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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 [p ] 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 [p ] 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 [p ] 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 [p ] 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 [p ] 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 [p ] 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 [p ] 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 [p ] 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, [p ] 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 [p ] 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, [p ] 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! 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. 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.
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.
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? 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, [p ] 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 [p ] 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. You drag away in your fury all that comes in your way; you feel nothing but the declivity down which you are [p ] 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 [p ] 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 [p ] 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 [p ] 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 [p ] 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! 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 [p ] 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.
He touches them with His sceptre, like another Ahasuerus Esther v. At other times He makes them sensible, by His severity, how much their [p ] unfaithfulness displeases Him. 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 [p ] 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. 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 [p ] 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! Why dost Thou not kill with a single blow? Why give [p ] 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! 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. This degree of death is extremely long, and as I [p ] 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 [p ] 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! 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 [p ] 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 [p ] useless, they are compelled to die. 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! 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 [p ] 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. 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, [p ] 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 [p ] spoil her complexion, or lose her jewels. O jealous Love! 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 [p ] 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.
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 [p ] 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 [p ] 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 [p ] that it has abused His grace, and consents that He should take back His gifts.
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. When the poor bride is expecting always to live in peace, in spite of this loss, and sees clearly the [p ] 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! 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. 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.
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 [p ] 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.
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. 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.
This is done very gradually, and the process is extremely painful, because the bride sees all the while that it has been caused by her own folly. She dares not speak, lest she may irritate the [p ] Bridegroom, whose anger is worse to her than death. She begins to know herself better, to see that she is nothing in herself, and that all belongs to her Bridegroom. She begins to distrust herself, and, little by little, she loses her self-esteem.
But she does not yet hate herself, for she is still beautiful, though naked. From time to time she casts a pitiful look towards the Bridegroom, but she says not a word: she is grieved at His anger. It seems to her that the spoliation would be of little moment if she had not offended Him, and if she had not rendered herself unworthy to wear her nuptial robes.
If she was confused when at the first her riches were taken from her, her confusion at the sight of her nakedness is infinitely more painful. She cannot bear to appear before her Bridegroom, so deep is her shame. But she must remain, and run hither and thither in this state. No; she must appear thus in public. The world begins to think less highly of her. She does what she can to induce Him to clothe her a little, but He will do nothing, after having thus stripped her of all, for her garments would satisfy her by covering her, and would prevent her seeing herself as she is.
It is a great surprise to a soul that thinks itself far advanced towards perfection to see itself thus despoiled all at once. It imagines the old sins, from which it was once purged, must have returned. But it is mistaken: the secret is, that she was so hidden by her garments as to be unable to see what she was. It is a terrible thing for a soul to be thus stripped of the gifts and graces of God, and it is impossible that any should know or imagine what it is without the actual experience of it.
All this would be but little if the bride still retained her beauty; but the Bridegroom robs her of that also. Hitherto she has been despoiled of gifts, graces, and favours facility for good : she has lost all good works, such as outward charity, care for the poor, readiness to help others, but she has not lost the divine virtues. Here, however, these too must be lost, so far as their practice is concerned, or rather the habit of exercising them, as acquired by herself, in order to appear fair: in reality, they are all the while being more strongly implanted.
She loses virtue as virtue, but it is only that she may find it again in Christ. This degraded bride becomes, as she imagines, filled with pride. She, who was so patient, who suffered so easily, finds that she can suffer nothing.
Her senses revolt [p ] her by continual distractions. She can no longer restrain herself by her own efforts, as formerly; and what is worse, she contracts defilement at every step. She complains to her Beloved that the watchmen that go about the city have found her and wounded her Cant. I ought, however, to say that persons in this condition do not sin willingly.
It must not be supposed that either here or at any other stage of progress God suffers the soul really to fall into sin; and so truly is this the case, that though they appear in their own eyes the most miserable sinners, yet they can discover no definite sin of which they are guilty, and only accuse themselves of being full of misery, and of having only sentiments contrary to their desires. It is to the glory of God that, when He makes the soul most deeply conscious of its inward corruption, He does not permit it to fall into sin.
What makes its sorrow so terrible [p ] is, that it is overwhelmed with a sense of the purity of God, and that purity makes the smallest imperfection appear as a heinous sin, because of the infinite distance between the purity of God and the impurity of the creature.
The soul sees that it was originally created pure by God, and that it has contracted not only the original sin of Adam, but thousands of actual sins, so that its confusion is greater than can be expressed. The reason why Christians in this condition are despised by others, is not to be found in any particular faults which are observed in them, but because, as they no longer manifest the same ardour and fidelity which formerly distinguished them, the greatness of their fall is judged from this, which is a great mistake.
Let this serve to explain or modify any statements or representations in the sequel, which may appear to be expressed too strongly, and which those who do not understand the experience might be liable to misinterpret. It is not, then, that this poor bride commits the faults of which she imagines herself guilty, for in heart she was never purer than now; but her senses and natural powers, particularly the senses, being unsupported, wander away.
Besides which, as the speed of her course towards God redoubles, and she forgets herself more, it is not to be wondered at that in running she soils herself in the muddy places through which she passes; and as all her attention is directed towards her Beloved, although she does not perceive it by reason of her own condition, she thinks no more of herself, and does not notice where she steps. So that, while believing herself most guilty, she does not willingly commit a single sin; though all her sins appear [p ] voluntary to herself, they are rather faults of surprise, which often she does not see until after they are committed.
She cries to her Bridegroom, but He does not heed her, at least not perceptibly, though He sustains her with an invisible hand. Sometimes she tries to do better, but then she becomes worse; for the design of her Bridegroom in letting her fall without wounding herself Ps. It is here that the soul begins truly to hate itself and to know itself as it would never have done if it had not passed through this experience. All our natural knowledge of self, whatever may be its degree, is not sufficient to cause us really to hate ourselves.
It is only such an experience as this which can reveal to the soul its infinite depth of misery. No other [p ] way can give true purity; if it give any at all, it is only superficial, and not in the depth of the heart, where the impurity is seated. Here God searches the inmost recesses of the soul for that hidden impurity which is the effect of the self-esteem and self-love which He designs to destroy.
Take a sponge which is full of impurities, wash it as much as you will, you will clean the outside, but you will not render it clean throughout unless you press it, in order to squeeze out all the filth. This is what God does. He squeezes the soul in a painful manner, but He brings out from it that which was the most deeply hidden. I say, then, that this is the only way in which we can be purified radically; and without it we should always be filthy, though outwardly we might appear very clean.
It is necessary that God should make the soul thoroughly sensible of its condition. We could never believe, without the experience, of what nature left to itself is capable. Yes, indeed, our own being, abandoned to itself, is worse than all devils. Therefore we must not believe that the soul in this state of misery is abandoned by God.
This poor desolate bride, running hither and thither in search of her Beloved, not only soils herself grievously, as I have said, by falling into faults of surprise and self-esteem, but she wounds herself with the thorns that come in her way. She becomes so wearied at length that she is forced to die in her race for want of help; that is, to expect nothing from herself or her own activity.
That which is productive of the highest good to the soul in this condition is that God manifests no pity towards it; and when He desires to promote its advancement, He lets it run even to death; if He stops it for a moment, by doing which He ravishes and revives it, it is because of its weakness, and in order that its weariness may not compel it to rest.
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