Stanza xi

Reveal Thy presence,
And let the vision and Thy beauty kill me,
Behold the malady
Of love is incurable
Except in Thy presence and before Thy face.

THE soul, anxious to be possessed by God, Who is so great, Whose
love has wounded and stolen its heart, and unable to suffer more,
beseeches Him directly, in this stanza, to reveal His beauty–that
is, the divine Essence–and to slay it in that vision, separating
it from the body, in which it can neither see nor possess Him as
it desires. And further, setting before Him the distress and
sorrow of heart, in which it continues, suffering it because of
its love, and unable to find any other remedy than the glorious
vision of the divine essence, cries out: ‘Reveal Thy presence.’

2. To understand this clearly we must remember that there are
three ways in which God is present in the soul. The first is His
presence in essence, not in holy souls only, but in wretched and
sinful souls as well, and also in all created things; for it is by
this presence that He gives life and being, and were it once
withdrawn all things would return to nothing. [93] This presence
never fails in the soul.

3. The second is His presence by grace, whereby He dwells in the
soul, pleased and satisfied with it. This presence is not in all
souls; for those who fall into mortal sin lose it, and no soul can
know in a natural way whether it has it or not. The third is His
presence by spiritual affection. God is wont to show His presence
in many devout souls in divers ways, in refreshment, joy, and
gladness; yet this, like the others, is all secret, for He does
not show Himself as He is, because the condition of our mortal
life does not admit of it. Thus this prayer of the soul may be
understood of any one of them.

‘Reveal Thy presence.’

4. Inasmuch as it is certain that God is ever present in the soul,
at least in the first way, the soul does not say, ‘Be Thou
present’; but, ‘Reveal and manifest Thy hidden presence, whether
natural, spiritual, or affective, in such a way that I may behold
Thee in Thy divine essence and beauty.’ The soul prays Him that as
He by His essential presence gives it its natural being, and
perfects it by His presence of grace, so also He would glorify it
by the manifestation of His glory. But as the soul is now loving
God with fervent affections, the presence, for the revelation of
which it prays the Beloved to manifest, is to be understood
chiefly of the affective presence of the Beloved. Such is the
nature of this presence that the soul felt there was an infinite
being hidden there, out of which God communicated to it certain
obscure visions of His own divine beauty. Such was the effect of
these visions that the soul longed and fainted away with the
desire of that which is hidden in that presence.

5. This is in harmony with the experience of David, when he said:
‘My soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of our Lord.’ [94]
The soul now faints with desire of being absorbed in the
Sovereign Good which it feels to be present and hidden; for
though it be hidden, the soul is most profoundly conscious of the
good and delight which are there. The soul is therefore attracted
to this good with more violence than matter is to its centre, and
is unable to contain itself, by reason of the force of this
attraction, from saying:

‘Reveal Thy presence.’

6. Moses, on Mount Sinai in the presence of God, saw such glimpses
of the majesty and beauty of His hidden Divinity, that, unable to
endure it, he prayed twice for the vision of His glory saying:
‘Whereas Thou hast said: I know thee by name, and thou hast found
grace in my sight. If, therefore, I have found grace in Thy sight,
shew me Thy face, that I may know Thee and may find grace before
Thine eyes;’ [95] that is, the grace which he longed for–to
attain to the perfect love of the glory of God. The answer of our
Lord was: ‘Thou canst not see My face, for man shall not see Me
and live.’ [96] It is as if God had said: ‘Moses, thy prayer is
difficult to grant; the beauty of My face, and the joy in seeing
Me is so great, as to be more than thy soul can bear in a mortal
body that is so weak.’ The soul accordingly, conscious of this
truth, either because of the answer made to Moses or also because
of that which I spoke of before, [97] namely, the feeling that
there is something still in the presence of God here which it
could not see in its beauty in the life it is now living,
because, as I said before, [98] it faints when it sees but a
glimpse of it. Hence it comes that it anticipates the answer
that may be given to it, as it was to Moses, and says:

‘Let the vision and Thy beauty kill me.’

7. That is, ‘Since the vision of Thee and Thy beauty is so full of
delight that I cannot endure, but must die in the act of beholding
them, let the vision and Thy beauty kill me.’

8. Two visions are said to be fatal to man, because he cannot bear
them and live. One, that of the basilisk, at the sight of which
men are said to die at once. The other is the vision of God; but
there is a great difference between them. The former kills by
poison, the other with infinite health and bliss. It is,
therefore, nothing strange for the soul to desire to die by
beholding the beauty of God in order to enjoy Him for ever. If the
soul had but one single glimpse of the majesty and beauty of God,
not only would it desire to die once in order to see Him for ever,
as it desires now, but would most joyfully undergo a thousand most
bitter deaths to see Him even for a moment, and having seen Him
would suffer as many deaths again to see Him for another moment.

9. It is necessary to observe for the better explanation of this
line, that the soul is now speaking conditionally, when it prays
that the vision and beauty may slay it; it assumes that the vision
must be preceded by death, for if it were possible before death,
the soul would not pray for death, because the desire of death is
a natural imperfection. The soul, therefore, takes it for granted
that this corruptible life cannot coexist with the incorruptible
life of God, and says:

‘Let the vision and Thy beauty kill me.’

10. St. Paul teaches this doctrine to the Corinthians when he
says: ‘We would not be spoiled, but overclothed, that that which
is mortal may be swallowed up of life,’ [99] That is, ‘we would
not be divested of the flesh, but invested with glory.’ But
reflecting that he could not live in glory and in a mortal body
at the same time, he says to the Philippians: ‘having a desire to
be dissolved and to be with Christ.’ [100]

11. Here arises this question, Why did the people of Israel of old
dread and avoid the vision of God, that they might not die, as it
appears they did from the words of Manue to his wife, ‘We shall
die because we have seen God,’ [101] when the soul desires to die
of that vision? To this question two answers may be given.

12. In those days men could not see God, though dying in the state
of grace, because Christ had not come, It was therefore more
profitable for them to live in the flesh, increasing in merit, and
enjoying their natural life, than to be in Limbus, incapable of
meriting, suffering in the darkness and in the spiritual absence
of God. They therefore considered it a great grace and blessing to
live long upon earth.

13. The second answer is founded on considerations drawn from the
love of God. They in those days, not being so confirmed in love,
nor so near to God by love, were afraid of the vision: but, now,
under the law of grace, when, on the death of the body, the soul
may behold God, it is more profitable to live but a short time,
and then to die in order to see Him. And even if the vision were
withheld, the soul that really loves God will not be afraid to die
at the sight of Him; for true love accepts with perfect
resignation, and in the same spirit, and even with joy, whatever
comes to it from the hands of the Beloved, whether prosperity or
adversity–yea, and even chastisements such as He shall be pleased
to send, for, as St. John saith, ‘perfect charity casteth out
fear.’ [102]

14. Thus, then, there is no bitterness in death to the soul that
loves, when it brings with it all the sweetness and delights of
love; there is no sadness in the remembrance of it when it opens
the door to all joy; nor can it be painful and oppressive, when it
is the end of all unhappiness and sorrow, and the beginning of all
good. Yea, the soul looks upon it as a friend and its bride, and
exults in the recollection of it as the day of espousals; it
yearns for the day and hour of death more than the kings of the
earth for principalities and kingdoms.

15. It was of this kind of death that the wise man said, ‘O death,
thy judgment is good to the needy man.’ [103] If it be good to the
needy man, though it does not supply his wants, but on the
contrary deprives him even of what he hath, how much more good
will it be to the soul in need of love and which is crying for
more, when it will not only not rob it of the love it hath
already, but will be the occasion of that fulness of love which it
yearns for, and is the supply of all its necessities. It is not
without reason, then, that the soul ventures to say:

‘Let the vision and Thy beauty kill me.’

16. The soul knows well that in the instant of that vision it will
be itself absorbed and transformed into that beauty, and be made
beautiful like it, enriched, and abounding in beauty as that
beauty itself. This is why David said, ‘Precious in the sight of
the Lord is the death of His saints,’ [104] but that could not be
if they did not become partakers of His glory, for there is
nothing precious in the eyes of God except that which He is
Himself, and therefore, the soul, when it loves, fears not death,
but rather desires it. But the sinner is always afraid to die,
because he suspects that death will deprive him of all good, and
inflict upon him all evil; for in the words of David, ‘the death
of the wicked is very evil,’ [105] and therefore, as the wise man
saith, the very thought of it is bitter: ‘O death, how bitter is
thy memory to a man that hath peace in his riches!’ [106] The
wicked love this life greatly, and the next but little, and are
therefore afraid of death; but the soul that loves God lives more
in the next life than in this, because it lives rather where it
loves than where it dwells, and therefore esteeming but lightly
its present bodily life, cries out: ‘Let the vision and Thy beauty
kill me.’

‘Behold, the malady of love is incurable,
except in Thy presence and before Thy face.’

17. The reason why the malady of love admits of no other remedy
than the presence and countenance of the Beloved is, that the
malady of love differs from every other sickness, and therefore
requires a different remedy. In other diseases, according to sound
philosophy, contraries are cured by contraries; but love is not
cured but by that which is in harmony with itself. The reason is
that the health of the soul consists in the love of God; and so
when that love is not perfect, its health is not perfect, and the
soul is therefore sick, for sickness is nothing else but a failure
of health. Thus, that soul which loves not at all is dead; but
when it loves a little, how little soever that may be, it is then
alive, though exceedingly weak and sick because it loves God so
little. But the more its love increases, the greater will be its
health, and when its love is perfect, then, too, its health also
is perfect. Love is not perfect until the lovers become so on an
equality as to be mutually transformed into one another; then love
is wholly perfect.

18. And because the soul is now conscious of a certain adumbration
of love, which is the malady of which it here speaks, yearning to
be made like to Him of whom it is a shadow, that is the
Bridegroom, the Word, the Son of God, Who, as St. Paul saith, is
the ‘splendour of His glory, and the figure of His substance;’
[107] and because it is into this figure it desires to be
transformed by love, cries out, ‘Behold, the malady of love is
incurable except in Thy presence, and in the light of Thy
Countenance.’ The love that is imperfect is rightly called a
malady, because as a sick man is enfeebled and cannot work, so the
soul that is weak in love is also enfeebled and cannot practise
heroic virtue.

19. Another explanation of these words is this: he who feels this
malady of love–that is, a failure of it–has an evidence in
himself that he has some love, because he ascertains what is
deficient in him by that which he possesses. But he who is not
conscious of this malady has evidence therein that he has no love
at all, or that he has already attained to perfect love.


THE soul now conscious of a vehement longing after God, like a
stone rushing to its centre, and like wax which has begun to
receive the impression of the seal which it cannot perfectly
represent, and knowing, moreover, that it is like a picture
lightly sketched, crying for the artist to finish his work, and
having its faith so clear as to trace most distinctly certain
divine glimpses of the majesty of God, knows not what else to do
but to turn inward to that faith–as involving and veiling the
face and beauty of the Beloved–from which it hath received those
impressions and pledges of love, and which it thus addresses: