PART 4 - The Unitive Way of the Perfect
Ch 52: The Transforming Union, Prelude of the Union of Heaven
Tauler describes as follows the highest degree of the mystical life in the servants of God:
In the Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent,(7) Tauler
In a manuscript dealing with this subject, we read:
This is progressive configuration to our Lord.
A soul that seems to be approaching this state wrote the following lines which are reminiscent of the pages we have just quoted from Tauler:
In view of certain observations that have been made to us, we believe it advisable in a discussion of the transforming union to signalize the following points.
Some very loving, greatly tried, and extremely generous souls live closely united to God in the world, and their director may early believe that they have entered the transforming union. This judgment may, however, be precipitate, for, before attaining to the spiritual marriage, the chosen soul must first become a spouse, as a simple religious is who has made profession after the trials and generous acts of the novitiate.
There may be a notable error of interpretation in this decision if the director or the directed soul attributes to the title of spouse, received occasionally in an interior locution, the same meaning as that of the far superior title of spouse in the transforming union. There is a great difference between the term spouse, used to denote a religious who has made profession, and the title spouse, as applied to St. Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa. Moreover, even in the second sense, the perfect soul, though confirmed in grace, may not believe that it has attained the goal, for until its last sigh it will remain on the royal road, seeing this goal in a very consoling light, while recalling the words of St. Paul: "Not as though I had already attained or were already perfect; but I follow after." (12)
Again, a soul much loved by God is drawn to Him, and gives itself. It is very generous, wholly loving, pure, and its crosses become heavy. After an interior locution, the Lord seems to choose it as a spouse. May this soul believe that it is in the transforming union? Is this not simply the normal state of a good religious after profession? For this chosen soul still has numerous defects and imperfections, which seem incompatible with the spiritual marriage. But the director may believe that this soul will attain to this state when its charity is wholly true and its life completely impregnated with God.
The life of St. Gemma Galgani, for example, shows clearly what the Lord required of her before permitting her to call herself His spouse. This valiant saint, who never refused anything to grace, complained at times of these demands.
Another case is that of a married woman, who is partly emancipated from what has become for her humiliating servitude and who is generous in her sacrifices. Our Lord holds her soul captive and urges her to belong to Him alone. As a result she is somewhat inclined to believe that she is in the transforming union. In our opinion she is accepted as a spouse in the sense that a religious is after final profession, and we believe that if the mystical marriage is granted to this person, it will be only later on, for this beautiful soul is still too much encumbered with herself. All worldly nets are not odious to her. Her charity does not at all measure up to that of a soul united to God by the spiritual marriage. More profound trials will perhaps not delay in making this evident.
The transforming union is, undoubtedly, given in different degrees, but the least degree requires perfect charity toward God and one's neighbor. Who can tell it without having attained to that state where there is no longer any insufficiency, where an unknown food is served to the well-beloved who, filled but still famished, utter ineffable groans?
May a generous person, who truly seems to have passed through at least a part of the night of the spirit, desire and ask for the grace of the transforming union?
Certainly. This grace is here on earth the term of the more or less conscious aspirations of such a soul. If an explicit desire is in question, however, it is advisable to give it a more objective expression, that is, desiring the ever more profound reign of God in our souls and their more perfect configuration to our Lord. Besides, it is also advisable to keep in mind what St. Teresa points out in the epilogue to The Interior Castle: "It is true you cannot enter all the mansions by your own power, however great it may appear to you, unless the Lord of the castle Himself admits you. Therefore I advise you to use no violence if you meet with any obstacle, for that would displease Him so much that He would never give you admission to them. He dearly loves humility: if you think yourselves unworthy to enter the third mansion, He will grant you all the sooner the favor of entering the fifth. Then, if you serve Him well there and often repair to it, He will draw you into the mansion where He dwells Himself. . . . When once you have learned how to enjoy this castle, you will always find rest, however painful your trials may be, in the hope of returning to your Lord, which no one can prevent."
Let us also remember what St. John of the Cross says in The Living Flame: "O souls that seek your own ease and comfort, if you knew how necessary for this high state is suffering, and how profitable suffering and mortification are for attaining to these great blessings." (13) He likewise writes in A Spiritual Canticle: "O that men would understand how impossible it is to enter the thicket, the manifold riches of the wisdom of God, without entering into the thicket of manifold suffering making it the desire and consolation of the soul; and how that the soul which really longs for the divine wisdom, longs first of all for the sufferings of the cross, that it may enter in. . . . They who desire to enter in that way are few, while those who desire the joys that come by it are many." (14)
In the following stanza, St. John of the Cross says: "One of the reasons which most influence the soul to enter into the 'thicket' of the wisdom of God, and to have a more intimate knowledge of the beauty of the divine wisdom, is, as I have said, that it may unite the understanding with God in the knowledge of the mysteries of the Incarnation, as of all His works the highest and most full of sweetness, and the most delicious knowledge. . . . But the soul cannot reach these hidden treasures unless it first passes through the thicket of interior and exterior suffering." (15)
Certainly this end, the prelude of heaven, is highly desirable; but the soul must be willing to take the royal road which leads to it.(16)
The intimacy of the transforming union, it should be noted, is due to an absolutely eminent operating grace. Of operating grace in general, in contradistinction to cooperating grace, St. Thomas says: "The operation of an affect is not attributed to the thing moved but to the mover. Hence in that effect in which our mind is moved and does not move, but in which God is the sole mover, the operation is attributed to God, and it is with reference to this that we speak of operating grace." (17) The will, however, freely consents to be moved.
The human will indubitably continues to exist, since it will subsist even in beatific love; it is not physically absorbed in God, as the pantheists would say in this case. We must hold what St. John of the Cross so well expresses in A Spiritual Canticle: "Though in heaven the will of the soul is not destroyed, it is so intimately united with the power of the will of God, who loves it, that it loves Him as strongly and as perfectly as it is loved by Him. . . . Thus the soul loves God with the will and strength of God Himself, being made one with that very strength of love wherewith itself is loved by God. This strength is of the Holy Ghost, in whom the soul is there transformed. He is given to the soul to strengthen its love; ministering to it, and supplying in it, because of its transformation in glory, that which is defective in it." (18)
Consequently, as Father Gabriel of St. Magdalen (19) well explains, one can understand that the soul reaches a certain equality of love with God. St. John says in The Living Flame:
This is truly the prelude of the life of heaven.
Whence A Spiritual Canticle concludes: "O souls created for this [such grandeurs] and called thereto, what are you doing? What are your occupations? Your aim is meanness, and your enjoyments misery. Oh, wretched blindness of the children of Adam, blind to so great a light and deaf to so clear a voice!" (21)
As Father Gabriel of St. Magdalen says: "This call, addressed by the saint to souls in general, shows us that he cannot regard as 'extraordinary' the sublime things he has just described for us. . . . That state, the flowering of the seed of supernatural life, which is sanctifying grace in the soul, should be within the reach of all those who are endowed with this grace." (22)
1. Ps. 33: 15.
2. Phil. 4: 17.
3. Ps. 84:9.
5. Cf. II Cor. 12:9.
Second Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity (transl. Hugueny,
7. Ibid., I, 241 ff.
8. Rom. 8:26.
9. Matt. 15:27.
10 Transl. Hugueny, I, 241 ff.
11. This is clearly an eminent operating grace, sharply distinct from co-operating grace, as St. Thomas points out (Ia IIae, q. 111, a. 2). Thus is heard and granted the prayer: "Take me from myself, Lord, and give me completely to Thyself."
12. Phil. 3:12.
13. St. 2, v. 5.
14. St. 36, v. 5.
15. St. 37, v. I f. This passage and the preceding one are almost the same in the two editions of A Spiritual Canticle, although the numbering of the stanzas is not identical. The stanza, numbered thirty-five in one is number thirty-six in the other. We are inclined to believe, as Father Gabriel of St. Magdalen does (Angelicum, 1937, fasc. I-2, p. 264), that these two editions of A Spiritual Canticle are the work of St. John of the Cross. In the second, the saint denies nothing of what he said in the first, but his thought is more precise; it shows more clearly that the plenitude attained by the transforming union on earth is still only relative, and he compares it more with that of the union of heaven.
On the desire of the transforming union in the soul undergoing the night of the spirit, see A Spiritual Canticle (2nd ed.; st. 37, v. 3, par. 5): "The soul longs to enter in earnest into these caverns of Christ, that it may be absorbed, transformed, and inebriated in the love and knowledge of His mysteries, hiding itself in the bosom of the Beloved. It is into these caverns that, in the Canticle of Canticles (2: 13 f.), He invites the bride to enter, saying: 'Arise, My love, My beautiful one, and come; My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hollow places of the wall' These clefts of the rock are the caverns of which we are here speaking, and to which the bride refers, saying: 'And there we shall enter in.' . . . To say 'we shall enter,' is as much as to say, 'there shall we transform ourselves,' that is, 'I shall be transformed in Thee through the love of Thy divine and sweet judgments.' "
16. Cf. the text from A Spiritual Canticle quoted at the end of this appendix.
17. Summa, Ia IIae, q.111, a.2.
18. Second edition (1909), st. 38, par. 3 f.
19. Art. cit., Angelicum, 1937, p. 275.
20. St. 3, par. 89-91.
21. St. 39, par. 8.
Art. cit., p. 278.