"Before a man chooses his confessor, he ought to think well about it, and pray about it also; but when he has once chosen, he ought not to change, except for most urgent reasons, but put the utmost confidence in his director."

St Philip Neri

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"The Lord has always revealed to mortals the treasures of his wisdom and his spirit, but now that the face of evil bares itself more and more, so does the Lord bare his treasures more."

St John of the Cross, OCD - Doctor of the Church

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"It is vanity to be concerned with the present only and not to make provision for things to come."

Thomas á Kempis

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PART 4 - The Unitive Way of the Perfect

We have so far discussed the three ages of the interior life, considering them not under a diminished form, but as they are described by the great spiritual writers, in particular St. John of the Cross. In the course of our work we have thus spoken of the infused contemplation of the mysteries of faith and of its degrees, though we did not treat of the extraordinary graces which at times accompany it, but are quite distinct from it. We shall now discuss these graces.

To proceed in an orderly fashion, we shall see first what St. Paul tells us about these graces, which he calls charisms, and how St. Thomas Aquinas explains his teaching. Next, we shall treat of private revelations, visions, interior words, divine touches, stigmatization, and suggestion. We shall sum up the classic teaching on these subjects and thus find a new confirmation of the traditional doctrine set forth earlier in this work on the axis of the spiritual life. The examination of extraordinary facts brings out more clearly what distinguishes them from what is loftiest in the normal way of sanctity.(1)

Ch 53: Charisms or Graces Gratis Datae

St. Paul speaks of these extraordinary graces in his First Epistle to the Corinthians where he says: "Now there are diversities of graces, but the same Spirit. . . . And the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man unto profit. To one indeed, by the Spirit, is given the word of wisdom; and to another, the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit; to another, faith (1) in the same Spirit; to another, the grace of healing in one Spirit; to another, the working of miracles; to another, prophecy; to another, the discerning of spirits; to another, diverse kinds of tongues; to another, interpretation of speeches. But all these things one and the same Spirit worketh, dividing to everyone according as He will." (2)

St. Paul places charity far above all these gifts or charisms: "If . . . I have not charity, I am nothing," (3) for my will is turned in the opposite direction from the divine will.


As St. Thomas shows,(4) sanctifying grace and charity are much more excellent than these charisms; the former unite us immediately to God, our last end, whereas these exceptional gifts are directed chiefly to the benefit of our neighbor and only prepare him to be converted, without giving him divine life. As a rule, they are not essentially supernatural like sanctifying grace, but only preternatural like a miracle and prophecy. They are only signs which confirm the divine revelation proposed to all, or the sanctity of great servants of God.

There is an immense difference between the essentially supernatural character of sanctifying grace and the supernaturalness of these charisms. Grace is essentially supernatural as a participation in the intimate life of God; it is consequently invisible and not naturally knowable. Whereas these naturally knowable signs are not supernatural by their essence, but only by the mode of their production: thus the resurrection of a dead body restores natural life (vegetative and sensitive) in a supernatural manner, but does not produce supernatural life, the participation in the divine life. What is supernatural in these signs is, therefore, exterior and very inferior to that of the grace received in baptism.

The nature of these charisms may be more clearly seen in the division that St. Thomas (5) gives of them, following the text of St. Paul, which we quoted before.

Graces gratis datae to instruct one's neighbor concerning divine things.


1. Graces that give full knowledge of divine things -faith or special certitude as to principles.
-word of wisdom, on the principal conclusions known through the first cause.
-word of knowledge, on the examples and effects which manifest the causes
2. Graces that confirm divine revelation -by works: gift of healing, gift of miracles.
-by knowledge: discerning of spirits, prophecy.
3. Graces that aid in preaching the word of God -gift of tongues;
-gift of interpretation of speeches.

It is easy to see that St. Paul and St. John the Evangelist excelled in the word of wisdom; St. Matthew and St. James in the word of knowledge; that certain saints, such as St. Vincent Ferrer, received the gift of miracles in a striking manner; others, such as St. John Bosco, that of prophecy; still others, like the holy Cure of Ars, the discerning of spirits.


To these charisms are generally linked the extraordinary favors which sometimes accompany infused contemplation, that is, private revelations, supernatural words, visions. St. John of the Cross treats these favors at length in The Ascent of Mount Carmel,(6) distinguishing them with great care from infused contemplation, which belongs to the grace of the virtues and gifts, or sanctifying grace, as we saw earlier in this work.

The teaching of St. John of the Cross on this point rests theologically on the tract on prophecy expounded by St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa theologica.(7) In question 175 St. Thomas devotes six articles (8) to rapture which sometimes accompanies prophetic revelation, as it may also accompany infused contemplation.

St. Thomas there explains in particular that prophetic revelation may be made in three ways: by a sensible vision, an imaginary vision, or an intellectual vision; and the prophet may be awake, asleep, or in ecstasy.

The vision is said to be sensible or corporeal when a sensible and exterior sign appears to the eyes or when an exterior voice is heard.(9) The vision is called imaginary when God, in order to express His thought to us, coordinates certain images that pre-exist in our imagination, or imprints new ones on it.(10) There is a supernatural intellectual vision when He acts immediately on the intellect by coordinating our acquired ideas or by imprinting new ideas, called infused.(11) There is always infused prophetic light to judge supernaturally of what is proposed, and indeed this light alone suffices to interpret certain signs, as Joseph interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh.(12)

If the prophet is awake, the vision is more perfect than if given to him during sleep, because he has the full use of his faculties. (13) Occa­sionally the so-called imaginary vision and the intellectual vision are accompanied by ecstasy, or alienation of the senses.(14) Ecstasy, especially when it is only partial (the alienation of one sense and not of all), may be a natural effect of the absorption of the higher faculties in the object manifested; the soul can no longer be attentive to exterior things.(15) But when ecstasy, instead of following, so to speak, precedes the vision or infused contemplation and prepares the soul for it, then ecstasy is extraordinary and deserves the name of rapture; it then implies a certain violence which lifts the soul above inferior things in order to fix it in God.(16)

Christ and the Blessed Virgin had all these charisms in an eminent degree, but without losing the use of their senses. It is said of St. Gertrude that she never knew the weakness of ecstasy; of our Savior and His holy Mother it must be said that from the very beginning of their lives they were superior to ecstasy and rapture. (17)

Following these principles accepted by theologians, St. John of the Cross draws a clear distinction between general and obscure infused contemplation (18) and different modes of particular and distinct supernatural knowledge: (I) visions, sensible, imaginary, or intellectual; (19) (2) revelations; ()20) (3) interior words.(21) After enumerating these modes of knowledge, St. John of the Cross adds: "In regard to obscure and general knowledge, there is no division; it is contemplation received in faith. This contemplation is the end to which we should lead the soul; all other knowledge should be directed toward this, beginning with the first; and the soul should progress by detaching itself from all of them." (22)

Following the example of St. Thomas,(23) we shall proceed from the general to the particular, and we shall first discuss revelations; then we shall see the special modes of their manifestation, that is, either by visions, or by words, a mode which is generally more expressive.

Moreover, we shall consider first among these favors those that are more exterior, that are manifestly directed toward the benefit of our neighbor and are more directly connected with charisms or graces gratis datae. Next, we shall consider those which are more directly ordained to the sanctification of the person who receives them. This is particularly the case with various interior locutions and also with divine touches received in the will, which St. John of the Cross discusses last.(24)

Proceeding in this manner from the general to the particular, from the exterior to the interior, we shall avoid repetition and more dearly understand the divine action in souls. We shall see that extraordinary favors, like the stigmata, are exceptional signs given by God from time to time to draw us from our spiritual somnolence and to attract our attention more strongly to the great mysteries of faith by which we should live more profoundly every day, in particular to the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation.(25)





1. We utilize in these last chapters what we wrote on these questions in an earlier book (1923), Christian Perfection and Contemplation, pp. 436-57. It is, moreover, a simple summary of what St. John of the Cross says about essentially extraordinary graces. The studies that we have made since 1923 only confirm what we said then on this subject.

1. This does not mean the theological virtue of faith, since this virtue is common to all Christians. Rather it is a question of a special certitude and security which God grants to those whose duty it is to transmit His divine word to others with a conviction that nothing can shake. This faith, gratis data, is given to great preachers and also to theologians. The theologians of Salamanca say (De fide, disp. I, dub. IV, no. 113): "Praedicta fides confertur ut in plurimum Doctoribus Ecclesiae circa articulos fidei catholicae."

2. Cf. I Cor. 12:4, 7-11. Also Rom. 12:6.

3. Cf. I Cor. 13:3.

4. Summa, Ia IIae, q.111, a.5.

5. Ibid., a.4.

6. Bk. II, chaps. 10-31.

7. Cf. IIa IIae, q. 171-175.

8. Ibid., q.175.

9. Cf. Ibid., q. 174, a.1 ad 3um.

10. Ibid., q. 173, a.1 ad 1um.

11. Ibid., ad 2um.

12. Ibid., a. 2.

13. Ibid., q.I74, a.3.

14. Ibid., a. I ad 3um.

15. Cf. St. Thomas, De veritate, q. 13, a. 3: "Cum totaliter anima intendat ad actum unius potentiae, abstrahitur homo ab actu alterius potentiae." The mathematician who, like Archimedes, is greatly absorbed in his calculations, no longer hears what is said to him, or no longer sees what is before him. With even greater reason, intense infused contemplation may produce this effect. Cf. IIa IIae, q. 173, a. 3, on partial or total ecstasy. Neither is necessary to prophecy or infused contemplation. Cf. ibid.

16. See IIa IIae, q.175, a.I and a.2 ad 1urn: "Rapture adds somethmg to ecstasy. . . a certain violence in addition."

17. Cf. IIIa, q.10, 11.

18. The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk. II, chaps. 1-9.

19. Ibid., chaps. 10-24.

20. Ibid., chaps. 25-27.

21. Ibid., chaps. 28-31.

22 Ibid., chap. 10.

23. See IIa IIae, q.171, 173, 174.

24. The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk. II, chap. 32.

25. Cf. Father Gabriel of St. Magdalen, "Visions et revelations chez sainte Therese," Etudes carmelitaines, October, 1938, pp. 190-200. ("Progressive development. Classification. The role of visions in the life of St. Teresa. The security of the visions of St. Teresa. Conclusion.") The author shows that in The Interior Castle (sixth mansion, chap. 2) spiritual locutions are one of the means God uses to "awaken" the soul and prepare it for the spiritual espousals. Later they enlighten the saint on her role as foundress. St. Teresa's visions continually enlighten her more on the depths of the mysteries of the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity and on the redemptive Incarnation. In St. Teresa's case, these visions are at first purely intellectual, then occasionally an imaginary "fringe" is added to them. The imagination has a secondary and comparatively minor role in them. Hers is a privileged case, and privileged cases are rare.