The Secret Paths of Divine Love

Constantine Barbanson

A mystical writer on Divine Love

He is one of the most important Capuchin authors in Belgium, writing in French. His famous book circulated in manuscript form as early as 1613 and was published in 1623 in Cologne: Les secrets sentiers de l’amour divin. It also exists in a Latin edition.

After his death, another great mystical work of his was published: Anatomie de l’âme et des opérations divines en icelle, Liège 1635. The author writes against so many errors of the enlightenment and spiritual quietism, current in the years 1620-1630 in Belgium. He attempts, with sound mystical theology and often referring to Benedict of Canfield’s Règle de perfection, to explain the true orthodox meaning of the contemplative and mystical life, defending, but also correcting and supplementing Canfield. A recurring thought is the insistence on the necessary and gradual preparation for the soul to arrive at intimate union with God, which is the subject of the third part of Canfield’s Règle de perfection.

Barbanson explains that the whole life of grace becomes a lived experience in the mystical life, under the influence of the holy operation of the Spirit of God, who in our spirit – the source and summit of the soul – ‘breathes’ or inspires as a gift his Spirit, love, will, life, presence. This holy operation of the Spirit is indeed central to Barbanson’s doctrine. Although the expression immediately and spontaneously recalls Chapter 10 of the 1223 Regula Bullata of Saint Francis, the author never refers to it. Its influence seems to have been very broad, even outside Belgium.

(Taken from I FRATI CAPPUCCINI. Documenti e Testimonianze del Primo Secolo. A cura di COSTANZO CARGNONI. Roma 1982, IV, 627-628).

The pdf of the English translation provided below can be downloaded here.




Capuchin Friar and Guardian of the Convent of Cologne


Abridged from the English version of
Dom Anselm Touchet, O.S.B.
By a Nun of Stanbrook Abbey
Edited with an Introduction by
Monk of Ampleforth


Burns Oates and Washbourne Ltd.
Publishers to the Holy See

First published in 1928

Made and printed in Great Britain

Table of Contents


Ego Fr. CONSTANTINUS DE BARBANSON, Sacerdos ac Ordinis Capucinorum Sancti Francisci Praedicator indignus, et meipsum et hunc quem (Deo donante) composui libellum, Sanctae et Catholicae Romanae Ecclesiae iudicio ac censurae humiliter et lubens (uti debeo) subicio. Absit enim ut huius Ecclesiae sanctissimae fidei vel in minimo repugnare velim, cum sit columna et firmamentum veritatis. Benevolum tantum obtestor Lectorem, ut si illi in tam abstrusis rebus exprimendis verba quaedam minus forte placuerint, ea ad Catholicum ac sanum sensum, et ad fidei sanaeque doctrinae normam reducere dignetur. Nullis enim obesse, sed multis in salutem prodesse desideravi, ad Dei Omnipotentis laudem et gloriam et amorem. Datum Coloniae 12 Decemb. 1622.

[I am Fr. CONSTANTINUS DE BARBANSON, an unworthy Priest and Preacher of the Capuchin Order of Saint Francis. I humbly and willingly submit myself and this booklet that I have composed (God willing) to the judgement and censure of the Holy and Catholic Roman Church, as I ought to. Far be it from me to oppose even in the slightest the faith of this most holy Church, for it is the pillar and foundation of truth. I only beseech the kind reader, if perhaps some words in expressing such abstruse matters are less pleasing to him, to deign to interpret them according to a Catholic and sound understanding, and according to the standard of sound faith and doctrine. For I desired to harm no one, but to help many unto salvation, to the praise and glory and love of Almighty God. Given at Cologne, December 12, 1622.]

F. CONSTANTINUS qui supra.
Censor deputatus.

Vicarius generalis.

Die 7a Novembris, 1927


The Secret Paths of Divine Love was a favourite book with the well-known Benedictine contemplative, Father Augustine Baker (1575-I641). It may be said, indeed, that it is to him that it owes a considerable measure of its reputation. In his spiritual treatises – those treatises from which Sancta Sophia was compiled by Dom Serenus Cressy – he adduces continually the authority of Secrets Sentiers, nor is he content with simple references to our book. For the benefit of his readers who could not read it either in its Latin or French form, or who had no access to it, he translates many passages. His Secretum, for instance, contains a translation of two whole chapters, the tenth and eleventh of the second book. It is evident that he regarded Secrets Sentiers as a principal authority for the spiritual doctrine to which he had consecrated his own life, and its author as a man of great discernment and wisdom.

Father Baker was an assiduous student of spiritual books, and his treatises display a profound acquaintance with the writers of his own time and with the mystical authors of earlier days. It would have been strange, therefore, if such a book as this had escaped his notice, and in actual fact we find him using it very soon after its first appearance. We should like to recall this occasion, as being the first recorded moment in Father Baker’s devotion to our book, and as connecting it with the name of another contemplative soul – the name, that is, of Dame Gertrude More (1606-1633).

It was the year 1625. Father Baker was then living at Cambrai, as the spiritual director to the Convent of English Benedictine nuns that had then recently (1623) been established in that town. [This is the community now at Stanbrook Abbey.] Dame Gertrude More was one of the nine young Englishwomen — including among them such names as Vavasour and Gascoigne —who formed the nucleus of the new foundation, her father, a great-grandson of Sir Thomas More, being its chief financial support. Dame Gertrude made her profession on the first of January in the year 1625. On a day in autumn of that same year Father Baker was in the locutorium of the convent, engaged in his duty of giving spiritual instruction to members of the house. This day he had an audience of two, Dame Gertrude and another. In the course of his instruction, to confirm the advice he was giving, he produced a small Latin duodecimo, published two years before, Amoris Divini Occultae Semitae, and proceeded to read the author’s counsel, not in Latin, but in an extempore translation.

After he had thus read several passages from our author, and in particular one which gave advice for the state of desolation, Dame Gertrude (he tells us) was “somewhat strucken with it and suddenlie said with an exaltation of voice: O, O, that must be my waie. I praie you (said she) lette me have that place translated into English. And so Anonimus [Father Baker] did and gave it her, and she made great use of that doctrin, and continued her praier with great profit, notwithstanding all desolations, which were frequent to her.”[1]

Here, then, we have an example of Father Baker’s use of our book and a testimony to the value which he set upon it. He continued to use it constantly in his teaching, and based his own instructions largely upon it. No English version of the whole book was made in his lifetime; but it was doubtless the impulse of his admiration and approval which produced about the year 1657 the version of one of his religious brethren, Dom Anselm Touchet. But first some words about the original and its author.

Father Constantine was born in Belgium in the year 1581. From the surname which he bore as a religious we infer that he was born in the little town of Barbançon, near Beaumont, in the province of Hainault. His family name was Pauret, and he was baptised Théodore or Théodoque. Of his childhood and youth we know nothing. The Franciscan Capuchin Reform, which began in the third decade of the sixteenth century, was then in the full tide of its early vigour, and was spreading rapidly north of the Alps. The first Capuchins reached England in 1599. In that same year Théodore Pauret was clothed as a novice in the Capuchin Convent at Brussels, and took the name of Constantine. He made his profession on September 19 of the following year, being then nineteen years old. After studying and working in his native province for eleven years he was sent, in the year 1611, along with some other Belgian Capuchins, under the direction of the Irish Capuchin, Father Francis Nugent, to help in the establishment of the Capuchin province of the Rhine. His labours were particularly successful, and he secured the erection of the Convent of Cologne (1614), of which he became Guardian. He was Guardian subsequently of the Convent of Münster, and served his province also as Master of Novices and as Definitor. He acquired a reputation as a preacher of great power with souls, and as a man of experience and wisdom in spiritual matters. We are told that he practised great austerity of life, that he was much given to prayer and conspicuous for the spirit of poverty and humility. He was shy of honours and zealous in all good works, and seemed to his contemporaries, in the example of his apostolic life, a master and exemplar of true perfection. He died at Bonn in the year 1632 at the age of fifty-one,

“in the fullest odour of sanctity.” The devout people backed in crowds to his grave, and it is reported that the demon (through a possessed person) expressed satisfaction at his death, for a great tormentor of his was thus gone. Miracles were related of him. He died, in the words of a biographer, duarum provinciarum decus et desiderium.[2]

Father Constantine was the author of two books on the life of prayer, or rather of one book and a supplement. For his second work has this title: Anatomie de l’âme et des opérations divines en icelle, qui est une addition au livre des secrets sentiers de l’amour divin … par le R. Père Constantin de Barbanson. The first and substantive work, to which this was supplementary, is, of course, his Secret Paths of Divine Love. It would seem to be highly probable that this work appeared first in French. The imperial licence to print attached to the first Latin edition (Cologne 1623) expressly allows the author to publish in Latin and German this book “already printed in French” (iam pridem Gallico idiomate excusum). The Bibliographie Nationale de Belgique says that it appeared first about the year 1620. But the French edition of 1649 (Paris) contains, besides the Cologne approbations which appear in the Latin edition, two approbations of the year 1617 by Doctors of Tournai and Douai. And the “iam pridem” of the imperial licence would suit 1617 better than 1620. The Paris edition, just mentioned, bears the title Secrets sentiers de l’amour divin, esquels est cachée la vraye sapience celeste et le royaume de Dieu en nos ames . . . composez par le P. Constantin de Barbançon. But much more widely spread in appearance

– for we ourselves have handled two copies of it—was the first Latin edition of 1623, published at Cologne. In this edition the title runs: Amoris Divini Occultae Semitae, in quibus vera coelestis sapientia et Regnum Dei quod intra nos est, absconditum latet . . . Auctore R. P. F. Constantino de Barbanson, Praedicatore Capucino et Conventus Coloniensis Guardiano. It is a thick duodecimo, with a magniloquent dedication to the Prince Archbishop of Cologne, several approbations, the licence to print of the Emperor Ferdinand II, and 552 pages of text. A German version is said to have been published in 1648 at Cologne. The history of the English version, upon which the present edition is based, is wrapped in some mystery. It was made apparently about the year 1657— for that is the date attached to the manuscript copy here used – but does not appear to have been published. At least, there is no evidence of the existence of a printed edition, although the various notices of Dom Touchet give a definite date of publication (1680). So that the present edition may claim, provisionally at least, to be the first English edition of Barbanson.

Dom Anselm Touchet, the translator, was the second son of Mervyn Touchet, twelfth Lord Audley and second Earl of Castlehaven. He made his profession as a Benedictine at St Gregory’s, Douai, on November 22, 1643, and lived in that monastery until he was sent to England about the year 1671 to become one of the chaplains of Charles II’s Catholic Queen, Catherine of Braganza, in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace. But under the influence of rising anti-Catholic feeling in England – then on the eve of the Titus Oates Plot – he was banished about the year 1675, and later by Act of Parliament (1678) expressly excluded from the succession to the family titles and estates, which otherwise would have been his at his brother’s death in 1684. He died about the year 1689. His version of Barbanson – made, it would appear, from the French – remained in manuscript, and was doubtless copied and circulated among the English Catholics in the Low Countries. The manuscript from which the present edition has been prepared is the property of the English Benedictines of the Convent of Our Lady of Good Hope, Colwich, Staffordshire, a convent which was established Paris in the year 1652. The editor desires to express his thanks for the use of this manuscript, apparently a contemporary copy of Dom Touchet’s original, which has disappeared. In preparing the present text considerable freedom has been exercised in abridgement and condensation. Father Constantine is copious to verbosity and indulges in frequent repetition, characteristics which (it was felt) would have been too great a trial for the modern reader. But the abridgement has been carefully and skilfully done, and it is hoped that nothing essential to the author’s argument has been omitted. Besides this, the editor has taken upon himself to deal freely, by way of dissection, with the translator’s Caroline periods. Believing that this spacious style now presents unnecessary difficulty, he has frequently broken up its immense sentences into shorter and more manageable lengths.

Let so much, then, be said about the author and his book, and about this translation. It remains to say something about the spiritual doctrine which the book propounds with such energy and conviction.

As the reader will see, by a glance at the table of contents, the work is divided into two parts. In the first (and shorter) part the author sets forth certain fundamental points common to all spiritual instruction. The reader will find his teaching sound and well expressed, with much unction and obvious conviction; he will not find anything unusual or novel about it. He should, however, read very carefully the Prologue with which the book begins, for he will find the author’s main idea expressed therein in unmistakable terms. Father Constantine lets us understand very clearly what is the goal which his ” way of love” seeks to attain. Let us put it in this way, and say that there are three ways of knowing God, corresponding to three theologies: the natural, scholastic and mystical. With the first, the natural knowledge of God by the light of unassisted reason, Father Constantine has no concern. With the second, the scholastic knowledge by reason and faith, he has more concern, and he is very careful, in more than one place, to guard himself against seeming to decry the obscure knowledge of faith. But for all that and in fact he would pass beyond this knowledge also; for what he truly seeks is the mystical knowledge of God in an experience that transcends both reason and faith. In words which have a curiously modern ring he demands a real ” experience” of God, and tells us that we are summoned, here and now, to an “experimental knowledge” and fruition of our Creator. By baptism we receive the life of grace and become “partakers” of the divine nature. So long as we are in a state of grace God dwells in us. But the most of us accept these things and know them only as facts of faith; we do not experience their reality; we do not realise the kingdom of God in our souls. Now the purpose of the mystical life is nothing less than this, to bring us to the actual experience of these supernatural verities. The kingdom of God is within us, and we have to turn away from all external things, from all that may distract us from God, and by a complete “introversion” seek and find him in the centre of our souls. That word ” introversion,” which signifies the completest detachment of the via negativa combined with the energetic pursuit of God and his love in the sanctuary of the soul, is to Father Constantine, as it is also to Father Baker, the watchword and concise summary of his spiritual doctrine. Such, then, is the spirit and aim of the book.

In the second part Father Constantine addresses himself to his main work, the description of the process of mental prayer from its beginning in meditation to its consummation in a pure act of the will, mystically impelled and controlled by God.

We may neglect what he has to say about aridity and desolation, and set forth the process simply thus. A man begins with the full exercise of his reason in the practice of meditation. From this, by reducing the part played by reason and increasing the

part played by will, he passes through “affective” prayer to the prayer of “aspirations” and “elevations”. Ultimately, he has so far reduced the function of the understanding, that our author is of the opinion that it ceases to play any part in the contemplative act. In this emphasis on will and refusal of understanding Father Constantine is in line with St Bonaventure and the Franciscan school generally, and parts company with St Thomas Aquinas. He supposes that the part ordinarily played by the understanding is, in the highest stage of the mystical life, taken by the direct action of God. Just as he entered amidst his Apostles, “the doors being closed,” so can he

pass through the understanding and be present in effective act to the will.

Now here, of course, we have reached that supreme experience about which we can say nothing. Inexperti talia non intelligunt. Unless a man has had this experience he cannot understand it, he cannot really understand what others say about it, still less can he speak intelligently of it. So the better part is silence. Let the reader study the twelfth and thirteenth chapters of this second part and make what he can of them. Here is that ultimate experience, so variously recorded and interpreted, which will probably continue to baffle every attempt at theory or explanation. We must accept it as a fact, on the evidence of so many saints and contemplative souls, and be content with their testimony.

Father Constantine obviously writes of that which he had himself experienced; there is no other explanation of his book and of the reality and conviction which are so obvious in it. His book is indeed, and must be, to a large extent a personal document. He speaks of the soul that has attained the mystical consummation as “plunged in the immense sea of divinity,” as enjoying a “happy silence and sabbath” of her faculties, and yet again as being in a state that passes all understanding and explanation. It can do little else but admire and love. “Then is fulfilled what the prophet foretold: Tunc videbis et mirabitur et exaltaotur cor tuum, quando conversa fuerit ad te multitudo maris.” But more nearly still does he describe himself – and here surely we may find the origin and motive of his book – when he says of the same soul, that while all absorbed and dominated by love, it yet desires out of an immense gratitude to God that the whole world should be filled with his knowledge and share the experience of his unspeakable goodness.



God is the chief good of our souls, and should therefore be the object of all our desires and all our labours. He created us for himself, and our hearts can never find rest apart from him. Our eternal happiness is to consist in knowing him and loving him, nor is our temporal happiness other than this; for we are called to begin our eternal life here and now, in an experimental knowledge and fruition of our Creator.

Therefore does he say by his prophet: Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, nor the rich man in his treasure; but he that will glory, let him glory in knowing me.[3] This doctrine is familiar to men, and yet the experimental knowledge of God is a thing much neglected, even by those who are specially bound by their vocation to seek it.

How few they are who can say with truth: What have I in heaven, or what do I desire upon earth but thee?[4] Every day we say: Our Father who art in heaven; but how seldom do we think of his habitation in our souls. The Psalmist bids us seek the Lord always;[5] and the Scripture generally teaches us that we are to serve him in such a way that we may attain to a perfect fruition of him; but how few are they who practise or desire this perfect service.

We are not to think that this business is perilous, and that we are not called to such a service; for the truth is that all are capable of it and none are excluded. But the perfections of God being infinite, therefore may men be drawn to serve him by very various ways, according to that perfection which most stirs their wills. Moreover, since men differ very much in endowments and in character, and God moves everything according to its nature and accommodates his grace to men’s natural dispositions: therefore on this ground also will the ways of God’s service be various.

For some men are moved by love and others by fear; some men are converted to God from a life of sin, whereas others have been preserved in perfect innocence; some men take a great delight in his service, while others serve him in much dryness and desolation. And so it is that spiritual writers have set forth many various rules and systems for the service of God. But, however various these rules, and however various the dispositions of men, there is but one end and scope to all, and that is the fruition of God.

Now this treatise the least and most simple of all that have treated of this mystic and heavenly wisdom – is designed for those who, being freed from all external impediments, desire nothing more than to please God and to give him a full and entire possession of their souls. The chief aim of this book is to explain the way of love, proposing the whole spiritual life of tendance towards God under this divine motive. Since God is our final object and last end, unto whom only and above all things we are to aspire, therefore all things else are to be taken but as the means and helps by which we may the better exercise this ascent unto him. But if my treatise bears the title of love, and I choose this love as the principal means, you must not think that I do not esteem other means and manners propounded by other books. For my book also teaches the way of abstraction and negation, showing how a soul must free itself from all earthly things, and from all the notions of sense, imagination, and natural understanding, in order to attain a supernatural and infused knowledge of God. And it teaches that our love will be more perfect in proportion as this abstraction is more complete. But, since this abstraction is practised for the sake of that love, which is its end, therefore do I call my book the Secret Paths of Divine Love.

But note this well, that I do not speak of any childish love, full of sweetness; but of a generous and strong love, which leads a soul to despise all earthly things and itself also, and unites it to God with a resolute fidelity and sincere affection. For the mystic negation of all things requires a real and a very intense love, and none may persevere in it without a great courage and a burning love towards God. The beginner does indeed often experience the sweetness of sensible love; but he may not rest in it. Such love is powerless to satisfy him, and he easily transcends it, raising himself to God by the higher powers of his soul.

This treatise is not intended for beginners so much as for those who have made good progress in a spiritual life. It seeks to help those who have exercised themselves well in meditation and the practice of the moral virtues, and who wish to know what more they should do in order to attain perfection. For this reason I have set down here no remedies against sins and vices, and I make no mention of temptations or other hindrances, nor of other matters which belong to an active life. There are other and excellent books which treat of these.

Since my intention is to speak of those ways through which divine love carries us while we seek the fruition of God, therefore it has been my chief endeavour to declare distinctly and orderly the degrees that are to be passed, with their characters and the means whereby we are to pass from one to another. The first part of the treatise contains certain fundamental points which are to be presupposed throughout. The second part treats of the whole course of mental prayer from the beginning to the end. The reader should note especially the ninth chapter of this second part, and understand well what is meant by that grace of the presence of God which is spoken of there. This grace is not only some irradiation of divine intelligence, or some infused knowledge, or love, or devotion; but it is a certain permanent and durable state into which the soul is raised. The soul is able to keep itself, and, in fact, does keep itself, in a state of peace and serenity, hearkening to what our Lord vouchsafes to speak unto her. Does he not say that if we love him he will come to us and take up his abode with us?[6] This is that life hidden with Christ in God of which St Paul speaks.[7]

Now this experience of the presence of God is not yet the state of perfection of which the twelfth chapter speaks, but it is the foundation of that union. And you must note, further, that it is no more than the actual realisation of that state of grace which is given to us in baptism. For, indeed, all the mysterious secrets of the mystical life tend to nothing else than to bring us to the experience of the supernatural verities of our faith. We really see, experience, and have a practical knowledge of those things which our faith already taught us. When we were baptised we received the supernatural life of grace, we became partakers of the divine nature, God dwelt in us. Now, the whole course of the mystical life seeks to make us realise this indwelling of God, so that we may be able to say with the Apostle: I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me,[8] and so that we may be dead, and our lives hidden with Christ in God.[9] Before we enter upon a spiritual course we do indeed, if we are in grace, possess this presence of God; but our interior is as yet so obscured with internal darkness and with the disorder of unreformed passions, that we can only speak of it as we know it by the light of faith. But here we come to a real experience of it, and we attain an experimental knowledge of God and of ourselves. And, lastly, we come unto the very source and fountain of all grace, namely unto the enjoying God by a bond of love, and by supernatural operations of the divine Spirit.

This is a thing of so great worth and dignity that it is not to be obtained but by much labour and industry, as is abundantly declared both in this and in other books. For, before we can attain unto this state and enjoy God thus in spirit and in truth, we must pass through that rigorous state of privation which is mentioned in the tenth and following chapters. This privation is nothing else but a certain spiritual death and destruction of all that is under the divine Spirit, so that this Spirit may reign supreme over our internal kingdom. And the last state of all, which is called the state of union, is then perfected when the soul, giving way to that divine operation in her, doth so far neglect and subject herself, that the divine Spirit becomes sole lord, governor, king, and emperor in this internal kingdom. He establishes his throne in the soul, he exercises full dominion without repugnance or contradiction, his name is sanctified, his will is performed, his kingdom comes.





There is no kind of life, however ignoble, but proposes to itself a last end, to the attainment of which it directs all its labours, and for the sake of which it bears cheerfully all the troubles and difficulties necessarily involved, regarding them but as means thereto. And since the knowledge of such an end and the firm resolution of reaching it have such power to gain our hearts and captivate our wills, the end we propose to ourselves must be well foreseen, considered, and thoroughly understood, so that we may be moved to discuss what should be done or left undone, embraced or avoided; for all means are of value only in so far as they tend towards their appointed end.

As St Augustine says, it is of the greatest importance to foresee clearly and perfectly the end whither we are tending, that so, knowing its beauty, the desire of attaining it may move us to undergo all labours encountered in the gaining thereof. Now, since our end is so noble and divine that the consideration of its worth suffices to make us, for its sake, to despise all that the world so highly esteems, even kingdoms and empires, as nothing in comparison with it, so the means for reaching it must be disposed accordingly.

Neglect of this hinders many devout souls from making progress and arriving at the height of perfection; for they busy themselves needlessly about many things which have no immediate relation to their end. The end to which we ought to aspire throughout all these interior ways is a total introversion of ourselves by the help of divine grace, which, little by little, raises us to a knowledge of God as our chief good (intimately present in the centre of our souls) by a union of our spirit with him and a loving adhesion of our will unto his holy and divine Spirit. This unites us firmly to the sovereign good by a bond of love communicated to us from on high, so that by it, as by a sacred bond of marriage, there is made of these two spirits, although so different, unequal, and disproportioned, one spirit, one love, and one will. For this end has God created his rational creatures: to take his delight in them, revealing to them his infinite love and marvellous condescension by the communications of his grace; and specially that he might give himself wholly to every one of them, making them to enjoy his immediate presence, love, and union in their souls.

Therefore, when our spirits shall be so united with that infinite love that we have but one and the selfsame desire, love, and will with God, our hearts will find their true centre and repose and their perfect contentment. For the perfection of our soul consists in this, that being created by God capable of so great a good, it can never be content or satisfied but in the enjoyment of its God, its Lord, its supreme good.

When shall we be made happy by the attainment of this blessed end? And who, O Lord, will grant us to be ever possessed by thy Holy Spirit, that we may enjoy thy divine presence, love, and union in our souls? Far be it from us to say that these things are too high, perilous and extraordinary, and that there are very few who are born to contemplate such sublime matters; for it is impossible to none but cowardly hearts who will not apply themselves to use the necessary means and undergo the needful labours; but rather suffer themselves to be carried away by the vanities of this world, the pleasures of sense, the demands of the body, and the allurements of corrupt nature. For God desires to grant this union to him who faithfully exercises himself in divine love and seeks it truly with his whole heart. I am, saith he, at the gate and knock, waiting whether any will open unto me; and I will come and make a banquet with him in his heart.[10] Open to me, my friend, my sister, my dove (saith he in another place), for my head is full of the morning dew and my hair all wet with the drops of the night,[11] so long have I stayed here waiting; for my delights are to be with the children of men:[12] words so sweet and so gracious that they alone might suffice to melt our hearts with his divine love.

O my God, my only hope, beloved of my soul, thou shalt be my part, my portion, and my inheritance forever. Henceforth I will have no other riches, treasure, or delights but thee: for, possessing thee, I shall have all things; loving thee, I shall live in thee and thou in me, filling me with the abundance of thy graces. And because thy goodness is thus boundless and thy condescension so great as to vouchsafe to dwell in me and not disdain earnestly to seek my love, I will likewise love thee as much as lieth in me, which will be as much as thou enablest me; and for this end I will prepare my soul to be a real palace and my heart a pleasure house for thee, where thou mayest celebrate sacred espousals with my soul and bestow on her a pledge of future glory.

I will fill my soul with so ardent a love for thee, and so intimately unite myself to thee, that thy love shall be to me the life of my heart, the joy of my spirit, and the paradise of my soul.

And, certainly, if leaving the world and all earthly expectations we do not take to heart the gaining of so great a good, what do we seek? Wherewith shall we satisty our hearts? Whither shall we direct our thoughts and desires?

“It is not for you,” says St Bernard, “to delay amid the common precepts, nor to seek only what God commands, but what pleases him best. It belongs to others to serve God, to you to adhere to him: others ought to believe, know, love and reverence God, but you are to taste, understand, know and enjoy him.”[13]

There is no greater happiness in this world than to be able to say: Qui creavit me requievit in tabernaculo meo: He that made me hath rested in my tabernacle.[14] Behold, then, in few and simple words, some principal points which it will be necessary for you to observe.



Remember, in the first place, and let this be the foundation of thy whole spiritual building, thoroughly to realise and weigh who and how great is this Lord, whose grace thou seekest, and how poor and unworthy thou art. Never forget that thou art a little worm of earth, unprofitable to the world, fit for nothing but to offend God and do evil. Annihilating thyself as much as thou canst in thine own estimation, count thyself as the most unworthy and most unprofitable of all creatures.

Then, on the contrary hand, thou shouldst so esteem God as to believe assuredly that he is that God of infinite majesty, before whom angels, saints, and all the blessed in heaven do tremble: acknowledging that all they can do is nothing in comparison of that service, glory, and infinite honour, of which he is worthy and shall be for ever and ever.

This infinite greatness of God on the one side and the nothingness of all creatures compared to him on the other, profoundly considered and thoroughly weighed, is what has made all the saints. and even the Blessed Virgin herself so humble before the throne of that infinite majesty. Do thou, likewise, in the knowledge of thy meanness and unworthiness, keep thyself in his presence, treat with him, demand his love, grace, and the fulfilment of his good pleasure in thee with profound reverence, proceeding from an interior subjection of thy soul under so great a majesty.

Now, if thou add to the consideration of thy own meanness the injury and offence thou hast done against God by sin, who shall be able to conceive how thou hast debased thyself? What proportion is there between God and thee? Yet who is there, that in order to satisfy his own appetites, thinks it much to violate the laws of God, to break his commandments, or to act contrary to his will?

Hence it is that sin is so great an evil, the greatest evil in the world and the chief misfortune, abominable in the sight of God. It were better to lose all the goods of this world than to consent to sin, and every creature would be ready to take vengeance upon us every moment for the great injury we do to God by sin, if his goodness did not hinder it.

From this we should learn that no pain, torment, or dishonour should be esteemed too troublesome or grievous for us to bear, when we consider the greatness of the wrong done unto God by sin. Nay, rather, we should desire that all creatures should treat us ill, despise us, and lay upon us a thousand afflictions, that so we might receive according to our sins: or rather we should consider that no injury could be done us, esteeming all torments and punishments far short of what we deserve, saying with the holy man Job: I have sinned and truly done amiss, neither have I received what I deserved.[15]

Therefore the foundation and origin of all perfection, the root and beginning of all virtue, is the sincere recognition of our own baseness and nothingness, from which proceeds true humility, without which none can tend to God or partake of his graces.

We shall now proceed to speak a little here of this virtue, of its necessity, its nature, and of the means to attain to it.



The first lesson in the school of our Lord Jesus Christ is the virtue of humility, the contempt of ourselves, pronounced by his sacred lips in these words, so clear, so serious, so important: Nisi efficiamini sicut parvuli non intrabitis in regnum caelorum: Unless ye become like unto little ones, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.[16]

Whence we may gather that without humility it is impossible to please God, and that there is no other way of gaining heaven.

It is the beginning, foundation and safeguard of all good, which all the saints who are now in heaven embraced as the first lesson in the school of virtue. Wherefore we may be sure that if ever we will reach any degree of perfection, either of grace in this life or of glory hereafter, it is absolutely necessary that we become as little children by humility: little in our own eyes, little in the eyes of the world, little before God. We must unfeignedly acknowledge ourselves to be unprofitable servants, unworthy of the earth on which we tread, of the bread we eat, and of the air we breathe. We should esteem all others better than we, bearing ourselves with all sweetness and modesty towards everyone, however base or vile he be, and assisting our neighbour in all his necessities in the best manner we can, as being born but to serve all.

Otherwise, how shall we be able to appear before that great mirror and pattern of all humility, our Redeemer Jesus Christ, in the manger, on the cross, and in the other miseries of his life, if we will not conform ourselves to the example which is there showed us?

Truly it is a wonderful thing, that though men are so different in appearance and in character, they should all agree so well in their desire of being esteemed something!

There is neither great nor small, poor nor rich, old nor young, who does not find in his heart a certain inclination to be of some kind of importance in the eyes of the world. Everyone is willing to appear more than he is and to defend his own opinions. There is neither time, place, state, nor person, where this execrable pride doth not seek to sprout up and to produce its pernicious effects. Hence it is not to be wondered at that even in the service of God, in the contempt of the world, in the abnegation of self, nay, even in the very exercise of humility, we are not free and secure. The most sacred company of our Lord’s Apostles could not secure themselves against this pestilence, some among them desiring the first places, and others disputing which among them should be the greatest. And what persons ought more justly to have been exempt from this passion, than those whom our Saviour himself chose to be an example and pattern to the world, of humility, poverty and mortification? They had already bidden farewell to the world and had left all things; yet they busy their minds about disputing for places and hunting after honours! This is to teach us what great reason we have to stand well upon our guard, since no one is perfectly secure from the snares of self-esteem and ambition. St Chrysostom had great reason to say that there were many to be found who would easily contemn riches or despise pleasures, but very few who would slight honours or refuse dignities.

And not only is humility the first lesson which our Lord proposes to us, but it is also the last conflict, wherein, by annihilating in us this desire of glory and honour and esteem of ourselves, we are to prove our constancy and the greatness of our courage in the service of God. It will avail us nothing to have been converted to God from the world, from carnal pleasures and the vanity of riches, if yet in our solitary and retired life we permit ourselves to be carried away by self-love. As said St Bonaventure: “If God spared not the angels who sinned by pride, what, thinkest thou, will become of thee? They did nothing, but only conceived pride in their spirits; and yet in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, they were cast down from heaven to hell, and that irrevocably. I believe that God has shown us this remarkable example of his divine severity in his noblest creature, an angel, that we, poor weak creatures, may learn how much he detests sin and chiefly pride, since for one motion of the heart he has eternally doomed the noblest of all creatures.”[17]

Therefore, says our Lord: Learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart; because, says he, you shall find peace and rest unto your souls:[18] that is, tranquillity of spirit, which is so much desired by everyone.

O holy humility! thou art the key of perfection, the gate of paradise, and the seat of divine grace, and there is no other reason why we make no progress and why our way seems so long and tedious, but that we do not learn wholly to leave ourselves. For if we do so in one thing, presently in another we do the contrary, so closely does self-love cling to us; yet, according to our fidelity on this point, so will be our progress in penetrating the secret ways which lead us to God. Let us therefore speak briefly of the nature of this virtue and how it is to be obtained.

Humility is a certain self-knowledge which causes a man to annihilate himself, both interiorly in the presence of God and exteriorly before men. It is a virtue which makes us joyfully and voluntarily to embrace all injuries, contempt, corrections and humiliations, with as much content as worldlings accept of honour and riches.

It is a total destruction of self-love, of desire of honour, vain praise, or the favour and affection of men. It is to cast ourselves under the feet of all, however vile or abject they may be. This proceeds from a neglect of ourselves, which also moves us to converse willingly with the poor and lowly, whom the proud children of this world despise.

It is to walk before God in truth, recognising that we are poor and destitute of all good, but what his divine Majesty is pleased to bestow upon us, not for our merits, but through the abundance of his goodness. It is to attribute nothing to ourselves but defects and imperfections, and to refer unto God all the good we have received.

The means of obtaining humility are these: Not to conceal or palliate our faults and imperfections; not to excuse or justify ourselves when we are reproved or accused of anything, even though we have not done it, but to bear everything bravely, rejoicing to suffer anything for our Lord, and not lamenting or complaining of it to anyone.

Thoroughly to persuade ourselves that none can ever despise or afflict us as much as we deserve.

Not to trouble whether we be honoured or despised, reckoning ourselves as dead and out of the memory of men, or rather as nothing.

To take pleasure in doing humiliating works, and those at the command of another.

To be content and even to rejoice if others believe that we are enduring all these things unwillingly, with secret impatience, and even with the desire of revenge, although in our hearts we are far from so doing.

It is very profitable to have often in our mind such thoughts as these: “I am nothing: I am worth nothing: I do no good: I am an unprofitable servant: there is not a creature but makes better use of the grace it has received from God than I do.”

Thus he who puts himself in the lowest place is freed from all disquiet or discontent, for he cannot be more humbled than he humbles himself. Are you despised or rejected by this or that person? Are you mortified? Does everyone flout and scorn you? Be of good courage: sic itur ad astra. This is the ready way to heaven, the shortest and surest to bring you to God. We cannot give better proof of the little love we bear our Lord than to persevere in impatience for a word of contempt, or for some cross or mortification that has been laid upon us. Our desire of gaining Christ ought so to set our hearts on fire that we pass lightly over such-like difficulties.

Sicut lilium inter spinas sic amica mea inter filias:[19] As a lily among thorns, so is my beloved among the daughters, saith the Spouse in the Canticles. By this, saith the angelic St Thomas, the Spouse would make it known that the soul which desires to be his bride, his beloved, should be as a rose amid thorns. She is to be patient, peaceable and quiet in the midst of persecutions, mortifications and troubles of this life. And in the same Canticle, showing how perfectly she has laboured to make herself such as her bridegroom desires, the bride sings: Nigra sum sed formosa, O filiae Jerusalem; ideo dilexit me rex,[20] etc.: Ye daughters of Jerusalem, – am black, but yet I am beautiful, and therefore the king hath loved me. I am black exteriorly by outward humiliation and contempt of myself, nevertheless I am beautiful in the eyes of my bridegroom. Wherefore: Nolite me considerare quod fusca sim, quia decoloravit me sol:[21] Do not look only upon my outward darkness, nor upon what I endure; for the Sun of Justice, Jesus Christ my Lord, for whose love I have forsaken the world and contemned all beauty, has made me also to suffer all sorts of humiliations. Therefore I say confidently unto him: Veniat dilectus meus in hortum suum, et colligat fructus pomorum suorum:[22] Let him come into the garden of my soul, for there he shall find the flowers and fruits which he seeks, amid the thorns.



The second thing necessary is a diligent exercise of mortification, denying ourselves all the allurements of nature, all depraved inclinations to sin, all inordinate motions or passions, all sensuality, self-love, and self-seeking. Whenever we perceive that our

thoughts and affections are not directed to God or his service, we must at once turn our hearts to him as to our only good, producing contrary interior acts with great courage. To aspire to perfection without the serious practice of mortification is merely to nourish self-love, and to feed our imperfections without making any progress. As a stream which divides its waters into many channels, cannot communicate itself so plentifully to all as it would to one, if all the others were stopped up: so it is absolutely necessary that we set some stops or bounds to our hearts, that so, having checked all corrupt inclinations and inordinate love of ourselves, we may with greater freedom apply the whole current of our affections to the only object of all our good, God and his love.

Humanum cor (says St Thomas) tanto intensius in aliquid unum fertur, quanto magis a multis revocatur:[23] Man’s heart adheres the more intensely unto one thing, by how much the more it is withdrawn from all others. Wherefore one of the principal means of gaining the divine love is the collecting all the powers of the soul into one, so that they may be able to fix themselves on God alone, exercising themselves day and night in whatever may stir them up to love him. For as long as, being full of the love of earthly things, we let our understanding, will and memory dissipate themselves upon exterior things, we shall never attain true introversion, nor that unity and simplicity of spirit which is the immediate disposition for the presence of God in our souls.

Wherefore, if we would obtain that peace and tranquillity of mind so much commended to us in the spiritual life, our whole lower nature must be subjected to the spirit. As regards our outward bearing, let our conversation be modest, grave, humble, gentle, always retaining that simplicity and recollection caused by true interior devotion; for, if a man can attain to this, at one and the same time he may exercise easily all moral virtues, both inwardly before God and outwardly before the world.

Further, it is very necessary to withdraw from the body all delicacy, delights and allurements of flesh and blood, and to accustom it to hard, sharp and painful things: for it is written that wisdom is not to be found in those who lead sensual lives and are addicted to pleasure,[24] and that those who have enrolled themselves to fight under the banner of the Cross have crucified the flesh with its vices and concupiscences.[25] Under this head we must include also the mortification of the exterior senses, which, though it may seem unimportant, is likewise necessary if we would keep that peace of heart and devotion which we have conceived in prayer. True devotion and interior recollection is a thing which in its beginning is delicate and so easily lost, that not only sin, but even external images, may extinguish the good desires gained by prayer. But especially needful is a guard over the tongue, for it is written that life and death depend upon it.[26] And silence is at once the secret and the safeguard of devotion, innocence and a pure conscience. How much harm is done to the spirit of recollection by unnecessary discourses, idle words, calumny, detraction, murmuring and lies! The Scripture says that a man who cannot contain his spirit in speaking is like to a city lying open, not compassed about with a wall;[27] and that if anyone think himself religious, not refraining his tongue, his religion is in vain.[28]

When we have well ordered the body and outward senses, there remains the more important part of the work: the perfect disposition of the soul within itself. First there is the inferior nature, by which is understood all affections and natural emotions as of joy, sadness, desire, fear, anger, and such like. This lower nature we must completely subdue, reforming it not only according to the law of natural reason, but according to the Spirit of God; for it is the source of all evils and the cause of our perdition, and through it the devil and sin have all their power to overthrow us. The subduing of our natural passions is the chief work of mortification: this is the vineyard in which we must labour unceasingly, the garden from which we must root out all weeds, that so the seed of divine grace may increase and bring forth fruit. The chief exercise of the children of God is to follow the impulses of the Spirit of God in all things, and to be wholly directed by it, not letting themselves be carried away by the affections of flesh and blood. This is that death and burial to which the Apostle so often exhorts us: in fine, this is the Cross and that abnegation of ourselves which the Gospel preaches unto us, to attain unto which we must employ all our endeavours, our prayers, and our holy exercises. Hence, everyone should know his own natural disposition and keep a particular watch over his inclinations.

Then follows the mortification of the understanding, with all its curious speculations, worldly wisdom, natural prudence, private judgement and opinions; of the memory, with all its recollections of vanities, follies, and such-like toys of the world; of the will, with all its little desires and vain inclination towards self without reference to God.

And you must be fully persuaded, that having undertaken this quest of divine love, you must unceasingly seek to cut off all inordinate passions which arise in your soul and trouble its tranquillity and liberty, and must entertain no excuse, evasion, or pretence of whatsoever kind by which you may cling to them or rest in them, be it in ever so slight a degree. Whoever would follow faithfully in this way must understand that he is destined for war, and must either conquer or be conquered. Hence he is to place his hope and confidence in nothing but God and his love, placing in him all his treasure, all his peace, all his good, flying and despising all that is contrary. Joy and fear also are to be so moderated, that performing the service of God with devout cheerfulness and alacrity, no encouragement may be given to those secret and mysterious troubles of mind which sometimes occur. For, since we know that the divine love is nothing but peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, we must try to drown all such passions of sadness and melancholy in the sweetness of this love.

And whosoever fails in these things is not walking faithfully. For though it is God who is to infuse his graces and lights into our souls, it belongs to us to govern our passions by his grace. Though they may be very many and the work very difficult, yet divine grace suffices to give us strength and courage to overcome them all. Were we to labour even to the shedding of the last drop of our blood, we should count it little for obtaining the possession of such a good as we expect at the end of our journey. He who labours not will never be rich, and that which costs little is lightly esteemed.



Self-knowledge and mortification being thus put before us as the first and second steps, the third step on this way of perfection is a great love of and confidence in God, grounded wholly upon his goodness and infinite mercy, and upon the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ. For since love is the first of all our affections, from which all others spring, if God alone possess it, and he alone reign in our souls, he also will be the sole object of all our desires, hopes, and joys. Urged by the love of riches, the worldly man will traverse sea and land; and it seems pleasant to him, provided he gain what he seeks. Moved by the desire of glory and worldly honour, the ambitious man attempts anything, be the thing never so painful or laborious. So, carried on by the love of God, the spiritual man ought to embrace anything that may appear necessary for the gaining of God, however hard it may be; and he should do all his other actions of prayer and mortification in this spirit, love making all things easy to him. Of necessity we must pass through the fire and water of many mortifications and sufferings before we shall find content in abjection and rejoice in being despised, humiliated, and reproved; and we must be ready to undergo very many labours of body and spirit, in watchings, fasts, prayers and meditations, and constantly persevere in such unto the end. Certainly, since our enemies are strong, and since it is a stupendous task and very repugnant to our corrupt nature to overcome ourselves perfectly and deny ourselves in everything, and to persevere in this to the end of our lives, nothing but the love of God can give us sufficient courage to embrace so hard a yoke cheerfully and willingly. But this divine love alone doth sweetly allure and captivate us, making the yoke of our Lord become delightful and pleasant to us, and dilating our hearts that we may easily run in his holy ways. If there be any that loves me he will keep my words, and we will come unto him and make our habitation with him.[29] If, therefore, thou desire to attain to a happy, peaceable and spiritual life, let thy first motive be the love of God, neither desiring nor willing anything that doth not help towards the full possession of that love.

The love of charity is a mutual friendship between God and man, founded upon the supernatural communication of grace in this world and glory in the next, by which the soul raises itself to God, desires his glory, and delights in all his perfections, for the love she bears him and for the dignity and goodness which is in him. And likewise God, descending into the soul, not only freely imparts his riches to her, making her partaker of his graces and favours, but also gives himself wholly unto her in his own person. God, who is the glory of angels, before whom the heavens tremble, inclines his affections to the soul as a bridegroom to his bride, taking his delight in her presence. And a participation of this self-same force of love is communicated to the creature, so that, forgetting her meanness, the soul not only beholds this infinite majesty as her God, king and father, for to adore, fear and reverence him; but she dares to approach and unite herself unto him as her equal and friend, nay even as her dear spouse. He is more intimate to her than she to herself, and unto him she lives more than to herself, unceasingly desiring his presence and his embraces, nay even so intimate a union with him that he and she may be one.

Charity is a certain very intimate aspiration and tending towards God as the perfect object and end of all our good, the only treasure of our soul, creating so close and firm a bond of love that there is made of two but one spirit and one love.

It is an enkindling of the heart and a motion of the will, inclining the soul to love God more than itself or anything that is or ever shall be. It is a redundance or effect of a divine love descended from heaven.

The first thing necessary to gain this love is a generous resolve to overcome all difficulties and break through all obstacles, not desisting until we have obtained what we desire. But in order that our love may remain firm and stable against all accidents, even though our Beloved should seem to frown and look austerely, it must be a love of friendship and benevolence, not of self-seeking, and the soul must be as much delighted in God in tribulation and poverty as in joy and felicity; as much amid the thorns of adversity as amid the roses of sweetness; loving God, not for the pleasure which she may receive from so doing, but for his own goodness and dignity, because he will have it so and hath commanded us so to do. Divines say that God is to be loved by us for himself, as the last end of all things: even though there were no beatitude to be expected, nevertheless we should love him, because it is his will and he is worthy of it. According as the soul purifies her love, so will she increase in the participation of the divine goodness and grace; but that participation is not properly the motive which should stir her to such sincerity of love.

For God nowhere says that we should love him for to obtain his grace in this world and his glory in the next; but he has promised that when we shall love him for himself he will bestow his grace upon us. Hence St Bernard says that God is not loved without a reward, although he is loved without regard to this reward.[30] Wherefore we ought to be willing to love and serve God, although he would never acknowledge us for his own, but rather permit us to perish eternally; we ought to will to love him and to submit ourselves to his service with our whole hearts, esteeming him in himself truly worthy of all the honour which we can render to him. Therefore we are to desire that all honour and love and reverence be rendered to him by us, and by the whole world, and that all should honour, love, and serve him as well in adversity as in prosperity.

The second means of obtaining this love is to preserve the presence of God in our souls: to believe that he, the sovereign Lord, is most intimately within us. Neither is it needful that we seek him in heaven, since he is always so near that he dwells in the very centre of our souls. As though, forgetful of all others, he took care for us alone, so does he ever consider each of us in particular. He observes our motions, thoughts and desires, taking notice what is the root of all our actions. He numbers, measures and weighs everything, that so he may one day render unto us according to our works. Consider this constantly, and knowing that God is so near thee, recall thy heart continually into his presence and raise thy spirit unto him in fear, humility, reverence and love, exciting thyself to desire and love him only and to place all thy hope in him.

He who, by the working of inward grace, has penetrated all intermediary things and so found God in his spirit, is so easily and naturally attentive to him, that he perceives and knows him to be ever present and witnessing all his actions, thoughts and desires; and often such a one is so abstracted and alienated from all earthly things, that it seems to him as if there were nothing in the world but God and his own heart; and he converses with God within himself in great tranquillity and serenity of mind.

But note that this interior attention ought to proceed from the heart or affective part, or from a firm and generous interior will, actually moving the understanding to seek him whom it desires. That thou mayest thus find God in thy spirit raise thy heart to him and walk always in his presence, that thy union may not be merely some simple imagination, or cold thought issuing in no action, but rather proceed from thy understanding and thy heart. Learn daily to move thyself to sincere desires of loving him only and most intimately enjoying his love, of pleasing him and being entirely his, by the help of these or the like interior words:

Abyss of goodness, fountain of mercy, infinite and inexhaustible fountain of love, my God and Creator: unite me again unto thee in thy infinite mercy.

“I return unto thee, O my most happy beginning, my end and my rest: be thou from henceforth the one subject of my thoughts. I give myself wholly to love, serve and honour thee: I give myself entirely unto thee, O God of my heart, O life of my spirit: choosing thee for my part and inheritance for ever and ever.

“My God, my most dear Lord, with my whole heart I seek thy presence in my innermost spirit. Where dwellest thou, O God of Israel, my soul’s life, my king? My heart seeks nothing but to see thee: desires nothing but to possess thee: nor will it ever rest till it be perfectly united to thee.”

“Jesus, my one hope, my only refuge, I adore thee, bless thee and love thee with my whole heart.”

And thus these or the like ejaculations, which must come from the will, upon the consideration of the presence of God in us, will witness that we breathe nothing but God, seek nothing but God, and that we do truly labour to our utmost that we may one day be able to love him. Neither are we to produce these aspirations lightly and hastily, but with serenity of spirit and strong interior assent, so that we do realise that we are seeking God and would find God, to adore him and love him as much as we are able.

By such-like discourses with God concerning all thy necessities, both spiritual and temporal, endeavour to gain a loving confidence in him, treating with him most simply and plainly, according as thy devotion may move thee. Be not anxious for many rules, provided thou canst love much. Be it to offer up thyself unto him, be it to praise him, to thank him, to rejoice in his greatness, to implore his mercy, to demand his love, to show him thy affliction: it is all one, so that thou canst learn to remain always within thyself in the presence of God, without letting thy heart or thy senses wander up and down at their liberty.

Nevertheless, to embrace this way of love and aspiration, we must firmly resolve to pass through all difficulties. And though sometimes we find ourselves weakened and our devotion grown cold, we are not to lose courage on that account. Let us hope for better things, and take diligent care that henceforth we do not permit our heart to rest in anything but God. Let us deny it all comfort which it might take in anything else, and retain it continually in a unity and simplicity of desire towards the presence and love of God, neglecting all other things.

Now, if this prison of love, this strict and perpetual cloister of interior recollection, seem in the beginning somewhat hard or troublesome, nevertheless divine grace seconding our efforts will soon make all things easy, and the hope of the future good to be obtained will give us courage. For as the gain is inestimable, so the labour involved should be considered a happy thing. We shall labour a little and we shall find for ourselves a plentiful rest: Modicum laborabimus et inveniemus nobis magnam requiem.[31]



The fourth thing I desire of you is to observe these following admonitions. I intend to

run through all the stages of mental prayer in the second part of this treatise, and shall there explain more fully meditation, aspiration, elevation and the presence of God; but the careful observance of these admonitions will give you much light for the understanding of the whole matter.


Meditation is the foundation and support of aspiration: for the latter exercise presupposes a thorough and matured knowledge of the mysteries of our faith and the infinite obligations we have to love Almighty God; but especially it supposes a resolute will to apply ourselves to it. Ordinarily we reach the stage of aspiration by frequent and earnest meditation on the life of our Saviour and the other mysteries of the Christian faith, realising by these how great are our obligations to Almighty God. Some souls find a difficulty in practising this exercise of aspirations, because it seems too spiritual for their capacity. They require something less abstract by which they may arm themselves against their corrupt inclinations, keep themselves recollected, and obtain necessary virtues. Such souls ought to continue in the prayer of meditation until such time as they have made some better progress and have more perfectly overcome nature.

Let them, therefore, devote some time to those more material and imaginary representations of the sacred mysteries which are used in this first stage of meditation. And then, if they wish to advance, let them leave this meditation and ascend to the second degree, which is that of aspirations. And from this let them proceed to a spiritual elevation unto God considered as present in the centre of their soul. Nor should they descend from this stage unless they be overwhelmed by many violent temptations, so that they are forced to use the aforesaid images in order to expel worse. But once this trial has passed, and the soul has recovered its former quiet and peace, they should at once renew their interior, intellectual, loving elevations.

But a man may take some sacred mystery to consider it and thereby draw material for his aspirations, in order the better to employ his time. And he would do very

well, by this means uniting meditation and aspirations. And so, growing stronger in spirit little by little, he would come to make his whole prayer an exercise of aspirations, with a discreet orderly progress. For meditation alone is a cold exercise; but enkindled with ardent affections and desires by the help of aspirations it becomes full of fervour and wonderfully efficacious. So also in the beginning, without the help of some set matter of meditation, this exercise of aspirations is very difficult and laborious, sometimes declining into idleness and tepidity. For some leave off meditation and yet remain negligent and remiss in pursuing this exercise of aspirations, and so are left wholly destitute. Hence this joining of meditation and aspirations is to be continued until the will is fully disposed to apply itself seriously to the love of God, and having acquired a facility of recollecting itself in his presence, is perpetually aspiring to this sacred union. Then these more material meditations of the sacred mysteries seek the presence of Almighty God more purely and mentally in the centre of the soul.


When, either here or elsewhere, I speak of abandoning these more material images of the sacred mysteries, you should not misunderstand me. I do not counsel anyone so to omit them that thereby the stupendous work of our redemption should be either neglected or less esteemed, for we all know that thence we derive all our happiness.

But the imagination is one of the coarsest and meanest powers of the soul, and is seated in our inferior nature, and our happiness and perfection consist in the operation of our superior powers. Therefore he who ties himself down to that lower manner of proceeding will never reach perfection, and will never obtain that elevation to God which is necessary for the perfect fruition of him in this world.

Wherefore, after corrupt nature becomes somewhat reformed by the aid of divine grace and the wise use of meditation, that is to say, when the passions are quietened, and interior recollection is obtained, together with an earnest resolve of renouncing self and seeking nothing but God: then it will be absolutely necessary that a soul ascend to the second stage of prayer. And then, making yet greater progress and growing stronger in spirit, more enlightened in spiritual things, and ever more resolute in following Almighty God, the soul may safely pass to those spiritual elevations which shall be afterwards explained.

Thus far we prepare ourselves for grace, and, ordinarily speaking, God works in us according as we prepare ourselves. But those other degrees of prayer which follow later, as that of the real presence of God, the state of privation, etc., are wholly above us. For it is God only who teaches us here, working in us as he pleases, and our part is only to follow him. During those operations man is completely introverted and in the hands of God.

But in these first degrees of prayer, wherein we seem to have made only an entrance into this secret way of true introversion, we must co-operate with God. We must not expect that he will deal with us except as we dispose ourselves; for we are as yet wholly natural, and do not permit ourselves to be guided by him as he shall think fit.

Nowadays I perceive that many are of the opinion that of ourselves we can proceed no further than the meditation upon the sacred mysteries, and that what is beyond this must come from God alone and directly. This is an error, and it is the reason why so few make any great progress in spiritual things. They despair of attaining the higher ways of prayer, and so let themselves be wholly carried away in a life of extroversion.


Although he who applies himself wholly to this exercise of aspirations should endeavour to quieten his inordinate passions, to mortify self-love, and to acquire moral virtue, yet it is not necessary that he should be as perfect as some imagine. If this were so, we should find very few fit to proceed in these spiritual ways, since in this life there is no state of perfection wherein some failings of our corrupt nature do not remain. But this exercise of aspirations and loving affections towards God, far from hindering the soul in the pursuit and practice of virtues, will greatly help her, for all virtues are here exercised in a more sublime manner. For he who aims with all his might at gaining the true love of God, will not hesitate at anything which he finds acceptable to God. He will omit nothing of this kind without great remorse for having been backward in promoting the honour and glory of him whose grace, love, and presence he so desires. Thus, on fire with the love of God, he knows that it is absolutely necessary to do this or that, or to use violence with himself in this or that.

He falls into a kind of contempt or forgetfulness of self and all other things, with a continual tending towards God, so that he easily overcomes all difficulties. And this manner of practising virtue and mortification, by neglect of self, is much more profitable than direct acts of virtue. Yet these are often to be used, for such souls, though good, are still very natural. St Thomas says: Because charity has for her object the last end of man’s life, to wit eternal bliss, therefore it extends itself to all the actions of man’s life: not as immediately producing the acts of each virtue, but by way of command.[32] And the Apostle says: Charity is patient, is kind, etc.: and in his last chapter: Do all your works in charity.[33]


Wherefore we are to grant two ways of exercising virtue and mortification. In the first and direct there is a formal act referred unto God or his love, or anything else, so it have a right intention. The other is indirect, the soul being so on fire with the love of God that she is ever thirsting after his presence. She withdraws herself into her interior so wholly, that should she be despised, reproached, or otherwise exteriorly mortified, she goes on her way with absolute forgetfulness of self, as if nothing had happened to her. She is indifferent in all prosperity and adversity, because completely dead to her lower nature and all its motions, transcending all things through this adhesion to God.

This is the way by which God leads and instructs those who seek nothing but union with him, who neglect themselves and slight injuries. But nowadays we find many wholly given to self-seeking, very unmortified and impatient upon all occasions. They resent opposition and reproaches very bitterly; but they would easily have overcome all such difficulties, had they been taught to proceed in this other way.

Now when those who have reached this stage of perfection find themselves falling back into themselves and unable to exercise these actual elevations towards God, they must necessarily strive with all their might to resist this fall. And they should put their trust not in themselves, but in God only, as the author of all their happiness and perfection. So in this second manner of proceeding all virtues are exercised under one and the same act, though the mind does not directly reflect upon them. This is the way that all truly spiritual men practise all virtues and mortifications, to wit by interior loving conversations with God, ever athirst for his presence. All other works they esteem as the fruit of this exercise; and they do not take too much account of them, although they are as diligent in their performance as those who make such works their whole business. They often call themselves to account, perceiving by means of an interior divine light wherein they have been deficient.

And such spiritual men would wish to recommend this second way to other souls.

For they see such souls devoting all their time and energy to the acquisition and practice of the moral virtues. They are, indeed, so attached to this pursuit, that they never come to know the true spirit of God and the secret paths of his divine love. They may spend their whole lives in this study of moral virtues and never attain to elevation of spirit, unless they take up a more direct and immediate exercise.


I desire that none may so misunderstand me as to think that I would in any way undervalue the practice of moral virtues, for all are agreed that such must both be acquired and faithfully practised. But I would aim at teaching a more speedy and easy way of obtaining them. For we are subject to defects and imperfections of nature, and we shall never be freed from them until we become uplifted in spirit and work according to our superior powers. Hence, although moral virtues are to be exercised with direct and formed acts, the best and surest means of acquiring them is by some sublime exercise which transcends nature. Some people think that excesses in eating, drinking, sleeping and the like, cannot be overcome without much fasting and great corporal austerities; whereas there is no more certain way of conquering them than by ceasing from all self-seeking and raising the soul lovingly towards God. By this means they are so completely vanquished, and that without any prejudice to the soul’s progress, that those who are so wedded to their fasting and exterior mortifications would not believe it possible. The same may be said of pure and chaste thoughts, which are easily obtained by the aforesaid means.


By what has been said we may see that external good works, virtues and mortifications will not bring a man to perfection, if he lack a right intention in the performing of them. For thus he comes to slight those things which he should value highly, and to overvalue what he should not hold of much account. The secret ways of the soul consist less in this art of acquiring moral virtues, than in the right ordering of those interior exercises which tend directly to God. If he fail in these latter, though he be endowed with all moral virtues, and be never so ready to mortify and deny himself, he must yet remain bound to nature and will not attain to perfect union with God. These secret ways of hidden wisdom are not to be penetrated thus. For the interior exercise which takes us straight to God, which directs all the virtues to their proper end, and which sets us finally in the real fruition of God, is this continual actual tendance to God. It is practised in acts of love, desire and affection, based upon faith and upon the consideration of his immediate presence in our souls. For charity alone of all the virtues tends directly to God, attains him immediately as he is in himself, and perfectly unites us with him. And charity draws the other virtues after it, elevating and ennobling them. Without charity they would be poor indeed.


But he who undertakes this prayer of love and aspiration, and yet fails in mortification and perseverance, and seeks himself everywhere, is unworthy of this exercise. Under pretence of a higher spirituality he is feeding his pride and self-love, and is in danger of falling into a thousand misfortunes. And those also are indiscreet and misguided, and know not by what spirit they are led, who claim to exercise this prayer and yet show themselves unwilling and backward in performing external works of charity, obedience, or other service to their neighbour, or perform such works unfaithfully.


Although the state of perfection, in which God raises the soul to a very sublime degree of divine love, is not obtained but by an entire dying to ourselves; yet short of that there is a middle state to which I give the name of the Presence of God, because those who are in it already enjoy the divine presence with a fervent love and real fruition. This state is very easily obtained if a soul will apply itself to interior recollection and to genuine self-denial. Many souls, by faithfully applying themselves thus, have arrived at this state of perfect fruition, yet it is a great grace and an excellent help towards attaining all virtues. Nay, I say boldly that the soul which has attained to it is safe in this way, for it now begins to discern and perceive its final goal.


Although, for the sake of order and clearness, I have thus distinguished various stages in the course of mental prayer, yet these stages are not in practice so easily distinguished. for though they are really different, and a great change takes place in the soul, yet God draws us little by little from one degree to another, and with such cooperation on our part that we pass them over without much observing them until the work is done. Therefore the soul should not trouble about the exact analysis of these stages. But, having once set out on this way of perfection and entered into true introversion, it should continue its course with such fervour, that, neglecting all that is behind, it applies all its powers to those things which are before: that is, to the fruition of the love of God, to which alone it aspires.


But, if thou wouldst know in a few words what thou must do, take this for thy rule:

Exercise thyself seriously and diligently in the desire of divine love, by fervent aspirations and acts of the will. Make this love thy principal interior exercise, with which thy heart, imagination, and understanding may be so entirely filled, that for it and by it thou mayest perform all things and perfectly root out all self-love and all allurements of nature. Seek only, and with thy whole heart, to please God; and keep thy spirit ever raised to him, wholly freed from all other affections and unnecessary employments. Accommodate thyself meanwhile to such diverse chances and events as must occur in human life, both interiorly with God and exteriorly with men.

But as for many other little circumstances and peculiarities which may occur and upon which a man might often like to be informed, it is impossible to give instructions about them all; for often they are only uncertain accidents, depending upon the natural temperament of the person, or his state and condition, or some other particular circumstance. And for these things each one’s experience will teach him in time, with interior light and the advice of prudent directors.





God, as we have said already, leads souls to the perfection of his love by very various ways; a thing which we observe also in our daily experience. Some there are who labour all their lives with extraordinary fidelity, who mortify and macerate themselves with divers austerities and works of penance, as they also earnestly endeavour to adorn themselves with every acquired virtue. Yet they never attain to that experimental knowledge of God, nor of his inward working in his chosen souls; or, if they do so attain it, it is very late and after long toil. Others, on the contrary, have scarcely set foot in the way of perfection, and shown true contrition for their past sins, when God bestows his favours upon them. He gives them, in fact, such an abundance of gifts, graces and supernatural lights, that he reveals to them already the operations of the noblest powers of their souls, as an earnest of what he intends to give them in future.

And what happens still more frequently is that where sin has more abounded, there God communicates his favours more bountifully, in the inscrutable secrets of the divine wisdom. Wherefore direction of souls in the way of perfection may justly be termed the art of arts; for, as natures are different and the ways of God so various, great knowledge and prudence and above all proper experience are required. For everyone must be guided according to his character and natural inclination. Many need to be restrained, lest they busy themselves in sublime matters that exceed their capacity. Again, there are many good and gentle souls, gifted with singular graces even in their early stages, who would suffer great detriment if they were not guided according to the abundant aid they receive from God. And it would be still more lamentable if they were wholly withdrawn from the higher ways. For God is not tied down to terms of years or rules, or to precepts delivered in books, but can work marvels when he pleases. How many devout souls are there who, falling into the hands of inexperienced directors, who neither understand nor practice these higher ways of love, have never come to the knowledge of them! How many others are there, who, having been wholly given over to our Lord and his service through many years, have yet to learn the first rudiments of mental prayer! They have contented themselves always with frequenting Confession and Communion, and have passed their years without understanding how we may yet more excellently glorify God in our souls! Yet the desire and spirit of this holy exercise should have been imprinted in them from the very first day of their conversion to God; for it is the spiritual food of the soul, preserving that new life which the soul receives in God at the time of her turning to him.

For so incomparable is the happiness, so inestimable are the treasures contained in this holy exercise of mental prayer, that by it is obtained everything: virtue, divine grace and the true end of a devout religious life. A man’s spirit is strengthened to run the way of the commandments of God and to observe the Rule which he has promised. The greatest happiness I could wish for my dearest friend is the gift of the true spirit of prayer; for I know that it is the key which unlocks to us the riches of God.

Therefore, forgetting my own lowliness, I have undertaken to treat of this holy exercise. I intend rather to suggest something of the riches to be found in every degree thereof than to describe them so particularly as they deserve. And proceeding in my task with all simplicity, I leave it to those who are more learned and capable, to deal with the matter more exactly and completely. Although there are now many books which treat of the subject, yet, as I have said, the ways to perfection are so various that they cannot be too diligently or too fully manifested. For thus everyone will be able to find help in a matter of such great importance, and in the very trials which must sometimes be met. For it is no small comfort to find one’s experience agree with the teaching of those who have written of such matters or passed through similar difficulties, and have left instructions how we are to behave ourselves therein. Moreover, the discovering of these various ways and trials cannot but facilitate the journey which we make to God by prayer.



God is an infinite good, the origin and source of all good, intimately present in our souls, where he has imprinted his sacred image and dwells as in his temple. And though he governs this whole universe by his wonderful providence, yet is he as attentive to the salvation and good of every one of us in particular, as though he really forgot all others and sought to provide for that one alone. Like a watchful sentinel he observes us in every motion, thought and desire: noting where our heart is, whence it comes, whither it goes, unto what it aspires, and what is the root of all our works and intentions. And because God is thus ever present, infinitely desirous of communicating himself to us by the infusion of his graces, the greatest evil which has happened unto us by sin is that we lost that sovereign good and turned our affections from God to creatures. Thus has he become unknown and hidden from us, and we have no more sense of his presence than if he were infinitely distant from us.

Now, therefore, the greatest good we can obtain for ourselves is to be reunited to God by knowledge and love, by this means regaining his divine presence. In every place and at all times we may know interiorly that all we are or desire is really in the presence of God, who is penetrating the most intimate secrets of our souls. He is infinitely blessed in himself, he is glorified and exalted by the angels in heaven, he needs not our service upon earth. Yet, as though he forgot his own glory and held nothing so dear as our good, he desires to give his gifts and graces, even himself, to those souls who seek him with their whole hearts. In his infinite love and goodness he says that his delights are to be with us, and that he is at the door of our hearts waiting if we will open to him.

And therefore we may be very sure that we have the means to obtain this good and to gain the fruition of this infinite love. For God himself desires it and presses us to grant him entry into our hearts. Behold the origin and substance of mental prayer. It is an interior exercise by which we seek in our souls the fruition of God, our supreme good. We grieve that he is absent, that we by our sins have lost him, and we desire to recover his presence with the greater fervour.

Or we may define mental prayer as the raising of the heart to the supreme point of the spirit unto God. It is the placing of ourselves continually in his presence, directing to him all our thoughts, intentions and desires, referring purely to his glory all that we are to do or to suffer. It is the single effort to adore him in spirit and in truth, and to love him with our whole hearts.

But all those who begin this interior life are as yet very earthly, full of the images of worldly things, carried away by divers passions of joy, sadness, impatience and the like, and prone to solaces and delights of nature. Yet the real comprehension of spiritual things requires a soul to be very mature, quiet and recollected, and to know how to moderate its passions, control its inclinations, and suppress nature. Therefore this course of prayer must be begun from devout meditation on the mysteries of our faith: on death, judgement, hell and heaven; or on the life and passion of our Lord. For the beginner, be he never so wise according to the world, will find himself totally ignorant of these secret ways, which are revealed only to humble, simple, and little ones.

Meditation will first bring him to a new and much better understanding of these mysteries than he had formerly; for it will move his will and cause an affection for spiritual things and a forgetfulness of all things of the world. Then the soul will begin to take contentment and pleasure in prayer, delighting in the marvellous works of God which it finds in the said mysteries, or else in other things which God may communicate to it. The understanding is enlightened, the will powerfully moved and more and more established and confirmed in the service of God, and many affections of love, prayer and thanksgiving arise. Often, as the result of a meditation well made, a soul is moved to offer itself to God and to a firm purpose of amending its imperfections.

Further, because of sin we have not only estranged ourselves from God, but dissipated our affections upon as many objects as are presented to us from without. To gain fruit from meditation, therefore, we must seriously mortify our outward senses of seeing, hearing, tasting, touching and relishing of earthly things, so that as far as possible and as our state will permit, we become blind, deaf and dumb to them. That man is happiest who seeks but to keep himself in peace; nor will anyone make progress in mental prayer who does not first labour to free himself from such things as do not concern him.

Here, then, in summary is the order of matters in this way of mental prayer. First of all a man should close the doors of his five senses, by which sin once entered in and defiled his soul. Then he should endeavour by meditation to reach a true knowledge of his duty to God, and to fill his mind with such good imaginations and good thoughts, that all vain and worldly thoughts may be banished. He should, moreover, moderate his passions and all evil inclinations, and renounce his own will, so that his whole interior may be at peace and free to devote itself purely and entirely to God. Thus may he give himself to true mental prayer, and to that elevation of spirit, which is possible only to a soul that is at peace within itself and free from all external cares. And last of all he shall endeavour to unite and join himself to God by love, as the final object and goal of all his effort.



THE knowledge of God is the beginning of all good; for it is impossible to love him unless we know him, and our love will be according to our knowledge. If our knowledge be merely natural, so will be our love; if supernatural, our love will be supernatural likewise. But, since in this life God cannot be known in his proper essence and nature, we must endeavour to know him by his works and effects. In meditation we think over some work or effect of the divine goodness, deeply, steadily and deliberately, in order to stir up our hearts to some affection of love, praise, wonder, or acknowledgement, or else to gain those virtues which we propose for the subject of our meditation. For it behoves a man who desires to reunite himself with God, or to gain the necessary virtues for that end, to do, on his own part, what he is able, exercising himself in all virtue, and busying his mind with good and wholesome considerations, and embracing whatever may conduce to the gaining of his end.

Whoever neglects to do this need never hope to set his feet upon the holy mountain of true mental prayer. Who shall be worthy, says the Psalmist, to ascend unto the mountain of our Lord, or who shall deserve to have access to the holy place of his sacred tabernacle? He (answers he) who, leading a life purely holy without spot, hath not received his being, life, and the powers of his soul in vain.[34] And in another place he pronounces him happy who meditates upon the law of God both day and night, because he shall be like a tree that is planted by a current of waters, which will yield its fruit in due season.[35]

To meditate, therefore, is to apply the mind seriously to an exact consideration of some subject, weighing it in a quiet, settled spirit, in order to draw fruit from it, and, the more excellent the works of God are upon which we undertake to meditate, the more perfect knowledge will they give us of their Maker. And since the mysteries of the Incarnation, life, and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are the most wonderful of all God’s works, the most profound of all the sacred mysteries, and the greatest of all the works of grace, there is no meditation by which we enter more freely into the sanctuary of the divine heart, for to know the wonders of his love towards us. Hence our Saviour says: I am the way, the truth and the life: if anyone shall enter by me, he shall find nourishment and salvation.[36] The Church also sings that it is very just and reasonable that we should give infinite thanks unto God, because by the mystery of the Word Incarnate a new light of divine knowledge has shined upon our mind: so that, by our visible knowledge of his sacred humanity, we are led unto the love of the invisible things of his divinity.[37]

Hence all devout persons say that the most holy life and passion of our Lord is a great book of his divine wisdom, so ample, so clear, and so easy that the poorest and simplest, as the most learned doctor, may there learn all things concerning his salvation. Would you know the greatness of the wrong done to God by mortal sin? How can you better understand it than by considering how great things, unworthy of his majesty, our Saviour suffered to expiate that injury? Would you know if eternal damnation be as dreadful as you are told? Whence can you learn better than by considering, that in order to deliver us from it, our Lord endured such sufferings, that as he said to the daughters of Jerusalem: “If I who am green wood, Son of God without spot, for only having taken upon me the sins of men must suffer so great torments for to appease the wrath of my Father, so that you judge me worthy of compassion and tears; what shall become of the dry wood?”[38] Which is as if he said: What torments shall they endure in hell who, laden with their own sins, shall not reap the fruits of my bitter passion? If you would know the dignity of your soul and how precious it is in God’s sight, behold at what a price he has bought it, and judge whether it be reasonable that the devil should have it so cheaply, as for the little vanity, liberty, and pleasure which is found in sin! Likewise, by continually meditating upon these sacred mysteries, we learn to understand those things which concern our salvation.

Of the method to be observed in meditation I shall treat but briefly, for you may consult the very good books which have been written upon the subject. In the first place, supposing that everyone has by him two or three books treating of matters proper for meditation, this order is to be observed. We choose every day some mystery, beginning, for example, at the Nativity and proceeding in orderly fashion, and we read something of it some little time before we begin our prayer. We consider diligently what our Lord is there said to have done or suffered, without busying ourselves with any other subject. This preparation of our matter is necessary in the beginning, until we know all the mysteries by heart; for otherwise the mind will wander here and there, not knowing upon what to fix itself. When the time of prayer comes, we are to represent to ourselves the history of the mystery as best we can, but without forcing our imagination. And especially must we guard against beginning our prayer with heaviness, sadness, or trouble of mind, dreading the labour

involved; but rather must we set about it cheerfully and with great content that we are able to converse thus familiarly with our Lord. Having begun, we must take heed not to let our affections or thoughts fasten themselves upon anything but the mystery to be meditated. We must remember always that we are speaking with our Lord, who is worthy of infinite honour and reverence, and treating with him of the most important matters that can be, those which belong to our salvation and his love. To help us thus to restrain wandering thoughts, let us imagine how our Lord is surrounded by a multitude of angels, who greatly rejoice in the glory and reverence we show him, and are much troubled when we serve him coldly and negligently, without respect or attention, letting our thoughts wander here and there to frivolous things instead of delighting in their sovereign Lord. But, on the other hand, we must take care that this concentration be moderate, lest we hurt our heads and make ourselves unprofitable at the very outset, as often happens to such as are indiscreet and inexperienced, who force and strain their minds. For the secret of prayer does not consist in the activity of the imagination nearly so much as in affection and recollection. The office

of the imagination is merely to represent to us the mystery upon which we propose to meditate, and that quietly and peacefully. Distractions are not due to the imagination, but to the instability of the heart. Where the heart is, there at once are all the other powers; and if the heart be not set aright, well may we break our heads, but all to no purpose. Hence we must endeavour to recall our hearts and affections to take pleasure in prayer, either by the sweetness of love, or by reproaching ourselves for having so little attraction to divine things.

In order to meditate profitably upon the Passion, we must realise the greatness, the nobility, the dignity of our Lord and saviour, who has endured such disgrace, contempt, and cruelty at the hands of the lowest of the people. Also we must understand our own extreme poverty, humiliation and unworthiness, and consider why our Lord underwent all this for each one of us in particular and for all the world, namely, to restore us to the favour of God the Father and to deliver us from eternal damnation. And with what love and mercy, with how great a desire of our salvation has he so suffered, he who needs neither us nor anything else, being the original source of all good! Then, whilst the mind is pondering all this, divine grace seconds our human effort and blesses this little labour. It makes us find content in the mystery, sets a guard to our thoughts, and inspires our hearts with loving aspirations.

Or it suggests hope in the divine mercy, fear of the divine judgements, hatred of sin, contempt of the world, and such like. We must also induce ourselves to produce such affections, for the end of our meditation is to excite them.

Beginners should chiefly exercise themselves well in meditating upon death, judgement, hell and heaven. They will thus obtain a true fear of God’s judgements, hatred of sin, knowledge of the great importance of our salvation, and of the good or evil to come, so that in time of great temptation they may be able to overcome the grosser assaults of their enemies. For in these early stages man is still weak and the temptations of the enemy sometimes more violent; so that, unless the beginner be furnished with the more sensible and palpable motives, he will easily be overcome. Yet this meditation on the eternal truths will be profitable, not only to the beginner, but throughout life; for as long as we live we shall never be wholly free from such assaults; neither can anyone promise himself security so long as this body of our lowness weighs down the desires of the spirit.

Likewise beginners should observe their imperfections, and see of what they stand most in need, or what troubles them most in their vocation: whether their memories are still disturbed by the liberty and pleasures of the world. Let them try to move themselves to a contempt and hatred of these things, as being most prejudicial to their salvation, and be willing to suffer something for the love of God, in acknowledgement of those labours he has borne for us. If it seem hard and they know not how to have patience, and see themselves humbled, mortified, rudely treated, or little esteemed, let them consider how our Lord, who is king of angels and lord of the world, so humbled himself for them, little worms of earth. Thus should they proceed about all their imperfections, which is undoubtedly an infallible means of gaining the victory over them.

But if you say, that though you do the best you can in your meditations, you cannot draw from your heart those goodly affections which you desire: I answer that a man does not become a master in this art of prayer all at once. We must content ourselves with having done our best, and we must implore the divine assistance with all humility; for without that all our labours will be vain and unprofitable. And note that he who bears himself most simply, humbly and reverently towards our Lord, shall be best capable of receiving the communication of his graces.

Further, I answer that it imports us much to make good use of the first fervour of divine grace, which God ordinarily bestows at the beginning of conversion; for such graces are efficacious and applicable to every matter, if the person be careful and well instructed. If he know how to use these graces when first beginning this holy exercise, before such divine help forsakes him, he will have learned the practice of prayer and of those holy affections which have been stirred up in him. Whereas those who neglect to do this, assuming that this abundance of divine assistance, this promptness and good disposition will always remain, are astonished when they find themselves deprived of all sensible aid. They discover that they have no strength of their own, and being without any formed habits in this holy exercise, they are wholly ignorant how to conduct themselves.

Moreover, we must take great care to keep our hearts pure from all sin or earthly affection, and to restrain our senses and thoughts, not spending our time in idle and unprofitable matters. Let us rather, as soon as we are free from other duties, have recourse to prayer, as the thing we most esteem.

Finally, we must especially apply ourselves to prayer and with a right intention: not practising it for the comfort we expect to find in it, but rather to comply with the divine will, for the honour and service of God. Let us learn to resign ourselves to his disposition in every event. Although during our prayer we have no pleasure or sensible devotion whatsoever, we should yet be satisfied that we have sought and done the will of God.

Now as to those who have made much progress in this exercise of meditation, they are to use all their endeavours to stir up and enkindle their minds with the love of God, and to gain spiritual strength by affective acts, that so they may be more fit to pass to the next state.

There are some simple souls who are less apt for profound meditation and who cannot keep their thoughts long fixed on one matter. Yet they have a burning desire to please God, are very prompt in virtues and good works, and ready to mortify and renounce themselves in all things. They seek perfection only, and desire to discover the best way of reaching it. To such I would say that they may make trial of the second method of meditation, or even of the exercise of aspirations, and that they may find either of these more suitable for their case.



It is of the greatest moment, at the very beginning of this spiritual progress, to have a true conception of the end and purpose of meditation. That end is not merely the suppression of all base desires, vicious inclinations and evil imaginations: such is not the substance and essence of this way. Rather it is to dispose the soul that it may learn to make acts of the will directed immediately to God, and that it may be induced to thirst constantly for his divine love.

The chief difficulty lies in this, that the mind should forsake those more material images of the sacred mysteries and rise to a more spiritual operation. Thence it must ascend to a simple and naked thought of Almighty God, unto which all arrive who are truly introverted and experience the presence of God in their souls. But many stop before this and never attain this degree. They lead very exemplary lives, but continuing the first manner of meditation, never proceed further or experience the more sublime workings of God. They hold it as a principle that love should never be idle, and that he who works little loves little. In support of this they bring forward some misunderstood examples from the lives of the saints, and they also misinterpret their teachings about prayer, which require much spiritual understanding. Undoubtedly these mists would dissolve if such souls could be once elevated in spirit; but those who are very edifying and mortified in their lives are the harder to be persuaded to acknowledge their faults. Hence they are deprived of knowing the infinite favours which God is wont to bestow upon those whom he brings into his secret treasury.

Now, to deliver you from such difficulties, I will show you how to change this more material manner of meditating into one more efficacious, and afterwards into a spiritual elevation, until, gradually discarding all images, discourses and natural conceptions, you attain to the prayer of the real presence of God. Wherefore let us now treat of this second degree of meditation.

We have said already that the knowledge of God is the source of all our spiritual good. But in this world we cannot know him in his essence, and must come to our knowledge of him by his works. Now some of the works of God are without us, some within. Of the former none can be proposed more profound, or more helpful in bringing us to the knowledge of God, than the mysteries of the Incarnation, life, and passion of our Saviour, as we have said before. Upon these subjects many excellent meditations with abundance of rules and directions have been compiled by spiritual authors; and although we must not tie down divine grace to acts and methods, we may justly take all such instructions as instruments and aids to grace. But this way of meditation as so set forth is very long and tedious, and little suitable to a fervent soul, who thus spends much time with little profit. We must know, therefore, that there are also other works of God, which he produces in us, and which we know by daily experience, namely, the workings of divine grace in our souls, by which he affords us experimental knowledge of his goodness, mercy, liberality, and immense favours towards us. Now this knowledge, so confirmed and rooted in us, because it derives from our experience and not merely from hearsay, is placed in the highest degree of certitude, next after the knowledge of faith. For of all ways of knowing God (excepting that of faith) it is the most perfect, sure and certain, since it is the final and ultimate knowledge of him through his works. And whoever has not attained to this knowledge of God (again excepting the knowledge of faith, he possesses no true and certain knowledge of him, but only one that is based upon the words and experience of others.

If we wish to obtain this experimental knowledge of God, he must necessarily work much in us and we must have had much experience in order to discern it. For, according to the measure of his working in us, so will be our knowledge and love of him. Hence the most perfect form of prayer is that which best disposes a soul for those divine operations.

We find many who, having diligently followed a life of prayer for ten, fifteen, or twenty years, are as inexperienced in the ways of God as when they began. This is because they aim at nothing higher than to work much themselves and observe punctiliously all the rules laid down to make a good meditation. They do not know that to be men of prayer they must proceed further than these operations of their own, and be replenished with those which come principally from God by infusion. Hence they never ascend higher than to a life of acquired virtues, never experiencing those that are infused and supernatural.

There are others who by their meditation aim rather at obtaining contrition and grief for their sins than love and confidence in Almighty God; and then become so depressed, that instead of being raised to God by the wings of love and trust, they become overwhelmed with interior sadness, melancholy, and scruples. Hence they are daily more estranged from God, whose spirit is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.

For the avoiding of these dangers I will here treat of the second stage of mental prayer, which standing between meditation and that spiritual elevation to God (of which I speak later), has in it something of both, and disposes the soul, little by little, for further progress. For it is not to be supposed that the grace of God is wanting to souls, who by the help of meditation have applied themselves so seriously and faithfully to recollection and mortification that they are ready to give to God whatever they conceive he may require. For they are ready to renounce their own interest in everything, and they find no difficulty in mortifications, humiliations and self-denial. To keep such souls tied down to methods and rules is to keep them at a standstill. Let them rather proceed to the next stage, which is this:

They are, as before, to choose some mystery; but they are not now to make long discourses. They are to let affections go hand in hand with the representation of the mystery, spending the whole time in discourses with Almighty God according to the subject, making it their aim not to frame eloquent speeches, but to love much, to thirst after union with God, and to give him their whole hearts.

For example: you choose the Nativity of our Lord, and, from habit, will now easily recall and reflect upon our Saviour lying in the manger and resting in the arms of the sacred Virgin his Mother. But, whereas in your former stage you went on slowly discussing all the circumstances, now you endeavour at once to stir up your soul to love and devotion, in beholding the King of angels, the glory of heaven, and the supreme Lord of the universe in the form and habit of a little Child. You consider how, through the infinite love he bore us, he came down from heaven, asking of us only that we give our hearts wholly unto him. Wherefore, approaching him and seeking his love with confidence, let the soul never cease to thirst after him and to excite its affections by these or the like words: O sovereign God, my Jesus, who for my sake hast wrought so many and so stupendous wonders, who in recompense for all requirest nothing from me but that I love thee with my whole heart: grant that I may perfectly love thee, and ardently embrace thee, and with all the powers of my soul be united to thee, my joy, my life. my love, my riches and all my good!

Sometimes also we may exercise acts of humility, poverty and annihilation of self in the presence of God, to move him to look upon us with mercy and to hear our petitions. Another day the soul may propose for consideration the adoration of the three Kings, and with them in spirit adore the new-born King of the Jews, offering unto him all her affections, all that she is or has, desiring only to love him perfectly.

In a word, you shall use every mystery only to raise affections towards him who is present therein, using for this end all pious diligence. Behold how a soul thus employs all her time in prayer, never idle, but rather ever more enkindled. Sometimes she speaks to God, sometimes to herself, that she may restrain her wandering thoughts, reproving her heart for its instability and tepidity. And she exercises herself thus, not only in prayer times, but throughout the day, for nothing can hinder us from praying and lifting up our hearts continually. Reflect when you loved anything in the world how pleasing it was to you to think upon it, how your heart was ever longing for it; wherefore be infinitely confounded that a creature had obtained of you what your Creator could not obtain.

Thus you shall begin to exercise yourself so that whole days, nay, all your life, may be spent in continual prayer, by a perpetual longing for God at all times, places and seasons. And though this may seem difficult at first, yet when you have learned how to help yourself and incline your heart unto him, you will presently perceive that with the help of grace it will become very easy. But, believe me, if ever you expect to be a man of prayer, and to obtain the presence of God and his love in your soul, you must seriously apply yourself to this continual, sweet, interior attention to him. For mental prayer is, as it were, a journey which we make towards God, travelling on the two feet of knowledge of him and affection to him. Therefore when our thoughts and desires are not moved we make no progress, and it is just because in this second manner of meditation the thoughts and affections are perpetually turned towards Almighty God, that more progress is thus made in a day than by the former method in a month. It should be remembered also that he who thus converses with God may consider him, not only in the sacred mysteries of his humanity, but also in any of his more sublime attributes and divine perfections, as in his greatness, immensity, infinity, eternity, and the like. But this must be done prudently and soberly, and only so far as it may serve to raise affections and rouse the soul to apprehend the greatness of God, that so it may always show due honour and reverence to him.

But chiefly we should begin to conceive of God not as reigning in the highest heaven and far from us, but as present in the centre of our souls. And this we should do especially when the will is moved and the soul wholly recollected within itself, abstracted from senses and sensible images. Then it will be necessary that the soul attend to this immediate presence within her, not suffering herself to be distracted by representations and imaginations of God without her, and thus gradually dispose herself for the next stage.



Our understanding works in two ways in mental prayer. In the first case it supplies the will with the matter and reason for its willing and loving, proposing motives and causes to it. It is of this case that we have treated hitherto, since this activity of the understanding is very necessary for that prayer which we have been expounding.

The understanding proposes motives to the will and stirs up the affections, and even when the will is moved the understanding continues to act upon it. But in the second case the will is recollected within itself, has itself in its own hands, and is confirmed in a most strong love of God. Then, with the supporting aid of the other powers of the soul, the will pushes on still further and desires the face and presence of him whom it loves. To thee hath my heart said: My face hath sought thee: thy face, O Lord, will I seek.[39] Here the understanding frames no sublime concepts of the divine perfections in order to give the will matter upon which to work; but, settled in a firm and humble certainty of the actual presence of God, with an admirable simplicity proceeds to do what the will is actually employed in willing, that is, to seek his face and presence whom – as much as human frailty will permit – she desires to love and adore above all things.

Henceforward a beginning is made in the mystical life, that is, in those secret ways of God. And whereas those who are in the state of meditation endeavour to move themselves to exterior good works on the principle that love must show its force by such: the part of him who would follow a mystic life must be to learn to remain within himself, without relation to external things, but to God alone. Wherefore, after he has reformed inferior nature in some measure, so that he has no other aim than to lead a mortified and virtuous life and to fulfil his duty to God and follow his vocation with as much purity as he can, he must dispose his spiritual affairs and conform his exterior man suitably to his state. Once this is done he is to be no more solicitous about it, but to bend all his efforts to commune with God in his soul.

So the beginning of this business is a search after God in the soul by a very firm faith and a simple unity of gaze upon him, without any meditation, speculation,

discourse, sublime concept of God, and such like whatsoever, unless such be immediately infused into the mind or are brought about by any unusual circumstance. And so, by this negative way, rejecting all use of images, the soul comes to a nakedness of all its powers and to a simple attention to God. The will must be recollected and must dominate the inner man, so that the soul may remain quiet within itself, actually desiring to obtain the true and pure love of God. For otherwise that concentration of mind which is to seek God will not be strong and efficacious enough to attain its end, but on the contrary will remain cold, dull, and little better than idle.

In the first manner of meditation we showed how the understanding precedes the will, providing motives and inducements which may move the latter. In the second we showed how to moderate the work of the understanding, giving more play to the will, so that it may exercise itself in acts and grow stronger and stronger in order to transcend the other powers. Now in this third stage the will, vivified and strengthened in great fervour, should withdraw itself from all exterior imaginations or internal speculations whatsoever, in order that so it may discover and enjoy a certain other presence, by a real infusion and communication which God affords of himself, although in this life but obscurely and per speculum in enigmate.

Here we come to the much debated question as to whether a soul may of itself thus forsake all meditation, in order to apply itself wholly to seek God in this third manner, without a particular inspiration so to do. Most do defend the opinion that the soul may not, and that to believe and practise the contrary is mere delusion. The result of this teaching is that many stick here and never go forward, fearing such illusions, should they attempt to do so of themselves. Now as for those who say that we must wait until God draws us, as it were, by force to this higher prayer, I answer that whilst on the one side we must avoid all presumption, on the other we must not exclude divine grace for want of our correspondence and co-operation. It is generally granted that this infusion of divine grace, this love, this divine presence which we so earnestly desire, is not to be obtained by our own endeavours, but is the free gift of God bestowed upon whom he pleases; and in this sense it is true that we must await the action of God. But we may not admit the assertion that we cannot dispose our souls for it by a preparatory grace, through our own diligence and fidelity. For what end are meditation, mortification, moral virtues, and all the instructions which we receive from books, but the better to dispose us to gain this divine love? Therefore, what should hinder us from endeavouring to approach nearer and nearer? Nay, why should we not use all such means as may bring us immediately thereto? It is a general maxim that every form requires a disposition in the matter or substance before it can be introduced; so it is certain that God bestows his grace upon everyone according to his disposition and the preparation which he has made.

Moreover, God usually works with us according to the exercises which we have in hand, whether they belong to the active or to the contemplative life. Nor does he ordinarily work miracles with us, drawing us by force against our wills; but he leaves them free, so that we may merit, and therefore does he allure us so sweetly and gently. So, if we would aim at true charity and a true spirit of God, we must gradually assume such exercises as are suitable to our inward state, in order that we may not hinder the supernatural action of God.

These considerations, therefore, have moved me to speak of a disposition for the presence and fruition of God more immediate than the previous ones, namely, of a wholly spiritual elevation. By this elevation the soul, now collected within itself, endeavours to raise itself above itself to God, not by imagination or discourse, but by an abnegation of all things and of itself also, in order that it may finally possess God. For he is really and essentially present to each one of us, desiring to communicate himself to us in the highest point of our spirit by the infusion of his graces. And so the soul, believing this and aiming at this as at the greatest of all goods, abides in a quiet, firm, and settled state, using some interior colloquies to enkindle her affections and so maintain herself recollected in the presence of God. Hence, if such a soul desires to succeed, she must commit to memory some short but very devout aspirations or ejaculatory prayers, by means of which she may be able to continue her loving, filial attention to him. She should be solicitous about nothing but to please him perfectly, wholly resigning herself into his hands, forgetting herself and all things of this world, never descending to meditation, or the forming of images, unless she be unable to help herself otherwise. For in the spiritual life it often happens that what in the beginning was very beneficial proves afterwards very hurtful, and hinders spiritual progress. In the entrance of this spiritual life anything served for matter of meditation, for all that could be expected was to raise the heart to God and kindle in it heavenly desires, for no introversion was experienced. But now the heart has been truly converted to God, and some little experience has been gained of that spiritual introversion and inward sight, which is the guide of our spiritual life.

Hence the soul that pursues this mystic way must continue her real and experimental search after the presence of God, leaving all inferior nature beneath. She should aim at maintaining a perpetual separation between nature and spirit, that she may become insensible to all lower things and apply herself to God. Then, when once the soul has used her best endeavours and has become aware of an experimental divine action, she aspires always to that unity of spirit, and the multiplicity of her inferior powers becomes very troublesome to her; which state is much to be desired. For our whole object is to become perfectly introverted and recollected, and to seek nothing but the interior action of God. We do this by a continual attention to him, feeling nothing more of our inferior nature but the affective part (which really contains all that nature in itself), and that sweetly moved by divine love. As for knowledge, there is none but a certain very simple, yet very assured, faith and apprehension of the divine presence. In this state we await the experimental manifestation of the divine action. Not that we may remain idle, expecting God alone to do everything; but, as we approach nearer and nearer to him by the assistance which he often affords to the efforts of the soul, he infuses another kind of love, far more penetrating and far more efficacious than our own. And when we come to this experimental knowledge of him, the understanding itself, which was formerly used upon the matter of our meditations, becomes restrained to certain interior obscure impressions or ideas of that experimental divine love. The soul is to keep itself in great peace, restraining the understanding from all discourses or reasoning whatsoever. Then the will or affective part is strengthened and her whole interior gaze raised to God, whom she thus seeks by the light of faith in darkness of spirit, apprehending him as her chief good, her love and her life. So she becomes so deeply immersed, as it were, in this love of God in peace and silence, as if in the whole world there were nothing else to be done.

In speaking thus of love and affections it is far from my intention to nourish sensible devotion; hence my insistence upon the great care and diligence with which the inferior nature must be suppressed. But here the soul is led to follow this way of love by reason of an experimental knowledge of it, for which she was prepared by the former inferior degrees which she used sincerely and faithfully. Neither am I of the opinion that all meditations and pious representations of the sacred mysteries can be so suddenly wholly excluded; for in the beginning the soul is not so well disposed for this mystic way of proceeding as to be able always to continue these pure acts of spiritual elevation. For, since her state is not yet very alienated from her senses, it may very well happen that she must sometimes return to discourses and images (though such must be used with moderation and only when necessity compels) until the soul becomes stronger. Though some are strongly touched with divine grace and need to use but little labour, there are others who suffer much from aridity and temptation, by reason that they are less helped by actual divine grace, but are left more to themselves, and so experience more their own natural disability. Yet they are on no account to yield to this, but to use all diligence to help themselves, though not descending far from this mystic manner of elevation.

Being now about to explain the beginning, order and progress of this state, I say that it is nothing else in substance but the exercise of the three theological virtues: faith, hope and charity, by a certain and undoubted persuasion of the presence of God in us. This faith in the presence of God produces a desire and affection by which the soul is led to true charity, which I take to be the foundation of this elevation; whilst hope is exercised by a confidence in God born of his goodness, which strengthens the soul to undergo all the trials of these ways.

Now, well versed in the mysteries of our faith by the use of meditation, the soul weighs well the unspeakable love our Saviour has shown us, and perceiving that he asks nothing of us but love, resolves seriously to give him what he seeks so earnestly. And whilst, on the one hand, she reflects upon her own weakness, on the other she remembers that the bounty of God is infinite, and that from him flow all the treasures of wisdom and grace, so that, resolute, cheerful and fervent, she confidently expects one day to obtain what she desires. This hope aims not at a good which may be obtained by her own industry, but rather at one expected from the assistance of divine grace. Hence she trusts not in her own labours or wit, but wholly in God; she approaches him not with a proud arrogance, but with an humble spirit and contrite heart, prayerfully beseeching that gift of grace for which she longs, and keeping her heart fixed upon God. There is nothing in the world for which she now cares, and she requires no other knowledge of God than a simple inward gazing upon him; which is indeed an actual knowledge, yet one not framed by herself, but infused into her by God. She forms no determined images, no sublime concepts; but by acts of love she raises herself unto a certain infinite abyss of immensity, above what she is able to understand. She uses no other explicit knowledge, for that suffices her which is contained under the simple name GOD. And she desires only to break through all obstacles, penetrate all darkness and obscurity of spirit, and arrive unto that sacred indwelling of God in her.

Having thus laid this foundation of aspirations, by which the will has been moved to desire and love God, the soul must (as I have said before) preserve this desire by the help of some simple colloquies with God, so as to maintain her attention to him; for it may often happen that she cannot secure recollection by any other means. Then, as God assists the soul by his grace, infusing into her more knowledge of himself, so that her prayer becomes easy, she gains a certain habit of introversion and penetrates more and more into her interior. By degrees she will come to need but one or two aspirations, and her own operations become less laborious. As she still continues her introversion she will find that a few secret words of her own choosing will so help her to become recollected, that she will require no other help to fix her attention upon God, and will be in the disposition necessary for receiving his divine action. This we shall show in the following state, after we have explained the degrees of this heavenly ascent; but first we shall treat of some errors and deceptions to be encountered in this state.



The foundation of the whole inner life is now laid, with the affective powers of the soul united and the will strengthened. And the soul now thirsts after God, seeking him with the simple eye of faith in this mystic darkness. As far as possible she frees herself from all imaginations and natural discourses and speculations, that with all resignation, submission and self-denial, she may await a real manifestation of the divine Spirit and love, and she comes to understand and practise what St Denis the Areopagite persuaded St Timothy to do upon the like occasion. “But thou, O Timothy, that thou mayst be made capable of mystic contemplation, of which this book treats, must thus co-operate with the divine ray: leave senses, all sensible exercises, all intellectual operations, and all sensible and intelligible things, and all things that are and are not, suppressing these things with great courage of mind.

And, as much as thou canst, raise thyself, unknowing and supersubstantially, unto union with God, who is above all substance and knowledge. For when thou shalt have transcended thyself and all things by an elevation of mind not hindered or depressed by any inferior object, but freed and exempt from all concupiscence and care: then at length, being thus separated and detached from all things, thou shalt be raised up unto the supersubstantial ray of the divine incomprehensibility.”[40]

This forsaking of senses and all sensible things, of the understanding and all intelligible things, is nothing else but the relinquishing of all images and natural discourses, that so the spirit may be restrained to that simple interior search of the Spirit of God which belongs to this prayer of elevation. For when the soul, thus recollected in herself, chances to be touched directly by God, then by a certain strong suppression of her lower nature, she will be raised above herself to union with God.

But although the soul that would thus approach to God should not cling to any sensible thing, or rest in aught less than God himself and his holy infused operation, yet it sometimes happens, for want of a right understanding of these things, that some who practise this prayer of elevation fall into many errors.

First, some are found who abuse that quiet and tranquillity of which mystical writers often speak, in that being in a lower degree of prayer they leave off the right use of the imagination and discursive meditation before they are ready. Many there are who, though they be very desirous of perfection, and apply themselves very diligently to spiritual reading and other exercises, have not yet received from God the grace of that true experimental introversion, which is the work of the Holy Ghost. Such remain too much attached to their own efforts and to themselves, their spirituality consisting more in their own thoughts and speculations than in any divine action. Notwithstanding, having spent many years in reading, discussing, and treating of interior matters, they imagine themselves to be in the highest states which they find in books, and make use of those rules and precepts which are given only for those in these higher states. Consequently they fail to comprehend many things, and are filled with distractions and doubts. Such a state, moreover, fosters vainglory and idleness; for a very mature judgement is needed to discern whether this state of quiet results from a settled interior life, frequently worked upon by God, or merely from the soul herself too soon introducing herself to such a state.

For exercises of this nature are not for beginners, nor would there be anything more pernicious than for a soul to cultivate a certain passive idleness with a kind of cold attention to God, thus expecting that whosoever would be elevated to God in this state, must co-operate and help himself to the utmost, as well in his affective powers by forming aspirations as in his attention to the divine inspirations in himself, that so, little by little, he may be prepared for such spiritual action. I emphasise this so much

because I have known this state mistaken for the state of privation, a mistake which has caused many to spend their time unprofitably. Fearing by their own activity to hinder divine infusion, they shun all use of the imagination, believing that they should remain only in a state of attention unto what God would work in them. Now indeed this is the right manner of proceeding in all the following states, to wit, to cling to God by a simple attention and not to descend to any more material operations; but in the beginning, when the soul separates herself from earthly things as it were by violence, teaching her heart to adhere to God alone, such a doctrine would be as hurtful and prejudicial as it is necessary and profitable for the later stages. The reason for this difference is that in those later stages, even in that of privation, the soul is plainly in the hand of God, fastened, as it were, to a divine ray, the result of so many sincere acts and so many loving aspirations. But such is not the case at this earlier stage: the heart is yet in its full liberty, far remote from divine sense, and easily languishing if diligent care be not taken to recollect it in the presence of God.

It is true that the soul, which is communing with God according to this mystic manner, finds great interior silence and peaceful recollection, when, forsaking her own ways of proceeding and all use of the senses and more material aids to prayer, she resigns herself into the hands of God in all things. But this peace and quiet are gained by rising above all natural endeavours and approaching very near to God, not by a defect or falling off from all effort. For to speak truly the state of a spiritual soul, if she well understand herself, is not to pass her time in idleness or pure silence, doing nothing, but in continual action, either infused by God or procured by her own efforts according to her state. That we so often fail herein is to be attributed to our own human infirmity; for otherwise, as the life of the blessed in heaven is one continual act of love and glorious fruition thereof, so should we be in the like happiness on earth, were not our spirits weighed down by our bodies. Hence the more naked, pure, simple, and withdrawn from flesh and blood the spirit is in her approach to God, so much the easier, more frequent, and subtle will be her interior acts and communion with God. This is not to say that she will reiterate and multiply her acts confusedly one upon another. But the soul will be enlightened and replenished with divine grace, and the heart more and more sincerely touched, so that she will be incessantly moved to break out into acts or desires of union, until entering at last into the centre of her soul she finds there a perfect repose in God, and a true possession of him. In this region – of which we shall speak hereafter – it is only to be observed that in the beginning of a spiritual life the soul must die to her own proper being in so far as it is perverted and separated from God, that so she may learn henceforward to live a life of the spirit, where God may have chief and supreme dominion.

Wherefore, in explaining here the difference between a true and an imaginary introversion, I say that a man is truly spiritual who has had an experimental knowledge of a divine spiritual action and to whom the impression of this experience, together with an inclination to unity of spirit, are as natural as are the more crude matters of discursive meditation to beginners. For those who have once experienced the workings of God in the centre of their souls, endeavour to recover their state and manner of conversing with God when they fall from it; just as a devout soul in the beginning flies to the devout imaginations of her good meditations, when she would recover the recollection she has lost. Hence the reason why a soul in the state of proficients begins to leave off the use of such more material images, is that those experimental operations of God in us, which withdraw us from all inferior things, are far more effective and powerful to draw our attention than all our own consideration of the exterior mysteries. And as these operations of God do unveil and revive the spiritual powers of the soul, that they may live according to God, so do they open the way to a real introversion and are the very foundation of an inner life, everyone progressing in this way according as he is thus elevated. Otherwise the soul remains always within herself in her own nature, always busied in imaginations and speculations of her own framing, ignorant of all true spirituality, although otherwise very learned in all such things as she has gathered out of books. But these divine operations are, as it were, an awakening and stirring up of the highest part of the soul, which move her to produce certain interior acts between God and herself. These acts may be called immanent acts, because they have no relation to external things, but to God conceived in this mystic manner, that is, in obscurity of spirit and as unknown. Nor does the soul seek to investigate or penetrate his being, but labours only to transcend all that is below him and to be transformed wholly into him. She reserves a fuller knowledge until the last states, when, understanding things better, she may be able to give a better account of them.

And so I say that there is room for great error in the passage from the former states to this prayer of elevation. For some remain wedded to their crude and material manner of conceiving things, while others are anxious and scrupulous and think that they must do nothing of themselves. And others again are presumptuous and attribute to themselves a state of soul which they have not reached. Whoever, therefore, desires to proceed in an orderly manner, let him at least make sure of this, that he understands how he is to operate mystically. This he is to do by seeking God in the highest point of his spirit, producing as of desire, love and affection with all simplicity. He is not to form affirmative concepts of God, but negative ones; to wit, that he is the supreme being, incomprehensible, immense, infinite, inexplicable, transcending the reach of our capacities. By such concepts we shall be

withdrawn from all imagination or ideas formed by ourselves. Then we must make use of anything which may kindle or nourish our affections or conversation with God.

We must refuse nothing which may either arouse or preserve in us this sense of divine or ardent affection, referring unto this end all our intentions, desires and labours. We must endeavour so to simplify and unite our soul, that this may be the sole aim of all that we either do or omit, exteriorly or interiorly; in such wise that in the centre of our soul may be found always an aspiring towards God, whom we seek negatively and simply, and an affection always reduced to action. The more simply, sincerely, and faithfully we proceed in this, the sooner shall we obtain what we desire.

In this exercise is required no cold or tepid, but a very fervent spirit; neither will a certain simple idle looking at God suffice; but rather it is required that the soul with great industry study a thousand ways of stirring up her affections. For when we speak of denying ourselves all concepts of our own, this is to be understood only of the manner of conceiving God; not that we should not make use of infinite aids and means whereby we may enkindle our affections towards him. As yet the affection has only that force which is obtained by a diligent and continual effort, and she can only be raised from the earth and united to God by a certain holy industry. Moreover, the vision belonging to this first degree is not that simplified vision of the purified heart made capable of seeing God, but, as it were, some little beginning of it, which even the sensitive powers of the soul may have in these lower states. But the vision of the advanced soul is very living and penetrating. And the supreme elevation which is exercised through that eminent vision, since it is very immaterial and abstract, cannot be true and real without a preventing or preparatory grace, which may raise the soul to that capacity for such intimate action of God. Moreover, this preventing grace will never raise us to those simple acts of understanding unless it first withdraw us from our lower nature and our own personality. We leave them on the earth, as it were, with all things pertaining to them, that so, raised to that supernatural elevation of spirit, the soul may freely operate according to her superior powers. Otherwise all her vision and elevation are the work merely of the imagination, at the most but a natural understanding, and not that simple intelligence which is the result of divine prevenient action.

But it is important that we understand this matter aright, and not suppose that we have attained to the prayer of interior peace and quiet before the time. We must not think that we have done all that is needful, and so sit still in idleness and vacuity of spirit awaiting the divine infusion. For though it is very true that the prayer of elevation is not to be attained by our own industry of imagination and understanding without the special assistance of God’s grace, yet we must exercise a constant effort of will and affection. We are to pass from our natural way of operation to a more spiritual manner of working, but we are not to rest in quiet and idleness.

Nevertheless, in this earlier stage, there may be found a certain silence and interior quiet. The soul, becoming somewhat more free from the operation of sense, may reach the last degree of her own natural endeavours and not know what more to do, save to raise herself on high and await in quietness the divine presence. This is quite an ordinary occurrence, and many are of opinion that such a direct attention, or awaiting in silence, is the immediate disposition for receiving infused graces from God. But I say to them that the kingdom of God comes not with such observation; and hence this is not the disposition of soul which will deserve to obtain the good which they desire. Not that I condemn such a manner of proceeding; for the soul is really sometimes thus disposed, and at the stage of beginners she must accommodate herself to such an interior disposition. But there is a far better and more effective way of reaching that high state of passive expectation which is truly the limit of our own efforts. This is to dispose herself for the last stage by praising God and cultivating a certain cheerful light-heartedness united with serenity and tranquillity. For this does really resemble the true working of divine love in the soul, which usually precedes the final superior stage; since, when God infuses his love, it produces a joyful serenity, much more efficaciously than when our own efforts are in operation. Then do all our acts flow in all peace from a first movement which is from God, and which brings into action our interior powers. Hence, a simple interior attention in silence and expectation can only be a defect. Therefore, when a soul is not moved by any divine action, it is a sign that she is to help herself by her own efforts, which will be more subtle or less so according to the degree in which she is. Neither must she think that God will secretly perfect such operations by some other unknown means; for God can please himself and accomplish his divine will in such a privation or defect. But, for the rest, acts are not produced but by us and with us. This I say because some imagine that in their pure interior silence the works of God are wrought unknowingly and in secret, without their perceiving them, and so take no trouble to co-operate with God. This is both absurd and presumptuous, for there is no such pleasant state in which we are to rest. Nay, we are not even to rest in the way of the Cross, in suffering and privation, unless we be restrained therein by necessity. But rather we are always to labour and to seek God in the centre of our souls; and so doing we have no leisure to observe such silence in ourselves or to remain idly in it; rather we are continually carried forward with some mental industry. It is true that while our attention is turned to seeking God in our souls, many things may happen in our inward disposition, so that one moment we may be enkindled with devotion, and presently again in great aridity and tepidity, now in peace and anon troubled, till we are lost and almost broken with so many vicissitudes, and able only to resign ourselves to every change. But though such things as these may be termed the secret operations of God, of which we can only believe that they are for our good and for our purification, yet the higher workings of God in our souls are not wrought without our co-operation, consent and attention.

Whence I conclude that there are many, who are really in this early stage, who think themselves to belong to a higher state. And I believe that such would do much better if they would try to become humble and as little ones, and to stir up their affections towards God with all simplicity. Nor should they imagine that these simple means can bring them any harm, providing they proceed always in a mystic and negative way of conceiving God. Unless we have testimony in ourselves, clearer than the daylight, that we have had experience of the direct operation of God and have transcended ourselves into a region wholly divine, we are to know for certain that as yet we belong only to the lower degree, and we are not to take upon us the observance of precepts which belong to higher states of prayer.

There are others, and those not a few, who begin well, but do not persevere faithfully; and their first fervour once lost, their devotion cools, their hearts become divided among many interests, and they find it difficult to return to the stage which they have lost. Hence we should be very careful that we do not allow our first fervour to languish, nor neglect the first influences of grace which God gives us in the beginning; otherwise we shall afterwards be astonished at finding ourselves so remote from what was once so easy, and we shall find that we have lost that interior and exterior flexibility which is essential if we are to make any progress. Whereas, when diligent use is made of the first graces, our corrupt nature with all its worldliness and self-love begins to die, only to rise adorned with grace and interior light, so that henceforth it may converse in the house of God.

Hence it often happens that such as enter into this way seem at first very dull and slow, although they be otherwise sufficiently endowed with human learning. Attention to true introversion extinguishes in them human prudence, in order to raise them by another much more noble and excellent way, giving them grace and divine prudence instead of their natural and human knowledge. But he who extroverts himself too quickly will soon lose his way, and will not return to it without great difficulty. Such as have thus failed must try to arouse again in themselves some ardour in seeking God, and betake themselves to one of the two ways of meditation already described, whichever they find most fitted for them. For there is no other means of raising the soul to God but by calming distracting thoughts; although the occasional use of aspirations and direct elevations to God conduce much to the gaining of this mystic divine presence. But great care must be taken to avoid another mistake, to wit, the ruining of head and body on the pretext of doing violence to ourselves in order to make greater progress; for no matter how great may be our desire, it must necessarily be subordinate to the divine will, contenting itself with following little by little as God shall give us his grace.

Therefore, when we are in such a lower state, when the sensitive part of us is uppermost, the imagination very active, and the higher spiritual powers seemingly destitute of all strength or activity, so that the quiet of prayer is troublesome and the whole soul depressed, we are not to let ourselves become careless with respect to our interior desires, but rather to seek to remedy the trouble, and to use whatever means may best promote that recollection in God which we seek. We must avoid any imprudent violence or strain, for such usually causes only anxiety and melancholy, which ruin the head and make the whole man unprofitable. On the other hand, nature being prone to seek herself, we must also take heed that we do not, under pretence of so strengthening and resting the mind, pour ourselves out upon exterior things which are not our business, and especially that we do not busy ourselves about the defects of our neighbours. It is because such admonitions are not well observed when it becomes necessary to lessen the strain of imprudent introversion, that it comes to pass that religious who begin well, little by little lose their purity and fervour. Therefore, when the interior seems as it were shut up, so that the soul finds that it cannot converse inwardly with God, we must see that we fail not in doing our duty in exterior actions of virtue, using more attention thereto than ever. For it may be that God allows the inner life to be thus closed, so that we may with more diligence endeavour to gain virtue; and for the moment our fidelity consists in this. All that we have comes from God, and if, after having done what we can in prayer, we do not receive a larger influx of divine grace, there is no remedy for this, as it depends wholly upon the will of God; and the more we trouble ourselves, the worse it is. The best thing to do is to humble ourselves under the powerful hand of God, and meanwhile to apply ourselves to the practice of virtues and the overcoming of our passions.

There are others, who on the pretext of making no account of sensible devotion, do likewise neglect recollection and diligent abstraction from outward things, considering that since sensible sweetness and delights are not to be esteemed, it is useless to trouble about procuring them. Such misunderstand the teaching which is given about this matter, not considering that although sensible devotion is to be neglected, yet, by means of the aid it affords, interior acts are produced in the soul which are exercised directly towards God, which acts increase and beget good habits. We are not, indeed, to rest in sensible devotion, but in a courageous steady devotion of the will towards God; yet if God be pleased to bestow this devotion upon us and we can obtain it, we are to use all our efforts for that purpose, and to seek it by recollection, regarding it as a gift of God in order to draw us to divine things and to withdraw us from those of earth. Otherwise, to neglect devotion because of the sensible feeling annexed thereto, would be to throw away the good corn because it is mixed with chaff. It is true that such devotion is allied to self-love, and it easily happens that self-love may be fed by such spiritual delicacies; yet, on the other hand, it is certain that the soul is much moved thereby to follow her spiritual course and to abandon all earthly things, which is matter of great consequence and much to be desired. Wherefore the imperfection of such devotion may easily be amended, if the soul take occasion from it to humble herself, omitting nothing which may help her to raise herself unto God, and recognising that although other more generous souls have slighted this, yet she is not to rank herself among such champions in the spiritual life.

I do not say this because I would promote sensible devotion, for I have already declared of what love I mean to treat; but I am not ignorant of the great fruits beginners may draw from this sensible divine aid. Such come to understand a divine operation more sublime and more intimate than their own endeavours, and how at length such operation is to be supreme, subjecting unto itself all their human ways of proceeding. And, notwithstanding such sensibility, the soul knows that she is not to rest therein, but only to make use of it for a better end, esteeming always infinitely more the love of God in himself.

There are yet others, who hearing that we must proceed in this way by negation, abstraction, death of ourselves, and the forsaking of all things, and these not only worldly appetites and affections but images, speculations, discourses, and the rest, make such abstraction their whole exercise. Such do nothing but deny themselves all thought and reject every imagination which may present itself to their souls, not understanding that such death and denudation is but a concomitant, a way and a means to what is substantial, and which alone should be our direct end and aim: to wit, the raising of the soul to God by the exercise of the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. Those who do nothing but strive to abstract themselves, do put themselves to incredible labour, and that to no purpose, for they proceed from a wrong judgement. Wherefore, in the following chapter, we shall first describe and explain this elevation in the best manner we can, and then treat of that negation which is a necessary condition thereof.



The long time which we pass in this degree of prayer, before we can arrive at the top of the mountain, requires that we do not pass over our treatment thereof too lightly; for in its course those who are following it meet with many difficulties and trials, upon which they would wish to be advised, so that they may know whether they are in a right course. For it sometimes happens that in times of darkness and aridity they are tempted to think that they are simply losing their time, or wrongly attempting to follow an extraordinary way, and so risking the losing of themselves altogether. For the help of such, therefore, I have thought fit to add the following admonitions.

The first thing to be noted is that they shall not understand or practise that simple interior gazing upon God, of which we have spoken, in any material or imaginary manner, thinking it to be merely an exercise of the imagination. Rather they shall endeavour to keep the will recollected in itself, and quietly holding their attention fixed on the presence of God in the centre of the soul, dismiss all distractions which might separate the soul from him. Then the affective powers are to be brought into play by the help of aspirations, or some other mental industry, practised quite interiorly. And, finally, whatever follows from this recollection in God and simple attention to him, is the beginning of that true mystical life, in which our profit is according to the diligence with which we daily revive our will, using such affections.

Rooted and grounded in charity, says the Apostle, that you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth.[41]

And St Thomas says: Vita contemplativa licet essentialiter consistat in intellectu, principium tamen habet in affectu, in quantum videlicet aliquis ex caritate ad Dei contemplationem incitatur.[42] Although the contemplative life consists essentially in the understanding, it has its beginning in the will or affective part, inasmuch as we are moved by charity to contemplate God. Further, in the first article of the same question, he continues: A contemplative life, inasmuch as concerns the essence itself of the action, belongs to the understanding; but for that which moves us to exercise such an operation it pertains to the will. Vita contemplativa quantum ad ipsam essentiam actionis pertinet ad intellectum: quantum autem ad id quod movet ad exercendam talem operationem pertinet ad voluntatem.

Secondly, it must be noted that this loving upraising of the soul should be the first and principal exercise, so that nothing else is allowed to possess the spirit but this ardent desire and love of God. All other care and solicitude must be left beneath in inferior nature, and the soul applied seriously and solely to the cultivation of the superior powers with the acts of the three theological virtues, though in as quiet and peaceful a manner as possible. The soul should be held in suspense by a hope and confidence in God and of obtaining his divine Spirit, and by a complete alienation from all earthly things and affections. God is to be the one and only object sought by the soul; he is to fulfil and satisfy her every desire and intention; and she is to make use of any other considerations merely as means to this end. Not that all other things are at all times impediments, and that all memory of the mysteries of our faith is to be laid aside; for in times of privation and spiritual desolation, when the soul may be overwhelmed with spiritual darkness, evil imaginations, and such-like miseries, she must use anything which will curb and refrain corrupt nature, so that she may not be overcome by temptation. Only I would insist that a soul which desires union with God must make it her first care to practise the quiet, tranquil, cheerful raising of herself to God, referring to this end all exercises of mortification, all practice of virtues, and whatsoever good she does.

Thirdly, it imports much to know that we are to raise our hearts thus to God, desiring only to love him with our whole hearts and to do what is pleasing to him, and this with all joy and alacrity as regards the will, and with great peace and simplicity of spirit. Nor are we to give way to any sadness, weariness or melancholy; for these draw us down into our lower nature, whilst cheerfulness and inward peace raise us up on high.

Fourthly, we may vary our manner of practising aspirations or those purely mental interior words which we use. Sometimes we may speak to God immediately in the second person, that is, when we are disposed to do so easily. At other times, when we have no direct perception of his presence, we may speak in the third person, as if we spoke of some person absent, using such words as Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel; Magnificat anima mea Dominum. There they said not Benedico or Magnifico, but praised him as though they spoke of a third person. Lastly, when the soul seems to lack all stability and recollection, and can scarcely collect the wandering thoughts at all, then, with the Psalmist, we may speak unto our own soul, either checking or animating it: Quare tristis es anima mea: Spera in Deo,[43] Benedic anima mea Domino:[44] Lauda anima mea Dominum, etc.[45] It is incredible how much easier the whole practice of prayer is made by thus varying the manner of praying according to the disposition in which we may find ourselves, rather than forcing the soul to address God directly at all times.

Fifthly, it must be rightly understood what is meant when God is said to be in the centre of the soul, and again in the highest part of the spirit. There is no contradiction involved, for as regards the understanding this way unto God is an elevation. The soul conceives of God as a Being infinite and transcending all understanding, and strives to raise itself on high to its utmost capacity. But by reason of the way in which man possesses and embraces God in his intimate will by love, it is rightly said that God dwells in the centre of the soul. Sometimes we find ourselves most moved by the understanding, sometimes by the will, and sometimes we are in a state in which neither power can exercise any vigour. This state of privation we must bear with patience, and without troubling ourselves do our best to keep ourselves recollected. Such a state frequently follows after one or both of the powers have been acted upon by God; and as long as it lasts the soul does not perceive that God is working in her at all; yet there is preparation being made for new operations, and God is disposing the soul for new infusions of grace. Those who are not instructed in this often hinder God’s work in these privations; for, not understanding how to let his grace work in them, they trouble themselves with a thousand scruples, wondering how they have brought such a state upon themselves, which all causes anxiety and hinders their progress. Others are troubled because they feel nothing in themselves but dejection of mind, sadness, melancholy, a distaste for devotion, added to the fear that all they have hitherto known of God’s working has been nothing but vain imagination and delusion, and that they will never obtain what they seek. The soul which falls into this labyrinth must of necessity help itself with great courage and confidence in God, and faithfully try to preserve its tranquillity of spirit, so that when these storms are over it may return to its elevation, and not in the meantime be injured with this anxiety and mental disquiet.

Sixthly, although we say that this whole state is one of elevation unto God, it must not be understood that this must be so rigidly practised as not to admit of other inward dispositions, when the occasions arise or when we find ourselves unable so to raise ourselves. How often it happens that we are led to cast ourselves down into an abyss of self-annihilation and subjection under the divine Spirit. Moreover, every degree of progress which the soul makes is composed at once of a certain exaltation together with a corresponding sweet and humble poverty of spirit, according to that interior touch of the love of God. Thus there are always divers dispositions in which we may find ourselves, and in which we may thus variously behave ourselves. If all these distinctions could be observed in the interior life, and if souls would govern themselves according to such knowledge, how profitable would be the result! for it is not to be expressed how many troubles arise from want of understanding our state and what is being wrought in us.

Seventhly, the soul must firmly believe that she does profit by this deprivation of divine assistance, when she seems to do nothing and to be powerless, as much as in that state wherein she produces acts of her will and understanding with much easy and ardent sensible affection. For in the state of aridity God produces all kinds of virtues in the soul, and that in a strong manner, whilst after-effects will appear outwardly upon occasions. The soul will make progress in patience, humility, and total submission to the divine will. Sometimes also God permits a soul to sigh and languish with desires for a long time, without seeming to have any care of her, that so her constancy and perseverance in his love may be made manifest, in her generous endurance of the cares and sorrows with which she is wearied out while searching for him. For before such a soul can obtain her desire she must necessarily produce many acts of resignation to the divine will, and many also of humble submission of herself and of patience against that discontent, murmuring, and temptation to despair, to which she may be moved at seeing herself labour, seemingly, in vain. By troubles and temptations God prepares the soul for his divine lights and graces, showing her her own weakness and that she must look for everything from him alone. Therefore as often as the soul perceives herself cast down by this dereliction and poverty of spirit, through the absence of sensible sweetness, she must comfort and strengthen herself with the thought that this is a new preparation for far more sublime operations, and as such she must value it as much as her former state of sensible devotion. So, learning not to rest in the one more than in the other, she will come to understand that more severe privation which I shall afterwards describe.

Eighthly, we must ardently desire that the Holy Ghost may dwell in our hearts and possess us fully, that he may sweetly move us to seek God in the higher part of our souls; for our own desires do not merit to be heard of God, but only such as proceed from his divine Spirit. Wherefore there is no reason to be troubled if God seems not to hear us at first; for though our first desires seem good to us and to be real and ardent aspirations after our supreme good, in truth they are often for the most part rather certain impetuous and violent natural impulses which impel us forward to search after divine things. Often these natural desires are passionate and full of impatience and perplexity and trouble, whilst those desires which are infused by the Holy Ghost are gentle and peaceable and wonderfully submissive and resigned to the divine will. Therefore the first thing which God does in us when we seek his presence earnestly, truly desiring that he may work in us, is to purify and reform our desires from the very roots, so that we may no longer desire anything merely naturally, but in entire submission to his will, and in entire resignation as to how and when he shall please to hear us. Hence it comes to pass that we experience so many changes of our concepts and judgements, such vicissitudes in our interior life, and so many secret labours and trials; for God does require of us, however ardent our desires may be, that they be always entirely subject to his will. Nor shall we obtain what we want by violence: Non enim est volentis, neque currentis, sed miserentis Dei: for it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.[46]

Moreover, it is not to be wondered at that God be not at once moved by our longings after him, since we so often turn a deaf ear to his holy inspirations when he so sweetly invites us to believe him and to follow him in the way of justice and his holy will. So now he pays us in our own coin, to the end that we may learn by experience how bitter and deplorable a thing it is to have thus forsaken the fountain of grace. He permits us long to knock, pray, beg, cry, sigh and wait at the doors of his mercy, before he opens unto us his divine treasures.

Likewise, we are not to wonder if we do not so soon obtain what we desire. For although we do make some acts of desire towards God and oblation of ourselves, and do offer our hearts to him, we cannot yet truly deliver our hearts to him, for we are not yet truly masters of ourselves. Before he grants us to enjoy his divine love he must unite all our interior powers, at first so dispersed, that having obtained possession of ourselves we may then transcend ourselves and attain unto him.

By this I would not distract the simple sight of the soul towards God; for we ought to have no other care but how we may fix our thoughts upon God, please him, and find and enjoy him in our souls. But I say this to help those who do not obtain so soon what they desire. Therefore let us always go on courageously in our way, and let our hearts be of good comfort and wait for our Lord, for he will come at length and show mercy upon us.

To conclude: it is the love of God, to which we aspire, which also requires from us all our labours and troubles. Is he not very cruel to treat us so ill and to lead us by so difficult and irksome ways? No, indeed! For who will accuse him of injustice and say, “My heart is pure and l deserve nothing”? His intention is to bring us to our heavenly bridegroom; and before he brings us into his divine presence he knows what ornaments are needful for us. Therefore he causes different states and dispositions in us, with many vicissitudes and privations; but the end of all is that he may work our good. Let us at least believe this and walk in his ways; let us praise our Lord in all things; and thus remaining in peace within ourselves we shall at length find also in ourselves that tranquillity and content, that interior peace and resignation, which, although it is not yet the full fruition of our desires, is yet the order established within our soul by this divine love. And although sometimes we may not be able actually to aspire unto God, at least let our hearts cry out unto him and he will understand well enough; for then our whole soul becomes simply a voice which is continually raised unto him.

Ninthly, if the soul which has practised these things for some time would know how she may soon arrive at her goal, let her first be persuaded that this will be brought about in a manner quite other than any she is able to imagine. For, having had no experience of it, she can form no idea of it. Therefore, submitting her own judgement and abrogating her own opinion, she must wholly and without any reservation give herself over into the hands of God, never attaching herself to anything or forming any ideas of her own as to what should take place in her soul. She must receive and suffer with all patience and equal serenity whatever may happen to her. She must never look back or ask the why and the wherefore, but be content with all things, praising God in all, and going on her way in peace and liberty of spirit. Thus settled in this quiet and solitary peace she may await what will happen in her; and she will be astonished to find herself in an abyss of joy and cheerfulness, whereas she thought to have obtained her desire in a far different manner.

Lastly, there is another possible hindrance to this simple raising of the heart to God, that is, the devotion to some saint, or the desire or necessity of praying for the souls in Purgatory, or for our neighbour, or for some temporal necessity. Now very great care must be taken to reform our former material manner of thinking upon these things, and to consider them from this mystical and spiritual standpoint. This is not easy, for our former ways of proceeding have so strongly impressed our souls and prepossessed our common sense, that we are likely to draw down all things however sublime to our own low level, and so deceive ourselves, as says St Denis. “When we receive such things as are above us after our own manner, and by the familiarity and use of our senses compare divine things with our own, we deceive ourselves; because we pursue the divine and abstruse word according to that which doth appear,” etc. Cum ea quae supra nos sunt, more nostro accipimus, sensuumque familiaritate et consuetudine impli-camur, atque divina cum nostris conferimus, tum decipimur, quod divinum abstrusumque verbum ex eo quod apparet persequamur, etc.[47]

When, therefore, we would honour any saint, let us reflect that these saints and blessed spirits are absorbed in God and hidden in the secret of his face, and that therefore it is in no way needful to turn ourselves from God in order to propose them to our minds, or to think of them as separated from God. But rather let us continue in our union with God, firmly believing that they are in God in whom they can know our desires, and content ourselves with this simple belief and apprehension. Likewise the souls in Purgatory are not to be thought of in that crude material way as in that merciless and intolerable fire, imploring our help and suffrages. But rather we are to believe, that since they have left this world in charity with God, they are on their way to him, only delayed and hindered by their impurity from going to him immediately; and that, further, their desires of the divine union are much more ardent than ours, only they are not able to help themselves by their own efforts. And by so much the more perfectly we experience in ourselves the simple working of the superior powers, freed from inferior influence, by so much shall we be able to understand the state and sufferings of souls separated from the body and no longer dragged down by this earthly life, and yet not able to approach to God and enjoy their last end and eternal rest. Let us therefore raise them with ourselves and offer them unto God, and ourselves with them, as also our neighbours, kindred, friends, and all others who are in any way bound to us, only presenting them before God, in the sure knowledge that he will understand us well enough, without troubling ourselves further.

It is thus that you are to understand the admonition which I have so often repeated about the casting off the more material images and imaginary concepts of the mysteries of our faith. For, as I have so often declared, the object of this is not to make us forget or belittle the incomprehensible benefit of our redemption, but only to accustom ourselves to this spiritual and mystical elevation to God, until the soul has made such progress that she is accustomed to living in God, when she will be able to perform all such things in God and to make use of all her inferior powers in perfect freedom.



We have already treated often of that abstraction and negation of all things which must be practised in this mystical elevation. Having now established that the foundation of this whole work is the raising of the superior powers to God by exercising the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, it remains to explain this negation, treating of both the exterior and interior senses, as also of the understanding and discursive power. But since I fear to distract and confuse the soul by over-multiplying precepts and discourses, I have thought it best to state simply and generally, that in order to dispose herself for this mystical state of prayer, she is to deny herself and to become in a manner insensible to all exterior objects, earthly desires and affections, impressions and remembrances, restraining her sight and all her other senses. Thus, transcending herself, she may realise that God whom she seeks is none of these things. As we have likewise said already, this abstraction is not to be made the end of her prayer, nor to be accomplished violently, but rather with a certain liberty of spirit. Of her own will the soul is to withdraw herself from all that is not God; not that she is to despise his works and his creatures, but only neglect them, lest they should hinder her from the perfect and sole love of her Creator. For the works of God are good and apt to excite his love in us; but, as judging ourselves unworthy of them, let us leave them to be what they are in themselves. For since we are by nature evil, we rather make use of them as arms against their Creator, than as means and aids to raise us up to his love. Thus, whilst others do make use of the consideration of creatures in order to raise themselves up to God, those who proceed in this negative way renounce them, lifting up their souls to God himself, who is unspeakable and incomprehensible.

He, therefore, who would proceed faithfully and properly in this way, must become blind, deaf and dumb as much as his state and vocation will permit, passing by all things as a pilgrim and a traveller who makes no account of anything on his way. For he is happiest who cares for nothing but to remain at peace within himself. And although since we converse and live among men, we must necessarily experience human affections and thereby contract some blemish, yet a pious soul can with cheerfulness and courage so free herself from them that she makes no account of them. Being touched with divine unction, she feels herself drawn upwards and inwards in true and mystic recollection. Then that abstraction of the senses and death to her natural inclinations comes peacefully and of itself. For as long as we live in this inferior and corrupt nature we use and enjoy creatures out of God, that is, out of the good order which ought to be in us towards God. And though, by actually referring them to God, we reform one or two of our actions, we are not to content ourselves with this, but rather to strike at the root and bring all our interior powers into subordination to the divine Spirit. So shall we be able to use everything only according to its proper and true end, that is, in its relation to God. Yet we are not to reason thus: I will first abstract myself, then recollect myself, and then raise myself to God; but, I will endeavour with humility to lift my heart to God, to kindle my affection towards him and replenish it with the desire of his love. Thus shall I be able to neglect all things within and without, and to recall my mind from all vanity, extravagant or exterior affection, human respect, and such like. Nor is such abstraction to be thought of as a bitter thing, but as sweet, because it is undergone for the love of God.

But there are many who, powerfully aided by divine grace and often helped further by special divine action, find this elevation of themselves very easy and pleasant; whilst others are not so privileged, but rather left to their own industry and human efforts. Yet these latter may attain to it, though perhaps less soon and less easily. For, to speak truth, neither divine sensible aid, nor those perceptible motions of affections are so necessary, that the true Spirit of God cannot be obtained without them. For there are some who have always been deprived of sensible devotion and have never known any notable perceptible sense of grace, who yet in time, by much labour in meditation, in the acquiring of virtues, and in true mortification, have attained their end by their great courage, fidelity and generosity. For they knew that perfection does not consist in our human natural operations, but in the living and working in us of the Holy Ghost; and so, depriving themselves of the human and more material manner of working by using images and discursive meditation, they applied themselves only to an immediate attention to the divine Spirit and his holy inspirations infused into them.

Notwithstanding, those who follow this method of prayer will need certain admonitions lest they fall into error. They must be very faithful in the practice of mortification and in freeing themselves from all self-love, ambition, sensuality, and all seeking of consolations from creatures. When deprived of all sensible devotion they must truly seek God; they must not content themselves with merely speculating upon and forming their own ideas upon those things they read or hear concerning perfection; nor must they think that they have made great progress merely because they can reason subtly of them. Finally, none can deny that when divine help fails, the soul is in great solitude and desolation, and in perpetual conflict with an infinite number of frivolous thoughts; therefore, since the grace of contemplation is not conferred by God upon all, nor all called by the same way, it belongs to the discretion of a prudent director to discern who are fit for these divine ways and who not.

By this negation and abstraction, little by little, the soul gains dominion over herself, and finding something else in her interior life to which she may turn her mind, she is restrained thereby from pouring out her strength upon exterior things. And although this negation is to be put into practice, and everyone should keep his mind and body in as much tranquillity as his state will permit, yet if it sometimes happen that he must apply himself to external works, let him not lose courage nor think himself unfit to enjoy the delights of this heavenly wisdom. If these employments cannot be omitted or suspended, he must not regard them as hindrances, or fulfil them with an unwilling and troubled mind; but rather learn to find repose in disquiet, peace in trouble, and, lastly, God in everything.

Now if he go on daily diligently on his way, withdrawing himself from the earth and his lower nature by a kind of neglect of its motions and inclinations, without doubt, little by little, the workings of the Spirit will manifest themselves. God will begin to give such palpable and evident experiences of his supernatural graces and aids, that there will be no room for doubt that they are particular gifts from heaven, and are preparatory to others which are to follow. These are a certain light and insight infused into the soul, which suggest unto her many discourses and sometimes lift her up to the most sublime knowledge. For though such a soul does not desire such – for she has cast off and forsaken, as far as possible, all working of the intellect in order to give freer scope to the will – yet here God does enlighten her. Wherefore in this state she must exercise humility and self-abnegation, lest being blinded with the light of these thoughts she be carried away by vanity, self-esteem and complacency in these gifts of God. For in this present intellectual state she is not yet free from the snares of the devil, who will endeavour to insinuate himself here if he can, seeking to mix his false and deceitful errors with these divine inspirations, since the soul can now no longer be tempted in more material ways. As yet the soul has not experienced the true Spirit of God, and she is not able to discern truth from falsehood. So these false lights may seem so beautiful and bright to her, that she will think they proceed from God and that great perfection and spiritual progress is hidden therein. Therefore, unless she be adorned with humility and well grounded in a good and sincere intention, she will be easily carried away by the wind of vanity, and will desire to be known and praised, and to have these graces attributed to herself. She will also presume upon her industry and fidelity, despise and censure others, and will not be afraid to desire visions, revelations, ecstasies, and the like.

The remedy for all this is that she have a profound humility and mortification, deeming herself unworthy of all these favours and annihilating herself in an abyss of humiliation and contempt of self. Then she must renew and put into practice what she has protested before God a thousand times, that she seeks only his glory and not the esteem of men; and she must gently subject all the lights of the understanding to the command of the will and of love. And in time the soul will perceive that love never ceases until she has brought the understanding to operate totally under her control, as she did formerly in the case of her interior powers. Nevertheless, these graces and divine lights are of great use, since they make a man fit for any science or study, however otherwise unfit he be of himself; yet are they far different from that true light and simple knowledge of God in himself which shall afterwards follow. For these are but certain interior illustrations which make us easily to discourse and understand whatsoever we study, and to penetrate what before we could not comprehend, such as passages of Scripture and the science of these interior ways. These may be received, felt, and used with relation to God, but we are by no means to cling to them; neither are we to be lifted up in self-conceit, nor are they to be too much considered and valued, but rather allowed to pass; for we are to rest in nothing but a total possession and fruition of the love and Spirit of God. Neither, again, is this procedure to be accounted as a contempt of divine operation, nor any inordinate presuming to meddle in more sublime matters; but rather it is a purifying of the soul from all adhesion to divine gifts, or to anything which might come between God and her. Further, the divine operation is not rejected by these means, but we simply leave it to its course and to produce its effects, without resting in it.

Thus the soul, adhering to nothing but God, will come to perceive how profitable for her is this humble subjection of the understanding: not only for the showing to her of her state, and the freeing her from all forms, reasonings and discourses which these divine lights produce, but for the disposing of her for the subsequent simpler and more uniform operation of the divine presence. This places the soul in great peace and silence in actual perception of that supreme majesty; for he makes his dwelling there as in his little palace, imprinting his presence, his knowledge and his love. And the soul disposes herself for this, as we have said, not by forming sublime concepts upon his divine perfections, eternity, infinity, and the like, and much less by imagining God as in an imperial heaven above all the heavens which we see with our bodily eyes, among the blessed spirits on a throne of infinite majesty. But she apprehends him simply and by faith as her supreme good, as an infinite Being transcending her spirit and all its capacity. She raises her heart unto him as unto the sole object of her desires and of her love, casting herself with most profound humility at the feet of his divine majesty, receiving his mercy and the infusion of his divine grace. The soul should think of itself as the Chananean woman, as a little dog waiting to pick up the crumbs from his master’s table, and this with such attention that it has no mind to busy itself with anything else. And our Lord, finding this soul not only detached from all other things, but also full of his love, so that she desires nothing but him alone, on whom her heart is fixed and in whom is all her treasure, cannot fail to infuse into her all kinds of graces, in order that she may grow in love, according to his infinite goodness. He changes all troubles into comforts, all labours into quiet, all expectation into fruition, rendering everything so easy to her, that she will find more joy in spending many hours in prayer, than in all the delights and pleasures which could be imagined in this world. Moreover, it is incredible how many secrets and wonderful workings the soul will experience; the insight God will impart to her; the ardent desires with which he will inflame her will, and the unusual affections which he will communicate to her. Not that she is to seek these things; for she is to apply herself to nothing but to love God with all her strength, sincerely rejecting all that is not this love; but it is God who will perform all this in her, plentifully pouring forth his favours upon such a soul.



Since there is a very great distance from inferior nature to the superior portion of the spirit, unto which the soul must arrive before she can receive any real infused operation from God and taste any true peace, no one need wonder if I stay somewhat longer in this state of elevation, explaining the degree of this heavenly ascent.

Formerly, at an earlier stage, we did fear that the soul might embrace a certain silence and quiet in her lower nature which might foster self-love and mere sloth. Now, on the contrary, as we rise higher, we endeavour to persuade her to permit herself to be so led into silence and tranquillity. For now that she has made some progress and has been powerfully helped by the grace of God, she will perceive a recollection and pacification of her intellectual powers, which must all be collected and enclosed in the fund and centre of the soul. This is not easy to be understood save by those who have learned by experience; for it is a manner of speaking proper to this mystic art, which is at the same time a science. Although the understanding be so sublime and excellent a power of the soul and, as it were, the light and guide of the will, yet in this mystical life it must be annihilated and cast down from its high place; it must be deprived of all its natural manner of operating, that so it may be subdued and reduced to that order which the perfect disposition of a soul regenerated by the Spirit of God requires. Whilst, therefore, the soul shuts up the door of her understanding and does not admit its discourses which were wont to help her in her former manner of proceeding, but restrains it in a certain simple sight and apprehension of the presence of God: it comes to pass that she begins also to leave off the operations of the affective powers, contenting herself with a simple yet penetrating spiritual sight. When it happens that the soul finds herself very recollected and carried away with fervour towards God, free from distractions, yet not disposed to produce explicit affections, but rather drawn to a certain serene and happy state, let her not strive against such a disposition or attempt to force herself to acts; but let her suffer herself to be drawn to this quiet serenity, even though it seem that she does not reflect nor do anything in particular; let her simply remain ready to produce the most fervent aspirations towards God, should he so move her. This will frequently happen to the soul at this stage, so that, little by little, she may be raised to operate purely by her superior powers. She must abandon herself to God, resting contented in her tranquil state.

Then will begin that state of true and unfeigned tranquillity and silence; for the soul is capable of this only when the understanding has been controlled and subjected to the spirit. It no more interposes itself after its natural manner by formal and direct concepts or acts; but by this very humble suppression of itself attains another divine manner of proceeding by a new and subtle activity. For we must know that our cooperation with grace is twofold. The one manner is that of beginners, when we are, as it were, the first workers, and do select pious exercises and make use of them after our own liking and human judgement. We know no better at this stage than to do the best we can. The second way of co-operation, which is proper to this and to all the following states, is a subordinate following of the divine infused operation, which has then gained such predominance that it is the first to act. For although the grace of God is always the first cause and principle, it is not perceived first, and in the beginner’s stage we have no other care but to move ourselves to the love of God and to all holy affections. We scarcely perceive the divine action except by faith, which assures us that all good gifts come from God and that without him we can do nothing. But once we have reached this present stage, it must be our chief care to take heed that we put no obstacle to the secret workings of the Holy Ghost. For now it is he who quietly infuses the affective motions which the soul perceives in herself, and she now only lovingly and diligently follows and conforms herself unto whatever this union requires.

Here in the beginning occurs a difficulty: the soul has been accustomed to diligent effort, and being very anxious to help herself, does not at once understand these quiet states. Yet the divine action being as yet very delicate, and the natural powers of no use except to correspond to this divine action (since the soul must not go beyond her grace), she has no other way of helping herself and learning to distinguish one operation from another than by preserving her peace and tranquillity of spirit, using her natural powers only in subordination to that. But in the early stages this divine action is less frequent and not so strong and definite that we can always work with it and abandon entirely our own efforts. But the right course is to yield to the working of God when it is time, and at other times to use our own industry as necessity requires. No better rule can be given than to say that we should regulate ourselves according to our interior disposition at the moment, and so continue on our way to God without anxiety.

But what do we mean by thus conforming ourselves to the divine operation in us, and working according to our state and disposition at the time?

I answer, that as the degrees of the soul are diverse, so also are the interior states in which she finds herself. Sometimes the imagination only is active, and wanders up and down in exterior distractions like a vagabond. Then the soul begins to perceive some sensitive desire of interior things, to which there corresponds more recollection and control of the imagination. Then the reason and will begin to discourse or meditate upon divine things, with divine grace helping its own proper concepts. Then the soul simplifies her inward sight into a simple perception of the divine presence, without an actual elevation, but rather with enjoying love. Then the intelligence is wholly informed with the divine light. And lastly follows the consummation, abyss, and immersion into the divine Being. And according to all these degrees there are also to be observed diverse dispositions, states, and manners of proceeding in these interior ways.

Reflect, therefore, whether a soul should not be well armed to encounter so many and various labours and privations. For if, for example, today I operate according to the second degree and find it easy and pleasing to me, perchance tomorrow I shall fall back into the first degree, unable to do anything and possessed by distractions. Or, again, God wills to call me to the third degree and so changes my dispositions, and I, misunderstanding the new manner of his dealing with me, forcibly retain my first methods which then seemed good to me. Or again, being come to the third stage, and finding I can act in it with ease, I imagine myself so far advanced that only actual divine infusion is wanting to me, and therefore I await its coming with great attention; and all this time I fail to perceive that all I have gained has proceeded only from my own efforts assisted by the ordinary grace of God. But, going on to the fourth, perhaps I shall fail to understand how to simplify and control the activity of the understanding which I practised previously. Notwithstanding, every degree is good in its kind; and, though the fourth and fifth are better than the former and tend more immediately to God, if my present state be not conformable thereto, I am to content myself with my own capacity and the disposition in which I am. For, as we have said already, however great may be our desires, they must be subordinate to the will of God, and we may please him better in operating according to a lower degree in peace and conformity with his will, than if, by following our own wills or inclinations, we would force ourselves to work according to the higher degrees. For the divine will is to be preferred before all things, and it is to be satisfied alone, with all care and diligence, not our own fancies and vain inclinations.

Therefore, when mystical writers say that our own activity hinders the immediate disposition to a divine infusion, and that we are to forsake all discourses, concepts and acts formed by ourselves, they speak truly. But we must not misapply their instructions. For if I am as yet only in the second stage, and assume the observances which are proper to the fourth stage, it is plain that the result will be a work of my own, and indeed a pure imagination, neither real nor true. All things, therefore, must be prudently understood, and great care taken to distinguish the various degrees and the instructions proper to each. Much mischief has been done by the misunderstanding of the instructions given by mystical writers.

Further, although all our own natural efforts are not of sufficient dignity and worth to procure the divine infusion, so that this must come from the operation of the Holy Ghost; yet this operation is wholly according to our faithful co-operation and the consent of our free will. For God will not force us, neither will he ordinarily work miracles, to the end that he may leave unto us the merit of our correspondence with his grace.

Now, for the better understanding of what has been said, we must know that there are two kinds of silence. One proceeds from a fruition or perception of God, and this comes and goes with that fruition. In passing it totally recollects the soul, so that it may attend to this more intimate introversion. The soul should then (as she easily can) neglect all other things and manners of working so that the whole man is really introverted. The second form of silence is when the soul, peacefully recollected and having no other inclination than to attend to and serve God in all quiet, is brought to a change of her whole interior state, so that all human efforts cease, not in that peaceful recollection already mentioned, but rather because of a strong action exercised by the superior Spirit. He who is progressing in this way finds himself forced to forsake, not only his former endeavours, but all aspirations, elevations, expressions of desires, mental words, and the like; for these are no more to have place, since at length we are come to that manner of working which does not at all proceed from ourselves, but from a divine infusion.

When the soul found herself in that silence of which we first treated, it scarcely ever caused any doubt or suspicion of idleness or anxiety, for the experience of itself made it manifest that it was extremely good. And, further, such experimental introversion was passing; the fervour engendered by it decreased by degrees, and the soul returned to her former manner of prayer, though conforming herself more and more to that divine experience. But in the second silence, since God intends to change the interior state, instead of an elevation of the inferior portion of the soul towards the spirit, on the contrary the spirit is rather cast down into that inferior part, subjecting it to itself. And that lower part, which has hitherto been of such use in converting man to God and filling him with divine desires, is now to be humbled and left behind so that the soul is not to pray, to fly unto God, resign herself, or lastly to produce any act at all, if she would conform herself to such an interior state. For the soul which does not understand well the secret of this change, there will be difficulties; but if she has been forewarned, and so has expected such to happen, she will yield to it more easily when it comes, and will strive to become insensible to her inferior powers as well in good as in evil.

Once this division of powers and change of method is understood, the soul is able to discern between her inferior and superior spiritual powers, though at first the former will not be so perfectly subdued as not to be perceived, and though the abundance of divine aid will quickly cause her to lose those lower feelings. Hence she will begin to understand that whatever elevation, love, intuition and fruition she had formerly was included within the limits of her inferior nature, and that this is the beginning of her living by simple intelligence and of superior spiritual operations.

But as yet she is only in a middle region, between the inferior and the divine Spirit; therefore for some time she must stay in interior exercises and operations conformable to this region, which operations are inexplicable. In the beginning they seem to be very poor and of little worth; yet they are so real, lively, and efficacious, keeping the soul so active and vigilant, that she cannot sufficiently wonder at seeing herself working so subtly, so silently, yet so sublimely and free from all imagination, discourse and effort, and lastly from the dregs of inferior nature, estranged from all weight of her body and of earthly things. Hence she has a sure and solid testimony of the excellence of this quiet state, and realises the truth of what we said earlier: to wit, that we cannot be freed from our natural imperfections until inferior nature be totally subdued and we work according to our superior powers.

This state is not without its difficulties, but these are found chiefly in the beginning.

The soul is full of desires, yet can attain to nothing that can satisfy her, nor does she know what she wants; and while these desires increase she finds she can neither express them nor frame acts accordingly. If she did so she would indeed swerve from the order of the interior divine will, and she would make use of that inferior nature which she is now to forsake. On the other hand she finds it hard to rest contented in the dim operation of the Spirit, fearing lest she may be blamed for giving way to unprofitable idleness; for although, for some time, she is very greatly helped by the divine attraction which wholly possesses her, after some time, again, this diminishes and she seems wholly left alone in a state as yet unknown, perhaps doubtful whether she ought not to help herself. Nor is it a small mortification to the soul to remain thus in such inaction and expectation, but here she is to learn that non volentis neque currentis, sed miserentis est Dei: it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.[48] In this state she has great need of faith, hope and charity; not now producing acts of these virtues actively, but retaining them passively: loving without formed acts of love, and so likewise hoping and giving assent to the obscure things of faith. And, even although divine grace may seem to fail at times and she may seem close to sheer vacuity, let her not doubt, but rather endeavour to learn this new manner of living and accommodate herself to the middle way in which she now is, just as once she accommodated herself to the difficulties of inferior states of prayer. So doing, at length she will find by experience that she will have times of unspeakable joys in God, and again times of privation, and that those operations which were left beneath in those lower states are here recovered in an incredibly better and more spiritual manner. But in the time of privation she will experience this: that, although she be left wholly to herself and destitute of any divine motion, she will never descend so low as to drop again into her lower nature, for the soul remains elevated in this state of the middle way.

Behold here how some are led by God from the lower states even to the divine union: those, to wit, who being well instructed from the first do not cling obstinately to their own natural efforts, but ever tend towards God. They experience something of the love of fruition, which God communicates to them according to the measure of that degree unto which they are raised, teaching them a true abstraction from sense. And then, having thus lightly and quickly passed over all the admonitions and degrees heretofore described, they gain experience of many privations, obscurities, humiliations, sadness and weariness. Yet they soon free themselves from these, since they have understood, by the admonitions already given them, that such are very profitable to them. And therefore they return to their easier operations which become ever more subtle, and the state of peaceful recollection is always improved by the periods of privation.

But there are others who have always followed a longer and less direct way, who have been many years detained in the intricate ways and unnecessary observances of meditation and exercises of the active life, and have never been instructed how to deliver themselves up to the divine action. Through the want of an expert director who might have taught them better, they have lost much time. Since my desire was to profit these and many others, I have endeavoured at length to show the soul the order of her procedure in this matter of approach to God.

Again, there are others who from the very beginning are not helped by any divine infusion, but are forced to continue on their way with only a magnanimous and generous resolution and a contented perfect acceptance of the will of God. And there are yet others who are led by the way of love, or by some other way, who either because God is forced to withdraw them from their own way, or for some other cause, find all kind of meditation, aspiration, or affective elevation dry and insipid. And, because they are to go forward by a simple loving turning towards God, they find all their own efforts and expressions of their desires displeasing, not corresponding to their disposition, and rather a hindrance than otherwise.

Such as these are to follow the divine pleasure, doing their best to retain their peace and serenity of mind, submitting perfectly, even though they feel nature working the contrary way. For this hard time is the passing from our natural ways of working to those which are purely spiritual, which change will infallibly happen if the soul herself place no obstacle in the way. But God may bring about this change by aridity and desolation in some cases, just as in others he brings it about by an abundant overflowing of divine spiritual attraction, wrought without any great sense of anguish or affliction. In the former case it is effected by privation, great misery, and poverty of spirit, which God sends as a foretaste of that more rigorous privation which he will hereafter use with the soul. Of this we shall treat in the tenth chapter. What we shall

there say about the separation of soul and spirit may be of some use to those who are led by this trying way.

He, therefore, who experiences this bitter state, who whilst he desires only to please God, to love him, and to give himself entirely to God, while he is hoping for greater fervour, more ardent desires, or more perfect quiet by continuing his aspirations, yet experiences on the contrary more and more aridity, disgust and anguish of mind, let him patiently accept all this and suffer everything with confidence. Let him firmly believe that in these operations he is privileged and favoured, and that it would be much to his detriment if he should hinder the course of this way and not conform himself to the divine will. Nor is the soul to betake herself to her own former efforts; for what in a lower degree of prayer we so disapproved (to wit, the ceasing from such) is now most useful and profitable. For there is in the soul, as it were, a fight of two extremes: on the one hand she would willingly follow the divine will, on the other hand she feels something in herself murmuring and discontented. But that lower self is to be neglected, no matter what be its complaints or even its prayers. Now it is true that the soul will become so immersed in these lingering states, that she will scarcely be able to distinguish the two; for she will come to that pass when she will not be able to see, feel, think, or conceive anything but her own misery. Then there is no other remedy than to bear it all quietly after a passive manner, not turning her inward gaze either upwards or downwards, either to right or left, not seeking for anything else, but contenting herself with what she finds in herself. And so let her praise God, though not by express acts, but rather by so shutting the eyes and ears to all else, that by a subtle penetration of spirit they may be opened to the most certain expectation of a more noble and spiritual action. And here it is truly where faith and confidence and a strong love of God are truly tried, where we put all our hope in God, although he should kill us. The theological virtues, which were formerly actively practised, are here retained in a passive manner; for the soul is here brought to a death of her lower nature. She has become burdensome and grievous to herself, inclined to sadness and anxiety, and not able to judge of the goodness and love of God. Rather she finds in herself only aversion, blasphemy, and the like; for she has come to what we mentioned in the fifth chapter. The soul must die to that natural life, by which she has turned to creatures, and learn a life of the spirit.

Therefore, lest those who are led by this way have been frightened or misled by what they read in the fifth chapter, I would have them observe well what is there inculcated, that in the beginning it would be very prejudicial to admit of such a silence or cessation from effort, for the soul is yet weak and only at the threshold of the spiritual life. But in these higher states it is the right manner of proceeding, as we shall further explain in the tenth chapter. There, in the great desolation, after miseries and labours suffered in the lower nature, these afflictions and sufferings again recur, but are more easily overcome by those who have already had experience of them.



Behold we are now arrived unto the mountain of our Lord, even unto the tabernacle of the God of Jacob. We have already begun to discover something of the beauty and riches of this country, though we are yet as it were only on the outskirts of this region of the spirit. Let us therefore explain somewhat more fully the height of this mountain, to wit, the presence of the divine Spirit and his holy operations in the obscure light of grace: showing how God makes himself known in this state, how this knowledge is wholly supernatural and infused and this love in its full vigour wonderful.

The soul which, assisted by the grace of God, has laboured well in her exercises of aspiration and elevation, has taken pains to overcome all difficulties, to accommodate herself to all accidents, to estrange herself from all multiplicity, and so has brought herself to will, desire, seek after, and think upon nothing but God, finally perceives her elevation growing daily more subtle, more intimate and more pure.

She finds herself incredibly more free from inferior nature, her affective powers stronger, her recollection more stable, more permanent and more peaceful. For now, in the height of her spirit, God manifests to her a certain elevation which far surpasses what she formerly had in sublimity and subtlety, and is far more serene and simple. This does not originate from anything seen or understood, but flows from a certain divine light and infused knowledge. She learns that there is yet another mansion, another interior kingdom, where God manifests himself in a far more inexplicable manner. There, in a certain quiet attention free from all trouble or distraction of the lower powers, the soul is taught by him, without discourse, reasoning, or active effort of her own. This experience, which is so new, causes some amazement and wonder, and also a very great desire to persevere and gain that which is now partially revealed to her. But it is of the nature of interior operations to establish and confirm the soul in a new state only after many vicissitudes, and so it happens here; for the soul is to become infinitely more agile and interior and remote from the inferior states.

Wherefore we must first know that there are two kinds of very remarkable divine operations corresponding to the two principal superior powers of the soul, the understanding and the will. First of all there is a fruition of perceptible love. Amidst the darkness and difficulty the soul perceives certain motions of affection, by which she is very much comforted and enabled to pursue her way of continual abnegation. But as all obscurity is not yet dispersed, nor the eye of the soul able to penetrate this supreme manifestation of God, the soul cannot as yet direct these motions of love towards the height of the spirit by a certain direct and immediate relation unto God. So they remain as infusions of a love of fruition, their origin and end still little understood, until at length, as she continues on her way, the darkness is gradually dissipated, and the summit of the mountain is seen, where God reveals himself by his effects and by a real infusion pertaining to the understanding.

So the grace which truly belongs to this state called Of the Presence of God, is a certain touch or inaction[49] of God in the supreme portion of the soul, where she is endowed with a certain new being caused by the actual presence of the Spirit of God. This so invigorates the soul that it raises her to a certain actual experience of how we live in God, after a manner far beyond the comprehension of our natural powers, and teaches her to think of God and of the future life quite differently from what she could have learned from any human instruction. She begins in this new light to understand what is meant by a new man created according to God in justice and sanctity,[50] since she really begins here to be regenerated by the Holy Ghost.

And although all those things are not so clearly and perfectly understood as in the last state, yet this revelation is of unequalled force for captivating the soul and inclining her towards God. For as soon as she is thus moved, she seems to love with all her strength, unless she violently and of her own accord withdraw herself and obscure her interior by busying herself with the senses. And this passes into simplicity so great, above all reason, discourse, or motives, that she can give no other reason or cause why she feels herself so much moved than that God has actually given her this manifestation of his divine Spirit. She knows that there is nothing of her own save a voluntary resting in this state with the reiteration of interior acts; for the heart feels itself caught in the snares of love, and the understanding overwhelmed and immersed in this divine infusion. She is not inclined to any sort of activity, knowing that so happy a sense of the presence of God could never have been brought about by herself. Yet always the faithful soul tempers her interior judgement with the doctrine of the Doctors of the Church, that since such operations are without doubt meritorious and vital, they cannot be performed in us without our co-operation. Therefore, although in their origin they proceed from infused grace, man being but the passive recipient, yet he has a secondary part in the operation by his free co-operation. This is a matter of experience; for anyone may, either from malice or from negligence, refuse to co-operate, but turn himself to something else; and unless hindered by some rapture or ecstasy, he may so distract himself.

Here is the true grace of contemplation and the presence of God: a simple intelligence, informed with an interior word of knowledge, proceeding from a certain principle of grace which raises the soul to this happy action of divine love. St Thomas says: “The Son is the Word, not of any kind, but such a one as breatheth forth love.

Whence St Augustine says: By the Word we mean knowledge conjoined with love. The Son is the Wisdom of the Father; but when we conceive him thus, we are not thinking of intelligence in general, but of that intelligence which issues in love.”

Filius est Verbum, non qualecumque, sed spirans amorem. Unde Augustinus dicit in 9 lib. de Trin.: Verbum autem quod insinuare intendimus cum amore notitia est. Non igitur secundum quamlibet perfectionem intellectus mittitur Filius, sed secundum talem institutionem vel instructionem intellectus qua prorumpat in affectum amoris.[51] This is indeed the fruition of that thing which the soul has so much desired. Yet all depends so wholly upon the divine infusion, that the soul is able to continue her acts only so long as the special divine help remains. For, after it has passed, there remains only a shadow or impression of such divine action, and she cannot of herself put herself again into that state. She can only remain seeking God with the eye of the soul, and holding herself recollected in readiness for a new reception of the like grace.

Now I do not pretend to explain what this infused divine knowledge contains in itself, or what particular truth it represents to the soul. It rather transcends all particular reason and is a union of the divine Spirit with our simple intelligence. The soul is, as it were, plunged in God, so that it cannot understand fully. Yet from this experience there results afterwards an infinite number of most high and sublime notions of divine things, as is expressly declared by St Denis the Areopagite in these words: Est etiam divina Dei scientia et notitia quae ignoratione hauritur, per comunctionem quae mentem omnem superat, quando mens ipsa a rebus omnibus abducta primum, deinde etzam serpsam deserens, cum splendidissims radus conjungitur, atque illinc et ibi, investigabili sapientiae profundo illustratur. That is: There is a certain divine

science of God, and a knowledge which is gained by ignorance, by a conjunction which surpasseth all understanding, when the mind itself being first withdrawn from all other things, and then also forsaking herself, is conjoined with the most glorious rays, and from thence is illumined with the unsearchable abyss of wisdom.[52]

Moreover, from this experience the soul realises the depth of her nothingness; for seeing how the Spirit of God is to live in her and how she is to be wholly subjected thereto, she most willingly prostrates herself and forms a thousand acts of reverence and adoration. Especially is this the case when she is left more to herself, for then she is most anxious to reduce herself to nothing in order to give place to this divine Spirit, that he alone may live and reign in her. This is the proper attitude for the soul in this state, that all her inferior powers be neglected, recollected, united, absorbed under these operations of the Spirit. There remains nothing but the affective part which is always in action under this immediate presence of God, who is frequently perceived by his infused graces, according to what our Lord said in the Gospel: Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God,[53] and again: The true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth.[54] Yet sometimes he withdraws himself and leaves the soul to descend anew into her inferior powers, and anon he raises her again to himself. So he makes her to pass through many changes, yet always to Increase in knowledge and love, nor ever to fail in her fidelity or duty without great remorse and self-reproach.

And although the simpler souls who receive this grace know not how to explain it, or to give an account of this divine knowledge and these affective motions, yet this attraction brings with it so many testimonies of its worth that the soul cannot doubt but that this is a gift of supernatural and infused grace, giving her more perfect knowledge of God in a moment than all the men and books in the world in many years. Therefore such souls do truly taste and see how good is our Lord, for they converse intimately with him. They do not yet possess or embrace him as in the last state; but they have him very near, filling them with graces which produce a very high knowledge of God, reverence and adoration, and then divine union. At times the affective part feels itself so touched and moved with divine affection, and with what is a very intimate desire rather than knowledge, that the soul is amazed and knows only that she desires nothing but God, and that all the world should love him also.

Then it is that the centre of the soul becomes the tabernacle of God, into which he will henceforth pour such a flood of graces and such perception of his love, that the soul will seem to have found Paradise upon earth and to carry it about with her. She will find herself for the most part absorbed in God alone, communing with his divine majesty with such fervour as though there were nothing else in the whole world but God and herself. Nothing is more ordinary than the excesses which often occur in a soul at this stage; for she is but beginning to experience the wonders of God, and the novelty of it all is so overpowering that she remains for the most part wholly suspended in such divine attention, and always busied within herself, with so much sweetness and content that she would willingly remain thus for ever.

And here let us understand what is a rapture or an ecstasy. It is an actual experience of divine action in the superior part of the soul, which in a moment so seizes upon and possesses the creature, that her attention is wholly withdrawn from the inferior parts. And this is done with such force that the exterior senses become wholly suspended in their ordinary working, and are caused to cease from their motion and sensation. Since this cannot but be apparent to others, who are usually much impressed by things of this kind, it is rather to be avoided than desired, since divine union may well be had without such exterior effects. And although, compared with what has preceded it, it be wonderful, yet compared with what follows even in this state, it is very imperfect. It is a sign that the soul, as far as her innermost part is concerned, is in a very low degree, though as regards her attention to spiritual things she Is highly upraised.

Now I will declare unto you the interior disposition of the soul when these exterior effects happen and compare it with the last state. In this earlier state there is a clear distinction and separation of the highest and lowest powers of the soul which is clearly perceived. The affective sensitive powers are gathered together in the unity of divine love, and exercise a thousand acts of reverence, annihilation of self, and adoration of God; yet the separation between God and the creature is perceived to be distinct. In the last stage all this distinction is taken away, being changed into possession; for the soul is entirely raised into a divine region and can no longer distinguish between the highest and lowest forms of her introversion. Therefore, since there is this definite disunion between the highest and lowest powers of the soul, it is easily understood that the former will be wholly carried away if some vehement impression of divine action occur, and the effect we have already described will be produced in the exterior senses.

Also in this state there usually result many divine motions of love and wonderful effects in the affective parts, such as dilation of the heart and the like. The soul must moderate them prudently, temper them, and also neglect them, saying to herself in silence: This is nothing: let such things pass and be despised as belonging to the inferior part, which is not to reject such operation, but to admit it only to transcend the effect it causes in the sensitive part of the soul, and to transfer its attention to a love more intellectual and quiet, where all the disquiet and tumult of these motions end in repose, peace and great silence.

For although these periods of the divine passive operation do not remain long in their vigour and efficacy, yet they leave an impression, which together with our own industry enables the soul to live according to the working of her supreme powers in a happiness and content beyond words. For this is a state of great peace, by reason that all the corruption of inferior nature is so absorbed upon the reception of these graces, that its malicious powers are hardly felt; and the imagination is so suppressed that it troubles the soul with no strange images or representations. It is the experience of such things, and the effect of this working of God, which make the soul lose all taste and inclination for the things of this world. They strengthen and cure her will, and so stir her up to divine things, that in this state it is as easy for her to attend to God and to adhere to him with her whole heart, as ever it may have been to serve the world or sin. Wherefore it is no wonder if those who treat of these matters from experience seem to exaggerate, and to use unusual words and expressions which may seem quite unreal; for these operations are too sublime to be worthily expressed. For who shall ever be able to express that great change which is found in one and the same creature, according as living by nature he shows the evil effects of its corruption, or living according to spirit he is raised to experience the infusions of divine love and intelligence? There is nothing more wonderful than the difference of the wills, the affections, the inclinations to sin. Once the least difficulty in the service of God seemed to her impossible to be overcome; now, animated by his Spirit, she does not breathe, desire, and think upon anything but his love, so that nothing seems impossible to her, and no torments or labours could deter her from her resolution. But what is the cause of this? Nothing but the force and efficacy of divine love, which is so frequent and ordinary in this state, and which makes all things light and sweet, taking away all bitterness, anguish, and pain, and begetting a contempt for all lesser things. O holy love, how pleasant is thy company! But, on the contrary, how bitter is thy absence to those who have once perfectly tasted thee! Whatever is done out of love is done easily, cheerfully, and devoutly; but there is no savour in what is done without love. Read the works of those holy souls, St Catherine of Siena, Blessed Catherine of Genoa, holy Mother Teresa, and such others who were filled with those divine affections, and you will find there that what they have breathed forth from the fulness of their hearts have been but sparks or rather flames from the furnace of the love of God. But rather come thyself and taste and see how sweet our Lord is to all those who truly seek him.

But, though we speak here of love, I would rather term it the divine Spirit, lest some should mistakenly adhere more to the effect than to the cause, which is God himself.

For love is but an effect and operation of the divine Spirit. I mean not only that more impetuous and violent love which is in the heart and the inferior affective part; but also, and more, that love which resides in the supreme will, sweetly informing and filling it with such a divine motion. For all these are nothing but effects of this divine Spirit.

Wherefore in the progress of this state the soul is taught not to adhere or to fix her thoughts too much upon love, but to rest in God himself, and to seek him diligently as the object and cause of this love. Much less should she give herself to the reading of those books which treat so earnestly of love, that they seem to endeavour to make the soul rest in such sensibility. For in truth all her study is, or ought to be, to adhere to God alone, resting only in him and, as far as possible, keeping herself insensible to those impetuous motions which do sometimes fill the affective part, and that sweetness and feeling of love, since her true end lies not in these things, but purely and simply in God. Nay, she is not even to cling to any intellectual love, however perfect it may be, or to place her happiness in the experience and perception of it. For although when we are united to God he objectively works those effects of love in us, and gives himself together with the gift, yet that actual love which we experience in ourselves is always an effect of his and not himself, the gift but not the Giver, a created thing and not the Creator, and therefore to be distinguished from himself. Notwithstanding it is an evident sign of his union with us, since it is a bond and pledge of it. Wherefore, although you read many exaggerations of divine love, be not deceived, thinking that you are always to adhere to the affective part. And although sometimes it abound so much in the superior will that it reacts also on the sensitive portion of the soul, it is one thing to perceive it and another to seek after it and to rest in it. For the more purely the soul passes into the divine Spirit, forgetting herself, so much stronger is the intellectual divine love, and the more copious the redundance of sensible love, but withal more pure and more perfect.

So in the conclusion of this state, after so many sublime experiences of love, while the interior life daily increases in perfection it grows always purer; for God enlightens the soul so that she perceives imperfections even in those things which she esteemed most perfect. God has gradually withdrawn her from adhesion to sensible love, making her transcend it with the simple acts of her higher powers, which change is very sublime and almost incredible to those who have not experienced it. And he has taught her to live with a love and knowledge purely intellectual, without any feeling of sensible love. Now, therefore, he begins to instruct her by degrees how to live independent of all such knowledge and affection, perfectly content and indifferent to whatever may happen to herself. She finds God as truly in pain and affliction as in joy and consolation, knowing that God is always God, always within us, always unchangeable, always loving us with an infinite love. And whether we be in darkness or in light, in consolation or in desolation, he is always what he is, and we equally near to him. If we rightly understand this we shall never be troubled in whatever adversity may occur, but we shall equally enjoy him, whether we be in darkness or in the greatest abundance of graces. For since in this world God can be known and loved only by some effects which he causes in us; and since all we experience in ourselves is but certain qualities of created grace which unites us with his divine goodness, assuredly adversity or affliction is no less an effect of his goodness than is prosperity. Nay, it is rather more so; for inasmuch as this transitory life is given us rather that we may merit therein than that we may enjoy it, it is better to be united to him by some cross or affliction than by some joy and comfort. Once this truth has penetrated the soul by that knowledge which God infuses, she begins to conform herself unto him, desiring nothing but to be able to enjoy God purely and simply. She adheres to him equally and indifferently above all things, in good or evil, in sensibility or aridity, in knowledge or love, in plenty or poverty, endeavouring to keep herself inseparably united to him above all these changes and chances, which are in us and not in him. This interior light is of very great profit, for the soul is much strengthened by it to undergo the next state, which is that of privation.

The fidelity which the soul is to show in this state consists first in persevering in all peace and serenity, ever intent upon God, putting no hope in anything out of God, and seeking comfort in nothing but God. It consists further in a continual reflection upon our own unworthiness amidst all these divine favours and graces. For as it belongs to God to communicate himself more familiarly to the soul as to his bride, so is it her part to love and reverence him with her whole heart as her supreme Lord and Father. Moreover, it consists in never yielding to the thought that these things have happened to her for her fidelity, or the extraordinary diligence which she has used; but rather in ascribing all to the infinite mercy and inexhaustible liberality of God. Lastly, it consists in the continual purifying of our intentions, cutting off all unnecessary employments, all multiplicity of natural thoughts, human affections, passions and inclinations to exterior things, as soon as these are perceived. For the intention of God, in conferring so many favours upon the soul, is to raise her to an extraordinary knowledge of his name, and a great experience of his goodness, to assurance of his love, to strength in his service, and to a total abstraction from all earthly things, reforming her in all her natural corruptions.

I will add only this admonition, that in this state the presence of God is not so hard to obtain as perhaps it might be thought; for it is compatible with many imperfections proceeding from natural infirmity, so long as these are not voluntary, and it conduces much to the overcoming of such. All that is required is a firm and faithful will desirous only of being loyal to its God, anxious only to please him, and to renounce itself as much as it can. Although these favours and graces be so out of proportion to our merits that it may seem impossible to attain to them: yet the divine grace can effect so much together with our faithful co-operation, that in the end we are astonished to see that God has vouchsafed to bring us to that for which we could not have presumed to hope. So we have every possible reason to put our trust in his divine goodness, and to use all our own efforts to correspond. As the Apostle says, ” He is able to do all things more abundantly and fully than we either demand or understand, according to the virtue which works in us: unto him be all glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus in all generations and for all eternity.” Ei autem qui potens est omnia facere superabun-danter quam petimus aut intelligimus, secundum virtutem quae operatur in nobis: ipsi gloma in ecclesia et in Christo Jesu in omnes generationes saeculi saeculorum. Amen.[55]



Although the soul has perceived in the former state that she has not reached her goal, she does not know what is yet wanting to her. She enjoys God so immediately that she thinks there is nothing more to be done than to continue in perseverance and change herself by degrees, increasing unto her life’s end in love and knowledge. If I tell her that she is yet a great way from her end, she will perhaps stand amazed. Yet it is necessary that she know it and that she prepare to enter upon a new way if she would be one of God’s peculiar friends, whose loyalty he has tried by fire and water, by bitter things as well as by sweet. Therefore he now leads her into a new path, very difficult to tread; yet tread it she must if she would be perfect.

We have already noted that in the former state God often withdrew himself for a while, leaving the soul to experience her own weakness. Although she did not perceive the object of this, for she was thinking of nought but of forsaking herself and resigning herself entirely into God’s hands, that object was to teach her how to do without his favours and how to behave herself when thus deprived of them. She was learning to give herself over to his divine disposal, as well content with penury as with wealth. At length, when he sees after trial that she is courageous, free from earthly affection, ready to follow him through thick and thin, and resolved never to leave him, but to let him deal with her as he please: God judges that she is now strong enough to bear what he intends to work in her. And so he infuses into her a certain secret inclination to abandon herself to his will, that he may dispose of her at his pleasure, both in time and in eternity, and that she may desire nothing but to do his pleasure, cost what it may. Having wrested such a consent from the soul, God puts her into a state in which she is to suffer to the utmost that she can bear. Forasmuch then as this is the hardest passage of the whole spiritual life, I will endeavour to treat of it more at length than I have done with the rest.

First, let it be understood, that when mention is made of privation and dereliction, it does not mean that God directly afflicts the soul, and that as before she is merely to await better times: for if this were all it would be no great mystery. But first of all God deprives her of all her higher spiritual operations, as likewise of all perception of divine love, and places her far beneath the lowest of her inferior powers, so that she beholds herself full of herself, and at so great a distance from the divine region that the influence of God can scarce reach her. And whereas formerly her practice was to keep herself in peace and tranquillity of spirit, bent only upon co-operating with divine grace, here she loses all such rest. Old evils come afresh, mortified passions arise and bestir themselves as vehemently as ever, and it seems to her that they are as difficult to subdue as on the first day on which she set herself to follow perfection. The reason of this is that God withdraws the help of his sensible grace from the acts of virtue and elevation of mind which she would direct unto him, and permits the soul to practise all purely for his love without any perception of his help. The trial is a sore one for the soul which desires only to be faithful to her God, for as yet she does not understand the meaning of this state nor its end. She perceives nothing but spiritual disorder, and she fears she has caused it herself, or at least not resisted it sufficiently. Think what a spiritual martyrdom is undergone by the soul which hitherto has had a clear insight into the things of God: a soul which has understood the vanity of the toys of this world, the allurements and inclinations of our corrupted nature, and all the deformity of sin! She thought herself as far from them as is earth from heaven, and now she finds herself overwhelmed afresh with as many storms, passions, disordinate motions and fancies as on the first day that she was an apprentice to this spiritual trade. If this state were to last but two or three months it would be somewhat tolerable; but to be a year or more thus perplexed, and bereft of the spiritual gains so highly prized, does well-nigh bereave her of all hope and patience. If she turn to God, as to a refuge, she finds nothing in her spirit but darkness, and sees there is no remedy there; if she fly to her own acts in order to exercise the contrary virtues, this seems to be done so lifelessly that little or no good results thence. What shall she do? For to dwell in the powers of her lower nature, and to tarry amid wicked inclinations and disorderly appetites, is a hell unto her, whereas in her former state she could so prudently have shaken them off. Her greatest fear of all is that of losing God; and this torment presses hourly upon her. Yet, if it be asked why Almighty God permits such a state, I answer that this is as needful for the soul’s progress in his love as any of the former operations. It is necessary not only to cleanse her from the remains of sin, from all lingering in sensible grace and all self-love, but also to prepare her for the stage of perfect union and for that fruition of God which ought forthwith to follow.

After a short time of this spiritual drought the soul does not as yet lose courage, for she hopes for better things to come. But, when she sees her misery not only continue, but rather daily increase, she gives herself up for lost, thinking that all has befallen her through her own fault and that God has abandoned her. And so her devotion weakens and she languishes sadly in prayer, unable to enter into her own interior or to lift up her soul to God with any efficacy. Impatience rises in the lower nature as she sees herself destitute, and whereas before she was cheerful and prompt to love God, she is now tormented with an aversion, disgust and rebellion which grows worse as it continues. When she was able to hope, suffer, or surrender herself, she could profit somewhat – although this was hard to do; but all is now an inexplicable, miserable chaos to her, as her superior powers seem utterly lost and she cannot but think it is her true self that wills and consents to all which she feels and experiences. Consequently she falls into a thousand doubts and scruples, not understanding that the superior will is as far from yielding as ever it was, when she lived amid conscious divine operations. It is wise, therefore, that when a soul finds the lower nature thus mutinous against God, it should prudently distinguish its higher self from this inferior part, and unite itself to God, watching the struggles of the lower nature rather as a third person might do. Seeing herself in such danger of sinning, the soul is moved to invoke God’s mercy that she may be delivered from so lamentable a state; but, good though this instinct is, it is a certain effect of nature which is shrinking from this bitter spiritual dying. Hence I will suggest what may peradventure, serve the soul.

We know that to meditate upon the death and passion of his dear Son, our Lord, is most pleasing and acceptable to God; but how much more will be the true conformity and resemblance to it by deed! Therefore, by experience the soul will now begin to know that the interior anguish suffered by his sacred humanity, by means of that dereliction, was far more grievous than all his external sufferings. Now the soul learns a nobler method of meditating upon these sacred mysteries; and she is made partaker of his interior sufferings by enduring hers in imitation of his. And inasmuch as the soul is vehemently moved to call upon God for deliverance in this, likewise she may in some degree resemble Christ our Lord in the garden of Olivet, when his sacred humanity cried out: Pater, si possibile est, transeat a me calix iste: Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me. But let her take heed that she do not pray or desire absolutely that God will deliver her from this state; for, if she be the friend of God, this operation must be accomplished in her, though it cost her dear. Let her go cheerfully forward, for this is the Purgatory of love, where she will pay all the arrears of her debts; the touchstone which will prove of what metal she is; the test of her nobility, her constancy and perseverance in the service of God. What has become of her great promises of fidelity and love, so often repeated in her better days; those firm resolutions never to leave God, no matter how hardly he might deal with her? Now is the time for her to show herself a true lover, not only in words but in deeds. Even as Christ for her good would not shun his bitter death and passion, so now she should do likewise, knowing that it is profitable for her that self should die to make way for the divine in-dwelling. Let her therefore say to God, Fiat voluntas tua: Thy will be done: even though she feel she cannot make the act with perfect resignation. Let her maintain herself in peace and silence, and that will serve in place of resignation and will suffice to God, however unsatisfactory to herself. For God is not content in the utterance of bare words, or in promises of acts barely performed, but in the reality and the willing mind. Be thou truly and really resigned and contented, praise God in thy heart, bless him in all his works. And though this be done without any words, fear not but that he will understand thee well enough; and learn now that this is the manner in which thou must serve him. And if thou ask how this is to be done, I answer that thou must gather patience out of impatience, learn resignation in the height of irresignation. And when thou shalt see thyself brought so low, that through mere pity of thine own desolation, thou art forced to make a piteous moan to God that he forgets thee and leaves thee among the briars, destitute of even his necessary help, then thou shalt in a manner be made conformable to our Redeemer while he complained to his Father that he had forsaken him. Believe me, thou must undergo all these trials, so that thou shalt believe thyself the most forlorn of the whole world, finding help neither in God nor in creatures; for this state is the special handiwork of God, and he alone can add to or take from it. And as the soul alone knows the extremity of the pain she endures, so shall she only know the abundance of joy wherewith God will fill her when he thinks fit.

Among the many torments which rack the soul in this condition a chief one is expressed thus: “What would become of me if I should happen to die in this state, thus arid in devotion and tepid in divine love? For I see how seriously and worthily others bestir themselves in the service of God, and I feel as far from him as heaven is from earth. Though I do submit myself and praise him, and try to be humble and resigned, I do it not with the will and consent of my inferior nature, but as though I were forced so to do by the will of God. How shall I dare in such a state to appear before his tribunal? Whereas, had I died in my former state, aflame with charity, I should have been happy. For what greater joy can there be than to die for love and in loving to die?”

True it is, dear soul, that there is no greater joy than to die in loving; nevertheless, that was not the most perfect way of loving. I do believe that then thou wouldst have offered thyself more cheerfully than now; but after death thou wouldst have been amazed to find that the love which thou didst believe so sincere and pure was mixed with many human imperfections. But wert thou to die in this state, not relying upon thine own merits, for thou dost ascribe none to thyself, nor upon thine own careful co-operation (for that seems quite taken away), but grounding thy confidence purely upon the promise of the heritage of the sons of God and the merits of Christ’s passion, thou wouldst hereafter wonder to see thyself so adorned with merits and graces and so rich in all spiritual wealth. In that former state, though then thou didst taste the love of God and live more contentedly, thou wert the selfsame imperfect being as thou now knowest thyself to be. Thy faults were less apparent, because an abundance of grace kept them under; yet God saw them clearly, and sounding thee to the very depth, he knew thy forces and the degree of mortification to which thou hadst attained. Therefore, to the end that thou mightest know it too, and that he might the better wean thee from thy self-confidence, he takes from thee all his sensible aid, that thou mayest see what thou art when left to thyself. Fear not to die in this state, since thou wouldst die wholly diffident and distrustful of thyself.

But let us return to this state. In it the soul may continue, not weeks or months only, but even years, as much troubled with a multiplicity of objects, inclinations and passions, as a very novice of a day old. Any attempt to recover that union with God which she formerly enjoyed is fraught with such labour and seems so hopeless, that she is well-nigh tempted to give up everything. Certain it is that here God gives less of that superabundant grace, and leaves her to act by the help of that ordinary grace which he bestows upon all the just. But all this he does in virtue of that total resignation of herself which she has made into his hands; and little by little she learns how to behave herself in this state. After she has been some time thus, God lets her know something of the excellence of this state in hidden ways, and by degrees she becomes conscious that her superior powers are beginning to assert themselves again. Though she is still distracted and tried, so that she grieves to see her time of prayer pass with seemingly nothing profitable done therein; yet she finds herself becoming more recollected and that the recollection is of a different quality.

She realises that her new introversion is all in the superior part of her soul; the inferior nature is perceived as a thing beneath and apart, which, though it be suffering, is already conquered. Now the spirit, as it were, maintains that separation, and in the clearer light regrets that it has made itself one with that inferior self. Henceforth, it permits it to suffer and die, and to be buried in that annihilation which God is working in the soul. Now, illumined with the light of God, the soul begins to understand all these things; and, though the lower nature will still suffer, such pain is borne in patience, and anon the interior vision will return anew and will so increase in vigour, that at length the spirit will permanently distinguish itself from the lower portion of the soul, perceiving it as something utterly subordinate and of no account. But this change is brought about only by a terrible interior conflict, and by sufferings such as only those who have gone through them can understand.

Yet the task is but half done. There are three things in us: nature, spirit and God.

The spirit has now learned how to vanquish nature; but it in its turn must be conquered by the divine Spirit, so that God may be all in all. The ordinary occupation of the spirit is to elevate itself to God; but here, as before, the soul is conscious only of darkness and destitution. In the end she comes to see that not active elevation and praise of God is demanded of her, but that she should humble and annihilate herself, sit still and say nothing. At times she will find herself able to work actively, and then she should do so; but when she finds such action impossible, let her in interior content and gladness resign herself to this passive way, not fearing to be idle, but always gladly and cheerfully accepting the state, making no complaints either to God or to man. For this is the best interior disposition to move God to infuse his love into the centre of the soul; and such transitory infusions will be the forerunners of a more true and perfect fruition which is to come later. Especially must the soul in this state be upon its guard against all impatience and complaining, external or internal; for such will cause inexplicable confusion and hinder all progress. It is of the first importance that the inward peace and tranquillity be preserved, and that the soul allow itself to suffer both in its lower and its higher powers, and be thoroughly obedient to God’s operations. Of him whose soul is thus disposed it may truly be said: ” This is he upon whom the Spirit of God will rest and who shall be endowed with the choice things of all Israel.”[56]



I proceed further to explain this way of privation, because much harm may be done to souls by misunderstanding this state and what God requires of them whilst they are therein. There is in reality a great difference between this privation and the shorter periods of aridity of which we treated earlier, and which may occur at a very early state of the spiritual life; and much damage may be done by wrongly persuading beginners that they are in this state and should yield themselves passively to the action of God, when what is really necessary is that they exert themselves to produce acts of love and to bring their will into play.

We proceed to consider the good effects of this state of real privation. By it the soul comes to know her own nothingness and helplessness, and therefore how totally dependent she is upon the grace of God. By it God reforms the whole man, bringing every power into subjection to himself, trying them upon the touchstone of pure love, that they may become conformable to that purity and candour which is required before the soul can appear in his presence. By all this God is preparing the soul for the state of union which is to follow, in which unitive life the soul has to learn new methods of conducting herself, for which all this is requisite. And here, as in each other stage, the novelty and strangeness in the beginning is of itself sufficient to cause many afflictions and labours; for, in her ignorance, the soul often rejects what she should embrace and clings to what she should let go. The greatest change is, as we have said, that hitherto the soul has rightly endeavoured ever to raise herself to God as her end and object, diligently preserving her interior attention to him and ever communing with him as with a second person, conscious of the superior and inferior portions of herself and that such communing was by means of the former. She never expected this interior state to change, but rather to increase in degree; for it is true that no matter in what state of perfection a creature may be, it remains a creature and God remains God. Yet in the final stage the soul does cease to be conscious of that duality of her nature, and inferior and superior powers become knit together. No longer do the higher powers seek God alone, and yet feel that the lower powers need controlling, lest they drag down the higher; but the whole is unified in love, and no capacity remains to seek, see, or desire anything but what is sought and loved in the centre of the soul, which now has every power under its perfect control.

A second difference between this great privation and the periods of desolation suffered at an earlier stage, is that in this higher stage, the affection of the creature is, as it were, bound with the chains of divine love by means of a long and diligent practice of the former states, so that the soul well-nigh lives in a state of introversion, even though deprived of sensible grace. In the lower state, once the divine infusion was withdrawn, the soul perceived herself to be extroverted and would easily have passed to take delight in creatures, unless she had earnestly endeavoured to turn herself to God. Indeed, it is just this capacity for remaining introverted and incapable of taking delight in, or obtaining consolation from creatures that makes the suffering of this great dereliction. For he who loves God but little is not much given to introversion and does not mind very much whether he be deprived of the divine presence or not, having other things to which he may cling and find solace therein; but with a soul promoted to this last degree the case is far otherwise.

A third difference is that in this state the soul is careless as to the feeling of sensible love and her love is much less vehement; for her love is now, as it were, in the hands of God, controlled by him, and she strives rather by interior attention to seek the presence of God. Not that she loves less, but her love is like a spark buried under ashes; if blown upon it will show itself indeed in a way incredible to those who know only the lower states; but ordinarily the soul takes fewer pains to exercise it violently.

For perceiving herself driven far from the higher portion of her soul, and fearing to lose herself in these lower troubles, she endeavours to lift herself up towards God through attention and vision; but finding that door closed against her, she fears that all her former experiences were but dreams and fictions. All her trouble is caused from her unfamiliarity with the rules of the unitive life, so that she is constantly afraid that she is not doing enough; and so, by her mistaken efforts, she disturbs both herself and the order of God’s operation. When the soul attains to actual fruition of God in her higher powers, she will find that her attention will not have to be directed specially, but will be unified, so that she herself wholly and entirely will be plunged in God. At present it is for her to praise God in her heart, blessing him though he appear hidden and unknown. She can form no determinate concept of him, and should keep herself quiet and content in whatever interior state may occur. As for temptations, let her courageously repel or neglect them, without expecting any sensible divine aid, for she must now learn to do entirely without such; not that she is one whit less dependent upon the grace of God, but all sensible perception of it is withdrawn from her. For the true peace and rest of the soul do not lie always in the actual enjoyment of God, but in continuing in love and in the way which leads to him.

But the soul finds it very difficult to follow this counsel, for she perceives that she advances only at a snail’s pace; and she doubts whether, after all, it might not be better to abandon this attempt to follow the leading of grace and resume again her own industry and natural efforts. To this I answer that she must by all means remain in the order of grace, lest by seeking to free herself she spoil all. The soul that follows the divine operation cannot stray. Here are the prison chains and fetters of the love of God, in which it is necessary that a man break down his own will, captivate his reason, die to his own judgement, and be led contrary to his own mind. And he will find that his dispositions do vary somewhat. At times the intellectual part of the soul will work nobly; at others the will will work lovingly; again he will seem to be between the two, and anon to be utterly deprived of the help of both. Yet nothing happens but what is in the order of the divine operation. And indeed how glorious are these fetters, and how happy is this voluntary prison! A soul might escape if she acted according to her own mind (for her freedom remains inviolate), but for that escape she would pay dearly. The mystery of this state lies not in working much, but in working rightly, referring all things to the divine operation which is looked for in the future.



The last state has been mentioned so often in the former chapters, that to some extent its nature and manner may be known and understood already. Moreover, once the soul has entered upon this stage and become a little accustomed thereto, she stands in small need of laws and precepts; for she is now wholly possessed by God, who fills her with his Spirit, and rules her and works in her according to his good pleasure. Faithful unto God and taking her education from the heavenly court, henceforth she will easily follow the divine Spirit, whithersoever it please to lead her, guided by the laws of a perfect love. Yet, since we have gone so far, we shall endeavour to explain what passes here between God and the soul. In our last chapter we left the soul placed by God in the utmost extremity of dejection and humiliation, unable, seemingly, to use her own powers, since God himself wills to possess them and to reign without a rival in this his earthly palace. By this suffering, though it be bitter, she learns what must be the innocence and beauty required in order to appear in the sight of God; and whereas formerly she did not perceive many things which needed correction, she now sees how God purifies and destroys all that is imperfect or amiss in her.

First, she feels herself to be stripped interiorly of all things, destitute of sensible grace, in a strange inward solitude, yet with just one interior link with God her heavenly Father, her Lord and her only hope, who has kept himself so long hidden and inaccessible. She laments his absence, yet she tacitly assents to whatever he shall do or permit, in the hope of one day seeing the end.

Then, before the final stage is reached, there are two remarkable operations, which, encountered in the lower states, are here found again in a much higher degree. One is a stirring up of the understanding, strongly moving it to reflect and consider within itself and to understand many of these interior things, as even many things of exterior study. The soul feels itself certainly strengthened and enlightened, and able to penetrate into whatsoever it will. The other is a certain very penetrating touch of love, so that the soul wonders at herself, knowing herself now to love with her whole heart and to breathe only joy and peace. She is unable to explain how this happens to her, or why she produces such fervent acts, for the source is hidden, like the fountain or spring from which flows the river. This comes and goes, and the soul gains knowledge of herself, and resolves to persevere in her way unto the end. So, though at first it costs her much labour, she goes on corresponding to each state as she finds herself therein, until in the end she finds herself wholly raised up, and all her higher powers working only supernaturally. She is simply yielding herself to the divine will, following such movements as God shall be pleased to work in her, and intruding nothing of her own; as she now realises fully that all her own efforts are nothing without the grace of God.

Now in this sublime state of union the whole soul is informed and replenished with grace, and that not as a transitory gift, or an infusion which comes now and then, but as a certain stable and permanent state. No longer is there any consciousness of division between lower and higher spiritual powers; but the soul is unified, and lives a divine and supernatural life with all the qualities belonging thereto, light, knowledge, experience, and the constant inclination to divine things. Sometimes God is pleased to give certain lights, touches of love, and other singular favours.

Then it comes to pass that the soul cannot think of God as exalted on high above her, but rather as one intimately united with her; just as a climber, having reached the summit of a mountain, perceives that what during the ascent appeared as a peak far above him, now appears as a wide level. So now the soul has no longer the sense of an elevation towards God, but rather of having arrived on a level with him. Likewise she is not a little astonished to find that she cannot feel that respect, reverence, or fear towards him, which she was wont to have; and in consequence she is somewhat suspicious of her proceeding. This seems to accord well with

what Aristotle requires when treating of the conditions of friendship, to wit, that between two who love there must be a certain equality.[57] For the divine love has so highly exalted this vile worm of earth, heaping his gifts and benefits upon him, that he has made him partaker of the divine nature. Condescending to the capacity of this poor creature, God tempers his incomprehensible immensity to the measure of its strength.

In this state the divine operation is not always actually present; but the soul busies herself, using her three powers of memory, understanding and will, which work very quietly, each in its own way making use of that fruition of God which the soul has enjoyed. The memory recalls the past experience, the understanding apprehends it, and the will embraces it: these three powers doubling and redoubling themselves by a mutual and well-ordered concord, in that circular motion mentioned by St Denis the Areopagite,[58] wherein the soul passes from a simple memory to an intellectual concept, and thence to an action of the will, that so by loving she may return to the point whence this motion took its beginning. Thus, pondering these things in the absence of a perceptible divine impression, speaking little of herself, but hearkening very diligently, the soul keeps herself in great silence, simplicity and content, with only a very simple and extraordinary quiet remembrance of God, without any impetuous effort or anxious care as to what she should do further, or how she should seek more profoundly to introvert herself.

Then, when God so pleases, but usually soon after, being strengthened by this simple procedure, she becomes conscious of a certain very intimate light, informing the whole understanding and its acts, filling the whole interior with a divine knowledge and wonder and a love corresponding to such knowledge. Yet so gently does all this proceed, that the soul perceives that of herself she does nothing, but just consents to and co-operates with these things, reiterating some acts, brief in words but lasting long. In virtue of the principles of grace communicated to her she gains an impression of the divine greatness and immensity, conceiving of an infinity without end or distinction of place or time, and her own understanding seems as a drop of water in this sea of eternity. She perceives that she is rather comprehended by God than that she comprehends him. She is rather immersed and absorbed in him; and the whole operation is passive rather than active. The will now, as it were, embraces and holds fast the object of its love, and in this interior state is perceived a kind of trinity; for from a simple memory proceeds the word of knowledge, and thence proceeds love, which is an embrace and union between God and the creature. This is caused by the Holy Ghost by his grace, just as in the divinity he joins the two Persons; for he is the bond or knot, nay even the love itself between those two Persons.

And since all these things pass so intimately in the secret of the soul, which seems wholly possessed by this divine infusion, and that no longer in a transitory manner, but as a very state of being: it seems not only that the soul understands and produces acts of divine knowledge, but that it has become deiform. It is as though it has received in place of the natural being, which it has transcended, another being wholly divine: Ego dixi, dii estis:[59] I have said: Ye are gods. Yet though we are thus immersed or plunged in God, it is by way of knowledge and operation, not by that of essence and real identification. The state of being is accidental, not essential; for the creature always remains in pure being a creature, though illumined with the light of God and filled with the divine knowledge. For although here God does really and substantially communicate himself to the soul, making his dwelling in her – ad eum veniemus et mansionem apud eum faciemust[60] – yet what actuates the soul, and all which she discerns and experiences by her powers, is not God himself, but rather a certain intellectual image or representation, aided by a direct impression made by him upon the soul. It is a testimony of his real presence and the last action which he causes in the simple intelligence, by means of which he communicates his divine knowledge. And so also the vital impulse of love is an effect of the presence of the Holy Ghost, coming and remaining with us and working in us his divine effects.

The divine Spirit can indeed so replenish the simple intelligence that there happens no motion of love in the will, as though the soul were wholly absorbed in this formal knowledge. At other times the unspeakable delight of such divine infusion of knowledge causes a certain sweet and very peaceful joy in the will. And sometimes, as we read of Moses, his countenance is irradiated with splendour; not from any material and bodily effort, but because of the divine infusion and the soul’s correspondence therewith. Yet all these effects proceed only from an interior, spiritual operation; and if I seem to explain them materially and corporally, it is that I may be the better understood by the simple.



The reader who has got thus far in my book may think that there remains now nothing more to be explained. The beatitude of heaven consists in the vision of the understanding and the love of the will, and since we have already spoken of knowledge and of love, it would seem that we have described the mystical life in all its fulness. But that is not the case. For there remains yet an experience which cannot be explained in the terms of contemplation, and it is this which occasions the disputes between scholastics and mystics.

Hitherto we have described a certain quiet and serene love, issuing from a preceding intellectual operation of infused knowledge. Even so the angelic Doctor, St Thomas, teaches that true, formal, and essential contemplation is an act of the understanding, and says that the will with its acts precedes and follows it, that it causes and terminates it. It precedes and causes it, because the will moves all the other powers to produce their acts and so actually applies the understanding to contemplation.

It follows and terminates it, because having obtained what it sought, the will rejoices, rests, and delights in what it has brought about. He says, therefore, that

“the contemplative life in its essence belongs to the understanding; but in respect of that which produces the operation, it belongs to the will, which moves all the other powers, including the understanding, to their acts… And because everyone is delighted when he has obtained what he loves, therefore the contemplative life is terminated in an act of delight, which is the affection, by which delight love is made more intense.”[61]

Now all this is true and is experienced in that fruition of which we have spoken already. But there remain yet other interior dispositions and experiences of the soul, and other divine communications, by a real experience of the immediate presence of the divine being in the centre of the heart and will. God touches the creature in a wonderful manner, and by the breath of love which he inspires makes it breathe forth its soul, so that it really experiences what the Apostle says: The charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us.[62] These are the kisses and embraces of the divine Spouse, the introduction into the wine-cellar, the inebriation with the torrent of delight, and the entrance into the secret chamber of love. It is impossible to pass over these things in silence, and not to recount the wonders of this great God of love, great in essence, in power, in wisdom; but in his favour and goodness to us strangely incomprehensible.

After those operations already mentioned, which have consisted for the most part in contemplation and an act of simple intelligence, rather than in acts of union of the will, God takes away this capacity of the understanding and deprives the soul of this manner of working. At first she fears that she is falling from those sublime employments and becoming estranged from God; but according to her practice she remains quiet and patient, permitting him to do with her as he will. And presently she finds this very state to turn to her good, bringing her to one of the most perfect operations to be met with in the spiritual life, namely, to a complete recall or withdrawal within the limits of the will. There are infused into her acts of love which differ from all that has gone before, as day differs from night. Here there is no mention of sublimity, or elevation, or sight, or vision, contemplation; but of intimacy and profound introversion.

The soul, then, in a state of privation is finding great difficulty in recovering that happy intellectual employment which she had formerly, and perhaps is very busy in seeking after it. Or she is very distracted and busied about other things. Thereupon she feels a touch of the divine love in her will; and this is so efficacious, that nothing that happens exteriorly can prevent her from perceiving that her heart is wholly filled with this sincere affection towards God. Nor is it necessary that anything appear exteriorly, or that any suspension of the powers should take place, as when she first entered upon these ways; for the will does not need the concurrence of the other powers, but leaves them beneath, subordinate and free in their operations about exterior things. The senses also are free to perform their ordinary functions. God has here given the soul experience of himself by way of love infused into the will, whereas formerly he communicated himself to the understanding by way of knowledge.

When the soul follows this powerful inclination to love, she will be able to produce acts perfectly performed, which break forth as it were violently from the fire kindled within her. At other times she will be absorbed and yield herself up to this love, without uttering any words, unable to marvel sufficiently at such goodness, and therefore desiring that all the world might be filled with the knowledge of God and able to share his goodness with her. Then is fulfilled what the prophet foretold: Tunc videbis et mirabitur et dilatabitur cor tuum, quando conversa fuerit ad te multitudo maris: Then shalt thou see, and thy heart shall wonder and be enlarged, when the multitude of the sea shall be converted to thee.[63]

Now, if the soul be asked the cause of this ardent love, she can give no other answer but that some divine motion has touched her will, and that from this she perceives these affections to take their rise; hence she may say with the prophet: He hath sent fire from on high into my bones.[64] Moreover, this has happened to her when she least expected it, and when she was seeking God after another manner. The cause thereof must be asked of him, who has instilled so effective a motion into her, that sometimes by the violence of the attractions he is near taking her life from her, making the soul almost breathe itself forth in producing these acts of love. And she realises that not only is he present in her spirit as an object of her understanding, but also really present in her heart, and able to move her as he pleases. She has freely and voluntarily given him full possession of herself, resigning her freedom to him, as the most precious thing she had to give him, in response to his demand Fili praebe mihi cor tuum: Son, give me they heart:[65] that he might do with it as he thought fit.

Hence some mystical writers say that some love and union may subsist without either precedent or concomitant knowledge, all acts of the understanding having ceased. For God seems to supply directly all that is required to produce this act of love, so that it is produced suddenly from no cause that we can discover, nor can the soul do aught to procure it when it is absent or increase it when it is present: In that day my people shall know my name, because I myself who speak unto them, behold I am present.[66] Nor is it strange that some who hold that this is possible, yet think it a miracle; for it is caused by this great God of love showing himself to be the lord of all this little kingdom, independent of the laws he himself has made, and taking his delight in his creature. Thus does he make himself known to her, after a far different manner from what she could have hoped when she diligently sought him by way of her understanding. And just as heretofore he entered among his disciples when the doors were closed, and standing amid them said: Peace be to you. It is I, fear not:[67] so he does in the soul of his beloved. When she is earnestly seeking him by acts of the understanding, or busied in exterior works, he shows her what power he has to insinuate himself into the most intimate portion of her will, and to let her know that he is the fount and origin of love, peace and divine affection. This is one of the most powerful motives to invite the love of a creature which can be imagined; for she cannot sufficiently marvel at this great goodness of God, so incomprehensible in the wonders of his love. For words fail and pen fails; and it would seem as though the very understanding must fail before these secrets of love. Well does St Bernard say: “Sometimes, O Lord, I aspire after thee, and, my eyes closed as it were, thou puttest into the mouth of my heart I know not what. I taste a savour exceeding sweet, and am much comforted, so that if it were perfected in me I would seek nothing else. But thou dost not permit me to discern its nature by any corporal sight, or by any sense of my soul, or act of understanding. But really and by experience I am compelled to learn what that is which thou hast said in the Gospel concerning the Spirit, and that it is not known whence he cometh nor whither he goeth.”[68] O love! O divine goodness! O sovereign Lord! how admirable art thou in thy goodness! Exteriorly, in the most sacred mystery of the altar, thou workest a continual miracle, so incomprehensible that men take a thousand occasions of doubting whether it be possible. And behold, in like manner, thou dost also work so secretly and so wonderfully in the hearts of thy friends that those who know it not by experience refuse to believe it, declaring it to be incredible and contrary to the order which thou thyself hast established! But when thy love as shown in the Holy Eucharist meets thy love in the depth of the soul, what words could express what divine secrets pass between the soul and her Beloved? For by the interior motion of the will the creature receives the Holy Spirit dwelling within her and ever communicating itself in a more and more perfect manner; while by the external sacrament duly received she is united in body and soul to the divine person of the Eternal Word made man for us, and receives an increase of the fundamental root of grace and charity. From the God-Man, Jesus Christ, as from her mystical head, she receives her spiritual operation and wholly godlike operations. When the creature therefore is placed between these two burning fires of divine love, what warmth and flame of fervour will she not experience!

However, whatever we may think about this question of the absence of the activity of the understanding, it is certainly true that this divine motion communicated to the will is the very source and foundation of the whole mystical life. And from it the soul gains a certain sublime, experimental knowledge of God, who reveals himself not as an object discerned by the understanding, but as the first cause of all love. She comes to know him as the author of all the good which she has been able to perform, and as present in her heart and moving her without the use of her understanding, so that she can give no reasons for what is taking place in her. This is that ” learned ignorance” of which St Denis the Areopagite speaks, and which he says is the cause of all wisdom, spirit, and reason. All knowledge, counsel, and intelligence proceeds from this divine knowledge, and it is drawn from ignorance by a certain union which passes all understanding; to wit, when the soul first withdraws herself from all other things and then forsakes herself to the divine rays.[69]

So is the understanding left behind, and the will enters upon these ways of love and penetrates the noblest secrets of the contemplative mystical life. These secrets,

consisting not in acts of knowledge or understanding, but in experience, cannot be expressed but are as the Apostle saith “secret words not to be spoken.” St Bernard likewise says: “Wherefore do we speak of these secret colloquies in public? Why do we try to express in common words affections which are ineffable and cannot be declared? The inexperienced understand not things of this nature unless they chance to read them more expressly in the book of experience, being taught by the unction itself. The reading of it attracts little and profits little, unless it receive its gloss and interior sense from the heart.”[70] And in his sermons to clerks he says: “It is the Spirit alone which doth reveal; it is to no purpose to consult books. Seek rather experience. It is wisdom, whose price is not known to man; it is drawn from hidden things; nor is this sweetness to be found by those who pass their lives in pleasures. It is the sweetness of our Lord, which unless you taste you will never see.”[71]

Yet in these infusions of love God is not apprehended as of immense sublimity, dreadful majesty, or infinite greatness; but he is embraced and held fast in closest union, yet after so infinite and divine a manner that all words are too gross to express what is so subtle and inexplicable: I found him whom my soul loveth; I held him, I will not let him go.[72] And truly love has now so far the upper hand, that it has subjected all the other powers to itself, and even the understanding, which once served as an inward eye to seek out the presence of God, is included in those things which are left behind. For there are two kinds of divine fruition: the one by an illumination of the understanding, with which hitherto we have been chiefly concerned and which is rather to be termed contemplation; and the other, of which we now treat, which is wholly, or at least principally, within the limits of the will. In the obscurity of this latter are verified all those seeming exaggerations frequently mentioned: to wit, embraces, inebriations, and such like.

The first kind of union corresponds to the opinion of the angelic Doctor, St Thomas;

the second to the opinion of those who place contemplation in an act of love belonging to the will. But here we do not intend to dispute, but simply to declare the matter for the help and instruction of devout souls. Moreover, as the wise man saith, we cannot know God’s counsel; and if we can hardly understand even those things which are upon earth, who can presume to penetrate these obscure matters, or promise himself not to err in explaining them; or who will not think rather that all things are kept uncertain until the next world? So that if we accept the scholastic opinion that knowledge must precede love, it must be understood that this knowledge passes into love so suddenly that we do not rest in it, and we perceive in our interior nothing but love, and that without being able to discern the reason and cause of it. For in such love there is a knowledge which enables the soul to produce suddenly an act of most intimate affection, which the former kind of knowledge could not. And therefore not every kind of knowledge is true mystic contemplation, but only that knowledge which leads immediately to love. The reason why the union of knowledge and love is not manifest is, as we have said, that the knowledge received by the soul in these sublime states is a certain interior light, and the knowledge so received is immense, yet not discerned as fixed or determinate. It is as though the understanding itself were immersed and comprehended by something else, rather than that itself comprehends anything. And therefore, all things being done in this deifying light, the light itself is not perceived, only the things performed in or by it.

But the truth is that a soul which desires to advance will do better to incline to the opinion of love without knowledge. For if there be any knowledge, the soul neither attends to it nor rests in it, but rather turns all her attention to the experience of that actual efficacious love which she feels in herself, which is now half-perfected, from whatever source it may be derived. She needs rather to repress or moderate it (and sometimes to divert it), than to increase or help it, not because of its abundant sensibility (though sometimes it extends itself to the sensitive part), but because the extreme intimacy whence it originates is almost insupportable to the soul; and if she were to begin analysing and distinguishing understanding from love she would do very unwisely. Of this state Hugh of St Victor speaks thus: “O soul, what dost thou conceive it to be which is so sweet, which touches devout souls who are thinking upon their Beloved, so that they are wholly alienated from themselves, and know not where they are? Yet they retain interiorly something, they know not what, received in the embraces of love, and they desire to keep it with all their strength.”[73]

To the soul seeking to confirm herself in this state, it seems as though she had now but just begun to serve God, to praise and to love him; for all that has gone before seems to have been but a preparation and reformation of herself. And though these divine touches are but passing, yet in their effects the soul is able to live in great peace, keeping herself in readiness for a return of such when God shall please, and persevering as long as he wills and not for her own pleasure. For, when the time comes, she perceives that she descends from this state, little by little, even to the lowest degrees; and afterwards she strives to mount again, resuming some use of her understanding that again she may pass to those operations which are purely of the will; thus often ascending and descending as she is led by the Holy Spirit. And daily she grows in love and in the knowledge of these hidden things, and in this obscure and ignorant manner of proceeding finds herself immersed in love, gathered into these divine embraces, and drinking in the water of grace from its proper fountain.

So she becomes inebriated and absorbed, ever tending forwards and transcending all things, until she is plunged so far into the immense sea of the divinity that she is forced to forsake herself, and all sense of ascending from one degree to another, and simply to follow the divine Spirit, whithersoever it leads her. Sometimes she knows not what will become of her in the end, for she daily finds out new wonders, and she remains lost in the ignorance of this dark night; for the very will itself seems as though it too through love will vanish away in insensibility. Doubtless what is said here will sound absurd, and it is no wonder that we cannot understand the language used by mystical writers when they speak of such things as “annihilation,” “expiring of the spirit,” “death,” “unknowing,” “privation of knowledge,” “darkness,” “transcending of ourselves” and such like; for who can express what is here experienced? I can say only that it is the happy silence and sabbath of the supreme affective parts: the soul is lost in an unknown, inexplicable state, in which there can be nothing seen, known, or desired, since all ability of reflecting, seeing, or desiring seems left behind. Indeed, if she seeks to discern these things, she does very ill and does not comply with what her present state requires; for it is, as it were, to take out of the sepulchre and to seek to revive what God would have buried and left. Now at the end there is granted a certain perfect repose in God; the soul breathes only him, and is immersed in him as in a delicious rest. In pace in idipsum dormiam et requiescam:[74] In peace, in the self-same, I will sleep and rest: so that nothing in the world (sin only excepted) can separate God and the soul. No longer is there any question of distractions, of introversion or extroversion, but Christ is all in all. I live, now not I, saith the Apostle; Christ liveth in me;[75] To me to live is Christ and to die is gain.[76] And Christ our Lord asked this unity for us of God his Father: As thou and I are one, that they also may be one in us.[77]

“This is the end,” says St Bernard, “this is the consummation, this the perfection, this the peace, this the joy of our Lord, this the joy in the Holy Ghost, this is the silence in heaven. Sometimes the soul enjoys in this life this most happy silence of peace, in heaven, that is in the soul of the just, which is the seat of wisdom, but it is, as it were, for half an hour.”[78] And because this seems so to exceed all created things, it is rather a state, a life, than an operation; and many place this fruition in the essence of the soul and not in its powers. But, contenting myself with what I have said, I leave it to others to think as they please. I will say only this, that henceforward the soul is in great ignorance of herself; there is no interior capacity for the extolling or magnifying ourselves in our own estimation, but the soul realises that she is here in the outer courts of eternity; that she has here a pledge of beatitude, and that she is separated only by the mud wall of this mortal life from the society of the blessed. Her state is nothing else but peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, with some participation of impassibility; so that, although she would, she could not sorrow or grieve for anything so long as this fruition of God lasts; for she feels that she is so fixed and possessed by God that nothing can separate her from him unless he withdrew himself – as he does when he sees fit. When the time comes, little by little he allows this intimacy to diminish and withdraws himself, permitting the soul to return and live again the life of the exiles of this world, even allowing her again to suffer the privation of all his perceptible grace. But now, having gained experience, she is less troubled by doubts and difficulties than before. Then again he raises her to that same lofty degree of union with himself, and so it goes on till death, ever coming and going, until the soul becomes so accustomed to both states that she simply conforms herself to either; and this she does better and better as she grows by experience and receives more light.



When the soul has attained to this high state, it is true that while she is actually enjoying these divine communications, she has nothing else to do but to commit herself to God and to follow whither she is led by the Holy Spirit. But such time is short in comparison with what remains, and hence some guidance is necessary for the soul, that she may know how to behave and to occupy herself in those moments when she must co-operate and exercise fidelity, so that she may more and more die to herself and be more and more plunged in God. Now, while we are in this world we can never so perfectly overcome ourselves that there is nothing left to overcome; we can never obtain so much that there is not infinitely more to be obtained. Hence the work of the soul at this stage is to study to overcome herself as perfectly as she can, so that the name of God may be sanctified in her, the kingdom of God increase in her and the will of God be done in her; that she may be prompt, obedient and flexible. Yet it must not be imagined that the soul remains in pure expectation or in passive idleness; for although in the beginning she scarcely dares to do anything for fear of freeing herself from this holy captivity of love, yet after she becomes more confirmed therein she enjoys so great liberty of spirit, that she can apply herself to whatsoever she pleases. For when all the interior powers are subordinate to the divine Spirit and in good order, there is nothing which she is not able to do in God without prejudice to her interior peace and serenity.

First there is the state of fruition of love, when her endeavour is to withdraw herself from all other things, that so she may apply herself with a quiet attention to the divine attractions and experience the wonders of the inexplicable secrets of divine love. But if at times she be disturbed by exterior employments, she simply returns again to her recollection. In this state the soul is always in a certain habitual attraction of affection, so that habitually united to God in the centre of her soul, she has no need of any matter or motive to stir her up. When she comes to her prayer she begins it with those affections, and has no need of preparation thereto. This has become natural to her, and continuing therein she humbly receives what God communicates to her. Yet it must not be thought that the soul cannot here meditate upon the mysteries of the life and passion of our Saviour. For as the understanding becomes more enlightened by its familiarity with God and the penetration of these interior ways, the soul gains a certain higher light, which helps her to reflect much more seriously upon the mysteries of our faith than she did formerly, so that now a short simple reflection upon some mystery is as efficacious as was once a long and laborious meditation. There is nothing which may not be reflected upon at this stage, as, for example, death, judgement, heaven and hell, and he would be mistaken who should think otherwise. The only difference is that such are now rather pure operations of intelligence and do not proceed from any ordered exercise, but from some external occasions as reading, discourse, reflection, or the like. Yet the soul finds that never did she meditate upon these things so effectively as she does now.

Hence it is apparent that the soul is not idle, but in continual operation; not searching after God, but in union with him. She is not at peace if she does not perceive herself ever to breathe in God, and is unable to bear the feeling of seeking consolation or repose in anything out of God. Not that she is totally free from all extravagant thoughts (for in this life that can never be); but, if she takes any care of herself, these are of no force.

But there is yet a certain state of spirit life wherein the soul can no longer thus mentally treat with God nor as before pronounce the words: God, God, my God, etc.

This state seems to contain nothing but peace, joy of spirit, and security in God, without ability to pronounce any words; for the soul is, as it were, full of the divine Spirit, in the darkness of which she is at length absorbed and immersed, so that she neither sees nor feels herself any more. In such a deiform region is found repose in God in a certain fulness of being, where the whole man perceives that he has become wholly spirit and all inferior nature is suppressed. The whole interior state remains in extraordinary peace, yet it cannot truly be said that the soul is idle.

Then gradually the soul descends from this sublime state again into the state of dejection or privation; but her will remains fixed, even though none of her spiritual powers seem to be active except the imagination and the will, in a certain holy disquiet and anxiety to return again to her intimate recollection. In this condition prayer time often seems very long and laborious, for the soul is again troubled with distractions and finds it difficult to keep herself diligently employed. All her industry seems to be very short-lived in effect, and prayer seems, as it were, to slide away without raising her to God. There is nothing to be done but to be contented that she can just keep herself in peace, and to throw off depression and heaviness, without being troubled because she cannot produce such heroic acts towards God as she would wish. For the sincere and constant desire which she has of finding God and of pleasing him supplies for all that is wanting. For the rest she is exercised in humility by being made to acknowledge how little she is able to do towards producing such acts. She acknowledges that while such are proper to heroic souls, who aided by actual grace produce them with interior correspondence, yet for the present this faculty does not belong to her, though ịt will do when God shall will. So she is contented in her poverty and praises God.



Enough has been said for it to be easy to discern the difference between the mystic and divine way and the natural and scholastic way, with respect to their treatment of the part played by the will in these spiritual operations. But it is so important that the function of the will be rightly understood, that we shall now treat of it more at length.

First the will is the most noble and intimate of the powers of the soul (although some conceive otherwise), and therefore God is in the centre of the will. The will receives his direct action; it is his temple and the dwelling-place of the Holy Ghost. All true liberty exists only when the will has been surrendered to the divine love and become perfectly flexible to the action of God. Ego sto ad ostium et pulso :[79] I stand at the door and knock, He says, not “I ask” or “invite,” but I knock, or “stir up.” God alone, and none but he, can thus enter and move the will to love him. And the soul

perceives that she loves, not because of some motives or reasons which she learns by the understanding, but because of some mysterious action, which she cannot explain and which proceeds from God as the first cause. Not that he imposes any necessity upon her, so that she ceases to be free; for God can efficaciously move the will to what he pleases, yet so as never to prejudice its liberty. Other things can only move the will exteriorly by suggesting some object, by exterior and moral persuasions; God alone can enter into the very power itself, and whilst leaving it free, yet efficaciously incline it to what he pleases. Hence the best attitude for the soul to take is to hold herself in such manner that she may be able to hear and perceive these divine motions, which are the origin of all progress in a mystic way. And she must take heed lest she stifle them, not only by earthly and secular business, but by any inordinate absorption in occupations, however good they may be, that do not bear any direct relation to her spiritual progress. So does the soul dispose herself, by her own correspondence with earlier graces, for that more ample manifestation of love which God will afford when he sees fit. And the soul goes on, not doubting or fearing to lose anything of her liberty if she beseech God day and night to prevent her will with his grace, for she reckons the servitude of his love as her glory. She desires to do only what is pleasing to him, and places her perfection in this, that she can do nothing but what he first wills and causes her to will and love. So does her will become an instrument which the Holy Ghost may move just as he pleases.

But, since the ways which lead to God are diverse, many who treat of these matters speak of them differently. Many very learned scholastic doctors deny this real and preventive motion of the will, declaring it impossible for the will to be moved unless by some preceding act of the understanding, some illumination or knowledge proportioned to the love which is in the will. In this they disagree with the seraphic Doctor, St Bonaventure, and other mystics. Others, however, having experienced how the will may be touched directly by God, recognise that these two distinct ways exist, and that a soul may be acted upon by God without the understanding being first moved. Nay, it seems that God delights so to enter into a soul, the doors being shut, dispelling all solicitude and trouble and bringing peace and tranquillity. She can assign no intellectual origin for his presence; she simply knows that he is there; and on her part she submits herself to him as a tool in the hand of the craftsman, or as the hand of a child learning to write rests under the hand of the master, yielding itself to his guidance. At such times the intellect stands amazed and the will itself cries out in astonishment and awe with St Augustine: “Behold thou wert within and I without, and I sought thee there: thou wert with me and I was not with thee. Thou hast called, cried out, and overcome my deafness; thou hast cast a ray and enlightened and cured my blindness; thou hast cast forth a sweet odour and I have breathed in life, and thirsted after thee. I have tasted and I am both hungry and thirsty; thou hast touched me and I am on fire longing after thy peace.”[80]

Therefore it is purely interiorly that we come to know that this is the direct action of God, and that it is he who has wrought in secret all the good which the soul has been able to perform with all her powers; and it is the frequent recurring of this action which constitutes the origin of all the happiness and all the progress of the mystical life. Sometimes these visits of God are very delicate and very secret; sometimes they are granted very early to souls which put no impediment in the way of the working of God; but, whenever they come, then the soul knows experimentally what the simple believe only and the learned know by their study of the real presence of God, which is the life of our life, the soul of our soul. The soul makes proof of the saying of St Denis the Areopagite: “We must know that our understanding has a certain virtue to understand, by which it comes to the knowledge of intelligible things: it has also a certain union, exceeding the nature of the mind, by which it is united to those things which are above it. We are therefore to understand the divine things according to this union, not according to ourselves (in our purely natural force), but according to ourselves elevated above, or out of, ourselves, and become wholly deiform.”[81]

Likewise Vercellensis[82] writes thus: “We must know that our mind has a certain capacity, which we may call a theological or contemplative understanding, by which it contemplates intelligible things: it has also a certain unitive power, which we conceive to be the highest point of the affective part, which is perfected by the love of God, so that the nature of the mind is extended and united to speculative or contemplative matters exceeding both her nature and her exercises. Therefore by this union we must come to know divine things not by the measure of our own intellect, raising our selves above ourselves with all our strength according to that passage: He will raise himself above himself,[83] as also He who adheres to God is one spirit.”[84]

The same St Denis also says, at the end of the first chapter of his Mystic Divinity:

“Then at length he is freed from the things which are seen and the things which do see, and is brought unto a true mystic darkness of ignorance in which he lays aside all aids of knowledge, and becomes united to him who can neither be handled nor seen, becoming wholly his who surpasseth all things. There is none, neither himself nor any other, that hath any share in his affection; but he is united unto him who cannot be comprehended by knowledge by a cessation from all knowledge; and by this very thing that he knows nothing, he overcomes and transcends the mind itself in knowing.” Upon which words Vercellensis comments thus: “But he has a yet more perfect knowledge of God, which is signified unto us in that Moses is separated from those things which saw with him the place of God, and is withdrawn from visible things and enters into a darkness of ignorance. That is to say, he is united to the divine incomprehensibility which no intellect penetrates, which includes and contains all things in itself, and does secretly conceal all comprehensive knowledge as the first cause of all things. And by it everyone who is united to God is placed in a state of supernatural excellence, which reason cannot penetrate nor intellect explain, and he is separated from all things and, it would seem, even from himself. And, by a union of love which causes true knowledge, he is united to God, who intellectually is unknown, by a much better knowledge than knowledge itself; and inasmuch as he leaves intellectual knowledge he attains a knowledge of God which transcends the natural capacity of his understanding and mind.”

And Stapulensis[85] gives us this explanation: “But the contemplative of divine things, leaving behind him all that is visible and invisible, enters into a mystic darkness of divine ignorance, in which he dispenses with all aid of human knowledge. Nay, at the very entrance, he lays aside all knowledge; and, thus freed from his own notions, he is made one with him who is not to be perceived by touch and sight, and who transcends all things. And this very privation of all knowledge, by which the contemplative is united to God in divine darkness, is assuredly much more excellent than any other which endeavours by notions and concepts to ascend to God.”

And again Lincolniensis[86] says: “Those who ascend unto God to the extreme of their possibility, to the heights of holiness, leave behind them all their own apprehensive powers, all actual instructions, spiritual or angelical, or to be received out of Holy Scripture, and they enter into a darkness, that is, into an ignorance of all things, where only God truly is. And in what manner he is found there cannot be expressed by man, and hence he is well said to be without speech. For in this darkness the powers of the soul receive no impression by which they are moved to produce acts; but the soul is united to God by a better kind of operation which transcends all knowledge, that is, according to the supreme point of the affective part. For in this darkness the soul ceases from all acts of knowledge, yet burns with a desire of God alone, to whom she is united by an extreme fervour of love absorbing all other acts.”

So we see that the books of mystic writers are full of teaching conformable to this manner of proceeding, and disapproving those souls who remain so wedded to their own efforts and ways of proceeding as to leave no place for God to work in them, and never to dive into the depth of their souls to that living source of grace. And this manner of proceeding consists not in subtle reasonings, discourses, or concepts, but rather is founded upon an interior force of the will, aided by a divine impulse, unto which the soul disposes herself by acts of love, formed by a strong and sincere will aided by divine grace. Nor is it anything but ignorance to think that this is to walk in great and wonderful things above ourselves, or presumptuously to meddle in sublime and extraordinary things, and seek to see into the secrets of God. For it is most certain that this mystic way, founded in love, is much simpler and less like aspiring to sublime things than the speculative way which undertakes to reason upon the most high mystery of the Blessed Trinity and other divine perfections, which the way of love never does. For although, in time, those who walk by the latter way receive many intellectual lights, this happens without their having sought them, for the soul has sought only to love. And this way is easy and effective, alike for those who have already laid a good foundation by meditating upon the mysteries of our faith, and for those who are incapable of thinking long upon one thing, yet are most anxious to please God, given to good works and the practice of all virtue, and ready for self-abnegation, and for serious work in order to overcome themselves, and desirous only of loving God. He who best knows how to love is most fit for this way; yet still there must be joined therewith the faithful practice of mortification. Let the soul seek to conquer herself, to neglect self, and to cast off all affection to exterior things; for unless the two, love and mortification, go together, it were better never to have set out upon this way.

This then is the difference between the mystic or divine way and the scholastic or natural way. The natural way proceeds by searching and deep considerations of the understanding, whereby it may furnish motives and reasons to the will in order to move it to love. Hence such contemplation is made by discourses and reasoning, or at least it supposes these; also it assumes that we can always trace the cause of the love which follows, since it proceeds from the practical judgement which the understanding has suggested to the will. Accordingly those who follow this method cannot conceive how the soul can be moved to love God unless by such considerations as those of his wisdom, greatness, and other attributes. But the truth is that such an exercise does not satisfy a fervent and ardent soul; she longs, in the greatness of her desire, to find a shorter, more effective way; she does not feel the need of persuasions to love God, for she desires nothing else, and only grieves that she does not love him as she desires. So the will, finding itself strong and brave, or at least using some loving violence with itself, proceeds by its own intrinsic efficacy aided by grace; and with simply an apprehension of God by the understanding the soul proceeds to work with the will, using all its strength to produce acts, and dispose itself for that infusion which the Holy Ghost is to work in her. She makes love itself the end, and by reiterated acts in her heart, seeks the means thereto. For love is both the consummation of all her good and the origin thereof; so that, as love is the beginning and the end of her life, everything, whether it be crosses, dereliction, bitterness, trouble, or tribulation, is converted into love, and tends ever to the soul’s greater perfection.

And the second way, the mystic and divine, seems in its manner of proceeding quite opposite and contrary to the scholastic and natural way. For the will sits as it were on its throne and makes itself the queen of the soul, and all the other powers but its servants. It sees that formerly it was enslaved and captive to the imagination, to the passions, and to the understanding, with all its chimeras and vain discourses. Now it is resolved to be master and to have the rest under its control. Yet the understanding is not wholly excluded, but rather transcended. For the will, proceeding with a very simple knowledge of God as of the supremely lovable, studies to produce its acts of love, using the understanding meanwhile as its subordinate counsellor. Nor need it follow its advice. For, like any king or queen, it may discard all counsel, saying: Sic volo, sic jubeo; stat pro ratione voluntas. That is to say, I want it so and that is reason enough.

And you must note that the will in this way rests constantly on the divine help, without which it could do nothing. God gives it a great facility of spiritual desire and affection; he strengthens and makes his dwelling in it; he fills it full of his love. And so the will lives by love and for love and makes all serve unto love. God works in it that wonderful introversion of which we have said so much, by a most efficacious touch and motion of love in its most intimate centre. These touches of love may be slight in the beginning, but soon they work more profoundly and penetrate more deeply. And then the soul gives herself utterly to God; for what else can she do? She asks him to work his divine will in her and by her. A thousand times a day she offers him her heart and will and all her liberty. And though this divine action has no other end, but to stir her to this love, yet indirectly and as a consequence it leaves in her a knowledge of God of a new and surpassing kind, a knowledge which no man or book in the world could give her.

Wherefore should we desire and pray that God should thus work in us. And we may learn from this love, and from the wonderful knowledge that follows from it, what must be the love and knowledge of heaven.



IF these spiritual matters (which we have endeavoured to explain in the best manner we could for the comfort of devout souls) were well understood by all, as they should be, there would be no need of multiplying so many words and explanations. And we have conducted the soul in an orderly manner from one degree to another, bringing her even unto the last stage, to wit, unto God, so that there seems now nothing remaining but that she should faithfully apply herself to these mystic exercises. But since, on the one side, our human understanding here on earth is imprisoned in our mortal body, and tied unto senses and fancies which are a great hindrance unto it; and since, on the other hand, these matters are very sublime and subtle: we shall here answer some doubts, that so the reader may the better understand what has already been said.

The First Doubt or Demand.

Since these things are so divine, so highly to be desired, and so profitable to all; and since God not only permits himself to be found by all who truly seek him with their whole hearts, without exception of persons; nay, moreover, since he invites men so to seek him, how is it that these matters are so neglected as to be scarcely known? or considered extraordinary and impossible? And why are they so treated, not only by worldlings and such as live amidst the distractions of earthly affairs, but also by those who by their vocation are bound to seek after perfection, as are religious and such as have dedicated themselves to the teaching of others on such matters?

The Answer. – This is a matter to be deplored, as has been said in the Prologue; but the fault lies chiefly with those who, charged with the teaching of others, are ignorant of such things and even scornful of them. They do not understand the power of God, nor the wonders of his love, and indeed rather carp at these ways. Consequently those who are under their direction are rather hindered than helped, even in many cases where the souls are quite capable of walking therein if only they had the necessary instruction.

For all souls are not to be led in one way. Some are naturally very refractory, unquiet, turbulent, and generally unfit for these ways. Others, again, are very fit for them, being quiet, prudent, and controlled; and for these only proper instruction is necessary. Would to God that we were all of one mind on these points, that so the earth might be replenished with the knowledge of God!

The Second Demand.

Some famous authors say that if God so please, he can easily raise us to these heights; but that of ourselves we are by no means to aspire to them, since to do so is to risk delusions and errors. They say that although other ways are lower, yet they are safer and more suited to our weakness and insufficiency; and that ecstasies, raptures, elevations, etc., are not virtues or graces necessary for loving and serving God.

The Answer. – To speak thus is to speak without discrimination, and not to separate the precious things from those of less worth. Certainly ecstasies, raptures, and such like are not to be sought after or desired; but it is very wrong to identify these with union with God, as I have said earlier in this work. We have said that true elevation is to seek God, present in our souls, and that union or transformation is a certain regeneration in the Holy Ghost; it means the coming of the kingdom of God within us, the birth of the new man, created according to God in justice and sanctity. Nor may it be said that we are not to aspire to these things; for we are taught daily to pray to God that his name may be sanctified in us, his kingdom come, and his will be done. Does not Holy Scripture earnestly exhort us after the same manner: Seek after the Lord and be confirmed; seek his face always:[87] It is good for me to be united to my God.[88]

These things are indeed extraordinary; but to conceive of them as too high and sublime proceeds from pure ignorance. For the whole matter is based upon our becoming fools according to our human wisdom, that so we may become happily wise according to God. A mystical seeking of God in our souls means a death or privation in ourselves, a forsaking of all natural speculation however sublime, that so we may freely apply ourselves to acts of love and desire toward God; reserving to the intellect only a simple apprehension of his divine goodness, presence, and greatness.

We have already refuted the statement that God can enrich us and raise us up as he sees fit, and we have shown that God does not ordinarily work miracles for us, drawing us as it were violently, and against our will. Rather, he does so temper his divine attractions to our co-operation, that we may easily frustrate his workings. And never to seek these things, under pretence of proceeding more securely in lower paths, is to be resolved to remain fixed to the foundations of the spiritual building and never to raise aloft the palace of God in our souls. He that loves his soul (saith our Saviour) shall lose it;[89] but he that shall lose it in seeking his divine love, he shall preserve it unto eternal life.

The Third Demand.

The intention of this whole treatise seems to have been to treat at large of the way of love and of an affective inclination towards God; but there are many who are unable to proceed in this manner, who find themselves for the most part in aridity and desolation, deprived of all sensible devotion. Shall such as these follow the teaching here laid down?

The Answer. – In divers places we have already said that all souls are not alike, and we would not tie them all alike to the rules and instructions given here. There are, or may be, some who are to be led to union with God by way of darkness, dryness, poverty and privation. Such should place their comfort in the will of God, and by pure resignation and conformity of will strive to gain that which others attain by their acts of elevation and affection towards God.

But it matters much how a person takes and imagines things, and what humour predominates most in him. For be assured that this way of love, of which we have been treating, contains in it no less the way of privation and dereliction. For we have treated of no mere childish love, situated only in the sensible inferior nature; but of a love which is strong and brave. It is the way of abnegation, of a stripping off of all that is not God, and consequently a way of privation of all sensible consolation. Moreover, we have also said that the soul often has periods of privation and humiliation after those of elevation and illumination.

Further, some souls have their interior less obscured by the darkness of sin, and so come sooner to that experimental knowledge of God, according to their measure and the grace which God bestows upon them. Therefore, the souls which are detained longer in darkness and dryness are not to trouble themselves about the instructions given from the fourth to the ninth chapter, but will find the tenth more to their purpose.

But because so much that is false is often mixed with what is true, and because many are not passively led by God, but of their own accord embrace things upon reading or hearing about them, they must be very circumspect, lest they err or be deceived. Otherwise, when privation comes from God, it is a great good and a preparation for other graces: so will it be when it is continual.

And the two ways in some sort agree. For as the affective way is mixed with darkness and desolation, so the way of aridity is not without an admixture of the affective way. For the soul is often dilated with that movement of affection, which throughout this treatise we have termed an operation of the affective part, in order to distinguish it from that which is received from God by way of intelligence and knowledge.

And, lastly, let us reflect upon what has been said about the entire abandoning of ourselves to God, content with whatsoever may happen to us. For this resignation is as the bread of our spiritual life, in the strength of which we can overcome all difficulties. Hence the soul is not sad at the cross of poverty and privation, but ever cheerful and light-hearted; for love changes everything which happens to us into a ladder which ascends unto God.

  1. From Father Baker’s biography of Dame Gertrude More, Ampleforth MS. 125, P. 58. See Weld Blundell, Life and Writings of Dame Gertrude More (1910), vol. i, p. 30.
  2. The biographical notices of our author exhibit the greatest variety in the dates they give for his life. Those given in the text are based upon the Necrologium Patrum et Fratrum Ordinis Minorum S. Franisci Capucinorum Antiquae Provinciae Flandro-Belgicae, ad annum 1632, Tilburg, 1897. See also Annuarium Provinciae SS. Trinitaris Hollando-Belgicae Fr. Minorum Capucinorum (Brussels, 1870), p. 30. For other details we have used Bernard of Bolgogna: Bibliotheca Scriptorum Ordinis S. Francisci Capucinorum (Venice, 1747), an enlarged edition of the seventeenth-century compilation of Denis of Genoa.
  3. Jer. 9:23-24.
  4. Ps. 72:25.
  5. Ps. 104:4
  6. John 14:23.
  7. Col. 3:3.
  8. Gal. 2:20.
  9. Col. 3:3.
  10. Apoc. 3:20.
  11. Cant. of Cant. 5:2.
  12. Prov. 8:31.
  13. Non est vestrum circa communia praecepta languere, neque hoc solum attendere quid praecipiat Deus, sed quid velit, etc. From the very remarkable Epistola ad Fratres de Monte Dei (i.e. to the Carthusians of Mont-Dieu) long ascribed to St Bernard, but now, through the labours of Dom Wilmart, recognised as the work of his friend, William of St Thierry. Cf. Revue d’Ascétique et de Mystique, V. (1924), p. 144 sqq. The passage quoted is from Bk. I, chap. ii, of the Epistle (Migne, P.L. clxxxiv, col. 311).
  14. Ecclus. 24:12.
  15. Job 33:27.
  16. Mt 18:3.
  17. In II Sent., Dist. VI, Art. I, Q. I, Concl. 4.
  18. Mt 9:29.
  19. Cant. of Cant. 2:2.
  20. Cant. of Cant. 1:4.
  21. Cant. of Cant. 1:5.
  22. Cant. of Cant. 5:1.
  23. De perfectione vitae spiritualis, cap. vi.
  24. Job 28:13.
  25. Gal. 5:24.
  26. Prov. 18:21.
  27. Prov. 25:28.
  28. James 1:26.
  29. John 14:23.
  30. Non sine praemio diligitur Deus, etsi absque praemii intuit diligendus sit (S Bernardus, De diligendo Deo, lib. vii 17; P. L. clxxxii 984).
  31. Ecclus. 51:35.
  32. Quia caritas habet pro objectu ultimum finem humanae vitae, scilicet beatitudinem aeternam, ideo extendit se ad actus totius humanae vitae: non quasi immediate eliciens omnes actus virtutum, sed per modum imperii (Summa, II-II, Q. XXIII, Art. 4).
  33. 1 Cor. 13 and 16:14.
  34. Ps. 23:3,4.
  35. Ps. 1:2-4.
  36. John 14:6 and 10:9.
  37. Preface for Christmas.
  38. Luke 23:31.
  39. Ps. 26:8.
  40. From the Mystical Theology of the Pseudo-Dionysius (chap. i), who is conjectured to have been a Syrian monk of about the year 500. He assumed the style of a contemporary of the Apostles (the Dionysius mentioned in Acts xvii), and addressed his writings to various apostolic personages. These writings (which reached the West in the ninth century) have exercised a predominant influence on the course of mystical theology and their authority has been generally accepted as final. The works of Pseudo Dionysius are in Migne’s Patr. Graeca, tom. ill, with the Latin version of Corderius. Our author quotes in the present passage from the Latin paraphrase (known as the Extractio Vercellensis) of Abbot Thomas of Vercelli († 1246). In other citations he uses the version of Johannes Sarracenus twelfth century), and the version of the Benedictine Joachim Perionius (sixteenth century); which latter he probably knew in its reprint by the Jesuit Peter Lansselius for the Magna Bibliotheca Veterum Parones. The version of Sarracenus and the Extractiones Vercellenses are printed in the modern edition of the Opera Omnia of Denis the Carthusian (vol. XV, Tournai, 1902). An old English version of the Mystical Theology, made by the author of the Cloud of Unknowing, and entitled Denis’ Hid Divinity, is printed in the Orchard Series edition of that work.
  41. Eph. 3:17-18.
  42. Summa, II-II, Q. clxxx, Art. 7, ad primum.
  43. Ps. 41:6.
  44. Ps. 102:1.
  45. Ps. 149:1.
  46. Rom. 9:16.
  47. De divinis nominibus, cap vii, from the version of Perionius (Louvain, 1566), fol. 139.
  48. Rom. 9:16.
  49. i.e., in-action, a special interior action or operation of God.
  50. Eph. 4:24.
  51. Summa, I, Q. xliii, Art. 5, ad secundum.
  52. De divinis nominibus, cap. vii, circa finem (Perionius, fol. 142).
  53. Matt. 5:8.
  54. John 4:23.
  55. Eph. 3:20-21.
  56. Super quem requiescet Spiritus Domini, et cui erunt optima quaeque Israel. The quotation seems to be a combination of Isa. 11:2, with 1 Kings 9:20.
  57. Ethics, Bk. viii 7.
  58. De divinis nominibus, cap. iv.
  59. Ps. 81:6.
  60. John 16:23.
  61. Vita contemplativa, quantum ad ipsam essentiam id quod actionis, pertinet ad intellectum : quantum autem ad movet ad exercendam talem operationem, pertinet ad voluntatem, quae movet omnes alias potentias et etiam intellectum ad suum actum… Et quia unusquisque delectatur cum adeptus fuerit id quod amat, ideo vita contemplativa terminatur ad delectationem, quae est in affectu, qua etiam amor intenditur. (St Thomas Summa, 11-11, Q. clxxx, Art. I.)
  62. Rom. 5:5.
  63. Isa. 60:5.
  64. Lam. 1:13.
  65. Prov. 23:26.
  66. Isa. 52:6.
  67. Luke 24:36.
  68. Probably In Cantica, Ixxxiv 5, quoted from memory.
  69. De divinis nominibus, cap. vii. The author quotes from the Latin of Perionius fol. 139.
  70. From the Scala Claustralis or Scala Claustrahum, a work which has been ascribed both to St Augustine and to St Bernard (Migne, P.L. clxxxiv 475 sqg.), but which has been reclaimed by Dom Wilmart for its true author. It was probably written about the middle of the twelfth century by Guigo, afterwards Prior of the Grande Chartreuse, for Gervase, afterwards Prior of the Charterhouse of Mont-Dieu. An old English version, of much beauty, was printed in the Ampleforth Journal for autumn, 1924, and has been reprinted in a devotional series issued by the Carthusians of Parkminster, under the title of A Ladder of Four Rungs.
  71. Sermo de conversion ad clericos, cap. xiii; P.L. clxxxii, col. 848.
  72. Cant. of Cant. 3:4.
  73. De diligendo Deo, cap. x; P.L. XL 855.
  74. Ps. 4:9.
  75. Gal. 2:20.
  76. Phil. 1:21.
  77. John 17:21.
  78. William of St Thierry: De contemplando Deo, cap. 1v; P.L. CLXXXIV, col. 372.
  79. Apoc. 3:20.
  80. Confessions, Bk. X, chap. xxvii.
  81. De divinis nominibus, cap. vii. The author here uses the version of Sarracenus.
  82. Vercellensis, i.e., the Canon Regular of St Victor, Thomas Gallus, who became first Abbot of St Andrew’s, Vercelli, and died in 1246. He made a special study of the Dionysian writings, and produced both a paraphrase of them and a substantial commentary. The paraphrase, under the name ofExtractio Vercellensis, has been several times printed and is well known; the commentary has never been printed and is now practically forgotten. The quotation in the text is his paraphrase of the passage just quoted from the Divine Names. The passage quoted presently is from the version of Perionius, (fol. 163), and is followed by the corresponding Extractio of Vercellensis.
  83. Lam. 3:28.
  84. 1 Cor. 6:17.
  85. Stapulensis, i.e., Jacques Lefèvre d’Etaples, also cited as Faber Stapulensis (I455-153I). He was a graduate of the University of Paris, where he taught theology and expounded the Bible. In the course of his teaching he put forward some novel views, which were condemned by the Sorbonne, and he left France, but he does not appear to have lapsed into heresy. He is credited with a commentary on the Celestial Hierarchy of Dionysius, and must also, to judge by our author’s citation, have commented the Mystical Theology.
  86. Lincolniensis, i.e., the learned and famous Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Grosseteste (1175-1253). Among his many writings is a commentary on the Mystical Theology of Dionysius, and it is from this that our author quotes. The commentary of Grosseteste may be found in Opera Dionysi vetere et nove translationis, etc., Strasburg, 1502, fol. 266 sqq.
  87. Ps. 104:4.
  88. Ps. 72:28.
  89. Matt. 16:25.