THE LIVING FLAME OF LOVE
Jesus Mary Joseph
A commentary on the stanzas that treat of a very intimate and elevated
union and transformation of the soul in God, written at the request of Doa
Ana de Pealosa1 by the author of the stanzas.
P.1. I have felt somewhat reluctant, very noble and devout lady, to explain
these four stanzas as you asked. Since they deal with matters so interior
and spiritual, for which words are usually lacking -- in that the spiritual
surpasses sense -- I find it difficult to say something of their content;
also, one speaks badly of the intimate depths of the spirit if one does not
do so with a deeply recollected soul. Because of my want of such
recollection, I have deferred this commentary until now, a period in which
the Lord seems to have uncovered some knowledge and bestowed some fervor.
This must be the result of your holy desire; perhaps, since I have composed
the stanzas for you, His Majesty wants me to explain them for you. I have
been encouraged in knowing certainly that through my own ability I shall
say nothing worthwhile, especially in matters so sublime and vital, and
thus only the faults and mistakes of this commentary will be mine.
Submitting it to the judgment and better opinion of our Holy Mother the
Roman Catholic Church, by whose rule no one errs, finding my support in
Sacred Scripture, and knowing the reader understands that everything I say
is as far from the reality as is a painting from the living object
represented, I will venture to declare what I know.
P.2. There is no reason to marvel at God's granting such sublime and
strange gifts to souls he decides to favor. If we consider that he is God
and that he bestows them as God, with infinite love and goodness, it does
not seem unreasonable. For he declared that the Father, the Son, and the
Holy Spirit would take up their abode in those who love him by making them
live the life of God and dwell in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
[Jn. 14:23], as the soul points out in these stanzas.
P.3. Although in the stanzas we have already commented on,1 we speak of the
highest degree of perfection one can reach in this life (transformation in
God), these stanzas treat of a love deeper in quality and more perfect
within this very state of transformation. Even though it is true that what
these and the other stanzas describe is all one state of transformation,
and as such one cannot pass beyond it; yet, with time and practice, love
can grow deeper in quality, as I say, and become more ardent. We have an
example of this in the activity of fire: Although the fire has penetrated
the wood, transformed it, and united it with itself, yet as this fire grows
hotter and continues to burn, so the wood becomes much more incandescent
and inflamed, even to the point of flaring up and shooting out flames from
P.4. It should be understood that the soul now speaking has reached this
enkindled degree, and is so inwardly transformed in the fire of love and
elevated by it that it is not merely united to this fire but produces
within it a living flame. The soul feels this and speaks of it thus in
these stanzas with intimate and delicate sweetness of love, burning in
love's flame, and stressing in these stanzas some of the effects of this
P.4.(2). In this commentary I will use the method I have used before: First
I will quote all the stanzas together; then, after recording each stanza
separately, I will present a brief explanation of it; finally I will quote
each verse and comment upon it.
P.4.(3). Stanzas the Soul Recites in Intimate Union With God.
ST.1. O living flame of love
that tenderly wounds my soul
in its deepest center! Since
now you are not oppressive,
now consummate! if it be your will:
tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!
ST.2. O sweet cautery,
O delightful wound!
O gentle hand! O delicate touch
that tastes of eternal life
and pays every debt!
In killing you changed death to life.
ST.3. O lamps of fire!
in whose splendors
the deep caverns of feeling,
once obscure and blind,
now give forth, so rarely, so exquisitely,
both warmth and light to their Beloved.
ST.4. How gently and lovingly
you wake in my heart,
where in secret you dwell alone;
and in your sweet breathing,
filled with good and glory,
how tenderly you swell my heart with love.
P.4.(4). The composition of these lyric lines is like those that in Boscn
are given a religious meaning and that go:
La soledad siguiendo.
llorando mi fortuna,
me voy por los caminos que se ofrecen, and so on.
In these stanzas there are six lines; the fourth rhymes with the first, the
fifth with the second, and the sixth with the third.2
O living flame of love
that tenderly wounds my soul
in its deepest center! Since
now you are not oppressive,
now consummate! if it be your will:
tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!
1.1. The soul now feels that it is all inflamed in the divine union, its
palate is all bathed in glory and love, that in the intimate part of its
substance it is flooded with no less than rivers of glory, abounding in
delights, and from its depths flow rivers of living water [Jn. 7:38], which
the Son of God declared will rise up in such souls. It seems, because it is
so forcefully transformed in God, so sublimely possessed by him, and
arrayed with such rich gifts and virtues, that it is singularly close to
beatitude -- so close that only a thin veil separates it.
1.1.(2). And the soul sees that every time the delicate flame of love,
burning within, assails it, it does so as though glorifying it with gentle
and powerful glory. Such is the glory this flame of love imparts that each
time it absorbs and attacks, it seems that it is about to give eternal life
and tear the veil of mortal life, that very little is lacking, and that
because of this lack the soul does not receive eternal glory completely.
With ardent desire the soul tells the flame, the Holy Spirit, to tear the
veil of mortal life now by that sweet encounter in which he truly
communicates entirely what he is seemingly about to give each time he
encounters it, that is, complete and perfect glory. And thus it says:
O living flame of love
1.2. To lay stress on the sentiment and esteem with which it speaks in
these four stanzas, the soul uses in all of them the exclamations, "O" and
"how," which indicate an affectionate emphasis. Each time they are uttered
they reveal more about the interior than the tongue expresses. "O" serves
to express intense desire and to use persuasion in petitioning. The soul
uses this expression for both reasons in this stanza because it intimates
and stresses its tremendous desire, persuading love to loose it.
1.3. This flame of love is the Spirit of its Bridegroom, who is the Holy
Spirit. The soul feels him within itself not only as a fire that has
consumed and transformed it but as a fire that burns and flares within it,
as I mentioned. And that flame, every time it flares up, bathes the soul in
glory and refreshes it with the quality of divine life.
1.3.(2). Such is the activity of the Holy Spirit in the soul transformed in
love: The interior acts he produces shoot up flames, for they are acts of
inflamed love, in which the will of the soul united with that flame, made
one with it, loves most sublimely. Thus these acts of love are most
precious; one of them is more meritorious and valuable than all the deeds a
person may have performed in the whole of life without this transformation,
however great they may have been. The same difference lying between a habit
and an act lies between the transformation in love and the flame of love.
It is like the difference between the wood on fire and the flame leaping up
from it, for the flame is the effect of the fire present there.
1.4. We can compare the soul in its ordinary condition in this state of
transformation of love to the log of wood that is ever immersed in fire,
and the acts of this soul to the flame that blazes up from the fire of
love. The more intense the fire of union, the more vehemently does this
fire burst into flames. The acts of the will are united to this flame and
ascend, carried away and absorbed in the flame of the Holy Spirit, just as
the angel mounted to God in the flame of Manoah's sacrifice [Jgs. 13:20].
1.4.(2). Thus in this state the soul cannot make acts because the Holy
Spirit makes them all and moves it toward them. As a result all the acts of
the soul are divine, since both the movement to these acts and their
execution stem from God.1
1.4.(3). It seems to such persons that every time this flame shoots up,
making them love with delight and divine quality, it is giving them eternal
life, since it raises them up to the activity of God in God.
1.5. This is the language and these the words God speaks in souls that are
purged, cleansed, and all enkindled; as David exclaimed: Your word is
exceedingly enkindled [Ps. 119:139]; and the prophet: Are not my words,
perchance, like a fire? [Jer. 23:29]. As God himself says through St. John,
these words are spirit and life [Jn. 6:63]. These words are perceived by
souls who have ears to hear them, those souls, as I say, that are cleansed
and enamored. Those who do not have a sound palate, but seek other tastes,
cannot taste the spirit and life of God's words; his words, rather, are
distasteful to them.
1.5.(2). Hence the loftier were the words of the Son of God, the more
tasteless they were to the impure, as happened when he preached the
sovereign and loving doctrine of the Holy Eucharist, for many turned away
[Jn. 6:60-61, 66].
1.6. Those who do not relish this language God speaks within them must not
think on this account that others do not taste it. St. Peter tasted it in
his soul when he said to Christ: Lord, where shall we go? You have the
words of eternal life [Jn. 6:68]. And the Samaritan woman forgot the water
and the water jar for the sweetness of God's words [Jn. 4:28].
1.6.(2). Since this soul is so close to God that it is transformed into a
flame of love in which the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are
communicated to it, how can it be thought incredible that it enjoy a
foretaste of eternal life? Yet it does not enjoy eternal life perfectly
since the conditions of this life do not allow it. But the delight that the
flaring of the Holy Spirit generates in the soul is so sublime that it
makes it know that which savors of eternal life. Thus it refers to this
flame as living, not because the flame is not always living but because of
this effect; it makes the soul live in God spiritually and experience the
life of God in the manner David mentions: My heart and my flesh rejoiced in
the living God [Ps. 84:2]. David did not refer to God as living because of
a necessity to do so, for God is always living, but in order to manifest
that the spirit and the senses, transformed in God, enjoy him in a living
way, which is to taste the living God -- that is, God's life, eternal life.
Nor did David call him the living God other than because he enjoyed him in
a living way, although not perfectly, but as though by a glimpse of eternal
life. Thus in this flame the soul experiences God so vividly and tastes him
with such delight and sweetness that it exclaims: O living flame of love!
that tenderly wounds my soul
1.7. That is, that with your ardor tenderly touches me. Since this flame is
a flame of divine life, it wounds the soul with the tenderness of God's
life, and it wounds and stirs it so deeply as to make it dissolve in love.
What the bride affirmed in the Song of Songs is fulfilled in the soul. She
was so moved that her soul melted, and so she says: As soon as he spoke my
soul melted [Sg. 5:6]. For God's speech is the effect he produces in the
1.8. But how can one claim that the flame wounds the soul, since there is
nothing left in it to wound now that it is all cauterized with the fire of
love? It is something splendid that since love is never idle, but in
continual motion, it is always emitting flames everywhere like a blazing
fire, and since its duty is to wound in order to cause love and delight,
and it is present in this soul as a living flame, it dispatches its wounds
like most tender flares of delicate love. Joyfully and festively it
practices the arts and games of love, as though in the palace of its
nuptials, as Ahasuerus did with his bride Esther [Est. 2:16-18]. God shows
his graces there, manifests his riches and the glory of his grandeur that
in this soul might be fulfilled what he asserted in Proverbs: I was
delighted every day, playing before him all the time, playing in the world.
And my delights were to be with the children of the earth [Prv. 8:30-31],
that is, by bestowing delights on them. Hence these wounds (his games) are
flames of tender touches; arising from the fire of love, which is not idle,
they suddenly touch the soul. These, it says, occur inwardly and wound the
in its deepest center!
1.9. This feast takes place in the substance of the soul where neither the
center of the senses nor the devil can reach. Therefore, the more interior
it is, the more secure, substantial, and delightful, because the more
interior it is, the purer it is. And the greater the purity, the more
abundantly, frequently, and generously God communicates himself. Thus the
delight and joy of the soul is so much more intense because God is the doer
of all without the soul's doing anything. Since the soul cannot do any work
of its own save through the means and aid of the corporeal senses, from
which in this event it is very free and far removed, its sole occupation
now is to receive from God, who alone can move the soul and do his work in
its depths. Thus all the movements of this soul are divine. Although they
belong to it, they belong to it because God works them in it and with it,
for it wills and consents to them.2 Since by saying that the flame wounds
in its deepest center the soul indicates that it has other, less profound
centers, we ought to explain what is meant by these words.
1.10. First it should be known that the soul, insofar as it is a spirit,
does not possess in its being high and low, deeper or less deep, as do
quantitative bodies. Since it has no parts, there is no difference as to
inward and outward; it is all one kind and does not have degrees of
quantitative depth. It cannot receive greater illumination in one part than
in another like physical bodies, but all of it is illumined equally in a
degree of greater or lesser intensity, like air that is illumined or not
illumined according to degrees.
1.11. The deepest center of an object we take to signify the farthest point
attainable by that object's being and power and force of operation and
movement. So fire or a rock have the natural power and motion necessary to
reach their center, but they cannot pass beyond it. They can fail to reach
and rest in this center if a powerful contrary movement impedes them.
1.11.(2). Accordingly, we assert that when a rock is in the ground it is,
after a fashion, in its center, even though it is not in its deepest
center, for it is within the sphere of its center, activity, and movement;
yet we do not assert that it has reached its deepest center, which is the
middle of the earth. Thus the rock always possesses the power, strength,
and inclination to go deeper and reach the ultimate and deepest center; and
this it would do if the hindrance were removed. When once it arrives and no
longer has any power or inclination toward further movement, we declare
that it is in its deepest center.
1.12. The soul's center is God. When it has reached God with all the
capacity of its being and the strength of its operation and inclination, it
will have attained its final and deepest center in God, it will know, love,
and enjoy God with all its might. When it has not reached this point (as
happens in this mortal life, in which the soul cannot reach God with all
its strength, even though in its center -- which is God through grace and
his self-communication to it), it still has movement and strength for
advancing further and is not satisfied. Although it is in its center, it is
not yet in its deepest center, for it can go deeper in God.
1.13. It is noteworthy, then, that love is the inclination, strength, and
power for the soul in making its way to God, for love unites it with God.
The more degrees of love it has, the more deeply it enters into God and
centers itself in him. We can say that there are as many centers in God
possible to the soul, each one deeper than the other, as there are degrees
of love of God possible to it. A stronger love is a more unitive love, and
we can understand in this manner the many mansions the Son of God declared
were in his Father's house [Jn. 14:2].
1.13.(2). Hence, for the soul to be in its center -- which is God, as we
have said -- it is sufficient for it to possess one degree of love, for by
one degree alone it is united with him through grace. Should it have two
degrees, it becomes united and concentrated in God in another, deeper
center. Should it reach three, it centers itself in a third. But once it
has attained the final degree, God's love has arrived at wounding the soul
in its ultimate and deepest center, which is to illuminate and transform it
in its whole being, power, and strength, and according to its capacity,
until it appears to be God.
1.13.(3). When light shines on a clean and pure crystal, we find that the
more intense the degree of light, the more light the crystal has
concentrated within it and the brighter it becomes; it can become so
brilliant from the abundance of light received that it seems to be all
light. And then the crystal is undistinguishable from the light, since it
is illumined according to its full capacity, which is to appear to be
1.14. When the soul asserts that the flame of love wounds it in its deepest
center, it means that insofar as this flame reaches its substance, power,
and strength, the Holy Spirit assails and wounds it. It does not make such
an assertion to indicate that this wounding is as essential and integral as
in the beatific vision of the next life. Even though a soul attains to as
lofty a state of perfection in this mortal life as that which we are
discussing, it neither can nor does reach the perfect state of glory,
although perhaps in a passing way God might grant it some similar favor.
Yet the soul says this in order to manifest the fullness and abundance of
delight and glory it feels in this kind of communication from the Holy
Spirit. This delight is so much more intense and tender the stronger and
more substantially the soul is transformed and concentrated in God. Since
this center is the furthest attainable in the present life -- although not
as perfectly attainable as in the next -- the soul refers to it as the
1.14.(2). Even though the soul can perhaps possess in this life a habit of
charity as perfect as in the next, yet the operation and fruition of
charity in this life will not be so perfect, even though the operation and
fruition of love increase to such a degree in this state that there is
great resemblance to the beatific state. The similarity is such that the
soul dares to affirm only what it would dare affirm about the next life,
that is: in the deepest center of my soul.
1.15. Since these rare experiences (which are what we ascribe to the soul
in this state) are more remarkable than credible, I do not doubt that some
persons, not understanding them through their own knowledge or knowing of
them through experience, will either fail to believe them or consider the
account an exaggeration; or they will think these experiences less than
what they really are.
1.15.(2). Yet I reply to all these persons that the Father of lights [Jas.
1:17], who is not closefisted but diffuses himself abundantly as the sun
does its rays, without being a respecter of persons [Acts 10:34], wherever
there is room -- always showing himself gladly along the highways and
byways -- does not hesitate or consider it of little import to find his
delights with the children of the earth at a common table in the world
1.15.(3). It should not be held as incredible in a soul now examined,
purged, and tried in the fire of tribulations, trials, and many kinds of
temptations, and found faithful in love, that the promise of the Son of God
be fulfilled, the promise that the Most Blessed Trinity will come and dwell
in anyone who loves him [Jn. 14:23]. The Blessed Trinity inhabits the soul
by divinely illumining its intellect with the wisdom of the Son, delighting
its will in the Holy Spirit, and absorbing it powerfully and mightily in
the unfathomed embrace of the Father's sweetness.
1.16. If he acts thus in some souls, as it is true he does, it should be
believed that this soul we are speaking of will not be left behind in
regard to receiving these favors from God. For what we are explaining about
the activity of the Holy Spirit within it is something far greater than
what occurs in the communication and transformation of love. This latter
resembles glowing embers; the former is similar to embers that are not
merely glowing but have become so hot that they shoot forth a living
1.16.(2). And thus these two kinds of union (union of love alone, and union
with an inflaming of love) are somehow comparable to the fire of God which,
Isaiah says, is in Zion, and to his furnace which is in Jerusalem [Is.
31:9]. The one signifies the Church Militant, in which the fire of charity
is not enkindled to an extreme; the other signifies the vision of peace,
which is the Church Triumphant,4 where this fire is like a furnace blazing
in the perfection of love. Although, as we said,5 the soul has not attained
such great perfection as is present in this vision of peace, yet, in
comparison with the other common union, this union resembles a blazing
furnace in which there is a vision much more peaceful and glorious and
tender, just as the flame is clearer and more resplendent than the burning
1.17. The soul, feeling that this living flame of love is vividly
communicating to it every good, since this divine love carries all things
with it, exclaims: "O living flame of love that tenderly wounds my soul."
This is like saying: O enkindled love, with your loving movements you are
pleasantly glorifying me according to the greater capacity and strength of
my soul, bestowing divine knowledge according to all the ability and
capacity of my intellect, communicating love according to the greater power
of my will, and rejoicing the substance of my soul with the torrent of your
delight, your divine contact and substantial union, in harmony with the
greater purity of my substance and the capacity and breath of my memory!
And this is what happens, in an indescribable way, at the time this flame
of love rises up within the soul.
1.17.(2). Since the soul is completely purged in its substance and
faculties (memory, intellect, and will), the divine substance, which
because of its purity touches everywhere profoundly, subtly, and sublimely,
as the Wise Man says [Wis. 7:23-24], absorbs the soul in itself with its
divine flame. And in that immersion of the soul in wisdom, the Holy Spirit
sets in motion the glorious flickerings of his flame. Since the flame is so
gentle the soul adds:
Since now you are not oppressive,
1.18. This means: since you no longer afflict or distress or weary me as
you did before. It should be recalled that when the soul was in the state
of spiritual purgation, which was at the time of the beginning of
contemplation, this flame of God was not so friendly and gentle toward it
as now in this state of union. In order to explain this we will have to
1.19. Before the divine fire is introduced into the substance of the soul
and united with it through perfect and complete purgation and purity, its
flame, which is the Holy Spirit, wounds the soul by destroying and
consuming the imperfections of its bad habits. And this is the work of the
Holy Spirit, in which he disposes it for divine union and transformation in
God through love.
1.19.(2). The very fire of love that afterward is united with the soul,
glorifying it, is what previously assailed it by purging it, just as the
fire that penetrates a log of wood is the same that first makes an assault
on the wood, wounding it with the flame, drying it out, and stripping it of
its unsightly qualities until it is so disposed that it can be penetrated
and transformed into the fire.
1.19.(3). Spiritual writers call this activity the purgative way. In it a
person suffers great deprivation and feels heavy afflictions in the spirit
that ordinarily overflow into the senses, for this flame is extremely
1.19.(4). In this preparatory purgation the flame is not bright for a
person but dark. If it does shed some light, the only reason is so the soul
may see its miseries and defects. It is not gentle but afflictive. Even
though it sometimes imparts the warmth of love, it does so with torment and
pain. And it is not delightful, but dry. Although sometimes out of his
goodness God accords some delight in order to strengthen and encourage it,
the soul suffers for this before and afterward with another trial.
1.19.(5). Neither is the flame refreshing and peaceful, but it is consuming
and contentious, making a person faint and suffer with self-knowledge. Thus
it is not glorious for the soul, but rather makes it feel wretched and
distressed in the spiritual light of self-knowledge that it bestows. As
Jeremiah declares, God sends fire into its bones and instructs it [Lam.
1:13]; and as David also asserts, he tries it with fire [Ps. 17:3].
1.20. At this stage persons suffer from sharp trials in the intellect,
severe dryness and distress in the will, and from the burdensome knowledge
of their own miseries in the memory, for their spiritual eye gives them a
very clear picture of themselves. In the substance of the soul they suffer
abandonment, supreme poverty, dryness, cold, and sometimes heat. They find
relief in nothing, nor does any thought console them, nor can they even
raise the heart to God, so oppressed are they by this flame. This purgation
resembles what Job said God did to him: You have changed to being cruel
toward me [Jb. 30:21]. For when the soul suffers all these things jointly,
it truly seems that God has become displeased with it and cruel.
1.21. A person's sufferings at this time cannot be exaggerated; they are
but little less than the sufferings of purgatory. I do not know how to
explain the severity of this oppression and the intensity of the suffering
felt in it, save by what Jeremiah says of it in these words: I am the man
that sees my poverty in the rod of his indignation. He has led me and
brought me into darkness and not into light. Only against me he has turned
and turned again his hand. He has made my skin and my flesh old, and he has
broken my bones. He has surrounded me and compassed me with gall and labor.
He has set me in dark places as those who are dead forever. He has built
around me that I might not get out. He made my fetters heavy. And besides
this when I have cried out and prayed, he has shut out my prayer. He shut
up my ways with square rocks and turned my steps and paths upside down
[Lam. 3:1-9]. Jeremiah laments all this and goes on to say much more.7
1.21.(2). Since in this fashion God mediates and heals the soul of its many
infirmities, bringing it to health, it must necessarily suffer from this
purge and cure according to its sickness. For here Tobias is placing the
heart on the coals to release and drive out every kind of demon [Tb. 6:8].
All the soul's infirmities are brought to light; they are set before its
eyes to be felt and healed.
1.22. Now with the light and heat of the divine fire, it sees and feels
those weaknesses and miseries that previously resided within it, hidden and
unfelt, just as the dampness of the log of wood was unknown until the fire
applied to it made it sweat and smoke and sputter. And this is what the
flame does to the imperfect soul.
1.22.(2). For (O wonderful thing!) contraries rise up at this time against
contraries -- those of the soul against those of God that assail it. And as
the philosophers say: One contrary when close to the other makes it more
manifest.8 They war within the soul, striving to expel one another in order
to reign. That is: The virtues and properties of God, extremely perfect,
war against the habits and properties of the soul, extremely imperfect; and
the soul suffers these two contraries within itself.
1.22.(3). When this flame shines on the soul, since its light is
excessively brilliant, it shines within the darknesses of the soul, which
are also excessive. Persons then feel their natural and vicious darknesses
that are contrary to the supernatural light; and they fail to experience
the supernatural light because they do not have it within themselves as
they do their darknesses -- and the darknesses do not comprehend the light
[Jn 1:5]. They feel these darknesses inasmuch as the light shines on them,
for it is impossible to perceive one's darknesses without the divine light
focusing on them. Once they are driven out a soul is illumined and, being
transformed, beholds the light within itself, since its spiritual eye was
cleansed and fortified by the divine light. A tremendous light causes total
darkness in a weak and impure eye, for if a sensible object is too intense
it deprives its relative faculty. And thus this flame was oppressive to the
1.23. This flame of itself is extremely loving, and the will of itself is
excessively dry and hard. When the flame tenderly and lovingly assails the
will, hardness is felt beside the tenderness, and dryness beside the love.
The will does not feel the love and tenderness of the flame since, because
of its contrary hardness and dryness, it is unprepared for this until the
love and tenderness of God expel the dryness and hardness and reign within
it. Accordingly, this flame was oppressive to the will, making it feel and
suffer its own hardness and dryness.
1.23.(2). Because this flame is immense and far-reaching, and the will is
narrow and restricted, the will feels its confinement and narrowness in the
measure that the flame attacks it. It feels this until the flame,
penetrating within it, enlarges, widens, and makes it capable of receiving
the flame itself.
1.23.(3). Because this flame is savory and sweet, and the will possesses a
spiritual palate disturbed by the humors of inordinate affections, the
flame is unpleasant and bitter to it; and the will cannot taste the sweet
food of God's love. And in this fashion it feels distress and
distastefulness beside so ample and delightful a flame. The will does not
experience the savor of the flame because it does not feel this flame
within itself; it only feels what it does have within itself -- its own
1.23.(4). And finally, because this flame contains immense riches and
delights and the soul of itself is extraordinarily poor, without any goods
or satisfaction, the soul knows and feels clearly beside this goodness and
these riches and delights its own misery, poverty, and evil. For evil
cannot comprehend goodness, nor poverty riches, and so on, until this flame
purifies a soul completely and by this transformation enriches, glorifies,
and delights it.
1.23.(5). This flame previously oppressed the soul in an indescribable way,
since contraries were battling contraries: God, who is all perfect, against
all the imperfections of the soul. God does this so, by transforming the
soul into himself, he might soften, pacify, and illumine it, as does fire
when it penetrates the log of wood.
1.24. Not many people undergo so strong a purgation, only those whom God
wishes to elevate to the highest degree of union. For he prepares
individuals by a purification more or less severe in accordance with the
degree to which he wishes to raise them, and also according to their
impurity and imperfection.9
1.24.(2). This suffering resembles that of purgatory. Just as the spirits
suffer purgation there so as to be able to see God through clear vision in
the next life, souls in their own way suffer purgation here on earth so as
to be able to be transformed in him through love in this life.
1.25. In The Dark Night of The Ascent of Mount Carmel we dealt with the
intensity of this purgation,10 how it is greater and how less, and when it
is in the intellect, when in the will, how it is in the memory, when and
how it is also in the soul's substance, and also when it involves the whole
soul. We discussed, too, the purgation of the sensory part, and how it can
be discerned when the purgation is of the sensory part and when of the
spiritual part, and the time or stage along the spiritual road in which
each begins. Since we have already explained all of this, and such is not
our aim here, I will not go into it again.
1.25.(2). Let it suffice to know that the very God who desires to enter
within the soul through the union and transformation of love is he who
first assails and purges it with the light and heat of his divine flame,
just as the fire that penetrates the log of wood is the same that first
prepares it for this, as we said.11 Hence the very flame that is now
gentle, since it has entered within the soul, is what was formerly
oppressive, assailing it from without.
1.26. Such is the meaning of the present verse, "Now you are not
oppressive." It is in sum like saying: Not only now are you no longer dark
as you were before, but you are the divine light of my intellect by which I
can look at you; and you not only have ceased making me faint in my
weakness, but are rather the strength of my will by which I can love and
enjoy you, being wholly converted into divine love; and you are no longer
heavy and constraining to the substance of my soul but rather its glory and
delight and amplitude, for the words of the divine Song of Songs can be
spoken of me: Who is this that comes up from the desert, flowing with
delights, leaning upon her Beloved, diffusing love everywhere? [Sg. 8:5].
Since this is true,
now consummate! if it be your will:
1.27. That is, consummate the spiritual marriage with me perfectly by means
of the beatific vision. This is the soul's petition. It is true that in
this high state it is as conformed to the will of God and satisfied as it
is transformed in love; it wants nothing for itself, nor dares ask for
anything, but everything is for its Beloved, since as St. Paul says,
charity seeks not things for itself [1 Cor. 13:5], but for the Beloved.
Nonetheless, its sigh is as great as what it lacks for the perfect
possession of the adoption of the children of God [Rom. 8:23]; for it still
lives in hope, in which one cannot fail to feel emptiness. When the soul's
glory is consummated, its appetite will come to rest. However intimate may
be a person's union with God, there will never be satisfaction and rest
until God's glory appears [Ps. 17:15], especially since the savor and
sweetness of that glory is now experienced. This experience is so intense
that if God had not favored the flesh by fortifying the sensory part with
his right hand, as he did Moses in the rock, enabling him to behold the
divine glory without dying [Ex. 33:22], nature would be torn apart and
death would ensue, since the lower part is unequipped to suffer so much and
such a sublime fire of glory.
1.28. Affliction, then, does not accompany this desire and petition, for
the soul is no longer capable of such affliction; but with a gentle and
delightful desire it seeks this in the conformity of both spirit and sense
to God's will. As a result it says in this verse, "Now consummate! if it be
your will," for its will and appetite are so united with God that it
considers the fulfillment of God's will to be its glory.
1.28.(2). Yet the sudden flashes of glory and love that appear vaguely in
these touches at the door of entry into the soul, and are unable to fit
into it because of the narrowness of the earthly house, are so sublime that
it would rather be a sign of little love not to try to enter into that
perfection and completion of love.
1.28.(3). Moreover, a soul is conscious that in the vigor of the
Bridegroom's delightful communication the Holy Spirit rouses and invites it
by the immense glory he marvelously and with gentle affection places before
its eyes, telling it what he told the bride in the Song of Songs. The bride
thus refers to this: Behold what my Spouse is saying to me: Arise and make
haste, my love, my dove, my beautiful one, and come; for winter is now
passed, and the rains are over and gone, and the flowers have appeared in
our land; the fig tree has put forth her fruits; the vines in flower have
given their fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come; my dove in
the clefts of the rock, in the hollow of the wall, show me your face, let
your voice sound in my ears, because your voice is sweet and your face
beautiful [Sg. 2:10-14]. The soul in a sublime experience of glory feels
and understands most distinctly all these things that the Holy Spirit,
desiring to introduce it into that glory, shows it in this gentle and
tender blaze. Consequently, the soul thus roused answers: "Now consummate!
if it be your will." It makes the two requests of the Bridegroom that he
taught us in the Gospel: Adveniat regnum tuum; fiat voluntas tua [Mt.
6:10].12 It is like saying: "Now consummate" giving me this kingdom, "if it
be your will," according to your will. And that this may be true:
tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!
1.29. The veil is what impedes so singular an event. It is easy to reach
God when all the impediments are removed and the veils that separate the
soul from union with him are torn. We can say there are three veils that
constitute a hindrance to this union with God and must be torn if the union
is to be effected and possessed perfectly by the soul; that is: the
temporal veil, comprising all creatures; the natural, embodying the purely
natural inclinations and operations; and the sensitive, which consists only
of the union of the soul with the body, that is, the sensitive and animal
life of which St. Paul speaks: We know that if this our earthly house is
dissolved, we have a building of God in heaven [2 Cor. 5:1].
1.29.(2). The first two veils must necessarily be torn in order to obtain
this union with God in which all the things of the world are renounced, all
the natural appetites and affections mortified, and the natural operations
of the soul divinized.
1.29.(3). All of this was accomplished, and these veils were torn by means
of the oppressive encounters of this flame. Through the spiritual purgation
we referred to above, the soul tears these two veils completely and is
united with God as it here is; only the third veil of this sensitive life
remains to be torn. As a result it mentions a veil and not veils, since
there is only this one to tear. Because the veil is now so tenuous, thin,
and spiritualized through this union with God, the flame is not harsh in
its encounter as it was with the other two, but savory and sweet. The soul
hence calls it a "sweet encounter"; the sweeter and more savory, the more
it seems about to tear through the veil of mortal life.
1.30. It should be known that the natural death of persons who have reached
this state is far different in its cause and mode from the death of others,
even though it is similar in natural circumstances. If the death of other
people is caused by sickness or old age, the death of these persons is not
so induced, in spite of their being sick or old; their soul is not wrested
from them unless by some impetus and encounter of love far more sublime
than previous ones; of greater power, and more valiant, since it tears
through this veil and carries off the jewel, which is the soul.
1.30.(2). The death of such persons is very gentle and very sweet, sweeter
and more gentle than was their whole spiritual life on earth. For they die
with the most sublime impulses and delightful encounters of love,
resembling the swan whose song is much sweeter at the moment of death.
Accordingly, David affirmed that the death of the saints is precious in the
sight of the Lord [Ps. 116:15]. The soul's riches gather together here, and
its rivers of love move on to enter the sea, for these rivers, because they
are blocked, become so vast that they themselves resemble seas. The just
one's first treasures, and last, are heaped together as company for the
departure and going off to the kingdom, while praises are heard from the
ends of the earth, which, as Isaiah says, are the glory of the just one
1.31. The soul, then, conscious of the abundance of its enrichment, at the
time of these glorious encounters feels to be almost at the point of
departing for complete and perfect possession of its kingdom, for it knows
that it is pure, rich, full of virtues, and prepared for such a kingdom.
God permits it in this state to see its beauty, and he entrusts to it the
gifts and virtues he has bestowed; for everything is converted into love
and praises, and it has no touch of presumption or vanity since it no
longer bears the leaven of imperfection that corrupts the mass [1 Cor. 5:6;
Gal. 5:9]. Since it is aware that nothing is wanting other than to tear the
weak veil of this natural life, in which it feels the entanglement,
hindrance, and captivity of its freedom, and since it desires to be
dissolved and to be with Christ [Phil. 1:23], it laments that a life so
weak and base impedes another so mighty and sublime, and asks that the veil
be torn, saying: "Tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!"
1.32. There are three reasons for the term "veil": first, because of the
union between the spirit and the flesh; second, because this union
separates the soul from God; third, because a veil is not so thick and
opaque that a brilliant light cannot shine through it; and in this state
the bond seems to be so tenuous a veil, since it is now very spiritual,
thin, and luminous, that it does not prevent the divinity from vaguely
appearing through it. Since the soul perceives the power of the other life,
it is conscious of the weakness of this one and that the veil is of
delicate fabric, as thin as a spider's web; in David's words: Our years
shall be considered as the spider [Ps. 90:9]. And this life is even much
less in the eyes of persons thus exalted, for, since they have God's view
of things, they regard them as God does, in whose sight, as David also
declares, a thousand years are as yesterday, which is past [Ps. 89:4], and
according to Isaiah, all nations are as though they were not [Is. 40:17].
These things carry the same weight in the soul's view: All things are
nothing to it, and it is nothing in its own eyes; God alone is its all.13
1.33. The reason it begs that the veil be torn and not cut or destroyed is
noteworthy, for there does not seem to be much difference. We can offer
1.33.(2). First, we use this term for the sake of speaking more
appropriately, since tearing is more proper to this encounter than cutting
1.33.(3). Second, because love is the friend of the power of love and of
the strong and impetuous touch, exercised more in tearing than in cutting
1.33.(4). Third, because love desires the act to be very brief and quick.
The strength and power of the act is commensurate with its brevity and
spirituality, for virtue when united is stronger than when scattered. And
love is introduced as form is introduced into matter; it is done in an
instant, and until then there is no act but only the dispositions toward
it. Spiritual acts are produced instantaneously in the soul because God
infuses them. But those the soul makes of itself can better be referred to
as dispositive acts by means of successive desires and affections, which
only become perfect acts of love or contemplation, as I say, when God
sometimes forms and perfects them very quickly in the spirit. As a result
the Wise Man affirmed that the end of prayer is better than the beginning
[Eccl. 7:9], and it is commonly quoted that the short prayer pierces the
heavens.14 A person already disposed can make many acts in a short time,
acts far more intense than can be made in a long time by someone
undisposed; and, by being so fully disposed, such a person usually remains
for a long time in an act of love or contemplation. With one who is not
disposed, all is spent in preparing the spirit, and even then the fire
usually holds back without entering the wood, either because of excessive
dampness of the wood or lack of sufficient heat to dispose it, or for both
reasons. But in the prepared soul the act of love enters immediately, for
at each touch the spark catches fire in the dry tinder, and thus the
enamored soul desires the brevity of tearing more than the delay involved
in cutting or destroying.
1.33.(5). The fourth reason is that the veil of this life is done away with
more quickly; cutting or destroying requires greater care since one must
wait for the object to be prepared or ready, or for some other reason;
whereas if one tears it there is no waiting, it seems to me, for this
readiness or for anything of the sort.
1.34. The enamored soul desires this tearing so it may suffer no delay by
waiting for its life to be destroyed naturally, or cut off at such and such
a time. Both the force of love and the disposition the soul sees in itself
make it desire and beg that the veil of life be torn immediately by a
supernatural encounter and impetus of love.
1.34.(2). A person having reached this stage knows full well that it is
characteristic of God to take to himself, before their time, souls that
love him ardently, perfecting them in a short while by means of that love,
which in any event they would have gained at their own pace. This is what
the Wise Man said: He pleased God and was loved; and living among sinners
he was translated and carried away lest evil should change his
understanding or affection deceive his soul. Perfected in a short time, he
fulfilled a long time. Because his soul was pleasing to God, he therefore
made haste to take him out of the midst, and so on [Wis. 4:10-11, 13-14].
These words are the words of the Wise Man in which it will be seen how
rightly and adequately the soul uses the expression "tear through," for the
Holy Spirit uses the words "carry away" and "make haste," which indicate
something apart from all delay. God's making haste signifies the haste by
which he perfected in a short time the love of the just one, and "carry
away" refers to a premature death.
1.34.(3). It is vital for individuals to make acts of love in this life so
that in being perfected in a short time they may not be detained long,
either here on earth or in the next life, before seeing God.15
1.35. Let us see now why it calls this inner assault of the Spirit an
encounter rather than something else. The reason is that when the soul
feels in God an infinite longing, as we said, for the ending of its life
and this wish goes unfulfilled since the time of its perfection has not
arrived, it is aware that he produces these divine and glorious assaults in
the manner of encounters so as to perfect it and raise it out of the flesh.
Since their purpose is to purify it and draw it out of the flesh, they are
indeed encounters, by which he ever penetrates and deifies the substance of
the soul, absorbing it above all being into his own being.
1.35.(2). And the cause of this absorption is that he vigorously
encountered and transported it in the Holy Spirit, whose communications are
impetuous when they are fervent, as is this encounter. Because the soul
tastes God in a living way in this encounter, it calls it sweet; not
because many other touches and encounters received in this state are not
sweet but because of its eminence over all others. God grants this, as we
said, in order soon to loose and glorify it. Whereon it acquires the
courage to entreat: "Tear through the veil," and so on.
1.36. To sum up the entire stanza now, it is like saying: O flame of the
Holy Spirit that so intimately and tenderly pierces the substance of my
soul and cauterizes it with your glorious ardor! Previously my requests did
not reach your ears, when, in the anxieties and weariness of love in which
my sense and my spirit suffered because of considerable weakness, impurity,
and lack of strong love, I was praying that you loose me and bring me to
yourself because my soul longed for you, and impatient love did not allow
me to be so conformed to the conditions of this life in which you desired
me still to live. The previous impulses of love were not enough, because
they did not have sufficient quality for the attainment of my desire; now I
am so fortified in love that not only do my sense and spirit no longer
faint in you, but my heart and my flesh, reinforced in you, rejoice in the
living God [Ps. 84:2], with great conformity between the sensory and
spiritual parts. What you desire me to ask for, I ask for; and what you do
not desire, I do not desire, nor can I, nor does it even enter my mind to
desire it. My petitions are now more valuable and estimable in your sight,
since they come from you, and you move me to make them, and I make them in
the delight and joy of the Holy Spirit, my judgment now issuing from your
countenance [Ps. 17:2], that is, when you esteem and hear my prayer. Tear,
then, the thin veil of this life and do not let old age cut it naturally,
that from now on I may love you with the plenitude and fullness my soul
desires forever and ever.