Friday, February 03, 2006

Forth Week after Epiphany. "Spiritual Canticle" by St John of the Cross, translated and edited by E.Allison Peers, Image Books, 1961
Stanza II part 2

4. This is as much as to say: If my good fortune and happiness are such that ye reach His presence so that He sees you and hears you. Here it is to be observed that, although it is true that God knows and understands all things, and sees and observes even the least of the thoughts of the soul, yet He is said to see our necessities, or to hear them, when He relieves them or fulfills them; for not all necessities or all petitions reach such a point that God hears them in order to fulfill them, until in His eyes the number of them is sufficient and there has arrived the proper time and season to grant them or relieve them. And then He is said to see them or to hear them, as may be seen in the Book of Exodus, where, after the four hundred years during which the children of Israel had been afflicted in the bondage of Egypt, God said to Moses: I have seen the affliction of My people and have heard their cry; and I am come down to deliver them. Yet He had ever seen it, but he said
that He had seen it only when He willed to fulfil their request by His deed. Even so said Saint Gabriel to Zacharias: Fear not, Zacharias, for thy prayer is heard. That is, He now granted him the son for which he had been begging Him many years; yet He had ever heard him. And thus it is to be understood by every soul that, albeit God may not at once hearken to its necessity and prayer, yet it follows not that, if they merit it, He will not hearken to its necessity and prayer, yet follows not that, if they merit it, He will not hearken to them when the time is opportune and due. For, as David says, he is a helper in due time and in tribulations. This, then, is signified here by the soul that says, 'If perchance ye see...': If by my good fortune the time and season has arrived wherein my desires and petitions have reached the point at which he sees them to fulfil them for me.
5. That is to say: more than all things; speaking ideally, when the soul loves Him more than all things is when naught that presents itself to hear impedes her from doing and suffering, whatsoever it be, for His sake. to Him, then, Whom she most loves, she sends her desires as messengers with the petition of her needs and afflictions, saying:

6. Three kinds of need the soul represents here, to wit: languor, suffering and death; for the soul that loves truly suffers ordinarily from feeling the absence of God in these three ways aforesaid, according to the three faculties of the soul, which are understanding, will and memory. She languishes in the understanding, because she sees not God, Who is the health of the understanding. She suffers as to the will because she lacks the possession of God, Who is the rest, refreshments and delight of the will. She dies as to the memory, because, remembering that she lacks all the blessings of the understandings, which are the sight of God, and all the delights of the will, which are the sight of God, and all the delights of the will, which are the possession of Him, and that it is likewise very possible to be deprived of Him for ever, she suffers at this memory as it were death.
7. These three needs Jeremias likewise represented to God, saying: Remember my poverty, the wormwood and the gall. The poverty refers to the understanding, because to it belong the riches of the wisdom of God, wherein, as Saint Paul says, are hid all the treasures of God. The wormwood, which is a herb most bitter, refers to the will, for to this faculty belongs the sweetness of the possession of God: lacking which, the soul is left with bitterness, even as the Angel said to Saint John in the Apocalypse, in these words: Take the book and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter - the belly being taken to mean the will. The gall refers to the memory, and signifies the death of the soul, even as Moses writes in Deuteronomy, when he speaks of the damned, saying: Their wine will be the gall of dragons and the venom of asps, which is incurable. This signifies there the lack of God, which is the death of the soul; and these three needs and affliction are founded upon the three theological virtues- faith, charity and hope - which relate to the three faculties aforementioned: understanding, will and memory.
8. And it is to be observed that in the line aforementioned the soul does no more than represent her need and affliction to the Beloved. For one that loves discretely has no care to beg for that which he lacks and desires, but only shows forth his need, so that the Beloved may do that which seems good to Him. As when the Blessed Virgin spake to the beloved Son at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, not begging Him directly for wine, but saying: "They have no wine." Or as when the sisters of Lazarus sent to Him, not to say that He should heal their brother, but to tell Him to see how he whom He loved was sick. And the reason for which it is better for the lover to show forth his need to the Beloved than to beg Him to fulfil it is threefold. First, because the Lord knows our necessities better than we ourselves; second, because the Beloved has the greater compassion when He beholds the necessity of His lover and is moved when He sees his resignation; third, because the soul is on surer ground with respect to self-love and love of possession if she represents her need than if she begs Him for that whereof she believes herself to have need. It is precisely this that the soul does in this present line, where she represents her three necessities. For to say: "Tell ye Him that I languish, suffer and die" is, as it were, to say: Since I languish, and He alone is my health, may He give me health, may he give me my rest. Since I die, and He alone is my life, may He give me my life.