Saint John of the Cross.

A spiritual canticle of the soul and the bridegroom Christ online

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of the end of its labours, and the fulfilment of its desires,
saying : ' Now the turtle-dove its desired mate on the
green banks has found.' That is : Now the bride-soul
sits on the green bough, rejoicing in her Beloved, drinks
of the clear waters of the highest contemplation and of
the wisdom of God ; is refreshed by the consolations it
finds in Him, and is also sheltered under the shadow of
His favour and protection, which she had so earnestly
desired. There is she deliciously and divinely com-
forted, refreshed, and nourished, as she saith in the
Canticle : ' I sat down under His shadow Whom I
desired, and His fruit was sweet to my palate.' *


The Bridegroom proceeds to speak of the satisfaction
which He derives from the happiness which the bride has
found in that solitude wherein she desired to live — a
stable peace and unchangeable good. For when the
bride is confirmed in the tranquillity of her soul and
solitary love of the Bridegroom, she reposes so sweetly
in the love of God, and God also in her, that she requires
no other means or masters to guide her in the way of
God ; for God Himself is now her light and guide, ful-
filling in her what He promised by the mouth of Oseas,

* Cant. ii. 3.


saying : ' I will lead her into the wilderness, and I will
speak to her heart.' * That is, it is in solitude that He
communicates Himself, and unites Himself, to the soul,
for to speak to the heart is to satisfy the heart, and no
heart can be satisfied with less than God. And so the
Bridegroom says :


In solitude she lived,

And in solitude built her nest;

And in solitude, alone

Hath the Beloved guided her,

In solitude also wounded with love.

In this stanza the Bridegroom is doing two things : one
is, He is praising the solitude in which the soul once
lived, for it was the means whereby it found the Beloved,
and rejoiced in Him, away from all its former anxieties
and troubles. For, as the soul abode in solitude,
abandoning all created help and consolation, in order to
obtain the fellowship and union of the Beloved, it
deserved thereby possession of the peace of solitude in
the Beloved, in Whom it reposes alone, undisturbed by
any anxieties.

2. The second is this : the Bridegroom is saying that,
inasmuch as the soul has desired to be alone, far away,

* Os. ii. 14-


for His sake, from all created things, He has been en-
amoured of it because of its loneliness, has taken care
of it, held it in His arms, fed it with all good things, and
guided it to the deep things of God. He does not merely
say that He is now the soul's guide, but that He is its
only guide, without any intermediate help, either of
angels or of men, either of forms or of figures ; for the
soul in this solitude has attained to true liberty of spirit,
and is wholly detached from all subordinate means.

' In solitude she lived.'

3. The turtle-dove, that is, the soul, lived in solitude
before she found the Beloved in this state of union ; for
the soul that longs after God derives no consolation from
any other companionship, — yea, until it finds Him
everything does but increase its solitude.

' And in solitude built her nest.'

4. The previous solitude of the soul was its voluntary
privation of all the comforts of this world, for the sake
of the Bridegroom — as in the instance of the turtle-
dove — its striving after perfection, and acquiring that
perfect solitude wherein it attains to union with the
Word, and in consequence to complete refreshment and
repose. This is what is meant by ' nest ' ; and the
words of the stanza may be thus explained ; ' In that


solitude, wherein the bride formerly lived, tried by
afflictions and troubles, because she was not perfect,
there, in that solitude, hath she found refreshment and
rest, because she has found perfect rest in God.' This,
too, is the spiritual sense of these words of the Psalmist :
' The sparrow hath found herself a house, and the turtle
a nest for herself, where she may lay her young ones ; *
that, is, a sure stay in God, in Whom all the desires and
powers of the soul are satisfied.'

' And in solitude.'

5. In the solitude of perfect detachment from all
things, wherein it lives alone with God — there He guides
it, moves it, and elevates it to divine things. He guides
the understanding in the perception of divine things,
because it is now detached from all strange and contrary
knowledge, and is alone. He moves the will freely to
love Himself, because it is now alone, disencumbered
from all other affections. He fills the memory with
divine knowledge, because that also is now alone, emptied
of all imaginations and fancies. For the instant the
soul clears and empties its faculties of all earthly objects,
and from attachments to higher things, keeping them in
solitude, God immediately fills them with the invisible
and divine ; it being God Himself Who guides it in this

* Ps. lxxxiii. 4.


solitude. St. Paul says of the perfect, that they ' are
led by the Spirit of God,'* and that is the same as saying
' In solitude hath He guided her.'

' Alone hath the Beloved guided her.'

6. 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 capa-
cities. For the exterior and interior senses, all created
things, and even the soul itself, contribute very little
towards the reception of those great supernatural favours
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.

7. The reason is, that He finds the soul alone in its
solitude, and therefore will not give it another com-
panion, nor will He entrust His work to any other than

8. 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 Him-
self becomes the guide, and the way to Himself. The

* Rom. viii. 14.


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, Who, because enamoured of the bride, will
Himself alone bestow these graces on the soul. And
so He says :

' In solitude also wounded with love.'

9. That is, the love of the bride ; for the Bridegroom
not only loves greatly the solitude of the ?oul, but is also
wounded with love of her, because the soul would abide
in solitude and detachment, on account of its being
itself wounded with love of Him. He will not, therefore,
leave it alone ; for being wounded with love because of
the soul's solitude on His account, and seeing that
nothing else can satisfy it, He comes Himself to be alone
its guide, drawing it to, and absorbing it in, Himself.
But He would not have done so if He had not found it
in this spiritual solitude.


It is a strange characteristic of persons in love that
they take a much greater pleasure in their loneliness
than in the company of others. For if they meet to-
gether in the presence of others with whom they need
have no intercourse, and from whom they have nothing


to conceal, and if those others neither address them nor
interfere with them, yet the very fact of their presence
is sufficient to rob the lovers of all pleasure in their
meeting. The cause of this lies in the fact that love is
the union of two persons, who will not communicate
with each other if they are not alone. And now the
soul, having reached the summit of perfection, and
liberty of spirit in God, all the fesistance and contradic-
tions of the flesh being subdued, has no other occupa-
tion or employment than indulgence in the joys of its
intimate love of the Bridegroom. It is written of holy
Tobias, after the trials of his life were over, that God
restored his sight, and that ' the rest of his life was in
joy.' * So is it with the perfect soul, it rejoices in the
blessings that surround it.

2. The prophet Isaias says of the soul which, having
been tried in the works of perfection has arrived at the
goal desired : ' Thy light shall arise up in darkness, and
thy darkness shall be as the noonday. And the Lord
will give thee rest always, and will fill thy soul with
brightness, and deliver thy bones, and thou shalt be as a
watered garden and as a fountain of water whose waters
shall not fail. And the deserts of the world shall be
builded in thee : thou shalt raise up the foundations of
generation and generation ; and thou shalt be called the

* Tob. xiv. 4.


builder of the hedges, turning the paths into rest. If thou
turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy will
in My holy day, and call the Sabbath delicate, and the
Holy of our Lord glorious, and glorify Him while thou
doest not thine own ways, and thy will be not found, to
speak a word : then shalt thou be delighted in the
Lord, and I will lift thee up above the heights of the
earth, and will feed thee with the inheritance of Jacob
thy father,' * Who is God Himself. The soul, therefore,
has nothing else to do now but to rejoice in the delights
of this pasture, and one thing only to desire — the perfect
fruition of it in everlasting life. Thus, in the next and
the following stanzas it implores the Beloved to admit
it into this beatific pasture in the clear vision of God,
and says :



Let us rejoice, O my Beloved,

Let us go forth to see ourselves in Thy beauty,

To the mountain and the hill.

Where the pure water flows ;

Let us enter into the heart of the thicket.

The perfect union of love between itself and God being
now effected, the soul longs to occupy itself with those

* Isa. lviii. 10-14.


things that belong to love. It is the soul which is now
speaking, making three petitions to the Beloved. In
the first place, it asks for the joy and sweetness of love,
saying, ' Let us rejoice.' In the second place, it prays
to be made like Him, saying, ' Let us go forth to see
ourselves in Thy beauty.' In the third place, it begs
to be admitted to the knowledge of His secrets, saying,
' Let us enter into the heart of the thicket.'

' Let us rejoice, O my Beloved.'

2. That is, in the sweetness of our love ; not only in
that sweetness of ordinary union, but also in that which
flows from active and affective love, whether in the will
by an act of affection, or outwardly, in good works which
tend to the service of the Beloved. For love, as I have
said, where it is firmly rooted, ever runs after those
joys and delights which are the acts of exterior and
interior love. All this the soul does that it may be
made like to the Beloved.

' Let us go forth to see ourselves in Thy beauty.'

3. ' Let us so act, that, by the practice of this love, we
may come to see ourselves in Thy beauty in everlasting
life.' That is : ' Let me be so transformed in Thy beauty,
that, being alike in beauty, we may see ourselves both
in Thy beauty ; having Thy beauty, so that, one beholding


the other, each may see his own beauty in the other,
the beauty of both being Thine only, and mine absorbed
in it. And thus I shall see Thee in Thy beauty, and
myself in Thy beauty, and Thou shalt see me in Thy
beauty ; and I shall see myself in Thee in Thy beauty,
and Thou Thyself in me in Thy beauty ; so shall I seem
to be Thyself in Thy beauty, and Thou myself in Thy
beauty ; my beauty shall be Thine, Thine shall be
mine, and I shall be Thou in it, and Thou myself in
Thine own beauty ; for Thy beauty will be my beauty,
and so we shall see, each the other, in Thy beauty.'

4. This is the adoption of the sons of God, who
may truly say what the Son Himself says to the Eternal
Father : ' All my things are Thine, and Thine are mine,'*
He by essence, being the Son of God by nature, we by
participation, being sons by adoption. This He says
not for Himself only, Who is the Head, but for the
whole mystical body, which is the Church. For the
Church will share in the very beauty of the Bridegroom
in the day of her triumph, when she shall see God face
to face. And this is the vision which the soul prays
that the Bridegroom and itself may go in His beauty
to see.

' To the mountain and the hill.'
* St. John xvii. 10.


5. That is, to the morning and essential knowledge of
God,* which is knowledge in the Divine Word, Who,
because He is so high, is here signified by ' the moun-
tain.' Thus Isaias saith, calling upon men to know the
Son of God : ' Come, and let us go up to the mountain
of our Lord ' ;f and before : ' In the last days the
mountain of the house of the Lord shall be prepared. 'J

' And to the hill.'

6. That is, to the evening knowledge of God, to the
knowledge of Him in His creatures, in His works, and
in His marvellous laws. This is signified by the ex-
pression ' hill,' because it is a kind of knowledge lower
than the other. The soul prays for both when it says
' to the mountain and the hill.'

7. When the soul says, ' Let us go forth to see
ourselves in Thy beauty to the mountain,' its meaning
is, ' Transform me, and make me like the beauty of the
Divine Wisdom, the Word, the Son of God.' When it
says ' to the hill,' the meaning is, ' Do Thou instruct
me in the beauty of this lower knowledge, which is

* St. Augustine, ' De Genesi ad Litt.' iv., xxiv. (and elsewhere) and
the scholastics (St. Thomas, * S. Th.' I. lviii. 7) distinguish between the
' morning knowledge ' whereby angels and saints know created things
by seeing the Divine Word, and ' evening knowledge ' where they
derive their knowledge from the created things themselves.

f Isa. ii. 3. X lb. 2.


manifest in Thy creatures and mysterious works.' This
also is the beauty of the Son of God, wherewith the
soul desires to shine.

8. But the soul cannot see itself in the beauty of
God if it be not transformed in His wisdom, wherein all
things are seen and possessed, whether in heaven or
in earth. It was to this mountain and to this hill the
bride longed to come when she said, ' I will go to the
mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense.'*
The mountain of myrrh is the clear vision of God, and
the hill of frankincense the knowledge of Him in His
works, for the myrrh on the mountain is of a higher
order than the incense on the hill.

' Where the pure water flows.'

9. This is the wisdom and knowledge of God, which
cleanse the understanding, and detach it from all accidents
and fancies, and which clear it of the mist of ignorance.
The soul is ever influenced by this desire of perfectly
and clearly understanding the divine verities, and the
more it loves the more it desires to penetrate them,
and hence the third petition which it makes :

' Let us enter into the heart of the thicket ; '

10. Into the depths of God's marvellous works and

* Cant. iv. 6.


profound judgments. Such is their multitude and
variety, that they may be called a thicket. They are
so full of wisdom and mystery, that we may not only
call them a thicket, but we may even apply to them
the words of David : ' The mountain of God is a rich
mountain, a mountain curdled as cheese, a rich
mountain.'* The thicket of the wisdom and knowledge
of God is so deep, and so immense, that the soul, how
much soever it knows of it, can always penetrate further
within it, because it is so immense and so incompre-
hensible. ' O the depth,' cries out the Apostle, ' of
the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God !
How incomprehensible are His judgments, and how
unsearchable His ways ! '|

11. But the soul longs to enter this thicket and
incomprehensibility of His judgments, for it is moved
by that longing for a deeper knowledge of them. That
knowledge is an inestimable delight, transcending all
understanding. David speaking of the sweetness of
them, saith : ' The judgments of our Lord are true,
justified in themselves, to be desired above gold and
many precious stones, and sweeter than honey and the
honey-comb. For Thy servant keepeth them. 'J The
soul therefore earnestly longs to be engulfed in His
judgments, and to have a deeper knowledge of them,

* Ps. Ixvii. 16. t Rom. xi. 33. { Ps. xviii. 10-12.



and for that end would esteem it a joy and great con-
solation to endure all sufferings and afflictions in the
world, and whatever else might help it to that end, how-
ever hard and painful it might be ; it would gladly pass
through the agonies of death to enter deeper into God.

12. Hence, also, the thicket, which the soul desires
to enter, may be fittingly understood as signifying
the great and many trials and tribulations which the
soul longs for, because suffering is most sweet and most
profitable to it, inasmuch as it is the way by which it
enters more and more into the thicket of the delicious
wisdom of God. The most pure suffering leads to the
most pure and the deepest knowledge, and consequently
to the purest and highest joy, for that is the issue of
the deepest knowledge. Thus, the soul, not satisfied
with ordinary suffering, says, ' Let us enter into the
heart of the thicket,' even the anguish of death, that
I may see God.

13. Job, desiring to suffer that he might see God,
thus speaks : ' Who will grant that my request may
come, and that God may give me what I look for ? And
that He that hath begun may destroy me, that He may
let loose His hand and cut me off ? And that this may
be my comfort, that afflicting me with sorrow, He spare
not.'* O that men would understand how impossible

* Job. vi 8-10.


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.

14. For this cause it was that St. Paul admonished
the Ephesians not to faint in their tribulations, but to
take courage : ' 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 ; to know also the charity of Christ, which sur-
passeth all knowledge, that you may be filled unto all
the fulness of God.'* The gate by which we enter into
the riches of the knowledge of God is the Cross ; and
that gate is narrow. They who desire to enter in that
way are few, while those who desire the joys that come
by it are many.


One of the principal reasons why the soul desires to be
released and to be with Christ, is, that it may see Him
face to face, and penetrate to the depths of His ways
and the eternal mysteries of His incarnation, which is
not the least part of its blessedness ; for in the Gospel

* Eph. iii. 17-19.


of St. John He, addressing the Father, said : ' Now this
is eternal life : that they may know Thee, the only
true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent.'*
As the first act of a person who has taken a long journey
is to see and converse with him whom he was in search
of, so the first thing which the soul desires, when it has
attained to the beatific vision, is to know and enjoy the
deep secrets and mysteries of the incarnation and the
ancient ways of God depending on them. Thus the
soul, having said that it longed to see itself in the beauty
of God, sings as in the following stanza :


We shall go at once

To the deep caverns of the rock

Which are all secret ;

There we shall enter in,

And taste of the new wine of the pomegranate.

One of the reasons which most influence the soul to
desire 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

* St. John xvii. 3.


knowledge. And here the bride therefore says, that
after she has entered in within the divine wisdom — that
is, the spiritual marriage, which is now and will be in
glory, seeing God face to face — her soul united with the
divine wisdom, the Son of God, she will then understand
the deep mysteries of God and Man, which are the highest
wisdom hidden in God. They, that is, the bride and
the Bridegroom, will enter in — the soul ingulfed and
absorbed — and both together will have the fruition of
the joy which springs from the knowledge of mysteries,
and attributes and power of God which are revealed in
those mysteries, such as His justice, His mercy, wisdom,
power, and love.

' We shall go at once to the deep caverns of the rock.'

2. ' This rock is Christ,' as we learn from St. Paul.*
The deep caverns of the rock are the deep mysteries of
the wisdom of God in Christ, in the hypostatical union
of the human nature with the Divine Word, and in
the correspondence with it of the union of man with
God, and in the agreement of God's justice and mercy
in the salvation of mankind, in the manifestation of
His judgments. And because His judgments are so
high and so deep, they are here fittingly called ' deep
caverns ' ; deep because of the depth of His mysteries,

* 1 Cor. x. 4.


and caverns because of the depth of His wisdom in
them. For as caverns are deep, with many windings,
so each mystery of Christ is of deepest wisdom, and
has many windings of His secret judgments of pre-
destination and foreknowledge with respect to men.

' Which are all secret.'

3. Notwithstanding the marvellous mysteries which
holy doctors have discovered, and holy souls have
understood in this life, many more remain behind.
There are in Christ great depths to be fathomed, for He
is a rich mine, with many recesses full of treasures, and
however deeply we may descend we shall never reach
the end, for in every recess new veins of new treasures
abound in all directions : ' In Whom,' according to
the Apostle, ' are hid all the treasures of wisdom and
knowledge.'* But the soul cannot reach these hidden
treasures unless it first passes through the thicket of
interior and exterior suffering : for even such knowledge
of the mysteries of Christ as is possible in this life cannot
be had without great sufferings, and without many
intellectual and moral gifts, and without previous
spiritual exercises ; for all these gifts are far inferior
to this knowledge of the mysteries of Christ, being
only a preparation for it.

* Col. ii. 3.


4. Thus God said to Moses, when he asked to see
His glory, ' Man shall not see Me and live.' God, how-
ever, said that He would show him all that could be
revealed in this life ; and so He set Moses ' in a hole
of the rock,' which is Christ, where he might see His
' back parts ' ; * that is, He made him understand the
mysteries of the Sacred Humanity.

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 mys-
teries, hiding itself in the bosom of the Beloved. It is
into these caverns that He invites the bride, in the
Canticle, 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.' f 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.'

6. Tha is, in the knowledge of the divine mysteries.
The bride says not ' I will enter ' alone, which seems the
most fitting — seeing that the Bridegroom has no need to

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Online LibrarySaint John of the CrossA spiritual canticle of the soul and the bridegroom Christ → online text (page 16 of 19)