Transcriber's note: This eBook contains the front matter from a combined edition of A Short Method of Prayer and Spiritual Torrents, but only contains the text of Spiritual Torrents.
A SHORT METHOD OF PRAYER
BY J. M. B. DE LA MOTHE GUYON.
Translated from the Paris Edition of 1790 BY A. W. MARSTON.
LONDON: SAMPSON LOW, MARSTON, LOW, & SEARLE, CROWN BUILDINGS, 188 FLEET STREET. 1875.
[All rights reserved.]
PRINTED BY BALLANTYNE AND COMPANY EDINBURGH AND LONDON
PREFACE TO THE ENGLISH PROTESTANT EDITION.
Some apology is perhaps needed when a Protestant thus brings before Protestant readers the works of a consistent Roman Catholic author. The plea must be, that the doctrine and experience described are essentially Protestant; and so far from their receiving the assent of the Roman Catholic Church, their author was persecuted for holding and disseminating them.
Of the experience of Madame Guyon, it should be borne in mind, that though the glorious heights of communion with God to which she attained may be scaled by the feeblest of God's chosen ones, yet it is by no means necessary that they should be reached by the same apparently arduous and protracted path along which she was led.
The "Torrents" especially needs to be regarded rather as an account of the personal experience of the author, than as the plan which God invariably, or even usually, adopts in bringing the soul into a state of union with Himself. It is true that, in order that we may "live unto righteousness," we must be "dead indeed unto sin;" and that there must be a crucifixion of self before the life of Christ can be made manifest in us. It is only when we can say, "I am crucified with Christ," that we are able to add, "Nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." But it does not follow that this inward death must always be as lingering as in the case of Madame Guyon. She tells us herself that the reason was, that she was not wholly resigned to the Divine will, and willing to be deprived of the gifts of God, that she might enjoy the possession of the Giver. This resistance to the will of God implies suffering on the part of the creature, and chastisement on the part of God, in order that He may subdue to Himself what is not voluntarily yielded to Him.
Of the joy of a complete surrender to God, it is not necessary to speak here: thousands of God's children are realising its blessedness for themselves, and proving that it is no hardship, but a joy unspeakable, to present themselves a living sacrifice to God, to live no longer to themselves, but to Him that died for them, and rose again.
A simple trust in a living, personal Saviour; a putting away by His grace of all that is known to be in opposition to His will; and an entire self-abandonment to Him, that His designs may be worked out in and through us; such is the simple key to the hidden sanctuary of communion.
A SHORT METHOD OF PRAYER.
CHAP. PAGE I. PRAYER POSSIBLE AT ALL TIMES, BY THE MOST SIMPLE 1
II. FIRST DEGREE OF PRAYER 6
III. SECOND DEGREE OF PRAYER, CALLED HERE THE PRAYER OF SIMPLICITY 13
IV. SPIRITUAL DRYNESS 16
V. ABANDONMENT TO GOD 18
VI. SUFFERING 21
VII. MYSTERIES 23
VIII. VIRTUE 25
IX. PERFECT CONVERSION 27
X. HIGHER DEGREE OF PRAYER, THAT OF THE SIMPLE PRESENCE OF GOD 30
XI. REST IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD—INWARD AND OUTWARD SILENCE 35
XII. SELF-EXAMINATION AND CONFESSION 39
XIII. READING AND VOCAL PRAYER 42
XIV. THE FAULTS AND TEMPTATIONS OF THIS DEGREE 44
XV. PRAYER AND SACRIFICE EXPLAINED BY THE SIMILITUDE OF A PERFUME 47
XVI. THIS STATE NOT ONE OF IDLENESS, BUT OF ACTION 51
XVII. DISTINCTION BETWEEN EXTERIOR AND INTERIOR ACTIONS 63
XVIII. EXHORTATIONS TO PREACHERS 71
XIX. PREPARATION FOR DIVINE UNION 77
CHAP. PAGE I. THE DIFFERENT WAYS IN WHICH SOULS ARE LED TO SEEK AFTER GOD 91
II. OF THE FIRST WAY, WHICH IS ACTIVE AND MEDITATIVE 94
III. OF THE SECOND WAY, WHICH IS THE PASSIVE WAY OF LIGHT 103
IV. OF THE THIRD WAY, WHICH IS THE PASSIVE WAY OF FAITH, AND OF ITS FIRST DEGREE 111
V. IMPERFECTIONS OF THIS FIRST DEGREE 125
VI. SECOND DEGREE OF THE PASSIVE WAY OF FAITH 139
VII. SECT. I.—COMMENCEMENT OF THE THIRD DEGREE OF THE PASSIVE WAY OF FAITH—FIRST DEGREE OF THE SPOLIATION OF THE SOUL 151
SECT. II.—SECOND DEGREE OF THE SPOLIATION OF THE SOUL 164
SECT. III.—THIRD DEGREE OF SPOLIATION 169
SECT. IV.—ENTRANCE INTO MYSTICAL DEATH 179
VIII. THIRD DEGREE OF THE PASSIVE WAY OF FAITH, IN ITS CONSUMMATION 185
IX. FOURTH DEGREE OF THE PASSIVE WAY OF FAITH, WHICH IS THE COMMENCEMENT OF THE DIVINE LIFE 193
I. MORE PARTICULAR DESCRIPTION OF SEVERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THE RESURRECTION LIFE 211
II. STABILITY, EXPERIENCE, ELEVATION, AND EXTREME PURITY OF THE ABANDONED SOUL 221
III. PERFECT UNION OR DEIFORMITY 230
IV. ACTIONS AND SUFFERINGS OF THOSE IN A STATE OF UNION WITH GOD 239
BY MADAME J. M. B. DE LA MOTHE-GUYON.
"Let judgment run down as waters; and righteousness as a mighty stream."—Amos v. 24.
SOULS UNDER DIVINE INFLUENCE ARE IMPELLED TO SEEK AFTER GOD, BUT IN DIFFERENT WAYS—REDUCED TO THREE, AND EXPLAINED BY A SIMILITUDE.
As soon as a soul is brought under divine influence, and its return to God is true and sincere, after the first cleansing which confession and contrition have effected, God imparts to it a certain instinct to return to Him in a most complete manner, and to become united to Him. The soul feels then that it was not created for the amusements and trifles of the world, but that it has a centre and an end, to which it must be its aim to return, and out of which it can never find true repose. This instinct is very deeply implanted in the soul, more or less in different cases, according to the designs of God; but all have a loving impatience to purify themselves, and to adopt the necessary ways and means of returning to their source and origin, like rivers, which, after leaving their source, flow on continuously, in order to precipitate themselves into the sea. You will observe that some rivers move gravely and slowly, and others with greater velocity; but there are rivers and torrents which rush with frightful impetuosity, and which nothing can arrest. All the burdens which might be laid upon them, and the obstructions which might be placed to impede their course, would only serve to redouble their violence. It is thus with souls. Some go on quietly towards perfection, and never reach the sea, or only very late, contented to lose themselves in some stronger and more rapid river, which carries them with itself into the sea. Others, which form the second class, flow on more vigorously and promptly than the first. They even carry with them a number of rivulets; but they are slow and idle in comparison with the last class, which rush onward with so much impetuosity, that they are utterly useless: they are not available for navigation, nor can any merchandise be trusted upon them, except at certain parts and at certain times. These are bold and mad rivers, which dash against the rocks, which terrify by their noise, and which stop at nothing. The second class are more agreeable and more useful; their gravity is pleasing, they are all laden with merchandise, and we sail upon them without fear or peril.
Let us look, with divine aid, at these three classes of persons, under the three figures that I have proposed; and we will commence with the first, in order to conclude happily with the last.
OF THE FIRST WAY, WHICH IS ACTIVE, AND OF MEDITATION—WHAT IT IS—ITS WEAKNESSES, HABITS, OCCUPATIONS, ADVANTAGES, ETC.—GENERAL OPINION—WANT OF OBSERVATION THE CAUSE OF MOST OF THE DISPUTES AND DIFFICULTIES WHICH HAVE ARISEN UPON THE PASSIVE WAY, AND THE ABSURD OBJECTIONS WHICH HAVE BEEN MADE TO IT—SOULS FOR MEDITATION—THEY SHOULD BE LED TO IT THROUGH THE AFFECTIONS—OPINION CONCERNING THEIR BARRENNESS AND POWERLESSNESS—SPIRITUAL BOOKS AND AUTHORS ON THE INNER LIFE, IN CONTRAST TO OTHERS—CAPACITY AND INCAPACITY OF SOULS—THE SIMPLE ARE BETTER THAN THE GREAT REASONERS.
The first class of souls are those who, after their conversion, give themselves up to meditation, or even to works of charity. They perform some exterior austerities; endeavour, little by little, to purify themselves, to rid themselves of certain notable sins, and even of voluntary venial ones. They endeavour, with all their little strength, to advance gradually, but it is feebly and slowly.
As their source is not abundant, the dryness sometimes causes delay. There are even periods, in times of aridity, when they dry up altogether. They do not cease to flow from the source, but it is so feebly as to be barely perceptible. These rivers carry little or no merchandise, and, therefore, for the public need, it must be taken to them. It is necessary, at the same time, that art should assist nature, and find the means of enlarging them, either by canals, or by the help of other rivers of the same kind, which are joined together and united to it, which rivers thus joined increase the body of water, and, helping each other, put themselves in a condition to carry a few small boats, not to the sea, but to some of the chief rivers, of which we shall speak later. Such beings have usually little depth of spiritual life. They work outwardly, and rarely quit their meditations, so that they are not fit for great things. In general they carry no merchandise—that is to say, they can impart nothing to others; and God seldom uses them, unless it be to carry a few little boats—that is, to minister to bodily necessities; and in order to be used, they must be discharged into the canals of sensible graces, or united to some others in religion, by which means several, of medium grace, manage to carry the small boat, but not into the sea itself, which is God: into that they never enter in this life, but only in the next.
It is not that souls are not sanctified in this way. There are many people, who pass for being very virtuous, who never get beyond it, God giving them lights conformed to their condition, which are sometimes very beautiful, and are the admiration of the religious world. The most highly favoured of this class are diligent in the practice of virtue; they devise thousands of holy inventions and practices to lead them to God, and to enable them to abide in His presence; but all is accomplished by their own efforts, aided and supported by grace, and their own works appear to exceed the work of God, His work only concurring with theirs.
The spiritual life of this class only thrives in proportion to their work. If this work be removed, the progress of grace within them is arrested: they resemble pumps, which only yield water in proportion as they are agitated. You will observe in them a great tendency to assist themselves by means of their natural sensibilities, a vigorous activity, a desire to be always doing something more and something new to promote their perfection, and, in their seasons of barrenness, an anxiety to rid themselves of it. They are subject to great variation: sometimes they do wonders, at other times they languish and decline. They have no evenness of conduct, because, as the greater part of their religion is in these natural sensibilities, whenever it happens that their sensibilities are dry, either from want of work on their part, or from a lack of correspondence on the part of God, they fall into discouragement, or else they redouble their efforts, in the hope of recovering of themselves what they have lost. They never possess, like others, a profound peace or calmness in the midst of distractions; on the contrary, they are always on the alert to struggle against them or to complain of them.
Such minds must not be directed to passive devotion; this would be to ruin them irrecoverably, taking from them their means of access to God. For as with a person who is compelled to travel, and who has neither boat nor carriage, nor any other alternative than that of going on foot, if you remove his feet, you place advancement beyond his reach; so with these souls; if you take away their works, which are their feet, they can never advance.
And I believe this to be the cause of the contests which now agitate the religious world. Those who are in the passive way, conscious of the blessedness they experience in it, would compel all to walk with them; those, on the contrary, who are in what I have termed the state of meditation, would confine all to their way, which would involve inestimable loss.
What must be done then? We must take the middle course, and see for which of the two ways souls are fitted.
This may be known in some by the opposition they have to remaining at rest, and allowing themselves to be led by the Spirit of God; by a confusion of faults and defects into which they fall without being conscious of them; or, if they are possessed of natural prudence, by a certain skill in concealing their faults from others and from themselves; by their adherence to their sentiments, and by a number of other indications which cannot be explained.
The way to deliver them from such a state would be, to lead them to live less in the intellect and more in the affections, and if it be manifest that they are gradually substituting the one for the other, it is a sign that a spiritual work is being carried on within them.
I am at a loss to understand why so loud a cry is raised against those books and writers that treat of the inner life. I maintain that they can do no harm, unless it be to some who are willing to lose themselves for the sake of their own pleasure, to whom not only these things, but everything else, would be an injury: like spiders, which convert flowers into venom. But they can do no injury to those humble souls who are desirous for perfection, because it is impossible for any to understand them to whom the special light is not accorded; and whatever others may read, they cannot rightly understand those conditions which, being beyond the range of imagination, can be known only by experience. Perfection goes on with a steady advancement corresponding to the progress of the inner life.
Not that there are no persons advanced in sanctification who have faults in appearance even greater than those of others, but they are not the same either as to their nature or their quality.
The second reason why I say that such books can do no harm is, that they demand so much natural death, so much breaking off, so many things to be conquered and destroyed, that no one would ever have strength for the undertaking without sincerity of purpose; or even if any one undertook it, it would only produce the effect of meditation, which is to endeavour to destroy itself.
As for those who wish to lead others in their groove, and not in God's, and to place limits to their further advancement—as for those, I say, who know but one way, and would have all the world to walk in it, the evils which they bring upon others are irremediable, for they keep them all their lives stopping at certain things which hinder God from blessing them infinitely.
It seems to me that we must act in the divine life as in a school. The scholars are not kept always in the same class, but are passed on to others more advanced. O human science! you are so little worth, and yet with you men do not fail to take every precaution! O science mysterious and divine! you are so great and so necessary; and yet they neglect you, they limit you, they contract you, they do violence to you! Oh, will there never be a school of religion! Alas! by wishing to make it a study, man has marred it. He has sought to give rules and limits to the Spirit of God, who is without limit.
O poor powerless souls! you are better fitted to answer God's purposes, and, if you are faithful, your devotion will be more pleasing to Him, than that of those great intellects which make prayer a study rather than a devotion. More than this, I say that such souls as these, who appear so powerless and so incapable, are worthy of consideration, provided they only knock at the door, and wait with a humble patience until it be opened to them. Those persons of great intellect and subtle understanding, who cannot remain a moment in silence before God, who make a continual Babel, who are so well able to give an account of their devotion in all its parts, who go through it always according to their own will, and with the same method, who exercise themselves as they will on any subject which suggests itself to them, who are so well satisfied with themselves and their light, who expatiate upon the preparation and the methods for prayer, will make but little advance in it; and after ten or twenty years of this exercise, will always remain the same.
Alas! when it is a question of loving a miserable creature, do they use a method for that? The most ignorant in such a matter are the most skilful. It is the same, and yet very different, with divine love. Therefore, if one who has never known such religion comes to you to learn it, teach him to love God much, and to let himself go with a perfect abandonment into love, and he will soon know it. If it be a nature slow to love, let him do his best, and wait in patience till love itself make itself beloved in its own way, and not in yours.
OF THE SECOND WAY OF THE RETURN OF THE SOUL TO GOD, WHICH IS THE PASSIVE WAY, BUT ONE OF LIGHT, AND OF TWO KINDS OF INTRODUCTION TO IT—DESCRIPTION OF THIS CLASS, AND OF THEIR STRIKING ADVANTAGES—VARIOUS NECESSARY PRECAUTIONS AND OBSERVATIONS CONCERNING THIS CLASS, THEIR CONDUCT, PERFECTIONS, IMPERFECTIONS, AND EXPERIENCES.
The second class are like those large rivers which move with a slow and steady course. They flow with pomp and majesty; their course is direct and easily followed; they are charged with merchandise, and can go on to the sea without mingling with other rivers; but they are late in reaching it, being grave and slow. There are even some who never reach it at all, and these, for the most part, lose themselves in other larger rivers, or else turn aside to some arm of the sea. Many of these rivers serve to carry merchandise, and are heavily laden with it. They may be kept back by sluices, and turned off at certain points. Such are the souls in the passive way of sight. Their strength is very abundant; they are laden with gifts, and graces, and celestial favours; they are the admiration of their generation; and numbers of saints who shine as stars in the Church have never passed this limit. This class is composed of two kinds. The first commenced in the ordinary way, and have afterwards been drawn to passive contemplation. The others have been, as it were, taken by surprise; they have been seized by the heart, and they feel themselves loving without having learned to know the object of their love. For there is this difference between divine and human love, that the latter supposes a previous acquaintance with its object, because, as it is outside of it, the senses must be taken to it, and the senses can only be taken to it because it is communicated to them: the eyes see and the heart loves. It is not so with divine love. God, having an absolute power over the heart of man, and being its origin and its end, it is not necessary that He should make known to it what He is. He takes it by assault, without giving it battle. The heart is powerless to resist Him, even though He may not use an absolute and violent authority, unless it be in some cases where He permits it to be so, in order to manifest His power. He takes hearts, then, in this way, making them burn in a moment; but usually He gives them flashes of light which dazzle them, and lift them nearer to Himself. These persons appear much greater than those of whom I shall speak later, to those who are not possessed of a divine discernment, for they attain outwardly to a high degree of perfection, God eminently elevating their natural capacity, and replenishing it in an extraordinary manner; and yet they are never really brought to a state of annihilation to self, and God does not usually so draw them out of their own being that they become lost in Himself. Such characters as these are, however, the wonder and admiration of men. God bestows on them gifts upon gifts, graces upon graces, visions, revelations, inward voices, ecstasies, ravishments, &c. It seems as though God's only care was to enrich and beautify them, and to communicate to them His secrets. All joys are theirs.
This does not imply that they bear no heavy crosses, no fierce temptations: these are the shadows which cause their virtues to shine with greater brilliancy; for these temptations are thrust back vigorously, the crosses are borne bravely; they even desire more of them: they are all flame and fire, enthusiasm and love. God uses them to accomplish great things, and it seems as though they only need to desire a thing in order to receive it from God, He finding His delight in satisfying all their desires and doing all their will. Yet in the same path there are various degrees of progression, and some attain a far higher standard of perfection than others; their danger lies in fixing their thoughts upon what God has done for them, thus stopping at the gifts, instead of being led through them to the Giver.
The design of God in the bestowal of His grace, and in the profusion with which He gives it, is to bring them nearer to Himself; but they make use of it for an utterly different end: they rest in it, reflect upon it, look at it, and appropriate it; and hence arise vanity, complaisance, self-esteem, the preference of themselves to others, and often the destruction of religious life. These people are admirable, in themselves considered; and sometimes by a special grace they are made very helpful to others, particularly if they have been brought from great depths of sin. But usually they are less fitted to lead others than those who come after; for being near to God themselves, they have a horror of sin, and often a shrinking from sinners, and never having experienced the miseries they see in others, they are astonished, and unable to render either help or advice. They expect too great perfection, and do not lead on to it little by little, and if they meet with weak ones, they do not aid them in proportion to their own advancement, or in accordance with God's designs, but often even seek to avoid them. They find it difficult to converse with those who have not reached their own level, preferring a solitary life to all the ministry of love. If such persons were heard in conversation by those not divinely enlightened, they would be believed equal to the last class, or even more advanced. They make use of the same terms—of DEATH, LOSS OF SELF, ANNIHILATION, &c.; and it is quite true that they do die in their own way, that they are annihilated and lose themselves, for often their natural sensibilities are lost or suspended in their seasons of devotion; they even lose the habit of making use of them. Thus these souls are passive, but they have light, and love, and strength in themselves; they like to retain something of their own, it may be even their virtues, but in so delicate a form that only the Divine eye can detect it. Such as these are so laden with merchandise that their course is very slow. What must be done with them, then, to lead them out of this way? There is a more safe and certain path for them, even that of faith: they need to be led from the sensible to the supernatural, from that which is known and perceived to the very deep, yet very safe, darkness of faith. It is useless to endeavour to ascertain whether these things be of God or not, since they must be surpassed; for if they are of God, they will be carried on by Him, if only we abandon ourselves to Him; and if they are not of God, we shall not be deceived by them, if we do not stay at them.
This class of people find far greater difficulty in entering the way of faith than the first, for as what they already possess is so great, and so evidently from God, they will not believe that there is anything higher in the Church of God. Therefore they cling to it.
O God! how many spiritual possessions there are which appear great virtues to those who are not divinely enlightened, and which appear great and dangerous defects to those who are so! For those in this way regard as virtues what others look upon as subtle faults; and even the light to see them in their true colours is not given to them. These people have rules and regulations for their obedience, which are marked by prudence; they are strong and vigorous, though they appear dead. They are indeed dead as to their own wants, but not as to their foundation. Such souls as these often possess an inner silence, certain sinkings into God, which they distinguish and express well; but they have not that secret longing to be nothing, like the last class. It is true they desire to be nothing by a certain perceptible annihilation, a deep humility, an abasement under the immense weight of God's greatness. All this is an annihilation in which they dwell without being annihilated. They have the feeling of annihilation without the reality, for the soul is still sustained by its feelings, and this state is more satisfactory to it than any other, for it gives more assurance. This class usually are only brought into God by death, unless it be some privileged ones, whom God designs to be the lights of His Church, or whom He designs to sanctify more eminently; and such He robs by degrees of all their riches. But as there are few sufficiently courageous to be willing, after so much blessedness, to lose it all, few pass this point, God's intention perhaps being that they should not pass it, and that, as in the Father's house there are many mansions, they should only occupy this one. Let us leave the causes with God.
OF THE THIRD WAY OF RETURN TO GOD, WHICH IS THE PASSIVE WAY OF FAITH, AND OF ITS FIRST DEGREE—DESCRIPTION OF THIS WAY UNDER THE SIMILITUDE OF A TORRENT—PROPENSITY OF THE SOUL TOWARDS GOD—ITS PROPERTIES, OBSTACLES, AND EFFECTS EXPLAINED BY THE SIMILITUDE OF FIRE—WHAT BEFALLS THE SOUL CALLED TO WALK IN THE PASSIVE WAY OF FAITH—DESCRIPTION OF THE FIRST DEGREE OF THIS THIRD WAY, AND OF THE STATE OF THE SOUL IN IT—THE REST IT FINDS IN IT WOULD BE HURTFUL IF GOD DID NOT DRAW IT OUT OF IT, IN ORDER TO FURTHER ITS ADVANCEMENT.
What shall we say of the souls in this third way, unless it be that they resemble TORRENTS which rise in high mountains? They have their source in God Himself, and they have not a moment's rest until they are lost in Him. Nothing stops them, and no burdens are laid upon them. They rush on with a rapidity which alarms even the most confident. These torrents flow without order, here and there, wherever they can find a passage, having neither regular beds nor an orderly course. They sometimes become muddy by passing through ground which is not firm, and which they bear away with them by their rapidity. Sometimes they appear to be irrecoverably lost, then they reappear for a time, but it is only to precipitate themselves in another abyss, still deeper than the former one. It is the sport of these torrents to show themselves, to lose themselves, and to break themselves upon the rocks. Their course is so rapid as to be undiscernible; but finally, after many precipices and abysses, after having been dashed against rocks, and many times lost and found again, they reach the sea, where they are lost to be found no more. And there, however poor, mean, useless, destitute of merchandise the poor torrent may have been, it is wonderfully enriched, for it is not rich with its own riches, like other rivers, which only bear a certain amount of merchandise or certain rarities, but it is rich with the riches of the sea itself. It bears on its bosom the largest vessels; it is the sea which bears them, and yet it is the river, because the river, being lost in the sea, has become one with it.
It is to be remarked, that the river or torrent thus precipitated into the sea does not lose its nature, although it is so changed and lost as not to be recognised. It will always remain what it was, yet its identity is lost, not as to reality, but as to quality; for it so takes the properties of salt water, that it has nothing peculiar to itself, and the more it loses itself and remains in the sea, the more it exchanges its own nature for that of the sea. For what, then, is not this poor torrent fitted? Its capacity is unlimited, since it is the same as that of the sea; it is capable of enriching the whole earth. O happy loss! who can set thee forth? Who can describe the gain which has been made by this useless and good-for-nothing river, despised and looked upon as a mad thing, on which the smallest boat could not be trusted, because, not being able to restrain itself, it would have dragged the boat with it. What do you say of the fate of this torrent, O great rivers! which flow with such majesty, which are the delight and admiration of the world, and glory in the quantity of merchandise spread out upon you? The fate of this poor torrent, which you regard with contempt, or at best with compassion, what has it become? What use can it serve now, or rather, what use can it not serve? What does it lack? You are now its servants, since the riches which you possess are only the overflow of its abundance, or a fresh supply which you are carrying to it.
But before speaking of the happiness of a soul thus lost in God, we must begin with its origin and go on by degrees.
The soul, as we have said, having proceeded from God, has a continual propensity to return to Him, because, as He is its origin, He is also its final end. Its course would be interminable if it were not arrested or interrupted by sin and unbelief. Therefore the heart of man is perpetually in motion, and can find no rest till it returns to its origin and its centre, which is God: like fire, which, being removed from its sphere, is in continual agitation, and does not rest till it has returned to it, and then, by a miracle of nature, this element, so active itself as to consume everything by its activity, is at perfect rest. O poor soul who are seeking happiness in this life! you will never find it out of God. Seek to return to Him: there all your longings and troubles, your agitations and anxieties, will be reduced to perfect rest.
It is to be remarked, that in proportion as fire approaches its centre, it always approaches rest, although its swiftness increases. It is the same with the soul: as soon as sin ceases to hold it back, it seeks indefatigably to find God; and if it were not for sin, nothing could impede its course, which would be so speedy, that it would soon attain its end. But it is also true that, in proportion as it approaches God, its speed is augmented, and at the same time becomes more peaceful; for the rest, or rather the peace, since it is not at rest, but is pursuing a peaceful course, increases so that its peace redoubles its speed, and its speed increases its peace.
The hindrances, then, arise from sins and imperfections, which arrest for a time the course of the soul, more or less, according to the magnitude of the fault. Then the soul is conscious of its activity, as though when fire was going on towards its centre, it encountered obstacles, such as pieces of wood or straw: it would resume its former activity in order to consume these obstacles or barriers, and the greater the obstacle the more its activity would increase. If it were a piece of wood, a longer and stronger activity would be needed to consume it; but if it were only a straw, it would be burned up in a moment, and would but very slightly impede its course. You will notice that the obstacles which the fire would encounter would only impart to it a fresh stimulus to surmount all which prevented its union with its centre; again, it is to be remarked, that the more obstacles the fire might encounter, and the more considerable they might be, the more they would retard its course; and if it were continually meeting with fresh ones, it would be kept back, and prevented from returning whence it came. We know by experience, that if we continually add fuel to fire, we shall keep it down, and prevent its rising. It is the same with the souls of men. Their instincts and natural propensities lead them towards God. They would advance incessantly, were it not for the hindrances they meet. These hindrances are sins and imperfections, which prove the greater obstacles in the way of their return to God, according as they are serious and lasting; so that if they continue in sin, they will never reach their end. Those, therefore, who have not sinned so grossly as others, should advance much more rapidly. This usually is the case, and yet it seems as though God took pleasure in making "grace abound where sin has most abounded" (Rom. v. 20). I believe that one of the reasons of this, to be found in those who have not grossly sinned, is their estimation of their own righteousness, and this is an obstacle more difficult to surmount then even the grossest sins, because we cannot have so great an attachment to sins which are so hideous in themselves, as we have to our own righteousness; and God, who will not do violence to liberty, leaves such hearts to enjoy their holiness at their own pleasure, while He finds His delight in purifying the most miserable. And in order to accomplish His purpose, He sends a stronger and fiercer fire, which consumes those gross sins more easily than a slower fire consumes smaller obstacles. It even seems as though God loved to set up His throne in these criminal hearts, in order to manifest His power, and to show how He can restore the disfigured soul to its original condition, and even make it more beautiful than it was before it fell. Those then who have greatly sinned, and for whom I now write, are conscious of a great fire consuming all their sins and hindrances; they often find their course impeded by besetting sins, but this fire consumes them again and again, till they are completely subdued. And as the fire thus goes on consuming, the obstacles are more and more easily surmounted, so that at last they are no more than straws, which, far from impeding its course, only make it burn the more fiercely.
Let us then take the soul in its original condition, and follow it through its various stages, if God, who inspires these thoughts, which only occur to me as I write, wills that we should do so.
As God's design for the soul is that it should be lost in Himself, in a manner unknown to ordinary Christians, He begins His work by imparting to it a sense of its distance from Him. As soon as it has perceived and felt this distance, the natural inclination which it has to return to its source, and which has been, as it were, deadened by sin, is revived. Then the soul experiences true sorrow for sin, and is painfully conscious of the evil which is caused by this separation from God. This sentiment thus implanted in the soul leads it to seek the means of ridding itself of this trouble, and of entering into a certain rest which it sees from afar, but which only redoubles its anxiety, and increases its desire to pursue it until it finds it.
Some of those who are thus exercised, having never been taught that they must seek to have God within them, and not expect to find Him in outward righteousness, give themselves up to meditation, and seek without what can only be found within. This meditation, in which they seldom succeed, because God, who has better things in store for them, does not permit them to find any rest in such an experience, only serves to increase their longing; for their wound is at the heart, and they apply the plaster externally, which does but foster the disease, instead of healing it. They struggle a long time with this exercise, and their struggling does but increase their powerlessness; and unless God, who Himself assumes the charge of them, sends some messenger to show them a different way, they will lose their time, and will lose it just so long as they remain unaided. But God, who is abundant in goodness, does not fail to send them help, though it may be but passing and temporary. As soon, then, as they are taught that they cannot advance because their wound is an internal one, and they are seeking to heal it by external applications; when they are led to seek in the depths of their own hearts what they have sought in vain out of themselves; then they find, with an astonishment which overwhelms them, that they have within them a treasure which they have been seeking far off. Then they rejoice in their new liberty; they marvel that prayer is no longer a burden, and that the more they retire within themselves, the more they taste of a certain mysterious something which ravishes them and carries them away, and they would wish ever to love thus, and thus to be buried within themselves. Yet what they experience, delightful as it may appear, does not stop them, if they are to be led into pure faith, but leads them to follow after something more, which they have not yet known. They are now all ardour and love. They seem already to be in Paradise; for what they possess within themselves is infinitely sweeter than all the joys of earth: these they can leave without pain; they would leave the whole world to enjoy for one hour their present experience. They find that prayer has become their continual attitude; their love increases day by day, so that their one desire is always to love and never to be interrupted. And as they are not now strong enough to be undisturbed by conversation, they shun and fear it; they love to be alone, and to enjoy the caresses of their Beloved. They have within themselves a Counsellor, who lets them find no pleasure in earthly things, and who does not suffer them to commit a single fault, without making them feel by His coldness how much sin is displeasing to Him. This coldness of God, in times of transgression, is to them the most terrible chastisement. It seems as though God's only care were to correct and reprove them, and His one purpose to perfect them. It is a surprise to themselves and to others that they change more in a month by this way, and even in a day, than in several years by the other. O God! it belongs only to Thee to correct and to purify the hearts of Thy children!
God has yet another means of chastising the soul, when it is further advanced in the divine life, by making Himself more fully known to it after it falls; then the poor soul is covered with confusion; it would rather bear the most severe chastisement than this goodness of God after it has sinned.
These persons are now so full of their own feelings that they want to impart them to others; they long to teach the whole world to love God; their sentiments towards Him are so deep, so pure, and so disinterested, that those who hear them speak, if they are not divinely enlightened, believe them to have attained the height of perfection. They are fruitful in good works; there is no reasoning here, nothing but a deep and burning love. The soul feels itself seized and held fast by a divine force which ravishes and consumes it. It is like intoxicated persons, who are so possessed with wine that they do not know what they are doing, and are no longer masters of themselves. If such as these try to read, the book falls from their hands, and a single line suffices them; they can hardly get through a page in a whole day, however assiduously they may devote themselves to it, for a single word from God awakens that secret instinct which animates and fires them, so that love closes both their mouth and their eyes. They cannot utter verbal prayers, being unable to pronounce them. A heart which is unaccustomed to this does not know what it means; for it has never experienced anything like it before, and it does not understand why it cannot pray, and yet it cannot resist the power which overcomes it. It cannot be troubled, nor be fearful of doing wrong, for He who holds it bound does not permit it either to doubt that it is He who thus holds it, or to strive against it, for if it makes an effort to pray, it feels that He who possesses it closes its lips, and compels it, by a sweet and loving violence, to be silent. Not that the creature cannot resist and speak by an effort, but besides doing violence to himself he loses this divine peace, and feels that he is becoming dry: he must allow himself to be moved upon by God at His will, and not in his own way. The soul in this state imagines itself to be in an inward silence, because its working is so gentle, so easy, and so quiet that it does not perceive it. It believes itself to have reached the summit of perfection, and it sees nothing before it but enjoyment of the wealth it possesses.
These Christians, so ardent and so desirous after God, begin to rest in their condition, and gradually and insensibly to lose the loving activity in seeking after God which formerly characterised them, being satisfied with their joy which they substituted for God Himself; and this rest would be to them an irreparable loss, if God, in His infinite goodness, did not draw them out of this state to lead them into one more advanced. But before speaking of it, let us look at the imperfections of this stage.
IMPERFECTIONS, INTERIOR AND EXTERIOR, OF THIS FIRST DEGREE—MISTAKES THAT ARE MADE IN IT—ITS PASSIVITY—SPIRITUAL DRYNESS, MINGLED WITH A TENDER BUT SELF-INTERESTED LOVE, WHICH NEEDS THE EXPERIENCE AND PURIFICATIONS OF THE FOLLOWING DEGREE.
The soul in the degree of which I have just spoken can and does make great advances, going from love to love, and from cross to cross; but it falls so frequently, and is so selfish, that it may be said to move only at a snail's pace, although it appears to itself and to others to progress infinitely. The torrent is now in a flat country, and has not yet found the slope of the mountain down which it may precipitate itself, and take a course which is never to be stopped.
The faults of those in this degree are a certain self-esteem, more hidden and deeply rooted than it was before they had received these graces and favours from God; a certain secret contempt for others whom they see so far behind themselves, and a certain hardness for sin and sinners; a zeal of St John before the descent of the Holy Ghost, when he wanted to call down fire from heaven upon the Samaritans to consume them; a certain confidence in their own safety and virtue; a secret pride, which causes them to grieve specially over the faults which they commit in public: they appropriate the gifts of God, and treat them as though they were their own: they forget weakness and poverty in the strength which they possess; so that they lose all self-distrust. Though all this and much more is to be found in persons in this degree, they are themselves unconscious of it; but these faults will make themselves known in time. The grace which they feel so strongly in themselves being an assurance to them that they have nothing to fear, they allow themselves to speak without being divinely commissioned. They are anxious to communicate what they feel to every one else. It is true that they are of use to others, for their burning words take hold of the hearts of those who hear them; but apart from the fact that they cannot do the good they would do, if God would have them impart to others what they have received, they are giving out of their necessity and not of their abundance; so that they exhaust themselves; as you have seen several pools of water under a fountain. The fountain alone gives out of its abundance, and the pools only send into each other of the fulness which is communicated to them; but if the fountain be closed or turned aside, and the pools cease to overflow, then as they are cut off from the source, they dry up. This is precisely what happens to those in this degree. They want to be constantly sending out their waters, and it is not till late that they perceive that the water which they had was only for themselves, and that they are not in a state to communicate it, because they are not connected with the source. They are like bottles of scent which are left open: they find so much sweetness in the odour which they emit that they do not perceive the loss they themselves sustain. Yet they appear to practise virtue without any effort, since they are occupied only with a general love, without reason or motive. If you ask them what they do during the day, they will tell you that they love; but if you ask why they love, they will tell you that they do not know; they only know that they love, and that they burn with desire to suffer for the object of their love. You may ask if it is not the sight of the sufferings of their Beloved which inspires them with the longing to suffer with Him, but they will reply that the thought of His sufferings did not even enter their mind. Neither is it the desire to imitate the virtues which they see in Him, for they do not think of them, nor the sight of His beauty which enraptures them, for they do not look at it. Only they feel in the depths of their heart a deep wound, yet so delightful that they rest in their pain, and find their pleasure in their grief.
They believe now that they have arrived at the consummation of all, for though they are full of the faults I have mentioned, and many others yet more dangerous, which are better perceived in the following degree than in this, they rest in their fancied perfection, and stopping at the means, which they mistake for the end, they would remain stationary, if God did not bring the torrent, which is now like a peaceful lake on a mountain-top, to the brow of the hill in order to precipitate it, and to start it on a course which will be more or less rapid according to the depth of its fall.
It appears to me that even the most advanced in this degree have a habit of concealing their faults, both from themselves and others, always finding excuses and extenuations; not designedly, but from a certain love of their own excellence, and a habitual dissimulation under which they hide themselves. The faults which cause them the deepest solicitude are those which are most apparent to others. They have a hidden love of self, stronger than ever, an esteem for their own position, a secret desire to attract attention, an affected modesty, a facility in judging others, and a preference for private devotion rather than domestic duties, which renders them the cause of many of the sins of those around them. This is of great importance. The soul, feeling itself drawn so strongly and sweetly, desires to be always alone and in prayer, which gives rise to two evils—the first, that in its seasons of greatest liberty it spends too much time in solitude; the second, that when its vigour of love is exhausted, as it often is in this way, it has not the same strength in times of dryness; it finds it difficult to remain so long in prayer; it readily shortens the time; its thoughts wander to exterior objects; then it is discouraged and cast down, thinking that all is lost, and does everything in its power to restore itself to the presence and favour of God.
But if such persons were strong enough to live an even life, and not to seek to do more in seasons of abundance than in times of barrenness, they would satisfy every one. As it is, they are troublesome to those around them, to whom they cannot condescend, making it a favour to lay themselves out for the satisfaction of others: they preserve an austere silence when it is unnecessary, and at other times talk incessantly of the things of God. A wife has scruples about pleasing her husband, entertaining him, walking with him, or seeking to amuse him, but has none about speaking uselessly for two hours with religious devotees. This is a horrible abuse. We ought to be diligent in the discharge of all duties, whatever their nature may be; and even if they do cause us inconvenience, we shall yet find great profit in doing this, not perhaps in the way we imagine, but in hastening the crucifixion of self. It even seems as though our Lord shows that such sacrifice is pleasing to Him by the grace which He sheds upon it. I knew a lady who, when playing at cards with her husband in order to please him, experienced such deep and intimate communion with God as she never felt in prayer, and it was the same with everything she did at her husband's desire; but if she neglected these things for others which she thought better, she was conscious that she was not walking in the will of God. This did not prevent her often committing faults, because the attractions of meditation and the happiness of devotion, which are preferred to these apparent losses of time, insensibly draw the soul away, and lead it to change its course, and this by most people is looked upon as sanctity. However, those who are to be taught the way of faith are not suffered long to remain in these errors, because, as God designs to lead them on to better things, He makes them conscious of their deficiency. It often happens, too, that persons by means of this death to self, and acting contrary to their natural inclinations, feel themselves more strongly drawn to their inward rest; for it is natural to man to desire most strongly what it is most difficult for him to obtain, and to desire most intensely those things which he most earnestly resolves to avoid. This difficulty of being able to enjoy only a partial rest increases the rest, and causes them even in activity to feel themselves acted upon so powerfully that they seem to have two souls within them, the inner one being infinitely stronger than the outer. But if they leave their duties in order to give the time to devotion, they will find it an empty form, and all its joy will be lost. By devotion I do not mean compulsory prayer, which is gone through as a duty that must not be avoided; neither do I understand by activity the labours of their own choice, but those which come within the range of positive duty. If they have spare time at their disposal, by all means let them spend it in prayer; nor must they lay upon themselves unnecessary burdens, and call them obligations. When the taste for meditation is very great, the soul does not usually fall into these last-named errors, but rather into the former one, that of courting retirement. I knew a person who spent more time in prayer when it was painful to her than when she felt it a delight, struggling with the disinclination; but this is injurious to the health, because of the violence which it does to the senses and the understanding, which being unable to concentrate themselves upon any one object, and being deprived of the sweet communion which formerly held them in subjection to God, endure such torment, that the subject of it would rather suffer the greatest trial than the violence which is necessary to enable it to fix its thoughts on God. The person to whom I alluded sometimes passed two or three hours successively in this painful devotion, and she has assured me that the strangest austerities would have been delightful to her in comparison with the time thus spent. But as a violence so strong as this in subjects so weak is calculated to ruin both body and mind, I think it is better not in any way to regulate the time spent in prayer by our varying emotions. This painful dryness of which I have spoken belongs only to the first degree of faith, and is often the effect of exhaustion; and yet those who have passed through it imagine themselves dead, and write and speak of it as the most sorrowful part of the spiritual life. It is true they have not known the contrary experience, and often they have not the courage to pass through this, for in this sorrow the soul is deserted by God, who withdraws from it His sensible helps, but it is nevertheless caused by the senses, because, being accustomed to see and to feel, and never having experienced a similar privation, they are in despair, which however is not of long duration, for the forces of the soul are not then in a state to bear for long such a pressure; it will either go back to seek for spiritual food, or else it will give all up. This is why the Lord does not fail to return: sometimes He does not even suffer the prayer to cease before He reappears; and if He does not return during the hour of prayer, He comes in a more manifest way during the day.
It seems as though He repented of the suffering He has caused to the soul of His beloved, or that He would pay back with usury what she has suffered for His love. If this consolation last for many days, it becomes painful. She calls Him sweet and cruel: she asks Him if He has only wounded her that she may die. But this kind Lover laughs at her pain, and applies to the wound a balm so sweet, that she could ask to be continually receiving fresh wounds, that she might always find a new delight in a healing which not only restores her former health, but imparts one yet more abundant.
Hitherto it has only been a play of love, to which the soul would easily become accustomed if her Beloved did not change His conduct. O poor hearts who complain of the flights of love! You do not know that this is only a farce, an attempt, a specimen of what is to follow. The hours of absence mark the days, the weeks, the months, and the years. You must learn to be generous at your own expense, to suffer your Beloved to come and go at His pleasure. I seem to see these young brides. They are at the height of grief when their Beloved leaves them: they mourn His absence as if it were death, and endeavour, as far as they can, to prevent His departure. This love appears deep and strong, but it is not so by any means. It is the pleasure they derive from the sight of their Beloved which they mourn after. It is their own satisfaction they seek, for if it were the pleasure of their Beloved, they would rejoice in the pleasure which He found apart from them, as much as in that which He found with them. So it is self-interested love, though it does not appear such to them; on the contrary, they believe that they only love Him for what He is. It is true, poor souls, you do love Him for what He is, but you love Him because of the pleasure you find in what He is. You reply that you are willing to suffer for your Beloved. True, provided He will be the witness and the companion of your suffering. You say you desire no recompense. I agree; but you do desire that He should know of your suffering, and approve of it. You want Him to take pleasure in it. Is there anything more plausible than the desire that He for whom we suffer should know it, and approve of it, and take delight in it? Oh, how much you are out in your reckoning! Your jealous Lover will not permit you to enjoy the pleasure which you take in seeing His satisfaction with your sorrow. You must suffer without His appearing to see it, or to approve of it, or to know it. That would be too great a gratification. What pain would we not suffer on such conditions! What! to know that our Beloved sees our woes, and takes an infinite pleasure in them! This is too great a pleasure for a generous heart! Yet I am sure the greatest generosity of those in this degree never goes beyond this. But to suffer without our Beloved being aware of it, when He seems to despise what we do to please Him, and to turn away from it; to have only scorn for what formerly seemed to charm Him; to see Him repay with a terrible coldness and distance what we do for His sake alone, and with terrible flights all our pursuit of Him; to lose without complaint all that He had formerly given as pledges of His love, and which we think we have repaid by our love, our fidelity, and our suffering; not only uncomplainingly to suffer ourselves to be thus despoiled, but to see others enriched with our spoils, and nevertheless not to cease to do what would please our absent Lover; not to cease following after Him; and if by unfaithfulness or surprise we stop for a moment, to redouble our speed, without fearing or contemplating the precipices, although we fall a thousand times, till we are so weary that we lose our strength, and die from continual fatigue; when, perhaps, if our Beloved turns and looks upon us, His glance restores life by the exquisite pleasure it gives; until at last He becomes so cruel that He lets us die for want of help: all this, I say, belongs not to this state, but to that which follows. I must remark here, that the degree of which I have been speaking is of very long duration, at least unless God intends the soul to make great advances; and many, as I have said, never pass it.
SECOND DEGREE OF THE PASSIVE WAY OF FAITH—SHORT DESCRIPTION OF THIS DEGREE—ENTRANCE INTO IT AND USELESS EFFORTS TO AVOID IT—GRADATIONS AND ADVANCEMENTS IN THIS DEGREE, IN WHICH OCCUR FREQUENT MANIFESTATIONS OF CHRIST TO THE SOUL—THE USES AND ABUSES WHICH IT MAKES OF THEM, BY WHICH IT IS BROUGHT TO MYSTICAL DEATH, OR TO THE THIRD DEGREE OF THIS PASSIVE WAY OF FAITH.
The torrent having come to the brow of the hill, enters at the same time into the second degree of the passive way of faith. This soul, which was so peacefully resting on the mountain-top, had no thought of leaving it. However, for want of a declivity, these waters of Heaven by their stay upon earth were becoming tainted; for there is this difference between stagnant waters which have no outlet, and those which are in motion and have an outlet, that the first, with the exception of the sea, and those large lakes which resemble it, grow putrid, and their want of motion causes their destruction. But when, after leaving their source, they have an easy outlet, the more rapidly they flow, the more they are preserved.
You will remember I remarked before of this soul, that as soon as God imparted to it the gift of passive faith, He gave it at the same time an instinct to seek after Him as its centre; but in its unfaithfulness it stifles by its repose this instinct to seek God, and would remain stationary, if God did not revive this instinct by bringing it to the edge of the mountain, whence it is compelled to precipitate itself. At first it is sensible that it has lost that calmness which it expected to retain for ever. Its waters, formerly so tranquil, begin to be noisy. A tumult is seen in its waves; they run and dash over. But where do they run? Alas! as they imagine, it is to their own destruction. If it were in their power to desire anything, they would wish to restrain themselves, and return to their former calm. But this is impossible. The declivity is found; they must be precipitated from slope to slope. It is no longer a question of abyss or of loss. The water, that is the soul, always reappears, and is never lost in this degree. It is embroiled and precipitated; one wave follows another, and the other takes it up and crashes it by its precipitation. Yet this water finds on the slope of the mountain certain flat places where it takes a little relaxation. It delights in the clearness of its waters; and it sees that its falls, its course, this breaking of its waves upon the rocks, have served to render it more pure. It finds itself delivered from its noise and storms, and thinks it has now found its resting-place; and it believes this the more readily because it cannot doubt that the state through which it has just passed has greatly purified it, for it sees that its waters are clearer, and it no longer perceives the disagreeable odour which certain stagnant parts had given to it on the top of the mountain; it has even acquired a certain insight into its own condition; it has seen by the troubled state of its passions (the waves) that they were not lost, but only asleep. As when it was descending the mountain, on its way to this level, it thought it was losing its way, and had no hope of recovering its lost peace, so now that it no longer hears the dash of its waves, that it finds itself flowing calmly and pleasantly along the sand, it forgets its former trouble, and never imagines there will be a return of it: it sees that it has acquired fresh purity, and does not fear that it will again become soiled; for here it is not stagnant, but flows as gently and brightly as possible. Ah, poor torrent! You think you have found your resting-place, and are firmly established in it! You begin to delight in your waters. The swans glide upon them, and rejoice in their beauty. But what is your surprise while, as you are flowing along so happily, you suddenly encounter a steeper slope, longer and more dangerous than the first! Then the torrent recommences its tumult. Formerly it was only a moderate noise; now it is insupportable. It descends with a crash and a roar greater than ever. It can hardly be said to have a bed, for it falls from rock to rock, and dashes down without order or reason; it alarms every one by its noise; all fear to approach it. Ah, poor torrent! what will you do? You drag away in your fury all that comes in your way; you feel nothing but the declivity down which you are hurried, and you think you are lost. Nay, do not fear; you are not lost, but the time of your happiness is not yet come. There must be many more disturbances and losses before then; you have but just commenced your course.
At last this dashing torrent feels that it has gained the foot of the mountain and another level spot. It resumes its former calm, and even a deeper one; and after having passed it may be years in these changes, it enters the third degree, before speaking of which I will touch upon the condition of those who enter it, and the first steps in it. The soul having passed some time in the tranquillity of which we have spoken, which it imagines it has secured for ever, and having, as it supposes, acquired all the virtues in their full extent, believing all its passions to be dead; when it is expecting to enjoy with the greatest safety a happiness it has no fear of losing, is astonished to find that, instead of mounting higher, or at least remaining in its present position, it comes to the slope of the mountain. It begins, to its amazement, to be sensible of an inclination for the things it had given up. It sees its deep calm suddenly disturbed; distractions come in crowds, one upon another; the soul finds only stones in its path, dryness and aridity. A feeling of distaste comes into prayer. Its passions, which it thought were dead, but which were only asleep, all revive.
It is completely astonished at this change. It would like either to return to the top of the mountain, or at least to remain where it is; but this cannot be. The declivity is found, and the soul must fall (not into sin, but into a privation of the previous degree and of feeling). It does its best to rise after it falls; it does all in its power to restrain itself, and to cling to some devotional exercise; it makes an effort to recover its former peace; it seeks solitude in the hope of recovering it. But its labour is in vain. It resigns itself to suffer its dejection, and hates the sin which has occasioned it. It longs to put things right, but can find no means of doing it; the torrent must go on its way; it drags with it all that is opposed to it. Then, seeing that it no longer finds support in God, it seeks it in the creature; but it finds none; and its unfaithfulness only increases its apprehension. At last, the poor bride, not knowing what to do, weeping everywhere the loss of her Beloved, is filled with astonishment when He again reveals Himself to her. At first she is charmed at the sight, as she feared she had lost Him for ever. She is all the more happy, because she finds that He has brought with Him new wealth, a new purity, a great distrust of self. She has no longer the desire to stop, as she formerly had; she goes on continuously, but peacefully and gently, and yet she has fears lest her peace should be disturbed. She trembles lest she should again lose the treasure which is all the dearer to her because she had been so sensible of its loss. She is afraid she may displease Him, and that He will leave her again. She tries to be more faithful to Him, and not to make an end of the means.
However, this repose carries away the soul, ravishes it, and renders it idle. It cannot help being sensible of its peace, and it desires to be always alone. It has again acquired a spiritual greediness. To rob it of solitude is to rob it of life. It is still more selfish than before, what it possesses being more delightful. It seems to be in a new rest. It is going along calmly, when all at once it comes to another descent, steeper and longer than the former one. It is suddenly seized with a fresh surprise; it endeavours to hold itself back, but in vain; it must fall; it must dash on from rock to rock. It is astonished to find that it has lost its love for prayer and devotion. It does violence to itself by continuing in it. It finds only death at every step. That which formerly revived it is now the cause of its death. Its peace has gone, and has left a trouble and agitation stronger than ever, caused as much by the passions, which revive (though against its will) with the more strength as they appeared the more extinct, as by crosses, which increase outwardly, and which it has no strength to bear. It arms itself with patience; it weeps, groans, and is troubled. The Bride complains that her Beloved has forsaken her; but her complaints are unheeded. Life has become death to her. All that is good she finds difficult, but has an inclination towards evil which draws her away. But she can find no rest in the creature, having tasted of the Creator. She dashes on more vehemently; and the steeper the rocks, and the greater the obstacles which oppose her course, the more she redoubles her speed. She is like the dove from the ark, which, finding no rest for the sole of its foot, was obliged to return. But alas! what could the poor dove have done if, when it desired to re-enter the ark, Noah had not put out his hand to take it in? It could only have fluttered round about the ark, seeking rest but finding none. So this poor dove flutters round the ark till the Divine Noah, having compassion on her distress, opens the door and receives her to Himself. Oh, wonderful and loving invention of the goodness of God! He only eludes the search of the soul to make it flee more quickly to Him. He hides Himself that He may be sought after. He apparently lets her fall, that He may have the joy of sustaining her and raising her up. Oh, strong and vigorous ones, who have never experienced these artifices of love, these apparent jealousies, these flights, lovely to the soul which has passed them, but terrible to those who experience them! You, I say, who do not know these flights of love, because you are satisfied with the abiding presence of your Beloved; or, if He hide Himself, it is for so short a time that you cannot judge of the joy of His presence by the pain of a long absence; you have never experienced your weakness, and your need of His help; but those who are thus forsaken learn to lean no longer on themselves, but only on the Beloved. His rigours have rendered His gentleness the more needful for them.
These persons often commit faults through sheer weakness, and because they are deprived of all sensible support; and these faults so fill them with shame, that, if they could, they would hide themselves from their Beloved. Alas! in the terrible confusion into which they are thrown, He gives them a glimpse of Himself. He touches them with His sceptre, like another Ahasuerus (Esther v. 2), that they may not die; but His tender caresses only serve to increase their confusion at the thought of having displeased Him. At other times He makes them sensible, by His severity, how much their unfaithfulness displeases Him. Oh! then if they could sink into dust, they would. They would do anything to repair the injury done to God; and if, by any slight neglects, which appear crimes to them, they have offended their neighbour, what return are they not willing to make? But it is pitiful to see the state of that one who has driven away her Beloved. She does not cease to run after Him, but the faster she goes, the further He seems to leave her behind; and if He stops, it is only for a moment, that she may recover breath. She feels now that she must die; for she no longer finds life in anything; all has become death to her; prayer, reading, conversation—all is dead: she loses the joy of service, or rather, she dies to it, performing it with so much pain and weariness, that it is as death to her. At last, after having fought well, but uselessly, after a long succession of conflicts and rest, of lives and deaths, she begins to see how she has abused the grace of God, and that this state of death is better for her than life; for as she sees her Beloved returning, and finds that she possesses Him more purely, and that the state which preceded her rejoicing was a purification for her, she abandons herself willingly to death, and to the coming and going of her Beloved, giving Him full liberty to go and come as He will. She receives instruction as she is able to bear it. Little by little she loses her joy in herself, and is thus prepared for a new condition.
But before speaking of it, let me say, that in proportion as the soul advances, its joys become short, simple, and pure, and its privations long and agonising, until it has lost its own joy, to find it no more: and this is the third degree, that of death, burial, and decay. This second degree ends in death, and goes no further.
THIRD DEGREE OF THE PASSIVE WAY OF FAITH, IN ITS COMMENCEMENT, AND ITS PROGRESS BY VARIOUS SPECIAL DEATHS TO A TOTAL DEATH, TO BURIAL, AND TO DECAY—DURATION OF THIS TRANSITION, IN WHICH THERE MUST BE NO ADVANCEMENT BEYOND FAITH, NOR ANY RECEDING—SPOLIATION OF THE SOUL, AND THE THREE DEGREES OF IT—FIRST DEGREE, WHICH CONCERNS GIFTS, GRACES, AND FAVOURS, OR ORNAMENTS—ITS NECESSITY AND EFFECTS.
You have seen dying persons who, after they have been believed to be dead, have all at once assumed a new strength, and retained it until their death; as a lamp whose oil is spent flickers in the surrounding darkness, but only to die out the more quickly: thus the soul casts out flames, which only last for a moment. It has bravely resisted death; but its oil is spent: the Sun of Righteousness has so withered it up, that it is forced to die. But does this Sun design anything else with its fierce rays, except the consumption of the soul? And the poor soul thus burned thinks that it is frozen! The truth is, that the torment it suffers prevents its recognising the nature of its pain. So long as the Sun was obscured by clouds, and gave out rays to a certain extent moderated, it felt the heat, and thought it was burning, while in reality it was but slightly warmed: but when the Sun flashed full upon it, then the soul felt itself burning, without believing that it was so much as warmed. O loving deceit! O sweet and cruel Love! Have you lovers only to deceive them thus? You wound these hearts, and then hide your darts, and make them pursue after that which has wounded them. You attract them, and show yourself to them, and when they long to possess you, you flee from them. When you see the soul reduced to the last extremity, and out of breath from its constant pursuit, you show yourself for a moment that it may recover life, only to be killed a thousand times with ever-increasing severity.
O rigorous Lover! innocent murderer! Why dost Thou not kill with a single blow? Why give wine to an expiring heart, and restore life in order to destroy it afresh? This is Thy sport. Thou woundest to the death; and when Thou seest the victim on the point of expiring, Thou healest one wound in order to inflict another! Alas! usually we die but once; and the very cruellest murderers in times of persecution, though they prolonged life, it is true, yet were content to destroy it but once. But Thou, less compassionate than they, takest away our life time after time, and restorest it again.
O life, which cannot be lost without so many deaths! O death, which can only be attained by the loss of so many lives! Perhaps this soul, after thou hast devoured it in Thy bosom, will enjoy its Beloved. That would be too great happiness for it: it must undergo another torture. It must be buried and reduced to ashes. But perhaps it will then arrive at the end of its sufferings, for bodies which decay suffer no longer. Oh! it is not thus with the soul: it suffers continually; and burial, decay, and nothingness are even more sensibly felt by it than death itself.
This degree of death is extremely long, and as I have said that very few pass the other degrees, so I say that far less pass this one. Many people have been astonished to see very holy persons, who have lived like angels, die in terrible anguish, and even despairing of their salvation. It is because they have died in this mystical death; and as God wished to promote their advancement, because they were near their end, He redoubled their sorrow. The work of stripping the soul must be left wholly to God. He will do the work perfectly, and the soul will second the spoliation and the death, without putting hindrances in the way. But to do the work for ourselves is to lose everything, and to make a vile state of a divine one. There are persons who, hearing of this spoliation, have effected it for themselves, and remain always stationary; for as the stripping is their own work, God does not clothe them with Himself. The design of God in stripping the soul is to clothe it again. He only impoverishes that He may enrich, and He substitutes Himself for all that He takes away, which cannot be the case with those whose spoliation is their own work. They indeed lose the gifts of God, but they do not possess God Himself in exchange.
In this degree the soul has not learned to let itself be stripped, emptied, impoverished, killed; and all its efforts to sustain itself will but be its irreparable loss, for it is seeking to preserve a life which must be lost. As a person wishing to cause a lamp to die out without extinguishing it, would only have to cease to supply it with oil, and it would die out of itself; but if this person, while persistently expressing a wish that the lamp should go out, continued replenishing it with oil from time to time, the lamp would never go out: it is the same with the soul in this degree, which holds on, however feebly, to life. If it consoles itself, does not suffer itself to be killed, in a word, if it performs any actions of life whatever, it will thereby retard its death. O poor soul! fight no longer against death, and you will live by your death. I seem to see a drowning man before me; he makes every effort to rise to the surface of the water; he holds on to anything that offers itself to his grasp; he preserves his life so long as his strength holds out; he is only drowned when that strength fails. It is thus with Christians. They endeavour as long as possible to prevent their death; it is only the failure of all power which makes them die. God, who wishes to hasten this death, and who has compassion upon them, cuts off the hands with which they cling to a support, and thus obliges them to sink into the deep. Crosses become multiplied, and the more they increase, the greater is the helplessness to bear them, so that they seem as though they never could be borne. The most painful part of this condition is, that the trouble always begins by some fault in the sufferer, who believes he has brought it upon himself.
At last the soul is reduced to utter self-despair. It consents that God should deprive it of the joy of His gifts, and admits that He is just in doing it. It does not even hope to possess these gifts again.
When those who are in this condition see others who are manifestly living in communion with God, their anguish is redoubled, and they sink in the sense of their own nothingness. They long to be able to imitate them, but finding all their efforts useless, they are compelled to die. They say in the language of Scripture, "The thing which I greatly feared is come upon me" (Job iii. 25). What! they say, to lose God, and to lose Him for ever, without the hope of ever finding Him again! To be deprived of love for time and for eternity! To be unable to love Him whom I know to be so worthy of my affection!
Oh! is it not sufficient, Divine Lover, to cast off your spouse, to turn away from her, without compelling her to lose love, and lose it, as it seems, for ever? She believes she has lost it, and yet she never loved more strongly or more purely. She has indeed lost the vigour, the sensible strength of love; but she has not lost love itself; on the contrary, she possesses it in a greater degree than ever. She cannot believe this, and yet it is easily known; for the heart cannot exist without love. If it does not love God, its affection is concentrated upon some other object: but here the bride of Christ is far from taking pleasure in anything. She regards the revolt of her passions and her involuntary faults as terrible crimes, which draw upon her the hatred of her Beloved. She seeks to cleanse and to purify herself, but she is no sooner washed than she seems to fall into a slough yet more filthy and polluted than that from which she has just escaped. She does not see that it is because she runs that she contracts defilement, and falls so frequently, yet she is so ashamed to run in this condition, that she does not know where to hide herself. Her garments are soiled; she loses all she has in the race.
Her Bridegroom aids in her spoliation for two reasons: the first, because she has soiled her beautiful garments by her vain complaisances, and has appropriated the gifts of God in reflections of self-esteem. The second, because in running, her course will be impeded by this burden of appropriation; even the fear of losing such riches would lessen her speed.
O poor soul! what art thou become? Formerly thou wast the delight of thy Bridegroom, when He took such pleasure in adorning and beautifying thee; now thou art so naked, so ragged, so poor, that thou darest neither to look upon thyself nor to appear before Him. Those who gaze upon thee, who, after having so much admired thee, see thee now so disfigured, believe that either thou hast grown mad, or that thou hast committed some great crime, which has caused thy Beloved to abandon thee. They do not see that this jealous Husband, who desires that His bride should be His alone, seeing that she is amusing herself with her ornaments, that she delights in them, that she is in love with herself; seeing this, I say, and that she sometimes ceases looking at Him in order to look at herself, and that her love to Him is growing cold because her self-love is so strong, is stripping her, and taking away all her beauties and riches from before her eyes.
In the abundance of her wealth, she takes delight in contemplating herself: she sees good qualities in herself, which engage her affection, and alienate it from her Bridegroom. In her foolishness she does not see that she is only fair with the beauties of her Beloved; and that if He removed these, she would be so hideous that she would be frightened at herself. More than this, she neglects to follow Him wherever He goes; she fears lest she may spoil her complexion, or lose her jewels. O jealous Love! how well is it that thou comest to chastise this proud one, and to take from her what Thou hast given, that she may learn to know herself, and that, being naked and destitute, nothing may impede her course.
Thus, then, our Lord strips the soul little by little, robbing her of her ornaments, all her gifts, positions, and favours—that is, as to her perception or conscious possession of them—which are like jewels that weigh her down; then He takes away her natural capacity for good, which are her garments; after which He destroys her personal beauty, which sets forth divine virtue, which she finds it impossible to practise.
This spoliation commences with the graces, gifts, and favours of conscious love. The bride sees that her husband takes from her, little by little, the riches He had bestowed upon her. At first she is greatly troubled by this loss; but what troubles her the most, is not so much the loss of her riches, as the anger of her Beloved; for she thinks it is in anger that He thus takes back His gifts. She sees the abuse she had made of them, and the delight she had been taking in them, which so fills her with shame that she is ready to die of confusion. She lets Him do as He will, and dares not say, "Why dost Thou take from me what Thou hast given?" for she sees that she deserves it, and looks on in silence.
Though she keeps silence, it is not so profound now as afterwards; it is broken by mingled sobs and sighs. But she is astonished to find, when she looks at her Bridegroom, that He appears to be angry with her for weeping over His justice towards her, in no longer allowing her the opportunity of abusing His gifts, and for thinking so lightly of the abuse she has made of them. She tries then to let Him know that she does not care about the loss of His gifts, if only He will cease His anger towards her. She shows Him her tears and her grief at having displeased Him. It is true that she is so sensible of the anger of her Beloved that she no longer thinks of her riches. After allowing her to weep for a long time, her Lover appears to be appeased. He consoles her, and with His own hand He dries her tears. What a joy it is to her to see the new goodness of her Beloved, after what she has done! Yet He does not restore her former riches, and she does not long for them, being only too happy to be looked upon, consoled, and caressed by Him. At first she receives His caresses with so much confusion, that she dare not lift her eyes, but forgetting her past woes in her present happiness, she loses herself in the new caresses of her Beloved, and thinking no more of her past miseries, she glories and rests in these caresses, and thereby compels the Bridegroom to be angry again, and to despoil her anew.
It must be observed that God despoils the loss little by little; and the weaker the souls may be, the longer the spoliation continues; while the stronger they are, the sooner it is completed, because God despoils them oftener and of more things at once. But however rough this spoliation may be, it only touches superfluities on the outside, that is to say, gifts, graces, and favours.
This leading of God is so wonderful, and is the result of such deep love to the soul, that it would never be believed, except by those who have experienced it; for the heart is so full of itself, and so permeated with self-esteem, that if God did not treat it thus, it would be lost.
It will perhaps be asked, If the gifts of God are productive of such evil consequences, why are they given? God gives them, in the fulness of His goodness, in order to draw the soul from sin, from attachment to the creature, and to bring it back to Himself. But these same gifts with which He gratifies it—that He may wean it from earth and from self to love Him, at least from gratitude—we use to excite our self-love and self-admiration, to amuse ourselves with them; and self-love is so deeply rooted in man, that it is augmented by these gifts; for he finds in himself new charms, which he had not discovered before; he delights in them, and appropriates to himself what belongs only to God. It is true, God could deliver him from it, but He does not do it, for reasons known only to Himself. The soul, thus despoiled by God, loses a little of its self-love, and begins to see that it was not so rich as it fancied, but that all its virtue was in Christ; it sees that it has abused His grace, and consents that He should take back His gifts. The bride says, "I shall be rich with the riches of my Bridegroom, and though He may keep them, yet, from my union in heart and will with Him, they will still be mine." She is even glad to lose these gifts of God; she finds herself unencumbered, better fitted for walking. Gradually she becomes accustomed to this spoliation; she knows it has been good for her; she is no longer grieved because of it; and, as she is so beautiful, she satisfies herself that she will not cease to please her Bridegroom by her natural beauty and her simple garments, as much as she could with all her ornaments.
SECOND DEGREE OF THE SPOLIATION OF THE SOUL, AS TO ITS GARMENTS, OR ITS FACILITY FOR THE EXTERIOR PRACTICE OF VIRTUE—ITS CAUSES, WHICH ARE THE APPROPRIATION OF THESE VIRTUES, AND SATISFACTION IN THEM, INSTEAD OF THE RECOGNITION OF NATURAL HELPLESSNESS, AND ABSENCE OF ALL GOOD IN SELF.
When the poor bride is expecting always to live in peace, in spite of this loss, and sees clearly the good which has resulted to her from it, and the harm she had done to herself by the bad use which she had made of the gifts which now have been taken from her, she is completely astonished to find that the Bridegroom, who had only given her temporary peace because of her weakness, comes with yet greater violence to tear off her clothing from her.
Alas, poor bride! what wilt thou do now? This is far worse than before, for these garments are necessary to her, and it is contrary to all propriety to suffer herself to be stripped of them. Oh! it is now that she makes all the resistance in her power. She brings forward all the reasons why her Bridegroom should not thus leave her naked: she tells Him that it will bring reproach upon Himself. "Alas!" she cries, "I have lost all the virtues which Thou hast bestowed upon me, Thy gifts, the sweetness of Thy love! But still I was able to make an outward profession of virtue; I engaged in works of charity; I prayed assiduously, even though I was deprived of Thy sensible benefits: but I cannot consent to lose all this. I was still clothed according to my position, and looked upon by the world as Thy bride: but if I lose my garments, it will bring shame upon Thee." "It matters not, poor soul; thou must consent to this loss also: thou dost not yet know thyself; thou believest that thy raiment is thine own, and that thou canst use it as thou wilt. But though I acquired it at such a cost, thou hast given it back to me as if it were a recompense on thy part for the labours I have endured for Thee. Let it go; thou must lose it." The soul having done its best to keep it, lets it go, little by little, and finds itself gradually despoiled. It finds no inclination for anything; on the contrary, all is distasteful to it. Formerly it had aversions and difficulties, without absolute powerlessness; but here all power is taken from it: its strength of body and mind fails entirely; the inclination for better things alone remains, and this is the last robe, which must finally be lost.