A description of the soul's journey to full union with God

The Unitive Way of the Perfect


Ch 50: The Influence of the Holy Ghost in the Perfect Soul

"If thou didst know the gift of God!"
John 4: 10

For a clear understanding of the nature of the mystical union, we must treat of the influence of the Holy Ghost in the perfect soul by recalling the most indisputable and lofty principles commonly taught on this subject. To see their meaning and import, we shall consider first the Holy Ghost as the supreme gift, and secondly what follows this gift in the perfect soul.


The Holy Ghost is called the Gift par excellence. Christ alluded and more than alluded to this title when He said to the Samaritan woman: "If thou didst know the gift of God!" The created gift of sanctifying grace, united to charity, in itself immensely surpasses all natural gifts, those of the richest imagination, of the keenest intellect, of the most energetic will. Grace, the seed of eternal life, even immensely exceeds the natural life of the angels, the natural strength of their intellect and will; it also exceeds, and that greatly, as St. Paul says, graces that are gratis datae and, so to speak, extrinsic, like the gift of miracles, the gift of tongues, and prophecy.

The Holy Ghost is the uncreated Gift, infinitely superior to that of sanctifying grace and of charity, superior to every degree of charity and every degree of glory.

He is, first of all, the uncreated Gift, as the final and eternal term of the divine fecundity of the heavenly Father and of His Son. By the eternal generation of the Word, the infinitely good Father communicates to the Son all the divine nature, gives Him to be God of God, light of light. The Father and the Son breathe forth the personal Love that is the Holy Ghost.(1) The third divine Person thus proceeds from the mutual love of the Father and the Son; He is the uncreated Gift which the first two Persons give each other, the unique gift, by an eternal spiration that communicates all the divine nature to the Holy Ghost.

St. Thomas explains (2) why the Holy Ghost is called the personal and uncreated Gift. He says that every gift proceeds from a gratuitous donation whose source is love, and the first thing we give to someone is the love by which we wish him well. Thus love is the first of all gifts, the principle of all the others. Consequently the Holy Ghost, who is personal subsistent Love, deserves to be called the personal and uncreated Gift.

This supreme Gift, which the first two divine Persons make each other from all eternity, has been given to us in time by our Lord Jesus Christ. He had already given us the Eucharist at the Last Supper, and His precious blood on the cross; He had given us grace by all the sacraments. Lastly, He willed to give us the supreme Gift, the uncreated Gift, to crown all His benefactions. He had promised to send us the Holy Ghost and, in fact, He sent Him to us on Pentecost.

The grandeur of this supreme gift appears more clearly in comparison with the others, even with the most sublime among them. Our Savior had already merited for us all the effects of our predestination: our vocation to Christian life, our justification or conversion, final perseverance, and the glory of the elect redeemed by His blood; but He willed to give us still more, to bestow on us the uncreated Gift, the Holy Ghost.

When the apostles received the Holy Ghost, they were enlightened, strengthened, confirmed in grace, and transformed; and, under the direction of the Holy Ghost, they persevered even to martyrdom.

This discussion shows why the names proper to the Holy Ghost are personal Love and the uncreated Gift. By appropriation, He is also called the Comforter. He is, indeed, the great spiritual friend who comforts us in the sorrows of life, in anxiety which sometimes grows into anguish. Thus He comforted the apostles, deprived of our Lord's sensible presence, when the great difficulties of their apostolate were beginning. For each of us Pentecost was renewed when we received confirmation.


We have truly received the supreme Gift. Through charity and the gift of wisdom, from which proceeds a quasi-experimental knowledge of the presence in our souls of the divine Persons, who always remain united, we can enjoy this Gift.

At this point in our study, we consider it advisable to insist on the principal effects attributed to the Holy Ghost by appropriation, although the Father and the Son also concur in their production, as They do in every effect of the divine power that is common to the three Persons.(3)

The uncreated Gift first of all strengthens, preserves, and increases the created gift of sanctifying grace in our souls. Therefore, says St. Thomas,(4) our Lord, speaking to the Samaritan woman, calls grace "a fountain of water, springing up into life everlasting." In contrast to dead water preserved in cisterns or ditches, living water is not separated from its gushing source and, under the impulsion of its source, always flows toward the ocean.

Thus sanctifying grace is not separated from the source of living water, the Holy Ghost; it is He Himself who preserves it in us and gives it that strength of impulsion which drives it in a way toward the spiritual ocean that is eternal life. In this sense St. Paul says: "The charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, who is given to us." (5)

Hence the Holy Ghost sometimes gives the perfect soul a confident certitude of being in the state of grace, according to the words of St. Paul: "The Spirit Himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God." (6) He gives us this testimony, says St. Thomas,(7) by the filial affection which He excites in us, and by which, in a way, He makes Himself felt by us as the life of our life.

However, this sort of transitory certitude is far from having the clarity of evidence, for we cannot perfectly discern the filial affection inspired by the Holy Ghost from a natural act of love of God, from an inefficacious love, accompanied at times by a certain lyricism, which may exist without grace, as happens in some poets.

The Holy Ghost "dwells in light inaccessible" which seems obscure to us because it is too strong for us, but His inspiration reassures us, according to the words of the Apocalypse: "To him that overcometh, I will give the hidden manna, . . . and a new name written, which no man knoweth, but he that receiveth it." (8)

For the same reason the Holy Ghost strengthens our faith and makes it penetrating and sweet. St. Paul says: "The Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. . . . Now we have received . . . the Spirit that is of God, that we may know the things that are given us from God." (9)

In consequence also, the Holy Ghost strengthens the certitude of our hope, a certitude which is not yet that of salvation, but that of tending toward salvation; (10) a certitude that increases in the measure in which we draw near to the end of the journey.

Lastly and above all, the Holy Ghost, personal Love, excites in perfect souls an infused love of God and of neighbor notably different from the other acts of charity. It is a love to which the soul could not move itself with the help of common actual grace; it requires a special inspiration, a superior operating grace. There is in it a visit of the Lord; it is then the Holy Ghost Himself who moves us to love Him. He causes this infused love, of which He is at one and the same time the beginning and the end, to well up from our hearts. We shall never be able to love God as much as He loves us by His uncreated and eternal dilection; but between Him and us there is a certain equality of love when it is the Holy Ghost Himself who gives rise in us to the infused love which He purifies and strengthens until our entrance into heaven.

It is of this infused love that the author of The Imitation speaks, when he says:

O Lord God, my holy Lover, when Thou shalt come into my heart, all that is within me shall be filled with joy. Thou art my glory and the exultation of my heart. Thou art my hope and my refuge in the day of my tribulation. But because I am as yet weak in love and imperfect in virtue, therefore do I stand in need of being strengthened and comforted by Thee. Wherefore do Thou visit me often, and instruct me in Thy holy discipline. . . so that I may become. . . courageous to suffer, and steadfast to persevere. A great thing is love [excited by Thee], a great good above all goods. It alone lighteneth all that is burdensome, and beareth equally all that is unequal, for it carrieth a burden without being burdened, and maketh all else that is bitter sweet and savory. The noble love of Jesus impelleth us to do great things, and exciteth us always to desire that which is the more perfect. . . . Love often knoweth no measure, but groweth fervent above all measure. . . . Love watcheth, and sleeping slumbereth not. When weary, it is not tired; when straitened, it is not constrained; when frightened, it is not disturbed; but like a vivid flame and a burning torch, it mounteth upward and securely passeth through all.(11)

This teaching, which is confirmed by the experience of the saints, rests on revelation itself. St. Paul tells us: "The Spirit also helpeth our infirmity, for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit Himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. . . . He asketh for the saints according to God"; (12) "according to God," that is, according to the divine good pleasure, which He knows perfectly.

In The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena, the Lord Himself explains these words, saying: "In perfect souls the Holy Ghost weeps tears of fire," (13) in particular at the sight of the sins that lead souls to perdition. These spiritual tears often obtain the remission of great sins.

For the same reason the Holy Ghost is called the Father of the poor, of those especially who love holy poverty. He nourishes them spiritually like a mother by His divine charity; from time to time He gives them a holy joy and, as it were, a foretaste of eternal life.(14)

He inspires them with the love of the cross, that is, the love of Jesus crucified, of His sufferings, of His holy humiliations. He gives them the desire to share therein in the measure willed for them by Providence, and He makes them find peace, strength, and occasionally joy in this desire. The Holy Ghost configures His faithful servants to Christ crucified, and through them, through their sufferings, He saves souls.

He shows faithful souls the value of His divine inspirations which, when not resisted, lead to true sanctity. As a result, these souls have an increasingly deeper understanding of the effect which the consecration of the soul to the Holy Ghost may produce when well made.

Lastly, He sometimes gives most perfect souls as it were a certitude of their predestination and salvation by a special revelation or by the equivalent of such a revelation, by granting them, together with a savor of eternal life, the experimental knowledge of sanctifying grace as the seed of glory.


All theologians accept these principles which are manifestly based on revelation.(13) They lift us gently toward what the great spiritual writers have said about the mystical union, arid or consoled, occasionally ecstatic, the full development of which is called the transforming union. Taking especially St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross as our guides, we shall discuss this mystical union, properly so called. What these two saints say about this union seems less exceptional after a study of the higher laws of the development of sanctifying grace, of charity, and of the gifts of the Holy Ghost. One sees in them an excellent fruit which forms mysteriously but normally in the flower of charity under the ever more intimate influence of the interior Master, of the Comforter, who instructs by His unction, without noise of words, and who draws the soul always more strongly to Himself.

The mystical union is, in our opinion, the normal though eminent fruit of the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity in our souls. The three divine Persons dwell in the soul in the state of grace as in a temple where they can be and sometimes are the object of a quasi-experimental knowledge and of an infused love. They thus make Themselves felt as the life of our life. When this quasi-experimental knowledge of the divine Persons present in us and this infused love have reached their full, normal development, they constitute the mystical union, properly so called.

The indwelling of the Blessed Trinity in our souls is thus the center from which our spiritual life springs and to which it returns. It is the realization of St. John's words: "God is charity; and he that abideth in charity, abideth in God, and God in him." (16)

The truth of this doctrine is still more evident when we consider not a given individual soul, but the human soul itself and especially divine grace itself. The grace of the virtues and the gifts is not only the seed of the mystical union; it is normally the seed of the beatific vision and of its immediate prelude: gratia est semen gloriae, a doctrine profoundly understood by Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity, a valiant Carmelite of Dijon. The mystery of the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity in the center of her soul was the great reality of her
interior life.(17)



1. In the Blessed Trinity we distinguish the essential love common to the three divine Persons, the notional or spirated love, by which the Father and the Son spirate the Holy Ghost, and personal love, which is the Holy Ghost Himself, the term of active spiration, as the Word is the term of eternal generation.

2. Summa, Ia, q.38, a.2.

3. Cf. St. Thomas, Contra Gentes, Bk. IV, chaps. 21 f., "De effectibus attributis Spiritui Sancto." Among these effects, St. Thomas points out especially infused contemplation and infused love, which give the holy liberty of the children of God. In chapter 22 he says: "The special characteristic of friendship is to converse with one's friend. Moreover, the conversation of man with God is by the contemplation of Him, as the Apostle said (Phil. 3:20): 'Our conversation is in heaven.' Because therefore the Holy Spirit makes us lovers of God, it follows that by the Holy Spirit we are made contemplators of God; whence the Apostle says (II Cor. 3: 18): 'But we all beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.' " These effects attributed to the Holy Ghost by appropriation are also produced by the Father and the Son, for they are effects of the divine power common to the three Persons, but they have a special resemblance to personal Love, which is the proper name of the Holy Ghost.

4. In Joannem, 4: 14.

5. Rom. 5:5.

6. Rom. 8: 16.

7. In Epist. ad Rom., 8:16.

8. Apoc. 2:17.

9.  Cf . I Cor. 2:10, 12.

10. Cf. St. Thomas, IIa IIae, q. 18, a.4.

11. Bk. III, chap. 5, passim.

12. Rom. 8: 26 f.

13. Chap. 91.

14. Cf. St. Catherine of Siena, Dialogue (transl. by E. Cartier, Paris, 1855, chap. 141): "(In malady and affliction) the Holy Ghost, like a tender mother, nourishes these men in the bosom of divine charity. He makes them free and sovereign, delivering them from the servitude of self-love. For where the fire of My infinite charity burns, is never found that water of self-love which extinguishes this sweet fire in the soul. . . . The Holy Ghost nourishes the just man, He inebriates him with sweetness, overwhelms him with inestimable riches. . . . Then the soul accepts all afflictions, nothing casts it down, nothing shakes it; it receives great strength and a foretaste of eternal life." [This chapter does not appear in the English edition. Tr.]

Father Lallemant, S.J., writes in La Doctrine spirituelle (4th principle, chap. 2, a. 4): "The Holy Ghost consoles us especially in three things: First, in the uncertainty of our salvation. . . ; a soul that has had some experimental knowledge of God is rarely lost. Secondly, the Holy Ghost consoles us in the temptations of the devil, in the contradictions and afflictions of this life. . . . Thirdly, the Holy Ghost consoles us in our exile here on earth, far from God. . . . Holy souls feel, as it were, an infinite void in themselves, which all creatures cannot fill and which can be filled only by the enjoyment of God. As long as they are separated from Him, they languish and suffer a long martyrdom, which would be unbearable to them without the consolations which the Holy Ghost gives them from time to time."

15. St. Thomas sets forth this common teaching, as we have pointed out, in the Contra Gentes (Bk. IV, chaps. 21 f.), where he describes the effects of the presence of the Holy Ghost in us.

16. Cf. I John 4: 16.

17. Soeur Elisabeth de la Trinite, Souvenirs (ed. 1935), the story of her life and extracts from her writings. In less than thirty years, ninety thousand copies of this book have been distributed in France.

See also M. M. Philippon, O.P., The Spiritual Doctrine of Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity (Westminster, Md., 1947). Cf. especially the following chapters: "Toward Transforming Union," pp. 22-32; "The Indwelling of the Blessed Trinity," pp. 46-80; "The Praise of Glory," pp. 81-100; "Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity and the Souls of Priests," pp. 135-53; "The Gifts of the Holy Ghost," pp. 154-88; "The Last Retreat of Laudem Gloriae," pp. 232-55.