is
utter coarseness and crudity. That is why a person captivated by this grace
and elegance of creatures becomes highly coarse and crude in God's sight.
Someone like this is incapable of the infinite grace and beauty of God
because of the extreme difference between the coarse and the infinitely
4.4.(4). Compared to the infinite goodness of God, all the goodness of the
creatures of the world can be called wickedness. Nothing is good save God
only [Lk. 18:19]. Those who set their hearts on the good things of the
world become extremely wicked in the sight of God. Since wickedness does
not comprehend goodness, such persons will be incapable of union with God,
who is supreme goodness.
4.4.(5). All the world's wisdom and human ability compared to the infinite
wisdom of God is pure and utter ignorance, as St. Paul writes to the
Corinthians: Sapientia hujus mundi stultitia est apud Deum (The wisdom of
this world is foolishness in God's sight) [1 Cor. 3:19].
4.5. Those, therefore, who value their knowledge and ability as a means of
reaching union with the wisdom of God are highly ignorant in God's sight
and will be left behind, far away from this wisdom. Ignorance does not
grasp what wisdom is. St. Paul says that such wisdom is foolishness to God,
for in God's sight those who think they have some wisdom are very ignorant.
The Apostle says of them in writing to the Romans: Dicentes enim se esse
sapientes, stulti facti sunt (Taking themselves for wise, they became
fools) [Rom. 1:22].
4.5.(2). Only those who set aside their own knowledge and walk in God's
service like unlearned children receive wisdom from God. This is the wisdom
about which St. Paul taught the Corinthians: Si quis videtur inter vos
sapiens esse in hoc saeculo, stultus fiat ut sit sapiens. Sapientia enim
hujus mundi stultitia est apud Deum (If anyone among you thinks he is wise,
let him become ignorant so as to be wise. For the wisdom of this world is
foolishness with God) [1 Cor. 3:18-19]. Accordingly, to reach union with
the wisdom of God a person must advance by unknowing rather than by
4.6. All the sovereignty and freedom of the world compared to the freedom
and sovereignty of the Spirit of God is utter slavery, anguish, and
captivity. Those, then, who are attached to prelacies or to other such
dignities and to freedom of their appetites will be considered and treated
by God as base slaves and captives, not as offspring. And this because of
their not wanting to accept his holy teaching in which he instructs us that
Whoever wants to be the greater will be the least, and whoever wants to be
the least will be the greater [Lk. 22:26]. Thus they will be unable to
reach the royal freedom of spirit attained in divine union, for freedom has
nothing to do with slavery. And freedom cannot abide in a heart dominated
by desires, in a slave's heart. It abides in a liberated heart, in a
child's heart. This is why Sarah told her husband Abraham to cast out the
bondwoman and her son, declaring that the bondwoman's son should not be an
heir together with the free son [Gn. 21:10].
4.7. All the delights and satisfactions of the will in the things of the
world compared to all the delight that is God are intense suffering,
torment, and bitterness. Those who link their hearts to these delights,
then, deserve in God's eyes intense suffering, torment, and bitterness.
They will not be capable of attaining the delights of the embrace of union
with God, since they merit suffering and bitterness.
4.7.(2). All the wealth and glory of creation compared to the wealth that
is God is utter poverty and misery in the Lord's sight. The person who
loves and possesses these things is completely poor and miserable before
God and will be unable to attain the richness and glory of transformation
in God; the miserable and poor is very far from the supremely rich and
4.8. Divine Wisdom, with pity for these souls that become ugly, abject,
miserable, and poor because of their love for worldly things, which in
their opinion are rich and beautiful, exclaims in Proverbs: O viri, ad vos
clamito, et vox mea ad filios hominum. Intelligite, parvuli, astutiam, et
insipientes, animadverte. Audite quia de rebus magnis locutura sum. And
further on: Mecum sunt divitiae et gloria, opes superbae et justitia.
Melior est fructus meus auro et lapide pretioso, et genimina mea argento
electo. In viis justitiae ambulo, in medio semitarum judicii, ut ditem
diligentes me, et thesauros eorum repleam. The meaning of this passage is:
O people, I cry to you, my voice is directed to the children of this earth.
Be attentive, little ones, to cunning and sagacity; and you ignorant, be
careful. Listen, because I want to speak of great things. Riches and glory
are mine, high riches and justice. The fruit you will find in me is better
than gold and precious stones; and my generations (what will be engendered
of me in your souls) are better than choice silver. I walk along the ways
of justice, in the midst of the paths of judgment, to enrich those who love
me and to fill their treasures completely [Prv. 8:4-6, 18-21].
4.8.(2). Divine Wisdom speaks, here, to all those who are attached to the
things of the world. She calls them little ones because they become as
little as the things they love. She tells them, accordingly, to be cunning
and careful, that she is dealing with great things, not small things, as
they are; and that the riches and glory they love are with her and in her,
not where they think; and that lofty riches and justice are present in her.
Although in their opinion the things of this world are riches, she tells
them to bear in mind that her riches are more precious, that the fruit
found in them will be better than gold and precious stones, and that what
she begets in souls has greater value than cherished silver, which
signifies every kind of affection possible in this life.
5. Continuation of the same matter. Proofs from passages and figures of
Sacred Scripture for the necessity of journeying to God through this dark
night, the mortification of the appetites.
5.1. We have some idea, from what was said, of the distance that lies
between what creatures are in themselves and what God is in himself, and,
since love produces equality and likeness, of how souls attached to any of
these creatures are just as distant from God. With a clear realization of
this distance, St. Augustine addressed God in the Soliloquies: Miserable
man that I am, when will my pusillanimity and imperfection be able to
conform with your righteousness? You indeed are good, and I evil; You are
merciful, and I unmerciful; You are holy, and I miserable; You are just,
and I unjust; You are light, and I blindness; You are life, and I death;
You are medicine, and I sickness; You are supreme truth; and I utter
vanity.1 These are the words of the saint.
5.2. People, indeed, are ignorant who think it is possible to reach this
high state of union with God without first emptying their appetite of all
the natural and supernatural things that can be a hindrance to them, as we
will explain further on. For there is an extreme distance between such
appetites and that which is given in this state, which is nothing less than
transformation in God. Instructing us about this way, our Lord stated
according to St. Luke: Qui non renuntiat omnibus quae possidet, non potest
meus esse discipulus (Whoever does not renounce all that the will possesses
cannot be my disciple) [Lk. 14:33]. This statement is clear, for the
doctrine the Son of Man came to teach is contempt for all things so we may
receive the gift of God's Spirit. As long as people fail to rid themselves
of these possessions, they are incapable of receiving God's Spirit in pure
5.3. We have a figure of this in Exodus [Ex. 16] where we read that God did
not give the children of Israel the heavenly manna until they exhausted the
flour brought from Egypt. The meaning here is that first a total
renunciation is needed, for this bread of angels is disagreeable to the
palate of anyone who wants to taste human food. Persons feeding on other
strange tastes not only become incapable of the divine Spirit, but even
greatly anger the divine Majesty because in their aspirations for spiritual
food they are not satisfied with God alone, but mix with these aspirations
a desire and affection for other things. This is likewise apparent in the
same book of Sacred Scripture [Ex. 16:8-13] where it states that the
people, discontented with that simple food, requested and craved meat, and
seriously angered our Lord because of their desire to commingle a food so
base and coarse with one so high and simple that, even though simple,
contained the savor and substance of all foods. Consequently, while morsels
of manna were yet in their mouths, the wrath of God descended on them (as
David also says: Ira Dei descendit super eos [Ps. 78:31]), spouting fire
from heaven and reducing thousands of them to ashes [Nm. 11:1]. For God
thought it shameful for them to crave other food while he was giving them
5.4. Oh, if spiritual persons knew how much spiritual good and abundance
they lose by not attempting to raise their appetites above childish things,
and if they knew to what extent, by not desiring the taste of these
trifles, they would discover in this simple spiritual food the savor of all
things! The Israelites did not perceive the taste of every other food that
was contained in the manna, because their appetite was not centered on this
manna alone. They were unsuccessful in deriving from the manna all the
taste and strength they were looking for, not because the manna didn't have
these but because of their craving for other foods. Similarly, those who
love something together with God undoubtedly make little of God, for they
weigh in the balance with God an object far distant from God, as we have
5.5. It is well known from experience that when the will is attached to an
object, it esteems that object higher than any other, even though another,
not as pleasing, may deserve higher admiration. And if people desire
pleasure from two objects, they are necessarily offensive to the more
deserving because through their desire for both they equate the two. Since
nothing equals God, those who love and are attached to something along with
God offend him exceedingly. If this is true, what would happen if they
loved something more than God?
5.6. This was also indicated when God ordered Moses to climb to the top of
the mountain. He did this that Moses might be able to speak to him. He
commanded Moses not only to ascend alone and leave the children of Israel
below, but to rule against even the pasturing of beasts on the mountainside
[Ex. 34:3]. The meaning is that those who ascend this mount of perfection
to converse with God must not only renounce all things by leaving them at
the bottom, but also restrict their appetites (the beasts) from pasturing
on the mountainside, on things that are not purely God. For in God, or in
the state of perfection, all appetites cease.
5.6.(2). The road and ascent to God, then, necessarily demands a habitual
effort to renounce and mortify the appetites; the sooner this mortification
is achieved, the sooner the soul reaches the top. But until the appetites
are eliminated, one will not arrive no matter how much virtue is practiced.
For one will be failing to acquire perfect virtue, which lies in keeping
the soul empty, naked, and purified of every appetite.
5.6.(3). We also have a striking figure of this in Genesis. When the
patriarch Jacob desired to ascend Mount Bethel to build an altar to offer
sacrifice to God, he first ordered his people to do three things: destroy
all strange gods; purify themselves; and change their garments [Gn. 35:2].
5.7. Those desiring to climb to the summit of the mount in order to become
an altar for the offering of a sacrifice of pure love and praise and
reverence to God must first accomplish these three tasks perfectly. First,
they must cast out strange gods, all alien affections and attachments.
Second, by denying these appetites and repenting of them -- through the
dark night of the senses -- they must purify themselves of the residue.
Third, in order to reach the top of this high mount, their garments must be
changed. By means of the first two works, God will substitute new garments
for the old. The soul will be clothed in a new understanding of God in God
(through removal of the old understanding) and in a new love of God in God,
once the will is stripped of all the old cravings and satisfactions. And
God will vest the soul with new knowledge when the other old ideas and
images are cast aside [Col. 3:9]. He causes all that is of the old self,
the abilities of one's natural being, to cease, and he attires all the
faculties with new supernatural abilities. As a result, one's activities,
once human, now become divine. This is achieved in the state of union when
the soul, in which God alone dwells, has no other function than that of an
altar on which God is adored in praise and love.
5.7.(2). God commanded that the altar of the Ark of the Covenant be empty
and hollow [Ex. 27:8] to remind the soul how void of all things God wishes
it to be if it is to serve as a worthy dwelling for His Majesty. It was
forbidden that the altar have any strange fire, or that its own go out; so
much so that when Nadab and Abihu, the sons of the high priest Aaron,
offered strange fire on our Lord's altar God became angry and slew them
there in front of the altar [Lv. 10:1-2]. The lesson we derive here is that
one's love for God must never fail or be mixed with alien loves if one
wants to be a worthy altar of sacrifice.
5.8. God allows nothing else to dwell together with him. We read,
consequently, in the First Book of Kings that when the Philistines put the
Ark of the Covenant in a temple with their idol, the idol was hurled to the
ground at the dawn of each day and broken into pieces [1 Sm. 5:2-4]. The
only appetite God permits and wants in his dwelling place is the desire for
the perfect fulfillment of his law and the carrying of the cross of Christ.
Scripture teaches that God ordered nothing else to be placed in the Ark
where the manna was than the Law and the rod of Moses (signifying the
cross) [Dt. 31: 6; Nm. 17:10]. Those who have no other goal than the
perfect observance of the Lord's law and the carrying of the cross of
Christ will be true arks, and they will bear within themselves the real
manna, which is God, when they possess perfectly, without anything else,
this law and this rod.
6. The harm, privative as well as positive, that appetites cause in the
6.1. For the sake of a clearer and fuller understanding of our assertions,
it will be beneficial to explain here how these appetites cause harm in two
principal ways within those in whom they dwell: They deprive them of God's
Spirit; and they weary, torment, darken, defile, and weaken them. Jeremiah
mentions this in Chapter 2: Duo mala fecit populus meus: dereliquerunt
fontem aquae vivae, et foderunt sibi cisternas dissipatas, quae continere
non valent aquas (They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and
dug for themselves leaking cisterns that hold no water) [Jer. 2:13]. Any
inordinate act of the appetite causes both this privative and positive
6.1.(2). To begin with, it is clear in speaking of the privative harm that
a person by mere attachment to a created thing is less capable of God; and
this, in the measure that the appetite has entity in the soul. For two
contraries cannot coexist in the same subject, as the philosophers say, and
as we also mentioned in Chapter 4.1 Since love of God and attachment to
creatures are contraries, they cannot coexist in the same will. What has
creature to do with Creator, sensory with spiritual, visible with
invisible, temporal with eternal, heavenly food that is pure and spiritual
with food that is entirely sensory, the nakedness of Christ with attachment
6.2. In natural generation a new form cannot be introduced into a subject
without expulsion of the form already there, which is an impediment to the
new form because of the existing contrariety. Similarly, insofar as a
person is subject to a sensory spirit, an entirely spiritual one cannot
enter. This is why our Lord said through St. Matthew: Non est bonum sumere
panem filiorum et mittere canibus (It is unbecoming to take the children's
bread and give it to the dogs) [Mt. 15:26]. Also in another part he says
through the same evangelist: Nolite sanctum dare canibus (Do not give what
is holy to the dogs) [Mt. 7:6]. All those who dispose themselves for the
pure reception of God's Spirit through the denial of their appetites for
creatures, our Lord compares to the children of God. And all those who
desire to feed their appetites on creatures, he compares to the dogs. It is
the privilege of children to eat at table with their father and from his
dish, which is to share in his Spirit; but the dogs must eat the crumbs
that fall from the table [Mt. 15: 26-27].
6.3. Our lesson here is that all creatures are like crumbs that have fallen
from God's table. Those who go about feeding on creatures, then, are
rightly designated as dogs and are deprived of the children's bread because
they refuse to rise from the crumbs of creatures to the uncreated Spirit of
their Father. This is precisely why they wander about hungry as dogs. The
crumbs serve more to whet their appetite than to satisfy their hunger.
David says of them: Famem patientur ut canes, et circuibunt civitatem. Si
vero no fuerint saturati, et murmurabunt (They will suffer hunger like
dogs, and wander around the city. And if they are not filled, they will
murmur) [Ps. 59:14-15]. This is the characteristic of those with appetites;
they are always dissatisfied and bitter, like someone who is hungry.
6.3.(2). What, then, has the hunger caused by creatures in common with the
fullness caused by the Spirit of God? This uncreated fullness cannot enter
a soul until this other hunger caused by the desires is expelled. Since
hunger and fullness are contraries they cannot coexist in the same person.
6.4. It will be evident from our explanation that God accomplishes more in
cleansing and purging people of these contraries than he does in creating
them from nothing. These impediments of contrary attachments and appetites
are more opposed and resistant to God than nothingness, for nothingness
does not resist.
6.4.(2). Since we have already said a good deal about this first kind of
harm (resistance to God's Spirit) caused by the appetites, our comments
here should be sufficient.
6.5. Let us now deal with the second effect, the numerous kinds of
impairment wrought in the soul. For the appetites weary, torment, darken,
defile, and weaken it. We shall discuss these five effects separately.
6.6. As for the first, it is plain that the appetites are wearisome and
tiring. They resemble little children, restless and hard to please, always
whining to their mother for this thing or that, and never satisfied. Just
as anyone who digs covetously for a treasure grows tired and exhausted, so
does anyone who strives to satisfy the appetites' demands become wearied
and fatigued. And even if a soul does finally fill them, it is still always
weary because it is never satisfied. For, after all, one digs leaking
cisterns that cannot contain the water that slakes thirst. As Isaiah says:
Lassus adhuc sitit, et anima ejus vacua est, which means: He is yet faint
with thirst and his soul is empty [Is. 29:8].
6.6.(2). A soul with desires wearies itself, because it is like someone
with a fever whose thirst increases by the minute, and who feels ill until
the fever leaves. It is said in the Book of Job: Cum satiatus fuerit,
arctabitur, aestuabit, et omnis dolor irruet super eum (When he has
satisfied his appetite, he will be more burdened and oppressed; the heat of
appetite will have increased and every sorrow will fall upon him) [Jb.
6.6.(3). The appetites are wearisome and tiring because they agitate and
disturb one just as wind disturbs water. And they so upset the soul that
they do not let it rest in any place or thing. Isaiah declares of such a
soul: Cor impii quasi mare fervens (The heart of the wicked is like a
stormy sea) [Is. 57:20]. And anyone who does not conquer the appetites is
6.6.(4). People seeking the satisfaction of their desires grow tired,
because they are like the famished who open their mouths to satisfy
themselves with air. But they find that instead of being filled the mouth
dries up more since air is not one's proper food. With this in mind
Jeremiah says: In desiderio animae suae attraxit ventum amoris sui (In the
appetite of his will he drew in the air of his attachment) [Jer. 2:24]. To
comment on the dryness in which the soul is left, he immediately adds the
advice: Prohibe pedem tuum a nuditate, et guttur tuum a siti. This means:
Hold back your foot (that is, your mind) from nakedness, and your throat
from thirst (that is, your will from satisfying its desire, which only
causes greater thirst) [Jer. 2:25].
6.6.(5). Just as a lover is wearied and depressed when on a longed-for day
his opportunity is frustrated, so is the soul wearied and tired by all its
appetites and their fulfillment, because the fulfillment only causes more
hunger and emptiness. An appetite, as they say, is like a fire that blazes
up when wood is thrown on it, but necessarily dies out when the wood is
6.7. In regard to the appetites, things are even worse. The fire dwindles
as the wood is consumed, but the intensity of the appetite does not
diminish when the appetite is satisfied, even though the object is gone.
Instead of waning like the fire after the wood is burned, the appetite
faints with fatigue because its hunger has increased and its food
diminished. Isaiah refers to this: Declinabit ad dexteram, et esuriet; et
comedet ad sinistram, et non saturabitur (He will turn to the right and be
hungry, and eat toward the left and not be filled) [Is. 9:20]. When those
who do not mortify their appetites turn to the right, they of course see
the abundance of the sweet spirit that is the lot of those who are at the
right hand of God but is not granted to them. When they eat at the left
(satisfy their appetite with some creature), they of course grow
discontented because, in turning from what alone satisfies, they feed on
what augments their hunger. It is clear, then, that the appetites weary and
fatigue a person.
7. How the appetites torment a person. Proofs through comparisons and
passages from Sacred Scripture.
7.1. Torment and affliction is the second kind of damage the appetites
cause in an individual. The affliction they engender is similar to the
torture of the rack, where a person has no relief until freed from the
torment of being bound by these cords. David says of this torture: Funes
peccatorum circumplexi sunt me (The cords of my sins -- my appetites --
have tightened around me) [Ps. 119:61].
7.1.(2). A soul is tormented and afflicted when it reclines on its
appetites just as is someone lying naked on thorns and nails. Like thorns,
the appetites wound and hurt, stick to a person and cause pain. David says
of them: Circumdederunt me sicut apes, et exarserunt sicut ignis in spinis.
(They circled around me like bees, stung me, and burned me like fire among
thorns) [Ps. 118:12]. For among the appetites, which are the thorns, the
fire of anguish and torment increases.
7.1.(3). Just as a peasant, covetous of the desired harvest, goads and
torments the ox that pulls the plow, so concupiscence, in order to attain
the object of its longing, afflicts the one who lives under the yoke of the
appetites. This is evident in Delilah's desire to know where Samson
acquired such strength. Scripture states that the desire was such a fatigue
and torment to her that she fainted away and almost died: Defecit anima
ejus, et ad mortem usque lassata est [Jgs. 16:15-16].1
7.2. The appetite torments in the measure of its intensity. Thus there is
as much torment as there is appetite, and the more numerous the appetites
that possess a soul the greater in number are its torments. In the person
possessed by appetites we find fulfilled even in this life what is said of
Babylon in the Apocalypse: Quantum glorificavit se, et in deliciis fuit,
tantum date illi tormentum et luctum (In the measure of her desire for
self-exaltation and fulfillment of her appetites, give her torment and
anguish) [Rv. 18:7].
7.2.(3). Those who let their appetites take hold of them suffer torture and
affliction like an enemy held prisoner. The Book of Judges contains a
figure of this in the passage that narrates how the enemies captured mighty
Samson, who was once the free, strong judge of Israel, and weakened him,
pulled out his eyes, and chained him to grind at the millstone where he was
grievously tortured and tormented [Jgs. 16:21]. This same thing happens to
a person in whom the enemy appetites reside and triumph. First these
appetites weaken and blind, as we shall point out below, then they afflict
and torment by chaining that person to the mill of concupiscence, for they
are the chains by which a soul is bound.
7.3. God, then, with compassion for all those who through such labor and
cost to themselves strive to satisfy the thirst and hunger of their
appetites for creatures, proclaims through Isaiah: Omnes sitientes, venite
ad aquas; et qui no habetis argentum, properate, emite, et comedite:
venite, emite absque argento vinum et lac. Quare appenditis argentum non in
panibus, et laborem vestrum non in saturitate? [Is. 55:1-2]. This is
interpreted: Come to the waters, all you who experience the thirst of your
appetites; and you who have not the silver of your own will and desires,
make haste; buy from me and eat; come and buy wine and milk (peace and
spiritual sweetness) from me without the silver of your own will, without
paying with labor as you do for the satisfaction of your appetites. Why do
you offer the silver of your will for what is not bread (the bread of the
divine Spirit) and waste the efforts of your appetites on what cannot
satisfy them? Come, listen to me, and you will have the food you desire,
and your soul will delight in abundance.
7.4. This coming to abundance is a going away from all the pleasures
derived through creatures, because the creature torments while the Spirit
of God refreshes. Accordingly, God calls us through St. Matthew: Venite ad
me, omnes qui laboratis et oneratis estis, et ego reficiam vos, et
invenietis requiem animabus vestris, as though he were to say: All you
going about tormented, afflicted, and weighed down by your cares and
appetites, depart from them, come to me and I will refresh you; and you
will find the rest for your souls that the desires take away from you [Mt.
11:28-29]. They are indeed a heavy burden, because David says of them:
Sicut onus grave gravatae sunt super me [Ps. 37:5].2
8. The appetites darken and blind a person.
8.1. The third kind of harm the appetites bring upon a person is blindness
and darkness. Vapors make the air murky and are a hindrance to the bright
sunshine; a cloudy mirror does not clearly reflect a person's countenance;
so too muddy water reflects only a hazy image of one's features. In just
this way a person's intellect, clouded by the appetites, becomes dark and
impedes the sun of either natural reason or God's supernatural wisdom from
shining within and completely illumining it. As a result David says when
speaking of this: Comprehenderunt me iniquitates meae, et non potui ut
viderem (My iniquities surrounded me and I was unable to see) [Ps. 40:12].
8.2. And because of the darkening of the intellect, the will becomes weak
and the memory dull and disordered in its proper operation. Since these
faculties depend on the intellect in their operations, they are manifestly
disordered and troubled when the intellect is hindered. Thus David says:
Anima mea turbata est valde (My soul is exceedingly troubled) [Ps. 6:4].
This is like saying the faculties of my soul are disordered. For, as we
said, the intellect (as the murky air in relation to the sun's light) is
incapable of receiving the illumination of God's wisdom; and the will is
incapable of embracing God within itself in pure love (just as the mirror
clouded with steam has not the capacity to clearly reflect the countenance
before it); and the memory obscured by the darkness of appetite has still
less capacity for receiving serenely the impression of God's image (as
muddy water cannot clearly reflect the features of one who looks in it).
8.3. The appetite blinds and darkens the soul because the appetite as such
is blind. It is blind because, of itself, it has no intellect. Reason
always acts as a blind person's guide for the appetite. Consequently, as
often as people are led by their appetites, they are blinded, just as we
might say that when a blind person guides someone who has good eyesight
both are blind. The logical outcome is what our Lord proclaims in St.
Matthew: Si caecus caeco ducatum praestet, ambo in foveam cadunt. (If one
blind person leads another, both will fall into the ditch) [Mt. 15:14].
8.3.(2). A moth is not helped much by its eyes because, blinded in its
desire for the beauty of light, it will fly directly into a bonfire. Those
who feed on their appetites are like a fish dazzled by a light that so
darkens it that the fisherman's snares cannot be seen. David describes this
blindness well: Supercecidit ignis, et non viderunt solem (Fire, that gives
off heat and dazzles by its light, came upon them) [Ps. 58: 8-9]. The
appetites cause this in the soul: They enkindle concupiscence and overwhelm
the intellect so that it cannot see its light. The reason is that a new
light set directly in front of the visual faculty blinds this faculty so
that it fails to see the light farther away. And since the appetite is so
close to individuals as to be actually within them, they are impeded by
this interior light, feed upon it, and are unable to see the clear light of
the intellect; nor will they see it until they extinguish this blinding
light of their appetite.
8.4. The ignorance of some is extremely lamentable; they burden themselves
with extraordinary penances and many other exercises, thinking these are
sufficient to attain union with divine Wisdom. But such practices are
insufficient if these souls do not diligently strive to deny their
appetites. If they would attempt to devote only half of that energy to the
renunciation of their desires, they would profit more in a month than in
years with all these other exercises. As the tilling of soil is necessary
for its fruitfulness -- untilled soil produces only weeds -- mortification
of the appetites is necessary for one's spiritual fruitfulness. I venture
to say that without this mortification all that is done for the sake of
advancement in perfection and in knowledge of God and of oneself is no more
profitable than seed sown on uncultivated ground. Accordingly, darkness and
coarseness will always be with a soul until its appetites are extinguished.
The appetites are like a cataract on the eye or specks of dust in it; until
removed they obstruct vision.
8.5. David, observing the blindness of such people, how impeded their souls
are from seeing truth clearly, and the extent of God's anger with them
warns: Priusquam intelligerent spinae vestrae rhamnum: sicut viventes, sic
in ira absorbet eos, as though to say: Before your thorns (that is, your
appetites) understand, God will absorb them in his wrath as he would the
living [Ps. 58:9]. Before the appetites living in the soul come to an
understanding of God, he will absorb them in this life, or in the next, by
chastisement and correction, that is, through purgation. David says God
will absorb them in wrath, because the suffering caused by the
mortification of the appetites is a chastisement for the havoc they produce
in the soul.
8.6. Oh, if people but knew what a treasure of divine light this blindness
caused by their affections and appetites takes from them and the number of
misfortunes and evils these appetites occasion each day when left
unmortified! Individuals must not so rely on their good intelligence or the
gifts received from God as to think that even though they have attachments
or appetites these will not blind, darken, and cause them to grow gradually
worse. Who would have thought that a man as perfect in the wisdom and gifts
of God as Solomon could have sunk into such blindness and torpor of will,
when he was already old, as to construct altars to countless idols and then
worship them himself? Yet this was caused by nothing else than his
affection for women and his neglect to deny the appetites and delights of
his heart [1 Kgs. 3:12-13; 11:1-4]. He says in Ecclesiastes that he did not
deny his heart what it asked of him [Eccl. 2:10]. Although in the beginning
he was truly restrained, this rush after his desires and the failure to
deny them, gradually blinded and darkened his intellect so that finally the
powerful light of God's wisdom was extinguished. Consequently, in his old
age, Solomon abandoned God.
8.7. If the unmortified appetites could do this in a man who possessed such
lofty knowledge of the distance between good and evil, what terrible damage
can they cause in us who are ignorant. For as God said to Jonah about the
people of Nineveh: We do not know the difference between our right hand and
our left [Jon. 4:11]. At every step we mistake evil for good and good for
evil. This is peculiar to our nature. But what will happen if appetite is
added to our natural darkness? Nothing else than what Isaiah says:
Palpavimus sicut caeci parietem et quasi absque oculis attrectavimus:
impegimus meridie quasi in tenebris [Is. 59:10]. The prophet is speaking
with those who love to pursue their appetites, as though to say: We have
felt our way along the wall as though blind, we have groped as if without
eyes, and our blindness has reached the point that we stumble along in
broad daylight as though walking in the dark. For this is a characteristic
of those who are blinded by their appetites; when they are in the midst of
the truth and of what is suitable for them, they no more see it than if
they were in the dark.
9. The appetites defile the soul. Proofs through comparisons and passages
from Sacred Scripture.
9.1. The fourth way the appetites harm the soul is by defiling and staining
it. The Book of Ecclesiasticus teaches: Qui tetigerit picem, inquinabitur
ab ea (the one who touches pitch will be defiled by it) [Ecclus. 13:1]. And
a person handles pitch by satisfying the will's appetite for some creature.
It is noteworthy that the Wise Man compares creatures to pitch, for the
difference between the excellence of the soul and the best in creatures is
greater than that between pure gold, or a bright diamond, and pitch. The
gold, or the diamond, when placed on hot pitch becomes more stained and
unsightly as the heat melting the pitch increases. Similarly, those who are
fired by their appetite for some creature are stained and blackened by that
creature because of the heat of their desire.
9.1.(2). There is as much difference between the soul and other corporeal
creatures as there is between a transparent liquid and the filthiest mire.
This liquid would be polluted if mud were mixed with it; so too attachment
to a creature defiles a soul, because this attachment makes it similar to
the creature. Strokes of soot would ruin a perfect and extraordinarily
beautiful portrait, so too inordinate appetites defile and dirty the soul,
in itself a perfect and extremely beautiful image of God.
9.2. Jeremiah, weeping over the ravages of unsightliness these inordinate
appetites cause in a soul, first lists the soul's beauty and then its
ugliness: Candidiores sunt nazarei ejus nive, nitidiores lacte,
rubicundiores ebore antiquo, saphiro pulchriores. Denigrata est super
carbones facies eorum, et non sunt cogniti in plateis (Its hair -- that is,
of the soul -- is whiter than snow, more resplendent than milk, ruddier
than ancient ivory, more beautiful than sapphire stone. Its surface became
blacker than coal and went unrecognized in the public squares) [Lam. 4:7-
8]. The hair refers to the soul's affections and thoughts; when ordered to
the end intended by God -- which is God himself -- it is whiter than snow,
clearer than milk, ruddier than ancient ivory, and more beautiful than
sapphire. These four objects of comparison indicate every kind of beauty
and excellence in corporeal creatures; yet the beauty and excellence of the
soul's operations, which are signified by the Nazarites or hair, are, he
says, greater. If these operations of the soul are inordinate and occupied
in an end not intended by God -- that is, in creatures -- their surface,
says Jeremiah, will become blacker than coal.
9.3. Inordinate appetites for the things of the world do all this damage to
the beauty of the soul, and even more. So great is the harm that if we try
to express how ugly and dirty is the imprint the appetites leave in the
soul we find nothing comparable to it -- neither a place full of cobwebs
and lizards nor the unsightliness of a dead body nor the filthiest thing
imaginable in this life.
9.3.(2). Although it is true that the disordered soul possesses in its
natural being the perfection that God bestowed when creating it,
nevertheless in its rational being it is ugly, abominable, dirty, dark, and
full of all the evils here described, and many more besides. One inordinate
appetite alone, as we will explain,1 suffices to make a soul so captive,
dirty, and unsightly that until the appetite is purified the soul is
incapable of conformity with God in union. This is true even though there
may be no matter for mortal sin in the appetite. What then will be the
ugliness of a soul entirely disordered in its passions and surrendered to
its appetites? How far it will be from God and his purity!
9.4. The variety of filth caused in the soul is both inexplicable and
unintelligible! For were it comprehensible and explainable it would be
surprising and also distressing to see how in the measure of its quantity
and quality each appetite leaves a deposit of filth and an unsightly mark
in the soul. It would be a surprise and a pity to observe how only one
inordinate act can in its own way occasion innumerable kinds and various
degrees of filth. The well-ordered soul of the just in a single perfect act
possesses countless rich gifts and beautiful virtues. Each of these gifts
and virtues is different and pleasing in its own way according to the
multitude and diversity of the affections the soul has had for God.
Similarly, in an inordinate soul the deposit of filth and degradation is as
miserable and has the same variety as the variety of its appetites for
9.5. We have an excellent figure of these varied appetites in Ezekiel. It
is written that God showed this prophet all kinds of crawling reptiles and
all the abomination of unclean animals painted on the interior walls of the
temple. God then said to Ezekiel: Son of man, have you not seen indeed the
abominations that each of these accomplishes in the secrecy of his chamber?
And when God commanded the prophet to enter further and behold greater
abominations, Ezekiel says he saw women seated there and weeping for
Adonis, the god of love. Being commanded by God to penetrate still further
for the sight of even greater abominations, he says he beheld there 25 old
men whose backs were turned on the temple [Ez. 8:10-16].
9.6. The many reptiles and unclean animals painted on the walls of the
first room in the temple represent intellectual thoughts of abject earthly
things and of all creatures. These creatures are painted just as they are
in the temple of the soul if it allows its intellect, the first chamber, to
be encumbered with them.
9.6.(2). The women further within, in the second chamber, weeping for the
god Adonis, represent the appetites residing in the second faculty of the
soul, which is the will. These appetites weep as it were by coveting what
the will is attached to; that is, they covet the reptiles painted in the
9.6.(3). The men in the third room are a representation of the images of
creatures that the third part of the soul, the memory, preserves and
focuses on. The passage states that these men turned their backs on the
temple, for when the soul is wholly joined with an earthly object by
embracing it with these three faculties, we can say that soul has turned
its back on the temple of God. And the temple of God represents the soul's
right reason, which admits nothing of creatures.
9.7. What we have said is sufficient at present for some understanding of
the unsightly disorder of the soul caused by its appetites. We would never
finish if we tried to discuss in particular the lesser degree of ugliness,
and its variety, that imperfections cause in the soul, or the still greater
degree, and its variety, produced by venial sins, or the degree of total
ugliness caused by mortally sinful appetites. The variety of the total
ugliness corresponds to the extensive diversity of all three degrees. Not
even the angelic intellect could have an adequate understanding of all this
unsightliness. The point I am making and desire to make is that any
appetite, even one that is just slightly imperfect, stains and defiles the
10. The appetites weaken a soul and make it lukewarm in the practice of
10.1. Weakness and tepidity is the fifth kind of harm the appetites produce
in a person. The appetites sap the strength needed for perseverance in the
practice of virtue. Because the force of the desire is divided, the
appetite becomes weaker than if it were completely fixed on one object. The
more objects there are dividing an appetite, the weaker this appetite
becomes for each. This is why the philosophers say that virtue when united
is stronger than when scattered. It is therefore clear that if the appetite
of the will pours itself out on something other than virtue, it grows
weaker in the practice of virtue. A person whose will is divided among
trifles is like water that, leaking out at the bottom, will not rise higher
and is therefore useless. This is why the patriarch Jacob compared his son
Reuben, who had given rein to his appetites in a certain sin, to spilled
water: You are poured out like water, grow not [Gn. 49:4]. This was like
saying: Because according to the appetites you are poured out like water,
you will not grow in virtue.
10.1.(2). Hot water quickly loses its heat if left uncovered, and aromatic
spices when unwrapped eventually lose the strength and pungency of their
scent. So the soul that is not recollected in one appetite alone, the
desire for God, loses heat and strength in the practice of virtue. Clearly
understanding this, David said to God: Fortitudinem meam ad te custodiam (I
will keep my strength for you) [Ps. 59:9]. I will do this by concentrating
the strength of my appetites on you alone.
10. 2. The appetites weaken a person's virtue because they are like shoots
burgeoning about a tree, sapping its strength, and causing it to be
fruitless. The Lord says of such people: Vae praegnantibus et nutrientibus
in illis diebus! (Woe to them who will be with child in those days, and to
them who will be nursing!) [Mt. 24:19]. Being with child and nursing refer
to the growth of the appetites that, if not cut off, will weaken the soul
in virtue. Their growth will be costly, like the growth of sprouts around
the tree. Our Lord consequently advises us: Let your loins be girt [Lk.
12:35]. The loins here indicate the appetites. They are indeed like
leeches, always sucking blood from one's veins. This is what the Wise Man
calls them: The daughters (the appetites) are leeches always calling: give!
give! [Prv. 30:15].
10.3. Manifestly, then, the appetites do not bring any good to a person.
Rather they rob one of what one already has. And if one does not mortify
them, they will not cease until they accomplish what the offspring of
vipers are said to do within the mother: While growing within her they eat
away at her entrails and finally kill her, remaining alive at her expense.
So the unmortified appetites result in killing the soul in its relationship
with God, and thus, because it did not put them to death first, they alone
live in it. This is why it says in the Book of Ecclesiasticus: Aufer a me
Domine ventris concupiscentias et concubitus concupiscentiae ne
apprehendant me [Ecclus. 23:6].1
10.4. Even though they do not go to this extent, it is sad to consider the
condition of the poor soul in whom they dwell. How unhappy it is with
itself, how cold toward its neighbors, how sluggish and slothful in the
things of God! No illness makes walking as burdensome, or eating as
distasteful, as do the appetites for creatures render the practice of
virtue burdensome and saddening to a person. Ordinarily, the reason many
people do not have diligence and eagerness for the acquisition of virtue is
that their appetites and affections are not fixed purely on God.
11. Proofs of how freedom from all appetites, even the smallest, is
necessary to attain divine union.
11.1. The reader has apparently desired for quite a while to ask if the
total mortification of all the appetites, large and small, is a requirement
to attain this high state of perfection, or if it is sufficient to mortify
just some of them and leave the others, at least those that seem trifling.
For it seems it would be an arduous task for individuals to attain such
purity and nakedness that they would have no attachment to anything.
11.2. First, I respond that it is true that the appetites are not all
equally detrimental, nor are all equally a hindrance to the soul. I am
speaking of the voluntary appetites because the natural ones are little or
no hindrance at all to the attainment of union, provided they do not
receive one's consent or pass beyond the first movements, those stirrings
in which the rational will does not take part either before or after. To
eradicate the natural appetites, that is, to mortify them entirely, is
impossible in this life. Even though they are not entirely mortified, as I
say, they are not such a hindrance as to prevent one from attaining divine
union. A soul can easily experience them in its sensitive nature and yet be
free of them in the rational part of its being. It will happen sometimes
that while a person is experiencing an intense union of will in the prayer
of quiet these appetites will be actually dwelling in the sensory part. Yet
the superior part of the soul, which is in prayer, will be paying no
attention to them.1
11.2.(2). But all the other voluntary appetites, whether they be the most
serious that involve mortal sin, or less grave in that they concern venial
sin, or whether they be the least serious of all in that they only involve
imperfections, must be mortified. A person must be liberated of them all,
however slight they be, in order to arrive at this complete union. The
reason is that in the state of divine union a person's will is so
completely transformed into God's will that it excludes everything contrary
to God's will, and in all and through all is motivated by the will of God.
11.3. Here we have the reason for stating that two wills become one. And
this one will is God's will, which also becomes the soul's. If a person
were to desire an imperfection unwanted by God, this one will of God would
be undone because of the desire for what God does not will.
11.3.(2). Clearly, for a soul to reach union with God through its will and
love, it must first be freed from every appetite, however slight. That is,
one must not give consent of the will advertently and knowingly to an
imperfection, and one must have the power and freedom to be able, upon
advertence, to refuse this consent.
11.3.(3). I say "knowingly" because one will fall into imperfections,
venial sins, and the above-mentioned natural appetites without having
advertence or knowledge or control in the matter. It is written of these
semivoluntary and inadvertent sins that the just will fall seven times a
day and rise up again [Prv. 24:16]. But any one of the voluntary appetites
that are advertent venial sins, even if trifling, if not conquered is
sufficient to impede union, as I have said. I am referring here to habitual
appetites because certain scattered acts of different desires are not such
a hindrance to union when the habitual appetites are mortified. However,
the soul must be liberated of these acts too, since they also proceed from
habitual imperfection. Yet some habitual voluntary imperfections that are
never completely conquered are an impediment not only to divine union but
to spiritual progress as well.
11.4. Some examples of these habitual imperfections are: the common habit
of being very talkative; a small attachment one never really desires to
conquer, for example, to a person, to clothing, to a book or a cell, or to
the way food is prepared, and to other trifling conversations and little
satisfactions in tasting, knowing, and hearing things, and so on. Any of
these habitual imperfections to which there is attachment is as harmful to
progress in virtue as the daily commission of many other imperfections and
sporadic venial sins that do not result from a bad habit. These latter will
not hinder a person as much as will the attachment to something. As long as
this attachment remains, it is impossible to make progress in perfection,
even though the imperfection may be very small.2
11.4.(2). It makes little difference whether a bird is tied by a thin
thread or by a cord. Even if it is tied by thread, the bird will be held
bound just as surely as if it were tied by cord; that is, it will be
impeded from flying as long as it does not break the thread. Admittedly the
thread is easier to break, but no matter how easily this may be done, the
bird will not fly away without first doing so. This is the lot of those who
are attached to something: No matter how much virtue they have they will
not reach the freedom of the divine union.
11.4.(3). An individual's appetite and attachment resemble the remora,
which, if successful in clinging to a ship, will hold it back and prevent
it from reaching port, or even from sailing, even though this fish is
exceptionally small. It is regrettable, then, to behold some souls, laden
as rich vessels with wealth, deeds, spiritual exercises, virtues, and
favors from God, who never advance because they lack the courage to make a
complete break with some little satisfaction, attachment, or affection
(which are all about the same) and thereby never reach the port of
perfection. This requires no more than a sudden flap of one's wings in
order to tear the thread of attachment, or to get rid of the clinging
11.5. It is a matter for deep sorrow that, while God has bestowed on them
the power to break other stronger cords of attachment to sins and vanities,
they fail to attain so much good because they do not become detached from
some childish thing that God has asked them to conquer out of love for him
and that amounts to no more than a thread or hair. What is worse, not only
do they fail to advance, but they turn back because of their small
attachment, losing what they gained on their journey at the cost of so much
time and effort. Everyone knows that not to go forward on this road is to
turn back, and not to gain ground is to lose. This is what our Lord wanted
to teach when he said: The one who is not with me is against me, and the
one who does not gather with me scatters [Mt. 12:30].
11.5.(2). If one small crack in a pitcher goes unrepaired, the damage will
be enough to cause all the liquid to leak out. The Book of Ecclesiasticus
gives clear teaching of this when it says: One who despises small things
will fall little by little [Ecclus. 19:1]. For as it teaches elsewhere: A
great fire is occasioned by a tiny spark [Ecclus. 11:32]. Accordingly, one
imperfection leads to another, and these to still more. You will scarcely
ever find a person negligent in the conquering of one appetite who will not
have many others flowing from the identical weakness and imperfection
caused by this one appetite. Such persons, consequently, are ever faltering
along the road. We have witnessed many persons, whom God was favoring with
much progress in detachment and freedom, fall from happiness and stability
in their spiritual exercises and end up losing everything merely because
they began to indulge in some slight attachment to conversation and
friendship under the appearance of good. For by this attachment they
gradually emptied themselves of both holy solitude and the spirit and joy
of God. All this happened because they did not put a stop to their initial
satisfaction and sensitive pleasure, and preserve themselves for God in
11.6. The attainment of our goal demands that we never stop on this road,
which means we must continually get rid of our wants rather than indulging
them. For if we do not get rid of them all completely, we will not wholly
reach our goal. A log of wood cannot be transformed into the fire if even a
single degree of heat is lacking to its preparation for this.4 The soul,
similarly, will not be transformed in God even if it has only one
imperfection. As we shall explain in speaking of the night of faith, a
person has only one will and if that is encumbered or occupied by anything,
the person will not possess the freedom, solitude, and purity requisite for
11.7. We have a figure of this in the Book of Judges. It narrates that the
angel announced to the children of Israel that because they had not
completely destroyed their enemies but made a pact with some of them, these
enemies would be left in their midst to be an occasion of their fall and
perdition [Jgs. 2:1-3]. God does precisely this with some souls. He has
withdrawn them from the world, slain the giants, which are their sins, and
destroyed the multitude of their enemies (the occasions of sin encountered
in the world) solely so that they can enter with greater freedom into the
promised land of divine union. Nevertheless, in spite of all this, they
fraternize and make pacts with the insignificant people -- their
imperfections -- by not mortifying them completely. And God in his anger
allows them to go from bad to worse in their appetites.
11.8. We find another figure of this in the Book of Joshua. There we read
that God commanded Joshua, who was about to enter into possession of the
promised land, to destroy everything in the city of Jericho without leaving
anything alive, neither men nor women, young nor old, nor any animals. God
ordered him not to covet or seize any of the booty [Jos. 6:18-19, 21]. The
lesson here is that all objects living in the soul -- whether they be many
or few, large or small -- must die in order that the soul enter divine
union, and it must bear no desire for them but remain detached as though
they were nonexistent to it, and it to them. St. Paul teaches this clearly
in Corinthians: What I tell you, brothers, is that the time is short; what
remains and suits you is that those with wives should act as though they
had none, and those who weep for the things of this world as though they
were not weeping, and those who rejoice as though not rejoicing, and the
buyers as though they did not possess, and the users of the world should
behave as though they made no use of it [1 Cor. 7:29-31]. In this text the
Apostle teaches us how detached our souls must be from all things in order
to go to God.
12. The answer to another question. An explanation of the kinds of
appetites that can bring this harm on a soul.
12.1. We could explain this night of sense at greater length by mentioning
everything relevant to the kind of damage the appetites cause, for they
injure not merely in the ways described but in many others as well. What we
have explained, however, is sufficient for our purpose. It has probably
been understood how the mortification of the appetites can be called night
and how suitable it is for people to enter this night in their approach to
God. The only point that remains before we treat, in conclusion, the method
of entering this night is to settle a doubt that may occur to the reader
concerning this matter.1
12.2. First, can any appetite produce and cause the two evils mentioned
above, namely: the privative, which removes God's grace from the soul; and
the positive, which causes the five principal kinds of harm we explained?
12.2.(2). Second, is any appetite, however slight or of whatever kind,
enough to produce all these types of harm together, or does each cause only
a particular kind, in that one may produce torment, another weariness,
another darkness, and so on?
12.3. To the first query, I answer that relevant to the privative evil, the
loss of grace, only the voluntary appetites involving a matter of mortal
sin can cause this completely, for they deprive the soul of grace in this
life and of glory, the possession of God, in the next.
12.3.(2). To the second, my answer is that all these positive evils are
together occasioned in the soul by each of these appetites. This is true
whether the appetites concern mortal sin, venial sin, or imperfection. We
call these evils positive, though in a certain fashion they are privative,
because they correspond to a conversion to the creature, just as the
privative evils correspond to the aversion from God.
12.3.(3). Yet there is this difference: The appetites for mortal sin
produce total blindness, torment, filth, weakness, and so on; the others do
not cause these kinds of harm to a complete and absolute degree. For they
do not deprive the soul of grace -- a privation that would give them full
possession, since the death of grace means life for the appetites. But
these smaller appetites do cause this damage in a lesser degree according
to the loss of grace they occasion. The extent of the torment, blindness,
and defilement corresponds to the weakening of grace brought on by the
12.4. It is noteworthy, however, that, though each appetite causes all
these kinds of positive harm, it will cause one kind principally and
directly, and the others indirectly. For though it is true that a sensual
appetite breeds all these kinds of evil, it principally and properly
speaking defiles the soul and body. And an appetite of avarice produces
them all too, yet principally and directly it causes afflictions. One of
vainglory similarly causes them all, yet principally and directly it
darkens and blinds. And whereas an appetite of gluttony begets all the
evils, it chiefly produces lukewarmness in virtue. And so on with the
12.5. The reason any act of a voluntary appetite produces all these evils
together is that it directly opposes the acts of virtue that produce the
contrary effects. An act of virtue produces and fosters in the soul
mildness, peace, comfort, light, purity, and strength, just as an
inordinate appetite brings about torment, fatigue, weariness, blindness,
and weakness. Through the practice of one virtue all the virtues grow, and
similarly, through an increase of one vice, all the vices and their effects
12.5.(2). These evils do not unmask themselves at the moment the appetite
is being satisfied, since the pleasure of the moment is an obstacle to
this. Yet sooner or later the harmful effects will certainly be felt. A
good illustration of this is found in the Apocalypse. An angel commanded
St. John to eat the book, which was sweet to the mouth but bitter in the
stomach [Rv. 10:9]. When satisfied the appetite seems sweet and pleasant,
but eventually the bitter effect is felt. This truth will certainly be
clear to those who allow themselves to be carried away by their appetites.
I realize, however, that there are some so blind and unaware that they do
not experience this bitter effect. Since they do not walk in God, they do
not perceive what keeps them from him.
12.6. I am not speaking here of the other natural, involuntary appetites,
or of thoughts that do not pass beyond the first movements, or of other
temptations in which there is no consent. These things do not give rise to
any of the evils previously mentioned. Though the passion and disturbance
they momentarily cause make it seem that one is being defiled and blinded,
such is not the case; rather, they occasion the opposite good effects.
Insofar as one resists them, one wins strength, purity, comfort, and many
blessings, as our Lord told St. Paul: Virtue is made perfect in weakness [2
12.6.(2). But the voluntary appetites bring on all these evils, and even
more. That is why the chief concern of spiritual masters with their
disciples is the immediate mortification of every appetite. The directors
should make them remain empty of what they desire so as to liberate them
from so much misery.
13. The manner and method of entering this night of sense.
13.1. Some counsels are in order now that the individual may both know the
way of entering this night and be able to do so. It should be understood,
consequently, that a person ordinarily enters this night of sense in two
ways: active and passive.
13.1.(2). The active way, which will be the subject of the following
counsels, comprises what one can do and does by oneself to enter this
13.1.(3). The passive way is that in which one does nothing, but God
accomplishes the work in the soul while the soul acts as the recipient.
This will be the subject of the fourth book, where we will discuss
beginners. Since with God's help I will give many counsels regarding the
numerous imperfections beginners ordinarily possess on this road, I will
not take the time to offer many here. Nor is this the proper place to give
them, since here we are dealing only with the reasons for calling this
journey a night, and with the nature and divisions of this night.1
13.1.(4). Nevertheless, if we do not offer some immediate remedy or counsel
for exercising oneself in this night of the appetites, this part would seem
very short and of little help. Therefore I want to set down the following
abridged method. And I will do the same at the end of my discussion of each
of the next two parts (or reasons for the use of the term "night") which,
with God's help, will follow.
13.2. Though these counsels for the conquering of the appetites are brief
and few in number, I believe they are as profitable and efficacious as they
are concise. A person who sincerely wants to practice them will need no
others since all the others are included in these.2
13.3. First, have habitual desire to imitate Christ in all your deeds by
bringing your life into conformity with his. You must then study his life
in order to know how to imitate him and behave in all events as he would.
13.4. Second, in order to be successful in this imitation, renounce and
remain empty of any sensory satisfaction that is not purely for the honor
and glory of God. Do this out of love for Jesus Christ. In his life he had
no other gratification, nor desired any other, than the fulfillment of his
Father's will, which he called his meat and food [Jn. 4:34].
13.4.(2). For example, if you are offered the satisfaction of hearing
things that have no relation to the service and glory of God, do not desire
this pleasure or the hearing of these things. When you have an opportunity
for the gratification of looking upon objects that will not help you love
God more, do not desire this gratification or sight. And if in speaking
there is a similar opportunity, act in the same way. And so on with all the
senses insofar as you can duly avoid such satisfaction. If you cannot
escape the experience of this satisfaction, it will be sufficient to have
no desire for it.
13.4.(3). By this method you should endeavor, then, to leave the senses as
though in darkness, mortified and empty of that satisfaction. With such
vigilance you will gain a great deal in a short time.
13.5. Many blessings flow when the four natural passions (joy, hope, fear,
and sorrow) are in harmony and at peace. The following maxims contain a
complete method for mortifying and pacifying them. If put into practice
these maxims will give rise to abundant merit and great virtues.
13.6. Endeavor to be inclined always:
not to the easiest, but to the most difficult;
not to the most delightful, but to the most distasteful;
not to the most gratifying, but to the less pleasant;
not to what means rest for you, but to hard work;
not to the consoling, but to the unconsoling;
not to the most, but to the least;
not to the highest and most precious, but to the lowest and most
not to wanting something, but to wanting nothing.
Do not go about looking for the best of temporal things, but for the
worst, and, for Christ, desire to enter into complete nakedness, emptiness,
and poverty in everything in the world.
13.7. You should embrace these practices earnestly and try to overcome the
repugnance of your will toward them. If you sincerely put them into
practice with order and discretion, you will discover in them great delight
13.8. These counsels if truly carried out are sufficient for entry into the
night of senses. But, to ensure that we give abundant enough counsel, here
is another exercise that teaches mortification of concupiscence of the
flesh, concupiscence of the eyes, and pride of life, which, as St. John
says, reign in the world and give rise to all the other appetites [1 Jn.
13.9. First, try to act with contempt for yourself and desire that all
others do likewise.
13.9.(2). Second, endeavor to speak in contempt of yourself and desire all
others to do so.
13.9.(3). Third, try to think lowly and contemptuously of yourself and
desire that all others do the same.
13.10. As a conclusion to these counsels and rules it would be appropriate
to repeat the verses in The Ascent of the Mount [the drawing at the
beginning of the book], which are instructions for climbing to the summit,
the high state of union. Although in the drawing we admittedly refer to the
spiritual and interior aspect, we also deal with the spirit of imperfection
existent in the sensory and exterior part of the soul, as is evident by the
two ways, one on each side of that path that leads to perfection.
Consequently these verses will here bear reference to the sensory part.
Afterward, in the second division of this night, they may be interpreted in
relationship to the spiritual part.4
13.11. The verses are:
To reach satisfaction in all
desire satisfaction in nothing.
To come to possess all
desire the possession of nothing.
To arrive at being all
desire to be nothing.
To come to the knowledge of all
desire the knowledge of nothing.
To come to enjoy what you have not
you must go by a way in which you enjoy not.
To come to the knowledge you have not
you must go by a way in which you know not.
To come to the possession you have not
you must go by a way in which you possess not.
To come to be what you are not
you must go by a way in which you are not.
A Method to Avoid Impeding the All
13.12. When you delay in something
you cease to rush toward the all.
For to go from the all to the all
you must deny yourself of all in all.
And when you come to the possession of the all
you must possess it without wanting anything.
Because if you desire to have something in all
your treasure in God is not purely your all.
13.13. In this nakedness the spirit finds its quietude and rest. For in
coveting nothing, nothing tires it by pulling it up and nothing oppresses
it by pushing it down, because it is in the center of its humility. When it
covets something, by this very fact it tires itself.
14. An explanation of verse 2 of the first stanza.
fired with love's urgent longings
14.1. Now that we have explained the first verse of this stanza, which
treats of the night of sense, and have discussed the nature of this night,
the reason for calling it night, and the method of actively entering it, we
should, in due order, continue with an explanation of the admirable
properties and effects contained in the remaining verses of this stanza. I
will explain these verses, as promised in the prologue, by merely touching
on them, and then proceed to Book Two, a treatise on the remaining, or
spiritual, part of this night.1
14.2. The soul, then, states that "fired with love's urgent longings" it
passed through this night of sense to union with the Beloved. A love of
pleasure, and attachment to it, usually fires the will toward the enjoyment
of things that give pleasure. A more intense enkindling of another, better
love (love of the soul's Bridegroom) is necessary for the vanquishing of
the appetites and the denial of this pleasure. By finding satisfaction and
strength in this love, it will have the courage and constancy to readily
deny all other appetites. The love of its Bridegroom is not the only
requisite for conquering the strength of the sensitive appetites; an
enkindling with urgent longings of love is also necessary. For the sensory
appetites are moved and attracted toward sensory objects with such cravings
that if the spiritual part of the soul is not fired with other, more urgent
longings for spiritual things, the soul will be able neither to overcome
the yoke of nature nor to enter the night of sense; nor will it have the
courage to live in the darkness of all things by denying its appetites for
14.3. This is not the appropriate section for a description -- nor would
this be possible -- of the nature of these longings of love or of the
numerous ways they occur at the outset of the journey to union. Neither is
it the place for a discussion of the diligence and ingenuity of persons in
departing from their house (self-will) into the night of the mortification
of their senses, or of how easy, sweet, and delightful these longings for
their Bridegroom make all the trials and dangers of this night seem. It is
better to experience all of this and meditate on it than to write of it. We
will proceed, consequently, to the next chapter and explain the remaining
15. An exposition of the remaining verses of the first stanza.
-- Ah, the sheer grace! --
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.
15.1. The soul uses as a metaphor the wretched state of captivity. It is a
sheer grace to be released from this prison without hindrance from the
jailers.1 The soul through original sin is a captive in the mortal body,
subject to passions and natural appetites; when liberated from this bondage
and submission, it considers its escape, in which it is unnoticed,
unimpeded, and unapprehended by its passions and appetites, a sheer grace.
15.2. To achieve this liberation it was advantageous for the soul to depart
in the dark night, that is, in the privation of all satisfactions and in
the mortification of all appetites, as we mentioned. "My house being now
all stilled" means that the house of all the appetites, the sensitive part
of the soul, is now stilled, and the desires conquered and lulled to sleep.
Until slumber comes to the appetites through the mortification of
sensuality, and until this very sensuality is stilled in such a way that
the appetites do not war against the spirit, the soul will not go out to
genuine freedom, to the enjoyment of union with its Beloved.
The End of the First Book
1. This book is a treatise on faith, the proximate means of ascent to union
with God. It consequently considers the second part of this night, the
night of spirit to which the following stanza refers.
The Second Stanza
In darkness and secure,
by the secret ladder, disguised,
-- ah, the sheer grace! --
in darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled.
1.1. This second stanza tells in song of the sheer grace that was the
soul's in divesting the spirit of all imperfections and appetites for
spiritual possessions. The good fortune is far greater here because of the
greater hardship involved in quieting the house that is one's spiritual
nature and entering this interior darkness (the spiritual nakedness of all
sensory and immaterial things), leaning on pure faith alone, in an ascent
by it to God.
1.1(2). The secret ladder represents faith, because all the rungs or
articles of faith are secret to and hidden from both the senses and the
intellect. Accordingly the soul lived in darkness, without any light from
the senses and intellect, and went out beyond every natural and rational
boundary to climb the divine ladder of faith that leads up to and
penetrates the deep things of God [1 Cor. 2:10].
1.1.(3). The soul declares that it was disguised because in the ascent
through faith its garments, apparel, and capacities were changed from
natural to divine. On account of this disguise, neither temporal nor
rational things nor the devil recognized or detained it. None of these can
do harm to the one who walks in faith.
1.1.(4). The soul's advance, moreover, was so concealed, hidden, and
withdrawn from all the wiles of the devil that it indeed involved darkness
and concealment. That is, the soul was hidden from the devil, to whom the
light of faith is worse than darkness. We can say as a result that a person
who walks in faith walks concealed and hidden from the devil; this will be
more evident as we proceed.
1.2. The soul, consequently, affirms that it departed "in darkness, and
secure." For anyone fortunate enough to possess the ability to journey in
the obscurity of faith, as do the blind with their guide, and depart from
all natural phantasms and intellectual reasonings, walks securely.
1.2.(2). The soul also asserts that it departed in this spiritual night
because its house was now all stilled. That is, the spiritual and rational
part of the soul was stilled, because once the soul attains union with God,
the natural faculties and the impulses and anxieties of the spiritual part
remain at rest. The poem does not proclaim that the soul went out with
urgent longings, as it does of the first night of sense. To enter the night
of sense and denude itself of sensible things, the soul needed the longings
of sensitive love. But all that is required for complete pacification of
the spiritual house is the negation through pure faith of all the spiritual
faculties and gratifications and appetites. This achieved, the soul will be
joined with the Beloved in a union of simplicity and purity and love and
1.3. It is noteworthy that the first stanza of the poem, in speaking of the
senses, asserts that the soul departed on a dark night, and this second
stanza, in speaking of the spirit, says that the soul went out in darkness.
The obscurity of the spirit is far more intense, just as "in darkness"
indicates thicker obscurity than "dark night." For however dark a night may
be, some objects are still visible, but in total darkness nothing at all
can be seen. In the night of sense there is yet some light, because the
intellect and reason remain and suffer no blindness. But this spiritual
night, which is faith, removes everything, both in the intellect and in the
senses. As a result the soul declares in this stanza that it departed in
darkness and secure, which it did not assert in the former. For the less a
soul works with its own abilities, the more securely it proceeds because
its progress in faith is greater.
1.3.(2). This darkness of faith will be the subject matter of Book Two, and
we shall discuss it at length. The devout reader, consequently, must
proceed thoughtfully, because our explanation will be most important for
persons of genuine spirituality. Though these truths are somewhat obscure,
they so shed light on one another that I believe they will all be clearly
2. Faith, the second cause or part of this night. Two proofs of why it is
darker than the first and third parts.
2.1. Faith, the second part of this night, is our next subject for
discussion. Faith is that admirable means of advancing to God, our goal.
And God, we said, is also for the soul naturally a part, or the third
cause, of this night.1
2.1.(2). Faith, the means, is comparable to midnight. We can affirm, then,
that it is darker for a person than the first part of the night and, in a
certain way, darker than the third. The first part, pertinent to the
senses, resembles twilight, the time sensible objects begin to fade from
sight. Accordingly, it is not a time so far removed from all light as is
2.1.(3). The third part, that period before dawn, approximates the light of
day. The darkness is not like that of midnight, since in this third period
of the night we approach the illumination of day. And this daylight we
compare to God. Although naturally speaking God is indeed as dark a night
to the soul as is faith, it can be affirmed that he is less dark. For when
these three parts of the night -- which are night to the soul from a
natural viewpoint -- have passed, God supernaturally illumines the soul
with the ray of his divine light. This light is the principle of the
perfect union that follows after the third night.
2.2. The first night pertains to the lower, sensory part of human nature
and is consequently more external. As a result the second night is darker.
The second, darker night of faith belongs to the rational, superior part;
it is darker and more interior because it deprives this part of its
rational light, or better, blinds it. Accordingly, it is indeed comparable
to midnight, the innermost and darkest period of night.
2.3. We must prove, now, how this second part, faith, is night to the
spirit just as the first part is to the senses. Then we will also discuss
the factors in opposition to this night and how a person actively prepares
to enter it. In its proper place we shall speak of passivity, that is, of
God's work -- without the soul -- in effecting this night. I plan to
discuss this matter in the third book.2
3. Arguments, passages, and figures from Scripture in proof that faith is a
dark night for the soul.
3.1. Faith, the theologians say, is a certain and obscure habit of soul.1
It is an obscure habit because it brings us to believe divinely revealed
truths that transcend every natural light and infinitely exceed all human
understanding. As a result the excessive light of faith bestowed on a soul
is darkness for it; a brighter light will eclipse and suppress a dimmer
one. The sun so obscures all other lights that they do not seem to be
lights at all when it is shining, and instead of affording vision to the
eyes, it overwhelms, blinds, and deprives them of vision since its light is
excessive and unproportioned to the visual faculty. Similarly, the light of
faith in its abundance suppresses and overwhelms that of the intellect. For
the intellect, by its own power, extends only to natural knowledge, though
it has the potency to be raised to a supernatural act whenever our Lord
3.2. The intellect knows only in the natural way, that is, by means of the
senses. If one is to know in this natural way, the phantasms and species of
objects will have to be present either in themselves or in their
likenesses; otherwise one will be incapable of knowing naturally. As the
scholastic philosophers say: Ab ojecto et potentia paritur notitia
(Knowledge arises in the soul from both the faculty and the object at
hand).2 If we were told of objects we had never known or seen resemblances
of, we would in the end have no more knowledge than before.
3.2.(2). For example, if we were informed that on a certain island there
was an animal whose like or kind we had never seen, we would then have no
more idea or image of that animal in our mind than previously, no matter
how much we were told.
3.2.(3). Another clearer example will shed more light on this subject: If
those born blind were told about the nature of the colors white or yellow,
they would understand absolutely nothing no matter how much instruction
they received. Since they never saw these colors nor others like them, they
would not have the means to form a judgment about them. Only the names of
these colors would be grasped since the names are perceptible through
hearing; but never their form or image, because these colors were never
seen by those born blind.3
3.3. Such is faith to the soul; it informs us of matters we have never seen
or known, either in themselves or in their likenesses. In fact, nothing
like them exists. The light of natural knowledge does not show us the
object of faith, since this object is unproportioned to any of the senses.
Yet we come to know it through hearing, by believing what faith teaches us,
blinding our natural light and bringing it into submission. St. Paul
states: Fides ex auditu [Rom. 10:17]. This amounts to saying that faith is
not a knowledge derived from the senses but an assent of the soul to what
enters through hearing.
3.4. Faith, moreover, far exceeds what these examples teach us. Not only
does it fail to produce knowledge and science but, as we said,4 it deprives
and blinds people of any other knowledge by which they may judge it. Other
knowledge is acquired by the light of the intellect, but not the knowledge
of faith. Faith nullifies the light of the intellect; and if this light is
not darkened, the knowledge of faith is lost. Accordingly, Isaiah said: Si
no credideritis, non intelligetis (If you do not believe, you will not
understand) [Is. 7:9].
3.4.(2). Faith, manifestly, is a dark night for souls, but in this way it
gives them light. The more darkness it brings on them, the more light it
sheds. For by blinding, it illumines them, according to those words of
Isaiah that if you do not believe you will not understand; that is, you
will not have light [Is. 7:9].
3.4.(3). Faith was foreshadowed in that cloud that separated the children
of Israel, just before their entry into the Red Sea, from the Egyptians
[Ex. 14:19-20]. Scripture says of the cloud: Erat nubes tenebrosa et
illuminans noctem (The cloud was dark and illuminated the night) [Ex.
3.5. How wonderful it was: A cloud, dark in itself, could illumine the
night! This was related to illustrate how faith, a dark and obscure cloud
to souls (also a night in that it blinds and deprives them of their natural
light), illumines and pours light into their darkness by means of its own
darkness. This is fitting so that the disciple may be like the master.
3.5.(2). A person in darkness does not receive adequate enlightenment save
by another darkness, according to David's teaching: Dies diei eructat
verbum et nox nocti indicat scientiam (The day brims over and breathes
speech to the day, and the night manifests knowledge to the night) [Ps.
19:3]. Expressed more clearly, this means: The day, which is God (in bliss
where it is day), communicates and pronounces the Word, his Son, to the
angels and blessed souls, who are now day; and this he does that they may
have knowledge and enjoyment of him. And the night, which is the faith,
present in the Church Militant where it is still night, manifests knowledge
to the Church and, consequently, to every soul. This knowledge is night to
souls because they do not yet possess the clear beatific wisdom, and
because faith blinds them as to their own natural light.
3.6. Our deduction is that since faith is a dark night, it illumines the
soul that is in darkness. We verify, then, David's assertion on this
matter: Et nox illuminatio in deliciis meis (Night will be my illumination
in the midst of my delights) [Ps. 139:12]. This amounts to saying: The
night of faith will be my guide in the delights of my pure contemplation
and union with God. By this passage David clearly informs us of the
darkness demanded on this road if a soul is to receive light.
4. A general discussion of how the soul with respect to its own efforts
must remain in darkness so as to be well guided by faith to supreme
4.1. I believe you are learning how faith is a dark night for the soul and
how the soul as well must be dark -- or in darkness as to its own light --
that it may allow itself to be guided by faith to this high goal of union.
But for knowledge of how to do this, a somewhat more detailed explanation
of the darkness required for entering this abyss of faith will be
beneficial. In this chapter I will deal with this darkness in a general
way. Further on I will explain, with God's help, more in particular about
the behavior necessary for obviating error in faith and any encumbrance to
4.2. I affirm, then, that if people take faith as a good guide to this
state, not only must they live in darkness in the sensory and lower part of
their nature (concerning creatures and temporal things), which we have
already discussed, but they must also darken and blind themselves in that
part of their nature that bears relation to God and spiritual things. This
latter part, which we are now discussing, is the rational and higher part
of their nature. Attaining supernatural transformation manifestly demands a
darkening of the soul and an elevation above all the sensory and rational
parts of nature, for the word "supernatural" indicates that which is above
nature; nature, consequently, remains beneath.
4.1.(2). Since this transformation and union is something that does not
fall within the reach of the senses and of human capability, the soul must
perfectly and voluntarily empty itself -- I mean in its affection and will
-- of all the earthly and heavenly things it can grasp. It must do this
insofar as it can. As for God, who will stop him from accomplishing his
desires in the soul that is resigned, annihilated, and despoiled?
4.1.(3). But people must empty themselves of all, insofar as they can, so
that however many supernatural communications they receive, they will
continually live as though denuded of them and in darkness. Like the blind,
they must lean on dark faith, accept it for their guide and light, and rest
on nothing of what they understand, taste, feel, or imagine. All these
perceptions are darkness that will lead them astray. Faith lies beyond all
this understanding, taste, feeling, and imagining. If they do not blind
themselves in these things and abide in total darkness, they will not reach
what is greater: the teaching of faith.
4.3. Those who are not yet entirely blind will not allow a good guide to
lead them. Still able to perceive a little, they think that the road they
see is the best, for they are unable to see other and better ones. And
because these individuals themselves are the ones giving the orders, they
will consequently lead astray their young guide who has better vision.
Similarly, if the soul in traveling this road leans on any elements of its
own knowledge or of its experience or knowledge of God, it will easily go
astray or be detained because it did not desire to abide in complete
blindness, in the faith that is its guide. However impressive may be one's
knowledge or experience of God, that knowledge or experience will have no
resemblance to God and amount to very little.
4.4. St. Paul also meant this in his assertion: Accedentem ad Deum oportet
credere quod est (Whoever would approach union with God should believe in
His existence) [Heb. 11:6]. This is like saying: Those who want to reach
union with God should advance neither by understanding, nor by the support
of their own experience, nor by feeling or imagination, but by belief in
God's being. For God's being cannot be grasped by the intellect, appetite,
imagination, or any other sense; nor can it be known in this life. The most
that can be felt and tasted of God in this life is infinitely distant from
God and the pure possession of him. Isaiah and St. Paul affirm: Nec oculus
videt, nec auris audivit, nec in cor hominis ascendit quae praeparavit Deus
iis qui diligunt illum (No eye has ever seen, nor ear heard, nor has the
human heart or thought ever grasped what God has prepared for those who
love him) [Is. 64:4; 1 Cor. 2:9].
4.4.(2).Now souls in this life may be seeking to unite themselves perfectly
through grace with what they will be united to in the next through glory
(with what St. Paul says eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor the human,
fleshly heart grasped). But, manifestly, the perfect union in this life
through grace and love demands that they live in darkness to all the
objects of sight, hearing, and imagination, and to everything
comprehensible to the heart, which signifies the soul.
4.4.(3). Those are decidedly hindered, then, from attainment of this high
state of union with God who are attached to any understanding, feeling,
imagining, opinion, desire, or way of their own, or to any other of their
works or affairs, and know not how to detach and denude themselves of these
impediments. Their goal, as we said, transcends all of this, even the
loftiest object that can be known or experienced. Consequently they must
pass beyond everything to unknowing.
4.5. As regards this road to union, entering on the road means leaving
one's own road; or better, moving on to the goal. And turning from one's
own mode implies entry into what has no mode, that is, God. Individuals who
reach this state no longer have any modes or methods, still less are they
attached to them, nor can they be. I am referring to modes of
understanding, tasting, and feeling. Within themselves, though, they
possess all methods, like one who though having nothing yet possesses all
things [2 Cor. 6:10]. By being courageous enough to pass beyond the
interior and exterior limits of their own nature, they enter into
supernatural bounds -- bounds that have no mode, yet in substance possess
all modes. To reach these supernatural bounds, souls must depart from their
natural bounds -- and leave self far off in respect to both bounds -- in
order to mount from a low state to the highest.
4.6. Passing beyond all that is naturally and spiritually intelligible or
comprehensible, souls ought to desire with all their might to attain what
in this life could never be known or enter the human heart. And parting
company with all they can or do taste and feel, temporally and spiritually,
they must ardently long to acquire what surpasses all taste and feeling. To
be empty and free for the achievement of this, they should by no means
seize on what they receive spiritually or sensitively (as we shall explain
in our particular discussion of this matter), but consider it of little
import. The higher the rank and esteem they give to all this knowledge,
experience, and imagining (whether spiritual or not), the more they
subtract from the Supreme Good and the more they delay in their journey
toward him. And the less they esteem what they can possess -- however
estimable it may be relative to the Supreme Good -- the more they value and
prize him, and, consequently, the closer they come to him. In this way, in
obscurity, souls approach union swiftly by means of faith, which is also
dark. And in this way faith gives them wondrous light. Obviously, if they
should desire to see, they would be in darkness as regards God more quickly
than anyone who looks to see the blinding brightness of the sun.
4.7. By blinding one's faculties along this road, one will see light, as
the Savior proclaims in the Gospel: In judicium veni in hunc mundum: ut qui
non vident videant, et qui vident caeci fiant (I have come into this world
for judgment, that they who see not, may see, and that they who see may
become blind) [Jn. 9:39]. In reference to the spiritual road, these words
should be understood literally, that is: Those who both live in darkness
and blind themselves to all their natural lights will have supernatural
vision, and those who want to lean on some light of their own will become
blind and be held back on this road leading to union.
4.8. That we may continue with less confusion, I believe it will be
necessary in the following chapter to explain this reality we call union
with God. Since an understanding of the nature of union will shed more
light on the subsequent doctrine, I think this is the suitable place for a
discussion of it. Although our thread of thought will be interrupted, we
will not be digressing, because an explanation of this union will serve to
illustrate the matter we are treating. The following chapter will be like a
parenthesis within the same enthymeme, since in this second night we plan
to treat of the relationship of the three faculties of the soul to the
three theological virtues.
5. Explanation of the nature of union with God. An illustration.
5.1. In our previous discussion, we have already given some indication of
the meaning of the phrase "union of the soul with God." Thus our teaching
here about the nature of this union will be more understandable.
5.1.(2). It is not my intention now to discuss the divisions and parts of
this union. Indeed, I would never finish were I to begin explaining the
union of the intellect, or that of the will or the memory, or trying to
expound the nature of the transitory and the permanent union in each of
these faculties, or the significance of the total, the transitory, or the
permanent union wrought in these three faculties together. We will discuss
all this frequently in the course of our treatise. But such an exposition
is unnecessary for an understanding of what we now wish to state about
these different unions. A better explanation of them will be given in
sections dealing with the subject, and then we shall have a concrete
example to go with the actual teaching. In those sections the reader will
note and understand the union being discussed and will form a better
judgment of it.
5.2. Here I intend to discuss only this total and permanent union in the
substance and faculties of the soul. And I shall be speaking of the obscure
habit of union, for we will explain later, with God's help, how a permanent
actual union of the faculties in this life is impossible; such a union can
only be transitory.1
5.3. To understand the nature of this union, one should first know that God
sustains every soul and dwells in it substantially, even though it may be
that of the greatest sinner in the world. This union between God and
creatures always exists. By it he conserves their being so that if the
union should end they would immediately be annihilated and cease to exist.
Consequently, in discussing union with God we are not discussing the
substantial union that always exists, but the soul's union with and
transformation in God that does not always exist, except when there is
likeness of love. We will call it the union of likeness; and the former,
the essential or substantial union. The union of likeness is supernatural;
the other, natural. The supernatural union exists when God's will and the
soul's are in conformity, so that nothing in the one is repugnant to the
other. When the soul rids itself completely of what is repugnant and
unconformed to the divine will, it rests transformed in God through love.
5.4. Ridding oneself of what is repugnant to God's will should be
understood not only of one's acts but of one's habits as well. Not only
must actual voluntary imperfections cease, but habitual imperfections must
be annihilated too.
5.4.(2). No creature, none of its actions and abilities, can reach or
encompass God's nature. Consequently, a soul must strip itself of
everything pertaining to creatures and of its actions and abilities (of its
understanding, satisfaction, and feeling), so that when everything unlike
and unconformed to God is cast out, it may receive the likeness of God. And
the soul will receive this likeness because nothing contrary to the will of
God will be left in it. Thus it will be transformed in God.
5.4.(3). It is true that God is ever present in the soul, as we said, and
thereby bestows and preserves its natural being by his sustaining presence.
Yet he does not always communicate supernatural being to it. He
communicates supernatural being only through love and grace, which not all
souls possess. And those who do, do not possess them in the same degree.
Some have attained higher degrees of love, others remain in lower degrees.
To the soul that is more advanced in love, more conformed to the divine
will, God communicates himself more. A person who has reached complete
conformity and likeness of will has attained total supernatural union and
transformation in God.
5.4.(4). Manifestly, then, the more that individuals through attachment and
habit are clothed with their own abilities and with creatures, the less
disposed they are for this union. For they do not afford God full
opportunity to transform their souls into the supernatural. As a result,
individuals have nothing more to do than to strip their souls of these
natural contraries and dissimilarities so that God, who is naturally
communicating himself to them through nature, may do so supernaturally
5.5. This is what St. John meant when he said: Qui non ex sanguinibus,
neque ex voluntate carnis, neque ex voluntate viri, sed ex Deo nati sunt
[Jn. 1:13], which can be interpreted: He gives power for becoming the
children of God (for being transformed in God) only to those who are not
born of blood (combinations of the natural humors), or of the will of the
flesh (the free will included in one's natural aptitude and capacity), or
even less of the human will (which includes every mode and manner by which
the intellect judges and understands). To none of these has he conferred
the power of becoming the children of God; only to those who are born of
God (those who, in their rebirth through grace and death to everything of
the old self [Eph. 4:22], rise above themselves to the supernatural and
receive from God this rebirth and relationship as his children, which
transcends everything imaginable).
5.5.(2). St. John affirms elsewhere: Nisi quis renatus fuerit ex aqua et
spiritu Sancto non potest videre regnum Dei (The one who is not reborn in
the Holy Spirit will be unable to see the kingdom of God, which is the
state of perfection) [Jn.3:5]. To be reborn in the Holy Spirit during this
life is to become most like God in purity, without any mixture of
imperfection. Accordingly, pure transformation can be effected -- although
not essentially -- through the participation of union.
5.6. Here is an example that will provide a better understanding of this
explanation. A ray of sunlight shining on a smudgy window is unable to
illumine that window completely and transform it into its own light. It
could do this if the window were cleaned and polished. The less the film
and stain are wiped away, the less the window will be illumined; and the
cleaner the window is, the brighter will be its illumination. The extent of
illumination is not dependent on the ray of sunlight but on the window. If
the window is totally clean and pure, the sunlight will so transform and
illumine it that to all appearances the window will be identical with the
ray of sunlight and shine just as the sun's ray. Although obviously the
nature of the window is distinct from that of the sun's ray (even if the
two seem identical), we can assert that the window is the ray or light of
the sun by participation. The soul on which the divine light of God's being
is ever shining, or better, in which it is ever dwelling by nature, is like
this window, as we have affirmed.
5.7. A soul makes room for God by wiping away all the smudges and smears of
creatures, by uniting its will perfectly to God's; for to love is to labor
to divest and deprive oneself for God of all that is not God. When this is
done the soul will be illumined by and transformed in God. And God will so
communicate his supernatural being to the soul that it will appear to be
God himself and will possess what God himself possesses.
5.7.(2). When God grants this supernatural favor to the soul, so great a
union is caused that all the things of both God and the soul become one in
participant transformation, and the soul appears to be God more than a
soul. Indeed, it is God by participation. Yet truly, its being (even though
transformed) is naturally as distinct from God's as it was before, just as
the window, although illumined by the ray, has being distinct from the
5.8. Consequently, we understand with greater clarity that the preparation
for this union, as we said,2 is not an understanding by the soul, nor the
taste, feeling, or imagining of God or of any other object, but purity and
love, the stripping off and perfect renunciation of all such experiences
for God alone. Also we clearly see how perfect transformation is impossible
without perfect purity, and how the illumination of the soul and its union
with God correspond to the measure of its purity. The illumination will not
be perfect until the soul is entirely cleansed, clear, and perfect.
5.9. The following example will also shed light on the nature of this
union. Let us imagine a perfect painting with many finely wrought details
and delicate, subtle adornments, including some so delicate and subtle that
they are not wholly discernible. Now one whose sense of sight is not too
clear and refined will discover less detail and delicacy in the painting;
one whose vision is somewhat purer will discover more details and
perfections; and another with yet clearer vision will find still more
perfection; finally, the one who possesses the clearest faculty will
discern the greatest number of excellent qualities and perfections. There
is so much to behold in the painting that no matter how much one sees in
it, still more remains unseen.
5.10. We can make the same application to souls in their relationship with
God in this illumination and transformation. Although individuals may have
truly reached union, this union will be proportioned to their lesser or
greater capacity, for not all souls attain an identical degree of union.
This depends on what the Lord wishes to grant each one. Here we have a
resemblance to the saints' vision of God in heaven: Some see more, others
less, but all see him and are happy because, whatever their capacity, it is
5.11. In this life we may encounter individuals who are in the state of
perfection and enjoy equal peace and tranquility, and the capacity of each
will be satisfied, yet one may be many degrees higher than the other. Those
who do not reach purity in the measure of their capacity never reach true
peace and satisfaction; they have not attained in their faculties the
nakedness and emptiness that are required for the simple union.
6. The theological virtues perfect the faculties of the soul and produce
emptiness and darkness in them.
6.1. We must discuss the method of leading the three faculties (intellect,
memory, and will) into this spiritual night, the means to divine union. But
we must first explain how the theological virtues, faith, hope, and charity
(related to these faculties as their proper supernatural objects), through
which the soul is united with God, cause the same emptiness and darkness in
their respective faculties: faith in the intellect, hope in the memory, and
charity in the will. Then we shall explain how in order to journey to God
the intellect must be perfected in the darkness of faith, the memory in the
emptiness of hope, and the will in the nakedness and absence of every
6.1.(2). As a result it will be seen how necessary it is for the soul, if
it is to walk securely, to journey through this dark night with the support
of these three virtues. They darken and empty it of all things. As we
said,1 the soul is not united with God in this life through understanding,
or through enjoyment, or through imagination, or through any other sense;
but only faith, hope, and charity (according to the intellect, memory, and
will) can unite the soul with God in this life.
6.2. These virtues, as we said, void the faculties: Faith causes darkness
and a void of understanding in the intellect, hope begets an emptiness of
possessions in the memory, and charity produces the nakedness and emptiness
of affection and joy in all that is not God.
6.2.(2). Faith, we saw, affirms what cannot be understood by the intellect.
St. Paul refers to it ad Hebraeos in this way: Fides est sperandarum
substantia rerum, argumentum non apparentium [Heb. 11:1]. In relation to
our discussion here, this means that faith is the substance of things to be
hoped for and that these things are not manifest to the intellect, even
though its consent to them is firm and certain. If they were manifest,
there would be no faith. For though faith brings certitude to the
intellect, it does not produce clarity, but only darkness.
6.3. Hope, also, undoubtedly puts the memory in darkness and emptiness as
regards all earthly and heavenly objects. Hope always pertains to the
unpossessed object. If something were possessed there could no longer be
hope for it. St. Paul says ad Romanos: Spes quae videtur, non est spes; nam
quod videt quis, quid sperat? (Hope that is seen is not hope, for how does
a person hope for what is seen -- that is, what is possessed?) [Rom. 8:24].
As a result this virtue also occasions emptiness, since it is concerned
with unpossessed things and not with the possessed object.
6.4. Charity, too, causes a void in the will regarding all things since it
obliges us to love God above everything. We have to withdraw our affection
from all in order to center it wholly upon God. Christ says through St.
Luke: Qui non renuntiat omnibus quae possidet, not potest meus esse
discipulus (Whoever does not renounce all that the will possesses cannot be
my disciple) [Lk. 14:33]. Consequently, these three virtues place a soul in
darkness and emptiness in respect to all things.
6.5. That parable our Redeemer told in the 11th chapter of St. Luke is
noteworthy here [Lk. 11:5]. He related that one friend went to another at
midnight to ask for three loaves (which signify these three virtues). And
he asserted that the friend asked for them at midnight to indicate that the
soul must acquire these three virtues by a darkness in its faculties
regarding all things, and must perfect itself in these virtues by means of
6.5.(2). In the sixth chapter of Isaiah we read that the prophet saw a
seraph at each side of God, and that they each had six wings: with two
wings they covered their feet, which signified the blinding and quenching
of the affections of the will for God; with two they covered their faces,
which signified the darkness of the intellect in God's presence; and with
the two remaining wings they flew, so as to indicate the flight of hope
toward things that are not possessed, an elevation above everything outside
of God that can be possessed, earthly or heavenly [Is. 6:2].
6.6. We must lead the faculties of the soul, then, to these three virtues
and inform each faculty with one of them by stripping and darkening it of
everything that is not conformable to these virtues. Doing this refers to
the spiritual night that we above called active,3 because one does what
lies in one's own power to enter this night. As we outlined for the sensory
night a method of emptying the sense faculties, with regard to the
appetite, of their visible objects so that the soul might leave the point
of departure for the mean, which is faith, so for this spiritual night we
will present, with divine help, a way to empty and purify the spiritual
faculties of all that is not God. By this method these faculties can abide
in the darkness of these three virtues, which are the means and
preparation, as we said, for the soul's union with God.
6.7. This method provides complete security against the cunning of the
devil and the power of self-love in all its ramifications. Usually self-
love subtly deceives and hinders the journey of spiritual persons along
this road, because they do not know how to denude and govern themselves by
means of these three virtues. They never succeed, therefore, in finding the
substance and purity of spiritual good; neither do they journey by as
straight and short a road as they might.
6.8. Remember that I am now especially addressing those who have begun to
enter the state of contemplation; with regard to beginners this journey
should be discussed in somewhat more detail. We will do this with God's
help in the second book when we deal with the characteristics of
7. The extreme narrowness of the path leading to eternal life. The
denudation and freedom required of those who tread it. The nakedness of the
7. 1. I would need greater knowledge and spirituality than I possess to
treat of the denudation and purity of the three faculties of the soul. For
I desire to give clear instructions to spiritual persons on the narrowness
of the way leading to life -- that narrowness of which our Savior spoke --
so that convinced of this they will not marvel at the emptiness and
nakedness in which we must leave the faculties of the soul in this night.
7.2. We ought to note carefully our Savior's words in St. Matthew's Gospel,
chapter seven, about this road: Quam angusta porta et arcta via est quae
ducit ad vitam! Et pauci sunt qui inveniunt eam (How narrow is the gate and
constricting the way that leads to life! And few there are who find it)
[Mt. 7:14]. We should note particularly in this passage the exaggeration
and hyperbole conveyed by the word quam. This is like saying: Indeed the
gate is very narrow, more so than you think.
7.2.(2). We must also note that first he says the gate is narrow to teach
that entrance through this gate of Christ (the beginning of the journey)
involves a divestment and narrowing of the will in relation to all sensible
and temporal objects by loving God more than all of them. This task belongs
to the night of sense, as we have said.1
7.3. Next he asserts that the way (that is, of perfection) is constricting
in order to teach that the journey along this way involves not only
entering through the narrow gate, a void of sense objects, but also
constricting oneself through dispossession and the removal of obstacles in
matters relating to the spiritual part of the soul.
7.3.(2). We can apply, then, what Christ says about the narrow gate to the
sensitive part of the human person, and what he says about the constricting
way to the spiritual or rational part. Since he proclaims that few find it,
we ought to note the cause: Few there are with the knowledge and desire to
enter into this supreme nakedness and emptiness of spirit. As this path on
the high mount of perfection is narrow and steep, it demands travelers who
are neither weighed down by the lower part of their nature nor burdened in
the higher part. This is a venture in which God alone is sought and gained;
thus only God ought to be sought and gained.
7.4. Obviously one's journey must not merely exclude the hindrance of
creatures but also embody a dispossession and annihilation in the spiritual
part of one's nature. Our Lord, for our instruction and guidance along this
road, imparted that wonderful teaching -- I think it is possible to affirm
that the more necessary the doctrine the less it is practiced by spiritual
persons -- that I will quote fully and explain in its genuine and spiritual
sense because of its importance and relevance to our subject. He states in
the eighth chapter of St. Mark: Si quis vult me sequi, deneget semetipsum
et tollat crucem suam et sequatur me. Qui enim voluerit animam suam salvam
facere, perdet eam; qui autem perdiderit animam suam propter me ... salvam
faciet eam (If anyone wishes to follow my way, let him deny himself, take
up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his soul will lose it,
but whoever loses it for me will gain it) [Mk. 8:34-35].
7.5. Oh, who can make this counsel of our Savior on self-denial
understandable, and practicable, and attractive, that spiritual persons
might become aware of the difference between the method many of them think
is good and the one that ought to be used in traveling this road! They are
of the opinion that any kind of withdrawal from the world, or reformation
of life, suffices. Some are content with a certain degree of virtue,
perseverance in prayer, and mortification, but never achieve the nakedness,
poverty, selflessness, or spiritual purity (which are all the same) about
which the Lord counsels us here. For they still feed and clothe their
natural selves with spiritual feelings and consolations instead of
divesting and denying themselves of these for God's sake. They think denial
of self in worldly matters is sufficient without annihilation and
purification in the spiritual domain. It happens that, when some of this
solid, perfect food (the annihilation of all sweetness in God -- the pure
spiritual cross and nakedness of Christ's poverty of spirit) is offered
them in dryness, distaste, and trial, they run from it as from death and
wander about in search only of sweetness and delightful communications from
God. Such an attitude is not the hallmark of self-denial and nakedness of
spirit but the indication of a spiritual sweet tooth. Through this kind of
conduct they become, spiritually speaking, enemies of the cross of Christ
7.5.(2). A genuine spirit seeks rather the distasteful in God than the
delectable, leans more toward suffering than toward consolation, more
toward going without everything for God than toward possession, and toward
dryness and affliction than toward sweet consolation. It knows that this is
the significance of following Christ and denying self, that the other
method is perhaps a seeking of self in God -- something entirely contrary
to love. Seeking oneself in God is the same as looking for the caresses and
consolations of God. Seeking God in oneself entails not only the desire to
do without these consolations for God's sake, but also the inclination to
choose for love of Christ all that is most distasteful whether in God or in
the world; and this is what loving God means.
7.6. Oh, who can explain the extent of the denial our Lord wishes of us!
This negation must be similar to a temporal, natural, and spiritual death
in all things; that is, with regard to the esteem the will has for them. It
is in the will that all negation takes place. Our Savior referred to this
when he declared: Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it (Those who
want to possess something, or seek it for self, will lose it); and whoever
loses his soul for my sake will gain it [Mt. 16:25; Lk. 9:24]. This latter
means: Those who renounce for Christ all that their wills can both desire
and enjoy by choosing what bears closer resemblance to the cross -- which
in St. John our Lord terms hating one's own soul [Jn. 12:25] -- these same
will gain it.
7.6.(2). His Majesty taught this to those two disciples who came to ask him
for places at his right and left. Without responding to their request for
glory, he offered them the chalice he was about to drink as something safer
and more precious on this earth than enjoyment [Mt. 20:22].
7.7. This chalice means death to one's natural self through denudation and
annihilation. By this means one is able to walk along the narrow path in
the sensitive part of the soul, as we said,2 and in the spiritual part (as
we will now say), in one's understanding, joy, and feeling. Accordingly, a
person can attain to dispossession in both parts of the soul. Not only
this, but even in the spirit one will be unhindered in one's journey on the
narrow road. For on this road there is room only for self-denial (as our
Savior asserts) and the cross. The cross is a supporting staff and greatly
lightens and eases the journey.
7.7.(2). Our Lord proclaimed through St. Matthew: My yoke is sweet and my
burden light [Mt. 11:30], the burden being the cross. If individuals
resolutely submit to the carrying of the cross, if they decidedly want to
find and endure trial in all things for God, they will discover in all of
them great relief and sweetness. This will be so because they will be
traveling the road denuded of all and with no desire for anything. If they
aim after the possession of something, from God or elsewhere, their journey
will not be one of nakedness and detachment from all things, and
consequently there will be no room for them on this narrow path nor will
they be able to climb it.
7.8. I should like to persuade spiritual persons that the road leading to
God does not entail a multiplicity of considerations, methods, manners, and
experiences -- though in their own way these may be a requirement for
beginners -- but demands only the one thing necessary: true self-denial,
exterior and interior, through surrender of self both to suffering for
Christ and to annihilation in all things. In the exercise of this self-
denial everything else, and even more, is discovered and accomplished. If
one fails in this exercise, the root and sum total of all the virtues, the
other methods would amount to no more than going around in circles without
getting anywhere, even were one to enjoy considerations and communications
as lofty as those of the angels.
7.8.(2). A person makes progress only by imitating Christ, who is the Way,
the Truth, and the Life. No one goes to the Father but through him, as he
states himself in St. John [Jn. 14:6]. Elsewhere he says: I am the door;
anyone who enters by me shall be saved [Jn. 10:9]. Accordingly, I would not
consider any spirituality worthwhile that wants to walk in sweetness and
ease and run from the imitation of Christ.
7.9. Because I have said that Christ is the way and that this way is a
death to our natural selves in the sensory and spiritual parts of the soul,
I would like to demonstrate how this death is patterned on Christ's, for he
is our model and light.
7.10. First, during his life he certainly died spiritually to the sensitive
part, and at his death he died naturally. He proclaimed during his life
that he had no place whereon to lay his head [Mt. 8:20]. And at his death
he had less.
7.11. Second, at the moment of his death he was certainly annihilated in
his soul, without any consolation or relief, since the Father had left him
that way in innermost aridity in the lower part. He was thereby compelled
to cry out: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? [Mt. 27:46]. This was
the most extreme abandonment, sensitively, that he had suffered in his
life. And by it he accomplished the most marvelous work of his whole life,
surpassing all the works and deeds and miracles that he had ever performed
on earth or in heaven. That is, he brought about the reconciliation and
union of the human race with God through grace. The Lord achieved this, as
I say, at the moment in which he was most annihilated in all things: in his
reputation before people, since in watching him die they mocked him instead
of esteeming him; in his human nature, by dying; and in spiritual help and
consolation from his Father, for he was forsaken by his Father at that
time, annihilated and reduced to nothing, so as to pay the debt fully and
bring people to union with God. David says of him: Ad nihilum redactus sum
et nescivi [Ps. 73:22], that those who are truly spiritual might understand
the mystery of the door and way (which is Christ) leading to union with
God, and that they might realize that their union with God and the
greatness of the work they accomplish will be measured by their
annihilation of themselves for God in the sensory and spiritual parts of
their souls. When they are reduced to nothing, the highest degree of
humility, the spiritual union between their souls and God will be an
accomplished fact. This union is the most noble and sublime state
attainable in this life. The journey, then, does not consist in
consolations, delights, and spiritual feelings, but in the living death of
the cross, sensory and spiritual, exterior and interior.
7.12. I will not enlarge on this, though I would like to continue
discussing the matter because from my observations Christ is little known
by those who consider themselves his friends. For we see them going about
seeking in him their own consolations and satisfactions, loving themselves
very much, but not loving him very much by seeking his bitter trials and
7.12.(2). I am referring to those who believe themselves his friends, not
to those who live withdrawn and far away from him, people of extensive
learning and high repute, and many others living elsewhere in the world,
anxious about their pretensions and rank. These people, we can affirm, do
not know Christ. However prosperous the end of their lives may seem, it
will be in fact most bitter to them. On judgment day they will be spoken
of, for they are the ones to whom we should first speak this word of God
[Acts 13:46]. Because of their learning and higher state, they are the ones
whom God intended as the target for this doctrine.
7.13. Let us address the intellects of spiritual people, particularly of
those whom God has favored with the state of contemplation, for as I
asserted,3 I am now speaking especially to these people. We will discuss
the direction of self to God through faith and the purification of what is
contrary to faith, so that by constricting itself the soul may enter on the
narrow path of obscure contemplation.
8. No creature or knowledge comprehensible to the intellect can serve it as
a proximate means for divine union with God.
8.1. Before dealing with faith, the proper and adequate means of union with
God, we should prove how nothing created or imagined can serve the
intellect as a proper means for union with God, and how all that can be
grasped by the intellect would serve as an obstacle rather than a means if
a person were to become attached to it.
8.1.(2). This chapter will contain a general proof of this; afterward we
will discuss in particular all the knowledge that the intellect can receive
through the interior or exterior senses. We will also deal with the
difficulty and harm occasioned by these exterior and interior ideas, for
because of them the intellect does not advance with the support of faith,
which is the proper means.
8.2. Let it be recalled, then, that according to a philosophical axiom all
means must be proportionate to their end.1 That is, they must manifest a
certain accord with and likeness to the end so that through them the
desired end may be attained.
8.2.(2). Here is an example: Those who want to reach a city must
necessarily take the road, the means, that leads to the city. Another
example: If fire is to be united with a log of wood, it is necessary for
heat, the means, to prepare the log first, through so many degrees of heat,
with a certain likeness and proportion to the fire. Now if anyone wanted to
prepare the log by a means other than the proper one, which is fire, a
means such as air, water, or earth, there would be no possibility of union
between the log and the fire, just as it would be impossible to reach the
city without taking the proper road that connects with it. If the
intellect, then, is to reach union with God in this life, insofar as is
possible, it must take the means that bears a proximate likeness to God and
unites with him.
8.3. It is noteworthy that among all creatures, both superior and inferior,
none bears a likeness to God's being or unites proximately with him.
Although truly, as theologians say, all creatures carry with them a certain
relation to God and a trace of him (greater or less according to the
perfection of their being), yet God has no relation or essential likeness
to them.2 Rather the difference that lies between his divine being and
their being is infinite. Consequently, intellectual comprehension of God
through heavenly or earthly creatures is impossible; there is no proportion
8.3.(2). David proclaims in reference to heavenly creatures: There is none
among the gods like you, O Lord! [Ps. 86:8], calling the angels and saints
gods. And elsewhere he declares: O God, your way is in the holy place, what
great God is there like our God? [Ps. 77:13]. This was equivalent to saying
that the way of approach to you, O God, is a holy way, namely, purity of
faith. For what god can be great enough (that is, what angel so elevated in
being, or saint in glory) to serve as an adequate and sufficient approach
8.3.(3). David also proclaims of earthly and heavenly things: The Lord is
high up and looks at low things, and the high things he knows from afar
[Ps. 138:6]. In other words: High in his own being, he looks at the being
of objects here below as exceedingly low in comparison with his high being;
and the high things, the heavenly creatures, he knows to be far distant
from his own being. Thus no creature can serve the intellect as a
proportionate means to the attainment of God.
8.4. Nothing in this life that could be imagined or received and understood
by the intellect can be a proximate means of union with God. In our natural
way of knowing, the intellect can grasp an object only through the forms
and phantasms of things perceived by the bodily senses. Since, as we said,3
these things cannot serve as a means, the intellect cannot profit from its
8.4.(2). If we speak of supernatural knowing, insofar as one can in this
life, we must say that the intellect of its ordinary power, while in the
prison of this body, is neither capable of nor prepared for the reception
of the clear knowledge of God. Such knowledge does not belong to our
earthly state; either one must die or go without this knowledge.
8.4.(3). God told Moses, who had asked for this clear knowledge, that no
one would be able to see him: No one shall see me and remain alive [Ex.
33:20]. St. John says: No one has ever seen God or anything like him [Jn.
1:18]. And St. Paul with Isaiah says: Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor
has it entered the human heart [1Cor. 2:9; Is. 64:4]. This is why Moses, as
affirmed in the Acts of the Apostles, did not dare to look at the bush
while God was present. He knew that his intellect was powerless to consider
God in an appropriate way, a way that conformed to what he felt about him
[Acts 7: 30-32]. It is told of our Father Elijah4 that on the mount he
covered his face (blinded his intellect) in the presence of God [1Kgs.
19:11-13]. He did this because, in his lowliness, he did not dare to gaze
on something so lofty, and he clearly realized that anything he might
behold or understand particularly would be far distant from God and most
8.5. In this mortal life no supernatural knowledge or apprehension can
serve as a proximate means for high union with God through love. Everything
the intellect can understand, the will enjoy, and the imagination picture
is most unlike and disproportioned to God, as we have said.5
8.5.(2). Isaiah brought this out admirably in a noteworthy passage: To what
have you been able to liken God? Or what image will you fashion like to
him? Will the ironsmith by chance be able to cast a statue? Or will the
goldsmith be able to mold him out of gold, or the silversmith with plates
of silver? [Is. 40:18-19].
8.5.(3). The ironsmith signifies the intellect whose work is to form the
concept by removing the iron of sensible species and phantasms. The
goldsmith signifies the will, which is capable of receiving the figure and
form of delight caused by the gold of love. The silversmith, who was unable
to fashion him from plates of silver, signifies both the memory and the
imagination. The concepts and images that these powers mold and construct
can easily be likened to plates of silver. It is as if Isaiah had said that
the intellect will be unable through its ideas to understand anything like
God, the will unable to experience a delight and sweetness resembling him,
and the memory unable to place in the imagination remembrances and images
8.5.(4). Manifestly, then, none of these ideas can serve the intellect as a
proximate means leading to God. In order to draw nearer the divine ray, the
intellect must advance by unknowing rather than by the desire to know, and
by blinding itself and remaining in darkness rather than by opening its
8.6. Contemplation, consequently, by which the intellect has a higher
knowledge of God, is called mystical theology, meaning the secret wisdom of
God. For this wisdom is secret to the very intellect that receives it. St.
Dionysius on this account refers to contemplation as a ray of darkness.6
The prophet Baruch declares of this wisdom: There is no one who knows her
way or can think of her paths [Bar. 3:23]. To reach union with God the
intellect must obviously blind itself to all the paths along which it can
travel. Aristotle teaches that just as the sun is total darkness to the
eyes of a bat, so the brightest light in God is total darkness to our
intellect. And he teaches in addition that the loftier and clearer the
things of God are in themselves, the more unknown and obscure they are to
us.7 The Apostle also affirms this teaching, saying that what is highest in
God is least known by humans [Rom. 11:33].
8.7. We would never finish if we continued to quote authorities and present
arguments as proof that there is no ladder among all created, knowable
things by which the intellect can reach this high Lord. Rather, it should
be known that if the intellect desired to use all or any of these objects
as a proximate means to this union, it would be encumbered by them. Not
only this, but they would become an occasion of many errors and delusions
in the ascent of this mount.
9. Faith is the proximate and proportionate means to the intellect for the
attainment of the divine union of love. Proofs from passages and figures of
9.1. We can gather from what has been said that to be prepared for this
divine union the intellect must be cleansed and emptied of everything
relating to sense, divested and liberated of everything clearly
intelligible, inwardly pacified and silenced, and supported by faith alone,
which is the only proximate and proportionate means to union with God. For
the likeness between faith and God is so close that no other difference
exists than that between believing in God and seeing him. Just as God is
infinite, faith proposes him to us as infinite. Just as there are three
Persons in one God, it presents him to us in this way. And just as God is
darkness to our intellect, so faith dazzles and blinds us. Only by means of
faith, in divine light exceeding all understanding, does God manifest
himself to the soul. The greater one's faith the closer is one's union with
9.1.(2). St. Paul indicated this in the passage cited above: The one who
would be united with God must believe [Heb. 11:6]. This means that people
must walk by faith in their journey to God. The intellect must be blind and
dark and abide in faith alone, because it is joined with God under this
cloud. And as David proclaims, God is hidden under the cloud: He set
darkness under his feet. And he rose above the cherubim and flew on the
wings of the wind. He made darkness and the dark water his hiding place
9.2. This darkness under God's feet and of his hiding place and the dark
water of his dwelling denote the obscurity of faith in which he is
enclosed. The verse stating that he rose above the cherubim and flew on the
wings of the wind alludes to how God soars above all understanding. The
cherubim refer to those who understand or contemplate; the wings of the
wind signify the subtle ideas and lofty concepts of the spirit. Above these
is his being, which no one can reach through human effort.
9.3. In Scripture we read figuratively of this that when Solomon had
completed the temple, God descended in darkness and filled it so that the
children of Israel were unable to see. Solomon then said: The Lord has
promised to dwell in darkness [1Kgs. 8:12]. God was also covered with
darkness when he appeared to Moses on the mount [Ex. 24:16]. And as often
as God communicated at length with someone, he appeared in darkness. This
is evident in the Book of Job, where Scripture asserts that God spoke to
Job from the dark air [Jb. 38:1; 40:1].
9.3.(2). All of this darkness signifies the obscurity of faith with which
the divinity is clothed while communicating itself to the soul. This
darkness will be dispelled when, as St. Paul states, that which is in part
(this darkness of faith) is taken away, and that which is perfect (the
divine light) comes [1 Cor. 13:10]. We also find a fairly good figure of
this obscurity of faith in the scriptural narration about the militia of
Gideon. According to that account, all the soldiers held lamps in their
hands, yet did not see the light because the lamps were hidden in darkness
within earthenware jars. But when these jars were broken, the light
appeared [Jgs. 7:16-20]. Faith, represented by those clay jars, contains
the divine light. When faith reaches its end and is shattered by the ending
and breaking of this mortal life, the glory and light of the divinity, the
content of faith, will at once appear.
9.4. Clearly, then, union with God in this life, and direct communication
with him, demands that we be united with the darkness in which, as Solomon
said [1Kgs. 8:12], God promised to dwell, and that we approach the dark air
in which God was pleased to reveal his secrets to Job. Individuals must
take in darkness the earthenware jars of Gideon and hold in their hands
(the works of their wills) the lamp (the union of love, though in the
darkness of faith), so that when the clay jar of this life, which is all
that impedes the light of faith, is broken, they may see God face to face
9.5. We must discuss now in particular all the concepts and apprehensions
of the intellect, the hindrance and harm that can be suffered along this
road of faith, and the conduct that is proper for the soul. We do this so
that the soul may profit from both sensory and spiritual apprehensions
rather than undergo harm.
10. A division of all apprehensions and ideas comprehensible to the
10.1. To discuss in particular both the advantage and the harm that
intellectual concepts and apprehensions cause to the soul's faith, which is
the means to divine union, we need to set up a division of all the natural
and supernatural apprehensions of the intellect. Later, then, in a more
logical order we shall be able to guide the intellect through them into the
night and darkness of faith. Our division will be as concise as possible.
10.2. It is noteworthy that the intellect can get ideas and concepts in two
ways, naturally and supernaturally. Natural knowledge includes everything
the intellect can understand by way of the bodily senses or through
reflection. Supernatural knowledge comprises everything imparted to the
intellect in a way transcending the intellect's natural ability and
10.3. This supernatural knowledge is subdivided into corporeal and
spiritual. The corporeal is made up of two kinds: knowledge received from
the exterior bodily senses, and knowledge received from the interior bodily
senses, including all that the imagination can apprehend, form, or fashion.
10.4. The spiritual is also made up of two kinds: One is distinct and
particular knowledge; the other, vague, dark, and general knowledge. The
particular knowledge includes four kinds of distinct apprehensions
communicated to the spirit without the means of the bodily senses: visions,
revelations, locutions, and spiritual feelings.
10.4.(2). The dark and general knowledge (contemplation, which is imparted
in faith) is of one kind only. We have to lead the soul to this
contemplation by guiding it through all these other apprehensions and
divesting it of them, beginning with the first.
11. The impediment and harm caused by intellectual apprehensions arising
from objects supernaturally represented to the exterior senses. The proper
conduct of the soul in their regard.
11.1. The first kind of knowledge referred to in the preceding chapter is
that which originates naturally. Since we already discussed this kind of
knowledge in the first book where we guided the soul through the night of
sense, we will have nothing to say of it here. There we presented
appropriate doctrine about this knowledge.1
11.1.(2). Our discussion in this chapter will deal only with the
supernatural knowledge that reaches the intellect by way of the exterior
bodily senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch). Through these
senses, spiritual persons can, and usually do, perceive supernatural
representations and objects.
11.1.(3). As for sight, they are wont to have visions of images and persons
from the other life: of saints, of the good and bad angels, and of unusual
lights and splendors.
11.1.(4). Through hearing they apprehend certain extraordinary words,
sometimes from the vision, and at other times without seeing the one who
11.1.(5). With the sense of smell they sometimes notice sensibly the
sweetest fragrances without knowledge of their origin.
11.1.(6). Also it happens with regard to taste that they experience very
exquisite savors. And concerning touch they feel extreme delight, at times
so intense that all the bones and marrow rejoice, flourish, and bathe in
it. This delight is usually termed spiritual unction because in pure souls
it passes from the spirit to the senses. The experience is common with
spiritual persons. It is an overflow from the affection and devotion of the
sensible spirit, which individuals receive in their own way.
11.2. It must be known that even though these apprehensions can come to the
bodily senses from God, one must never rely on them or accept them. A
person should rather flee from them completely and have no desire to
examine whether they be good or bad. The more exterior and corporeal these
things are, the less certain is their divine origin. God's self-
communication is more commonly and appropriately given to the spirit, in
which there is greater security and profit for the soul, than to the
senses, where ordinarily there is extreme danger and room for deception.
Thinking that spiritual things are identical with what is felt, the bodily
sense usually sets itself up as arbiter and judge over them. But spiritual
things are as different from what is sensed as is the body from the soul
and sensibility from reason. The bodily sense is as ignorant of spiritual
matters as a beast is of rational matters, and even more.
11.3. Individuals who esteem these apprehensions are in serious error and
extreme danger of being deceived. Or at least they will hinder their
spiritual growth because, as we mentioned,2 these corporeal perceptions
bear no proportion to what is spiritual. Such manifestations ought always
to be considered as more surely from the devil than from God, for the devil
possesses greater leeway in influencing the exterior and corporeal part of
human nature. He can deceive the soul more readily through this action than
through a more interior and spiritual kind.
11.4. The more exterior these corporeal objects and forms, the less
profitable they are to the interior and spiritual part of the soul. This is
due to the extreme distance and the lack of proportion between the
corporeal and the spiritual. Even though some spirituality results from
these corporeal communications -- which is always the case when they are
from God -- it is far less than when the communications are more spiritual
and interior. As a result they are a ready occasion for the breeding of
error, presumption, and vanity in the soul. Palpable, tangible, and
material as they are, they strongly affect the senses so that in one's
judgment they seem more worthwhile on account of their being more sensible.
A person, then, forsaking faith, will follow after these communications,
believing that their light is the guide and means to the goal, which is
union with God. But the more importance one gives to these communications
the further one strays from faith, the way and means.
11.5. Furthermore, persons receiving these apprehensions often develop
secretly a special opinion of themselves -- that now they are important in
God's eyes. Such a view is contrary to humility.
11.5.(2). The devil too is adept at suggesting to individuals a secret
self-satisfaction that becomes truly obvious at times. He often purveys
objects to the senses, presenting to the sense of sight images of saints
and most beautiful lights, and to the hearing, dissembled words, and to the
sense of smell, fragrant odors; in the mouth, sweetness, and in the sense
of touch, delight. He does all of this so that by enticing persons through
these sensory objects he may induce them into many evils.
11.5.(3). Such representations and feelings, consequently, must always be
rejected. Even though some may be from God, this rejection is no affront to
him. Nor will one, by rejecting and not wanting them, fail to receive the
effect and fruit God wishes to produce through them.
11.6. The reason is that if the corporeal vision or feeling in the senses
has a divine origin it produces its effect in the spirit at the very moment
of its perception, without allowing any deliberation about wanting or not
wanting it. This is likewise so with the more interior communications.
Since God grants these favors without the individual's own ability and
effort, he causes the desired effect of these favors without this ability
and effort since he produces the effect passively in the spirit. The good
effect, accordingly, does not depend on one's wanting or not wanting the
communication. Were fire to come into immediate contact with a person's
flesh, that person's desire not to get burned would hardly be helpful, for
the fire produces its effect necessarily. So too with good visions and
sensible communications. Even if a person doesn't want them, they produce
their effect, and first and foremost in the soul rather than in the body.
11.6.(2). Also, those from the devil, even though the soul does not desire
them, cause in the spirit agitation, or dryness, or vanity, or presumption.
Yet diabolical communications are not as efficacious in doing harm as God's
communications are in doing good. For the diabolical communications can
only arouse the first movements without being able to move the will any
further if it is unwilling to be moved. The unrest caused by them will not
last long, unless the individual's lack of courage and caution becomes the
occasion for the unrest to continue.
11.6.(3). The communications from God, however, penetrate the soul, move
the will to love, and leave their effect within. The soul, even if it wants
to, can no more resist their effect than can a window withstand the
sunlight shining on it.
11.7. A soul should never dare to want to accept these communications, even
though, as I say, they are from God. If it does, six kinds of harm will
11.7.(2). First, faith will gradually diminish, for sensible experiences
greatly detract from it. Faith, as we said,3 transcends all sense. By not
closing the eyes of the soul to all these sensory apprehensions, a person
strays from the means to union with God.
11.7.(3). Second, if left unrejected these sensory things are an impediment
to the spirit because they detain the soul and prevent the spirit from
soaring to the invisible. This is one of the reasons our Lord told the
disciples that it was fitting for him to go so that the Holy Spirit might
come [Jn. 16:7]. And so that Mary Magdalene would ground herself in faith,
he refused to allow her to touch his feet after his resurrection [Jn.
11.7.(4). Third, the soul begins to develop a possessive attitude toward
these communications and fails to continue on its journey to genuine
renunciation and nakedness of spirit.
11.7.(5). Fourth, individuals gradually lose the effect of these
communications and the interior spirituality they produce because the
individuals set their eyes on the sensible aspect, which is the least part
of the communications. As a consequence these persons do not receive so
copiously the spirituality caused by them. This spirituality is preserved
and more deeply impressed in the soul if the sensible element, which is far
different from pure spirituality, is denied.
11.7.(6). Fifth, individuals gradually lose God's favors because they
receive these favors as something belonging to themselves and do not profit
well by them. Taking them as one's own and failing to profit by them is the
same as desiring to receive them. God does not bestow them so that the
recipient may desire to receive them, for a person must never absolutely
believe that they are from God.
11.7.(7). Sixth, in desiring to accept them one opens the door to the
devil. The devil can then deceive one by other communications expertly
feigned and disguised as genuine. In the words of the Apostle, he can
transform himself into an angel of light [2 Cor. 11:14]. We shall discuss
this matter, with God's help, in the third book, in the chapter on
11.8. Regardless of the cause of these apprehensions, it is always good for
people to reject them with closed eyes. If they fail to do so, they will
make room for diabolical representations. And when the devil is given such
a free hand, his representations multiply while God's representations
gradually cease, so that eventually all these apprehensions will come from
the devil and none at all from God. This has happened with many incautious
and uninstructed people who in their sureness concerning the reception of
these communications met with real difficulty in returning to God through
purity of faith. Many have been unable to return because of the deep roots
the devil has taken in them. Consequently, it is expedient to be closed to
these communications and to deny them all, for in this way diabolical
errors coming from the bad apprehensions are eliminated, the hindrance to
faith occasioned by the good communications is avoided, and the spirit
gathers the fruit.
11.8.(2). If these communications are allowed to enter, God will gradually
withdraw them. By considering them one's own, one fails to receive the due
profit. The devil then inserts and increases his communications, since he
finds an opening for them. So too, on the other hand, when a humble and
dispossessed soul renounces and opposes these representations, God will
augment his favors and give better ones. He will set this soul over many
things as in the case of the servant who was faithful in a few things [Mt.
11.9. If individuals remain both faithful and retiring in the midst of
these favors, the Lord will not cease raising them degree by degree until
they reach divine union and transformation. Our Lord proves and elevates
the soul by first bestowing graces that are exterior, lowly, and
proportioned to the small capacity of sense. If the person reacts well by
taking these first morsels with moderation for strength and nourishment,
God will bestow a more abundant and higher quality of food. If individuals
are victorious over the devil in the first degree, they will pass on to the
second; and if so in the second, they will go to the third; and likewise
through all the seven mansions (the seven degrees of love) until the
Bridegroom puts them in the wine cellar of perfect charity [Sg. 2:4].
11.10. Happy the person who knows how to carry on the fight against the
beast of the Apocalypse and its seven heads that are in opposition to these
seven degrees of love [Rv. 12:3; 13:1]. With each of its heads the beast
wars against one of these degrees, and by doing so it wages battle with the
soul in each of these mansions. And in every mansion the soul is exercising
the love of God and winning another degree. Those who fight faithfully and
conquer in each mansion will doubtless merit advancing from degree to
degree and from mansion to mansion unto the ultimate where the seven heads
of the beast against which the furious war is fought will have been cut
off. This war is so violent that St. John says the beast was permitted to
fight against the saints, and was victorious in each of these degrees of
love by using arms and abundant munitions [Rv. 13:7].
11.10.(2). It is most regrettable that many, on entering this battle
against the beast, are even incapable of severing the first head through
denial of the sensible objects of the world. Some make the effort and cut
it off, but then fail to sever the second, which consists of the sensory
visions we are discussing. What is most lamentable is that after some have
cut off not only the first and second but the third also (in regard to the
interior senses, by passing out of the state of meditation and advancing
further), at the moment of their entrance into purity of spirit they are
conquered by this spiritual beast that revives and rises up against them
even unto the first head. In their fall the last state becomes worse than
the first since the beast takes with it seven other spirits worse than
itself [Lk. 11:26].
11.11. Spiritual persons ought to deny all apprehensions and the temporal
delights of the exterior senses if they desire to cut off the first and
second heads of the beast and thereby enter the first room of love and the
second of living faith. They should not want to grasp for sensory
communications or weigh themselves down with these, since doing so is what
most derogates from faith.
11.12. Manifestly, these sensory visions and apprehensions cannot serve as
a means for union since they bear no proportion to God. This was one of the
reasons for Christ's not wanting Mary Magdalene or St. Thomas to touch him
[Jn. 20:17, 27-29]. The devil is most pleased when he sees that people
desire to accept revelations and are inclined toward them. For then he has
an excellent opportunity to inject errors and disparage faith as much as
possible. As I have declared,5 people desiring these apprehensions become
coarse in their faith and even expose themselves to many temptations and
11.13. I have treated of these exterior apprehensions somewhat at length to
shed more light in preparation for our discussion of the other
apprehensions. There is so much to say, however, on this subject that I
doubt whether I would ever finish. And I think I was too brief in only
explaining that a person should be careful never to accept them -- unless
in some rare case and with extremely competent advice, and then without any
desire for them. But I think what I said is sufficient.
12.The nature of natural imaginative apprehensions. Proofs that they are
inadequate means for the attainment of union with God. The harm caused from
attachment to them.
12.1. Before discussing the imaginative visions, which are usually imparted
supernaturally to the interior sense (imaginative power and phantasy), a
discussion of the natural apprehensions of this interior corporeal sense is
appropriate. As a result we can proceed with order, progressing from the
lesser to the greater and from the more exterior to the more interior until
reaching the intimate recollection in which the soul is united with God. We
have been following this very order: First we discussed divesting the
exterior senses of their natural apprehensions, and, consequently, of the
natural strength of the appetites. This we did in the first book when we
spoke of the night of sense. Then, in the preceding chapter, we began to
divest these senses of the supernatural exterior apprehensions so as to
lead the soul into the night of the spirit.
12.2. The first point to consider in this second book concerns the interior
corporeal sense (the imaginative power and phantasy). We must also empty
this sense of every imaginative form and apprehension that can be naturally
grasped by it and demonstrate the impossibility of union with God before
the activity relating to these apprehensions ceases. Such apprehensions are
incapable of being the proper and proximate means of this union.
12.3. We are speaking of two interior bodily senses: imagination and
phantasy. They are of service to each other in due order because one is
discursive with images and the other forms them. For our discussion there
will be no need to differentiate between them. This should be remembered if
we do not mention them both explicitly.1
12.3.(2). All that these senses, then, can receive and construct are termed
imaginations and phantasms. These are forms represented to the interior
senses through material images and figures.
12.3.(3). There are two kinds: supernatural and natural. The supernatural
are represented passively without the work of the senses. These we call
supernatural imaginative visions; we will discuss them afterward. The
natural are those the soul can actively construct by its own power through
forms, figures, and images.
12.3.(4). Meditation is the work of these two faculties since it is a
discursive act built on forms, figures, and images, imagined and fashioned
by these senses. For example: imagining Christ crucified or at the pillar
or in some other scene; or God seated on a throne with resplendent majesty;
or imagining and considering glory as a beautiful light, and so on; or, in
similar fashion, any other human or divine object imaginable.
12.3.(5). The soul will have to empty itself of these images and leave this
sense in darkness if it is to reach divine union. For these images, just as
the corporeal objects of the exterior senses, cannot be an adequate,
proximate means to God.2
12.4. The reason for this is that the imagination cannot fashion or imagine
anything beyond what it has experienced through the exterior senses, that
is, seen with the eyes, heard with the ears, and so on. At the most it can
compose resemblances of these objects that are seen, heard, or felt. But
such imitations do not reach a greater being or even as much being as that
of the objects of the external senses. Even though individuals may imagine
palaces of pearls and mountains of gold -- for they have seen gold and
pearls -- all that is imagined will indeed be less than the essence of a
little gold or a pearl. And this is true, even though in the imagination
there is a larger quantity and more excellent structure. Since created
things, as has been said, have no proportion to God's being, all imaginings
fashioned from the likenesses of creatures are incapable of serving as
proximate means toward union with God. Rather, as we said,3 they serve for
12.5. Those who imagine God through some of these figures (as an imposing
fire or as brightness, or through any other forms) and think that he is
somewhat like them are very far from him. These considerations, forms, and
methods of meditation are necessary to beginners that the soul may be
enamored and fed through the senses, as we shall point out later.4 They are
suitable as the remote means to union with God, which souls must ordinarily
use to attain their goal and the abode of spiritual repose. Yet these means
must not be so used that one always employs them and never advances, for
then one would never achieve the goal, which is unlike the remote means and
unproportioned to it -- just as none of the steps on a flight of stairs has
any resemblance to the goal at the top toward which they are the means. If
in climbing them we do not leave each one behind until there are no more,
or if we want to stay on one of them, we would never reach the level and
peaceful room at the top.
12.5.(2). Consequently, a person who wants to arrive at union with the
Supreme Repose and Good in this life must climb all the steps, which are
considerations, forms, and concepts, and leave them behind, since they are
dissimilar and unproportioned to the goal toward which they lead. And this
goal is God. Accordingly, St. Paul teaches in the Acts of the Apostles: Non
debemus aestimare auro vel argento, aut lapidi sculpturae artis, et
cogitationis hominis divinum esse simile (We should not consider or esteem
the divinity to be like gold or silver, or stone sculptured by the artist,
or like anything a person can fashion with the imagination) [Acts 17:29].
12.6. Many spiritual persons, after having exercised themselves in
approaching God through images, forms, and meditations suitable for
beginners, err greatly if they do not determine, dare, or know how to
detach themselves from these palpable methods to which they are accustomed.
For God then wishes to lead them to more spiritual, interior, and invisible
graces by removing the gratification derived from discursive meditation.
They still try to hold on to these methods, desiring to travel the road of
consideration and meditation, using images as before. They think they must
always act in this way. Striving hard to meditate, they draw out little
satisfaction or none at all. Rather, aridity, fatigue, and restlessness of
soul increase in the measure they strive through meditation for that former
sweetness, now unobtainable. They will no longer taste that sensible food,
as we said, but rather will enjoy another food, more delicate, interior,
and spiritual. Not by working with the imagination will they acquire this
spiritual nourishment but by pacifying the soul, by leaving it to its more
spiritual quiet and repose.
12.6.(2). The more spiritual they are, the more they discontinue trying to
make particular acts with their faculties, for they become more engrossed
in one general, pure act. Once the faculties reach the end of their
journey, they cease to work, just as we cease to walk when we reach the end
of our journey. If everything consisted in going, one would never arrive;
and if everywhere we found means, when and where could we enjoy the end and
12.7. It is sad to see many disturb their soul when it desires to abide in
this calm and repose of interior quietude, where it is filled with God's
peace and refreshment. Desiring to make it retrace its steps and turn back
from the goal in which it now reposes, they draw their soul out to more
exterior activity, to considerations, which are the means. They do this
with strong repugnance and reluctance in the soul. The soul wants to remain
in that peace, which it does not understand, as in its rightful place.
People suffer if, after laboring to reach their place of rest, they are
forced to return to their labors.
12.7.(2). Since these individuals do not understand the mystery of this new
experience, they imagine themselves to be idle and doing nothing. Thus in
their struggle with considerations and discursive meditations they disturb
their quietude. They become filled with aridity and trial because of
efforts to get satisfaction by means no longer apt. We can say that the
more intense their efforts, the less will be their gain. The more they
persist at meditation, the worse their state becomes because they drag the
soul further away from spiritual peace. They resemble one who abandons the
greater for the lesser, turns back on a road already covered and wants to
redo what is already done.
12.8. The proper advice for these individuals is that they must learn to
abide in that quietude with a loving attentiveness to God and pay no heed
to the imagination and its work. At this stage, as was said, the faculties
are at rest and do not work actively but passively, by receiving what God
is effecting in them. If at times the soul puts the faculties to work, it
should not use excessive efforts or studied reasonings , but it should
proceed with gentleness of love, moved more by God than by its own
abilities, as we will explain later.5
12.8.(2). This explanation should be sufficient at present for those who
want to make progress. They will understand the appropriateness and
necessity of detaching oneself at the required time and season from all
these methods, ways, and uses of the imagination.
12.9. To explain just when this practice must be employed, we will describe
in the following chapter some signs that spiritual persons must notice in
themselves. These signs will indicate that the time and season has come
when they can freely make use of that loving attentiveness and discontinue
their journey along the way of reasoning and imagination.
13. The signs for recognizing in spiritual persons when they should
discontinue discursive meditation and pass on to the state of
13.1. To avoid obscurity in this doctrine it will be opportune to point out
in this chapter when one ought to discontinue discursive meditation (work
through images, forms, and figures) so that the practice will not be
abandoned sooner or later than required by the spirit. At the proper time
one should abandon this imaginative meditation so that the journey to God
may not be hindered, but, so that there is no regression, one should not
abandon it before the due time. For though the apprehensions of these
faculties are not a proximate means to union for proficients, they are a
remote means for beginners. By these sensitive means beginners dispose
their spirit and habituate it to spiritual things, and at the same time
they void their senses of all other base, temporal, secular, and natural
forms and images.
13.1.(2). Hence we will delineate some signs and indications by which one
can judge whether it is the opportune time for the spiritual person to
13.2. The first is the realization that one cannot make discursive
meditation or receive satisfaction from it as before. Dryness is now the
outcome of fixing the senses on subjects that formerly provided
satisfaction. However, as long as one can make discursive meditation and
draw out satisfaction, one must not abandon this method. Meditation must be
discontinued only when the soul is placed in that peace and quietude to be
spoken of in the third sign.
13.3. The second sign is an awareness of a disinclination to fix the
imagination or sense faculties on other particular objects, exterior or
interior. I am not affirming that the imagination will cease to come and go
-- even in deep recollection it usually wanders freely -- but that the
person does not want to fix it purposely on extraneous things.1
13.4. The third and surest sign is that a person likes to remain alone in
loving awareness of God, without particular considerations, in interior
peace and quiet and repose, and without the acts and exercises (at least
discursive, those in which one progresses from point to point) of the
intellect, memory and will. Such a one prefers to remain only in the
general loving awareness and knowledge we mentioned, without any particular
knowledge or understanding.
13.5. To leave safely the state of meditation and sense and enter that of
contemplation and spirit, spiritual persons must observe within themselves
at least these three signs together.2
13.6. It is insufficient to possess the first without the second. It could
be that the inability to imagine and meditate derives from one's
dissipation and lack of diligence. The second sign, disinclination and
absence of desire to think about extraneous things, must be present. When
this inability to concentrate the imagination and sense faculties on the
things of God proceeds from dissipation and tepidity, there is yearning to
dwell on other things and an inclination to give up meditation.
13.6.(2). Neither is the realization of the first and second sign
sufficient if the third sign is not observed with them. When one is
incapable of making discursive meditation on the things of God and
disinclined to consider subjects extraneous to God, the cause could be
melancholia or some other kind of humor3 in the heart or brain capable of
producing a certain stupefaction and suspension of the sense faculties.
This anomaly would be the explanation for want of thought or of desire and
inclination for thought. It would foster in a person the desire to remain
in the delightful ravishing. Because of this danger, the third sign, the
loving knowledge and awareness in peace, and so on, is necessary.
13.7. Actually, at the beginning of this state the loving knowledge is
almost unnoticeable. There are two reasons for this: First, the loving
knowledge initially is likely to be extremely subtle and delicate, almost
imperceptible; second, a person who is habituated to the exercise of
meditation, which is wholly sensible, hardly perceives or feels this new
insensible, purely spiritual experience. This is especially so when through
failure to understand it one does not permit oneself to rest in it but
strives after the other, more sensory experience. Although the interior
peace is more abundant, the individual allows no room to experience and
enjoy it. But the more habituated persons become to this calm, the more
their experience of this general loving knowledge of God will increase.
This knowledge is more enjoyable than all other things because without the
soul's labor it affords peace, rest, savor, and delight.
13.8. For greater clarity we will expound in the following chapter some
reasons showing the necessity for these three signs in order to journey on
the road of spirit.
14. Proves the appropriateness of these three signs and explains why their
presence is necessary for one to advance.
14.1. As for the first sign, it should be known that there are two reasons
almost comprised in one for requiring spiritual persons to give up the
imaginative way, or sensory meditation, when they are unable to meditate or
derive satisfaction from it, and enter the way of the spirit, which is the
14.1.(2). First, because these persons have been granted all the spiritual
good obtainable through discursive meditation on the things of God. An
indication of this is their inability to make discursive meditation as
before or derive from it any new satisfaction or pleasure. For previously
they had not yet arrived at the spirituality that was in store for them.
14.1.(3). Ordinarily, as often as individuals receive some profitable
grace, they experience -- at least spiritually -- gratification in the
means through which the grace is obtained. If this is not received, there
will rarely be profit; neither will they find in the cause of that former
gratification the support and satisfaction they did before when they
received grace through that means. This agrees with what the philosophers
hold: Quod sapit, nutrit (What is savory nourishes and fattens).1 Hence
holy Job asks: Numquid poterit comedi insulsum, quod non est sale conditum?
(Could one perchance eat the unsavory that is not seasoned with salt?) [Jb.
6:6]. Here we have the cause of the person's inability to consider and
meditate as before: the lack of savor and benefit derived by the spirit
from this exercise.
14.2. The second reason is that these persons have now acquired,
substantially and habitually, the spirit of meditation. It should be known
that the purpose of discursive meditation on divine subjects is the
acquisition of some knowledge and love of God. Each time individuals
procure through meditation some of this knowledge and love they do so by an
act. Many acts, in no matter what area, will engender a habit. Similarly,
through many particular acts of this loving knowledge a person reaches the
point at which a habit is formed in the soul. God, too, is wont to effect
this habit in many souls, placing them in contemplation without these acts
as means, or at least without many of them.
14.2.(2). What the soul, therefore, was gradually acquiring through the
labor of meditation on particular ideas has now, as we said, been converted
into habitual and substantial, general loving knowledge. This knowledge is
neither distinct nor particular, as was the previous knowledge. Accordingly
the moment prayer begins, the soul, as one with a store of water, drinks
peaceably without the labor and the need to fetch the water through the
channels of past considerations, forms, and figures. The moment it
recollects itself in the presence of God it enters into an act of general,
loving, peaceful, and tranquil knowledge, drinking wisdom and love and
14.3. This is why people experience difficulty and displeasure when,
despite their being in this calm, they meet others who want to make them
meditate and work with particular concepts. Their experience resembles that
of a suckling child who finds that the breast is taken away just when it is
beginning to taste the milk that was gathered there for it. As a result it
is forced to renew its efforts of grasping and squeezing. Or their
experience is like that of a person who, while enjoying the substance of
the fruit, once the rind is peeled is forced to stop and begin again to
remove the rind from the fruit even though the fruit has already been
peeled. In such an instance the person would fail to find the rind and
cease enjoying the substance of the fruit that is at hand. Or this is like
turning away from a captured prey to go hunting for another.
14.4. Many behave similarly at the beginning of this state. They think that
the whole matter consists in understanding particular ideas and in
reasoning through images and forms (the rind of the spirit). Since they do
not encounter these images in that loving, substantial quietude where
nothing is understood particularly and in which they like to rest, they
believe they are wasting time and straying from the right road; and they
turn back to search for the rind of images and reasoning. They are
unsuccessful in their search because the rind has already been removed.
There is no enjoyment of the substance nor ability to meditate, and they
become disturbed with the thought of backsliding and going astray. They are
indeed getting lost, but not in the way they imagine, for they are losing
the exercise of their own senses and first mode of experience. This loss
indicates that they are approaching the spirit being imparted to them, in
which the less they understand the further they penetrate into the night of
the spirit -- the subject of this book. They must pass through this night
to a union with God beyond all knowing.
14.5. There is little to be said about the second sign, for it is obvious
that these persons at this time necessarily find worldly images
dissatisfying. Even those that concern God, which are more conformable to
their state, fail to satisfy them, as we explained. Nevertheless, as we
mentioned above,2 the imagination usually wanders back and forth during
this recollection. But these individuals do not desire or find delight in
this; rather, they are troubled about it because of the disturbance it
brings to that gratifying peace.
14.6. Nor do I believe it is necessary to indicate here why the third sign
(the loving general knowledge or awareness of God) is a requirement for
discontinuing meditation. Some doctrine has already been expounded about
this sign in our explanation of the first one, and afterward in the proper
place we will have a special discussion of this when dealing with the
general, obscure knowledge. This matter will be taken up after our treatise
on the distinct, intellectual apprehensions. We will, however, state one
reason that manifests how this loving general knowledge and awareness of
God in the soul is required before discontinuing discursive meditation.
14.6.(2). Were individuals not to have this knowledge or attentiveness to
God, they would, as a consequence, be neither doing anything nor receiving
anything. Having left the discursive meditation of the sensitive faculties
and still lacking contemplation (the general knowledge in which the
spiritual faculties -- memory, intellect, and will -- are actuated and
united in this passive, prepared knowledge), they would have no activity
whatsoever relative to God. For a person can neither conceive nor receive
knowledge already prepared save through either the sensitive or spiritual
faculties. With the sensory faculties, as we affirmed, one can make
discursive meditation, seek out and form knowledge from the objects; and
with the spiritual faculties one can enjoy the knowledge received without
any further activity of the senses.
14.7. The difference between the functions of these two groups of faculties
resembles that existing between toil and the enjoyment of the fruits of
this toil; between the drudgery of the journey and the rest and quiet
gladdening at its end; or again, between cooking a meal and eating without
effort what has already been cooked and prepared; it is like the difference
between receiving a gift and profiting by it. If the sensitive faculties
are idle as to their work of discursive meditation, and the spiritual
faculties as to the contemplation and knowledge received and formed in
them, there is no basis for asserting that the soul is occupied. This
knowledge is necessary, then, in order to leave the way of discursive
14.8. It is noteworthy that this general knowledge is at times so recondite
and delicate (especially when purer, simpler, and more perfect), spiritual
and interior that the soul does not perceive or feel it even though the
soul is employed with it. This is especially so when, as we affirmed,3 this
knowledge is clearer, simpler and more perfect. And then this knowledge is
still less perceptible when it shines on a purer soul, one freer from the
particular ideas and concepts apprehensible by the senses or intellect.
Since one lacks the feelings of the sensitive part of the soul, by not
possessing these particular ideas and concepts that the senses and
intellect are accustomed to act on, one does not perceive this knowledge.
14.8.(2). For this reason the purer, simpler, and more perfect the general
knowledge is, the darker it seems to be and the less the intellect
perceives. On the other hand, the less pure and simple the knowledge is in
itself, although it enlightens the intellect, the clearer and more
important it appears to the individual, since it is clothed, wrapped, or
commingled with some intelligible forms apprehensible to the intellect or
14.9. The following example is a clear illustration of this. In observing a
ray of sunlight stream through the window, we notice that the more it is
pervaded with particles of dust, the clearer and more palpable and sensible
it appears to the senses. Yet obviously the sun ray in itself is less pure,
clear, simple, and perfect in that it is full of so many specks of dust. We
also notice that when it is more purified of these specks of dust it seems
more obscure and impalpable to the material eye. And the purer it is, the
more obscure and inapprehensible it seems to be. If the ray of sunlight
should be entirely cleansed and purified of all dust particles, even the
most minute, it would appear totally obscure and incomprehensible to the
eye since visible things, the object of the sense of sight, would be
absent. Thus the eye would find no images on which to rest, because light
is not the proper object of sight but only the means by which visible
things are seen. If there is nothing visible off which the ray of light can
reflect, nothing will be seen. If the ray, then, were to enter through one
window and go out another without striking any quantitative object, it
would be invisible. Yet the ray of sunlight would be purer and cleaner than
when it is more manifestly perceived because it is filled with visible
14.10. The spiritual light has a similar relationship to the intellect, the
eye of the soul. This supernatural general knowledge and light shines so
purely and simply in the intellect and is so divested and freed of all
intelligible forms (the objects of the intellect) that it is imperceptible
to the soul. This knowledge, when purer, is even at times the cause of
darkness because it dispossesses the intellect of its customary lights,
forms, and phantasies and effects a noticeable darkness.
14.10.(2). When this divine light does not strike so forcibly, individuals
apprehend neither darkness, nor light, nor anything at all from heavenly or
earthly sources. Thus they sometimes remain in deep oblivion and afterward
will not realize where they were, or what occurred, or how the time passed.
As a result it can and does happen that a person will spend many hours in
this oblivion, yet on returning to self think that only a moment or no time
at all has passed.
14.11. The purity and simplicity of the knowledge is the cause of this
oblivion. While occupying a person's soul it renders that soul simple,
pure, and clear of all the apprehensions and forms through which the senses
and memory were acting when conscious of time. And thus it leaves the soul
in oblivion and unaware of time.
14.11.(2). Although, as we asserted, the prayer lasts a long while, it
seems of short duration to these souls since they have been united with
pure knowledge, which is independent of time. This is the short prayer
that, it is said, pierces the heavens [Ecclus. 35:17]. It is short because
it is not in time, and it pierces the heavens because the soul is united
with heavenly knowledge. When these persons return to themselves they
observe the effects this knowledge produced in them without their having
been aware of it. These effects are: an elevation of the mind to heavenly
knowledge and a withdrawal and abstraction from all objects, forms, and
figures and from the remembrance of them.
14.11.(3). David declares that such was his experience on returning to
himself after this oblivion: Vigilavi, et factus sum sicut passer
solitarius in tecto (I became conscious and discovered that I was like the
solitary sparrow on the housetop) [Ps. 102:8]. By solitary he refers to the
withdrawal and abstraction from all things; by the housetop, to the mind
elevated on high. The soul remains, in consequence, as though ignorant of
all things since it only knows God without knowing how it knows him. For
this reason the bride in the Song of Songs, when she states that she went
down to him, numbers unknowing among the effects this sleep and oblivion
produced in her, saying: Nescivi (I knew not) [Sg. 6:12].4
14.11.(4). As we mentioned,5 it seems to individuals when occupied with
this knowledge that they are idle because they are not working with their
senses or faculties. Nevertheless they must believe that they are not
wasting time, for even though the harmonious interaction of their sensory
and spiritual faculties ceases, the intellect is occupied with knowledge in
the way we explained.6 This is why, also, in the Song of Songs, the wise
bride responded to one of her doubts: Ego dormio et cor meum vigilat [Sg.
5:2]. This was like saying: Though I sleep, according to what I am
naturally, by ceasing to work, my heart watches, supernaturally elevated to
14.12. But one should not think this knowledge, if it is to be all we said
it was, will necessarily cause oblivion. This forgetfulness occurs only
when the knowledge abstracts the soul from the exercise of all the natural
and spiritual faculties. Because such knowledge does not always occupy the
entire soul, this forgetfulness is less frequent. The knowledge we are
discussing only requires abstraction of the intellect from all particular
knowledge, be it of temporal or spiritual things, and an unwillingness to
think on these things, as we have said.7 For then we have a sign that the
soul is occupied.
14.12.(2). This sign is necessary for recognizing this knowledge when it is
communicated only to the intellect. For that is what happens when it is
sometimes imperceptible to the soul. When, however, there is also a
communication to the will, as there almost always is, people will not fail
to understand more or less their being occupied with this knowledge if they
want to discern the matter. For they will be aware of the delight of love,
without particular knowledge of what they love. As a result they will call
it a general loving knowledge.
14.12.(3). This communication, consequently, is called a general loving
knowledge, for just as it is imparted obscurely to the intellect, so too a
vague delight and love are given to the will without any distinct knowing
of what is loved.
14.13. This explanation is sufficient at present to understand the need for
this knowledge before leaving the way of discursive meditation and for the
assurance that, despite its apparent idleness, the soul is well employed if
these three signs are noticeable. It is also sufficient for an
understanding of how the representation of this light in a more
comprehensible and palpable way is not a sign of its greater purity,
sublimity, and clarity, as was demonstrated8 through the example of the ray
of sunlight permeated with dust particles and thereby perceptible to the
eye. Evidently, as Aristotle and the theologians assert, the higher and
more sublime the divine light, the darker it is to our intellect.9
14.14. A great deal can be said about this divine knowledge, both as to its
nature and the effects it produces in the soul. We are reserving this
discussion for its proper place.10 There was no reason for such a lengthy
treatment of it here, except that we did not want to leave this doctrine
any more obscure than it is. Certainly, I admit, it is very obscure. To the
fact that this knowledge is a subject seldom dealt with in this style, in
word or in writing, since in itself it is extraordinary and obscure, can be
added that of my unpolished style and lack of knowledge. Doubtful of my
ability to explain it, I am often aware of exceeding the limits required by
that part of the doctrine with which I am dealing. I confess that I
sometimes do so intentionally because what is not understandable with one
reason may become so by others. Also I think that such a procedure will
give more clarification to later explanations.
14.15. In conclusion, I think a question concerning the duration of this
knowledge should be answered. I will do so briefly in the following
15. Proficients, at the beginning of their entry into this general
knowledge of contemplation, must at times practice discursive meditation
and work with the natural faculties.
15.1. A question may arise about our teaching. Are proficients (those whom
God begins to place in this supernatural knowledge of contemplation),
because they are beginning to experience contemplation, never again to
practice discursive meditation and work with natural forms?
15.1.(2). In answer to this, we did not mean that those beginning to have
this general loving knowledge should never again try to meditate. In the
beginning of this state the habit of contemplation is not so perfect that
one can at will enter into this act, neither is one so remote from
discursive meditation as to be always incapable of it. One can at times in
a natural way meditate discursively as before and discover something new in
this. Indeed, at the outset, on judging through the signs mentioned above
that the soul is not occupied in repose and knowledge, individuals will
need to make use of meditation. This need will continue until they acquire
the habit of contemplation to a certain perfect degree. The indication of
this will be that every time they intend to meditate they immediately
notice this knowledge and peace as well as their own lack of power or
desire to meditate, as we said.1 Until reaching this stage (of those
already proficient in contemplation), people will sometimes meditate and
sometimes be in contemplation.
15.2. They will often find themselves in this loving or peaceful awareness
without having first engaged in any active work (regarding particular acts)
with their faculties; they will not be working actively but only receiving.
But on the other hand they will frequently find it necessary to aid
themselves gently and moderately with meditation in order to enter this
15.2.(2). But once they have been placed in it, as we already pointed out,
they do not work with the faculties. It is more exact to say that then the
work is done in the soul and the knowledge and delight are already
produced, than that the soul does anything besides attentively loving God
and refraining from the desire to feel or see anything. In this loving
awareness the soul receives God's self-communication passively, just as
people receive light passively without doing anything else but keeping
their eyes open. This reception of the light infused supernaturally into
the soul is passive knowing. It is affirmed that these individuals do
nothing, not because they fail to understand but because they understand
with no effort other than receiving what is bestowed. This is what happens
when God bestows illuminations and inspirations, although here the person
freely receives this general obscure knowledge.
15.3. One should not commingle other, more palpable lights of forms,
concepts, or figures of meditative discourse if one wants to receive this
divine light in greater simplicity and abundance, for none of these
tangible lights are like that serene, limpid light. If individuals were to
desire to consider and understand particular things, however spiritual
these things may be, they would hinder the general, limpid, and simple
light of the spirit. They would be interfering by their cloudy thoughts.
When an obstruction is placed in front of the eye, you are impeded from
seeing the light and the view before you.
15.4. What clearly follows is that when individuals have finished purifying
and voiding themselves of all forms and apprehensible images, they will
abide in this pure and simple light and be perfectly transformed in it.
This light is never lacking to the soul, but because of creature forms and
veils that weigh on it and cover it, the light is never infused. If
individuals would eliminate these impediments and veils and live in pure
nakedness and poverty of spirit, as we will explain later, their soul in
its simplicity and purity would then be immediately transformed into simple
and pure Wisdom, the Son of God. As soon as natural things are driven out
of the enamored soul, the divine are naturally and supernaturally infused
since there can be no void in nature.2
15.5. When spiritual persons cannot meditate, they should learn to remain
in God's presence with a loving attention and a tranquil intellect, even
though they seem to themselves to be idle. For little by little and very
soon the divine calm and peace with a wondrous, sublime knowledge of God,
enveloped in divine love, will be infused into their souls. They should not
interfere with forms or discursive meditations and imaginings. Otherwise
the soul will be disquieted and drawn out of its peaceful contentment to
distaste and repugnance. And if, as we said, scruples about their
inactivity arise, they should remember that pacification of the soul
(making it calm and peaceful, inactive and desireless) is no small
accomplishment. This, indeed, is what our Lord asks of us through David:
Vacate et videte quoniam ego sum Deus [Ps. 46:11]. This would be like
saying: Learn to be empty of all things -- interiorly and exteriorly -- and
you will behold that I am God.3
16. The imaginative apprehensions represented supernaturally to the
phantasy are incapable of serving as a proximate means to union with God.
16.1. After our having discussed the natural apprehensions that the
phantasy and imagination receive and work with through discursive
meditation, it is appropriate that we discuss the supernatural
apprehensions that are called imaginative visions. These visions pertain to
the phantasy just as natural apprehensions do because they belong to the
category of image, form, and figure.
16.2. You should know that by this term "imaginative vision" we are
referring to everything supernaturally represented to the imagination under
the category of image, form, figure, and species. All the apprehensions and
species represented naturally to the soul through the five bodily senses
and impressed upon it can be represented to it supernaturally without the
intervention of the exterior senses.
16.2.(2). This interior sense, the phantasy, together with the memory, is
for the intellect the archives or receptacle in which all the intelligible
forms and images are received. Like a mirror, this faculty contains them
within itself, whether they come to it from the five bodily senses or
supernaturally. It in turn presents them to the intellect, and there the
intellect considers and makes a judgment about them. Not only is the
phantasy capable of this, but it can even compose and imagine other objects
resembling those known.
16.3. It is noteworthy that as the five exterior senses send the images and
species of their objects to these interior senses, so God and the devil can
supernaturally represent to these faculties -- without the exterior senses
-- the same images and species; indeed, much more beautiful and perfect
ones. God often represents many things to individuals through these images,
and teaches them great wisdom, as is obvious throughout Scripture. For
example: Isaiah beheld God in his glory under the form of smoke covering
the temple and under the form of the seraphim covering their faces and feet
with their wings [Is. 6:2-4]; Jeremiah saw the rod keeping watch [Jer.
1:11]; and Daniel, a multitude of visions [Dan. 7:10]; and so on.
16.3.(2). The devil, too, attempts with his seemingly good visions to
deceive a person. An example of this is found in the Book of Kings, where
we read that he deceived all of Ahab's prophets by representing to their
imaginations the horns with which, he claimed, Ahab was to destroy the
Assyrians. This was a lie [1 Kgs. 22:11-12, 21-22]. And then there are the
visions Pilate's wife had about not condemning Christ [Mt. 27:19]; and many
16.3.(3). It is understandable, therefore, how in this mirror of the
proficient's phantasy these imaginative visions are received more
frequently than are the corporeal visions in the exterior senses. As far as
image and species are concerned these visions do not differ from those
coming through the exterior senses. But as for their perfection and the
effect produced, there is a great difference, for since they are
supernatural and more interior they are more subtle and effective in the
soul. Yet this does not mean that some of the exterior corporeal visions
may not be more effective, since after all God gives his communications as
he pleases. But we are dealing with these visions insofar as they are in
themselves more spiritual.
16.4. The devil ordinarily comes with his wiles, natural or supernatural,
to this sense, the imagination and phantasy, for it is the gate and entry
to the soul. Here the intellect comes as though to a seaport or market to
buy and sell provisions. As a result, God -- and the devil too -- comes
here with the jewels of images and supernatural forms to offer them to the
intellect. Yet God does not depend on this means alone for instructing the
soul. He dwells in it substantially and can impart knowledge to it by
himself or by other means.
16.5. There is no reason to delay in giving signs for the discernment of
good visions from bad ones, nor in enumerating the various kinds. My sole
intention here is to instruct the intellect about them so that it may not
be hindered and impeded from union with divine wisdom by the good ones, nor
deceived by the false ones.
16.6. I say, then, that since these imaginative apprehensions, visions, and
other forms or species are presented through some image or particular idea,
individuals should neither feed upon nor encumber themselves with them. And
this is true whether these visions be false and diabolical or if they be
recognized as authentic and from God. Neither should people desire to
accept them or keep them. Thus these persons can remain detached, divested,
pure, simple, and without any mode or method as the union demands.
16.7. The reason is that in being apprehended these forms are always
represented, as we said,1 in some limited mode or manner. But God's wisdom,
to which the intellect must be united, has neither mode nor manner, neither
does it have limits nor does it pertain to distinct and particular
knowledge, because it is totally pure and simple. That the two extremes,
the soul and divine Wisdom, may be united, they will have to come to accord
by means of a certain likeness. As a result the soul must also be pure and
simple, unlimited and unattached to any particular knowledge, and
unmodified by the boundaries of form, species, and image. Since God cannot
be encompassed by any image, form, or particular knowledge, in order to be
united with him the soul should not be limited by any particular form or
16.8. The Holy Spirit in Deuteronomy clearly manifests that God has no form
or likeness: Vocem verborum ejus audistis, et formam penitus non vidistis
(You heard the voice of his words, and you saw absolutely no form in God)
[Dt. 4:12]. But he affirms that darkness, the cloud, and obscurity (that
vague, dark knowledge, we mentioned,2 in which the soul is united to God)
were present. Then further on he adds: Non vidistis aliquam similitudinem
in die qua locutus est vobis Dominus in Horeb de medio ignis (You did not
see God in any image that day on Mount Horeb when he spoke with you from
the midst of the fire) [Dt. 4:15].
16.9. The Holy Spirit also asserts in the Book of Numbers that the soul
cannot reach God's height, insofar as is possible in this life, by means of
any forms or figures. For God reproves Aaron and Miriam for murmuring
against their brother Moses and thus lets them know the high state of union
and friendship in which he had placed Moses: Si quis inter vos fuerit
propheta Domini, in visiones apparebo ei, vel per somnium loquar ad illum.
At non talis servus meus Moyses, qui in omni domo mea fidelissimus est: ore
enim ad os loquor ei, palam, et non per aenigmata, et figuras Dominum videt
(If there is any prophet of the Lord among you, I will appear to him in
some vision or form, or speak with him in his dreams. But no one is like my
servant Moses, the most faithful one in all my house, and I speak with him
mouth to mouth, and he does not see God through comparisons, likenesses,
and figures) [Nm. 12:6-8].
16.9.(2). Manifestly, in this high state of union God does not communicate
himself to the soul -- nor is this possible -- through the disguise of any
imaginative vision, likeness, or figure, but mouth to mouth: the pure and
naked essence of God (the mouth of God in love) with the pure and naked
essence of the soul (the mouth of the soul in the love of God).
16.10. To reach this essential union of love of God, a person must be
careful not to lean upon imaginative visions, forms, figures, or particular
ideas, since they cannot serve as a proportionate and proximate means for
such an effect; they would be a hindrance instead. As a result a person
should renounce them and endeavor to avoid them. The only reason to admit
and value them would be the profit and good effect the genuine ones bring
to the soul. But admitting them is unnecessary to obtain this good effect;
for the sake of progress, rather, one should always deny them.
16.10.(2). As with the exterior corporeal visions, the good these
imaginative visions can communicate to the soul is either knowledge, or
love, or sweetness. But in order for them to do this it is not necessary
for a person to have the desire to accept them. As we pointed out,3 at the
very moment they are present in the imagination they are also in the soul
and infuse knowledge and love, or sweetness, or whatever God wants them to
16.10.(3). They are present to the imagination and the soul together, but
their effects may not be simultaneous. They produce their main effect in
the soul passively, without its being able to hinder this, even though it
may desire to do so. It was similarly powerless to know how to acquire the
effect -- although it did know how to become disposed. As a window is
unable to hinder the ray of sunlight shining upon it and is disposed
through its cleanness to be illumined passively without active effort, so
too, however much individuals may want to reject these visions they cannot
but receive the influences and communications of those figures. A negative
will, humbly and lovingly resigned, cannot resist the supernatural
infusions. Only imperfection and impurity of soul hinder these
communications, just as stains on a window impede the bright sunlight.
16.11. Obviously, in the measure that individuals divest themselves of
willful attachments to the apprehensions of those stain-like figures,
forms, and images -- the wrappings of spiritual communications -- these
persons will prepare themselves for the goods and communications that are
caused by them. Leaving aside all those apprehensions, which are like
curtains and veils covering the spiritual goods they contain, the
individuals will receive these goods in greater abundance, clarity, freedom
of spirit, and simplicity. If the soul desires to feed upon them, the
spirit and senses will be so occupied that a free and simple communication
of spirituality will be impossible. For, obviously, if it is occupied with
the rind, the intellect will have no freedom to receive those spiritual
16.11.(2). Should individuals desire to admit and pay attention to these
apprehensions, they would be setting up an encumbrance and remaining
content with the least important -- the form, image, and particular
knowledge, which is the only kind of knowledge they can get from these
visions. For people are unable to apprehend or understand the more
important factor, the spirituality infused in the soul; neither do they
know the way they receive this spirituality nor how they may speak about
it, since it is purely spiritual. According to their own way of knowing,
the only knowledge they can have about these visions concerns the less
important element, the forms apprehended through the senses. I affirm,
consequently, that the unintelligible or unimaginable element in these
visions is communicated passively, exclusive of any effort of the soul to
understand. A person would not even know how to go about making this
16.12. The eyes of the soul, then, should be ever withdrawn from distinct,
visible, and intelligible apprehensions. Such elements are pertinent to
sense and provide no security or foundation for faith. Its eyes should be
fixed on the invisible, on what belongs not to sense but to spirit, and on
what, as it is not contained in a sensible figure, brings the soul to union
with God in faith, the proper means, as was said.4 These visions will be
substantially advantageous to the soul insofar as faith is concerned if it
knows clearly how to reject their sensible and intelligible aspect and make
good use of the purpose for which God gives them. As we pointed out,5 God
does not bestow corporeal visions so that a person will desire and become
attached to them.
16.13. A question, though, may arise concerning this subject: If it is true
that God in giving supernatural visions does not want one thereby to
desire, lean upon, or pay attention to them, why does he give them at all?
Through them a person can fall into numerous dangers and errors, or at
least encounter the many impediments to further progress described here.
Furthermore, why would God do this if he can communicate to the soul
substantially and spiritually what he bestows upon it through the sensible
communication of these visions and forms?
16.14. We will explain our answer to this question in the following
chapter. There we will present for spiritual persons and their teachers
doctrine that, in my opinion, is both important and necessary. We will
expound God's method and purpose in bestowing these visions. As a result of
their ignorance about visions, many are unenlightened on how to behave and
how to guide themselves or others through them to union. They think that,
because of their awareness of the genuineness and divine origin of these
visions, it is good to admit and trust them. They do not reflect that, as
with worldly goods, failure to deny them can be a hindrance, and cause
attachment and possessiveness concerning them. They consider it beneficial
to admit some visions as true and reject others as false. In this way they
subject themselves and other souls to the considerable labor and danger of
discerning the truth or falsity of these visions. God does not impose this
task upon them, nor does he desire the exposure of simple and unlearned
people to this dangerous endeavor, for these persons have faith, a sound
and safe doctrine, the means by which they are to journey.
16.15. One cannot advance in faith without closing one's eyes to everything
pertaining to the senses and to clear, particular knowledge. Though St.
Peter was truly certain of his vision of Christ's glory in the
transfiguration, yet after relating the fact in his second canonical
epistle [2 Pt. 1:16-18] he did not want anyone to take this as the chief
testimony for certitude. But leading them on to faith he declared: Et
habemus firmiorem propheticum sermonem: cui benefacitis attendentes, quasi
lucernae lucenti in caliginoso loco, donec dies elucescat (We have a more
certain testimony than this vision of Tabor: the sayings and words of the
prophets bearing testimony to Christ which you must make good use of, as a
candle shining in a dark place). [2 Pt. 1:19]
16.15.(2). Reflecting on this comparison, we discover the doctrine we are
teaching here. Telling us to behold the faith spoken of by the prophets as
we would a candle shining in a dark place, he asserts that we should live
in darkness, with our eyes closed to all other lights, and that in this
darkness faith alone -- which is dark also -- should be the light we use.
If we want to employ these other bright lights of distinct knowledge, we
cease to make use of faith, the dark light, and we cease to be enlightened
in the dark place mentioned by St. Peter. This place (the intellect -- the
holder on which the candle of faith is placed) must remain in darkness
until the day, in the next life, when the clear vision of God dawns upon
the soul; and in this life, until the daybreak of transformation in and
union with God, the goal of a person's journey.
17. An answer to the proposed question. God's procedure and purpose in
communicating spiritual goods by means of the senses.
17. 1. A great deal may be said about God's intention (the elevation of a
soul from its low state to divine union) and method of procedure in
bestowing these goods. All spiritual books deal with these points, and in
our explanation we will also consider them.1 Accordingly, in this chapter I
will do no more than offer a sufficient solution to our question, which is:
Since there is so much danger and hindrance to progress in these
supernatural visions, as we said,2 why does God, who is all wise and in
favor of removing obstacles and snares, communicate them?
17.2. An answer to this requires the establishment of three fundamental
principles. The first comes from St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans: Quae
autem sunt, a Deo ordinata sunt (The works that are done are well-ordered
by God) [Rom. 13:1].
17.2.(2). The second comes from the Holy Spirit in the Book of Wisdom:
Disponit omnia suaviter. This is similar to stating: The Wisdom of God,
though she touches from one end to the other (from one extreme to the
other), disposes all things gently [Wis. 8:1].
17.2.(3). The third comes from the theologians who say: Omnia movet
secundum modum eorum (God moves each thing according to its mode).
17.3. In order that God lift the soul from the extreme of its low state to
the other extreme of the high state of divine union, he must obviously, in
view of these fundamental principles, do so with order, gently, and
according to the mode of the soul. Since the order followed in the process
of knowing involves the forms and images of created things, and since
knowledge is acquired through the senses, God, to achieve his work gently
and to lift the soul to supreme knowledge, must begin by touching the low
state and extreme of the senses. And from there he must gradually bring the
soul after its own manner to the other end, spiritual wisdom, which is
incomprehensible to the senses. Thus, naturally or supernaturally, he
brings people to his supreme spirit by first instructing them through
discursive meditation and through forms, images, and sensible means,
according to their own manner of coming to understand.
17.4. This is the reason God gives a person visions, forms, images, and
other sensitive and spiritual knowledge -- not because he does not desire
to give spiritual wisdom immediately, in the first act. He would do this if
the two extremes (human and divine, sense and spirit) could through the
ordinary process be united by only one act, and if he could exclude the
many preparatory acts that are so connected in gentle and orderly fashion
that, as is the case with natural agents, each is the foundation and
preparation for the next. The first preparative acts serve the second; the
second serve the third, and so on. Therefore God perfects people gradually,
according to their human nature, and proceeds from the lowest and most
exterior to the highest and most interior.
17.4.(2). He first perfects the corporeal senses, moving one to make use of
natural exterior objects that are good, such as hearing sermons and Masses,
seeing holy objects, mortifying the palate at meals, and disciplining the
sense of touch through penance and holy rigor.
17.4.(3). When these senses are somewhat disposed, he is wont to perfect
them more by granting some supernatural favors and gifts to confirm them
further in good. These supernatural communications are, for example,
corporeal visions of saints or holy things, very sweet odors, locutions,
and extreme delight in the sense of touch. The senses are greatly confirmed
in virtue through these communications and the appetites withdrawn from
17.4.(4). Besides this, the interior bodily senses with which we are
dealing, such as the imagination and phantasy, are gradually perfected and
accustomed to good through considerations, meditations, and holy
reasonings; and through all this the spirit is instructed.
17.4.(5). When through this natural exercise these interior senses are
prepared, God is wont to enlighten and spiritualize them further with some
supernatural imaginative visions from which the spirit profits notably at
the same time, as we affirmed. This natural and supernatural exercise of
the interior sense gradually reforms and refines the spirit.
17.4.(6). This is God's method to bring a soul step by step to the
innermost good, although it may not always be necessary for him to keep so
mathematically to this order, for sometimes God bestows one kind of
communication without the other, or a less interior one by means of a more
interior one, or both together. The process depends on what God judges
expedient for the soul, or on how he wants to grant it favors. But his
ordinary procedure conforms with our explanation.
17.5. By this method, then, God instructs people and makes them spiritual.
He begins by communicating spirituality to them, in accord with their
littleness or small capacity, through elements that are exterior, palpable,
and accommodated to sense. He does this so that by means of the rind of
those sensible things, in themselves good, the spirit, making progress in
particular acts and receiving morsels of spiritual communication, may form
a habit in spiritual things and reach the actual substance of spirit
foreign to all sense. Individuals obtain this only little by little, after
their own manner, and by means of the senses to which they have always been
17.5.(2). In the measure that souls approach spirit in their dealings with
God, they divest and empty themselves of the ways of the senses, of
discursive and imaginative meditation. When they have completely attained
spiritual communion with God they will be void of all sensory apprehensions
concerning God. The more an object approaches one extreme, the further it
retreats from the other; on complete attainment of one extreme it will be
wholly separated from the other. There is a frequently quoted spiritual
axiom that runs: Gustato spiritu, desipit omnis caro (Once the taste and
savor of the spirit is experienced, everything carnal is insipid). The ways
of the flesh (which refer to the use of the senses in spiritual things)
afford neither profit nor delight. This is obvious. If something is
spiritual it is incomprehensible to the senses; but if the senses can grasp
it, it is no longer purely spiritual. The more knowledge the senses and
natural apprehensions have about it, the less spiritual and supernatural it
will be, as we explained above.3
17.6. As a result the perfect spirit pays no attention to the senses. It
neither receives anything through them, nor uses them principally, nor
judges them to be requisite in its relationship with God, as it did before
its spiritual growth.
17.6.(2). A passage from St. Paul's epistle to the Corinthians bears this
meaning: Cum essem parvulus, loquebar ut parvulus, sapiebam ut parvulus,
cogitabam ut parvulus. Quando autem factus sum vir, evacuavi quae erant
parvuli (When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I knew as a child, I
thought as a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things) [1
17.6.(3). We have already explained how sensible things and the knowledge
the spirit can abstract from them are the work of a child. Those who are
always attached to them, and never become detached, will never stop being
like a little child, or speaking of God as a child, or knowing and thinking
of God as a child. In their attachment to the rind of sense (the child),
they will never reach the substance of spirit (the perfect person). For the
sake of their own spiritual growth, therefore, persons should not admit
these revelations, even though God is the author of them, just as a child
must be weaned in order to accustom its palate to a hardier and more
17.7. Is it necessary, you ask, for the soul while it is a child to accept
these sensible things and then set them aside when grown, just as an infant
must be nourished at the breast until, when it has grown older, it can be
17.7.(2). I reply in regard to discursive meditation, in which individuals
begin their quest for God, that it is true that they must not turn away
from the breast of the senses for their nourishment until they arrive at
the time and season suitable for so doing -- that is, when God brings the
soul to a more spiritual converse, to contemplation, of which we spoke in
chapter 13 of this book.
17.7.(3). But when there is a question of imaginative visions or other
supernatural communications apprehensible by the senses and independent of
one's free will, I affirm that at whatever time or season they occur (in
the state of perfection or one less perfect) individuals must have no
desire to admit them even though they come from God. And this for two
17.7.(4). First, because God, as we said,4 produces his effect in the soul
without its being able to hinder this, although it can impede the vision --
which often happens. Consequently, the effect to be communicated becomes
more substantial even though it is given differently. As we said, people
cannot hinder the goods God desires to impart, nor in fact do they do so
except by some imperfection or possessiveness. And there is no imperfection
or possessiveness if they renounce these apprehensions with humility and
17.7.(5). Second, by so doing individuals free themselves from the task and
danger of discerning the true visions from the false ones and deciding
whether their visions come from an angel of light or of darkness. Such an
effort is profitless, a waste of time, a hindrance to the soul, an occasion
of many imperfections as well as of spiritual stagnancy since a person is
not then employed with the more important things and disencumbered of the
trifles of particular apprehensions and knowledge. This was mentioned
regarding the corporeal visions, and it will be asserted further on in
respect to imaginative visions.
17.8. One can be sure that if our Lord did not have to lead a soul
according to its own manner of being, he would never communicate the
abundance of his Spirit through these aqueducts of forms, figures, and
particular knowledge by which he sustains the soul with crumbs. This is why
David said: Mittit crystallum suam sicut bucellas, which is as much as to
say, he sent his wisdom to souls in morsels [Ps. 147:17]. It is regrettable
that a soul, having as it were an infinite capacity, should be fed, because
of its limited spirituality and sensory incapacity, with morsels for the
17.8.(2). St. Paul, too, when writing to the Corinthians grieved over this
littleness and limited preparation for the reception of spirituality: "When
I came to you, brethren, I could not speak as to spiritual persons, but
only as to carnal, because you were unable to receive it, nor can you now."
Tamquam parvulis in Christo lac potum vobis dedi, non escam (As to infants
in Christ I gave you milk to drink and not solid food to eat) [1 Cor. 3:1-
17.9. In conclusion, individuals must not fix the eyes of their souls on
that rind of the figure and object supernaturally accorded to the exterior
senses, such as locutions and words to the sense of hearing; visions of
saints and beautifully resplendent lights to the sense of sight; fragrance
to the sense of smell; delicious and sweet tastes to the palate; and other
delights, usually derived from the spirit, to the sense of touch, as is
more commonly the case with spiritual persons. Neither must they place
their eyes on interior imaginative visions. They must instead renounce all
17.9.(2). They must fix the eyes of their souls only on the valuable
spirituality these experiences cause, and endeavor to preserve it by
putting into practice and properly carrying out whatever is for the service
of God, and pay no attention to those representations, nor desire any
17.9.(3). With this attitude, individuals take from these apprehensions
only what God wants them to take, that is, the spirit of devotion, since
God gives these sense experiences for no other principal reason. And they
reject the sensory element, which would not have been imparted had they
possessed the capacity to receive spirituality without the apprehensions
and exercises of the senses.
18. The harm caused by some spiritual masters in not giving souls adequate
guidance with regard to the visions mentioned. An explanation of how both
can be misled even by visions that have a divine origin.
18.1. We are unable to be as brief on this subject of visions as we would
like because of the amount of material to be covered. Although we have
presented the substance of a suitable explanation of what spiritual persons
should do about these visions and how their masters should guide and deal
with them, yet it will not be superfluous to particularize a little more on
this doctrine and shed some light on the harm that can arise. Even if the
visions are from God, spiritual persons and their masters can suffer harm
if they are very credulous about them.
18.2. The reason motivating me to enlarge somewhat on this subject is the
want of discretion that I have noticed -- from what I can understand -- in
some spiritual masters. Trusting these supernatural apprehensions, counting
them to be authentic and of divine origin, these directors together with
their penitents have gone astray and become bewildered, realizing in
themselves the words of our Savior: Si caecus caeco ducatum praestet, ambo
in foveam cadunt (If one blind person leads another, both fall into the
pit) [Mt. 15:14]. He does not say they will fall, but that they do fall. It
is not necessary to wait until they fall into error in order for them to
fall. The mere fact that the one blind person dares to be guided by the
other is already an error; and thus the first, though less serious, fall is
18.2.(2). The method of some directors is sufficient to encumber souls
receiving these visions, or even to lead them astray. They do not guide
them along the paths of humility, and they give them a free hand in this
matter, which causes a want of the true spirit of faith. Neither do these
directors ground their disciples in faith, for they frequently make these
visions a topic of conversation. Consequently, the individuals get the idea
that their directors are setting store by their visions, and as a result
they do the same and stay attached to them, instead of being built up in
faith, detached, emptied, and divested of apprehensions so as to soar to
the heights of dark faith.
18.2.(3). All this arises from the attitude and language the individuals
observe in their directors in these matters. This is so true that -- I know
not how -- these persons with immeasurable ease, and an inability to do
otherwise, beget a high esteem for these visions -- even to the point of
withdrawing their eyes from the abyss of faith.
18.3. The reason souls become so readily engrossed in visions must be the
sensible aspect toward which humans have a natural bent. And since
individuals are already attracted and disposed through their apprehensions
of those distinct and sensible things, it is enough for them to see in
their director, or any other person, some esteem for these visions, and
they will acquire the same. Not only this but their desire for these
visions is also stimulated, and they feed upon them and become more
inclined and attached to them without being aware of it.
18.3.(2). Numerous imperfections consequently arise, because these
individuals lose humility, at least. They think their visions are
significant, that they possess something profitable, and that God is giving
them prominence. They go about feeling pleased and somewhat satisfied with
themselves, which is against humility. Although these persons are unaware
of it, the devil then secretly augments this feeling and begins to suggest
thoughts about others: whether others receive these visions or not, or if
their visions are authentic or not. Such thoughts are contrary to holy
simplicity and spiritual solitude.
18.4. Let us bring to a close for now our discussion of these kinds of harm
and of how there is no growth in faith unless souls turn from these
visions. There are other, more subtle kinds of harm, more hateful in God's
eyes, that may not be as noticeable as these, but that do result from this
attitude. The source of these other kinds of harm lies in a failure to walk
wholly on the road of nakedness. We will discuss all this when we treat of
spiritual gluttony and the other six vices. Then, God willing, we will
expound many points about these subtle and delicate stains that, because
the director does not guide souls along the way of denudation, adhere to
18.5. Let us now say something about the attitude of some confessors who
give their penitents poor instructions. Assuredly, I wish I knew how to
speak of this because I think it is difficult to explain how the spirit of
the disciple is secretly fashioned after that of the spiritual father. This
subject involves such prolixity that it is wearisome to me, for it seems
one factor cannot be explained without explaining another, since in these
spiritual matters things are interrelated.
18.6. But to cover the matter sufficiently here, I might point out that it
seems to me -- and indeed it is so -- that if the spiritual father has such
a bent toward revelations that they produce in his soul some effect,
pleasure, or complete satisfaction, he cannot avoid -- even though unaware
-- affecting his disciples with this attitude and pleasure if they are not
more advanced than he. And even if they are more advanced, the director can
do serious harm by continuing to give direction. From the inclination the
spiritual father has toward these visions and the gratification he finds in
them there rises a certain esteem for them, and unless he is on his guard
he will manifest indications of this to the persons he is directing. And if
those persons have the same inclination, there cannot be between them, as
far as I can see, anything but a communication of esteem for these matters.
18.7. To be less demanding, let us speak of the confessor who, inclined or
not toward these visions, does not use the necessary care to disencumber
and divest his disciple of desire for them, but rather makes the vision the
topic of conversation and the main theme of his spiritual colloquies giving
instruction on the signs for the discernment of good visions from bad ones.
18.7.(2). Although knowledge of these signs is worthwhile, there is no
reason to burden the soul with this labor, solicitude, and danger; by
refusing to pay attention to these visions, one escapes all this effort of
discernment and does what one ought. But these confessors do not stop here.
Observing that their disciples receive these manifestations from God, they
ask them to request of him a revelation about some matter pertaining to
themselves or to others, and the foolish souls do so in the belief that
this method of gaining knowledge is lawful. Merely because God, in the way
or for the motive he wishes, grants a supernatural revelation, they think
it is licit to desire that he grant it and they even petition him to do so.
18.8. If in response to their request God reveals the matter to them, they
become more self-confident, thinking that God is pleased with their
petition and desires it, whereas in reality he is displeased with such an
entreaty and does not desire it. They often act or believe in accordance
with the answer or revelation, for since they are attached to this manner
of dealing with God, their will becomes adapted to these revelations and
firmly rooted in them. They find natural satisfaction in them and fit them
naturally into their own way of thinking. They often err exceedingly, and
are then taken aback when something turns out differently than they had
expected. Then doubts come to the fore concerning the divine origin of
these revelations since events do not come to pass as they were led to
18.8.(2). They presupposed two things: First, that the revelations were
from God since from the beginning they firmly adhered to them. Yet that
adherence was probably due to their natural inclination toward them, as we
asserted. Second, that since the revelations were from God, events would
occur according to what they themselves understood or thought about these
18.9. This belief was a gross delusion, for God's revelations or locutions
do not always turn out according to people's understanding of them or
according to what seems to be the meaning of the words. One should neither
find assurance in them nor believe them blindly, even though one knows they
are God's revelations, responses, or words. Though they may in themselves
be certain and true, they are not always so in their causes or in our way
of understanding them. We will prove this in the next chapter. We will also
prove that, even though God answers questions supernaturally, he is not
pleased to do so, but is even sometimes angered.
19. Even though visions and locutions from God are true, we can be misled
by them. Proofs from Sacred Scripture.
19.1. We mentioned two reasons why, although, God's visions and locutions
are true and certain in themselves, they are not always so for us. The
first reason is that our manner of understanding them is defective, and the
second is that their basic causes are sometimes variable. We will give
proof for both with scriptural texts.
19.1.(2). Clearly, in regard to the first, not all revelations turn out
according to what we understand by the words. The cause is that, since God
is immense and profound, he usually includes in his prophecies, locutions,
and revelations other ways, concepts, and ideas remarkably different from
the meaning we generally find in them. And the surer and more truthful
these latter are, the less they seem so to us.
19.1.(3). We see this at every step in Sacred Scripture. With a number of
ancients, many of God's prophecies and locutions did not turn out as had
been expected, because they understood them in their own way, in another
very literal manner. This is apparent in the following texts.
19.2. In Genesis, God told Abraham when he had brought him into the land of
the Canaanites: Tibi dabo terram hanc (I will give you this land) [Gn.
15:7]. And since God had promised this frequently, Abraham, already old and
still receiving the promise, questioned God: Domine unde scire possum quod
possesurus sum eam? (Lord, how, or by what sign, am I to know that I will
possess it?) [Gn. 15:8]. Then God revealed to him that he was not going to
possess it at all but that his offspring would after 400 years [Gn. 15:13].
Thus Abraham finally understood the promise, which in itself was true
because, in bestowing the land on his offspring out of love for him, God
gave it to him. Consequently Abraham was misled in his understanding of the
prophecy. If he had acted according to his understanding he would have
erred decidedly since the possession of this land was not to come about
during his life. And those who saw him die without having received the
promise of the prophecy, after having heard that God was going to grant the
land to him, would have been baffled and left with the notion that the
prophecy was false.
19.3. While Abraham's grandson Jacob was on his journey to Egypt at the
time Joseph, his son, had ordered him to come because of the famine in
Canaan, God appeared to Jacob and said: Jacob, Jacob, noli timere, descende
in Aegyptum, quia in gentem magnam faciam te ibi. Ego descendam tecum
illuc, et inde adducam te revertentem (Jacob, do not fear, go down to Egypt
and I will go with you; and when you depart from there, I will lead you out
and be your guide) [Gn. 46:1-4].
19.3.(2). These words were not fulfilled according to what we would
understand from the way they sounded, for we know that saintly old Jacob
died in Egypt and never returned from there alive [Gn 49:32]. But the
prophecy was to be fulfilled in his offspring whom God, acting himself as
guide along the way, delivered from Egypt years later. Manifestly, then,
anyone knowing of God's promise to Jacob would have thought that Jacob, who
through God's favor and command had entered Egypt in person and alive,
would unquestionably make his exit alive and in person, since God had
promised this and the help to achieve it. Such a one would have been
misled, and filled with wonder over Jacob's death in Egypt because God
would not have thereby fulfilled his promise as expected. Although God's
promise in itself was true, there could have been much delusion concerning
19.4. In the Book of Judges we also read that when all the tribes of Israel
united for war to punish Benjamin's tribe for a certain iniquity, they were
positive of victory because God had appointed them a captain of war. So
certain were they that, when defeat came and 22,000 of their men were
slain, they were amazed and baffled before God and they wept the entire
day, ignorant of the cause of their downfall, for they had understood that
victory would be theirs.
19.4.(2). And when they asked God if they should return to battle, he told
them to return. Convinced that now victory was theirs, they set out with
remarkable daring, and they were defeated the second time with a loss of
18,000 men. As a result they were extremely bewildered. They did not know
what to do, because God had commanded them to wage war and yet they were
always vanquished, but especially because they surpassed their enemy in
number and strength: 400,000 to 25,700.
19.4.(3). They were deluded in their interpretation of God's words, which
in themselves were not deceptive. He did not say they would conquer but
that they should fight, for in these defeats God wished to punish a certain
neglect and presumption of theirs and thus humble them. But when finally he
replied that victory would be theirs, it was, though not without much
strategy and hardship on their part [Jgs. 20:11-48].
19.5. In this and many other ways souls are misled by understanding God's
locutions and revelations according to the letter, according to the outer
rind. As has been explained, God's chief objective in conferring these
revelations is to express and impart the spirit that is enclosed within the
outer rind. This spirit is difficult to understand, much richer and more
plentiful, very extraordinary and far beyond the boundaries of the letter.
19.5.(2). Anyone bound to the letter, locution, form, or figure
apprehensible in the vision cannot avoid serious error and will later
become confused for having been led according to the senses and not having
made room for the spirit stripped of the letter. Littera, enim, occidit,
spiritus autem vivificat (The letter kills and the spirit gives life) [2
Cor. 3:6]. The soul should renounce, then, the literal sense in these
cases, and live in the darkness of faith, for faith is the spirit that is
incomprehensible to the senses.
19.6. Because many of the children of Israel understood the words of the
prophets very much according to the letter and because these prophecies did
not turn out as expected, they began to disregard and distrust them. Hence
a saying was born, becoming almost a proverb among them, by which they
scoffed at the prophets. Isaiah complains of this in the following passage:
Quem docebit Dominus scientiam? Et quem intelligere faciet auditum?
Ablactatos a lacte, avulsos ab uberibus. Quia manda remanda, manda remanda,
expecta, reexpecta, expecta, reexpecta; modicum ibi, modicum ibi. In
loquela enim labii, et lingua altera loquetur ad populum istum (Whom will
God instruct? And to whom will he explain his word and prophecy? Only to
those who are weaned and fresh from their mother's breast. For everyone is
saying -- concerning the prophets -- promise and promise again, wait and
wait some more, wait and wait some more, a word with you here, a word with
you there. For with words from his lips, but in another tongue, he will
speak to this people) [Is. 28:9-11].
19.6.(2). In this passage Isaiah clearly demonstrates the mockery these
people made of the prophets and the derision repeated in the proverb, "wait
and wait some more." He indicates that the prophecies were never fulfilled
because the people were bound to the letter (the milk of infants) and to
the senses (the breasts), which run contrary to the knowledge of the
spirit. Because of this he says: To whom shall he teach the wisdom of his
prophecies? And to whom shall he explain his doctrine, if not to those who
are already weaned from the milk of the letter and the breasts of the
senses? And because these people are not so weaned, they understand only
according to the milk of the rind and letter, or according to the breasts
of the senses, for they exclaim: promise and promise again, wait and wait
some more, and so on. God must speak doctrine to them from his own mouth,
and not theirs, and in a tongue other than theirs.
19.7. We must not consider a prophecy from the perspective of our
perception and language, for God's language is another one, according to
the spirit, very different from what we understand, and difficult. This is
so true that even Jeremiah, a prophet himself, observing that the ideas in
God's words were so different from the meaning people would ordinarily find
in them, seems to be beguiled and defends the people: Heu, heu, heu, Domine
Deus, ergone decipisti populum istum et Jerusalem, dicens: Pax erit vobis,
et ecce pervenit gladius usque ad animam? (Alas, alas, alas, Lord God, have
you perchance deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying: Peace will come
to you; and behold the sword reaches even to the soul?) [Jer. 4:10].
19.7.(2). The reason for the misunderstanding was that the promised peace
was to be effected between God and humans through the Messiah who was to be
sent to them, whereas they took the words to mean temporal peace.
Consequently, when wars and trials came upon them, it seemed God was
deceiving them because everything was turning out contrary to their
expectations. Thus they proclaimed as Jeremiah also did: Expectavimus
pacem, et non est bonum (We had hoped for peace, and there is no blessing
of peace) [Jer. 8:15]. Guiding themselves, then, by the literal sense it
was impossible for them to avoid deception.
19.7.(3). Who will not be perplexed and misled if bound to the letter of
all David's prophecies about Christ in the 71st psalm? Et dominabitur a
mari usque ad mare; et a flumine usque ad terminos orbis terrarum (He shall
reign from sea to sea; and from the river unto the ends of the earth) [Ps.
71:8]; and also, Liberabit pauperem a potente, et pauperem cui non erat
adjutor (He will liberate the poor one from the power of the mighty, and
the poor one who has no helper) [Ps. 71:12]. For afterward, Christ is born
in an humble state, lives in poverty, and dies in misery; and not only did
he fail to reign temporally upon the earth, but he was subject to a lowly
people until he died under Pontius Pilate's rule. He did not merely fail to
liberate his poor disciples from the hands of the temporally powerful, but
allowed them to be persecuted and slain for his name's sake.
19.8. These prophecies about Christ should have been understood in their
spiritual sense, in which they were most true. Since Christ was God he was
Lord not solely of the earth but of heaven too. And not merely was he to
redeem the poor, who were to be his followers, and free them from the power
of the devil (the mighty one against whom they had no helper), but he was
also to make them heirs of the kingdom of heaven.
19.8.(2). In prophesying about Christ and his followers, God was speaking
of the more important factors (the eternal kingdom and eternal freedom),
and in their interpretation of these words the people dwelt on matters of
slight importance (temporal dominion and temporal freedom) to which God
pays little heed, since in his eyes freedom and a temporal dominion are
neither freedom nor a kingdom.
19.8.(3). Blinded by the baseness of the letter and ignorant of the spirit
and truth behind it, they killed their Lord and God, as St. Paul exclaimed:
Qui enim habitabant Jerusalem, et principes ejus hunc ignorantes, et voces
prophetarum, quae per omne Sabbatum leguntur, judicantes impleverunt (The
inhabitants of Jerusalem, and its rulers, ignorant of who he was, and
misunderstanding the sayings of the prophets recited each Sabbath, after
judging him, put him to death) [Acts 13:27].
19.9. This difficulty in giving a suitable interpretation to God's words
reached such a point that even Christ's very disciples, who went about with
him, were deceived. For example: those two who after his death were
journeying to the town of Emmaus, sad and distrustful, saying: Nos autem
sperabamus quod ipse esset redempturus Israel (We were expecting that he
would redeem Israel) [Lk. 24:21]. They also were of the opinion that his
would be a temporal liberation and reign. But Christ our Redeemer,
appearing to them, reproved them for being foolish, dull, and slow of heart
to believe the things foretold by the prophets [Lk. 24:25].
19.9.(2). Even when he was about to ascend into heaven, some still
maintained that dullness and queried of him: Domine, si in tempore hoc
restitues regnum Israel (Lord, let us know if at this time you will restore
the kingdom of Israel) [Acts 1:6].
19.9.(3). The Holy Spirit causes many things to be said in which he has a
meaning different from that understood by humans. This is seen by what he
brought Caiaphas to say of Christ: It is better that one man die than that
the whole nation perish [Jn. 11:50]. Caiaphas did not say these words on
his own, and he expressed and understood them in one way while the Holy
Spirit did so in another.
19.10. Evidently, then, even though the words and revelations are from God
we cannot find assurance in them, since in our understanding of them we can
easily be deluded, and very much so. They embody an abyss and depth of
spirit, and to want to limit them to our interpretation and to what our
senses can apprehend is like wanting to grasp a handful of air that will
escape the hand entirely, leaving only a particle of dust.
19.11. Thus, the spiritual master should try to see to it that his
disciples are not detained by the desire to pay heed to supernatural
apprehensions (which are no more than small particles of spirit and the
only thing the disciples will be left with), and he should turn them away
from all visions and locutions and teach them to remain in freedom and the
darkness of faith, in which liberty and abundance of spirit are received
and, consequently, the wisdom and understanding proper to God's words.
19.11.(2). It is impossible for someone unspiritual to judge and understand
the things of God correctly; and one is not spiritual if one judges them
according to the senses. And thus even though these things are clothed in
what is of the senses, they are not understood. This is what St. Paul
really asserts: Animalis autem homo non percipit ea quae sunt spiritus Dei;
stultitia enim est illi, et non potest intelligere, quia de spiritualibus
examinatur. Spiritualis autem judicat omnia (The animal person fails to
perceive the things that are of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness
to him, and he is unable to understand them because they are spiritual. Yet
the spiritual person judges all things) [1 Cor. 2:14-15]. "The animal
person" refers to those who use only the senses; "the spiritual person" to
those who are neither bound to nor guided by the senses. It is therefore
rash to dare communicate with God by means of supernatural, sensory
apprehensions, or to allow anyone to do so.
19.12. For the sake of greater clarity here are some examples: Suppose God
says to a saintly man who is deeply afflicted because of persecution by his
enemies: "I will free you from your enemies." This prophecy could be true;
nonetheless the man's enemies will prevail and kill him. Anyone who had
given these words a temporal interpretation would have been deceived
because God had been speaking of the true and principal freedom and victory
-- salvation, in which the soul is free and victorious over all its enemies
much more truly and loftily than if liberated from them here below. This
prophecy had greater truth and richness than was understandable through an
interpretation that related the freedom to this life. By his words, God
always refers to the more important and profitable meaning, whereas humans
will refer the words to a less important sense, in their own way and for
their own purpose, and thus be deceived.
19.12.(2). We see this in David's messianic prophecy: Reges eos in virga
ferrea, et tamquam vas figuli confringes eos (You shall rule all nations
with an iron rod, and dash them to pieces like a vessel of clay) [Ps. 2:9].
In this prophecy God referred to the principal and perfect dominion, which
is the eternal one that did come to pass; not to the least important,
temporal dominion, which did not come to pass during Christ's entire life
19.13. Here is another example: A soul has intense desires to be a martyr.
God answers, "You shall be a martyr" and bestows deep interior consolation
and confidence in the truth of this promise. Regardless of the promise,
this person in the end does not die a martyr; yet the promise will have
been true. Why, then, was there no fulfillment of the promise? Because it
will be fulfilled in its chief, essential meaning: the bestowal of the
essential love and reward of a martyr. God truly grants the soul what it
formally desired and what he promised it because the formal desire of the
soul was not a manner of death but the service of God through martyrdom and
the exercise of a martyr's love for him. Death through martyrdom in itself
is of no value without this love, and God bestows martyrdom's love and
reward perfectly by other means. Even though the soul does not die a
martyr, it is profoundly satisfied since God has fulfilled its desire.
19.13.(2). When these aspirations and other similar ones born of love are
unfulfilled in the way one imagined and understood them, they are fulfilled
in another, far better way, and render more honor to God than was thought
of in making the request. David proclaims: Desiderium pauperum exaudivit
Dominus (The Lord has granted the poor their desire) [Ps. 10:17]. And in
Proverbs, divine Wisdom affirms: Desiderium suum justis dabitur (The desire
of the just shall be answered) [Prv. 10:24]. Since numerous saints desired
various particular favors from God yet did not receive them in this life,
it is a matter of faith that since their desire was just and good it was
granted them perfectly in heaven. Consequently, if God promises them in
this life, "Your desire shall be fulfilled," it shall be, even though it
may be done in a way different from what they had in mind.
19.14. God's words and visions in this and other ways may be true and
certain, yet they can mislead us if we do not know how to understand them
in a lofty manner and principally according to the purpose and the meaning
God has in giving them. The safest and most suitable method of procedure is
to oblige souls to flee prudently from these supernatural things, and to
accustom them, as we pointed out,1 to purity of spirit in dark faith -- the
means toward union.
20. Proofs from Sacred Scripture of how God's words, although always true,
are not always certain. The certainty of them depends on the causes of the
20.1. We must prove now the second reason1 God's visions and locutions,
although always true in themselves, are not always certain for us. This
uncertainty is due to the causes on which they are founded.
20.1.(2). God's affirmations are frequently founded upon creatures and
their effects, which are liable to change and failure; consequently, words
based on these creatures can also change and fail. If one factor upon which
another is dependent fails, the other fails too. For example, if God were
to say that in a year he would send a plague upon a kingdom because of an
offense committed against him there, and if the offense were to cease or
change, the punishment could be withheld. Yet the warning would have been
true since it was based on the actual fault, and if the fault were to have
continued the threatened punishment would have been executed.
20.2. This happened in the city of Nineveh when God proclaimed: Adhuc
quadraginta diebus et Ninive subvertetur (Forty days from now Nineveh will
be razed) [Jon. 3:4]. This did not happen because the cause of the threat,
their sins, ceased because of the penance that was done [Jon. 3:5-10]. But
if they had not done penance the warning would have been carried out. We
also read in the Third Book of Kings that when King Ahab had committed a
very serious sin, God, through our holy father Elijah, sent him a message
threatening severe punishment on his person, his house, and his kingdom [1
Kgs. 21:17-22]. And because Ahab rent his garments with grief, put on a
hair shirt, fasted, slept in sackcloth, and went about sad and humbled, God
once more sent this prophet to him with these words: Quia igitur humiliatus
est mei causa, non inducam malum in diebus ejus, sed in diebus filii sui
(Insofar as Ahab has humbled himself for love of me I will not in his days
send the evil I spoke of, but in those of his son) [1 Kgs. 21:27-29].
Evidently, then, because Ahab changed his conduct and disposition, God also
altered his sentence.
20.3. We can thus deduce for our purpose here that, although God may have
revealed or affirmed something to a person (whether it be good or bad,
concern this person or another), it can change, becoming greater or less,
vary, or be taken away entirely according to a change or variation in this
person's tendencies or in the cause on which it is based. Thus the event
may not turn out as expected, and frequently no one but God knows why. God
usually affirms, teaches, and promises many things, not so there will be an
immediate understanding of them, but so that afterward at the proper time,
or when the effect is produced, one may receive light about them.
20.3.(2). Christ acted this way with his disciples. He told them many
parables and maxims the wisdom of which they did not understand until the
time for preaching had come, when the Holy Spirit descended on them. The
Holy Spirit was to explain to them, as Christ affirmed, all that he had
taught them during his life [Jn. 14:26]. St. John, speaking of Christ's
entrance into Jerusalem, states: Haec non cognoverunt discipuli ejus
primum: sed quando glorificatus est Jesus, tunc recordati sunt quia haec
erant scripta de eo2 [Jn. 12:16]. As a result many particular works of God
can come to pass in a soul that neither the soul nor its director can
understand until the opportune time.
20.4. In the First Book of Kings we also read that God, angered because Eli
the priest of Israel failed to punish his sons for their sins, sent Samuel
to him with, among other messages, the following one: Loquens locutus sum,
ut domus tua, et domus patris tui, ministraret in conspectu meo, usque in
sempiternum. Verumtamen absit hoc a me (Certainly I have said before that
your house and the house of your father will continually minister to me in
the priesthood and in my presence forever. Yet this proposal is very far
from me; I shall not bring it about) [1 Sm. 2:30]. Since the ministry of
the priesthood is based on rendering honor and glory to God, God promised
it to Eli's father forever. When Eli lacked zeal for the honor of God
because, as God himself complained, he gave more honor to his sons than to
God, dissimulating their sins so as not to reprove them, the promise also
failed [1 Sm. 3:13]. It would have been kept forever if their good service
and zeal had been enduring.
20.4.(2). We should not think, therefore, that because revelations and
locutions come from God -- especially if they are dependent on human,
changeable causes -- they will infallibly and literally come to pass.
20.5. Although God knows when these locutions and revelations are dependent
on human causes, he does not always manifest it, but in his communication
of the locution or revelation he will remain silent about the condition.
Such was the case when he told the Ninevites definitely that they would be
destroyed after 40 days [Jon. 3:4]. At other times he declares, as he did
to Rehoboam: If you keep my commandments as my servant David did, I will
also be with you as I was with him, and I will build you a house as I did
my servant David [1 Kgs. 11:38].
20.5.(2). Whether God discloses the conditional element or not, individuals
cannot find assurance in their own interpretation, because they are
incapable of comprehending the secret truths and the diverse meanings
contained in God's sayings. God is above the heavens and speaks from the
depths of eternity; we on this earth are blind and understand only the ways
of the flesh and of time. This, I believe, is why the Wise Man said: God is
above the heavens and you upon the earth; therefore do not be prolix or
careless in speech [Eccl. 5:1].
20.6. You will perchance ask: If we are not to understand or get involved
with these locutions and revelations, why does God communicate them?
20.6.(2). I have already mentioned that by order of him who spoke,
everything will be understood at the opportune time; and he whom God wills
shall understand clearly, so it was fitting, since God does nothing without
cause and truth. But, believe me, people cannot completely grasp the
meaning of God's locutions and deeds; nor, without much error and
confusion, can they determine this meaning by what appears to be so.
20.6.(3). The prophets, entrusted with the word of God, were well aware of
this. Prophecy for them was a severe trial because, as we affirmed, the
people observed that a good portion of the prophecy did not come about in
accord with the letter of what was said to them. As a result the people
laughed at the prophets and made much fun of them. It reached such a point
that Jeremiah exclaimed: They mock me all day long, everyone scoffs at and
despises me because for a long time now I have cried out against iniquity
and promised them destruction, and the Lord's word has become a reproach to
me and a mockery all the time. And I said: I do not have to remember him or
speak any more in his name [Jer. 20:7-9].
20.6.(4). Although the holy prophet spoke with resignation and in the
semblance of a weak man unable to suffer the changing ways of God, he
herein teaches us the difference between the fulfillment of the divine
locutions and the common meaning given the words. The prophets were
considered seducers, and they endured such suffering because of their
prophecies that Jeremiah also proclaims in another place: Formido et
laqueus facta est nobis vaticinatio et contritio (Prophecy has become for
us fear, snares, and contradiction of spirit) [Lam. 3:47].
20.7. When sent by God as the preacher of the destruction of Nineveh, Jonah
fled because of his knowledge of the diverse meanings and causes behind
God's locutions [Jon. 1:1-3]. Lest the people should make fun of him when
his prophecy was unfulfilled, he fled from prophesying and waited outside
the city for the entire 40 days to see if his prophecy would be fulfilled
[Jon. 4:5]. Since it was not, he became extremely afflicted -- to such an
extent that he said to God: Obsecro, Domine, numquid non hoc est verbum
meum, cum adhuc essem in terra mea? Propter hoc praeoccupavi, ut fugerem in
Tharsis (I beseech You, Lord, was not this perhaps what I said when in my
country? On this account I was contradictory and fled into Tharsis) [Jon.
4:2]. And the saint became angry and petitioned God to take away his life
20.8. Why, then, should we be surprised if God's locutions and revelations
do not materialize as expected? Suppose God affirms or represents to an
individual some promise (good or bad, pertaining to that person or to
another). If this promise is based on certain causes (devotion or service
rendered to God, or offense committed against him at that time, by that
person or another) and these causes remain, the promise will be
accomplished. But since it is uncertain how long these causes will
continue, the fulfillment of the promise is uncertain too. One should seek
assurance, therefore, not in one's understanding but in faith.
21. God's displeasure at requests for revelations and locutions, even
though he sometimes answers them. Proofs of how he is frequently angered in
spite of his condescension and response.
21.1. Some spiritual persons, as we said,1 convince themselves that their
curiosity to know certain things through supernatural means is good. They
think this conduct is good and pleasing to God because he responds to their
urgent request. Yet the truth is that, regardless of his reply, such
behavior is neither good nor pleasing to God. Rather he is displeased; not
only displeased but frequently angered and deeply offended.
21.1.(2). The reason is that no creature may licitly go beyond the
boundaries naturally ordained by God for its governance. He has fixed
natural and rational limits by which humans are to be ruled. A desire to
transcend them, hence, is unlawful, and to desire to investigate and arrive
at knowledge in a supernatural way is to go beyond the natural limits. It
is unlawful, consequently, and God who is offended by everything illicit is
21.1.(3). King Ahab knew this well. For although Isaiah told him to ask in
God's name for some sign, he was unwilling to do so: Non petam, et non
tentabo Dominum (I will not ask for such a thing, nor shall I tempt God)
[Is. 7:12]. For to tempt God is to desire communication with him in
extraordinary ways, supernatural ways.
21.2. You will say: If it is true that God is displeased, why does he
sometimes answer? I reply: Sometimes the devil answers; but when God
answers, he does so because of the weakness of the individual who desires
to advance in that way. Such persons could become sad and turn back, or
imagine that God is unhappy with them, and become over-whelmed. Or there
may be other motives known to God, prompted by the weaknesses of these
persons. And, as a result, God sees the appropriateness of condescending
with such an answer.
21.2.(2). God also does this in the singularly sensory communion that many
weak and tender souls have with him, as was mentioned above.2 But he does
not act thus because he is desirous or pleased that communication with him
be carried on in such a manner. Rather, he gives according to each one's
mode, as we have said.3 He is like a fountain from which people draw as
much water as the jug they carry will hold. Sometimes he lets them draw
water through these extraordinary spouts, but it does not follow that the
desire to draw water in this way is lawful, for it belongs only to God to
bestow water in this manner, when, how, and to whomever he wills, and for
whatever reason he desires, and without any right on the part of the soul.
Accordingly, as we asserted, he sometimes condescends to the petition of
certain individuals, for they are good and simple, and he does not want to
let their petition go unanswered lest they become sad. But the fact that he
answers them does not mean he is pleased with this practice.
21.3. Here is an example to better illustrate this truth. A father of a
family provides at table many different kinds of food, some better than
others. One of his children will ask for a dish not of the better food, but
of the first that meets the eye, and the child will do so because it knows
how to eat this kind of food better than the other. Now when the father
observes that his child refuses to eat the food offered to it and wants and
likes only that first dish, he gives it to his child sadly so that it will
not go without its meal and be unhappy.
21.3.(2). This is the way God acted with the children of Israel when they
asked him for a king. He gave them one regretfully because their having one
was not good for them. Thus he said to Samuel: Audi vocem populi in omnibus
quae loquuntur tibi: non enim te abjecerunt, sed me (I heard the voice of
this people and granted them the king they requested, for they have not
rejected you but have rejected me, that I might not reign over them) [1 Sm.
8:7]. God accordingly condescends to some souls, granting what is not the
best for them, because they are ignorant of how to journey by any other
way. Some souls obtain sensible or spiritual sweetness from God because
they are incapable of eating the stronger and more solid food of the trials
of the cross of his Son. He would desire them to take the cross more than
any other thing.
21.4. I consider a desire to know things through supernatural means far
worse than a desire for spiritual gratifications in the sensitive part of
the soul. I fail to see how a person who tries to get knowledge in this
supernatural way -- as well as the one who commands this or gives consent -
- can help but sin, at least venially, no matter how excellent the motives
or advanced in perfection that person may be. There is no necessity for any
of this kind of knowledge since one can get sufficient guidance from
natural reason and from the law and doctrine of the Gospel. There is no
difficulty or necessity that cannot be solved or remedied by these means,
which are very pleasing to God and profitable to souls.
21.4.(2). We should make such use of reason and the law of the Gospel that,
even though -- whether we desire it or not -- some supernatural truths are
told to us, we accept only what is in harmony with reason and the Gospel
law. And then we should receive this truth, not because it is privately
revealed to us, but because it is reasonable, and we should brush aside all
feelings about the revelation. We ought, in fact, to consider and examine
the reasonableness of the truth when it is revealed even more than when it
is not, since in order to delude souls the devil says much that is true,
conformed to reason, and will come to pass.
21.5. In all our necessities, trials, and difficulties, no better or safer
aid exists for us than prayer and hope that God will provide for us by the
means he desires. Scripture counsels this where we read that King
Jehosaphat, deeply afflicted and surrounded by his enemies [2 Chron. 20:1-
4], began to pray to God: Cum ignoramus quod facere debeamus, hoc solum
habemus residui, ut oculos nostros dirigamus ad te (When means are lacking
and reason cannot find a way of providing for our necessities, we have only
to raise our eyes to you that you may provide in the manner most pleasing
to you) [2 Chron. 20:12].
21.6. Even though God sometimes responds to these requests, he is angered.
This was explained, yet some proofs from Scripture will be helpful.
21.6.(2). In the First Book of Kings we read that while King Saul was
requesting a locution from the prophet Samuel, who was already dead, this
prophet appeared; yet God was angered, because Samuel immediately reproved
Saul for having made such a plea: Quare inquietasti me, ut suscitarer? (Why
have you disturbed me by making me revive?) [1 Sam. 28:15].
21.6.(3). We are also well aware that, though God answered the children of
Israel by providing the requested flesh meat, he was nonetheless seriously
angered. According to the Pentateuch and David's account he immediately
sent fire from heaven as a chastisement: Adhuc escae eorum erant in ore
ipsorum et ira Dei descendit super eos (While the morsels were yet in their
mouths, the anger of God descended upon them) [Ps. 78:30-31; Nm. 11:18-33].
21.6.(4). We read, too, in the Book of Numbers that because the prophet
Balaam went to the Midianites at the beckon of King Balak, God was
extremely provoked with him. Although God told Balaam to go, because he had
wanted to go and asked God, an angel carrying a sword appeared to him while
he was on his way, desirous of killing him, and saying: Perversa est via
tua mihique contraria (Your way is perverse and contrary to me). Because of
this perversity the angel desired to kill Balaam [Nm. 22:15-33].
21.7. God, though angered, condescends in this and many other ways to the
desires of souls. Scripture provides many testimonies and examples of this,
but it is unnecessary to cite them since the matter is so clear.
21.7.(2). I only say that the desire to communicate with God in this way is
extremely dangerous -- more so than I can say. The person attached to such
ways will go far astray and often become greatly bewildered. Anyone who has
esteemed them will understand through experience what I mean.
21.7.(3). Besides the hardship of avoiding any error that might result from
God's locutions and visions, there is also the fact that among locutions
and visions there are usually many that come from the devil. For he
commonly deals with the soul in the same manner as God does, imparting
communications so similar to God's that, disguised among the flock like the
wolf in sheep's clothing, his meddling may be hardly discernible [Mt.
7:15]. Since he says many things that are true and reasonable and turn out
as predicted, people can be easily misled, thinking that the revelation
must be from God since what was predicted truly comes about. These people
do not realize how easy it is for someone with clear natural light to know
many past or future events through their causes. Since the devil possesses
this light so vividly, he can most easily deduce a particular effect from a
specific cause. Yet the effect does not always materialize according to his
deduction, since all causes depend upon God's will.
21.8. Here is an example: The devil perceives that when the earth, air, and
sun have reached a certain interrelationship, they will necessarily at that
time become corrupted and thereby cause a pestilence. He is also cognizant
of the areas in which the pestilence will be grave and those in which it
will be mild. The example, then, is that of a pestilence known in its
causes. Is it a wonder, then, that the devil's prediction about a
pestilence, due within six months or a year, comes true? Yet it is a
prophecy of the devil. Similarly, observing that the cavities of the earth
are being filled with air, he can foresee earthquakes and predict that at a
particular time there will be an earthquake. This is natural knowledge for
which an intellect free of the passions is sufficient, as Boethius teaches:
Si vis claro lumine cernere verum, gaudia, pelle, timorem, spemque fugato,
nec dolor adsit (If you want to know truths with natural clarity, cast
aside joy, fear, hope, and sorrow).4
21.9. Supernatural events can also be known in their causes, since divine
Providence responds most certainly and justly to what the good or bad
causes arising from the children of the earth demand. One can know
naturally that a particular person or city, or some other factor, will
reach such a point that God in his providence and justice must respond in
conformity with the punishment or reward that the cause warrants. With this
knowledge one can say: at this particular time God will certainly give
this, or do that, or that some other event will ensue.
21.9.(2). The holy Judith made Holofernes aware of this when, in order to
persuade him that the children of Israel would be destroyed without fail,
she first related their numerous sins and evil conduct, and then added: Et
quoniam haec faciunt, certum est quod in perditionem dabuntur (Because they
do these things, it is certain they will be destroyed) [Jdt. 11:7-12]. This
represents knowledge of the punishment through its causes. It is like
saying: Surely such sins must occasion certain punishments from the most
just God. And divine Wisdom says: Per quae quis peccat, per haec et
torquetur (Each one is punished in, or through, that by which the sin is
committed) [Wis. 11:17].
21.10. The devil can know this not only in a natural way but also from
having observed God do similar things, and he can consequently predict
something and be right.
21.10.(2). The holy Tobias also knew through its cause the coming
chastisement of the city of Nineveh. He warned his son: Behold, son, when
your mother and I are dead depart from this land because it will no longer
remain. Video enim quia iniquitas ejus finem dabit ei (I see that its very
evil will be the cause of its punishment, the end and destruction of
everything) [Tb. 14:12-13]. Tobias and the devil were able to come to this
knowledge not merely through the wickedness of the city but through
experience, in observing that the Ninevites committed the sins that
occasioned the destruction of both the world by the flood and the Sodomites
by fire [Gn. 6:12-13; 13:13; 19:24]. Tobias, however, also knew this
through divine inspiration.
21.11. The devil can learn and foretell that Peter's life will naturally
last only a certain number of years. And he can determine many other events
through such various ways that we would never finish recounting them all,
nor could we even begin to explain many because of their intricacy and the
devil's craftiness in inserting lies. One cannot be liberated from him
without fleeing from all revelations, visions, and supernatural
21.11.(2). God is rightly angered with anyone who admits them, for he sees
the rashness of exposing oneself to this danger, presumption, curiosity,
and pride, to the root and foundation of vainglory, to contempt for the
things of God, and to the beginning of the numerous evils into which many
21.11.(3). God becomes so angry with these individuals that he purposely
allows them to go astray, experience delusion, suffer spiritual darkness,
and abandon the established ways of life, by delivering themselves over to
their vanities and fancies. Isaiah affirms: Dominus miscuit in medio ejus
spiritum vertiginis [Is. 19:14]. This is like saying: The Lord has mingled
in their midst the spirit of dissension and confusion, which in plain words
means the spirit of misunderstanding. Isaiah manifestly says this in accord
with our teaching because he refers to those who are striving for
supernatural knowledge of future events. As a result he asserts that God
mingled in their midst a spirit of misconstruing everything, not because
God desired this or really gave them this spirit of error, but because they
were desirous of knowing what was naturally unattainable. Provoked by this,
God allowed them to go astray and gave no enlightenment concerning this
matter in which he did not want them to meddle. Thus Isaiah proclaims that
by way of privation God commingled in their midst that spirit of
dissension. Accordingly, God is the cause of that harm; that is, the
privative cause, which consists in his withdrawing his light and favor to
such an extent that they necessarily fall into error.
21.12. In this way God permits the devil to blind and delude many who merit
this by their sins and audacities. The devil is able and successful to the
extent that others believe what he says and consider him a good spirit. So
firm is their belief that it is impossible for anyone who tries to persuade
them of the diabolic origin. For with God's permission they have already
been affected by the spirit of misunderstanding. We read that this happened
to the prophets of King Ahab whom God allowed to be deluded by the lying
spirit. He permitted the devil to lie, saying: Decipies, et praevalebis;
egredere, et fac ita (You shall prevail with your lie and deceive them; go
out and do it thus) [1 Kgs. 22:22]. The devil deceived the prophets and
king so successfully that they were unwilling to believe the prophet
Micaiah who spoke the truth, which was very much the opposite of what the
others had prophesied. That God allowed them to be blinded is the
explanation of their unbelief, for in their attachment they wanted events
to happen and God to answer according to their own desires and appetites.
This was the surest means and preparation for God to abandon them to
blindness and deception.
21.13. Ezekiel prophesied about this in God's name. He censured the curious
one who in vanity of spirit desires knowledge in a divine way: When this
man asks the prophet to inquire of me for him, I myself, the Lord, shall
answer, and I will set my angry countenance upon that man. And when the
prophet shall err in his reply, Ego Dominus decepi prophetam illum (I the
Lord have deceived that prophet) [Ez. 14:7-9]. This signifies that God does
not concur with his help to prevent that man's deception; such is the
meaning of the words: I, the Lord, angered, will myself answer (withdraw my
grace and favor from such a man). Deception necessarily follows when one is
forsaken by God. The devil then intervenes, answering in harmony with that
person's desire and pleasure; and since the devil's replies and
communications are pleasing and satisfactory, that man will let himself
become seriously deluded.
21.14. We have seemingly wandered somewhat from the matter proposed in the
title of this chapter: proofs that although God answers he sometimes is
unhappy about it. Nonetheless, if everything we mentioned is thoroughly
considered, it will contribute to the proof of our assertion. For in all
this it is seen that God is displeased with the desire for these visions
because he permits souls to be deceived in so many ways.
22. Resolving a doubt about why in the law of grace it is not permitted to
question God through supernatural means as it was in the old law. Proof
from St. Paul.
22.1. Questions keep springing up so that we are unable to make the rapid
progress we would like. Since we raise them, we necessarily have the
obligation to answer them so the truth of the doctrine will remain clear
and vigorous. These questions have this advantage that, although they slow
up our progress, they are still an aid to greater clarity and to further
explanations about our subject. Such is the case with this question.1
22.2. In the last chapter we affirmed that it was not God's will that souls
desire supernatural communication of distinct knowledge from visions and
locutions, and so on. On the other hand, in the testimonies from Scripture,
we saw that this kind of communication with God was lawful and made use of
in the old law. Not only was this licit, but God commanded it. When the
people did not comply, God reproved them. An example of this is seen in
Isaiah when the children of Israel desired to descend into Egypt without
first asking God; and he thus reprehended them: Et os meum non
interrogastis (You did not first ask from my mouth what was suitable) [Is.
30:2]. We also read in Joshua that when the children of Israel were
deceived by the Gibeonites, the Holy Spirit reminded them of this fault:
Susceperunt ergo de cibariis eorum, et os Domini non interrogaverunt (They
took their food without consulting the mouth of the Lord) [Jos. 9:2-14].
22.2.(2). We observe in Sacred Scripture that Moses, King David, and the
kings of Israel, in their wars and necessities, and the priests and
ancients always questioned God, and that he replied and spoke to them
without becoming angry. And they had done well if they questioned him, but
if they failed to do so they were at fault. This is true. Why, then, in the
new law of grace is it different than it was previously?
22.3. In answer to this, the chief reason in the old law that the inquiries
made of God were licit, and the prophets and priests appropriately desired
visions and revelations from him, was that at that time faith was not yet
perfectly grounded, nor was the Gospel law established. It was necessary
for them to question God, and for him to respond sometimes by words,
sometimes through visions and revelations, now in figures and likenesses,
now through many other kinds of signs. All his answers, locutions, and
revelations concerned mysteries of our faith or matters touching on or
leading up to it. Since the truths of faith are not derived from other
humans but from the mouth of God (for he speaks them through his own
mouth), it was required of them to seek an answer from the mouth of God. He
therefore reproved them because in their affairs they did not seek counsel
from his mouth, that he might answer and direct them toward the unknown and
as yet unfounded faith.
22.3.(2). But in this era of grace, now that the faith is established
through Christ and the Gospel law made manifest, there is no reason for
inquiring of him in this way, or expecting him to answer as before. In
giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke
everything to us at once in this sole Word -- and he has no more to say.
22.4. This is the meaning of that passage where St. Paul tries to persuade
the Hebrews to turn from communion with God through the old ways of the
Mosaic law and instead fix their eyes on Christ: Multifariam multisque
modis olim Deus loquens patribus in prophetis: novissime autem diebus istis
locutus est nobis in Filio (That which God formerly spoke to our fathers
through the prophets in many ways and manners, now, finally, in these days
he has spoken to us all at once in his Son) [Heb. 1:1-2]. The Apostle
indicates that God has become as it were mute, with no more to say, because
what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at
once by giving us the All, who is his Son.
22.5. Those who now desire to question God or receive some vision or
revelation are guilty not only of foolish behavior but also of offending
him by not fixing their eyes entirely on Christ and by living with the
desire for some other novelty.
22.5.(2). God could answer as follows: If I have already told you all
things in my Word, my Son, and if I have no other word, what answer or
revelation can I now make that would surpass this? Fasten your eyes on him
alone because in him I have spoken and revealed all and in him you will
discover even more than you ask for and desire. You are making an appeal
for locutions and revelations that are incomplete, but if you turn your
eyes to him you will find them complete. For he is my entire locution and
response, vision and revelation, which I have already spoken, answered,
manifested, and revealed to you by giving him to you as a brother,
companion, master, ransom, and reward.2 On that day when I descended on him
with my Spirit on Mount Tabor proclaiming: Hic est filius meus dilectus in
quo mihi bene complacui, ipsum audite (This is my beloved Son in whom I am
well pleased, hear him) [Mt. 17:5], I gave up these methods of answering
and teaching and presented them to him. Hear him because I have no more
faith to reveal or truths to manifest. If I spoke before, it was to promise
Christ. If they questioned me, their inquiries were related to their
petitions and longings for Christ in whom they were to obtain every good,
as is now explained in all the doctrine of the evangelists and apostles.
But now those who might ask me in that way and desire that I speak and
reveal something to them would somehow be requesting Christ again and more
faith, yet they would be failing in faith because it has already been given
in Christ. Accordingly, they would offend my beloved Son deeply because
they would not merely be failing him in faith, but obliging him to become
incarnate and undergo his life and death again. You will not find anything
to ask or desire of me through revelations and visions. Behold him well,
for in him you will uncover all of these already made and given, and many
22.6. If you desire me to answer with a word of comfort, behold my Son
subject to me and to others out of love for me, and afflicted, and you will
see how much he answers you. If you desire me to declare some secret truths
or events to you, fix your eyes only on him and you will discern hidden in
him the most secret mysteries, and wisdom, and wonders of God, as my
Apostle proclaims: In quo sunt omnes thesauri sapientiae et scientiae Dei
absconditi (In the Son of God are hidden all the treasures of the wisdom
and knowledge of God) [Col. 2:3]. These treasures of wisdom and knowledge
will be for you far more sublime, delightful, and advantageous than what
you want to know.3 The Apostle, therefore, gloried, affirming that he had
acted as though he knew no other than Jesus Christ and him crucified [1
Cor. 2:2]. And if you should seek other divine or corporeal visions and
revelations, behold him, become human, and you will find more than you
imagine. For the Apostle also says: In ipso habitat omnis plenitudo
Divinitatis corporealiter (In Christ all the fullness of the divinity
dwells bodily) [Col. 2:9].
22.7. One should not, then, inquire of God in this manner, nor is it
necessary for God to speak any more. Since he has finished revealing the
faith through Christ, there is no more faith to reveal, nor will there ever
be. Anyone wanting to get something in a supernatural way, as we stated,4
would as it were be accusing God of not having given us in his Son all that
is required. Although in having these desires one presupposes the faith and
believes in it, still, that curiosity displays a lack of faith. Hence there
is no reason to hope for doctrine or anything else through supernatural
22.7.(2). When Christ dying on the cross exclaimed: Consummatum est (It is
consummated) [Jn. 19:30], he consummated not these ways alone, but all the
other ceremonies and rites of the old law. Thus we must be guided humanly
and visibly in all by the law of Christ, who is human, and that of his
Church and of his ministers. This is the way to remedy our spiritual
ignorances and weaknesses. Here we shall find abundant medicine for them
all. Any departure from this road is not only curiosity but extraordinary
boldness. One should not believe anything coming in a supernatural way, but
believe only the teaching of Christ who is human, as I say, and of his
ministers who are human. So true is this that St. Paul insists: Quod si
angelus de coelo evangelizaverit, praeterquam quod evangelizavimus vobis,
anathema sit (If an angel from heaven should preach to you any Gospel other
than that which we humans have preached, let him be accursed and
excommunicated) [Gal. 1:8].
22.8. Since it is true that one must ever adhere to Christ's teaching, and
that everything unconformed to it is nothing and worthy of disbelief,
anyone who desires to commune with God after the manner of old law is
walking in vain.
22.8.(2). We see even more how true this is when we recall that it was not
lawful at that time for just anyone to question God; nor did God give an
answer to just anyone, but only to the priests and prophets from whom the
multitude were to learn the law and doctrine. Those eager to know something
from God did not ask themselves but through a prophet or priest. If David
sometimes asked himself, it was because he was a prophet. But even then he
did not do so without being clothed in priestly vestments, as is evident in
the First Book of Kings when he said to Ahimelech the priest: Applica ad me
Ephod [1 Sm. 23:9]. The ephod was the most dignified of the priest's
vestments, and David wore it for consultation with God. At other times he
consulted God through the prophet Nathan or through other prophets. And
through the mouth of these prophets and priests the people were to believe
that God spoke to them, not through their own opinion.
22.9. What God said at that time did not have the authority or force to
induce complete belief unless approved by the priests and prophets. God is
so pleased that the rule and direction of humans be through other humans
and that a person be governed by natural reason that he definitely does not
want us to bestow entire credence on his supernatural communications, or be
confirmed in their strength and security, until they pass through this
human channel of the mouth of another human person. As often as he reveals
something to individuals, he confers on them a kind of inclination to
manifest this to the appropriate person. Until people do this they usually
go without complete satisfaction, for they have not received this knowledge
from another human like themselves.
22.9.(2). In Judges we see that this happened to the captain Gideon. Though
God had often told him that he would be conqueror of the Midianites, Gideon
nonetheless remained doubtful and cowardly since God left him in that
weakness until he had heard through the mouth of other humans what God had
revealed to him. Since God saw that Gideon was weak, God declared: Rise up
and go down to the camp; ...et cum audieris quid loquantur, tunc
confortabuntur manus tuae, et securior ad hostium castra descendes (when
you hear what the men are saying there, you shall get strength from what I
have told you, and you will descend more securely to the enemy host) [Jgs.
7:9-11]. And it happened that when Gideon heard of a Midianite's dream
about the future victory, he was deeply strengthened; and full of gladness
he prepared for the battle [Jgs. 7:13-15]. Evidently, then, God did not
want Gideon to receive assurance through supernatural means alone, for
until Gideon had certitude through natural means, God did not bestow on him
a feeling of security.
22.10. And still more wondrous is what happened in a similar instance to
Moses. Even though God had commanded him with many persuasive arguments to
go and bring about the liberation of the children of Israel, and had
confirmed these arguments with signs from the rod that was changed into a
serpent and from the leprous hand [Ex. 4:2-4, 6-10], he was so weak and
doubtful about this mission that, in spite of God's anger [Ex. 4:14], he
did not possess the courage to give strong credence to the mission until
heartened by God through his brother Aaron: Aaron frater tuus Levites, scio
quod eloquens sit: Ecce ipse egredietur in occursum tuum, vidensque te,
laetabitur corde. Loquere ad eum, et pone verba mea in ore ejus, et ego ero
in ore tuo, et in ore illius (I know that your brother Aaron is an eloquent
man: Behold, he will go to meet you and at sight of you sincerely rejoice.
Speak and tell him all my words, and I will be in your mouth and in his so
that each of you will receive certitude through the mouth of the other)
22.11. At these words Moses was immediately encouraged in the hope of the
comfort he was to obtain from his brother's counsel [Ex. 4:18]. This is the
trait of humble people: They do not dare deal with God independently, nor
can they be completely satisfied without human counsel and direction. God
wants this, for to declare and strengthen truth on the basis of natural
reason, he draws near those who come together in an endeavor to know it. He
indicated this by asserting that he would be in the mouth of both Aaron and
Moses when they were together for consultation.
22.11.(2). This is why he also affirmed in the Gospel: Ubi fuerint duo vel
tres congregati in nomine meo, ibi sum ego in medio eorum (Where two or
three are gathered to consider what is for the greater honor and glory of
my name, there I am in the midst of them -- that is, clarifying and
confirming truths in their hearts) [Mt. 18:20]. It is noteworthy that he
did not say: Where there is one alone, there I am; rather, he said: Where
there are at least two. Thus God announces that he does not want the soul
to believe only by itself the communications it thinks are of divine
origin, or for anyone to be assured or confirmed in them without the Church
or her ministers. God will not bring clarification and confirmation of the
truth to the heart of one who is alone. Such a person would remain weak and
cold in regard to truth.
22.12. This is what Ecclesiastes extols: Vae soli, quia cum ceciderit, non
habet sublevantem se. Si dormierint duo, favebuntur mutuo: Unus quomodo
calefiet? et si quispiam praevaluerit contra unum, duo resistent ei [Eccl.
4:10-12]. This means: Woe to those who are alone, for when they fall they
have no one to lift them up. If two sleep together, the one shall give
warmth (the warmth of God who is in their midst) to the other; how shall
one alone be warm? How shall one alone stop being cold in the things of
God? And if one prevails and overcomes the other (that is, if the devil
prevails and overcomes anyone who may desire to remain alone in the things
of God), two together will resist the devil. And these are the disciple and
the master who come together to know the truth and practice it. Until
consulting another, one will usually experience only tepidity and weakness
in the truth, no matter how much may have been heard from God. This is so
true that even after St. Paul had been preaching the Gospel, which he heard
not from humans but from God [Gal. 1:12] for a long time, he could not
resist going and conferring about it with St. Peter and the apostles: ne
forte in vanum currerem aut cucurrissem (lest he should run or might have
run in vain) [Gal. 2:2]. He did not feel secure until he had received
assurance from other people. This, then, seems remarkable, O Paul! Could
not he who revealed the Gospel to you also give security from any error you
might make in preaching its truth?
22.13. This text clearly teaches that there is no assurance in God's
revelations save through the means we are describing. Even though
individuals have certitude that the revelation is of divine origin -- as
St. Paul had of his Gospel, since he had already begun to preach it -- they
can still err in regard to the object of the revelation or its
circumstances. Even though God reveals one factor, he does not always
manifest the other. Often he will reveal something without telling how to
accomplish it. He usually does not effect or reveal to people what can be
arrived at through human effort or counsel, even though he may frequently
and affably commune with them. St. Paul understood this clearly since, as
we are saying, he went to confer about the Gospel in spite of his knowledge
that it was divinely revealed.
22.13.(2). This is evident, too, in Exodus. Even though God conversed
familiarly with Moses, he never gave him that salutary counsel that Moses
received from his father-in-law Jethro: that he select other judges as
helpers so the people would not be waiting from morning till night [Ex.
18:13-23]. God approved this advice. But he did not give it, because human
reason and judgment were sufficient means for solving this problem. Usually
God does not manifest such matters through visions, revelations, and
locutions, because he is ever desirous that insofar as possible people take
advantage of their own reasoning powers. All matters must be regulated by
reason save those of faith, which though not contrary to reason transcend
22.14. People should not imagine that just because God and the saints
converse amiably with them on many subjects, they will be told their
particular faults, for they can come to the knowledge of these through
other means. Hence there is no motive for assurance, for we read in the
Acts of the Apostles what happened to St. Peter. Though he was a prince of
the Church and received immediate instruction from God, he was mistaken
about a certain ceremony practiced among the Gentiles. And God was so
silent that St. Paul reproved Peter: Cum vidissem, quod non recte ad
veritatem Evangelii ambularent, dixi coram omnibus: Si tu judaeus cum sis,
gentiliter vivis, quomodo gentes cogis judaizare? (As I noticed that the
disciples were not walking rightly according to the truth of the Gospel, I
said to Peter in front of them all: If you being a Jew, as you are, live as
a Gentile, why do you force the Gentiles to live as the Jews?) [Gal. 2:14].
God did not himself inform St. Peter of this fault, because that simulation
was rationally discernible.
22.15. On judgment day God will punish the faults and sins of many with
whom he communed familiarly here below and to whom he imparted much light
and power, for they neglected their obligations and trusted in their
converse with him and the power he bestowed on them. As Christ declares in
the Gospel, they will then be surprised and plead: Domine, Domine, nonne in
nomine tuo prophetavimus et in nomine tuo daemonia ejecimus, et in nomine
tuo virtutes multas fecimus? (Lord, Lord, did we not speak in your name the
prophecies you spoke to us, and did we not cast out devils in your name and
perform many miracles and prodigies?) [Mt. 7:22]. And the Lord states that
his reply will be: Et tunc confitebor illis, quia numquam novi vos:
discedite a me omnes qui operamini iniquitatem (Depart from me, workers of
iniquity, for I have never known you) [Mt. 7:23].
22.15.(2). Among the workers of iniquity were the prophet Balaam and others
like him. Although God spoke with them and bestowed favors on them, they
were sinners [Num. 22-24]. But the Lord will also in due proportion,
because of their faults and neglects, reprove his friends and chosen ones
with whom he conversed familiarly here on earth. It was unnecessary for God
himself to inform them of these faults, since he had already done so
through the natural law and the reasoning powers he had bestowed on them.
22.16. I deduce in concluding this part that whatever is received through
supernatural means (in whatever manner) should immediately be told clearly,
integrally, and simply to one's spiritual master. It may appear that there
is no reason for a manifestation to one's spiritual director, or that doing
so would be a waste of time since, as we pointed out,5 one is safe by not
wanting these communications, by rejecting and paying no attention to them.
This seems especially so in this matter of visions or revelations or other
supernatural communications, since either they are clear or it matters
little if they are not. Yet it is always necessary to manifest the entire
communication even though there is no apparent reason for so doing. This
requirement is based on three reasons:
22.16.(2). First, the effect, light, strength, and security of many divine
communications are not completely confirmed in a soul, as we stated,6 until
it discusses them with one whom God has destined to be spiritual judge over
it, who has power to bind, loose, approve, and reprove. We have established
this principle through the texts cited above, and through experience we see
it verified each day. We witness humble recipients of these experiences
obtain new satisfaction, strength, light, and security after consulting
about them with the proper person. This is so true that to some it seems
that these communications neither take root nor belong to them until they
confer about them and that the communications are then seemingly imparted
22.17. Second, a soul ordinarily needs instruction pertinent to its
experience in order to be guided through the dark night to spiritual
denudation and poverty. Without this instruction a person, even without
wanting such things, would unknowingly become hardened in the way of the
spirit and habituated to that of the senses, in which these communications
are partly experienced.
22.18. Third, for the sake of humility, submission, and mortification,
individuals should give a complete account to their director, even if the
director disregards or shows no esteem for these communications. Because
such communications seem to these individuals to be of little importance,
or because of concern about the director's possible reaction, some may
dread to tell their director about them. This indicates a lack of humility,
and for that very reason one should submit to the ordeal. Others feel
abashed about manifesting these favors lest they appear to be saints on
account of these experiences, and because of other difficulties they feel
in speaking about them. They think that because they themselves pay no
attention to these experiences, relating them to their director is
unnecessary. But because of this very hardship they ought to mortify
themselves and tell their director, and thereby become humble, simple,
meek, and prompt in relating these communications. And from then on they
will always do so easily.
22.19. It ought to be noted in this regard that, even though we have
greatly stressed rejection of these communications and the duty of
confessors to forbid souls from making them a topic of conversation,
spiritual fathers should not show severity, displeasure, or scorn in
dealing with these souls. With such an attitude they would make them cower
and shrink from a manifestation of these experiences, would close the door
to these souls, and cause them many difficulties. Since God is leading them
by this means, there is no reason to oppose it or become frightened or
scandalized over it. The spiritual father should instead proceed with much
kindness and calm. He should give these souls encouragement and the
opportunity to speak about their experiences, and, if necessary, oblige
them to do so, for at times everything is needful on account of the
hardship some find in discussing these matters.
22.19.(2). Spiritual directors should guide them in the way of faith by
giving them good instructions on how to turn their eyes from all these
things and on their obligation to denude their appetite and spirit of these
communications in order to advance. They should explain how one act done in
charity is more precious in God's sight than all the visions and
communications possible -- since these imply neither merit nor demerit --
and how it is that many individuals who have not received these experiences
are incomparably more advanced than others who have received many.7
23. Begins the discussion of the intellectual apprehensions that come in a
purely spiritual way. Tells what they are.
23.1. Though our doctrine on the intellectual apprehensions that come from
the senses is somewhat brief in comparison with what it ought to be, I have
not wanted to enlarge on the matter any more. I believe, rather, that my
explanation has been longer than necessary in view of the goal I have in
mind, which is to liberate the intellect from these apprehensions and
direct it to the night of faith.
23.1.(2). Now we will embark on a discussion of those other four kinds of
intellectual apprehensions: visions, revelations, locutions, and spiritual
feelings. In chapter 10 we called these apprehensions purely spiritual
because they are not communicated to the intellect through the corporeal
senses as are imaginative corporeal visions. They are clearly, distinctly,
and supernaturally imparted to the intellect without any of the exterior or
interior bodily senses serving as means; and this is done passively, that
is, without the soul's positing any act, at least through its own effort.
23.2. Let it be known that in a broad sense these four kinds of
apprehensions can all be titled visions of the soul because we also call
the understanding of the soul its vision. And insofar as all these
apprehensions are intelligible, they are called spiritually visible.1
Accordingly, the understanding formed from them in the intellect can be
termed intellectual vision. The objects of the other senses (of sight,
hearing, smell, taste, and touch) are objects of the intellect insofar as
they bear relation to truth or falsehood. And just as all that is
corporeally visible to the material eye causes corporeal vision, so all
that is intelligible to the intellect, the spiritual eye of the soul,
causes spiritual vision. For, as we said, understanding an object is seeing
it. Thus, speaking generally, we can call these four apprehensions visions.
This could not be done with the other senses, because none of them is
capable of perceiving the object as such of any of the others.
23.3. But since these apprehensions reach the soul in ways similar to those
of the other senses, we can, properly and specifically speaking, apply the
term vision to whatever the intellect receives in a manner resembling
sight, because the intellect can see objects spiritually just as the eyes
can corporeally. And what the intellect receives as though by learning and
understanding something new (just as the ears do on hearing what has never
before been heard) we call revelation. And what it receives in a way
similar to hearing we call a locution. And what it receives after the
manner of the other senses, such as the knowledge of a sweet spiritual
fragrance, spiritual savor, or spiritual delight that the soul can enjoy
supernaturally, we call spiritual feelings. The intellect derives knowledge
or spiritual vision from all these communications, without the apprehension
of any form, image, or figure of the natural imagination or phantasy. For
these experiences are bestowed immediately upon the soul by a supernatural
work and by a supernatural means.
23.4. As was the case with the imaginative corporeal apprehensions, we must
disencumber the intellect of these spiritual apprehensions by guiding and
directing it past them into the spiritual night of faith, to divine and
substantial union with God, lest the solitude and denudation concerning all
things, which is a requisite for this union, be impeded by the hindrance
and weakness these apprehensions occasion. These apprehensions are nobler,
safer, and more advantageous than the imaginative corporeal visions because
they are already interior, purely spiritual, and less exposed to the
devil's meddling. They are more purely and delicately communicated to the
soul and involve none of its own work or imagination -- at least not active
work. Nonetheless, through lack of caution and by treading such a path, the
intellect might be not merely encumbered but highly deceived.
23.5. As a general conclusion, we could give the same counsel for these
four kinds of apprehensions that we accorded for the others: they should be
the object of neither our aims nor our desires. Yet it can be worthwhile to
discuss these apprehensions in particular in order to explain some points
about each of them and shed more light on the practice of this counsel. And
so we will deal with the first kind, the spiritual or intellectual visions.
24. Two kinds of supernatural, spiritual visions.
24.1. Speaking properly, now, of spiritual visions (those that exclude the
bodily senses), I find that there are two kinds relating to the intellect:
those of corporeal substances, and those of separate or incorporeal
24.1.(2). The corporeal visions deal with the material things of heaven and
earth. The soul, even while in the body, can see these objects by means of
a certain supernatural light derived from God that bestows the power of
seeing all heavenly and earthly objects that are absent. We read of such a
vision in chapter 21 of the Apocalypse where St. John relates the
description and excellence of the heavenly Jerusalem that he beheld as it
descended from heaven. We also read that St. Benedict viewed the entire
world in a spiritual vision. St. Thomas in the first Quodlibetum affirms
that this vision was received through a light from above, as we stated.1
24.2. The other visions, those of incorporeal substances, cannot be seen by
means of this light derived from God, but by another, higher light, called
the light of glory. These visions of incorporeal substances (angels and
souls) do not occur in this life, nor can we while in this mortal body view
such substances. If God should desire to let the soul see these substances
essentially (as they are in themselves), it would immediately depart from
the body and be loosed from this mortal life.
24.2.(2). God, when asked to show his essence, proclaimed to Moses: Non
videbit me homo, et vivet (No human person can see me and be able to remain
alive) [Ex. 33:20]. When the children of Israel thought they were going to
see God, or that they had seen him or some angel, they were afraid of
dying. We read of this in Exodus where they fearfully exclaimed: Non
loquatur nobis Dominus, ne forte moriamur (May God not openly communicate
himself to us, lest we die) [Ex. 20:19]. In the Book of Judges we read also
that Manoah, Samson's father, thinking he and his wife had seen in its
essence the angel that had appeared to them as a most handsome man,
declared to his wife: Morte moriemur, quia vidimus Dominum (We shall die
because we have seen the Lord) [Jgs. 13:22].
24.3. These visions do not occur in this life, unless in some rare cases
and in a transient way. In such an instance, through a dispensation of the
natural law, God preserves the nature and life of the individual, abstracts
the spirit entirely, and by his own power supplies the natural functions of
the soul toward the body.
24.3.(2). When, as is the opinion, St. Paul saw them (the separated
substances in the third heaven), he accordingly declared: Sive in corpore,
sive extra corpus nescio; Deus scit (that he was carried up to them, and he
does not know if he saw them while in the body or out of the body, God
knows) [2 Cor. 12:2,4]. Clearly he was transported above the ways of our
natural life through the intervention of God. Also when God, as is
believed, revealed his essence to Moses, he declared he would place Moses
in the cleft of the rock and cover him with his right hand to protect him
from death when the divine glory passed by. This passing indicates both
God's transitory manifestation of himself and the concomitant preservation,
with his right hand, of Moses' natural life [Ex. 33:22].
24.3.(3). Such substantial visions as those of St. Paul, Moses, and our
Father Elijah (when he covered his face at the whistling of the gentle
breeze of God) [1 Kgs. 19:11-13], even though transitory, occur rarely or
hardly ever, and to only a few. For God imparts this kind of vision only to
those who are very strong in the spirit of the Church and God's law, as
were these three.
24.4. Though these spiritual substances cannot be unclothed and seen
clearly in this life by the intellect, they can nonetheless be felt in the
substance of the soul by the most delightful touches and conjunctions.
These pertain to the category of spiritual feelings, which with God's help
we will discuss later.2
24.4.(2). For we are directing and guiding our pen toward these, that is,
to the divine conjunction and union of the soul with the divine substance.
We will speak about this when dealing with the vague or dark mystical
knowledge (yet to be expounded) and treating of how, by means of this
loving and obscure knowledge, God joins himself to the soul in a high and
divine degree. In a way this dark loving knowledge, which is faith, serves
as a means for divine union in this life, as does the light of glory for
the clear vision of God in the next.3
24.5. Let us discuss now the visions of corporeal substances received
spiritually in the soul in a way similar to that of bodily visions. As the
eyes behold corporeal objects by means of natural light, so the intellect
through supernatural light, as we said,4 sees interiorly these same objects
and others too according to God's wishes. The difference between the two
kinds of visions lies in the mode and manner.
24.5.(2). Spiritual and intellectual visions are far clearer and more
delicate than corporeal ones, for when God desires to bestow this favor
upon a soul, he communicates that supernatural light we mentioned so that
through it the soul may behold with greater facility and clarity the
earthly and heavenly objects he desires it to see. The absence or presence
of these objects, then, is of no importance, nor does this hinder the
vision. The vision takes place at times as though a door were opened and
the soul could see as it would if a flash of lightning were to illumine the
dark night and momentarily make objects clearly and distinctly visible,
only to leave them all in darkness again, although the forms and images of
these objects would remain in the phantasy. This illumination takes place
far more perfectly in the soul, for the objects seen in that light are so
impressed on it that as often as it adverts to them it beholds them as it
did before, just as the forms reflected in a mirror are seen as often as
one looks in it. And those objects of the soul's vision are impressed so
strongly that they are never entirely removed, although in the course of
time they do become somewhat more remote.
24.6. The effects these visions produce in the soul are: quietude,
illumination, happiness resembling that of glory, delight, purity, love,
humility, and an elevation and inclination toward God. Sometimes these
effects are more intense, sometimes less; sometimes one effect
predominates, at other times another. This diversity is due to the spirit
that receives them and to God's wishes.
24.7. Through spiritual suggestion and by means of a certain natural light,
the devil can also cause these visions in the soul, whether the objects be
present or absent. The account in St. Matthew that tells of the devil
showing Christ omnia regna mundi et gloriam eorum (all the kingdoms of the
world and their glory) [Mt. 4:8] is explained by some doctors as an example
of spiritual suggestion by the devil because it would have been impossible
for him to make Christ see with his bodily eyes all the kingdoms of the
world and their glory.
24.7.(2). A great difference lies between diabolical and divine visions,
for the effects of diabolical visions are unlike those produced by the
divine. The devil's visions produce spiritual dryness in one's communion
with God and an inclination to self-esteem, to admitting them and
considering them important. In no way do they cause the mildness of
humility and the love of God. Neither are the forms of these diabolical
visions impressed with a delicate clarity upon the soul, as are the others.
These impressed forms are not lasting, but are soon obliterated from the
soul, except when its esteem causes a natural remembrance of them. But the
memory of them is considerably arid, and does not produce the love and
humility caused by the remembrance of the good visions.
24.8. These visions cannot serve the intellect as a proximate means for
union with God because they deal with creatures, which bear no proportion
or essential conformity to God. Consequently, to advance by the proximate
means, which is faith, a person should behave in a purely negative way as
with the other visions we mentioned. Souls should not store up or treasure
the forms of these visions impressed within, neither should they have the
desire to cling to them. In doing so they would impede themselves by what
dwells within them (those forms, images, and figures of persons), and they
would not journey to God through the negation of all things. Though these
forms remain impressed within the soul, they are not a great impediment if
one is unwilling to pay heed to them. Even if the remembrance of these
visions really does stir the soul to some contemplation and love of God,
denudation, pure faith, and darkness regarding them will stir and elevate
it much more, and without its knowing how or whence this elevation comes.
24.8.(2). It will happen that a person will be enkindled with anxieties of
very pure love without knowing their origin or foundation. The reason for
this is that just as faith is infused and rooted more deeply in the soul by
means of that emptiness, darkness, and nakedness regarding all things, or
by spiritual poverty (which are all the same), so too the charity of God is
simultaneously infused and deeply rooted in the soul. The more individuals
desire darkness and annihilation of themselves regarding all visions,
exteriorly or interiorly receivable, the greater will be the infusion of
faith and consequently of love and hope, since these three theological
virtues increase together.
24.9. But a person does not always grasp or feel this love, because it does
not reside with tenderness in the senses, but resides in the soul with
properties of strength and of greater courage and daring than before,
though at times it overflows into the senses, imparting a gentle, tender
feeling. Accordingly, to attain that love, happiness, and joy caused and
produced in the soul by these visions, individuals should possess
fortitude, mortification, and love so as to remain in emptiness and
darkness regarding all creatures. They should base their love and joy on
what they neither see nor feel (nor are capable of seeing or feeling), that
is, upon God who is incomprehensible and transcendent. This is why it
behooves us to go to God through the negation of all. Even if individuals
are so shrewd, humble, and strong that the devil is unable to deceive them
by these visions or make them (as he usually does) fall into any
presumption, the visions will be an obstacle to their advancement if they
fail to practice this denial, since visions are an impediment to spiritual
nakedness, poverty of spirit, and emptiness in faith; these are the
requisites for union with God.
24.10. Since the same doctrine we taught about supernatural sensory visions
and apprehensions in chapters 19 and 20 is valid also for these visions, we
will not spend any more time here in their discussion.5
25. The nature and kinds of revelation.
25.1. Logically, our next discussion should deal with the second kind of
spiritual apprehensions, which are termed revelations and, properly
speaking, belong to the spirit of prophecy.
25.1.(2). First it should be understood that a revelation is nothing else
than the disclosure of some hidden truth, or the manifestation of some
secret or mystery, as when God imparts understanding of some truth to the
intellect, or discloses to the soul something that he did, is doing, or is
thinking of doing.1
25.2. We can affirm, therefore, the existence of two kinds of revelation:
first, the disclosure of truths to the intellect (these are properly called
intellectual notions or concepts); second, the manifestation of secrets.
The term revelation is more properly applied to these latter than to the
former. The first kind cannot strictly speaking be called revelations,
since in them God bestows clear and manifest understanding of naked truths,
not only of temporal but of spiritual objects as well. I desire to discuss
these under the heading of revelations because of their close alliance and
affinity with them, and to avoid a multiplication of divisions.
25.3. As a result we can divide revelations into two classes of
apprehensions: One we shall call intellectual knowledge, and the other,
manifestation of God's secrets and hidden mysteries. Beginning with
intellectual knowledge, we will deal with these as briefly as possible in
the following two chapters.
26. The two kinds of knowledge of naked truths. The proper conduct of the
soul in their regard.
26.1. For an adequate exposition of this subject (the knowledge of naked
truths), God would have to move my hand and pen. For you should know,
beloved reader, that what they in themselves are for the soul is beyond
words. Since, however, my purpose in speaking of these is only to impart
instruction and guide the soul through them to divine union, let me discuss
them in a brief and restricted way, which will be sufficient for our
26.2. This kind of vision (knowledge of naked truths) is far different from
the kind we just dealt with in chapter 24. This intellectual vision is not
like the vision of corporeal objects, but rather consists of an
intellectual understanding and vision of truths about God, or a vision of
present, past, or future events that bears great resemblance to the spirit
of prophecy, as we shall perhaps explain later.2
26.3. This type of knowledge is divided into two kinds: The object of one
kind is the Creator; and that of the other is the creature, as we said.3
Both kinds bring intense delight to the soul. Yet those of God produce an
incomparable delight. There are no words or terms to describe them, for
they are God's own knowledge and God's own delight. And as David says:
there is nothing like unto him [Ps. 40:5]. God is the direct object of this
knowledge in that one of his attributes (his omnipotence, fortitude,
goodness, sweetness, and so on) is sublimely experienced. And as often as
this experience occurs, it remains fixed in the soul. Since this
communication is pure contemplation, the soul clearly understands that it
is ineffable. Individuals are capable of describing it only through general
expressions -- expressions caused by the abundance of the delight and good
of these experiences. But they realize the impossibility of explaining with
these expressions what they tasted and felt in this communication.4
26.4. After David received a similar experience he spoke in these general
terms: Judicia Domini vera, justificata in semetipsa. Desiderabilia super
aurum et lapidem pretiosum multum, et dulciora super mel et favum (God's
judgments -- the virtues and attributes we experience in God -- are true,
in themselves justified, more desirable than gold and extremely precious
stone, and sweeter than the honey and the honeycomb) [Ps. 19:10].
26.4.(2). We read that Moses spoke only in general terms of the lofty
knowledge God once gave him while passing by. And it happened that when the
Lord passed before him in that knowledge, Moses quickly prostrated himself,
crying: Dominator Domine Deus, misericors et clemens, patiens, et multae
miserationis, ac verax. Qui custodis misericordiam in millia, and so on.
(Sovereign Lord God, merciful and clement, patient, and of great
compassion, and true. You guard the mercy that you promise to thousands)
[Ex. 34:6-7]. Evidently, since Moses could not express with one concept
what he knew in God, he did so through an overflow of words.
26.4.(3). Although at times individuals use words in reference to this
knowledge, they clearly realize that they have said nothing of what they
experienced, for no term can give adequate expression to it. And thus when
St. Paul experienced that lofty knowledge of God, he did not care to say
anything else than that it was not licit for humans to speak of it [2 Cor.
26.5. This divine knowledge of God never deals with particular things,
since its object is the Supreme Principle. Consequently one cannot express
it in particular terms unless a truth about something less than God is seen
together with this knowledge of him. But in no way can anything be said of
that divine knowledge.
26.5.(2). This sublime knowledge can be received only by a person who has
arrived at union with God, for it is itself that very union. It consists in
a certain touch of the divinity produced in the soul, and thus it is God
himself who is experienced and tasted there. Although the touch of
knowledge and delight that penetrates the substance of the soul is not
manifest and clear, as in glory, it is so sublime and lofty that the devil
is unable to meddle or produce anything similar (for there is no experience
similar or comparable to it), or infuse a savor and delight like it. This
knowledge tastes of the divine essence and of eternal life, and the devil
cannot counterfeit anything so lofty.
26.6. He could, nevertheless, ape that experience by presenting to the soul
some very sensible feelings of grandeur and fulfillment, trying to persuade
it that these are from God. But this attempt of the devil does not enter
the substance of the soul and suddenly renew and fill it with love as does
a divine touch. Some of these divine touches produced in the substance of
the soul are so enriching that one of them would be sufficient not only to
remove definitively all the imperfections that the soul would have been
unable to eradicate throughout its entire life but also to fill it with
virtues and blessings from God.
26.7. These touches engender such sweetness and intimate delight in the
soul that one of them would more than compensate for all the trials
suffered in life, even though innumerable. Through these touches
individuals become so courageous and so resolved to suffer many things for
Christ that they find it a special suffering to observe that they do not
26.8. People are incapable of reaching this sublime knowledge through any
comparison or imagining of their own, because it transcends what is
naturally attainable. Thus God effects in the soul what it is incapable of
acquiring. God usually grants these divine touches, which cause certain
remembrances of him, at times when the soul is least expecting or thinking
of them. Sometimes they are produced suddenly through some remembrance that
may concern only some slight detail. They are so sensible that they
sometimes cause not only the soul but also the body to tremble. Yet at
other times with a sudden feeling of spiritual delight and refreshment, and
without any trembling, they occur very tranquilly in the spirit.6
26.9. Or again they may occur on the uttering or hearing of a word from
Sacred Scripture or from some other source.7 These touches do not always
have the same efficacy, nor are they always felt so forcefully, because
they are often very weak. Yet no matter how weak they may be, one of these
divine awakenings and touches is worth more to the soul than numberless
other thoughts and ideas about God's creatures and works.
26.9.(2). Since this knowledge is imparted to the soul suddenly, without
the exercise of free will, individuals do not have to be concerned about
desiring it or not. They should simply remain humble and resigned about it,
for God will do his work at the time and in the manner he wishes.
26.10. I do not say that people should behave negatively regarding this
knowledge, as they should with the other apprehensions, because this
knowledge is an aspect of the union toward which we are directing the soul
and which is the reason for our doctrine about denudation and detachment
from all other apprehensions. God's means for granting such a grace are
humility, suffering for love of him, and resignation as to all recompense.
God does not bestow these favors on a possessive soul since he gives them
out of a very special love for the recipient. The individual receiving them
is one who loves with great detachment. The Son of God meant this when he
stated through St. John: Qui autem diligit me, diligetur a Patre meo, et
ego diligam eum et manifestabo ei meipsum (Whoever loves me will be loved
by my Father, and I will love them and manifest myself to them) [Jn.
14:21]. This manifestation includes the knowledge and touches that God
imparts to a person who has reached him and truly loves him.
26.11. The second kind of knowledge, or vision, of interior truths is far
different from the type we have just explained because it deals with things
inferior to God. This class embodies knowledge of the truth of things in
themselves and of human deeds and events. When bestowed, this kind of
knowledge is so embedded in the soul -- without anyone telling it anything
-- that if someone were to assert the opposite it would be unable to give
interior assent even by force, for it has a spiritual knowledge of this
truth that resembles clear vision. This knowledge pertains to the spirit of
prophecy and to the grace St. Paul terms the discernment of spirits [1 Cor.
26.11.(2). Although individuals may consider their knowledge certain and
true, as we mentioned, and be unable to cast off that passive interior
assent, they must not, because of this conviction, fail to believe and give
the assent of reason to the instructions and commands of their spiritual
director, even though these may be extremely contrary to what they feel. In
this way they will be led by faith to divine union, for a soul must journey
to it more by believing than by understanding.
26.12. We have clear testimonies in Sacred Scripture of both these kinds of
knowledge. As for spiritual knowledge of things the Wise Man declares: Ipse
dedit mihi horum quae sunt scientiam veram, ut sciam dispositionem orbis
terrarum, et virtutes elementorum, initium et consummationes temporum,
vicissitudinum permutationes, et consummationes temporum et morum
mutationes, divisiones temporum, et anni cursus, et stellarum
dispositiones, naturas animalium et iras bestiarum vim ventorum, et
cogitationes hominum, differentias virgultorum, et virtutes radicum, et
quaecumque sunt abscondita, et improvisa didici: Omnium enim artifex docuit
me sapientia (God gave me true knowledge of existing things: to know the
disposition of the earthly globe and the virtues of the elements, the
beginning, ending, and midst of the times, the various vicissitudes and
changes of the seasons, the change of customs, the divisions of time, the
courses of the year, and the position of the stars, the natures of animals,
and the rages of beasts, the power and strength of the winds, the thoughts
of people, the diversities of plants and trees, and the healing power of
roots; and I learned all hidden and unforeseen things, for Wisdom, the
maker of all, taught me) [Wis. 7:17-21].
26.12.(2). Although this knowledge of all things, which the Wise Man avows
was given to him by God, was infused and general, this passage offers
sufficient proof about all the particular knowledge God infuses
supernaturally in souls when he desires. It does so not because God gives
souls the general habit of knowledge as he did to Solomon, but because he
sometimes reveals to them certain truths about the things enumerated here
by the Wise Man.
26.12.(3). Indeed, our Lord infuses habits about different truths in many
souls, although never as general a habit as was Solomon's. These habits are
like those different kinds of gifts distributed by God that St. Paul
enumerates. Among them he includes wisdom, knowledge, faith, prophecy,
discernment or recognition of spirits, knowledge of tongues, interpretation
of words, and so on [1 Cor. 12:8-10]. All these kinds of knowledge are
infused habits that God grants naturally or supernaturally to whomsoever he
wills: naturally, as in the case of Balaam, other idolatrous prophets, and
many sibyls, to whom he imparted the spirit of prophecy; and
supernaturally, as to the holy prophets, apostles, and other saints.
26.13. Yet prescinding from these habits or graces gratis datae, we affirm
that those who have reached perfection or are already close to it usually
do possess light and knowledge about events happening in their presence or
absence. This knowledge derives from their illumined and purified spirits.
That passage from Proverbs can be interpreted as referring to this ability:
Quomodo in aquis resplendent vultus prospicientium, sic corda hominum
manifesta sunt prudentibus (As the faces of those who look in the water are
reflected there, so are human hearts manifest to the prudent) [Prv. 27:19].
These prudent ones are those who possess the wisdom of the saints that
Sacred Scripture calls prudence [Prv. 9:10]. Through this ability these
persons also come now and then to the knowledge of other truths, although
not whenever they desire, for such facility would be proper only to those
who have the habit. And even those who possess the habit do not always have
this facility in regard to everything, for that would depend on the
assistance God wishes to give them.
26.14. It is worthy of note, though, that individuals whose spirit is
purified can naturally perceive -- some more than others -- the
inclinations and talents of other persons and what lies in the heart or
interior spirit. They derive this knowledge through exterior indications
(even though extremely slight) such as words, gestures, and other signs.
Just as the devil, because he is a spirit, is endowed with this skill, so
is the spiritual person, according to the Apostle: Spiritualis autem
judicat omnia (The spiritual person judges all things) [1 Cor. 2:15]. And
again he declares: Spiritus enim omnia scrutatur, etiam profunda Dei (The
spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God) [1 Cor. 2:10].
26.14.(2). Although spiritual persons cannot know naturally the thoughts of
others or their interior state, they can know this clearly through
supernatural enlightenment or through exterior indications. And though they
can often be deceived in the knowledge deduced from these indications, they
are more often correct in their surmise. But they must not put trust in
knowledge acquired through either of these two ways, because, as we will
point out,8 the devil is a notorious and subtle meddler in this area.
Consequently they should always renounce such knowledge.
26.15. We have an example and testimony in the Fourth Book of Kings of how
spiritual persons, even when absent, can also possess knowledge of human
deeds and events. When Gehazi, the servant of our Father Elisha,9 desired
to hide the money received from Naaman, Elisha said: Nonne cor meum in
praesenti erat, quando reversus est homo de curru suo in occursum tui? (Was
not my heart perchance present when Naaman turned from his chariot and went
to meet you?) [2 Kgs. 5:25-26]. This took place spiritually in such a way
that the spirit beheld the event as if it had happened right before it. We
find another proof of this in the same book where we read that Elisha told
the king of Israel everything that the king of Syria discussed with his
counselors in his private chamber, and thus these meetings bore no fruit.
When the king of Syria realized that their decisions were no longer secret,
he complained to his counselors: Why do you not tell me who among you is
betraying me to the King of Israel? And then one of his counselors
exclaimed: Nequaquam, domine mi rex, sed Elisha propheta, qui est in Israel
indicat regi Israel omnia verba quaecumque locutus fueris in conclavi tuo
(Not so, my lord king, but Elisha the prophet who is in Israel reveals to
the king everything you say in your private chamber) [2 Kgs. 6:11-12].
26.16. These kinds of knowledge of things10 as well as the other kinds come
to the soul passively, without it doing anything on its own. For it will
happen that, while a person is distracted and inattentive, a keen
understanding of what is being heard or read will be implanted in the
spirit, an understanding far clearer than that conveyed through the sound
of the words. And although sometimes individuals fail to grasp the sense of
the words -- as when expressed in Latin, a language unknown to them -- this
meaning is revealed without their understanding the words themselves.11
26.17. We could expound a great deal on the deceptions the devil can and
does cause with regard to this kind of knowledge and understanding, for his
deceits are gross and singularly concealed. He can through suggestion
ingrain many intellectual ideas so deeply in the soul that they will seem
to be true; and if the soul is not humble and distrustful he will doubtless
bring it to believe a thousand lies.
26.17.(2). At times the suggestion produces so strong an impression on
individuals -- especially when the soul shares somewhat in the weakness of
the senses -- and embeds the knowledge in them with such power, persuasion,
and conviction that they then need a great deal of prayer and strength in
order to discard it. Sometimes the devil represents clearly, but falsely,
the sins of others, evil consciences, and evil souls in order to
calumniate. And he wants these things to be published abroad so that many
sins may be committed, and he imparts zeal to these individuals by
convincing them that the reason for all of this is so prayer may be offered
to God for these people. Now it is true that God sometimes shows holy souls
their neighbors' needs so that they might pray for them or provide a
remedy. We read, for example, that he revealed to Jeremiah the weakness of
the prophet Baruch so that he could instruct Baruch about it [Jer. 45:3].
Nevertheless, the devil does this very frequently and falsely, so as to
occasion calumnies, sins, and distress; and of this we have much
experience. And again at other times the devil will implant deeply in souls
other knowledge, and make them believe it.
26.18. Regardless of whether this knowledge is from God, it will be of
little profit to persons in their advance toward union if they are attached
to it. If they are careless about denying themselves this knowledge, it
will be not only an obstacle but the occasion of serious harm and error.
All the dangers and difficulties that we said arise from supernatural
apprehensions, which we have discussed up to this point, and even more, can
result from this knowledge.
26.18.(2). I will not enlarge on this subject any more since we have given
sufficient instruction in previous chapters. I only point out that people
should be extremely careful always to reject this knowledge, and they
should desire to journey to God by unknowing, and always give an account of
these revelations to their confessor or spiritual master and abide by his
counsel. The director should allow the soul to relate this experience
briefly, but should not make it the main factor in the soul's journey
toward union with God. The effect God desires to produce through these
passive communications will be fixed in the soul without need for efforts
of its own.
26.18.(3). It seems to me there is no reason, then, to discuss the
different effects caused by true and false knowledge, for this would be
wearisome and unending. These effects could not be condensed to a few words
because the quantity and variety of this knowledge causes a quantity and
variety of effects -- the good knowledge causing good effects and evil
knowledge causing evil effects, and so on. It is sufficient to insist on
rejection of all this knowledge as a control against any error.
27. The second kind of revelation: the disclosure of secrets and hidden
mysteries. The ways in which this knowledge can be either a contribution or
a hindrance toward union with God. How the devil can greatly deceive souls
in this matter.
27.1. We stated that the second kind of revelation is the disclosure of
secrets and hidden mysteries.1 It can be divided into two further
27.1.(2). The first concerns God himself, which includes the revelation of
the mystery of the most holy Trinity and unity of God.
27.1.(3). The second concerns God in his works. This comprises the
remaining articles of our Catholic faith and the propositions of truths
that can be explicitly formed about his works. These propositions embody a
large number of revelatory prophecies, of promises and threats from God,
and of other past and future events in regard to this matter of faith.
27.1.(4). We can include in this second category many other particular
facts revealed ordinarily by God about the universe in general and, in
particular, about kingdoms, provinces, states, families, and individuals.
27.4.(5). We have numerous examples of these manifestations, both general
and particular, in the divine Scriptures, especially in the writings of the
prophets in which all these kinds of revelations are found. Since this
assertion is clear and evident, I do not want to spend time here quoting
scriptural passages. I merely want to affirm that these revelations are not
given by word only, for God bestows them in a variety of ways and manners:
sometimes by word alone; at other times only by signs, figures, images, and
likenesses; and sometimes by both together, as is seen in the writings of
the prophets. This is particularly evident throughout the Apocalypse where
we find examples of all these various kinds of revelations and also of the
different ways they are imparted.
27.2. Even in our time God grants revelations of this second category to
whom he wills. He will reveal to some the number of days they have to live,
or the trials they will have to endure, or something that will befall a
particular person or kingdom, and so on. Even with regard to the mysteries
of our faith, he will uncover and declare to the spirit truths concerning
them, although properly speaking this would not be a revelation since they
are already revealed. It would be instead a manifestation or declaration of
the already revealed mysteries.
27.3. The devil can be a great meddler with this kind of revelation. Since
the truths are imparted through words, figures, likenesses, and so on, he
can make counterfeits more easily than when the revelations are given
solely to the spirit. If, in these two categories we mentioned, some new
truth about our faith is revealed, or something at variance with it, we
must by no means give assent, even though we may have evidence that it was
spoken by an angel from heaven. Thus St. Paul states: Licet nos, aut
angelus de coelo evangelizet vobis praeterquam quod evangelizavimus vobis,
anathema sit (If we, or an angel from heaven, declare or preach something
other than what we have preached, let him be anathema) [Gal 1:8].
27.4. Since there are no more articles to be revealed to the Church about
the substance of our faith, people must not merely reject new revelations
about the faith, but out of caution repudiate other kinds of knowledge
mingled with them. In order to preserve the appropriate purity of faith, a
person should not believe already revealed truths because they are again
revealed but because they were already sufficiently revealed to the Church.
Closing one's mind to them, one should rest simply on the doctrine of the
Church and its faith that, as St. Paul says, enters through hearing [Rom.
10:17]. And if individuals want to escape delusion they should not adapt
their credence and understanding to those truths of faith revealed again,
no matter how true and conformed to the faith they may seem. To deceive and
introduce lies the devil first lures a person with truths and
verisimilitudes that give assurance; then he proceeds with his beguilement.
These truths of his are like the bristle used in sewing leather: It is put
through the holes first in order to pull the soft thread along after it;
without the bristle the thread would never pass through.
27.5. Let this be kept in mind: Even if there is actually no danger of
deception to the soul, it greatly behooves souls not to want to understand
the truths of faith clearly, so that they may thereby conserve pure and
entire the merit of faith and also pass through this night of intellect to
the divine light of union.
27.5.(2). Closing the eyes to any new revelation and focusing them on
former prophecies is so important that even though St. Peter in some way
saw the glory of the Son of God on Mount Tabor, he declared in his Second
Epistle: Et habemus firmiorem propheticum sermonem, cui benefacitis
attendentes, etc. (Although our vision of Christ on the mount was true, the
word of the prophecy revealed to us is more certain and unshaken, and you
do well by resting your soul on it) [2 Pt. 1:19].
27.6. If it is true for the reasons already mentioned that one should close
one's eyes to these revelations about the propositions of faith, how much
greater need is there to repel and disbelieve other revelations about
different things and in which the devil usually meddles! Because of the
apparent truth and convincing quality with which the devil clothes them, I
consider it impossible for a person who is not striving to reject them to
go undeceived. For to make people believe, the devil joins together so many
apparent and appropriate facts, and implants them so firmly in the
imagination and senses, that it seems the events will undoubtedly occur.
And he causes the soul to be so convinced and tenacious about them that if
it has no humility it will hardly be torn from its opinion and made to
believe the contrary.
27.6.(2). The pure, cautious, simple, and humble soul should resist and
reject revelations and other visions with as much effort and care as it
would extremely dangerous temptations, for in order to reach the union of
love there is need not to desire them but to reject them. Solomon meant
this when he exclaimed: What need has one to desire and seek what is above
one's natural capacity? [Eccl. 6:11].2 This means that to be perfect there
is no need to desire to receive goods in a way that is supernatural and
beyond one's capacity.
27.7. Any objection that could be made against these instructions has
already been answered in chapters 19 and 20 of this book.3 Referring to the
doctrine given there, I say only that individuals should be on their guard
against these revelations so that through the night of faith they may
journey to union purely and without error.
28. The nature and kinds of supernatural locutions received by the spirit.
28.1. The discreet reader must always keep in mind my intention and goal in
this book: to guide the soul in purity of faith through all its natural and
supernatural apprehensions, in freedom from deception and every obstacle,
to divine union with God. One should understand that though I am not giving
abundant instruction about these apprehensions of the soul, nor examining
the divisions and subject matter as minutely as may be necessary, I am not
being brief on this topic either. For I think I have imparted sufficient
advice, light, and instruction on the prudent behavior required for
advancement in the midst of these exterior and interior apprehensions.
28.1.(2). This is why I discussed prophetic apprehensions so briefly, as I
also did the others. There is so much to expound about each of these kinds
of prophecy (about their difference and their ways and modes of being
received) that I think one would never know it all fully. I am content
that, in my opinion, the substantial part of the doctrine has been pointed
out, as well as the caution that is necessary in dealing with these
apprehensions or anything resembling them.
28. 2. I will now follow the same method with the third kind of
apprehension, which we said1 were the supernatural locutions. These are
usually produced in a person's spirit without the use of the bodily senses
as means. Although there are many classes, I find they can be reduced to
three: successive, formal, and substantial locutions.
28.2.(2). Successive locutions are the words and reasonings that the spirit
of itself usually forms and deduces while recollected.
28.2.(3). Formal locutions are certain distinct and formal words that the
spirit receives, whether or not recollected, not from itself but from
28.2.(4). Substantial locutions are other words that are also produced
formally in the spirit, regardless of whether one is recollected, and that
cause in the substance of the soul the power and very substance they
28.2.(5). We will discuss all these in due order.
29. The first kind of locution the recollected spirit sometimes forms. A
discussion of its origin and of the profit or harm it may occasion.
29.1. Successive words always occur when the spirit is recollected and
attentively absorbed in some consideration. Individuals will reason about
their subject, proceeding thought by thought, forming precise words and
judgments, deducing and discovering such unknown truths with so much ease
and clarity that it will seem to them they are doing nothing and another
person is interiorly reasoning, answering, and teaching them.
29.1.(2). Indeed, there is every reason for thinking this, since they
reason with themselves and reply as if carrying on a dialogue. In a way
they really are speaking with another for, though they reason by using
their intellect as the instrument, the Holy Spirit frequently helps them to
form true concepts, words, and judgments, and thus they utter them to
themselves as though to another person. Since their intellect is
recollected and united with the truth, which is the subject of their
thought, and the Holy Spirit is also united with them in that truth -- for
he is in every truth -- it results that, while their intellect is thus
communing with the divine Spirit by means of that truth, it simultaneously
forms interiorly and successively other truths about its subject while the
Holy Spirit, the Teacher, leads the way and gives light. This is one of the
Holy Spirit's methods of teaching.1
29.2. Thus the intellect, understanding those truths communicated to it
from elsewhere, and enlightened and taught by this Master, forms statements
by itself about them. Accordingly we could say that the voice is of Jacob,
but the hands of Esau [Gn. 27:22]. Anyone having this experience cannot
help but think that these statements or words come from another. They do
not know about the ease with which the intellect, in dealing with concepts
and truths communicated by another, can form words for itself that also
seem to come from another.
29.3. Though in that communication or illumination itself there is actually
no deception of the intellect, yet there can be and frequently is deception
in the formal words and statements the intellect deduces from it. The light
is often so delicate and spiritual that the intellect does not succeed in
being completely informed by it; and it is the intellect that forms the
statements of its own power, as we stated. Consequently the statements are
often false, or only apparent, or defective. Since the intellect afterward
joins its own lowly capacity and awkwardness to the thread of truth it had
already begun to grasp, it can easily change the truth in accordance with
this lowly capacity, and all as though another person were speaking to it.
29.4. I knew a person who in experiencing these successive locutions
formed, among some very true and solid ones about the Blessed Sacrament,
others that were outright heresies.
29.4.(2). I greatly fear what is happening in these times of ours: If any
soul whatever after a few pennies worth of reflection experiences one of
these locutions in some recollection, it will immediately baptize all as
coming from God and, supposing this, say, "God told me," "God answered me."
Yet this will not be true but, as we pointed out, these persons will
themselves more often be the ones who speak the words.2
29.5. Furthermore, the desire for such locutions and attachment to them
will cause these persons to answer themselves and think that God is
responding and speaking to them. They will commit serious blunders if they
do not practice great restraint and if their directors do not oblige them
to renounce such discursive methods. For through these methods they usually
derive more vanity of speech and impurity of soul than humility and
mortification of spirit. They think something extraordinary has occurred
and that God has spoken, whereas in reality little more than nothing will
have happened, or nothing at all, or even less than nothing. For whatever
does not engender humility, charity, mortification, holy simplicity,
silence, and so on, of what value is it?
29.5.(2). I say, therefore, that these locutions can be a serious obstacle
to souls in their journey toward divine union because by paying attention
to them souls are drawn far from the abyss of faith. The intellect should
remain in obscurity and journey by love in darkness of faith and not by
29.6. If you ask me why the intellect must be deprived of those truths
since the Spirit of God illumines it through them and thus they are not
bad, I answer: The Holy Spirit illumines the recollected intellect, and
illumines it according to the mode of its recollection; the intellect can
find no better recollection than in faith, and thus the Holy Spirit will
not illumine it in any other recollection more than in faith. The purer and
more refined a soul is in faith, the more infused charity it has. And the
more charity it has the more the Holy Spirit illumines it and communicates
his gifts because charity is the means by which they are communicated.3
29.6.(2). Although in that illumination of truths the Holy Spirit does
communicate some light to the soul, the light given in faith -- in which
there is no clear understanding -- is qualitatively as different from the
other as is the purest gold from the basest metal, and quantitatively as is
the sea from a drop of water. In the first kind of illumination, wisdom
concerning one, two, or three truths, and so on, is communicated; in the
second kind, all of God's Wisdom is communicated in general, that is, the
Son of God, who communicates himself to the soul in faith.
29.7. Should you tell me that everything will be all right since the first
kind of illumination is no obstacle to the second, I would reply that it is
a serious obstacle if the soul pays attention to it. For this would involve
attention to clear things, things of little importance and enough to hinder
the communication of the abyss of faith. In this faith God supernaturally
and secretly teaches the soul and raises it up in virtues and gifts in a
way unknown to it.
29.7.(2). The benefit to be gained from a successive locution will not come
from focusing one's attention on it. Rather, doing so would drive away the
communication, for Wisdom says to the soul in the Song of Songs: Withdraw
your eyes from me, for they make me fly away [Sg. 6:4], that is, they make
me fly far from you and ascend higher. The benefit will be received by
refusing to focus the intellect on what is communicated supernaturally and
simply centering the will on God with love. For it is in love that these
goods are communicated, and indeed more abundantly than before.
29.7.(3). If the natural intellect and the other faculties intervene
actively in these supernatural and passive communications, they will not
attain these heights because of their own mode and obtuseness. Thus they
will be forced to modify the communications according to their mode, and
consequently change them. The intellect, then, will necessarily err and
form judgments of its own that will be neither supernatural nor similar to
the supernatural, but singularly natural, erroneous, and base.
29.8. Yet some intellects are so lively and subtle that, while recollected
in meditation, they reason naturally and easily about some concepts, and
form locutions and statements very vividly, and think that these are indeed
from God. But that notion is false, for an intellect somewhat freed from
the operation of the senses has the capacity to do this and even more with
its own natural light and without any other supernatural help. Such an
occurrence is frequent. And many are deluded by it into thinking that
theirs is the enjoyment of a high degree of prayer and communication from
God; consequently they either write the words down themselves or have
others do so. But it comes about that the experience amounts to nothing,
nothing substantial in the line of virtue comes from it, and it serves for
no more than to induce vainglory.
29.9. These people should learn to give importance to nothing other than
sincere effort, the establishment of their wills in humble love, and
suffering in imitation of the life and mortifications of the Son of God.
This is the road to the attainment of every spiritual good, and not that
other one of profuse interior discourse.4
29.10. The devil too meddles a great deal in this kind of interior
locution, especially with persons who have a particular attachment to them.
When such people begin recollecting themselves, the devil usually offers
ample matter for digression by supplying, through suggestion, ideas or
words for the intellect. Subtly deceiving them with verisimilitudes, he
gradually brings about their ruin. This is one of his ways of communicating
with those who have made a tacit or express pact with him, or of informing
heretics -- or especially heresiarchs -- about extremely subtle, false, and
erroneous ideas and arguments.
29.11. Manifestly, then, these successive locutions can originate in the
intellect from any of three causes: the divine Spirit, who moves and
illumines the intellect; the natural light of the intellect; and the devil,
who can speak to it through suggestion.
29.11.(2). It would be a difficult task now to discuss completely all the
signs for the discernment of the cause from which these locutions proceed,
although we can easily give some general ones. They are:
29.11.(3). When together with the words and concepts the soul is loving God
and simultaneously experiencing this love with humility and reverence, we
have an indication that the Holy Spirit is at work within it. Whenever he
bestows favors he clothes them with this love. When the locutions originate
from the vivacity and light of the intellect, the cause of everything is
the intellect and there is no accompanying activity of the virtues. The
will can love naturally in the knowledge and light of those truths, yet
after the meditation it will remain dry. But the soul will have no
inclination toward vanity unless the devil again tempts it about its
experience. In the locutions arising from the good spirit this aridity is
not felt, because after the locution the will is ordinarily attached to God
and inclined toward good. Yet sometimes the will is arid afterward even if
the communication is from the good spirit, for God so ordains for reasons
that are beneficial to the soul. At other times the soul will not have much
experience of the operations or movements of those virtues; nevertheless
the locution will be good. This is the reason it is sometimes difficult to
discern the cause of these locutions through their varied effects. The
effects already referred to are the common ones, though at times they are
more abundant and at other times less.
29.11.(4). Even locutions caused by the devil are sometimes difficult to
discern and recognize. Ordinarily, indeed, they leave the will in dryness
as to the love of God, and the intellect inclined toward vanity and self-
esteem or complacency; still, they can bring about a false humility and a
fervent tendency of the will rooted in self-love. A person in consequence
will have to be very spiritual to recognize this. The devil effects these
false virtues in order to be more hidden. That he might fix in souls the
attachments he desires them to have, he is expert at inducing the flow of
tears from the feelings he introduces. He always endeavors to move the will
toward an esteem for these interior communications and to get people to
place much importance on them so that they will devote and occupy
themselves with things that are not virtuous but an occasion for the loss
of what virtue there is.
29.12. Let us conclude then with this precaution necessary for the
avoidance of any delusion or hindrance from these variously caused
locutions: We should pay no heed to them, but be only interested in
directing the will, with fortitude, toward God; we should carry out his law
and holy counsels with perfection -- for such is the wisdom of the saints -
- content with knowing the mysteries and truths in the simplicity and
verity with which the Church proposes them. An attitude of this kind is
sufficient for a vigorous enkindling of the will. Hence we do not have to
pry into profundities and curiosities in which there is seldom a lack of
danger. St. Paul in regard to this conduct states: One should not have more
knowledge than is fitting [Rom. 12:3]. What was said should be enough on
the subject of successive words.
30. Interior words formally and supernaturally produced in the spirit. A
warning about their danger and a necessary precaution against delusion.
30.1. The second kind of interior locution is called formal and is produced
supernaturally in the spirit without the use of the senses. It comes
independently of whether the spirit is recollected or not. I give it the
name "formal locution" because another person formally utters it to the
spirit without intervention of the soul. It is consequently far different
from the successive locution. It differs not only by the fact that the
spirit itself is not involved in the cause but also, as I say, in that it
occurs sometimes when there is no recollection and the soul is far from any
thought of what is spoken. In successive locutions such is not the case,
for they always have to do with the subject of one's reflection.
30.2. Sometimes these words are very explicit and at other times not. They
are often like ideas spoken to the spirit, either as a reply to something
or in another manner. At times only one word is spoken, and then again more
than one; sometimes the locutions are successive, like the others, for they
may endure while the soul is being taught or while something is being
discussed. All these words come without any intervention of the spirit
because they are received as though one person were speaking to another.
Daniel experienced this when, as he says, the angel spoke to him. The angel
reasoned formally and successively in his spirit and also declared that he
had come to teach him [Dn. 9:22].
30.3. When these words are no more than formal they bear little effect.
Ordinarily they are given merely for the purpose of teaching or shedding
light upon some truth. Accordingly the efficacy of their effect need be no
more than required to attain their purpose. When God is the cause of the
locution this effect is always produced in the soul, for it gives the soul
both readiness to accomplish the command and clarity in understanding it.
Yet these locutions do not always remove repugnance and difficulty, rather
they sometimes augment it. God does this for the further instruction,
humility, and good of the soul. God more frequently allows this repugnance
when he orders something pertinent to a prelacy or to some other factor
that will bring honor to the soul. And in matters of humility and lowliness
he imparts more facility and readiness. We read in Exodus that when God
ordered Moses to go to Pharaoh and obtain liberation for the people, Moses
felt such repugnance that God had to command him three times and show him
signs. Yet none of this was of any avail until God gave him Aaron to share
in the honor [Ex. 3:10-22; 4:1-18].
30.4. On the other hand, when the locutions and communications are from the
devil, it will happen that both ease and readiness will be given in matters
involving prestige, whereas only repugnance will be felt for lowly tasks.
God surely abhors the sight of souls inclined toward prelacies. Even when
he gives a command in this regard and puts souls in office, he does not
want them to be eager to govern. Formal locutions differ from the
successive ones with respect to this readiness that God usually bestows.
Successive locutions do not move the spirit as much as formal ones do,
because the latter are more formal and the intellect does less on its own.
Yet this does not prevent the successive locutions from sometimes producing
a greater effect because of a greater communication between the divine
Spirit and the human spirit. However, there is considerable difference in
the manner in which the effect is produced. The soul has no reason for
doubting that these locutions come from another, since it is clearly aware
that it does not form them itself, especially because it is not thinking on
what is said to it. Even if it does happen to be pondering over this, it
still experiences very clearly and distinctly that the locution is from
30.5. A person should pay no more attention to all these formal locutions
than to the other kind, for besides occupying the spirit with matters
irrelevant to faith, the legitimate and proximate means to union with God,
they will make one an easy victim for the devil's deceits. At times one can
hardly discern the locutions spoken by a good spirit or those coming from a
bad one. Since these locutions do not produce much effect, they can hardly
be discerned by the effect. Sometimes those of the devil will be more
effective in imperfect souls than the others will be in spiritual ones.
Individuals should not do what these words tell them, nor should they pay
attention to them -- whether they be from a good or bad spirit.
Nevertheless, these locutions should be manifested to a mature confessor or
to a discreet and wise person who will give instructions and counsel and
consider the appropriate thing to do. But a person's attitude toward them
ought to be one of resignation and negation. If such an expert person
cannot be found, it is better not to speak of these locutions to anyone,
but simply pay no attention to them, for a soul can easily fall into the
hands of some persons who will tear it down rather than build it up. Souls
should not discuss these locutions with just anyone, since in so serious a
matter being right or wrong is of such importance.
30.6. It should be kept in mind that individuals must never follow their
own opinion about these locutions or do or admit anything told through them
without ample advice and counsel from another. For in this matter of
locutions strange and subtle deceits will occur -- so much so that I
believe a person who is not opposed to experiencing such things cannot help
but be deceived in many of them.
30.7. Since I intentionally discussed these delusions and dangers, and the
necessary precautions concerning them, in chapters 17 to 20 of this book --
to which I refer the reader -- I will not enlarge any more upon them here.1
I only repeat that my main teaching is to pay no heed whatever to them.
31. Substantial locutions produced in the spirit. How these differ from
formal locutions, the benefit that comes from them, and the resignation and
respect that should be had in their regard.
31.1. The third kind of interior locution, we said,1 is the substantial
locution. Although these locutions are also formal, since they are
impressed very formally in the soul, they nevertheless are different in
that their effect is vital and substantial, which is not the case with
formal locutions. Although every substantial word is formal, it does not
follow that every formal word is substantial -- only the word that
impresses its significance substantially on the soul. For example, if our
Lord should say formally to the soul, "Be good," it would immediately be
substantially good; or if he should say, "Love me," it would at once have
and experience within itself the substance of the love of God; or if he
should say to a soul in much fear, "Do not fear," it would without delay
feel great fortitude and tranquility. For as the Wise Man declares, God's
word and utterance is full of power [Eccl. 8:4], and thus it produces
substantially in the soul what is said. David meant this when he stated:
Behold, he will give his voice the voice of power [Ps. 68:33]. God did this
to Abraham. When he said: Walk in my presence and be perfect [Gn. 17:1],
Abraham immediately became perfect and always proceeded with reverence for
God. We note this power of God's word in the Gospel when with a mere
expression he healed the sick, raised the dead, and so on.
31.1.(2). In this fashion he bestows substantial locutions on certain
souls. These locutions are as important and valuable as are the life,
virtue, and incomparable blessings they impart to the soul. A locution of
this sort does more good for a person than a whole lifetime of deeds.
31.2. As for these locutions, the soul has nothing to do, desire, refrain
from desiring, reject, or fear.
31.2.(2). There is nothing to be done, because God never grants them for
that purpose, but he bestows them in order to bring about what they
express. For this reason they differ from the formal and successive
locutions. And there is nothing for the soul to desire or refrain from
desiring. A desire for these locutions is not necessary for God to grant
them, nor would not wanting them hinder their effect. The soul should
rather be resigned and humble about them.
31.2.(3). A person has nothing to reject because the effect of these
locutions remains substantiated in the soul and replete with God's
blessings. Since the soul receives this passively, its activity would be
31.2.(4). It need not fear any deception because neither the intellect nor
the devil can intervene in this communication. The devil is incapable of
passively producing the substantial effect of his locution on the soul
unless, as it may happen, the soul has surrendered itself to him by a
voluntary pact. Thus the devil, dwelling in it as its lord, would produce
such effects -- not good, but evil ones. Since this soul would already be
united with him in voluntary wickedness, he could easily impress in it the
evil effects of his locutions and words. From experience we observe that in
many matters he has great power through suggestion even with good souls,
making these locutions extremely efficacious for them. If these souls were
evil, then, he could produce the effect in them completely. But he is
unable to produce effects similar to those arising from God's locutions,
for there is no comparison between God's words and the devil's. In
comparison with God's locutions and their effect, those of the devil and
their effect are nothing. God affirms this through Jeremiah: What has the
chaff to do with the wheat? Are not my words perhaps like fire and the
hammer that breaks rocks? [Jer. 23:28-29].2
31.2.(5). Consequently these substantial locutions are a great aid to union
with God. And the more interior and substantial they are, the more
advantageous for the soul. Happy the soul to whom God speaks these
substantial words. Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening [1 Sm. 3:10].
32. The intellectual apprehensions of the spiritual feelings supernaturally
imparted to the soul. The cause of these interior feelings and the attitude
necessary to avoid hindering the journey toward union with God.
32.1. It is time now for a discussion of the fourth and last kind of
intellectual apprehension. This kind, we said, the intellect receives from
the spiritual feelings that are often granted supernaturally to spiritual
persons. We count these spiritual feelings among the distinct apprehensions
of the intellect.1
32.2. These distinct spiritual feelings are of two kinds: The first
comprises feelings in the affection of the will; the second, feelings in
the substance of the soul. The two can take place in many ways.
32.2.(2). Those in the will are very sublime when from God, but the
feelings in the substance of the soul are the loftiest and are
exceptionally advantageous and good. Neither the soul nor its director can
know their origin or the works for which God bestows them.
32.2.(3). These favors are not dependent on the works or reflections of the
soul, though these exercises do dispose it well to receive such gifts, for
God grants them to whom he wills and for the reason he wills. It can happen
that someone will have done many works, and yet God will not bestow these
touches; and another will have accomplished far fewer works and
nevertheless receive an abundance of the most sublime touches. Accordingly,
though it may be a better preparation, it is not necessary for a soul to be
actually employed and occupied in spiritual matters for God to grant the
touches from which it experiences these feelings. Most of the time this
favor is given when it is farthest from the mind.
32.2.(4). Some of these touches are distinct and of short duration, others
are not so distinct and last longer.
32.3. These feelings, as such, are not allied to the intellect but to the
will. Thus it is not my purpose to discuss them here. This I will do in the
following book while dealing with the night and purgation of the
attachments of the will.2
32.3.(2). Yet because most of the time the apprehension, knowledge, and
understanding of them overflows into the intellect, we ought to mention
32.3.(3). It is noteworthy that from these feelings the apprehension of
knowledge or understanding frequently overflows, as I say, into the
intellect. This is true with both the touches in the will and those in the
substance of the soul, whether they be sudden touches or lasting and
successive. This apprehension is usually an exceptionally sublime and
delightful experience of God in the intellect. It cannot be given a name,
nor can the feeling from which it overflows. This knowledge is now of one
kind and then again of another. According to the touches produced by God
(that cause the feelings from which the knowledge is derived), and
according to the property of these touches, this knowledge is sometimes
more sublime and clear than at other times.
32.4. There is no need to waste many words here in cautioning the intellect
and directing it through this knowledge to union with God in faith. The
feelings we mentioned are produced passively in individuals without their
doing anything effectively to receive them. So too the knowledge of these
feelings is received passively in the intellect (which philosophers call
"possible") without anything being actively done by these individuals. To
avoid error as a result of these feelings, and any impediment to the profit
coming from them, the intellect should do nothing about them other than
behave passively and refrain from meddling through the use of its natural
capacity. For as in the case of successive locutions, the intellect by its
own activity easily disturbs and undoes that delicate knowledge, a
delightful, supernatural knowing unattainable through one's natural
capacity.3 Nor does the intellect by its own activity find this knowledge
comprehensible, but comprehends it only by receiving it.
32.4.(2). Thus a person should not strive after this knowledge or want it,
lest the intellect begin to form other knowledge on its own, or the devil
find an entrance for his varied and false knowledge. The devil can easily
effect false knowledge, either by means of these feelings or by others he
himself can bestow on the soul that is attached to this knowledge. A person
should be resigned, humble, and passive with respect to it. For since it is
received passively from God, it will be received when he is pleased to
grant it and when he sees that the soul is humble and unpossessive. In this
way one will not hinder the tremendous benefit lying in this knowledge with
respect to divine union, for all these feelings are touches of union; and
the union is produced passively in the soul.
32.5. The doctrine expounded is sufficient, for in the divisions we gave
the soul will find precautions and instructions for any of its intellectual
apprehensions. Even though seemingly different or unincluded, there is no
intellectual apprehension that cannot be reduced to one of these kinds. A
person can therefore obtain the proper instructions by referring to my
discussion of it.
This book treats of purgation in the active night of the memory and the
will. It presents doctrine about the attitude required in the apprehensions
of these two faculties so that a soul may reach union with God in perfect
hope and charity.
1.1. We have already given instructions for the intellect, the first
faculty of the soul, so that in all its apprehensions it may be united with
God through pure faith, the first theological virtue. The same has to be
done for the other two faculties, memory and will. They must undergo a
purification of their respective apprehensions in order to reach union with
God in perfect hope and charity.
1.1.(2). Our exposition in this third book will be brief. It is not
necessary to enlarge so much in our treatise on these faculties, since in
the instructions given for the intellect (the receptacle in its own way of
all the other objects) we have covered a great portion of the matter. If
spiritual persons direct their intellects in faith according to the
doctrine given them, it is impossible for them not to instruct their other
two faculties simultaneously in the other two virtues, for these faculties
depend on one another in their operations.1
1.2. To continue the method we have been using and for the sake of clarity,
we will discuss each point particularly and list the proper apprehensions
of each faculty. We begin with those of the memory and here give a division
of them that should suffice for our purpose. We form this division from the
three different objects of the memory: natural, imaginative, and spiritual.
In accord with these objects the knowledge of the memory is also of three
kinds: natural, supernatural imaginative, and spiritual.
1.3. With God's help we will discuss these three here, beginning with
natural knowledge that arises from a more exterior object. Afterward we
will deal with the affections of the will, and thereby this third book of
the active spiritual night will be brought to a close.
2. The natural apprehensions of the memory. How to become empty of them in
order to reach union with God through this faculty.
2.1. In each of these books readers must keep in mind the intention we have
in writing. Failure to do so will give rise to many doubts about what they
read. They may already have them concerning the instructions given for the
intellect, or they may experience them on reading what we say about the
memory and the will.
2.1.(2). Observing how we annihilate the faculties in their operations, it
will perhaps seem that we are tearing down rather than building up the way
of spiritual exercise. This would be true if our doctrine here were
destined merely for beginners who need to prepare themselves by means of
these discursive apprehensions.
2.2. But we are imparting instructions here for advancing in contemplation
to union with God. All these sensory means and exercises of the faculties
must consequently be left behind and in silence so that God himself may
effect divine union in the soul. As a result one has to follow this method
of disencumbering, emptying, and depriving the faculties of their natural
authority and operations to make room for the inflow and illumination of
the supernatural. Those who do not turn their eyes from their natural
capacity will not attain to so lofty a communication; rather they will
2.3. Thus, if it is true -- as indeed it is -- that the soul must journey
by knowing God through what he is not rather than through what he is, it
must journey, insofar as possible, by way of the denial and rejection of
natural and supernatural apprehensions. This is our task now with the
memory. We must draw it away from its natural props and boundaries and
raise it above itself (above all distinct knowledge and apprehensible
possession) to supreme hope in the incomprehensible God.
2.4. To begin with natural knowledge in the memory, I include under this
heading all that can be formed from the objects of the five corporeal
senses (hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch), and everything like this
sensory knowledge that the memory can evoke and fashion. It must strip and
empty itself of all this knowledge and these forms and strive to lose the
imaginative apprehension of them. It should do this in such a way that no
knowledge or trace of them remains in it; rather it should be bare and
clear, as though nothing passed through it, forgetful of all and suspended.
2.4.(2). There is no way to union with God without annihilating the memory
as to all forms. This union cannot be wrought without a complete separation
of the memory from all forms that are not God. As we mentioned in the night
of the intellect, God cannot be encompassed by any form or distinct
knowledge.1 Since, as Christ affirms, no one can serve two masters [Mt.
6:24], and since the memory cannot at the same time be united with God and
with forms and distinct knowledge, and since God has no form or image
comprehensible to the memory, the memory is without form and without figure
when united with God. Its imagination being lost in great forgetfulness
without the remembrance of anything, it is absorbed in a supreme good. This
is noted every day through experience. That divine union empties and sweeps
the phantasy of all forms and knowledge, and elevates it to the
2.5. It is worthwhile noting what sometimes takes place in this state. When
God on occasion produces these touches of union in the memory, a sudden
jolt is experienced in the brain (where the memory has its seat), so
sensible that it seems the whole head swoons and consciousness and
sensibility are lost.2 This is sometimes more perceptible, sometimes less,
according to the force of the touch. Then, owing to the union, the memory
is emptied and purged of all knowledge, as I say, and remains in oblivion,
at times in such great oblivion that it must occasionally force itself and
struggle in order to remember something.
2.6. Sometimes this forgetfulness of the memory and suspension of the
imagination reaches such a degree -- because the memory is united with God
-- that a long time passes without awareness or knowledge of what has
happened. Even though others may inflict pain on a person in this state, it
is not felt, since the imaginative power is in suspension, and without the
imagination there is no feeling. So God may produce these touches of union,
the soul must disunite the memory from all apprehensible knowledge. These
suspensions, it should be noted, occur at the beginning of union and thus
are not found in souls who have reached perfection, because the union is
2.7. Someone may object that this doctrine seems good, but it results in
destruction of the natural activity and use of the faculties, so a human
person would then be living in oblivion like an animal and, even worse,
without remembering natural needs and functions; and in addition, that God
does not destroy but perfects nature,3 and the destruction of nature
necessarily follows from this doctrine. For according to these
instructions, carrying out natural operations and moral and rational acts
would be forgotten. None of this could be remembered, because of the
privation of concepts and forms, the means of reminiscence.
2.8. I answer that this is actually so. The more the memory is united with
God, the more the distinct knowledge is perfected, until the memory loses
it entirely; that is, when the soul is perfect and has reached the state of
union. Thus in the beginning, when this union is in the process of being
perfected, a person cannot but experience great forgetfulness of all things
since forms and knowledge are gradually being erased from the memory. Owing
to the absorption of the memory in God, a person will show many
deficiencies in exterior behavior and customs, forgetting to eat and drink
or failing to remember if some task was done, or a particular object seen,
or something said.
2.8.(2). Yet once the habit of union -- which is a supreme good -- is
attained one no longer experiences these lapses of memory in matters
concerning the moral and natural life. Rather, such persons will possess
greater perfection in actions that are necessary and fitting. These
operations, however, are no longer produced through forms and knowledge in
the memory, for by possessing habitual union, which is now a supernatural
state, the memory and other faculties fail entirely in their natural
operations and pass from these natural boundaries to those of God, which
are supernatural. Thus, when the memory is transformed in God, the
knowledge and forms of things cannot be impressed on it.
2.8.(3). As a result all the operations of the memory and other faculties
in this state are divine. God now possesses the faculties as their complete
lord, because of their transformation in him. And consequently it is he who
divinely moves and commands them according to his divine spirit and will.
As a result the operations are not different from those of God; but those
the soul performs are of God and are divine operations. Since the one who
is united with God is one spirit with him, as St. Paul says [1 Cor. 6:17],
the operations of the soul united with God are of the divine Spirit and are
2.9. These souls, consequently, perform only fitting and reasonable works,
and none that are not so. For God's Spirit makes them know what must be
known and ignore what must be ignored, remember what ought to be remembered
-- with or without forms -- and forget what ought to be forgotten, and
makes them love what they ought to love, and keeps them from loving what is
not in God. Accordingly, all the first movements and operations of these
faculties are divine. There is no reason to wonder about these movements
and operations being divine, since they are transformed into divine being.4
2.10. Here are some examples of these divine operations. A person will ask
a soul in this state for prayers. The soul will not remember to carry out
this request through any form or idea of that person remaining in the
memory. If it is expedient to pray for this one (that is, if God wants to
receive prayer for that person), God will move the soul's will and impart a
desire to do so; at times God will give it a desire to pray for others whom
it has never known or heard of.
2.10.(2). The reason is that God alone moves these souls toward those works
that are in harmony with his will and ordinance, and they cannot be moved
toward others. Thus the works and prayer of these souls always produce
2.10.(3). Such was the prayer and work of our Lady, the most glorious
Virgin. Raised from the beginning to this high state, she never had the
form of any creature impressed in her soul, nor was she moved by any, for
she was always moved by the Holy Spirit.
2.11. Another example: At a particular time one will have to attend to a
necessary business matter. There will be no remembrance through any form,
but, without one's knowing how, the time and suitable way of attending to
it will be impressed on the soul without fail.
2.12. The Holy Spirit illumines such souls not merely in these matters but
in many other present or future matters and about many events, even distant
ones. Although he sometimes accomplishes this through intellectual forms,
he often does so without them so that these souls are unaware of how they
come by this knowledge. But its origin is divine Wisdom. Since these souls
are practiced in not knowing or understanding anything with the faculties,
they generally attain, as we mentioned in the drawing of the Mount,5 to the
knowledge of everything; as the Wise Man states: The artificer of all, who
is Wisdom, taught me all things [Wis. 7:21].
2.13. You may object, perhaps, that the soul cannot so void and deprive the
memory of all forms and phantasies as to be able to reach so high a state.
In your view there will be two difficulties insurmountable by human
strength and capacity: banishment of the natural through one's natural
strength, which is impossible, and contact and union with the supernatural,
which is far more difficult and, to be truthful, impossible by one's
natural ability alone.
2.13.(2). I reply that, indeed, God must place the soul in this
supernatural state. Nevertheless, individuals must insofar as possible
prepare themselves. This they can do naturally, especially with God's help.
In the measure that they enter into this negation and emptiness of forms
through their own efforts, they will receive from God the possession of
union. God effects this union in them passively, as we will explain, Deo
dante, in the passive night of the soul. Thus God will give the habit of
perfect divine union when he is pleased to do so and in accordance with the
2.14. We will not discuss in this active night and purgation the divine
effects that union, when perfect, produces in the intellect, memory, and
will, because divine union is not perfected by this night alone. But we
will speak of them in the passive night, for it is by means of this passive
night that union with God is wrought.
2.14.(2). I will treat here only of the manner in which, through the
spiritual person's own efforts, the memory must be brought into this night
and purgation. In short, the spiritual person should ordinarily take this
precaution: Do not store objects of hearing, sight, smell, taste, or touch
in the memory, but leave them immediately and forget them, and endeavor, if
necessary, to be as successful in forgetting them as others are in
remembering them. This should be practiced in such a way that no form or
figure of any of these objects remains in the memory, as though one were
not in the world at all. The memory, as though it were nonexistent, should
be left free and disencumbered and unattached to any earthly or heavenly
consideration. It should be freely left in oblivion, as though it were a
hindrance, since everything natural is an obstacle rather than a help to
anyone who would desire to use it in the supernatural.
2.15. If the doubts and objections should arise that we discussed in
dealing with the intellect, that is, that nothing is accomplished, time is
lost, and the soul is deprived of the spiritual goods receivable through
the memory, the answers to them are all in that part.7 We will also refer
to these objections further on, in the passive night. Accordingly there is
no reason for delay with them here.
2.15.(2). It is only proper to advise here that although at times spiritual
persons do not experience the benefit of this suspension of knowledge and
forms, they should not grow weary, for God will not fail to come to their
aid at a suitable time. And it greatly behooves one to endure and suffer
patiently and hopefully for so remarkable a blessing.
2.16. Although it is true that a soul will hardly be found whose union with
God is so continuous that the faculties, without any form, are always
divinely moved, nevertheless there are those who are habitually moved by
God and not by themselves in their operations, as St. Paul says: The
children of God (those who are transformed in God and united to him) are
moved by the Spirit of God (that is, moved to divine works in their
faculties) [Rom. 8:14]. It is no marvel that the operations are divine,
since the union of the soul with God is divine.
3. Three kinds of harm received by the soul from not darkening the memory
in regard to knowledge and discursive reflection. A discussion of the first
3.1. Spiritual persons who still wish to make use of natural knowledge and
discursive reflection in their journey to God, or for anything else, are
subject to three kinds of harm and difficulty. Two are positive and one
privative. The first kind arises from things of the world, the second from
the devil. The third kind, the privative, is the impediment and hindrance
to divine union that this knowledge causes.1
3.2. The first, coming from the world, involves subjection to many evils
arising from this knowledge and reflection, such as: falsehoods,
imperfections, appetites, judgments, loss of time, and numerous other evils
engendering many impurities in the soul.
3.2.(2). Clearly, spiritual persons allowing themselves this knowledge and
reflection will necessarily fall victim to many falsehoods. Often the true
will appear false, and the certain doubtful, and vice versa, since we can
hardly have complete knowledge of a truth. These persons free themselves of
this if they darken their memory to all knowledge and reflection.
2.3. Imperfections meet them at every step, if they turn their memory to
the objects of hearing, sight, touch, smell, and taste. By so doing some
emotion will cling to them, whether it be sorrow, or fear, or hatred, vain
hope, vain joy, or vainglory, and so on. All these are at least
imperfections, and sometimes real venial sins. They subtly contaminate the
soul with impurity even when the knowledge and reflection concern God.
2.3.(2). And it is also clear that appetites will be engendered since they
naturally arise from this knowledge and reflection. And the mere desire for
this knowledge and reflection is already an appetite.
2.3.(3). Obviously people also encounter many occasions to judge others,
since by using their memory they cannot help but stumble on good or evil
deeds of others. And at times evil seems good and good, evil. I am of the
opinion that no one can really get free from all these evils without
blinding and darkening the memory as to all things.
2.4. You may say that humans are easily capable of conquering all these
dangers when they come upon them. I reply that it is simply impossible to
achieve this completely if one pays attention to this knowledge, for
intermingled with it are a thousand imperfections and fancies, some so
subtle and slight that without one's being aware they stick to the soul
just as pitch does to anyone who touches it. These imperfections are better
overcome all at once through complete denial of the memory.
2.4.(2). You may also object that the soul will suffer the loss of numerous
holy thoughts and considerations about God that are helpful toward the
reception of favors from him. I answer that purity of soul is more helpful
toward this, for purity of soul consists in not having any attachment to
creatures -- or any temporal things that cling to one -- and in not paying
attention to them. I think this attachment cannot but adhere to the soul a
great deal because of the imperfections the faculties have of themselves in
their operations. It is better to learn to silence and quiet the faculties
so that God may speak. For in this state, as we pointed out,2 the natural
operations must fade from sight. This is realized when the soul arrives at
solitude in these faculties, and God speaks to its heart, as the prophet
asserts [Hos. 2:14].
2.5. If you still insist, claiming that a person will obtain no benefits if
the memory does not consider and reflect about God, and that many
distractions and weaknesses will gradually find entrance, I answer that
this is impossible. If the memory is recollected as to both heavenly and
earthly things, there is no entry for evils, distractions, fancies, or
vices -- all of which enter through the wandering of the memory.
Distractions would result if, on closing the door to reflections and
discursive meditation, we opened it to thoughts about earthly matters. But
in our case we close the memory to all things -- from which distractions
and evils arise -- by rendering it silent and mute, and listening to God in
silence with the hearing of the spirit, saying with the prophet: Speak
Lord, for your servant is listening [1 Kgs. 3:10]. The Bridegroom in the
Song of Songs proclaimed that this was to be the attitude of the bride: My
sister is a garden enclosed and a fountain sealed up [Sg. 4:12], that is to
all the things that can enter it.
2.6. The soul should remain closed, then, without cares or afflictions, for
he who entered the room of his disciples bodily while the doors were closed
and gave them peace, without their knowing how this was possible [Jn.
20:19-20], will enter the soul spiritually without its knowing how or using
any effort of its own, once it has closed the doors of its intellect,
memory, and will to all apprehensions. And he will fill them with peace,
descending on them, as the prophet says, like a river of peace [Is. 66:12].
In this peace he will remove all the misgivings, suspicions, disturbances,
and darknesses that made the soul fear it had gone astray. The soul should
persevere in prayer and should hope in the midst of nakedness and
emptiness, for its blessings will not be long in coming.
4. The second kind of harm, which comes from the devil through the natural
apprehensions of the memory.
4.1. The second kind of positive harm possible from knowledge in the memory
is due to the devil. He has tremendous influence in the soul by this means,
for he can add to its knowledge other forms, ideas, and reasonings, and by
means of them move it to pride, avarice, anger, envy, and so on, and insert
unjust hatred, vain love, and many kinds of delusions. Moreover, he usually
so impresses images on the phantasy that the false ones seem true and the
true ones false. And finally, all the greatest delusions and evils he
produces in the soul enter through the ideas and discursive acts of the
memory. If the memory is darkened as to all this knowledge and annihilated
through oblivion, the door is closed entirely to this kind of diabolical
harm and the soul is liberated from these things, and that is a wonderful
4.1.(2). The devil is unable to do anything in the soul save through the
operations of its faculties and principally by means of its knowledge,
because almost all the activity of the soul's other faculties depends on
its knowledge. If the memory is annihilated concerning this knowledge, the
devil is powerless, for he finds no means of getting his grip on the soul
and consequently can do nothing.
4.2. I should like spiritual persons to have full realization of how many
evils the devils cause in souls that make much use of their memories; of
how much sadness, affliction, vain and evil joy from both spiritual and
worldly thoughts these devils occasion; and of the number of impurities
they leave rooted in the spirit. They also seriously distract these souls
from the highest recollection, a recollection that consists in
concentrating all the faculties on the incomprehensible Good and
withdrawing them from all apprehensible things, for these apprehensible
things are not a good that is beyond comprehension.
4.2.(2). Although the good derived from this void is not as excellent as
that arising from the application of the soul to God, by the mere fact that
such emptiness liberates us from much sorrow, affliction, and sadness --
over and above imperfections and sins -- it is an exceptional blessing.
5. The third kind of harm that follows from the natural, distinct knowledge
of the memory.
5.1. The third kind of evil engendered by the natural apprehensions of the
memory is privative. These apprehensions can be an impediment to moral good
and deprive one of spiritual good.
5.1.(2). To explain how these apprehensions are a hindrance to moral good,
one must know that moral good consists in bridling the passions and curbing
the inordinate appetites. The result for the soul is tranquility, peace,
repose, and moral virtue, which is the moral good.
5.1.(3). The soul is incapable of truly acquiring control of the passions
and restriction of the inordinate appetites without forgetting and
withdrawing from the sources of these emotions. Disturbances never arise in
a soul unless through the apprehensions of the memory. When all things are
forgotten, nothing disturbs the peace or stirs the appetites. As the saying
goes: What the eye doesn't see, the heart doesn't want.
5.2. We experience this all the time. We observe that as often as people
begin to think about some matter, they are moved and aroused over it,
little or much, according to the kind of apprehension. If the apprehension
is bothersome and annoying, they feel sadness or hatred, and so on; if
agreeable, they experience desire and joy, and so on.
5.2.(2). Accordingly, when the apprehension is changed agitation
necessarily results. Thus they will sometimes be joyful, at other times
sad, now they will feel hatred, now love. And they are unable to persevere
in equanimity, the effect of moral tranquility, unless they endeavor to
forget all things. Evidently, then, this knowledge is a serious impediment
to possession of the moral virtues.
5.3. That an encumbered memory is also a hindrance to the possession of
spiritual good is clearly proved from our remarks. An unsettled soul that
has no foundation of moral good is incapable, as such, of receiving
spiritual good, for this spiritual good is impressed only on a restrained
and peaceful soul.
5.3.(2). Besides, if souls bestow importance and attention on the
apprehensions of the memory, they will find it impossible to remain free
for the Incomprehensible who is God, for they will be unable to advert to
more than one thing. As we have always insisted, souls must go to God by
not comprehending rather than by comprehending, and they must exchange the
mutable and comprehensible for the Immutable and Incomprehensible.
6. The benefits derived from forgetting the natural thoughts and knowledge
of the memory.
6.1. From the kinds of harm occasioned by the apprehensions of the memory
we can also determine the opposite benefits that come from forgetting them;
as the philosophers say: The doctrine for one thing serves also for its
6.1.(2). In contrast to the first kind of harm, spiritual persons enjoy
tranquility and peace of soul due to the absence of the disturbance and
change arising from thoughts and ideas in the memory, and consequently they
possess purity of conscience and soul, which is a greater benefit. As a
result they are disposed excellently for human and divine wisdom and
6.2. In contrast to the second, they are freed from many suggestions,
temptations, and movements that the devil inserts in souls through their
thoughts and ideas, thereby occasioning many impurities and sins. As David
says: They thought and spoke wickedness [Ps. 73:8]. When the thoughts are
removed, the devil has nothing naturally with which to wage his war on the
6.3. Contrary to the third kind of harm, the soul is disposed, by means of
this recollection and forgetfulness of all things, to be moved by the Holy
Spirit and taught by him. As the Wise Man declares: He withdraws from
thoughts that are without reason [Wis. 1:5].
6.3.(2). Even though no other benefit would come through this oblivion and
void of the memory than freedom from afflictions and disturbances, it would
be an immense advantage and blessing for a person. For the afflictions and
disturbances engendered in a soul through adversities are no help in
remedying these adversities; rather, distress and worry ordinarily make
things worse and even do harm to the soul itself. Thus David proclaimed:
Indeed every human being is disturbed in vain [Ps. 39:6]. Clearly, it is
always vain to be disturbed, since being disturbed is never any help.
6.3.(3). Thus if the whole world were to crumble and come to an end and all
things were to go wrong, it would be useless to get disturbed, for this
would do more harm than good. Enduring all with tranquil and peaceful
equanimity not only reaps many blessings but also helps the soul so that in
these very adversities it may manage better in judging them and employing
the proper remedy.
6.4. Solomon, having clear knowledge of this harm and this advantage,
exclaimed: I knew there was nothing better for humans than to rejoice and
do good in life [Eccl. 3:12]. By this he indicates that in all events,
however unfavorable, we ought rather to rejoice than be disturbed, and bear
them all with equanimity so as not to lose a blessing greater than all
prosperity, which is tranquility of soul and peace in all things, adverse
or prosperous. People would never lose this tranquility if they were to
forget ideas and lay aside their thoughts and also, insofar as possible,
withdraw from dealing with others and from hearing and seeing. Our nature
is so unstable and fragile that, even when well disciplined, the memory
will hardly fail to stumble on things that disturb the soul that was living
in peace and tranquility through the forgetfulness of all. As a result
Jeremiah proclaimed: With the memory I will remember, and my soul will
faint in me with sorrow [Lam. 3:20].
7. The second kind of apprehension, which is of supernatural imaginative
7.1. Though in our discussion of the first kind of apprehension, the
natural, we also gave doctrine for the natural imaginative apprehensions,
we find this division suitable because of the other forms and ideas the
memory preserves. These are from supernatural apprehensions, such as
visions, revelations, locutions, and spiritual feelings. When these
apprehensions occur they usually leave an image, form, figure, or idea
impressed either in the soul or in the memory or phantasy. At times this
impression is most vivid and efficacious. It is also necessary to give
advice about these apprehensions lest they become an encumbrance to the
memory and hinder it from union with God in pure and integral hope.
7.2. I declare that to obtain this blessing individuals should never
reflect on clear and distinct supernatural apprehensions for the purpose of
preserving within themselves these forms, figures, and ideas. We must
always bear in mind this presupposition: The more importance given to any
clear and distinct apprehension, natural or supernatural, the less capacity
and preparedness the soul has for entering the abyss of faith, where all
else is absorbed. As we pointed out,1 none of the supernatural forms and
ideas that can be received by the memory is God, and the soul must empty
itself of all that is not God in order to go to God. Consequently the
memory must likewise dismiss all these forms and ideas in order to reach
union with God in hope. Every possession is against hope. As St. Paul says,
hope is for that which is not possessed [Heb. 11:1].
7.2.(2). In the measure that the memory becomes dispossessed of things, in
that measure it will have hope, and the more hope it has the greater will
be its union with God; for in relation to God, the more a soul hopes the
more it attains. And it hopes more when, precisely, it is more dispossessed
of things; when it has reached perfect dispossession it will remain with
perfect possession of God in divine union. But there are many who do not
want to go without the sweetness and delight of this knowledge in the
memory, and therefore they do not reach supreme possession and complete
sweetness. For whoever does not renounce all possessions cannot be Christ's
disciple [Lk. 14:33].
8. The harm caused from reflection on this supernatural knowledge. Tells
how many kinds of harm there are.
8.1. Spiritual persons expose themselves to five types of harm if they
prize and reflect on the ideas and forms impressed within them through
8.2. The first is that they will often be deluded in mistaking the natural
for the supernatural.
8.2.(2). Second, they put themselves in the occasion of falling into
presumption and vanity.
8.2.(3). Third, the devil finds ample power to deceive them through these
8.2.(4). Fourth, doing so would impede union with God in hope.
8.2.(5). Fifth, for the most part they will be judging God in a lowly way.
8.3. As for the first, if spiritual persons reflect on these forms and
ideas and assign them importance, they will frequently be deceived in their
judgment. Since no one is capable of knowing perfectly the things that pass
naturally through the imagination, or of forming an integral and certain
judgment about them, how much less is one able to make judgments about
supernatural things, which transcend our capacity and occur but rarely.
8.3.(2). Spiritual persons will often think that the apprehensions are from
God, whereas they will be only the product of the imagination. And often
they think that what is from God is from the devil and what is from the
devil is from God. They will frequently receive, among other images, strong
impressions about their own or others' goods and evils. And they hold these
to be very certain and true, yet they will not be true but utterly false.
Other impressions will be true, yet they will judge them false; although
this, I believe, is safer because it is usually the outcome of humility.
8.4. If they escape delusion about the truth, they can still suffer a
quantitative or qualitative delusion. They will think the small, great, and
the great, small. Or as to quality, what is in their imagination and judged
by them to be this particular kind will in reality be another kind. They
will be taking, as Isaiah says, the darkness for light and the light for
darkness, the bitter for the sweet and the sweet for the bitter [Is. 5:20].
Finally, if they are correct in one matter it will be a wonder if they
escape error in another. Even if they do not want to make judgments, it is
enough for them to place some importance on these apprehensions for a
certain harm to cling to them, at least passively. And if it is not this
type of harm it will be one of the four other kinds we shall be discussing.
8.5. To avoid this evil of being deceived in their judgments, spiritual
persons should be unwilling to make judgments about the nature of their
experiences or the kind of visions, knowledge, or feeling they have. They
should not desire to know this or attribute importance to it except for the
sake of informing their spiritual father so he may teach them how to void
the memory of these apprehensions. Whatever these apprehensions may in
themselves be, they are not as great a help toward the love of God as is
the least act of living faith and hope made in the emptiness and
renunciation of all things.
9. The second kind of harm, the danger of falling into self-esteem and vain
9.1. These supernatural apprehensions of the memory, if esteemed, are also
for spiritual persons a decided occasion for slipping into some presumption
or vanity. Since those who do not receive these apprehensions are liberated
from falling into this vice because nothing within them warrants this
presumption, so, on the other hand, those who receive them will be exposed
to the idea that they themselves are now important because of these
supernatural communications. Although it is true that one can attribute
them to God and be thankful for them and consider oneself unworthy, yet
there usually remains in the spirit a certain hidden satisfaction and an
esteem both for the communication and for oneself. Consequently, without
one's realizing it, an abundant spiritual pride will be bred.
9.2. This is quite evident from the displeasure and aversion these
individuals feel toward anyone who does not laud their spirit or value
their communications, and from the affliction they experience on thinking
or being told that others receive the same favors or even better ones. All
this is born of hidden self-esteem and pride. And these persons are not
fully aware that they are steeped in pride. They think that a certain
degree of knowledge of one's own misery is sufficient. Yet at the same time
they are full of hidden self-esteem and satisfaction, more pleased with
their own spirit and spiritual goods than with those of their neighbor.
They resemble the pharisee who thanked God that he was not like others and
that he had various virtues, and who derived self-satisfaction and
presumption from the thought of these virtues [Lk. 18:11-12]. Though they
may not express this as the pharisee did, they habitually feel this way in
their spirit. Indeed, some become so proud that they are worse than the
devil. Since they observe interiorly some apprehensions and devout and
sweet feelings that they think are from God, they become self-satisfied to
the extent of thinking that they are very close to God and others who do
not have these experiences are far beneath them and, like the pharisee,
they look down upon these others.
9.3. To avoid this pestiferous evil, abhorrent in the eyes of God, they
should consider two truths:
9.3.(2). First, virtue does not consist in apprehensions and feelings of
God, however sublime they may be, or in any similar experience. On the
contrary, it comprises what they do not experience: that is, deep humility,
contempt for themselves and all things (very explicit and conscious to the
soul), delight that others feel contempt for them also, and not wanting to
be worth anything in the heart of another.
9.4. Second, all heavenly visions, revelations, and feelings -- or whatever
else one may desire to think on -- are not worth as much as the least act
of humility. Humility has the effects of charity: It neither esteems nor
seeks its own, it thinks no evil save of self, it thinks no good of self
but of others. Consequently souls should not look for their happiness in
these supernatural apprehensions, but should strive to forget them for the
sake of being free.
10. The third kind of harm stemming from the imaginative apprehensions of
the memory, that which comes from the devil.
10.1. It can be deduced and easily understood from all we have said above
how much evil can come from the devil by way of these supernatural
apprehensions. He can present many false ideas and forms to the memory
under the guise of their being true and good. This he does by impressing
them on the spirit and the senses through suggestion with much
certification and efficacy. They then seem so certain that the soul thinks
they cannot be false, but that what it feels is in accord with truth. Since
the devil transforms himself into an angel of light [2 Cor. 11:14], he
seems to be light to the soul. But this is not all. In true visions from
God he can also tempt it in many ways by causing inordinate movements of
the spiritual and sensory appetites and affections toward these visions. If
the soul is pleased with these apprehensions it is very easy for the devil
to bring about an increase of the appetites and affections and a lapse into
spiritual gluttony and other harmful things.
10.2. To better accomplish this he usually suggests and places pleasure,
savor, and delight in the senses relevant to these things of God so that,
sweetened and dazzled by that delight, the soul may become blind and fix
its eyes more on the delightful feeling than on the love -- or at least not
so intensely on the love -- and pay more attention to the apprehension than
to the nakedness and emptiness that lie in faith, hope, and love. And in so
doing the devil deceives the soul little by little and readily makes it
believe his falsehoods.
10.2.(2). To a blind soul falsehood no longer seems falsehood, and evil no
longer evil, and so on, for the darkness appears to be light, and the light
darkness [Is. 5:20]. On this account the soul will fall into a thousand
blunders in matters natural, moral, and spiritual; and what was wine will
have turned into vinegar. All this comes about because of failure from the
beginning to deny the pleasure taken in those supernatural apprehensions.
Since this satisfaction is slight, or not so evil, at first, the soul is
not careful and allows it to remain so that, like the mustard seed, the
evil grows into a large tree [Mt. 13:31-32]. As the saying goes, small
mistake in the beginning, great one in the end.
10.3. To flee this gross error of the devil, therefore, it greatly behooves
individuals not to want to find satisfaction in these apprehensions, for
most certainly this satisfaction will gradually blind them and cause them
to fall. Pleasure, delight, and savor blind the soul by their very own
nature, without the devil's help. David indicated this when he said:
Darkness will perhaps blind me in my delights and I shall have the night
for my light [Ps. 139:11].
11. An impediment to union with God, the fourth kind of harm resulting from
the distinct supernatural apprehensions of the memory.
11.1. Little remains to be said about this fourth kind of harm since we are
explaining it all along in this third book. We have given proof that a soul
must renounce all possession of the memory in order to reach union with God
in hope, for if hope is to be centered entirely on God, nothing that is not
God should reside in the memory.
11.1.(2). And we have also given proof that no form, figure, image, or idea
(whether heavenly or earthly, natural or supernatural) that can be grasped
by the memory is God or like to him. Accordingly, David teaches: Lord,
among the gods no one is like you [Ps. 86:8].
11.1.(3). Consequently, if the memory desires to pay attention to this
knowledge it is hindered from union with God: first, because of the
encumbrance; second, because the more possessions it has the less hope it
11.2. The soul, therefore, must live in nakedness and forgetfulness of
distinct forms and knowledge about supernatural apprehensions so as not to
impede union of the memory with God through perfect hope.
12. Base and improper judgments about God, the fifth kind of harm arising
from supernatural imaginative forms and apprehensions.
12.1. The fifth kind of harm derived from the desire of preserving in the
memory and imagination these forms and images of supernatural
communications is no less evil than the others, especially if the soul
desires to use these images as means toward divine union. It is extremely
easy to judge the being and height of God less worthily and sublimely than
befits his incomprehensibility. Though one may not form an explicit idea
that God is similar to these apprehensions, nevertheless the very esteem
for them -- if, in fact, one esteems them -- produces in the soul an
estimation and opinion of God less elevated than is given in the teaching
of faith: that he is incomparable, incomprehensible, and so on.
12.1.(2). In addition to taking all this attention given to creatures away
from God, the soul will naturally form in its interior, through esteem for
these apprehensions, a certain comparison between them and God. This
comparison prevents it from having as lofty a judgment and esteem of God as
12.1.(3). Creatures, earthly or heavenly, and all distinct ideas and
images, natural and supernatural, that can be the objects of a person's
faculties, are incomparable and unproportioned to God's being. God does not
fall under the classifications of genus and species, whereas, according to
theologians, creatures do.1 And the soul is not capable of receiving
clearly and distinctly in this life what does not fall under the
classifications of genus and species. Thus St. John affirms that no one has
ever seen God [Jn. 1:18]. Isaiah declares that it has not entered the human
heart what God is like [Is. 64:4]. And God told Moses: You cannot see me in
this life [Ex. 33:20]. Therefore anyone encumbering the memory and the
other faculties of the soul with what is comprehensible cannot have a
proper esteem or opinion of God.
12.2. Here is a poor example. The more people set their eyes on the king's
servants and the more attention they pay to them, the less heed they pay to
the king and the less they esteem him. Though this estimation is not in the
intellect formally and explicitly, it is there practically; because the
more attention they give to the servants, the more they take away from
their lord. And then their judgment of the king is not very high since the
servants seem to them somewhat important in comparison with the king, their
lord. This is what happens in relation to God when a person pays attention
to these creatures, although the comparison is very inadequate because, as
we have mentioned, the being of God is different from the being of his
creatures. God, by his being, is infinitely distant from all of these
creatures. The soul should consequently turn its eyes from these creatures
so as to focus them on God in faith and hope.
12.3. Those who not only pay heed to these imaginative apprehensions but
think God resembles some of them, and that one can journey to union with
God through them, are already in great error and will gradually lose the
light of faith in their intellect. And it is by means of faith that the
intellect is united with God. Furthermore, they will not increase in the
loftiness of hope, the means for union with God in the memory. This union
is effected by disuniting oneself from everything imaginative.
13. The benefits obtained through the rejection of the apprehensions of the
imagination. Answers certain objections and explains the difference between
the natural and the supernatural imaginative apprehensions.
13.1. Like the observation we made concerning natural forms, the benefits
from voiding the imagination of supernatural apprehensions can be
ascertained through the five kinds of harm caused in the soul if it desires
to possess these forms interiorly.
13.1.(2). But besides these, there are other benefits of deep spiritual
repose and quietude. In addition to the tranquility a person naturally
enjoys when freed from images and forms, there is a freedom from care about
the discernment of good ones from evil, and about how one ought to behave
with different kinds. Finally one would be absolved from the drudgery and
waste of time that would result from desiring spiritual masters both to
discern the good apprehensions from the evil ones and to ascertain the kind
of apprehension received. People do not have to know this, since they
should not pay attention to any of these apprehensions. The time and energy
that would be wasted in trying to discern them can be employed in another,
more profitable exercise (the movement of the will toward God), and in
solicitude about the search after spiritual and sensory nakedness and
poverty (the desire to lack all the consoling support of the apprehensions,
both interior and exterior). Individuals practice this latter by desiring
and striving after detachment from these forms, since they thereby receive
the great gain of approaching God, who has neither image, nor form, nor
figure. They will approach God more closely the more they withdraw from all
imaginative forms, images, and figures.
13.2. Perhaps your question will be: Why do many spiritual persons counsel
souls to strive for profit in the communications and feelings given by God
and to desire favors from him in order to have something to give him, since
if God gives nothing to us, we shall have nothing to give to him? And you
will establish this with a text from St. Paul: Do not extinguish the spirit
[1 Thes. 5:19]; also with one from the Song of Songs in which the
bridegroom says to the bride: Put me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal
upon your arm [Sg. 8:6], for this seal is a certain apprehension. And all
of this, you will say, according to our doctrine, must not only be unsought
but rejected and put aside even though God bestows it; and evidently, since
God grants this gift, he does so for a good purpose and it will be
effective. You will add that we must not throw away pearls and it is a kind
of pride to refuse God's gifts as though we were self-sufficient without
13.3. In answer to this objection, our explanation in chapters 15 and 16 of
Book Two must necessarily be kept in mind.1 To a great extent the objection
is answered there. We stated that the good resulting in the soul from
supernatural apprehensions that come from a good source is produced
passively, without any operation of the faculties, at the very moment these
apprehensions are represented to the senses.
13.3.(2). It is consequently unnecessary for the will to act in order to
admit them. As we said, if souls were to desire to act with their
faculties, through their base natural operation they would impede the
supernatural (which God is producing in them by means of these
apprehensions) rather than derive profit from their own labor. But since
the spirit of these imaginative apprehensions is given passively to the
soul, they must maintain a passive attitude without application of their
interior or exterior actions to anything.
13.3.(3). And this attitude would preserve the spiritual feelings of God,
because individuals would not then lose them through their own lowly kind
of operation. Nor would they extinguish the spirit. People extinguish the
spirit by wanting to conduct themselves in a way different from the way God
is leading them. They act this way if they desire, when God gives them the
spirit passively -- as he does through these apprehensions -- to be active
by working with the intellect or by desiring something in these
13.3.(4). This is clear, for if the soul would then want to work, its
activity would necessarily be no more than natural. On its own it can do no
more, since a soul does not move itself to a supernatural work, nor can it,
but God moves it and places it in this supernatural activity. If spiritual
persons, then, were to desire to make use of their own efforts, they would
necessarily impede by their activity the passive communication of God,
which is the spirit. They would be engaging in their own work, which is of
another and lower kind than that which God is communicating to them. The
work of God is passive and supernatural, that of the soul is active and
natural. This natural activity is what would extinguish the spirit.
13.4. That this is a more lowly work is also clear, for the faculties of
the soul cannot of themselves reflect and work except on some form, figure,
and image, which would be the rind and accident of the substance and
13.4.(2). This substance and spirit is not united with the faculties of the
soul in true understanding and love until the operation of the faculties
ceases, for the aim of this operation is the reception of substantial
understanding and love through those forms. The difference between the
active and passive operation and the advantage of one over the other is the
same as that between what is being done and what is already done, or what
one intends to attain and what has already been attained.
13.4.(3). Thus we also deduce that if individuals were to desire to employ
their faculties actively in these supernatural apprehensions by which, as
we said, they receive the spirit passively from God, they would be doing
nothing less than abandoning what has been accomplished in order to redo
it; neither would they be enjoying what was done, nor by their activity
doing anything other than impeding God's work. For, as we said, these
actions cannot independently attain the spirit God was giving to the soul
without them. If the soul pays heed to these imaginative apprehensions, it
directly extinguishes the spirit that God infuses by means of them.
13.4.(4). Consequently, a person should abandon these apprehensions and
behave passively and negatively because then God moves the soul to what
transcends its power and knowledge. The prophet accordingly declared: I
will stand on my watch and fix my foot on my tower, and I will contemplate
what is said to me [Hb. 2:1]. This is like saying: I will be raised above
the watch of my faculties and take no step forward in my operations; thus I
will be able to contemplate what is told me, that is, I will understand and
taste what is communicated to me supernaturally.
13.5. The words of the bridegroom that were quoted in the objection should
be interpreted as referring to the love he asks of the bride. It is a
characteristic of love to assimilate lovers to one another in their
spiritual faculties. As a result he tells her to set him as a mark on her
heart [Sg. 8:6], there where all the arrows of love (the actions and
motives of love) coming from the quiver strike. He does this so that all
the arrows might strike him, who is there as their target, and thus all are
directed to him. And the soul would become like him through its actions and
movements of love until transformed in him. He tells her to set him also as
a mark on her arm because the act of love is on the arm, since by the arm
the beloved is held and caressed.
13.6. In these apprehensions coming from above (imaginative or any other
kind -- it matters not if they be visions, locutions, spiritual feelings,
or revelations), individuals should only advert to the love of God that is
interiorly caused. They should pay no attention to the letter and rind
(what is signified, represented, or made known). Thus they should pay heed
not to the feelings of delight or sweetness, not to the images, but to the
feelings of love that are caused.
13.6.(2). Only for the sake of moving the spirit to love should the soul at
times recall the images and apprehensions that produced love. The effect
produced by the remembrance of this communication is not as strong as the
effect at the time the communication was received, yet when the
communication is recalled there is a renewal of love and an elevation of
the mind to God. This is especially true when the soul remembers some
figures, images, or supernatural feelings. These are usually so imprinted
on it that they last a long time; some are never erased from the soul.
These apprehensions produce, almost as often as remembered, divine effects
of love, sweetness, light, and so on -- sometimes in a greater degree,
sometimes in a lesser -- because God impressed them for this reason. This
is consequently a great grace, for those on whom God bestows it possess
within themselves a mine of blessings.
13.7. The figures producing such effects are vividly impressed on the soul,
for they are not like other images and forms preserved in the phantasy. The
soul has no need of recourse to this faculty when it desires to remember
them, for it is aware that it has them within itself as an image in a
mirror. When a soul possesses these figures formally within itself it can
safely recall them to obtain the effect of love I mentioned. They will not
be a hindrance to the union of love in faith, providing the soul does not
desire to be absorbed with the figure. It must profit from the love by
immediately leaving aside the figure. In this way the remembrance will
instead be a help to the soul.
13.8. It is difficult to discern when these images are impressed on the
soul and when on the phantasy, for those of the phantasy are also quite
frequent. Some persons who usually have imaginative visions find that these
same visions are very frequently represented in their phantasy, either
because they themselves possess a very lively faculty, so that with little
thought the ordinary figure is immediately represented and sketched on it,
or because the devil causes these representations, or also because God
causes them without impressing them formally in the soul.
13.8.(2). They can be discerned through their effects nonetheless, for
those that are of natural or diabolical origin produce no good effect or
spiritual renewal in the soul, no matter how often they are remembered. The
individual beholds them in dryness. When remembered, however, the
imaginative apprehensions from God produce some good effect by means of
that which they imparted to the soul the first time. Yet the formal
apprehensions -- those impressed on the soul -- yield some effect almost
every time they are recalled.
13.9. Anyone with experience of these will easily be able to tell the
difference between the two, for the diversity between them is very clear. I
merely assert that those impressed formally on the soul in a lasting way
are of rarer occurrence. But whatever may be their kind, it is good for the
soul to have no desire to comprehend anything save God alone in hope
13.9.(2). As for the other point in the objection (that it is apparently
pride to reject these apprehensions if they are good), I answer: Rather, it
is prudent humility to benefit by them in the best way, as has been
mentioned, and be guided along the safest path.
14. Spiritual knowledge in the memory.
14.1. We placed apprehensions of spiritual knowledge in the third class not
because they pertain to the corporeal phantasy -- for they do not have a
corporeal image and form -- as the others do, but because they are likewise
the object of spiritual reminiscence and memory.1 After the soul receives
knowledge of this sort it can freely bring that knowledge back to memory.
It does not remember this through the effigy or image left in the corporeal
sense faculty, for since it is a corporeal sense faculty the phantasy has
no capacity for spiritual forms. But it remembers intellectually and
spiritually through the form impressed on the soul (which is also a formal
or spiritual form, idea, or image), or through the effect produced. As a
result, I classify these apprehensions among those of the memory, even
though they do not belong to those of the phantasy.
14.2. We have given a sufficient explanation in chapter 24 of Book Two,2
where we discussed intellectual apprehensions, of this kind of knowledge
and the attitude toward it required for advancement to union with God. See
that chapter, because there we have explained how these apprehensions are
of two kinds: one referring to the Creator, and the other to creatures.
14.2.(2). Concerning what has to do with our intention here (which is to
explain the way the memory should conduct itself in order to advance to
union), I merely state, as I have just explained in the preceding chapter
about formal images, to which class this knowledge of creatures belongs,
that this knowledge may be remembered when it produces a good effect, not
in order to retain it but to awaken the knowledge and love of God. But if
the remembrance of this knowledge of creatures produces no good effect, the
soul should never desire the memory of it.
14.2.(3). But as for knowledge of the Creator, I declare that a person
should strive to remember it as often as possible because it will produce
in the soul a notable effect. For, as we affirmed there, the communications
of this knowledge are touches and spiritual feelings of union with God, the
goal to which we are guiding the soul. The memory does not recall these
through any form, image, or figure that may have been impressed on the
soul, for those touches and feelings of union with the Creator do not have
any. It remembers them through the effect of light, love, delight,
spiritual renewal, and so on, produced in it. Something of this effect is
renewed as often as the soul recalls them.
15. A general rule of conduct for spiritual persons in their use of the
15.1. To conclude the discussion of the memory, then, it will be worthwhile
to delineate briefly a general method for the use of spiritual persons that
they may be united with God according to this sense.1 Even if clearly
understood from what we said, the reader will grasp it more easily in a
15.1.(2). The following must be kept in mind: Our aim is union with God in
the memory through hope; the object of hope is something unpossessed; the
less other objects are possessed, the more capacity and ability there is to
hope for this one object, and consequently the more hope; the greater the
possessions, the less capacity and ability for hoping, and consequently so
much less of hope; accordingly, in the measure that individuals dispossess
their memory of forms and objects, which are not God, they will fix it on
God and preserve it empty, so as to hope for the fullness of their memory
from him. What souls must do in order to live in perfect and pure hope in
God is this: As often as distinct ideas, forms, and images occur to them,
they should immediately, without resting in them, turn to God with loving
affection, in emptiness of everything rememberable. They should not think
or look on these things for longer than is sufficient for the understanding
and fulfillment of their obligations, if these refer to this. And then they
should consider these ideas without becoming attached or seeking
gratification in them, lest the effects of them be left in the soul. Thus
people are not required to stop recalling and thinking about what they must
do and know, for, if they are not attached to the possession of these
thoughts, they will not be harmed. The verses of the Mount in chapter 13 of
the first book are helpful in this practice.2
15.2. Yet it must be noted here that by our doctrine we are not in
agreement, nor do we desire to be, with that of those pestiferous people
who, persuaded by the pride and envy of Satan, have sought to remove from
the eyes of the faithful the holy and necessary use and renowned cult of
images of God and his saints.3 Our doctrine is far different from theirs.
We are not asserting, as they do, that there be no images or veneration of
them; we are explaining the difference between these images and God, and
how souls should use the painted image in such a way as not to suffer
hindrance in their movement toward the living image, and how they should
pay no more attention to images than is required for advancing to what is
15.2.(2). The means are good and necessary for the attainment of the end,
as are images for reminding us of God and the saints. But when people use
and dwell on the means as though these were more than mere means, their
excessive use of them becomes as much an impediment as anything else. The
impediment is even greater in the case of supernatural visions and images,
with which I am especially dealing here and which are the cause of many
delusions and dangers.
15.2.(3). There is no delusion or danger in the remembrance, veneration,
and esteem of images that the Catholic Church proposes to us in a natural
manner, since in these images nothing else is esteemed than the person
represented. The memory of these images will not fail to benefit a person,
because this remembrance is accompanied with love for whoever is
represented. Images will always help individuals toward union with God,
provided that no more attention is paid to them than necessary for this
love, and that souls allow themselves to soar -- when God bestows the favor
-- from the painted image to the living God, in forgetfulness of all
creatures and things pertaining to creatures.
16. The beginning of the treatise on the dark night of the will. A division
of the emotions of the will.
16.1. We would have achieved nothing by purging the intellect and memory in
order to ground them in the virtues of faith and hope had we neglected the
purification of the will through charity, the third virtue. Through charity
works done in faith are living works and have high value; without it they
are worth nothing, as St. James affirms: Without works of charity, faith is
dead [Jas. 2:20].
16.1.(2). For a treatise on the active night and denudation of this
faculty, with the aim of forming and perfecting it in this virtue of the
charity of God, I have found no more appropriate passage than the one in
chapter 6 of Deuteronomy, where Moses commands: You shall love the Lord,
your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your
strength [Dt. 6:5]. This passage contains all that spiritual persons must
do and all I must teach them here if they are to reach God by union of the
will through charity. In it human beings receive the command to employ all
the faculties, appetites, operations, and emotions of their soul in God so
that they will use all this ability and strength for nothing else, in
accord with David's words: Fortitudinem meam ad te custodiam (I will keep
my strength for you) [Ps. 59:10].
16.2. The strength of the soul comprises the faculties, passions, and
appetites. All this strength is ruled by the will. When the will directs
these faculties, passions, and appetites toward God, turning away from all
that is not God, the soul preserves its strength for God, and comes to love
him with all its might.1
16.2.(2). So a person may do this, we will discuss here purifying the will
of all inordinate emotions. These inordinate emotions are the source of
unruly appetites, affections, and operations, and the basis for failure to
preserve one's strength for God.
16.2.(3). There are four of these emotions or passions: joy, hope, sorrow,
and fear. These passions manifestly keep the strength and ability of the
soul for God, and direct it toward him, when they are so ruled that a
person rejoices only in what is purely for God's honor and glory, hopes for
nothing else, feels sorrow only about matters pertaining to this, and fears
only God. The more people rejoice over something outside God, the less
intense will be their joy in God; and the more their hope goes out toward
something else, the less there is of it for God; and so on with the
16.3. To give a complete doctrine on this subject, we will, as is our
custom, discuss individually these four passions as well as the appetites
of the will. The entire matter of reaching union with God consists in
purging the will of its appetites and emotions so that from a human and
lowly will it may be changed into the divine will, made identical with the
will of God.
16.4. The less strongly the will is fixed on God and the more dependent it
is on creatures, the more these four passions combat the soul and reign in
it. A person then very easily rejoices in what deserves no rejoicing, hopes
for what brings no profit, sorrows over what should perhaps cause
rejoicing, and fears where there is no reason for fear.
16.5. When these emotions go unbridled they are the source of all vices and
imperfections, but when they are put in order and calmed they give rise to
all the virtues.
16.5.(2). It should be known that, in the measure that one of the passions
is regulated according to reason, the others are also. These four passions
are so interlinked and brotherly that where one goes actually the others go
virtually. If one is recollected actually, the other three in the same
measure are recollected virtually. If the will rejoices over something, it
must consequently in the same degree hope for it, with the virtual
inclusion of sorrow and fear. And in the measure that it loses satisfaction
in this object, fear, sorrow, and hope will also be lost.
16.5.(3). We find a reference to the will and the four passions in the
figure Ezekiel saw: four animals with four faces and only one body, in
which the wings of one were bound to those of the other; each one went
forward and while going ahead they did not turn back [Ez. 1:6-12]. The
feathers of each of these emotions are so connected to those of the others
that wherever one actually directs its face (its operations), the others
need to go virtually; and when one is lowered, as is affirmed there, all
the others must be lowered; and when it is raised, the others are raised
too [Ez. 1:19-25]. Where your hope goes, there too will go your joy, fear,
and sorrow; and if it turns back, they too will turn back; and so on with
each of the other passions.
16.6. Accordingly, you should keep in mind that wherever one of these
passions goes the entire soul (the will and the other faculties) will also
go, and they will live as prisoners of this passion; and the other three
passions will be alive in the one so as to afflict the soul with their
chains and prevent it from soaring to the liberty and repose of sweet
contemplation and union. As a result Boethius claimed that if you desire a
clear understanding of the truth, you must cast from yourself joys, hope,
fear, and sorrow.3 As long as these passions reign in the soul they will
not allow it to live in the tranquility and peace necessary for the wisdom
it can receive naturally and supernaturally.
17. The first emotion of the will. The nature of joy and a division of the
objects of joy.
17.1. The first passion of the soul and emotion of the will is joy. Joy --
to give a definition suited to our purpose -- is nothing else than a
delight of the will in an object esteemed and considered fitting. For the
will never rejoices unless in something that is valuable and pleasing to
it. We are speaking of active joy, which occurs when a person understands
distinctly and clearly the object of its joy and has power either to
rejoice or not.
17.1.(2). There is another joy, which is passive. In this kind of joy the
will finds itself rejoicing without any clear and distinct understanding of
the object of its joy, except at times. It has no power either to possess
this joy or not possess it. We will discuss this passive joy afterward.1
Our topic now is the joy derived from distinct and clear objects, insofar
as it is active and voluntary.
17.2. Joy can arise from six kinds of objects or goods: temporal, natural,
sensory, moral, supernatural, and spiritual. We must treat of these in
their proper order, regulating the will according to reason, lest it fail
to concentrate the vigor of its joy on God because it is being hindered by
these goods. We must in all of this presuppose a fundamental principle that
will be like a staff, a continual support for our journey. It must be kept
in mind, because it is the light by which we will find guidance and
understanding in this doctrine and direct joy to God amid all these goods.
The principle is: The will should rejoice only in what is for the honor and
glory of God, and the greatest honor we can give him is to serve him
according to evangelical perfection; anything unincluded in such service is
without value to human beings.2
18. Joy in temporal goods. How a person should direct it to God.
18.1. We listed the first kind of goods as temporal.1 By temporal goods we
mean: riches, status, positions, and other things claiming prestige; and
children, relatives, marriages, and so on. All these are possible objects
of joy for the will.
18.1.(2). But the vanity of rejoicing over riches, titles, status,
positions, and other similar goods after which people usually strive is
clear. If people were better servants of God by being richer, they would be
obliged to rejoice in riches. But riches are rather the occasion of their
offending God, as the Wise Man teaches: Son, if you be rich you shall not
be free from sin [Ecclus. 11:10]. Though it is true that temporal goods of
themselves are not necessarily the cause of sin, yet, because of the
weakness of its tendencies, the human heart usually becomes attached to
them and fails God, which is sin. Thus the Wise Man says you will not be
free from sin.
18.1.(3). This is why the Lord in the Gospel calls them thorns; the one who
willfully handles them will be wounded with some sin [Mt. 13:22; Lk. 8:14].
In St. Luke's Gospel the exclamation -- which ought to be greatly feared --
asserts: How difficult will it be for those who have riches to enter the
kingdom of heaven (those who have joy in them), and demonstrates clearly a
person's obligation not to rejoice in riches, since one is thereby exposed
to so much danger [Lk. 18:24]. In order to turn us from this danger, David
also taught: If riches abound, do not set your heart on them [Ps. 62:10].
18.2. I do not want to add any more references here on so clear a matter,
for I would never finish quoting Scripture. When would I ever get through
telling of the evils Solomon attributes to them in Ecclesiastes? A man who
had abundant riches, and knowledge of what they are, exclaimed that
everything under the sun was vanity of vanities, affliction of spirit, and
vain solicitude of soul [Eccl. 1:14]; that the lover of riches will not
reap fruit from them [Eccl. 5:9]; and that riches are kept to the harm of
their owner [Eccl. 5:12]. This last assertion is evident also in the
Gospel, where the man who rejoiced because for many years he had stored
away a good portion of the harvest heard these words from heaven: Fool,
this night they will seek your soul that you may render an accounting, and
whose will be all that you stored away? [Lk. 12:20]. Finally, David imparts
the same teaching, that we should not be envious when our neighbor becomes
rich, since being rich is without profit for the next life [Ps. 49:16-17].
He indicates thereby that we ought rather to pity our rich neighbor.
18.3. People should not rejoice over riches, neither when they possess them
nor when their neighbor possesses them, unless God is served through them.
If it is in some way tolerable to rejoice in riches, it is when they are
spent and employed in the service of God. This is the only way profit will
be drawn from them.
18.3.(2). The same holds true for other temporal goods, titles and
positions, and so on. It is vain for people to rejoice in these goods if
they do not serve God by them and walk more securely on the road of eternal
life. And because they cannot know with certitude that they are serving God
more, it would be vain of them to rejoice over these goods, for such joy
cannot be reasonable. As our Lord says, even though one gains the whole
world, one can lose one's soul [Mt. 16:26]. The only reason for rejoicing
then is the greater service of God.
18.4. As for children, there is no reason to rejoice in them because they
are many, or rich, or endowed with natural talents and gifts, or because
they are wealthy. One should rejoice in them if they are serving God.
Beauty, riches, and lineage were of no help to Absalom, David's son, since
he did not serve God [2 Sm. 14:25]. The joy he found, therefore, in these
goods was vain.
18.4.(2). It is also vain to desire children, as some do in upsetting and
troubling the whole world with their longing for them. For they do not know
whether the children will be good and serve God, or whether the expected
happiness will instead be sorrow, or the rest and comfort, trial and grief,
or the honor, dishonor. And because of the children they might, as many do,
offend God more. Christ says of these people that they circle the earth and
the sea in order to enrich their children, and they make them children of
perdition twice as much as they themselves [Mt. 23:15].
18.5. Even though all things are smiling and succeeding prosperously,
people should have misgivings rather than joy, since the occasion and
danger of forgetting God thereby increases. This is the motive Solomon gave
in Ecclesiastes for taking precaution: I judged laughter an error, and to
joy I said: Why are you deceived in vain? [Eccl. 2:2]. This was like
saying: When things smiled on me, I considered it error and deceit to be
glad over them, for doubtless the error and foolishness of people who are
joyous over what apparently brings them prosperity and success is gross,
because they do not know whether some eternal good will result or not. The
heart of the fool, states the Wise Man, is where there is gladness; but the
heart of the wise is where there is sadness [Eccl. 7:4]. Gladness is
blinding to the heart and does not allow it to consider and ponder things,
while sadness makes people open their eyes and see the advantage or harm in
things. Accordingly, the Wise Man also affirms that anger is better than
laughter [Eccl. 7:3]. Hence it is better to go to a house of mourning than
a house of feasting, for in the former we see the end of all human life, as
the Wise Man also says [Eccl. 7:2].
18.6. Indeed, it would also be vanity for a husband and wife to rejoice in
their marriage when they are uncertain whether God is being better served
by it. They should rather be perplexed, for as St. Paul declares, matrimony
is the cause of not centering the heart entirely on God, since the hearts
of the couple are set on one another [1 Cor. 7:32-34]. He advises
consequently: If you are free from a wife do not seek one, but if you
already have one, be as free of heart as if you had none [1 Cor. 7:27, 29].
He teaches us this together with what, as we affirmed, he teaches about
temporal goods: This, therefore, that I say to you, brothers, is certain,
the time is short; what remains is that those who have wives be as those
who have them not; and those who weep as those who do not weep; and those
who rejoice as those who do not rejoice; and those who buy as those who do
not possess; and those who use this world as those who use it not [1 Cor.
18.6.(2). The reason he says all this is to explain that nothing but what
belongs to the service of God should be the object of our joy. Any other
joy would be vain and worthless, for joy that is out of harmony with God is
of no value to the soul.
19. The harm caused from joy in temporal goods.
19.1. We would run out of ink, paper, and time were we to describe the harm
that beleaguers the soul because it turns its affection to temporal goods.
Something very small can lead into great evils and destroy remarkable
blessings, just as an unextinguished spark can kindle immense fires capable
of burning up the world.
19.1.(2). All this harm has its origin and root in one main private harm
embodied in this joy: withdrawal from God. Just as approaching God through
the affection of the will gives rise to every good, so withdrawal from him
through creature affection breeds every harm and evil in the soul. The
measure of the harm reflects the intensity of the joy and affection with
which the will is joined to the creature, for in that proportion does it
withdraw from God. Hence the harm incurred will be greater or less and, for
the most part, in both an extensive and intensive way, according to the
degree of one's withdrawal from God.1
19.2. This privative harm, from which the other negative and positive kinds
arise, has four degrees, one worse than the other. When individuals reach
the fourth they have encountered all the harm and evil that can be
described in this matter. Moses notes these four degrees very clearly in
Deuteronomy with these words: The beloved was surfeited and hobbled
backward; he was surfeited, grew fat, and spread out. He forsook God his
Maker, and departed from God his Savior [Dt. 32:15].
19.3. The soul, which was previously beloved, becomes surfeited by
engulfing itself in the joy of creatures. The first degree of harm to
spring from this joy is backsliding: a blunting of the mind in relation to
God, by which God's goods become dark to it, just as a cloud darkens the
air and prevents the sun from illumining it.
19.3.(2). By the very fact that spiritual persons rejoice in something and
give reign to the appetite in frivolous things, their relationship with God
is darkened and their intellect clouded. This is what the divine Spirit
teaches in the Book of Wisdom: Contact with vanity and deception, and their
use, obscures good things, and the inconstancy of the appetite overturns
and perverts the sense and judgment that is without malice [Wis. 4:12]. The
Holy Spirit teaches by this that even though the intellect is without the
thought of any malice, joy in these vanities and concupiscence for them is
alone sufficient to produce the first degree of this harm: dullness of mind
and darkness of judgment in understanding truth and judging well of each
thing as it is in itself.
19.4. If human beings give way to concupiscence for temporal goods or take
joy in them, their sanctity and keen judgment will be insufficient to
prevent this injury. God therefore warned us through Moses: Do not receive
gifts that blind even the prudent [Ex. 23:8]. This admonition was directed
toward those who were to be judges since their judgment must be clear and
alert, which would not be the case if they were to covet and rejoice in
19.4.(2). Similarly, God commanded Moses to appoint as judges those who
abhorred avarice so their judgment would not be blunted by the
gratification of their passions [Ex. 18:21]. He speaks not merely of a lack
of desire but of the abhorrence of avarice. To enjoy perfect protection
from the emotion of love, individuals must maintain this abhorrence and
defend themselves from one contrary by means of another. As the prophet
Samuel asserted in the Book of Kings, the reason he was always so upright
and enlightened a judge was that he never accepted a gift from anyone [1
19.5. The second degree of this privative harm issues from the first. It is
disclosed in the passage already quoted: He was surfeited, grew fat, and
spread out [Dt. 32:15]. Accordingly, this second degree is a spreading out
of the will in temporal things -- and in a manner that involves even
greater freedom. This consists in making little of joy and pleasure in
creatures, in not being afflicted about it nor considering it to be so
serious a matter. The root of this injury is the reign that was given to
joy in the beginning, for in giving way to it the soul grew fat, as is
indicated in Exodus, and that fatness of joy and appetite made the will
spread out and extend further to creatures.
19.5.(2). The consequences are many kinds of serious harm, for this second
degree causes one to withdraw from spiritual exercises and the things of
God, to lack satisfaction in these exercises because of the pleasure found
in other things, and to give oneself over to many imperfections,
frivolities, joys, and vain pleasures.
19.6. When consummated, this second degree takes away entirely the
spiritual practices to which individuals were accustomed, so all their mind
and covetousness fix on the secular.
19.6.(2). Those in the second degree not only possess darkened intellects
and judgment in understanding truths and justice, as do those in the first,
but they are now extremely weak, lukewarm, and careless in knowing and
practicing true judgment. Isaiah affirms this in these words: They all love
gifts and allow themselves to be carried away by retributions, and they do
not judge the orphan, and the widow's cause does not come to them and their
attention [Is. 1:23]. This attitude could not exist without their fault,
especially when duty was incumbent on them by their office. Those who have
reached this degree are not without malice, as are those in the first
degree. Thus they gradually turn from justice and virtue because their will
reaches out more and more into affection for creatures.
19.6.(3). The trait of those in this second degree is extreme lukewarmness
-- as well as carelessness -- in spiritual matters, observing them through
mere formality, force, or habit, rather than through love.
19.7. The third degree of this privative harm is the complete abandoning of
God. These individuals don't care about observing God's law, but attend to
worldly goods and allow themselves to fall into mortal sins through
covetousness. This third degree is indicated in the next assertion of this
passage from Exodus: He forsook God his Maker [Dt. 32:15]. This degree
includes all who are so engrossed in the things, riches, and affairs of
this world that they care nothing about fulfilling the obligations of God's
law. Forgetful and sluggish about matters pertaining to their salvation,
they become much more alive and astute in the things of the world -- so
much so that Christ in the Gospel calls them children of this world. He
says they are more prudent and keen in their affairs than the children of
light are in theirs [Lk. 16:8]. Thus in the affairs of God they are
nothing, and in those of the world they are everything. These, precisely,
are the greedy. Their appetite and joy are already so extended and
dispersed among creatures -- and with such anxiety -- that they cannot be
satisfied. Rather, their appetite and thirst increase more as they regress
further from God, the fount that alone can satisfy them. To these
individuals God refers through Jeremiah: They have abandoned me, the fount
of living water, and dug for themselves leaking cisterns that cannot hold
water [Jer. 2:13]. The reason for this dissatisfaction is that creatures do
not slake the thirst of the avaricious, but rather intensify it.
19.7.(2). These greedy persons fall into thousands of kinds of sins out of
love for temporal goods, and the harm they suffer is indeterminable. David
says of them: Transierunt in affectum cordis [Ps. 73:7].2
19.8. The fourth degree of this privative harm is noted in the final
statement of the text: and departed from God his Savior [Dt. 32:15]. This
is the degree into which the avaricious ones we just mentioned fall.
Because of temporal goods, the avaricious do not concern themselves with
setting their heart on God's law, and consequently their will, memory, and
intellect wander far from God and they forget him, as though he were not
their God at all. The reason is that they have made gods for themselves out
of money and temporal goods. St. Paul indicates this in declaring that
avarice is a form of idolatry [Col. 3:5]. Those who are in this fourth
degree forget God and deliberately turn their heart -- which ought to be
centered on him -- to money, as though they had no other God.
19.9. We find in this fourth degree those who do not hesitate to order
divine and supernatural things to temporal things as to gods. They should
do just the contrary. They should direct the temporal to God, as is right
if God is really their God. Wicked Balaam belongs in this category, for he
sold the grace God had given him [Nm. 22:32]. Also Simon Magus, who thought
of putting a monetary value on God's grace by contriving to buy it [Acts
18:18-19]. He placed a higher value on money, and he thought he could find
someone who by selling grace would esteem money more.
19.9.(2). Today many belong in various ways to the category of this fourth
degree. Out there in the world, their reason darkened as to spiritual
matters through covetousness, they serve money and not God, they are moved
by money rather than by God, and they give first consideration to the
temporal price and not to the divine value and reward. In countless ways
they make money their principal god and goal and give it precedence over
God, their ultimate end.
19.10. Also included in the category of this last degree are all those
miserable souls who value earthly goods as their god and are so enamored of
them that they do not hesitate to sacrifice their lives when they observe
that this god of theirs undergoes some temporal loss. They despair and
commit suicide for wretched reasons, and demonstrate with their own hands
the miserable reward that comes from such a god. Since there is nothing to
hope for from him, he gives despair and death. And those whom he does not
pursue right up to death, the ultimate injury, die from living in the
affliction of anxieties and many other miseries. He does not permit
gladness to enter their hearts or for any earthly good to bring them joy.
Insofar as they are afflicted about money, they are always paying the
tribute of their hearts to it. They cling to it unto their final calamity
of just perdition, as the Wise Man warns: Riches are hoarded to the harm of
their owner [Eccl. 5:12].
19.11. Belonging to this fourth degree are those of whom St. Paul says:
Tradidit illos in reprobum sensum [Rom. 1:28].3 For joy in possessions
ultimately drags humans down even to these evils.
19.11.(2). But even those to whom less harm comes should be pitied greatly,
since, as we affirmed, this joy causes the soul to fall far back in the way
of God. As David declares: Do not fear when a man becomes rich (do not be
envious, thinking that he has an advantage over you), for when he dies he
will take nothing with him, nor will his glory and joy descend with him
20. Benefits derived through the withdrawal of joy from temporal goods.
20.1. Spiritual persons must exercise care that in their heart and joy they
do not become attached to temporal goods. They must fear lest, through a
gradual increase, their small attachments become great. Great things can
come from little things, and what is small in the beginning can be immense
in the end, just as a spark is enough to set a mountain on fire, and even
the whole world [Jas. 3:5]. And they should never assure themselves that,
since their attachment is small, they will break away from it in the future
even if they do not do so immediately. If they do not have the courage to
uproot it when it is small and in its first stages, how do they think and
presume they will have the ability to do so when it becomes greater and
more deeply rooted? Especially since our Lord affirms in the Gospel that
the one who is unfaithful in little things will also be unfaithful in great
things [Lk. 16:10]. Those who avoid small attachments will not fall into
greater ones. But there is serious harm in little matters since through
them the harm has already passed beyond the enclosure wall of the heart.
And as the saying goes: Once begun, half done. Accordingly, David warns us
that even though riches abound we must not set our heart on them [Ps.
20.2. Even if human beings do not free their heart of joy in temporal goods
for the sake of God and the demands of Christian perfection, they ought to
do so because of the resulting temporal advantages, prescinding from the
spiritual ones. By liberating themselves from joy in temporal goods, they
not only free themselves from the pestiferous kinds of harm we mentioned in
the preceding chapters, but in addition acquire the virtue of liberality.
Liberality is one of God's principal attributes and can in no way coexist
20.2.(2). Moreover, they acquire liberty of spirit, clarity of reason,
rest, tranquility, peaceful confidence in God, and, in their will, the true
cult and homage of God.
20.2.(3). They obtain more joy and recreation in creatures through the
dispossession of them. They cannot rejoice in them if they behold them with
possessiveness, for this is a care that, like a trap, holds the spirit to
earth and does not allow wideness of heart [2 Cor. 6:11].
20.2.(4). In detachment from things they acquire a clearer knowledge of
them and a better understanding of both natural and supernatural truths
concerning them. Their joy, consequently, in these temporal goods is far
different from the joy of one who is attached to them, and they receive
great benefits and advantages from their joy. They delight in these goods
according to the truth of them, but those who are attached delight
according to what is false in them; they delight in the best, the attached
delight in the worst; they delight in the substance of them, those sensibly
attached delight in the accidents. The senses cannot grasp or attain to
more than the accidents, whereas the spirit, purged of the clouds and
appearances of the accidents, penetrates the truth and value of things,
which is the object of the spirit. Joy, then, clouds the judgment like a
mist. For there can be no voluntary joy over creatures without voluntary
possessiveness, just as there can be no joy, insofar as it is a passion,
unaccompanied by habitual possessiveness of heart. The denial and purgation
of such joy leaves the judgment as clear as the air when vapors vanish.
20.3. Those, then, whose joy is unpossessive of things rejoice in them all
as though they possessed them all; those others, beholding them with a
possessive mind, lose all the delight of them all in general. The former,
as St. Paul states, though they have nothing in their heart, possess
everything with greater liberty [2 Cor. 6:10]; the others, insofar as they
possess things with attachment, neither have nor possess anything. Rather,
their heart is held by things and they suffer as a captive. As many as are
the joys they long to uncover in creatures, so many will necessarily be the
straits and afflictions of their attached and possessed heart.
20.3.(2). Cares do not molest the detached, neither in prayer nor outside
it, and thus, losing no time, such people easily store up an abundance of
spiritual good. Yet those who are attached spend all their time going to
and fro about the snare to which their heart is tied, and even with effort
they can hardly free themselves for a short while from this snare of
thinking about and finding joy in the object to which their heart is
20.3.(3). At the first movement of joy toward things, the spiritual person
ought to curb it, remembering the principle we are here following: There is
nothing worthy of a person's joy save the service of God and the
procurement of his honor and glory in all things. One should seek this
alone in the use of things, turning away from vanity and concern for one's
own delight and consolation.
20.4. There is another exceptional and principal benefit of detachment from
joy in creatures: freedom of the heart for God. With this the soul is
disposed for all the favors God will grant it. Without it, he does not
bestow them. The favors are such that for each joy the soul renounces out
of love of God and evangelical perfection, it will receive a hundredfold in
this life, as promised in the Gospel [Mt. 19:29; Mk. 10:30].
20.4.(2). Even if such gains were not to be had, the spiritual person would
have to quell these joys because of the displeasure given to God through
them. In the Gospel we see that merely because the rich man rejoiced in
having stored up goods for many years God was so angered he told him he
must give an account of his soul that very night [Lk. 12:20].
20.4.(3). We should believe, therefore, that as often as we rejoice vainly,
God is watching and planning some chastisement and bitter drink according
to our merits; for at times the sadness redounding from the joy is a
hundred times greater than the joy. What St. John says of Babylon in the
Apocalypse is true, that she would receive torment in the measure in which
she rejoiced and lived in delights [Rv. 18:7]. Yet the text does not mean
that the sadness will not be greater than the joy. It shall be greater,
since eternal torments are inflicted for brief pleasures. But it indicates
that no fault will escape a particular punishment. For he who will punish
the idle word will not pardon vain joy [Mt. 12:36].
21. The vanity of willful joy in natural goods, and the method of directing
oneself through them to God.
21.1. By natural goods we mean: beauty, grace, elegance, bodily
constitution, and all other corporeal endowments; also, in the soul, good
intelligence, discretion, and other talents belonging to the rational part
21.1.(2). People are vain and deceitful if they rejoice in these gifts only
because they or their relatives have them, without giving thanks to God who
grants them in order to be better known and loved. As Solomon says: Grace
is deceitful and beauty vain; she who fears the Lord will be praised [Prv.
31:30]. We are taught in this text that human beings should rather have
misgivings about these natural gifts since through them they can be easily
distracted from the love of God and, being allured, fall into vanity and
delusion. This is why he says that bodily grace is deceptive, deludes
people along the way, and attracts them to inappropriate things through
vain joy and complacency with self or with the possession of this grace.
And he declares that beauty is vain because it causes people who esteem and
rejoice in it to fall in countless ways. People should rejoice only if they
serve God or others through it. They ought rather to be diffident and
fearful lest their natural gifts and graces occasion their offending God by
turning their eyes to these gifts in vain presumption or excessive
21.1.(3). Those possessing these endowments should be careful and live
cautiously lest through vain ostentation they be the occasion that
someone's heart withdraw even one iota from God. These natural graces and
gifts are such a provocation and occasion of sin both to the possessor and
the beholder that there is scarcely a heart that escapes from this snare or
birdlime. We have observed that many spiritual persons with these
endowments have, out of fear, prayed God to disfigure them lest these gifts
be an occasion to themselves or others for some vain joy or attachment.
21.2. Spiritual persons, then, must purge and darken their will of this
vain joy, and bear in mind the following: Beauty and all other natural
endowments are but earth, arising from the earth and returning to it; grace
and elegance are but the smoke and air of this earth, and should be
considered and valued as such for the sake of avoiding a lapse into vanity.
Regarding these goods, spiritual people must direct their heart to God in
joy and gladness that God is himself all this beauty and grace -- eminently
and infinitely so, above all creatures. As David affirms, all these things
will grow old and pass away like a garment, while God alone will remain
immutable forever [Ps. 102:26-27]. Accordingly, if one does not turn one's
joy to God in all things, it will always be false and illusory. This is the
kind Solomon referred to when he spoke to joy in creatures: To joy I said:
Why do you let yourself be deceived in vain? [Eccl. 2:2], that is, when you
allow the heart to be allured by creatures.
22. The harm resulting from joy of will in natural goods.
22.1. A good deal of both the harm and benefit I am describing in each of
these kinds of joy is common to them all. Because this harm or benefit is
the direct result of either joy or detachment from it, no matter what class
the joy belongs to, I am mentioning both in each of these categories since,
as I say, this harm or benefit is annexed to all these kinds of joy.
22.1.(2). My main intention, however, is to speak of the particular kinds
of harm and benefit arising in the soul by rejoicing or not rejoicing in
each of these goods. I refer to them as particular because they are the
primary and immediate result of a particular kind of joy. They are only
caused by other kinds secondarily and indirectly.
22.1.(3). For example: Tepidity of spirit is the direct outcome of each and
every kind of joy, and so this harm is common to all six; yet fornication
is a particular evil that follows directly only from joy in natural goods
of which we are now speaking.1
22.2. The spiritual and bodily harm directly and effectively ensuing from
joy in natural goods can be reduced to six principal kinds.
22.2.(2). The first is vainglory, presumption, pride, and disesteem of
neighbor, for a person cannot fasten the eyes of esteem on one object
without withdrawing them from others. The result is, at least, a material
disesteem of other things, since naturally, when the heart values one thing
it turns from others because of its concentration on this esteemed object.
And through this material contempt it is exceptionally easy in a general or
particular way to slip into intentional and voluntary contempt for some of
these other things. Such contempt may not only be internal but manifest
itself externally through speech: This is not like that, or so and so is
not like so and so.
22.2.(3). The second harm is inciting the senses to complacency, sensual
delight, and lust.
22.2.(4). The third kind of harm is that this joy induces flattery and vain
praises involving deception and vanity, as Isaiah warns: My people, whoever
praises you deceives you [Is. 3:12]. The reason is that even though
sometimes the truth is told in lauding natural grace and beauty, this
praise rarely fails to contain some harm, either by causing the person
praised to fall into vain complacency and joy, or by directing one's own
imperfect affections and intentions toward the person endowed with this
22.2.(5). The fourth kind of harm is general, for the reason and judgment
of the spirit become very dull, as in the case of joy over temporal goods,
and in some ways even duller. Since natural goods are more intimate to a
person than temporal goods, joy in them produces its imprint more quickly
and effectively and ravishes more forcibly. Thus the reason and judgment do
not remain free but are clouded by the emotion of a very intimate joy.
22.2.(6). This gives rise to the fifth harm: distraction of the mind with
22.2.(7). The next outgrowth is spiritual lukewarmness and weakness. This
sixth harm is also general and usually reaches such a point that it causes
the soul to find extreme tedium and sadness in the things of God, even to
the extent of abhorring them.
22.2.(8). Pure spirit is infallibly lost in this kind of joy, at least in
the beginning. If some spirituality is felt it will be very sensible,
gross, unspiritual, exterior, and unrecollected. It will comprise sensory
pleasure more than strength of spirit. The spirit is so lowly and weak that
it does not suppress the habit of this joy, for the possession of this
imperfect habit is sufficient to impede pure spirit even though the acts of
joy are not consented to. Consequently the soul lives more in the weakness
of the senses than in the strength it has when occasions of sin arise.
Although I do not deny that many virtues can coexist with many
imperfections, yet because of the reign of the flesh, which militates
against the spirit [Gal. 5:17], there can be neither a pure nor a savory
interior spirit dwelling together with these unquelled joys. And even if
the spirit is unaware of any harm, distraction is at least secretly caused.
22.3. Let us go back to that second kind of harm that contains in itself
innumerable other indescribable kinds. The extent and enormity of the
disaster arising from joy in natural graces and beauty is patent, since on
account of this joy we hear every day of many murders, lost reputations,
insults, squandered fortunes, rivalries, quarrels, and of so many
adulteries, rapes, and fornications, and of fallen saints so numerous that
they are compared to the third part of the stars of heaven cast down to
earth by the tail of the serpent [Rv. 12:4], to fine gold that has lost its
beauty and luster in the mire, and to the illustrious and noble men of Zion
clothed with the best gold, yet esteemed as broken clay jars [Lam. 4:1-2].
22.4. Where does this poisonous harm fail to reach? And who fails to drink
little or much from the golden chalice of the Babylonian woman of the
Apocalypse [Rv. 17:4]?2 The fact that she is seated on that large beast
with seven heads and ten crowns signifies that there is hardly anyone of
high rank or low, saint or sinner, who does not drink of her wine,
subjecting the heart somewhat. For as is pointed out there, all the kings
of the earth were inebriated with the wine of her prostitution [Rv. 17:2].
She reaches out to all states, even to the supreme and illustrious state of
the sanctuary and divine priesthood, by setting her abominable cup in the
holy places, as Daniel asserts [Dn. 9:27], and she hardly leaves a strong
person who has not drunk a small or large quantity of wine from her
chalice, which is this kind of vain joy. As a result it is said that all
the monarchs of the earth were inebriated by this wine, since so few will
be found, no matter how holy, who have not been somewhat ravished and
perplexed by this drink of joy and pleasure in natural beauty and graces.
22.5. It is worth remarking that the text says they were inebriated. No
matter how small the amount of this wine of joy, it immediately takes hold
on the heart and subdues it, producing obscurity in the reason, as happens
with those who get drunk from wine. The life of the soul will be in danger
if some antidote is not taken immediately, for spiritual weakness will
augment and bring such evil on the soul that it will find itself a captive
of its enemies, grinding at the mill like Samson with his eyes plucked out
and the hair of his first strength cut. And afterward it will perhaps die
the second death as he did together with his enemies [Jgs. 16:19-31]. This
is the harm the drink of this joy will cause spiritually, as it did
physically to Samson and as it does to many today. The enemies of the soul
will come and say to it afterward what the Philistines said to Samson, to
his great confusion: Were you not the one who snapped the knotted cords,
broke the jaws of the lions, killed the thousand Philistines, pulled out
the gates, and freed yourself from all your enemies?
22.6. Let us conclude, then, with necessary instructions for the prevention
of this poison. As soon as the heart feels drawn by vain joy in natural
goods, it should recall how dangerous and pernicious it is to rejoice in
anything other than the service of God. One should consider how harmful it
was for the angels to have rejoiced and grown complacent in their natural
beauty and goods, since they thereby fell into the ugly abyss; and how many
evils come on humans every day because of this very vanity. Therefore take
courage and use in time the remedy suggested by the poet for those
beginning to grow attached to this joy: "Hurry now in the beginning to
apply the remedy, for when evils have had time to increase in the heart,
medicine and remedies arrive late."3 Look not at wine, warns the Wise Man,
when its color is scarlet and it shines in the glass; it enters smoothly
but bites like a snake and spreads poison like the basilisk [Prv. 23:31].
23. The benefits the soul acquires from not rejoicing in natural goods.
23.1. Many are the benefits derived through withdrawal of the heart from
this joy. Besides preparing the soul for the love of God and for other
virtues, it directly paves the way for humility toward self and general
charity toward one's neighbor. By not becoming attached to anyone, despite
these apparent and deceptive natural goods, a person remains unencumbered
and free to love all rationally and spiritually, which is the way God wants
them to be loved. As a result one realizes that no one merits love except
for virtue. And when one loves with this motive, the love is according to
God and exceedingly free. If the love contains some attachment there is
greater attachment to God, for as the love of neighbor increases so does
the love of God, and as the love of God increases so does the love of
neighbor, for what proceeds from God has one and the same reason and cause.
23.2. Another excellent benefit coming from the denial of this kind of joy
is the fulfillment of the counsel our Lord gives in the Gospel of St.
Matthew, that those who would follow him should deny themselves [Mt.
16:24]. In no way could a soul do this if it were to rejoice in its natural
goods, because those who pay some attention to themselves do not deny
themselves or follow Christ.
23.3. Another notable benefit of the denial of this kind of joy is that
such denial begets deep tranquility of soul, empties one of distractions,
and brings recollection to the senses, especially to the eyes. By not
wanting this joy, souls do not want to look at or occupy the other senses
with these things so they may avoid being attracted or ensnared by them and
wasting time or thought. They bear resemblance to the prudent serpent that
stops its ears so as not to hear the charmers and receive some impression
from them [Ps. 58:4-5]. By guarding the senses, the gates of the soul, one
safeguards and increases one's peace and purity of soul.
23.4. There is another benefit of no less importance for those who are
already advanced in the mortification of this kind of joy: Obscene objects
and ideas do not cause in them the impression and impurity they do in those
who still find this joy to their liking. Consequently, from the denial and
mortification of this joy, spiritual purity of soul and body (of spirit and
sense) arises; a person gradually acquires angelic harmony with God, and
the soul and body become a worthy temple of the Holy Spirit. This could not
be so were the heart to rejoice in natural goods and graces. It is not
necessary that there be consent to some obscene thing or a remembrance of
it in order for the soul's purity to become stained, since this kind of joy
along with knowledge of the natural good is sufficient to cause impurity of
spirit and sense. The Wise Man declares that the Holy Spirit will withdraw
from thoughts that are without understanding, that is, without the superior
reason ordered to God [Wis. 1:5].
23.5. Another general benefit coming to the soul besides freedom from the
above-mentioned evils,1 is freedom from countless vanities and other kinds
of spiritual and temporal harm, and especially from being held in
disesteem, which is the lot of those who boast about natural endowments and
rejoice in them whether they belong to themselves or others. Accordingly,
those who pay no attention to such things, but are interested in what is
pleasing to God, are considered and esteemed to be discreet and wise -- and
indeed they are.
23.6. The last follows on these, that is, freedom of spirit by which the
soul easily conquers temptations, passes through trials, and grows
prosperously in virtue. This is an excellent good and very necessary in
24. Sensory goods, the third kind of good in which the will can place the
emotion of joy. A discussion of their nature and number and of how the will
should be directed to God through the purgation of this joy.
24.1. Our next subject is joy in sensory goods, the third kind of good in
which the will can rejoice. It should be known that by sensory goods we
mean here all the goods apprehensible to the senses of sight, hearing,
smell, taste, and touch, and to the interior faculty of discursive
imagination. They are goods pertinent to the exterior and interior senses.
24.2. To darken and purge the will of joy in these sensory goods and lead
it through them to God, we must presuppose a truth. It is, as we have often
said, that the senses of the lower part of human nature, with which we are
dealing, neither are nor can be capable of the knowledge or comprehension
of God as he is in himself. The eye cannot see him or anything like him,
nor can the hearing perceive his voice or any sound resembling it, nor can
the sense of smell apprehend a fragrance so sweet, nor can the sense of
taste relish so sublime and delightful a savor, nor can the sense of touch
experience a feeling so delicate and ravishing, or anything similar.
Neither is God's form or any figure representing it apprehensible to
thought or imagination. Isaiah thus affirms: Eye has not seen him, nor ear
heard him, nor has it entered into the human heart [Is. 64:4].1
24.3. It is noteworthy that the senses can receive satisfaction or delight
either from the spirit, through some communication received interiorly from
God, or from exterior things apprehended by them. And, as was said, the
sensory part can have knowledge of God through neither the senses nor the
spirit. Being incapable of such an attainment, it receives the spiritual in
only a sensible and sensorial way. As a result it would be at least vanity
for the will to pause to rejoice in the delight caused by any of these
apprehensions. And it would be hindered from centering its strength on God,
from placing all its joy in him alone. One cannot concentrate one's joy
entirely on God save by purging and darkening oneself with regard to joy in
this kind of good, as well as the other kinds.
24.4. I purposely said that it would be vanity for the will to pause to
rejoice in any of these apprehensions. For when the will, in becoming aware
of the delight afforded by an object of sight, hearing, or touch, does not
stop with this joy but immediately elevates itself to God, being moved and
strengthened for this by that delight, it is doing something very good. The
will, then, does not have to avoid such experiences when they produce this
devotion and prayer, but it can profit by them, and even ought to for the
sake of so holy an exercise. For there are souls who are greatly moved
toward God by sensible objects.2
24.4.(2). Yet one should be careful in this matter and take into
consideration the effects of such experiences. Frequently, spiritual
persons use this refreshment of the senses under the pretext of prayer and
devotion to God; and they so perform these exercises that we could call it
recreation rather than prayer, and pleasing oneself rather than God. Though
the intention of these persons is directed to God, the effect they receive
is recreation of the senses, from which they obtain weakness and
imperfection more than the quickening of their will and its surrender to
24.5. I should like to offer a norm for discerning when this gratification
of the senses is beneficial and when not. Whenever spiritual persons, on
hearing music or other things, seeing agreeable objects, smelling sweet
fragrance, or feeling the delight of certain tastes and delicate touches,
immediately at the first movement direct their thought and the affection of
their will to God, receiving more satisfaction in the thought of God than
in the sensible object that caused it, and find no delight in the senses
save for this motive, it is a sign that they are profiting by the senses
and the sensory part is a help to the spirit. The senses can then be used
because the sensorial objects serve the purpose for which God created them:
that he be more known and loved through them.
24.5.(2). It should be understood here that those in whom these sensible
objects cause this pure spiritual effect do not on that account have an
appetite for them. They care for them hardly at all, even though these
objects, by reason of the delight in God they cause, do provide great
satisfaction when presented to them. Thus they are not solicitous about
these sensible goods; and when, as I say, these goods are offered to them,
the will immediately leaves them aside, passing on to God.
24.6. The reason the soul pays no attention to these sensible motives even
though they help it go to God is that the spirit, which has this readiness
to go to God in and through all things, is so provided for, nourished, and
satisfied by God's spirit that it doesn't miss or want anything else. And
if it wants something in order to turn to God, it immediately passes beyond
this object, forgetting and paying no attention to it.
24.6.(2). Yet anyone who does not feel this freedom of spirit in these
objects and sensible delights, but finds that the will pauses in and feeds
on them, suffers harm from them and ought to turn from their use. Though
according to reason one may want help from them in order to go to God,
nonetheless they assuredly prove more a hindrance than a help. They are a
harm rather than a benefit in the measure that the appetite delights in
them according to the senses; and the effect is always in conformity to the
delight. When individuals see that the appetite for these recreations
reigns within themselves, they should mortify it, because the stronger
their appetite the weaker and more imperfect they are.
24.7. Spiritual persons, then, in whatever sensory gratification comes
their way, whether by chance or through their own intention, ought to
benefit from it only for the sake of going to God. They do this by raising
their joy of soul to him so that this joy may be useful, profitable, and
perfect. They should be aware that every joy unaccompanied by this negation
and annihilation of all other joys -- even when these concern something
apparently very elevated -- is vain, without profit, and a hindrance to
union of the will with God.
25. The harm incurred by the desire for willful joy in sensory goods.
25.1. In the first place, all the general kinds of harm that are born of
other types of joy spring as well from this joy in sensory goods if it is
not darkened and quelled through direction to God. These kinds of harm are,
for example, obscurity of reason, lukewarmness, spiritual tedium, and so
on. But in particular there are many kinds of harm, either spiritual or
corporeal and sensory, which can be directly incurred through this joy.
25.2. First, through failure to deny joy in visible objects for the sake of
going to God, the following evils result directly: vanity of spirit, mental
distraction, inordinate covetousness, indecency, interior and exterior
discomposure, impurity in thought, and envy.
25.3. Joy in hearing useless things gives direct rise to distraction of the
imagination, gossiping, envy, uncertain judgments, and wandering thoughts,
from which flow many other pernicious kinds of harm.
25.4. Joy in sweet fragrance foments disgust for the poor (which is
contrary to Christ's doctrine), aversion for servants, unsubmissiveness of
heart in humble things, and spiritual insensitivity, at least in the
measure of the appetite.
25.5. Joy in the delights of food directly engenders gluttony and
drunkenness, anger, discord, and lack of charity toward one's neighbor and
the poor, as toward Lazarus on the part of the rich man who ate sumptuously
each day [Lk. 16:19-21]. Accordingly, there arise bodily disorders,
infirmities, and impure movements from increasing lustful incentives. A
decided spiritual torpor is directly engendered and the desire for
spiritual things is so spoiled that one finds no satisfaction in them and
is unable to discuss or take part in them. Distraction of the other senses
and of the heart and discontent over many things also arise from this joy.
25.6. Enjoyment in the touch of soft objects foments more numerous and
pernicious kinds of harm, and by it the senses more quickly pervert the
spirit and extinguish its strength and vigor. The consequence is the
abominable vice of effeminacy or incentives toward it in proportion to this
kind of joy. This joy foments lust; it makes the spirit cowardly and timid
and the senses flattering, honey-mouthed, disposed toward sin and causing
harm. It pours vain gladness and mirth into the heart, engenders license of
the tongue and freedom of the eyes, and ravishes and stupefies the other
senses according to the intensity of the appetite. It confounds the
judgment, nurturing it on spiritual incipience and stupidity, and morally
engenders cowardice and inconstancy. And by this darkness of soul and
weakness of heart it makes one fear where there is no reason for fear.
25.6.(2). This joy sometimes begets a spirit of confusion and
unresponsiveness of conscience and spirit, since it seriously debilitates
reason and reduces it to such a state that one does not know how to take
counsel or to give it, and it leaves the soul incapable of moral and
spiritual blessings, as useless as a broken jar.
25.7. All these evils are caused by this kind of joy according to the
intensity of the joy and also according to the disposition, weakness, or
inconstancy of the individual. Some temperaments receive more detriment
from one small occasion than others do from many.
25.8. Finally from this kind of rejoicing in the sense of touch one can
fall into much evil and harm from natural goods, as we pointed out. Since I
discussed this harm in speaking of those goods,1 I will not refer to it
here. Neither will I speak of many other kinds of harm caused, such as a
decrease in spiritual exercises and corporeal penances, and lukewarmness
and lack of devotion in the use of the sacraments of penance and the
26. The spiritual and temporal benefits resulting from the denial of joy in
26.1. The benefits acquired from the negation of this joy are admirable;
some are spiritual, others temporal.
26.2. First, by withdrawing their joy from sensible things, individuals are
restored from the distraction into which they had fallen through excessive
use of their senses. They become recollected in God and conserve the spirit
and virtues they had acquired. These virtues increase and the soul
26.3. The second spiritual benefit people procure from not desiring joy in
sensible things is excellent; we can truthfully say that from being sensual
they become spiritual, and from animal, rational, and even that from what
is human in them they advance to the angelic, and from earthly and human
they become heavenly and divine. Since human beings who look for
gratification and enjoyment in sensible objects deserve no other title than
these we mentioned (sensual, animal, earthly, and so on), they deserve all
those other titles (spiritual, heavenly, and so on), when they elevate
their joy above these sensible goods.
26.4. This is obviously true. Since the exercise of the senses and the
strength of sensuality are, as the Apostle says, contrary to spiritual
exercise and vigor [Gal. 5:17], it follows that at the enervation of one of
these forces the other, contrary one, unaugmentable because of this
impediment, must grow and increase. Thus in perfecting the spirit (the
superior portion of the soul, which refers to God and communicates with
him), individuals merit all these attributes because they are being
perfected in the spiritual and heavenly goods and gifts of God.
26.4.(2). St. Paul proves both instances. He calls the sensual person (that
is, one who occupies the will with sensory things) the animal person, one
who does not perceive the things of God; and the other, who raises the will
to God, he calls the spiritual person, and this is the one who penetrates
and judges all things, even the deep things of God [1 Cor. 2:10-15].
Consequently the soul possesses here the admirable1 benefit of a great
preparedness for God's spiritual goods and gifts.
26.5. But the third benefit is that the satisfaction and joy of the will is
temporally and exceedingly increased, since, as the Savior says, in this
life for one joy they will receive a hundredfold [Mt. 19:29; Mk. 10:29-30].
If you deny one joy, the Lord will give you a hundredfold, spiritually and
temporally in this life, as also from one joy taken in these sensible
goods, grief and distress will be yours a hundredfold.
26.5.(2). Spiritual joy directed to God at the sight of all divine or
profane things follows from the eye already purged of enjoyment in seeing
things. Resulting from the purgation of enjoyment in hearing things is a
most spiritual joy, a hundred times greater, directed to God in all that is
heard, divine or profane; and so on with the other senses already purged.
In the state of innocence all that our first parents saw, spoke of, and ate
in the garden of paradise served them for more abundant delight in
contemplation, since the sensory part of their souls was truly subjected
and ordered to reason. The person whose sense is purged of sensible objects
and ordered to reason procures from the first movements the delight of
savory contemplation and awareness of God.
26.6. In the pure, therefore, all things, high and low, engender greater
good and purity. In like manner the impure soul usually derives impurity
from things, whether high or low. But anyone who fails to conquer the joy
of appetite will fail to experience the serenity of habitual joy in God by
means of his creatures and works.
26.6.(2). The one who does not live according to the senses directs all the
operations of the senses and faculties to divine contemplation. Indeed, in
good philosophy, the operation of each thing corresponds to its being or
life.2 If the soul through mortification of the animal life lives a
spiritual life, it must obviously, without contradiction, go to God in all
things, since all its spiritual actions and movements will flow from the
spiritual life. Consequently this person, now of pure heart, finds in all
things a joyful, pleasant, chaste, pure, spiritual, glad, and loving
knowledge of God.
26.7. I deduce the following doctrine from all that was said: Until
individuals are so habituated to the purgation of sensible joy that at the
first movement of this joy they gain the benefit spoken of (that these
goods turn them immediately to God), they must necessarily deny their joy
and satisfaction in sensible goods in order to draw the soul away from the
sensory life. Since they are not spiritual, they should be fearful lest
through the use of these goods they may perhaps get more satisfaction and
strength for the senses than for the spirit. The sensory forces would then
have predominance in their activity, increase sensuality, and sustain and
nourish it. Our Savior declares: That which is born of the flesh is flesh;
and that which is born of the spirit is spirit [Jn. 3:6].
26.7.(2). And this we should consider carefully, for it is really true.
Those who have not yet mortified the delight they find in sensory things
should not dare try to gain much through the activity and energy of their
senses with the belief that the spirit will be helped by these things. For
the soul will find that if it quells its appetite for these sensible things
and its joy in them, its energies will increase more.
26.8. It is unnecessary to discuss the goods of glory that come in the next
life through the negation of this joy. Besides the fact that the bodily
endowments of glory, such as agility and clarity, will be far more
excellent in those who denied themselves than in others who did not, there
will be an increase in essential glory in the soul that responds to the
love of God and denies sensible goods for him.3 For every momentary and
perishable joy souls deny, as St. Paul states, there will be worked in them
eternally an immense weight of glory [2 Cor. 4:17].
26.8.(2). Now I do not want to refer here to the additional benefits
(moral, temporal, and spiritual) derived from this night regarding joy, for
they are the same as those mentioned in dealing with the other kinds of
joy. But here they are of a more eminent degree since the sensible joys
denied are more closely conjoined with one's nature, and therefore a more
intimate purity is acquired through their negation.
27. The nature of moral goods, the fourth kind of goods, and the
permissible manner of rejoicing in them.
27.1. Moral goods are the fourth kind in which the will can rejoice. By
moral goods we mean: the virtues and their habits insofar as they are
moral; the exercise of any of the virtues; the practice of the works of
mercy; the observance of God's law; political prudence,1 and all the
practices of good manners.
27.2. When possessed and practiced, these moral goods perhaps merit more
joy of will than any of the other three kinds spoken of. For either of two
reasons, or for both together, a person can rejoice in these goods; that
is, because of what they are in themselves, or because of the good effected
through their instrumentality.
27.2.(2). We discovered that possessing the three kinds of good already
mentioned deserves no joy of will. Of themselves, as was said, they neither
have any good nor do they produce any in people, because they are so
perishable and frail. Rather, as was also pointed out, they engender pain,
sorrow, and affliction of spirit. Though they merit some joy for the second
reason, that is, when people make use of them to go to God, this benefit is
so uncertain that, as we commonly observe, a person contracts harm from
them more than help.
27.2.(3). But even for the first reason (for what they are in themselves),
moral goods merit some rejoicing by their possessor. For they bring along
with them peace, tranquility, a right and ordered use of reason, and
actions resulting from mature deliberation. Humanly speaking, a person
cannot have any nobler possession in this life.
27.3. Because virtues in themselves merit love and esteem from a human
viewpoint, and because of their nature and the good they humanly and
temporally effect, a person can well rejoice in the practice and possession
of them. Under this aspect and for this reason philosophers, wise men, and
ancient rulers esteemed, praised, and endeavored to acquire and practice
them.2 Although they were pagans who only cared for these goods in a
temporal way, because of the temporal, corporeal, and natural benefits they
knew would result, they did not merely acquire these goods and the renown
sought through them. But in addition God, who loves every good, even in the
barbarian and gentile, and does not hinder any good work from being
accomplished, as the Wise Man says [Wis. 7:22], bestowed on them an
increase of life, honor, dominion, and peace. He did this with the Romans
because of their just laws. He subjected almost the entire world to them,
paying them temporally for their commendable customs since, because of
their paganism,3 they were incapable of eternal reward.
27.3.(2). God so loves these moral goods that he was exceedingly pleased
merely because Solomon asked for wisdom in order to instruct his people,
govern them justly, and teach them worthwhile customs. And he told Solomon
that he had given it to him and moreover had granted him what had not been
asked for, that is, riches and honor, in such a way that no king in the
past or future was like him [1 Kgs. 3:11-13].
27.4. Though Christians ought to rejoice in the moral goods and works they
perform temporally, insofar as these are the cause of the temporal goods we
spoke of, they ought not stop there as did the gentiles, who with the eyes
of their soul did not go beyond the things of this mortal life. Since
Christians have the light of faith in which they hope for eternal life and
without which nothing from above or below will have any value, they ought
to rejoice in the possession and exercise of these moral goods only and
chiefly in the second manner: that insofar as they perform these works for
the love of God, these works procure eternal life for them.
27.4.(2). Thus, through their good customs and virtues they should fix
their eyes only on the service and honor of God. Without this aspect the
virtues are worth nothing in God's sight. This is evident in the Gospel in
the case of the ten virgins. They had all preserved their virginity and
done good works, yet because five of them had not rejoiced in this second
way (by directing their joy in these works to God), but rather in the
first, rejoicing vainly in the possession of these works, they were
rejected from heaven and left without any gratitude or reward from their
spouse [Mt. 25:1-13]. Also many of the ancients possessed numerous virtues
and engaged in good works, and many Christians have them today and
accomplish wonderful deeds; but such works are of no profit for eternal
life because of failure to seek only the honor and glory of God.
27.4.(3). Christians, then, should rejoice not if they accomplish good
works and abide by good customs, but if they do these things out of love
for God alone, without any other motive. As those who work only for the
service of God will receive a more elevated reward of glory, so those who
work for other motives will suffer greater shame when they stand before
27.5. For the sake of directing their joy in moral goods to God, Christians
should keep in mind that the value of their good works, fasts, alms,
penances, and so on, is not based on quantity and quality so much as on the
love of God practiced in them; and consequently that these works are of
greater excellence in the measure both that the love of God by which they
are performed is more pure and entire and that self-interest diminishes
with respect to pleasure, comfort, praise, and earthly or heavenly joy.
They should not set their heart on the pleasure, comfort, savor, and other
elements of self-interest these good works and practices usually entail,
but recollect their joy in God and desire to serve him through these means.
And through purgation and darkness as to this joy in moral goods they
should desire in secret that only God be pleased and joyful over their
works. They should have no other interest or satisfaction than the honor
and glory of God. Thus all the strength of their will in regard to these
moral goods will be recollected in God.
28. Seven kinds of harm that can result from joy of the will in moral
28.1. I find there are seven kinds of harm that can be incurred through
vain joy in one's good works and customs; and because this harm is
spiritual it is particularly ruinous.
28.2. The first is vanity, pride, vainglory, and presumption, for one is
unable to rejoice over one's works without esteeming them. This gives rise
to boasting and so on, as is said of the pharisee in the Gospel: He prayed
and sought friendship with God by boasting of his fasting and performance
of other good works [Lk. 18:11-12].
28.3. The second is usually linked with the first. It is that people make
comparisons judging others to be evil and imperfect, supposing that the
deeds and works of others are not as good as their own. Interiorly they
have less regard for others, and they sometimes manifest this exteriorly in
word. The pharisee also had this defect since he said in his prayer: I give
you thanks that I am not like other men: robbers, unjust, and adulterers
[Lk. 18:11]. Through one act he incurred the two kinds of harm: self-esteem
and contempt for others.
28.3.(2). Many today also do so when they boast: "I am not like so and so,
nor do I do anything similar to what this or that one does." Many are even
worse than the pharisee. Though the pharisee not only bore contempt for
others in general, but even indicated a particular individual in declaring,
I am not like this publican [Lk. 18:11], many persons, content with neither
of these two attitudes, even become angry and envious in noticing that
others receive praise or accomplish more or have greater value than they
28.4. The third is that, since they look for satisfaction in their works,
they usually do not perform them unless they see that some gratification or
praise will result from them. As Christ pointed out, they do everything ut
videantur ab hominibus (in order to be seen by others) [Mt. 23:5]; and they
do not undertake their works only out of love for God.
28.5. The fourth follows from this third; and it is that they will not find
their reward in God since they wished to find, in this life, joy, comfort,
honor, or some other thing from their works. Referring to such an attitude,
the Savior says that they have received their pay in these goods [Mt. 6:2].
Consequently they are both left alone with the labor of their work and
confused without any reward.
28.5.(2). There is so much misery among human beings as regards this kind
of harm that I believe most of the works publicly achieved are either
faulty, worthless, or imperfect in God's sight. The reason is that people
are not detached from these human respects and interests. How else can one
judge the works performed by some and the memorials constructed at their
request, when they do not desire them unless for some honor or human and
vain considerations; or when, in the memorials, they perpetuate their own
name, lineage, or nobility; or when they even go to the extent of having
their coat of arms or heraldry put in the church, as if they want to put
themselves there as an image where all may bend the knee?
28.5.(3). It can be said that in these works some adore themselves more
than God. And this is true if they undertake such works for these reasons
and would not do so without them.1
28.5.(4). Aside from these individuals, who are the worst, how many are
there who in various ways suffer this harm in their works? Some want praise
for their works; others, thanks; others talk about them and are pleased if
this person or that or even the whole world knows about them; at times they
want their alms, or whatever they are doing, to pass through the hands of
another that it may be better known; others desire all these things
together. The Savior in the Gospel compares this to sounding the trumpet,
which is the practice of vain persons, and he declares that as a result
they will not receive a reward from God for their works [Mt. 6:2].
28.6. To avoid this kind of harm, then, these persons must hide their work
so that only God might see it, and they should not want anyone to pay
attention to it. Not only should they hide it from others, but even from
themselves: They should desire neither the complacency of esteeming their
work as if it had value, nor the procurement of satisfaction. This is the
meaning of our Savior's words: Let not the left hand know what the right
hand is doing [Mt. 6:3], which is like saying: Do not esteem with the
temporal and carnal eye the spiritual work you do. The strength of the will
is thereby recollected in God, and the work bears fruit in his sight.
Consequently a person will not lose the work but reap abundant merit from
28.6.(2). A passage from Job has this meaning: I have kissed my hand with
my mouth, and my heart rejoiced in secret, which is a great iniquity and
sin [Jb. 31:27-28]. The hand in this affirmation refers to the work, and
the mouth to the complacency of the will in it. And because it is self-
complacency, as we said, he adds: My heart rejoiced in secret, which is a
great iniquity and denial against God. And this was equivalent to saying
that he was neither complacent nor secretly glad in his heart.
28.7. The fifth kind of harm is failure to advance in the way of
perfection. As a result of attachment to satisfaction and consolation in
their works, some usually become discouraged and lose the spirit of
perseverance. This ordinarily happens when God leads them on by giving them
hard bread, the bread of the perfect, and takes away the infant's milk so
as to prove their strength and purge their weak appetite so they may taste
the substantial fare of adults.2 This is the spiritual interpretation of
the Wise Man's words: Dying flies spoil the sweetness of the ointment
[Eccl. 10:1]. For when the occasion of practicing some mortification is
presented to these persons, they die to their good works by ceasing to
accomplish them, and they lose the spirit of perseverance, which would give
them spiritual sweetness and interior consolation.
28.8. The sixth is that they are usually deluded by the thought that the
exercises and works that give satisfaction are better than those that do
not. And they have praise and esteem for the one kind, but disesteem for
the other. Yet those works that usually require more mortification from a
person (who is not advanced in the way of perfection) are more acceptable
and precious in God's sight because of the self-denial exercised in them,
than are those from which one can derive consolation, which very easily
leads to self-seeking. Apropos of this, Micah asserts: Malum manuum suarum
dicunt bonum (What is evil in their works they say is good) [Mi. 7:3]. This
evil arises when they seek to please themselves in their works and not God
28.8.(2). An account of how this harmful defect reigns in spiritual persons
as well as in ordinary people would only end up in my being prolix, for
hardly any will be found who are motivated in their work by God alone,
without their grasping for the support of some consolation or satisfaction
or other consideration of self.
28.9. The seventh kind of harm is that human beings, insofar as they do not
quell vain joy in their moral deeds, become more incapable of taking
counsel and receiving reasonable instructions about the works they ought to
do. The habitual weakness they have from working with this vain joy so
enchains them that they either do not believe that the counsel of another
is better, or do not wish to follow it even if in their opinion it is,
because they are without the courage to do so.
Such people become very slack in charity toward God and neighbor, for the
self-love contained in their works makes them grow cold in charity.
29. Benefits derived through the removal of joy from moral goods.
29.1. Great are the benefits derived from restraining the desire for vain
rejoicing in this kind of good.
29.1.(2). As for the first, the soul is freed from falling into many
temptations and deceits of the devil concealed in the joy of these good
works. This is understandable from what was said in Job: He sleeps under
the shadow, in the covert of the reed, and in moist places [Jb. 40:16]. The
passage refers to the devil, because in the moisture of joy and the vanity
of the reed (of the vain work) he deludes the soul. The devil's hidden
deceptiveness in this joy is nothing to marvel at because, prescinding from
his suggestion, the vain joy is itself a deception, especially when there
is some boastfulness of heart over one's works. As Jeremiah affirms:
Arrogantia tua decepit te (Your arrogance has deceived you) [Jer. 49:16].
For what greater deception is there than boasting? The soul is freed from
this by purging itself of such joy.
29.2. The second benefit is a more diligent and precise accomplishment of
these works. Such is not the case when one takes pleasure in them with the
passion of joy. Through this passion of joy the irascible and concupiscible
appetites become so strong that they do not allow leeway for the judgment
of reason. As a result people usually become inconstant in their practice
of good works and resolutions; they leave these aside and take up others,
starting and stopping without ever finishing anything. Since they are
motivated by satisfaction, which is changeable -- and in some temperaments
more so than in others -- their work ends when the satisfaction does, and
their resolution too, even though it may concern an important endeavor. We
can say of those for whom the energy and soul of their work is the joy they
find in it that when the joy dies out the good work ceases, and they do not
29.2.(2). Christ spoke of them when he said: They receive the word with
joy, and the devil immediately takes it away from them that they may not
persevere [Lk. 8:12]. And the reason for this lack of perseverance is that
they have no other roots or strength than this joy. Withdrawal of the will
from such joy, then, is the cause of perseverance and success. This benefit
is great, as is also the contrary harm. A wise person is concerned about
the substance and benefit of a work, not about the delight and satisfaction
it yields. Thus such a one does not beat the air [1 Cor. 9:26], but
procures from the work a stable joy without paying the tribute of
29.3. The third is a divine benefit. It is that by extinguishing vain joy
in these works a person becomes poor in spirit, which is one of the
beatitudes the Son of God mentions: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for
theirs is the kingdom of heaven [Mt. 5:3].
29.4. The fourth benefit is that those who deny this joy will be meek,
humble, and prudent in their work. For they will act neither impetuously
and hastily, compelled by the concupiscible or irascible aspect of joy; nor
presumptuously, affected by their esteem for the work due to the joy it
gives; nor uncautiously, blinded by joy.
29.5. The fifth benefit is to become pleasing to both God and other human
beings and free of spiritual avarice, gluttony, sloth, envy, and a thousand