PART 4 - The Unitive Way of the Perfect
Ch 39 : The Effects of the Passive
Purification of the Spirit in Relation Especially to the Three
Theological Virtues (cont)
At this stage particularly, the passive purifications of the present life resemble those of purgatory, although they differ greatly from it, since in purgatory there is no longer any merit or increase of charity.
This theological virtue, the highest of the infused virtues, is that which makes us love God for Himself, because He is infinitely lovable in Himself, infinitely better than every creature and than all His gifts. It makes us love Him also because He first loved us, by communicating to us a participation in His intimate life. Charity is thus a holy friendship by which we give back to God the love He has for us, and by which also we love our neighbor inasmuch as he is loved by God, inasmuch as he is a child of God or called to become one.
Every good Christian undoubtedly has this virtue. By it we love God for Himself; but we also love Him for the consolations He gives us, because He makes Himself felt by us, because what we undertake for Him succeeds and gives us contentment. Likewise, we love our neighbor for the love of God, because he is loved by our common Father; but we also love him because he responds to our charity, our courtesies, our devotion, because he gives evidence of gratitude. And at times when, instead of gratitude, we see ingratitude, we do not love the soul of our seemingly ungrateful neighbor as we should, for, as a matter of fact, we should love even our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, that they may return to the road of salvation. Consequently there is some alloy in our charity. This base element is evident occasionally when our charity fails to overcome some bitterness or ill-temper, following on a want of consideration.
Therefore, when the Lord wishes to lead a soul, already possessed of great hope, to a more pure, more disinterested love of God for Himself, above all His gifts, He deprives it of all spiritual consolation, of His sensible presence, for months and years, though He becomes more intimately present in the soul and acts more profoundly in it. He seems to withdraw from it, as God the Father seemed to withdraw from the soul of Jesus on the cross when in His agony He cried out: "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (27) This exclamation, taken from a Messianic psalm,(28) is immediately followed in the same psalm, as it was in the heart of Christ, by sentiments of perfect trust, abandonment, and love.
When in this spiritual night the soul seems to be abandoned by God, it makes a great act of love for this sole and most pure motive: God is infinitely good in Himself, infinitely better than every created gift, and it is He who first loved us. Following the example of His crucified Son, I must return Him love for love.
St. Teresa of the Child Jesus was well acquainted with these very painful hours, and what we learn about them in her life helps us to a clearer understanding of the doctrine of St. John of the Cross on the purification of love, and of St. Thomas' teaching on the formal motive of charity. At this stage of the spiritual life, this motive appears in all its elevation, like a star of first magnitude in the night of the spirit, together with the motive of faith and that of hope.
We read, in fact, toward the end of the life of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus:
Such is the simultaneous passive purification of faith, hope, and love of God and of souls in God, a purification which, in the case of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus, is united to reparatory suffering for sinners.
Then the most pure motive of this love of charity appears in all its elevation: namely, that God is sovereignly lovable in Himself, infinitely more so than all the gifts which He has given us and which we expect from Him. Here the acts of faith, hope, and charity fuse, so to speak, in an act of perfect abandonment to the divine will, while the soul repeats the words of Christ on the cross: "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit." (32)
Then the soul understands what St. John of the Cross says: "For this is a certain fire of love in the spirit whereby the soul, amidst these dark trials, feels itself wounded to the quick by this strong love divine. . . . And inasmuch as this love is infused in a special way, the soul corresponds only passively with it, and thus a strong passion of love is begotten within it. . . . The soul is itself touched, wounded, and set on fire with love. . . . The soul, however, amidst these gloomy and loving pains, is conscious of a certain companionship and inward strength which attends upon it and invigorates it." (33)
St. Teresa speaks in like manner of this last purification which precedes the transforming union: "She sees herself still far away from God, yet with her increased knowledge of His attributes, her longing and her love for Him grow ever stronger as she learns more fully how this great God and Sovereign deserves to be loved. . . . She is like one suspended in mid-air, who can neither touch the earth nor mount to heaven; she is unable to reach the water while parched with thirst, and this is not a thirst that can be borne, but one which nothing will quench." (34)
At the end of this trial, charity toward God and one's neighbor is purified of all alloy, as gold in the crucible is freed from its dross. And not only is the love of charity thus purified, but notably increased. The soul now makes intense and heroic acts of charity, which obtain immediately the increase of grace which they merit, and with sanctifying grace increase greatly at the same time all the infused virtues and the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, which are connected with charity.
The love of God and of souls then becomes increasingly disinterested, ever more ardent and forgetful of self. We admire the purity of the conjugal love of the sailor's wife who does not cease to think of her absent husband, who may be dead, since for several months she has had no word that he is still alive. She loves him as if he were present, and brings up her children in the love of their father who has disappeared. How can we fail to admire the purity of love in these spouses of Jesus Christ who, like St. Teresa of Lisieux, remain for a long time, for months and months, deprived of His presence, in the greatest darkness and aridity, and who do not cease to love Him with a love as strong as it is pure, for the sole motive that He is infinitely good in Himself and incomparably more so than all His gifts! In this state the tenderness of love is transformed into the strength of union, according to the expression of the Canticle of Canticles: "Love is strong as death," (35) and even stronger, for no trial can overthrow love. The soul then remembers that in our Lord, who fashions souls to His image, love on the cross was stronger than spiritual death, that it was the conqueror of sin and the devil, and by the resurrection the victor over death which is the result of sin. In the passive purifications, described by St. John of the Cross, the Christian and Catholic mystic relives these great truths of faith; thereby the soul is configured to Christ in His sorrowful life, before being configured to Him in His glorious life for eternity.
St. Teresa (36) speaks of this purification, but does not distinguish as clearly as St. John of the Cross does, what essentially constitutes it from the sufferings which quite often accompany it, and which she herself experienced, as we see from her autobiography.(37)
In The Interior Castle she writes:
Tauler speaks in like strain, as we noted earlier. His teaching on this subject, which should be read, will be found in his sermons for the Monday before Palm Sunday (nos. 7, 8), for Easter Sunday, for the Monday before Ascension Thursday, and in the third sermon for the Ascension.(40)
It would be easy to show by quotations from other masters that the
teaching of St. John of the Cross is entirely conformable to the
tradition of the great spiritual writers, to what they have said of
the royal way of the cross, ad lucem per crucem, and of the
progressive configuration of the soul to Christ crucified. We read in
St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans: (41) "Heirs indeed of God, and joint
heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with Him, that we may be also
glorified with Him."
27. Mark 15:34.
28. Ps. 21: 2.
29. Cf. Luke 18: 13.
31. Une Rose effeuillee, chap. 9.
32. Luke 23:46.
33. The Dark Night, Bk. II, chap. II.
34. The Interior Castle, sixth mansion, chap. II.
35. Cant. 8:6.
36. The Interior Castle, sixth mansion, chap. I.
37. Life, chaps. 28-30.
38. Life, chap. 28.
39. The Interior Castle, sixth mansion, chap. I.
40. Cf. Sermons de Tauler (trans. Hugueny, Thery), 1, 251, 263, 301, 311 ff., 345.
41. Rom. 8: 17. Blessed Angela of Foligno wrote some magnificent pages of incomparable realism on the night of the spirit. Cf. especially Le Livre des visions et instructions (trans. E. Hello), chap. 7: The sight of the cross; chap. 9: The way of the cross: chap. 16: The great darkness: "One day my soul was ravished and I saw God in a light superior to every known light. . . .I saw God in a darkness, and necessarily in a darkness, because He is too far above the spirit, and no proportion exists between Him and anything that can become the object of a thought. . . . I see nothing, I see all. Certitude is obtained in the darkness. The more profound the darkness, so much more does the good exceed all. This is the reserved mystery. . . . The divine power, wisdom, and will, which I saw marvelously elsewhere seems less than this. This is a whole; the others could be called parts." Blessed Angela had then through eminent infused contemplation, the experimental knowledge of what speculative theology expresses in the following terms: the Deity, or the intimate life of God, contains formally and eminently absolute perfections: being, intelligence, wisdom, love, and so forth, which are naturally sharable and naturally knowable. The Deity as such surpasses every concept, it can be participated in only through sanctifying grace, which is not naturally knowable. Cf. Cajetan on Ia, q. 39, a. I, no. 7: "The formal reason of the Deity is especially in its being and in all its attributes, for it is above being and above unity, etc."
See also Blessed Angela of Foligno, op. cit., chap. 33: True love and false love; chap. 46: The embrace; chap. 55: Poverty of spirit; chap. 56: Ecstasy; chap. 61: The third companion of Jesus Christ: Suffering; chap. 65: The ways of love.
Over a period of about thirty years, in our ministry we have found at
least twenty times in contemplative communities the night of the
spirit quite clearly characterized, and, in several cases, without any
malady, in very rational subjects whose duty it was to direct a
community or a congregation, and who did it very well.