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

The Unitive Way of the Perfect


Ch 52: The Transforming Union, Prelude of the Union of Heaven (cont)


Tauler describes as follows the highest degree of the mystical life in the servants of God:

The peace of the highest degree is the essential peace of which it is written: "Seek after peace and pursue it." (1) They seek peace, and it follows them. This peace, "which surpasseth all understanding," (2) follows upon the essential conversion. When what is unnamable and unnamed in the soul turns fully toward God, everything in man that has a name follows this unnamed depth of the soul and is likewise converted. To this conversion always answers that which is nameless, that which is Unnamed in God and also that which in God has a name; all this answers to conversion. In such a man, God proclaims His true peace, and man can then say: "I will hear what the Lord God will speak in me; for He will speak peace unto His people. . . and unto them that are converted unto the heart." (3) Dionysius says that these men are formed in God. St. Paul must have been thinking of these men when he said: "That being rooted and founded in charity, you may be able to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth. . . of God.'"

Do not imagine that I claim to have arrived at this degree. No master should, in truth, teach that which he himself has not experienced. Strictly speaking, it suffices that he love that of which he speaks, that he pursue it, and place no hindrance to it. . . .

Nature, which is too weak to bear such a life, must necessarily be broken, with the result that this man no longer has a single day of good health. . . . As St. Paul says: "Power is made perfect in infirmity." (5)

However, this weakness does not come from exterior observances, but from the superabundant outpouring of the divinity, which inundates this man to such a point that his poor body of clay cannot bear it. For God has so drawn this man into Himself that man thus becomes "deicolored," to such an extent that God Himself performs the works of this man. . . . It is in such souls that God finds His glory. . . .

When they plunge into this bottomless sea, no longer do they have definite words or thoughts. . . . At this time man buries himself so deeply in his unfathomable nothingness that he retains absolutely nothing for himself. . . and gives back all that he has received from God, the Author of every good. . . . There the spirit [of man] is lost in the spirit of God. . . . And yet this man becomes so profoundly human a man. . . so good to all that no defect can be found in him. . . . It is not to be believed that such souls may ever be separated from God. May this be the portion of all of us! May God help us to attain it! Amen.(6)


In the Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent,(7) Tauler also speaks of the pursuit of God:

It provokes an appealing cry of immense power. . . . It is a sigh coming from an endless depth and far exceeding nature. The Holy Ghost Himself must utter this sigh in us, as St. Paul says: "The Spirit Himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings." (8) . . . When the poor man thus pursued experiences this immense anxiety and cries to God with inexpressible sighs and with such a desire that his appeal penetrates even the loftiest heavens, if God then acts as if He heard absolutely nothing or wished to know nothing, how greatly at this moment in the depths of the soul man's desire should reach out and become more urgent! . . . Then the soul, while abasing and humbling itself, should pray with confidence like the woman of Canaan: "Yea, Lord; for the whelps also eat of the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters." (9) . . . These roads, and these alone, lead in truth, and without an intermediary station, even to God.(10)

In a manuscript dealing with this subject, we read:

In this immensely powerful cry of appeal there is an act of love of God which pierces the clouds, an act of love not obtained by impetuous outbursts. It is Jesus who passes by and gives rise in the soul to a movement which is extremely calm, tranquil like the peace of God, but which issues from the most profound depths of the heart, where love dwells, and goes forth and touches Jesus in the unfathomable depths of eternity. This act of love is absolutely distinct from the most fervent acts that we ourselves make. When Jesus forms it in the soul, the soul perceives it because a little of its life ascends toward God. It is not so much the Lord who, by a divine touch, reaches the depths of the soul, but rather it is the soul which, lifted up by Him, rushes rapidly toward Him, as by a flight of incomparable gentleness, by an act of love which God alone can produce in it.(11)

These acts of love are always promptly followed by crosses, by great crosses. But everything goes well in this way.

This is progressive configuration to our Lord.


A soul that seems to be approaching this state wrote the following lines which are reminiscent of the pages we have just quoted from Tauler:

In prayer I sometimes feel this tearing of myself away from myself which carries all my being into "An Other," a tearing away which is brought about without any violence, but with power and gentleness, and with the sweet and complete consent of my will; this is my part. But what is the Lord's part?  . . . At the term of this movement (if I may thus express myself, for in this prayer this movement is continuous) I have felt as if two great arms entwined me; it was the Abyss which closed over and swallowed me up in its infinite depths. When a ship sinks, the waters of the sea open up to receive it, then silently close over it. This is something similar. . .

My whole being would break its bonds and cast itself into the Other. Although often I do nothing in prayer, there is always, more or less, this secret and imperceptible movement which would draw me whither I cannot go. . . . All graces, all supernatural impulsions emanate from this innermost depth wherein God acts, and literally bear me away into this infinite abyss. It is God within me who bears me away in Himself out of myself. Sometimes I feel that the grace is not completed, that it stops at the threshold of a grace of full union. . . . Were the grace to attain its normal term each time, the result would be the embrace of two spirits in a silence like that of eternity; but I remain on the threshold.

When a grace of this kind is given to me, my active intellect and will are warned by the substance of my very soul, as, for example, when it is extremely cold, I feel the cold before thinking that the weather is cold. This physical experience precedes the judgment of the mind; similarly, the experience felt in the substance of the soul (evidently, it is from the experimental and mystical point of view and not from the philosophical point of view that I speak of the substance of the soul) precedes the idea of the gift received. Inversely, if I deliberately propose to touch an object that I know is very cold, the thought of the cold precedes the physical experience of the cold that I am about to feel. Likewise, my will and  intellect can in an instant awaken the inert experience in the depths of my soul which awaits but a stimulus to be revived. When my soul is powerless and empty, I do indeed deliberately intensify my oblation, and this act provokes at long intervals as it were an awakening.


In view of certain observations that have been made to us, we believe it advisable in a discussion of the transforming union to signalize the following points.

Some very loving, greatly tried, and extremely generous souls live closely united to God in the world, and their director may early believe that they have entered the transforming union. This judgment may, however, be precipitate, for, before attaining to the spiritual marriage, the chosen soul must first become a spouse, as a simple religious is who has made profession after the trials and generous acts of the novitiate.

There may be a notable error of interpretation in this decision if the director or the directed soul attributes to the title of spouse, received occasionally in an interior locution, the same meaning as that of the far superior title of spouse in the transforming union. There is a great difference between the term spouse, used to denote a religious who has made profession, and the title spouse, as applied to St. Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa. Moreover, even in the second sense, the perfect soul, though confirmed in grace, may not believe that it has attained the goal, for until its last sigh it will remain on the royal road, seeing this goal in a very consoling light, while recalling the words of St. Paul: "Not as though I had already attained or were already perfect; but I follow after." (12)

Again, a soul much loved by God is drawn to Him, and gives itself. It is very generous, wholly loving, pure, and its crosses become heavy. After an interior locution, the Lord seems to choose it as a spouse. May this soul believe that it is in the transforming union? Is this not simply the normal state of a good religious after profession? For this chosen soul still has numerous defects and imperfections, which seem incompatible with the spiritual marriage. But the director may believe that this soul will attain to this state when its charity is wholly true and its life completely impregnated with God.

The life of St. Gemma Galgani, for example, shows clearly what the Lord required of her before permitting her to call herself His spouse. This valiant saint, who never refused anything to grace, complained at times of these demands.

Another case is that of a married woman, who is partly emancipated from what has become for her humiliating servitude and who is generous in her sacrifices. Our Lord holds her soul captive and urges her to belong to Him alone. As a result she is somewhat inclined to believe that she is in the transforming union. In our opinion she is accepted as a spouse in the sense that a religious is after final profession, and we believe that if the mystical marriage is granted to this person, it will be only later on, for this beautiful soul is still too much encumbered with herself. All worldly nets are not odious to her. Her charity does not at all measure up to that of a soul united to God by the spiritual marriage. More profound trials will perhaps not delay in making this evident.

The transforming union is, undoubtedly, given in different degrees, but the least degree requires perfect charity toward God and one's neighbor. Who can tell it without having attained to that state where there is no longer any insufficiency, where an unknown food is served to the well-beloved who, filled but still famished, utter ineffable groans?


May a generous person, who truly seems to have passed through at least a part of the night of the spirit, desire and ask for the grace of the transforming union?

Certainly. This grace is here on earth the term of the more or less conscious aspirations of such a soul. If an explicit desire is in question, however, it is advisable to give it a more objective expression, that is, desiring the ever more profound reign of God in our souls and their more perfect configuration to our Lord. Besides, it is also advisable to keep in mind what St. Teresa points out in the epilogue to The Interior Castle: "It is true you cannot enter all the mansions by your own power, however great it may appear to you, unless the Lord of the castle Himself admits you. Therefore I advise you to use no violence if you meet with any obstacle, for that would displease Him so much that He would never give you admission to them. He dearly loves humility: if you think yourselves unworthy to enter the third mansion, He will grant you all the sooner the favor of entering the fifth. Then, if you serve Him well there and often repair to it, He will draw you into the mansion where He dwells Himself. . . . When once you have learned how to enjoy this castle, you will always find rest, however painful your trials may be, in the hope of returning to your Lord, which no one can prevent."

Let us also remember what St. John of the Cross says in The Living Flame: "O souls that seek your own ease and comfort, if you knew how necessary for this high state is suffering, and how profitable suffering and mortification are for attaining to these great blessings." (13) He likewise writes in A Spiritual Canticle: "O that men would understand how impossible it is to enter the thicket, the manifold riches of the wisdom of God, without entering into the thicket of manifold suffering making it the desire and consolation of the soul; and how that the soul which really longs for the divine wisdom, longs first of all for the sufferings of the cross, that it may enter in. . . . They who desire to enter in that way are few, while those who desire the joys that come by it are many." (14)

In the following stanza, St. John of the Cross says: "One of the reasons which most influence the soul to enter into the 'thicket' of the wisdom of God, and to have a more intimate knowledge of the beauty of the divine wisdom, is, as I have said, that it may unite the understanding with God in the knowledge of the mysteries of the Incarnation, as of all His works the highest and most full of sweetness, and the most delicious knowledge. . . . But the soul cannot reach these hidden treasures unless it first passes through the thicket of interior and exterior suffering." (15)

Certainly this end, the prelude of heaven, is highly desirable; but the soul must be willing to take the royal road which leads to it.(16)


The intimacy of the transforming union, it should be noted, is due to an absolutely eminent operating grace. Of operating grace in general, in contradistinction to cooperating grace, St. Thomas says: "The operation of an affect is not attributed to the thing moved but to the mover. Hence in that effect in which our mind is moved and does not move, but in which God is the sole mover, the operation is attributed to God, and it is with reference to this that we speak of operating grace." (17) The will, however, freely consents to be moved.

The human will indubitably continues to exist, since it will subsist even in beatific love; it is not physically absorbed in God, as the pantheists would say in this case. We must hold what St. John of the Cross so well expresses in A Spiritual Canticle: "Though in heaven the will of the soul is not destroyed, it is so intimately united with the power of the will of God, who loves it, that it loves Him as strongly and as perfectly as it is loved by Him. . . . Thus the soul loves God with the will and strength of God Himself, being made one with that very strength of love wherewith itself is loved by God. This strength is of the Holy Ghost, in whom the soul is there transformed. He is given to the soul to strengthen its love; ministering to it, and supplying in it, because of its transformation in glory, that which is defective in it." (18)


Consequently, as Father Gabriel of St. Magdalen (19) well explains, one can understand that the soul reaches a certain equality of love with God. St. John says in The Living Flame:

Thus, then, the soul, by reason of its transformation, being a shadow of God, effects through God in God what He effects within it Himself by Himself, because the will of both is one. And as God is giving Himself with a free and gracious will, so the soul also with a will, the more free and the more generous the more it is united with God in God, is, as it were, giving back to God - in that loving complacency with which it regards the divine essence and perfections - God Himself. . . . The soul gives to the Beloved, who is God Himself, what He had given to it.

Herein it pays the whole debt, for the soul gives as much voluntarily with inestimable joy and delight, giving the Holy Spirit as its own of its own free will, so that God may be loved as He deserves to be. Herein consists the inestimable joy of the soul, for it sees that it offers to God what becomes Him in His infinite Being.(20)

This is truly the prelude of the life of heaven.


Whence A Spiritual Canticle concludes: "O souls created for this [such grandeurs] and called thereto, what are you doing? What are your occupations? Your aim is meanness, and your enjoyments misery. Oh, wretched blindness of the children of Adam, blind to so great a light and deaf to so clear a voice!" (21)

As Father Gabriel of St. Magdalen says: "This call, addressed by the saint to souls in general, shows us that he cannot regard as 'extraordinary' the sublime things he has just described for us. . . . That state, the flowering of the seed of supernatural life, which is sanctifying grace in the soul, should be within the reach of all those who are endowed with this grace." (22)



1. Ps. 33: 15.

2. Phil. 4: 17.

3. Ps. 84:9.

4. Eph.3:17-19.

5. Cf. II Cor. 12:9.

6. Second Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity (transl. Hugueny, II, 222 ff.).

7. Ibid., I, 241 ff.

8. Rom. 8:26.

9. Matt. 15:27.

10 Transl. Hugueny, I, 241 ff.

11. This is clearly an eminent operating grace, sharply distinct from co-operating grace, as St. Thomas points out (Ia IIae, q. 111, a. 2). Thus is heard and granted the prayer: "Take me from myself, Lord, and give me completely to Thyself."

12. Phil. 3:12.

13. St. 2, v. 5.

14. St. 36, v. 5.

15. St. 37, v. I f. This passage and the preceding one are almost the same in the two editions of A Spiritual Canticle, although the numbering of the stanzas is not identical. The stanza, numbered thirty-five in one is number thirty-six in the other. We are inclined to believe, as Father Gabriel of St. Magdalen does (Angelicum, 1937, fasc. I-2, p. 264), that these two editions of A Spiritual Canticle are the work of St. John of the Cross. In the second, the saint denies nothing of what he said in the first, but his thought is more precise; it shows more clearly that the plenitude attained by the transforming union on earth is still only relative, and he compares it more with that of the union of heaven.

On the desire of the transforming union in the soul undergoing the night of the spirit, see A Spiritual Canticle (2nd ed.; st. 37, v. 3, par. 5): "The soul longs to enter in earnest into these caverns of Christ, that it may be absorbed, transformed, and inebriated in the love and knowledge of His mysteries, hiding itself in the bosom of the Beloved. It is into these caverns that, in the Canticle of Canticles (2: 13 f.), He invites the bride to enter, saying: 'Arise, My love, My beautiful one, and come; My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hollow places of the wall' These clefts of the rock are the caverns of which we are here speaking, and to which the bride refers, saying: 'And there we shall enter in.' . . . To say 'we shall enter,' is as much as to say, 'there shall we transform ourselves,' that is, 'I shall be transformed in Thee through the love of Thy divine and sweet judgments.' "

16. Cf. the text from A Spiritual Canticle quoted at the end of this appendix.

17. Summa, Ia IIae, q.111, a.2.

18. Second edition (1909), st. 38, par. 3 f.

19. Art. cit., Angelicum, 1937, p. 275.

20. St. 3, par. 89-91.

21. St. 39, par. 8.

22. Art. cit., p. 278.