Stanza xxiv


Our bed is of flowers
By dens of lions encompassed,
Hung with purple,
Made in peace,
And crowned with a thousand shields of gold.

IN two of the foregoing stanzas–the fourteenth and the fifteenth–
the bride-soul celebrated the grace and magnificence of the
Beloved, the Son of God. In the present stanza she not only
pursues the same subject, but also sings of her high and blessed
state, and her own security in it. She then proceeds to the
virtues and rich gifts with which she is endowed and adorned in
the chamber of the Bridegroom; for she says that she is in union
with Him, and is strong in virtue. Next she says that she has
attained to the perfection of love, and then that she enjoys
perfect spiritual peace, endowed and adorned with gifts and
graces, so far as it is possible to have them in this life. The
first subject of the stanza is the joy which the bride feels in
her union with the Beloved, saying:

‘Our bed is of flowers.’

2. I have already said that this bed of the soul is the bosom and
love of the Son of God, full of flowers to the soul, which now
united to God and reposing in Him, as His bride, shares the bosom
and love of the Beloved. That is, the soul is admitted to a
knowledge of the wisdom, secrets and graces, and gifts and powers
of God, whereby it is made so beautiful, so rich, so abounding in
delights that it seems to be lying on a bed of many-coloured
divine flowers, the touch of which makes it thrill with joy, and
the odours of which refresh it.

3. This union of love with God is therefore most appropriately
called a bed of flowers, and is so called by the bride in the
Canticle, saying to the Beloved, ‘Our bed is of flowers.’ [199]
She speaks of it as ours, because the virtues and the love, one
and the same, of the Beloved are common to both together, and the
delight of both is one and the same; as it is written: ‘My
delights were to be with the children of men.’ [200] The bed is
said to be of flowers, because in this state the virtues in the
soul are perfect and heroic, which they could not be until the bed
had flowered in perfect union with God.

‘By dens of lions encompassed.’

4. The dens of lions signify the virtues with which the soul is
endowed in the state of union. The dens of lions are safe
retreats, protected from all other animals, who, afraid of the
boldness and strength of the lion within, are afraid not only to
enter, but even to appear in sight. So each virtue of the soul in
the state of perfection is like a den of lions where Christ dwells
united to the soul in that virtue; and in every one of them as a
strong lion. The soul also, united to Him in those very virtues,
is as a strong lion, because it then partakes of the perfections
of God.

5. Thus, then, the perfect soul is so defended, so strong in
virtue, and in all virtues together, reposing on the flowery bed
of its union with God, that the evil spirits are not only afraid
to assault it, but even dare not appear before it; such is their
dread of it, when they behold it strong, courageous, and mature in
its perfect virtues, on the bed of the Beloved. The evil spirits
fear a soul transformed in the union of love as much as they fear
the Beloved Himself, and they dare not look upon it, for Satan is
in great fear of that soul which has attained to perfection.

6. The soul’s bed is encompassed by virtues: they are the dens,
for when the soul has advanced to perfection, its virtues are so
perfectly ordered, and so joined together and bound up one with
another, each supporting the other, that no part of it is weak or
exposed. Not only is Satan unable to penetrate within it, but even
worldly things, whether great or little, fail to disturb or annoy
it, or even move it; for being now free from all molestation of
natural affections, and a stranger to the worry of temporal
anxieties, it enjoys in security and peace the participation of

7. This is that for which the bride longed when she said, ‘Who
shall give to me Thee my brother, sucking the breast of my mother,
that I may find Thee without, and kiss Thee, and now no man may
despise me?’ [201] The ‘kiss’ here is the union of which I am
speaking, whereby the soul, by love, becomes in a sense the equal
of God. This is the object it desires when it says, ‘Who shall
give to me Thee my brother?’ That means and makes equality.
‘Sucking the breast of my mother’; that is, destroying all the
imperfections and desires of nature which the soul inherits from
its mother Eve. ‘That I may find Thee without’; that is, ‘be
united to Thee alone, away from all things, in detachment of the
will and desires.’ ‘And now no man may despise me’; that is, the
world, the devil, and the flesh will not venture to assail it, for
being free and purified, and also united to God, none of these can
molest it. Thus, then, the soul is in the enjoyment now of
habitual sweetness and tranquillity that never fail it.

8. But beside this habitual contentment and peace, the flowers of
the virtues of this garden so open in the soul and diffuse their
odours that it seems to be, and is, full of the delights of God.
I say that the flowers open; because the soul, though filled with
the virtues in perfection, is not always in the actual fruition of
them, notwithstanding its habitual perception of the peace and
tranquillity which they produce. We may say of these virtues that
they are in this life like the budding flowers of a garden; they
offer a most beautiful sight–opening under the inspirations of
the Holy Ghost–and diffuse most marvellous perfumes in great

9. Sometimes the soul will discern in itself the mountain flowers–
the fulness, grandeur, and beauty of God–intermingled with the
lilies of the valley–rest, refreshment, and defence; and again
among them, the fragrant roses of the strange islands–the strange
knowledge of God; and further, the perfume of the water lilies of
the roaring torrents–the majesty of God filling the whole soul.
And amid all this, it enjoys the exquisite fragrance of the
jasmine, and the whisper of the amorous gales, the fruition of
which is granted to the soul in the estate of union, and in the
same way all the other virtues and graces, the calm knowledge,
silent music, murmuring solitude, and the sweet supper of love;
and the joy of all this is such as to make the soul say in truth,
‘Our bed is of flowers, by dens of lions encompassed.’ Blessed is
that soul which in this life deserves at times to enjoy the
perfume of these divine flowers.

‘Hung with purple.’

10. Purple in Holy Scripture means charity, and kings are clad in
it, and for that reason the soul says that the bed of flowers is
hung with purple, because all the virtues, riches, and blessings
of it are sustained, flourish, and are delighted only in charity
and love of the King of heaven; without that love the soul can
never delight in the bed nor in the flowers thereof. All these
virtues, therefore, are, in the soul, as if hung on the love of
God, as on that which preserves them, and they are, as it were,
bathed in love; for all and each of them always make the soul love
God, and on all occasions and in all actions they advance in love
to a greater love of God. That is what is meant by saying that the
bed is hung with purple.

11. This is well expressed in the sacred Canticle: ‘King Solomon
hath made himself a litter of the wood of Libanus; the pillars
thereof he hath made of silver, the seat of gold, the going up of
purple; the midst he hath paved with charity.’ [202] The virtues
and graces which God lays in the bed of the soul are signified by
the wood of Libanus: the pillars of silver and the seat of gold
are love, for, as I have said, the virtues are maintained by love,
and by the love of God and of the soul are ordered and bring forth

‘Made in peace.’

12. This is the fourth excellence of the bed, and depends on the
third, of which I have just spoken. For the third is perfect
charity, the property of which is, as the Apostle saith, to cast
out fear; [203] hence the perfect peace of the soul, which is the
fourth excellence of this bed. For the clearer understanding of
this we must keep in mind that each virtue is in itself peaceful,
gentle, and strong, and consequently, in the soul which possesses
them, produces peace, gentleness, and fortitude. Now, as the bed
is of flowers, formed of the flowers of virtues, all of which are
peaceful, gentle, and strong, it follows that the bed is wrought
in peace, and the soul is peaceful, gentle, and strong, which are
three qualities unassailable by the world, Satan, and the flesh.
The virtues preserve the soul in such peace and security that it
seems to be wholly built up in peace. The fifth property of this
bed of flowers is explained in the following words:

‘Crowned with a thousand shields of gold.’

13. The shields are the virtues and graces of the soul, which,
though they are also the flowers, serve for its crown, and the
reward of the toil by which they are acquired. They serve also,
like strong shields, as a protection against the vices, which it
overcame by the practice of them; and the bridal bed of flowers
therefore–that is, the virtues, the crown and defence–is adorned
with them by way of reward, and protected by them as with a
shield. The shields are said to be of gold, to show the great
worth of the virtues. The bride in the Canticle sets forth the
same truth, saying: ‘Three score valiant men of the most valiant
of Israel surround the little bed of Solomon, all holding swords;
. . . every man’s sword upon his thigh, because of fears in the
night.’ [204]

14. Thus in this stanza the bride speaks of a thousand shields, to
express the variety of the virtues, gifts, and graces wherewith
God has endowed the soul in this state. The Bridegroom also in the
Canticle has employed the same expression, in order to show forth
the innumerable virtues of the soul, saying: ‘Thy neck is as the
tower of David, which is built with bulwarks; a thousand shields
hang upon it, all the armour of valiant men.’ [205]


THE soul, having attained to perfection, is not satisfied with
magnifying and extolling the excellencies of the Beloved, the Son
of God, nor with recounting and giving thanks for the graces
received at His hands and the joy into which it has entered, but
recounts also the graces conferred on other souls. In this blessed
union of love the soul is able to contemplate both its own and
others’ graces; thus praising Him and giving Him thanks for the
many graces bestowed upon others, it sings as in the following