Stanza xxxix

The breathing of the air,
The song of the sweet nightingale,
The grove and its beauty
In the serene night,
With the flame that consumes, and gives no pain.

THE soul refers here, under five different expressions, to that
which the Bridegroom is to give it in the beatific transformation.
1. The aspiration of the Holy Spirit of God after it, and its own
aspiration after God. 2. Joyous praise of God in the fruition of
Him. 3. The knowledge of creatures and the order of them. 4. The
pure and clear contemplation of the divine essence. 5. Perfect
transformation in the infinite love of God.

‘The breathing of the air.’

2. This is a certain faculty which God will there give the soul in
the communication of the Holy Ghost, Who, like one breathing,
raises the soul by His divine aspiration, informs it, strengthens
it, so that it too may breathe in God with the same aspiration of
love which the Father breathes with the Son, and the Son with the
Father, which is the Holy Ghost Himself, Who is breathed into the
soul in the Father and the Son in that transformation so as to
unite it to Himself; for the transformation will not be true and
perfect if the soul is not transformed in the Three Persons of the
Most Holy Trinity in a clear manifest degree. This breathing of
the Holy Ghost in the soul, whereby God transforms it in Himself,
is to the soul a joy so deep, so exquisite, and so grand that no
mortal tongue can describe it, no human understanding, as such,
conceive it in any degree; for even that which passes in the soul
with respect to the communication which takes place in its
transformation wrought in this life cannot be described, because
the soul united with God and transformed in Him breathes in God
that very divine aspiration which God breathes Himself in the soul
when it is transformed in Him.

3. In the transformation which takes place in this life, this
breathing of God in the soul, and of the soul in God, is of most
frequent occurrence, and the source of the most exquisite delight
of love to the soul, but not however in the clear and manifest
degree which it will have in the life to come. This, in my
opinion, is what St. Paul referred to when he said: ‘Because you
are sons, God hath sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts,
crying Abba, Father.’ [313] The blessed in the life to come, and
the perfect in this, thus experience it.

4. Nor is it to be thought possible that the soul should be
capable of so great a thing as that it should breathe in God as
God in it, in the way of participation. For granting that God has
bestowed upon it so great a favour as to unite it to the most Holy
Trinity, whereby it becomes like unto God, and God by
participation, is it altogether incredible that it should exercise
the faculties of its understanding, perform its acts of knowledge
and of love, or, to speak more accurately, should have it all done
in the Holy Trinity together with It, as the Holy Trinity itself?
This, however, takes place by communication and participation, God
Himself effecting it in the soul, for this is ‘to be transformed
in the Three Persons’ in power, wisdom, and love, and herein it is
that the soul becomes like unto God, Who, that it might come to
this, created it to His own image and likeness.

5. How this can be so cannot be explained in any other way than by
showing how the Son of God has raised us to so high a state, and
merited for us the ‘power to be made the sons of God.’ [314] He
prayed to the Father, saying: ‘Father, I will that where I am they
also whom Thou hast given Me may be with Me, that they may see My
glory which Thou hast given Me.’ [315] That is, ‘that they may do
by participation in Us what I do naturally, namely, breathe the
Holy Ghost.’ He says also: ‘Not for them only do I pray, but for
them also who through their word shall believe in Me; that they
all may be one, as Thou, Father, in Me, and I in Thee, that they
also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou hast
sent Me. And the glory which Thou hast given Me, I have given to
them: that they may be one as We also are one. I in them and Thou
in Me, that they may be made perfect in one, and the world may
know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them as Thou hast also
loved Me,’ [316]–that is, in bestowing upon them that love which
He bestows upon the Son, though not naturally as upon Him, but in
the way I speak of, in the union and transformation of love.

6. We are not to suppose from this that our Lord prayed that the
saints might become one in essence and nature, as the Father and
the Son are; but that they might become one in the union of love
as the Father and the Son are one in the oneness of love. Souls
have by participation that very God which the Son has by nature,
and are therefore really gods by participation like unto God and
of His society.

7. St. Peter speaks of this as follows: ‘Grace to you and peace be
accomplished in the knowledge of God, and Christ Jesus our Lord;
as all things of His divine power, which pertain to life and
godliness, are given us by the knowledge of Him Who hath called us
by His own proper glory and virtue, by Whom He hath given us most
great and precious promises: that by these you may be made
partakers of the divine nature.’ [317] Thus far St. Peter, who
clearly teaches that the soul will be a partaker of God Himself,
and will do, together with Him, the work of the Most Holy Trinity,
because of the substantial union between the soul and God. And
though this union be perfect only in the life to come, yet even in
this, in the state of perfection, which the soul is said now to
have attained, some anticipation of its sweetness is given it, in
the way I am speaking of, though in a manner wholly ineffable.

8. O souls created for this and called thereto, what are you
doing? What are your occupations? Your aim is meanness, and your
enjoyments misery. Oh, wretched blindness of the children of Adam,
blind to so great a light, and deaf to so clear a voice; you see
not that, while seeking after greatness and glory, you are
miserable and contemptible, ignorant, and unworthy of blessings so
great. I now proceed to the second expression which the soul has
made use of to describe that which He gave it.

‘The song of the sweet nightingale.’

9. Out of this ‘breathing of the air’ comes the sweet voice of the
Beloved addressing Himself to the soul, in which the soul sends
forth its own sweet song of joy to Him. Both are meant by the song
of the nightingale. As the song of the nightingale is heard in the
spring of the year, when the cold, and rain, and changes of winter
are past, filling the ear with melody, and the mind with joy; so,
in the true intercourse and transformation of love, which takes
place in this life, the bride, now protected and delivered from
all trials and changes of the world, detached, and free from the
imperfections, sufferings, and darkness both of mind and body,
becomes conscious of a new spring in liberty, largeness, and joy
of spirit, in which she hears the sweet voice of the Bridegroom,
Who is her sweet nightingale, renewing and refreshing the very
substance of her soul, now prepared for the journey of everlasting
life.

10. That voice is sweet to her ears, and calls her sweetly, as it
is written: ‘Arise, make haste, My love, My dove, My beautiful one,
and come. For winter is now past, the rain is over and gone. The
flowers have appeared in our land, the time of pruning is come:
the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.’ [318] When the
bride hears the voice of the Bridegroom in her inmost soul, she
feels that her troubles are over and her prosperity begun. In the
refreshing comfort and sweet sense of this voice she, too, like
the nightingale, sends forth a new song of rejoicing unto God, in
unison with Him Who now moves her to do so.

11. It is for this that the Beloved sings, that the bride in
unison with Him may sing unto God; this is the aim and desire of
the Bridegroom, that the soul should sing with the spirit joyously
unto God; and this is what He asks of the bride in the Canticle:
‘Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come; my dove in the clefts
of the rock, in the hollow places of the wall, show me thy face,
let thy voice sound in my ears.’ [319]

12. The ears of God signify the desire He hath that the soul
should sing in perfect joy. And that this song may be perfect, the
Bridegroom bids the soul to send it forth, and to let it sound in
the clefts of the rock, that is, in the transformation which is
the fruit of the mysteries of Christ, of which I spoke just now.
[320] And because in this union of the soul with God, the soul
sings unto Him together with Him, in the way I spoke of when I was
speaking of love, [321] the song of praise is most perfect and
pleasing unto God; for the acts of the soul, in the state of
perfection, are most perfect; and thus the song of its rejoicing
is sweet unto God as well as to itself.

13. ‘Thy voice is sweet,’ [322] saith the Bridegroom, ‘not only
to thee, but also to Me, for as we are one, thy voice is also in
unison and one with Mine.’ This is the Canticle which the soul
sings in the transformation which takes place in this life, about
which no exaggeration is possible. But as this song is not so
perfect as the new song in the life of glory, the soul, having a
foretaste of that by what it feels on earth, shadows forth by the
grandeur of this the magnificence of that in glory, which is
beyond all comparison nobler, and calls it to mind and says that
what its portion there will be is the song of the sweet
nightingale.

‘The grove and its beauty.’

14. This is the third thing which the Bridegroom is to give the
soul. The grove, because it contains many plants and animals,
signifies God as the Creator and Giver of life to all creatures,
which have their being and origin from Him, reveal Him and make
Him known as the Creator. The beauty of the grove, which the soul
prays for, is not only the grace, wisdom, and loveliness which
flow from God over all created things, whether in heaven or on
earth, but also the beauty of the mutual harmony and wise
arrangement of the inferior creation, and the higher also, and of
the mutual relations of both. The knowledge of this gives the soul
great joy and delight. The fourth request is:

‘In the serene night.’

15. That is, contemplation, in which the soul desires to behold
the grove. It is called night, because contemplation is dim; and
that is the reason why it is also called mystical theology–that
is, the secret or hidden wisdom of God, where, without the sound
of words, or the intervention of any bodily or spiritual sense, as
it were in silence and in repose, in the darkness of sense and
nature, God teaches the soul–and the soul knows not how–in a
most secret and hidden way.

16. Some spiritual writers call this ‘understanding without
understanding,’ because it does not take place in what
philosophers call the active understanding which is conversant
with the forms, fancies, and apprehensions of the physical
faculties, but in the understanding as it is possible and passive,
which without receiving such forms receives passively only the
substantial knowledge of them free from all imagery. This occurs
without effort or exertion on its part, and for this reason
contemplation is called night, in which the soul through the
channel of its transformation learns in this life that it already
possesses, in a supreme degree, this divine grove, together with
its beauty.

17. Still, however clear may be its knowledge, it is dark night
in comparison with that of the blessed, for which the soul prays.
Hence, while it prays for the clear contemplation, that is, the
fruition of the grove, and its beauty; with the other objects here
enumerated, it says, let it be in the night now serene; that is,
in the clear beatific contemplation: let the night of dim
contemplation cease here below, and change into the clear
contemplation of the serene vision of God above. Thus the serene
night is the clear and unclouded contemplation of the face of God.
It was to this night of contemplation that David referred when he
said, ‘Night shall be my light in my pleasures’; [323] that is,
when I shall have my delight in the essential vision of God, the
night of contemplation will have dawned in the day and light of my
understanding

‘With the flame that consumes, and gives no pain.’

18. This flame is the love of the Holy Ghost. ‘Consumes’ means
absolute perfection. Therefore, when the soul says that the
Beloved will give it all that is mentioned in this stanza, and
that they will be its possession in love absolute and perfect, all
of them and itself with them in perfect love, and that without
pain, its purpose is to show forth the utter perfection of love.
Love, to be perfect, must have these two properties: it must
consume and transform the soul in God; the burning and
transformation wrought in the soul by the flame must give no pain.
But this can be only in the state of the blessed, where the flame
is sweet love, for in this transformation of the soul therein
there is a blessed agreement and contentment on both sides, and no
change to a greater or less degree gives pain, as before, when the
soul had attained to the state of perfect love.

19. But the soul having attained to this state abides in its love
of God, a love so like His and so sweet, God being, as Moses
saith, [324] a consuming fire–’the Lord thy God is a consuming
fire’–that it perfects and renews it. But this transformation is
not like that which is wrought in this life, which though most
perfect and in love consummate was still in some measure consuming
the soul and wearing it away. It was like fire in burning coals,
for though the coals may be transformed into fire, and made like
it, and ceased from seething, and smoke no longer arises from them
as before they were wholly transformed into fire, still, though
they have become perfect fire, the fire consumes them and reduces
them to ashes.

20. So is it with the soul which in this life is transformed by
perfect love: for though it be wholly conformed, yet it still
suffers, in some measure, both pain and loss. Pain, on account of
the beatific transformation which is still wanting; loss, through
the weakness and corruption of the flesh coming in contact with
love so strong and so deep; for everything that is grand hurts and
pains our natural infirmity, as it is written, ‘The corruptible
body is a load upon the soul.’ [315] But in the life of bliss
there will be neither loss nor pain, though the sense of the soul
will be most acute, and its love without measure, for God will
give power to the former and strength to the latter, perfecting
the understanding in His wisdom and the will in His love.

21. As, in the foregoing stanzas, and in the one which follows,
the bride prays for the boundless knowledge of God, for which she
requires the strongest and the deepest love that she may love Him
in proportion to the grandeur of His communications, she prays now
that all these things may be bestowed upon her in love
consummated, perfect, and strong.