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)



We reproduce here an article which appeared in La Vie spirituelle (January, 1936). We thank its author for permitting us to use it and also for having so well expressed what in our opinion is the true teaching of St. John of the Cross on several points of great importance.


It has recently been affirmed that according to the spiritual teaching of Carmel, and of St. Teresa in particular, the perfection of love is found in the ascetical way and that infused contemplation is not at all necessary to sanctity.(2)

God willingly grants these mystical graces to generous souls, they say. Consequently the soul does well to desire them, to prepare itself for them, and to tend to them, even to direct its whole life toward the contemplative ideal; nevertheless, they add, the fact remains that sanctity can be attained without them.

Moreover, they distinguish two kinds of contemplation: acquired contemplation and infused contemplation. The first may also be called mixed or active-passive contemplation; it is a latent mystical contemplation. They concede that this contemplation is in the normal way of sanctity. The second, mystical contemplation properly so called, experimentally passive or infused, especially in its higher degrees (the betrothal and the spiritual marriage) , is not, they maintain, in the normal way.(3)

This opinion, it seems to us, is not in harmony with the teaching of St. John of the Cross.(4)

To affirm on the one hand that mystical contemplation is not necessary to perfection, and to maintain on the other that it is good to tend to it seems to us difficult to reconcile with the teaching of the Mystical Doctor. We know with what insistence he requires that the soul absolutely divest itself of all that is accidental, accessory, extraordinary, and not essential or necessary to perfection. (5) For St. John of the Cross the unique goal in this life is perfect union with God through the theological virtues; everything that is not necessary to this union - even graces in other regards precious - is, as soon as one dwells excessively on it, an obstacle. These things must be renounced, rejected, as far as possible; the soul must go beyond them and thus rest in emptiness, in the most absolute nudity of spirit. This is the very essence of the teaching of St. John of the Cross in The Ascent of Mount Carmel and in The Dark Night.(6) How, therefore, can we harmonize this doctrine of the void, excluding all that is accidental, with the seeking after a mystical contemplation that would be precisely something accidental?

This mortification of every desire, with the exception of that of divine union, this divesting oneself of all that is not God, constitutes for the soul the dark night, which is at the center of the saint's doctrine. If he leads the soul by this night to mystical, obscure, and general contemplation,(7) is it not that, in his opinion, this contemplation is part of the perfect union to which the denudation of the purifications tends, and that there is a necessary connection between perfect love, the fruit of denudation and of the purifications, and the mystical contemplation to which the soul has access through the dark night?

This is especially clear in A Spiritual Canticle, and we should like to show it. Our fundamental reason is summed up in the following argument.

The transforming union described in A Spiritual Canticle is certainly a very lofty mystical state; no one can deny it. Now this state is in the normal way of sanctity, since St. John calls it the union of love, the state of perfection, full union with God, full and perfect love.(8) Therefore even the most elevated mystical state, at least in its essential character, is in the normal way of sanctity.

Besides it would be difficult to comprehend how the perfection of love described by the saint in A Spiritual Canticle, could be attained without the help of mystical graces and of infused contemplation. We shall see this by an analysis of A Spiritual Canticle.

To the above we add a further consideration. If the connection between the state of perfect love and the mystical state of the betrothal or of the spiritual marriage were only accidental, St. John of the Cross would at each step have caused an unbelievable confusion by continually uniting them, without ever warning us that one can exist without the other. He affirms explicitly, on the contrary, that consummate perfection is obtained only in the state of the espousals and of spiritual marriage and that before this state is reached love is always imperfect. This is what we shall try to establish by evidence.(9)

We shall show, first of all, that the union described in A Spiritual Canticle is the highest mystical state. By analysis of the text we shall then establish that this union is in the normal line of the development of perfect charity, the necessary term of sanctity.


First of all, we can easily establish that the union described in A Spiritual Canticle is the highest mystical union.

I) St. John calls this union the spiritual espousals, in its lower degree,(10) and, in its higher degree, the spiritual marriage.(11) Now, these expressions are commonly attributed to the mystical union; marriage denotes the most sublime union; the espousals refer to the union which immediately precedes the spiritual marriage. The union to which St. John of the Cross leads the soul is, therefore, the highest mystical union.

2) St. John of the Cross calls this union the transforming union, the transformation of the soul in God,(12) and these expressions, like that of the spiritual marriage, fittingly designate the highest mystical Union.

3) The Mystical Doctor attributes to the espousals the entrance into the "sweet science" that God teaches to the soul in this union; and "this science is mystical theology, which is the secret science of God, and which spiritual men call contemplation." (13) Evidently mystical contemplation is meant. It is God who "bestows on the soul this science and knowledge in the love by which He communicates Himself to the soul" (14) In this luminous union God transforms the soul, "makes it completely His own and empties it of all that is alien to Himself," (15) which cannot be done without the mystical graces.

In the higher degree of union we find infused contemplation more clearly described: "When the soul has been raised to the high state of spiritual marriage, the Bridegroom reveals to it, as His faithful consort, His own marvelous secrets most readily and most frequently, for he who truly and sincerely loves hides nothing from the object of his affections. The chief matter of His communications are the sweet mysteries of His Incarnation, the ways and means of the redemption, which is one of the highest works of God, and so is to the soul one of the sweetest." (16) The Bridegroom does all this in this stanza which emphasizes with what tender love He discloses such mysteries interiorly to the soul.

The state which St. John of the Cross describes here is a state of love linked to a state of infused contemplation. The connection is owing to a necessity of love: "True and full love cannot hide anything." This connection is not accidental, since this need is connatural to perfect charity. The observation is important.

4) The Mystical Doctor repeatedly affirms that it is God alone who acts and operates immediately in the soul in this state, that therein the soul passively receives contemplation.(17) But passivity characterizes precisely mystical contemplation.

s) Lastly, Sr. John of the Cross speaks of divine touches, of the contact of the divinity as characteristic of this union, as ordinarily produced in this state. (18) These are, certainly, very lofty mystical graces.

There is not, it seems, any doubt that the union described in A Spiritual Canticle is the most distinctly characterized and the loftiest mystical union.(19)

This union is in the normal way. St. John of the Cross again and again describes the state to which the soul should tend: the spiritual marriage as full union with God, as consummated union, as the state of perfect love. He affirms that the full perfection of love is obtained only in the spiritual marriage.(20)

But full union with God, consummated perfection, perfect love are certainly in the normal way: this is the whole end of our life.(21) It will suffice, therefore, to establish solidly that, in the opinion of the Mystical Doctor, the spiritual espousals, the spiritual marriage are simply the state of perfect love in order to conclude that he places them in the normal way of sanctity. The texts will furnish us abundant proof of this.


St. 14. The Flight of Mystical Contemplation and the State of Union

In the thirteenth stanza St. John of the Cross describes the flight of the soul in this state of ardent love and great desires, which he set forth in the first stanzas.

In the fourteenth stanza he continues: "This spiritual flight signifies a certain high estate and union of love, whereunto, after many spiritual exercises, God is, wont to elevate the soul: it is called the spiritual betrothal of the Word, the Son of God." (22)

Here we have two very important affirmations: (I) the state of the spiritual espousals is nothing other than the state of union of love; (2) God is wont to elevate the soul to this state when it has greatly exercised itself in the spiritual life; which is equivalent to saying that this state is normal.

St. 24. The State of the Spiritual Espousals, the State of Perfect Love

St. John describes the state of the spiritual espousals as the state of perfect love and of perfect and heroic virtues. The soul says clearly that it is now united to the Beloved, since it has the solid virtues together with perfect charity. Therefore it calls this union of love a bed of flowers.(23) Moreover, the soul says that the bed is of flowers because in this state the virtues in the soul are perfect and heroic, a condition impossible before there was a bed of flowers, the fruit of perfect union with God.

Perfect and heroic virtues cannot, therefore, exist before the union of the spiritual espousals; such virtues are the fruit of this union. Similarly, each of the virtues (the soul now possesses them in perfection) becomes like a den of lions. "The soul's bed is encompassed by these dens of the virtues, because in this state its virtues are so perfectly ordered, and so joined together and bound up with one another in the consummate perfection of the soul, each supporting the other, that no part of it is weak or exposed. Not only is Satan unable to penetrate within it, but even worldly things, whether great or little, fail to disturb or annoy it, or even move it; for being now free from all molestation of natural affections, and a stranger to the worry of temporal anxieties, it enjoys in security and peace the participation of God." (24)

It is clear that for St. John the state of the spiritual espousals is the initial stage of the state of consummate perfection.

St. 26. The Inner Cellar and the Union of Most Intimate Love

St. John of the Cross describes here the state of the espousals and of the spiritual marriage as full union with God and as the supreme degree of love to which the soul can attain in this life. The soul sets forth in this stanza the very great grace that God gave it by making it enter the secret depths of His love which is the union or transformation of love in God. The cellar of which the soul speaks is the supreme degree of the most intimate love to which the soul can attain in this life; consequently the soul calls it the inner cellar, that is, the most secret. It uses this term because there are others less interior: such are the degrees of love through which the soul ascends to the highest. We may say that there are seven of these cellars. The soul will enter them all when it has in perfection the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost. In the inmost cellar is wrought the perfect union with God, the union of the spiritual marriage, of which the soul is now speaking.(25)

Thus for St. John of the Cross the spiritual marriage is identified with full union with God. The effects of this union are then described: "Until the soul reaches the state of perfection, however spiritual it may be, there always remains a troop of desires, likings, and other imperfections, sometimes natural, sometimes spiritual, after which it runs, and which it tries to feed while following and satisfying them. . . . As to this flock, some men are more influenced by it than others; they run after and follow it, until they enter the inner cellar, where they lose it altogether, being then transformed in love. In this cellar the flock of imperfections is easily destroyed, as rust and mould on metal in the fire." (26)

It is evident that in the opinion of St. John of the Cross the highest degree of love and perfection is attained only in the state of the espousals and the spiritual marriage, in the "inner cellar." Hence no one can say that the highest degree of love is outside the normal way of the saints.

St. 27. The State of the Spiritual Espousals and the Complete Impulsion of the Soul toward God

In this stanza St. John describes the state of the spiritual espousals as the state of perfect love, in which even the first movements of the will and the sensible appetites are directed toward God. It would be futile to wish to obtain such perfection actively by one's own efforts in the purely ascetical life. And besides, St. John teaches explicitly that it is God Himself who causes this perfection in the soul by means of "mystical theology," that is, by infused contemplation. St. John states that the "science full of sweetness" which God has taught the soul is mystical theology, "which is the secret science of God, and which spiritual men call contemplation. . . . God is the Author of this union, and of the purity and perfection requisite for it; and as the transformation of the soul in Himself makes it His, He empties it of all that is alien to Himself. Thus it comes to pass that, not in will only, but in act as well, the whole soul is entirely given to God without any reserve whatever, as God has given Himself freely unto it. . . . The soul is, as it were, absorbed in God, and even its first movements have nothing in them - so far as it can comprehend them - which is at variance with the will of God. . . . The first movements (in the understanding, the memory, the will, and the desires) of the soul which has attained to the spiritual state of which I am speaking are ordinarily directed to God, because of the great help and courage it derives from Him, and its perfect conversion to goodness."

Evidently this degree of perfection is superior to human efforts; it can be attained only in the mystical way. On the other hand, it is the effect of a "union by exchange" which is in the normal development of charity.

St. 28. The Spiritual Espousals and the Activity of Love

St. John here describes the state of the spiritual espousals as the state of perfect love, in which all the higher and lower powers "are consecrated no longer to its own interests, but to those pertaining to the service of the Bridegroom." The saint says: "Even its communion with God Himself is nothing else but acts of love." The soul declares: "My soul is occupied, and all my substance in His service." In these words it reveals the gift it has made of itself to the Beloved in this union of love in which the soul is, with all its powers (intellect, will, and memory), dedicated and engaged in His service, devoting its intellect to the understanding of what is of most consequence to His cause that it may put it into practice; its will to the preference of all that gives pleasure to God, to the direction of its affections in everything to God; its memory to the seeking of what may serve Him and give Him the greatest pleasure.

The soul continues: "And all my substance in His service." By all its substance, the soul means here all that relates to its sensible part. The soul says here that it has consecrated its sensible as well as its rational and spiritual part to His service.

All this, it says, is consecrated to His cause: the soul orders the body according to God "in all its interior and exterior senses, all the acts of which are directed to God. The four passions of the soul are also under control in Him; for the soul's joy, hope, fear, and grief are conversant with God only; all its appetites and all its anxieties also are directed unto Him only."

"The whole substance of the soul is now so occupied with God, so intent upon Him, that its very first movements, even inadvertently, have God for their object and their end. The understanding, memory, and will tend directly to God."

"Now I guard no flock." By these words the soul means: "I do not now go after my likings and desires; for having them fixed upon God, I no longer feed or guard them. The soul not only does not guard them now, but has no other occupation than to wait upon God. 'Nor have I any other employment.' Before the soul succeeded in effecting this gift and surrender of itself, and of all that belongs to it, to the Beloved, it was entangled in many unprofitable occupations. . . . It may be said that its occupations of this kind were as many as its habits of imperfection."

The soul still has a blemish, which it never rids itself of as long as it does not once and for all consecrate all its substance to the service of God so that, as we have said, all its words, thoughts, and works are directed to God.

" 'My sole occupation is love.' The soul means: 'All my occupation now is the practice of the love of God, all the powers of soul and body, memory, understanding, and will, interior and exterior senses, the desires of spirit and of sense, all work in and by love. All I do is done in love; all I suffer, I suffer in the sweetness of love.' . . .

"When the soul has arrived at this state all the acts of its spiritual and sensual nature, whether active or passive, and of whatever kind they may be, always occasion an increase of love and delight in God; even the act of prayer and communion with God, which was formerly carried on by reflections and divers other methods, is now wholly an act of love. . . . The soul, in the state of spiritual betrothal, is for the most part living in the union of love - that is, the will is habitually waiting lovingly on God."

It is impossible to conceive of such perfection of love, of such a gift of self extending even to the first movements of all the powers, in the purely ascetical way. According to St. John of the Cross, this perfection, obtained only in the spiritual espousals, is the effect of the mystical graces bestowed in this state.(27) Thus once more the state of perfect love is identified in the teaching of St. John of the Cross with the state of the spiritual espousals.

St. 29. The Soul Lost to the World for Its Beloved

This stanza also refers to the state of the spiritual espousals: "Having attained to a living love of God [that is, practicing the virtues solely for love of God], it makes little account of all this; and that is not all. It boasts that. . . it is lost to the world and to itself for the Beloved. . . . Such is he that loves God; he seeks neither gain nor reward but only to lose all, even himself, according to God's will; this is what such a one counts gain."

This is still another description of perfect love; it is the way of pure faith and pure love, as the following words show: "When a soul has advanced so far on the spiritual road as to be lost to all the natural methods of communing with God; when it seeks Him no longer by meditation, images, impressions, nor by any other created ways, or representations of sense, but only by rising above them all, in the joyful communion with Him by faith and love, then it may be said to have found God of a truth, because it has truly lost itself as to all that is not God, and also as to its own self."


St. 12. The Spiritual Marriage and the Transforming Union

In this stanza St. John himself declares that he is discussing the spiritual marriage. First of all, he tells us that the perfection of this state is not obtained by our own efforts, but by the breathing of the Holy Ghost: that is, it belongs, not to the ascetical, but to the mystical way. The soul has again implored and obtained the breathing of the Holy Ghost which remains the indispensable means and instrument of the perfection of this state.

St. John then describes the spiritual marriage as the state of perfect love. It is a complete transformation into the Beloved: God and the soul give each other total possession of each other by the union of love consummated in the measure possible on earth. The soul as a result becomes divine and God by participation, as much as this life permits. By the consummation of the spiritual marriage between God and the soul, two natures are in one single spirit and love of God. The spouse is introduced, that is, she has got rid of all that is temporal, all that is natural, of all attachments, ways, and spiritual manners. . . in the transformation of this sublime embrace. . . . The soul is transformed in its God. The transformation is complete. What St. Paul says to the Galatians may be applied to it: "I live, now not I, but Christ liveth in me." (28)

Thus the spiritual marriage is for St. John of the Cross the union of perfect love. But perfect love is in the normal way; all are called to perfect love, the final end of life on earth: "Now the end of the commandment is charity." (29) Besides, St. John of the Cross affirms it: "In all the works of the soul, God and the soul have only one ambition, one end: the consummation and plenitude of this state." If, therefore, the state of spiritual marriage is the end of all the actions of the soul, as well as of the divine operation, it is necessarily identified with perfect love and cannot be in purely accidental relation to it. Consequently we conclude that it incontestably brings the spiritual marriage, an eminently mystical state, into the normal way of sanctity. The analysis of the following stanzas will but strengthen this conclusion.

St. 20-21. The Spiritual Marriage and the Total Death of the Passions

In this stanza St. John describes the spiritual marriage as the state of perfect love in which God "commands all vain distractions of the fancy and imagination from henceforth to cease, and controls the irascible and concupiscible faculties which were hitherto the sources of so much affliction. He brings, so far as it is possible in this life, the three powers of memory, understanding, and will to the perfection of their objects. . . . He adjures also all these actions which depart from the true mean, and bids them cease before the soft lyres and the siren strains, which so effectually charm the powers of the soul as to occupy them completely in their true and proper functions, so that they avoid not only all extremes, but also the slightest tendency to them."

This is a new degree of love which manifestly surpasses our own efforts and the purely ascetical life. Moreover, St. John of the Cross says so explicitly: "The Beloved adjures the affections of these four passions, compels them to cease and to be at rest."

St. 18. The Perfect Calm of the Powers and Senses

The spiritual marriage is represented here as the state of perfection which excludes even the imperfection of the inordinate first movements of the powers and senses. "And touch not our thresholds, that is to say: Let not even your first movements touch the higher part, for the first movements of the soul are the entrance and thresholds of it. When the first movements have passed into the reason, they have crossed the threshold; but when they remain as first movements only, they are then said merely to touch the threshold, or to cry at the gate, which is the case when reason and sense contend over an unreasonable act."

Thus, in this state, this sensible part with all its powers, its energies, and its weaknesses has yielded to the spirit. This constitutes even now a blessed life, similar to that of the state of innocence, when all the resources and capacities of the sensible part of man enabled him to know and to love God.

St. 35. The Solitude of the Soul with the Bridegroom

In this stanza St. John shows clearly that the spiritual marriage is a mystical state and that perfect love is not obtained in the ascetical way, but that it is God who produces it in the soul in the mystical way. In this stanza the Bridegroom declares not only that He guides the soul, "but that He is its only guide, without any intermediate help."

" 'Alone hath the Beloved guided her.' That is, the Beloved not only guides the soul in its solitude, but it is He alone who works in it directly and immediately. It is of the nature of the soul's union with God in the spiritual marriage that God works directly, and communicates Himself immediately, not by the ministry of angels or by the help of natural capacities. For the exterior and interior senses, all created things, and even the soul itself, contribute very little toward the reception of those great supernatural favors which God bestows in this state; yea, rather, inasmuch as they do not fall within the cognizance of natural efforts, ability, and application, God effects them alone.

"The reason is that He finds the soul alone in its solitude, and therefore will not give it another companion, nor will He entrust His work to any other than Himself. There is a certain fitness in this; for the soul having abandoned all things, and passed through all the ordinary means, rising above them unto God, God Himself becomes the guide and the way to Himself. The soul in solitude, detached from all things, having now ascended above all things, nothing now can profit or help it to ascend higher except the Bridegroom Word Himself."

In this stanza St. John admirably distinguishes between the ascetical and the mystical ways. To the ascetical way belongs the preparation of the soul for the divine operation by denuding it of all that is created; to the mystical, consummate perfection, which God produces in the soul.

St. 37-38. Perfect Purity and Equality of Love

St. John of the Cross shows first in this stanza that the soul desires mystical contemplation, designated here by "the caverns of the rock," because mystical contemplation is the means to obtain perfect love and perfect purity. In the following stanza he describes perfection and the purity of the state of the spiritual marriage. "The reason why the soul longed to enter the caverns was that it might attain to the consummation of the love of God, the object of its continual desires; that is, that it might love God with the pureness and perfection wherewith He has loved it, so that it might thereby requite His love."

If the connection between perfect love and the mystical contemplation designated by the "caverns of the rock" were purely accidental, if perfect love and perfect purity could be obtained without mystical contemplation, this desire of the soul would be imperfect, according to the principles of St. John of the Cross.

He continues: "In the present stanza the bride says to the Bridegroom that He will there show her what she had always aimed at in all her actions, namely, that He would show her how to love Him perfectly, as He has loved her. And, secondly, that He will give her that essential glory for which He has predestined her from the day of His eternity.

'There Thou wilt show me
That which my soul desired.'

"That which the soul aims at is equality in love with God, the object of its natural and supernatural desire. He who loves cannot be satisfied if he does not feel that he loves as much as he is loved."

The desire for equality of love is, therefore, essential to love; it is in the nature and the grace of love. The saint continues: "When the soul sees that in the transformation in God, such as is possible in this life, notwithstanding the immensity of its love, it cannot equal the perfection of that love wherewith God loves it, it desires the clear transformation of glory wherein it shall equal the perfection of love wherewith it is itself beloved of God; it desires. . . the clear transformation of glory wherein it shall equal His love. . . .

"The will of the soul will then be the will of God. . . . 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 of Him; both wills being united in one sole will and one sole love of God. 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 of 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. In the perfect transformation also of the state of spiritual marriage, such as is possible on earth, in which the soul is all clothed in grace, the soul loves in a certain way in the Holy Ghost, who is given to it in that transformation."

Again St. John identifies the state of the spiritual marriage with the state of perfect love, of perfect conformity to the will of God; it is the normal end of all life on earth. He then explains the purity of this state, saying that it presupposes evidently that God has given to the soul in this state of transformation a great purity, like to that of original justice or that of baptismal innocence.(30) The soul here adds, therefore, that this purity is going to be granted to it by the Spouse as the fruit of this transformation of love. It says also:

"And there Thou wilt give me at once,
0 Thou, my life,
That which Thou gavest me the other day."

"By 'other day' is meant the day of the eternity of God, which is other than the day of time. In that day of eternity God predestined the soul unto glory, and determined the degree of glory which He would give it and freely gave from the beginning before He created it."

The soul declares in these verses that it will find this gift again in this union of love. That is indeed what it meant in the last verse by the words "that which Thou gavest me the other day," since, as we have said, the soul, in its state of perfection, attains to the same purity and the same cleanness.

St. John therefore affirms here that in the spiritual marriage the soul reaches a purity similar to that of original justice or of baptismal innocence. This is an important statement. From this affirmation we may draw two conclusions which interest us: (I) the spiritual marriage is normal; (2) it is mystical.

It is normal, for the purity of original justice or of baptismal innocence, which the soul receives in the spiritual marriage, excludes every moral imperfection; and this exclusion is the normal end to which all souls can and must tend. This state is mystical, for in the present order a permanent state, similar to that of original or baptismal innocence, without moral imperfection, in the full activity of the spiritual faculties, cannot be attained in the purely ascetical way by our own efforts, but only in the mystical way by the special operation of the Holy Ghost. It requires the grace of infused contemplation and the activity of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, as is evident from all the texts from the works of St. John of the Cross. In this state the soul "experiences interiorly a sort of fruition, a sweetness which makes it overflow with praise." The purity to which it has attained is "bestowed on it by the Bridegroom as the fruit of this transformation of love." The touches of the passive graces are evident in this state. Is not this also a normal growth of perfect love?

St. 39. The Flame of Sweet Transformation

The spiritual marriage is described in this stanza as the state of the most sublime perfection and transformation in God. St. John bases his teaching on the words of St. Paul: "And because you are sons, God hath sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying: Abba (Father)"; (31) on the words of our Lord: "Father, I will that where I am, they also whom Thou hast given Me may be with Me; that they may see My glory which Thou hast given Me"; (32) and on the words of St. Peter: "He hath given us most great and precious promises, that by these you may be made partakers of the divine nature." (33) All these quotations admirably confirm our thesis that in the opinion of St. John of the Cross the spiritual marriage is the full and normal development, the flowering of the life of grace, the normal end of supernatural life on earth.

St. John of the Cross also teaches in this stanza that perfect love is obtained in the mystical way by the "breathing of the air," that is, by the operation of the Holy Ghost, and that it is accompanied by mystical contemplation, which is not only the means,(34) but also the effect of perfect love.(35)

The spouse, we said, wishes two things in the preceding stanza: first, what her soul had as an end; then, what the Bridegroom had given her the other day. The soul sets forth in the present stanza the parts of its end: that is, not only perfect love, but also all that comes to the soul through it.

Therefore the soul enumerates five things which detail all that it admits having in view here: first the breathing of the air; then the love of which we have spoken, the principal object that it has in view; . . . fourthly, the pure and clear contemplation of the divine essence.

"The breathing of the air." This is a property of the Holy Ghost which the soul asks for here in order to love God perfectly. It calls it the "breathing of the air" because it is a touch or a very delicate feeling of love, ordinarily produced in the soul in this state by the presence of the Holy Ghost.

Thus, according to St. John of the Cross, to love God perfectly the "breathing of the air," or the touch of the Holy Ghost, is necessary; this is certainly a mystical grace ordinarily produced in the spiritual marriage.(36)

The fourth request is " 'In the serene night.' That is, contemplation, in which the soul desires to behold the grove. It is called night because contemplation is dim; and that is the reason why it is also called mystical theology, that is, the secret or hidden wisdom of God, where, without the sound of words, or the intervention of any bodily or spiritual sense, as it were in silence and in repose, in the darkness of sense and nature, God teaches the soul - and the soul knows not how - in a most secret and hidden way. . . .

"Some spiritual writers call this 'understanding without understanding,' because it does not take place in what philosophers call the active understanding, which is conversant with the forms, fancies, and apprehensions of the physical faculties, but in the understanding as it is possible and passive, which without receiving such forms, receives passively only the substantial knowledge of them free from all imagery. This occurs without effort or exertion on its part, and for this reason contemplation is called night.

"Still, however clear may be its knowledge, it is dark night in comparison with that of the blessed, for which the soul prays. Hence, while it prays for clear contemplation, that is, the fruition of the grove, and its beauty with the other objects here enumerated, it says, let it be in the night now serene; that is, in the clear beatific contemplation."

This magnificent description of mystical contemplation proves conclusively to us that the spiritual marriage is a mystical state. But this mystical contemplation, according to the terms of St. John of the Cross, is "that which comes to the soul through perfect love." It is, therefore, not purely accidental, but is the essential effect, the distinctive characteristic, of perfect love, as it was also, we have seen, the means, the disposition to obtain this love.(37) But if mystical contemplation is the characteristic of perfect love and its necessary disposition, it is surely in the normal way, as perfect love itself is.



1. By Father Alexander Rozwadowski, S.].

2. We take the word "ascetical" in its ordinary meaning, to characterize acts that can be produced by our personal activity aided by common grace. In these acts the soul is active rather than passive. On the other hand, we use the term "mystical" to characterize acts that cannot be produced by our personal activity aided by common grace, but that require a special inspiration and illumination of the Holy Ghost. In these acts the soul is passive rather than active: patiens divina, as St. Thomas says, using the expression of Dionysius. Such are the acts of infused contemplation. This terminology is conformable to the usage common and proper to classical authors.

3. Cf. Father Gabriel of St. Magdalen, "La Mistica Teresiana," Vita Cristiana, Florence, 1934. Father Gabriel of St. Magdalen, however, comes far nearer to our way of looking at the matter in a more recent book: S.Giovanni della Croce, Dottore dell' Amore divino, Florence, 1936. See also the note at the end of this appendix.

4. We believe that there is no essential divergence on this point between the teaching of St. Teresa and that of St. John of the Cross. The opinion stated in the text does not seem to us conformable either to the teaching of the great Teresa. The thesis that the doctrine of St. Teresa on the normal character of the mystical life does not differ essentially from that of St. John of the Cross is upheld and solidly proved by Arintero, Garate, Garrigou-Lagrange,
Lamballe, Saudreau, and others. Cf. the works of these authors.

5. Cf. The Ascent, II, chaps. 20, 22, 27.

6. Cf. The Ascent, I, chaps. 1-5; II, chaps. 1-8.

7. Ibid., II, chap. 9; A Spiritual Canticle, st. 38.

8. A Spiritual Canticle, st. 15, 17, 18-20, 27, 29, 31, 34, 37-39.

9. Our demonstration, as is evident, is completely independent of the lively debated question regarding the frontier between asceticism and mysticism. Our proof prescinds from this controversy. As our point of departure we take the states of the espousals and of the spiritual marriage; they are not states of transition, they are incontestably at the summit of mysticism.

10 Cf. st. 13, 15, 18, 19, 27.

11. Cf. st. 17, 27-29, 34, 36, 37.

12. Cf. st. 17, 27, 29, 36-38.

13. A Spiritual Canticle, st. 27. 3.

14. Ibid., 27. 3.

15. Ibid., 27, 4.

16. Ibid., st. 22, note.

17. Cf. st. 13, 34, 38.

18. Cf. st. 13, 14, 16, 32, 38.

19. In describing, with St. John of the Cross, the espousals and the spiritual marriage as forms of perfect charity, we shall again have occasion to point out the mystical character of these states.

20. What we say of the spiritual marriage corresponds also, due proportion being kept, to the spiritual espousals which precede it.

21. St. Thomas, IIa IIae, q. 184, a. I, 3.

22. A Spiritual Canticle, st. 14.

23. St. 24, par. 2, 3.

24. Ibid., par. 6.

25. A Spiritual Canticle, st. 26, par. 2, 3. It is love that opens the way into each cellar, and the soul advances therein according to its degree of love. St. John of the Cross says: "Many souls reach and enter the first cellar, each according to the perfection of its love, but the last and inmost cellar is entered by few in this world." The reason for this is that few souls attain on earth the final perfection of love possible in this world. It is not, however, that we are not all called to it, since the perfection of charity is the very goal of our whole life.

26. Ibid., par. 20, 21.

27. Cf. st. 15, 17, 18, 27, 34.

28. Gal. 2: 20.

29. Cf. I Tim. 1:5. See also St. Thomas, IIa IIae, q.184, a.I, 3. Pius XI, Encyclical Rerum omnium perturbationem, January 16, 1913, and Encyclical Studiorum ducem, June 29, 1923.

30. Cf. st. 32.

31. Gal. 4:6.

32. John 17:24.

33. Cf. II Pet. 1:4.

34. Cf. st. 19, 38.

35. St. Thomas, IIa IIae, q. 180, a.I.

36.  Cf. st. 28.

37. Cf. st. 19, 38.