Stanza xxxiii

Despise me not,
For if I was swarthy once,
Thou canst regard me now;
Since Thou hast regarded me,
Grace and beauty hast Thou given me.

THE soul now is becoming bold, and respects itself, because of the
gifts and endowments which the Beloved has bestowed upon it. It
recognises that these things, while itself is worthless and
underserving, are at least means of merit, and consequently it
ventures to say to the Beloved, ‘Do not disregard me now, or
despise me’; for if before it deserved contempt because of the
filthiness of its sin, and the meanness of its nature, now that He
has once looked upon it, and thereby adorned it with grace and
beauty, He may well look upon it a second time and increase its
grace and beauty. That He has once done so, when the soul deserved
it not, and had no attractions for Him, is reason enough why He
should do so again and again.

‘Despise me not.’

2. The soul does not say this because it desires in any way to be
esteemed–for contempt and insult are of great price, and
occasions of joy to the soul that truly loves God–but because it
acknowledges that in itself it merits nothing else, were it not
for the gifts and graces it has received from God, as it appears
from the words that follow.

‘For if I was swarthy once.’

3. ÔIf, before Thou didst graciously look upon me Thou didst find
me in my filthiness, black with imperfections and sins, and
naturally mean and vile,’

‘Thou canst regard me now; since Thou hast regarded me.Õ

4. After once looking upon me, and taking away my swarthy
complexion, defiled by sin and disagreeable to look upon, when
Thou didst render me lovely for the first time, Thou mayest well
look upon me now–that is, now I may be looked on and deserve to
be regarded, and thereby to receive further favours at Thy hands.
For Thine eyes, when they first looked upon me, did not only take
away my swarthy complexion, but rendered me also worthy of Thy
regard; for in Thy look of love,–

‘Grace and beauty hast Thou given me.’

5. The two preceding lines are a commentary on the words of St.
John, ‘grace for grace,’ [263] for when God beholds a soul that is
lovely in His eyes He is moved to bestow more grace upon it
because He dwells well-pleased within it. Moses knew this, and
prayed for further grace: he would, as it were, constrain God to
grant it because he had already received so much ‘Thou hast said:
I know thee by name, and thou hast found favour in My sight: if
therefore I have found favour in Thy sight, show me Thy face, that
I may know Thee, and may find grace before Thine eyes.’ [264]

6. Now a soul which in the eyes of God is thus exalted in grace,
honourable and lovely, is for that reason an object of His
unutterable love. If He loved that soul before it was in a state
of grace, for His own sake, He loves it now, when in a state of
grace, not only for His own sake, but also for itself. Thus
enamoured of its beauty, through its affections and good works,
now that it is never without them, He bestows upon it continually
further grace and love, and the more honourable and exalted He
renders that soul, the more is He captivated by it, and the
greater His love for it.

7. God Himself sets this truth before us, saying to His people, by
the mouth of the prophet, ‘since thou becamest honourable in My
eyes, and glorious, I have loved thee.’ [265] That is, ‘Since I
have cast Mine eyes upon thee, and thereby showed thee favour, and
made thee glorious and honourable in My sight, thou hast merited
other and further favours’; for to say that God loves, is to say
that He multiplies His grace. The bride in the Canticle speaks to
the same effect, saying, ‘I am black, but beautiful, O ye
daughters of Jerusalem.’ [266] and the Church adds, [267] saying,
‘Therefore hath the King loved me, and brought me into His secret
chamber.’ This is as much as saying: ‘O ye souls who have no
knowledge nor understanding of these favours, marvel not that the
heavenly King has shown such mercy unto me as to plunge me in the
depths of His love, for, though I am swarthy, He has so regarded
me, after once looking upon me, that He could not be satisfied
without betrothing me to Himself, and calling me into the inner
chamber of His love.’

8. Who can measure the greatness of the soul’s exaltation when God
is pleased with it? No language, no imagination is sufficient for
this; for in truth God doeth this as God, to show that it is He
who does it. The dealings of God with such a soul may in some
degree be understood; but only in this way, namely, that He gives
more to him who has more, and that His gifts are multiplied in
proportion to the previous endowments of the soul. This is what
He teaches us Himself in the Gospel, saying; ‘He that hath to him
shall be given, and he shall abound: but he that hath not, from
him shall be taken away even that which he hath.’ [268]

9. Thus the talent of that servant, not then in favour with his
lord, was taken from him and given to another who had gained
others, so that the latter might have all, together with the
favour of his lord. [269] God heaps the noblest and the greatest
favours of His house, which is the Church militant as well as the
Church triumphant, upon him who is most His friend, ordaining it
thus for His greater honour and glory, as a great light absorbs
many little lights. This is the spiritual sense of those words,
already cited, [270] the prophet Isaias addressed to the people of
Israel: ‘I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy
Saviour: I have given Egypt for thy atonement and Saba for thee.
I will give men for thee, and people for thy life.’ [271]

10. Well mayest Thou then, O God, gaze upon and prize that soul
which Thou regardest, for Thou hast made it precious by looking
upon it, and given it graces which in Thy sight are precious, and
by which Thou art captivated. That soul, therefore, deserves that
Thou shouldest regard it not only once, but often, seeing that
Thou hast once looked upon it; for so is it written in the book of
Esther by the Holy Ghost: ‘This honour is he worthy of, whom the
king hath a mind to honour.’ [272]


THE gifts of love which the Bridegroom bestows on the soul in this
state are inestimable; the praises and endearing expressions of
divine love which pass so frequently between them are beyond all
utterance. The soul is occupied in praising Him, and in giving Him
thanks; and He in exalting, praising, and thanking the soul, as we
see in the Canticle, where He thus speaks to the bride: ‘Behold,
thou art fair, O My love, behold, thou art fair; thy eyes are as
those of doves.’ The bride replies: ‘Behold, thou art fair, my
Beloved, and comely.’ [273] These, and other like expressions,
are addressed by them each to the other.

2. In the previous stanza the soul despised itself, and said it
was swarthy and unclean, praising Him for His beauty and grace,
Who, by looking upon the soul, rendered it gracious and beautiful.
He, Whose way it is to exalt the humble, fixing His eyes upon the
soul, as He was entreated to do, praises it in the following
stanza. He does not call it swarthy, as the soul calls itself,
but He addresses it as His white dove, praising it for its good
dispositions, those of a dove and a turtle-dove.